People on the radio and television are all talking about diets and exercise, and as I made my back to the gym this morning I expected to see lots of newcomers wearing shiny new gym clothes and trainers. But instead I was met with smiles and greetings of 'Happy New Year' from the well-kent faces of the regulars.
18 months ago, I started a pain management programme through the NHS, and one of the things I had to do was make some long term goals. I remember sitting down with one of the course leaders and he asked me what I'd like to see myself being able to do physically.
I laughed and said, 'Well, I'd love to get back to the gym but I know that's never going to happen.'
He looked at me and asked, 'Why not?'
Was he being serious? We'd only just learned about accepting our limits. He'd been teaching me to hoover half a room one day and finish it the next. He'd told me to sit down while I peeled the tatties. And we'd spoken about getting help from my family with simple things like drying my hair (something I found particularly difficult after the accident). And yet, here he was now asking me why I couldn't go to the gym! I was confused...
My debut novel, A Beautiful Game was released just over two years ago and, at the same time, I was undergoing intensive pain management therapy, and counselling for PTSD, after being involved in a nasty accident. I was struggling to get up each morning, and I wasn’t able to concentrate long enough to watch a TV programme, let alone read a book or think about writing anything new.
But I had a character in my head, and so I decided to get out my laptop and see what, if indeed anything, would happen...
The character turned out to be Cathy, the girl in my new novel, Wings to Fly. And Cathy had a story to tell. In the end, it’s a very different story from my first novel, and it’s one I’m very proud of.
Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay, and seeing this pop up on my social media as a hash tag made me want to share part of my story.
The title of this play from Ellie Stewart intrigues me, and so the first thing I ask her is where it came from:
"It comes from the local gossip based on the folklore of the island. Women were banished there because they were 'too much mischief' to have around the Monastery on Iona."
The island Ellie is referring to is Eilean nam Ban (Island of Women), and I discover that St. Columba claimed, "where there is a cow there is a woman, and where there is a woman there is mischief". The wives and daughters of the abbey builders were exiled to live on the island with the cows.
On the last Thursday of every month I meet up with a bunch of friends in Café Bar 1912, our favourite local bar. We catch up on all of our news and talk about some of the books we've recently read. Yes, we're a book group. But there are no hard and fast rules. At the start of the year, we don't list what we want to read, we don't take turn about with suggestions, and because we're all so busy we don't always get round to finishing the book...
Two years ago I was involved in an accident at work that left me in extreme pain and, because the accident involved young children, I suffered from panic attacks and constant anxiety. I was at an absolute low.
The pain didn't subside as I expected, and I was left struggling with everyday activities, and this was having a devastating impact on my family life. I was aware of the strong link between mental health and physical health and knew I needed a holistic approach that would attack the pain from all angles, not simply using medication. So I joined a ten week pain management course run at the Astley Ainslie in Edinburgh where I met a group of caring staff who understood and spoke openly about how pain impacts on work, relationships and mental health. I cried when I heard other people's stories and for the first time I didn't feel alone. The course changed my life and by using the range of strategies taught, I now live alongside my pain rather than inside it.
On the opening day of this year's Edinburgh Fringe, the writer and graphic artist and poet Lesley Traynor was challenged to produce a piece of art work that interpreted the first day of the festival.
Her intention? To photograph female poets that use fierce words to smash glass ceilings, blast barriers.
Our challenge? Bring a word that has empowered you. Bring a piece of poetry that speaks your truth.
Before I even got there I was excited. But I hadn't realised just how incredible the event was to be...
Just before 3pm, a group of female poets gathered in the cobbled street outside the Scottish Poetry Library and we were soon creating friendships and bonds. And as the church bells up and down the Royal Mile marked 3 o'clock, Lesley kicked the event off with a piece of her own work.
And her word?
One after another, the women bounded up to the front of the circle. They shouted their poems for passers by, and for the whole world to hear. Unashamed. Unrestricted. Unaccustomed to such freedom to express exactly what they wanted to say. The atmosphere was electric.
The poems were honest and powerful. The fierce words were cheered.
SPIRIT SISTERHOOD EQUALITY FIESTY
QUEEN MIRROR TRANSFORMATION
COCK-A-DOODLE-DO DERANGED POETESS
JOY J.F.D.I [Just Fucking Do It!] VOICE
Yesterday's Scottish Cup Final ended with displays of violence and aggression from fans, which reminded of the background and starting point of my debut novel, A Beautiful Game.
