The Heirloom – a treasured inheritance

heirloom twitterBooks, I am learning, have a life of their own. Long after the story has left my pen, I watch it dip and rise on the tides. It amazes me – the power of a book to go on its own journey, as if the author is but a distant spot on the horizon.

Such has been the experience with my debut novel, The Heirloom (which is conveniently 99p at the moment on Kindle!) When I first published this timeslip story, I just couldn’t get any traction with it. I was a first-time, self-publishing author and no-one knew I even existed. I hadn’t a clue how to reach readers or where to promote my book.

Fast forward a few years and The Heirloom has now become my most popular selling title! I cannot tell you how happy it makes me, to know that people are not only discovering this story, but really enjoying it!

I spent waaaaay too long researching this novel, but judging from the reviews, it seems to have paid off. It all started when two completely different ideas collided. I love history and was interested in the Spanish Armada ships that crashed into Irish shores during one of the worst storms in history. Miraculously, a letter from one of the knights who survived, has outlived its author and gives a harrowing account of his time in Ireland. In Galway (where the book is set) there is still a monument to the 300 Spanish sailors who were massacred by the English on Fort Hill cemetery. Through the kindness of strangers, Captain Francisco de Cuéllar was given shelter and managed to return home to Spain (after many adventures!) Here is a trailer for a short film based on his time here, which is kind of amazing because I like to pretend this is a trailer for my book!

Armada 1588 : Shipwreck & Survival (Film Trailer – English) from Omedia on Vimeo.

But of course, that’s not the end of my story. Given my love for timeslip novels (it began with Kate Mosse, blame her!) I wanted to write the story in a format that brought the reader into the present day. I feel so strong that our past is the answer to all of the mysteries we face in our lives and I love exploring those links in fiction. So, when I discovered a book called Many Lives, Many Masters written by the American psychotherapist, Dr. Brian Weiss, I knew I’d found my key.¬† It tells how one of his patients began recalling past-life traumas and through the use of therapy and hypnosis, they resolved to cure her recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks.

Well, I’ve always had an over-active imagination and the idea of remembering past lives really intrigued me. I wonder where I lived, or who I was, in previous lives? Books like Cloud Atlas ignite my passion for this idea and the beauty of it is, no-one can really say for sure whether or not it’s possible… In more recent times, there have been increasing studies into inherited trauma and whether transgenerational inheritance can really affect a person’s biology. But that’s for another story.

For now, I’m just delighted to see my story about past and present lives colliding on the wild shores of the west coast of Ireland finally charting a steady course to a whole new readership. These reader reviews have made my heart soar and reminded me that stories can go on forever and heirlooms are made to be passed on.

“I loved this book! Following the history of Miguel and Annora was fascinating.”

“It almost seemed like two books in one, which is great for avid readers. Skillfully the author links the life stories of four well-developed characters across centuries.”

“Once I started this book I found it difficult to put down. I like the way it slips easily from modern Ireland to the time of the Spanish Armada.”

“A beautiful story of love, loss and courage . This beautiful story wraps history and a great love into one. Good read!”

“Anyone who likes a mystery that takes you to another country plus searching for family tree i could not put this down. 3 o’clock in the morning is not a good time to go to sleep!! loved it.”

Life Behind The Scenes

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Oh dear, there are veritable cobwebs on my blog. I may have forgotten how to drive this thing, but let’s give it a go.

This year has been a lot of upheaval, personally and professionally. Yet, thankfully, in these final few weeks of 2019 I can look back and see that I’ve done the best thing for me, stayed true to myself and got through what I needed to get through. I imagine that for most of you, your year has been a similar journey of ups and downs and I sincerely hope that you’ve all come to trust yourselves more as a result.

January saw me get an email in response to a submission I’d sent out. They wanted to see more. So, in March I got the phone call I never thought I would get. An editor from Penguin Random House had read my writing and wanted to work with me. I tried to keep my expectations from going off the charts, but after a half hour on the phone to London, I allowed myself to believe that things were indeed, looking up.

