Monday, 31 October 2011
Friday, 28 October 2011
Thursday, 27 October 2011
Number one on today’s ‘To Do’ list is to ‘write SW post’. Actually it says WRITE SW POST! It is capitalised, unlike numbers 2-11 on my list and it has an explanation mark after it, which seems to imply its creation is either funny or of vital importance.
What is important, is that I get something off my chest. In doing so, I might manage a little ‘funny’ but somehow I doubt it, because at the moment I’m a mite pissed off, which always sours my creative juices. I blame Tesco. Well, not Tesco exactly, but the trip I took to Tesco; the browse I had through Tesco’s books; the fact that I picked up an attractive looking one and read the blurb; the fact that someone else had written my book. Bloody cheek ... It’s like this woman (who shall be nameless, but is a best-selling author) tapped into my mind and wrote my story. This particular story has been rattling around in my head for about two years, so you see it IS possible. Two years ago, the vixen must have latched onto my brainwaves, stole my story and wrote it first. Which of course makes it her story now... Brainwave skulduggery is difficult to prove.
I wouldn’t really mind except this is not the first time I have had my brainwaves stolen. It happens quite often. There I am, thinking that I’m directly wired to the Zeitgeist only to find I am the eternal white rabbit – late to the party, idea already published.
I do understand that there are only so many plots etc and that any story can be handled diversely in different hands. However, I am talking whole books here! You know, similar characters, almost identical plot. I tell you, it’s sabotage. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d have a view. Okay, I have a view – it’s a conspiracy. There’s a certain group of female writers who have all got together, formed a coven and when they join hands, they nick my novels. They must decide amongst themselves who gets what pickings. There’s strength in numbers you know... It’s the only explanation I can come up with.
That or my school reports were right. I spent too much time looking out the window and often lagged behind. The comment, ‘Fionnuala likes to dream,’ was commonplace. I like to think that it was practise. All writers need to be able to imagine other worlds, however, I do accept that all writers need discipline too. Like right now – ‘Come Dine With Me’ is on in the background and I can’t help being drawn to the fact (despite the sound being muted) that someone is making a right *&$£?* of rolling out pre rolled puff pastry. I am thinking ‘how hard can to be to roll out a piece of pre rolled pastry’ when I should be concentrating on writing this post.
Moral of the story is that I now have to come up with a new idea for the novel that I was going to write for NaNoWriMo, because the one I had has been written by someone else. And when I do, I have to WRITE it rather than THINK ABOUT WRITING IT. (Note capitals to imply importance)
Meantime, I know who you are. There are four of you. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to. And you can bloody well stop joining hands and using whatever thieving ways you use. Leave my ideas alone, or I shall be forced to make effigies of you all and stick pins in them. In fact, there you go. That’s what my next novel will be about. A deranged unpublished writer who sticks pins in dolls of mind controlling published writers. I dare you. See what you can do with that!!
PS OOPS - EXCLAMATION MARK!!
Wednesday, 26 October 2011
"I feel a bit of a fraud, writing about NaNoWriMo as if I know what I’m talking about. I’ve being doing it for fun since 2005, like a lot of other people, and I never thought for one minute that it might lead to publication. But to my ongoing surprise, it did – and so, dear reader, for your delectation and amusement, here is a precis of my NaNoWriMo journey to date.
My first attempt (2005) resulted in a laughable serial killer-thriller that I lost in early December to a hard drive failure. Lessons learned in 2005:
|outside the NaNo HQ|
So here we are, standing on the edge of a beautiful new November, full of potential and dark, grey, cold days, just made for cuddling up with a computer or a notebook. This might be your year; the year you write something with a beginning, a middle and an ending that’s actually quite good… This might be the year that you end up with something you can actually show someone. And if not that, then it might be the year that you have the best fun, meet the nicest Wrimos online, go to some hilarious write-ins and emerge on 1st December feeling thoroughly pleased with yourself (and wishing you’d thought to do your Christmas shopping in October).
Tuesday, 25 October 2011
The writing room always has to be a quiet room. I don’t want music on in the background, neither do I want to hear voices, least of all ones which interrupt the master at work…’Gillian, what do you think?’ or ‘Gillian, I really don’t want to disturb you but….’
Our teachers always used to say the exam room was a quiet room. And, surprise, surprise, they were right! Apart from the odd cough or sneeze though. Whilst studying as a GCSE and A Level student, I was always distracted by the presence of music in the background. Even the radio was a major source of disruption. The radio only served as a brief 15 minute break from studying. I would switch on Radio One as a reward and listen to Steve Wright In The Afternoon (oh the memories), have a Kitkat and get back to work.
