Wow. It’s 2017. I think I can safely say 2016 has been the fastest, most jam-packed year of my life to date. Many of us are glad to turn our backs to it – I am too, for the obvious reasons, but on the whole 2016 was a year that, for me, pretty much kicked ass. It's been too long since I posted on here though. I wanted to write this at the start of the year to reflect on what this last year has taught me and to acknowledge my thanks to 2016.
This past year has seen a lot of personal and professional growth and I’m incredibly grateful for that. It feels more like a decade ago, rather than a year, that I was frantically planning the final stages of the inaugural conference for the Society of Young Publishers in Scotland. When it came the day passed in a blur, but it was a happy blur with no end of satisfaction upon its delivery.
It was quite a steep learning curve to take on the responsibility of co-chair after just nine months on the committee. It really helped me to find my voice in a competitive industry and taught me the value of supporting those around me. There is nothing more daunting, in taking on a role of leadership, than the notable power of influence – and the responsibility it brings to lead by example – when it’s with an enthusiastic group of young and talented women. Being the very best leader you can be when you have internal quandaries and judgements to negotiate is no easy task. I tried my best to navigate the muddy waters, yet looking back, I was incredibly hard on myself.
During this time, along with my freelance contracts, I was also planning my wedding. I found it a real challenge to stay focused, positive and energetic about it; particularly as I was also in and out of hospital appointments and my husband-to-be was working every hour of the day. A challenge for anyone – and yet I really beat myself up when I felt my productivity slipping. This experience has taught me to be honest and to also look to others for support – it is possible to both offer and receive support at once. Yes, some might throw it back at you – everyone has something going on – but you will also find those who ask nothing and give everything to help.
But the wedding came around – and what can I say? It was simply the best day of our lives. The rest of the country rained whilst we stood in a happy bubble of sunshine, under our leafy woodland clearing, saying our vows in front of those we love most in the world. There is something quite miraculous in being too hard on yourself in the lead up to the one day that demands most ‘perfection’ from you. When you finally arrive, you know you’re not there to be perfect, or the best; you are there because on that day and in that place, you are loved most in the world. And you love more than you thought possible. It’s a very special feeling and it offers a lot of forgiveness.
Our three weeks of travelling around the US for our honeymoon gave us a distance, from everything; that was immeasurable. We are infinitesimal in the universe and knowing that is beautifully freeing. It was truly the greatest gift of all to have that freedom; to just be us with no limitations nor expectations. I remember reaching out over the edge of the Grand Canyon; to the moon and the stars and the stillness, grabbing a handful and putting it carefully in my pocket.
When you can stand back at peace, with time to asses yourself and what you value, it makes for a quick and effective re-tune! I was ready to grab the world with both hands. I joined The Fountain as a writer and reviewer, and I signed up to another project with PPA – marketing and helping to run Magfest. For three months I submerged myself in the challenge, and I reveled in it.
This opportunity allowed me to truly appreciate the power of mentorship and the importance of really giving support to all and any you can. There’s a saying that, what goes around comes around, and I really believe it. I have been so very fortunate to work with a mentor who holds my same ethos about life as close to her heart as I do. It can be a challenge to maintain this ethos when there are those (few) who don’t feel the same way and will knock anything out of their path on the way to ‘success’. Often, my approach can be viewed as meek; but in the contrary, it can be a challenging lesson to learn to continually output only the best, most constructive energy towards everyone you meet, when, inevitably, there are some whom you’d rather see the back of (or better yet, throw a punch at.)
The confidence I have gained in these last months has been catalytic and I look towards this new year with a rosier gleam in my eye. If you only give the world and yourself good feelings, you’ll eventually see that coming back. It’s very satisfying to look inward, have a prune here and there, and see the fruits of your labour.
So, this year, I am resolving to respond to the lessons I have learned: I will endeavor to follow my instinct, keep writing what I want to write, embrace collaboration, ignore the voice that tells me I can’t, and help those whom it’s possible for me to help. In 2017, I am writing with the aim of submitting for the first time; giving ideas a go – even if they might not work; and I’m collaborating with other creatives and artists in order to help them build new and fruitful relationships. And for the first time, I'm producing short ‘fly on the wall’ films, of my interviews with artists for The Fountain (and loving it!)
I'm allowing myself the time to explore the things that make me happy.
When you scale a mountain, no matter how tired you are or how blistered your feet; you are ultimately only grateful that you did it. Because it’s only after the climb that the summit offers life’s vista. In achieving the impossible our eyes are suddenly opened, and we can see farther than we did before.