I spent the next few months sketching out a story idea and eventually writing some sample chapters. The feedback was positive and I was asked to prepare a chapter breakdown and synopsis to present to ‘the team’, all with a view to putting a contract in place. A CONTRACT!!! The summer came and went and I waited to hear back. During this time, I gave myself permission to start dreaming about how this would all play out. I thought, ‘come on Evie, stop being so cautious all the time, it’s actually happening!’ Then in September I got the email I never could have anticipated. The editor was switching jobs and taking up a position with a different publisher. My story had, as a result, fallen between the cracks.

I was devastated. I had never been so close to signing with a major publisher. And I was angry at how precarious this industry can be for authors. Angry that the biggest break of my writing career was just, over and for everyone else, it was just another day in publishing. It was tough to take.

It was nobody’s fault and in time I even began to see the silver lining –¬† if my writing had impressed the editors at Penguin, I must be doing something right! And if I’m honest, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what it means to be a writer through this experience. I learned the difference between working with a multi-national publisher and an independent publisher. There are compromises you have to make, no matter which path you choose; creative freedom, royalties, etc. I also learned how some decisions are taken away from you entirely and all you can do is make peace with it and move on. I was reminded of what really mattered to me; telling a story I’m passionate about.

On a more personal level, I got a new kitchen!! Finally. This has been on my wish-list for ages, but I was dreading the inevitable chaos. Anyone out there who has revamped their kitchen will feel my pain and sense of achievement on this one ūüėÄ It seemed to go on forever, and I had to become the project manager of at least four different tradesmen, as well as qualifying in amateur kitchen design. What did I learn? NOTHING GOES TO PLAN, but most things will get sorted, more or less! Also, there’s something you don’t expect when doing work on your house – it’s like doing work on yourself. The cluttered old kitchen I had was, unbeknownst to me, making me really unhappy. But now, with my new streamlined kitchen, I just feel good about myself; like, investing in my home was investing in me.

Physically, it’s been hard to write (which is another reason the blog has taken a back seat). I have an old injury that’s been causing me pain, but this year, I found someone who is really helping to literally straighten me out! I won’t go into the gory details, but it’s been a challenge, mentally and physically. I know I’m not alone in this too – everyone is dealing with something and I really wish that you find the path to good health. I know so many writers and bloggers who keep on writing despite chronic conditions that may or may not be visible. Well, let me say that I see you and I am inspired by you!

A high point of my year was featuring in The Gloss Magazine . So many of my favourite authors have taken part in the ‘Writer’s Block’ series, so I was delighted to be asked. It was the most in-depth interview I’ve ever done and it was an amazing opportunity to delve into my past and the inspiration behind my writing career. I was a bit apprehensive about putting myself in the spotlight, but someone told me that they felt they got to know me better after reading it, so I’m glad I was able to show a more personal side. The cherry on top was Sophie Grenham’s introduction to the piece, which I’m still smiling about! I feel really fortunate, as an indie writer, to be featured in the mainstream media in Ireland. It just goes to show that, at the end of the day, the story is all that matters.

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Through all the ups and downs, my family have been an amazing support, as always. It’s funny, when I look at those author bio’s that say ‘Jenny lives in Wicklow with her husband and two kids and twelve labradors’, I worry that mine looks a bit empty.¬†Evie lives with herself and has grown ridiculously fond of her own space! But it’s true. I like my life and being single just makes me appreciate the relationships I do have even more. And if that isn’t success, I don’t know what is. Or as Maya Angelou put it,

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So, that’s my year, or some of it anyway. I don’t think you really need to hear about the time I got my hair chopped and dyed some AWFUL colour so now I’m wearing lots of hats!! Oh, and I wish I could tell you the exciting news my publisher just gave me about The Story Collector, which is nothing short of an early Christmas present, but alas, I’ve been sworn to secrecy (again). Either way, I feel like I should end this with a song. Music always gets me through – no matter the sitch, there’s a song for it. So I’ve been listening to this one a lot, which is all about having strong foundations and belief that you can get through all of life’s storms.

