Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Official Noveller

There are many things to love about Nanowrimo. The copious amounts of caffeine. The active and brilliant forum. The excuse to ignore every other obligation for a month.

My personal favourite, though, is that for one month only, the word 'novel' becomes a verb. 'Can't talk, novelling.' 'I'm off to novel.' 'I need to find more time to novel.' So for November, I'm not a writer. I'm a noveller.

There is more to Nanowrimo than just putting your head down and writing frantically until your fingers start to melt, though. There is also a very vibrant community around this mad activity, mostly on the forums, but also offline. Every year, Nanowrimo's Municipal Liaisons volunteer to organise meet-ups, write-ins, parties, events or whatever else they can think of in their hometowns.

And this year I am Co-ML for Dublin :) I'm really excited about it. I love Nanowrimo anyway, and this year I get to be more involved than usual. It also gives me an extra incentive to win, because Nano Head Office ask that MLs do their very best to win to motivate other Nano-ers in their region.

I've won Nanowrimo before, but never while working full-time. So this year, I have less writing time than the last time I won. I have the added responsibility and time commitment of being an ML. I'm under extra pressure to win. And I am considering aiming higher than 50k.

I cannot wait :D

So if you're interested in writing 50,000 words in a month, head over to the Nanowrimo.org and start reading. The forums re-launch for 2010 later this week. And if you're a Dubliner interested in Nanowrimo, head for the Dublin Forum in Regional Lounges and say hi! We'll have weekly meet-ups running for the month of November, regular write-ins and possibly more. . .

Monday, September 27, 2010

Important Post - Follow That Link. . .

Hey all,

Kiersten White has taken some time out from her book tour to educate us all about the symptoms of ectopic pregnancy.

It almost killed her two years ago. Many bloggers and readers - not to mention real people who actually know her - are very glad it didn't.

Ectopic pregnancy is scarily common, far more so than I realised (and I'm a hypochondriac, so I realise things about most illnesses). I'm not actively planning to have kids but it's worth knowing anyway. Unplanned pregnancies can happen, and they can go wrong. And I know people who want to have a family.

Everyone should click this link and read Kiersten's story. Even if it won't ever be relevant to you (guys), you may know someone who will need you to know.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What I Saw And How I Lied

Nope, I didn't witness the crime of the century, lie about it and finally decide to reveal the truth here on Blogger. I just thought that the title of Judy Blundell's excellent novel, set just after WWII, also made for a rather attention-grabbing subject line.

And I'm trying to grab attention here, because it's a great book and I want to squee about it. I'm practically lapsing into LOLspeak.

Evie, the main character, is almost sixteen and ecstatic to have her perfect stepfather home from the war. She's also desperate to be anything except what she is. When aforesaid Perfect-Stepdad decides to whisk Evie and her glamorous Mom away to Florida for an indefinite holiday, Evie is puzzled but excited.

In Florida, she meets a recently-returned GI, and falls for him in that way that only almost-sixteen year old girls can. He's Handsome and Older and he seems to see in Evie the girl she wants to be, instead of the girl she is. But her parents don't seem to like him as much, and some of his stories don't quite add up. When tragedy strikes, Evie has to choose between her family and her new love - and she has to betray someone.

The use of language in a book is a funny thing - it's often the last thing I notice when it's done well, and the first thing I notice when it's done badly. Judy Blundell's book is unusual because the writing is so good that it actively stands out. I've written historical fiction and it's very hard to pitch your language properly - authentic and accurate without being stilted, modern and accessible without being anachronistic. Evie never says that Peter (her GI) is like, totally, like amazing, but she still manages to sound like a kid.

One line sold me on the whole book. A few pages in, Evie spots her crush talking to Ruthie Kalman, a Jewish girl in her class. Evie's best friend assures her that she has nothing to worry about, he wouldn't be allowed to date a Jew. And Evie thinks:

'It was almost worse that he couldn't have her. It was all Romeo and Juliet and balconies. Ruthie had European cousins who disappeared into camps during the war. She was so lucky - tragedy and curly hair.'

There isn't a single word there that a teenager in the 1940s wouldn't have said. No hint of anything anachronistic. But it still rings with a truth and authenticity that, as a former (or recovering!) teenage girl, hit me right where I live. I had that thought (or ones like it). It could be said today, over a mocha in Starbucks, or outside the milkshake shop in Dame Street in Dublin where gangs of teenagers congregate to make me feel old. And better than that - it's funny.

Apart from the outstanding quality of Blundell's writing, the characterisations are excellent. Even by the end, there is so much we aren't sure about - so much Evie isn't sure about. And Evie's development is very well done. She starts out as the classic YA narrator - female, plain but with potential, in the shadow of her pretty friend, dying to be someone she isn't, loving but resenting her protective parents, no serious problems in her life but no massive highs either. Her voice makes her compelling, but at first I was thinking 'I really like this girl, but she isn't anything new.'

Then the book takes off. And Evie really takes off.

