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Annual General Review: 2013

2013 has been a challenging year for many reasons. People around me weren’t well. A few days building work took five months. Near the end of the year I was in severe pain and on three types of prescription pain killers. At one point I actually thought I was going to die.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. Isaiah 43:2

Through all of that, people were amazing. They dropped round with meals, someone gave me a £50 shopping voucher. Friends and family looked after me. I felt grateful despite the pain and strangely, at the point when I was least able to work – work came in. Commission after commission for the year ahead. It was a little overwhelming.

I’ve had help to get writing equipment too, an electric desk and a good chair. My back is much better and I’m off pain killers. The building work is done and I have a safe place to call home. I appreciate life more than I ever. I value my health and the need for rest more than ever. I appreciate people more than ever. I’m also really pleased we’re in 2014.

Last year was a year of firsts too. My first appearance in the Edinburgh International Book Festival, my first screen credit (that’s my name at the end of television show with the title ‘writer’) and I ended the year by signing a contract for my first picture book.

I’ve summarised the highlights in a countdown from ten…

TEN days in New York City 

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In February I visited New York to attend the Kidscreen Summit. It’s a huge children’s TV market and conference. I’ve always wanted to go and it was exciting to be pitching an eco comedy drama I’d developed for Visible Ink Television. I wrote about it here.

I also attended the Little Airplane Academy. It’s a three-day intensive course in all aspects of how to create a great pre-school television series. It was brilliant!

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NINE New Workshops 

I wrote about some of these workshops on my blog so just click the links above to find out more.

I start phase two of creating digital stories with the Govan Reminiscence Group next week so I’ll blog about that project soon – I can’t wait to share some of the moving stories they created with you.

Here’s the Filmpoem created when I worked with children aged 5 – 10 during the Film Poem Festival in Dunbar. I ran a poetry workshop and walk while Artist Alastair Cook was capturing film and composer Luca Nasciuti recorded sounds. What I love about this is that the words are entirely the children’s own:

Filmpoem Workshop – Shaking Shells from Filmpoem on Vimeo.

EIGHT Finalists in a poetry competition

I felt honoured to be asked to judge the EuroStemCell creative non fiction writing competition. I judged the poetry category. There were eight excellent finalists, read more about the competition here and find the winning entry here.

SEVEN Live Performances

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The highlight was being part of the Illicit Ink graphic fiction event during the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I read a story I’d written about an otter who’s an artist, while Guardian cartoonist and author Stephen Collins drew the story live (Thanks to Chris Scott for the picture above). I wrote about it before and after the event.

There were a few other live performances in 2013, see my gigs section for all of them. 

SIX Children’s Television episodes broadcast

Earth Explorers

I saw my name for the first time at the end of CBeebies science show Nina and the Neurons. It was exciting and strange to see it. I realised it made me a professional screenwriter but I didn’t actually feel any different to how I was before.

I was the screenwriter for two episodes about engineering and later in the year I wrote four episodes about space. I also worked on storylines and development for the series. Read more here.

FIVE Leith Library Residency highlights

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Here’s the Leith Library top ten highlights blog I wrote when the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland residency finished in the summer.

FOUR weeks on a writing retreat

Thanks to the Creative Scotland and Scottish Book Trust Residency at Leith Library, I got to go on my first ever writing retreat. Half of it was spent in Ullapool (thanks to my writer friend Mairi) and the other half was cat sitting at my sister’s in Lancashire. I wrote about it here.

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THREE pages on otters

I was commissioned to write a double page spread on otters but it expanded into three pages for a children’s magazine when I added a few ideas for otter fun – think dot-to-dotter…

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TWO Outdoor adventures:

The Capercaillies (rare scottish bird) dance very early in the morning so I had to get up at 4am. I live tweeted the adventure – I know, no one was awake to see it but I wanted to do it anyway. Here’s a picture of the amazing sunrise from the RSPB Loch Garten hide:

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And here’s the video I made about it:

Read more about the capercaillie adventure here.

On the subject of outdoor adventures, I also went canyoning (jumping off rocks into the river in a forest) and I watched a friend do the Great North Swim. Here’s a picture blog about going wood foraging for the first time.

ONE picture book contract signed

I can’t say much more about this just now but I can say it’s being published with Floris Books and will be out in July. It’s one of the books I wrote on my writing retreat so I need to say a massive thanks to the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland. I was funded for nine months in the Library and three months to do my own thing. Without that funding I would never have been able to take a month off to write.

What Else?

I went to three weddings and no funerals. My best friend from primary school got married in Brighton. There are four of us who have been best friends for over twenty years. Two of us were bridesmaids, one was a bride and the other was the vicar! Our vicar best friend sat on the top table and was somewhat of a celebrity.

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Earlier in the year we all went to see the vicar (Hannah) run the London marathon. I wrote about that here.

Some Priorities for 2014

  • Health
  • Rest
  • People
  • Writing

I want to write three books and a new sitcom. I wrote three and a half books last year and a sitcom the year before so I’m hoping I can do it! I lost four months being ill in 2013 so if I’m healthy I figure that gives me some more writing time.