Do You Believe_

 

PS. Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway (my favourite indie book store!) has The Story Collector on special offer at the moment and FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY!! Get it here¬†

 

 

White Lies

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I read a great thread the other day on Twitter by author Leigh Bardugo about how, as authors, we tend to perpetuate the myth of glamour and success that surrounds the magical business of getting published. Take it away Leigh!

She goes on to talk about how we ‘big up’ the successful moments, but downplay (or conceal) the less attractive aspects, like having to make your own merchandise to bribe people with! But don’t we all do this in our everyday lives? Pretending that everything is rosy in the garden, whether it be your marriage, your job, or your house that looks lovely but is actually developing some scary cracks and is possibly built on an ancient burial site?? But that’s enough about me. Telling little white lies about your job is just an extension of that very human need to be seen as ‘successful’ or ‘having your shit together’. We pretend we’re earning more than we are or have a bigger office.

But there is something about the truth that liberates all of us. In recent times, more and more authors are opening up about the reality of publishing and what it really looks like, behind the headlines. Irish author Donal Ryan ruffled many’s the feather by revealing that his books earned him a mere 40c per book and that he was returning to full-time employing in order to pay his mortgage. (I wrote about it for the Irish Times here).

I think there is a certain amount of embarrassment – because all we tend to hear about are the big authors who get eye-watering book deals, then sell the movie rights and next thing you know, they’re featured in some home style magazine showing off their new castle. That’s what people expect will happen when you get a publishing deal, but it is the exception. Most authors just want to earn a wage, even a really tiny one, that means they can write full time. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s rarely the case.

But we don’t want to let the side down, or reveal to our friends and families that actually, not all book shops will stock your book, that some people still won’t read your book even though you’ve given them a copy for free, that you have to work just as hard promoting your book as you did writing it and at the end of the day, most Irish authors earn somewhere between ‚ā¨500 and ‚ā¨5,000 per year (eek!).

Yet it seems a bit strange that authors are the ones left to gloss over these facts – as though we somehow have to protect the reputation of the publishing industry as well as our own! Well, not on my watch. Self-publishing is a great leveler and dispels you of any ‘notions’ (as we call them here) pretty early on. I’ve had to do everything myself, so signing with a publisher was a real privilege. But it’s not the end of the rainbow – there were still disappointments as well as unexpected gains. What didn’t change is the amount of effort I had to put into making sure people knew about my book.¬† There are so many jobs you have to do as an author that you can never invoice anyone for and I’m not sure any amount of wild success will change that.

I remember reading an article a while back (but for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name or find the link) in which a bestselling author spoke about a reading he was due to give at a local library for his new book. About eight people showed up; one was his wife and the rest were from a local retirement home. That was shocking to me – again because I just didn’t know that most really, really successful authors aren’t celebrities. Even New York Times bestselling authors. The truth is, nobody really cares! Apart from you, your publisher and probably your bank.

So yeah, I don’t think there’s any harm in telling the odd white lie to save face, but the constant pressure to present a false picture of your life or your career – which has only increased with the dawn of social media – is just really exhausting and serves nobody. And sometimes the most inspiring stories are the ones where you didn’t make it – like, how often do we find our own inner resilience perk up when reading about authors who were rejected zillions of times? Of course, the catch is, you have to then make it big-time for your sob story to resonate, but still. Knowing that nobody really knows what their doing can be the most comforting truth of all.

