Blog spring clean!

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Sunset, West Cork

It’s that time of year – more light, more energy; it’s time to get on track…

A quick post to say a big thank you to Catherine Ryan Howard for inspiring me to get off my proverbial backside and have a bit of a clean up on the blog front.

Thanks to Catherine’s blog post and glowing example, I have updated my About page with relevant information and added a range of endorsements from various clients I’ve worked with over the last few years (there are more to come).

I’ve also posted more writer interviews (including Patrick deWit) and added a Contact Page (which I actually thought I had but, mysteriously, did not).

If any of these are of interest to you, please do have a nosey around. If you spot anything missing, please let me know! And if you’d like to take inspiration from catherine and give your own blog/website a spring clean, here’s the link again to her very helpful advice.

Happy spring cleaning!

 

Spring is late but there are signs!

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You may have heard the rumour that spring is here but after such a tough winter, it may not feel like it. So here’s some proof of spring’s arrival. It may be slow but when the buds burst open and the flowers rear their beautiful heads, we’ll all be delighted and forget all about the storm damage. I promise!

Schull, West Cork

View from near Sailor’s Hill, Schull

 

west cork walks

A morning walk in Caharlaska, West Cork

 

West Cork villages, schull

Village flowerbeds starting to blossom

Blarney castle, Cork

Sunny day at Blarney Castle, Cork

 

Cobh mudflats Cork

Mud flats between Cork and Cobh

 

West Cork spring

Butterflies searching for the sun

 

snowdrops

Snowdrops!

 

Loch Hyne West Cork

One happy pup in Loch Hyne woods

 

 

 

Recycle your rejected short stories

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misty irish weather

The path isn’t always clear, but there’s more than one route.

It’s that time of year where stories are starting to get accepted/rejected from the journals/competitions you entered end of last year/the beginning of this year.

If you’re finding yourself receiving rejections, don’t be disheartened – there are plenty more outlets to try. See it as the perfect time to recycle.

Sometimes a story is rejected because it’s not good enough and needs more work, sometimes it’s because the story resembles something in a recent issue, and sometimes it’s simply not to the editor’s taste.

How do you know the difference?

Read the feedback you received and reread your piece with this feedback in mind. If you feel your piece is still the best you can make it, send it out somewhere else. If you think it needs tweaking or improving (it’s amazing how time away from a story suddenly highlights its flaws) then rework and resubmit. Simple.

Here are a few journals currently seeking submissions…

If you’re in search of some paying markets, then check out (for starters):

Glimmer Train

The South Circular

Southword

The Stinging Fly

If you write long stories, e.g. 4000+ words – try Long, Story Short

 

Looking for inspiration and/or collaboration? Then Spontaneity could be just the place…

Other outlets definitely worth trying include:

Make sure you read the submission guidelines carefully and familiarise yourself with the journal before submitting… I admit that I missed the 2000 minimum word count for The Fiction Desk and had my story returned. My only faux pas, and never to be repeated!

Happy writing and good luck! I’d love to hear of any successes so I can share your links – and if you have other favourite outlets to share, please add in the comments below!

WIPs & the Writing Process: A Blog Tour Q&A

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Thanks to the lovely, supportive and talented SJ O’Hart, today’s blog post is a little different (for me, at least) as it’s part of a writer’s Q&A blog tour. The idea is simple: you answer three questions about your writing/writing process, then ask the same of another writer you’d like the world to know a little more about. So, here goes…

What am I working on?

writers retreat west cork

I find a change of surroundings useful. This window is known as ‘Elizabeth’s Office’ in Grove House

I work on several pieces at a time, switching between projects when I need distance, so my current projects are:

The first draft of an apocalyptic adult novel, currently at 20K words, progressing at a speed of around 1-2K per day. I usually write a first draft in 30 days. I’m giving myself 60 days for this one because I’m also looking at…

An experimental rewrite of my completed Young Adult novel, switching from third to first person. Although the book is polished to submission standard, I’m checking whether the story would be more engaging told in first person. My instinct is telling me yes. Why did it not tell me before? I don’t know. That’s just part of the process. This would be a huge rewrite, so I’m taking my time with this one. I have the first 5 chapters & prologue rewritten – I’m letting it sit for a while before comparing the two versions one last time.

