Friday, November 26, 2010

How To Put A Book Together - Interview With Garret Pearse

Garret Pearse, editor and compiler of the Pint And A Haircut collection, has dropped by today to chat for a bit about the process of putting a book together. A Pint And A Haircut, which features true Irish stories (including contributions from some of our favourite bloggers!) is on sale in all good bookshops or directly from the publishers, with all royalties going to Concern's Haiti fund. You will notice that I ask horribly hard questions so extra kudos to Garret for having the guts to pick favourites!

Garret, welcome to Pink Tea and Paper! I know you got the idea for A Pint and a Haircut from Paul Auster's collection. Once you had the idea, how did it all come together?

I figured I’d have to get stories before I could approach a publisher. The first thing I did was set up a blog website called to explain what it was all about.
I then sent out a pleading email to everyone in my contacts list looking for stories. I’d naively thought it would be a case of sit back and watch the stories flood in but alas things are never that simple. I did get a few stories in the first week but then realised I’d have to chase stories more aggressively. I targeted writers groups and got fantastic help from Eimear Rigby, one of Concern’s Press Officers, who got me a lot of local newspaper and radio coverage. That was the turning point and after that, the stories started to come in at quite a pace.

How did you choose the charity?

I’d always admired the work that Concern did overseas and we have a family friend who has been working all over the world with them.

What was the easiest and most fun part of making the book happen?

Most of it was actually a lot of fun from the challenge of getting people to send in their stories to getting to read such a variety of stories when they came in to getting to meet so many of the authors at the launch.
I suppose if you were to add up all the time I’ve spent on it, it may add up to quite a bit but it was always very varies and nicely spread out over the 8-9 months I’ve been working on it.

What was the most difficult thing?

Without a doubt, having to select 70 stories and leave out another 70.
I spent a week of sleepless nights wracked with worry and guilt about the choices I’d made and the many great stories I had to leave out.

How long did it take from the initial idea to the book being in your hands?

I had the idea in the middle of February so it took about 9 months from idea to book launch.

Was there anything unexpected about the publishing process, anything that surprised you?

I hadn’t a clue to be honest about any of it so I had to learn as I went along through the process. God know's how many mistakes I made as I went.

Are you a writer yourself?

Besides keeping a journal, I’m not or certainly wasn’t at the start of the process.
I just enjoyed reading a good story and the Paul Auster compiled book just gave me the idea. I’m probably the least qualified person to compile a book so I was incredibly lucky to have so many people trust me with their stories. Funnily enough, the book has spurred me to write a bit more, mostly personal memoir but I do feel I have a story or two in me, whether anyone would like to read them or not!

Do you read short stories much? Any favourite short story writers?

Again I’m not a huge short story reader – I tend to bury myself in a novel more readily. Having said that, I can think back to a number of short stories that have stuck with me over the years from some of those on the old school curriculum like the Confirmation Suit by Brendan Behan or most recently JD Salinger’s For Esme, with Love and Squalor collection which I got to read last year. I must say that I love Salinger’s apparently effortless style of writing.

What's your favourite Irish story of all time?

Uuuggh – that’s a tough one.
It’s so hard to compare all the different stories you come across over the years. I’m not even sure I can answer that one. I loved some of Frank O'Connor's stories. Guest of the Nation sticks has always stayed with me as a very powerful story.

Who is your favourite Irish writer?

Thanks for another easy question!
I really can't say I have a favourite. I loved Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy when they came out. Recently I've read a couple of Colum McCann's novels and really admire his writing and also love JG Farrell's writing. But as for a favourite? I just couldn't bring myself to say I have one without having to change my mind next week! Sorry!

Thanks a million to Garret for stopping by - and keep this great collection in mind for the Hibernophile in your life this Christmas!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ten Things I Love About Dublin - Part Two

Following on from Part One yesterday, here are five other things I love about Dublin! Also, check out Talli's original post on London and Helen Caldwell on Edinburgh. Anyone from Belfast or Cardiff care to complete the set?