Value Your Writing

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I was watching a documentary about Christie’s Auction House the other day (more unexpected research!) when they took delivery of a beautiful Constable painting. Three specialists inspected the piece, oohing and aahing over the quick brush strokes and immensity of the sky. Then came the real deliberations… how much was it worth? As they debated over how many tens of millions it might fetch, the documentary maker asked them how they arrived at such a price (¬£20 million). The specialists said that the price was based on how much previous Constable paintings sold for and how much buyers would be prepared to pay. It was staggering to me – it wasn’t so much to do with the actual artwork itself, but how the art world chose to value it. The artist is long gone and even if he were alive today, could not profit from these kinds of sales. Banksy highlighted this issue when he shredded one of his paintings that was resold at auction.

The way society values things can often seem completely unrelated to an item’s true worth. It seems to be more about ownership and the prestige that it brings, rather than investing in an item because it means something to you. The documentary went on to boast about Christie’s new operations in China, where they were basically teaching the Chinese the value of Western art (i.e. teaching them how to spend their millions lusting after the same limited number of artworks deemed worthy). It all seemed so fake and contrived to keep money flowing within the same circles. As my mother would say, money for old rope! These auction houses aren’t actually creating anything or adding value – they are making their money off the backs of artists who died hundreds of years ago, many of them penniless. I often think of Van Gogh and how he struggled throughout his life. Ostracised by the art world at the time, his paintings speak to so many of us now because of their individuality and unique style.

Anyway, what has all this got to do with anything? Well, I’ve been stressing over book sales recently – wondering if I could be doing more and getting frustrated with myself because OBVIOUSLY I’m not doing enough. Which has ultimately led to me viewing my work purely in terms of rankings, sales and reviews. Which is awful – nobody should view their work in those terms, yet it is a reality you face when you’re trying to make a living out of writing.

The problem is, it’s an extremely narrow view of how much your book is worth. I lost touch with how much value I gained from writing my stories in the first place – how much writing helped me through the ups and downs of life. My books have been an escape and a sanctuary. A source of limitless frustration, yes, but also a source of pride. Becoming a writer has been a dream come true. It has given my life a whole new meaning and purpose. Not to mention the joy of being read! One of my favourite reviews (which I should really stick on my fridge in moments of doubt) was from a reader who thanked me for following my passion and living my purpose. Now, what could be worth more than that? You can’t put a price on that kind of connection.

We are all creators, communicating our unique experience of life. Value arbitrarily placed on something by the outside world doesn’t always necessarily mean ‘better’. It might just mean they can find a buyer for it, or that it will sell with minimal fuss. The same applies if you submit a manuscript to a publisher – if they don’t think your book is commercial enough, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t any good. Market forces are driven by very different motives. Was J.K. Rowling’s writing any less impressive when she was writing in a cafe, unemployed and unable to get published? Were Van Gogh’s paintings any less vibrant and expressive when the art world had turned their back on him? The work is it’s own reward, its value is inherent, regardless of stats or awards. Your writing has value, whether you are published or not, whether your last book was a hit or not. So never skimp on the quality of your work – make it the best it can be, for yourself. Don’t follow the markets or compromise your ideas. Never stop dreaming. The process of creation, fulfilling your artistic potential, telling your story – all of these things are beyond price tags.

We all want to be successful, but I’m not sure that allowing the world to tell you how much you’re worth is the meaning of success. An artist’s career will always have peaks and troughs, but that does not reflect your worth or predict your potential. We should value our talent and keep writing (and stop checking the sales reports!)

#WriterProblems ¬Į\_(„ÉĄ)_/¬Į

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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‚ĄĘ 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….

Be More You

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“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

Dolly Parton.

I saw this quote on Twitter the other day from the movie Dumplin’ and simply had to ‘borrow’ it immediately! We don’t get this message enough – Be More You! This time of year is always associated with being a better you – a better version of yourself. Gyms have made a fortune out of our annual guilt and the rush to become someone else. But where did all of this start?

New Year’s resolutions have been around for quite a long time (according to Wikipedia!). The Babylonians¬†made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. So for all you book lenders, now’s the time to turn the screws on all those friends/neighbours/relations who haven’t returned them yet. The¬†Romans made promises to the god¬†Janus, for whom the month of January is named. And in the¬†Medieval era, the knights¬†took the ‘peacock vow’ at the end of Christmas to re-affirm their commitment to¬†chivalry.

