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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou, 1928-2014: One Summer

“What I would really like said about me is that I dared to love. By love I mean that condition in the human spirit so profound it encourages us to develop courage and build bridges, and then to trust those bridges and cross the bridges in attempts to reach other human beings." Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was a writer, among many other things. The summer before my second year of university, I sat in a cafe on the first floor of Hodges Figgis, a Dublin city bookshop mentioned in Joyce's Ulysses, and I read every volume of Maya Angelou's autobiography. I began with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and I read them out of order until I had finished them all. I don't know how long it took - I am a fast reader and her writing is fluent, so probably not as long as I think it did.

But I remember it as a whole summer. I hadn't been able to find a job, so I left the house every day and read books and did work for the college English Lit society, of which I was a committee member for the first and only time. I was in love with books, with writing, with the passion you get when a group of young writers come together and learn from each other how to be human beings as well as how to be better writers. Some of the writers in that group were giants - I dreamed of being the Dorothy Parker to their Fitzgerald and Hemingway. I dream of it still, sometimes.

It was a warm summer. I read Maya Angelou's memoirs and drank tea. I watched the green leaves of the giant tree that grows outside Hodges Figgis. I took photographs of Dublin. I compiled a guidebook for book-loving students moving to Dublin for the first time (I found an old copy of it recently. It wasn't as bad as I had come to remember). Sometimes when I got tired of the cafe in Hodges Figgis, I crossed the road to Waterstones and wrote in the cafe there. I wasn't working on novels then - I was writing about my life, such as it was. I was preoccupied by a schoolfriend who had died the previous March, by the lessons I could (or couldn't) take from her life and her passing. And into this strange, intemperate Irish summer stepped Maya Angelou, an African-American poet, memoirist, bus conductor, sex worker, waitress and nightclub singer. 

Walt Whitman, maybe the most American of all poets, wrote "I am large, I contain multitudes." One of the architects of the white male American canon, I don't think he could have imagined Angelou, but was ever anyone larger than she? Did anyone contain more?

The cafe in Hodges Figgis is long gone. Waterstones across the road is gone. I am no longer in college, no longer a young writer who thinks she can be successful if she buys the right sunglasses (God, I was a nightmare. The others were so kind to me). Maya Angelou is gone, too. Hodges Figgis is still there. I pass it on my way to work in the mornings, may it stand for ever, God bless it - and so is the tree I used to stare at. Its leaves still blow when the wind picks up, and this autumn they will fall, and the rest of us will walk underneath it, dare to love, and build bridges.

RIP. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Books That Are 'Bigger' Than You: Tell Me Yours

It was late February 2008. I was in the centre of Dublin, killing time until the next showing of Juno. I went into the Kylemore Cafe in the Stephen's Green Shopping centre - not somewhere I eat often, but it has a couple of huge advantages:
1. No one aggressively whips away your plate saying 'Can I get you anything else?' with a fake smile if you sit there for too long, and
2. It has a great view of Stephen's Green and the southern end of Grafton Street (I call this the bottom of Grafton Street. The entire rest of humanity calls it the top. I think I'm right).

I ordered a mug of vanilla rooibos tea and looked out the window. I remember that I had a headache. I can't remember if I'd bought aspirin to take with my tea. I know I considered it. I'm a hypchondriac - I remember these things.

I started a novel that day in the Kylemore. My first novel as an adult, a big novel. A novel bigger than I was then, probably bigger than I am now. I don't remember starting it, but the opening of the novel never changed, and I have it still.

After her father died, it took a while before Hannah and her mother managed to fully
sort through his belongings. The very day that he died, within an hour of leaving the
intensive care unit, Nora had started to dispose of anything that visibly reminded her
of Jack. His alarm clock, his work files, the watch he’d left on his bedside locker, his
shoes, his laptop were boxed up and stowed away or thrown out. His books took a few
weeks to disappear, mainly because no one knew which books were his and which
he’d borrowed. Hannah’s brother Tony sorted the books and Nora distributed them
between his friends at the golf club and in his local. His clothes took the longest,
because they still smelled of his aftershave and cigarette smoke.
No one dared touch his desk.

Inelegant and clunky, that is word for word what I wrote that day, looking down at Grafton Street. I think it was raining outside? But I live in Ireland, so all of my memories are rainy, like photos left in a damp attic for too long. Afterwards I went to see Juno, which I loved, and I sat there in the dark thinking, for the first time in years, that I could do that. I could make a whole world out of words.

That novel was never quite finished. I wrote most of it, including the ending, but never managed to complete some of the necessary filler chapters. It was a product from my father's death when I was 21, being directionless in my early 20s, not knowing what career I wanted. It was about grief and loss and parenthood, the latter of which I've never experienced. It was about Ireland's history and the church and homes for 'fallen women'. I read more Irish history while I was writing that book than I have before or since, and let me tell you, it was bloody depressing.

But I don't regret starting my life as a writer with a book that was too big for me. I hope to come back to it someday, and get it right.

