Yes!


Yoko Ono, performance artist and activist, was the Bjork of the 1960s. In 1966, she exhibited an interactive artwork known as Ceiling Painting at the Indica Gallery show in London. The viewer was invited to climb a white ladder and, at the top, find a magnifying glass hanging from a frame on the ceiling. The glass revealed the word YES written in tiny letters. It this art work that led to Ono meeting with John Lennon. He later reportedly said if the word had been no he wouldn’t have been interested.

Friday, the 25th May 2018 in Ireland, YES was very much the word of the day. I suspect it may end up being the word of the year, if not the decade.  Friday, as you may recall, was the day of the historic 8th Amendment referendum in Ireland. It was also the National Day for Writers and pal Una and I spent it at a day long event, courtesy of Words Ireland.

Picture, if you will, the pair of us strolling around the exhibition stands, chatting gaily, and encountering the word YES! every few minutes.  And not just adorning the ladies’ bosoms either. Many a manly chest was emblazoned with a no-nonsense yes or tá (yes in Irish).  There was something almost Douglas Adams about it.

Image result for yes to referendum buttons

The event was held at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). It’s a gorgeous venue and well worth a visit if you find yourself in town for a few days. Even if the art isn’t your cupán tae (cup of tea).

Related image

Irish Museum of Modern Art at Kilmainham

Tickets to the event had been arranged for us by our local librarians (thanks Emily and Rose!) and what a day it was. The air fairly crackled. It was as if we knew, you know? That quiet revolution isn’t so quiet when you’re standing at the epicentre with many of the revolutionaries all around you.

But for the day that was in it, we were talking books. Books, writers, sunshine, 20 degrees centigrade (in Dublin?), and a gorgeous setting. Yes, boys and girls, I couldn’t ask for more.  OK, a seven-figure publishing contract and a date with Pierce Brosnan wouldn’t have gone amiss, but I’m not greedy. I got to spend the day talking to people who work in writing-related areas. They teach, run programs celebrating lions of Irish literature like James Joyce, they are publishers, are writers union reps, and are, all of them, writers.

I got to pitch my work in progress to a few publishers some of whom seemed very excited indeed, and I got some suggestions that I would not otherwise have thought of (don’t submit in January. EVERYBODY submits in January.) Have an idea for a second book even while you’re submitting your first. I didn’t have a glimmer of a notion at that moment, but I did half-an-hour later, and it’s a corker. Of course, I think that now, before the grueling work of writing begins. Don’t worry too much about the synopsis, put your effort into a smart cover letter. Who knew?

The sessions were interesting and many of the speakers inspiring. As usual, when it started to get truly exciting, I stopped taking notes and just listened in rapt attention. The bits that stood out: Kit de Waal talking about the writer’s manifesto and being brave enough to explore cultures not our own… John Boyne nearly getting lynched for suggesting the state does not owe the author a living. Say what?… Publishing Ireland sharing the good news that book sales are up an amazing 8% on sales this time last year… More, much more. Oh, I must try to take notes.

It was a wonderful, positive day, with exactly the right number of participants and the right sort of energy. If you’d like to know more about the event and the speakers, here’s the Program of Events.

 

 

 

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The Missing Authors Trilogy


One of the wonderful things about pastiche writers is the wide range of imagination on display. Sherlock Holmes writers, in particular, take their hero to places even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, himself no slouch in the world of the strange and the quirky, would have viewed with wonder. In the hands of pastiche writers, Holmes has been a basset hound and a robot, an old man and — gasp! — a woman. He has traveled space and even gone lollygagging in New York. (I know, as if!)

If it’s imagination you want, you need look no further than Joseph W. Svec III’s Missing Author’s trilogy. I’ll let Joseph explain how the series began:

The trilogy began with the question, how would the most logical detective of literature, Sherlock Holmes, react to the most illogical character of literature, the Cheshire Cat (from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)? That scene was so clear and easy to visualize. I started writing and ended up with a short story. I found out about MX Publishing through the local Sherlockian Society here in Amador County, California, The Holmes Hounds. I submitted the manuscript, and the publisher liked it, but said it should be longer, so I revised it and it was accepted. 

