Book battles, motivation, & manuscripts

IMG_8448How is it March already? I can hardly believe it! But I am enjoying the stretch in the evenings and the earlier dawn. I love early mornings and being able to go for a walk at 7am makes a huge difference to my working day – though I’m finding it difficult to get up and out early in this wintry cold. West Cork is looking beautiful, but those hailstone showers! Even the dog doesn’t want to go out.

And so, a few things I’ve been up to… Firstly, I attended the grand final of Battle of the Book, along with fabulous author and friend, Alan Early, and we got to watch six schools fight it out in a quiz about our books. I loved the rainbow of coloured T-shirts used to identify the schools – and I also loved that the contestants knew more about our books than we did! Congratulations to Garristown on their win. Guess what the prize was? A behind the scenes tour of Dublin Airport! (Not jealous at all. Not even a little bit 🙂 )

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I was also really lucky to be able to chat to a roomful of students who graduated from the Suas numeracy and literacy programmes. The pupils were with their teachers, peers, and mentors, and the atmosphere was brilliant as they celebrated their achievements with certificates, photos and goody bags, before getting a tour of UCC. Well done to everyone involved.

image1-3I’m also delighted to tell you about short story I was commissioned to write for Folens Starlight Primary English Programme. The story is called ‘The Trouble with Lightning’ and it’s a fictional tale about a dog during World War 2. It was a lovely project to be involved in and I had no idea that there were going to be gorgeous illustrations too – it’s just been published and I have a copy winging its way to me. I can’t wait to see it in the flesh.

IMG_8445There’s a school that I write to in the UK, sending reading recommendations every few months, and they’ve written back with some of their own. Their choices: Wonder, Cogheart, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Anne Frank’s Diary and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. I love getting mail as much as I love sending it, so this was a cracking surprise.

Other projects include seven weeks of READON workshops with teens, an article on writing.ie about my writer’s room (which turns out to be several rooms), and a few opportunities I can’t talk about yet – but I’ll keep you posted as soon as I can. I also hear that the script for The Book of Learning film is just about finished. Exciting times indeed!

But the biggest news is, I’m just six chapters away from completing my next WIP, ready to send on to my wonderful agent, Sallyanne Sweeney, for feedback. There’s been a lot going on and I was worried about falling behind with my manuscript, so I had a three-day retreat at Greywood Arts and got myself back on track. It’s a lovely retreat in a fantastic spot, with woods nearby and gorgeous owners and it was exactly what I needed to redress the balance.

IMG_8378I’m currently out of contract, which means I have to polish the manuscript before trying to sell it, so I can’t say much about the story right now. But wish me luck – firstly with getting it finished, and then the edits, and somewhere along the line, the submission! The publishing world is a rollercoaster of crazy so you never know where your writing journey will lead – but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So, if you’re trying to get published, or you’re out of contract, or you’re on submission and not having much success, I’m sending you a hug, an extra cup of tea, a pat on the back, or whatever it is you need to keep going.

Remember, it’s a love of story, a love of words, that brought you to this point and that’s what will carry you through.

Happy writing! x

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A new year is here and it’s all about heart…

I hope you’re all rested and you had a lovely festive season. 2019 seems to have raced here, and I’m fully embracing it after some delicious downtime. Time off over Christmas was a first for me, but something I’ll definitely repeat in future – if I’m not on a book deadline, that is… Which brings me straight to my focus for the year ahead: writing.

img_7820Last year, a lot of the business side took over and although I wrote frequently, I didn’t always feel completely present. There was a bit too much trying to squish writing in around everything else and not enough breathing space. Which is fine – we sometimes need years like that – but 2019 has to be different. This year, writing takes priority and all the other stuff will happen, but in second place.

That doesn’t mean the other (money earning, profile building, book selling) stuff will be substandard – personally, I struggle to do anything that doesn’t get my all – but it does mean that I will write before I complete my freelance work, answer emails, create events, mark assignments etc. It means my writing will get the freshest part of my day (as much as possible – flexibility is always a must!) and I’ve already started the year as I mean to go on… how about you?

In case you’re already feeling like a failure due to a broken resolution… forget resolutions and accentuate the positive, that’s my motto! Don’t give something up or make deletions; add in something (or things!) for 2019, that will help improve upon your life.