Exciting and New in 2014

I’ve got new glasses and I’m starting the year with a cat called Oscar.

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Just now I’m writing for CBeebies, two scripts down and one to go. I can’t say which show it’s for, sorry!

This week I launch a positive news blog called Common Good Edinburgh. I’ve been funded for a day a week for six months to work on this project and I’m really excited about writing about some of the amazing things that are happening in our city.

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Next Week I start phase two of running digital story workshops with the Govan Reminiscence Group for the Britain from Above Project.

Next week I’m also starting a project writing science shows with young people from a secure unit with the National Museums of Scotland and Cardiff based company Science Made Simple.

Last week we launched Forest Families in Gorebridge, I’m the storyteller for the project – more here.

The week before last I piloted a new nursery workshop I’ve written called Timmy the Turbine – I’ll blog about that soon.

Thanks

I want to say a massive thanks to everyone who’s been part of my 2013. Thanks to friends, family and colleagues for laughter, support and encouragement. I’m looking forward to 2014.

My Annual General Review 2012 is here. My Annual General Review of 2011 is here.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Education, Events, Film, Media, poetry, storytelling, Writing

 

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Faking My Own Death

Writing a personal monologue set ten years in the future during an Edinburgh based zombie apocalypse is not my usual kind of writing. I write about animals. Or science. I write for children. But I said yes before I’d got the brief. There’s a lesson to be learned there. Ari at Illicit Ink emailed me the story outline:

The apocalypse has come to Scotland. Nobody can quite agree on who invaded, but someone or something has. Seven Edinburgh folk give their stories about what happened, and how they are succeeding (or failing) to rebuild their worlds.

And some rules:

Your story must

a) Be in the first person – a monologue

b) Either be performed off-script or use a device (like a diary) where reading off the page is part of the performance

c) Include a section of the meta-story, as given by the producer

d) Be themed to the theme of the show

Here are some monologue devices you could use: diary, radio show, prison cell conversation, explanation over phone to spouse/children, news reading, coma conversation, someone buried under rubble conversation, report back to spaceship, letter to editor, school report, letter to loved one, letter to politician, confession to priest, chat to taxi driver, police station interview, etc.

I was one of the seven writers due to perform on stage at the Scottish Storytelling Centre earlier this month at ‘Apocalypse New’. My section brief was:

The mysterious visitors have built gardens. Edinburgh is full of waterfalls and new forests are springing up. Everyone is very happy and working together to build a compassionate and lovely world. But the strangers are eating people.

It perhaps sounds like my usual kind of writing until you get to that last line. At least I’d been given the most cheerful part, part five. I had a good few weeks to think about my section and during this time I was taken out quite literally by sciatic pain in my back and leg. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever had. I was on three types of prescription pain killers and still blacking out from pain. I could hardly walk but it gave me an opportunity to do something a little different with my writing. Here was a chance to fake my own death / disappearance / zombie abduction.

I waited until late at night when I was due a batch of pain killers. I wanted the pain to be real. I lay in bed with a phone camera and recorded three attempts at my last message to the world. Each was just over 10 minutes long and I played them back before recording the next one. I wanted the story to unravel almost seamlessly but at the same time be delivered with confusion and desperation. I wanted to question what it means to be human but add in things that show it’s me like my favourite bus (the number 10). I wanted to keep a few big reveals until the end. By the time I got to the third recording the pain and desperation were definitely real.

I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t going to be performing in person. When it got to my section the lights went out and a ghostly face appeared on the screen. My face. In the story I’m a doctor, here is my story:

Watch on Youtube here

It went down well. I only wish I could have been there to see all the other performances – radio presented compering, an interview, a play with music and spoken word:

Illicit Ink Skyground: Apocalypse New

When I told people how I’d made the video they said I was suffering for my art. I hadn’t thought of it like that. I saw it as making the most out of the pain. It was described as heightened realism and good acting. If you’re pretending to be drugged and in pain it’s a lot easier if you are actually drugged and in pain so I’m not sure I deserve the credit. I got the idea a few month before from a friend who’s a real doctor. The servers went down in Glasgow and the NHS had no access to anyones medical records for two days. That’s what got me thinking – what if everyone’s medical records really were hacked…

On the day of the performance I got very scared that it was a ridiculous idea and I sent an email to Ari saying I was scared it was rubbish. She assured me it wasn’t and said it was just the sort of experimental thing she was looking for. If you like experiments Illicit Ink: Skyground is back again in February. J.A. Sutherland was very complimentary about the event, read the review here.

Image Credit: Chris Scott

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Events, Film, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Valuing Adults with Learning Disabilities

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Last month I was social reporting at eSAY’s 6th Birthday Party. The event took place to share the latest statistics from the Scottish Consortium of Learning Disabilities (SCLD) on adults with learning disabilities in Scotland.

