Friday, 7 August 2015

Guest Post: Oh the Horror - Claire McFall

 Welcome to Claire McFall on Bookish Outsider today! Claire is the author of the award winning Ferryman, Bombmaker and the newly released Black Cairn Point!

Oh the horror!
I hate it when someone asks me what genre my book is.  Because they want an answer.  One.  A box to put your book in.  So what genre’s Black Cairn Point?  I dunno.  There’s romance, paranormal stuff. Adventure, some thrills (I hope). But I guess if I had to take just one label, write it on a sticker and slap it on the cover, I’d go with horror.
Horror: aiming to create a sense of terror, anxiety and dread in an audience.
In other words, scaring the pants of the reader. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to share with you some real life horror stories that have happened to me during my road to publishing.  Times when I’ve felt that churn of nausea, the slickness of sweat sliding down my back, the hammering of my heart.
You know, lay the worst moments in my author life so far bare to the light for your amusement…

Number three: the agent meet
I have a very nice agent.  He’s funny, sympathetic and he takes my back (and he’s not paying me for saying this, honest!). However, before I met him, he was just a scary London book agent. I’d had a nasty experience with a charlatan agent who tried to diddle me and a host of other budding authors, so I was already wary.  Plus, I was coming down to the big bad city from Bumpkinville, Scotland, so that was a pretty big deal in itself.  And this was a real agent. One who might take my humble attempts at writing novels and, you know, sell them to publishers for money. So, making a good first impression was key.  I dressed to impress, although after five and a half hours on a train, I was already looking pretty raggedy.  We went for lunch… and I did OK.  I HATE selling myself and my ideas, but he seemed enthusiastic and made lots of positive noises.  We had wine with lunch. A bottle of it.  Now, I’m trying to play it cool, but I’m getting pretty excited.  I think he might want to sign me! EEEEK!
Then we went back to his office to talk a little further.  His basement office.  Two (and a half) glasses of wine, remember.  Big ones.  No sooner had my potential agent said “Watch the stairs” (which were pretty steep, I’d like to note) I… tumbled right down them.  Oh heavens, how mortifying.  He’ll think I’m drunk!  But I got myself up, dusted myself off, laughed too loud (“Oh ho ho, silly me!” CRINGE!) and got myself settled in a chair opposite his desk. We chatted. My blush faded.  He did want to sign me (hooray!).  Time to go.  I should mention at this juncture that his office was very cool, surrounded – of course – by books and had glass walls.  I stood up, reached to shake hands, pushed my chair back, and heard an enormous SCRAPE and then a SCRATCH. The wall did not shatter, thank goodness, but I think I did some damage.  What could I do?  I ran. Fast.
(He still signed me btw)

Number two: the award ceremony
I was lucky enough for Ferryman to be listed as a finalist for the Grampian Children’s Book Awards.  The award ceremony was in Aberdeen with 500 (yeah, 500!) school pupils from the area. I’d looked at the agenda (briefly) and saw that the host would be introducing my book – yay, not me! No pressure.  
What I failed to see, was the 20 minute interval between that and the next book in line. A twenty minute interval that was for me.  To do a presentation.  To those 500 pupils.
I figured that out exactly 22 minutes before the fact when the writer in front of me had to do the same thing.  And I had NOTHING prepared.  What’s worse?  He was funny.  Like, really funny.
Oh my God what am I going to do…………………………..?
I have no idea what I talked about.  Really. It could have been about the meaning of life, the price of cheese.  Hopefully, it was about the book but who knows!  They clapped at the end though, so it can’t have been too awful.
Alas… I didn’t win.  The funny guy did. Grrr.

Number one: the school talk
Early on, when publicising my first novel “Ferryman”, I went to some schools in Edinburgh with the Scottish Book Trust. I’ve done this loads since then, but that was one of my first experiences and I was … petrified. I’m a teacher, so you’d think I’d be used to standing up in front of kids, but this was talking about my stuff, hoping they’ll be interested in me. Mammy!
The first school was great, the kids were brill and everything went perfectly. Then we had a spot of lunch and it was off to school number two.  I was speaking to all of S1, which was about 150 pupils. Ok, bigger than the last school, but no big deal.  Breathe.  Stop being such a pansy.  I had my PowerPoint all ready to go and the nice lady who ran the library had gotten me a big 2L bottle of water in case I got thirsty.  So I didn’t have to fiddle during my talk, she took the lid off and sat it on the sideboard in front of the promo board. That’s a big A2 bit of cardboard with the book cover, my name and (unfortunately) my face plastered on it.  You know, just in case the kids forget who they’re there to see.
Remember that, because it’s important.
Now, they gave me a duffla (technical term) to click to move my PowerPoint forward. It even had a wee laser light so that I could point at stuff. Here’s where it gets bad. I talk with my hands.  A lot.  So I was about ten minutes in, merrily chatting away, when I got a bit excited.  The hand movements got more exaggerated and the duffla… well, it liberated itself from the safety of my palm.
I attempted to catch it mid-air.  Failed.  It hit the wall and then the floor smashed into pieces.  Oops.  It also managed to upset the delicate balance of my promo board which started to slip down behind the sideboard.  I thought Oh no, the duffla’s broken, but I can save the promo board! I lunged.  Reached out with my hand.  Missed the promo board entirely.  It fell, probably never to be retrieved.
Remember the water?
Yeah, I hit that.  Square on. Knocked it to the carpeted floor. No lid.  Two litres of water started just, well, peeing across the floor.  The girls in the first three rows had to lift their feet and bags to avoid being flooded out.  150 kids were staring, horrified, right at me.
What the hell do you do?  I laughed.

So, these are my tales of horror: the sweats, the shakes, the pounding pulse… the laughs?  See, you can’t put a story in a box!
Thank you so much to Fi @ The Bookish Outsider for having me on her fab blog! It’s been far from horrifying! xxx


  1. Everything points to me needing to read this book!

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