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Category Archives: Writing

Edinburgh Book Festival Video

Here’s a wee video previewing the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival from the Edinburgh Reporter. It includes interviews with the Director of the Book Festival (Nick Barley) and the Director of the Children’s and Education Programme (Janet Smyth).

And then there’s an interview with me. Yes, I am somehow in there with these very important book festival people. Big thanks to the Edinburgh Reporter for that.

 

Watch the video on YouTube here.

I wrote about my book festival children’s event ‘Dancing Capercaillies’ on the blog here. Get tickets here. Read about my schools event here.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2014 in Events, Film, Writing

 

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Dancing Capercaillies

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Tickets for Edinburgh International Book Festival go on sale tomorrow and I would like to invite you along to my event ‘Dancing Capercaillies‘ at 13.00 on Monday 18th August. I’m excited to be bringing my debut picture book:

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Here’s what page 75 of the book festival programme says about the event:

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If you come along you’ll be at my first public reading. There will football with giant pinecones, a naughty squirrel squirting water, sounds recorded in the cairngorms forest, video footage of real capercaillies dancing and a few other surprises. By the end of the event you’ll know some genuine capercaillie dance moves. You could try them out at a wedding?

Schools
If you are a school group, I’m also doing a schools event on 21st August, I wrote about on the blog here.
 
Love Birds
I love the Edinburgh International Book Festival bird graphics – Cameron the Capercaillie will feel right at home in Charlotte Square.
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Capercaillies

Capercaillies are rare Scottish birds – there’s only around 1000 of them left in the wild in Scotland. They dance every year and I’ve got up very early to try to see them the last three years in a row. Here’s how I got on

Watch to the video on youtube here

 

BUY THE BOOK

Can’t Dance Cameron is published this September by Floris Books as part of their Picture Kelpies range. Advance copies of the book will be available in the Edinburgh Book Festival Shop in Charlotte Square Gardens during the book festival. So that’s the only place you can get a copy before 18th September.

BUY TICKETS (with Oscar!)

Hello, I’m Oscar the cat – there will be a video of me impersonating a character from ‘Can’t Dance Cameron’ during the ‘Dancing Capercaillies’ event. You should totally come along to see that. Invite lots of friends. Especially the smaller noisy people (aged 4 – 7 years) but grown ups will enjoy it too. Get tickets from 8.30am tomorrow on the book festival website. Log into your account before then here (to make it quicker tomorrow).

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Thanks to everyone at Floris Books, especially my brilliant editor Eleanor Collins and to Katie Pamment the illustrator – what beautiful illustrations.

Also, big thanks to the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland – the first version of this book was written thanks to them during my writing retreat (via the Reader in Residence post at Leith Library).

And thanks to Mairi Wilson who let me stay at her house in Ullapool for my writing retreat, she was the first person to hear Cameron’s story. Back then, he was called Colin.  

Read about Cameron dancing in the Floris Book Catalogue here.

 

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Super Science Sleepover

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with two groups of teenagers to help them to write and perform science shows. Tomorrow the pupils perform their shows to family audiences at the National Museum of Scotland and you’re invited to join them. Details below:

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The pupils are from Apex Inclusion Units at Braeview Academy, Dundee and at Dunfermline High School. They’ve been working hard on the scripts during workshops at school and at the museum here in Edinburgh. I can’t wait to see their final performances.

Pilot

I first got involved in the Museum2Go project during the pilot last year, I wrote about it on my blog here. Read more on the National Museums Scotland website here. Or watch this video, it really captures the heart of the project:

Museum2Go: Alex’s Amazing Adventure from National Museums Scotland on Vimeo.

The Museum2Go project was funded by The Robertson Trust. I have been working on this project with Science Made Simple in partnership with the National Museums Scotland

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Education, Events, Film, Science, Writing

 

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Kelpies Book Catalogue

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The new Kelpies Scottish Children’s Book Catalogue arrived in the post from Floris Books. I got very excited when I saw it sitting on the mat. I got even more excited when I turned to page 10…

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A Can’t Dance Cameron double page spread! Katie Pamment’s lovely illustrations of the capercaillie lek (that’s a dance) on one side:

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A description of my first picture book on the other… it is really happening:

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Next week I’m going to see the full colour layout of the whole book. That’s when we make any last changes to text. It will be the first time I see the illustrations (apart from the ones here in this catalogue). I can’t wait!

I had a look at the rest of the books in the catalogue. These ones are next on my ‘to read’ list. I’ve already read the Daemon Parallel and I’m very much looking forward to Roy Gill‘s sequel:

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The catalogue finishes with a map, all the books from Floris are set in Scotland. I felt proud to see Can’t Dance Cameron dancing in the Highlands:

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Find ‘Can’t Dance Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story’ on the Floris website here. Read about taking Cameron to the Edinburgh International Book Festival here. Read about trying to spot a capercaillie dancing in real life here

 

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in Education, nature, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Timmy the Turbine on Tour

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This Sunday I’m taking ‘Timmy the Turbine’ on an adventure to meet families at Duddingston Festival. Soon after that on the 19th June he’s off to the Royal Highland Show to meet primary one and primary two children.

