It’s official… a three-book deal!

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green fingered writer

Even when the power cuts out, keep going!

I’m going to keep this brief because I’m still letting it sink in, and it’s hard to type when you’re giddy. I can finally say the words I’ve been longing to say for so long…

I’ve signed a book deal!

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve signed with Mercier Press for my middle grade fantasy trilogy, the Order of Nine Lives, with the first book due for publication in summer 2015.

This means an extraordinary amount to me, so much that I can’t put it into words. So I’d just like to say thank you so much to everyone who has taken an interest and supported me so far – your belief has been invaluable.

I’ll keep most of my writing news to this blog or my Author page on Facebook, so that’s where you need to look for updates.

It’s early days and there’s work to be done, but for now, it’s time to celebrate.

And for those of you chasing dreams – keep going. I’m no different to anyone else – with hard work, determination and courage, you’ll get there.

And, we’re back!

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For the last six weeks, the only thing I’ve eaten with a fork is some pineapple at breakfast. In Thailand, everything is eaten on a spoon, with the fork used merely for directing the food onto the spoon, ready for consumption. You also don’t mix your food; you have your plate of rice and take a small amount from one of the dishes on offer at a time, only choosing another option once your selection is eaten.

thailand travel tuk tuk

One of the many questionable modes of transport you forget to question after a while…

For the last six weeks, the temperature has stayed around 36 degrees, and even when thunder and lightning suddenly explodes onto the scene, it’s still hot and humid and I’ve been able to sit outside. Storms are beautiful to watch when your teeth aren’t chattering and it’s amazing what you can record when the ink is not running down the page (because you’re swaying in a covered hammock).

For the last six weeks, I’ve only used social media to upload photos on Facebook because our camera broke and my iPhone is nearly out of storage so it was the quickest way to record our holiday and not lose the images. And the only thing I’ve written is (a rather terrible) diary (more like a to-do list than a gripping read) – no short stories, no freelance articles, no novels.

Oh yes… and the dolphins were pink, it was perfectly acceptable to fit three adults and two rucksacks onto a motorbike (powered by a hairdryer motor) and call it a taxi ride, and I discovered that even when you’re surrounded by people who don’t speak the same language, Rod Stewart and Simon & Garfunkel become your best communication tools.

I’m dying to tell you more, but for now, I’m adjusting. I’m trying to fit back into my own life after living in another one for a while.

thailand travel hill tribe

Receiving a buddhist blessing from a hill tribe welcome ceremony (complete with local shaman).

I’ve lived in other countries and have travelled quite a bit (though, may I add, not enough – never enough!), so you’d think I’d be used to this bittersweet tug that I always experience after travel. But, it seems, I’m not – and it never gets easier!

Perhaps it’s my father’s Romany roots, or my love of stories that makes me crave different experiences? I don’t know. But I do know it’s not a bad thing – and I also know that it passes. Fades, is probably a better description. It never really leaves. I think my lovely friend, (and incredible writer) Kirstin Zhang, is the one person I know who would truly understand…

Please note: this is not a complaint. You only have to read my Twitter feed or blog posts to know how much I love this place. It’s great to be home. We’ve had the warmest of welcomes – from our friends, neighbours, the local community, and of course, our cats and Franklyn (who fell over with excitement).

There are some exciting changes and opportunities on the horizon, and stories to be shared about our recent adventure (I’ll blog about Thailand over the next few weeks). But, one step at a time…

For now, I’d simply like to say hello, I’m back… And how are you?

A short farewell…I’ll be back!

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west cork writer

Gonna miss the sea dog (not so much the barking at seagulls or fish we’ve caught, but hey, he’s cute!)

I’ve been mad busy these past few weeks as I’ve been completing my YA book as well as finishing up my last days in the bookshop, tying up all my freelance work and making sure the last module of my Inkwell Blogging and Beyond course was delivered to my current (brilliant) pupil (you know who you are).

