Scottish Book Trust.

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Writing is the easy part. That’s what I tell folk. That’s when I learn what I think. And others think about me. Reading is the engine of writing. I’ve had a long love affair with books, with bouts of promiscuity. As I get older I find time not reading is time wasted.  Selling yourself, well, that’s the hard part. Not many folk know about Scottish Book Trust. It’s a national charity.  Until I started writing a few years ago I hadn’t heard of it either. Here’s what they do, they encourage children and adults to read books. http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/about/what-we-do. They link it with that buzz word, wellbeing. Whisper it, the key factor is class. Literacy rates in Scotland (and elsewhere) have been falling and this is linked to the gap between rich and poor. The earlier you get kids to read the better quality life they will have. The postcode lottery of what school you attend, whether, for example, Drumchapel High or Bearsden Academy a mile or two away, but on a different planet, determines life chances. Reading is the one thing we can get right, but we’re getting it wrong. The gap remains and has grown in recent years, despite much bluster. The Scottish Book Trust tells us it gave one million free books away last year. They organise festivals and supports authors. I’m a supporter of the charity work of the Scottish Book Trust. I attend most of their festivals in West Dunbartonshire libraries and write about the authors on my blogs. And last year, I gave a reading in West Dunbartonshire’s Dalmuir library of my debut novel Lily Poole (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356).  In a way I’ve worked for the charity for free. It’s win-win, as I get free publicity. My debut novel was novel of the week in West Dunbartonshire libraries. That’s as good as it gets. Most debut novels get published and are pulped within a week. Mine is no different. But for me, books are holy things. To be a published author is a big thing and to be on library shelves next to other novelists that’s a blessing.

My gripe with Scottish Book Trust is I’ve found they’re not to be trusted, don’t acknowledge me as a published author, even though I’ve appeared at one of their festivals as a published author. They can’t deny that I’m Scottish, I’m guess it may be a matter of number of books sold. The underlying question is quality. They don’t want to acknowledge a numpty like me as an author or the whole edifice of Scottish Book Trust will crack and fall to the ground. They may be right.

I’m a big fan of the Scottish Book Trust and have been trying to join them for years, but I fear it’s easier for a Catholic to join the Masons. Over the years I’ve applied for mentoring, the New Writer’s Award and later the Next Chapter Award. The first time I got an email back saying we enjoyed reading your application I thought it was true. After ten or twelve emails saying the same thing you recognise that no they didnae, it’s junk mail. Published authors can apply for inclusion in the Live Literature Database. It makes such applications easier.  BBC Script room, in comparison, are a lot better at that sort of thing. Over the same period I’ve been longlisted twice. They tell you for example, you got an A, but not A-plus for your attempt and your thirty pages script got a full read through. And they give you numbers, out of 13 000 scripts submitted, you were in the top 10%, perhaps even 1%,  but they don’t say we enjoyed reading your script, because they didnae, that’s their job.

To be honest I don’t really think of myself as a writer either. You probably wonder why I keep bothering the Scottish Book Trust with my lame efforts. Simple, they offer a gateway to writers that have been where I am, that will read my work and give an honest critique, point the way forward. That saves me time. Saving time and money, that’s what it’s all about. Unfortunately the Scottish Book Trust enjoyed reading my novel, but they didnae, I don’t exist.  Yet I persist.  Writing is a strange beast.

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Gail Honeyman (2016) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

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This book has not been officially release yet. I was lucky enough to buy a copy at West Dunbartonshire Festival of Words at Parkhall library on Monday night. Gail Honeyman was doing her first gig. Ahhhh, that’s nice. She seemed very nice and self-assured. It was the usual format of someone asking her questions about the book and Gail reading two short excerpts from the book. And later questions from the audience.  She read, first page, first paragraph:

When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, dental hygienists – I tell them I work in an office. In almost nine years, no one’s ever asked what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with the idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether people here the phrase work in an office and automatically fill in the blanks themselves –

First-person narrative for almost four hundred pages can be hard work. I must admit that if I’d picked this book up on spec and read a bit I’d have put it down again before the second chapter. A simple tale of boy meets girl isn’t really my thing. It does help the boy is a figment of Eleanor Oliphant’s imagination. He exists, but doesn’t know she exists. The other boy, Raymond, that works in IT, is the kind of anorak that anoraks avoid. Eleanor and Raymond seem a good match, but Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine in her own company. Other people are the problem. Will they? Won’t they?  I’ve only read to page 70, but I take it Eleanor’s mum, who plays a big part in the book, is a controlling Myra Hindley type figure that set out to destroy her daughter and largely succeeded, and may yet have the last snarl. Eleanor is weird, even by Glasgow standards. I’m sure Eleanor and her mum set themselves apart, by being different, and this proves to be the point. As a child, Eleanor does not watch telly and doesn’t know what an oven chip is. There was a bit of brouhaha at the reading about not giving too much away. Oh, no, I may be indicted, but it’s all there on the first page for the reader.

I’m nearly thirty years old now and I’ve been working here since I was twenty-one. Bob, the owner, took me on not long after the office opened. I suppose he felt sorry for me. I had a degree in Classics and on work experience to speak of, and I turned up for the interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm.

A budding author in the front row of the Parkhall gig asked Gail about agents and getting published. Like Gail she had won the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award. Like Gail she wanted to create a buzz, have her book reviewed, sold internationally, be optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s company, with possibly Witherspoon playing the part of Oliphant. Yep. That’s a good question. I’d quite like to know the answer to that one too.