Timmy The Turbine is a nursery science show, story and workshop aimed at children age three to six years. The description for the Royal Highland Show Programme will hopefully explain what it’s all about:

Wind is wonderful and we’ve got plenty of it in Scotland! How can we use it to make things go?

Help Timmy the Turbine to find the perfect home in our interactive story with Nibbles the red squirrel, Honker the barnacle goose and Mr Haggis. Find out more about where they live and why Timmy can’t stay with them.

Measure how long Timmy’s arms are compared to yours. Sing the Timmy song. Learn the Timmy Rhyme and don’t forget the actions. Create your own mini Timmy and decide where he should go.

If that wasn’t enough to wet your windy whistle – Timmy himself (the mascot) will make an appearance…

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I wanted to invite you along to meet him with your family this weekend at Duddingston Festival (or at the Royal Highland show in a few weeks if you’re a school). Details are:

Sunday 25th May, 1.15pm to 1.45pm Duddingston Festival Edinburgh. We’ll be in the BB Commemorative Garden if it’s sunny. If not we’ll be in the Miller Hall.

Thursday 19th June, Royal Highland Show, all day schools event (book your class in here).

Duddingston Festival is a lovely wee community festival. Most of the performers are coming for free and all the events are free too (by donation). You can see John Hegley‘s Children’s show (the amazing famous poet) right after Timmy finishes.

Where Did Timmy Begin? 

Timmy the Turbine started life as a story written by Jay Butler, Managing Director of Renewable Energy Company vento ludens. Vento ludens approached me to ask if I could to put together a proposal to take Timmy’s story and create a nursery workshop based around it.

I loved the story, especially that it was so well balanced – it helped highlight some of the problems of trying to locate a wind turbine as well as the benefits of wind power. For example Timmy gets in the way of migrating geese and he makes people’s TV aerials go fuzzy.

I worked on a proposal for the project which included:

  • a shortened version of the blurb above
  • ideas for an interactive science show
  • a fun way to simplify and present story
  • a song
  • a rhyme
  • a take home sheet
  • a craft
  • a plan to pilot the workshop in two Edinburgh Nurseries.

I pitched the proposal to Vento Ludens and was delighted to get commissioned. After that came the bit I really love. Writing and creating all the different interactive elements to make the story and the science behind the story fun, memorable and engaging for 3 to 6 year olds.

Creating Resources

I researched the curriculum for excellence and checked which areas of science are covered for Early Years (3 – 6 years) to make sure I was writing something relevant and using the correct terms. I simplified the story and added some memorable phrases to help the children to join in for example Timmy says “Hi, my name is Timmy and I’m looking for a home” each time he meets a new character.

I commissioned Julia Holland (my lovely sister) to create a set of felt book characters, I was so excited when they arrived:

I commissioned Edinburgh Sketcher to create four big story images to be used for recapping the story. Here’s one of nibbles the red squirrel in the pine forest: SquirrelForrest_Colour I asked the Edinburgh Sketcher to create line drawing versions for the story so we could put them together to make a take-home colouring sheet to stick on their fridge with a Timmy fridge magnet: BfKCsQIIcAAqsX3 Once I was happy with a prototype Timmy fridge magnet, I cut out lots of little Timmy’s:

I worked on the characters to give them unique personalities. The squirrel is bossy, the resident is a bit like Billy Conolly (but no swearing). I watched YouTube videos to perfect my Russian accent. I discovered Honker the barnacle goose migrates to Iceland or Russia so I needed to get the right voice! I should point out that my Russian accent is still fairly bad.

I built a model wind turbine and the cat, as always, got in the way:

I wrote a script and lesson plan and I practiced the show with a run order:

Timmy Pilot

We piloted Timmy the Turbine in Edinburgh in two different corner house day nurseries. Photographer Chris Scott came along to capture the action at the first nursery. There were 29 children aged four and five.

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This was a big group and I felt a bit nervous knowing it was my first performance. There were six nursery staff, two vento ludens staff members and a photographer all watching too – that’s more scary for me than the children. Thankfully, as soon as I got started I forgot about the grownups and had a really lovely time with the children.

They discovered how wind can make things go: _MG_1975

Nibbles the red squirrel threw nuts and squirted water:

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We told the story using the felt characters as props:

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We chatted about what they remembered using the beautiful Edinburgh Sketcher pictures:

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We had fun singing Timmy’s song and doing the Timmy the Turbine Rhyme:

_MG_2026Even the grown ups joined in!