My wonderful wife, who shares every step of the writing process with me, suggested that I end the story with a lead in to another adventure, and since Jules Verne is one of my favorite authors, and a contemporary to Sherlock Holmes, it was only natural that Captain Nemo would show up at Baker Street, and request Sherlock’s assistance to locate Jules Verne. That lead to writing the second book.

Arthurian legend and lore is another interest of mine, so that is how Sherlock ended up traveling back in time to Camelot for the third book. All three books are well researched to make sure that any historical events mentioned, or real characters referenced, are accurate and applicable. In the Nautilus adventure, Jules Verne comments on the outcome, and says that it would make a great novel, but he would move the location to the Sahara desert, which references a novel he would later write.

The research aspect of writing these stories is fun and entertaining, as I discover all kinds of interesting things. Following a transitional novel coming out later this year, I have two more Sherlock Holmes trilogies planned and in process.

A special edition hardcover of the three Joseph Svec Sherlock Holmes novels - Grinning Cat, Nautilus Adventure and Round Table.

For more information check out Joseph’s Kickstarter page here.

 

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Time to get Festive


Image result for hinterland festival kells 2018In summer a young author’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of… festivals!

I don’t know why it is, but in recent years, Ireland has seen more literary festivals pop up from May through August than bluebells in a Sligo wood.

Festivals offer great opportunities to immerse yourself in your type of writing for a day, a weekend, or even a whole week. They allow you to interact with other writers, and to make new friends. The give you a chance to meet your favourite authors and hear them speak, perhaps become inspired by them. They can even allow you a chance to make important contacts in the publishing industry.

While I’m focusing on the goodies at hand in Ireland (and I’d point out that even if you live elsewhere, there’s nothing to say you can’t come and visit, we are the land of welcomes, after all), you will undoubtedly find similar offerings close to where you live, too.

Here are some highlights you can look forward to around the island of Ireland over the next few months. The links will take you to the site with more complete information:

MAY

19th — 27th: International Literature Festival Dublin

30th — 3rd June: Listowel Writers Week

JUNE

6th — 16th: Belfast Book Festival

8th — 10th: Festival of Writing and Ideas

8th — 10th: Howth Literary Arts Festival

11th — 16th: Bloomsday Festival

13th — 17th: Lismore Immrama

14th — 17th: Dalkey Book Festival

21st — 24th: Kells Hinterland (This is my local festival, so WOO-HOO!)

22nd — 24th: 4th Dublin Writers’ Conference

JULY

6th — 8th: Allihies Inspires

13th — 20th: West Cork Literary Festival

Date to be confirmed: The Tread Softly Festival in honour of WB Yeats 

AUGUST

2nd — 12th: West Belfast Festival

18th — 19th: Wexworlds Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival

24th — 26th:  Town of Books Graiguenamanagh

There are, of course, literary events year round in this green and gorgeous isle and no doubt more will be announced as the year unfolds. Keep an eye on the Words Ireland site and the Irish Writers Centre for up to date information. I’ll try to post information as news reaches me. In the meantime, enjoy the sun and I hope to see you at one or two of the above events.

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The Macro-Micro Approach


A few months ago I was commissioned to write a short story for a new anthology. The premise excited me and a plot popped into my head fully-formed.

The story almost wrote itself and, for once, emerged on the page exactly as I had envisioned. There were only two problems. First, it’s a couple of thousand words over the allotted wordcount, and second — how do I put this? — it’s got no zing.

Fixing prose isn’t magic. It requires the writer to take an honest look at what is and isn’t working, being able to analyse why something is flat, and a willingness to put in the effort to fix it. Having a great beta reader who’ll take the time to cast a fresh eye over your story and give you an honest analysis is God’s way of saying He loves writers. I have the fabulous Jane and I probably couldn’t write a grocery list without her.

Try to find a Jane of your own, someone with a sharp eye and an even sharper pencil.  She (or he) needs to be honest, a grammar-pedant, and brave enough to stand up to you when you try to insist Fowler’s Modern English Usage is passe. Ha!

