Category Archives: Writing

the editing stage

eBooks and digital immigrants

Apparently, today is Scottish eBook Day. Did you know this was a thing? No, me neither. But why shouldn’t there be a day to celebrate eBooks? The ease of reading and publishing in digital formats has shaken up the world of books, largely for the better. eBooks are arguably greener than their paper sisters, and the format is certainly more accessible for anyone with a visual impairment.

I was a fairly late adopter of eBook technology, but by the time my brothers, my sister and my 70-something parents had all fallen for their Kindles, I decided it was time to make the jump.

Pretty soon I was a convert, won over by price promotions and the instant availability of any title that might catch your eye. I remember running out of books halfway to the Outer Hebrides and downloading fresh sustenance on the deck of the CalMac ferry. I was reading more than ever before, racing through free classics, out-of-print gems and 99p daily deals.

Gradually, though, I noticed something odd about my reading. I kept forgetting things I’d usually remember – characters’ names, important plot points, even whether I’d read a book or not. Every book, every page looks alike on an eReader, and without the visual cues I was accustomed to – the jacket design that helps you remember a title; the typography that subtly contributes to the overall feeling of the book; the placement of a sentence on the left or the right-hand page, top or bottom, near the start of the book or close to the end – my recollections were hazy. I still enjoyed what I was reading, but once I’d moved a book to my ‘read’ collection it slid too easily out of my mind.

My reading these days is 95% hard copy. Library books are even cheaper (and greener) than eBook promotions – and since I’m studying for a PhD, paper allows me to flip quickly to indexes and footnotes, and to annotate with pencil scribbles and sticky tabs. I still use my eReader for travelling, and for reading completed manuscripts; I’ve found it’s helpful in creating the distance you need in order to approach your own work, as far as possible, as a reader rather than an author. But if the digital world is divided into natives and immigrants, I’m in the latter camp: even at the editing stage, sometimes you can’t beat a print-out, a pair of scissors and some sellotape, sticky notes and a trusty red pen.

wastebasket by Wicker Paradise

School for storytelling

Here’s something I’m not meant to tell you: my first novel, The Last Treasure Hunt, isn’t really my first novel. It’s my debut – but it’s not the first book I wrote. Though it’s rarely acknowledged, there’s nothing unusual in this: a 2010 survey found that the average number of novels an author writes before being published is between three and four. These ‘practice novels’ are sometimes published later on in an author’s career, but more commonly they’re relegated to a dusty box-file or a forgotten Word document…

I wrote this post on developing storytelling skills as a guest blog for for Literascribe – head over there to read the rest.

Mapping the city

From James Hogg to Ian Rankin, Robert Louis Stevenson to Alexander McCall Smith, Edinburgh is incredibly rich in literature – perhaps uniquely so for a city of its size. Walking the city it often feels as if you’re in the company of scores of writers, and last night saw the launch of a project that aims to make that feeling a reality.

LitLong is a database and app that weaves thousands of literary texts into the geography of the city. Download the app, and as you wander through streets, parks and closes it will guide you to key locations and show you how authors have written about them. You can also search the city from the comfort of your laptop – and there will even be a ‘sentiment visualiser’ that will analyse whether a location is associated with positive or negative emotion. The app was demonstrated at last night’s launch, and it looks like an amazing way to bring literature into an everyday context and give a sense of how extensive and deeply layered Edinburgh’s literary history is.

It’s not just about the history, though. LitLong includes work by several contemporary authors, and as part of the project the organisers ran a competition for writers to contribute a story to the database. I’m delighted that my story Candlemaker Row was chosen from a shortlist of five: Keith Dumble, Ricky Brown, Sandy Thomson and D.R.D. Bruton were all highly praised by Doug Johnstone, who judged the contest.

Because Edinburgh is so written about, it was difficult to find a fresh perspective for my story. My solution was quite radical… You can read Candlemaker Row here, in its entirety – and if you happen to be wandering past Haymarket, through the Grassmarket and up Candlemaker Row, you’ll be accompanied by snippets of my text along with quotes from Sir Walter Scott, Muriel Spark, Irvine Welsh and hundreds more.

Lit Long: Edinburgh is the visual, interactive output of the Palimpsest project, a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures; the School of Informatics; the University of St Andrews’ SACHI research group; and EDINA. Download the app here.