Saturday, 31 December 2011

A writer's resolution...

Buy this here
 Another year has come and gone - and it's that time when you take stock of what you've done in the last 12 months...

I'm pretty happy with what I achieved in 2011. I do wish I had finished the new book but the end is definitely in sight - a couple of chapters away and of course the re-drafts.

So with that in mind this t-shirt slogan will be my mantra for the next 12 months. If you're stuck, feel free to make it yours too. Hell, you can even buy the t-shirt!

Happy New Year and good luck with your own writing. I have a good feeling about 2012...

Friday, 16 December 2011

Is it just me...

Buy this here
 ...or is this top really cool? It's from the brilliant Deviant Art website, where artists from all over the world can showcase their work. Some of the pieces can be bought as prints or downloads but a few can be bought as gifts, including this top - for all the writers!

If this was a hoodie I would totally be buying it...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

How much is *too* much???

 Work on the new book is coming along nicely and the end is definitely within sight! But as I reach the final chapters I'm confronted again with the question: how much is *too* much for a book aimed at 11-14 year olds?

I work with tweens and teens so I'm under no illusions about the kinds of things they're involved in. Life just keeps getting more and more complicated in a world where change seems to happen overnight.

My last chapters involve some fairly drastic twists and turns - a night out which ends with a spiked drink, serious humiliation and the inevitable mobile phone video. Bad as this seems, it pales beside the finale - an act of terrorism with devastating consequences.

In the middle of all this is my hero,  a teenage boy called Adam from a rather unusual family. He's smart and funny and a little bit geeky. He's confronted daily with all sorts of life and death issues when all he really wants is a normal life.

Tween and teen fiction can be a mixed bag - either trying to protect young people or going to the other extreme; in-yer-face 'issues' or gore. I'm constantly amazed and humbled by the challenges life throws at some teenagers and the grace with which so many acquit themselves. In the end most teenagers, like Adam, are simply trying to find their place in the world and a way of making sense of the madness.

So maybe the writer's job is to be honest and unflinching - as long as it's not all doom and gloom. A little bit of humour and escapism goes a long way towards easing the pain - in books as in life!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Back to the Old School!

Picture source
 Ok, you'll be pleased to see that I'm still alive. I'm conscious that the blog had vanished off the face of the earth for a while, for all sorts of reasons - work, getting the house we were looking for, a death in the family. Now I'm finally getting back into my groove and writing is once again making it on to my 'To do' list.

Recently I've re-discovered the joys of writing by hand. I did a lot of this when I was writing The Watchers, mostly after a long walk on the beach. I would sit in the car and scribble, then scoot home to type it all up.

The trouble was I was doubling my workload - or so it felt like. I can type pretty fast, certainly much faster than I write and typing directly meant that I could achieve huge word counts. Unfortunately it also meant that I was wrecking my neck and back spending hours hunched over a keyboard.

Clearly a solution was needed - so I've found a happy medium. Recently I've been writing a lot by hand, then dictating the text using voice recognition software (Dragon Naturally Speaking if anyone is interested). It's not a perfect system - no VRS is smart enough to completely understand how any normal human thinks and speaks, never mind some crazy writer. It has difficulty with certain words - the Northern Irish ("Norn Irish") pronunciation of words like 'how' and 'now' still sends the computer into an occasional meltdown.

I have noticed several happy side effects. Firstly, I can dictate a thousand words then spring out of the chair with no aches and twinges. Secondly a notebook can be whipped out and put to use anywhere - from lunch break to sitting in a waiting room. And thirdly there is something unfettered about writing by hand. I find it frees me to stop editing as I write and just puke it onto the page. Then I can tweak it while I dictate.

If anyone else has any brilliant ideas for how to get the words down I'd be delighted to hear them!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Back from the Baltic Sea!

You may have noticed the blog has been somewhat quiet recently... That's because the Murph and I were away for a couple of weeks on a fantastic holiday around the Baltic Sea! 

