Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in Books

So you thought you might have the good fortune to read a blog post today that didn't mention Christmas? I hope you find it, but sadly you won't find it here :)

I have this problem with Christmas in my books. Specifically, there is rather too much of it.

I usually do my first drafts in November, for Nanowrimo. This means that as I write, the Christmas party invitations are starting to trickle in. My three incredibly close friends who have the temerity to be born in early-mid December (Interrailing Buddy, Lilac Faery and The Sociologist, to be precise) are usually starting to iron out their celebrations during late November (they have lots of friends in common - sadly I am not unique in that regard! - and tend to coordinate so they don't clash. Thankfully!). And I'm starting to look for Christmas gifts, birthday gifts and to think generally celebratory thoughts.

This always spills into my books.

In Becky (sorry, still no title!), Becky's upbeat flatmate asks her about her Christmas plans. One of the key moments in Becky's journey back to being a real person as well as a job is when she realises that she has been left out of her college friends' annual Secret Santa/ Kris Kindle present exchange because she hasn't seen any of them since the previous year.

This year, I'm writing about a family, and my main character is locked in a row with her sister about what they will do on Christmas Day. It's actually one of the more serious conflicts in the novel.

I enjoy reading Christmassy books, but I don't tend to read them as much during the rest of the year.

How about you guys? Do you have any favourite Christmas books? Any Christmas books that you don't read any other time? Have you ever read a Christmassy book at another time of year, and how did you find it?

This will be my last post til January so I hope you all have a lovely holiday season!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blogging 2012

You guys may have noticed I've been far more sporadic about my blogging lately. It started with Nanowrimo, when I was both busy and sick, and some of my health problems are stubbornly refusing to go away. Nothing serious, before anyone starts to worry, just annoying, niggly things that nevertheless have a tendency to sap energy.

I've also been plugging away at the Nano book, trying to get a first draft finished. I'm happy with how it's going, but it's very much a first draft and I suspect huge chunks won't survive the first edit.

I've been thinking a lot about blogging lately. I find I'm reading fewer blogs, commenting less and posting less. Yet, when I do take the time to read and comment, I'm enjoying blogging as much as ever. I just feel I have reached a point where I have less to say that I did.

Which is why I'm changing my posting schedule. Instead of Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will now only be blogging twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays.

I figure you'd all rather read something I'd put some thought into rather than a random collection of Guardian articles desperately cobbled together for the sake of posting something!

And while I'm here - hello to all new followers and readers, and thanks for sticking with me through my sporadic blogging period. I didn't lose a single follower during my radio silence and I'm very glad :)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Deja Vu Blogfest!

DL Hammons - among others - is hosting the very fun Deja-Vu Blogfest today! The idea is for bloggers to re-run their favourite old posts, perhaps from before they encountered many of their followers.

My actual favourite blog post is surprisingly popular, given that it's called 'Grabbing Life by the Bouillabaisse'. But it's only one paragraph long, so I have decided to pretend that I'm far more highbrow than I actually am by repeating a post about a book. Here is my sort-of-second, almost-joint-first, kind-of-one-and-a-halfth favourite blog post, about one my my all-time favourite books - 84 Charing Cross Road.

It's an All Bar One now.

84 Charing Cross Road, that is. The most iconic bookshop in an iconic street of bookshops. And it's a pub.

The person who first lent me 84 Charing Cross Road may be able to see the positive side of this. Me not so much.

The first time I read Helene Hanff's most famous book was in a volume that included The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, a later account of her trip to London long after the death of Frank Doel. It's a delightfully London-y book, and Helene Hanff is like a Dorothy Parker that you wouldn't be scared to invite to your parties. Smart, acerbic, New Yorker, likes martinis, but paradoxically not prone to having feuds with people and attempting suicide. What's not to love?

When I borrowed the book first, I refused to give it back until I'd bought my own copy (this is still a sore point). I knew that I could never go to London without it, because when Helene Hanff finally made her life-changing trip to London, nearly a decade before I was born, she stayed in My Bit. My Bit is Bloomsbury. Next to the British Museum, close to Russell Square (one of my all-time favourite parks), walking distance to Oxford Street, Covent Garden and - natch - Charing Cross Road. I am extremely attached to My Bit. It has pretty brown-brick buildings that remind me of seeing 10 Downing Street on TV when I was a kid. Black Books was set there. UCL and Birkbeck are there. There is a three-story branch of Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road that I once visited with a friend late on a Thursday evening in December. We got a doubled-over giggling fit in the lift in our hotel because we felt so decadent buying stationery in the dark.

Substantial parts of My Bit also got blown up in July 2005. Usually, when places I love get blown up, I book a flight to them. Like Helene Hanff, bound for London still crippled by a recent hysterectomy, I can never just go to places. Disasters tend to drive me there.

Since I read 84 Charing Cross Road, the small volume including The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street has come with me on every trip to London. My edition has a quote on the cover, taken from the publicity material for the film adaptation, which describes the book as a love story. This incensed me the first time I read it - the platonic nature of Helene Hanff's friendship with Frank Doel is the best bloody thing about the book, as far as I'm concerned - but I got over it. It is a love story - several love stories - and that's why it comes to London with me every time. Partly because the second book is a love letter to My Bit (even if Helene never went to the British Museum, mad heathen that she was), partly because the first book is all about second-hand books, which I buy in vast quantities every time I'm in London, and partly because 84, Charing Cross Road is one of the best accounts I have read about friendship and how it can begin in the strangest of circumstances and survive for so long. When you find yourself in a city that you love in the way that normal people love other people, it's nice to have something to remind you why getting on the plane home is a good idea.

Annoyingly, though, I can't go into number 84 and buy a book each trip, as a sort of thank you to Marks & Co. for making my trips richer. But even more annoying is the other book that has to come with me on every trip to London, the only other book I've read that comes close to 84, Charing Cross Road in its love for London.

Forever Amber. Forever sodding Amber. 972 pages. Do you have any idea how much that thing weighs?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Heart in the Marketplace: What to Write

Rachelle Gardner has an excellent post today on how writers handle the conflicting messages out there: 'write with an awareness of the market' vs 'write what's in your heart'.