Am I the only one with a book like this?






Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Link: Elizabeth O. Dulemba on Stories Bigger Than You

Every now and again I'm browsing the net and something hits me between the eyes. Today it was Elizabeth O. Dulemba on Janice Hardy's excellent blog, talking about tackling stories that are bigger than you are. She says:

Over a decade ago I found myself in a small wood-paneled room surrounded by a crowd of angry people I didn’t know. Well, I knew two of them. My husband, and the new friend I’d made when we moved to the small mountain community, who invited us to the meeting.
It was a meeting between former copper miners and the mining company who wanted to open a scenic railway going north from the town around an interesting and rare turn-around. They wanted to fund the railway by reopening the mine and shipping one load of sulfuric acid out each week. The miners wanted nothing of it. 

They stood like gnarled oak trees in their denim overalls and plaid flannel shirts and told heart-breaking stories of their family, friends and coworkers who had been lost to injury or illness—all because of the mine. Their emotions were raw as they made thinly veiled threats that if the company went forward with their plans, the tracks would be sabotaged. 

I sat with my mouth open wondering what I had stumbled into. I didn’t choose to write A BIRD ON WATER STREET that night. I was chosen to. 

That last line gave me shivers. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2014

5 Reasons To Finish Writing That Novel, Even If It's Really Hard


"I know I'm 40,000 words in, but there are so many problems that I think I should scrap the whole thing and start again."
One of my friends said this to me in a train station. It may sound familiar to a lot of writers. I've said it when I hit the 18,000 word mark in every book I've ever written.

I've always been wrong.

Here is why quitting is a bad idea:

1. The act of finishing a book is psychologically powerful and it's something you need to experience (also: it's fun!).

I still wonder every day if I have what it takes to be a professional novelist, but nothing has given me more confidence and more joy than finishing a whole book, even when I knew it was a terrible first draft and needed tons of work. Bringing a story from beginning to (flawed) end, looking at the entire thing, realising you created something you can hold in your hand, that you brought some fictional folk on a complete journey - it's a damned good feeling.

When I had a crisis of confidence about the novel I'm currently querying, one of the things that gave me comfort was the knowledge that I had taken Claire and Max, my main characters, on a journey and together we'd reached the end. Don't ask me to explain how the fact I'd done right by some people I made up had such an impact on my mental state - it just did. Finish your novel and we'll compare experiences over a chai latte.


2. Some problems only come to light when the book is complete and you can assess the entire plot arc.

I recently beta-read a friend's new novel. One character served no narrative purpose at all. We'll call him Billy-Bob Superfluous. I liked Billy-Bob, but he didn't do anything.

I'm willing to bet my friend didn't put the character in with the intention of having him do nothing. When he started, I'm sure there was something planned for Billy-Bob, even tentatively. If the book had been truncated halfway through, Billy-Bob would likely have made it into the second draft and been far more difficult to extract when his essential uselessness came to light. Now that my friend can see Billy-Bob's role against the completed plot arc, he can make a better decision on whether to get rid of him or to give him something to do.


3. Your ending may change the whole book.

I'm getting close to the end of my work-in-progress, The Ripple Effect. My ending is about to change, and as a result I will have to look back over the book and make changes - some minor, some major. I may even wind up getting rid of a few Billy-Bobs myself. But I won't know until the ending is done.


4. Endings aren't like the rest of the book.

The old showbiz mantra of 'always leave 'em wanting more' applies to novels too - especially if you intend to write a sequel. The skill of creating a good ending, which leaves your reader satisfied yet wanting more, is distinct from the skill of creating a compelling beginning or a strong middle. You need to learn how to do endings well.

Even if you come over all experimental on me and end your novel in mid-sentence, or with ten Becketty blank pages, it needs to be a good mid-sentence, and they need to be powerful and well-used blank pages. Endings are vital, and not finishing your novel is like learning how to drive a car but not knowing how to park (ask me how I know what that feels like). It may be fun and you may have learned many awesome things, but you can't undertake a full journey until you have that missing piece.


5. Published novels have many things in common - one of these things is an ending.

There are many things that elevate published writers from those of us who are still working and dreaming. One of the most fundamental is finishing the novel. If you wrote a list of the things published authors always have, the first item on the list would be A Finished Novel. You cannot publish something incomplete, and unless you fancy writing your book in super-quick time like Marian Keyes did the first time out, you can't query something incomplete either.

Oh, and my friend who was 40,000 words in and contemplating quitting? That was Paul Anthony Shortt and the book in question was his upcoming steampunk fantasy YA, Lady Raven, which is due for release in 2014 (click to sign up for Facebook updates). I think it's the best thing he's ever written.

Good luck with your endings, guys, and don't curse my name til you're done :p



Monday, October 14, 2013

Time Management: Working Full-Time and Writing

How do writers with full-time jobs manage to find the time to pursue a second career? I am about to go back to full-time work for the first time in months and after several months of complete freedom of time management, I have no idea how I'll adjust to the routine of 37.5 hours a week, plus commuting time, and still fit in writing.