However, the whole idea of self-sacrifice or self-improvement has really jarred with me over the last few years. I’ve hopped on a bandwagon that’s headed in the other direction, the one that asks – ‘What can I do more of this year? What do I love doing? What will make me happier?’ In a world where we are constantly being told to be our best beautiful, or whatever, we are seldom (if ever) taught to value who we really are. Or how to cultivate a life that honours our true self.

One good thing about getting older is that we get a better sense of ourselves and are a little less influenced by others and their opinions of us. Just as in my writing, I’m aiming for the kind of authenticity that comes when you stop trying to be something you’re not and begin to embrace who you are. As David Bowie once said:

Aging is an extraordinary process ... ~ David Bowie                                                                                                                                                     More

I think the knights had it right – New Year is a wonderful opportunity to re-affirm your commitment to be yourself. You don’t need to change, or improve (not unless it’s what you want) and besides, as Arnold Beisser once said in his paradoxical theory of change:

Why Affirmations Don't Work | Gestalt psychotherapy proposes the √ʬĬúParadoxical Theory of Change.√Ę¬Ä¬Ě According to the theory, √ʬĬúchange occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not.√ʬĬú

So my wish for you all and for myself in the New Year, is to be more of who we really are. It’s our diversity that makes us interesting, our fallibility that makes us endearing and human. There is enough conformity in the world – so break out and be you with bells on! As Dr. Seuss said, there is no-one alive who is youer than you ūüôā

Happy New Year!

 

What’s In A Name?

 

Copyright Tom Gauld

What’s in a name? Well, that’s easy for Shakespeare to say with a name like that, but when you’re trying to think up new character names for your book, it’s not always that easy. Unless you’re Man Booker winner Anna Burns, in which case you can dispense with names altogether. But for most of us, we like to pick names that somehow embody the character. The right name can bring your character to life and set the tone, but the wrong name can take a reader out of the story, which is a cardinal sin!

One of the most striking names in literature is Heathcliff. It speaks to location and character – perfectly capturing the haunted, wild, untameable, unforgiving landscape, echoing Heathcliff’s volatile persona. I mean, would he really have had the same impact were his name John? Or Pat (considering he was probably Irish – where Emily’s father was born with the less impressive surname of Brunty). There is a power in names – and a history, like lettered breadcrumbs, which lead to the source.

My surname can be traced back to the 10th century, in the Annals of the Four Masters. In Old Gaelic, my name is¬†Ua G√°ibhtheach√°in¬†(try saying that ten times!), descendant from a fierce warrior. Apparently we were famed for our expeditious and industrious nature – swiftly dispatching enemies, which is basically just another day for me. And if it weren’t for Cromwell, I’d probably be talking to you from the family stronghold in Kilkenny, and I wouldn’t be on the Atlantic coast, constantly moaning about the rain. Damn you Cromwell!!

My maternal grandmother is also from a great clan in Mayo, the O’Malleys. So I am also connected to another chieftain, or the pirate queen as she is known, Grace O’Malley. In Gaelic she is known as Grainuaile, or bald Grainne, which refers to the legend that her father wouldn’t let her go raiding on the ships when she was a girl, in case her long hair got caught in the sails and rigging. So she took a knife to her locks and cut them off, earning her place on the ship. Which is just like the time I¬†bravely cut my hair into a long bob (a ‘lob’). People still speak of that hairdo, to this day.

So, I hate to disagree with the ardent Juliet, but names do have significance and we also assign them with meaning. In The Story Collector, I chose the name Anna for my protagonist because I wanted a name that was traditional, unfussy and strong. I also chose the name Harold, which instantly speaks of someone who is distinctive and hints of a well-to-do background. When writing historical fiction in particular, it’s important that your names fit the era you’re writing in. No Beyonce’s here, I’m afraid.

