Keep doing what makes your heart sing

‘I am a writer to my core, so if the world decides to reject my writing, what then?’

I recorded a wee piece on surviving rejection in the creative world for Foolproof Creative Arts. Recently they have been running a fascinating series of #FoolproofBites: short nuggets of wisdom and inspiration from people working in all sorts of different creative areas. It’s well worth dipping into the whole series to see what you discover.

You can listen to my musings here or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript:

Hello, I’m Flora Johnston and I’m a writer. My first novel What You Call Free was published in March 2021 by Glasgow based indie publisher Ringwood.

It took me many years of rewrites, disappointment and rejection to get the book published. Rejection is common in the creative world but it can be soul destroying. So much of you goes into this thing you have created, and if people don’t value it, that can be really hard to deal with. So I thought I’d share just a few practical things about how I’ve dealt with rejection. Believe me, I am talking to myself here. It’s not as if the path to my literary dreams has suddenly become smooth. Far from it!

Rejection is part of this creative life, so while we might not be able to embrace it, we can try to make use of it. As artists we can take every experience, the joy and the pain, into our creative process. What better place to express those frustrations and disappointments?

Keep doing what makes your heart sing. I love the line from Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddell says, when I run I feel God’s pleasure. Now, when I run, God’s pleasure is the very last thing I feel, but when I write I know I am where I am meant to be. If that’s the same for you in your area, then whether your work is rejected or not, no-one can ever take away from you the pleasure of actually creating it. Do everything you can to keep that joy alive. Remind yourself why you do this in the first place. That might mean taking a break from the big project and creating something just for the sheer joy of it, for no-one else’s eyes. For me, I know it’s really important that when I’m being worn down by the process of submitting work and refreshing the inbox with dread, that I’m also already working on the next project, even loosely, to keep being creative.

This next point is probably the one I find hardest, and it’s about identity. I think one of the reasons rejection of our creative work is so hard is that it is so closely bound up with who we are. I am a writer to my core, so if the world decides to reject my writing, where does that leave me? That’s when it’s really important to consciously hold onto other parts of my identity. I am more than my creative work, you are more than your creative work. If you have relationships you value, if you are a person of faith, if you have a special place you like to go or other activities you can lose yourself in, hold onto all of these on the wobbly days when you feel as if the thing you want may never happen.

Finally, find someone you can share this with. Your friends and family might care, but they’re unlikely to fully understand. I went on a writing retreat and made some friends there who really get it, who are going through the same sort of stuff, who can encourage me and spur me on. There are lots of opportunities online and in person to connect with others who are working in the same area as you. Seek them out – and good luck!

Slipping between centuries

It’s now a year and a half since my debut novel What You Call Free was published. For most of the time since then I’ve been working on the next novel and I’ve been immersed in 1919: the bright lights of Paris and the depths of Scapa Flow; ghost-filled rugby changing rooms and post-WW1 hospitals where despair meets hope.

I’ve been making early forays into the research for book three too. How did those 1920s aeroplanes ever stay up?

That’s right, they often didn’t.

But the 17th century is calling to me! Between September and January I’m fortunate enough to have a series of opportunities to speak about What You Call Free. As I prepare for these, I remember just how invested I am in the lives of these two real women, Jonet Gothskirk and Helen Alexander.

It’s good to be back.

What You Call Free is available to purchase in paperback and ebook direct from Ringwood Publishing and from your usual book retailer.

For details of forthcoming events see events page.

Live Literature

Are you planning a literary event? Would you like to invite an author to run a workshop or a panel of writers to take part in your library / community / school event?

Live Literature is a Scotland-wide programme run by the Scottish Book Trust. It brings reading and writing to the heart of Scotland’s communities by funding author events including live visits, online workshops and other remote sessions. 

I’m delighted to be included in the Live Literature directory and you can see my listing here, with an idea of the kind of events I can offer.

Debut Lab

I’m thrilled and very grateful to have been selected as one of the writers to participate in Debut Lab, a new initiative from Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland which offers professional development support to writers whose debut has been affected by the pandemic.

Launching What You Call Free during lockdown came with many challenges, and it’s great now to have the opportunity to connect with and learn from industry professionals and from other writers in the same position.

We’ve had the first two sessions, and I’ve learned a great deal already as well as discovering a whole new group of talented writers and expanding my TBR list!

Here’s the press release from Scottish Book Trust which tells you a bit more about all the writers and their books.

The Martyrs’ monument

I came across this interesting article about the Martyrs’ monument in Greyfriars Kirkyard on the Scottish Covenanters facebook page.

James Currie paid for the original monument to be erected. I’m quite sure Helen was involved in that decision, and there’s something deeply moving about them including the same words that she had spoken to Mr Renwick when she visited him in prison many years earlier.

Any more would be a spoiler if you haven’t yet read What You Call Free!

A sense of place

Location is really important in What You Call Free, whether that’s the narrow, filthy closes of Edinburgh which Helen finds so oppressive, or the broad, bleak expanses of the Pentland Hills in winter.

I was delighted therefore this week to discover that What You Call Free has been included in this Visit Scotland article about eight Scottish debut novels and their locations.

https://www.visitscotland.com/blog/year-of-stories/scottish-debut-novel-locations/

Read the article here.

‘What You Call Free’ in the Grassmarket

During Book Week Scotland I’ll be joining fellow Ringwood Publishing author Lynda Kristiansen to talk about our novels within the context of Scottish historical fiction.

It’s such a thrill to speak about What You Call Free in the Grassmarket itself, where some of the most important action in the book took place.

And of course, having launched the book in March in lockdown, it’s wonderful at last to be able to meet and chat with readers in person.

Please do come along if you can.

Events past and future

One of the real joys of this whole publication adventure is getting to talk about What You Call Free, historical fiction and women’s stories. This photo was taken at the brilliant Portobello Book Festival in October, when Janis Mackay and I had a really interesting conversation about women in historical fiction with some great questions from a real in person, sold out audience.

There are a couple of other events coming up which I’m really looking forward to. On 20 October Ringwood Publishing are launching their latest historical novel: Raise Dragon by L.A. Kristiansen, the first book in a new series set during the Wars of Independence. The event will take place at 7pm on Zoom and I’m looking forward to joining a panel discussion about Scottish historical fiction with the author Lynda and with Rob McInroy, author of Cuddie’s Strip. You can find out more about the event here.

And then during Book Week Scotland on 15 November there will be another chance to catch Lynda and myself chatting about Scottish historical fiction – in person in Edinburgh this time! It should be a good evening of books, drinks and chat – what more could you want? I’ll post more details soon.