I am an awkward writer (I'll give you all a moment to recover from the shock of that revelation). I often write things that don't quite fit a genre. My last book was a straight-up urban fantasy. This one - well. It's a bit less straightforward. There is a supernatural element that underpins the entire plot. But the writing is much closer to chick-lit than to urban fantasy. I suspect that when the time comes to write a query letter for this one, I will cry myself stupid and bloggers in Britain will hear my screams carrying across the Irish Sea when the wind is from the west.

But I love it, and I want to write it, and I believe I can write it well. So I'm writing it. When the time comes to try to pitch it, I'll be looking at the market then and trying to find somewhere that it fits.

I think it's about balance. If I was to say to myself 'Oh, steampunk, that's hot right now!' and start bashing out a tale of - well, whatever the classic steampunk elements are, I've only read Gail Carriger - I don't imagine I'd produce anything worth reading. But that's just me - some writers are fortunate and can find scope for creativity within any parameters.

But I'm not one of those people, and so much of writing is about knowing yourself.

What about you? Do you write for the market or for yourself?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Diffney Quiz - Offbeat Holiday Traditions

As many of you probably know, my dad is sadly no longer with us. He passed away sudddenly in 2005. And as all of you probably know, when the Christmas season hits, most people's minds turn to loved ones, lost or otherwise.

When I was about fifteen, my dad came home from work one evening with the Diffney quiz. Do not ask me what made him go into Diffney (he was a marine engineer, so he tended to buy very functional clothes rather than stylish ones. They tended to get covered in engine oil and dust very, very fast).

My dad loved crosswords, brainteasers and puzzles. His evening ritual was to sit with the Daily Mirror Quizword and work his way through the general knowledge clues. The Diffney quiz might as well have been designed for him.

Anyway, the entire family became addicted to it. Not just my parents and me, but the extended family. My mother posted a copy to one of her sisters, and the other sister saw it when they were having coffee together.

Slowly, it took over our December.

Right up to the February deadline, we were calling and texting back and forth from Dublin to Wexford to Scotland to Nottingham, with clues and suggestions and debates. Once you've done it once, you learn a few tricks - there is usually a clue about Diffney itself, for instance, and at least one Dublin placename and its postcode (Dublin has one-digit postcodes, the rest of Ireland doesn't, which makes internet shopping all kinds of fun). There is usually a film or two, a song lyric as well as some song titles.

Like a crossword, you eventually get into the mind of the compiler. Over the years, we have all got better and better at the Diffney quiz. It is no longer the absurd challenge it was that first year (and of course, we all secretly believe it's getting easier, in the same way exams were harder when we sat them, young people today have it so easy, etc. /end old person rant).

But the Diffney quiz is addictive. It has an odd siren song - most people can answer a lot of the questions in one sitting, easily. But the ones that you can't get nag at you and gradually take over your life so you are a mere husk of your former self.

Over the years, I've shared it with friends and family, and most people who enjoy puzzles get quite sucked in. Sometimes you get texts at 2 a.m. that merely say 'Amazon River - 3976 miles long!!!!!!' or, if you know someone really sadistic (or sensitive about spoiling your fun) 'I got number 23. Call if you want the answer.'

I got the 2011 Diffney quiz on Friday when I was starting my Christmas shopping. Two copies go in the post, one is left blank for photocopying, one will get filled in bit by bit over the next few weeks.

It's not quite the same without Dad, becayse he was the most enthusiastic Diffney quiz lover of us all. But it is nice, every year, to watch a little of Dad come out in all of us as we trade clues and answers, jealously guard our hunches, argue for our own suggestions and shamefully resort to Google when we're desperate.

For me, Christmas starts with the Diffney quiz.

Any odd holiday traditions in your family?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

50K in 30 days - The End of a Tough Nanowrimo

Guys, I have neglected my blog, Twitter, Facebook and almost everything else for the last few weeks. Thanks for hanging around :)

November was a tough month this year. First ever migraine, some panic issues, four days off from my day job due to another illness. Overall, I lost about nine or ten days of writing time to various illnesses and ailments.

Last night, while in Writer Friend's living room, I crossed the 50k finishing line. There are rumours that I may have done a happy dance in the kitchen while Writer Friend continued to type frantically in the other room, but so far these remain unconfirmed.

I learned a lot this month. I learned that, when you fall behind with a goal, there's no sense in deciding all is lost and abandoning it. I wanted to do that very badly when I found myself almost 6k behind target. But I figured I would feel worse if I gave up (I'm an ML, and Nano HQ ask us to try very hard to win to keep our region's Wrimos motivated).

Every time I thought about that almost-6k deficit, it felt insurmountable. There was no way I could make that up. Instead, I focused on making up as much as I could. Some days I just wrote my bare minimum target (1667 per day) and made sure I didn't increase the deficit. Other days, I managed to bash out an additional thousand words. Other days it was an additional 500 words. Slowly, the deficit got smaller.

I'm reminded of W. C. Fields's wonderful line - 'If it first you don't succeed, try, try and try again. Then quit. There's no point being a damned fool about it.'

Sometimes you do just have to give up, when something is genuinely impossible. Sometimes, it's worth hanging on and chipping away.

I'm not finished writing this book yet - I think there is about a month of work left in it, so I'm hoping, with luck, to finish the first draft by Christmas. We all know that writing a book is a long journey. Taking the first steps this November was tough, but ultimately it's been very rewarding.

Also, I had celebratory chocolate. And tonight there will be celebratory dinner. Any excuse :p

So how have you guys been while I've been flicking between Nanowrimo.org, WriteOrDie.com and OpenOffice? Any news? What did I miss? :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Saying Thanks

Fellow Irish blogger Paul is talking about being thankful today. I agree that, in spite of living in a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, it is nice to take some time to feel gratitude, so I'm going to post about that today.

Right now I'm off work sick. This month I joined the reluctant club of migraine sufferers. I'm behind on Nanowrimo. Due to my various health issues, typing is hard - I can't focus on computer screens for as long as usual, and I'm more prone to typos and stupid errors, which makes me feel like I'm losing my mind or my ability to write. It's scary, even though I'm sure it's temporary.