At the moment (as usual) I have a few writing projects on the go:
  • Editing The Soldiers of Bruges
  • Planning my Nanowrimo 2013 project, The Ripple Effect
  • A non-fiction project
  • Another half-finished novel I really ought to get back to. . .
Here is what I have learned about writing when you have limited time:

1. One project at a time
This is hell for me, because my mind naturally works best when switching frequently between tasks. But it is also a lot more effective. If I only have one hour of writing time each day, I'll get more value from that hour if my mind is already in the world of the novel when I sit down. If I have to remind myself where I am in the plot and what happens next, I'll lose valuable writing time.

2. Know your limits.
I work at a computer all day, and although it is very tempting to spend my lunch breaks writing, I just can't. If I do, I get migraines. There is no point trying to get around that - my brain does what it does, and a girl can only ingest so many aspirin.

3. Simplify other things.
Where possible, I try to minimise the amount of things I have to in the evening - laundry can be put on in the morning before I leave the house rather than taking a bite out of my post-work time.

4. Use 'dead' time.
I can't write at lunchtime, but I can get my hair cut, go to the supermarket, go to the post office, go to the bank and do my Christmas shopping like a boss (and none of those activities give me migraines! Yay!). I like to read, and I am blessed that I can read on the bus.

5. The internet is my friend. Well, kind of.
As above - banking, shopping and several other awkward errands can be done online (not haircuts yet, unfortunately, although I hear Google Snip is in development as we speak). This doesn't work so well when I spend an hour every evening reading BBC news and blogs, but if I had any self-control, I wouldn't have to keep chocolate on a shelf in my house that I can't reach. . .

That's about all I've learned about time management. Does anyone have any other helpful tips? How do you find time to write if you have a full-time job with non-negotiable hours?


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Return of Nathan Shepherd: Paul Anthony Shortt's New Book!


And who is she?I'll give you a clue - she has an explosive history with Nathan and she kicks arse.
The next instalment of Nathan Shepherd's story is launching this month, so my old friend Paul Anthony Shortt is here to kick off his blog tour and talk about where his series goes from here.  


It’s great to be back on Ellen’s blog and have her help me welcome Nathan Shepherd back to the world.

I've always preferred series to standalone novels. I love seeing characters develop over a period of time, facing ever-increasing challenges and gradually learning the secrets they need to defeat the villain. There's a sense of building anticipation that you can only get from a series. So what has Nathan Shepherd learned in the time since Locked Within?

The Nathan we see in Silent Oath is a little older, a little wiser, certainly more committed and brave than he once was, and also a little more scared. He's spent 9 months working against the Council of Chains, gathering only a few allies to help him in his fight.

By his side, of course, is Cynthia Keller, who spent most of the previous book laid up in hospital. Like Nathan, she has become stronger for her experiences, and can now definitely look after herself.

Cadence Brook, the witch from Boston, returns to New York, eager to help her friends. Readers will remember that outside reborn aren't allowed in New York, so Nathan takes a big risk asking her for help.

A new addition to the cast is Sam Kinnon, a bartender from New Jersey who's pretty handy in a fight, and takes the supernatural in his stride.

One of the most important things Nathan has learned is that he can't save New York alone. He knows he needs more than just a few friends, and has to do more than win a couple of street fights against vampires. The only thing which can protect the people of New York from the Council is a conclave. The city's last conclave was driven out at the end of a bitter, bloody war over 15 years before Nathan realised he had lived before.


This a theme which carries through the book. Friendship. Teamwork. Community. I love stories of friendship. I've often said that I consider my friends to be my family, and I think this shows in my writing. In Silent Oath, Nathan isn't simply looking for another enemy to fight; he's learning what it takes to be a leader. He sees that his actions have consequences, both good and bad, and is forced to decide whether he's going to try and keep everybody safe, taking all burdens on himself, or share the burden, letting his new family rise to join the struggle, knowing that someone may be hurt, or even killed.

When he works alone, Nathan scrapes by, coming close to death on more than one occasion. When his friends are with him, he is stronger and more determined to fight back. With so many new enemies arriving in town, and Lord Dorian after his head, Nathan will need all the help he can get.

To find about more about Paul, visit his blog or find him on Twitter.  


More about Silent Oath:


Hope has returned to New York City. Nathan Shepherd leads a small band of dedicated fighters against the Council of Chains and the city's supernatural masters. But it's not enough. Because from the shadows of Nathan's former lives comes an old enemy, one who knows terrible secrets that Nathan has not yet remembered, secrets that could undo everything he has fought for.


Nathan's only chance to uncover the memories of his previous existence, and to conquer these new forces of evil, lies in Elena DeSantis. A woman he has fought beside in past lifetimes. A woman he has loved.
Together, Nathan and Elena are the only future the city has.


Friday, July 5, 2013

National Flash Fiction Day Event in Dublin: Flashbulbs

National Flash Fiction Day was on the 22nd June and I spent it - well, some of it - reading a piece of my flash fiction in a pub in Dublin.

