The CG Awards and Looking to 2016

So that was 2015. A year of ups and downs, but mainly ups. And on the writing front it was a year of, well, mixed fortunes really. But I’ll be kind to myself and say it was a step in the right direction.

Keeping line with previous years, here’s my wrap-up of 2015: The CG Awards.

MUSIC
Best Album Bought: Allas Sak, Dungen
Best Live Gig: Mogwai 20th Anniversary, Barrowland
Best Musical Discovery: Wolf Alice

FILM
Best Film (cinema): Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Best Film (TV/DVD):  Under the Skin
Best Documentary: The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson

LITERATURE
Best Fiction Book Read: The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
Best Crime Fiction Book Read: Gone Again, Doug Johnstone
Best Non-Fiction Book Read: The Politics Book, Paul Kelly
Best Poetry Book Read: Human Chain, Seamus Heaney
Best Author Discovery: Willy Vlautin (The Motel Life)

OTHER
Best Meal: Martin Wishart Restaurant, The Shore, Leith, Sat 2nd May 2015
Best Bevy: The Diners Xmas Day Out (Dumbarton FC, Glasgow, Twilight Sad)
Single Most Embarrassing Moment: Too numerous to mention
Saddest Moment: The Deaths of William McIlvanney and John ‘Brad’ Bradbury
Single Most Memorable Moment: Getting engaged to my soulmate on the stage inside the Dublin Castle pub, Camden Town

With regards to writing, my output has been dreadful over the past few years (see previous post ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’), but this past year has seen things stir and get to a point I have been generating new ideas and writing again. More to the point, I’ve been enjoying it.

Writing highlights would be:

1- New chapbook written while on visit to Sri Lanka.
2- Final draft work on previous unfinished novel.
3- Entry into NaNoWriMo and a new novel being born (although I failed the November writing contest due to a bout of Norovirus).

So what of 2016?

It’s a year I must complete two unfinished projects (two novels and one chapbook) and it’s a year that, most importantly of all, I develop a new system of writing that works for me. Routine is the one thing I can rely on, and into this I must build a method for writing and for continuing to write all the way through to publication. I’ve got the desire again and I’ve got the support, it’s a case of working out a suitable rhythm and plan and sticking to it.

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Three Days Until NaNoWriMo

With three days to go until the big kick off, I find myself in an unusual position with regards to writing a fresh novel: I’ve two belting ideas. 

One is the idea I hinted at in my last blog post involving the supporting character from my first novel, Slick. The other comes straight from my “ideas” folder built up over many years. It’s an idea I had back in 1998 but it still works, is still juicy, and it would only need adjusting to modern day times and a new location. 

So which one?

Well, the more I’ve thought about each of their merits, the more I’ve erred toward the logical choice: a mix of both. 

But regardless of which way I eventually go in this, one problem remains the same: time. 

In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, one must hit a minimum of 1667 words each day. As a number it isn’t all that much, it’s the regularity of it that becomes the problem if you’re not geared up or used to it. 

The two previous times I’ve done NaNoWriMo, I’ve blown out of the stalls with around 4-5000 words on the first two or three days. It’s then died down to the minimum number each day, with the odd spurt of a couple of thousand usually at the weekends. This method also allows for a day or two off if needed (and they usually are in order to keep perspective).

Both those times though, I hadn’t planned on being out of the country twice! The upshot is, if I’m going to do this, I’ll need to do it over 20 days, not 30. A quick tap on the calculator will show a new daily total required of at least 2500 words, with no days off. 

My plan, therefore, is this: to aim for 2000 a day, but also attempt to write while on holiday. Sounds easy but it won’t be, although I do have the support of my OH on this. 

I recently bought a new iPad as well, which should help me write while travelling. I also bought a Bluetooth keyboard for it that sits inside the case to make things even more amenable.

And I’m going to do more advance plotting than normal, something I wouldn’t normally do for NaNoWriMo. Flying by ones’ wings makes the whole experience a lot more exciting. But I think it’s a necessity this time around if I’m going to achieve that 50k mark at all. 

Todays goal is thus: make a final decision on the theme/plot and pen an outline. 

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Confessions of a Justified Sinner

My name is Colin Galbraith. It’s been over two years since my last blog post.

