The final countdown

With only three weeks to go until the launch of Liminal Ink’s second title, I can barely wait. In case you’ve forgotten, Life Is Elsewhere / Burn Your Flags is a novella by Scottish author Iain Maloney, who now lives in Japan, which makes for an interesting zig zag of emails across time zones.

When Paul and I came up with the idea of Liminal Ink we intended it to be a one off to publish my book during lockdown. We loved the community-feel of crowdfunding and enjoyed the alchemy of turning words on a page into books on a bookshelf. What we hadn’t appreciated was that the difficulty would not be in releasing the book but in getting it into the hands of readers: those all important people who turn writers into authors, a subtle but magical transformation.

A little bruised by our dealings with distributors, Paul and I reassessed our thoughts on what Liminal Ink meant to us. We were intrigued by the idea of softening the boundaries between writer and publisher. Of collaboration and exploration. As a musician, Paul was particularly interested in the fact that indie musicians are celebrated, yet indie writers often seem to be regarded as lesser somehow; unable to secure a ‘proper publisher’. Yet it wasn’t always so in music, nor is it always the case with writers. Things evolve. Move on.

At the same time as we were having these conversations, Iain contacted us to ask if we would like to consider his latest novella for publication. No stranger to working with indie publishers, Iain’s writing is eclectic, ranging from haiku to memoir and fiction, his novels roam over a variety of genres. He also shares our enthusiasm for experimentation and was open to approaching publication as a collaboration (and as I mentioned in a previous blog, his novella wowed us).

Over the last six months I’ve taught myself to typeset and Paul’s learned the delights of book design. All decisions have been passed back and forth across continents, and are agreed collectively. Our first Zoom meeting was a wee bit disconcerting, while Paul and I slurped coffee and blinked into the morning, Iain was kicking off his shoes and slipping into his evening gin and tonic. And yet it worked. 

We were intrigued by the idea of softening the boundaries between writer and publisher

For me, the highlight of the process so far has been watching the cover emerge. Paul mocked up several versions. Comments were exchanged, opinions sought. We agreed our favourite, and slowly it morphed into something we all loved. 

There are many sayings to contradict collaborative ways of working – too many cooks and all that – but in this case, the phrase that springs to mind is ‘more than the sum of its parts’. By that I don’t mean the words, they’re all Iain’s and deserving of the commendations he’s had so far; more the experience.

Of course there were challenges, one of the biggest being we all have other commitments, other work, other claims on our time. Some of the stages have taken longer than I or any of us would have liked. As for my attempts to make an e-book, I threw in the towel and enlisted help from another small, indie publisher north of here. 

Overall I’ve loved it. There’s a generosity that comes with this kind of working – a generosity of time, of humour, of experience. Perhaps we got lucky. Perhaps another combination may not have worked so well. Who knows? For now I’m delighted the book is safely at the printers. Soon we’ll have it in our hands. Very soon! And when we do, you’ll be among the first to know.

Life Is Elsewhere / Burn Your Flags by Iain Maloney is released on Thursday 16 September, and I’ll share details of the launch event as soon as they’re finalised.

In the meantime, you can preorder your copy via the Liminal Ink website or through your local bookstore. 

The joy of collaboration

A year ago, Paul and I set up Liminal Ink as an experiment – to publish My Heart’s Content and blur the lines between publisher and author. It’s been a steep learning curve for both of us and we realised we only wanted to coLnsider publishing again as a collaboration, and more importantly, if something wowed us. Well something did! 

We’re excited to announce that Liminal Ink’s next title will be the novella Life Is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags by Scottish author Iain Maloney.

Iain Maloney, author of Life Is Elsewhere/BurnYour Flags

Originally from up the road in Aberdeen, Iain now lives in Japan and is a seasoned author with four books and a poetry collection under his belt. His most recent book, The Only Gaijin in the Village is a critically acclaimed memoir about his efforts to settle into his new, rural community, including his unusual approach to growing vegetables (at least according to the locals) and a penchant for reading beside an outdoor fire in the snow.

