First Draft – Fourth Novel – Feeling Good

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Hello my people! Wow, I’ve really abandoned this blog of late. I could blame, you know, the global pandemic and stuff, but the real reason is that I’ve been saving all my writing for my new book (which I am SUPERDOOPER excited about!!) It’s a slightly different genre, no history or magic, but lots of humour and uplifting themes around relationships and finding your place in the world. Sometimes I wonder if it even matters what genre you write, as most writers tend to return to the same themes, no matter what the plot. And my theme is always that of self-discovery, which I think we’ve all done a lot of over the past few months.

When this all started, I did what I usually tend to do in a crisis – ignore it! I figured it wouldn’t affect my lifestyle because I work from home anyway, so what would be the difference? I tuned out the news and escaped into my book. But after a few weeks, I just hit a wall. It became clear that I wasn’t immune to everything that was going on and it was expecting waaay too much of myself to remain unaffected by it. Anyway, I won’t dwell on it, it’s been weird for everyone, but luckily I had these wonderful characters and their story to return to. But – I don’t know if anyone’s told you this – writing is hard! There’s always that doubt in the back of your mind, “Will I finish this? Will it be good enough?” So, when I typed the words ‘The End’ this week, I felt all the feels! It was emotional, joyous, hopeful and kind of surreal. It was really when I printed it out (I find it easier to run through the second draft on paper) that it hit home – I’ve made another book! My fourth!! It’s something like a little miracle.

La collectionneuse d'histoires

I don’t know where this story will take me – that’s the joy/uncertainty of being a writer. You just never know. My last book has just hit the shelves in France this summer – I never dreamed in a million years that The Story Collector would be translated into French! La Collectionneuse d’Histoires And now I have a French publisher and a translator! It still hasn’t really sunk in. I had a good feeling about that book when I was writing it and I have a good feeling about this one too. It’s got something special – even though it was (like all books) a challenge to capture the ideas in my head on paper, it sort of flowed too. I just had to be present and let the serendipity happen.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing and I can’t wait to get editing and get this story out there!! I want you all to enjoy this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it – giggling at the funny scenes and tearing up at the emotional bits. It’s a journey. And now my brain wants to outline ideas for book five, because if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that there will never be a better time to do things than right now. Plus, I feel kind of lonely without a work-in-progress, so when one cast of characters move out, another bunch move in! With more interesting stories to tell and challenges to face. I’m fortunate that I can create fictional worlds in order to better understand this one – giving myself and my readers somewhere to escape to. If we didn’t value storytelling before this, we certainly do now. The arts is what has kept us all going – distracting us, consoling us, entertaining us.  So if you’re thinking of writing a story – DO IT NOW! The world needs more stories.

Don’t forget, I have two FREE short stories that you can download now … Betwixt is consistantly in the Top 5 on Amazon and Girl in the Middle is a tongue-in-cheek look at loneliness in the modern world. And if you like those, please buy the other ones/leave a review! x

#WriterProblems ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Well, I didn’t win the Costa Book Award, which is the first of today’s problems, but at least one of my favourite novels of last year – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – did, so that’s some consolation.

Now before I delve into the dark and murky waters of #WriterProblems, I have to preface it with a caveat, of sorts. A prologue, if you will. A prolo-blem. And it is this: nobody gives a shit if you have writer problems. You’re the one who kept banging on about writing a book and now you’re published, you should be full of the joys of spring and stop moaning to everyone about how hard it is. Right? *whispers* So when we talk about writer problems amongst ourselves, we need to do it in the softest voice that only bees can hear, lest we come across as ungreatful whingers.

There is nothing like finding yourself waist-deep in the tundra of a first draft to start questioning all the rose-tinted crap you once spouted about the charmed life of being a writer. That’s the stuff you say after the book is written and published and safely out of your hands. But writing is like a game of snakes and ladders – when it’s time to start writing your new book you are unceremoniously shoved down a snake and sent back to square one, having learned (apparently) nothing. In fact it’s even worse the second time around because you know you did this before, but you have no recollection of how you did it. Was it this hard? Was I this ill-prepared? It’s like like people telling you that you climbed Everest as a toddler, yet now, as a grown-up, you’re suddenly terrified of heights.

So what are the main problems we writers face on a daily basis? What are the shared agonies that can make us feel, if nothing else, less alone? Well, strap yourself in, literally, for number 1.

Problem Number One:

How to stay in the chair –

This might sound basic, but Jesus Herbert Christ, it is probably the most challenging part of writing a book. Your house suddenly becomes a wonderland of endless activities – everything from doing housework to making tea to ‘getting some air in the garden’ are all colluding against you finishing your novel. With the help of some fellow authors on Twitter, I’m currently working on a prototype for a writer’s chair™ featuring a seatbelt, tea-making facilities and a timelock. Kind of like an electric chair, only with cushions and a shelf for your biscuits.