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve delivered my YA manuscript to my wonderful agent, all the bits and pieces are wrapped up and I’m about to shut down. It’s meant lots of long hours and neglecting the blog – sorry guys and gals – but it has all been worth it and I’m looking forward to the exciting changes that lie ahead.

Now for the bad news… I’m going to have to neglect you for a little bit longer because I’m heading off to Thailand with my husband for SIX WEEKS!!!

Yes, I feel lucky – but I also feel so ready for this break, I can tell you. It’s been a long time coming. The last long haul flight we took was almost three years ago when we went to Australia to get married. and for me, there’s nothing like a long haul flight to make you feel grounded.

Lately, I’ve been getting a few neck and shoulder problems because of all the typing – my freelancing requires prolonged time at the computer as well as my writing – and I’m looking forward to stepping away from the computer and getting some time to be in the moment and breathe.

And when I get back I’m going to try some preventative measures with fellow West Cork writer Louise O’Neill that include yoga, talking books & just hanging out. I’ve decided I need more of that in my life.

There are lots of exciting things on the horizon that I can’t wait to share – including a week working with rescued elephants just outside of Chang Mai (in a few weeks time), and a future trip to Cambodia with the Singing Kites charity where I’ll be spending some time teaching and some time writing.

But for now, I just want to say goodbye to my dog before he goes to the kennels and get a bit of sleep. Six weeks will fly and if I can resist dipping into social media when I’m away (which I very much doubt), I’ll be back to the blog within a week of my return.

So in my absence, take care, have fun and make sure you make time to relax. See you in a few weeks. Happy writing!

Are you Custer or Crazy Horse?

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Green fingered writer

What’s his secret?

I’ve recently been watching a series of documentaries on the Wild West. I don’t have TV but I’ll watch pretty much any documentary on DVD. This particular series is one that my husband taped on video – I’m showing my age here but, remember those days? Trying to pause the recording before the adverts came on, and then start it up again without missing anything? How you couldn’t switch channels as otherwise the recording would switch too? Ha! Alien concepts in this day and age. Anyway, I digress…

These documentaries are brilliantly done. Well researched and lots of original footage, from photos to letter to diary entries to film – and the reportage is really balanced. Apart from the on-screen wobbles, you wouldn’t think my husband recorded these 14 years ago and we’ve only just had them converted to modern technology!

Why am I telling you all this? Basically, because of a point that was highlighted in Episode 3 that set me thinking. An historian pointed out that the main difference between Crazy Horse and general Custer was that Crazy Horse already thought he had the perfect life; he was in a state of being and wanted to be allowed to continue. On the other hand, Custer was in a perpetual state of trying to improve – he lived in a permanent state of becoming.

I think this Custer reference is a great description for artists and writers. As far as I’m aware, the creative mind constantly demands improvement and change, so there’s always movement. This movement is as unpredictable and unruly as the rolling seas, but it creates the driving force behind old ideas in fresh voices, adds the necessary passion and magic that takes something good and makes it incredible.

But is there another way to be? A less frantic and unsettling approach? My husband is definitely a Crazy Horse – he approaches life in a calm and steady manner, and has more energy and staying power than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s an incredibly creative and talented singer/songwriter, but isn’t driven to the peaks and troughs of emotion that charge in unannounced to my days. Instead, he meanders his way and eventually gets there.

We’ve discussed this and he seems to think it’s the length of the work involved and the fact that when you perform, you get an instant response from the crowd – hopefully a positive one. Although singer/songwriters suffer from nerves and stage fright, the catharsis comes much quicker. Writers, on the other hand, spend long periods of time in solitude and the work requires more input, a different approach. And there’s no guarantee anyone will actually read what you write.

So is this the key to being Custer, or does it just come down to personality? What do you think?

As writers, can we ever mirror Crazy Horse and just be? 

Think you know enough? Think again.