A poem for submission to Furies (in aid of Rape Crisis): I write very little poetry and this poem has been milling around for quite some time, so I’m hoping that I can improve upon it enough to submit to this worthy cause. At the moment, it’s proving rather challenging and not at all what I want it to be. I have one month to kick it into shape. And although it is a poem of less than forty lines, I’m definitely going to need it.

I’m also working on several short stories, varying in length from 1000 words to 5000 words; I have all my 2014 submission deadlines organised in my diary and I switch between the stories (once the day’s novel writing is completed) with one eye on the deadlines. The way I work is to take a story as far as I naturally can – e.g. write a first draft (sometimes this can be as short as a paragraph) then set it aside for another day, switch to a final edit of another story then set it aside for a final read through before submitting, then redraft another story to move it forward a little, before setting aside.

I make sure I have at least five stories on the go at all times as I’m never sure where they will lead. Sometimes they don’t work at all. I can usually tell a flash fiction piece or a much longer story when I begin writing it, but I let the stories develop naturally and don’t limit myself with word counts. I find word counts for competitions useful and they can really help you to tighten your work, but I’ll never crop a story to its detriment just to make it fit a deadline. Having several stories available, I feel I have more freedom and more control.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

This is a really tricky one to answer because originality comes down to voice, and that’s probably one of the hardest areas to try and discuss or explain. It’s also difficult to see/say what makes your writing differ; I think the reader is the one that makes that decision. The way I see it, your job is to create something that moves a reader in some way.

Whenever you write, whatever you write, you’re writing the kind of book/story/poem you want to read. You’re initially looking at a germ of an idea – a feeling perhaps that you want to convey, a character that’s bugging you, or a situation that grabs you and won’t go away – and then you’re led by the characters and how they act and react to the challenges that arise, often being surprised yourself by the turn of events. And all the time, you’re using what you know about human nature and the world around you to convey the story in a way that makes it convincing. Hopefully you combine these elements skillfully enough to create something that grabs a reader, keeps them with you to the end and affects them in some way that makes the story resonate.

green fingered writer

My trusty running partner

I’m not sure I’ve answered the question thoroughly, but like I say, this is a tricky one.

How does my writing process work?

I’ve realized that I have two distinctly different working patterns during summer and winter. I’ve been teasing these out over the last three years since I moved to a rural part of Ireland, and have finally found patterns that work – which isn’t easy because I despise any form of routine.

In summer, the days are extremely long and bright and so I wake up naturally early (around 6am) and do about 2 hours of writing before the rest of the world wakes up. I focus on the main WIP as I find my concentration is at its best and this really sets me up for the day. Then I usually fit in another 4 to 6 hours in short bursts (2 hours seems to be my natural concentration level) around my social media business, running, exercising the dog, fishing and the vegetable garden. I also work three days a week in a bookshop, so on these days, I start the morning with some free flow writing (sometimes called ‘morning pages’) to generate more short story ideas and then I go for a run with the dog in tow. I don’t write after work as I find the quality isn’t good enough, though I do have to keep reminding myself of this. Overall, this setup keeps the WIP fresh, the ideas coming & the days varied.

In winter, it’s a different story. I wake later, around 8am, and I find it takes longer for my brain to wake up, so I take a walk or run, take time over breakfast, and get the chores done like cutting/gathering wood, seeing to the animals, answering emails and bailing water from the boat. Then I settle down to a 2-3 hour stint of writing, before heading out for more fresh air. I’ll do another 3-4 hours in the evening, with the fire & candles lit. My writing is slower and calmer, like my energy. I get some really intense writing done in the winter and it’s the perfect time for me to write first drafts.

winter walks in west cork

Things get a bit soggy out here – just 5 minutes into my walk.

Living rurally, you’re really exposed to the elements. There’s no hiding in theatres or gyms, no shelter from buildings or distractions such as art galleries or shopping. The second you step outdoors, you’re cold/wet/wind blown/all of the latter. I find the lack of light really difficult in winter, so I need to spend every opportunity that I can outdoors. I walk and run in all weather, but if there are really bad days (like the gales/storms we’ve seen this winter) I find my concentration (& writing) suffers.