6. Dun Laoghaire.
Disclaimer: I work in Dun Laoghaire, so I have to confess its charms are a little diminished for me since I see it every day. But it is still very nice.
Dun Laoghaire is somewhere between a suburb and a town, on the outskirts of Dublin easily accessible by rail and bus. As well as tons of charity shops, some really good restaurants and Reader's Bookshop, it also has two very long piers which are great for walks on dry windy days. When we get them. . . The whole town does close down fairly completely at 6pm and it doesn't feel terribly safe after that, but during daytime it's a great spot for getting out of the city.
PS - it's pronounced Dun Leery. If you want to be a right smartarse, try saying it in Irish - Doon Lair-a. Most Dubliners will roll their eyes a bit at the latter. . .

7. Markets.
I know, so far I've mentioned two shopping centres, a bookshop and way too many other places to spend money. I fail at Buy Nothing Day every year, just in case you hadn't guessed, and here I am with more rampant consumerism.
But not really. I always try to visit markets when I go to a city because they have far more character than glossy streets full of identical chain stores. And Dublin is rich in markets. One of the oldest is Blackrock Market, in the suburb of Blackrock, which is sadly no longer as good as it once was. The excellent Dublin Flea popped in November 2008 and is still going strong, and there is also the Liberty Market (never been myself), Point Village Market, Cow's Lane for designer stuff, the Temple Bar Food and Book markets, the Crafty Market and even a fancy dress market (do not ask, I don't know. . . .). And of course, all the others that I've forgotten. Which is probably about three.
No, I don't know how I ever have any money either.

8. Bookshops!
As a UNESCO City of Literature, it would be a terrible shame if Dublin fell down badly in the bookshop department. Luckily we don't. There is Chapters (not affiliated with the more famous chain), with a huge secondhand section that one of my cousins describes as a real-world Amazon Marketplace. And Hodges Figgis, my personal favourite, and Waterstones across the road, and Dubray Books on Grafton Street, and The Secret Book and Record Store on Wicklow Street, a great spot for anything strange and off-beat.

9. History.
Ireland has a lot of history for such a small place. Not all of it was nice. The history we're creating today isn't very nice either. I guess we're better at stories than real life. . .
That being said, Ireland's history, if you're interested in it, is all over the place in Dublin. There is a hell of a lot of nice old architecture about, if you look up instead of down. There is the GPO, which was the central staging point of the 1916 Rising against British rule. The Bank of Ireland building on College Green was our parliament back in the 1700s, before the Act of Union united us with the UK. You can still see bullet holes in the angel statues on O'Connell Street - and while we're on the subject of O'Connell Street, Daniel O'Connell, the man for whom it's named, may be one of the nicest historical figures ever, in any country.
And you don't have to go too far out of Dublin to see even more history. Glendalough, home of St. Kevin's monastary, is less than an hour's drive from Dublin. One of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country is close by, too - Boyne Valley, which is full of Neolithic chamber graves that predate the Egyptian pyramids.

10. Murphy's Ice Cream Parlour
A very new arrival in the city that I just discovered a few weeks ago. Murphy's is utterly fantastic. They serve some of the most unusual ice cream flavours I've ever seen - sea salt (which I'm hoping to make over Christmas using the recipe on their site), pink peppercorn, and brown bread (which I could take or leave). They're an Irish company and they make their ice-cream from the milk of the endangered Kerry cow, and they constantly try new and cool things. What's not to love?
Oh, and there is a table in the Wicklow Street branch made from a surfboard, and a wall covered in Post-Its left by customers.

Following Talli's lead, would anyone else like to mention the coolest thing about their city?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ten Things I Love About Dublin - Part One

Talli Roland has posted a list of things she loves about London.

I'm very tempted to list ten things I love about London, but I'd go way over ten and be here all night. So I'm going to tackle Dublin, not least because a few fantastic bloggers have mentioned that they may be visiting and I may as well put some information out there for people to find!