But even in the face of these setbacks, it's important to be grateful for what I have.

I can write. I may be behind with Nano, but I'm also 40,000 words into a new book that I'm really enjoying writing. Yes, I've been quite ill this month and my panic hasn't exactly been great either, but I'm thankful it's nothing more serious! Migraines can be debilitating and are deeply unpleasant, but they can often be managed, and they're certainly less debilitating than a lot of other conditions out there.

I'm thankful for the fact my blog followers haven't all vanished in the wake of my posting famine in the last few weeks.

I'm thankful for all the love and support I have in my life.

Hope all my US friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and that you enjoy a year full of things to be grateful for.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Apologies for being a rubbish blogger

Guys, I've been quiet for a few days. I'm in the middle of a busy week and I am still battling to get my 2500 words a day down (I'm aiming fr 75k this Nano, just for giggles).

And last night I apparently got my first ever migraine, which means a few days of enforced taking-it-easy. My ability to be in front of a computer screen will be dedicated to my day job and Nano, which doesn't leave much time for blogging.


So I'm taking a few days of downtime. I'm going to a gig tomorrow and I want to be well for that, so you may not see me blogging much in the next few days. Looking forward to catching up when things settle down a bit!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Insecure Writers' Support Group - How [NaNoWriMo] has worked for me

See what I did there? My monthly Insecure Writers' Support Group post combined with Nano! I'm a multitasking queen, clearly. . .

I have found Nano excellent for dealing with my insecurity. The Nanowrimo ethos is simple - write without regard for quality. Just write. Write for fun.

For me, this is a great way of burning through insecurity. Yesterday I wrote 3251 words on Day One (official target: 1667. Personal target: 2500. I try to do extra every day so it's not the end of the world if I have a day when I can't write later in the month. In my experience, there is always one). And as I wrote those 3251 words, I wasn't thinking about whether or not they were amazing words. I was thinking 'Oooh, I knew Uncle Max was a book collector - maybe he could have been a book reviewer for a newspaper when he was younger?' and just dumping the new idea right in there. I was getting to know Claire, Penelope, Dot and the as-yet-elusive Sandi. And Uncle Max, of course, although like Marley he was dead to begin with.

It was brilliant fun. This morning I emailed it to Writer Friend (who invented the term 'Bloomsbury' and will be back for a visit soon!) and Paul, just because I had thoroughly enjoyed writing it and fancied sharing it. This is against the Nano ethos, really, and it's very unusual for me - I rarely share before the second draft. But it was just such great fun that I wanted to pass it on.

I haven't re-read it myself, because then I really will get insecure. But as soon as I get a few quiet moments today, I'll be curling up with my trusty netbook and hammering out the next instalment (I believe I'm taking Claire and Dot out for dinner tonight. Luckily, as fictional characters, they are cheap dates). Never mind insecurity. I'm here for the fun.

That being said, Nano is definitely not for everyone. It works for me, it may not work for you. But recapturing the fun is always a good idea, so even if Nano isn't your thing, hanging out on the forums for half an hour may help you to let go of the internal editor (I don't know about yours, but mine is a bitch) and rediscover the fun.

Happy November, guys!

Friday, October 28, 2011

[NaNoWriMo] It's the Final Countdown. . . Tips and Strategies

Sorry about the cheesy 80s blog post title, but I couldn't resist. I'm not made of stone!

The madness of Nano starts on Tuesday, so we have a weekend (a long weekend, if you're Irish) to plan and prepare. Here are my favourite first-week tips:

1. Get ahead of target early.
Cannot stress this one enough! I've used up all of my annual leave for the year, so I can't take the Tuesday off to get a head-start (I did last year), so for the first four days, I'll be balancing Nano and work. Still, this step is important. For the first four days, I'll be aiming to write more than my daily target of 1667, so that if I have a bad day, I'll still be somewhat ahead.

If, like me, you're balancing Nano and work, school, kids, etc., just carve out some time as early as you can and pull ahead. I've planned a full day of writing with Writer Friend (who isn't doing Nano, but is in the late stages of an edit and is using Nano as a motivator) on the first Sunday in November, with the intention of creating a nice little cushion of words in case something comes up later in the month and I fall behind.

2. Plan the first bit.
I'm a pantser rather than a plotter ('half the fun is getting there', as the Greyhound ads used to say), but for Nano, I plot the first sections of my book. Sometimes it's just a few scenes, sometimes it's a chapter, but it's a fantastic way to stop those moments where you freeze 500 words in and think 'OK, I got her off the bus BUT NOW WHAT??'

My planning looks usually looks something like this:
Kate arrives at the house. Goes inside. Talks to parents. Goes upstairs. Sees letter on bed. Reads letter. Calls Marge. Marge's reaction. . . . etc.

So, when I start writing, I have this skeleton to flesh out with descriptions of the three characters (and probably some description of Marge, too, although we don't see her) and I'm less likely to get stuck while Kate is chatting to her mum and forget where to go next.

Usually I do this for the opening bit and then allow myself to revert to my classic pantser ways :)

3. Make the most of the first week or two.
I find that during the first week, friends and family are cheerfully indulgent about your inability to spend any time with them or behave like, you know, a normal human. I hear lots of 'It's great that you're so dedicated!' 'That's such a cool thing to do!' and 'Can I read it when it's done?'.

But after a week or two, I start to feel guilty for saying 'no' to everything, and I start to make plans and accept invitations. Also, as November wears on, we get over closer to Christmas and I always find that things just crop up and need to be done.

So get as much done as you can while the guilt is at its lowest level!

4. Ignore other people's word counts.
Nano is a competition with yourself, not with anyone else. Don't worry about anyone else's word count. Some people on the Nano forums break 50k on the first day. Also, don't fall into the trap of assuming that everyone writing faster than you is writing total rubbish - they might be, they might not. But don't give them any headpsace, positive or negative. They are on their path, you are on yours. Put blinkers on and get back to writing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Real Women Week: Cecelia Ahern and Realistic Role Models

This week I'm doing a couple of posts on 'real women' - see Monday's post for my discussion of the phrase itself!

