Pt 2 of an interview with Scottish author, Frances Campbell

Here is part 2 of my interview with Scottish emerging author, Frances Campbell.

Can you tell me about the writing/literary community in Scotland? How does it compare with what goes on in Australia?
Edinburgh started a literary ‘salon’ based on the French ones of days gone by. People involved in literature turn up at the same venue on a given night and mingle. Glasgow has copied the idea with Weegie Wednesdays and it’s buzzing. It was started by two women: a bookseller and a publicist from the Scottish Association of Publishers. It’s in a room above a pub and has a wee organizing committee. Usually they have two ten minute ‘spots’ then you mingle. Meeters and greeters make sure you don’t feel awkward going alone. It’s like the networking nights at Victorian Writers Centre.

Author, Frances Campbell

Author, Frances Campbell

You learn so much having a drink with illustrators, publishers, booksellers, writing tutors, students, council literary staff, agents, reviewers, indexers as well as all the writers. They’re all helping each other with contacts, tips and advice. It brings the book industry of a city together – in a way that can only benefit the literary culture and business of the city. After the isolation of being a novelist it’s like going to the circus.

I was also involved in Lapidus, an organization that promotes writing for health and wellbeing. We organized fabulous, enriching events, often at festivals so that was even more circus-like.

What support is there for writers in Scotland?
We don’t have Writers’ Centres like you do in Australia. I’ve plugged into the Victorian Writers’ Centre and attended fifteen events at the Wheeler Centre in four months, getting to know individuals, organizations, publications. It’s been a roller-coaster of highs and one or two lows. In Scotland, government funding is given to the Scottish Arts Council and the Scottish Book Trust as well as to local councils. They all fund different projects.

You can apply to The Arts Council for a grant to fund your writing project or for professional development. They’ve paid my fees to go to conferences on writing for wellbeing. They do bursaries too, ranging from a few thousand pounds to help emerging writers buy time to twenty thousand pound to let established writers commit to exciting projects. It’s all fiercely competitive and the form-filling is a labour intensive drag.

The Scottish Book Trust maintains a Writers’ Register and once a writer has a record of literary publishing they can apply to go on it. Then the Book Trust pay half the fee for the writer to do readings and workshops at schools, festivals etc. They do their own projects too. A recurring one, I’ve benefited from, is setting up mentors with mentees and financing them through a year of meetings.

Local councils tend to support literary festivals and writers in residence. The local council pays half the cost of residencies and the Scottish Arts Council the rest.

Generally, what have you found to be most effective in promoting yourself as a writer?
I posted a copy of my novel ‘The Past Is Another Country’ to a professor who had just written a book about women in Scottish literature. Some time later, my novel was nominated for a Saltire Award. Quoting good reviews like the one below opened doors for me. I was so pleased with it that at first I never noticed it had four stars attached:

As absurd as the premise for this story may be, the result is very pleasing… This quirky tale is told in vibrant humorous prose… A novel concept, skillfully executed. (The List)****

Do you have an online strategy?
I once created a web site and used it to put my own short pieces of writing on. It was effective in making me feel great: instant publication equals gratification. I put a link to it in my email signature but otherwise the poor site was pretty isolated. You need to be part of a bigger site, I’ve learned.

I’m about to start a blog because publishers say it’s important for future sales to have a presence online. Even I expect to be able to google any writer who is serious about what they do.

Are you a full-time writer?
I write part time, starting at nine a.m. with a full day on Tuesday. That’s the plan. If I don’t keep to it, I make up the hours later. But I want that structure. The first task is to note in a journal if I’m on time, if not, why not and what would help/hinder me tomorrow. I have a collection of motivational sayings in the same journal. They act like fire-lighters under sticks.

What is your ‘author-brand’?
I do heavy subjects with a light touch. The Past Is Another Country looks at 16th century Scottish fundamentalism but is written as a bodice ripper. An Atheist’s Prayer takes religious differences between two sisters and wraps them up in love. My current non-fiction book tackles the taboo subject of alienation without turning readers off.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?

I agree with a previous interviewee – don’t get bogged down with one piece. Put it away and let time do your editing for you. When you come back to it, days, weeks later you’ll chuck out paragraphs without a qualm because you’re no longer emotionally attached to them.

Thanks for your insights, Frances!

Click here to visit Frances’ page at the Scottish Book Trust.