Tag Archives: writetip

The Perfect Notebook

I’m finding it hard to say goodbye to my last notebook. I realise now he might have been just perfect for me:


Stitches on the outside – I love that you can see how he’s made. That thought bubble was so full of promise – asking to be filled but with no false claims. He’s aged well and I like him better for it. Aged by ideas, meetings, hopes, achievements, workshops, figures, prayers and to do lists. My life in simple ticks and now all so shabby chic. I added the Charles Rennie Mackintosh turquoise rose paperclip.. okay it might be just a swirl but I like to think of it as art in stationery form. I need to show you inside too – secret stripes!:


He was with me on my first writers retreat. He held on to me during my first appearance in the Edinburgh Book Festival – I held him high and read. Now it’s over. He’s full so it has to be. Over.

Feels like I’m being unfaithful. He has to watch while the newer, more shiny woodland creatures model takes his place. Touched less and less, needed less and less. Relegated to this shelf, my notebook graveyard:


What exactly am I looking for in a perfect notebook anyway? I’ve been looking for years, how did this one become the best?

Perfect notebook you have to be:

1) Not too fancy

There are writers who only write in moleskin books. If my notebook were that nice, I’d never dare write anything in it – for fear of spoiling it.

2) Not too cheap

There’s the other extreme. If it says ‘A5 Ruled Notebook’ on the cover it has no soul and I can’t take it seriously.

3) Not too big

It needs to be A5 or just below. Mostly because it has to fit in my handbag.

4) Not too thick

I don’t want to lug some hulking brick of a phone directory about everywhere I go. My keys are heavy enough!

5) Not too small

If you’re a writer people buy you notebooks as presents. It is a lovely thoughtful gift. Often they are very pretty and very little and I love looking at these notebooks. IMG_20131202_165401

The problem is they’re just too lovely and quite frankly too tiny to write in. If I wrote and rewrote a poem I’d have to use 16 pages or more of one of these tiny books. How is that sustainable? I’d have millions of little notebooks all over the place all with different things in them and what if I needed to go back to something. Do I just wheel around a trolley full of them in case?

6) Without false claims

If it says ‘Great Ideas’ on the cover I’d feel like I was betraying the book if I wrote anything normal like a to-do list. Plus I’d feel like a show off whenever I took it out of my bag. Writing is hard enough as it is without notebook imposed barriers.

7) Soft but not too soft

This is mainly due to point 4 about weight but I do use hardbacks. I just prefer covers to be somewhere in between solid and flimsy.

8) Lined

My writing is messy. My brain works faster than my hand so in a bid to keep up my writing gets even more messy. I need something to help rein it in. Give me height restrictions at least. Lines are essential.

9) With a little elastic band

I love those bands. Picture going in to your bag to find pages of your notebook have folded in on themselves or worse still there’s a stowaway satsuma skin hiding in there. Elastic bands keep out stowaways and also can be used as a book mark. Multifunctional.

10)  A notebook that makes me smile

I need to love it. I need to want to open it, want to carry it, want to write in it. I will make compromises on some points if point 10 stands. Like my new notebook, there’s no little elastic band. But it’s covered in woodland creatures and right now I’m writing a few things featuring woodland creatures. So I like it enough to get past the fear of potential stowaways:


So now it’s time to say goodbye. What I want to say, beloved blue notebook is you were and are perfect. I’ll never forget you.


Posted by on December 2, 2013 in Writing


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Writing for Children: Portobello Book Festival


The Portobello Book Festival starts this weekend! There’s an exciting programme of FREE events from Friday 4th – Sunday 5th October including talks on local history, wilderness walking, bread making, football and writing.

I’m working with Eleanor Collins from Floris Books to run a session on Writing for Children on the Saturday at 5pm – 6pm in Portobello Library (upstairs). Here’s what the programme says:

Writing for Children
How do you write for children? What format should a picture book take? How do you turn a great idea into a TV show? How do you write for a children’s magazine?  What about writing science theatre for children?
Eleanor Collins, Senior Commissioning Editor at Floris Books, will talk about what makes a good children’s novel, how to plan the layout and story for a picture book, what appeals to younger readers and what makes great young adult fiction. Emily Dodd, CBeebies screenwriter and science communicator, will talk about developing ideas and writing for children’s TV and writing scripts for science theatre, school workshops and oral stories. 


If that’s for you we’d love to see you there. I’ve really enjoyed discussing ideas for the workshop with Eleanor (over a cuppa and cake!) and I’m excited to be part of the festival again.

The Portobello Book Festival is now in its forth year. This brilliant wee festival is run by volunteers and all the authors contribute their time for free too. The full programme for 2013 is here. Get tickets from Portobello Library or 15 minutes before an event (but be warned most events sell out!).

Portobello Book Festival has a blog and they’re also on twitter.


Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Education, Events, Science, storytelling, Writing


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Lessons from Liz Lochhead

Today I met Scotland’s National Poet, Liz Lochhead. We were performing at a Lapidus event at Kelvingrove Art Gallery as part of the Scottish Mental and Arts Film Festival.