In just a fortnight we did a whistle-stop tour and visited Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Estonia and even northern Germany! We had a brilliant time and I'll share a few highlights when I finally get unpacked...

I didn't get much time for writing but I did see some brilliant scenes and meet some fantastic people - who no doubt will inspire even more new ideas.

Still, the holiday is over - so time to knuckle back down to work!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Just finished... The Hunger Games

Just finished this book and it was a great read if you enjoy post-apocalyptic YA fiction.

Katniss lives in District 12 in a post-apocalyptic America. When the 13 Districts rebelled against Capitol one is destroyed completely and the other 12 are forced to send a boy and a girl every year to compete in the Hunger Games. Twenty-four players begin the games and only one can survive.

The book begins when Katniss becomes one of two 'Tributes' who have to represent her District. Will she survive?

Katniss is a great character and her environment and survival skills are convincing. I liked the premise - a bit like Running Man / The Long Walk with a female teen heroine. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Loving... Jericho

Still on holidays here - and what better time to discover Jericho. This series got past me completely when it was on TV but I've loved every second of it on DVD!

If, like me, you're a newbie it's set in a small, farming town in America. It's a normal day for the people who live there - until they see a mushroom cloud on the horizon. What caused the explosion? Is it local, national - or global? And how does the community get on with life when no one can contact the world beyond their town?

Jericho is about the struggle to survive when the world as you know it has changed, maybe forever. It strikes the right balance between relationships / warmth / humour and the real problems of survival - lack of resources and the inevitable violence that comes from this. If you like books like Stephen King's The Stand you'll probably like Jericho.

So, if you enjoy experiencing the end of the world vicariously - from the comfort of your own sofa, with popcorn - then this is the show for you!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Currently reading...

One of the pleasures of my job is having long summer holidays. This not only allows me time to write but just as importantly gives me a chance to work my way through the great pile of books beside my bed.

I've just started reading this book and I'm already a bit in love with it. I won't say any more at this stage, other than quoting this long and beautiful paragraph from the third page. If this is a typical sample of the writing then I'm in for a treat…

"Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by torchlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read… They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life."

I'll be reading this again for inspiration the next time I'm sitting at the keyboard, struggling to write a particular paragraph or page or chapter!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Healthy Breakfast Treat!

"A couple of years ago, I became fascinated by my own liver." No, this is not the start of some bizarre, French novel. Let me explain...

A couple of years ago I got glandular fever (that's 'mono' to our American friends and Epstein Barr for the pedants and medics). It's a common virus and the vast majority of people who get it shrug it off after a few weeks.

Unfortunately I wasn't one of them. I was one of the unlucky souls who found their liver under severe attack from the nasty virus particles. It left me with really odd post-viral symptoms which took several months to clear. Thankfully it went away but it was very unpleasant at the time.

I'd never really thought about my liver before. It's the unsung hero of the body - not as sexy as lungs or hearts or brains but just as vital. Think of it as a kind of battery and filter combined. When your liver gets clogged you can start to feel pretty tired and rotten.

So, when I saw this book on Amazon recently I got curious. I bought a second hand copy and found it full of cool recipes, mostly very low in saturated fat and high in fruit, veg, nuts etc. It's that time of the year in work where everyone is shattered. I'm finding myself eating whatever rubbish is to hand because I'm too tired to cook. This isn't good so tonight I decided to make one of the recipes for breakfast muffins - and they are surprisingly tasty. I say surprisingly because they are amazingly low in fat and sugar but don't taste like they are.

Anyway, if you feel adventurous here's the recipe. There are lots more in the book. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS (For metric - check conversion websites)

1.5 cups wholemeal self-raising flour (or plain plus 2 level tsp baking powder)

0.5 tsp mixed spice

0.5 tsp cinnamon

0.5 cup sultanas

2 egg whites, beaten

2 tblsp plus 2 tsp cold pressed almond oil (I used walnut oil and it was fine)

1 cup cooked, chopped apple (roughly 2 Pink Lady apples - all I had!)

