Monday, 31 December 2012

What I learned this year about... writing.

Keep doing it. Don't stop. Your time will come!

What I learned this year about... babies.

I've only been a mum for three months but let me share what I've learned in that short time...

- However they come out, be it through the trapdoor or the sunroof, it's gonna hurt.

- The first four weeks are pretty much awful. Nothing can really prepare you for the exhaustion. Whole days and weeks blur by in hallucinatory four hour cycles of waking, feeding, winding, changing, dozing, waking, feeding... Lots of people gloss over this fact. I would like to thank the handful of people who were brutally honest about this. And everyone else... I reckon you just blocked it all out, like any other trauma - so I forgive ya!

- Whatever joyful moments you can seize upon in these first four weeks - grab them and don't let go. It might be a shower, an uninterrupted meal, someone taking the bean for a walk so you can sleep... Enjoy each and every such moment!

- Babies grow fast. Take lots of photos. The speed at which they change is miraculous. Expect to be mildly broken-hearted when they grow out of the newborn clothes.

- At about five to six weeks they start smiling and interacting. They begin to grin and coo and sing to themselves. They develop a visible personality. At this point, magically, all the sleeplessness and hormones and pain (not to mention nine months of pregnancy) suddenly becomes worthwhile. You realise that by sheer good fortune you have created something truly amazing - a whole new person.

 - Babies take centre-stage. You are no longer the star in your own life.

- Swaddling is your friend. Ditto the angry hiss of static or any other white noise, especially if you have a colicky or overtired screamy baby. I recommend Baby Bliss by Dr Harvey Karp (aka The Happiest Baby on the Block) for tips and tricks. It saved my last remaining marbles.

- People love babies. It is amazing the happiness a baby brings, not just to family and friends but to complete strangers (in supermarkets and cafes to name just two examples). And when a baby bestows a smile on someone - it can make their day.

- Most of all I have learned that your own baby really is different. No matter how unmaternal you feel before your baby arrives (e.g. backing away in terror when a friend / colleague holds out a dribbling, shrieking, writhing newborn) somehow after those first few weeks have passed in a blur you will wake up one day, look at your gummy, grinning new arrival and realise that your life has changed forever - and that's okay.

Friday, 30 November 2012

A triumphant week for the PWA!

I've written before about the fabulous PWA - our online (and occasional in-the-flesh) writing group. And while my NaNoWriMo efforts have been an epic fail (due to proofing I hasten to add, wasn't slacking completely...) two PWA members had awesome success this week!

First up Bernie McGill's novel The Butterfly Cabinet was chosen by Julian Fellowes as his novel of the year! For those of you unfamiliar with Julian Fellowes he's currently best known as the writer of the international hit series Downton Abbey. I love Downton Abbey (and not just because fellow PWA-peep Julie Agnew and I enjoy drooling over the delectable Branson...) and am quite jealous of the US audience who haven't seen the third series yet. Of The Butterfly Cabinet he writes, "McGill has the ability to enter into the brain and heart of her characters and so to make us sympathise with people who commit acts we abhor."

And secondly short story writer Mandy Taggart has won the 2012 Michael McLaverty Short Story Award (run by the Linenhall Library, Belfast) with her story Ways of the North. It will be published in an anthology along with the two runners up. If you want to hear Mandy talking about her win you can listen (for 30 days only!) to her Radio Ulster interview. (Mandy's bit is at the end.)

Congratulations to both lovely ladies! I'm feeling suitably inspired by their success to get the proofs finished and get some writing done!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The proofs have arrived!

Exciting times in the McCune / Murph household - the uncorrected proofs of Death & Co. have arrived! The picture at the minute is the Hot Key logo but I've seen the first draft of the 'real' cover and absolutely love it - it really captures the spirit of the book!

This is the first time I've ever seen something I wrote bound into an actual book - and it was amazing flicking open the pages and finding my words inside. Up until now the book has only existed on the computer screen or a dog-eared, heavily marked print out. Suddenly the book seems so much more real!
And as if this wasn't cool enough check out what they've done at the start of each chapter - I am loving the 'woodcuttings'. You can catch a sneak peek at the first couple of paragraphs of the Prologue here...