Liz did a sweep of the stalls just after she arrived. When she reached my stall she complimented me on my depressed bananas. Her exact words were “I love your bananas”. Here’s my stall:

I thanked her and gave her some postcards of the depressed bananas. Not long after that she took to the stage to close the event.

I enjoyed her poetry – she has such engaging bright eyes when she performs. I found it really interesting to hear her talk about her own journey with regards to mental health. There were two things she said that really stood out to me as good advice and I thought I’d share them with you:

Do something creative and allow yourself to be bad at it….

Liz showed us her sketch book and explained she wasn’t good at drawing but she loves doing it.

When Liz draws it helps her to find the words and solutions she needs for her poems. You need more than one creative outlet. If you’re not a professional writer then you have an advantage – you can write things without people expecting them to be good. If Liz writes people demand it’s good. When she draws there’s no pressure.

The second thing she said that stood out is this:

If you’re feeling depressed don’t write about your feelings, write about something else and the feelings will come through anyway..

Liz observed that we’re told so often to write about our feelings but actually, if we’re feeling down then we should write about other things. It’s much better to take the focus off ourselves and our feelings will always come through what we write anyway.

I totally agree with that. It’s good to get feelings out on paper just to understand them better but if you’re looking to shift your mood then writing about something else is the way forward.

Recently I wrote a poem about maths. It ended up saying so much of what I’ve been wanting to say but in a simple form and with a structure that wrote itself. My feelings came out without me trying to write about them – I was writing about maths.

So Liz was right. What do you think?


Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Banana me beautiful, Events, poetry, Writing


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Bernard MacLaverty gives you permission to write badly

The Scottish Book Trust and BBC Scotland are collecting stories about our favourite Scottish places. They’re looking for diary entries, stories, poems, letters, song lyrics or a short scene from a play.

This national campaign to get us writing includes free writing workshops with internationally renowned authors, what a rare and wonderful thing?! I booked onto the first free workshop at North Edinburgh Arts with Bernard MacLaverty.

I enjoyed the workshop. Bernard spent time getting to know us and reading examples from his novels. He also had some great advice…

Bernard’s Top Tips:

Start by saying “today I give myself permission to write badly”. If you try to write a masterpiece it’s hard to write anything at all. If you give yourself permission to write badly it’s easy to write and you never know, a masterpiece might come somewhere along the way.

Write to show and not tell. You could write ‘Mary was in love with the boy next door’, that’s telling. But to show would be to say ‘Mary waited by the curtains looking at the red door as it opened…’ and so on.

When I work with teenagers they all want to write something that astounds you, something to change the world but actually I just want them to tell me about their Granny or a place or something someone said.

Our Task

Bernard had planned to get us to write a postcard from a favourite place.  Beginners are encouraged to go to these workshops but since but we were all professional writers he set us a different task. We had to describe a room from childhood using the five senses and in the third person. A show and not tell exercise.

We had just ten minutes to write it and I gave myself permission to write badly. Here’s what I wrote:

She swept the smooth wooden floor of the caravan with her socks, sliding and sweeping. More fun than a broom, not conventional sweeping. This was dangerous. One slide too far and you’re on the floor. She perfected the motion, sweeping the dust of last night’s fire, of today’s food. Up and down and around and back. Up and down and around and back. Sweeping it into a small, fluffy pile. She took a dust pan and swept it up. There wasn’t a bin so she found a bag and tipped it all in.

We read our paragraphs to Bernard and the rest of the group for feedback. Here’s what people said about my paragraph:

  • It pinged a memory and is likely to do so with others (Bernard talked about how he used to polish the floor with his socks as a child)
  • I think someone is about to come to the caravan or something is about to happen, there’s suspense building, it’s exciting…
  • It seems to be a short story already, keep going and make it into one
  • It reminds me of a description from Hemingway about a fish (but it wasn’t really about a fish) is this really about sweeping?
  • What was she avioding? What was coming next? What was she really thinnking?
  • The repeated phrase worked because it showed the repetative nature of the task

I’d strayed a little from the brief, earlier in the workshop I’d been thinking about Skye as a favourite place. It’s unbelievably beautiful and was somewhere I stayed earlier this year. Here’s a picture I took on a bike ride with my mobile:

When asked to describe a room from childhood I didn’t really want to leave the beautiful island in my imagination and so I described where I stayed on Skye instead. The rest of the group didn’t know that when I read my paragraph.

The best thing about the workshop was it made me want to write. I had loads of ideas and was poised with my pen raring to go while the task was being discussed. I think that’s what these workshops are all about, meeting great people, being inspired and putting pen to paper.

Do you have a favourite place? Book onto a my favourite place writing workshop here. Read about other peoples favourite places here. The closing date to submit your writing is 31st August, submit it here.

The Scottish Book Trust loved this blog post so they reposted it on their blog here.

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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Events, Writing


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