I wanted to share some of the content from the day because working at this event changed my thinking – I realised I’d underestimated the contribution adults with learning disabilities can and do make to our society. But first I’ll explain what social reporting is…

Social Reporting

Social reporting is about capturing an event from the inside using audio, video and photos. I’ll give you an example. During the first talk of the day (Professor Gyles Glover on research in England) Clare Mills tweeted a picture of her notes, expertly drawn on her Ipad:

I was impressed by her use of graphics and I found Clare during the first break. I said it would be great to share what she was doing with a wider audience and asked if she would mind doing a quick interview. We talked about what she does a bit first and then I used my phone to take a picture of Clare with her Ipad (note the balloons, I wanted to show context was a party):

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and I used the soundcloud app to record a live audio interview with her about what she was doing:

Listen to the audio on Soundcloud here

This was then shared online in real time so people following the conference could see Clare’s notes and then hear from the artist herself about what she was doing and how this was relevant to bigger debate about sharing statistics with adults with learning disabilities. So social reporting is about connecting something personal, relevant and specific to the bigger picture. It’s all about people and stories.

Why People Matter

Here’s one of the video interviews captured by social reporter Cath McKay at SCLD. She interviewed Sandy Galbraith, an adult with learning disabilities who works for SCLD. One of the things I like about this video is Sandy talking about his experience of interviewing adults with learning disabilities. He’d written certain types of people off as not having a meaningful contribution but he was surprised by what people did offer when he gave them a chance to have their say. I think we’ve all been guilty of that! I must confess I was impressed by Sandy’s answers to questions in this video – I may have written him off because of his disability – I realise now I was wrong and I felt comforted to see this error echoed and corrected in Sandy’s own confession “it just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover”:

Why People Matter #esaystats from SCLD on Vimeo.

Valuing Adults with Learning Disabilities

My favourite interview of the day was with Sandra, Joanne and Colin from the ASSET project at Falkirk Council. This amazing story demonstrates it’s possible to successfully integrate adults with learning disabilities into a workplace. Sandra points out that Joanna and Colin are working unsupervised – they are a genuine help not a hinderance. These adults are working independently but sadly they are only paid £2 a day:

Valuing Adults with Learning Disabilities #esaystats from SCLD on Vimeo.

I should maybe say before I filmed this I spoke to Sandra, Joanna an Colin and asked each of them what they would like to talk about. They were not forced or pressurised into saying anything. Sandra was grateful they’d been listened to and treated with respect.

The great thing about being at an event like this is I got to share stories that really matter. I agree with Sandra, we should value the contribution Joanna and Colin make with more money. I’d be interested to hear what you think?

Personally this event has changed me. I admit I was wrong and judged others wrongly. It’s good when you realise what an idiot you’ve been sometimes! Thanks to people like Sandy, Colin and Joanne I’m now different.

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You can watch the rest of the video interviews from eSAY’s 6th birthday party on the SCLD vimeo channel and listen to audio interviews on the SCLD Soundcloud channel. Find all the statistics shared at the event here.

I work as a social reporter for Third Sector Lab and we were working for the Scottish Consortium for Learning DisabilitiesImage Credit (top photo): Clare Mills

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Education, Events, Film, Media, storytelling

 

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Shaking Shells

Last month I led a 3-hour Filmpoem workshop with five children aged between five and ten as part of the first UK Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar.

The workshop started with exercises and games to get the children thinking like poets (I wrote a bit about it here). Then we spent the second half of the workshop writing a group poem on a poetry walk.

Each section of the walk involved a different poetry challenge and at the next stop we heard the results of the last challenge and I set the next challenge. For example when you’re walking:

  • Explore the wall, touch it, smell it, describe it
  • What sounds do you notice? Describe them
  • Find your favourite object on the beach, if you find a better one, swap it. Describe it.

Each child worked independently during the challenge but we came together in a circle at the end of each challenge and each contributed one line to the poem.

Favourite Moments

Three moments really stood out to me. The first was when we stopped after the first poetry challenge. I wrote down each of their lines as they said them. I rearranged the order slightly and read it out. All of the children looked at each other with amazed faces and they said things like “Wow!”. From that moment on they were totally focussed.

During the walk artist Alastair Cook was capturing film and composer Luca Nasciuti recorded sounds. When we were down on the beach Donald (5) was in the process of finding his favourite object when he made a discovery….

“I’ve found a sound for the film!” he shouted. He was sitting down with a handful of mussel shells in his hands and he shook them to show me. He tipped his ear towards the shells again to make sure they sounded right. “That’s brilliant Donald” I said. “Let’s show Luca so he can record it” and I called Luca over and Donald shook his shells again.

My final favourite moment was the screening. The film premiered later that day at the Filmpoem Festival. The children brought their parents along to see it. I think you’ll agree their poem is amazing and the film (thanks to Alastair and Luca) is wonderful:

Filmpoem Workshop – Shaking Shells from Filmpoem on Vimeo.

I want to add at no point did I suggest lines or change their words, I only changed the order of some lines so perhaps Donald’s line came after Kitty’s instead of before. Every section was written during that stop on the journey and so the poem is linear in the order of the journey made.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed planning the workshops activities and the stops on the walk. I hoped it would work well but until you actually do something you don’t know how things will turn out. I was impressed by how well the group responded and how they worked so brilliantly as individuals to create something wonderful together. It was as if something magical happened, they seemed to share one collective creative brain that was five times better than any individual’s could be. Their lines fitted perfectly together and each section fitted perfectly with the last. They had so much freedom to create and they were enjoying every minute of it.

