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)

Awards, articles, submissions…

Rather than always harping on about my own thoughts on writing, or my garden, or stuff I’ve been doing, I like to share interesting tidbits from others that I’ve found around the place. And the last couple of weeks has been particularly interesting so here’s a few of my findings…

Bord Gais Book Awards

Whyte Books - a cosy haven for readers and writers

Whyte Books – a cosy haven for readers and writers

It’s a week of celebration as I’ve just finished the first draft of a new novel, and I also found out the bookshop I work in has been nominated for Bord Gais Irish Bookshop of the Year after winning the Munster vote. So, here’s a massive well done to Sheila, the owner, brains and driving force behind the lovely bookshop that is Whyte Books.

Also linked to the Bord Gais Book Awards, did you hear about the new Writing.ie Short Story Award? Well if not (and I hope it’s not too late) – you have to vote! Read the six shortlisted stories over on writing.ie (six stories for free? It’s a gift!) and then support your favourite by voting on the Bord Gais website. Stories & details here.

Horror Fiction

Is anyone writing horror out there? I love horror fiction and although it competes with crime on a global scale as one of the top genres, I feel it’s still underrated and under-appreciated in the UK and Ireland. I’ve felt rather out on a limb with my attempts at literary horror fiction, but that’s probably because I didn’t know this place – the Horror Writers Association – existed! Thanks to Paul Fitzgerald, a fellow writing.ie blogger, I’ve now found a homely hub for my guilty pleasure! 

Publishing opportunities

Take a look at the exciting new journal, Spontaneity, a refreshing new arts journal that’s all about inspiration, (think future submissions inspired by those selected for publication in previous issues). The first issue has the theme of Age and Beauty – details here.

As writers, we’re always looking for new outlets whether it’s competitions, journals or publishing houses. So here’s a few that stand out: firstly (you’ll have to be quick to get this one in – deadline is Nov 15th), Susan Lanigan’s free-to-enter short fiction competition Walking on Thin Ice based around ‘mental illness, stigma and oppressive institutional power’.  It may be free but the judge is Dave Lordan and there are cash prizes.

Two presses that have caught my interest are erbacce press, a co-operative that makes sure all contributors receive royalties, with all money feeding back into publishing more writers, and Notting Hill Editions, the home of the essay that’s doing exciting things (it produced the gorgeous Deborah Levy Things I Don’t Want To Know essay in response to Orwell’s Why I Write). Go check them both out – they’re gorgeous.

Art meets literature

It seems that every time you think there are no more incredibly interesting ideas left to discover, some talented/forward thinking individual comes up with one! In case you haven’t heard, there’s a weird but probably very wonderful installation/project happening around the Liffey, with quotes from Joyce being washed into the grime of the river’s surrounding walls. Derek Flynn has the info here.

Writing motivation

And finally, here’s a lovely post, I am Good Enough, And So Are You by Susan Lanigan that’s bound to lift your writing spirits.

If you have any more articles, links or competitions you think should be shared, please add in the comments below! I only have a certain amount of time free for researching this kind of stuff (with most of my info through blog subscriptions, twitter, writing.ie and chatting in Whyte Books) – so I’d be delighted if you’d expand my horizons!

Anyone need a writing prompt?

Australia, Blue Mountains

I remember sun. I think I quite liked it!

I’m back! I’ve reached the finish line and my book is now with my agent – phew! I’ve also managed to squeeze in a few writing competitions along the way.

Luckily, just like the lovely Hazel Gaynor, I’m brimming with new ideas. But I realise that isn’t always the case…Which is partly why I write the Wordspark blog for writing.ie

If you haven’t yet heard of writing.ie, it’s a wonderful site set up by Vanessa O’Loughlin for writers at all stages of their career. Although Ireland-based, it’s suitable for writers anywhere in the world. If you haven’t already, take a peek. There’s so much info on there from some of the world’s top best-selling authors, it’s an invaluable resource.

But back to ideas for your writing…

The idea behind Wordspark is to get creativity flowing. The prompts can be used to fire up the imagination as a pre-writing/editing exercise or to spark off a piece that can be sculpted into a competition or journal submission further down the line.

It’s a little extra help, when needed.

Here are a few of the #wordsparks already posted – take your pick and join in!

Description – ten words describing the sea

Postcard Prompts x3 – Trains, Art and Balloon Sellers

Rhyming Couplet – using a photo as inspiration.

There’ll be plenty more coming. If you find them useful, stay tuned!

Introducing Wordspark: A New Resource for Writers

Perfect place for people-spotting

Do you find it difficult to find inspiration when starting a new project? Have your ideas run dry? Are you in need of a few creative writing exercises to warm up your brain before settling into your latest work in progress? Or do you just fancy trying something different?

Let me help…

This week, I’d like to introduce you Wordspark: my new blog for Ireland’s biggest writing website, Writing.ie. Updated on a weekly basis, Wordspark offers writing ideas and prompts to help inspire you to write.

After all, isn’t that what writers do?