Yes, over two years. 2 years. Apart from a pre-written poem, we’re talking about 29 months to be precise.

So. Here we are then.

I guess you’ll be wanting to ask some questions so I’ll get the main stuff out the way. In the last two and half years or so I have…(in no particular order)

  • turned 40
  • got divorced
  • got some new tattoos
  • moved into a dream flat by The Shore in Leith
  • took one of the best holidays I’ve ever had in Cyprus
  • learned that as a single man, I “still have it”
  • found myself
  • rid myself of dead weights and negative influences
  • learned a few songs on the guitar
  • attended 73 music gigs in the space of one year
  • Re-read that last one: that’s 1 & half gigs per week for a year!!
  • built up my freelance I.T. business
  • worked for 3 major British and worldwide banks
  • saw my daughter turn 18
  • saw my young sister turn 40
  • lost my cat, Jeremiah, who has now moved on
  • discovered I love going to the cinema on my own
  • became an uncle for the third time
  • been nicknamed “Peter Pan” by two of my nieces
  • met and fell in love with my soulmate
  • moved to Livingston
  • visited the Asian continent for the first time
  • become engaged
  • become a dad to two new mini-lop bunnies, Lulu and Crumble
  • and probably most importantly, I’ve grown happier and more sure each and every day

So there you go. I think that just about covers it.

And with all that out of the way, the only big question that remains now is ‘why start blogging again?’

Simple really. I miss writing and I’m finally getting my long lost muse back.

The encouragement I’ve also received from my fiancé over my writing and the fact I’ve started work on a new poetry chapbook, also helped to point me to the inescapable conclusion that I had not, in fact, written my last novel, or indeed story.

The timing of this regeneration and invigoration is probably the best it could be. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts this Sunday, which I’m hoping can be the perfect launchpad for a new novel, and my spur to move on with all the plans I had before all this began.

For the uninitiated, NoNoWriMo is an online based writing marathon that anyone can sign up to, the aim of which is to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. Not as easy as it sounds by any stretch, but it is how I wrote Slick (available on my website) and Gatecrash (unpublished), so I have done it before.

For the past few weeks I’ve been bouncing ideas around in my head, endlessly mulling things over, and toying with new characters. I’ve also been falling into odd little absences, which although might appear to an outsider like I’m not paying attention, are in fact just me plotting the outline of my next book.

And so with six days to go until NaNoWriMo begins, I have a strong protagonist and the formation of an antagonist. I have a location. I have a rough plot idea. And I have inspiration aplenty.

My protagonist is the most formed in my mind for this project but that’s mainly because I’ve spent time with him before. You might recognise his name: Lennox, D.I. Lennox.

Blogging is my attempt at not only journaling my path through this years NaNoWriMo, but also a requirement in that I really do need to grease the wheels.

To tell you the truth, despite the obstacles in my way, I really am quite excited about starting a new journey.

Posted in Editorial Comment, Family, Freelance, Livingston, Writing | 3 Comments

R.I.P. Rev. I.P.

So
Ian Paisley, the Reverend
with a voice so loud
booming over land and cloud,
now you’ve left for good
for your beliefs you stood
after a lifetime it seems
you were already old when I was in my teens

I
never quite understood, how
a cloth-man could stand the politics
and the MP’s systematic dirty tricks,
I guess it was your stubbornness
that stopped you from ever saying “yes”
that for decades kept your throat so tender
after endless roars of “no surrender, no surrender!”

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A New Arrival

We have a new arrival in our family.

No, my wife wasn’t pregnant before the calls start coming in, and no I haven’t been out and brought more floppy-eared bunny rabbits back home.

We’ve got a cat.

He’s a two year old Siamese Red Point that needed a new home. He has light ginger striped fur and bright sea-blue eyes. Say hello to Jeremiah.

Jeremiah

I’m really rather excited about having an animal in the house. I loved the bunnies a lot and was sad to see them go, but they weren’t house rabbits – they had to be kept outdoors where there was more room and they were closer to nature. Rabbits are a danger to themselves inside.

This wee fella is extremely laid back, likes human company a LOT, and seems to blend in well to our lives. He’s already well-versed with living in a home so I don’t think it’s been too much of a shock to his system, although moving from a flat to a house has resulted in a couple of accidents as he gets used to the roomier surroundings. Stairs and a banister! What the heck are those things?