Me reading, taken by @AliBrenz
My former writing teacher, Claire Hennessy, is now a director of Big Smoke Writing Factory. When she put out a call for flash fiction, I raided my archives (remember my flash fiction world tours?) and polished my favourites. One was selected for reading at the Flashbulbs event on the 22nd June in Arthur's Pub.

It was a great event. The quality of the fiction was high. The ability of the writers to read well was surprisingly high (am I the only writer who doesn't just know how to read her work aloud well? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?). It was well organised and the readjustment of the height of the microphone between each speaker was impressively seamless.

We heard about galleons appearing in midland towns, a sixteen-year-old character with a devastating voice and a tragicomic insistence that she had 'done it all', the secrets of a pub employee and a rebellious nun. Readers included Alison Wells (her tale, about a holographic guard dog, was full of Alison's characteristic mix of sci-fi and humour) and Bernard O'Rourke, a film journalist and fellow Dublin NaNo-er who read his near-poetry about exploring the city by night powerfully - and completely from memory.

The non-writer and my cartoonist friend who came with me to show support both enjoyed it, which is a pretty good litmus test of a successful event (although you'd probably have to know them both to realise this). The combination of strong writing (I was flattered to be included), good organisation and a contest on the night (5 finalists, with the ultimate decision resting on their reading, judged by Dave Lordan and won by Dervilla McKeith) combined to create a great evening.

Also, there was free chocolate and a real turf fire. How can you go wrong?


PS: If you're curious, I read a very slightly edited version of the story I wrote about Venice for last year's A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour, re-named Acqua Alta.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Christine Glover's Debut: Interview

I could think of no better way to return to blogging after my hiatus than to celebrate the success of one of my very first blog followers - the fabulous Christine Glover, whose debut romance novel will be released in Summer 2014.

Christine is a smart, sassy, dedicated writer with an amazing life behind her and a dazzling future ahead of her. She's a goal-setter (I tell my friends about her goal-setting all the time, like she's an internet guru!) and all-round inspiration, and today she's answering some questions about her shiny new book deal and the writing life!
 



First of all, many congratulations on your deal! Tell us about your debut novel! Who are the characters we'll get to meet?

Hi Ellen, thank you so much for inviting me to your blog. My debut novel is called THE MAVERICK’S RED HOT REUNION and will be released in Summer 2014. Here’s a sneak peek at Kennedy and Zach’s story:

Corporate Maverick Zach Tanner returns to North Carolina to rebuild his dying friend's resort. He's got the money, the power and the will to transform Sweetbriar Springs into a premier spa for the glamorous, but he doesn't count on the woman he once loved and lost to handle the construction contract. Zach thought he'd buried his desire for Kennedy five years ago, but he's still drawn to her. He's determined to satisfy his craving to get her out of his system, but he won't lose his heart again.

Construction company owner Kennedy Gibson is eager to restore Sweetbriar Springs, but when she realizes Zach is her new boss she's terrified he'll learn the truth about their breakup. She agrees to work with the one man she vowed never to hurt again. She protects her heart, but can't deny the passion Zach's reignites in her. Soon she believes she has a chance for a different future with Zach, but her secret threatens to destroy their red hot reunion.

Now only the power of love can heal the wounds of their past and give them the future they deserve.

You've blogged about getting "the call" on the way to Zumba (proof that exercise is good for you :p). Tell us a bit about your new publisher - what attracted you to them?

My new publisher is Entangled Publishing. They’re an e-publisher that has worldwide distribution with print book options. I’ve been curious about this publishing house since its inception and have interviewed many friends on Digging Out of Distraction about their first sales to Entangled. 

Then I interviewed the Entangled Publishing Indulgence Line’s Editorial Director Alethea Spiridon Hopson who graciously had agreed to judge contemporary series finalists for THE LINDA HOWARD AWARD OF EXCELLENCE writing contest. One of my questions was “What do you look for in an author you are working with?” She replied, “Kindness.” And she wanted a fresh take on super Alpha-licious heroes and the heroines. Right then I knew I had to query her with Kennedy and Zach’s story. A few months later I signed my contract and officially joined the Entangled Publishing family. *Big Smiley Face*

Your blog is known for your signature 'Break Out the Bubbly and the DarkChocolate!' posts celebrating debut authors. How did you celebrate your debut? Was there bubbly and dark chocolate? :)

Initially everything was such a blur that I just went about my own daily business in a daze. We’d already scheduled a dinner date with a couple I adore. We didn’t have champagne, but there was a sinfully delicious slice of dark chocolate cake consumed that night. I brought champagne to my hair salon because I told my stylist that as soon as I sold, we’d celebrate together. I’ve been sitting in her chair for five years and she’s been a great encouragement to me, so it was super fun to celebrate with everyone that day. 