Whether it be morning pages, reading more poetry, taking walks, additional family time, or monthly skype calls with a friend, starting the year with good intentions that actually make a positive difference to your life is a much more motivating way to embrace the new year. My own additions include more music, more colour, drinking more water, and some actual days off.

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A good friend of mine sums up her year ahead with a single word: an intention. And so, I have decided to try this also. The word I have chosen is HEART…

Getting to the heart of the story, doing everything wholeheartedly, looking after the heart, taking on heart-felt projects, laughing heartily. Every variation of living life with heart; that’s what I want from the year ahead. If something has HEART, then it’s right for me.

And when I falter or when I find decisions difficult – which will inevitably happen at some point and on multiple occasions – I will have a reference point that can help steer me towards the better choice. And sometimes that choice can mean turning something down or choosing the more challenging option – I’m looking forward to seeing where this word, this intention of HEART, will lead.

What about you? What is your word for the year? What can you add into your life that will increase positivity and get you fired up?

Why Writing Community Support Matters

fullsizerender-77The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 is officially out in the world! That’s the third book published in 12 months (my Dublin launch was exactly one year to the day of my debut launch) and as you can imagine, it has been a crazily fun but pressured year. I can hardly believe that I have three books hurtling into readers’ hands, as it’s all been so fast – so thank you all for your support! I always say that the writing community is really special, and once again, it’s been proven.

After launching my book, I stayed on in Dublin to attend the Children’s Books Irelandconference and I have to say – what a wonderful weekend it was. The speakers, general organisation, discussions, and enthusiastic audience – it was exactly the tonic I needed after such a hectic schedule. I have genuinely never been so tired in my life and being able to sit back and be inspired by some of the world’s best children’s authors and illustrators was such a treat.

And once again, I was on the receiving end of such kindness from the writing community. So many people came up to offer their congratulations and wish me well, not minding at all that I was a gibbering wreck. We were all there to celebrate everything children’s books and the atmosphere was fantastic – because this is what the book world is about. From writers, to readers to booksellers to librarians to publishers – we’re all in this together for the same reason: a love of books.

I genuinely believe that support from friends within the writing/publishing/book community is a key ingredient for any writer to keep going. It is wonderful to do something that you love but it is also hard work, and a roller coaster. There are many uncertainties – sometimes, as many downs as there are ups – so a strong network of people that understand what you’re trying to achieve and wish you well is essential.

This is relevant for writers in all stages of their career and this is why I will continue championing all of my writing friends. Trying to get that initial publishing deal is really, really difficult and it takes guts and determination – so when someone tells you they write but don’t have a book deal yet, it’s important to listen respectfully; after all, we’ve all been there and you could be talking to the next JK Rowling.

fullsizerender-76When someone signs a deal, try and celebrate their achievement, even if your own writing isn’t quite going to plan. Editing the manuscript for publication is really, really difficult, so there’s an uphill struggle ahead; then there’s the blog tours and launches, as well as marketing. The pressure is on and it’s all new, which can be quite daunting – at times, support and encouragement will be needed.

Even when books hit the shelves, there are further challenges to meet: coverage, sales, getting stocked, earning enough cash. And even after winning a prize, there are no guarantees. The writing world is always unstable, so if someone tells you they’re tired or struggling, it doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten their achievements or successes – it just means that they’re human.

Writing is a job that never ends and is also difficult to measure in anything other than sales and prizes and how much you earned as an advance or whether you got a movie deal. As a result, most writers feel anxious a lot of the time, looking sideways to see what achievements they should aim for next and noticing opportunities they have missed. And yet many people don’t talk about this side because they are so appreciative of being published, they don’t want to seem disrespectful or ungrateful.

Yes, these things are important and I thoroughly applaud ambition, but at the very core, writing and being a writer has to be about books. About our stories and characters. About writing the very best book that we can and being proud to hold it up and say – I did this! It’s about staying focused on our writing, our own journey, and writing really good books while (hopefully) inspiring others along the way.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the murk and lose sight of why you’re writing, butif we all continue to stick together and support each other, then we’ll always find our way back. And more wonderful books will be written. What could be better?

(Note: originally posted on Writing.ie)

Writing goals, not holes

writing goals 2014It’s that time of year again when people start making resolutions and worry about sticking to them, but as far as I’m concerned, this is not healthy. Yes, it’s great to set yourself up for the year ahead with some ambitious dreaming – after all, without goals and deadlines it would be difficult to maintain regular, quality output – but not when said goals are to the detriment of your sanity or your confidence.