Recognising the problems in your prose is just the beginning, of course. Next, you need to know how to fix them. You could fill entire libraries on that subject so I’m just going to cover a few highlights here. The important points are these:

Accept that the first draft of anything is shit. Don’t take it from me, take it from Hemingway. The first draft is where the work begins. Yes, work. You didn’t think this writing lark was  going to be easy, did you? Funny girl!

The easiest way to approach revisions is with the macro-micro approach. That is to say, the big stuff before the little stuff. Think of it this way: if you bought a house, you’d make sure the electricity and plumbing worked and the roof was intact before you hung pictures and put cushions on the sofa, right?

BIG STUFF

Big stuff includes things like PLOT. If you have a crappy plot you have a crappy story. I mean, duh. CHARACTERS. If you don’t care about the characters, why would you care about the story? STRUCTURE. That includes things like scenes, what happens when, how the story unfolds, beginnings, middles, and endings. Fix all this stuff first. Then move on to the…

SMALL STUFF

Small, in this case, does not mean minor. It means the detail. Let’s start with:

The Precise Word

Recently, I saw an interview with Irish novelist Roddy Doyle in which he said he goes through his manuscripts with a ruler under every sentence so he can examine every single word to make sure it counts. That’s what I mean when I talk about the precise word. If you don’t know the difference between small and tiny you need to find out before you make your choice. Would an American general describe battle casualties as ‘wee’? Would an Irish grandmother describe the amount of tea left in the pot as microscopic?

I hope you’re not thinking, What does it matter?

You’re not, are you? You’re too smart

Words vary as much as shades of the same colour  

 for that to be your reaction. If you are a writer then words are your instruments. If you paint do you think all yellows are the same? Do you treat yellow ochre the same as lemon? Or Naples yellow the same as cadmium yellow? Of course not. They all have different shades, different compositions, and even different manufacturers, different mediums of the colour will vary. Likewise, words have different texture, different tones and values.

EVERY. WORD. MATTERS.

Sentence Structure

The sentence is a powerful thing. Use it wisely. Here are a few of my favourites:

“Terror made me cruel.” Wuthering Heights (1847)– Emily Bronte

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984 (1949) George Orwell

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.” Ulysses (1922) James Joyce

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) Oscar Wilde

“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.” Valis (1981) Philip K Dick

These look easy, don’t they? There is an air of inevitability to these sentences, as if they had always existed and were simply waiting for the author to discover them. And yet how easy it is to get them wrong. Look at the Orwell quote above and imagine inverting it: The clocks were striking thirteen on that bright cold day in April. 

Why doesn’t it work? Because the surprise lies in the word thirteen. The surprise, as any child will tell you, must come at the end.

Or take the Ulysses quote. What if it read, History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken, said Stephen? It’s lost its punch, hasn’t it?

Many writers know instinctively what works and what doesn’t. A good sentence rings harmoniously on the ear like music. If you lack confidence in your ability to recognise it, there are many books on language that will break the grammar into its components to help you analyse it for yourself. No, it’s not easy. Where’s the fun in that?

Cadence

Music has a rhythm that changes, so, too, does good writing.

How can you tell if your writing has cadence?

It should flow when you read it aloud, like music.

The sentences should be of different lengths, some long and complex; others short and pithy.

The sentences should reflect a variety of structures.

The writing should reflect a variety of creative phrases, poetic elements such as alliteration, and symbolism.

Finally

I know I’ve only given you some teasers on a very complex topic but I hope it has inspired you to read more on the subject. I have to admit, I love rewriting, both doing it, and learning more about it. If you have any tips of your own to share, I’d love to hear them.

I’m off now to read Jane’s notes and to start taking a scissors to my story. Sure, there will be some tears, but it’s OK. This is where the real writing starts. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hemingway

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What Happened Next


MX Publisher Steve Emecz has long been advocating the benefits for his writers supporting one another with blogs, tweets, and other sorts of social media.

“Try it,” he says, “And it will pay dividends. Readers will be curious about your own work, too.”

Last week I posted a blog about Rich Ryan’s forthcoming novel The Druid of Death (great title!) and this is what happened:

In addition to my 2000-plus regular followers, I usually average around 20 guests a day or about 140-150 per week. Last week, that figure more than tripled with a total of 489 for the week, or an average of 70 per day. The day I posted received the most traffic with an amazing 207 visitors. Happily, 88 of these visitors also clicked on the kickstarter link. I see that the project is over 500% funded, and I couldn’t be happier for Rich.