Times haven’t changed, except for the fact I now have to tolerate background noise while writing. It’s not really a choice any more. After all I’m not the only person living at number 15. I have to battle against constant renditions of Three Blind Mice and background MTV (which is a great tool to get Baby to sleep!) football on Five Live and re-runs of Two and A Half Men.
And the writing room is not a cafeteria either. We usually ask our Strictly guest posters what their favourite writing snack is and they will say ‘a packet of cheese and onion crisps’ or ‘a Twix.’ I’m at the other end of the spectrum in that many times I’ve forgotten to eat! Lunch would just disappear and before I know it, it’s 5pm and dinner time.
I think it’s all about discipline and whatever way you were taught to study, you’ll carry that on in your writing life. Am I right?
Monday, 24 October 2011
Excuse the un-padded-out-ness of this post; but didn't somebody once say that brevity is the most compelling form of depth?*
Great idea. Great first book. Great first film. There's a saying about stopping while you're ahead, isn't there?
Oh please, just don't even get me started. The book was fine back when Vampires were new an' all. The movie was just mayhem (in the auditorium) with screaming and gasps and lots of tweens taking unauthorised photographs NEXT to the screen before being politely asked to move away. Just silly.
Friday, 21 October 2011
Thursday, 20 October 2011
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
I’d already completed a second manuscript prior to Gabriel’s publication. But the story was so very different. Where Gabriel is a gentle coming-out, coming-of age, the new manuscript was dark and comic, more of an urban tale with offbeat characters and a thriller element. It reflected another but no less vital side of my personality. However, people in the United States were advising that my second novel (called a ‘sophomore novel’ here) should be similar to ASCG because that’s what readers and critics expected.
For months, I stuck the finished manuscript into a desk drawer and tried to come up with another literary type story that this unknown audience would like. I researched genetic engineering but couldn’t get enthused. I started plotting a story from a dog’s point of view. I abandoned that and moved on to Mormonism, but the deeper I got into writing the story’s outline, the more I knew the protagonist’s core conflict would not support a novel. But always, from within the reaches of the shut desk drawer, the strong characters in my manuscript would enter my consciousness, insisting it was their turn, insisting that their story needed to be told just as much as Gabriel’s. There was Danny, the young Northern Irish man who fled his controlling father and fiancée for London; Piper, a twenty-two year old American woman studying at the LSE who likes her boyfriend but not the sex; Julia, the plummy-voiced immigration officer who’s a law unto herself; and meddling Agnes Hartley, Julia’s neighbour, who despises her and writes over-familiar letters to the Queen Mother. But my fears persisted that the novel was just far too different from A Son Called Gabriel’s simple story with its one subplot.
In the end, because I’ve always liked to do things my way, I decided to defy the so-called ‘conventional wisdom’ that a novelist’s second novel should be similar in voice or style to the first. I decided the finished manuscript would be my second novel and gave it the title Twisted Agendas. I spent last winter editing and re-editing, paring the story but maintaining the rich multi-layered structure and keeping the chapters fairly short because that’s something I like in a novel’s structure.
It was published recently by London’s independent publisher Legend Press and given a superb cover that conveys the work is commercial and literary rather than just purely literary fiction. Time will tell if I made the right decision but I’m feeling pretty good about it right now because I’ve had interest from a large US publisher. And the irony is that I’ve just now completed my third manuscript that’s a combination of both my A Son Called Gabriel and Twisted Agendas writing styles and voices.
here and is on Twitter @DamianMcN
Friday, 14 October 2011
After my latest Teenage book was rejected by every last one of those nice Literary Agent type people from the Writer's and Artists Yearbook, I did what I don't generally do and retreated quietly into my cave with what felt like huge, gaping wounds around about my tail area.
I have spent so long licking these open sores (yes, I'm being metaphorical here although I am beginning to gross myself out now) and have so little fur protecting my rear parts that I need to stop henceforth, regroup, settle down and allow my pelt to grow back at a gentle pace.
God, I LOVE a good analogy!
And I thought I was going to do with this book what I've done with the others (4, but who's counting?) which is hide it away in a folder on the pc....
BUT one comment from my Rejectors has been swirling about in my brain for so long now that it's finally sparked enough neurons to have formed it's own community in my lateral cortex, preventing the book from flatlining completely.
And that comment was that the MC didn't have any compulsion to 'get better'.