1 tblsp plus 1 tsp honey or concentrated apple juice.

0.5 cup soy milk - I used ordinary milk.

  • Heat oven to 176deg C (350 Fah)

  • Mix the wholemeal self-raising flour, cinnamon, mixed spice and sultanas. Keep separate.

  • Peel and finely slice 2 apples and cook in a little water until soft. Mix the apple with the beaten egg whites, oil, honey and (soy) milk.

  • Blend wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

  • Cook in an oiled muffin tin (I used paper cases instead) for roughly 17 mins.

    • Thursday, 9 June 2011

      Go me!

      This is a shameless example of me being my own cheerleader (I could have posted a cheerleader pic but it might have attracted the wrong sort of reader...).

      Tonight I passed the 40,000 word mark. I'm half-way through chapter twelve and I reckon there are between fifteen and twenty thousand words to go (it's a much shorter book than The Watchers). I hit the wall just after 30,000 but I seem to be back in the game now. So, hanging in there and keeping on going.

      The last chapter is mostly written and I reckon there are three or four chapters in between (I could of course be wrong...). I can't claim to know everything that happens between now and the end but there *is* a scene where my hero Adam goes to a nightclub and things don't go exactly to plan... Should be fun to write.

      So, back to the grindstone!

      Wednesday, 8 June 2011

      How much is that doggie in the window...?

      The world likes to crudely label people as dog lovers *or* cat lovers. However I happen to love both. I already have two cats with seven legs between them (leg number eight took on a fast moving vehicle and lost). But just recently I've been wondering whether it's time to take the plunge and get a lovable mutt.

      First of all I should point out that the Irish wolfhound in the picture is just the fantasy dog. They're beautiful animals but they're basically the size of a pony and the cats would make a tasty mid-morning snack for a typical wolfhound. Also, they are apparently nicknamed "the heartbreak hound" which has nothing to do with Elvis songs and everything to do with their short-ish lifespan (7-9 years).

      But even a small dog seems to bring awesome responsibilities. Cats are independent - the perfect singleton's pet. They spend their days sleeping, eating, sleeping, grooming, sleeping, getting stuck on the roof etc etc. They can be left overnight without wrecking the place. Sometimes they seem almost sorry to see you come home, just as they've got used to that comfy bit on the sofa...

      A dog on the other hand is demanding. It craves attention! It needs walked and let out in the garden to ... 'do its business'. It might well develop a penchant for chasing small furry animals e.g. three-legged cats. Kennels fill up fast in peak holiday season. You get the jist.

      So why is it that in spite of this I am desperate to get a dog? Is it a married thing? I don't think so. I had a dog once when I was single, for three whole days - on an agreed trial basis I should add! A guy I worked with was trying to re-home a lovely dog which had unfortunately grown from a cute puppy into a full-size animal, much to its owner's displeasure. Said owner then pretty much kept the dog locked up for six months before eventually conceding defeat.

      This meant that the (totally untrained) dog went almost crazy with excitement every time she saw a human being. She enjoyed mad, lunging walks, dragging me in her wake. She scrabbled out of my supposedly escape-proof garden so she could play with / eat / terrorise the dog / children next door.

      I realised with a sinking heart that this dog didn't just need a single mum and a suburban garden. She needed a large, boisterous family, preferably with teenage boys who could run the legs off her. She needed a dog whisperer who could teach her to walk on a lead, not trail her hapless owner along the edge of the harbour. With a mixture of sadness and relief I gave her back to the re-homer, who happily found her a farm to live on.

      But years have passed since then and now I think it's time. I'm having to work on the Murph (who isn't a natural pet man) and a wolfhound is out of the question. But I'm pretty sure I'm ready to handle a Jack Russell...