My blog receives traffic from all over the globe and the past week has been no exception. I’ve seen visitors from US, GDR, UK, Hungary, Canada, EU, Italy, India, Aruba, Australia, Japan, Ireland, Netherlands, India, Sweden, and Bangladesh. Phew, I’m glad I didn’t have to change the sheets, and make tea for all of them!

From the purely selfish point of view, I am happy to report that 50% of the people who visited the blog last week also checked out other articles beyond the piece about Rich’s new book. Furthermore, hits on my Amazon site went up, as did sales of my own books.Blog Stats April 2018

As you can see from the graphic, the post about Rich’s book and the kickstarter caused a big jump on the number of visitors to my site. The visitors on the 24th, the day before I posted the piece, numbered around 20, which is about average. As you can see, that number sharply increased the next day. In addition to curiosity sparked by Rich’s name and the project itself, the blog was also reposted by MX Publishing and by Rich himself, all of which helped bring in more traffic.

The knock-on effect for me has been an increase in interest in my own books, as you can see from this snapshot of my Amazon stats:

Amazon Ranking April 2018After a slightly stuttering start, sales took a big jump upwards over the last couple of days. Everybody wins.

If you’ve been wondering if you should take the time to celebrate your fellow writers on your blogs or social media accounts, I hope my experience will give you some encouragement. After all, next time it may be you who would like a little help getting your work circulated.

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The Druid of Death


I don’t like to play favourites, but I have to admit, Rich Ryan is on my very exclusive list of preferred Sherlockian authors. News of a new book by him is cause for dancing in the streets. What do you mean, at my age?

Rich’s debut novel Vatican Cameos was an international bestseller earning several NY Times bestselling endorsements. (Nope, not jealous at all. Purely a coincidence this is in green.)

At the time of writing, the book has over 100 reviews on Amazon USA averaging 4.7 stars. The sequel, The Stone of Destiny, came in 2017.

“Somewhere Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is smiling. Ryan’s The Stone of Destiny is a fine addition to the Canon.” – Reed Farrel Coleman

Now Rich brings us The Druid of Death. Apologies for the drool on the keyboard, but check out this synopsis:

On the morning of the vernal equinox in 1899, Holmes is roused from his bed by Lestrade. The inspector has received a report of a girl brutally murdered at Stonehenge. Upon arriving at the famed site, Holmes discovers the body of a young woman. On her forehead, painted in blood, is a druidic symbol. On her side, also in blood, is a message written in a strange language that neither Holmes nor Lestrade can decipher.

If you want to know more, or are interested in the Kickstarter campaign, you can find more here.

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Surviving the Mental Blisters


Last week at the writers’ group, Frank read the opening pages of his work in progress. He has a lot of talent, does Frank, and if he can keep going, this novel promises to be something special. If he can keep going. My concern is that he confessed to looking up the the expected income for novelists — less than €5,000 / pa in Ireland — and he started wondering if all the work was worth it. “Just do it for yourself, Frank,” Una advised. Una’s the Dalai Lama of the group. Equal parts smarts, wisdom, and kindness.

It’s always dangerous to start asking yourself those awkward questions when you’re at the early stage of writing a novel. Once you’re fairly well into the work, sheer bloody-mindedness might help you hobble across the finish line. A sense that if you’ve come this far you may as well see it through to the bitter end. But if you’ve only got a few chapters under your belt, looking up at the many, many miles ahead and wondering if it’s worth it can really put you off.

…and miles to go before I sleep…

~ Robert Frost

As with any lengthy or challenging endeavour, you have to feel it is worthwhile. Why do people climb mountains, run marathons, or, yes, write novels? To prove they can? For the sense of accomplishment? For the dopey tee-shirt that says, I climbed Mount Everest and all I got was this Lousy Tee-Shirt?