Using a variety of media – photographs, postcards, video, quotes, situations – Wordspark will make sure that you have plenty of ideas to choose from. Of course, providing the prompts is only part of the commitment. The hard work – and determination – comes from you.

So, why not stop by Wordspark and have a bash at one of my initial exercises? I’d love to see what you come up with and hear what you think.

As you know, I’m a big fan of paying it back and supporting writers at any level of their career. If just one person gets something out of my suggestions, I’d be delighted. But of course – the more the merrier.  Visit Wordspark and get inspired to write today.

Write For You

Mine, all mine! (chocolates, Melbourne)

When you write, when you create your poems, stories or novels, who are you writing for?

As writers, most of us feel compelled to put ink to paper; it’s in our blood and acts as sustenance. It keeps our every day lives sane and bright. But as writers, we’re also slaves to ambition and dreams, and the biggest desire of all is to get published.

When it comes to content, there are two schools of thought; write what you know and write what you don’t know! As contradictory as this may sound, it’s all about sparking an idea that leads to brilliant, engaging, exciting writing.

Whatever you write, it’s generally acknowledged that you have to make sure it’s the best possible piece you can manage. Now, a piece of work might seem polished, but leave it for a while (weeks, months, maybe even years) and you’ll probably find many glaring mistakes and necessary changes.

But does everything you write have to be polished? Does every poem, story or novel have to begin with the aim of being perfect or getting published? What happened to experimentation?

As Rebecca Woodhead advised in the June 2012 edition of Writing Magazine, “stop being a constipated writer…Find your voice, and you will find readers.

At the start of this year, I made a pact with myself to send out more submissions as well as complete a new book. This was a direct reaction to the fact that I’d spent one solid year working solely on a Middle Grade fantasy novel and had written myself into a corner. So, for sanity and creativity’s sake, I marked out a multitude of competition and submission deadlines and plunged in, full steam ahead.

Now, half way through the year, I’m re-evaluating this idea. Yes, I had some shortlisting and publishing success, but I’ve found that while my ambition has been tamed, in some ways, my creativity has suffered. I’ve found myself adopting a severe, business-like approach, which has sometimes made writing seem like work.

It’s not that I’m saying writing should easy; we all know the amount of energy, effort, determination and tears that go into a great piece of writing. But surely we write full time for the love of it? As far as I’m concerned, we should be motivated to write well and efficiently, but still have time to play.

Of course, deadlines will loom and ambition will still snap at our ankles. So what’s the answer?

Instead of aiming for a masterpiece, let yourself go. It’s OK to experiment. No – it’s good to experiment! How can we improve as writers if we don’t try new things?

I’m talking about trying to write something in a different genre, a new voice or writing in second person instead of first. If you always write fiction, try adapting an idea from personal experience or vice versa. Don’t even complete a piece; list great first lines or titles, play with metaphors and sentence structure. Just have fun and you never know, it might turn out brilliant. But don’t let this be your aim; allow yourself to write just for you.

And it seems I’m not the only one considering this route. In an interview on writing.ie, Irish literary super-agent Marianne Gunn O’Connor advises writers…

“…You have to say to yourself: why am I writing? Am I writing to get a publishing deal or am I writing because I just have to express something? I think if it’s the former, that’s a difficult place to be. But if you’re writing from a pure place, I think eventually someone will connect with your work. I always say, ‘write because you have something to say’. Remember, we all love good stories.”

When was the last time you wrote something without any publication aim in mind? Is it time to take stock and reclaim the enjoyment of writing?

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)

Triple Whammy

I'll be hopping about like one of our farmyard frogs

Over the next month or so, I have a second major blog focus. As well as Green Fingered Writer, I will be blogging for Ireland’s longest-running literary festival, Writers Week, over on their official website.

Once again, I’m lucky enough to be heading to Listowel, County Cork, at the beginning of June for a week of literary goodness. With writers such as Patrick deWitt, Simon Armitage, Sarah Webb, Belinda McKeon, Germaine Greer and Oisin McGann, you can expect an amazing festival, packed with discussions, interviews, workshops and big literary prizes, as well as an amazing children’s event staged in Fossett’s Big Top.

Before the festival, I’ll be chatting about all-things Writers Week and Listowel; I’ve some excellent interviews lined up (including Patrick deWitt, Carlo Gebler, Sinead Gleeson and Paul Durcan) and there’ll also be plenty of guest posts from the attending writers.

Already live on the Writers Week blog is an overview of what to expect, an excellent piece by Roisin Meaney on what it means to be a writer and a post by Sarah Webb on why she loves writing festivals. There’s also all of last year’s archived content too, in case you missed the festival or you’d like a taster of what’s to come. I’ll post short reminders/updates on here about the Writers Week blog until the festival finishes, but will keep these to a minimum to prevent your inboxes from being spammed.

And while I’m at it, don’t forget; I also have the From the Front Row blog over on writing.ie which is updated with reportage from events throughout Ireland. As I now live rurally, my own contribution has been less frequent, but there are a host of excellent bloggers keeping it ticking over with details of what’s been going on in the literary world – so do stop by if you get chance.

Thanks for your continued support, everyone.