Finding him can be a bit of a problem as he gets into all the wee nooks on his travels. I’ve tracked him down under beds, in the back of cupboards, on top of cupboards, behind the couch, the fridge, my desk and my tropical fish tank. Wiley little chap!

And I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I really like the small of cat food. Am I alone in this? We give him packets of jellied meat and fish and it smells great whenever I put it down for him. I think it’s probably just me.

Anyway, back to the page, which has become increasingly harder because Jeremiah (or Jerry as I catch myself calling him sometimes – two syllabels are better than four) likes to sit on my lap and either watch what I’m writing, or follow the line of words appearing on the screen. But what can you do?

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Posted in Family | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Indie Publishing and Me

A couple of years ago I met with Scottish publisher, author and agent, Allan Guthrie. We met up in a pub in Portobello and spoke at length about the publishing process, writing, and all that kind of stuff. I was looking for advice, and what he told me, or rather asked me, began to change my views on publishing entirely.

He put to me the following key questions:

1. Do I want to be picked up by a major publisher and have to give in my job to work full-time for them writing one book a year and marketing it?

2. Am I the kind of writer happy to hold down a full-time job while writing at my own pace?

3. What do I actually WANT out of being a writer?

4. In what way am I marketable to any publisher? What is my platform and who are my readers; do I know where my markets are?

All good questions that made me realise not only wasn’t I ready to go full-time with my writing, but I hadn’t come to the point of realisation where I actually knew what I was doing or where I was going.

I only thought I did.

So the first thing I did was split off my poetry and fiction; poetry under a pseudonym (Chas Stramash), and retaining fiction under my own name. This meant I could work on them both without them becoming confused, as well as giving my own name a marketing basis that was supported with a new website design.

The next thing was to decide what kind of fiction I enjoyed writing most. I’d dabbled with a lot of genres at some point (historical, sf, fantasy, western, romance, porn, and even gay) but where was my real calling?

Thrillers and crime fiction stood out and bellowed at me, screaming in my ear like the little boy lost. Crime thrillers are where all my stories naturally drifted towards, and more often than not, I was reading a book with some element of crime in it.

Thus, I rebranded myself on that basis. Not only that, but I got more professional about the whole thing: I hired the services of a cover art designer and edited my first indie novel to death, SLICK. And then I published it. I was off and running with indie publishing and it felt good.

So where am I now? Well, that’s why I’ve been talking to more people and doing as lot of reading from other writers like Scott Nicholson, JA Konrath and August Wainwright. And I’ve compared what they’re talking about with the debates and talks I attended in the recent past, such as at the Edinburgh Book Festival and online.

My mind is made up.

And this has made me able – finally – to answer all of the questions Allan posed to me:

1. Do I want to be picked up by a major publisher and have to give in my job to work full-time for them writing one book a year and marketing it?

No. Publishers are dying and refusing to go with the times. Change is not something they like and they, along with bookshops, are dying out because they haven’t realised that Amazon isn’t killing the book, it’s peoples reading habits that are changing in a new age of technology. Their outdated business models are unable, or unwilling to adapt, because they are losing a huge slice of the money. Money that is now going directly into the hands of the writers and not the publishers, agents and marketing departments.

I think I’ll take my chances earning 75% royalties of my ebooks that will be available forever online and not displayed in the bookshops (if they ever got there against all the celebrity and money stacked books) for a few months. Why pay an agent and publisher to get my books to readers when in this day and age I can do it myself and keep the bottom line? What are the average royalties for that? 85% of the 10% cover price. Fuck that!

From what I can tell, the big publishers don’t see writers as part of the process, not new writers or “risky” writers such as me. If you’re earning them £50 million a year then it’s different, but most writers aren’t in that position so why would I want to put my career in jeopardy by signing over all my rights to companies that don’t see writers as the critical component?

All that matters in publishing is the author writing books, and them being able to find their audience. We don’t need to take a measly percentage any more for that privilege – we can do it ourselves thanks to Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc.

2. Am I the kind of writer happy to hold down a full-time job while writing at my own pace?

Yup, sounds much more sensible. I enjoy writing and I enjoy creating new characters, stories, and making them exciting. I also have a day job because I I’m not earning enough from my books to pay the bills.