And I'm looking right at 2017.
I'm gonna meet you there
The morning light brings with it a new atmosphere as we lie in bed. It's something like the particular light that snow brings. We stretch our legs and pad over to the window and pull back the curtains to reveal a deep azure-blue expanse of water, directly beneath the cornflower sky and hugged by jagged jade pine trees. It’s the picture on all the postcards. Our excitement bubbles up and we rush to get ready to head out and take a big fat gulp of that goodness.
We’re only here for two nights so this is our only full day to explore – plenty of time to drive around the sixty-eight mile loop round the lake. We make our way to a local log-cabin café for breakfast, ending up with some garlic-heavy version of gravy and biscuits mixed with eggs benedict. Stephen manages better with it than me as I stick to my bowl of coffee. We savour the sharp pine in the air before we climb into the car.
Our hotel is right on the edge of the lake so in no time at all we’re coasting higher and higher up the south-west side of the lake towards our first stop-off. Signs around our parking spot remind us to remove all traces of food so the bears don’t try (and succeed) to break in to our car. I have a flutter in my tummy as we get out and can’t resist having a quick swatch around for paw tracks. What would we do if we saw a bear?
The view that greets us as we head over to the information post stops us in our tracks. Azure blue stretches for miles – up into the sky and down into the lake. A golden streak of sandy beach curves around the west side, graduating into bright turquoise shallows. They call it Emerald bay. I wonder who lives in the secluded mansion which nestles into the base of the trees. We thought the Muir Woods smelled incredible – but they’ve just been one-upped by Tahoe. The intensity of pine is heady and intoxicating. We stand for a long while just breathing it in and looking out from our perch.
Stephen spots a point of interest on the map just a short drive from where we are so we decide to go and explore. The sound reaches us before we see it – like distant thunder which crashes over us as we climb over the rocks towards it. Eagle Falls sends tonnes of water rushing hundreds of feet to the lake below our feet. We scrabble down the rock face to get a closer look. The view out over the bay through the redwoods is stunning.
We remind ourselves we have a lot still to look at so we take our last deep breaths and head back to the car. Having checked earlier in the morning I know there’s a highly rated gluten-free friendly bakery on the north-west side of the lake. Thank goodness for our Gluten-Free app – we’ve planned most of our meals using this. Sugar Pine Cakery does not disappoint. We end up with a box-full of the precious goodies and can’t resist grabbing a cuppa to enjoy a couple outside before we head off again. These cakes were testament that gluten-free can really be just as good. They don’t have plans to come to Edinburgh – yet.
We stop frequently to take it all in, making it back to the South end just before sunset. After a quick dinner we take a slow stroll down to the docks and along the beach, marveling at the contrast between the inky landscape and watercolour sky.
The bulb-strung restaurant/bar just off the shore catches our eyes in the darkening light and we decide to check it out. A country-music band are setting up in the outdoor patio for a session, so we get a drink and settle ourselves by the fire-pit. The soft glow from the fire and the string-lights reflect from the polished surface of a double-bass and cello, perched in front of the deepening sky.
The music is relaxed and heart-felt and once again we find ourselves wonderfully at ease – and completely in the hands of the American Dream.
I got some money and found myself a car
We head north as the last of the San Francisco glisten fades from our rear view mirror. We're going to see the Muir woods, a national redwood monument which people travel from far and wide to come and see. We have a thrilling ride up and over steep mountain tracks, through mist and sunshine before we get there and are faced with the challenge of finding a parking spot. A 20 minute cycle of the car parks finally results in a free space!
The air is the freshest, cleanest I have ever breathed. And I live in Scotland. It smells like the Caledonian pine forests of Rothiemurchus - but better. It's not smothered by the wet air of Scotland but instead sharpened by the cool dry air. A lung full here feels like it would last you forever.
Tiny little chipmunks run freely around our feet and across the floor of the visitor shop. I'm madly in love with these little creatures - they are so perfectly formed and manage to achieve an amazing balance between skittish and graceful.
The calls of unknown birds echo softly through the green light and call us forward. We explore the paths for a couple of hours - just the feeling of this place tells you to slow down. I feel very small next to these outrageous giants. I silently offer my thanks to them for reminding me of my complete insignificance in the universe.
