A report on last night’s meeting; news of not one but two chances to meet other STFers socially; and changes in how we organise our sessions in 2016 (it’s all good).

Stranger Than Fiction November 2015
We finished the season with a lively meeting last night, thanks to Tim’s character summaries, an extract from his guide to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. For new members and old in attendance, and for all of us whether or not we had seen or read Trainspotting, it prompted lots of questions about the book/film and about Tim’s analysis of them. This is what we live for at Stranger Than Fiction!

STFer at Waterstones
To coincide with the release of Stephen Spielberg’s new film, our very own Vin Arthey is launching the new edition of his book The Kremlin’s Geordie Spy at Waterstones George Street at 6.30pm on Monday 30th November. Vin’s book covers the same story and much much more, and predates Spielberg’s lightweight effort by a decade. Do please, if you can, come along and support a fellow STFer. Let Vin know you’re coming via vartheyATgmail.com. There will be wine, readings and an interview with Vin from me! The event will be over by 8pm, leaving those of us who wish time to dash to the Jolly Judge for their excellent Monday evening quiz … (Vin, Richard and I are regulars!)

Christmas party
No meeting in December, but all is not lost. If you’re on our mailing list you have received an invitation to our Christmas get-together on Thursday 17th Dcember 2015. There’s been a call for charades (don’t ALL do Trainspotting) and whether there’s a call for it or not we will be trying out a couple of rounds from our forthcoming event at Edinburgh International Science Festival, Stranger Than Fiction The Panel Game. You’d be mad to miss it, but please let me know if you’re coming to the party, via colin.salterATblueyonder.co.uk.

New year, new conveners
At last night’s meeting I said that after three and a half years at the helm I wanted to play a less active role in running Stranger Than Fiction. I’m delighted to say that Simon has offered to organise January’s meeting, and Graham to take on the task for February. Thanks to both of them, for requiring only moderate arm-twisting to do so. I will be lending backroom support until it becomes perfectly clear that I am redundant. I think the idea of a rotating convenership is a healthy one, bringing different minds to bear on how STF is run and what happens at each meeting. I hope that many STFers will, with the support of each other, want to take a turn at organising one of our meetings over the coming months. Who’s up for March 2016?

Stranger Than Fiction January 2016
You’ll be hearing from Simon in due course about our next regular meeting, which is on Thursday 21st January 2016, as usual at 7.30pm upstairs in the Wash Bar. If you’d like to start the New Year with some constructive feedback on your current project, perhaps as a way of giving it a boost after the doldrums of the festive season, get in touch with either Simon or me for details of how and when. Chapters of between 5000 and 10000 words are welcome, but as we’ve seen from the last couple of meetings, shorter pieces can trigger just as much lively debate. (If January is too soon, the following meeting is on Thursday 18th February 2016 under Graham’s stewardship.)

Thanks to everyone who has attended a Stranger Than Fiction meeting in 2015, and especially to everyone who has submitted a piece of work for discussion: David, Reta, Simon, Fiona, Jonathan, Camilla and Tim (and nearly Alison!). It’s been a good year. Whether or not you’ve been at a meeting, I hope you’ll come and help us round it off at the party in December (RSVP), and that we’ll see you soon in 2016. As always, best wishes for all your non-fiction writing.

PS Don’t forget the Edinburgh Literary Salon on Tuesday 24th November, the last salon of the year. No Santa, but among the speakers is someone from the Society of Authors (of which I spoke last night).

PPS Remember Vin’s book launch on 30th November!

Halloween is upon us, and then the unstoppable descent into tinseltime. News now of November’s Stranger Than Fiction meeting, our involvement in the Edinburgh International Science Festival, and Ch*****as.
STF October 2015
We had a large turn-out for last week’s meeting, and one of the most thoughtful discussions I can remember, triggered by Camilla’s use of interview transcriptions to describe the death of her subject. Thank you, Camilla and all who contributed. Also there was cake, and thank you Camilla again. (If you weren’t there: moist chocolate sponge and lashings of icing. Bet you wish you’d come along now.)
STF November 2015
We next meet on Thursday 19th November 2015, upstairs in the Wash Bar on the Mound at 7.30pm. If you haven’t been to a Stranger Than Fiction meeting yet, this is your last chance in 2015! We already have one submission for feedback, which I’ll circulate a week ahead of the session. But there is, I think, room for one more if you have something that you’d like some constructive criticism about, or that raises interesting questions about writing technique.
STF December 2015
November will be our last formal meeting of the year, but we will be meeting socially in December, as separately announced. Too soon to think about it, I know. Details to follow, but for those who have been invited, let me know if you’re coming so I can start to count the vol-au-vents.