Oky, so the story started off at the right 'place' - with a nice juicy hook and worm and... enough analogies now... began with a good grip anyway; BUT the main character just didn't warrant enough reader-sympathy to propel the story forward.
MC was a fairly likeable girl. A little flawed, but then show me a teen who isn't. She had a bit of an attitude and came from a decent working-class family with the usual standard dysfunctions. So far, so fine.
But 'fine' isn't enough these days. Is it?
Even though the story was interesting (yeah right, SO interesting, agents were drawing daggers at dawn for a piece of it) Miss MC just didn't have enough 'changeability' about her to warrant a journey of self-discovery.
Imagine, if you will, Dorothy. Or Cinderella. Or the Ugly Duckling.
Nice characters. Pleasant surroundings, a few not so nice secondary characters who offer conflict for their own wildly differing reasons, but they NEED a change to happen in their literary lives, don't they? And these all DO.
Mine didn't. Not so much as you'd noticed, anyway.
Okay, so she went on a journey, she found out some stuff, had a few frights, laughs, moments of sadness and the book ended on a cheeky note of hopeful-ever-after; but she didn't scream "aaaargghhhhh! see what I NEED?" from page one, which readers like to see; want to feel.
A reader needs to have this. A reader deserves this. Otherwise where's the point in a story?
Cinderella HAD to go to the ball to find her Happy Ending.
The Ugly Duckling had to shed his puppy fur to find his snowy white feathers.
and Dorothy needed to be blown to Nethercome to realise there's no place like Home.
My MC requires a healthy injection of Need; she's not ready to pass over into archive-heaven just yet. All I have to do is breathe a bit more into her and I think she'll be good to go.
So, excuse me while I scrub up, pull on my green wellies and tie on my surgical mask - this could get bloody brilliant! (although I may need an analogy-bypass to get ME through this operation...).
Thursday, 13 October 2011
After living in the wilderness (well, Cornwall) for seven years, I’ve moved back to the city. A huge change of pace which also requires a big attitudinal change. In Cornwall I had a 4-storey cottage with direct views over the river from every floor. In the city, for the same price, I can barely afford a two-bedroom flat with views over various air-filtering devices on the roof next door - or a one-bedroom flat. In Cornwall I had a painting studio with a Belfast sink and a balcony. Now I have to consider whether I can paint at all.
This is not a nightmare but a challenge: an interesting opportunity to look at my life and how I now hope to live it. And, strangely, my writing process seems to be going hand in hand with my moving process. In Cornwall I wrote my novel – all 100,000 words of it. Lots of words, lots of space. As I prepared to move, I began editing – both my possessions (I gave away or sold much of what I owned) and my novel. And now, in the city, I’ve reached the ultimate in downsizing: the one-bedroom flat, and the blurb.
The word says it all. Blurb is the sound you make when you’re trying to think one up. And it’s no coincidence that blurb is very similar to blub (a consequence of attempting to write one) blur (what happens to your eyes after doing so) and blue (how you feel once you’ve written it).
Not immediately, of course. The first reaction on completing a blurb is a kind of religious vapour. I did it! I wrote a blurb! - rapidly followed by the falling-to-earth realisation that your blurb is actually a crock of s**t. As some wise soul said, if you can do it in 200 words, why bother writing the novel?
Because, it seems, the perfect blurb is a super-clever selling device to seduce potential readers inside the covers.
I have blurbs coming out of my ears. If only one of them worked. Mine is a novel which hovers on the literary/commercial borders, so blurbing is a tricky balancing act between making my book sound like a chick-lit novel and making it sound incredibly lit’ry, dahling. And, like a one-bed flat, a blurb has to work hard for its diminutive size. It has to succinctly sum up the novel. It has to hook the reader. And it has to give a sense of the style and tone of the writing.
Do I begin with a quote from the book? Should I focus on the nuts-and-bolts of the narrative or on the underlying themes? Do I tailor it to work with the cover image?What stays? What goes? Should I keep it short and succinct or expand it to include the three parallel narratives? Should it end with a question, or is that old hat?
In my new one-bedroom flat (when I find it) I hope to live, write and paint. May my blurb, too, prove the cliche that small is beautiful and that downsizing is the Next Big Thing.
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
I have to say that I find this terrifying. I'm not really sure why; if you have any ideas to help me cope I would be deeply grateful. It's embarrassing too; I'm a professional psychologist and the words of Jesus, "Physician, heal thyself" come back to mock me.
