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Douglas Thompson: from Scarlett Johansson to the Brahan Seer – 16 November

Douglas Thompson, award winning poet, novelist and short story writer was our guest speaker brightening up a damp and dreich November night.

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Book signing a-plenty at AWC

Described by Charles Packer of Sci-Fi Online as an extraordinarily gifted writer whose lines are infused with poetry, Douglas uses elements of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Supernatural in his work. His latest book ‘The Sleep Corporation’, a collection of surreal and dark short stories, makes him the ideal man to adjudicate our club Short Story Competition and offer us advice on the art of writing.

We listened engrossed as Douglas told us of his writing journey, beginning with the ‘good luck’ (his words) of winning a Glasgow Herald short story competition back in 1989. A career he compared to a game of snakes and ladders followed with many ups / acceptances and several downs / rejections.  He discussed several pieces of his work with us and read some examples aloud. Starting with his poem ‘Scarlett Johannson in Partick’ – clever, concise and very funny, painting wonderful scenes of the Hollywood A-lister doon the Barras enjoying an Irn Bru and deep fried Mars bar. Moving on to his short story ‘The Inhabited Man’ – a fantastical tale, bursting with visual imagery and completely devoid of dialogue  (cheekily turning the tables on one of Douglas’s own top writing tips – more to follow later). He read an extract from ‘The Brahan Seer’, a historical novel in which he has blended fiction, fact and mystical folk lore to tell the tale of Scotland’s Nostrodamus.  And lastly his story ‘Colossus’, a moving and melancholic stream of consciousness , written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Turing, the mathematician who built the computer which cracked the Enigma codes during  WW2.

Douglas interspersed his readings with plenty of suggestions to improve our writing, encouraging us to be the best writers we can be. These tips included:

  • Use humour in your work, after all humour is part of life.
  • Start your story anywhere. In fact, start it as near to the end as you dare.
  • Readers always love a puzzle. So intrigue them.
  • Never tell your reader how to feel about a character.
  • Use strong visual imagery.
  • Dialogue is the best way to give clues to a character’s traits and personality.
  • Every rule exists to be broken (as proven by Douglas’s dialogue -free story mentioned above).
  • Always retain a healthy disregard for other people’s opinions of your work.
  • And if your work is rejected it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Don’t lose faith and carry on.

After our half-time tea break and the stampede to the table to buy signed copies of Douglas’s books, we concluded the evening with a question and answer session open to the audience. As usual our members posed excellent questions and Douglas explained how he preferred to write longhand, had been inspired by authors Ray Bradbury and Robert Silverberg, has philosophical messages to impart in his work and always knows how his story or novel is going to end before he even begins writing.

Many thanks to Douglas for an interesting, thought-provoking, jam-packed enjoyable night.

Oh and lastly, just a reminder to all who plan to pen a short story for our competition which Douglas is judging……He doesn’t do vampires,  or werewolves. He wants our eccentricities.  So time to think outside the box folks.

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Douglas Thompson with Joint President Fiona Atchison

Linda Brown

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