Saturday, October 29, 2011

Light Rain

‘Is it raining?’
Look out the fricking window and see.
Leans to follow my mental retort. ‘Tsk, it’s raining.’
Is it.
‘And it was so nice this morning, could have been summer.’
I know, I was here too.
‘Now look, it’s like winter out there. Ugh!’
Fifty years later and rain is still noteworthy. Wow.
Moves closer to the window and looks up at the sky.
 ‘Has it been like that long?’
Keep staring at the clouds, they might tell you.
‘I don’t know,’ I say, glancing out the window to pretend I’m a nice, engaged person. I haven’t been staring out the window keeping tabs.
‘I wonder will it stop...’
Nope, never. Build an ark. Now.
‘Hmmm,’ I reply. I wonder.
‘In a bad mood today?’
I make eye-contact. Smile.
‘Nope! I don’t mind bad weather!’ I live in Ireland. I carry an umbrella.
Looks at me like I’m one of those weird ones.
‘Really?’ Laughs gratingly.
‘I think it’s easing off. I’ll make a dash.’
Yes, run! Run for your life!
Mumble, ‘Ok then.’ Mutter, mumble, ‘see you then.’ Mutter, mumble, pats around for keys, mumble, ‘ok then, bye.’
Sighs in relief.  Volume of rain doubles. Teehee

Monday, October 24, 2011

Things I do when I have writer’s block

      1.  Obstinately try to get through it (= staring idly at the screen, hands             poised over the keyboard.)
2.  Read what I’ve written from at least seven pages back.
3.  Jump ahead to a scene I know I can actually write.
4.  Reorganise my numerous book-related files.
5.  Sulk.
6.  Make hot chocolate while singing. (Night-time + no one around = added bonus)
7.  Blare a bitta Beyonce and dance like a crazy woman. (My sisters sometimes think I’m moving furniture or repeatedly leaping off my bed.)
8.  Listen to mopey music*.  (Recommended for use with number 5.)
9.  Lie in the dark, in silence, under the covers, and imagine scenes from my book.
10.  Abandon ship and work on another book.
11.  Read a new book. Oddly enough, I find my younger sister’s YA fantasy novels ideal in this situation.
12.  Reread and old favourite. Most often it’s Pride and Prejudice.
13.  Draw my characters.
14.  Go wild with acrylic paint. (Rarely resulting in a work of art, but still.)
15.  Prettify myself and go people-watching/ shopping. Friends optional.
16.  Sprawl on the couch and watch a movie or an episode or ten of one of       my shows**.

*Songs may include At My Most Beautiful-REM, Samson and The Call-Regina Spektor, Stop Crying Your Eyes Out-Oasis, Jar of Hearts-Christina Perri, The Reason-Hoobastank, Fix You-Coldplay, Chasing Cars-Snow Patrol. (I realise these are not overly mopey, but they’re not exactly Shiny Happy People now are they?)

** Shows may include Vampire Diaries (Stefan or Damon, I just don’t know! Both?), Bones (Season 7 Promo had me crying with laughter), Criminal minds (Now that JJ and Prentis are back), Supernatural (Season 7 is disappointing me so far, as much as it pains me to say. CASTIEL! :o), Terra Nova (New show...rawr.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The dreaded first line

Apparently, the very first sentence of a book has to be instantly gripping.

In a fit of frustration, I took down these first books and read the opening lines. These are the beginnings of successful series.

It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there. –Trudi Canavan, The Black Magician Triolgy book one.
Immediately gripping? No. Instantly hooked? Not really. The feeling that I absolutely HAD to read more? Not really. Memorable? No.
What this first line does is set the scene. From it I know that I’m not about to read a book set in our world, that it’s most likely set in a city, that the city is old and higgledy-piggledy, and that it probably has crime and lowlifes and poverty. It’s not a clean city with sky-scrapers. I could go on, but already I’ve used more words than were in that line to say what I got from it.
The first book is like a long beginning. I read it eagerly. I trusted the author, I knew that something terrific was in store. And I was right.