New Year’s resolutions are usually broken in a very short space of time because they are typically unrealistic and add too much pressure. They’re also usually fuelled by negativity – don’t do this or stop that or reduce something or other. They encourage you to look for flaws and pick holes in the baby steps you’re making towards progress.

Whether it be your waistline, the amount of time spent in front of the TV or your writing time that’s in focus, resolutions tend to add a negative feel to whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. And who can work well under those conditions? I certainly can’t.

But that doesn’t mean we should float into 2014 with a devil-may-care attitude because that won’t get us anywhere. It’s our life, dreams, ambitions, careers – we have to care. But what we don’t need to do is set ourselves up for immediate failure. Instead, I suggest we first take a look at what we’ve achieved over the past year, identify where improvements need to be made and also pinpoint areas that are going well that need to be stretched/challenged even further.

beautiful writingMy blog has been quiet for the last few weeks and that’s because I’ve been doing just that; assessing, evaluating and planning. I’ve eased myself into the new year and taken a step back to see exactly what I did well in 2013 and what I would like to improve upon. As a result, I’m raring to go and even though I was working and writing throughout the festive season, I feel refreshed and invigorated.

So what are my writing goals this year?

Securing a publishing deal is a given. I will continue to write novels and try to get them published until it eventually happens. And then I shall continue to write novels and try to secure a deal for them. And repeat. So the following 2014 writing goals are a sideline/addition to the novel writing and submission process.

  1. To expand the reach of my short stories with publication outside of UK & Ireland (I have researched a list of eligible journals and competitions, and recorded the deadlines & start dates in my diary)
  2. To build up a short story collection (the above goal will have an immediate, positive influence)
  3. To overcome the fear of performance (we all hate the sound of our own voice & reading my work in public makes me want to gibber in a corner. So I’m working on performance to music with my singer/songwriter husband – now we just need to get it out there!)

Three achievable and measurable goals that can run alongside the novel writing without detriment. Easy to monitor with opportunity for expansion; no room for picking holes, thank you very much.

What about you? What are your writing goals for 2014? 

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Autumn dreams

autumn in ireland

This burgundy hue is one of my favourite colours and signifies autumn. Still trying to find out what the plant is called – any ideas?

Autumn is a beautiful time of year and like spring, it feels so full of possibilities. The shorter days tell our subconscious and our conscience that it’s OK for us to come in out of the cold and read a bit more book, spend extra time cooking wholesome meals, or meet and chat with friends.

Animals prepare to hibernate at this time of year and without even realising, we do the same. Especially rurally, as you’re more affected by natural light and the weather (there are no streetlights between my home and the village just over two miles away – so drinks out or visits to friends means visi-vests, torches, wellies and waterproof clothing. In other words, careful planning!).

I see autumn as a gift. It’s a time when we adjust our routines, attitudes and outlooks – and usually this means we remember to dream big. Every autumn, I write the first draft on a new novel, not knowing much about it but full of the excitement of where it may lead.

What will you be dreaming of this autumn as you let yourself wind down? And how will the season help make it happen?

The writing marathon

When you tell people that you just ran a marathon, they don’t ask whether you won. So why is it when you tell people you’ve written a book, they ask – where is it published?

The excitement of National Novel Writing Month inspired this post – as well as a trip to Dublin last month which saw me caught up in the crowd of the Dublin Marathon.

On your marks…

Every year, millions of people undertake the challenge to write a book in 30 days. They’re charged up with ideas, advice, pep talks and caffeine, knowing that what’s ahead of them is a big undertaking, with no ‘reward’ other than the satisfaction of having done it. And they’re geared up to help each other along the way.

The Dublin Marathon is the same. I saw people fly over the finish line, like they’d just finished a 5k race. Others hobbled or limped, but got there with smiles. Some gave up.

One of the most amazing things I saw was a pair of runners nearing the finish line who backtracked to support a man – I assume it was a running buddy – who was too exhausted to run any more. They literally carried him over the finish line.

There was also a vibrant crowd cheering the runners on, competitors turning back after finishing to lend extra support, jubilant pace keepers and roadside drummers providing a bit of inspiration. Like Nano, it was an almost tribal atmosphere.