I love the film, Alastair and Luca did an amazing job of putting it together.

What did the children think? 

They were proud of their poem and they said it was fun and not like writing poetry at school. They also said it was easier to write about things when you’re outside experiencing them.

Here’s some of their comments:

Today was a very good workshop because we were all working together making a beautiful poem in Dunbar…

I loved working together with everybody and thinking of good words for the poem…

I loved feeling the wall and going to the beech..

You can see the rest of their comments below, It’s good to see Donald wrote about his shells!

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The Filmpoem Festival was created by artist and Filmpoem project founder Alastair Cook. The Filmpoem Festival was supported by Creative Scotland, East Lothian Council and North Light Arts. Find Filmpoem online or follow Filmpoem on twitter (@filmpoem). 

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Education, Environment, Events, Film, nature, poetry, Writing

 

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Filmpoem Children’s Workshop

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This weekend I’m running a three-hour Filmpoem workshop with six children aged between 6 and 10. The workshop is part of the first Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar and I’m excited to be facilitating the workshop with artist and Filmpoem project founder Alastair Cook.

What is a Filmpoem? 

The programme puts it like this:

A filmpoem is a single entwined entity, a melting, a cleaving together of words, sound and vision. Poetry often tries to deal with the abstract world of thought and feeling, rather than the literal world of things. The filmpoem is the perfect marriage of the two.

Find out more and see examples the Filmpoem website.

How do you make a Filmpoem with children?

I’ve been planning lots of short interactive activities to get our workshop participants thinking like poets.

  • We’ll explore how we interpret our world through memories, imagination and observation
  • We’ll investigate rhyme, rhythm, meaning and anthropomorphism
  • We’ll take a sensory walk to collect new memories, objects and words

Every time I introduce a new concept we will do an activity or game to make it fun and relevant. So we’ll meet the camera as an example of anthropomorphism (he has three legs, one eye and 1 ear – he hates having his ear tickled!) and all of these activities will help us to think like poets and will work towards producing a brilliant final Filmpoem.

The workshop concept was created over tea and cake at Alastair’s many months ago. I chatted through ideas with Alastair and following that he ran a pilot with poet in residence Rita Bradd. Here’s the film they created:

Filmpoem Workshop/ All Tangled Up from North Light Arts on Vimeo.

I’m really looking forward to creating something wonderful with Alastair and the participants this Sunday. I’m also looking forward to the rest of the Filmpoem Festival!

The Filmpoem Festival is supported by Creative Scotland, East Lothian Council and North Light Arts. Find Filmpoem online or follow Filmpoem on twitter (@filmpoem). I contributed to one of Alastair Cook’s Filmpoems last year and blogged about it here.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Education, Environment, Events, Film, Media, poetry, Writing

 

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Leith Library Residency Highlights

I’ve loved working with Leith Library as Reader in Residence. The library part of the residency is finished and I’m taking some time out write a final report for the Scottish Book Trust. I was funded by Creative Scotland to work in the library 2.5 days a week for 9 months, here are the highlights:

Click on the titles to find out more..

1) Mystery Book Sculpture

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In my final week we received the most wonderful gift. It even had my name on it! It was a total surprise and huge encouragement to have the work at the library celebrated and recognised with a mystery book sculpture.

2) Teddy Bear Sleepover

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We were the first library in the world to live tweet teddies all night long. It was in the Evening News, publishers in London sent a giant Hugless Douglass to join us. My family made sleeping bags and teddy bears took over my life.

The best thing was the children loved it. In fact the parents loved it even more. I had emails from them saying they were late for nursery because children had to look through ALL of the photos from the night before. They said they weren’t sure who enjoyed it most, them or their children.

3) Clothes Swap Party

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50 ladies, clothes to swap and afternoon tea. What more could you want?

4) Pirate Treasure Hunt

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We borrowed a boat and a parrot. There were digital clues and copies of Treasure Island. That’s me with a giant golden macaw on my back. Arrrr!

5) Memories of Leith

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Three brilliant writers came to share their memories of Leith during book week Scotland. I also had the chance to interview each of them before the event to capture them talking about their local memories.

6) Teenage Podcast

I worked with four teenagers as they created a young adult fiction podcast. They interviewed authors Keith Gray and Roy Gill and held a celebration event to premiere the podcast to friends and family, it’s well worth a listen

7) Festive Furballs

Our Christmas pets competition. Who doesn’t love a cat in a jumper? Or a rare amphibian, Christmas pony or decorated but very deceased badger?

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8) Book Week Scotland

We visited the pub, the bingo, the gym, the Kirkgate, the church, the cats protection league and many other places to give out books and encourage people to read. We were named as best social media contributor to book week in the whole of Scotland (wow!). We were featured in STV. Here’s my favourite video from the week:

9) The Croods Competition

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We held an illustration workshop with local artist Rachel Everitt. We had some wonderful competition entries from the children.

10) Hamda Dancing in the Library

The van man had a hidden talent. And that’s what the residency was all about – sharing the stories from inside the library and celebrating the people who are part of it.