And with the news full of talk of bail-outs, bankruptcies, corruption, mismanagement all that other stuff the Irish are so good at, I feel a small patroitic need to note some of the stuff we got right, even if we can't count.

1. The coast.
Dublin has quite a lot of coastline for a capital city because it's built around a bay. We don't have many good beaches, but Sandymount Strand has a certain bleak urban loveliness about it. The DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) rail service runs along the coast and takes you past Killiney Bay, which is gorgeous.

2. The cinnamon bun's in Simon's Coffee Shop.
Look, the list was inspired by Talli Roland. Sweet stuff had to figure prominently. It's only right.
Simon's Coffee Shop is a strange, offbeat studenty cafe in the George's Shopping Arcade. They sell the world's most wonderful, messy, sugary cinnamon buns which can be had, along with a cup of tea, for under four quid (good by Dublin standards).

3. City shopping centres
OK, so the ILAC and the Jervis won't take anyone's breath away, but the aforementioned George's Arcade, which looks like a Victorian railway station but was actually purpose-built, and the Powerscourt town centre across the road, are genuinely lovely buildings. The latter also has good cupcakes, courtesy of the Sugar Loaf Bakery.

4. Parks
The Phoenix Park, which features heavily in my Nanowrimo novel this year, is one of the largest city parks in Europe and even has a herd of wild deer. St. Stephen's Green, the largest of the Georgian parks, is more accessible and generally cuddlier. And the Iveagh Gardens, tucked away behind Harcourt Street and the National Concert Hall, is alsways the top of those 'Dublin's Hidden Gems' lists that newspapers publish on slow news days. But deservedly so!

5. The Chester Beatty Library
Ths museum is small but perfectly formed. Their collection is based on the private collection of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, antiquarian and hoarder extrordinaire. They run excellent temporary exhibitions alongside permanent galleries of Buddhist, Islamic and Christian texts. The cafe is also fantastic, and their gift shop has saved my arse more than once.

Would anyone care to chip in with their favourite things in their own city? You never know when a travelling blogger may need inspiration!

Friday, November 19, 2010

[NaNoWriMo] The Relative Values of Numbers

Sounds like the title of an Alexander McCall Smith book, doesn't it?

But no. It isn't a book about Isabel Dalhousie uncovering a massive banking fraud operation while musing on the ethics that go alongside her own personal wealth (MEMO to Alexander McCall Smith: I would totally read that). The relative values of numbers affect the lives of Nanowrimo participants in what Tony Blair might call a very real and meangingful way.

The scariest number of all, as every writer knows, is 0. When 0 appears on the word counter, that is a special kind of hell. You have nothing done. You have the advantage that you haven't messed anything up yet, but you know you will. You're a writer, and you know it's never as good on paper as it was in your head.

Once o is gone, Nanowrimo participants enter the most satisfying numerical period of the month. Sadly, it only lasts a week or so.

From 0 until about 5000, hundreds of words matter. You write 200 words, bring you from 600 to 800, and you are ecstatic. Hundreds really count, and 100 words doesn't take long at all. Every hundred is immeasurably satisfying. Tens have ceased to matter (there is no sense of achievement in getting from 230 to 280 compared to getting from 280 to 300) but it's OK, because you're racking up the hundreds and you are on fire.

Somewhere between 5000 and 10000, though, hell kicks in again. 100s start to look small and meaningless, just as tens did. Now it's all about the thousands. 12300 to 12800 is no achievement. That little 3, morphing into an 8, is dwarfed by the two numbers in front of it, which are stubbornly staying the same. 500 words (which, if you are aiming for 50k, is just under a third of your daily goal and is never to be sneezed at) suddenly looks like it is not worth doing.

Thousands are now where it's at. Less than 1000 is chicken-feed. You envy the writers who say 'I just did 300 words!' with joy in their voices. You will never write 300 words again. You will only write 30% of 1000.