Life Is Elsewhere/Burn Your Flags is also set in Japan, but that’s where the similarity ends. It’s Christmas Day 2020 and at the start of the novella, Cormac is headed for the hills. In the midst of the pandemic, the bar he runs is closed and his marriage to Eri is falling apart. A phone call from his doctor could change everything.

Meantime, Eri has locked herself in the spare room, with too much alcohol and a box of old video tapes. As a teenager in late 1980s Tokyo, Eri documented the rise of a legendary female punk band. In the wake of its demise, she shrugged off her identity and ran. Thanks to an unexpected email she’s about to unearth long-buried memories and confront her past.

A beautiful, brutal meditation on love and death and the death of love … compelling, tense, gorgeously-drawn and perfectly-paced. This seemingly slight novella travels worlds and light years in a few thousand words. Eri and Cormac, and all the things they say and leave unsaid, will stay with you for a long time.

Kirstin Innes, author of Scabby Queen

It’s hard to say what moved me most about Iain’s novella. Eri’s struggles to reconcile her paid up, buttoned down life with the untethered, disordered mayhem of her youth, certainly resonated. Reading it reminded me of the out of control feeling of my younger days; the sensation of being spun round and round, the disorientation, the stumbling, the waiting for the world to right itself before doing it all again. The need for more. For those endless nights of vodka-flavoured freedom. Though in my case those days are recalled without Eri’s accompanying feeling of dissatisfaction and regret.

Cormac’s story is more introspective; measured. A wander rather than a hurtle. It’s the fleeting insights that held me. The playful use of Haiku. The laconic rhythm. I loved the feeling of uncovering new information, as if I’d stumbled across the fact by accident. As a result I no longer see snowmen in my future – it’s snow buddhas from here on in.

The book covers a lot of ground, both geographically and metaphorically, in a relatively small number of words. There’s a kaleidoscopic landscape of snow-covered hills, tight-lipped public schools, the punk scene of downtown Tokyo, bands and temples and squats and a yellow Gibson guitar. 

A raw yet compassionate take on a couple trying to deal with their fears and frustrations, both with themselves and with each other, in the time of Covid.

J. David Simons, author of An Exquisite Sense of the Beautiful

In a previous blog I mentioned that during my MLitt, we were told by a well-known Scottish literary agent that when we were writing we should consider where the book would sit in a bookshop. In other words, to be aware of the boundaries. That’s what I love most of all about Iain’s novella, it could fit into several categories; or none at all! Iain let the story dictate its length and style, unabashed, which for me is its greatest strength. 

Now I’ve got you all excited, here’s what you need to know so you can add it to your bookshelf. 

Life Is Elsewhere / Burn Your Flags is released on Thursday 16 September 2021.

We’re printing a limited run so add the date to your diary to make sure you don’t miss out. Better still, head over to Liminal Ink to pre-order and be among the first to receive a copy.

For more about Iain Maloney, have a look at his website: iainmaloney.com

A slow dawning

As a young child I was told a joke* that made my friends laugh but puzzled me. I never got the punchline. Years later, I was in university (yes, that many years later) and suddenly, from out of nowhere, I began to laugh. I finally got the joke. It wasn’t funny – my laughter was at the realisation of how obvious it all was.

I recount the story to demonstrate how my brain works. Sometimes it takes a long time for me to get something which to others is obvious. In my defence, there’s a lot going on in there.

Earlier today a similar thing happened: I suddenly got what it means to be a writer – you have to write. Obvious I know, at least on the face of it, but for the last year I’ve been having a crisis of confidence when it comes to my writing ability. Almost every time I’ve sat down to continue working on my book, I’ve frozen. On the days where I have written something, I’ve ended up extensively rewriting before ultimately deleting. It’s been my main source of anxiety, which is saying something given that we’re still in the midst of global pandemic and I remain in one of the high risk categories.

This despite My Heart’s Content being longlisted for the Mslexia Memoir and Life Writing competition 2020. To be fair, the news offered a moment of respite, before the doubt crowded out the euphoria: ‘I won’t be shortlisted; I’ll never win’. I wasn’t and didn’t. Case in point. Prophecy self-fulfilled.