Then I got to celebrate with my Heart of Dixie writing chapter and yes, there was champagne—more to come as I plan to pop some bubbly with my Southern Magic writing mates. And I finally get to sip the bubbly with my fabulous Critique Partner Pam Mantovani when we see each other again. Later on I’ll celebrate again with my friends at the RWA National Conference this July. Yes. I’m a party on the go :)

I've been following your writing journey since I started blogging in 2009. How did you keep the faith while you were looking for a publisher? What kept you going?

I’m very blessed to have an incredible support network both in the writing world and in my non-writing world. We’re all going to have dark days, but if you’re surrounded by positive, encouraging people who believe in you then you’ll find the strength to carry on even when it seems like you’ll never attain your dream. As my Critique Partner Sharon Wray says, “If you quit, then you reject yourself.” 

So instead of quitting when I’m discouraged or disappointed, I give myself a mini break. I hang out with friends, shop, go for a nice walk, read a fabulous book, or watch a great movie. Eventually a character pops into my head, or a story idea germinates, and I can’t wait to get back to doing what I love: writing.

What advice would you give to unpublished writers?

Seek a professional writing organization with resources that will help you grow as a writer. I’m fortunate to be a member of the Romance Writers of America and four writing chapters as well as two online writing groups (I’m a social butterfly in life and in the virtual world LOL). Read, read, & read. 

Take courses, study the craft, and don’t be afraid to query even though it means risking rejection. Every rejection letter is a Badge of Courage. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who believe in your dreams and give the same encouragement to them.


I love your goal-setting process - I read your posts about it religiously and share them with friends! What goal-setting advice do you follow? Are there any authors or blogs about goal-setting that you love?

I’ve always been a self-driven person. List maker? Check. Type A overachiever? Double check. But my primary goal setting process is derived from this book: LIFE MAKEOVERS by Cheryl Richardson. I revisit the first few chapters every year to develop a core change within myself—a fear to overcome or conquer in order to move forward. 

Another great resource is James Scott Bell’s THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS. When I first started writing my goal was to write 2 pages a day, 4 days a week. At the time the pages were single-spaced. Little did I know I was writing a chapter a week! Now my goals are more complex, multi-layered, and I stop to review them every 3 months. 

I also pay myself a quarter for every writing goal I achieve as well as for exercising. Sometimes I pay myself a quarter just for showing up at the computer with my cup of coffee :) Those quarters add up, and I convert them into twenty dollar bills which I use to help pay for my writing expenses. 

Okay, I’m done blathering, but I’ll end on this note: goals are important, but so is treating yourself with kindness. There will be days when all you can do is walk by the computer, look at the screen and tap the manuscript three times before you go out to do something totally non-writing because you need to refill your creative soul. And that’s worth a quarter in my book!

The interview ends there, guys, but just to give you an idea of what a lovely person Christine is, and why I'm so delighted at her success, I want to share what she wrote to me at the end of the interview.

Thanks Ellen. You were my first International blog follower. I’ve had so much fun getting to know you via the Internet. I hope one day to meet you in person. We’ll sip champagne and nibble on dark chocolate to celebrate our friendship. 

This is why I keep coming back to blogging - because you make friends, meet lovely people, and walk around grinning for a whole day because a woman in Alabama that you've never met got the book deal you'd rooted for for four years.

For more info on Christine, visit  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A-Z Challenge - Bowing Out

I'm sorry to have to do this, because I love the A-Z Challenge, but I'm so far behind this year that I think I will have to bow out.

I really appreciate all the lovely comments and the new followers. It's been great fun finding new blogs. But this month is the busiest one I've had for several years (and I do Nanowrimo every year so I know a little about busy!). Once I've got all of my obligations out of the way, I typically have less than an hour to myself, and I don't have the energy to spend that time choosing a place, researching the place, coming up with a story about it and then trying to write that story well.

Thanks again for the lovely comments and I hope to be along for the trip next year.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Frankfurt Airport: A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

Douglas Adams wrote that it can't be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression 'as pretty as an airport.' I have a particular hatred of the concrete spider that is Charles de Gaulle in Paris, but generally I like airports in the same way that I like chocolate wrappers. It's difficult to have a special affection for them, but I like the job they do and am pleased when they do it well. 

Anyway, today I'm writing flash fiction about an airport I've never been in - Frankfurt Airport. 

Frankfort Airport

It was easier to check one bag, Gina always said.
She packed the case, so she chose what they brought with them. That way, she wouldn't have to spend her holiday listening to Dan complain that he hadn't packed enough t-shirts for Florida. It was a perfect system.
They checked the bag under Gina's name, too. Dan would find a way to mess it up if they didn't.
"I'm going for a latte," Dan said. Gina looked up from her sudoku.
"They'll call the flight soon," she warned.
"I'll be back by then," he said. She fumed quietly. He would be late, and she would have to sit on the plane while they paged Passenger Daniel Frost twenty times.
In fact, they were already paging Passenger Daniel Frost, and he made his connection to Rio just in time - and just as his wife was arguing with the ground staff.
"But my husband isn't here!" she was saying.
"Your bag is checked," said the young man. "You have to board."