I started writing A Beautiful Game on the day of the Scottish Cup Final four years ago after listening to a discussion on the radio about the dramatic rise in domestic violence after a big football match. The discussion got me thinking about children across Scotland who were sitting at home waiting for their dad to come home... Were they dreading his arrival home, were they praying that his team would win, or was it possible that some of them were wishing they could be with him?
I picked up my pen and began to create my main character Robbie...
Robbie MacFarlane is a disappointment to his father. Named after the top striker of Hearts Football Club, his dad calls him their lucky mascot, but Robbie has two left feet and secretly spends his time in the world of books. His dad says books are for girls.
After the publication of the book I was contacted by NHS staff, police officers and teachers, all writing to thank me for highlighting the link between domestic violence and major football fixtures. I’m extremely aware that domestic violence is a sensitive issue but it’s a subject rarely told from the young person’s point of view and I wanted to address that. I offer no answers or advice in the book, and so I suppose my aim is to raise awareness and get people talking.
When my three children were very young I didn't have much time for writing and so I wrote poems - extremely short poems:
Rainy Day (Ironstone)
Glass beads tumbling
Down the pane
Watch them race
Tiny hands moulded to cold glass
The Glass Cage (Ironstone 2)
I sit beside you, unable to hold you.
Through the opening in the glass I reach to you.
My fingers trace the tangled web
That traps your tiny body.
I fight the urge to release you.
I want to lift you, hold you,
Cradle you in my arms.
I brush your cheeks
Sending you my love.
I am denied you - my newborn child.
I also attended my first writers group run by the wonderful Magi Gibson and I very quickly caught the writing bug. I knew I wanted to write down all the images and stories racing around my brain and, although I was in awe of those who came along with stories and novel extracts, I also knew I had to have patience and wait until my children were older before tackling 'the novel in my head'.
So I went along every fortnight, taking along my own fragments of writing to share whenever I could, knowing they were often rushed and unpolished. And I listened. I listened carefully, absorbing every piece of advice that Magi gave to the group.
And now, when my children close the door and head off to school, and I have the luxury of a full day of writing ahead of me, I still hear Magi's wee gems of wisdom as I pick up my pen and begin to write...
Please check out Magi's website for information on her new courses for 2016: www.magigibson.co.uk
One of the biggest challenges I face as a writer is finding the time to write. Somehow this seems to be a different problem from finding the time to do housework, school prep' or helping my own kids with their studying.
Today I'm asking three of my fellow writers from Crooked Cat Publishing how they manage to balance writing with work and family.
Jeff Gardiner is an acclaimed author whose short work and long fiction spans and explores genre boundaries. I was surprised to discover how close Jeff's story is to my own...
"I’ve had different phases in my writing career.
Firstly, I wrote whilst holding down a full-time job as a teacher. This proved difficult as teaching is a mentally and physically draining occupation with lots of marking and preparation. I attempted to use weekends, and holidays to best effect, but it certainly limited the word-count and the scope of what I could write. I admire anyone who manages to juggle a full-time job and writing, as writing is one of those things that requires space and time. It’s very difficult to just grab ten minutes or half an hour and expect to write something of any quality – particularly if writing a novel which needs lots of headspace and room for development.
Then I went part-time with my teaching. This sounds great but it also coincided with having children. Looking after babies and trying to write didn’t really work for me. It wasn’t until they went to school that I really began to find the space and time to write properly. Writing short stories during this time worked out quite well, but longer projects just seemed out of reach.
Once they started school (my kids are now 9 and 11) I then had from 9am until 2.30pm to call my own – at first for two days a week, now for three or four days a week, depending on other work commitments. The problems with working at home are the distractions and chores I have to factor in: going to the shops; phoning insurers, mechanics, plumbers et al; clearing out the guinea pig hutch; washing up… When you work at home it’s assumed you’re free to do other tasks, or are free for a chat and a coffee. I now find that I get less work done at the weekends and during school holidays, as I want to spend quality time with my children. It’s a personal choice.
It’s difficult to set sensible targets for writing and being creative. ‘Finish novel’ is something I write on my Things To Do list. Simple, eh? Writing demands thinking time, planning, editing, rewriting, plus time to recover from feelings of failure after many rejections. And I haven’t even begun to consider marketing and publicity yet…
If you love writing you’ll find time. But it isn’t easy – whatever people might think from the outside. You also need family and friends who understand what you’re doing and who offer support and positive comments."
Emma Mooney is a writer of Scottish contemporary fiction and is the author of A Beautiful Game. and Wings to Fly.