Just over two years ago I was involved in a traumatic accident. As well as suffering from physical injuries I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, chronic anxiety and depression. I was struggling with the everyday, mundane things in life, so you can imagine that going to new places, meeting new people and talking about what happened was excruciatingly difficult.
As part of my court case I was asked to attend an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. My physical recovery was slow and the appointment left me feeling extremely low. One of the hardest things I found with anxiety and depression was the constant feeling of guilt and here I was in a hospital surrounded by people much worse off than myself yet I still couldn't stop myself from crying.
After the appointment I stood outside in the bright sunshine with tears streaming down my face. I was at an all time low and I simply wasn't able to put on a 'brave face' for the rest of the world. From nowhere a young man rested his hand on my shoulder and gave me a handkerchief. I can't properly put into words what his actions meant to me. Perhaps they gave me hope or perhaps they re-instilled a belief in the goodness of everyday folk. But whatever it was, they have stayed with me.
Last Monday, I was sitting, writing in a coffee shop and when I looked up I saw a woman about my own age sitting at a table by herself, crying uncontrollably. The temptation was to look away and carry on with my writing but I suddenly remembered the young man who took a moment out of his day to comfort me. I was nervous and unsure how she'd react but I figured it was better to reach out to her, so I got out of my seat and walked across the café and asked her if she would like me to get her something. She didn't shout at me, didn't ask me to leave and didn't look away. Instead, she thanked me and we sat together for about half an hour while she explained about her ill husband at home, and how today it had all felt like it was just too much to take. She told me that she goes to the coffee shop for just half an hour everyday to gather herself before she returns home and continues caring for him. As she left she hugged me and gave me a smile.
I've spotted you scribbling in a notepad and would love to know more about your own talents...
I'm usually writing down notes about the performers so that I can say something about their writing before introducing the next act. When I was at art school in Carlisle I studied sculpture with performance art so I got very interested in hosting one off events that aren't considered to be common place in the town. It's a theme that has continued into [Untitled] as it begins to grow and develop, I like to think of it as a continuation of my art practice, a bit like Jim Lambie's Poetry Club but in Falkirk.
Woo'er with Words is a fantastic spoken word event where people are invited to read new or polished pieces of work. Have you ever been surprised by what someone's read?
From hosting over twenty shows I have learnt to expect the unexpected. Woo'er With Words is the perfect place for people to try out new material so anything kinda goes (within reason). The best bit about Woo'er With Words for me is when the people who attend regularly start belting out their writing as they have become more comfortable and confident performing in public, it's both rewarding and surprising as a couple of months ago they we're keen on performing at all.
Last Saturday evening my family and I stood outside the Tron Kirk on Edinburgh's Royal Mile with a group of strangers, waiting for our Ghost Tour to begin. As the church bells chimed eight, our guide bounded on to the stone steps of the Kirk. 'Hands up those who believe in ghosts!' My hand stayed firmly down by my side but as I looked around our small group I was surprised to see my son's hand in the air.
Filled with excitement, we followed our guide, Darren, through the narrow streets of the Old Town and listened carefully as he explained the difference between a close and a wynd, and told us how, in the past, poorer residents never left the confines of the city walls because they couldn't afford to pay to re-enter. Thereby the area inside the Netherbow Gate became known as World's End to these residents, which explains the name for the well known pub.
So far, our evening was proving interesting but what about the fear factor? I'd promised my kids some terror.
Darren led us down on to the Cowgate and showed us the one visible arch of the South Bridge (completed in 1788 and built to link the Old Town to the Southside). The remaining eighteen arches are enclosed behind tenement buildings and contain 120 vaults. Originally intended as storerooms for the shops above, these dark, stone rooms proved too damp for storing valuable tobacco or cloth and merchants soon left, allowing the brothels and criminals to move in until the vaults were finally sealed in the early 19th Century.
The description of this dark, underground world was told by dim torchlight inside one of the damp vaults but apart from raising a couple of hairs on the back of my neck I was still feeling okay, and I laughed along bravely with the rest of the group at Darren's ghost stories.
He then showed us a locked vault with elaborate costumes hanging on the stone walls and a circle of wooden stools with embroidered cushions placed around a large pentagon drawn on the floor. It looked like a set from a horror film.
Ask a writer why they want to be published and they'll probably tell you that they want to share their stories, which makes sense if we remember that the origins of storytelling date back to a time when tales were shared around fires in the evening.
I was lucky enough to be brought up in a house where I was read to as a young girl, and I smile when I think of reading to my own three children as they cuddled into me on the sofa. Now that my children are teenagers, the stories we share are usually told around the dinner table.
So if stories are to be shared it goes without saying that spoken word events are a vitally important part of our culture.
But how important are these events to the novel writer, apart from getting your face kent? The answer, to me, is very. Yesterday I took part in one of my favourite live literature events, which takes place upstairs in a cosy coffee shop in Falkirk and is run by Untitled. I chose an excerpt to read aloud that I thought I'd previously edited tightly, but I've discovered that it's only when I know an audience is going to, hopefully, be hanging on my every word that I perform my best cuts. And the editing doesn't stop there. It's incredible how I can take out complete sentences or change words on the spot.
The biggest plus of going along to these events for me is that, having listened to the varied and brilliant talent that is out there, I always come away feeling inspired.
The spoken word in Scotland is very much alive and kicking!
When you're in the company of a writer it's important to understand from the very offset that anything you say to us may one day appear in a story. It won't be repeated in the way you told us, and you might not even recognise it as something you once dropped in to conversation, but be warned, a juicy anecdote can be stored for years until we find a use for it.
Cathy feels her welly boots fill with water. Freezing cold water.
She stares in to the gaping mouth of the concrete tunnel and thinks of the lion snarling and baring its teeth on the circus posters that are stuck up around town. She takes a deep breath, imagines she’s the lion tamer, and steps inside.
The opening chapter to my latest novel, Beat the Drum, was written after a friend told me about her fear of snakes. Her story immediately sparked my imagination and conjured up the image of a young girl coming face to face with the creature inside a narrow, concrete tunnel. My friend gave me permission there and then to write about her experience but, now that I've finished the scene, I doubt she could even spot her own story.
My job as the writer was to take the idea, play with it, throw some characters and dialogue into the mix and then tell what happened next. What a great job!
Last week I faced the fear of the blank page. What if nothing came to mind? What if I'd run out of ideas? I took the leap and, armed only with a sharp pencil and a packet of Jaffa cakes, I started scribbling. Almost literally.
I wrote a jumble of words on the page, a random mix of adjectives and nouns, and waited for the magic to happen...
I'd almost reached the bottom of the first page when I wrote the two words - the boy. And instantly I could see him, I knew where he was and what he was doing.
Now all I need to do is get to know him and find out if he has a story to tell.
My three children have all gone back to school and it's the start of a new year which to many of us means the possibility of new beginnings. My latest novel, Beat the Drum, is tucked away in a bottom drawer before its final edit and so it's time to start a new writing project. And so this is why I find myself sitting in front of a cosy fire (it's freezing outside!) with a new notebook on my knee in the hope that a new idea will pop into my head out of the ether. Wish me luck...
Emma Mooney is a writer of Scottish contemporary fiction and is the author of A Beautiful Game. and Wings to Fly.