      Sunday, 5 June 2011

      Just finished... Gone

      It's another wet weekend in Northern Ireland (they're not exactly an infrequent occurrence). Luckily while there are still books in the world I won't have any bother entertaining myself...

      I read Gone last weekend and really enjoyed it. When you're reading it you will definitely recognise elements from other books - it reminded me of Stephen King's Under the Dome crossed with Heroes / X-Men. It starts really well - Sam and his friends are sitting in school when their teacher simply disappears. It soon becomes clear that the small town they live in has been completely cut off from the outside world and everyone aged 15+ has disappeared. This on its own would have been an interesting situation (very much like Under the Dome) but to spice things up we then learn that Sam and some of the other kids have been developing supernatural abilities, probably linked to the nuclear power plant on the edge of town.

      In some ways the story is predictable - a new order has to be established. Not all the kids who become town leaders or develop powers are the good guys and gals. BUT this book has lots of nice twists, including a very King-esque 'monster' in the desert, scary animals, some vicious baddies and a reluctant, likeable hero in Sam. It's a good, pacy thriller.

      I should add that I bought the sequel today Hunger (there are two further sequels so far - Lies and Plague) and with a sinking heart I'm realising this one is possibly going to be less psychological and more monster-y. I'll let you know if it lives up to the first book...

      Thursday, 2 June 2011

      Why Writing is like 'The Long Walk'

      One of Stephen King's most intriguing novellas is 'The Long Walk', written as King's alter ego Richard Bachmann. In this story 100 teenage boys gather at the starting line of a life or death marathon. Their task is simple: walk at a steady pace of 4 mph without ceasing. The catch: if they stop they will die. Their aim is to be the last man walking. If they can manage that they will be given everything they've ever dreamt of.

      At the start of the 'race' their spirits are high. Some of the walkers work together, encouraging each other. Others become loners and retreat into their own shell. As the walk progresses boys begin to fall away – or rather are shot dead. In the end the last man standing is the only one to survive and win the prize.

      Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little. Writing a book is hardly life or death... BUT it does take a certain single-minded madness to see it through, to be the 'last man standing'.

      Anyone who has written a book from beginning to end will know there are definite stages along the road. At the beginning the idea is a bright light. It fills your mind with glee and your heart with hope. This will be the one! This one is different! This idea is going all the way! You start writing, and every moment is a joy. You love the characters, the places, the cleverness as the plot twists and turns. You can't wait to sit down at the computer every evening.

      The end is pretty satisfactory too. You know you're nearly there! It's like climbing a mountain and seeing one last ridge between you and victory. Somehow you get a second wind. I remember writing the last four or five chapters of The Watchers with a mixture of love, hate and steely determination. You keep going because you're so nearly there.

      In The Long Walk the middle section is where most of the walkers fall away - or lie down and die. The middle is where the fun is over and reality is dawning – there's still so far to go! You don't know if you have the reserves to get you to the end. Other people are out in front! Sometimes those people are people who have become your friends. You're not sure if you're going to make it!

      In the end, after years of painfully throwing aside half finished manuscripts, I've realised that real writers are the ones who write through the pain. The writers who find agents and advances and publishing deals aren't 'magical'. They don't know the right people. They're the ones who just kept writing, whether they loved it or hated it.

      As you can probably guess I'm about half-way through the new book and the pain is raw and fresh... It's a long road - but I'm going to keep walking!

      Tuesday, 31 May 2011

      Just finished... Blood Red Road

      Well, it was a bank holiday weekend - which meant Northern Ireland was pretty much doomed to torrential rain. Luckily I bought a few fab YA books and this was the first one I read.

      I was really looking forward to Blood Red Road - not least because my agent Gillie also represents Moira Young! Gillie had talked about the book when I met her back in February - and now I can see why she was so excited about it.