Luckily, for most Wrimos, it stops there. With a daily target of 1667, you manage to jump three of the all-important digits in the thousand-column every two days. Most people recognise that for the awesome progress that it is, and grow used to that output. They keep plugging away and cross the finish line with a smile, usually a little early because they are calm.

Then there is me. I'm aiming for 75k and just broke 37k last night. I have just under half the book to go, and well under half the month.

And now only tens of thousands mean anything. Last night I was miffed that my daily total fell short of 40,000. Crossing from 36,999 to 37,000 - nothing. Even hitting the halfway point didn't help (partly because I'm behind schedule hitting it).

But the good news is, there is a cure for this form of number-fatigue. It is called Write Or Die.

Write or Die is most famous for playing an annoying noise at you if you stop typing for longer than a few seconds (so far I've had screeching cats, a car alarm and that 'ringringringringringringring BANANA PHONE!' ringtone from a couple of years ago. Not making this up). On 'Kamikaze' mode, it deletes what you've already written if you stop typing. Either way, it punishes you if you stop writing. But I don't think it's the punishment aspect that makes it great.

Before you start, it asks you to enter a target word count and duration. And suddenly, if you force yourself to do it a short enough timespan, 100 words becomes and achievement again! Last night I gave myself a deadline of one hour and a (very ambitious) target of 4,000 words, and did far less well than I usually do when I set myself three 20-minute challenges, or even two 30-minute challenges.

Lesson learned.

I'll close by suggesting a new slogan to Write or Die: Reclaim Your Relationship with Numbers!

Or perhaps not.

Part of the NaNoWriMo 2010 Blogchain

Monday, November 15, 2010

Microfiction Monday 57

Welcome to Microfiction Monday - picture-inspired fiction in 140 characters.

Drawing pictures for clipart was a boring job - until Fred decided that every picture could be improved by adding black lipstick.

Blogger's New Feature - Stats

Blogger has a new and delightful little feature - stats. I can now view all kinds of fascinating info about my readers (without their privacy being compromised - thanks, Google!). Until now, the only way I had to track interest in my blog was comments (which I love, of course, as do most bloggers), but not every reader will comment on every post. So there were quite a few surprises when I checked my stats.

Such as:

-My most popular posts are the Top Ten TV Shows blogfest and Born on the Fourth of July, a post in memory of my late father. I love that my dad is one of the two biggest draws to my blog. I think he'd really enjoy that :)

-The overwhelming majority of my pageviews are from within Ireland, even though most of my commenters aren't.

-I've had readers from Russia, the Ukraine, Germany, South Korea, the Netherlands and Brazil. And 19 from Australia - I'm choosing to believe that at least one of those Aussies was Mark Webber, my favourite F1 driver. So hi everyone!

-Most importantly, 47% of my pageviews come from people using Firefox, more than any other browser. I always knew you guys had impeccable taste!

Have your stats turned up anything interesting?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Little Break from Nano Madness

Ann at Inkpot and Quills has taken part in this sort-of-meme found on Rainy Day Wanderer's blog. Just to break up the constant stream of Nano-posts (there is another one to follow about numbers and their effect on the fragile Wrimo psyche), I thought I'd fill in the survey too. If you like it, feel free to take part too (I do love gentle, non-taggy memes!) - If I were a season, I would be autumn
- If I were a month, I would be October
- If I were a day of the week, I would be Friday

- If I were a time of day, I would be night

- If I were a planet, I would be Saturn

- If I were a direction, I would be East

- If I were a tree, I would be a sycamore
- If I were a flower, I would be a daisy
- If I were a fruit, I would be a pear
- If I were a land animal, I would be a cat

- If I were a sea animal, I would be a seahorse
- If I were a bird, I would be a magpie

- If I were a piece of furniture, I would be an armchair
- If I were a liquid, I would be water