STF at EISF 2016
Our proposal for a panel game based on telling scientific truth from fiction has been accepted by the Edinburgh International Science Festival.
This, next April, will be our third appearance at the festival and departs from our usual low-maintenance format of panel discussion; we will need light, possibly comic material to fit the formats of the game (loosely based on several well-known deception-style panel games). Please help! We also need lively witty panellists. Again, please help!
If you would like to be involved either as panellist or as writer or simply at the planning stage, let me know and I will include you in the separate emails I’ve been sending round about the details of the event.

Other events
The Edinburgh Literary Salon is tomorrow evening, Tuesday 27th October 2015, from 6pm downstairs in the Wash Bar. Highly recommended chance to hobnob/network with fellow writers and other workers in the publishing industry. Free wine and sandwiches if you get there early enough, as I intend to! Hope to see you there.
Weegie Wednesday, at which I spoke about STF and non-fiction earlier this month, next convenes on Wednesday 18th November 2015 at 7.30pm in the CCA bar on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. My talk drew several Glasgow nonfic authors out of the woodwork, who may join us on occasion at STF. But Weegies it is a useful networking event and worth making the arduous journey westwards for.
That’s all for now. But do think about getting involved with our Science Festival event, and about coming along to STF in November or at Ch*****as. See you then or tomorrow! And as always, best wishes for all your non-fiction writing.

In this post: opportunities for non-fiction writers, a talk from one of them (me), and an invitation for all of them (you) to this month’s regular Stranger Than Fiction meeting.
Stranger Than Fiction September 2015
Thanks to all who side-stepped one of these lovely late summer evenings we’ve been getting to come along to September’s Stranger Than Fiction session. Without any text to discuss, we had a lively few hours sharing our problems and progress and the occasional opportunity. Autumn is here now though, and with it lots of non-fiction action.
Stranger Than Fiction October 2015
Our next meeting is at 7.30pm on Thursday 22nd October 2015, upstairs in the Wash Bar on the Mound. If you want some feedback on the project you’re currently writing, let me know and we can discuss details. We normally aim to circulate submissions a week ahead of each meeting, to give everyone a chance to read them ahead of the session, so the October deadline for sending in a chapter or two is Friday 16th October. And as a rule it’s a good idea to have attended someone else’s feedback session first before putting your own work up for discussion, so that you know what to expect.
Scottish Books Trust opportunities
There are a couple of SBT schemes of potential interest to STFers. The annual SBT Mentoring Scheme is accepting applications for 2016 now, with a deadline of 28th October. “If you are a published writer who has completed a substantial amount of content and you need some additional support, mentoring could be for you. Mentoring can bring a fresh perspective to a project, help you develop your skills and grow in confidence as a writer.” There are a number of conditions of course, but the scheme is explicitly open to narrative non-fiction authors. Details here: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/writing/scottish-book-trust-training-awards/mentoring.
The SBT is also running another Next Chapter Award. The Next Chapter Award supports an emerging writer over the age of 40 yet to publish a full-length work for whom finding time and space to write has proved especially challenging. It includes a cash bursary, mentoring and a two-week writing retreat in Spring next year. The deadline for applications is 4th November, and narrative non-fiction authors are again explicitly included. details of that here: http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/writing/scottish-book-trust-training-awards/next-chapter-award.
Weegie Wednesday non-fiction talk
For my sins, I am giving the keynote talk at October’s Weegie Wednesday. It’s at 7.30pm on Wednesday 14th October 2015, in the CCA bar on Sauchiehall Street. I will be expanding on the short talk about Stranger Than Fiction which I gave at the Salon earlier this year, mostly to talk about the absurd flukes and chances which have informed my career path so far. Needless to say it would be lovely to see some friendly faces in the crowd; but in any case Weegie Wednesday is a networking opportunity worth travelling to Glasgow for.
STF Christmas 2015
We don’t have a formal meeting in December. In the past I’ve hosted a Christmas social for STFers and partners in my flat, although last year life got in the way and I had to cancel. If you’re on our mailing list you will have received an email looking into various alternatives and asking for your feedback. I am happy to host again, but it should not all be down to me. It’s important that STF is directed by all its members, not just by the guy that sends the emails!
And finally … Krakow
Rather surprisingly, I have been chosen to represent Edinburgh UNESCO City of LIterature in Krakow UNESCO City of Literature next week! There was a short application window, and I can only assume that there were no other applicants, or that no one else was free to go next week! But more probably, it is because of the work that Stranger Than Fiction does in putting non-fiction writers in the frame. I am quite sure that the existence of STF, and the numbers of those attending and following its activities, has made a huge difference to the credibility of non-fiction writers in Edinburgh’s literary panoply. So to the Polish Consulate, to City of Edinburgh Council, to Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature and especially to you my fellow STFers, thank you for my trip! (It’s not a holiday – I do actually have to write stuff about the two cities and their literary heritage.)
If you’re on our mailing list, please let me know your views on a Christmas social. Please let me know if you’d like to get some feedback yourself at the October meeting. I hope to see you at Weegie Wednesday AND at Stranger Than Fiction this month. And if you’re in Krakow next week Mon-Thu, get in touch! Above all, and as always, best of luck with all your non-fiction writing.

