Run for Plan to end child marriage

A Call to End Child Marriage

You may remember that I did a Because I am a Girl blog recently, for Plan Ireland; well today I received an email about their latest campaign (which included the shocking image I’ve added below), and I wanted to share this with you.

Plan Ireland is putting together a team for the Women’s Mini-marathon on 1st June. The team is running to “end child marriage.” Every day, 41,000 girls are married as child brides. Girls just like Sumnina (5) below from Nepal.

Run for Plan to end child marriage

Girls who are forced into early marriage miss out on education, are more prone to poverty and suffer complications during childbirth. Any proceeds raised will contribute towards Plan’s projects which aim to halt the global problem of child marriage.

Should you be interested you can visit www.plan.ie/minimarathon

Brain splurge & a burning question…

It’s been quiet on the blogging front because it’s been hectic – so apologies to all.

Schull, West Cork

View from near my home

It ended up easier than I expected to adjust to the cold weather in Ireland after my Cambodia trip; partly because my husband is a great hunter gatherer and has us stockpiled with fuel for this winter and next, but also because – despite the constant hail stone – there have been plenty of blue skies. And everything feels easier when there’s a blue sky.

So, what have I been up to? Actually, quite a bit. In the last two weeks, I’ve completed and delivered the final edits of The Book of Learning (Nine Lives Trilogy Book 1), so next time I see it, it’ll be a proof copy (which means it’s almost a real book).

There’s been plenty of excitement while my cover was being designed – and bang! Now I have a cover! I absolutely love everything about it, and I’ll let you see it as soon as I can, I promise.

I’ve also been accepted on a three-week writers retreat in France later in the year, invited to participate in an exciting new Cork publication (more details to follow) and invited to speak on a panel in Cork on April 25th (again, more info later).

And, breathe…

When it comes to writing books, there’s no rest for the wicked. When you get signed up for a trilogy, there’s lots of work involved in kicking the first book into shape and then…you have to write Book 2! Aargh! Well, I’m happy to report, the day after Book 1 was delivered, I had a rest, then I glued my butt to the chair and started on Book 2.

Three days in and 8000 words have magically appeared on the page – and I’m delighted, because I was starting to get a little scared.

I always write my first drafts completely free form (I think Niamh Boyce uses this approach too, amongst others). Any planning kills the excitement for me and anyway, it’s the only time you get to play before the editing begins. I enjoy editing, but I like the freedom of the first draft. It’s exhilarating and I look forward to the exploration, watching the ideas form a story.

As everyone knows, writing doesn’t pay the bills, so the work front – I don’t include writing as work – has been hectic too. As well as my usual freelancing gigs, I’ve taken on more Reader Reports for the Inkwell Group, as well as Blogging and Beyond courses. I love both of these roles.

Editing or commenting on someone else’s work is useful for your own; it helps you to focus as you write, naturally avoiding mistakes you would make earlier in your career. And as we all need the support of other writers as we stumble our way along, it’s great to know you’re also helping by providing some support in return.

It’s also rewarding to watch people pick up on social media learn to love it, and then make it work for them. Blogging has opened many doors for me, and I hope it does the same for my students.

green fingered writer

The obligatory dog photo

But you’ll be pleased to know, it hasn’t all been work. We’ve managed to get our potatoes in the ground now – the ridges were waiting for ages but it was too wet – and I’ve been clearing other vegetable beds. In the hailstone. Which was pretty refreshing, actually.

There have been endless dog walks and library visits, and I’ve been watching a plethora of westerns (I love westerns) as well as enjoying some fantastic reads/rereads…

I was completely surprised by The Miniaturist and I’ve loved reconnecting with The General in the Piers Torday trilogy. And if, like me (and Barbara Scully, it seems) you’re obsessed with Antarctica, I’d highly recommend Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis.

