Book Battles, Writing Projects and Moving Forward!

I feel that I’m always starting my blog posts with apologies recently – for the gaps between/infrequency – but I’ve decided to stop doing that because, hey, aren’t we all only human? And here’s the truth; it’s been crazy busy all year and I’ve had little spare time and during the spare time I’ve managed to eek out, I’ve been trying to stay offline.

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Why? Because as much as I love my friends, readers, fellow writers, and tribe online, I also love my sanity and it’s far too easy to stay connected. And when you juggle multiple projects/jobs and don’t take days off and the weeks/months begin to merge so you’re chained to your diary (otherwise you have no idea what’s coming next), being chained to the internet also becomes increasingly unhealthy.

So what have I been up to? Well, events galore for a start. And writing. And freelance work. And walking in the wild.

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Writing wise, my last book The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 was published in February, and I’m delighted with the reception it’s received. I’m currently working on two novels – one for children and one for an adult readership – and they’re moving along at a pace that’s slower than I’d like but then that’s always the case.

I’ve also been writing personal essays, short stories, and flash, with pieces published in HCE Review, Autonomy, Ropes, and Headstuff, among others. It’s been so enjoyable picking away at smaller pieces while trying to keep up the marathon sprint of novel writing. There have been some collaborations started too, but they’re secret for now… 

But, if you have a bit of time, you can read In The Company of Dreams on Headstuff and The Parting in HCE Review (Volume II Issue III).

As for events, since being published in 2015, I’ve now facilitated over 600 events in school and libraries and festivals, and I’ve loved every single one…

From events in special needs schools (there’ll be more of that in 2019) to Things That Go Bump in The Night interactive storytelling events in theatres with Caroline Busher, from this year’s Battle of the Book reading initiative (via Fingal Libraries) with Alan Early, to European READ ON writer-in-residence initiatives through Cork County Libraries (Dunmanway 2018, moving to Skibbereen in 2019), it’s been a blast.

But there’s lots of travel in-between and as you can imagine there’s as much preparation as there is facilitation and it all takes time. To give you an idea of what’s involved, I’ve added photos throughout this post that show some of the fun!

I’ve also been busy with freelance work wearing various hats, including Big Smoke Writing Factory mentoring, reader reports, and online workshops (shout me there if you want one!), Writing.ie social media, and then my usual poker writing. I also help writer friends with reader reports and edits, because they help me in return and the one thing you can’t get enough of as a writer, is good readers/editors. And then there’s the local school reading initiatives, chats with film companies and scripts writers, and writing to partner schools in the UK…

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Like I said, it’s been busy. And wonderful. And I feel really amazed by the opportunities that have come my way and the people of all ages that I’ve met and had the pleasure of working with. Long may it continue.

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But winter is here. And I’m slowing down. My brain is tired and my asthma is giving warning signs. So, I’m finally ready to listen.

I’m still writing and working, but it’s much more low key and at a slower pace.

It’s time for:

  • getting outside while light, exploring ground both new and familiar
  • lazy afternoons by the fire reading
  • chats with friends who’ve been waiting patiently to catch up for too long
  • live music and singsongs
  • writing at night with scented candles warming the air
  • short stories and poems before breakfast
  • craft fairs and Christmas markets
  • seaweed foraging and making marmalade
  • notebook observations on long walks

So, that’s where I’m at. What about you?

What have you been up to and how are you looking forward to spending your winter? 

 

 

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Staying Motivated: Writing Across Genres

IMG_4339I’ve always hated labels and I’ve always loved variety; moments in time, new experiences, the unexpected – that’s what makes me tick. Routine makes me feel like I’m trapped in a bog, struggling my way out. It doesn’t work for everyone, but change makes my soul soar.

And that’s why I write like I read – across a variety of age groups and genres, styles and lengths. Although I’ve been coined a children’s author (which, of course, I am!), it is actually only one part of what I do. I also write essays, short stories, story for radio and flash fiction – for both children and adults. Typically, however, when you write a work of longer fiction, i.e. a novel, the other stuff seems to pale in comparison. But if I had to label myself as something, then I think I’d identify with plain old ‘writer’.

BookofRevengecoverDon’t get me wrong; this is not in any way to belittle the fact that I write for children. Ask any children’s writer and they’ll tell you all about the time(s) they were asked the question – when are you going to write a proper book? It’s so common, the wonderful champion of children’s books and authors, Sarah Webb (who writes novels for both children and adults), even created an event for aspiring children’s writers with this as the very title.