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

It's almost November... It's NaNoWriMo Time!

A very quick post this evening as the witching hour is approaching on this spookiest of evenings...!

So our daughter Ellen is just over 5 weeks old today - hard to believe. The days and nights have blurred past in 3-4 hour slots of feeding, nappy changing and catching some sleep when the opportunity presents itself. But don't worry, I am exacting my revenge by getting as many comical photos of her as possible. I look forward to showing them to prospective suitors in the future...

And of course the end of October means only one thing - tomorrow is November and the start of NaNoWriMo. I believe the usual target is 50,000 words but I've decided that might be a tad ambitious with a newborn baby. So, my personal target will be 10,000 words this month. I suspect they will be pretty awful words but no one can fault my optimism. It's not too late to set your own target so if you want some tips check out the NaNoWriMo website.

And one final bit of excitement. The book (out next year) is called Death & Co. - and by spooky coincidence the bound but uncorrected proofs arrived with Hot Key today, ready to head off to Australia! A very suitable book for Halloween of course. You can check out the temporary cover here - but I can't wait to reveal the real book cover because it's AMAZING!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, 5 October 2012

A tale of 3 Jane's...

Well world, I'd like you to meet someone. This is our brand, shiny new daughter Ellen Jane, born on Tuesday 25th September at 1.01pm. She came out with eyes wide open, a squawk of indignation and a thick head of dark hair which is greatly admired (and petted cat-style) by all.

Choosing a name can be fraught with difficulty but we went for Ellen because it was beautiful and classical and means 'bright light'. Her middle name is Jane, which is also my middle name - when the book comes out next year it will be published under D J McCune.

So two Jane's so far - but both Ellen and I were named for the third - or rather the first. This is my Granny Jane Oakes,  known as Jenny. She died on the 5th of October 2011 at the age of 95. She lived through two World Wars - the first as a baby herself, the second as a mother with babies of her own (she told us about hiding in the cupboard under the stairs when the air raid sirens went off and bombers flew towards Belfast). She originally came from Newcastle in England but moved to Northern Ireland when she got married.

Granny absolutely adored books, poetry and reading and would often sit up reading into the small hours of the night (a habit she passed on to me). I never got to tell her about the book deal but I know she would have been proud. I also know she would have been proud of her newest great-grandaughter, named in her honour - just as she was proud of all her other children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

There's always grief when we lose someone we love. I was still writing Death & Co. when Granny died and it added a particular poignancy to the whole thing - writing a book about life and death and free will and family and the afterlife when the memories of a real bereavement were so sharp and fresh. Sometimes it seems insane that the world still turns when someone you love has died; that the other players keep walking the stage with all their triumphs and tribulations.

In the end, we all find our own ways to remember the people who have gone before us - place flowers, pull out old photos, light candles. But maybe the best thing we can do to honour the dead is to live well and do the things we know would have made them proud.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Writing and juggling... the latest twist.

All writers are jugglers. I suspect most scribblers harbour a fantasy about being a 'real writer'. The fantasy probably reads something like the following...

Once upon a time there was a writer who lived in a cottage by the sea. The world pretty much left her alone, apart from the seagulls she had trained to bring her the odd packet of Doritos. She wrote stories and sold them to publishers who paid all her bills. The taxman liked her stories so much he left her alone. And so she whiled away her days eating Doritos, walking on the beach and effortlessly writing books without distraction. THE END

Now, even as a fantasy writer, that is pretty far-fetched - but a lot of us have some version of this tucked away in a dark corner of our minds. "If only it wasn't for my (delete as appropriate)... job / husband / kids / pets / responsibilities I would be able to write! Goddammit, I could write!" [adopts tortured expression of frustrated artist]

Thing is, we all have to juggle writing with life. I don't think that ever goes away, even if you're some amazingly successful writer - I mean c'mon, then you've got cool parties to attend and book panels to waffle on and that house in the Bermudas to visit... (See why I write fantasy, this stuff is easy...). Stephen King points out that TV is one of the greatest distractions for many aspiring writers ('sucking on the glass teat' is the rather evocative phrase he uses). For me the internet is my personal precipice - after all, as a writer the internet is so essential, so justifiable! You have to do research, email editors and agents, connect with other writers - and of course readers.