We read the information plaque to discover that a UN memorial for Franklin Roosevelt was held here in 1945, in the middle of the two-month peace conference in San Francisco. The memorial was held here as the woods were initially suggested as a place for one of the conference sessions, before FDR passed away. It was decided that cathedral grove in the woods would provide a sense of perspective and time to the delegates and bring attention to the importance of conservation. The Secretary of State said in his closing speech that the enduring redwoods would reflect the faith and ideals of FDR. As we walk around we feel the sense of time hugely and it is easy to understand why the memorial was held here.
The sun is getting lower and we still have to make our way to Lake Tahoe. We climb into the car with a bit of extra sparkle in our eyes. The drive out is long and slow - a traffic jam sets us back two hours. We sit at a solid stop for a good 20 minutes. I take the opportunity to play with the camera and snap the glowing fields and swaying foliage. We're not frustrated, not constantly checking in with the clock. We're just letting America be herself and teach us a thing or two about patience.
Once we get moving we pass rivers, marshland, see stalking herons and birds taking flight in symmetry over the wafting wheat.
After four hours we stop off to eat. We're starting to flag a little knowing we've got quite a long way to go. We eat quickly and get back on the road. But the time the sun has set and turned the lights of the cars around us into bright blurred movement, Stephen is feeling so tired he needs to stop and rest. We Park up at a gas station and allow ourselves to go a little nuts on the American snack-bars - he buys a bucketful of soda. Man these guys like their sugar and salt. I make him do a run of star jumps in the lot to get the blood pumping and the resulting fit of the giggle does more to wake us up than anything.
Feeling revived with soda-bucket at the ready we head off again and it's not long before the lights fade and the dark Road starts to curve and loop around shapeless hills that blossom from the darkness. He keeps his eyes steadily in front of him as Idlewild blares from the speakers, I take in the sheer drops either side of us with minute towns twinkling at their depths. I don't tell him about them.
Soon the Vegas-esque lights of California-Nevada Stateline appear ahead of us as we make into Tahoe town at midnight. A huge darkness looms in front of our hotel and we're too tired to contemplate it. We check in then wander down to the casino floor for a recce (Oh dear god why did we think Vegas will be a good idea?) before heading up to our room.
As we drift off we ponder over what Tahoe will bring.
I recently got married – and for our honeymoon we decided to travel the jaw-dropping West Coast of the USA, with visits to Yosemite, Las Vegas and New York. This was a long-awaited dream finally come true; three blissful weeks of new discoveries was soon upon us following the best day of our lives… and little did we know, it was about to get even better.
It’s such a vast place with so much to see and do that I decided I would write about it so that I might process the experience more fully – and share some of the beautiful magic we captured there. It's an account of my personal experience more than it is a typical travel blog.
Along with my collected post-travel thoughts and photos, I am using my entries from my travel journal – I jotted these down on the road in-between stops; in the blistering heat, blinding fog, too-late rain and snow-topped mountains. The whole time looking, listening and feeling, with my husband at my side.
This is a bit of a love story folks – but I figured that’s OK.
San Francisco – Lake Tahoe – Yosemite – Half Moon Bay – Monterey – Pismo Beach – Los Angeles – San Diego – Las Vegas – New York.
It’s mixed and I’ll post some of it as I go, but Taylor Swift ‘1989’ has become really relevant, especially since we got back. You’ll find it peppering these posts – I urge you to listen. Music is a huge part of our life (it was the theme of our wedding – we both play guitar) and it was a massive part of this trip. Hours on end on the road gave us the time to build a soundtrack. This is the stuff that really takes me back.
If you like this post I would love to hear from you! I'll be writing about each place and hope to post every couple of weeks – it takes time to process each place and 3500 photos.
The Adventure Begins
We are wrecked with tiredness and emotion as we settle ourselves in for the long-haul.
The wedding was better than we could have possibly hoped for: the sun shone just in time for our ceremony, which took place down a hidden tree-lined pathway, in a small clearing at the bottom. It rained before, it rained after, but those two hours in between were warm and golden. Happy faces and delighted hearts filled the day and our minds, which were warped trying to take it all in. The day after was filled with unloading the car of all the wedding paraphernalia, hugging family and friends goodbye, thanking all those who need to be thanked. We managed a cup of tea and ten minutes to look through the photo album he made me for my wedding gift. We shed some tears and laughed, a lot. Then it was down to business. We hadn’t packed. Too much time was taken up by work and deadlines and plans. We did get it done – we finally made it that evening to the beautiful hotel we’d been booked in the whole day for. But we made it.
They say there is no place like home. I say there is nothing like leaving everything behind you. You are a phoenix, on that first take-off into the unknown, and you are rising from the ashes. The old life and all its problems – they’re just fragments of dust – blowing from the tips of your wings as you soar up, and up and up.