Problem Number Two:

Nobody takes your job seriously

If you manage to avoid the distractions of giving your oven a deep clean or attacking the grout with a toothbrush, people drop by because you’re ‘not doing anything’. It’s hard to convince people that staring into space wearing your pyjamas is work, but IT IS! ‘Sure you can do that later,’ is the battle-cry of well-meaning muggles who have NO CLUE that ‘later’ you’ll be putting together a soundtrack for the film adaptation of your book, so no, that’s not convenient either. When you have a book out, people actually start to take you seriously – they see your book on the shelves and think ‘Wow, you really are a writer.’ But no sooner have the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price’ stickers faded than you resume your lowly position as a work-shy chancer, dealing in ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ rather than real work.

Problem Number Three:

Other writers –

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Yay! Look at us and our brilliant award for being brilliant!! Damn them and their  daily wordcount updates, their new contracts, their constant doing stuff! It puts you forever on the back foot, feeling you’re not doing enough. You think, great, I’ve written a page that wasn’t totally awful today and then you see somebody is doing a writing retreat to kickstart the 10 book deal they’ve just signed and all before breakfast All of a sudden, your accomplishment pales in comparison – but it’s a trap. Don’t let other peoples’ success diminish yours. We’re all moving forward, we’re just at different points along the way and as Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Bloody joy thieves!!

Problem Number Four:

Quality Control

This is a two-part problem – not knowing if what you’re writing is any good, but also having to persevere with your ‘not any good’ writing because that’s what a first draft is. I almost have to write with my eyes closed! And the perspective keeps changing, like those mirrors at the fun-fair – one minute you think what you’ve written looks great – then it looks like one of Frankenstein’s nightmares. What seemed pithy and clever yesterday is tired a cliched today. But you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day (badum-tish!) and you just have to fake it until you make it. (I’ll stop now.)

Problem Number Five:

Having/Not having a contract.

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This is where those 10-book-deal-joy-thieves are smiling on the other side of their faces!! While the security of having a book deal is nice, being creative on purpose is a lot of pressure. In one sense I feel lucky because I’ve never really had to write to a deadline. Ideas have come organically and I’ve had the space to let them germinate into something approaching a plot. But the flip side of that is the sense of futility that creeps in. ‘Is anyone ever going to read this? Will it ever get published?’ It takes a lot of grit and determination to keep going when you don’t know the answers to those questions. And I think most authors, regardless of what stage they are at in their careers are very aware of the shifting sands in publishing, so nothing is certain. The best solution is to write for yourself and worry about the rest later.

Problem Number Six:

Refusing to give up

Well-meaning Muggles: So if it’s that tough, maybe you should pack it in?

Me: I’m sorry, what now? What gave you the impression that I don’t want to do this? I’ll be a writer if I wanna be, dammit!!

So you see, despite all of the problems with writing, it’s still the one thing you get a kick out of doing, even if it insists on kicking you back. We all have romantic notions of what it is to own a bookshop or be a musician or a circus performer. But all of these exotic-sounding jobs have very mundane daily rituals. The gloss is just the tip of the iceberg that everyone sees and many envy, but the hulk that lies in solitary darkness is the part you have to make friends with if you want to get to the end of the story. And I will get to the end of this story, just as soon as I finish this cup of tea….

Fail Better

Originally published on Swirl and Thread as part of #IrishWritersWed

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“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Westward Ho – Samuel Beckett

 Full disclosure: I’ve never even read Beckett.   However I am a sucker for inspirational quotes (if only I could remember them!). I immediately pinned this one, in the hope that through some kind of Pinterest osmosis (Pinmosis, if you will) Beckett’s greatness would somehow rub off on me. A cursory glance shows it to be an insightful, motivational line that suggests perseverance will result in success. Look a little closer, however, and you will see that this statement isn’t so happy-clappy. It doesn’t mention a thing about succeeding.   What it’s really saying is: Trying is failing and success is willing to fail, over and over again. What can I say; us Irish are a pessimistic lot!   But there’s an authenticity there, the kind you don’t often hear in our goal-driven, success-obsessed and competitive society.

“In order to do something well, we must first be willing to do it badly.”

Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

I think we all like the idea of being a writer, but the reality involves staring down your inadequacies (or at least pretending not to see them) and not crumbling at the first sign of how crap your writing is. People assume they can just sit down and start writing a brilliant novel.   But like that ill-judged skiing holiday, where you assumed that the sport involved nothing more than launching yourself down a slope and letting momentum do all the work, it’s not that simple. And like skiing, the biggest challenge is taking the risk to look like a complete eejit in the hope that eventually you’ll look like less of an eejit. Oh I know us writers must sound like such moaning Michaels. ‘Writing is SO hard!’ we lament, while onlookers observe that we’re not curing cancer but whinging about a career choice we could just as easily have chosen not to do. But that’s what is so hard. Nobody gives a shit if you write that book or not.   Just like nobody on your skiing holiday really cares if you make it down that mountain (well, except for maybe your family who are waiting at the bottom, wondering if they’ll now have to perform a sky burial). But essentially, no-one gives a shit, only you.   So yes, writing is hard because it’s so easy to give up.

