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Keep calm and carry on... writing and reading!


By Barbara Henderson


So, new decade and all that… what does it mean?

In the absence of any meaningful answers to that question, I simply carried on doing what I normally do.

In my case, that meant hitting the ground running with an author event at Waterstones Inverness alongside fellow Highland writers Helen Sedgwick, Margaret Kirk, SG Maclean and Jennifer Morag Henderson.

It is a dreich old January day, and since Hogmanay I have been redoubling my effort to complete a new novel, set during the Norse heyday in Orkney and the Hebrides. It has been really enjoyable to get my head down and write something new and challenging again after a lot of smaller-scale projects like the teaching resources for my Robert Burns-inspired novella which needed to be ready for January.

As always over the last four years, the XpoNorth tweet pitch opened proceedings for 2020. By the time you read this, the great and good of the Scottish publishing scene will have pored over hundreds and hundreds of pitches for all kinds of books, from all kinds of writers.

My own publication came about as a direct result of this initiative, and Kimberlie Hamilton, an Aberdeen non-fiction writer, has been published by Scholastic and translated into a sizeable clutch of languages after tweeting her pitch a couple of years later.

It would have been all too easy to dismiss it as just another social media fad, but you have to be in it to win it. With that in mind, here are a handful of things you can do this year to honour your love of reading or take the next steps on your writing journey.

1. Apply for Live Literature funding to run a book event. The Scottish Book Trust fund for author events of any kind closes to applications on January 22. It is an easy online application which should take very little of your time, and as all expenses are paid by the Scottish Book Trust, you can have the best of Scottish writing, even in very remote locations. The success rate is pretty high, with schools and community groups having excellent chances. The database of authors you can choose from is vast and includes some very impressive names indeed.

2. If you are a writer or illustrator, bag your first festival appearance by pitching an event to NessBookFest, the free Highland book festival which will take place in Inverness on October 1-3 this year. Details of the pitching window which will close in February are announced on all NBF social media channels.

3. Now is the time to mark relevant dates in your diary to maximise the inspiration factor. Apart from NessBookfest, there is the Ullapool Book Festival on May 8-10 with Val MacDermid, Jokha Aharthi and Sir Tom Devine. XpoNorth takes place on June 24-25 and the John O’Groats Book Festival returns on April 24-26, to name but a few.

4. Attend a writing class. There are all sorts of writing retreats up for grabs at Moniack Mhor. Eden Court also has free groups for playwrights and children’s writers, for example. Go along – what have you got to lose?

Moniack Mhor.
Moniack Mhor.

5. Connect online: There is an abundance of groups on social media which spread the book love. You can cater to your individual taste or keep it general. A simple search will yield many options.

6. Are you a reader? Join a book group: Highland Lit runs a monthly Sunday afternoon book group in Waterstones Inverness. The next one is on Sunday, February 2, at 1.30pm.

7. Begin a book blog. Bloggers tend to post reviews and interviews, and in exchange, publishers often send them books for free. If that sounds appealing, why don’t you give it a go?

Of course, these are just a few of the opportunities presenting themselves in our beautiful part of the world. We are far from remote. Culturally speaking, we are punching way above our weight and we are lucky.

At the start of this new decade, let’s not forget it.

Look out for: Tain writer Helen Sedgwick’s crime debut, When the Dead Come Calling. An ethereal, supernatural take on the crime genre, from one of our own!

When The Dead Come Calling.
When The Dead Come Calling.


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