And from tomorrow I will have a whole new 'ball' to juggle. It - or rather she - will be roughly 9lbs in weight and pretty ferocious when she's tired or hungry. I'm guessing parenthood brings particular challenges for any writer - after all, being a parent is largely about being unselfish and sacrificing your personal wishes and desires for someone else, especially at the beginning. You begin to dream some new dreams for someone else - and for once they're not a character, they're a real flesh and blood human being. They don't have to follow the path you prescribe for them - tough for any writer (because let's face it, writing is as close as you can get to playing God without actually re-training as a dictator). And writing is selfish in a way - romping through your own head, choosing at times to ignore the world around you. From what I hear newborns don't tend to tolerate being ignored for long...

So as I sit here typing I can feel our daughter having a final alien-style squirm around, getting ready to erupt into the world, a whole new human being! Hopefully I'll learn the same skills so many of you have had to learn - balancing the role of writer and mum without messing up* as either (*Disclaimer: too much, most of the time. Is that aiming low?)

And any tips you've learned along the way - do share. After all, every one of us is a juggler -  but many hands make light(er) work.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Currently watching... The 4400

Having worked pretty hard for the last few months on all sorts of things I'm enjoying a rare bit of down time at the minute - the calm before the storm so to speak.

So what better way to pass a few lazy hours than with a box set of The 4400? It's a quirky little series which I'd never heard of until it popped up in a 'recommended for you' list.

The plot essentially revolves around 4,400 people who go missing from earth, from a variety of different countries and times - only to all be returned at the same time with no memory of where they have been and a variety of new 'superhuman' abilities. Rather like Heroes these abilities can be used for good and evil - and at my current viewing stage (half way through season 3) the jury is still out on a couple of the main characters. Are they goodies or baddies?

It's the perfect chill out DVD - near world sci-fi, undemanding, good mix of characters and 40 minute bite-sized episodes. It's also pretty addictive so expect to watch 2 or 3 episodes back to back.

My one concern is the knowledge that like so many American shows it fell victim to 'sudden death' - where a studio for various reasons (usually financial) cancels halfway through the final season and without necessarily tying up all the loose ends. It's lazy, annoying and disrespectful to viewers who have invested time watching hours of content, only to be cheated out of a conclusion (thinking especially of the ill-fated Flash Forward here, not to mention the utterly bizarre, rush-job ending of the really promising Jericho). I haven't seen the last series of The 4400 yet but I'm really hoping it ends with a bang instead of a whimper...

Monday, 10 September 2012

Every writer needs a PWA!

"Ah-ha, ah-ha, but what is a PWA?" I hear you ask (channelling Dr Seuss). Allow me to explain...

The PWA is short for the Procrastinating Writers' Association. Like the best nights out, it came about spontaneously and without any real planning. In October 2011 a few of us formed an online Facebook group for NaNoWriMo. We all had different goals - from ploughing on with books to writing more short stories - but essentially we wanted to stop getting distracted and get some writing done!

Over time our little group has evolved into something really special. Sometimes life gets busy and it can be hard to make time for meet-ups - but thanks to the internet a group of fellow writers is never too far away. The PWA has given us a space to share ideas, celebrations, commiserations, gossip, news about life and the odd picture of Branson from Downton Abbey... {ahem}.

The thing is, writing can be intense. Possibly every writer is a bit crazy - happy to spend time locked in a room in their head with a bunch of non-existent people who somehow conspire to bring themselves into existence. There's only so much a long-suffering spouse or pet can listen to as you cackle with delight at your latest plot twist or evil villain. That's why it's so important to find people who understand.

So if you're struggling to finish your latest project, why not get together with other people who get the crazy? Why not create your own PWA? You won't look back.