But how do you decide on a name? Sometimes the name comes first; others, you have a fully outlined character who remains nameless through several drafts. Or worse, their name changes mid-draft – or their gender! It’s almost impossible to get their original name out of your head and this requires extensive proof-reading afterwards. There aren’t any rules to picking names as such, but there are certain guidelines that are worth taking into consideration. Like it’s okay (preferable even) to pick common names, rather than searching for something unusual, as it makes the story more authentic.¬† I recently put down a book after two chapters because I found the character names better suited to a pair of kittens than leads characters. They were so contrived and pretentious, it just put me off the entire thing.

And apparently, us readers are as lazy as they come, because after a few goes at reading the character’s name, when we see it again, we only read the first letter. Hang on, maybe that’s not lazy, maybe it’s highly efficient! So it’s better not to choose names that begin with the same first letter or sound too similar, as it can confuse things unnecessarily, like Marie and Mary.

I remember an old tip that suggested picking names from the phone book, but sadly, the phone book no longer exists, so I find myself googling baby names (which may cause a shock to my nearest and dearest!) or trying my luck ‘Vegas style’ with online name generators. But mostly, I just sit and stare out the window until the right-sounding name comes to me. In my new WIP I have quite a large cast of characters and thankfully, most of them have come with – at least their first names – already intact. I had to search for popular Russian Jewish names (hello Mikhail!) and I’m still trying out names for one of my main characters whose personality I’m really only getting to know with each new chapter, but what is she called? I need something unique but not too unusual. A strong name, but also with a sense of vulnerability. Something lyrical, but not too sweet.

I’m tempted to run a poll, but I have a terrible habit of ignoring other peoples’ advice, so the chances are I will still go with the name I want, even if the overwhelming majority pick something else! It’s a bit like book titles – sometimes you’re completely married to one idea and others it won’t come until the last, desperate minute. Naming things is such a big responsibility. That is the title they will bear for the rest of their lives, so you want to get it right. But for now, maybe A and B will have to do!

 

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If you have managed to miss the exciting news that The Story Collector was reviewed in The Irish Times last weekend, then well done to you because I have been telling everyone I know and many people I don’t! To celebrate, The Story Collector is available to download for 99p all weekend on Amazon and if you fancy bagging yourself a signed copy, check out my Twitter page for a chance to win.

What’s that? You’d like to see the review? Well, I mean if you really think it’s necessary, I suppose I could see if I have a copy somewhere…

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Honestly, this is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. I remember years ago, my sister saying “oh you should be writing for the Irish Times”. She may as well have said, you should write your novels from space. It seemed so far-fetched. Even now it feels surreal.¬†I keep wondering, how did this happen? I think a lot of writers tend to overlook the years of hard slog when something amazing suddenly happens, as if it has nothing to do with us. Also it feels a bit indulgent and most of us have been taught not to indulge in our own success. Irish people are renowned for being utterly crap at taking compliments and we are brought sharply back down to earth if we even show signs of having ‘notions’. But when your peers tell you that your achievements are ‘well deserved’, maybe it’s okay to take a moment and say, ‘I did it!’ So sod it, my book is in the Irish bleedin’ Times and I’m flippin’ delighted!!

A Writer Unwritten

There’s a great line from one of my favourite songs (Pink Rabbits by The National) which goes:

‘I was a television version of a person with a broken heart’¬†

¬†The one time I should have felt most like a ‘proper writer’, during my book launch, I felt like a television version of an author. Or what I thought an author should be. In reality, I felt adrift; like a boat that had slipped its moorings. Writing was the one thing that had kept me tethered and yet, while my book was published, I wasn’t¬†being a writer (or at least, not in the sense that I’m familiar with); I was being a spokesperson for my writing, which is a completely different skill set. I never thought I would say this, but it’s official folks – not writing is worse than writing!