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Arvon, Totleigh Barton

Totleigh Barton, almost 1000 years old

As writers, we need to be confident about our abilities and we have to be dedicated. In the early stages, there’s usually a certain amount of arrogance in play, but I think that’s a necessity if you want a writing career. Otherwise, how else would you start?

The initial focus tends to be on publication and typically you hammer out lots of work, usually way before it’s ready, and the badge of honour rejection slips start rolling in. It’s not what you expected and it’s not particularly nice, but that’s when you begin to look at your work differently.

There may be some writers out there that were immediately brilliant, but I’d say they’re definitely a minority. There may also be some who skipped the first embarrassing step mentioned above – if so, I wish I was one of them. But generally, you need to work towards this next phase, when you start to concentrate on the quality, rather than the quantity, of your writing.

Arvon garden

Need a bit of space? Just one of the quirky places for you to relax and write.

You get some things published, or secure an agent, and you expect to nail a publishing deal. But you don’t. You get some positive responses and you keep going despite the odds, pleased with your progress so far but always wondering – when will it be my turn?

Sound familiar?

This is a conversation I’ve had with plenty of writers of late. And I’ve realised that this is a difficult stage, when there’s a danger of falling into the trap of believing you know enough – or at least enough to write well – and all you need is to keep going. And going. Until you find the magic that unlocks your plot/voice/character/*insert troublesome issue here*.

Dedication and determination are certainly necessary – they’re key ingredients for success in any field – but I think there’s more to consider. I believe as writers we should be constantly open to improvement, and part of that improvement is reading, listening to and getting advice from the authors you admire and aspire to emulate. as well as talking to people who are at the same level.

I recently attended a residential Arvon writing course at Totleigh Barton, a rural  retreat near the tiny village of Sheepwash in Devon. Surrounded by farmland and stunning walks, the property is a mishmash of manor house, home, country garden and meadow. Your room is perfectly furnished – think small and contained, with enticing desks and no distractions – and the absence of Wi-Fi and phone reception adds to immediate feeling that everything is designed to make your stay comfortable yet productive.

In short, it’s a writer’s dream.

I’d read a few reviews before I arrived and expected the week to be great, but nothing could have prepared me for how great. (Isn’t it good to know that despite the fact we can look everything up online, you can still find magic?) This week was singularly the most useful investment I’ve made towards my writing and I would encourage any writer to give it a try.

Encapsulating the overall experience is really difficult. It feels almost impossible to put into words. And yet, the impact it has had on my writing is so great, I feel it would be a disservice not to, so I’ll give it a go…

Arvon, Devon

Where lots of the magic happens – eating, writing, workshops… sneaky midnight feasts

Imagine a week’s full board stay in a house that’s almost one thousand years old, in the company of 15 other people who are all as passionate about and committed to writing as you.

Now, take that image and add two truly incredible writers – in this instance, Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess – with each willing to spend their week sharing their knowledge and experience in both group and one-to-one settings.

And for good measure, throw in a visit from Meg Rosoff.

Can you picture it? If so, you’re starting to get an idea of what to expect from an Arvon course.

The description above is certainly impressive, but it’s not the name-dropping that stays with you, (though of course, you can’t help it) it’s the relationships you build and the light bulbs that go off as the week progresses.

Malorie and Melvin were warm, funny, approachable and friendly throughout, and their completely different styles provided the perfect environment for us to learn and improve. The workshops and tutorials were seamless, each complementing the last and adding another layer to our ideas of how to write and how to write well.

Rural Arvon course

There are plenty of beautiful walks to help you digest all that excellent advice (and the wonderful food)

The standard of the group was really high and it was amazing meeting all these new people – each with completely different backgrounds, experiences and stories to tell – under the common denominator of writing for children and young adults. You cook, write, walk, chat, eat, and drink together. You share your work and your worries, your successes and your hopes and the camaraderie builds.