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.-Phillip Pullman, His Dark Materials, Northern Lights.
The first time I read this line I was eleven. My first thought was an eleven-year old’s equivalent of ‘’ One year later, I reread that first line and all subsequent lines in the trilogy. I cried at the end of a book for the first time. I’ve read the books many times since. Looking back, what I missed eleven years ago was that a girl and some manner of creature were sneaking about in a building large enough to warrant the capitalisation of the ‘h’ in hall. I think I saw ‘deamon’ with Siamese letters and fled.

Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world. (Prologue)
Eragon knelt in a bed of trampled reed grass and scanned the tracks with a practiced eye. -Christopher Paolini, Inheritance book one, Eragon.
I remember reading the prologue and thinking ‘hrmmm, ok...’ I kept reading because hey, I like reading. The book was in my hands and I was not going to give up on it based on the first line. To be honest, I mostly enjoyed the books because of Arya-the main character's Elvin love interest. There are definitely sections I skim on rereads. (Yes, I read books more than once.) But I’m glad I didn’t put it down.

When Mr.Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. (I ignored the prologue) –JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
Well, one of Tolkien’s shorter, less confusing, sentences to be sure. The amount of times I battled to the end of a sentence only to find I’d forgotten the beginning of it...
But this first line does accomplish some things. I knew Bilbo wasn’t human, that Hobbiton was a small, gossiping place, and that it wasn’t set in our world. Not an instantly gripping first line though. Glad I battled through? Yes.

It happened every year, was almost a ritual. (Prologue)
The trial was irretrievably over; everything that could be said had been said, but he had never doubted that he would lose. Steig Larsson, Millennium I, The Girl with the Dragon tattoo.
Considering that I felt compelled to commit the crime of skimming on the first read of a book; a crime I had never committed, or wanted to commit, before, these lines aren’t too bad. Not very good either. But I did keep reading, mostly favouring Lisbeth’s parts.

I was not instantly enthralled by any of these first lines. So, what fuels this popular ‘rule’ that your first line must be gripping, fascinating, grab-you-by-the-throat-and-hold-on-until-you-reach-the-last-line-ing? And it's not just the first line. Ideally your first chapter should be made of clinging hands and sharp, glinting hooks. (At the same time, I've been told to set the scene of the main character's ordinary live before the big events come along and screw it up. Curious...)
I think of an agent sitting at a desk. Precarious piles of paper mimic sky-scrapers in their office. More cyber-piles wait in their email inbox.  They have a headache. Serious eye-strain. They’re thinking back to their love of books as a child and wondering where it all went wrong. They’re holding on to the hope that somewhere in those towering piles waits the beginning of a book that will swell their heart and command their imagination. They long to find it. It would revive them; resort their faith in supposed writers’ ability to string words together. But they’re tired. They want to find it quickly. They want the wannabe-published authors to give it to them, and it to them fast. Faster than fast-straight away in fact.
The annoying thing about it is it’s perfectly understandable. And I do understand. But I can’t give my series that type of first line. I’m not writing a single, stand-alone novel. This is one giant story, spread over multiple books. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’m not running my fastest at the very start.

Here’s my first line.
The ancient trees of the Burmeena forest reached higher than the tallest buildings in Aureilla, the capital city of Orantil.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Feel the love.

(I don’t actually know anything. This is a rant of sorts, you probably shouldn't read it.)

I love my story, ok? That’s why I’ve spent hours writing, days imagining, and months thinking. That’s what makes a book; that’s how you do it. Classes and workshops and seminars on ‘How to write a book’ are clearly taking the long-winded approach.

You can’t teach someone how to write a book. The only way to learn is to write one. Yes, it will probably be terrible. The story, hopefully, will be great. But the writing? You’ll read back over your first draft and laugh at yourself, I guarantee it. Let it out though; laughing is good. You will also cringe. At this point the ability to highlight and cut should be taken full advantage of. Words shouldn't be seen as precious things. When in doubt, make a new file and store all your cut paragraphs in there. If you really think some arrangement of words is golden, mark it. Mining for gold is not fun.

Now I’m not bashing courses and the likes. They might name a course ‘how to write a novel’, but that’s just to get people in the door. They won’t tell you how to write a book, or where to find an idea. No, they’ll tell you about writing; the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and, with any luck, where to put an apostrophe. Count yourself blessed if this is done in an inspiring way. If you learn a lot of new things; congratulations you're in the right place. 
(You should consider reading a book or a hundred as well as sitting in class. You CAN read a book and write your book at the same time. The stories don't get intertwined, and your ideas remain yours.)