Being a published author, promoting a book you have written (past tense) is weird for all sorts of reasons. It’s a time of contradictions, where you feel like the centre of attention one minute, but oddly alone the next. Not many people are fortunate enough to have this experience, so not many people get how strange it can feel. Yet it’s only in the last few weeks, since I’ve returned to my WIP that I’ve figured why.¬†Writing is a verb – if you’re not doing it, then it starts to feel like a distant thing. I felt like I was masquerading as a writer, because I wasn’t actually writing and hadn’t written for months. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not one of those ‘write everyday’ evangelicals (although I probably am still writing in my head, if not on screen or paper). But I feel more like a writer when I’m frowning at my laptop, still wearing my pyjamas at lunchtime and eating cheerios out of a box (although that’s not the author photo I went for in the end).

Maybe, at the back of my mind, it was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it again. Yeah, sure, I wrote this one, but what if there’s nothing left? I know other authors feel this way from time to time – regardless of how many books they’ve written.¬† Because writing a book is never a sure thing.¬† We all have those hopeful starts; manuscripts that crash and burn before hitting the 20k words mark.¬† Potentialities simply abandoned.¬† There is no real formula – either you’re feeling it or you’re not and that’s not exactly the most reliable career path.¬† Because once you’re published, you begin to see writing as a viable career, but only if you can keep writing. Eek!

It’s the same with art.¬† I haven’t painted anything in ages and it’s almost as if that channel gets blocked through lack of use. So if I don’t have dried paint under my fingernails, it feels very far away from me.¬† And I’m not making a judgement or a generalisation here – this is a very personal realisation came as a surprise to me too. But I feel like book promotion is so divorced from story creation, that I almost became a different person.¬† And in a way, I think that’s essential.¬† You have to be a bit harder, a bit more calculating and a lot less sensitive. You need to be cool with seeing your face shared across the internet and nurture the ability to find eleventy-thousand different ways to say the same thing (i.e. please buy my book because it’s actually quite good – for realsies).

To craft a story, you need to be a dreamer.¬† To sell one, you need to be a realist. And I’m not sure either personality trait sits comfortably with the other.¬† I assume other authors feel some or all of these things. I know there are many on tight deadlines who don’t have the luxury of not writing while promoting and I take my hat off to those authors. Promoting and writing at the same time is the ultimate Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde act, which I have yet to master!

For now, I’m back in my happy place… mumbling ideas to myself in the shower, researching, scribbling notes, getting to know new characters and wrangling my plot into some kind of coherent structure.¬† This is where the magic happens and I’m lucky I’ve got time and space to figure it all out and most importantly, enjoy it.¬† It’s the best part – the part you won’t be able to explain fully in words when people ask, ‘What inspired you to write this book?,’ or ‘Where did the idea come from?’ You’ll just remember that year (or two, or three) in your life when you immersed yourself in a world of your own making and you’ll find it hard to believe that other people are now exploring it – as if it always existed, as if it wasn’t a bloody miracle that it ever got written!

So, to all the new writers or unpublished writers out there, wondering if they should even call themselves ‘real writers’ before they’ve got a publishing deal, hear this:

If you’re writing, you’re a writer!

The rest is icing, fur coat, what have you. It is the action of writing that makes you a writer. But crucially, it is the act of publishing that makes you read ūüėČ

 

*** THE STORY COLLECTOR ***

Book Depository ~ Dubray Books ~ Foyles ~ O’Mahony’s ~ Waterstones ~ WH Smith

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When Someone Has Already Written Your Book

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‘There is no such thing as a new idea’, Mark Twain once wrote. Which is bad news for anyone trying to be original! But as he goes on to say, we can create new and endless numbers of new combinations. Still, what if you find that you keep coming up with ideas that have already been done? I’m reading a charming little book at the moment, ‘How To Fall In Love With A Man Who Lives In A Bush’, (quite easily, it seems, apparently Austrian men aren’t up to much) where the protagonist dreams of becoming an author. The only problem is that every story she comes up with has already been written …. by Charlotte Bronte or Stephen King!