I think it's a legacy from school, where the prospect of reading aloud to the class was even scarier than Clifton Hughes, who gobbed all the way down my arm at the bus stop. At work I have to run leadership programmes for senior managers from high profile organisations, and I do that without blinking. When it comes to reading my own work I shrivel. Just writing about it now I can feel my heart spreading till it no longer fits in my chest.
This is something I would like to get over. I rehearse a lot before readings, know most of my work by heart, and think I'm actually quite good at it. When I listen to others, they sometimes mumble out the words in a monotonous, inaudible voice, whereas I try to put some energy into it, and look at the audience.
I just hate it.
A few days ago I found out I've been shortlisted for the Live Canon poetry prize. That's a thrill as it is judged by the fantastic Glyn Maxwell. And the relief is that the awards ceremony will feature actors reading our poems: we won't have to do it. Perhaps I should only enter ones like that.
Please leave a comment if you share this phobia, or if you have any tips for how to handle it.
Monday, 10 October 2011
Friday, 7 October 2011
More of a silhouette really, isn’t it? There are loads of these in my book.
You see, every entry in 21st Century Dodos is given a dodo rating of between one and five dodos. One being ‘not very rare’ and five for ‘extinct’. Although, thinking about it, I don’t think there are actually any One Dodo items in the book.
There are some Two Dodo entries though. C&A warrants just a pair, despite the fact that there hasn’t been a branch of their shop anywhere in the UK since 2001, as they are still going strong in Europe. Beyonce even has a clothing range there.
Telephone boxes are clearly still dotted around the landscape, so also get rated a 2, even though hundreds of them go unused every year (451 in Scotland neither received nor made a single call last year). Sadly, there are loads of Five Dodo entries ranging from Betamax to World of Sport, interludes to Texan bars. But what on earth am I going on about?
Well, my book is a collection of eulogies, tributes and fond farewells to the many inanimate objects that many of us grew up with but are now on the verge of extinction – a collection of 21st Century Dodos.
Things such as audio cassettes, the Ford Cortina, rotary dial telephones and Concorde. See? If you are in the mood for a bit of a nostalgia-fest then perhaps you’d like to check it out. All my royalties will go towards buying cake.
here as part of my blog tour. Visit Amazon to buy the book or if you'd like to purchase the ebook click here.
Thursday, 6 October 2011
I was never 100% certain what he meant by this, but assumed that the big concrete building in the middle of Pontefract must be filled to the rafters with posh folk. No doubt they would be thumbing through the complete works of Thomas Hardy while drinking tea from dainty china cups.
Not that I'd ever seen any posh folk in Pontefract, but maybe that was because they were all hanging out in the library, or The Conservative Club.
It was not until I went to uni and was prevailed upon to join that I finally stood in line and became a library member. The first thing I noted was how bloody easy it was and the second were the huge signs everywhere saying no food or drink was to be consumed on the library premises. Not even tiny cups of Earl Grey tea.
I was like the kid given the keys to the sweet shop and took out the maximum number on my first day, staggering under the weight of twenty hardbacks as I made my way back to halls.
I remember the sweet pleasure of putting up my DMs and reading everything from Kafka to Jackie Collins. To be fair I probably should have been spending more time reading law books, given that that was what I was there for, but we won't dwell on that.
Back at home that Christmas, I tackled my Dad on how wrong he'd been. 'Libraries are for everyone,' I told him. 'Take that working class chip off your shoulder and join.'
He was mumbling something about the proletariat and the means of production when my Mum took another swig of her snowball and told me to ignore him. My Dad it turns
out, had been a member of Pontefract library, but he'd forgotten to take back the books he'd borrowed and had consequently been barred. He was also barred from The Hope and Anchor, but that was about something else entirely.
Anyway, since then, I've been a massive fan and user of libraries. In fact I have written huge swathes of my books in libraries. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how many services they offer. And one of my faves is the plethora of reading groups. A group of very different people from completely different backgrounds, coming together to discuss books - how cool is that. And they don't even have to buy the books!
For this reason, I always try to accept any invitations from libraries to come and speak to reading groups. Put an author together with readers and well...you can't have any more fun outside of a hotel room. So it's with great pleasure that I get to plug a readers day for my local library service; Bedforshire. They do a sterling job and I am delighted to have been asked to take part on 15th October 2011 from 10-4pm. The cost is £8 but it is a whole day of book filled fun and the price includes refreshments and lunch.
There will be many more authors there besides me...Anna Stothard, Morag Joss, Trilby Kent, Simon Brett and Sophie Hannah.