I really enjoyed being invited to speak about the highlights above at the Social Media for Social Good Conference in February and May and at the CILIPS library conference in June.

The People

I should add one last highlight that is part of every point above – the people. The brilliant people I worked with made the residency what it was. You made me feel so welcome and appreciated and I’m going to miss you all!

Thanks to everyone else involved for supporting the library via social media and in person.

What’s Next?

Just now I’m on a month’s writing retreat for the last part of my residency. Read about what I’m working on while on retreat here.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Events, Film, storytelling, Writing

 

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Social Reporting from the Capercaillie Lek

If you live tweet from a bird hide does anyone care? How can you capture nature as and when it’s happening? Can you create a story around something that may or may not even be there?

This Easter I challenged myself to try social reporting from the caperwatch 2013 at RSPB Loch Garten.

Social reporting is about capturing an event from the inside using audio, video and photos.

Caperwatch is about waking up at 4am to see if you can spot a big black turkey like bird dancing, while peering through the window of a little wooden hut on the side of a loch.

The bird I’m talking about is the capercaillie and here’s how I got on: Watch to the video on youtube here

I interviewed Richard Thaxton from the RSPB to ask why we have to get up so early to see the capercaillie dancing, here’s what he said: Watch the video on youtube here

On the way and during the caperwatch I live tweeted some photos, here’s a couple from the carIMG_20130330_051821 IMG_20130330_052451

We watched the sunrise from the hide, wow!:

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This is the osprey EJ, taken through a telescope with my phone on the eyepeice:

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Can you spot the red squirrel in this shot?:

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But the bird didn’t dance. Does that matter? We also went to see golden eagles but they didn’t fly in:

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And we visited the national dolphin centre but we missed the dolphins by an hour:

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I didn’t mind and the things we did see were beautiful. Getting up at 4am was worth it just to see the sunrise. Eagles would have been a bonus but mountains were enough.

Life can be a bit like that sometimes, you don’t always find what we’re looking for, things don’t always turn out how you planned but if you didn’t look for things in the first place you’d never see the wonderful things there are to see along the way.

Just wanted to point out the kindest way to watch a capercaillie is in the RSPB Loch Garten hide. The capercaillie are critically endangered and when they dance every day they sometimes just drop dead. Bop till they drop. If you go looking for them in the wild and one sees you it will dance to defend itself. The purpose of dancing (or leking) is to attract a mate and you are not that. You will be wasting the poor birds energy and it could be enough to push that bird over the edge. Please let him save the last dance. 

 
 

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Annual General Review: 2012

At the beginning of 2012 I was feeling a little bit nervous about the year ahead so I wrote my first annual general review. I’d just left the security of a permanent job to become a full-time freelancer and I didn’t know how things would work out. I hoped looking back would give me some confidence.

This year it’s different; I’m beginning the year with warmth. Quite literally – there’s a wood burning stove crackling away beside me. It’s new and I love it. I don’t have central heating so I’ve spent the last five winters feeling a little cold. Now, at last! I can afford to be a bit warmer.

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I’m beginning 2013 with an inner warmth too. Perhaps it’s an assurance that things do work out when you step out in faith. Or a warmth that says it’s worth making sacrifices to pursue the things you really feel called to do.

I’m not long back from Kidscreen in New York. It’s a big children’s TV market (I wrote about it here) full of people from all over the world with ideas. They‘re there because they want to make something beautiful and something they believe in. It reminded me that life really is too short not to go for it!

And now to look back over 2012, here are my highlights. Click on the links to read more.

Children’s TV Commissions

  • Writing 5 new series treatments for CBeebies science show Nina and the Neurons
  • Developing 4 new science programmes for CBeebies
  • Storylining 5 episodes for CBeebies science show Nina and the Neurons
  • Screenwriting 2 episodes of CBeebies science show Nina and the Neurons
  • Developing an Eco Comedy Drama for Visible Ink Television (and writing the show bible)
  • Working with CBeebies online on an exciting new science project

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Training Commissions

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Audio and Video Production 

Live Performances

  • Featured Poet at Blind Poetics at the Blind Poet, Edinburgh
  • Storyteller for Electric Tales at the Stand Comedy Club, Edinburgh
  • One of Ten Performance Poets with a ten minute slot at Ten Red, Edinburgh
  • Spoken Word Artist / Storyteller during the Scottish Mental Health and Arts Film Festival at the Lapidus event at Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow
  • Featured Poet at ‘Pea Green Poetry’ Fundraiser Gig for Theatre Paradox at Looking Glass Books
  • Performer at Happy Verse Night, Inky Fingers and Illicit Ink event at Pulp Fiction Books, Edinburgh
  • Performer at The Portobello Book Festival Opening Gala: The Library at Night (wrote a stop frame animation script for a competition)
  • Science and Poetry Poet and Ukulele performer (Inky Fingers Minifest during the Fringe Festival)
  • Digital Storytelling Workshop at Social Media for Social Good conference (Live streamed)
  • Guest speaker at the Literary Salon (speaking about Readers in Residence)
  • Recycler / jar washer on the council recycling promotional videos (featuring my hands!)

