My Mother is an Artist

The second pop-up for the Emerald Bookshelf kicked off on Saturday at the Gala Opening of My Mother is an Artist at Bridgend Farmhouse. It was a lovely afternoon of book and art chat – sharing the inspiration and sometimes frustrations of being a mother and an artist. I spoke briefly about some of my behind the scenes of being a writer and a mum. I thought I would share my thoughts here, along with some images from the day.

Do get along to the month long exhibition – and take home some inspiration in the form of books and art! 

My Mother is an artist runs from 19th January until the 17th of February

I am a writer, an editor and a book publisher.

I cannot say those things without – in the same breath explaining that I am not REALLY an editor, not REALLY a publisher and sometimes I am not even sure if I REALLY qualify as a writer.

I have impostor syndrome: but on good days I try to fight it.

The book that I edited and self published is You Won’t Remember This – travel with babies. I came up with the idea, contributed a story to it, wrote the introduction, collected all the other stories, gave feedback to the contributors where I thought it was needed. I also project managed all the things that turned computer files into a real book.

I had been so excited for so long about sharing the beautiful stories in the book with an audience that it was a little deflating to discover that a little self published book on a niche topic was not what book-stores wanted, and was not going to be discovered if I just plopped it out there on the internet.

To be honest I had no idea just how hard it was for ‘unknown’ writers to find an audience until I finished the mammoth job of creating the book and then realised I had no idea how to tell the world it existed.

BUT that in itself has created a whole other journey. I began learning about how social media works (and who it works for), about self-promotion, community building and networking. I love some of the online communities I have encountered along the way, and for a woman who is often on her own with two small children the opportunity to ‘meet’ people with a similar mindset online has been brilliant. I’ve also seen how events like this which bring people together in ‘real life’ are so important to artists, their families and the community. One of the ‘real life’ things that has come out of all this is the creation of the pop-up Emerald Bookshelf – to make a space indie for writers to connect with new audiences.

None of my battles to bring out my book, or (I suspect) the private battles to bring the other books on the shelf out, are why you should consider picking them up and having a read – but the behind the scenes is worth sharing because it is part of our artistic journeys – part of our kids journeys with a mother who is an artist.

You should consider taking a closer look at the books on the shelf because of the stories printed on the pages. Current books on the shelf.

Photography in this blog courtesy of Andrea Balzarini



The Emerald Bookshelf – new pop up

Residency at My Mother is an Artist

Opening afternoon – 19th January – a kid friendly event kicking off at 2pm, with readings and artists talks. Anne Hamilton will be reading her story Pumpkin Baby from You Won’t Remember This- travel with babies. Come along and be inspired.

At Bridgend Farmhouse  – Edinburgh.

On the shelf:

Forty is my Forte – Catherine Winton

This middle aged woman’s response to hitting the big four oh will have you laughing with her, and at her. And maybe, just maybe, it will inspire you to make your own crazy list of ‘firsts’ to celebrate your next big milestone. Read her blog.

Everyday Happy – Emma O’Connor

Emma is the founder of Happiness Now, a chefs wife, and most importantly mum of two boys. After helping her eldest son learn to manage and recover from his anxiety, Emma is now on a mission to empower other families to do the same. Her online community and regular meet ups for parents of anxious children aim to reduce the isolation, and bring people together to help each other. Her book ‘Everyday Happy’ is a place to start. When leaving the house is too hard it prompts simple actions for happiness, and delivers a message of hope. ‘You can recover, you have control, you can do it’. Connect with Emma on Facebook at the Happiness Now Community  or on instagram.

 The Goddess Collection – Ailie Wallace

Created in the wake of the #MeToo movements and the women’s rights movement of 2017 the poems in this collection discuss what it means to be a 21st Century woman, and some of the challenges we may face and shares personal reflections on the writers own struggles through the teenage years and into adulthood. Connect with Ailie on instagram or her blog.

You Won’t Remember This – Travel with Babies

Sandy Bennett-Haber (ed.)

Some days with babies the world seems very small and it is refreshing to be reminded that the world is big, and that you can still embrace it when you have a baby strapped to your front. Twenty tales from around the world written by people who tried and survived a journey with a baby.

Waymaking – an anthology of women’s adventure writing, poetry and art

– Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe, Camilla Barnard (ed)

Waymaking is an anthology of prose, poetry and artwork by women who are inspired by wild places, adventure and landscape.

The Emerald Bookshelf – pop-up at The Falkirk Storytelling Festival

The Emerald Bookshelf – space for readers and writers to connect.

The shelf will pop up during The Raging Godesses event at the Falkirk Storytelling Festival on the 6th October 2018 at the Falkirk Trinity Church, Manse Place, FK1 1JN Falkirk

Come along from 3pm, browse the bookshelf, grab a drink and listen to the jam packed program of poetry and prose, and take home a new book.