And before I go let me introduce you to our PWA...

This is Julie Agnew. Although she was no doubt a child prodigy she is a bit older than this now so don't feel insecure. She writes lovely poems but she's also working on her first book, which is very, very funny and warm-hearted, rather like Julie herself. It has a working title of 'Holly' because that's what the main character is called and the rest of the PWA are going to torment her until she finishes it because we want to know how it ends! On a side note, she posts distracting pictures of semi-naked Olympians to take us away from work. Grrrrr (not).

This is Bernie McGill. I met Bernie (and the other PWA members) when I joined the Creative Writing Class at Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart. Bernie is the endlessly patient and positive tutor in the class, who somehow manages to help you critique your work while being incredibly gentle and encouraging. She's also the author of a beautiful novel The Butterfly Cabinet, prize-winning short stories and a couple of plays. You can find out more about Bernie and her work if you visit her lovely website.

And finally... presenting Mandy Taggart! Mandy writes absolutely beautiful short fiction, some pieces really moving, some with a wonderful thread of dark humour running through them. She has been awarded an Arts Council grant for 2012-13 to give her the chance to focus on her writing - hurrah! You can find links to some of her published stories on her Facebook page, including a link of her reading a piece called Skiboo out loud - and singing! Brave woman!

So, are you feeling inspired? Will you be setting up your own PWA?

Friday, 7 September 2012

I knew I was going to love Hot Key Books...

... when I saw this video. Because there is nothing worse than a bunch of luvvie types who take themselves too seriously :-D

And know the best bit? Not only are they accepting submissions but they accept full manuscripts by email! Is your book ready? Go for it!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

It's all a bit exciting...

Just a quick hello after a madly busy few months. I'm very conscious of not updating the blog but hopefully you'll forgive me when you hear that so far this year we / I have...

a) renovated a house.
b) moved into new house
c) got my 3 book deal *faints*
and finally... drum roll ...
d) we are having a baby! Very soon! In a few weeks! *faints again*

I won't bore you with the details of the move, lots of you will have done it and know how stressful it is. We were looking for a house for a long time (as previously mentioned in this post) so it was great when we finally found a house with office space for two writers! It needed lots of work - but we're now at the 'picking curtains' stage, rather than the 're-wire and re-plumb' stage!

As for the book deal - well it's been interesting! Not least because up until now my two trusted readers have been my lovely agent Gillie and my friend and writing mentor Bernie McGill. Now I've had to expand the 'reading circle' to include all the lovely people at Hot Key Books, especially my editor Emily Thomas.

It's always strange letting new people read your work. Writing comes from inside you so when someone reads it I always feel a bit exposed - like I've laid down a little piece of my soul for people to pet or spit upon as they choose! I'll be writing more in the blog about the whole editing process - as well as a rather fabulous group of writing ladies who have kept me sane through finishing the book, submitting it and dealing with the ups and downs of negotiations and edits. Forget the A-Team - they are the PWA! More on them soon...

And as for the baby bit... Well, I'll be able to tell you more about that soon enough. For now my stomach is moving from side to side Alien-style which is half-endearing and half-freaky. All tips for juggling newborns and writing gratefully received!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Some very exciting news! It's a deal!

You may have noticed the blog has been very, very quiet. That's because I had some very exciting but top secret news. I am over the moon to tell you that I have a 3 book deal with the fab Hot Key Books!

The book is called Death & Co. and tells the story of 15 year old Adam, a reluctant Luman - one of a special group of people charged with sending souls safely into the afterlife. Thing is, all Adam wants is to be normal - hang out with his friends, go to school - and if he's lucky eventually get to snog the lovely Melissa Morgan. Unfortunately Adam's family and the Luman world have other ideas...

I started this blog to keep track of the up and down road to getting published as a newbie author - and two years on I can finally crack open the champagne. I've been so touched by the comments and emails I've received here, especially because I have a habit of disappearing for long stretches - so thank you to all of you who read the blog and rooted for me over the last couple of years. I hope it will encourage you to know - no matter how tough the market is out there new authors are still getting published. You could be next!

