Thursday, 11 March 2010

Weekend Writer

The people leave. .. the mists form and close like a veil. The world is shut off from that magical venue until the same time next year when the chosen will return and congregate as if the months were mere moments.

See, I can do fanciful.

It would have been more accurate just to report that a good time was had by all at the Scottish Association of Writers’ Annual Conference, but that would have been a tad cliché and as you know we writers avoid them cliché things. Like the plague.

For those not in the poor people...the event is a glut of competitions, workshops, readings and inspirational talks all crammed in to just a few hours from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.

I was the judge for the poetry competition and I had 62 entries. I waited for people to spill wine over me, push me out of the way or issue veiled threats. But they didn’t. Everyone seemed to appreciate what I had to say... if you’re interested I may post my overall comments in this blog. Wanna see?

And I was able to deliver it all from the podium without too much coughing and sniffing.

(I have a cold type thing going on. Coughing so forcefully it feels like my eyes are going to pop out of my head. Is that sympathy I can hear up the back?)

Conference highlights?

- Friend of this blog, R J Ellory was a knockout! He went out of his way to speak to as many people as possible and each of his three talks was inspirational. I overheard a number of people saying to each other that he was the BEST speaker they had ever heard. You just can’t say any better than that.

His story of struggle, persistence and drive was something that everyone in the room could relate to and aspire to...and to make it even better it all has had a happy ending. It’s wonderful to see the good guy get the rewards for all of his hard work and talent. Let’s hope his career continues to go from strength to strength. If you haven’t read any of his books, do yourself a favour toot sweet and buy one. Or all of them.

(Such was Roger’s drive that while he was working an 80 hour week – yes, that’s an 8 and a 0 – he would come home, do the family man thing and then go to his writing space from 10pm till 1:30.)

A couple of the ladies were spotted swooning and passing comments like – he’s rather attractive.

- Finding out who had written which poem was cool - ‘cos my nose was bothering me.

- Many of the same ladies alluded to above were also swooning over the basketball team who were also staying in the hotel. There was a lot of swooning going on, let me tell ya. But in a non-clichéd way of course. The basketball players were from Trinidad and Tobago and all of these handsome, tall, athletic black men were almost too much for our ladies. Can’t remember how many times I whispered to someone – take a shower. Still, the guys took it all in their stride and were very helpful in carrying suitcases, etc. Women who were seen entering the hotel in a robust manner were suddenly all fluttery and incapable and requiring “assistance” whenever a team member was nearby.

- Seeing one of my favourite people on the planet - Margaret Thomson Davis. She’s approaching her 84th birthday and has just embarked on her 42nd novel. That has a nice symmetry about it, no? Let’s hope there are many more.

- The guest speaker on Saturday night was Alan Taylor, Literary Editor of the Sunday Herald. I was quite prepared not to like him – he and his paper are quite sniffy about the whole genre fiction thing - and I sat with arms and legs crossed to listen. However, he was excellent. Quite the raconteur. His talk was effectively an exercise in name-dropping, but what names! You name them... he’s wined, dined and holidayed with them. All the greats of modern fiction are in his address book. Gore Vidal, Muriel Spark, Toni Morrison etc etc etc. He was even invited to fit a truss on John Irving, but we’ll draw a veil over that. Maybe Alan will talk about it one day in his biog.

- Giggling up the back of the conference hall with Gillian Philip and Keith Gray. I mean, honestly. They are supposed to be examples of propriety and models of good behaviour given that they write (very successfully) for “young adults”. It doesn’t matter a jot that I may have started them off. They should still know better.

What were we laughing at? Well. They announced the winner of one of the categories and the title of the piece took me aback. Did I hear that correctly, I asked Gillian? Eh? She answered while taking a BIG slug of wine. This winning story was a heart-warming tale of a struggling church community who had brought in a new minister. He’d started off this group hug thing at the church. Which was shortened to The Church Hug ...which was felt to be a bit of a mouthful...and from there it was merely a hop, skip and crazy-assed jump to...and the title of the story... “The Chug”.