The Raging Goddesses will feature an all-female line up.

Prepare to be empowered by Adele Gavin, Ailie Wallace, Carol Alan, Carolyn Paterson and Suzanne Egerton.

On the shelf – guest curated by Ailie Walace — you will find: The Rooftop Writers Anthology, Suzanne Egerton, Max Scratchman, Carol Allan, Ailie Wallace, Waymaking – a new anthology of Women’s adventure writing and more.

Take a glimpse at some of our featured books below:

Suzanne Egerton – I Really Did Love Her

Scottish-based writer Suzanne Egerton has put together an assortment of stories and short pieces which explore the female experience, often in unexpected ways. From a young woman’s concern for her husband’s mistress, to the trans man haunted by a long-ago rape; from the début lesbian author stranded in a hotel of ill repute, to the unexpected benefits of a sex chat line; there is lust, love, lost love, and plenty more. And who would think to wonder: earrings or not, is God really gender-neutral?

Suzanne Egerton, a regular at spoken word events has performed at various literary festivals, including Edinburgh. Her first novel, ‘Out Late with Friends and Regrets’, was published in 2013.

Carol Allan – RAGE!

Carol Allan began to write poetry after two divorces and the suicide of her father when she was twenty seven. As well as being deaf she suffers from dyslexia and dyspraxia but has found her membership of Rooftop Writers to be an enormous help in her own development as a poet and short story writer.

Waymaking – ed. Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe and Camilla Barnard

An anthology of prose, poetry and artwork by women who are inspired by wild places, adventure and landscape. With contributions from adventurers including Alpinist magazine editor Katie Ives, multi-award-winning author Bernadette McDonald, adventurers Sarah Outen and Anna McNuff, renowned filmmaker Jen Randall and many more, Waymaking – published by Vertebrate Publishing is inspiring and pivotal work in an era when wilderness conservation and gender equality are at the fore.

Ailie Wallace – The Goddess Collection

Created in the wake of the #MeToo movements and the women’s rights movement of 2017 the poems in this collection discuss what it means to be a 21st Century woman, and some of the challenges we may face and shares personal reflections on the writers own struggles through the teenage years and into adulthood.

Ailie Wallace is a creative writer from Falkirk. Her writing has appeared in the Scottish Book Trust Anthology 2016, as well as The Write Angle and Razur Cuts pamphlets. A poem from The Goddess Collection will also feature in the upcoming Persephone Project, which shares women’s #MeToo stories.

Aside from writing poetry, Ailie writes blogs and is a senior editor at a local magazine. She is currently working on a novel, and also runs a writing group in Falkirk, hosting monthly meetings and regular performance events. She is a full-time Mum to an 18-month old daughter, and on the rare occasion that she finds some free time, she enjoys yoga, reading and the outdoors.

Max Scratchman – The Last Burrah Sahibs

A warm and witty look at the unofficial last years of British Colonial Life as seen through the eyes of a small boy growing up out East in the dissolving remnants of the British Raj…

After being compulsorily retired from an Indian jute mill and returning to Dundee in the mid 1960s, Max Scratchmann’s family cannot settle down to life in Scotland. So, when the chance of a three-year contract in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) is offered, they promptly fly off to live the colonial life one last time.

“Funny, personal and moving – it’s an elegy to a lost past…” The Courier

Max Scratchman – Scotland for Beginners

Scratchmann was born the son of a Dundee jute wallah and spent the first six years of his life in India before being taken “home” to Scotland in the bitter winter of 1963.

In Scotland for Beginners he tells the often painful, but very funny, story of growing up in the bleak grey-harled bungalows of Dundee’s newly-built suburbs and learning to adapt to his native land in an era when the very fabric of the nation was changing.

Rooftop Writers – Breaking Your Silence

Falkirk’s Rooftop Writers aim to be so much more than just a writing group. As well as monthly meetings, they also have an extended Facebook community and host regular workshop and performance events to support local writing talent from Falkirk and beyond. They believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have their voices heard. Their first anthology, Breaking Your Silence will l launch as part of Falkirk Storytelling Festival on 4th October 2018, and all funds raised will go back into the Rooftop Writers’ fund to help keep supporting local writers.


Travelling to the Past

During our stay in Australia, in between catching up with friends and family, going to a family wedding and visiting as many beaches and native animals as we can I have been occupied with sorting through letters, photo’s, school work, diaries and travel journals stored at my mothers. Some are worth keeping, for others it is time to say goodbye.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The act of looking back over past papers puts your brain into all sorts of unexpected rabbit holes. Some purely nostalgic, some surprises, re-rememberings and new ways of looking forwards. Quite fertile for a creative. Perhaps in time a whole story might grow out of this process. For now there is a pile destined for recycling and a poem.