How was your summer? Glad it’s over? Sad it’s over? Either way, you can’t stop progress or the changing of the seasons. I always think that the temperature drops instantly with the last explosion of the Festival Fireworks and we’re plunged, like it or not, into the mists and mellow fruitfulness of the autumn program of Stranger Than Fiction meetings.
STF Summer Social
It was nice to meet up with many STFers at the Summer Social last month. About a dozen of us turned up at the Spiegeltent in the Book Festival, and promptly split into two groups of those who did and didn’t want to go in and see what Neu! Reekie were doing in the Unbound program. We became, I suppose, two non-fiction factions. A good time was had by all.
STF September 2015
We reconvene this month for the serious business of drinking and talking on Thursday 24th September 2015, meeting as usual at 7.30pm upstairs in the Wash Bar. It’s not too late to submit a chapter or two from whatever you’ve been writing over the summer, if you’d like to get the constructive feedback of your peers. Get in touch and I’ll book you in. Besides any contributions from members it will be a chance to catch up on what we’ve all been writing, to exchange news of opportunities and get the advice of other non-fiction writers on the problems which beset us all. Hope to see you then.
We’ve submitted a proposal for an event to the Edinburgh International Science Festival for their 2016 program. Breaking away from the conversation format of our previous contributions, we’ve come up with a panel game called Stranger Than Fiction, based loosely on all the other panel games but with particular reference to Call My Bluff, Would I Lie To You and The Unbelievable Truth. We’ll be telling each other and the audience a pack of lies in the form of short talks about various aspects of science and scientists. Hidden in the talks will be a number of truths which the audience will be challenged to spot. If I’m not making myself clear, here’s a random example of The Unbelievable Truth, which will give you a better idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzk6v5oL4iI. If our idea is accepted, we will need the help of all STFers to come up with short, witty, mendacious scripts.
Society of Authors
STFer Sue Lieberman has drawn my attention to a forthcoming visit by Society of Authors Media Consultant Kristen Harrison. Kristen visits Edinburgh about twice a year, and is interested in offering an advisory workshop to a small group on one of her next visits. It would be a 1.5-2hr session for a group of no more than four people. Would any STFers be interested in taking part? Sue has already had a consultation with her and says, “I can really recommend Kristen. She can cover issues to do with marketing and your writing “presence” in the public eye, including use of social media and your website profile. I had an individual phone session with her recently, and it was excellent. She did her homework, grasped “who I was” very quickly and came up with advice that was thoughtful, and tailored to me. A group session has additional benefits in that people can exchange experience and help each other.” If you want to know more, get in touch..
Other literary networking
Besides Stranger than Fiction, other literary networking events are also gearing up for the autumn. Weegie Wednesday is on Wednesday 16th September 2015, from 7.30pm in the CCA on Sauchiehall Street. I will be going along, partly because it’s a great chance to meet publishers and fellow writers and partly because I am to be a guest speaker (about Stranger Than Fiction and my own non-fiction work) at the October Weegie Wednesday. If anyone wants to join me next week, get in touch.
After a summer hiatus, the Edinburgh Literary Salon is also back this month, on Tuesday 29th September 2015 from 6pm, downstairs in the Wash Bar. Apart from the opportunity to hobnob with your fellow literary Edinburgers, two committee members from Weegie Wednesday are also coming through to see how we do things in the east. Edinburgh and Glasgow really are not that far apart, and I think there should be much more cross-pollination than there is at present. (I’m doing my bit – I’m from Glasgow and I bloomin’ LIVE here in Edinburgh!)
Let me know if you want to put a piece of work up for discussion this month or at a future STF session. I hope to see you soon at Weegie Wednesday, Stranger Than Fiction or the Edinburgh Literary Salon, or perhaps at all three. As always, best wishes for all your non-fiction writing.