Then they’ll make you write. You will panic. If you didn’t have an idea growing beforehand (in which case you should definitely write it down, but you might learn that fact later in the course) then your mind is going to go blanker than a big whitewashed wall. Whatever you come up with will be shit. If offered to read yours out loud, don’t. Don't make eye contact with the teacher just in case. If you feel in danger, think about crackers and jam to give yourself a faraway look and maybe, just maybe, the teacher will think you are presiding over a world you’ve created and leave you alone.

After that the rules come along. Rules rules rules. Follow them or watch your writing ambitions swirl down the loo. Or don’t follow them, if you have a good reason not to; it’s not that big a deal.

In a seashell
How do you write a book? Get an idea, love it, write it.
I can see the next question...
How do you get an idea? Ahem, well let me tell you. You just fricking get an idea, ok? If you need to ask how then I’m sorry but it’s never going to happen. Actually I’m not sorry. Your mind needs to be alive to get an idea. You clearly killed yours. Tut tut.
And then...                      
How do you complete a book? Write until you reach the end. Huzzah!
And then...
It’s still a bit shit though. Go to a workshop. With a book, or something book-like, completed. That way you’ll understand a lot more of what the host is talking about.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Grinding to a halt

Rules swarmed like wasps in my mind. They waited, buzzing, at the places where words came from.  When a stream of words was beginning to join up, they attacked. The bit and stung and scared the words away.

I ground to a halt. At first I didn’t realise what was stifling my writing. The flow of words was blocked, and I didn’t know what was wrong. It was quite distressing. I knew what was happening in the book, what I was suppose to be writing, so I knew it wasn’t writers’ block. And it wasn’t just the book that was affected; it was everything. Even this baby blog was deprived of posts.

It had never happened to me before-not being able to write. A few days ago I realised what my problem was ( I knew too much about what was expected of a book, and I assumed I would fail to meet, and surpass, those great expectations. 

I wrote the first without difficulty because I knew nothing of the rules and requirements that it would have to follow and meet. If someone had told me that I must watch out for ‘voice’ and ‘point of view’ and ‘show don’t tell’, that I had to make sure each sentence was stellar and each word had a purpose, I would have scoffed.
‘You can’t confine writing like that,’ I would have said.

And I would have been right. You can’t. You shouldn’t try. It’s bad.

Feck the rules. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weaving a painting

As I dither on the edge of the publishing world I’ve been thinking about how my book came to be.

If  I had known at the beginning what I know about the story now, I don’t think I could have started. It’s too big. I would have been swamped and clueless.

Somewhere the entire story existed, and I was only privy to slivers.

The first thing I knew was one scene containing two characters. I knew the characters intimately. I could feel their pasts and futures, and how they intertwined. I began weaving with those two threads.

It was loose material I was creating. If you held it to the light you would see through it quite easily. It was a foundation. Like the simple shapes that lie beneath a finished painting.

As the cloth grew, more of the story was revealed to me. I went back and added more threads; characters, subplots, back stories. The picture was treated to colour. I was getting excited; it was gaining form. It was becoming an entity. It existed separate to me, independent.

Finer threads were woven through; careful detail added. I could step back and view the whole piece, or lean in for a closer look. Sloppy areas were pulled tight. Blunders were painted over, lovingly corrected. I knew when it was right.

Finally the fabric was finished, the painting was complete.

"Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."  E.L Doctorow

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Hunt.

Over a year ago I was halfway through my first novel. I was writing in a bubble; just me and my story. The larger world ceased to exist. It had no bearing on the words pouring out.

Long before I consciously acknowledged and accepted it, I knew I was writing a series. At the time I thought it would be a trilogy, but that’s really up to Ara. As I sailed past the 20k and 30k word landmarks, and read back over my chapters, I realised that I would love for other people to read the story. Read it and love it, ideally.

I’ve never seen an empty shelf in a bookshop, unless it was waiting to house the books in the box at its feet.  A world of books was out there; some with fantastic writing, others with such captivating stories that the standard of writing holds little importance. I thought my novel could have a place among the many and varied published works. This was the foundation which lay beneath my first thought of publishing.