I really really can't wait.
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Last week the papers seized on a story about certain best-selling novelists whose sales have fallen dramatically in the past year. Jodi Picoult and Marian Keyes are among them. Here’s The Independent’s take on it:
I don’t want to re-hash what the journalists are writing. But I find several things interesting about this story.
First, that women fiction writers are so often lumped together under the banner of chick-lit, whilst no mention was made at all of ‘lad-lit’ (does it still exist?) or, indeed, of the sales of any male writers.
Second, and leading on from this: what exactly is ‘chick-lit’? The universal (and often supercilious) answer appears to be novels with pastel covers adorned with stilettos, martini glasses, hearts and flowers – in which case, what are Jodi Picoult and Marian Keyes doing on the list?
Third, and leading on again: there seems to have been a recent trend among publishers who insist on creating ‘chick-lit’ style covers for a wide range of women’s fiction, regardless of content. A women’s fiction author recently made the headlines by leaving her publisher because of the way her novels were being portrayed by their covers.
A pattern begins to emerge. A sense of blanketing, of homogenisation. Of ‘more of the same.’
Publishers are running scared. It’s understandable. What with the economic climate, the rapidly changing environment of book-buying and reading and the rising costs of actually publishing books, let alone marketing them effectively, little wonder that publishers are becoming risk-averse. If you know that a celebrity autobiography is going to sell in shed-loads, then that’s what you’ll publish. If there’s a call for chick-lit (whatever that may be) then when you publish it you’ll make sure that it's easily identifiable across a crowded supermarket. Chick-lit (so called) has been ruling the roost, publishing-wise, for a decade or more, and publishers obviously want their best-selling authors to keep writing within a narrowly restricted range and to present that writing in a narrowly-restricted set of images.
Inevitably comes a backlash. I think it’s known as entropy. Eventually, trends will begin to turn, usually in the opposite direction. The focus on materialism which began in the 80s and resulted, perhaps, in the chick-lit trend, is losing ground. Already, as the article above mentions, there’s a turn away from materialism towards magic, spirituality and the fantastic. Is this a good thing? Yes, in the sense that it may break new ground. No, in the sense that the same thing is likely to happen all over again.
But wouldn't it be wonderful if books could be celebrated for their originality, their freshness and their difference? Wouldn't it be fabulous if genre and gender came second to sheer, brilliant story-telling? A dangerous notion.
Would love to hear your thoughts...
Monday, 3 October 2011
Working in journalism, I am surrounded by stories daily. Except these stories are real. From murders to political scandals to simple human interest pieces which warm your heart, I tend to use these as fodder for my books. Throw my own personal experiences of every day issues into the mix and voila – here we have…a novel. I have to confess that I base the majority of my novels on high profile incidents, except I twist the stories and make them into my own pieces of fiction. Very often the inspiration can arise from one simple incident buried within a news story – one family’s struggle to come to terms with the death of a loved one for example.
Even if you don’t work in journalism, it’s easy enough to pluck an item from the newspaper or even a piece of gossip from OK magazine, or that hellish place, Netmums (where you’ll find a rant about Little Johnny’s dad) and make it your own. If you’re stuck for inspiration and need to get into first gear, open the newspaper, turn on the television or look out the window and work with what you see in front of you. Heck, even now that it’s X-factor season, listen to what some of the most inspirational and quirky contestants have to say about their lives and develop your characters from there. You’d be surprised at what you come up with. Better still, eavesdrop on a chat in a coffee shop – after all, aren’t most ping-pong conversations about other people, especially those generated by groups of women?
A lot of the novels I love have been inspired by real life events, for example Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann (9/11) and Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (the bombing of Nagasaki). Those books that use an historical event as a backdrop, I find, are more engaging. I feel I can identify with the characters, as if I had lived through the tragedies myself. But that’s just a personal preference. Wasn’t there a whole flurry of novels following the events of September 11, 2001, many of which were based on single incidents within this whole tragedy? Falling Man by Don Delilo springs to mind. And they still keep on coming, years after the events have occurred. I’m keen to read The Submission by Amy Waldman, which deals with the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The book follows a jury as they select a fitting memorial to the victims, the architect being an American Muslim.
One could argue that most books are based on real life events not covered by the media, even pink-covered commercial women’s fiction. It’s just that we don’t hear about these events as they are personal to the writer. What events have inspired your book? Are they personal and private, or have you been affected by something you’ve read in the newspaper? Do tell!