We fell down a rabbit hole
‘I left my heart’ sang Tony Bennett – and I know why. This city is some magic smash-up of all the things I love about lots of other cities. The architecture demands your attention on every corner, the hipster cafes and boutique shops offer warm welcomes and the history is palpable. And yet it is so entirely its own place. Brand new and utterly captivating. The blue sky here seems deeper, wider and reaches farther than at home.
Our first morning sees us taking in the local neighbourhood and we stop for breakfast at some tiny hipster café. It offers up gluten-free granola so I’m delighted. God, even the food tastes better here.
My heart feels light and we can’t wait to get moving. It’s warm on this first day as we take in the sights, walking by mosaic-covered walls and quirky buildings. We reach the famous Painted Ladies of San Francisco after an hour. A little bit less striking than I expected but still beautiful. Our legs carry us farther out to Golden Gate Park where we discover the Californian Academy of Sciences.
This place is so cool. We spend an hour wandering up the stairs that wrap around the edge of a huge cylindrical atrium housing hundreds of brightly-coloured butterflies, wing-tips flashing past us as they go. We meander down to the planetarium for a vomit-inducing spin through the solar system. After the show we wait until everyone has left before I approach the young guy in the control booth - ‘So if you’re in the pilot seat… can you show us the stars? Like, just the night sky?’ I prod. ‘It’s just we’re here on honeymoon and we’re from Scotland – our planetariums are tiny…’ He smiles at us, takes us in, ‘Oh sure, sure. What do you want to see?’
Later that night we’re buzzing. It’s started to sink in that we’re really here. We decide to head over to the baseball stadium early to check it out before the game – it’s the San Francisco Giants against the San Diego Padres. The stadium is bathed in the gold light of sunset when we arrive – it’s pretty huge. Inside we stroll our way past every kind of food and drink stall, lining every floor. Stephen picks up a baseball cap which will be his favourite memento from this trip. The scent of hot dogs fills the air and I can’t believe it when I see they do gluten-free and beer too. We stock up and follow the noise through to the pitch.
I’ve been in stadiums before but not like this. There are thousands of people here and behind them the blue of the bay stretches way out into the distance, lights twinkling on a distant shore as the sun goes down. The sound from the movies fills the air and the crowd start chanting. We laugh in each other’s faces as we look for our seats. I’m so absorbed in it as Stephen explains the rules and before I know it I’m yelling and screaming along with the locals.
The Giants win and the crowd goes wild.
Our second day starts with a misty trip on the famous old trams out to the piers. We were planning to cycle the bridge, but I suggest holding off until the afternoon in the hope the mist clears. We hit up the world's best pancake stack before we take a look around: breathing in stinking sea-lions and checking out too-quaint little shops.
Then it’s a happy stroll back to the hotel for a swim in the rooftop pool. We laze about on the double pool lounger and inevitably fall asleep. I wake to the feeling of my legs burning in the sun – the glorious burning sun that’s chased away the grey. We run up to our room to get changed and ready to hit the bridge. Within an hour we’ve made it to Pier 39, hired our bikes, and are stuttering our way through the crowds to the quiet of the cycle path. As we hit the blue of the sky and water I can’t see where one begins and the other ends.
The wind is against us the whole way – the whole damn eight miles. I fell halfway, in rather much style and I'm sure to Stephen's utter amusement, had I not hurt myself. The bruises bloomed quickly and three days on they hurt and look alien. But it didn't stop us and we pushed right on over the hills and past sandy beaches. The bridge looms and changes with every push on the pedals. Pelicans soar to our right on the breeze and crayon-coloured sails dot the vast blue.
The height of it hits us full-force as we turn onto it. Deep breaths and on we go – in with the fully-trained athlete cyclists. The wind - the wind! It whips and lashes us and we can barely stay on. As we get to the first tower we have to go around it and the wind pushes me and my bike into the road barrier. I pick it up and push around. The bay is dazzling and fills my senses entirely, but for Stephen's incredulous face.
We push on. Completely over the water with the city over our right shoulders and the green cove below smashing against the cliffs ahead, I look up - the red cables stretch on and up into infinity. The slow curve of the horizontal tension cable comes to a couple of feet above my head and between it and the top of the railing I can see the green tinged horizon. As we approach the second tower I keep my arms steady, and look up – I look the whole way under. My breath is all but gone; I look ahead and the cove moves so far beneath me as we approach the other side.