The online world has been lots of fun lately too, with an incredible buzz and energy around the #YAie & MiddleGradeStrikeBack chats on twitter. There’s a thriving community of writers for children and Young Adults here, and it feels like there’s change – and plenty of excitement – in the air. I feel so pleased to be a part of it, and can’t wait to see how things develop. The World Book Day TeenFest tonight looks interesting – see you there?

And so, now I’ve finally managed to get the blog updated with a brain splurge of drivel that won’t matter to anyone but me, I’d better get back to it.

But I’ll leave you with my burning question…

Hands up, who loves westerns? 🙂

thailand butterfly

Thailand wildlife: Scorpion Spiders, Bubble Crabs & Unexpected Visitors

thailand butterfly

Just one of the many beautiful butterflies

We’ve already established that when I’m travelling, food and local experiences like public transport and getting lost are part of the experience, but one of the main attractions is always the wildlife. As we travelled quite a bit within Thailand, we got to see plenty of wild creatures, starting with an unexpected sighting, on our first day in Bangkok, of a giant head sticking out of one of the canals.

We weren’t expecting to see much wildlife in the capital, but we could see this head quite clearly from the flyover we were stood on – and we were only stood there because we’d managed to get completely lost and were trying to figure out where we’d come from and how to get back there!

Our best guess was a giant rat, and we thought no more of it until the following day when we decided to have a breakfast picnic in Lumphini park and came across several giant swimming lizards. We soon discovered that these beasts are everywhere – and that while the monks feed them, many youngsters around the slum areas find sport in trying to kill them. But no one goes so far as to eat them (unlike the giant bugs that are attracted by lantern light and, therefore, are easy to hunt).

Our first real wildlife experience was a trip out to Khao Yai National Park, staying at Greenleaf Guesthouse (which I highly recommend) for a few days. The tours – which we usually avoid, but here they are necessary if you don’t have a car – were excellent because the guys knew exactly where to bring you to find the various creatures including gibbons, lizards, scorpion spiders, tarantulas, tree snakes, kingfishers, and giant centipedes which we took turns to hold.

We learned lots about the creatures, their habitats, their behaviour, and of course, got to take lots of photos of the creatures as well as the stunning scenery – but nothing can beat the memory of the gibbon families staking their territory with loud calls in the early morning.

In Khao Yai, we got to walk off the usual trails into the National Park, and saw all manner of strange insects, butterflies and bugs – some beautiful, like luminous blue crickets, and some to be avoided.

This is one of the few places to see wild elephants in Thailand; we weren’t that lucky, despite plenty of rigorous searching, but the following day’s group saw a herd of about fifteen. Note: the leech songs get itchy with grass seeds, but do wear them, even though you do get adept at flicking leeches off your leg quite quickly. You can actually see the leeches coming for you if you stop, so you can also try stepping out of the way. .

thailand butterflies

Another butterfly – with a ribbon-like tail. We also saw a fish that looked similar when we were snorkelling!

Another highlight was getting to see the pink dolphins in Khanom. We’d made the trip there especially for this reason, and I did a weird ‘judder dance’ the day I was on the beach and saw a pink dolphin passing in the ocean. Ridiculously excited, we booked a boat trip with a local guide, and we were really lucky; the weather was incredible (it was rainy season), the sea flat calm, and we saw around twenty pink dolphins.

We were also lucky because our guide refused to feed the dolphins to encourage them to come closer, because this alters their behaviour in the wild. Throwing fish to dolphins encourages them to trust boats – and as fishing is a massive industry here, this is not a good idea. In case you were wondering, all the babies are grey, because the pink colour is due to skin pigmentation, and the dolphins turn pinker as they get older. We didn’t get any photos because they moved too fast – but sometimes I think trying to get photos spoils the experience anyway.

Throughout Thailand we saw an array of gorgeous butterflies, so bright and beautiful they took your breath away. They were always easy to spot in garden and wooded areas, and the way they glided was incredible to see. But if you want to find butterflies in the cities or towns, have a look around any areas with bins – they like sweet foods, and that’s where they’re guaranteed an endless source.