Cannot recommend this one enough. Loved it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

SPEAK - In Support of Laurie Halse Anderson

Apologies for how long this is. But I feel there is nothing here that I can cut.

Wesley Scroggins, a Christian academic based in the US, is calling on parents to take action against the book Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. On what grounds? The main character in the book is raped. Ergo, Mr. Scroggins believes the book should not be read by teenagers, as it is immoral.

I am delighted at the number of intelligent, thoughtful Christian bloggers who have spoken out against Mr. Scroggins's remarks. Myra McEntire and Christine are two I have read so far and their posts impressed me.

I agree with Myra that a blog should be free of politics, sex and religion unless you set out to blog about those issues. I blog about writing and I enjoy connecting with others who blog about writing, particularly those from different backgrounds. But I'm going to break my personal-life-stays-off-the-blog rule here so I can comment on this issue - and its wider implications, which mean a lot to me.

I am not a practitioner of any religion. My mind is open and I respect the faiths of others.

I was raised as a Catholic (Irish readers will know that this phrase can cover anything from 'yeah, my parents baptised me to get presents. . . how many esses are in 'Jesus'?' to 'daily Mass, hair shirts and regular fasting') in a deeply Catholic society. Divorce was legalised in 1996, when I was 12 years old. The year divorce was legalised, our local priest took a vote in my class to see if we would pass the divorce referendum. Of 26 children aged 12, only 7 agreed that a man or a woman should have the option to end a marriage. I should point out here that we had had legal separation for a long time. Remember this for later.

Abortion remains illegal, but studies suggest that up to 19 women a day travel from the Irish Republic to Britain to obtain legal terminations (doesn't sound like much, but our population is small). Essentially, we know that women terminate pregnancies. We know that women born and raised in Holy Catholic Ireland terminate pregnancies. And we don't put many resources into stopping them doing it - we're very fussy about who gets to adopt children, and we have rules about who is allowed to put a child up for adoption. But we just don't want to think about any of this unpleasantness, nor do we want to address it, so we export the problem.

So how is any of this relevant to Laurie Halse Anderson and Wesley Scroggins? Because like Anderson's main character, Ireland has a long history of not speaking. We have one of the worst histories of clerical sexual abuse. We have a truly astounding suicide rate per head of population, and the most common victims of suicide in Ireland are men of roughly my age. I'm not blaming all of this on our Catholic history, although that certainly plays a major role (Ireland's relationship with the Church was heavily tied up with our sense of nationhood, so it was always an unhealthy one. I am not criticising religion per se at all). There were also social issues, post-colonial mindsets and poor communications contributing to it.

But for whatever reason, this most locquacious nation doesn't speak.

And look what it leads to, when we try to pretend that difficult and unpalatable truths aren't there.

In the midst of an argument with my father many years ago (I was probably fourteen and angry with everything), he said that in his day, young people didn't insist that their problems be addressed - they knuckled down and they got on with things, and by and large they grew out of their problems. I snapped back that the only things his generation had given mine were Charlie Haughey and institutional sex abuse, which wasn't at all fair (I never said I came across well in this anecdote). But political corruption and hushed-up abuse were two very profound and damaging consequences of a society that couldn't speak, and we are dealing with the consequences every day.

And now it's exported abortions and a high suicide rate, even years after we shook off the worst of Church domination of secular matters. We are still a society that can't speak.

I would go beyond saying that it is good to speak about our experiences, even when they are unpleasant, and to create art from the dark side of human life. I would argue that we have collective responsibility to speak about these things. Not a personal responsibility - I'm never going to knock on the door of the victim of any trauma and inform them that they owe it to society to talk about it - but a collective one. Example: I suffer from panic attacks, and among friends, I talk about them as openly and freely as I can bear to (incidentally, if any bloggers would like to talk to me about that - firstname dot lastname at gmail dot com). I choose to do so because that makes it easier for the next person. If a friend of mine feels they can ask me about panic disorder, the next time an ashamed panic sufferer confides in that person, they're more likely to get the response they need. I feel every person who has shared an experience with me (whether through sharing a true experience or expressing something in fiction) has given me a gift - the gift of knowing them better, or in the case of an artist, of knowing people better.

Art is a critical player in bringing issues into a public arena. Laurie Halse Anderson's book is fiction, and Mr. Scroggins is not seeking to suppress a personal account of a trauma. But he is calling for the suppression of material that deals with a social reality. He is calling for us to only expose ourselves and our children to nice books, nice stories, nice people.

We can choose which stories - again, real or fictional - we want to hear. No one forces me to buy the books I buy and listen to the stories of the people I meet. I can raise my hand at any time and say 'I'm sorry, this makes me uncomfortable. Is it OK if we talk about something else?' And if I'm mid-stream about Panic Attacks and Me, I will respect it if someone asks me not to talk to them about it.

But no one - no one - has the right to say that any story should not be heard at all. No one can say 'I am sorry, but your experience isn't valid. Your art isn't valid. Your thoughts are not valid.' Mr. Scroggins, just because a book refers to an immoral deed taking place, does not mean it should not be read. And no one has the right to impose their choice of when to listen on anyone else.