We pull in and look back at the mountain we have scaled and the city we left behind. We laugh and hug get ready to head off again. We need to keep going to catch the Sausalito ferry back to Pier 39. We curve smoothly under the bridge and soar down a winding road which carries us all the way back to the shore on wings. The gold light of the sun is soft as it filters through the green of the trees and the red struts of bridge support. We float and whoop our joy as the incredible landscape unfolds.
The memory is burned into my brain now. The light, smell, sounds and the way it’s just us. This whole way to Sausalito we barely pass another soul. We share our awe and delight that the best day of our lives has already been rivaled and we can’t believe it. This bubble in which we’ve landed refracts the light and intensifies our surroundings like a constant adrenaline hit. On the boat back we gaze out to a sun-kissed Alcatraz, distant sister to the spot on the horizon that was shrouded in cold grey mist earlier this morning.
As we head for home on the tram we’re so aware of everything that’s whizzing by us. The tapestry of this particular journey is made all the richer for the history and feeling that was shared by the humbling tram driver.
As we board the cable car the booming voice of the African-American conductor resonates through the 100-odd year old carriage as he tells us that ‘You can't ride on this car and not know why!’ Because San Francisco has proudly preserved this iconic part of their culture which was the fashionable mode of transport at its birth. The bell chimes its signal to surrounding traffic and the click-clack of the cable connection rattles beneath our feet. Look left, then right, see straight as ruler roads stretching miles and miles, straight up, straight down the undulating hills. The voice which carries the weight of history tells us how the cable runs all the way beneath the city with the cars clutching on and off at their stops. He works the back brake – solid pine wood blocks which press on to the cable – 'You smell that? That's the pine burning with the friction'. Our noses won't smell woody incense again without shooting our brains back to these painted San Francisco hills. Twilight lays down over the city in a chilly blanket and we hop off on O‘Farrell just after the noise of Union Square abates. Quick as a flash we change in the hotel and we're out again to catch the muni to Mission for a hipster, candle-lit local dinner where we are so tired we can barely chew our perfectly cooked steaks. Wine makes it worse and we grab a cab back to our dark room and blissful sleep between crisp sheets.
Our last day is short – we need to head off early as we want to stop off at the John Muir Woods on our way out to Lake Tahoe – it’s a 6 hour drive with our planned stop at an outlet for shopping and food. I throw my mind back over the eclectic buildings, people, sights, the bridge, the cycle, the awe of America. My first taste is addictive and I’m hungry for more. We go to pick up our rental and enjoy a lovely coffee next door to garage as we wait for our car – the garage assistant has popped through for her morning java. ‘This coffee is so good!’ I say. Her pearly teeth smile that all-American smile at me – ‘I know - it is, right? SO GOOD!’ And I have a flutter in my tummy remind me that we are So. Far. From. Home.
I smile and take another sip.
So we went on our way
I recently spent a day at our biggest annual publishing conference in Scotland, contemplating the power of words. The industry is so far surviving the tech innovations that threaten to shut it down, at least on paper. We hear that the average writer now earns £11,000 per year – and many more less than that. Without the people to write the words, there are no books, no publishers, and no booksellers required. It’s a terrifying thought. The UK’s average literacy rate is already shockingly low, a figure that doesn’t look to be improving with library closures across the country and digital publishing becoming the norm. Publishing in the traditional sense celebrates words and the joy of reading them. I have to wonder, does digital publishing really do the same?
I was appalled to hear a statistic which suggested the average 8-10 year old has an attention span of 8 seconds. Challenging enough for a digital publisher, but for a traditional publisher or indeed a parent, it’s a monumental task to encourage kids to read physical books. It got me thinking – what is all this overloading on quickly-consumed content via a digital device actually doing to us?
I’m of the ‘adapting’ generation – computers weren’t in every home until I was a young teenager, I didn’t own a mobile phone until I was 16, emails were a way of contacting those friends who lived far away. The landline telephone was the normal mode of communication. However I was young enough to just roll with it as technology became part of everyday living. Now; I increasingly struggle with the daily surge of emails not to mention the stream of texts and demands from social media platforms through every device. We are all communicating a lot more and that’s great – but when is it too much? There has to be a limit to what the brain can handle – or rather, what it should handle. Rather than learning more from all this accessible content, I feel more muddled and drained. Schools are teaching primary kids from an early age how to work all these devices, how to create animations – all sorts of fun stuff, but these kids are also being kept indoors more and more with tech and gadgets becoming the normal way of filling time (whether we like it or not). Does social media really make us social? Are we not tunnel-visioning; day in, day out?