I was watching TV last week and the Irish author Cecelia Ahern was being interviewed. I haven't read any of her books yet and had no prior opinion of her.

Cecelia had just had her hair cut quite short, and it looked good. The interviewer asked her about it and she said 'Well, I'm not a natural blonde - which maybe a shock-horror moment for some of you! - and I dyed my hair so much that it got really damaged and I had to cut it off.'

I had two thoughts.

One was, I'm very glad I don't dye my hair. I have absurdly sticky-out ears and having to go for a pixie-cut would equal fashion suicide for me, not to mention cold ears (I have a theory that no blood reaches them because they are so far from my head).

My second thought was, well done to her for saying it!

I have a bit of a bugbear about celebrities who present unrealistic standards for women. Some years ago, a perfume ad featured a shot of Victoria Beckham from behind. Several sources alleged that the image was digitally enhanced to make Victoria's butt look curvier than it is, and looking at the photograph compared to candid shots taken of her, it certainly seems likely.

I don't know if it's true or not - I hope it isn't - but if it is, then it's the kind of thing that makes me really angry.

Some people are born beautiful, and that's great for them. But for most women, famous or otherwise, life is a constant struggle with what we perceive as our own inherent mediocrity. We dye our hair, we wear makeup, we buy clothes to hide our 'faults', we wear loose-fitting trousers because of our 'thunder thighs' . . . some of us get cosmetic injections of surgery.

And virtually no one is perfect.


Which is why the Victoria Beckham Arsegate thing annoys me so much, if it is indeed true. VB is extremely skinny. Like all physical characteristics, skinniness can be very beautiful or very ugly, so I'm not making any comment on that fact. But I feel that celebrities have a responsibility to present the downsides of how they look too - or rather, the reality of how they look. It is incredibly unlikely that someone could maintain a figure as slim as VB's and still have a round, curvaceous butt. It's possible, but I have never seen it in real life. I carry all my weight on my butt and even mine gets smaller when I lose weight.

When I hear of things like that, I picture a teenage girl who hates her body, looking at TV ads and thinking 'my waist looks like hers, but why is my stupid butt so flat??' or 'My butt looks like hers, but why do I have this stupid belly to go with it?' Because, sweetheart, life does that and the media is lying to you. It's hard to gain or lose fat in a focused way, especially for those of us who don't have personal trainers and our own chefs.

Which is why I applaud Cecelia Ahern. She has lovely hair. It's a very nice colour. But she just told the whole country (or at least the ones who watch TV at 8.10 am) that if you want hair that colour and you decide to dye your hair to get it, you may face the consequence that it gets damaged. She was honest about what lay behind the - very attractive - image that she projects.

Every time someone is honest about their looks, we move a step closer to accepting women as they are. We don't have to be perfect - we need to be OK with being as we are!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Real Women Week - Love, Hate and Labels

I have a love-hate relationship with the term 'real women.'

As I said in my post about panic disorder, I think being open and honest about what we're really like as humans is ultimately a good thing. Not that every individual needs to share deep and personal information, but in general I believe that a wee dollop of honesty helps everyone. So I am cool with the concept of 'real women' - of all women being able to talk openly about how they really are. Myths have damaged a lot of women.

But. I detest a lot of the ways in which I see the phrase 'real women' used.

I have found that the term 'real women' is very often a euphemism for 'women above a certain weight.' There are Facebook groups with names like 'Real Women Have Curves!' and 'Real Women Eat Cake!' and such. I have heard men declare their preference for 'real women' when what they mean to say is 'I prefer women of a particular size or shape. I am choosing to use an insanely prejudiced term to express a perfectly acceptable preference.'

We're all real, folks. If you don't like some of us, that's life. But don't say any woman isn't 'real' because her body doesn't conform to what you like.

Real women have curves. They have lumps and bumps. They also have slim waists, flat stomachs, toned butts and every damned thing in between. And it's all cool.

We live in a society that likes to tell us we need to be super-skinny. That's crap, and it's great that people are embracing the idea that this isn't necessary, and owning their curves.

But seriously, it's time to start thinking about the language we're using for this backlash. Can it maybe not be so freaking nasty and exclusive?

The oft-quoted statistic is that the average British woman is a size 14 to 16, depending who you ask (for US readers, think 12 to 14). Yet a size 14 to 16 is perceived as large. It's good that we're more aware that not every woman fits into the profile that the media tells us is attractive - in fact, very few do.

And yet, there's more to that statistic than meets the eye. By definition, if 14-16 is average, then a lot of women must be below that weight, and equally a lot of women must be above it. Let's take a look at one woman who is a size 8 and one who is a size 22.

She might be healthy. She might be unhealthy. She might be far from her ideal weight. She might have an eating disorder. She might be beautiful. She might be sexy. She might be married or single.

Every one of those statements could apply to either woman.

So why do some people say that the smaller woman isn't real?

Women claiming their own appearance and accepting themselves is a wonderful thing, and I hope it continues. The next step is to learn to make ourselves feel good without using language that dehumanises and defeminises any woman. Because if you can only feel good by putting someone else down, that's called bullying. And everyone agrees that that sucks.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Priorities - Top and Otherwise

On Wednesday I said there was one compelling reason not to do NaNoWriMo - if it conflicts with another, higher priority.

We're writers, though - artistes. We're not supposed to have other priorities! We're meant to be dedicated. Over and over, we're told 'You have to want this.'

We do. But we can't want it at the expense of everything else.

In the last few years I've come to understand a lot more about priorities. Like most young people who are lucky with their health, it took me a long time to realise that health always had to be the top priority. Always.

I've been fortunate with my own health - apart from a terrible susceptibility to colds, and a tendancy towards anaemia and low pressure, I have had few health problems since I was a teen. But I do have anxiety, and my anxiety manifests as health anxiety or hypochondriasis. I have never lived with health problems, but I have lived with the fear of them, and that has given me the tiniest glimpse into what life may be like if you don't enjoy good health.

It looks tough.

Without my health, I couldn't work as easily, I couldn't write as easily and I may find it challenging to spend time with the people I love. So in spite of my enormous desire to be a writer, above all else I prioritise my health. If I need sleep, for example, writing has to wait.