I’ve not yet run a marathon (watch this space) but I first tried NanoWrimo several years ago and succeeded. Since then I’ve taken that model and use it to write every first draft, though not necessarily during the month of November. (Note: I’m being kind to myself there…the result is more like a draft zero, a below-par initial draft, but I find it easier to work with a lump of words.) And that’s how my novels happen.

But even though the Nano model is my standard approach, there’s no denying it’s a challenge.

Like the Dublin Marathon runners, many NanoWrimo entrants succeed, but just as many, if not more, give up. Life gets in the way or lack of motivation interferes. Sometimes the uphill struggle to stay inspired gets too much. Fair play for trying, everyone but…

What’s the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t?

As far as I can tell, it’s pure determination. We keep going when the odds seem against us. We rely on sheer will power at times. We take the knocks and merely stumble, not fall. And we do it together because that tribal atmosphere – whatever your goals – really counts.

Let’s also consider the idea of measuring success. If you’ve run a marathon, it doesn’t mean you would expect to enter the Olympics – and no one else would expect it either. Likewise, just because you’ve written a book, you can’t expect it to get published right away. Writing a draft of a book is just the first step. In fact, writing several drafts of a book is still ‘early stages’ in any writing career. There’s a lot more practice, training and improvement to get through. And if this is the first book you’ve written, it probably won’t be good enough to secure you that elusive book deal.

So enjoy the process for what it is; an achievement in itself. You got there. You wrote 50,000 words in a month. You learned something. Even if you couldn’t complete the NanoWrimo challenge this time around, if you’re serious about writing, the experience will inform your writing in the future in some way.

But most importantly, once the challenge is over, try to keep in mind that sense of togetherness.

When another person asks you about your book or congratulates you on something you’ve written, when you run an extra half mile or finally get up that steep hill, when you get shortlisted or accepted for publication, or when you shave a few seconds off your running time – doesn’t it feel better when you have someone to share it with?

Next time you’re listening to someone talk about their goals – whatever they may be – take interest, ask a question. If you’re amazed or impressed, show it! This could be all that person needs to keep going and not give up.

How will you get a step closer to your goals today? And how will you help someone get closer to theirs?

Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 4)

Would you think the same sat here?

This week, in the final installment of my writers’ toolbox posts, I’m looking at how our general environment can help to build ideas, improve our current works in progress and give us the energy to keep going. 

  • Exercise – fresh air, heart rate pumping and a good stretch create a feel-good factor that generates more ideas & better state of mind. If you take your workouts outside, you never know what you might see; it could trigger an idea or iron out a kink in your WIP.
  • Conversation – being nosey is a great asset for a writer. You overhear amazing snippets of information and quirky detail; often in the form of fleeting mentions which you never hear the end of, so you can create your own.
  • Found items – Picking up stray items – e.g. a plastic horse discarded in a bush, a stone from a beach, a badge found on the pavement – can inspire new ideas or trigger a character trait for your WIP. If you’re a neat freak (like me) then store all these items in a box & stow away until needed. You can build a story around the item or use it to inject something into something you’re currently working on.
  • Local history – listen to/research accounts of the people who lived in the area, as well as strange events, traditions and hearsay. There’s a mountain of material there and it’ll be fun to research.
  • Ideas board – collect all your jottings on receipts, cut outs from newspapers/magazines, inspiring postcards/photos and plaster your board with them. Get other people to stick things on there too. Pull items out when a themed deadline comes up or an open submission has you stumped; this is also good just for writing exercises to get your brain geared up for the day. After all, not everything you write is going to be completed. Some ideas just have to be scrapped, seen as a learning curve.
  • Other hobbies/downtime – as I was discussing recently with @katyod, it’s taken me a long time to realise that down time is just as important as scheduled writing. Anything that helps you switch off so your brain can recuperate, preventing implosion, should be seen as useful, rather than as a waste of time. Painting, gardening, sport, dancing, jigsaws, litter picking, fishing – it doesn’t matter what it is that you enjoy doing, so long as you make time to do it!
  • Do things differentlychange your routine or try something new to get in the head of a character of trigger different thoughts processes.  Schedule a day every now and again when you say yes to all new experiences – routine is useful, but breaking it can also have positive effects.

What writing techniques/tricks do you employ to stay inspired and energised?