Throwing out the Art Folios

Leafing through the high school folios
I find my old ‘art’ embarrassingly derivative.
Nothing but references to
Plath, Dali, angels and Matisse

Lino cut
Oil Painting
Still life of detergent bottle

Finding my way
one supposes.

All went into the bin.
After twenty years of taking up space.

It feels good – on the whole – to scrap these samplers,
make room for some new art.

But I still like Sylvia, Salvador and Henri
and I named my son for an angel.


The Naive Face Painter

While my son was having his face painted at a festival the other day I told my sister-in law about the time he sat down with some face paints in our kitchen. He wanted to be spiderman and brushed off any attempts I made to help him. He also scowled at my offer of a mirror. I think he was nearly four, and sat for about half an hour carefully painting his face with the cheap face paints and stubby – equally cheap – brush.

I hovered around trying to help and he kept telling me he would do it himself. Eventually I listened and just watched on.

Needless to say he is not a face painting genius and his efforts were grubby and confused.

When he finished he went and had a look in the mirror and let out a disappointed ‘oh.’

I told the story as an amusing Rafa anecdote, in a kids do the darnedest things sort of way.

At the festival, with his face painted by the (slightly cigarette scented) fairy he ran off to play, and then every few minutes he came back and asked me if his face paint had smudged. Later on he realised he could use Aunty Laura’s sunglasses to check for himself.

It was good face paint and even several sessions on the bouncy castle saw the paint mostly undisturbed.


While he was painting his own face, Rafa had a clear vision of what he was creating, and in his mind his vision matched his creation. He knew that it was perfect and did not need me to reassure him.

Looking back at the moment of disappointment – where he had invested himself in creating something, which turned out not to be quite as good as he expected it to be. I feel a little grief. Not that I want all his endeavours to be flawless – I am a big believer in learning, failing, learning a bit more.

I think my after-the-fact grief is to do with the gap between that confident face painting boy and the one who needs to check on his face paint every few minutes. Where has that naïve face painter gone?

It gets said (by me amongst others) that there is a toddler in all of us. This is usually in the context of a tantrum. Tantrums happen. But in thinking about the erosion of the naive face painter I am wondering if that other element of toddlerhood survives?

I have to believe that it does.

As a creative I have moments of unfiltered confidence – the moments are small and usually smashed on the rocks of self doubt as quickly as they are born, but they have to flicker. Otherwise how else do you sit by yourself at the table with nothing but cheap face paints, doing your best to breath life into the greasy primary colours of your art?

From that first moment of intuitive inspiration an artist hopes to build something. A painting, a short story, a novel – whatever it is it needs to be born from a kernel of self belief.

The day Rafa attempted to paint his own face he came back to me and asked me to help him create Spiderman. I used what he had begun and together we created a Spiderman he was happy with. Perhaps it did not live up to his first awesome vision, but he was happy enough to wear it out into the world.

When I am writing I do something similar. I tug on my initial inspiration, but I ask for help as well – sometimes in the form of feedback, sometimes it is just going back to reading writers I look up to.

Still – having witnessed the diminishing of the naive face painter, I have to wonder how I might better nurture that facet of creativity in the children, and in myself?


Do you have any good suggestions for tapping into the naive face painter part of your  brain?

Or for helping kids hold onto it?

I found this great blog on maintaining ‘kid high levels of imagination’ by Nastasya Parker – Keeping the Daydream Alive

Dear Damsels


child looking out the window of a plane, baby travel
Finn – on a recent journey


Today is a big day for journeys.

In a few hours we are setting off for Heathrow and flying to Australia for three months catching up with family and seeing the sunshine. There is a Super moon due and with our two lunatics on board the plane absolutely anything could happen.

And that may well be the seeds for a story another day.

In a nice circularity a story I wrote that happens to include journeying with a baby has been published today over on Dear Damsels .

Do have a read.

Goodreads reviews – November

The Chicken Soup MurderThe Chicken Soup Murder by Maria Donovan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first thing to say about this book is that it is a page turner. I read it in about three sittings over three days. I got captivated early on, not just by the mystery, but also the characters. Maria Donovan brings her well paced suburban mystery to life with a large, closely knit cast of characters and keeps the reader guessing as her young narrator puzzles out new and old mysteries in his life.

Very readable and very memorable.

A Blonde Bengali WifeA Blonde Bengali Wife by Anne Hamilton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Journeying with Anne Hamilton gives you the uninitiated Western travellers eye view of Bangladesh. Anne is an unassuming, self depreciating narrator who introduces the reader to people and places with wide eyed humour – usually at her own expense.

As the journey of the book proceeds – through regional villages and city-scape’s of Bangladesh we see Anne fall very genuinely in love with the country and the people.

A great read for arm chair travellers or travel addicts alike.

View all my reviews