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!

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