There’s a saying in yoga (and probably in other areas of life) that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. My teacher materialised this morning, via an email from Mslexia, featuring advice to writers from Hilary Mantel. Among her many pearls of wisdom was this:

There isn’t any failed writing. There is only writing that is on the way to being successful – because you’re learning all the time. It follows that nothing you write is ever wasted, and that to become good, and better than good, you need to write a lot.

Hilary Mantel

And just like that, something clicked into place.

To be good at piano, I practise daily. I’ve only just started so my playing is limited at best but already I can play a tune with both hands, whereas six weeks ago, I could barely play a scale.

For yoga and meditation to work their magic on my body and mind, I practise regularly. To begin with I couldn’t touch my toes and my thoughts never stopped racing. Today my body is comfortable in downward facing dog and I can comfortably sit in meditation for 20 mins (my thoughts a meander rather than a full on sprint).

It all takes practice. Regular, sustained practice. Obvious, and yet when it came to my writing, I just couldn’t make that one stick.

Until now.

I write this not to look for reassurance about my writing ability but to make myself accountable. To me. To the writer I long to be. As from today, my pledge is to write. Preferably daily but certainly as often as possible. No matter the subject. No matter the number of words. No matter the result.

Not procrastinate. Or doubt my ability.

Just write.

And to heed another piece of Hilary’s advice:

Don’t try to edit while you are writing. Your first draft is all about energy and unleashing your power. Respect the process of creation and give it space. It’s like planting a seed. You have to water it and watch it emerge and grow before you can prune it into shape.

Hilary Mantel

Finally, I’m going to celebrate the amazing personal achievement of being longlisted for a national competition by singing one of my favourite songs, loudly, and without apology.

For those who are interested, here’s the article from Hilary Mantel: What I wish I’d Known

*And finally, the joke: 

A kid riding their bike in the street:

“Look mum no hands.”

“Look mum no feet.”

“Look mum no teeth.”

Aye Write! 2021

The email asked if I would be interested in taking part in this year’s Aye Write! book festival, to talk about My Heart’s Content. I read it three times to be sure.

What you grinning at? Paul asked. I read him the email.

Well are you interested? he said. I nodded vigorously and asked if he wanted a cup of tea. He raised an eyebrow.

I’m playing it cool, I said. Don’t want to appear too eager.

Half way to the kitchen, which in our flat is around 10 steps, my coolness, such as it is, dissipated and I rushed back to send my reply, fully expecting to see a message telling me my window for responding had expired and I’d missed the opportunity. Or dreamed it.

Let me set my excitement in context. For those of you who aren’t aware, Aye Write! is Glasgow’s annual book festival. As with the city in which it’s based, it is big, bold and friendly. And this year, it was online, which means you could buy a pass for the whole festival and watch at your convenience.

There were sessions about dealing with grief, and the healing power of nature. Rock stars talked about memoirs and authors talked about fiction being the new rock n roll. There were authors talking politics and politicians, including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, talking books.

Participating authors included big hitters Andrew O’Hagan, Douglas Stuart and Maggie O’Farrell, alongside those less well known but equally brilliant, such as Helen McClory, Ruth Thomas and Jenni Fagan. And there were those just starting out, like me!

Scottish Debuts: Aye Write! Festival 2021

The Scottish Debuts, of which I was one, opened the festival, with a flurry of Tweets and a dance around the living room (in our house at least). The event was pre-recorded, which given my nerves, was just as well. We were each allotted a few minutes to do with what we wanted – read from our book, talk about our writing, grin inanely. I opted for all three.

And so, on Friday 14 May, there I was, reading from the book I had written, to an invisible audience (which would have included my mum, if she had been able to get the link to work on time) as part of one of the UK’s biggest book festivals.

Just another ordinary day then: aye right!

*Although the main Aye Write! festival is now over, you can watch the events online for up to three weeks from the date of their release. Check out Glasgow Life TV to find out what’s available.

The Scottish Debuts event is free and still available to watch for a couple more days.