So let me start by clarifying: children’s books are proper books, and for anyone rolling their eyes, answer this… How many people come to reading for pleasure as an adult? Not many. Children’s books are at the very core of reading and readers, whatever age you may be, and I cannot stress enough how important they are. How much I love writing them and proud I am to be part of that community. How much it makes my soul soar to be in front of a room of children enthusing over books.

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However, I also love writing other things. Lots of other things. Why? Because I enjoy the challenge. And also, projects and ideas come to me in different forms. Sometimes an idea might require a poem, other times the story might need flash fiction, and other times only an essay can shape the words I want to say. Some of these things will be published and some will not. But that doesn’t remove from the joy – writers write. That’s what we do.

And I’m certainly not alone. Some of the writers that I adore and admire that write across several age groups and/or genres include Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Nuala O’Connor, Roald Dahl Emma Donoghue, E.B White, Stephen King, Zadie Smith and Joyce Carol Oates.

So why do some writers feel the need to keep switching? I can’t speak for any of these prolific and talented writers, but I am pretty confident that every piece they write comes from the heart. You only need to focus on the quality to realise how much each publication meant to them. And remember, for every piece we see, there’ll be reams of stuff hidden in drawers, discarded, that didn’t quite make the grade.

Like I said, writers write. That’s what we do.

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For me, writing a book takes a long time and I have limited capacity for intense focus on a single work in progress – about four hours per day maximum. I find that writing shorter pieces alongside the novels helps to keep me motivated. Instead of taking a break when my concentration on a single piece is up, I switch to something else to keep those writing muscles in full flow. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to, in the last six months, I’ve had the following published:

There are a few more awaiting decisions, a few more binned for now, and more on their way, all at different stages, edging forward like racehorses until one needs to push ahead to the finish line.

arlenI don’t know why a piece nags at me, demanding to be written, and in a certain way. It’s all about the story is all I can really tell you. But I do know that each piece requires focus, time and dedication, and each carries a little of my soul.

Sometimes a short story can take as long as a novel, if not longer, as I often require more time between edits. I also know that every piece comes with its own challenges and frustrations and sense of achievement as the final words/edits fall into place. Each provides me, in its own (sometimes cruel or meandering) way, with joy.

 And so, if you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself, or you’ve fallen out of love with your current work in progress (it happens), or you feel like you’re banging your head off a brick wall (that frequently happens), then have you considered writing something fresh and new, in a different genre or style or for a different audience?

It might not work but what have you got to lose? I’d love to know how you get on. 

The Nine Lives Trilogy, Snowmageddon, Autonomy & other updates…

IMG_4383It’s been a while since I posted and I apologise, though I’m guessing that with the crazily long winter and weird weather, everyone else has been just as busy. Between snowmageddon destroying pipes and trashing our car (engine seized – write off!), my MacBook finally dying (meaning new computer, programmes, the lot!), and the double book launch of The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3, things have been hectic! So here’s a little update to get back on track…

I have a few articles/interviews/podcasts you might be interested in as part of The Book of Revenge blog tour…

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Usually I’d be posting my vegetable garden updates around this time, but there’ll be none of that until end of April as my garden is not in a happy place. Unfortunately, the crazy snow also made World Book Day on March 1st a complete wipeout. I managed to do the first 2018 Biggest Book Show on Earth event with some great #kidlit people (Derek Landy, David Doherty, Chris Judge, Sarah Moore-Fitzgerald, Ger Siggins) and a day of workshops in a very friendly and creative Educate Together school, but other than that, everything was cancelled. I really felt for the Ennis Book Club Festival team – a big cheer goes out to them for handling the situation so well, especially after all the effort it takes to put such a great programme together.

I ended up trapped in Dublin during the snow so I didn’t even get to wander the deserted country roads or throw snowballs with my dog. Luckily, I have great friends who were willing to put me up, give me books, and drive me to the station when transport finally opened. How lucky am I? Friends are everything. Truly. 

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Thankfully, I did manage to reschedule two fantastic WBD events in Hodges Figgis (celebrating 250 years in business in 2018!) and Dubray Books on Grafton St last week – so some of those pesky cancellations are back on track.

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And I’m delighted to announce that I have an essay published in the Autonomy anthology from New Binary Press, a women-led collection of stories, poems, memoirs, essays, articles, screenplays and more, exploring what it means to have bodily autonomy. Some of my favourite Irish writers have also contributed, including Claire Hennessy, Elaine Feeney and Sinead Gleeson, so do go take a look – my essay is on the taboo subject of being a woman who doesn’t want children. I can’t wait to read the other pieces as I know they’re all going to be full of heart – and what more to do we want from any read?