- If I were a stone, I would be sea-glass
- If I were a tool, I would be a Swiss army knife
- If I were a kind of weather, I would be blustery with grey skies

- If I were a musical instrument, I would be a guitar

- If I were a colour, I would be deep turquoise
- If I were a facial expression, I would be a raised eyebrow (although I can't raise one eyebrow)

- If I were an emotion, I would be amusement

- If I were a sound, I would be a kettle just about to boil
- If I were an element, I would be air

- If I were a car, I would be a 1999 Toyota Starlet

- If I were a food, I would be chocolate

- If I were a place, I would be Dublin

- If I were a flavor, I would be orange
- If I were a scent, I would be vanilla

- If I were an object, I would be a book
- If I were a body part, I would be fingernails

- If I were a song, I would be Expectations by Belle and Sebastian
- If I were a pair of shoes, I would be a pair of red Converse trainers

- If I were transportation, I would be an intercountry train

- If I were a fairy tale, I would be
- If I were a holiday, I would be Halloween
- If I were a novel, I would be Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
- If I were a movie, I would be The Maltese Falcon

(EDIT: I took the photos of the grey sky - in Edinburgh, Dublin in the snow, and the train. I cheated with the train - it's actually an S-Bahn train in Cologne in Germany, but it was taken on an interrailing trip. So it's less of a cheat).

Monday, November 8, 2010

[Nanowrimo] Day Eight - Falling Behind Disgracefully!

The end of Week One and the beginning of Week Two have taught me a whole new range of lessons.

I have learned not to get complacent just because you established an early word-count cushion for yourself.
My lead has now been eroded. I deliberately worked hard on Day One to pull ahead, and the pressures of a busy weekend have now eroded my lead. To hit my target of 75k by November 30th, I should be on 20,000 by the end of today.

I'm on 15,300. And I have to go to work today, and I have plans after work.

So that means that tomorrow, I can just do my daily 2,500 + the backlog of 4,700 which = 7,200 words.

Except that I have plans tomorrow too. Luckily, my plans are with Writer Friend, who isn't Nano-ing but remains mired in editing and we plan to do some work. Probably not 7,200 words worth of work though, since that's more than my Day One total and on Day One I wrote for about six straight hours. So let's say a realistic target for tomorrow is more like 1,000.

Leaving me with a backlog of 6,200 to tackle on Wednesday. Plus Wednesday's target of 2,500 = 8,700 words.

I have no plans on Wednesday, but I will be at work all day. And my lunch hour is precisely that, an hour.

You see how quickly it mounts? Your numbers will vary depending on your target, but right now I'm only one day behind. My word count RIGHT NOW should be 17,500. But looking ahead, you can see how that small deficit grows. . .

So it's time for a very big push. Strategies will be:

Bringing a packed lunch to work and writing at lunchtime.
Writing on the train or bus where possible. Even if I just get a 100 words done on my 15-minute bus ride, it's 100 words!
Working extra hard on my free evenings.
Waiting anxiously for the weekend to try to pull ahead again. . .

Fingers crossed! Good luck to everyone embarking on Week Two - may you screw it up less than I have so far!

Part of the Nanowrimo Blogchain

Thursday, November 4, 2010

[Nanowrimo] Day Four - Lessons Learned

Brought to you as part of the Nanowrimo Blog Chain.

Day Four of the madness and I have learned the following lessons:

1. Writing after a full day at work is hard.

2. Writing after a full day at work and a driving lesson is harder.

3. Writing after work is easier if I bring my netbook in and do a bit at lunch time. On Tuesay day I managed 1700 words at lunch, today I managed 1000. Yesterday I skipped my lunchtime writing and it was very tough to make my target in the evening. In fact, I failed to make my target - or even half my target - because of No. 4.

4. Writing in bed is a bad plan. I know this one is obvious, but you didn't feel how cold the computer room was last night. Seriously. I couldn't face it, so I decided to write in the warmest room of the house and got into bed with my netbook. I fell asleep after 1000 words and for the last 20 or 30 I was not at my best.

