What does it feel like to get published?

Book of Learning launch

Cheesy grin award goes to me as Sarah Webb launches The Book of Learning

Being a debut author is incredible. If you write, there’s nothing quite like seeing your book on the shelves, or (even better) in someone’s hands as they sit, engrossed in your story. My book has been on the shelves for just two weeks now, and it’s been crazy busy, but oh so exciting. On occasion, I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s real.

Since being published, people have asked me if things have changed. In some ways, yes, they most certainly have. For instance, I now have a physical book and so I can do things like attend the Tyrone Guthrie centre to write, and I can facilitate school and library events and take part in conferences as a speaker. I finally feel validated as a writer, and in my own heart and mind I know that all the hard work was worth it.

But I’m only human and in some ways, no, things haven’t changed. Old fears have simply been replaced by news ones – like, what if people don’t like the book? What if I struggle writing book two? What if no one comes to my launch and I have to read to myself in a mirror (this was an actual recurring dream)? Etc. Etc.

These are just niggles, and the good stuff outweighs the wobbles BY FAR, but the niggles are still there, and I think it’s important to say this because there’s bound to be people out there creating a book, an album, a work of art – people that are feeling this way too. We’re a society intent on achievement, on success, and we’re driven by results. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but there’s one major lesson that writing with the aim to get published has taught me… and that’s to enjoy the journey.

the book of learning australia

That weird moment when your book starts travelling more than you! (This is Melbourne)

So, what do the first two weeks of being a published author feel like? For me, it’s been the best experience ever, because everyone – friends, family, fellow writers, readers – has been so supportive and so kind, it’s truly humbling. But when I say it’s been hectic, I mean hectic – just how I like it, but a bit of a shock to the system!

As well as my next two books to deliver by November (different books, different genres, different publishers), and my freelancing work, there have been two launches to organise and a heap of publicity to get through, including an online book tour that continues through to December. I’ve been doing radio and newspaper interviews, and I’ve got quite a few library and school visits on the horizon. You can read the exciting list of upcoming events here.

Recently, I was at the incredible Children’s Books Ireland conference as an attendee, and as a speaker in their New Voices event. This involved reading to an audience of children’s book lovers (librarians, teachers, readers, writers, booksellers) in an incredibly supportive and warm environment. I also got to listen to some incredible speakers and immerse myself in children’s books for a whole weekend. *Sigh*

Writing is a solitary career, so I can understand why many writers shy away from this side of things, but to be honest, I love it – and I can’t wait for more! And yet, there will always be small worries and fears. But I think it’s possible to celebrate this huge achievement, to remain fizzing with happiness, confidence, and energy, and embrace the fears. They have a rightful place; it’s all part of the rollercoaster of being a writer or doing anything creative. And if we don’t have fears, how will we challenge ourselves, improve and grow?

I say, take the rough with the smooth. Accept the fears and keep going. And above all, enjoy the journey. I know I am.

It’s a Dog’s Life: Paul Howard on Triggs

Triggs_coverAs his new book launched, Paul Howard attended Writers’ Week in Listowel to treat audiences to a reading of Triggs: The Autobiography. Written from the perspective of Roy Keane’s infamous and much-loved pooch, this is no ordinary football biography. A highly entertaining and original look at one of football’s biggest legends, particularly during the turmoil-filled post-Saipan days, Triggs is certainly in a league of its own and set to become a bestseller.

From the outset, it was clear that Paul Howard’s reading was an event to be savoured and enjoyed. Paul kicked off (excuse the pun) with a reading from the opening of Triggs – the Autobiography. Cue Roy Keane’s dog discoursing on death’s imminence, contemplating how ‘time is as generous as a drunken uncle when we’re young’, thanks to a wrong headline in The Sun that states Triggs is dead…

Paul told a packed house, “Triggs was published yesterday and this is my first time reading any of this in public; thankfully I heard some chuckles so it means that there are some laughs!”

Original, hilarious and at times bizarre, where did this work of genius come from? In Paul’s own words, “the idea came to me in 2002 when Triggs first leapt into my consciousness, and that of others as well, during the world cup. I was in Saipan, Japan, spending a huge amount of time looking at footage of Ireland’s best player walking his Labrador down a laneway. Triggs absolutely fascinated me and during long boring nights in the hotel, I started writing conversations between Roy and his dog…I wondered what would they say…? I had this idea that Roy would come home and vent and Triggs would look at Roy with big eyes, pleading Roy, get the lead; let’s go!”

To pull this book off, to create a work that requires the reader to adopt suspension of belief as well as factual recall, is a huge feat. And the factual element is the key underlying strength of the novel.

“Central to the book is the relationship between Roy Keane and Mick McCarthy. So much of that relationship was confusing, I thought it would be best to write about it from a dog’s perspective; it seemed all macho and territorial. I thought it was probably something a dog would understand better than us.”

The success also lies in the amazingly funny characterisation of Triggs – an observant, opinionated dog with attitude – but how did that come about?

Paul revealed, “My imagined version of Triggs knew a lot about football too, so I was interested in writing Triggs as a metaphor for Roy’s genius. Triggs’ death was originally reported in September 2010, 18 months earlier than it actually happened, so I thought it would be an interesting starting point and the perfect chance for the dog to tell her own story. Of course, it’s a fictionalised dramatisation of events, with much of it based on real occurrences.”

Will there be more books?