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I’m delighted to be passing these questions on to Irish writer, Lia Mills, who is due to have her fourth book released later this year.

And finally – a big thank you, S J O’Hart, for giving me the opportunity to answer these questions. I hope this has been of interest to some of you, and I’d love to hear whether your writing day is similar or completely, utterly different. It’s always good to take a step back and think about your own story, not just those you’re creating on the page.

Best blogs for writers

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green fingered writer

The storms cut our power this week, so this is how my novel progressed while the storms raged…

I read as many books as I can, but I think online resources have a lot to offer also. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t spend all my time on the web avoiding writing – I write every day & work on various projects to keep the momentum going – but when I’m not writing or editing, I’m usually reading or learning more about the craft.

So this is a list of my some of favourite blogs for writers. I say this because each provides me with something useful as a writer. They’re blogs I return to time and again.

One of my favourite writers, one of my favourite blogs – Neil Gaiman’s Journal by Neil Gaiman (author of American Gods, Anansi Boys, MirrorMask, Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book,  & Sandman comics, to name but a few) is, as you’d expect, just brilliant.

If you’re writing for children or Young AdultsInky Girl by Debbie Ridpath Ohi is a wealth of information about the craft and business of writing and illustrating.

One of my favourite short story blogs, Tania Writes from Tania Hershman is informative, interesting, witty and well written.  Also from Tania, check out Short Stops, the best short story info blog out there.

Novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig offers plenty of advice, information, and attitude over on Terrible Minds – I love the tone of this blog – warning, strong language!

Not strictly a blog but full of writing, publishing & promotion advice & tips, as well as weekly giveaways and extensive listings of competitions & workshops, writing.ie is Ireland’s number one spot for all things writing – but you don’t to be Irish/in Ireland to benefit.

For continuous up-to-date info on poetry, poetry competitions and workshops, head over to Kate Dempsey’s Emerging Writer blog – you won’t find better when it comes to sourcing opportunities.

reading by candlelight

…and although I couldn’t get to my favourite blogs, I could still enjoy a read!

You may think you’ve had enough of social media but Pinterest‘s visual approach is refreshing and useful for building up story boards. You can also have private boards – perfect for storing visual aids for your latest book/story/poem. Following other people’s boards is like following a really good pictorial blog.

Business & marketing is all part of writing/publishing – and you’ll learn a lot from Joanna Penn over on  The Creative Penn.

Clockwatching from Sinead O’Hart is a great blog by an emerging writer – about, you guessed it, the journey towards publication. If you’re starting out, or not quite there yet, or almost there, make sure you check it out. You’ll find mutual understanding & support & a damn good read.

Of course, there are plenty more great blogs for writers out there, but these select few stand out. They’re the ones I return to despite my busy schedule, – yep, that endless writer’s fight to balance writing, work and home. In my opinion, they’re all worth reading and sharing.

If you have any highly recommended blogs for writers, please start a list in the comments below – I’d love to find another gem or two!

7 great books about writing

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If you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. And as you read you become increasingly aware of how many possibilities there are as a writer. Reading makes you want to explore new styles, try new things, and write something as great as (no, even better than!) that last incredible book you devoured in one sitting. The one that made you burn the toast/turn up late to pick up the kids/cancel that dinner with friends you’d been looking forward to for months.

To improve your writing, reading is essential. But so is practice. You have to write as often as possible to progress. That’s a fact. And although there are no specific ‘rights and wrongs’ when it comes to plot/style/character etc, you do have to make sure that your writing does was it’s meant to: it has to convince and entertain. In short, your writing needs to transport your reader to another world that is wholly believable, one where they want to stay long enough to finish the whole book/story/poem.

Writing classes and workshops are a huge help; to get the most out of the experience, make sure you respect the writer that is taking the course and that it is pitched at a level that suits where you are in your writing career. But sometimes, geographical, financial or other constraints can make it difficult to commit to a workshop. Thankfully, there are some excellent books available that will help you improve in all areas of your writing – from grammar and punctuation, to holding narrative tension and creating compelling characters, to coping with rejection and solitude (and the best thing is, it’s combining two of your favourite things!).