Read the rest of the article here

In the meantime, both of my novels are available in eBook and paperback.

Every Day Is January 1st

2017 There’s something about the start of a new year that always induces a collective existential crisis.  We’ve all been allowed to indulge ourselves for about a nanosecond, and now it’s time to overhaul our creaking ship of a life and become better people.  TODAY!  At this very moment, people are being mowed down by MAMIL’s (middle-aged men in lycra) and virgin cyclists, trying to atone for their yuletide gluttony.  What is it with our obsession over deadlines and dates, meaning that new beginnings always have to begin, well…. at the beginning of something?  Want to change your life?  Well, best time to start is the beginning of the year, right?  When it’s cold and miserable and dark and depressing A.F.  Has to be Monday, beginning of the week and usually first thing in the morning, to start the day out right.  To me, this seems like a recipe for failure.  What if you miss the beginning?  Does that mean you have to wait until the following week or the following year to get started again?  And why is investing in  yourself made to feel like a competition, or worse, a punishment?

As you may or may not know readers, I am at best headstrong and at worst, recalcitrant when it comes to these matters.  I can’t bear to be told what to do or when to do it.  Conforming is just not in my nature (and believe me, I’ve tried).  So when the rest of the world wakes up on January 1st with a list of things they are going to give up, I start writing a list of things I’m going to take up, or simply do more of.  I try to think of all the things that made me happy the year before and vow to do more of them.  But that doesn’t mean I have to complete the challenge during the first week of January.  Why rush when you’ve got all year?!

The wonderful thing is, every day can be the first of January.  You can choose to begin at any point in your life and the most important thing to remember is that it’s never too late.  Back in 2004, I began reading a book called The Artist’s Way, a kind of workbook on the subject of creativity.  I would highly recommend this book to everyone, as it teaches you that every journey begins with one small but very significant step: giving yourself permission.  This quote always makes me smile:

“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?” Yes … the same age you will be if you don’t. So let’s start.”
Julia Cameron

Let’s face it, when you tell people you want to be a writer or an artist, the response isn’t always encouraging.  ‘There’s no money in that,’ is the usual refrain.  Or ‘Aren’t you a little old for hobbies?’  Becoming an adult can really suck the fun out of life and as for dreams?  They have no place in a world where everything is valued in monetary terms.  But honestly, what are we here for if not to explore our talents and express ourselves?  Why waste your creativity because it seems silly or ‘childish’ or worst of all, selfish?  You don’t have to become a concert pianist or win the Man Booker to justify your passion.  People are writing, singing, acting, painting and all manner of things right now, even if they’re not making a living out of it, and their lives would be the poorer without it.  So I guess its up to you to decide where the value lies.

For some bizarre reason, when 1st January rolls around every year, people don’t bat an eyelid at you if you decide to start training for marathons or triathlons.  Somehow we’ve decided that physical activity is a ‘worthy’ pursuit.  But compare this to the reaction you would get if you started taking singing lessons or announced  your intention to write a novel – it’s somehow seen as self-indulgent or in layman’s terms, a futile exercise.  Well I’m sorry, but I think running is futile, but I wouldn’t stand in anyone’s way (for obvious reasons).  I have read so many blogs and articles where writers were afraid to tell their family and friends that they were writing out of some kind of misplaced embarrassment.  I’m not sure why we view the arts in this way, but my wish for anyone of a creative disposition this year is to explore it, enjoy it and see what happens!

I think Neil Gaiman says it best in his New Year’s Wish.

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t  forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

You can decide to follow your heart any damn day you please.  I know this blog post risks sounding a little bit trite or like something you might find on a kitty poster, but my heart is in the right place.  I began my creative journey in Spring 2004, taking art classes and writing the draft for my first book.  Things didn’t change overnight, but I stayed on my path and this year I had my first solo exhibition and typed the words ‘The End’ on the manuscript of my third novel.  I’m making some money (at last!) and it’s possible that one day, I could make a living.  But these last 12 years have been about so much more than that.  I got to pursue the things I love doing and for me, there’s no greater reward.  (Well, maybe a favourable review in The Times).  The point is, once I decided what I wanted to do, I had lots of gentle nudges along the way; coincidences that encouraged me to keep going and confirmed that I was doing the right thing.  For me.  So I suppose this is my way of paying it forward.

Life isn’t about big dramatic changes (I mean, it can be, but they’re rarely sustainable).  It is the small steps you take every day that will, over time, take you in the direction you want to go.  Every day is a chance to begin something new and the only thing that matters is how badly you want it.  Happy 2017 everybody!

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin

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