And so… what next? Broken stuff and weather troubles have meant I’m way behind in my writing. ‘Behind’ meaning I’ve done nothing for weeks. It’s frustrating, but sometimes, you just have to let go and make the best of the situation. I have my health and a great life, and I knew the mess was only temporary. Now everything has been fixed or replaced, I am looking forward to returning to my writing. And seeing as I’ve been invited to be a three-week Writer in Residence just outside Carcassonne, I have nothing to complain about AT ALL. More on that soon…

In the meantime, happy reading, happy writing x

 

Publication day: The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3

BookofRevengecoverIt’s official – publication day for The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is here! It’s a week earlier than I expected and the nerves have kicked in… let’s hope you all love Ebony Smart’s biggest adventure yet!

So, does publication day feel any different when it’s your fourth book? The answer is no! It’s just as exciting, nerve-wracking, strange, unbelievable, wild and bizarre as every other time. It’s also a whimper, rather than a bang, as all the build-up is towards the launch. But seeing people reading the book, pictures of it on shelves, in hands, on TBR piles is a crazy good feeling. So keep the pictures coming!

I haven’t even seen a copy yet, but hopefully they’ll arrive today! It’s such a great experience, holding your book in your hand for the first time. Until I do, it still feels like an unruly manuscript that has to be kicked into shape!

And so, here’s to the final piece of the Nine Lives Trilogy – off you go, out into the world, The Book of Revenge!

Playing Catch-Up: events, writer’s block & #amwriting

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind with my blog. So huge apologies to you all! It’s not that I’ve forgotten about you or the blog, it’s just that there have been lots of events to attend, proofs to complete, new freelance contracts to sign, 2018 festival pitches and other applications to complete, and new manuscripts to write. It all takes a lot of time, and when time gets tight, I reduce my online presence to keep everything ticking over as it should.

BookofRevengecoverThe good news is: The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is completed. The proofs are done, gone, (almost) a distant memory. The final book in the Nine Lives Trilogy did not manage to kill me (as I feared it might around February earlier this year) and I’m super excited to see it on the shelves in 2018. The Dublin launch will be February 15th – more details to follow but save the date!

And so, that means I’m now out of contract. It’s simultaneously exciting and nerve wracking – who knows what will happen in the future? But right now, I’m enjoying working on the second drafts of two new manuscripts. No deadlines or pressure, except whatever I impose upon myself. I’m keeping a steady pace – maybe not as fast as I’d like – but I’m making progress and am being kind to myself. After all, four books published in two and a half years is pretty tough going so I think slowing it down now will have a positive impact further down the line.

Around all the proofing and writing, I had a fabulous time last month travelling around Ireland’s libraries for the Children’s Book Festival, meeting lots of young readers and writers. The ideas, the questions – fabulous! Often, I was working alone, but I also did some events with Alan Early and Caroline Busher. I love doing events so much but when you do several a day with lots of travel in-between, it can get tiring. So it’s really lovely to have wonderful friends you can work alongside to keep up the momentum and have a laugh with!

Myself and Caroline debuted our Things That Go Bump in the Night interactive storytelling event at the Glor theatre for Ennis libraries and it went down a storm. We had the best sound and light technician ever (thank you, Ian); it was a lot of work and slightly terrifying, but we had a ball. Now all we need to do is figure out how to take it on the road… any takers?

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After the show was over, I suggested to Caroline that I should be banned from having any more ideas for a while – especially if they’re completely new, a lot of work and take us well out of our comfort zone. And she agreed wholeheartedly. But then, we had some chats over a glass of wine by a fire and candlelight and guess what? Inspiration hit and we had another very exciting idea – it’s not fully formed yet, but it’s going to happen, so watch this space!

Speaking of too many ideas… yesterday, I was honoured to be one of the guest speakers at the fantastic Fiction at the Friary event in Cork city, organised by the impressive duo, Madeleine D’Arcy and Danielle McLaughlin. There was a great and enthusiastic crowd, and one of the questions asked was about writer’s block. Now, I’ve never had writer’s block (yet), I suffer from the opposite: too many ideas, and many of them terrible. So my issue is sifting through the nonsense in search of gems.

But I do find that stopping writing altogether makes it harder to start back up again. Writing is a muscle that needs to be continually flexed, so if you are suffering from writer’s block, I suggest writing something new. A short story or poem or piece of flash fiction perhaps. Step away from the current WIP and try to play. Let it be terrible or without purpose. Alternatively, take a long walk and record any thoughts/ideas on your mobile phone, then go home and type them up.