Electric Tales: April Thrills

I was almost physically sick before my first comedy performance. I was so nervous but I actually really enjoyed it once we got started -the audience were fab. Here’s a Chris Scott photo to prove I really did it (thanks Chris).  Find previous and upcoming gigs here.

For the Love of It (Voluntary Work)

  • Commissioned by Artist Alastair Cook as one of twenty poets to write a piece of flash fiction for his PechaKucha film project ‘Twenty Second Film Poem
  • Cycled down Leith Walk with camera attached to my bike basket to make an Indiana Jones style adventure film about the terrible potholes.
  • Volunteered as a social reporter at the Poverty Assembly
  • Wrote my last blog for Greener Leith in August 2012 after 2 years of volunteering (70 blogs in total!).
  • Organised some get-togethers for freelancers called Freelance Friday
  • Wrote my first stop frame animation script as part of a call for submissions on the theme of ‘The Library at Night’. It was selected to be performed at the Portobello Book Festival Opening Event.
  • Helped to lead a weekly community group in Leith (that’s ongoing)
  • Continued as trustee of the Speygrian Education Trust (artists, scientist, writers and educators interested in outdoor learning) and helped them to set up twitter and Facebook

I was one of 12 writers to be selected to take part in the CBBC Lab, a competitive entry training course on how to write for CBBC run over 4 days by the Scottish Book Trust and BBC Scotland. It was brilliant.

Outdoor Adventures

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Things I Started

Things I tried  

  • Sick Kids Writer in Residence
  • Heliotrope Writing Residency
  • Olympics related poetry job with West Lothian Council
  • To get mentoring with The Scottish Book Trust
  • Internet dating

This is just to point out I’m definitely not successful at everything. There are plenty of things I hope for but I keep learning and trying. I applied for 2 residences before I got the one I’m doing now at the library but this one is just perfect for me so it goes to show things often work out for the best in the end.

People Who Really Inspired Me

  • Elspeth Murray, a wonderful freelance poet. My poetry mentor and friend.
  • Peter Hynes, a brilliant screenwriter and creative thinker. My screenwriting mentor
  • Josh Selig, creative genius and President of Little Airplane Productions. Encourager.
  • The women in my writer’s group, wonderful talented Marianne Paget and Mairi Wilson
  • Sara Harkins, Head of BBC Scotland Children’s. Sara is wonderful.

I want to thank the people above as well as everyone I’ve worked with in 2012.  Also to my friends and family and to everyone who’s supported me on this journey – you’ve been amazing!

2013: What’s ahead?

The good news is I’m booked up with commissions and projects until early September. So far I’ve completed my tax return, got a stove put in and I’ve been to New York to pitch some kids’ TV shows for Visible Ink Television.

I’m working 2.5 days a week at Leith Library as Reader in Residence. Over the next few months I’ll be writing the Leith Library blog and working with teenagers to make podcasts about young adult fiction. I’ll also be supporting the library staff as they get blogging too.

The library part of my residency finishes in June and then I have three months where I still get paid but I do my own practice. What’s that? Well… I’m considering:

  • Starting a series of science related young adult novels; I have 13 planned.
  • Rewriting my first attempt at a sitcom using feedback from the BBC and screenwriter Adrian Mead
  • Writing picture books. I showed drafts of a science series idea to Agent Lucy Juckes in 2012 so I’ll work on her suggestions.
  • Cycling around Scottish Libraries on a ‘Banana Me Beautiful on a Bike’ book tour. My paperback should be out by then and I’d like to go on a journey and help to promote positive mental health.

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This March (a sample month):

I start working as a digital storyteller with older people in Govan for the Britain from Above Project - can’t wait for that!

I’m writing some episodes on commission for CBeebies (that’s secret – will blog about it when I can).

I’m visiting Flora Stevenson Primary P1 classes for their Book Week – hurrah for children!

I’m working for Third Sector Lab to create audio and video content and run a training session for the 2013 Poverty Assembly. Ross is brilliant, looking forward to working with him again and on something so worthwhile.

I’m working with P6 and P7 in Mid Lothian to help them to create Haikus for their litter bins (for the Scottish Poetry Library).

I’m developing and pitching some ideas to promote fish in nurseries on commission from Seafish (the fishing industry) with writer John Stoddart.

And I’m working at the library – I love it!

Busy!

So as you can see it’s pretty busy.

I’m looking forward to working with Elspeth Murray at the Solas Festival in June and with artist Alastair Cook on the Dunbar North Lights Arts Project in August.

One of my best friends gets married in September, so can’t wait for that (and I need to organise a hen do).

Hopes for 2013

I’m hoping to do the Great North Swim in the Lake District in June with my friend Judith. I hate wearing a swimming costume and I figured training will force me to overcome that fear. Plus I’ve never been to the Lake District and I like Judith. I also ate too much chocolate over Christmas. And exercise helps with creativity. I’m trying to talk myself into this!

I’ve written four children’s TV science shows so I’ll be pitching them to channels and independent production companies in 2013. I’ve especially enjoyed working with puppeteer Josh Elwell (and Bounce) on one of these shows so I do hope we make it!