So I’ll do both without the commitment of having to tour for months at a time in bookshops that are dying out anyway. My readers are online at the end of their devices, not in bookshops. I don’t need a publisher to put my books out there to find my readers – it wouldn’t work with their business model anyway – I can do it myself much, much more easily.

3. What do I actually WANT out of being a writer?

I want to reach my readers and know I am able to deliver the kind of book I enjoy reading. I want to be able to do it at my own pace, earn a fair royalty for it, and keep enjoying the process of doing it. I don’t need or want to be caught up in the outdated corporate side of it (I get enough of that in the day job anyway), so I’m happy being an indie writer. It suits me. I’m happy here.

4. In what way am I marketable to any publisher? Who are my readers and where are my markets?

I wasn’t marketable two years ago, but I’m moving forward. I’m finding my readers and my markets, slowly, but I’m getting there. I’m discovering how to tap into them and learning as I go. It’s hard work but it’s fun and much more rewarding.

So what’s next?

On the journey so far, I’ve learned there are still some vital pieces of the puzzle missing.

I have some good people behind me (trusted readers and a cover art designer) but I need to get even more professional. I need to further improve on quality and on advertising. I’m bad at letting people know about my books.

So in the coming months, as well as continuing to write, I’ll be aiming to meet these challenges. It’s very much a case of “watch this space” but now that I’m out there, I feel good about it all. I feel as if I’m part of something that wasn’t possible before and I’m enjoying it. It’s improved the quality and output of my work, and it’s improving the quality of my life.

Which can’t be a bad thing.

I also believe that the more I write and the better I get at becoming visible, my books will find their readers. Or rather, more readers will find my books.

It’s time to step up to the plate and really go for it.

The future is indie, and I’ve got a window seat booked and I’m ready to board.

Posted in Books, Day Job, eBooks, Literature, Publishing and Marketing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Raising a Glass to William McIlvanney

What can you say about William McIlvanney that hasn’t already been said? Legendary, iconic, inspirational, suave, debonair, groundbreaking, trailblazing, innovative – a genius, he is the voice of Glasgow, nae Scotland!

He is, of course, all of these things and well deserved too, as he proved on Saturday night at the closing showcase event of the 2013 Aye Write! Festival in Glasgow.

Following a visit to the Griffin Bar on Glasgow’s Bath Street, and a meal at the rather pleasant, well-staffed and inexpensive Cafe Antipasti on Sauchiehall Street, my mother and I made our way to the Mitchell Library to see the man in question.

We bagged a couple of seats near the front, and for the next hour sat and absorbed McIlvanney’s words of art, comment and humour. He read an extract from his soon to be re-released Laidlaw trilogy (about time too), the books that inspired the creations of some of Scotland’s best-selling authors today. I’m thinking everyone from Ian Rankin to Denise Mina to Craig Robertson and everyone else in between.

He also read from a short story, spoke about his relationship with his father who died when he was 19, covered politics from the 60s to present day, and spoke at length, and somewhat unexpectedly, about Scottish independence; “I’ll likely vote for independence, but it’ll be with a great deal of doubt.”

The event only lasted an hour but it seemed to be a lot longer as I have to admit to being somewhat in awe of this man. His mere presence is enthralling; his personality magnetic.

My Mum purchased one of the new editions of Laidlaw and joined the signing queue with one very specific question in mind: was the character John Rhodes from the Gorbals based on anyone he knew? With Rhodes being such a rare name in Glasgow back in those days (and still today), we were hoping there may be a link between the man in McIlvanney’s novel and her father, Cecil John Rhodes.

Alas, there wasn’t, but an interesting conversation was had; McIlvanney mostly relieved he hadn’t got into trouble over the matter!

Miraculously, McIlvanney remembered me from our phone call and subsequent meeting a few years back. I was both touched and honoured he hadn’t forgotten, but then, the reason of our coming together was quite significant for him and his family so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

And so Saturday was a great day out. We had fine food and drink, great conversation, wonderful entertainment, and a memorable encounter to top it all off. And of course, wonderful company throughout.

The next time I have a drink (which won’t be that far away), I’ll be raising my glass to the brilliance of William McIlvanney.

Posted in Aye Write!, Family, Food, Drink and Bevvy, Glasgow, Literature, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments