Thank you to everyone who joined us in an intimate evening with one of Scotland’s esteemed writers, Janice Galloway. What a night. Janice shared her creative process as a writer giving us the down low on the importance of the classical arts, creating a writing space that is comfortable and that no one comes into (except her son), how art can be lonely, especially for writers, and how really good writing should take you by surprise. And that was her just getting started.
Surprise us she certainly did. She created a warm intimacy in the way that only Galloway can. She then threatened to take us by the hands and dance with us. And she did. There’s a slow tempo to Galloway’s dance, a Bolero of sorts and she’s dancing around the Club Room with her stories, anecdotes and challenging us. She is as enchanting as she is mesmerising:
Nothing happens to anyone if you don’t notice it. That’s what we do as writers we notice things that are happening all the time. Writers are the last of a dying tribe. I’m not sure why because we don’t have to go anywhere to be a writer. Just inside.
The word Bolero comes from the verb volar (to fly), Galloway was jumping and leaping all around us, she was flying high and we were right there with her. We never missed a beat as she discussed how her background as a teacher made the oddness of talking to strangers not such an oddity for her. Galloway comes naturally to it and holds the floor waxing lyrical. Despite being the classic introvert, she thinks nothing of approaching strangers in the street just to have a good old blether.
There were pauses in the Bolero that took us into her relationships with her mother and sister. How her love of music came through her mother’s collection of Liberace records that were Galloway’s introduction to Chopin. Her music teacher gave her a violin and changed her life. This giving of an instrument is something she will never forget and it was music that brought her to writing. She continues her promenade conversing about the arts:
All arts are interrelated and working as an artist in any discipline is lonely. Writing is one of the most solitary arts there is. We have to get over the embarrassment of what we write. Read your stuff out loud and always test your tone. Find people who like you to read your work.
Then Galloway takes a sharp turn into how she got started and those who inspired her. She commends writing groups as the best way to spit it out. Her start was downstairs in the CCA building, previously the Third Eye Centre (founded by Scottish writer and playwright, Tom McGrath), where she attended writing groups and met Glasgow writers, James Kelman and Alasdair Gray. At that time she was reading the work of French writer and Film Director, Marguerite Duras another early influence.
Galloway’s influences highlight the importance of sharing work with people. Particularly those who like you, she again emphasises. Peter Kravitz was influential to Galloway as a writer during her early writing career. He published her first short story and encouraged her to write more. Kravitz is best known as an editor at Polygon, a leading publisher of new Scottish writing. He liked Galloway. In fact, Kravitz was confident enough to know that Galloway would get more money from publishers in London and encouraged her to submit her work to publishers there.
Another sharp turn and this set dance keeps going, Galloway delves into writing habits and things essential to her as a writer. She shares with us:
The hardest thing to get past is the internal critic. You have to try deviation strategies. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how you do it, just get started and keep at it. As often as possible. You don’t have to be Einstein, you just have to write. Bring in your personal experiences. You will find your way. But you’ve just got to get started. I look at writing as a series of intellectual puzzles I have to solve. This helps me move forward.
In triple time, a graceful attitude permeates the room, we’re still captivated and the dance is coming to a crescendo. We are facing Galloway in utter awe and silence. She twists and turns our thought-provoking assumptions about writers and writing. She feels like the girl next door and coincidently, her next door neighbour is in the audience.
Despite the lack of guitars and castanets there’s a silent rhythmic air in the room as we cross step Galloway with questions. In response, Galloway dares us to think about how each of us are capable of much more than we typically produce. She considers ways in which she pulls the writer out of herself as she’d much rather be doing anything else. How it took her three days to get a character’s name right. How we should never be afraid or ashamed as writers, to make a fool of ourselves and to dig deep into the extremes of our personality. She warns us not to allow ourselves to become obsessive, to stop, and go out for a walk.
Like most Spanish dances, the Bolero comes to a dramatic end. She’s shared the pitfalls and the glamour of the writing life, and finishes up by telling us:
A writing career is not an unrealistic expectation, indeed some sacrifice is involved!!! The return, however – one’s freedom to create – should make up for it at least to some extent.
As the evening comes to a close, Janice Galloway comes across as someone who possesses an incredible gift and a willingness to do the work that needs to be done. She is an authentic mistress of her own writing routines. What a phenomenal woman and what an enthralling evening we had dancing the Bolero with Galloway.
To find out more about Janice Galloway and her publications: www.janicegalloway.net
Janice Galloway’s latest publication forthcoming from Freight Books: Jellyfish and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award can be found here: http://freightbooks.co.uk/jellyfish-by-janice-galloway.html
Her first book, The Trick is to Keep Breathing has just been re-released as a Vintage Classic and can be found here: http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/trick-is-to-keep-breathing/9780749391737