It’s something of an occupational hazard for storytellers – even when it comes to choosing a title for your book. A quick search on Google will reveal that your unique, edgy and entirely original title has already been used by a handful of other authors, in some shape or fashion.¬† It’s happened to most of us, at some point or other in our writing lives, but thankfully it doesn’t always sound the death knell for your book.

On reading Graeme Simsion’s novel ‘The Rosie Project’, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of deja vu. ¬†Not surprising really, considering one of my favourite movies in recent years is ‘Adam‘, the story of a young man with Asperger Syndrome and his efforts to connect with a young woman who moves into his building. ¬†It’s a really touching love story, as is The Rosie Project, because we can all see a piece of ourselves in these characters as they fumble unsuccessfully on the road to true love and self-determination. ¬†Anyway, my point is that, as I was reading Simsion’s novel, I realised that while both stories had their similarities, they each had their own authentic voice. Imagine if either of them decided to give up on their project, because the story had already been done?

I believe that it is our job as writers to bring our unique viewpoint to these stories, regardless of whether the idea has already been explored. ¬†Because nobody can truly write the same story in the way you’ve written it and that is your gift as a writer.¬† Original thought might be as rare as hen’s teeth, but it is the writer’s perspective which makes a story ‘new’, recycling old ideas and creating something different. I¬† found a great article by Melissa Donovan on Writing Forward. ¬†She states that “Originality isn‚Äôt a matter of coming up with something new, it‚Äôs a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.” ¬†The following is a little test to prove her theory:

A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger, which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves ‚ÄĒ the same villain who killed his parents.

If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.

So it’s not unusual for people to independently come up with the same ideas in the creative sphere, or any sphere for that matter.¬† We all share the same collective unconscious.¬† Plagiarism, however, is another issue entirely. Plagiarism is the intentional copying or lifting of another person’s work and passing it off as your own. When I hear stories like this, it makes my blood run cold. I was in a chat group recently where a writer lamented the fact that a novel she had written a few years previous was now a major hit for someone else. Obviously, I have no proof as to whether or not this was true, but I could feel their helplessness.¬† What can you do if you see a book that shares more than a passing resemblance to your own (even the twist that ‘you’ll never see coming’?)

The most recent high profile copyright lawsuit involved the 2012 novel ‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman (author Margot Louise Watts) which screenplay writer Joseph Nobile alleged was based on his 2004 screenplay, A Tale of Two Humans. The case, which was taken after Dreamworks adapted the novel for screen, was eventually dismissed, despite¬†the plaintiff arguing that there were striking similarities between the work of the two authors, (the story‚Äôs setting on a remote storm-swept island, the central couple and specific scenes in chronology and specific passages of dialogue).

Equally being accused of plagiarism, based on mere coincidence, must be an unsettling experience. Unless you’re Daphne du Maurier, whose much beloved ‘Rebecca’ bore many similarities to¬†A Sucessora¬†(The Successor), a 1934 book by writer Carolina Nabuco. Nabuco and her editor alleged¬†du Maurier¬†had stolen the plot and much of the dialogue, but¬†Du Maurier scoffed at the claims, arguing that the plot itself was too common to have been plagiarized. Although sued for plagiarism in 1947, du Maurier won the lawsuit.

As Oscar Wilde once said, as only he could, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.’ Although I wouldn’t say that to anyone’s face!

While the majority of us don’t set out to write novels that have already been written, it’s almost impossible not to end up treading on the toes of stories that have already been told.¬† Having said that, publishers and readers alike don’t want the same old tropes churned out year after year. The trick is to tell a tale as old as time, but in a new way. Mix up genres and avoid the predictable cliches. The real challenge is to find your own unique voice as a writer and tell a story as only you can tell it. ¬†That is what will make your work original.