Edinburgh: A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

Sorry this post is - ahem - two days late. This April is an incredibly busy time for me, and it's looking ever more likely that I'll have to drop out of the A-Z Challenge, but I'm enjoying it so I am going to try to make all 26 entries! Today I'm staying relative close to home and going to Edinburgh.


Edinburgh

It was their first night in the middle of the tenament.
He worked as a butcher, occupying the bottom floor. When he started work, they had moved into the upper floors, with the rest of the families, couples and older people who couldn't afford anything better.
Every night, she would roll over in bed and sigh.
"I wish we could move to the middle floors."
The middle floors were occupied by the middle classes. Everyone dreamed of moving there.
On their first night in the middle floors, she rolled over and sighed.
"The people overhead are really loud," she said. "And I can smell the butcher's shop from here!"
For the first time in twenty years of marriage, he rolled over and sighed.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dubai Desert Safari: A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

Amsterdam, Texas, and Prince Edward Island - that's quite a bit of ground covered, and today we're going to Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates. To read the rest of the A-Z World Tour 2013, go here.

Dubai Desert Safari

They say that dreams are more vivid under the midnight sun, but no one had warned Kevin about what could happen to a man's mind under a desert sky. In spite of the cold nights, Kevin woke each morning drenched in sweat, his heart pounding. Dreams of people chasing him up fire escapes, through warehouses, across railway bridges and over dark, murky water.
Each morning, he waited for his heart to slow. Then he took a long, cool shower to calm himself so he could smile at his fellow holidaymakers over breakfast.
After all, it wasn't like anyone would ever think to look for him here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Charlottetown, Canada - A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

As a little shout-out to the many wonderful Canadians I know, today I'm writing about Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. To read the rest of the A-Z World Tour 2013, go here.

Charlottetown

The little boat had barely stopped running when Daniel swung his legs over the side and sprinted away. His dad shook his head and smiled.
"I hope it isn't this year," he said to his wife. "I really do."
Daniel was thinking the same thing as he ran, the soles of his sneakers slapping against the wooden slats of the pontoon. Not this year, not this year, not this year.
The door of the restaurant swung open and he stood there, surveying the room with such panic that he saw nothing, until he saw her.
She smiled and put her tray down, and he could see in her eyes that it wasn't this year. She was still his, for one more summer.



Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Buc-ees, Brazoria - A-Z Flash Fiction World Tour

Yesterday we kicked off in Amsterdam. Today we're in Texas, outside Buc-ees, which blog reader Katy Manck describes succinctly as "a beaverface-mascot "mini-mart" gas station that became a huge attraction on Interstate 10 near Luling". 
I couldn't resist that. I'm not made of stone. To keep with the B theme, I chose the branch in Brazoria. 

Also, Brazoria is my new favourite place-name. Just saying.

Buc-ees, Brazoria (TX)

Candi hadn't expected her first marriage proposal to happen in the parking lot of Buc-ees. She hadn't expected to catch the eye of a giant beaver mascot drawn on the sign right after Freddie stammered the words out.
She definitely hadn't expected it to come from Freddie, when she'd just swung by to get her car washed.
And she had never expected to respond to a marriage proposal with "Oh, honey, no."
But here they were.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Arlee Bird and Amsterdam: A-Z Round-the-World Flash Fiction

Today marks the start of the A-Z Blogging Challenge! I'll be posting a piece of short flash fiction each day (except Sundays), set in a location corresponding to the letters of the alphabet. If you want to suggest a place name for a future letter, you can leave a comment here or tweet me @EllenBrickley.

But before we go to Amsterdam, I'd like to kick off with a shout-out to Arlee Bird, the man who started the A-Z Challenge in 2010. This challenge has taught me a lot, so many thanks, Arlee, and a happy April to you!

Today's story contains a bonus travel tip, but I can't promise one of those every post :)


Amsterdam

They were talking about the queues at the Van Gogh Museum. All over Amsterdam, every night, people in hostel bars hunch over bottles of beer and talk about the queues at the Van Gogh Museum.
"I skipped breakfast to get there at ten o'clock," Sara said, raking curls back from her face. "And the queue was already halfway around Museumplein. It was like queuing for a rollercoaster."
Matt made a moue of sympathy. "That sucks. And it was raining hard this morning. I had to queue for over an hour, but I showed up at lunchtime so at least it was dry."
"Two hours," Toph interjected. "I win."
"I bought my ticket at the Diamond Museum," Jade said. "That means you can skip the queue."
"Cool," Sara smiled. "Wish I'd known that. My feet were so wet when I finally got inside."
"And did that security guard with the moustache give you grief for dripping water on the floor?" Toph asked.
"Yes!"
Jade sipped her beer. She would never be a comrade-in-arms.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A-Z World Tour Preview Post - A Little Help From My Friends

Today, in advance of the kick-off of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I want to share something with you all. It's a comment on my last blog entry.