The concern here is largely the content. The words that fill the screens of social media are highly curated and not always in a good way. Sitting behind a screen with the keys at your fingers isn’t really communication in its most earnest form – for one thing when I communicate with someone, I’m reading their expression, tone of voice and body language. Social Media is devoid of all this (yes even after Facebook has opted to include dislike, sad, angry etc. in its responses – what a scope!) Contact, it seems, is the new communication.
I mentioned in an earlier post how people have the ability to present only a facet of themselves on social media – not necessarily a fabrication; but they have the easy option to be selective. How do kids possibly learn social skills from that? How do they handle that when they are eventually thrust into a social environment where all is revealed – will they know then how to behave? Indeed, the freedom of anonymity, at least by way of excluding direct person to person contact, seems toxic.
This sense of removal from the self when using digital devices is well known and already apparent in my own generation – and we grew up without social media. Trolling is so prolific now it’s a technological epidemic. People seem to think less about the consequences of their actions when they are acting through a screen. This has been filtering slowly into day-to-day living as digital media becomes an ever increasing part of working and personal life. (Just a couple of years ago I had some experience of this; as I unwittingly discovered that a respected colleague had been emailing friends with cruel comments about me, from her desk). It begs the question of the long-term effect of working with digital technology on a daily basis – and the false sense of detachment it instils. Office bitching is to a degree, part of working life, but are people now feeling falsely secure with unacceptable behaviour because it’s happening online?
Easy access to social media and personal email provides a bit of a conundrum: it’s great for marketing purposes, building audiences and quick contact – but less so for the depth of interaction between the people using it.
Considering the world is built on words, I think we are in danger of losing sight of their impact and importance - and the crucial way we deliver them.
I approach all my relationships the same way: I want to give all my trust and my whole self over. That's what friendship is. You throw yourself and hope you don't fall. I'm not sure how this philosophy was instigated. My parents maybe? My Mum was never guarded, what was hers was ours. She protected us by hiding the nastier facets of life, sure, but she was generally always honest and my parents included my sister and I in the family decisions from the moment we could talk. We four had no secrets - and we took the bad right along with the good. That's the pleasure of life: love and be loved.
The thing is, I think this approach is outdated. Or quite possibly non-existent - apart from those rare few who are accepting of it. Those people; with whom you have worked consistently and considerately to build a foundation of trust. Those to whom giving your whole self, you hope, will follow. I think today each of us carries the weight of the world: we have so much excess baggage and we are all afraid to drop it into someone else's lap. But how then can we know each other truly and wholly? I can only be a true friend if I know when to catch you. I am quite possibly more baggage than person at this stage - so I would have to do a considerable amount of camouflaging if I were to make friends on the principle of only sharing the good bits. But it takes time.
I find that between women the task is a little harder. Perhaps we are sharers more naturally than men - typically the man is the 'strong one', holding the family up and supporting them. I by no means believe that should be the case but I agree that It's easier perhaps for women to feel they can offload a bit to a slightly less emotional male compatriot; bonding and solidifying trust in the process. Women however are sharers together. Thus a balance must be struck. It can be a challenge - how will the good and bad be received? We live in a world of technology which allows us to easily (and creatively) paint the most vivid depiction of our chosen self - how can we then smash that into pieces by revealing the hidden facets? The ease of the painted self makes the prospect of sharing the real one a whole lot more daunting. I think we are forcing ourselves into a social perception now more than ever.
Then there's the times when you take the leap, and you fall clear of the catch. These times are as heart-wrenching as a romantic break-up and I think we are too quick to neglect that. We've been nurturing this relationship and pouring our whole self into its curation. It hurts when it doesn't work out. I have had a few significant break-ups of friendship which have all left their mark. As with romantic relationships; we guard ourselves more carefully for the next one, and as a result we need to dig deeper and work a little harder. This makes friendships challenging, and more so as we move forward in life. Hopefully we learn a little on the way. It is on my approach to 30 (proper adulthood) that I have established those really wonderful, solid friendships, which take work and effort and forgiveness all along the way from both parties.
Friendships are relationships. They challenge us, make us grow, and most importantly I think, learn about ourselves. Those best friendships; though difficult at times, are always there through the times of joy or need. Long-gone are the petty friendships built on superficial details that crumble as soon as the true self is discovered or revealed.
Here now stand pillars of support that can deny the wildest of storms. Pillars that were challenging to construct; but were done so with the same faith given to any relationship. I love my friends as I love my family. Love is love.