“I don’t know if there would be anything similar…I only ever thought of Triggs as a single book. Triggs was an iconic animal. When her death was reported for real a few weeks ago, it made all the headlines. I think the reason was, that time after Saipan, the country lost perception of what had actually happened; it was all about the fighting. Triggs was an amazing player in the story; when Roy Keane was besieged by the paparazzi and he was out walking the dog, it was an act of defiance. Triggs seemed the only player that seemed like she didn’t care that Roy Keane wasn’t going to play in the World Cup. I loved the clichés footballers and sport reportage used – wouldn’t it be funny if footballers really did talk like that! But there’s definitely only this book about Triggs.”

And what does Roy Keane think about the book?

“I don’t know; it never really crossed my mind to call him and tell him I was doing it. It’s a satirical book and if you let people in on that, it’s no longer satire. I didn’t want to be in the situation where people look and say – you can’t say that. But Roy has a great self-deprecating sense of humour, dark sense of humour, which people don’t get to see enough.  I aimed at a warm, forgiving portrait of Roy.”

If you’ve read Triggs: An Autobigraphy, I’m sure you’ll agree that Paul Howard accomplished his aim. If you’ve not yet read the book, I’d highly recommend it. Even if you’re not a major football fan, the comedic writing and unusual voice makes it a compelling read.

(Please note: This was originally written for the Writers Week festival blog and also posted on Writing.ie)

Treasure Maps and Trowels: X Marks the Spot

Twenty-Fifth of the Fifth, 2010. Our iconic day.

It went something like this… Clamber into the punt, whizz around West Cork’s beautiful Goat Island and whistle for the goats, get up close to some wild seals, watch the gannets dive, circle Long Island and stop to catch a mackerel. Head to Long Island pier, visit one of the Islanders for tea and get given a cabbage three times the size of my head. Carry the cabbage the length of the island to Westerland strand, rescue some stranded jellyfish and barbecue the mackerel. The End.

Long Island Pier

Or so we thought…

The next day, I headed back to Dublin and my friend Mick (now my husband) stayed in West Cork. Unknown to us, that legendary day was just the beginning and Long Island was about to become more special to us than we’d ever hoped.

In the early 1900’s, Long Island had a population of at least two hundred. But, like the corn crake, the numbers dwindled, and by the 1980’s, the population had depleted to about thirty. Mick remembers the ferry carting several children across Long Island Sound every morning for school. He talks of the days when the cattle were swum across to the mainland for market, of the time the island got its first donkey.

Those days are long gone; now there are no children on the island, the cattle don’t swim, and only three people inhabit the island year-round. But like the corn crake, the spirit of the island prevails through stories old and new.

The lady on the island that we visit is a legend; in her eightieth year, she still carries hay bales and digs up cabbages three times the size of your head, like the one she gave me during our visit. It’s characters like her – and my husband – that maintain the island’s spirit. Stories about a place keep it alive; and hopefully our own story will add to that.

Long Island Sound

One year after our first boat trip together on 25th May 2010, we decided to recreate our symbolic day, but the terrible weather and wild seas prevented any boat trips until June 11th.

As I got ready to go, Mick turned up with a huge bag, stuffed to the brim with goodness knows what and with several sticks poking out of the top. He never ceases to amaze me so I expected an ad-hoc camping trip or a quickly assembled home-made barbecue – what I wasn’t expecting was for us to reach a certain spot on the island, and for him to ditch me…

“Wait here and I’ll come back in a few minutes,” he said.

Luckily, being a writer, I always have a notebook to hand; and once I start concentrating, I don’t notice the time. Which was a good job seeing as he didn’t return for an hour and a half! Reappearing he handed me a rusty trowel (of all things) and pointed to Westerland Strand.

“Go on, get digging!”

That’s when I noticed huge arrows drawn on the sand. Clambering over rocks and around driftwood, I found a bottle sticking out of some pebbles. In it, was a hand-drawn treasure map which I began to follow. I’m terrible with directions so he stayed close behind, calling “you’re going the wrong way” at optimum times. After a while, I found a stick poking out of the sand and – as the map directed – started digging. Buried twelve inches down was a bottle containing a letter; the label said: ‘Don’t read me yet’.

Over the course of the next hour, I found two more sticks leading to two more bottles. After the third bottle was retrieved, I was finally allowed to sit and read the beautifully written letter inside the first bottle (I later found out that it had taken a month to write). Like any perfect love letter, it said many touching things about me, our relationship and our trips to Long Island. It finished with: P.S. One more thing… X marks the spot!

Long Island

Having no navigational ability, and my guide having disappeared from view, it took a while for me to locate the giant X, realising as I did that that was what the sticks poking out of the bag were for!

As for the treasure hunt, I was still none the wiser. You see, this man is a rogue and I always fall for his tricks. I was sure he had me digging for a potato!  But it was a good game so I played along.

After another ten minutes of digging with a rusty trowel, without any potatoes in sight, I needed some help.

“I can’t find anything,” I called out, hoping the words would reach.

“Dig deeper,” came the reply from behind a boulder.

Wondering why my partner was cowering behind a giant rock, I continued my quest. Still no potato.

“I can’t find it.”

Wedding clothes & jacaranda tree

Mick’s head peeped out for an instant, then disappeared again:“Dig wider.”

Almost half a metre down, my face red from the effort, I found a small box. Inside, it held some tiny shells and a note: ‘Will you marry me?’

As I ran to my future husband, my face collided with a fistful of roots, covered in sand. As he’d heard me running over, he’d reached out and grabbed a bunch of sea pinks. Wrestling sand out of my contact lenses, he apologised;

“I forgot to get flowers! I can’t believe I didn’t make the effort.”

The effort was certainly above and beyond anything I could have ever expected. We got married under a jacaranda tree in Australia six months later. No sand, no trowels; but I did push him around in a wheelbarrow.

The rest is history. Long Island history.

(This autobiographical story was originally posted on Writing.ie in Monday Miscellany)