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The Istanbul Review

I’m excited to have a science poem published in the latest edition of The Istanbul Review, page 22:

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Relativity has a mathematical structure – every line has one more word all the way up to twenty. It’s about the maths and science and stories inside everything. It would fit into the writing genre of creative non fiction – if you’re wondering what creative non fiction is, I wrote a bit about it here.

There’s also an interview with me covering writing for children, writing science, working with excluded teens, blogging and asking ‘if I could add a word to the dictionary, what would it be?’. They do this awesome thing where illustrator Aysegul Sinav draws each contributor:

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I love the gorgeous artwork on the cover (by Canan Berber):

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I should maybe explain what The Istanbul Review is – It’s a literary journal featuring fiction, poetry, art, interviews, creative non fiction and out takes. It’s printed in Istanbul. This issue includes another creative non fiction piece, by Turkey’s most read novelist Elif Skafak:

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There are some lovely mathematical structures in there too in the form of sestutes (62 word poems) by Edinburgh based award-winning historical fiction writer Sara Sheridan:

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Buy a copy online here. Or if you’re in Edinburgh, you can pop in and buy one (or order over the phone from anywhere in the UK) from Looking Glass Books.

Find the Istanbul Review online, on twitter, on pinterest and on Facebook. They’re open for submissions just now for issue 6, find out how to submit your work here

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Tales From Our Wild Park

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This is me holding a giant copy of the book I’ve written for Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. It’s called ‘Tales From Our Wild Park’ and it launched yesterday at Glasgow Queen Street station.

The Launch

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That’s Paul Wheelhouse the Environment Minister in the middle and Fiona Logan (Chief Executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park) on the left and the park convener Linda McKay on the right – getting their photos taken at the launch. They were interviewed by the BBC too, you might have seen it on Reporting Scotland last night?

Behind them to the left is the green screen. It was used to create portraits of people in the park. For example, I stood in front of the green screen and cupped my hands and…. here I am holding a red squirrel in the Trossachs Forest!

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You can see all of the photos created by the green screen on facebook here. Read more about the launch on forargyle.com here.

Tales from Our Wild Park

It’s so exciting to see the book in print! It looks absolutely gorgeous. The designers (Create 48) and project manager (Aelred Nicholas) have done an amazing job in putting it together. This is one of my favourite spreads:

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John Muir’s quote, the designers beautiful word art, an amazing photo of the bog cotton and my writing.

The publication is 52 pages long. It focuses on five wild challenges:

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Half of Scotland’s population live within one hour’s drive from the park so really, the park belongs to all of us and this book is written for you. It sets out the priorities for the park over the next ten years and it invites us to get involved. It invites us to visit the park and experience the beauty of nature for ourselves:

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The book is free and is available at outlets across the Park. You can download it here.

My Brief

My role was to make the 150 page biodiversity action plan as relevant, engaging, exciting and easy to read as possible. I needed to write for someone with no background knowledge of the park. I read the action plan several times. Some sections, for example ‘our woodland habitats’, were several pages long. My challenge was to condense seven pages into the equivalent of two. Other sections like ‘red squirrels’ or ‘black grouse’ only had a few paragraphs so I needed to take what was relevant and research the topic elsewhere. I thought a lot about how to make things relevant to the public and proposed a general format for each wild challenge of:

  • Relevant quote
  • Descriptive intro
  • Why it’s important / why it matters
  • What we’re doing
  • How can you get involved / what can you do to help
  • Where can you see it / them (location and travel info)

Aelred loved this format and so I set to work on a sample spread. I wanted to check I was on the right track before I wrote the whole thing. I chose peat bogs first. I read the action plan section a few times and researched bogs in books and online. I spoke to a natural history expert, Kenny Taylor to find out more.

I submitted my first spread and received feedback. The good thing was the tone and style were just right but there were things I needed to work on. The team wanted more excitement and adventure. What is it like to climb the mountains and visit a peat bog? I’d suggested visiting Flanders Moss – the most famous bog in the park but this was the wrong type of bog.

This initial feedback was really useful and helped me to understand what the team were looking for. It also helped me to request the information I needed instead of coming up with it myself – like locations for mountain bogs (since there weren’t bog locations in the action plan). I asked for clarification on the angle of each section – for example with invasive non-native species I suggested as an intro we started off all gentle and beautiful and then switch to the destruction of the plants taking over. They liked that.