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Hopes for the Future….. I want

  • to encourage others.
  • to have an ideas box that I add to throughout the year.
  • to make one day a week my day for writing.
  • to write a list of things I’m thankful for every night.
  • to go walking more.
  • to start painting again.

I don’t want to EVER stop doing things that scare me.

And One Day..

I’d like to write an episode of Doctor Who and a bunch of books and some screenplays. I’d like to live in an eco home in the mountains with a cat and a man and perhaps some kids.

Finally a few numbers from 2012….

Blog posts on this blog (40), Blog posts produced for Leith Library (30), blog posts produced for Greener Leith (8), Dog Poo and Litter Films made (6)guest blogs I wrote (4)Cocktail naming competitions won (1) and I attended 4 weddings and a funeral.

Read my annual general review of 2011 here.

 

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Book Week Scotland at Leith Library

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It took place during the last week of November. It was the first national celebration of reading in Scotland. I had to be in my post as Scottish Book Trust Reader in Residence at Leith Library in time to promote it. It was the wonderful ‘Book Week Scotland’.

This post is about how we planned and delivered Book Week Scotland at Leith Library. We used audio, photos, videos, facebook, twitter, blogging, one on one conversations in the community and events.

Also I should say Rebecca Gordon from STV interviewed me and wrote a lovely feature ‘Leith’s Reader in Residence spreads the word for Book Week’, read it here.

Planning

We wanted to engage with as many new people as possible. We decided the best way to do that was to go to them so we planned visits into the community of Leith every day.

We also planned a week of events to get people into the library, the timetable is here.

In the weeks before Book Week we started telling people about what was coming on the Leith Library blog. I went to the Book Week Scotland press launch and interviewed the head of programme, Sophie Moxon. Here’s the blog. I also had chance to interview some of the league of Extraordinary Book lovers. Find the blog here, it includes a video of the youngest member of the league, 5 year old Edward.

League

We invited authors who write about Leith to share their work in the library at an event we called Memories of Leith. We featured each of the three writers on the blog ahead of Book Week to engage with people who were interested in the history of Leith as well as people interested in reading. Click on the links below to find out more about the Authors and listen to them sharing their work in audio trailers:

At the end of each of these blogs we invited people to come to our Memories of Leith event.

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I ran a workshop on storytelling with audio and video at the Social Media for Social Good Conference in Glasgow on the Friday before Book Week. I was able to tell people about what we were doing and what was coming. The workshop was live streamed too. Read about it and watch a video of the workshop here.

We launched our Leith Library twitter a few days before Bookweek. We also planned to regularly post to our facebook page and the Leith Library blog.

Book Week in Leith

We visited to the Bingo, Sofi’s Bar, The Kirkgate Shoping Centre, Stein’s Garage, The Cats Protection League, Destiny Church, Leith Victoria Primary School, Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre, The Kirkgate Barbers, Alien Rock Climbing Wall, Leith Victoria Gym and The Haven Cafe.

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We engaged with people and found out what they loved reading. We gave them free books, we took photos of them with their free books and made videos. We told them about our blog, facebook and twitter. We gave flyers to people to invite them to our Memories of Leith event on the Saturday.

A few of our visit locations were pre planned – we needed permission to be at Ocean Terminal, Alien Rock, Leith Victoria Primary School, Mecca Bingo and the Kirkgate Shopping Centre. The rest of the visits were spontaneous and that was part of the fun of it all. This video was made during a spontaneous visit to Leith Victoria, it was one of my favourite parts of Book Week. Watch the video on youtube.

We challenged the knitting group to knit their own scotland. We asked five year olds what books they liked in our local primary school (after making crocodiles with them). We had a Book Cafe, a Veggie Market and Bookbug’s 6th birthday party at the library.

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The Challenge 

I had to upload and blog as much content as possible in real time but still needed to head out and about every day to collect and create new content. We had a rota so different library advisors could come with me to help every day, they were brilliant. The library advisors also came up with good ideas for places we could visit to engage with genuine Leithers. It was a challenge but we did it and I got much faster at blogging and editing.

On top of Book Week I somehow ended up with social engagements every night. On the Thursday a wood buring stove unexpectedly got delivered at my house just when I arrived at the library so I had to head straight back home to heave it up the stairs. My Mum arrived later on that day for a long weekend too. I left her some keys in a cafe and met her later that evening, she didn’t mind. Looking back I’m really glad I did go out – it forced me to have a break. I know I would have worked every waking hour if I could, there was so much to cover in a limited time.

The Results

So how did it all go? Well we gave out hundreds of books to people in Leith and talked to each one of them about reading.

We engaged with people online too. We built up a couple of hundred new twitter followers and got loads more people signed up to our blog. We also had more likes for posts on the blog and on facebook compared to usual. The blog had over 500 visitors during book week so we were pleased with that.

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The Scottish Book Trust did an amazing job of supporting and sharing all of the events going on throughout book week. I loved being part of something bigger, something national.

It was heartily encouraging to get their tweets and emails along the way too. Especially from Digital Marketing Co-ordinator, Danny. He emailed us to say we were the best social media contributor to Book Week in the whole of Scotland so that was a wonderful news.