      It tells the story of Saba who lives in a post-apocalyptic desert with her pa, younger sister and twin brother Lugh. Lugh is Saba's great love - until he is taken by men in black cloaks who ride out of a storm searching for him. The book is about Saba's struggle to find him and the dangers she has to overcome on the way. It reminded me of The Stand and The Road but with a totally believable, kick-ass 18 year old heroine.

      Saba is a fantastic character. She's properly hard-as-nails, not because she's a psycho but because she lives in a world where if she weakens for a second she's dead. Throw in some feisty female warriors called the Free Hawks and a very hot love interest (Jack) and you have the perfect ingredients for a scary, sexy YA thriller.

      I totally recommend this book - if you like dystopian novels and strong female characters you'll love it!

      Thursday, 26 May 2011

      Word count climbing...

      The word count is steadily rising on the new book! I'm still being very secretive about the title and plot but for now I'm just going to call it The Adam Story.

      I sent the first chapters off to Gillie and Bernie to read and got a really positive response, so very pleased about that! It's always hard when you start a new project and you think it's good – but you're not quite sure if the rest of the world will think so…

      I haven't been great on the blogging front recently, mostly because I'm concentrating on writing the book! I've noticed a number of tweets and blog posts where writers have admitted that they find social media a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the internet is full of fantastic resources for writers. It still amazes me that with a few clicks on my keyboard I can find what time the sun sets in West Africa in January…!

      Of course we've all been in that situation where we really meant to do some writing and somehow ended up frittering away two hours looking at shoes and holidays. I'm as great a sinner as anyone else but I've recently hit 30,000 words and I feel like I'm going strong.

      So, no more distractions. I'm hoping to have most of the first draft complete by the end of June. It will be a tall order but it's also a shorter book than The Watchers. Any words of encouragement gratefully received!

      Hope your own writing is going well!

      Friday, 13 May 2011

      Friday night treat!

      So... the other night, for the first time in AGES I watched Dirty Dancing. I had totally forgotten how unbelievably sexy Patrick Swayze was in this film. The Murph was sent out of the living room so me, the cats and a box of chocolates could salivate over 'Johnny Castle' at our leisure.

      I couldn't find an embeddable version of this scene (or at least one that hadn't been badly dubbed in French / German / Russian) so if you'd like to admire the scrumptiousness of every girl's favourite dance instructor you can find it here.


      Tuesday, 10 May 2011

      Getting from notebook to novel - #4

      4. No man, woman or writer is an island - you can't do it alone. Find people who understand.

      As the picture suggests writing can sometimes feel like a lonely business. Writing is like giving yourself a gift - the gift of that book you always wanted to read. But at times you can feel like you're lost at sea and desperately in need of an anchor.

      That's why it's so important to find people who understand what you're trying to do. Family and friends are good if they're sympathetic and don't just think you're wasting your time or shirking the housework. I've had the good fortune to marry the angel Murph who always manages to say the right thing, just as I'm poised over the computer with a sledgehammer ...

      But for people who *really* understand there's nobody better than other writers. I can't stress strongly enough what a difference it can make joining a writing group. Some of my writing heroes like Stephen King are dubious about the merits of creative writing groups. I can imagine how some can become cliquey or competitive or downright poisonous.

      I was lucky enough to find the Flowerfield Writers - a group with an amazing tutor and a genuinely warm-hearted crew of aspiring writers. We're all at different places and writing different things but everyone there is kind and encouraging. It's the first place I ever shared anything I had written - only a year and a half ago - but that simple, decisive action of reading my work aloud is the springboard from which The Watchers, my agent and the new book have all flowed.

      If you don't fancy a group, you MUST know someone who wants to write. I'm constantly amazed by how many people have that small and secret desire burning inside. Become a group of two or three people. Agree to encourage each other, praise what's good, offer constructive criticism and celebrate every success. Believe that you can get your story out there into the world.