And I gladly give it.
Now that we’re well into January I feel that I should be full of fresh zest and gusto – alas, that is not the case! It’s taken me a long time to shake the cobwebs this New Year. Two weeks off over Christmas had us feeling deeply relaxed having stifled the super-fast pace we were drumming away at in the lead-up to the festive season. This is the case for many, I know. I think for me it’s been made worse by the horrible grey weather – doesn’t help to put a spring in your step when the atmosphere is low and heavy. But! We have now had two gorgeous sunny, frosty days (proper winter days) of which I was able to enjoy the second this morning – I opted to nip out for a coffee instead of stay in, thanks to that tempting slice of blue sky.
Within five minutes I was walking at a brisk pace and tipping my nose to the nip in the air – a huge lungful of clear air does wonders for the soul. I find on these morning walks in the quiet my mind starts to gear up a bit faster than it does cooped up indoors. The inner dialogue is kick-started and I suddenly find myself asking questions about my surroundings, narrating the lives of those around me and looking to the day (and months) ahead with a hopeful attitude. Sound familiar? I guess they call it ‘Blue Sky Thinking’ for a reason.
It’s a shame we live in a country where winter can mean long periods of hibernating away from the grey outdoors when a little bit of sunshine (and distinct lack of rain) can afford so much by way of motivation. Particularly, I have to say (because of course I am biased) in the wonderful city of Edinburgh. It has so much to offer for the fan of the outdoors. A morning spent outside = a productive day: which for any freelancer; is a goldmine.
At the moment organisation is my new resolution – proper organisation! As in; the type that comes with sticky notes, binders, colour-coded tabs and a plethora of bargain-bucket-buys from the nearest stationary shop. Where would I be without my Gmail calendar? That little piece of magic is a life-saver for the multi-tasker. Hopping between audience development and marketing, writing and reviewing (anything from quick post-work dinner to weekend breaks squeezed in at the last minute), co-chairing the SYP (monthly events and a conference – easy!), planning our wedding (18 weeks?!) and oh yes getting fit and healthy (oh, just five times a week?); leaves one feeling just a little bit tired from chasing one’s tail. Projects tend to come and go as they please and it’s a hard task grabbing on as they whoosh by... and yet, our interest is sparked and we do.
So as another hectic week draws to a close I sit inspired by my blue-sky slice of pie. One brisk walk (essential coffee in hand, thanks Peter’s Yard) one yoga class, and one blog post down (hurrah!) I feel a tangible new energy with which to embrace tonight’s concert (launching a new project). Positive thinking made me book us in for The Wedding Collective’s Bridal Market on Friday (and Saturday if you’re keen) topping it all off nicely with a breezy 9am restorative yoga class on Saturday…
What was that about breathing?
As this year's Book Week Scotland draws to a close I thought I would post my #ThankBooks - an excellent campaign which asks us to dedicate our thanks to those books or literary figures who shaped our lives.
I think asking anyone from a literary background to dedicate a thanks to books is a tough measure indeed - near impossible. So many books have impacted me in one way or another and continue to do so. For me, I think it's down to the people who showed me the way. But where to start?
Do I thank my parents? They read to me every single night without fail until I was 11 years old - well past the age most parents stop reading to their children, and when children are happy reading by themselves. Their commitment ensured a lifelong love of reading and a passion to engage with books which still burns in me today. What about my substitute Primary 5 teacher? She silently wept as he read us 'Charlotte's Web', whilst we contemplated the sad news that our previous teacher had passed away from breast cancer. Her openness about her feelings and her relating the situation to us through the book, was a profound moment that taught me how widely a story can be interpreted by its readers, and how much comfort it can give in times of need. Or do I thank my high-school English teacher, Mrs Davies? Despite my average grades she gave me the courage to believe that I was a writer - the moment she proclaimed in front of the entire class that I was the only student who could consider tackling the prose section of the exam paper, I knew that I could, and I did. Her energy was frenetic and contagious - here was a woman who truly loved the written word and it showed. It transferred, settled and sunk in. I can still see her, hands pressed above her brow, eyes searching the back of the classroom, 'like stout Cortez when with Eagle eyes, He star'd at the Pacific...'
I think, therefore, my thanks to books will be to the memories they gave me. Dad's melodic voice as he read me Rupert Bear in rhyming couplets; Mum's packed bookshelves ripe for the picking on any sleepless night; and the slightly bonkers and wonderfully enchanting teachers who all made a loud impression on a quiet child.
