Looking Ahead to January

Although it’s not until next year, I’m already gearing up to take part in Fun a Day Dundee (FADD) for the third time. This is the local chapter of a global project that encourages participants to undertake something creative during the month of January. It happens at a time of year when professional artists and creators often struggle after the Christmas rush.

I first learnt of FADD in 2017, although the group has been running since 2011. A few of my artist friends were taking part, some working on a different piece every day for the 31 days, others concentrating on one or more larger projects during this time.

Those friends told me I should take part the following year, but I had some reservations: I’m not a painter, a model-maker, a jeweller, nor anything similar. Rather, my craft is writing words in pencil or pen on lined paper.

Rationally, I knew I was welcome, while still feeling like a misfit. As such, I hesitated in signing up, only registering my interest on the first day: 1 January 2018.

I started off with the intention of producing one piece of prose or poetry each day of the month, with provision to create side projects if something else occurred to me that I wanted to try out. Four days into FADD, I created my first such side project and something extraordinary happened.

In late December, I’d ordered a watch strap from Amazon, and it arrived in early January with six wasteful feet of brown paper cushioning stuffed into a needlessly large box. But inspired by the artists of FADD posting their work on Instagram and Twitter, I straightened out the paper and kept it aside for the public exhibition. I then planned to invite visitors to write down their own stories of corporate waste on that sheet of paper.

With the addition of that piece and my other side projects, the exhibition display looked so much more colourful and engaging than simply a folder full of black or blue ink on cream paper, and visitors did indeed fill the paper with anecdotes.

But more than that, this piece in particular gave me a direction for my 2019 project, where I still wrote words, but on recycled material. The surfaces used included used envelopes, expired tickets, and even the sole of a worn-out Dr Marten boot; anything except fresh lined paper.

In 2020, I have every intention of taking the recycling theme one stage further. The finer details will be worked out nearer the time, but the project will include actively destroying some of what I wrote in 2018 and 2019, and encouraging the public to do the same.

Whatever happens, however, I will make sure I have fun doing it, just as the name suggests.

Pomodori Doppi

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) underway, there is currently a worldwide race among members to tap out 50,000 words each by the end of November. But how does someone find the time to jot down an average of 1,667 words per day?

For someone like me who generally works core nine-to-five office hours – with at least one shift per week lasting until 6:30pm – I have to make use of any time possible.

I also organise the events for our region. Throughout the year, we have two hours of ring-fenced writing time every Tuesday evening, and an extra two hours per week on a Saturday throughout November. While at meet-ups, it’s relatively easy to crack on with work because everyone else is also trying to reach their word count goal.

The difficulty arises on non-meeting nights. I want to achieve a certain number of words per day, but I also need to tidy the flat and catch up with correspondence. The solution I find works best for me is based upon the Pomodoro Technique. In fact, one of the official NaNoWriMo Twitter accounts ran Pomodoro word sprints just today.

In the classic technique, you carry out a task for 25 minutes and take a break for five. However, I find that isn’t enough time to allocate to writing, so I prefer a double Pomodoro: write for 50 minutes and tackle another task away from the PC for 10 minutes.

I also have an instrumental playlist that lasts for approximately 50 minutes and helps me slip into the mood for writing, as that’s what I chiefly do when I listen to it.

Whatever time management techniques work for our members, however, we the organisers always make it clear that National Novel Writing Month is supposed to be fun.

If anyone finds it overwhelming, we want them to know it’s perfectly acceptable to leave aside a project, and there is no shame in not hitting the 50,000-word target.

Four, But Not of a Kind

I’m a member of at least four literary groups. I would normally have perhaps two in one week, or have to miss one because another takes precedence. But in a rare alignment last week, they occurred in sequence from Monday to Thursday.

On the surface, it might seem unnecessary to be in so many groups, but each one has its own distinct character and role. I also run the first two groups, while the other two are held by others. Here’s a brief rundown of what happens.


Monday: Hotchpotch

Of all my groups, this is probably the one I talk about most as it’s open to the public, while the rest have a semi-closed membership. Once a month on a Monday, we provide a space for writers to showcase their work in an open-mike format. There’s a strong ethos of no judgement and no criticism, so members are never given a hard time even if they make a mistake or if their work is rather political.

Tuesday: National Novel Writing Month

Although National Novel Writing Month officially only takes place during November, our region has continued to meet up in a pub every week for the past three or four years. We work on our own projects and have a lot of banter, although it’s not specifically for feedback. We’re gearing up for November by providing extra meet-ups and more encouragement for participants.

Wednesday: Table 23

Table 23 is an offshoot of our Tuesday meetings, named after the table we normally monopolise. These are held roughly every month at a member’s house. Unlike Tuesdays, each of us talk through our current writing project and ask for feedback about how it might be improved or about how to solve a particular plot problem.

Thursday: Wyverns

Wyverns is a group exclusively for poetry, formed when the local university stopped providing a suitable evening class. The members write a poem to a theme each month, and it receives constructive feedback from the others. We’re also working on our second pamphlet; our first was about Frankenstein, while this one is themed around the River Tay.