To buy a copy of My Heart’s Content: A Journey to Transplant, visit Liminal Ink.

Before we bring in the new

The last day of 2020. It’s been tough for most people, illness, financial insecurity, loneliness, fear. Loss of loved ones and being unable to say goodbye.

As hard as it is not to focus on all the difficulties of 2020, I wanted to reflect on the good that came out of it. The sense of community. Putting the welfare of others before ourselves. The imagination and ingenuity used to bring people together safely. The sharing and the hope.

For Paul and I we have a lot to be thankful for: though many of our friends were affected by the virus, we lost only one member from our extended family (although still one too many). Both sets of parents stayed well, despite an operation and several hospital trips. We had regular work and thanks in particular to our friends Gail and Shirish, we were never short of food.

We also had space and quiet to finally explore the experience of my transplant: the impact it had on both of us. Part of that was the publishing of my book, which opened up feelings we’d locked away, perhaps for the better at the time. Through talking about what happened we realised there were emotions deeply buried under layers of well-rehearsed anecdotes, used to divert attention from things too painful to contemplate. 

For several weeks during the production of my book, my sleep was interrupted by the image of the theatre doors, immediately before I was wheeled in for my operation, against the ghostly echo of Paul’s footsteps walking away. I would wake, shaking, heart racing in the remnants of a dream where I’d been abandoned, yet again, by Paul or my family or my closest friends. A skin-crawling fear of being ignored. Unseen. Of no-one hearing me. And on its coat-tails, guilt. Thoughts of those whose reality renders my worst fears insignificant. Of my donor and their family.

As with most things, time and talking soothed my fizzled body and mind and here, at the endpoint of a year like no other, I wanted to acknowledge, in writing and from my own perspective, the incredible resilience and kindness of those around me. For friends who wrote or called, who sent cards and texts (and penguins). Of neighbours who shared food and laughter. Of all those who gave so generously and supported so effusively the launch of My Heart’s Content. And family, of course family. Family who were there and are there. Always.

There’s no doubt the shadow of 2020 will reach long into the future, for many reasons and one in particular. But for me it was the year I published my first book. The year Paul and I fully realised the extent of our community. The year my mum began to finally recover. The year I gave my first interview as an author. A year where people actually read my words and liked them, loved them in some cases, and graciously shared their thoughts with me. A year which cemented old friendships, found new ones and reconnected with some who had temporarily gone astray.

For me 2020 was the year I transitioned to being an author. The one thing I’d always craved. A childhood dream fulfilled. The year I finally found my home.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Bring on 2021.

If you haven’t yet read My Heart’s Content and would like to do so, it’s available at: Liminal Ink

*Cover image for My Heart’s Content by Laura Donald

The joy of firsts

In a car, outside a hospital, on a water-logged autumn morning, I prepare to answer the questions sent to me for an interview in SNACK magazine. They arrived in my email inbox the evening before. Throughout the night I mulled my answers between snatches of sleep in the midst of a storm that exfoliated the root of our ancient camper van. The camper van and hospital belong to another story; the questions are about my book, the writing of it, my transplant experience and my relationship with Paul. This is my first interview as an author. My first chance to talk about my writing. With a wave to the parking attendant (I’m a regular), I slide into the passenger seat and pull out my laptop to begin.

SNACK magazine cover

Apprehension stalls my first sentence. Start, delete. Start, delete. I know I’m over-thinking. It’s not like I don’t know the answers: I wrote the book and what’s more, I lived the experience. It’s my story. Breathe. Start again. This time I let go and write as I would talk. And guess what, it’s fun.

Since my transplant I’ve told and retold my story so many times I’ve lost count. Mostly it’s to friends, family, work mates. Occasionally it’s to the press or other media. I’ve even performed parts of it, as recounted in an earlier blog. What I haven’t done much of is talked about my writing. About what or who inspires me. How it feels to reveal details of my experience, my relationship, on the page. To do so was exhilarating. Turns out I had a lot to say. Too much. No matter, I could save the overspill of words for a podcast I’d been invited to take part in a few days, this time for the Scots Whay Hae!, a website dedicated to Scottish culture.