And there are so many other things - day jobs, families, friends, hobbies, passions, charity, volunteering, exercise. You can fill in your own blanks.

It's wonderful to love writing, and to be dedicated to it. But it's also important to be able to step back say 'Guess what? Right now, this needs to come first.' Whatever 'this' turns out to be.

Have a fab weekend everyone!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

[NaNoWriMo] 5 Reasons To Do Nano . . . And 2 Reasons Not To

It's that time of year again. . . writers and would-be writers all over the world are wondering whether or not to 'do Nano'. In fact, sometimes it seems that so many people are passionately pro-Nano that not to do it means you aren't a real writer.

I'm as pro-Nano as they come and I disagree. Nano isn't for everyone. And even if it is for you, it's not necessarily for you this year.

5 Reasons To Do Nano


1. You think you'll enjoy it.
The absolute best reason to do almost anything. If Nano looks like something you'd enjoy, and there's no outstanding reason not to do it, I suggest jumping right in!

2. You have a book idea that you've been considering for a while, but can't seem to get started.
Nano is a great way to get a kick-start - the forums are full of people all over the world, at every stage of experience, and they act as a great motivator (and a terrible time-drain!). The deadline, the challenge and the community can be a great way to galvanise yourself and get going. Which brings me to. . .

3.  You don't know anyone else who writes and feel a bit lonely.
The blogosphere is amazing. It is a fantastic way to meet other writers, talk about writing, and feel less alone as we sit pounding the keyboard while our friends and family wonder why we aren't in the pub. Nanowrimo is very similar, except on a larger and somewhat less personal scale. Instead of connecting quite deeply with a smaller number of writers through reasonably in-depth posts, you get quick, message-board sized titbits from thousands upon thousands of writers. I don't think anything beats blogging for forming connections, but if you want to feel as though you are part of a large, global community, Nano is the undisputed king.

4. You're a perfectionist who writes five words and changes seven of them.
I've done this. I get so obsessed with writing a perfectly publishable future bestseller than I can't get anything actually written (I'm reliably informed that this is a prerequisite for any of the other stuff happening). I write my opening line: 'Heather took a long drag on her cigarette.' Then I think 'Does one drag on, off or from a cigarette?!' and ten minutes of frantic Googling follows. Then I decide that to say someone has dragged or pulled on a cigarette is a cliche. Then I think 'No one will publish a book if the first line shows someone smoking. How about she took a sip of her coffee. . .  but will I be accused of copying Friends if the first scene is in a coffee shop?!'

The Nano ethos - write fast and write fun, essentially - cuts through all that. Heather has her cigarette and the novel keeps going, because I have to write 1667 words that day to stay on target. She can quit smoking and start on the protein shakes in December, when the editing starts. But as (I think) Sam Goldwyn said, at least you have something to change.

5. You want to write outside your comfort zone.

This is my favourite reason to do Nano. Usually, I write historical fiction. Last year, I fancied trying an urban fantasy for a change, and I loved it (the experience, not the book. We will talk about how crap the book was another time). My latest idea is also an urban fantasy and I can't wait to get stuck in. Without Nano, I would have been completely paralysed by the fact I was attempting something new (see above reason. . .). Next year I'm hoping to try a whole new genre if I'm feeling brave!


. . . and Two Reasons Not To.

1. It doesn't fit in with other, higher priorities.

It would be lovely to think that writing was our top priority all the time. But life is very big, and people have families, friends, day jobs, college, illness and all manner of other things. If something is a higher priority for you than doing Nano, you need to decide if you can balance the two. And if you can't, applaud yourself for knowing what's best for you and your life. Regardless of what anyone says!

2. You don't want to.

At this time of year, it can feel like everyone is doing Nanowrimo, but it really isn't for everyone - nothing is. If it doesn't grab you, write your story your way and laugh at all of the frantic word count related Tweets popping up in your feed - and the very best of luck to you :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Little Bit of Blog Housekeeping

I've mentioned a few times recently that I felt I was losing some of my blog mojo. I've been blogging for a couple years and I'm still unpublished, and I may be exhausting the list of things to talk about!

I don't want to stop blogging, but three times a week is proving a little much. So for the moment, I've decided to run some weekly posts on topics I really want to write about, that are slightly outside my normal range.

The first one, predictably, is NaNoWriMo. I'm one of the MLs (Municipal Liaisons - local reps) and a passionate pro-Nano evangelist, but I also recognise that the Nano ethos, while it works for me, doesn't work everyone. I am also aware that the blogosphere explodes into a sort of Nano-inferno every late October and early November.

If you don't want to read my Nano posts, there will be a great big [Nanowrimo] at the start of them so that you can avoid them easily. There will also be lots of non-Nano blogging too, as non-Nano bloggers are a resilient and tolerant bunch, and they deserve some content too :)

The second regular feature will be announced as soon as I can think of a name for it :) Expect a Nano-post on Wednesday.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thinking of Self-Publishing? What Doesn't Matter - Guest Post from Catherine Ryan Howard

The blogosphere's self-publishing guru Catherine Ryan Howard is on a blog tour at the moment to celebrate the launch of her kick-ass new novel, Results Not Typical. She has popped by today to talk about the issues that every author considering self-publishing should . . . not worry about. This is why Catherine is great :) - Ellen

About a year and a half ago, I self-published for the first time. Eighteen months is a long time in a revolution, and it’s difficult to really remember how radically different the attitude towards self-publishing e-books was, not to mention the technology available to those of us who decided to take the plunge.

But it was different.

I’ll give you a for instance: when I self-published Mousetrapped, Amazon Digital Text Platform had just started accepting Microsoft Word documents; before that, you had to have at least some technology savvy to use the service (or more than I had). Flash forward to today and you not only have a name change – Kindle Direct Publishing – but one of the easiest to use self-publishing services in existence, and the promise of your book in four Kindle stores and counting.