I have a friend called Gar Molloy. He's a cartoonist (see his webcomic, Neko the Kitty, here - it's surreal and smart, but potentially not safe for work and if you dislike profanity or gay cats, it's likely not going to be your thing). He also named one of the characters in his webcomic after me. She's a chain-smoking blonde alcoholic (I'm a brunette who doesn't smoke and rarely drinks things that aren't tea-based) but the world needs more Ellens and I'm happy to see Gar aiding that noble cause.

Anyhoo. A couple of months ago, I posted here asking for place name suggestions for my flash fiction world tour. As ever, I left the field wide open and invited people to suggest any location they wished.

Gar took this concept and ran with it, so for anyone who missed his original comment, here are the list of places Gar suggested. Some of them will feature in my A-Z world tour. Some have been jettisoned for suggestions that are more. . . sane. And easier (honestly, there is nothing like a fellow artist for torturing you).

PS I've had a private rule about not including fictional places (or potentially fictional places, like Gar's suggestions for the letters T, Y and Z) but since I've never stated it publicly, I feel I can break it this year if I wish. Except I just stated it publicly. . . this is what happens when you try to have some integrity. See y'all tomorrow for A.

Amsterdam
Burger King
Casablanca
Dungeon of Doom
Earth's Core
Fractal dimension of pure mathematics
Gorilla Island
Hat Factory
Island of Misfit Toys
Jelly World!
King Kong's grave
Lilliput
The Moon
Navan
O'Brien's Sandwich Shop in the Ilac Centre
Penney's, anywhere
Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco
Tesla's Time Zeppelin
Utilitarian Paradise
Verona Beach
West Philadelphia
Xerox manufacturing plant in Dundalk
Yoko Ono's secret hunting grounds
Tesla's Time Zeppelin.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Countdown to the A-Z World Tour!

It's almost time for my second A-Z flash fiction world tour! The response from my lovely followers has been excellent and my list of possible places to write about is, as ever, long and interesting.

There is one downside to my A-Z flash fiction world tour. It makes me want to travel and explore marvellous places with far more frequency than I can afford. If that's my worst complaint, I'm doing pretty well, but throughout April you can expect to find me looking at Wikitravel or Google image searches and making whimpering sounds.

However, I am a little short on choices for some letters. Where possible, I love to get multiple suggestions for each letter, and so far I haven't had a single suggestion for Z.

Since the flash fiction is more fun (and harder for me) when other people suggest the places, I'm going to throw the floor open to anyone who can suggest somewhere beginning with Z.

We're about to kick off a bank holiday weekend in Ireland. Weirdly, for such a historically Catholic country, Good Friday is not a bank holiday here so I will be at work tomorrow but not on Monday. If it's a bank holiday where you are, have a lovely one and I'll be running an A-Z preview post over the weekend :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Care Packages To Secure an Agent: Now a Thing

Writers' Digest are advertising a care package to help writers secure a literary agent. I am not making this up - it must be true because I saw it on Twitter.

I clicked the link, and the care package contains information and resources on hunting for an agent. Very practical, I'm sure, but I was disappointed when I saw that. I don't know what I was expecting, but sending someone a care package full of information feels like giving someone a hug made of homework.

So what would I put in a Pink Tea & Paper Care Package to Help You Secure an Agent?

  • Two large boxes of teabags - one black tea, caffeinated as all hell, and one herbal tea. Maybe even pink tea, just because.
  • A mug to make you smile through the difficult parts - perhaps this cheerful one, or if they still made them, the sadly departed Novelist Fuel mugs from Nanowrimo. Every year I suggest they be re-issued. They never are.
  • Valium.
  • Cake.
  • A form query letter with blanks for your characters' names, title and word count. I want one of these so badly and my birthday isn't for another eleven months. . . 
  • A sheet of stamps, for agents and houses that still prefer paper submissions.
  • A giant blanket with the word 'Hug' written on it.
  • An inspiring A3-sized wall chart, listing famous writers and the number of rejections they received, with space at the bottom for the recipient to track their own progress against that of the greats.
  • A framed print of the URLs of Pub Rants, Nathan Bransford, Miss Snark and Rachelle Gardner, designed for easy and stylish display in a study.
  • More cake.
  • A jar of hot chocolate mix (possibly the chilli-flavoured one from Whittards that I've been enjoying since last May).
  • False nails, to conceal one's own bitten-down ones.
  • A book of Sudoku puzzles, to distract writers waiting to see that alluring tease, 'Inbox (1)'.
  • A Starbucks gift card, to give the struggling recipient an excuse to leave the house. 
  • A notebook for recording the journey - although most writers already have many notebooks, another one never hurts, right?

I reckon that would keep most agent-hungry writers happy (or at least happier) for a few days. Have I missed anything? Add your picks in the comments!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

11 Facts, 11 Questions

Paul Anthony Shortt tagged me in this game, so I'll play :)


Here are the rules for receiving this award:
1. Each person may post 11 things about themselves. *
2. Answer the questions that the tagger set for you plus create 11 questions for the people you’ve tagged to answer.
3. Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
4. Go to their page and tell them.
5. No tag backs!
6. Post an image of the award on your blog. There are many versions available. 