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I had to think about the best way to get key points and information across. Not everyone is interested in invasive plants (they’re not cute like red squirrels) so I didn’t want to use lots of text writing about each specific plant. Instead I suggested photos and a table.

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I wrote the rest of the sections and simplified the vision and overview. The feedback was good – just some minor changes and a suggestion to find some alternative quotes (apart from John Muir). I’d chosen John Muir because I love how he captures the heart of the beauty of experiencing nature with so much simplicity. Also, he’s from Scotland, he founded national parks in the US and it’s the year of Scotland’s homecoming. But taking the feedback on board, I found some other relevant quotes and they’ve really added something – like Billy Connolly’s quote about a sexy raincoat!

Aelred asked partner organisations for quotes too – they really bring the topics to life.

I love that about the creative process. When others contribute ideas and vision it makes the whole thing so much better as a result.

Feedback

The style is completely different to anything the park has published before. Feedback and so far has been really positive. One staff member told me how she cried when she read it. It’s been described as a publication that engages with the head as well as the heart. 

I’d be interested to hear what you think too!?

Edinburgh International Book Festival

I’m really excited to say ‘Tales of our Wild Park’ is going to all the teachers visiting Edinburgh International Book Festival School Gala Day on the 26th August. I’m doing three events at the book festival this year including an event at the Gala Day. I’ve written another book that came out this week, this one is for children but it also features a red squirrel and a forest! It’s called ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’. Read more about it here.

Find out more about Wild Park on the Wild Park 2020 website.

 

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Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch

It’s tomorrow night at the Storytelling Centre. You can bring knitting. It’s almost sold out. Turn to page 45 of your Edinburgh International Science Festival Programme and you’ll find it. Illicit Ink‘s ‘Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch': Lady scientist

I’m playing Emma Darwin. That’s Charles Darwin’s wife. The lady scientist with which I’m stitching and bitching are:

And the brains behind the operation, that is the lady with the time machine who’s been stopping off at various points throughout history to collect us all – your compere for the evening is Ariadne Cass-Maran.

GET TICKETS HERE. Join the event on facebook here.

I should maybe point out that I’m not really bitching – I’m presenting the final monologue of the evening. It’s a spoken word piece I’ve written as Emma about her thoughts and questions on life, faith, feminism, science, death and love. I’m also sewing the tree of life onto a cushion and reading one of the letters I actually wrote to my dear Charlie (the real Emma wrote it – you know what I mean). I’m not saying anymore because I don’t want to spoil it! 

 
 

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Lunchtime workshops at the Lighthouse

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I’m facilitating a series of half hour creative writing workshops over Friday lunchtimes at The Lighthouse in Glasgow. The workshops take place in the beautiful Britain From Above aerial photography exhibition. The photos are part of the unique Aerofilms collection of aerial photographs from 1919-1953.

How did I get involved?

I’ve been working with the Govan Reminiscence Group over several months creating digital stories for Britain from Above. I’ll blog about that project soon.

The Friday Lunchtime Workshops

I’ve chosen one photo as the focus for each workshop. For example there’s a picture of The Clyde Foundry – thought to be the biggest glass clad structure in Europe at the time – it’s now demolished. The theme of that workshop will be windows. Windows on the past, windows on the future. Looking out and looking in…

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Each workshop is just half an hour so you can come on your lunch break and they’re free. I’m hoping to record some of the participants reading their work at the end of each workshop so we can add audio clips to the photos online on the Britain From Above website. Participants can continue their work at home and add it to the website later too.

I’m facilitating workshops on 28th March, 4th April, 11th April and the 18th April. Poet Towona Sithole is facilitating the workshop on 25th April, they’re all from 12.30pm – 1.00pm in the Britain From Above Exhibition at The Lighthouse.

Book a Place

You can book a place on any of the creative writing workshops here.

These workshops are part of a series of free workshops running in the Britain from Above exhibition at the Lighthouse including drawing, glass etching and felting. Find out more about the other workshops on The Lighthouse website here.

Stay Connected

Follow The Lighthouse on twitter @The_Lighthous. Follow Britain From Above on twitter @AboveBritain. Find out more about the Britain From Above online.

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Thanks to Brian Wilkinson from Britain From Above for helping me to research the photos in advance of the workshops. 

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2014 in Education, Events, poetry, storytelling, Writing

 

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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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Working with Libraries

I wanted to let you know about a few projects I’m doing with libraries.