If you are as clueless as Gillian and Keith you won’t know that in these here parts a “chug” is that solitary activity that causes the early onset of blindness, hair to grow on the palm of your hands and prompts much guilt and wearing of itchy shirts as a form of penance. At least, that’s what the nuns told me. Definitely not something one does as part of a church led activity. At least not in any church I’ve ever attended.

It may have been at this point that Gillian leaked some wine down her left nostril. And very fetching it was too, Toots.

The next giggle-fit came when Keith was quizzed about one of the competition entries he judged. This was a story about a magic iron – of the hot plate, pressing variety. What was wrong, we asked with such an item having magical properties? It then all got a bit crazy and alliterative (well, we are writers darling) when we asked if he would have preferred a Fucked Up Fridge, or an Arsey Aga. That might even have been me.

So next time you go to one of those writer events and you see all those prim and tidy authors giving it the butter wouldn’t melt thing, you know what they are really thinking.

Especially if I’m sat beside them.

It was just a wee shame that I didn’t get my horse out of its packet on Saturday night. And no, that’s not a euphemism.

A cowboy and injun themed disco was arranged for Saturday after the award ceremony. Unfortunately, this was on at the same time as the poetry reading, which I was asked to M.C.

The plan was to go to the poetry event in the “Penthouse” on the top floor of the hotel, do the mc thing and then run down to my room, pop into my inflatable horse costume and then boogie on down to the disco, which was helpfully sited in the ground floor. However, the poetry thing went down rather well - standing room only dontcha know - and people ended up flitting there from the disco.

A word on the inflatable horse...well, two words. Comic genius. It defies description so I won’t even bother trying. I borrowed it from a pal at work – She Who Must Not be Named – and I feel that I let her down by not wearing it.

Anywho, as it ‘appens...hotel staff closed the disco bar at midnight and some of the hardier souls present came in search of more excitement find that the poetry event was still running. Don’t let anyone tell you that we poets don’t know how to have a good was 1:30 before we ran out of steam.

Then it was off to bed, perchance to dream without coughing up chunks of my colon. Thankfully that cool wee dude, Keith Gray turned pusher and provided me with some flu remedy. The kind that you wake up from a week later wondering what the feck happened.

Maybe that explains the mists.


  1. i would have loved to attend this conference. sounds like a blast, socially and intellectually! but the icing on the cake would have been you in costume. yippie kayay and all that

  2. It was a blast, Thea and so, so difficult to go back to work on Monday.

  3. I'm trying to picture this. Quite a few thisses - the joking over the 'chug' (did the author know this), a cowboy and injun themed disco (isn't that an incongruity and do they do the Night fever dance or the Two step) and thennnn there's you in the inflatable horse costume. You have to dress up and take a picture for the blog. You owe your friend Who Shall Not Be Named and all your faithful followers.

    I'm thinkin' given the fanciful beginning to this blog that you haven't recovered yet. Glad you had so much fun.

  4. Marley, what's "thisses"? .Aas for cowboys and injuns, we Brits are an eccentric bunch - and we do a bit of everything. Although to be fair there was only one "injun" - so there was a lot of line dancing going on.

  5. What an appalling example to set for the three of us for whom you're such a strong role model, Michael. I hope not all writers drink. You really should avoid that Gillian Philip - she's no better than she should be. (Actually, I'm only jealous because I wasn't there. I'm not even a member.)

    But yes please, give us some examples of your judgely comments. As someone who likes poetry but wouldn't know where to begin to judge it, I'd be interested to hear the sort of things you looked for (and found or didn't find).

  6. You made me snort my tea. I'll have you know that is not good for the keyboard. Writers,tut, I don't know, they gad about, making you laugh, no sense of responsibility....

  7. Bill, I'll maybe do that over the weekend.

    Kathryn, thanks for popping by...the snorting thing is catching, innit?