How hard could it be?

So I did a little research. Bafflement struck. Where were all the Irish Publishers? I thought Ireland was a rather literary place. In fairness there are around fifty publishers in Ireland. Most publish non-fiction, religious or educational books. Those who take fiction had a list of genres they publish. Want to know how many listed science fiction and fantasy? None. Penguin and Poolbeg press were the only ones I could consider submitting to. Whatever about Penguin, Poolbeg would definitely not want my book.

My merry cyber-adventure continued. I broadened my horizons. Well, I looked to the UK. I found a whole host of publishers to sink my teeth into. As I sifted through the throngs, I learned that most publishing houses would not look at my ‘unsolicited manuscript’. I couldn’t send them my work. Undeterred, I proceed to learn that they accept manuscripts from ‘literary agents’ instead.  So I had to get an agent, and then they would get the publishing deal. I exhaled a sigh of contentment. Negotiating a publishing deal ought to be left to an expert. 

I am not an expert.

I decided to broaden my horizons again and invested in the Writer’s Handbook 2011. The proof that I was not entirely mistaken and Ireland did in fact have hordes of publishers was in the pages. Ireland had six pages, the UK had eighty-eight. But I was searching for an agent then, not publishers. The UK had thirty two pages, Ireland had one and a bit.

Anyway, I began looking for a literary agent who would take my genre. If I had a bestseller for every time I read ‘no sci-fi or fantasy’...   As I worked though the thirty-two pages and searched on the internet, I discovered that not all agents were in the handbook. (It’s called a handbook, but I could knock someone out with it.  And I could not carry it with one hand if my future in publishing depended on it.) Moreover, the agent who deals exclusively with sci-fi and fantasy was not listed. Others who were open to the genre were not included either. 

I reverted to purely searching online and slowly comprised a short list of agents who deal with sci-fi and fantasy. I was sure there were more, but my editing stint was over and I was back to pure writing. Research went hand in hand with *not* editing. I didn’t resume my search with strong intent until this week. If you type ‘literary agents taking science-fiction and fantasy’ in google, most results read no science fiction or fantasy.’ My sigh of contentment has long passed. It was replaced by hyperventilation. My friend found a list of all UK agents who deal with my genre. It’s a list of thirteen. Some aren’t taking submissions right now, and seem to do so sporadically. My little list created months ago was in fact exhaustive.

The odds of one out of a handful of agents loving my book, believing in its marketability, trusting me as an author, and being in a position to take on a new client are...slim.

I’d say it’s a very good thing I’m not writing to just get published. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

About Writing

I don't write poems. Errant words gather together in my head, form lines, and then fall out onto paper. This is what they looked like on one occasion.

About Writing  

Retreated from the world
With only a pen
Imagination swirled
Stories began

If you never try, you never know
Scribble a line
And watch it grow
Don’t conform, don’t confine
Just open your world
And let the stories untwine

Hours spent curled,
Dreaming up lands
Then the plot unfurled
Beneath my hands
Creation reared, unleashed on paper
I’m off to write more, talk to you later.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


There is a reason why the priest cannot see the people who visit the confession booth. Anonymity. They have divided the sin from themselves and want to cast it off. Naturally they don’t want anyone to know that it was once attached to them. And so the confessions can only be uttered from behind a veil. That is understandable.

But what about when it’s just a thought or feeling? An opinion. Not wrong or condemnable, but perhaps a little ‘out there’. Maybe it opposes the standard opinion; goes against the norm. Or maybe you’re just unsure about how it would be received. You know that you want that particular opinion aired; you just don’t want to be the one to do it. If you did, it would be attached to you. People would know a part of your thoughts, your mind. And you don’t want them to, in case they don’t look on the new knowledge with favour. In case they judge you.

Well, what is so bad about being judged? Yes, it might be bad. But it could be good, too. Surely either is better than silence for indifference’s sake. 

It’s easier to lie than tell the truth; at least in that moment when you must speak one way or the other. If you are an adapt liar your words will be believed.  The lie might not even be better than the truth. Its meaning will still be attributed to you. But you know that it’s not attached to you. You’re safe behind it.