It can be hectic keeping up with all these groups, but it’s so rewarding to have this support from other writers that it’s definitely worth the effort.

Back Six Years

I don’t often post my work online, as publishers often consider it to be previously published. This week, however, I wanted to devote an entry to something that’s already in the public domain.

In 2013, my first short story was included in an anthology by The Fiction Desk. This was before I began to write poetry. Even reading this back six years later, I’m still pleased with how it turned out. Below is the full text.

A Big Leap

By Gavin Cameron

I don’t know exactly how small you are, I think I might be about three thousand times bigger than you. It must be really horrible being your size. When you jump through the grass it must be like going through a forest, and the nettles must sting you if you’re not careful. The sky probably looks even further away to you. Do you have a bedroom? You could have a glass of milk and an afternoon nap when you get tired.

You’d probably like to be a bit bigger. If you were the same size as me, you’d be able to run over the grass and go a lot further. You could play football, or ride a bike, or we could even get you some clothes, maybe a T-shirt and some jeans and a pair of new trainers and a hat if you wanted one. Can you swim? A puddle must seem like a swimming pool to you, but the leisure centre probably wouldn’t let you in, even if you were my size. And I know Mum wouldn’t let you sit at the table because she hates creepy crawly things so you might have to get your own dinner.

I don’t know what I’d call you if you were a girl. I’d call you Graham if you were a boy so you’d be Graham the grasshopper. I’d get a collar with your name on it like a dog and tell everyone you were mine.

If you were the size of an elephant, I could ride you. We’d go down to the shops for sweets and we could patrol the library and tell noisy people they had to be quiet or we would throw them out. On a Saturday, we’d go out for the whole day and go over the hills and see people in other countries and they would give us little wooden things to take home with us, but we’d still stop for sweets on the way back. Maybe you’d even be able to fly and when it got dark, you could take us all the way up to the moon, and we could play there for a bit, then land back in our back garden, but you’d have to be really quiet because Mr Parker next door doesn’t like noise. I think you’d like to be me but I don’t think I’d like to be you. You’re just an ornament so you can’t move unless we move you but I can move anywhere I like. Oh well, at least you’ll be here later. I’ll come and talk to you again after dinner.

The Responsibility of Memoir

Last week, my cousin brought a photograph to my attention. A friend from Gowriehill Primary School had posted online our year 5 class picture, dating from the early 1990s.

Although I hadn’t seen it in years, I remembered most of my classmates’ names, not to mention a number of memories that came flooding back. I recall how the older pupils would act as servers for the younger ones in the lunch hall, or how we would be allowed on the football pitch only on non-rainy days, or the poster telling us not to tip skipfuls of rubbish in public places – as if a ten-year-old could do that.

But when writing about people who are still alive, where does an an anecdote become an invasion of privacy?

It’s probably safe to tell you that Steven Narey was considered the fastest runner in our year, or that at one point we had two Kenneth Sampsons in the same class. By contrast, Mrs Towell probably wouldn’t be happy with my personal view that she looked and acted like Sylvia ‘Bodybag’ Hollamby from Bad Girls.

In some types of memoir, such as those by TV personalities, it’s almost expected that the writer will drop in some juicy gossip about their contemporaries. But there is always the risk of legal action if they go too far.

Last month, Edward Snowdon and his publisher were sued by the US Department of Justice because they didn’t submit the text for approval. However, a comparable British case in 1988 was rejected by senior judges, so the spy Peter Wright could safely publish his memoir Spycatcher.

In 2016, The Huffington Post published a useful guide to avoiding a lawsuit, with five pointers to avoid or stave off trouble at the earliest opportunity. So if I ever want to write a candid account of life at Gowriehill, I’ll do my best to avoid seeing Mrs Towell in court.

Improvisation and Motivation

Over the weekend, I had my first experience of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). If you’re unfamiliar with this, here’s a brief introduction.

I enjoyed my experience because players are allowed to improvise parts of the storyline beyond how the Dungeon Master has described the scene. For example, my character had a vivid dream as part of the story, but I could interpret the images any way I wanted, and that interpretation would contribute to the direction of the story.

The experience reminded me of an exercise from drama class in high school. Each participant was given an outline of a setting, plus an individual motivation kept secret from the others until we revealed it through improv.

This produced natural-sounding dialogue, even from school pupils without an acting background. Similar methods are used by some reality TV shows, such as The Only Way Is Essex, to avoid the action sounding too scripted.

The same principle can be adapted for scripted drama. Aaron Sorkin takes the approach of working out what each character wants, then writing the scene accordingly. In this way, he’s produced The West Wing and The Social Network, among many other screenplays.

Over the coming months, I’ll be taking part in more D&D sessions. I think the key to making a more interesting campaign is to work out what exactly my character wants and bringing it to the surface when interacting with the other players.

I believe improv keeps me sharp, and roleplaying seems to be a great way to exercise that metaphorical muscle.