30 before 30

2018 is the year I turn thirty, a year that I suspect will involve lots of change, both in my writing career, and in my everyday life. And so, yes, I have been tragic and clichéd enough to create a “30 before 30” list.

A few of the goals I’d like to achieve before my birthday in July are already proving challenging (‘be the fittest I’ve ever been’ and ‘learn Dutch’ for instance). Yet some are linked with what I want to do as a writer and are a little more manageable, so I’ll share a few here which will also give insight into what’s in store for me in the coming months…

1) Improve general knowledge.

Having studied Literature and Creative Writing for eight years at university, my knowledge has perhaps become a little niche and I’ve often strayed away from the facts and figures that you need to do well on the likes of Eggheads or The Chase; besides Art and Literature questions, I often find myself stumped. So, as well as reading more non-fiction, I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts across lots of different topics. When it comes to the general knowledge side of things, I’ve found Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ podcast particularly good at providing a more nuanced and academic take on various disciplines and periods of history in under and hour, while the likes of ‘All Killa, No Filla’, has really improved my knowledge of serial killers (and provided lots of laughs), just in time for my reading at the upcoming Granite Noir Festival (23-25 February).

Yet, I couldn’t help but also become a little addicted to podcasts from ‘The Moth’ (true, inspiring / thought-provoking stories),‘The Paris Review’ (a beautifully crafted hour of literature, interviews with authors and awesome found sound and music), and the 90's nostalgia inducing serial narrative ‘It Makes a Sound’, so the more literary side of aural entertainment has not escaped me!

13) Go on a writing retreat.

This weekend coming (15-18 February) I’m heading to Cove Park with five writer friends from Aberdeen Writers’ Studio for a few days of writing and creative discussion. I’m hoping to really get going with a new novel project based on the life of fashion designer Bill Gibb, for which I recently went on a three-day research trip to London, visiting Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and various locations where Gibb worked and sold his clothes. Fingers crossed I knock out a good number of good words now that I have a fair amount of research in the bag.

I’ll also be heading on a week’s writing retreat in the summer after receiving one of Creative Scotland’s Muriel Spark 100 Awards, which was a fantastic boost after a fair number of rejections of late. As well as spending time at the National Library of Scotland looking through their Spark archives, I’ll spend a later week writing new short stories inspired by her time in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) and my own. It’s hoped that these stories will be e-published in time for some public readings in autumn. I’m really excited to be part of this project celebrating a writer I admire’s centenary alongside the likes of Janice Galloway, Morna Young and creatives working across several other disciplines. It should be a great year of events!

19) Read a book a fortnight.

Although it might not seem a lot to some, pushing myself to read at least one new book a fortnight has become necessary for me as it’s so easy to get caught up in part-time work, freelance commitments, writing, research and general life, meaning that reading for both pleasure and writing craft can often be left behind, so I’ve been keeping a list of what I’m reading and making sure I always have something else lined up and waiting to be read on my Kindle or by my bed. Books I’ve particularly enjoyed since starting my 30 before 30 list are: A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, Adult Fantasy by Briohny Doyle, Madame Zero by Sarah Hall, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I’m currently reading Mary Paulson-Ellis’s The Other Mrs Walker, which I’m really enjoying.

I was fortunate enough to speak alongside Mary and the First Lady of Iceland, Eliza Reid (founder of the Iceland Writers Retreat), on a panel about writing and place as part of Spectra Festival’s Catalyst Conference last week. After lots of great discussion, I feel the Icelandic Sagas need to make it onto my reading list soon...

I am also looking forward to a slew of fresh writing coming my way to read in the coming weeks as part of my mentor role on the Queer Words Project Scotland. I'm looking forward to hearing lots of new voices in the shortlist and helping to make a selection of who I'll be mentoring between April and June.

25) Write a play.

Thanks to a commission from Aberdeen Performing Arts, I’ve been continuing to work with fine artist Kate Steenhauer on our ‘The Shelter’ play project (the origins of which are covered in my last blog), which has continued to grow in several interesting ways.

So far this year, we’ve been back out on the streets of Aberdeen, with me listening in on conversations in and around bus shelters, while Kate sketches the scene, all in preparation for a sharing of the work-in-progress on Thursday 26th April at The Lemon Tree (tickets can be booked for free here!). Here's a promo for the show:

We were also awarded a commission by Curated Place to project the first scene from ‘The Shelter’ as part of Spectra, Aberdeen’s Festival of Light. We’ve learnt a lot through working with technicians at The Lemon Tree, a young filmmaker Alex Cormack, and the staff at Curated Place to install our projection in Union Terrace Gardens this week past, where it’s been viewed by tens of thousands of people every night, Thursday to Sunday (8-11 February). Here are some pics from the festival:

If you’re based in Aberdeen, you can get involved with ‘The Shelter’ by tweeting in what you hear on the streets of Aberdeen with the hashtag #aberdeenoverheard or by commenting it on this blog post - you never know, it might end up in our show. You can read our own quotes and see Kate’s sketches on our special Twitter account: @writeaberdeen

Even if I don’t achieve all 30 on my list, it’s great to push myself in the run up to entering a new decade. And if I don’t do them all, at least it’ll have pushed me to read and write more in the coming months!