If we were a football club, we’d be coming to the end of a great season. We’ve celebrated our fifth anniversary in the PLLG (premier league of literary groups), and finished the season with a great win at our July meeting: 2-0. Two really good submissions, both about food, both sparking lively discussion. How much emotional and descriptive detail do you put in or leave out? Is the reader always right? Should you dumb down? Should you include pictures? Should you include jokes? Should you fictionalise your material? (Surprisingly enough, a resounding No from us non-fiction writers on the last point.)

Summer Break and Autumn Restart
It was a good meeting to end the first half of our year on, and many of us stayed on in the Wash Bar long after the game was over. We take a break from formal sessions now until September, but watch this space for news of an informal social get-together towards the end of August. Our next regular session is on Thursday 24th September, at 7.30pm in the Wash Bar. If you want to use that as a deadline for getting on with your current non-fiction project over the summer, go for it! Let me know if you are thinking of submitting an extract for feedback in September, or indeed for later in the year. We have four more sessions left in 2015 before we take another break over Christmas.

Writers’ Essentials
At the July session we also discussed our possible contribution to the Writers’ Essentials novel-writing course. The consensus was that we non-fiction writers often have a greater sense of readership than novelists, because we are often writing to a publisher’s brief, a commission for the publisher’s target market. Even in the case of self-motivated non-fiction such as memoir, at Stranger Than Fiction the discussion often turns to a consideration of readership and marketability. STFers have a greater awreness of their readers than many writers. Sarah Hull of Writers’ Essentials is also interested in collaborating on other fiction-nonfiction events separate from the course.

We spent some time at the meeting brainstorming ideas for our contribution to next year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival. Having contributed panel discussions for the last two years, it’s been suggested we could aim for something more structured now. So far our events have looked at writing about science, and w are after all writers, not scientists. But perhaps we can also draw on our writerly skills to present actual science in an accessible way, just as we do when we’re writing about it. What about a quiz show format? Or a cookery show format to present the science of food? Or an exploration of the science of book production – paper, parchment, vellum, the mechanics of book-binding? These were all suggestions last night. What next?
Thursday 6th August, 3pm: EISF are holding an information event where we can find out more about the festival and the sort of contribution they are looking for.
Tuesday 1st September, 5pm: EISF’s deadline for proposals. In my experience this need not be a detailed proposal, but should at least give enough information for them to think, “Ooh yes, we want something like that.”
Somewhere in amongst those dates, it would useful for any interested STFers to get together and come up with an idea. I imagine a couple of brainstorming sessions, one before and one after the information event, would be useful. Please let me know if you would be interested in helping to devise our event, even if you don’t want to be part of it on the day next April. You don’t have to be a science writer, just a writer with ideas!

Diary dates
STF summer social, late August
STF September 2015 meeting, Thursday 24th September at 7.30pm in the Wash Bar

I hope to see you at an EISF brainstorm or at one or all of these dates! But in any case, good luck with all your summer non-fiction writing.
Best wishes,

Happy Birthday Us!
Thanks to everyone who came along to celebrate our fifth anniversary this month. There was, as promised, cake – for those of you who missed it, this is what it looked like, although not for long: I had little more than the silver foil base to take home afterwards.

STF 5th anniv cake 1

Since that first meeting in May 2010 attended by founders Gillian Jack and Sharon Whyte, and Helen Caldwell and Richard Beatty, STF has had 51 meetings in 5 different venues and discussed the work of 22 authors in 36 submissions. We’ve also staged 2 public events, and our mailing list has grown from that first group of four to inform 70 non-fiction writers of our monthly sessions.

We are Edinburgh’s non-fiction writers’ group, and we play an important role in the literary life of the city. Thank you to everyone who has ever come along to a meeting, to everyone who hopes to in the future, and especially to all the authors who have allowed us to review their work in progress. It’s been an honour.

Stranger Than Fiction May 2015
Besides scoffing cake we had a very enjoyable session giving Reta feedback on her memoir. We first discussed an extract from it a year ago, and it was interesting and encouraging to see the impact which that first session had on the material we discussed this month. Thanks for sharing, Reta.