Out of this grows a real sense of team spirit, which counteracts all those lonely hours of typing, and somehow verifies what you do and why you do it, without a contract or rejection letter in sight.

I could impart some of the knowledge shared by Malorie and Melvin, but I don’t think it would be fair because I wouldn’t do it justice. You need to hear it direct from them, because they’re the ones successfully living and breathing life into books day in and day out. They’re the ones that will inspire new generations of writers, just like they’ve inspired several new generations of readers.

Totleigh Barton and the wonderful people I met there reminded me why I’m doing this. I really did experience some hallelujah moments when certain aspects fell into place (thank you, Malorie and Melvin), but even more importantly, I fell completely in love with writing all over again when I didn’t even realise I needed to.

And that’s something that just going and going will never do.

(For more detail, you can read a really good, in-depth review of the week here, written by fellow attendee and writer, Sarah Ann Juckes)

Thanks Arts Council – I’m off to Arvon!

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west cork writer

These guys are cute, but should come with a warning sign: May Cause Distraction (Look how tiny Franklyn was when we got him!!!)

I’m feeling incredibly lucky right now because I’m heading off to Totleigh Barton on Monday for a week to learn more about the craft with some of the best Young Adult writers alive – Malorie Blackman, Melvon Burgess and Meg Rosoff.

I’ve been desperate to go on an Arvon course ever since I heard about them several years ago, and I can’t believe it’s finally happening.

It’s come at just the right time too; I have some tricky final edits I’m trying to get my head around and workshops with fellow YA writers, peppered with bouts of solitude for writing, is exactly what I need to get stuck in and kick things into shape.

There’s no internet and the setting is rural, so no distractions and no excuses. This means I won’t be blogging for the next two weeks – but don’t worry, I’ll report back on my return and let you know how it went and whether it’s something I’d recommend.

Before I say ‘bye for a while’, I’d like to give a big shout out to the Arts Council who generously gave me a small travel and training bursary – they really have helped to make this possible!

I nmy absence, happy writing all!

Looking for writing advice? (Part 2)

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apostrophe-manFor part two of ‘Looking for writing advice?’, I’ve scoured a few of my favourite online resources for further information, inspiration and encouragement. Here goes…

There are lots of places to look for writing competitions, submissions and events, but if you sign up to Paul McVeigh’s blog and Emerging Writer by Kate Dempsey, then you’ll find you’ve got more time for writing as they do the hard work for you. Both of these blogs are an excellent resource and I recommend you sign up right away.

For those of you writing novels – whether you’re starting out or are trying to improve – have a look at Sinead Gleeson’s brilliant Would You Like To Write a Book? series of articles in The Irish Times. And if you fancy some podcasts, then you can also listen to Sinead’s The Book Show over on RTE Player.

Author blogs definitely worth reading include Libran Writer by Lia Mills and Women Rule Writer by Nuala Ni Chonchuir. For all things crime, you have Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays and for all things amazing, Neil Gaiman’s Journal. The list goes on but who could resist reading updates from the amazingly talented Oliver Jeffers? I’m not sure that one’s technically a blog but hey, it’s Oliver Jeffers, so who cares?

For a variety of information on all things writerly, try Tania Writes by Tania Hershman because she’s brilliant (you’ll also find an excellent Irish & UK lit mags list on there). There’s a great blog written by author, Susan Lanigan, and a perfect example of what you’ll find there is this post:  I Am Good Enough, And So Are You. And Clockwatching by SJO’Hart is a rather wonderful (and rather prolific blog) that is the home of everything from book reviews to flash fiction, writing advice to editing services. Her post, How I Got My Agent, is a great place to start.

I know there are many more writing blogs out there worth a mention but I don’t want to overload you; these are just a few of my favourites and I hope they prove as helpful and interesting to you as they have for me. If you have any blogs you’d like to highlight and recommend to others, please add them in the comments below. If there are lots, I’ll add them into another post so they’re not missed.

So – who have I missed that you would recommend?