We also saw some gorgeous, brightly plumed pheasants, a variety of squirrels that could traverse the electricity cables of Chiang Mai as easily as they could leap from tree to tree in Chumpon, and some magpie-type birds that glowed blue instead of white. The geckos and praying mantis were a never-ending source of amusement, and then there was the joy of the bubble crabs that created intricate patterns on the sand every morning and afternoon.

thailand snakes

The snake that kept trying to get in!

As for unexpected visitors, we regularly had a frog appear in the bathroom for a night’s kip, and there was a rather determined snake in Suphan Buri that seemed to want to inhabit our room (but thankfully failed each time). There was a similar incident in Koh Yao Noi, come to think of it; every morning, there would be a generous section of snakeskin somewhere in the room – on the bathroom shelf, on the mosquito net – so there was definitely an inquisitive fellow around somewhere.

The island of Koh Yao Noi in the south of Thailand held plenty of unexpected surprises; the hornbills were beautiful, and a pair visited a tree opposite our breakfast table every day. I was amazed that they were so graceful in flight because I expected them to be clumsy like the heron birds that frequent our Irish shores.

There were also lots of mangroves to visit, as well as a fruit bat colony hidden in a giant tree in the middle of a lagoon, and live sand dollars. I’ve only ever seen dead sand dollars before – as beautiful as they are – but to see them live, their purple bodies travelling along the surface of the shoreline, was incredible.

If you are a wildlife lover, then Thailand is a great destination. But make sure you don’t fall foul of the elephant rides or monkey schools (I don’t believe for one minute the claims that they’re chained all day and let free at night), the tiger temples, or even the seemingly harmless dolphin feeding – wildlife should be respected and kept wild, and my next and final post on Thailand will hopefully emphasise that idea further.

And, we’re back!

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?

Recycle your rejected short stories

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

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.

*

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.

July in Photos: Cape Clear, Sea Trips and Spooky Walks

Out fishing: noisy visitors…

…and a hitchhiker!

Shooting shrimp pots (we got a haul big enough for three meals)

Lots of chillis on their way

Amazing Inshore Rescue training new volunteers

The first batch of blackcurrant jam

Runner beans doing well

Cape Clear lighthouse in the mist (I’m only a few metres away)

Wild walking ‘paths’, Cape Clear

Heading to the cliff walk in the mist (Cape Clear)

A haunting house – I love the way the tree mimics the roof

Garden roses in bloom

Another spooky walk…

Our first gherkin! (pickling season starts soon)

2012 so far…

Rural living is amazing. But it’s also random. It needs a lot of organisation, a nonchalant attitude towards the weather and often, plenty of hard work. But – combined with writing, it’s my haven. And here’s some photos from my year so far to prove it!

Planning our mini veg garden

Making sure there's fuel

Dressing up as a soldier (Edinburgh)

Writing in the painted hall (Greenwich)

Pickling the last of 2011's beetroot crop

Digging the tiny veg plots

Writing in fields (Guisborough)

Making my husband upside-down

I was going to do these posts on a 3-monthly basis but – it seems there’s so much going on, I could make it a monthly thing. Or even weekly.

What do you think? Would you like to see more? And how often?

She finally did it…

Taken on a local walk

Welcome to my new blog; a quiet place for me to reflect on my life as a writer.

As you probably know; I gave up a corporate lifestyle to concentrate on my writing. To do this, I’ve taken a few steps that probably most people would like to take, but haven’t yet had the opportunity. I’m one of the lucky ones.

  1. I’ve moved to the countryside for as much fresh sea air as possible
  2. I’ve become self sufficient – this means growing vegetables, fishing, making stuff.
  3. I started my own social media business – this means I get to hang out at literary festivals and call it work.

In short, I’m having a generally great time, with a few bumps along the way. Pop back from time to time, and you’ll see what I mean…