      Stephen King said that writing a book can feel like trying to cross the Atlantic in a bathtub. That's a long way to row but if you have a back up team offering tea, biscuits and words of encouragement that journey is going to feel a whole lot less bumpy. Find people who understand the beautiful madness of trying to write a book. You won't look back.

      Friday, 6 May 2011

      Very superstitious...

      Okay... I'm basically a rational person but I will admit to the occasional bout of superstition and never more so than when writing.

      Last night I was at my writing group and was trying to read bits of the new book. I think it is like *the greatest idea*!!!!!!!!! (Don't we all when we start something new...) Certainly I'm enjoying writing it - and I'm dying to read the first chapter to the group. It seems (to me) quite fresh and original and all that exciting stuff.

      The problem is I have this bizarre, superstitious feeling about it. Don't ask me why. I will admit to wearing 'lucky socks' on a plane when I was a student. I occasionally spit at lone magpies. I have even been known to fling salt over my shoulder. Those are all for good reasons - landing safely, avoiding sorrow and keeping my optician in business.

      Why will I not read my first chapter? Is it like when I read it the writing magic will somehow wear off? I don't know. But I've finally completed the first five chapters and going to send it to my two trusted readers - Bernie McGill and Gillie (my agent). Both will tell me if it's any good and will tell me if there are mental bits that aren't good at all. Maybe then the weird spell will wear off and I can stop reading random, disjointed extracts to the Flowerfield bunch. I can read them the first chapter and it will suddenly make sense!

      I've gotta send it, for their sakes...

      Wednesday, 4 May 2011

      The joy of juicing!

      Well, you'll be pleased to hear there was some writing done today. But... as well as writing... there was JUICING!!!

      I'm something of a late convert to the whole juicing thing. It's fair to say that here in Ireland we're not exactly famous for healthy living... Think Father Jack in Father Ted or Dylan Moran in Black Books... But recently I read an interesting book about keeping the liver healthy and how important this is for good health. The author raved about fresh juice so I used the last wedding gift voucher to get a super-duper juicer which devours whole apples in seconds.

      And really... wow. Just wow! I've bought 'freshly squeezed' juice before in a carton in the supermarket but juicing things at home is an actual revelation. When I juiced my first apple and took a hesitant sip of the (slightly murky) pink liquid - it was a mouthful of the essence of appley-ness. I moved on to red grapes. Unbelievable. Liquid grapeness. Fabuloso!

      Anyway the juicer came with a free recipe book (Juice Master one) and I decided to branch out. So tonight I made something called Popeye Juice - 1 apple, 1 handful of spinach leaves, a quarter of a pineapple and an inch slice of lemon. It was so nice I made another glass for the Murph. He was recording an interview at the time so no doubt tomorrow radio listeners all over Ireland will pause and frown, wondering what the terrible snarling whine in the background is. But it was worth it! It was green juice! Try it and love it!

      By the way, I'm not too proud to beg for recipes from experienced juicers...

      Tuesday, 3 May 2011

      Cooking vs. Writing

      Tonight I was supposed to be writing - or at least that was the plan. Small child part of me wanted to sit down and tell a story. Grown up sensible me went food shopping and decided we needed a nutritious dinner for when we stagger in the door tomorrow evening.

      And so... no story. Instead I am exhausted from chopping and frying and seasoning things but can now smell this wonderful beef and vegetable casserole simmering away in the kitchen. Going to have it tomorrow with mash, broccoli and baby spinach. Yum Yum!

      There's still a bit of me wishes I had done some storytelling... but as we all know to our cost there are only so many hours in the day. Maybe tomorrow, once I've polished off the stew, I can start happy-tapping on the keyboard...

      Tuesday, 26 April 2011

      Viva Espana!

      Well, as part of my 'virus recovery plan' I am in Spain, soaking up the sun and reading lots of books! We've had one day of rain but since then lots of glorious sunshine - getting a bit of a tan.