There are certainly similarities between the physical challenges and writing a novel. The sense of commitment, the difficulty, the realisation that your accomplishment sets you apart as one of the elite. However, there are significant differences, too. There are no camera crews, cheering crowds, or big cups awaiting the novelist once he comes to those gasp–water!–gasp words THE END at, you know, the end. In fact, the odds are it will be 3am, everyone else will be in bed, just like when you wrote the other 120,000 words, and no one will give a toss. In the morning when you tell your spouse you’re finished, you’re unlikely to get anything more exciting than a pat on the shoulder and a, “That’s nice, dear.” On the other hand, at least you don’t have to worry about frostbite or bone spurs.

You may not know why you want to write a novel when you first take the notion (or the notion first takes you.) To be honest, I’m not sure it really matters that you are able to articulate it, though it can make life a little less complicated if you can come up with some sort of answer for the inquisitive relative who will prod you every time you meet. “I feel compelled to explore the ramifications of World War One, specifically the socio-economic structure of Europe that led to the rise of fascism in the 1930s, through the eyes of a fictitious American journalist, a Hemingwayesque figure, living in Paris…” That should keep any sane person from ever broaching the subject again.

Even if you can’t really explain why you want to write a novel, you should be realistic about what you can expect to achieve and what the cost will be. Writing a long work takes time and commitment. If it’s to be a decent work you can expect to spend at least a year working at it, and possibly considerably much longer. Once you’ve written a book, especially if you’ve published it, the people in your life will become less irritated by your refusal to down tools and take off to the pub at a moment’s notice. They’ll understand that you are serious about the work, even if they don’t understand why.

Don’t set out to write a novel because you think it’s trendy. It isn’t and it never has been. Maybe for five minutes when Dickens was boss. Don’t do it to get back at people, either. The evil boss you’ve made into the king of Mordor in your book probably won’t ever read it and if he does he won’t recognise himself (or, if he does recognise himself, look out lawsuit.)

If you write for money you’d best prepare yourself for disappointment. Sorry, Frank. Very few authors get rich by writing alone. OK, if you manage to get a hugely successful movie made from your novel and if you or your agent negotiated a very good deal in terms of profits (such agents exist, I’m told. Stop laughing.) Or if your name is Dan Brown or Stephen King you might manage to support yourself from your writing.

Fame isn’t a good reason to write, either.  Sure, you want to live forever, learn how to fly, etc., but is writing a novel really the best way to accomplish that? You could go on a reality TV show, become a YouTube sensation, become a peace activist, start your own political party that actually tells the truth and makes sense. I know, that’s crazy talking. But really, if fame is what you’re after, writing a novel is one of the hardest ways of achieving it. Even if you do write a novel or ten, there’s still no guarantee that people will know who you are. Quick, tell me who wrote Gone Girl? Brick Lane? The Finkler Question? The Gathering?

Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint.  I have to remind myself of that sometimes, especially now in the third year of my current work in progress. Yes, it’s coming together. I’m on the third draft. Many of the problems that beset me are resolved. The characters are formed and I know what the story is. But placing one word on the page after the other is no less wearisome than if I were pounding the earth from Marathon to Athens like Philippides. Writers get blisters, too, only ours are on the brain, on the soul,  not the sole.

Like running a marathon, writing a novel is lonely work. You’re out there on your own and whether you succeed or fail is entirely up to you.

A lot of people won’t understand why you’re even bothering. “Do people even read books any more?” At least if you run a marathon you’ll have people cheering at the end. There’ll be a ribbon, or maybe a cup or a plaque. Even if you finish the novel, there’s no guarantee it will ever get published. But it doesn’t matter. The object right now isn’t publication, fame, fortune, or prizes, it’s just finishing. And when your neighbours or your relative, the one one who nags you about your motivation, who demands to know was it worth it, spending all that time alone just writing and what do you mean, you don’t even have a publisher yet? You can look her in the eye and say, Yes. I wrote a book. How many people can say that?

So do it. Do it for you. Do it because you can’t not. Do it because the book in you is burning a hole in your heart and it will drive you mad if you don’t write it out of you. Do it because you have to know if you can. Because it’s the only thing you long to do, because writing defines you in a way that never else ever could. Do it because you’ll shrivel up without it.

Just do it.

Image result for marathon motivational images

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