Forest Families in Gorebridge

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Tomorrow I’m off to Gorebridge library to run some woodland themed storytelling workshops with the local primary schools at the launch the Forest Families project. Here’s how the facebook page describes Forest Families:

A project providing positive, nurturing interactions and free play in natural environments, for children from Mid Lothian,aged 3-8 years and their parents

Oak trees are the theme for tomorrow’s workshops. We’re hoping the children will recognise the shape of an oak leaf. It happens to be the Midlothian Council logo so they won’t have just see it on trees. I’m even going to be wearing an oak leaf dress – now that’s commitment!

I’m working with craft maker and educator Jaimie MacDonald. The last time we worked together we were running crafty storytelling training for youth leaders. This time we’re storytelling and making crafts with the children ourselves. I’m excited to hear Jaimie will be wearing a mushroom jumper (in keeping with the forest theme).

Each workshop is a taster session. We’ll have an introduction from project founder Stephanie Walker. Then it’s me with the story bag, leaves, imagination exercises, stories and some songs. Then it’s Jaimie making nature journals and finally we finish up with a wee song from the little oak story as we plant some trees:

Wonderful, beautiful, there’s only one like you.

There’s only one who was made to do, the things that you will do.

Families in Gorebridge will have an opportunity to sign up to monthly Forest Families workshops. The first one is Saturday 22nd February.

Social Media Training for Edinburgh Libraries

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Last month I ran a training session with team leaders and staff from across the Edinburgh public libraries. I was asked to share examples of how we used social media to promote reader development at Leith Library during the 9 month residency I did with the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland (read the highlights here).

The course was full and it was a good opportunity for people to share ideas between libraries. With that in mind I didn’t want to be doing all the talking. For part of the session I got people to slit into groups and discuss different ways to tell stories digitally – audio, video, photo and combinations of the above. Through the discussion and feedback people came up with loads of great ideas for things to do within their libraries and that was all before I shared some of what we did in Leith.

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Science Poetry at the National Library of Scotland

I was delighted to be asked to run a science poetry masterclass this April as part of the great big science read. I was also a little bit nervous since it’s called a master class. Did that mean I had to be a master of science poetry? Images of Yoda sprang to mind. But then we had a planning meeting at the National Library. We got excited about the titles of the science collection as inspiration for poems and I had a few ideas for exercises that the team really liked so that has put me at ease. There’s enough inspiration in that collection and in science itself so I figure I’m just going to be facilitating an opportunity for people to be inspired, connect and share.

If you’re interested you can find details of the event in the Science Festival Programme or in the latest National Libraries of Scotland what’s on leaflet.

You can read my most recent science poem ‘Relativity’ in the latest issue of The Istanbul Review.

 

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Stars and Wishes

Last week I spent the afternoon at Low Port Primary School in Linlithgow for Book Week Scotland. I had a lovely time working with Primary 1 and Primary 1/2 classes. We talked about memory and imagination and how we use both to create stories. All the children were dressed as their favourite book characters so everyone was excited and already using lots of imagination! We made it rain in the classroom and then we pretended we were in a forest for a story. At the end of the workshop the children used their imagination once again to wish. The challenge was they could wish for absolutely anything, not just Christmas presents:

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On Sunday I was working in Portobello library as part of the Inky fingers poetry weekend. We made Christmas fridge magnet pegs that could be used to hold poems:

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I asked the children in the library what they wished for too and I’ve put them together along with wishes from Low Port to make a poem. It’s all in their own words:

I wish I was magic

I wish I had a dog with the ears of a rabbit

I wish for world peace… and no wars!

I wish to be a famous footballer

I wish I could change into a bird and then back again, to a human.. whenever I wanted!

I wish that everyone gets a fair vote and a fair amount of money per job

I wish I could be a butterfly

Monster Bingo!

I wish I had a horse or a pony… no wait, I wish I had a mansion and then I could ride my pony in the garden

I wish I really was a pirate

I wish I could see snow every second

I wish… I actually WAS Father Christmas!

I wish I could go back to France

I wish I had a pet wolf

I wish to be a famous singer

I wish for my Mummy

I wish I could fly

I asked a coupled of the grown ups in the library too. Their wishes were more practical and Christmas related.

I wish I could enjoy Christmas dinner

I wish everybody in the world were happy

I wish everyone will get where they need to be for Christmas

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Posted by on December 11, 2013 in Education, Events, poetry, storytelling

 

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