Another thing that’s changed is that the internet is now rich pickings for anyone looking for information on self-publishing – my own blog included. But some of it is less practical help and more ill-informed conjecture. I pity some times the writer thinking of or beginning the process of self-publishing, trudging through all the hot air, BS and (occasionally) downright ridiculousness looking for instructions on how to upload to CreateSpace, or what’s the best price for their book. In the best cases, the person speculating on the future of publishing is in another league to you and me, and we don’t need to listen to them because we cannot yet relate. In the worst, the person has as much experience in publishing as I do in marathon training. (None, in case you were wondering!)

So if you’re out there combing blogs, forums and Twitter feeds for the data you hope will help you decide whether or not to self-publish or, if you’ve already decided, how you should proceed, remember that these things do NOT matter:

1.  WHAT’S DEAD

The book is dead apparently, and by the end of next week there won’t be a single bookshop left in the world. But just like those science-fiction movies of the Sixties that had us all whizzing around in flying cars by now, believers in the end of publishing might have jumped the gun.

This doesn’t matter because you are not spending all your life savings in order to open an independent bookshop. You are self-publishing, in all likelihood, an e-book (which we know the market is growing for) and a POD paperback (that, even if it never sells a single copy, will not cost you money). Whether or not we’ll be reading print books ten or twenty years from now has absolutely nothing to do with what you’re doing.

2.  WHERE PUBLISHING IS HEADING

This is another topic popular with the self-publishing evangelists: should you forget about submitting to agents and publishers (remembering that all print books will be gone by the end of next week...) and go straight to self-publishing instead? Won’t you make more money that way anyway? And won’t you likely waste months if not years of your life trying to get your book published?

This doesn’t matter unless you have a time machine that has enabled you to see into the future where you’ve, apparently, made a million selling your own books, and you also have a six-figure book deal on the table from a publishing house. Tip: money that doesn’t exist yet doesn’t actually exist at all. You can’t assume that by uploading your novel to Kindle and setting the price at 99c, you’ll be the next Amanda Hocking. You won’t. When you hear of authors turning down publishing deals so they can self-publish instead, read beyond the headlines. They frequently have successful publishing pasts and so already have established readerships that can support such a decision. Furthermore, submitting your book to the experts – and yes, agents and editors ARE the experts – will at the very least get you some feedback on whether or not your book should see the light of a published day, whatever way you decide to go.

3.  OTHER SELF-PUBLISHERS

There are some self-publishers who think there’s a magic formula to this thing, and that they can copy or emulate the success of the likes of Konrath, Leather, Edwards and Voss, etc. by doing exactly what they did: writing a good book, price it at 99c, get a good cover, write a good description, repeat as required. Recently a very famous e-book success story wrote a book about exactly how he did it – which was a bit different to everybody else – and there was such a spate of wannabes writing blog posts like him and tweeting like him that it was practically embarrassing.

This doesn’t matter because self-publishing isn’t black and white. It has many shades and you have to decide what’s right for you. It might sense for one writer to self-publish their backlist and their next book; it might make sense for you to continue to submit your novel but self-publish some short stories on the side. Similarly, you can’t repeat the success of other self-publishers by doing what they do, because luck and timing are such huge factors. Get tips and ideas from them, yes, but don’t copy them. You need to follow your own path. You may not be as successful as them, but being somewhat original is the only way you’re going to find any success at all.

______________________________________

Results Not Typical on Amazon.co.uk:


Results Not Typical on Amazon.com:


Goodreads Giveaway:

If your readers visit http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/14791-results-not-typical they can enter a giveaway to win one of five paperback copies of Results Not Typical. Open for entries from September 30th-October 31st. Open to all countries.

About Catherine:

Catherine Ryan Howard is a 29-year-old writer, blogger and enthusiastic coffee-drinker. She currently lives in Cork, Ireland, where she divides her time between her desk and the sofa. She blogs at www.catherineryanhoward.com.

About Results Not Typical:

The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers and chick-lit meets corporate satire in the debut novel from Catherine Ryan Howard, author of the bestselling memoir Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. Through their Ultimate Weight Loss Diet Solution Zone System, Slimmit International Global Incorporated claim they’re making the world a more attractive place one fatty at a time. Their slogans “Where You’re Fat and We Know It!” and “Where the Fat IS Your Fault!” are recognised around the globe, the counter in the lobby says five million slimmed and their share price is as high as their energy levels. But today the theft of their latest revolutionary product, Lipid Loser, will threaten to expose the real secret behind Slimmit’s success...The race is on to retrieve Lipid Loser and save Slimmit from total disaster. If their secrets get out, their competitors will put them out of business. If the government finds out, they’ll all go to jail. And if their clients find out… Well, as Slimmit’s Slimming Specialists know all too well, there’s only one thing worse than a hungry, sugar-crazed, carb addict – and that’s an angry one. Will the secret behind Slimmit’s success survive the day, or will their long-suffering slimmers finally discover the truth? Available now in paperback and e-book editions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pendants and Panic Attacks - U Magazine Reader Issue

I got a nice surprise in the supermarket yesterday. This is not a sentence I have a chance to say very often.

I spotted the readers' edition of U (an Irish fortnightly magazine). I had submitted a short piece for their 'Favourite Things. . .' section, so I picked it up to see if they had used it.

They had :) I picked up a copy to go with my lunch and spent the rest of the day in a benign good mood. There is something very nice about seeing one's name in print.

Anyway, the item I chose to write about was a silver and garnet pendant I bought while I was interrailing in 2008. Other contributors chose sensible things like sunlight, being female. . . I wrote about jewellery. Of course. They're lucky I didn't write about chocolate.

But going on that trip was a major step in my ongoing journey through panic disorder. I promised myself that if I got through the trip without a panic attack, I'd buy myself something great in our last stop (which was Paris, so evidently finding something fabulous was going to be a dreadful trial. I mean, clearly. Guys, not only did I shop in Paris but I made my friend come with me. Luckily she still talks to me). This pendant was it. It isn't my normal style - or it wasn't, at the time - but I fell in love. It looked like something that a European princess would have owned - a Habsburg or a Wittelsbach or a Braganza. It looks like something that would be smuggled across borders under a corset, and sold to a shadowy gentleman to fund a revolution.

In other words, it had no business being owned by a temp from Dublin. With bitten nails.