      I haven't sampled any sangria so far but if you're feeling in the mood the picture came from here - a recipe page. Haven't tested it myself so if you give it a go let me know how it is - or if you have an amazing recipe yourself would love to see it!

      Monday, 18 April 2011

      Missing in action!

      Am conscious of having disappeared for a couple of weeks there - mostly because I had some kind of virus that has left me feeling a bit pooped! Still not feeling 100% but only a few days of work left so hanging in there... Roll on Easter! :-)

      The writing has also suffered although got a bit done last week. I have an idea I'm developing and am very excited about it. Holding fire on the sequel to The Watchers just at the minute - will update with developments there soon I hope!

      Anyone writing / reading anything exciting? I have a lovely stack of books to work my way through once I hit the holidays, hurrah! More on these soon...

      Sunday, 27 March 2011

      Perils of adulthood

      Not much by way of blogging recently... It has been a horribly busy week because of things like work, house hunting, car trouble and toothache (fillings don't last forever and need replaced - who knew?!?!).

      In a week like this all you can do is find things to make you smile. At which point I introduce a blog called... *drum roll* ... Hyperbole and a Half. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favour and check out this post, on how being an adult is a never-ending and occasionally soul-destroying job (pic from here). I have never read anything so agonisingly truthful. On the upside, you may well laugh until you're sick. I also recommend this one.

      Friday, 18 March 2011

      Happy Belated St. Pat's!

      I would have written this yesterday but I was out making the most of my day off! A very pleasant day - spent some time with my dad in the morning, then visited friends in the afternoon and finally out for a lovely meal and some drinks in Portstewart.

      There was a bit of a session going in the bar - lots of musicians playing together - and at one stage the band was largely made up of kids! Really talented! They also did some Irish dancing and got a great round of applause from everyone there. Great atmosphere and great crowd.

      Anyway it was a lovely St Pat's - all the more lovely because I didn't have to get up for work this morning!

      Sunday, 13 March 2011

      Getting from notebook to novel - #3

      3. Keep breathing – and sleeping and eating and exercising… Balance is the key!

      You are officially writing a book. Well done you. You rock! And now that you’re a writer you’re just too damn busy to eat, sleep or clean the house. You go to bed late, head buzzing, and lie staring at the ceiling while your mind plays with characters and dialogue and plot twists… You become insular and a little bit obsessive. Other people become irritating, unless they are an enthusiastic sounding board for your latest ideas.

      For a week or two this degree of narcissism is probably okay, unless you are skipping work or feeding your kids a diet of chips and chocolate. I’m lucky enough to have married an angel who takes it all in his stride (and let’s face it, he has his own periods of working like a lunatic on various projects). But sooner or later writing has to fit around ‘real life’ and that can be the challenging bit.

      Last summer was when I broke the back of writing The Watchers. I was off work for weeks. I got up in the mornings and pockled around, did some writing and then headed to the beach for a walk. I got to the stage where I did less walking than sitting in the car with a travel mug and a big notebook, scribbling down ideas and muttering to myself. Then back home for more writing and cackling at my own cleverness.

      It was exciting at the time but looking back it wasn’t all plain sailing. I was on that borderline between stress and excitement which can be very inspirational but starts to get unhealthy after a couple of weeks. My stomach was upset and I couldn’t sleep (both unusual). To be honest, I felt possessed. The night before we went on a cruise (yes, a cruise!) I screamed at the Murph that I could finish the book if it wasn’t for this bloody holiday…!

      Maybe a first book is always like that – it’s the fear of losing the idea, the tension. For book 2 I would like to do things differently because by December I had a fully revised manuscript and an agent – but I had also eaten tonnes of rubbish, gained a stone in weight and wrecked my neck and shoulders by sitting on the computer for hours at a time.

      So, in the end, writing has to be like every other job – you need to pace yourself. One writer I know, an award winning Sci-Fi author writes a steady two pages a day and has completed more than a dozen books while still working full-time. Another took several years to write a fantastic debut novel. Writing fits round life – but life is important too! Balance is the key.