If all else fails, distract yourself with something completely unrelated, then trick yourself back to the desk to write something about whatever it was you chose to do. Break the habit of focusing on not writing and find yourself writing again.

Get moving. Writing anything. Gain momentum. Then write more. 

And now, it’s time for me sign off – I have to pack because I’m off to the Irish Book Awards tomorrow. I didn’t have a book out this year so I’m not nominated, but I’m delighted to have lots of friends shortlisted – I’ll be cheering loudly for them all – and I’m really looking forward to catching up with lots of friends.

Until next time… happy reading, happy writing x 

 

Cover Reveal: The Book of Revenge

So here it is, the cover for The Book of Revenge, out February 2018. It’s the final installment of the Nine Lives Trilogy and out of all my books so far, it was the hardest to write. But the good news is – the manuscript is completed and next time I see it (or anyone sees it for that matter), it’ll be an actual physical book. I’m absolutely thrilled with this design by Sarah O’Flaherty (Mercier Press). I hope you like it too!

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A Very Special School Project

Today I have something very special to share.

A lovely young lady contacted me recently to see if I would do an interview for her school project: People Who Inspire Us. Of course, I said yes – what an honour!

I was sent a fantastic list of interview questions (see below) and then she put together a gorgeous display based on my Nine Lives Trilogy.

With her mum’s permission (please note: I have kept anonymity for online security), here are some photos. I regularly get asked why I write. People – THIS is what it’s all about.

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And here’s the thoughtful interview…

  1. What inspired you to write especially in your genre and who were your influences?

I think we take our influences from the world around us, so we’re always digesting stuff that adds to our creativity, without even realising. Art, film, music, people, the natural world; they all have stories to tell and these become part of our self and our understanding. I love travel and this inspires me greatly – the physicality of the journey helps free up the mind and creative thinking, and then the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes – it’s all soakage. In terms of books, Roald Dahl made me think about writing stories differently when I was a kid (they became much more gruesome) and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials really inspired me. I like fiction that’s dark, real, and emotional. But every book I read makes me think about my own work – what I like, what I don’t like, pacing, tone, etc. It’s wonderful.

  1. How do you hope your books will inspire young people and influence them?

I hope my books provide some entertainment and some escapism; but if they make young people think about different viewpoints or ask questions, then that’s also good. I don’t think stories should have a moral or a message, but if they engage readers in a way they hadn’t thought about before, then I think that’s positive. For instance, you might not agree with a character’s behaviour but you can understand why they’re acting that way – and that empathy and understanding is really special.

  1. Growing up did you always want to be a writer?

I always said I wanted to be a teacher or a poet, but in truth, I didn’t think it was possible. It was before the Internet existed, so communication with authors was much more difficult. In fact, I never heard fro or met an author despite writing a few letters, so it felt very far away from my world. I came from a very poor background and so I thought you had to be rich to be an author! But I always loved books and reading and I always wrote. Thankfully, writing feels much more accessible now.

  1. What was the best present you have ever received?

A book is my favourite gift – whether it’s fiction, non-fiction or a notebook to write in. Though my friend did give me a stuffed two-headed duckling as a leaving present and that blew me away!

  1. Could you describe a typical workday when you are teaching a workshop and what do you hope to achieve?

I do a lot of preparation for my workshops – handouts, exercises, ideas, extra reading etc so for every hour workshop, there’s at least 4 hours preparation gone into it. I think it’s really important because every writer and their work should be given the respect they deserve. I believe workshops should encourage you to be brave enough to write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. They should make writing feel accessible, they should make you feel energised and excited about your work, and they should make you want to go away and write more. I don’t subscribe to a finished piece, as often a lot of thought needs to come in between before a piece can improve, but I like to cover lots of nuts and bolts that can help start a piece, improve a piece, and polish a piece. Basically, I aim at what I want out of any workshops I attend.

  1. How do you hope a young reader will relate to Ebony Smart.

Ooh, a tough question, as we all have our own experiences and bring them with us – no two people reading the same book have the same experience, and once it’s out there, you have to let your readers own it – and that means the characters too! I think Ebony’s a brave and feisty character, so I hope that young readers respect her for that. I hope they like her, that they’re in her corner. But I also hope they see that she’s flawed like anyone we meet, because to me, that’s what makes a character real.

Isn’t this project wonderful? (Why not leave her a comment below for encouragement?!)