I bought it anyway. It reminds me of how far I've come on my journey through panic, and it reminds me that I got here largely by taking risks, pushing myself outside my comfort zone and generally behaving like a normal person in the hope of becoming one.

I stepped outside my comfort zone with this piece too. I just told the readership of a national magazine about my mental health issue. It's firmly in the public domain now.

But I'm cool with that. There is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, especially in Ireland. And while I can't preume to comment much on lots of the more pressing mental health issues out there, but I can talk about my experience with panic. I can't offer any wisdom or any insight. But I can say what worked for me, what didn't, and perhaps most importantly, I can turn to another sufferer and say 'Me too.'

Might not be much help, but every step helps to de-stigmatise a little.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guest Post: Pete McCluskey on Writing

Today I have Pete McCluskey visiting my blog - Pete has just released a new book, My Little Lighthouse, and is donating some of his proceeds to one of my favourite charities, Crumlin Children's Hospital in Dublin. Crumlin was one of two hospitals that cared for my friend Paul's son Conor, whose life was an inspiration to Paul's friends, both online and offline. Hope you enjoy his post and thanks for visiting, Pete! - Ellen


“Ask and you shall receive”.
My wise old mother has many sayings but this is one of her favourites.
I’ve been reading and admiring Ellen’s blog for many a long day now. After polite enquiries, Ellen kindly agreed to accept a guest submission from me for her blog and I’m delighted I asked.


I’ve written three books of contemporary fiction in the last three years and each one, I hope, is simple in style and clear in direction. This is my style. This is the way I write. This is why I am drawn to blogs like Pink Tea and Paper. It’s down my alley, right up my street and bang down the avenue of things I like. Things like Trigger Bars, Talking Heads, cheesecake, Colin Bateman mystery books, trifle – uncomplicated-you-get-what-it-says-on-the tin stuff.


I like reading books and writing books that both I and millions like me can understand without having to memorise a cast of thousands, without having to look up the dictionary for unpronounceable four syllable words (John Banville – I love your books but why so many obtuse and obscure words???), without having to read through pages of the traumatised lives of pauper-like creatures that are barely human, who live in the lashings of rain in Limerick (I tell you no word of a lie – Angela’s Ashes sucked the life out of me!!).

Give me a happy book, a book with sunshine, a book with some humour in it, a book with a happy ending. It doesn’t have to be “Little House on the Prairie” happy – just some smidgeon of happiness. Something to make you smile, something to brighten your day. Something pink, something with caffeine in it, something written on paper that makes you take your mind off the daily routine.


I’m currently publicising my latest book, “My Little Lighthouse”. It’s a self-published book – as are my previous two books. Not everyone is lucky enough to hook up with a publisher or an agent – in Ireland the number is down to about half a dozen of each species. You probably stand more chance of replacing Wayne Rooney on the Manchester United team, or winning the Euromillions or scoring the presenter’s job on the Late Late Show. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go the self-publishing route. If it was okay for Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and Roddy Doyle then - it’s alright by me.


“My Little Lighthouse” is about a man who gets struck by lightening (ouch!) and as a result looses his memory. He runs his software company nearly single-handedly and the company will go down the tubes if he doesn’t regain his memory. Will his wife – the only person he recognises - and his two grown-up kids be able to save him, his company and their family life?
.
Don’t worry – it’s not doom and gloom. Don’t worry – there aren’t any four syllable words to look up. Don’t worry – it doesn’t rain once after the first chapter! Happy ending??? Now that would be telling now, wouldn’t it. . .?


Anyone who would like to buy a copy from my website will be helping Crumlin Children’s Hospital. All website sales up to the end of this year go directly to the hospital charity. Visit me at www.petermccluskey.com

Finally, a thanks to the lady with the pink tea and paper. Continue reading and supporting Ellen’s blog and let’s make the rain stay away a little longer.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Covers and Font Issues

Have you seen India Drummond's excellent cover for Talli Roland's no doubt excellent novel, Build A Man?

If not, it's worth looking at - I think it's a great example of good cover design. And it got me thinking about cover art, and what does or doesn't work for me.

I know absolutely nothing about design, but I have very strong feelings about it - like the guy who said 'I don't know about art, but I know what I like.' I know what I don't like.
 
My big pet hate is anything that looks amateurish. If I look at a cover and think 'I could have done that,' I instantly won't like it. I want to feel that skill has gone into creating a cover. And there is no area with more scope for looking amateurish that the text of the title (And I have a font problem. I love them. I download them constantly. When I designed the invitations for Paul's wedding, choosing the fonts took weeks, not least because his wife is as bad as I am).

But a good cover is a fantastic thing. I think India's design does a great job - it's vibrant and eye-catching without being loud, and it gives a sense of the character and the tone of the book (or at least what I assume the tone will be, having read Talli's other books).

Do you have any favourite book covers?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Insecure Writers' Support Group - Proving Myself and Salmonella Scones

Once again, it is the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for all Insecure Writers to stand up and be counted. There are some great bloggers participating in this monthly blog hop so it's worth popping over to Alex's blog and having a browse :)

Today I want to talk about making myself jump through hoops. 'Jumping through hoops' is a phrase we hear a lot as writers - agents with stringent submission requirements are 'making us jump through hoops', publishers that won't accept unagented submissions are 'just giving us an extra hoop to jump through.' One of the most common arguments in favour of self-publishing over traditional is simply that - 'I don't want to jump through any more freaking hoops!'

But I am a pessimist, a hypochondriac, and above all, I am an insecure writer. I like hoops.

I have blogged before about my terror of succeeding, so I'm sure you all know that you are not dealing with a sane person here.

I am not a person who trusts myself. I don't think I'm a good driver. I don't think I'm a good cook. I am convinced I will be the first person in the world who gives her family salmonella from undercooked scones.

So how does this manifest in my writing?

When I seriously started writing again after a few years of, well, not, I told myself I wouldn't query until I had written two books. My first novel was a deeply personal one, and I was scared I only had one book in me. But if I'd done it twice, I thought, I could confidently sign a contract for more than one book and trust myself to honour it.