And so I come to blogs.  Are we faceless here? Sure, I have a picture or two. But a face is so much more than what a photo captures.  I think blogs have a beautiful duality. I don’t feel entirely faceless here, just safe enough to be free.

"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Oscar Wilde

Friday, April 1, 2011

What is a blog anyway?

It seems to be a diary. A personal diary, documenting your life, or your mind's life, intended for public viewing. A strange concept, don’t you think? Writing a personal journal for public consumption.

It seems to validate formerly irrelevant things. Like pictures you take of the eye make-up that just worked, or of that great outfit you put together only to be wasted on an uneventful day, and the scene of the last rays of sunlight decorating clouds that you’re really proud of capturing.  Post them on your blog and they are remembered, made worthwhile, and graced with the views you felt they deserved.

It fulfils thoughts, too. It’s the end of their journey; an outlet for completed ideas. They start as an edge to other musings. They colour them, make you considering things in a new light. Then they break off and become independent; a new entity in your mind. They grow and develop. You accept that you are having a slow epiphany, excuse the oxymoron. You reach the end. Your thought is fully formed. You’ve grown a little. And that’s good. It has widened your mind in a tiny, verging on insignificant way. The thought is logged in your memory. You won’t revisit it much; how boring, to rethink a thought. So what’s next? The poor thought probably feels cheated; it expected a grander end.

Then you post it on your blog.

And then there is your mental voice. Have you ever, while listening to your inner voice, thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if someone could hear this?’ Of course, then you might worry that the object of your private monologue can hear it. You snuff out the silent witty words but giggle to yourself; it really was priceless stuff.  What then? You know what.

Art! I have to be in a particular state of mind to lie on my bedroom floor and remain there for hours drawing or painting. I get covered in acrylic colours or 8b pencil smudges. I’m not sure how it happens, but it does. I end up with what I consider a work of art. (It is a piece of art and I worked-what else could it be, right?)  So why not give others a look?

The photos, the thoughts, the silent words, the ‘artistic creations’; they are all ends in themselves. You don’t do those things for a blog. You just do them.

I don’t really know what a blog is.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The start

I finished my first book at the beginning. It's the first of a science fiction series. The ending came to me easily. I could feel that it was the end as I wrote it, and it felt wonderful. How naive I was; I thought I was finished! I wasn't. I'm now doubting it's possible to finish a book; finish in an 'I'm entirely satisfied with this' type of way.

I realise that I'm contradicting my opening line, but it feels true nonetheless. Today I finished. My opening chapter, rewritten countless times, was written for the last time today...I hope. I have that feeling of pure excitement, but I've been wrong before.

And now, reading it, it really doesn't matter whether or not literary agents fall in love with my first line. I love it. It is the opening chapter I wanted to write. I know my main character approves. So why would it matter what someone else thinks?

I guess it comes down to why I write.

I write for my story. I write for the characters living in my mind. I write because, if i didn't, the words whirling about in my mind would clog it up completely.

While publishing seems like the logical next step to finishing a book, I don't think it should ever be the sole point. Writing to get published is not writing; it's an enterprise. I imagine it feels like work, like a chore. I hate chores. And it must be stifling. All that worrying about how agents, editors, and readers will respond must really throw a rod into the creative cogs. Or maybe freeze them entirely. Liquid nitrogen poured over that creative process anyone?

Getting back to my point, I write for me. I will be supremely happy when I have completed my series; when I have told the story that I, who loves reading, would love to read. Once I achieve that I will print out each book, design a cover, and they will exist in my bedroom if nowhere else. That sounds so sad! But I would take it over altering the story for the sake of marketability. I would change how some parts are told, of course. I would work with an editor. But change the actual story? Nuh uh. The story simply is. It doesn't change.

With that mentality, the search for an agent or publisher becomes a calm affair. Rejections mean that one person didn't love it. But I do, and that is what will keep me safe. While I would be happy with the books existing in my room, I would love for millions of people to read and love them. And for that, I need to enter the alarmingly-slim-chance-of-success world of publishing.

Now that I have finished the beginning, I'm ready to step into that world.

"Better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self." Writer Cyril Connolly.