Being a bookseller, I'm fortunate to meet the unique and inspiring individuals who walk through our doors. It's even more fortunate when these people become friends; and all through a shared love of books. Be it the quiet hill-walker who loves MacCaig; the young feminist looking for the next revolution; or the effervescent book artist sharing an exciting new arty adventure: books have made me friends will people from all walks of life.
Said book artist happens to be none other than Edinburgh's very own Rachel Hazell: celebrated creator of luscious, got-to-touch papery things. Not only is Rachel's bubbly personality infectious - her passion for all things books is too. Discovering Rachel Hazell is something akin to discovering buried treasure. She is the mighty spade with which you dig out the glittering trove of ideas you didn't know you had.
Having previously studied English literature at Edinburgh University, followed by Masters in both book art at London College of the Arts and and printmaking at Edinburgh College of Art, Rachel contributes a vast knowledge and acute understanding of the subject to the process of bookmaking. This, along with her talent and enthusiasm, makes it impossible not to want to join in the fun!
It was at a bookmaking session that Rachel did for the Society of Young Publishers that I truly began to appreciate the work that goes into making a book. From conception to creation, Rachel nurtured ideas (and encouraged less-than-nimble thumbs) to create little pockets of paper imagination. I learned that silent narrative flows in all forms: from me to the page; pencil to grain; beginning to end; and from producer to reader. The simple act of turning a page tells a story.
The workshop was highly valuable to the budding publishers whom it was held for. Be it editorial, production or design that held their interest, each person found unique insights from the experience of making their own book.
Rachel has now transcended the digital barrier to the physical book and runs a popular e-course from her website, so no matter where you are you can enjoy this fascinating process - straight from the guru herself.
It's no surprise that I work in a bookshop that dedicates it's collection to the aesthetic of the book! I wish the world were full of people like Rachel Hazell - seeing the book for what it is: a true art form.
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you." - Maya Angelou
This is an interesting question that comes up a lot in this industry. I think the notion of the strange recluse sitting in their ivory tower, feeding the world their magic from a safe distance, is long dispelled. These days it's often the case that authors (and illustrators) make the majority of their earnings from book events - and thus, human interactions! So. Does that mean you need to be a spangly, flamboyant people-person who can make a hard sale? Don't put down your pens yet. In my experience of working with authors, you do have to be able to communicate but more importantly you need to be willing to. There's a reason publishing houses have sales, marketing and publicity departments. It's not all down to you (phew!) These people are true craftsmen (and women) of their trade. Through you they weave magic. They can dream up endless ideas for your festival tours, bookshop tours and writing course visits. Really you just need to turn up and be happy to talk about what being a writer is for you. Or happy to sit and read your story aloud: you've done it a hundred times already, and these new ears don't need to know that. For them, it's the first time.
I know many excellent writers who struggle with the thought of putting themselves in the public eye so often and under such intense scrutiny. Many feel that it's their inherent right as a writer to be allowed to stay underground. Quite often that used to be the case. When I sit down to write something, it's usually somewhere I least expect it, when an idea just pops into my head and the juices are flowing. Good thing I have my phone on me (thumbs beware). It's been a learning curve for me to discover that I do need to sit down and focus for a couple of hours (with a laptop/proper keyboard) if I want to write regularly. Perhaps people like me have the easier ride - our only adjustment is to finding the time we need to be productive, be it at home or in the midst of a bustling café (how cliché). For those writers who work best in the quiet of the wee hours or the empty house, it is daunting to suddenly throw yourself into the nearest café, let alone the public eye.
To those writers I salute you for your weekly word count. However times have changed; ivory towers have been abandoned and with excellent management; encouragement; and support from friends, publicists, and agents; these writers have bloomed on stage not a bit ruffled and captivated audiences in their hundreds. All seemingly effortlessly.
Long gone are the images of the bleary-eyed, frazzle-haired writer clutching the cosseted typewriter between bobbled cardigan sleeves. Just look at the Kindle - e-publishing has considerably opened the doors (or flung them wide open) in recent years. You only have to scan through the success stories to see that the world of publishing, and the concept of 'being a writer', is quickly and considerably evolving. Not only do agents, marketers and sales managers need to don several hats but writers have much to gain from adapting to the changes in publishing strategies.
So whether you are sitting up in your tower, pounding the 9-5 drum, waving the freelance flag or keeping one eye on the kids and one eye on the screen, it matters not. E-book or ink-smudged manuscript - you are writing, and you are a writer.