For the podcast it’s an evening and it’s with Paul, in our living room, via Zoom. It’s also the same interviewer, Alistair Braidwood. I’m familiar with SWH! and have listened to several previous podcasts. So why the frizzle of nerves? The sensation of standing on the banks of a fast flowing river? I’ve checked to make sure I haven’t spilled anything on my shirt and my hair isn’t sticking up, yet (private joke for a few of my university friends). Inside I know why. It’s the fear of jumbling my words in the school play, of dropping the ball at third base of rounders, of tripping over at sports day, of forgetting my steps at the end of year dance show. The potential to misspeak or dry up completely.

Scots Whay Hae! website

The good news is, it was, as you’ve probably guessed, fine. More than, in fact. As far as I’m aware, I didn’t speak out of turn or inappropriately, laugh too loudly (well perhaps a little but it’s my natural laugh) or offend anyone. In fact, as with the written interview, after a wobbly start, I enjoyed the whole experience. It helps that Alistair was warm and encouraging, the questions were interesting, and Paul was there to take the slack, or surreptitiously poke me to remind me to slow the pace.

And as if that weren’t enough firsts, I also received feedback from three readers with no connection to my story. And they loved the book. One said it was the best book she’d read all year, another talked about how it resonated with her emotionally, the last about how she had been unable to put it down. What a remarkable privilege to write something and have it read and enjoyed by others.

These feelings, all of them, I hope they never go away.

And if you’re interested, below are the links to the SWH! podcast and the interview in SNACK magazine.

Scots Whay Hae! https://scotswhayhae.com

SNACK magazine https://snackmag.co.uk/read-this-months-magazine

Almost there

The few weeks since the end of the Kickstarter have been a whirlwind of tweaks, layouts and design decisions. And now it’s all done. The book cover design is finalised, the manuscript is typeset and print ready, and the e-book versions are complete. All that’s left is to send everything to the printer and wait for the book to arrive. The real-life, proper book.

Remember how it felt as a child on Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa, body tingled, eyes screwed shut, sleep elusive, willing time to go faster? That’s a fraction of the excitement simmering inside me. My Heart’s Content was a labour of love; an exorcism. It wasn’t my planned first book, nor even my preferred genre. It’s the one I couldn’t not write (double negative intentional and necessary). The end was a long breath out.

The prospect of writing memoir fascinated me – not so much deciding what to include but rather how to present it. When I arrived at the format of a day per chapter (I know, not exactly ground-breaking and yet it took months to get there), it freed me to be more creative with the content. With little experience of biographical writing, I began by reading other memoirs, across many subjects. For several weeks I inhabited the genre: from brain tumours to birds of prey. What struck me was the stylistic crossover between biography and fiction. The weaving of a story around a moment in time. None of the dry, factual text I had imagined but instead a journey into another life, a glimpse of a different world. A revelation.

“There is another side of writing a memoir for which I wasn’t prepared.”

There is another side of writing a memoir for which I wasn’t prepared. The emotional toll. Not the writing, which was almost cathartic, not even the reading of the story over and over, although there were moments where triggered memories were almost too much to bear. What I hadn’t expected was the underlying fear of those unknown readers. People with whom I have no connection, who don’t know my story, who have no vested interest in me and don’t need to be careful with their comments. What if these people don’t like it? Or actively dislike it? If it were fiction, it would still hurt but it wouldn’t be my story. I knew releasing a book into the wild would be tough but this extra dimension …

And yet.

Whatever the readers think, I’m proud of my book. I’m proud of Paul and my friends and family who helped me through my experience. I’m proud of our NHS and the care and dedication of the staff in the transplant unit of the Golden Jubilee Hospital. I’m proud of the team of professionals who proofed, edited, typeset, designed, primped and preened my book ready for its prom night.

My book’s all grown up. Time to make its own way in the world. All I can do now is let it go.

My Heart’s Content is launched on Thursday 22 October. Backers from the Kickstarter campaign will receive their copies as soon as they are ready.