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After 45 minute of carpet time I told them it was time for the craft and they didn’t move. One boy put his hand up and said “Does that mean you’re going?” I explained we would be going soon because another nursery needed to hear Timmy’s story. The boy said “Ohhhh” in a very sad voice and hung his head. I explained that if I didn’t go, they wouldn’t get to meet a very special guest… Timmy himself:

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The children decorated their Timmy the Turbine fridge magnets and once they’d finished we helped them to stick on pegs:

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I listened to some of their conversations and was really chuffed to hear them talking about Timmy’s story:

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Making it Better

There were a few things that came up during the first workshop that could be improved. That’s why it it’s useful to do a pilot, to try things and make it better.

For example I discovered the children weren’t too clear as to why Timmy couldn’t stay with Honker the goose. I asked them about it using the Edinburgh Sketcher pictures during the recap. Clearly I’d lost them somewhere, probably due to my Russian accent and the description of geese flying “Ve fly in a vee”.

So the second time around I made it really clear. The goose said “I vill bonk my head on your vings” multiple times to Timmy who said “Do you mean you’ll bonk your head on my blades?” “Yes, zat iz vhat I said. I vill bonk my head on your vings” and so on.

In the second workshop during the recap, they all remembered why Timmy couldn’t stay with honker the goose. The change had worked. Nibbles the squirrel was helping with the recap, she bonked her head on the picture several times with glee due to her being very pleased they had remembered – this made them all laugh a bit too much (naughty nibbles got carried away).

The second session was with a smaller group of 15 children aged 2 – 4. They were younger children so I shortened the workshop but they were still engaged for half an hour of carpet time. After the carpet time they drew Timmy on the Timmy Take Home sheet.

Evaluation

Overall we were really pleased with how it all went, especially with how well engaged the children were. The combination of different types of activities seemed to hold their attention. 

Here are a few of the nursery teacher comments:

They really enjoyed taking part in the story and I think it made them really feel part of it.

I thought it was a good story that covered different elements of the curriculum for excellence

It was really fun and informative. You managed to hold their attention for the whole length of time.

I’m sure they will be talking about Timmy for a while!

We also asked the teachers if the children could remember it after the event and if the parents had any feedback. Here’s what they said:

They were telling their parents all about the story and in particular the squirrel! Parents said they thought it was great that you guys had been in and done the story etc with the children. We have heard groups of children discuss it with each other.

I’m excited to see how Timmy gets on with family audiences this Sunday in Duddingston Festival and then with school children in June, at the Royal Highland Show.

Read about Timmy the Turbine on the vento ludens website.

Thanks

Massive thanks to everyone at vento ludens, to Jay for writing the story and huge hurrah for Susanne Mueller – for all your hard work, creativity and enthusiasm and for getting inside the Timmy suit with a smile. 

Thanks to Julia Holland and the Edinburgh Sketcher for creating such lovely resources. 

Thanks to staff, children and parents at the Corner House Day Nursery for being part of out pilot.

Thanks to our photographer, Chris Scott for all the lovely photographs.

 

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Can’t Dance Cameron

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I’m finally allowed to share the news – my debut picture book

Can’t Dance Cameron: A Scottish Capercaillie Story

comes out this summer and is published by Floris Books as part of their Picture Kelpies range.

I’m also really excited to tell you I’m taking Can’t Dance Cameron to the Edinburgh International Book Festival. You can read more about the book in the Schools Programme, page 18: can't dance cam

I’m very pleased to be next to the awesome Matt Haig in the programme too.

Come Along

If you’re a teacher or if you know a teacher, tell them to come along with their class to the event if they like the sound of

  • dancing (genuine capercaillie dance moves)
  • a naughty squirrel throwing nuts and squirting water
  • a giant foam pinecone and some football skills
  • video footage of my cat
  • the sounds of the forest (I actually went to the highlands and recorded them)
  • and a few surprises..

UPDATE: Pre-order the book on amazon here. Read about finding Cameron dancing in the Floris Book Catalogue here.

Thanks to Chris Scott for the book festival programme photo and to everyone at Floris Books, especially my brilliant editor Eleanor Collins and to Katie Pamment the illustrator – what a beautiful front cover!

Also, big thanks to the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland – the first version of this book was written thanks to them during my writing retreat (via the Reader in Residence post at Leith Library).

And thanks to Mairi Wilson who let me stay at her house in Ullapool for my writing retreat, she was the first person to hear Cameron’s story. Back then, he was called Colin.  

 
 

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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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Sparking Ideas From Science

Just a quick blog to say I’m running a science and poetry workshop at the National Library of Scotland on the evening of the 2nd April. You can find the event (and me) in the Edinburgh International Science Festival programme – open it in the centre and I’m top right. Oscar the cat has kindly pointed it out with his paw:

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You can also find details online on the Edinburgh International Science Festival Website here.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Events, Science, 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!

muppets

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

Unbound

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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