I'm back on target now thanks to the epic first day, but I need to do another 1000 before bed tonight to stay on target - ideally more, because I have a work do tomorrow evening.

Once more into the breach. . .

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

[Nanowrimo] Day One - Tips

Brought to you by the 2010 Nanowrimo Blog Chain!

Everything that follows is based on my experience. Your mileage may vary.

I work full-time, so I knew Nano was going to be a challenge this year. The year that I won, I was unemployed, and while 'unemployed' certainly doesn't mean 'not busy', it generally does mean 'slightly more control over how you spend your time'. I knew this year would be tough, so I cheated a little. I had some annual leave to spare, so I booked 1st November off work at the tail end of a holiday.

The usual daily target for Nanowrimo is 1,667 words. I'm aiming for 75k and a completed novel this year, so my daily target is 2,500. Not a huge amount more, really, but enough to be a bit scary! And as I'm Co-ML for my region, I don't want to crash and burn in Week One, because then how can I help to encourage my fellow Wrimos?

So I decided to use Day One to get as far ahead of target as I could. Not everyone can take a day off for 1st November (and this year is especially difficult for everyone because Nano starts on a Monday, so it will be Day 6 before most full-time workers and students get a day to themselves), but I recommend getting ahead of target as soon as you can. If you're reading this on Day Two and worried that you're behind, just keep going! Try to meet your daily target or get as close as you can. But as soon as you have some extra time, whether on a quiet evening or a Saturday or by hiding in the garden shed where no one can find you, try to pull ahead. It feels so much better knowing that you can have a bad day, or a busy day, and not fall behind.

But why does falling behind matter? The goal is to verify your 50k between November 25th and 30th. That's aaaages away. Aaaaages.

Falling behind doesn't matter, once you know you can make it up. But it can be demoralising, sitting down on Saturday and knowing you have to write half of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before you even start Saturday's target. And then you're just breaking even. . . so if you can't pull ahead early, try to keep up until you can. The less pressure you have to handle, the better.

Which brings me to another issue - the Nano forums.

The forums may be the best thing about Nano. Friendly, fun and full of utterly random information (the Reference Desk forum is brilliant), they can be a terrible time-waster so people with willpower like mine may want to unplug the internet.

However, there is a side effect of the forums that you have to be able to overlook - comparing word counts. As you browse, you may notice some people with absurdly high word counts. A few people hit 50k yesterday (yes, really, I am NOT making this up).

It's really important not to let this affect you. Don't even bother falling into the trap of thinking 'If they wrote 50k in one day, it must be total rubbish.' Maybe it is, but maybe not. It isn't important. You're on your own journey and facing your own challenge.

My word count for yesterday looks fairly impressive. But bear in mind that I achieved that by taking a day off work and writing from 11.30 to 6, with a short lunch break, and that my particular story has quite a bit of world-building going on at the start. Also, my lunch break was spent researching (luckily my research is fun). If you have kids to look after, or college assignments to do, or any other commitments, your word count is going to be different. And all that matters is whether you are meeting your goals.

And if you're not? There's plenty of time. Change your strategy. Enjoy it.

Forget where other people are. Focus on where you are. For some people, writing 50,000 words in a month is genuinely not a challenge. Some of them are even churning out works of genius faster than I can write grocery lists. But they're not me, and apart from being happy for them, they don't matter.

Chins up for Day Two!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Back at the Coalface

Apologies for my long absence from blogging. I've been in Madrid for almost a week, which was fantastic, and a blog post about it will follow soon.

And now it's November, which means it's Nanowrimo time! My local region had our first meet-up on Saturday and we had a great turn-out. I have a sort of an idea, kind of, and after a cup of tea I'll be gluing myself to my chair for a day of novel-writing.

Good luck to all other Wrimos kicking off today, and to everyone else - happy November :)