Here are seven of my top choices…

on writing stephen kingOn Writing by Stephen King – part biography, part toolbox, this is one of the most readable, straight-talking and honest books on writing that you’ll ever read. The overall message is that practice, improving your skills, finding your own style and perseverance are the key to writing success. This may not seem like a revelation, but King’s wit, advice and fluid style really helps convey important messages without being overly didactic or patronising.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee – although this book focuses on, the principles can be applied to any form of creative writing. Informative, insightful and downright impressive in its scope, McKee’s book is essential reading for anyone who wants to add magic to his or her writing. In case you need a bit more convincing, McKee’s former students include over 60 Academy Award Winners, 250 Academy Award Nominees, 170 Emmy Award Winners, 500+ Emmy Award Nominees (and the list goes on…)!

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss – although punctuation is a dreaded topic for many, there’s no escaping it. Yes, copy-editors can help you in this area but as the world of publishing grows increasingly competitive, it’s more important than ever that your manuscript is as polished as possible when you submit it to agents and publishers. Thankfully, Truss debunks the subject while making it accessible and fun (yes really!).

How to write Picture Books by Ann Whitford PaulWriting Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – beautifully produced, this book offers all you need to see a picture book through from concept to completion. Through detailed examples of great children’s literature and step-by-step exercises designed to help you to improve your own writing, it is an invaluable addition to the bookshelf of any writer trying to break into the world of children’s picture books.


The Elements of Style
 by Strunk & White – Just like punctuation, grammar is an essential part of a writer’s toolbox and this book remains the best and the most concise. It covers everything you need to know in a slim, portable volume. Presenting the facts clearly and sensibly, this book considers elements of usage, composition and style – it’s a reliable all-rounder, so you won’t need another.

Creative Writing, A Practical Guide (3rdedition) by Julia Casterton – the reason I like this book is that it covers a wide range of topics across poetry and fiction, including narrative tension, developing characters, research techniques, performance and effective dialogue. The book also looks at a writer’s life; why people write, how they structure their day and cope with various aspects of being a writer. The structure is clear and the advice is sound; a great choice for those in the early stages of their writing journey.

mortificationMortification: Writers’ Tales of Their Public Shame by Robin Robertson – although it’s not about writing per se, this book plays an important role in helping writers cope with an inevitable part of their writing life: failure/rejection. Read about some of the nightmare book tours that famous writers have had to endure and enjoy the sense of camaraderie as you chuckle along with their blush-inducing tales.

If you know of any other noteworthy books on writing that may help other writers improve their craft, please let us know in the comments – we’d all really appreciate it! 

(Note, this article was originally written for writing.ie)

Book swap anyone?

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If you’re anything like me, your home is swamped with books; on the table, beside the bed, overflowing the shelves and tucked behind cushions on the sofa. These ever-growing stacks are wonderfully comforting but if, like me, you have very limited space, sometimes you have to clear some of the clutter.

I often give books to friends or to the local charity shop, but the stacks keep growing! It’s impossible to not buy books. You could read every minute of every day and there would still be more books you want to read.

Some books I want to keep because they’re gifts, special editions, or have sentimental value. Some of them I’m forced to keep because I know I’m going to have to reread them again very soon because they really were that good. Or perhaps there’s a stylistic element I want to look at and consider in detail (without it hindering the story). Other books are like good friends and I simply like having them around.

So how do you reduce the number of books you own yet read more? I do use the local library – I adore libraries and cannot advocate them enough – but that only helps with one part of the problem.

So I came up with the idea of a book swap. Not a completely original idea, I admit, but a new concept for this blog. The idea is this: I post photos and descriptions of the books I’m (reluctantly) willing to part with and you offer a swap in the comments. We exchange postal info and voila – a new book for the price of a few stamps. What do you think? Interested?

OK, here are my first few swaps:

book swap the parasites

Stylistically brilliant, you don’t have to like the characters to love the book. A clear winner with our book club.

the slap book swap

Never has a title been more appropriate. Personally, I found this impossible to read but everyone else I know raved about it. See for yourself.

burial rites book swap

One of the most talked-about debuts of 2013 about the last people in Iceland to be publicly executed.

locker 62 book swap

A Young Adult title recommended for fans of Jacqueline Wilson & Sarah Dessen (Note: this is an uncorrected proof)