I'll keep you up to date but provisional publication date for Death & Co. is May 2013 worldwide - and I reckon I can sneak a few teaser extracts out before then!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Getting from notebook to novel - #6

#6 - It's editing time. Get acquainted with your Inner Critic - and make sure she's a real b*tch!

So you've finished the book! The hours and hours hunched over the computer have finally paid off. Your story rocks, especially that neat little twist / devilish villain / saucy lurve scene (delete as appropriate). All you have to do now is have a quick read through, check for any outageous spolling mistaks (heh heh) and start sending it off to agents / editors / publishers.

Except you don't. This is the point where you will simultaneously become your own best friend and your own worst enemy. This is the point where you get out your manuscript, red pen and a notebook and begin the editing process.

As ever I learned a lot from my writing Bible, Stephen King's On Writing. He suggests printing out the complete manuscript double-spaced and doing a read through with a notebook by your side. Changing words or phrases is easy - just write them straight in, making the most of your double spacing. When you notice something which needs more thought or which is causing conflict, King suggests making a squiggle in the margin and then writing a corresponding page-referenced memo into your notebook. For example, some of my notes for the new book included "p216 Check paddock location" and "p89 Check Chloe's age." They're not always deal breakers but the fine details which make your world believable and consistent - especially important in fantasy.

It would be possible to write an entire book on editing, never mind a blog post - but one of the best pieces of advice I came across was to read your book as if it's your worst enemy reading it. Trust me, you'll soon spot the overuse of certain words (with Watchers it was a love affair with the word grimace, with the new book... I'm not sure yet...). On the other hand try not to lose the faith. Every writer has that experience of loving page 52, then reading it the next day with hatred in their heart. That's part of the process. The love will return - unless it genuinely does suck.

Anyway, I'm off to practise what I preach - wish me luck!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Wondrous gadgets for writers #2 - The 'Freedom' Programme!

Ever noticed how the more you have to do, the easier it is to get distracted? This is especially true for writers, who spend so much working time on the computer. And of course the computer means only one thing... THE INTERNET!!!

I'm not the first person (nor will I be the last) to find that the internet is a double-edged sword. For the current book it has been incredibly useful, especially for research (everything from suicide bombing to west African time zones, in case you're interested...). On the flip side, things like Twitter and Facebook can sap precious writing time. It is with some shame that I must confess to a love-hate relationship with a certain FB game...

Thankfully I'm not the only one - and here comes Freedom to the rescue! It's a programme designed for the weak-willed (i.e. the human race), whereby you voluntarily lock yourself off the internet for a set time period of  your own choosing. I've found a two hour minimum helpful. To get on to the web in this time isn't impossible but it does mean restarting your computer - which is generally enough to dissuade the average bear.

If you're feeling bad about needing this - don't! The link above takes you to the testimonials page and you'll find you're in good company - everyone from Nick Hornby to Zadie Smith to Naomi Klein confesses to finding it a life-saver, especially when on a deadline. What's more, it's available for PC and Mac AND you can try it for free first. If you want to download the programme permanently it's only ten US Dollars. Just think how much more you'll earn when you get your first book advance*...

*(You'll be at least fifty pence better off, easily...)

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Wondrous gadgets for writers #1 - The Echo Pen!

As you've read previously I have been afflicted on occasion with computeritus, the bane of all writers at one time another. By computeritus I mean the various agonies caused by excessive typing - neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, finger pain, wrist pain etc etc...

In this post I described one attempt to get round it which is working fairly well - writing by hand, then dictating the text using voice recognition software. However today I got the chance to use something I had only previously read about - the Echo Pen.

Essentially it writes like a normal pen but on special paper which means your notes can be uploaded directly to the computer by USB cable. Apparently there is also some way of converting your handwritten notes to text in Word - every writer's dream! That said, I'm not exactly famous for my copperplate handwriting...

If anyone has used one of these (or a rival brand) I'd love to hear your experiences! Is it genuinely useful - or just a gimmick?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...