      • Eat properly, sleep properly, exercise. Writing intensely can be exhilarating but also exhausting. No one realises this unless they’ve written for several hours a day, day in day out.
      • Give yourself breaks, especially if you’re juggling writing with a job and family life.
      • Don’t spend too long on the computer / hunched over a notebook. You WILL give yourself problems. Check your workspace is set up properly. I recommend Pilates for improving general posture, strength and flexibility.
      • Find people who understand – more on this next post.

      Saturday, 12 March 2011

      Currently reading...

      Heard some good reviews of this book and it just arrived this morning. Having just read the first couple of chapters I think it's going to be an enjoyable read. It certainly hooks you from the beginning and has elements of a good thriller and literary fiction.

      Going to get a pot of tea on and tuck my feet up on the sofa... Today was supposed to be for taking photos at the beach but the bitter cold and driving rain have given me the perfect excuse for a reading morning!


      Looking at this picture gave me a shock. This is from Hachinohe in Aomori province, Japan. I lived here back in 99/00 working as an English teacher.

      Earthquakes are always a possibility but the Japanese are so used to them that their buildings are designed to cope. The real fear there for coastal dwellers has always been tsunamis. I had never really heard of them before going to Japan but just before leaving I read a pretty terrifying book about them. As soon as I found out I was going to a coastal city I started trying to suss out how close I lived to the sea! Usually I like being near beaches etc. but in Japan it didn't seem like such a good idea.

      There were no major earthqukes in my time there, just tremors. The really freaky thing was seeing how panic-stricken the Japanese people were while this one was happening. They are so used to earthquakes and just take them in their stride. They knew this was something different.

      I really hope as today wears on we start to hear more encouraging news for the people of Japan - that the casualty list is shorter than feared, the damage less extensive, the grieving fewer in number. The whole world is thinking about them.

      Sunday, 6 March 2011

      Getting from notebook to novel - #2

      2. Develop your stamina – writing is an endurance sport. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

      Some people are lucky enough to be naturally self-disciplined. They are the kind of people who will make the time to sit down and write every single day, regardless of what else is going on in their life. Are you one of those people? Congratulations! If so, you have one of the key characteristics of a real writer, not a talker-writer.

      For most of us it can be a struggle at times. On the good days, words pour onto the page in a tidal wave. Enjoy those days but don’t expect them. EVERYONE can write on those days. Writers who get to the end keep writing, even on the days when their brain has turned to jam and they feel like hurling the PC through the window and dancing on its shattered carcass.

      A book I really recommend is Stephen King’s On Writing. He really describes the long road to hitting the big time. He wrote for years with modest success and kept his rejection slips on a spike. His attitude is: read a lot and write a lot. Anyone can have a great idea for a book. Only one in a thousand will turn it into something.

      Writers don't just talk about writing. They don't say they would love to write but... They put down their book, switch off the TV, stay home instead of hitting the pub yet again, skip their aerobics class once a week and log the hell out of Facebook!

      Lots of people say they want to write a book. I said it for years. Here's what I learned - I just didn't want it enough. We all have busy lives with thousands of distractions and interesting things we can do with our time. Writing involves sacrifice. When you want it badly enough you will make the time. It will be painful at times. Accept that.

      Write, even when you don’t feel like it. It can help to set a time limit – "I will write for the next 15 mins flat out." Even if all you are writing is “This sucks!” over and over again you are writing. You are training yourself to sit at the keyboard and make words appear, instead of doing one of a hundred different things.

      Writers write!

      Tuesday, 1 March 2011

      Currently reading...

      ...'Salem's Lot by Stephen King. After all those tame, swoony vampires it's back to the old school with this one! Proper creepy, predatory, vicious vampires - I'm loving it!

      Any other good scary vampire books anyone can recommend?

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