Readers of this blog will remember an announcement I made back at the beginning of September to say I’d been shortlisted for the Tarbert Book Festival’s writing competition . At the end of last month I went up to Tarbert with my partner to attend the book festival as well as doing some sightseeing of our own in the area.
While I didn’t win the grand prize (that accolade goes to the very talented Frances Ainslie for her lovely story, Nights with Mary-Anne), I did have a wonderful time getting to meet and chat with many interesting writerly (and not so writerly) folk. I even received a compliment on my story from Janice Galloway (a prize in itself).
In addition to the awards reception on the Friday evening at The Loch Fyne Gallery where short-listees read their stories, I also attended the Saturday of the writing festival.
On Saturday morning I participated in Anne Hamilton’s inspiring and fun writing workshop. As well as discussing setting (which was the inspiration for the writing competition), Anne talked about the importance of writing for its own sake. She said that so many people these days talk about writing, but never do it. She then went on to give us some practical hints and tips for both starting writing and for finishing what we begin. The piece of advice which most spoke to me was Anne’s admonition to leave the editing until after the story was written. I have a difficult time with this, always wanting to tweak and polish as I go. But, as Anne said, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I will try to keep this in mind the next time I’m tempted to edit before finishing a piece.
The second session I attended was Janice Galloway’s. She was reading from her latest collection of stories, Jellyfish, and discussing the writing of them. She said that how you tell a story is more important than what is actually said. The writer’s voice is incredibly important to the telling of the story because our books are, ultimately, about us as we are their creators. She went on to say that self-consciousness is the enemy of good writing, which must be natural. It’s about interpreting and presenting vulnerability. She then read an extract from one of the stories in her new collection which was captivating. After the session I had to go and purchase my own copy and get it signed, of course. 🙂 What she had to say resonated with me and is something I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
Later that afternoon I attended Shirley McKay’s excellent talk about her historical fiction crime collection, 1588: A Calendar of Crime which takes place in Tudor Scotland. Her talk was fascinating and I was very much drawn to the idea of crime being integrated with historical fiction—it sounds tricky but satisfying, particularly when the crimes take place during such a dramatic period of history. When I was in my late teens I became particularly interested in this period of history (I’ve no idea how this came about as I lived in California) and so it was a lot of fun revisiting that history in Shirley’s talk. I’m looking forward to reading her books at some point too.
That evening at Stonefield Castle we were treated to an excellent whisky tasting by local distillery Springbank, followed by a hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable talk by Chris Brookmyre. Of course, besides being funny and giving some colourful anecdotes from his writing life, Chris also dispensed good advice. My favourite of which was his definition of writer’s block as reluctance to make a decision about your story. He said that sometimes you just have to finish the work and make a decision about where you’ll take it, even if it’s not what you thought it would be. He said that sometimes where you think a story will go isn’t where it actually ends up. I thought this was an interesting approach to it and worth sharing. (For another insightful approach to writer’s block, see this post by Colorado-based writer Kele Lampe: https://theshadowsanctuary.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/carving-up-writers-block/ ).
While the following day of the festival held several exciting events which we would have loved to have attended, we chose to do some exploring instead as we only had a couple of days in this beautiful and enchanting area of Scotland. We chose to hike to the White Shore, through the woods along the northern side of Tarbert Harbour. Later we took a ferry to the nearby village of Portavadie where we walked a short stretch of the Cowal Way. Both were beautiful and refreshing to experience. On the Friday, before the reception, we’d visited Tarbert Castle, which we also enjoyed.
And on our absolute final day in Tarbert we took a ferry all the way to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran, mostly to experience being on the sea (this was thanks to a local tip as we would never have known about this ferry journey otherwise). Because the ferry only went once a day, we were only able to get off for a few short minutes, but at least we can say we’ve been there 😉 . The journey itself was spectacular. We saw two pods of porpoises swimming alongside the boat as well as a mother porpoise and her baby. We also saw a seal playing in the water. The previous day, on the ferry to Portavadie, we’d also seen seals in the distance. Magical doesn’t even begin to cover it. Seeing the Isle of Arran gently hover into view on a misty day was unforgettable.
It made me sad to leave Tarbert but I’m consoled by the fact that there’s always next year.
Have you attended any writing festivals far from home and, if so, did you try to combine it with a vacation? I’d love to hear about your experiences so please leave a comment below.
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