We enjoyed it, we engaged with new people and we raised the profile of the library. We encouraged people to read and that’s what it’s all about. That’s why I’m working as a Reader in Residence

You can see all the pictures we took during Book Week Scotland in our Facebook Album. Read more about Book Week on the Leith Library blog by clicking on the links below:

Feedback

Here are some quotes about our memories of Leith event:

From Twitter:

Very enjoyable hour – could have run for two, easily. Loved it. Thanks! Vicki Jarrett

Marianne Paget read her v.impressive”Leith,1974″ from “My Favourite Place”. Malcolm Chisholm MSP

Aunty Sue (87) was thrilled to be at the Memories of Leith event. It was the 1st library event she’s been to, she loved it and is looking forward to more. She said “You’re never too old to have new experiences,” Marianne Wheelaghan.

From evaluation forms:

Excellent, thanks so much. Can we have more?

I loved this event – I used to cry when I was little if the library was shut and I could not change my books. I never find time to read much now but I will really try – also I would like to write down memories of my grandparents.

By Email:

I really did enjoy my time at the library…. thank you again for all you did. You are a star. My family love the blog!!! Author Millie Gray

And a more general one from Elspeth Murray that made us smile:

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What’s next? 

I’ve been in post for 3 months now so it’s time for me to report to the Scottish Book Trust on what I’ve been doing. I record all of my hours and work in a spreadsheet so I’ll send that.

I’ve 6 months to go at the library and I’m excited about what’s coming up. We’ve got a blog about a Leith heron from Author Lari Don. Our library advisor, Linda is going to be reviewing baking books. We’ve got a three part blog special on the history of Leith with Millie Gray. Our book group are going to start blogging book reviews next year and I’ll be working with teenagers to make podcasts about young adult fiction.

On Christmas eve we judge our Festive Furballs competion. If you’ve not heard about it do check it out. We’ve had photos sent in of a gerbil, a pony, a rare amphibian and even a deceased badger all in Christmas gear. It makes me smile on a daily basis! Find the photos on facebook here or read about it on the blog here.

Lastly I’ve been asked to lead the reader development session at the CILIPS (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Conference in June 2013. I’m totally honoured and a little nervous but really looking forward to it.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Education, Events, Film, storytelling

 

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Litter and Dog Poo Films

I’ve been commissioned to make a series of films about litter and dog poo for Greener Leith.

UPDATE: Click on the headlines below to read about this project in the news.

Leith has a litter and dog poo problem but these films don’t focus on the problem. Behaviour change research shows rewarding people for good behaviour is more effective than fining people for bad so we’re celebrating the positive here in Leith and focusing on the solution.

Watch the local Environmental Wardens present prizes to people who pick up after their dogs and put litter in the bin below. Find out more about the making of after that.

Love Leith 1: Dog owners rewarded for picking up poo on Leith Links (watch it on youtube here):

Love Leith 2: Janet wins a cream tea in the Kirkgate for binning her litter (watch it on youtube here)

Love Leith 3 (Mary picks up after aero the dog and gets a rewardwatch it on youtube here)

Love Leith 4: Shore smoker gets a reward from Mimis for binning litter (watch it on youtube here)

Love Leith Extra: Megan from Little Remis cafe sings praises of pocket ashtrays (watch it on youtube here)

Planning

The idea for the project came from Greener Leith’s Ally Tibbitt, his idea was to reward good behaviour with prizes from local businesses. The idea was so good it won funding from L£ith Decides.

After we secured the funding I approached local businesses to ask them to donate prizes. Mimi’s Bakehouse, A1 Pets and the Haven Cafe were all delighted to take part. We already had tickets coming from the Royal Yatch Britania thanks to Ally so I just needed to pick those up.

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I filmed quick thank you clips with each of the local businesses while I was collecting prizes. I also bought some sparkly envelopes to put the prizes in too, to make it like the oscars.

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Filming

I spent an afternoon filming with local Environmental Wardens Paul and Kevin. We met up and headed to the litter and dog poo hot spots of Leith. We needed to catch the action when it happened.

We had a problem, what if the dogs we saw just didn’t poo on camera? We kept seeing guide dogs and unfortunately for us guide dog owners don’t have to pick up.

Suddenly I saw a dog squatting in the distance. When the owner went towards it to pick it up I sprinted across Leith links with my camera shouting triumphantly “he’s picking it up!”. That’s him in the first video above. After that they just kept on pooing.

I had some disguises for the wardens to wear and some christmas gear for the Christmas special (see love leith 4 above).

Editing

I loved editing the films – especially timing it so a dog’s mouth opened in time with the woofs in the music composed by Sam Gallagher. The Warden’s had a good senses of humour, it really was a pleasure to work with them.

Afterwards

Since that first afternoon the Wardens have given out a prize every day and they’ve been sending me highly entertaining emails documenting people’s reactions when they’re given a prize.

I’m delighted to be part of this innovative project. You can read more about it on the Greener Leith website here.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on November 25, 2012 in Environment, Film, Media

 

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