And come my next pay cheque, I'm off to Amazon to listen to what Laurie Halse Anderson wishes to say.

Top Ten TV Shows Blogfest

A little late to the party, but thanks to DL I made it!

My entry for the Top Ten TV Shows Blogfest, courtesy of Alex J. Cavanaugh - good Irish name too :p

1. House
2. I, Claudius
3. 30 Rock
4. Doctor Who
5. M*A*S*H (far from my favourite but I respect the show a lot for achieving so much as a comedy based on that most serious of situations)
6. Frasier
7. Blackadder (single-handedly got me through a sizeable chunk of my English degree - even my lecturer agreed it was a pretty good guide to British royal history for novices. And the final episode is such a masterpiece)
8. Auf Wiedersehen Pet
9. Black Books
10. South Park

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inkwell Newsletter

The Inkwell Newsletter has just arrived in my inbox. It's a great read, and worth checking out for all writers - it's Irish-based, but they always have plenty of information about contests, submission opportunities and such, and not just for Irish markets.

Inkwell also run classes in south county Dublin (one of my illustrious relatives is involved in teaching for Inkwell, as is my old writing teacher Claire and the popular Irish publishing blogger Eoin Purcell).

This month, Vanessa O'Loughlin, the lady behind it all, writes:

Some of you already know that I am looking for proposals from anyone who might be interested in taking over Inkwell. My 6year old has been diagnosed with autism and ADD and is going to need a lot more of my time, so I am faced with the choice of selling the business or downscaling it. Having spent 4 years building a nationally recognized brand that is poised for growth, it seems a shame for it not to realize its potential. I would love to see it continue to grow, it can be run from home and would be ideal for one person, or two people who could focus on the different aspects of the business, the workshops on one side and the online services on the other. It's a global market - the website gets up to 100,000 impressions a month and this newsletter goes out to 1000 keen writers. Its also a brilliant platform for networking in the publishing community. If any of you are interested, or have a proposal, do get in touch Vanessa@inkwellwriters.ie/ 087 2835382. In the meantime your newsletter will continue to arrive as normal!

I'm posting this partly to help get the word out (albeit in a small way as most of my followers aren't Irish) but also because I don't think I've ever mentioned the newsletter before and it's a genuinely great resource. And now might be a nice time for the number of subscribers to go up, to give Vanessa an even more attractive package to offer a prospective successor.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Upcoming Writing Adventures!

I have a few writing adventures coming up, and I was thinking it might be fun to blog about them.

First of all, I have signed up for a class in feature writing. I've always wanted to write features well (I wrote some for the college papers but let it slide badly after I graduated) and there's a great-looking six-week course starting in Dublin on September 23rd.

And secondly, we are approaching the dreaded November - yes, it's Nanowrimo time again! A lot of writers don't like the idea of Nano, and that's fair enough (I'll probably blog about this again at some point), but I love it. It's one of the highlights of my year, even when I fail horribly and have to spend the month decidedly un-busy and surrounded by well-meaning friends who say things like 'Wow, I'm holding you up, you should get back to your novel!'. To which I respond, 'No. I really shouldn't. Trust me.'

My recent period of blog-quietness was also a period of writing-quietness. I'm revisiting some old projects and tinkering with some new ones, but I could use a shot in the arm. Fortunately I have shots in both arms coming up - and conveniently, my course finishes a few days before November, so I can come down slowly from thinking in a serious and journalisty fashion before Nanowrimo unleashes itself upon me again.

Can't wait :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


The extremely funny and talented Talli Roland's debut novel, The Hating Game, is due for release early next year. If it's half as entertaining as her blog, I'm going to be very happy (Talli's blog is a must-read for all writers in need of a smile, especially those of us who suffer from Writer's Arse).

However, it is being released for the Kindle on December 1st, and Talli is trying to get 1,000 bloggers to participate in a Blogsplash on the day.

All you have to do to participate is sign up on Talli's blog (follow the link above) and then on December 1st, post a short paragraph on your blog. Talli will send you on the text - you can just copy and paste.

I'm taking part, and here's a few reasons why:

1. Talli is published by an indie press, Prospera Publishing, who send out a lovely newsletter and generally seem rather nice. I'd like to see them enjoy success.

2. Talli is a debut writer - and don't we all need to believe that they can take over the world?

3. I believe the future of publishing will be all about ebooks and smaller presses, and I'd like to support them from the get-go.

4. You don't need a Kindle to read the ebook. There is a program you can download to allow you to read Kindle books from your computer. I didn't know this until Talli announced her Blogsplash and I'm bloody glad I know it now, so this seems a nice way to say thanks. . .

5. Wouldn't it be cool to know what bloggers can do if we band together? We could be responsible for what books top the Kindle chart. Or we could get 1,000 people to donate a fiver each to charity and raise five grand before breakfast. Or we could create a super-cool blogger army, roaming the earth armed with biros and encouraging people to write.

But we'll never know if we don't experiment with the collective power of blogging . . . :p