Stranger Than Fiction June 2015
Our next meeting is on Thursday 25th June 2015. It looks as if we’ll have a submission to discuss; and we are also expecting a guest speaker. Details nearer the time, but both author and speaker will benefit from your presence and your views! I hope you can come along – it’s at 7.30pm, upstairs in the Wash Bar on the Mound.

Stranger Than Fiction on the Internet
As I mentioned before, we now have a proper website address, and should discuss what we want to use it for. In preparation for this I thought it would be useful to know how individual STFers use the internet. I’ll circulate a list of memebers’ blogs and websites some time next month. We can all learn from each others’ use of the web, and perhaps develop some sort of concensus about what a Stranger Than Fiction website might do for us.

Edinburgh Literary Salon
At rather short notice, a reminder that TOMORROW Tuesday 26th May 2015 in this month’s Edinburgh Literary Salon. After raising the profile of non-fiction at last month’s Salon, it will be interesting to see if the poets, who were the butt of a joke or two in April, are out for revenge! Joking apart, it’s always a great evening for meeting writers in other disciplines, not to mention non-writers (agents, illustrators, booksellers, publishers etc) with an interest in the published word. It starts at 6pm, downstairs in the Wash Bar on the Mound.

Keeping your work safe
All three of Keith Houston‘s articles about keeping your work safe on computer and internet are now up on Stranger Than Fiction’s blog. It has been very generous of Keith to share his wisdom with us, particularly as he will soon be leaving Edinburgh (and Stranger Than Fiction). His insights during feedback sessions have always been useful too. Thanks for your good counsel, Keith.

Feedback sessions
We have two more meetings before our summer break in August. If anyone is working on something which they’d like the feedback of their fellow non-fiction authors, get in touch so that we can book a slot for your work! If you’re in any doubt about the value or friendliness of doing such a thing, just ask one of the 22 authors who have already done so. To help you plan, the July meeting is on Thursday 23rd July, and after a break we reconvene on Thursday 24th September.

I hope to see you at the Salon tomorrow, or at our next meeting in June. As always, good luck with all your non-fiction writing.

Stranger Than Fiction was invited to give one of the keynote talks at the beginning of this month’s Edinburgh Literary Salon. Colin Salter stepped up, and here’s what he said:

Non-fiction. It’s odd to be asked to talk about something which is defined by what it is not. You tell people you’re a writer. “Oh, what do you write?” “We-e-ell, it’s not fiction …”

Non-fiction authors are often seen as the chartered accountants of the literary world, just logging facts and figures – keeping the books rather than writing them. But we face the same challenges as fiction writers in telling our stories and constructing clear narratives for our readers. For that reason I think it’s a great pity that we are excluded from events such as, for example, Storyshop in the Edinburgh Book Festival. Because after all, WE tell stories too!

The only difference is that we can’t make stuff up. We can’t un-behead kings in our histories, or invent fantastical creatures for our bestiaries, or write happy endings for the subjects of our biographies or case studies. But we can tell our truths with clarity and as much poetry and drama as any fiction writer.

Stranger Than Fiction is Edinburgh’s non-fiction writers’ group. It was founded five years ago by Gillian Jack and Sharon Whyte, who saw the need for a forum to discuss their non-fiction work with their peers in a way that fiction authors’ groups were already doing. Since then we’ve met almost every month: 50 meetings now in our five years, and we’ve peer-reviewed 35 submissions from 22 different non-fiction authors.

Our members write books on everything from alchemy to zoology via social history, psychotherapy, literary criticism and personal memoir. Peer review is at the heart of what we do, but we also talk about the qualities and challenges of non-fiction in general; and we’ve just staged our second public event doing just that, a panel discussion about the value of science biography, at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

We meet on the Thursday before the Salon, here in the Wash Bar, at 7.30pm. Our next meeting is 21st May. If you’re a writer with a serious interest in writing non-fiction, you are very welcome to join us. We are open to non-fiction authors at every stage of their career – general writers, specialists, widely published authors and first-timers.

Someone asked me what the difference was between Stranger Than Fiction and other writers’ groups. I don’t write fiction at all so I don’t really know what fiction groups get up to; but I’ve been told that we are unusually friendly and supportive, and not as bitchy as poetry groups!

Non-fiction authors aren’t just authors: they have to be authorities. They are the writers that fiction authors read when researching their next novel! What do we write? Non-fiction, or as we like to call it, fact.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 364 other followers