11 Facts about me:


  1. I have small hands. Finding gloves to fit me is a nightmare :)
  2. I love flea markets. When I visit a new city I always like to see their flea markets.
  3. I have very bad eyesight - thank God for contact lenses!
  4. I share a birthday with Eva Braun, Ronald Reagan, Bob Marley and Axl Rose.
  5. I have a crippling, intense, severe phobia of hedgehogs. I can't even look at pictures of them.
  6. My first job was working in a cafe in the town I used to live in. A cup of tea was 70p, a coffee was 80p, and a Scone Special (a tea or coffee with a scone served with jam and cream) was £1 (€1.27). Best deal ever, right?
  7. I have sold school uniforms, answered directory enquiry calls, sold broadband, managed interpreters, served burgers in a 50s-theme diner, promoted discounts on toll roads, handed out bags of products to new mums outside a maternity hospital and worked in the kitchen of a four-star hotel (briefly).
  8. I stopped biting my nails when I was 26. It was not pleasant but I only get the occasional urge these days!
  9. My signature recipe is cheese and herb scones.
  10. I don't eat tomatoes or mayonnaise. My sandwich orders are kind of like Sally Albright's.
  11. I once made a chocolate cake with only one tablespon of flour in it. It was fabulous.
11 Questions from Paul:
  1. What movie do you secretly love? I don't think I secretly love any movies - I'm open about my taste!- but I love John Hughes's teen movies.
  2. If you could travel to any place in the world, where would it be? Vietnam.
  3. When you were a child, what was your dream job? Writer, although I went through phases of wanting to be an air hostess, an actress and a doctor.
  4. What was your favourite childhood toy? I can't remember.
  5. Do you have any hobbies that don't involve reading, writing, or that don't involve the internet? Yes! I knit, I bake, I make jewellery, I sew and I'm always trying to learn crochet and failing miserably. I love working with my hands.
  6. Do you have a lifelong dream? To be a published writer and to travel the world. I'm working on them both.
  7. When did you come to realise it? I can't remember, I think I always knew!
  8. What tv show could you watch over and over? Arrested Development.
  9. What one part of modern living could you not live without? The internet. I never get tired of having access to so much information and so many awesome people. I can message my cousin in Manhattan, my schoolfriend in Egypt and find out what time the bakery opens, all at the same time.
  10. What one part of modern living would you love to live without? Cars - although not entirely. I'd like it to be like the 20s, when they were a select thing owned by enthusiasts and people who needed them, used for long journeys and at weekends. I think they're killing modern cities and reshaping our landscape in ways I don't like. I'm with Douglas Adams's character, Ford Prefect - he came to earth convinced cars were the dominant species. I can drive, but I'd prefer to live in a world where I didn't have to do it very often.
  11. What book or movie are you most looking forward to in 2013? Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold. The first book in the Lynburn Legacy, Unspoken, was released in 2012 and was one of my favourite books of the year.
I've been inactive in the blogosphere for so long that I'm not going to tag people who may not see this - all I will say is, if you want to play, please go ahead, post 11 facts about yourself and answer my questions!

1. What's your starsign? Do you believe in horoscopes? Do you think you're 'typical' of your sign?
2. What is your favourite place on earth?
3. If you could have one wish, and it had to be something for you rather than for the whole of humankind, what would it be?
4. Are politics important to you?
5. Tell me in one line why I - or anyone else - should visit your hometown?
6. What's the nicest sweet thing you've ever eaten? Bonus points if you tell me where I can get it :)
7. If you had another lifetime, what job would you like to have?
8. How old would you think you were if you didn't know how old you are?
9. What book would you bring to a desert island, presuming you already had a Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare?
10. If the world was facing destruction and you could only save one artefact from our civilisation, what would it be?
11. Do you like your name?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Flash Fiction World Tour: I Need Your Help!

Last April, I spent the month writing alphabetical flash fiction about all sorts of interesting places, from Alaska to Zanzibar, via Chelsea Physic Garden, Woolwich Arsenal, Utah, Rio and Irishtown.

I had a lot of fun doing it, and in the process I learned lots of things I never knew about the world around me, and I hope I managed to share some of that in my posts.

This year, I want to continue my Flash Fiction World Tour, bringing the total number of teeny travel stories to 52.

But as ever, I need the help of my creative and talented readership.

Each piece of microfiction will be themed around a place. It could be a country, a city, a state, a suburb, a village, a forest, a national park, an attraction, a street, a county . . . you get the idea. Nowhere is too big or too small.

And I want you to make suggestions! Give me a place - as large or as small as you like. I'll read about it (this is probably going to be the most fun part for me, because I love learning about new places almost as much as I love going to them) and then I'll write a short piece of fiction set there.

I'm hoping to get some variety so feel free to suggest anywhere you think may be interesting - it doesn't have to be your home - and spread the word!