It was a good idea. I have never queried my first novel, as it isn't strong enough, but last year's sketchy Nanowrimo idea has turned into a proper novel that I intend querying, and I trust myself to keep coming up with ideas. Now that I'm looking for them, I'm finding them.

If I hadn't given myself that space, that two-book window to learn about myself, I would have been desperately querying a substandard novel and sitting up all night chewing my fingernails and worrying about honouring a contract that I had not yet signed. (Like Charlie Brown, I am trying to only dread one day at a time).

Someone probably does need to sit me down and assure me that scones won't cause salmonella. But making myself jump through a hoop before I considered querying worked for me.

There are times when you need to learn to trust yourself.

Just hope you have a sympathetic friend who'll tell you when you're not growing anymore and you're just letting the fear win :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Character Names - A Little Alliteration

The main character in my current work-in-progress has an alliterative name. She was Becky Bailey, until I discovered the show Spooks has a character called Beth Bailey, so I changed it to Becky Barrett. It hasn't stuck yet - I'm hoping it will. I've always found alliterative names cool, and Becky isn't very good at being cool. She deserves a little cool in her life.

Unfortunately, the main character of my next book has popped into my head and she has an alliterative name too. I'm not too attached to her first name yet, so I'm working on changing that - her family figure heavily in the novel and I'm very attached to their surname (it fits very well with my - you guessed it! - alliterative title).

I don't want characters with alliterative names to become My Thing. JK Rowling pulls it off in the Harry Potter universe, but I write either urban fantasy or realistic fiction in which some weird crap happens. My characters are grounded in the real world, and alliterative names just aren't that common.

Anyway, at least I have a title for the next one! That's always an important step :)

Now, back to editing Becky. Sigh. . . . How is everyone else's week looking?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: Watching Willow Watts, by Talli Roland

I was looking forward to Watching Willow Watts rather a lot. I loved Talli Roland's last book, The Hating Game, and I was hoping for big things.

I ended up liking Watching Willow Watts more than The Hating Game.

Once again, Talli is writing about fame, celebrity, and ordinary women in extraordinary situations, which seems to be what she does best (if there is something she does better, I would like to read it. Now, please). Willow Watts dresses as Marilyn Monroe during a village fete, and the resulting video is uploaded to YouTube, where it becomes an overnight sensation - not least because some fans believe they have spotted Marilyn's ghost in the background. Willow, an unassuming former florist, is not prepared for the reality of being hailed as the reincarnation of a dead sex symbol.

Her path to riches - well, the moderate riches she needs to pay the tax bill for her dad's antique shop - is beset by an unscrupulous failed agent, a mad American divorcee, a super-glam best friend, the ex who got away, the ex's new love interest, an aging reclusive film star, immigration officials, a JFK impersonator from Essex who sometimes forgets he isn't JFK, some butt padding and a large pink elephant (don't ask, just read).

Like The Hating Game, this is a funny book. But it isn't full of lame jokes and puns. It's seriously told, but by a writer with a marvellous eye for the ridiculous and a sharp sense of humour.

But as always, it's the characters who shine most. Willow may be quiet and unassuming, but her life hasn't been without its mistakes and she grows as a person during her brief tenure as the New Marilyn (and not just because her agent keeps feeding her junk food to fatten her up, either!). She could very easily have been a generic good-girl in the hands of a less skilled writer, but Talli manages to create someone gentle, shy and kind without turning her into a Mary Sue or the sort of fictional dullard you want to shake.

The secondary characters are also very strong - no surprise to anyone who has read The Hating Game, which also had a brilliant supporting cast. The village of Belcherton also comes right off the page. If I saw a tourist brochure for it, I wouldn't be surprised.

A great second outing from Talli - this book definitely doesn't disappoint and I can't wait for her third book, Build A Man, in December 2011.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting Ideas

Some lucky feckers out there (*cough* Paul Anthony Shortt *cough*) seem to get a new book idea every fifteen or twenty minutes.

Some of us (*cough* me *cough*) are not quite as fortunate, but feel blessed to have found we finally have something in common with the coolness that is Hannah Moskowitz (she says, in her FAQ, "Some writers have too many ideas. I never have enough. I spend a lot of time shaking my head really hard and hoping something good comes together [ . . . ] It's definitely the hardest part of the process for me.").

Around this time of year, I'm always on the lookout for an idea for Nanowrimo. Some years, I start with avery vague picture in my head. Last year, this picture was o a young woman chasing supernatural creatures through a rainy city at night. The rainy city became Dublin, the supernatural creatures became fairies and my heroine never once chased them at night. Funny how these things turn out :)

And sometimes I start with far more detail. Oddly, these years tend to work out badly compared to the years when I start with a single idea, image or remark.

But when I start looking for ideas, I find that they're everywhere. Last Friday was Culture Night, when cultural institutions all over Ireland stay open late and don't charge admission. I finally made it into a certain landmark (a personal ambition - I'd had no idea it was so easy) and that sparked an idea. A throwaway comment on TV sparked another idea.

Suddenly I have two book ideas pending. This never happens.

I may even need to buy a notebook for them. OK, at the moment there will only be two pages filled. But it's something! I'm surprised how many ideas appeared once I started looking for them.

What's the weirdest way you've ever gotten an idea?

Monday, September 26, 2011

This Could Save Your Life

I was mulling over what to blog about today when I spotted Kiersten White's annual PSA.

Kiersten is a NYT-bestselling author and a mother-of-two. Three years ago, she almost died from an ectopic pregnancy.

Every year on the anniversary of her emergency surgery, she posts about what happened, to raise awareness.

Ectopic pregnancy affects one in 50 pregnancies, so I think it's worth taking a day out of my own blog schedule once a year to help out.

Please take the time to read Kiersten's post. It may save your life or someone else's.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is Blogging Worth It Anymore?

Roni Loren, who is fab, has posed the question 'Is Blogging Dead?'

Wendy Lawton has a good post about marketing books, in which she suggests that blogging to gain a following and ultimately sell books is not effective. Wendy writes:
"I wouldn't recommend a writer start blogging in order to publicize his book in today's climate. It would be tough to picture a scenario where the outcome would justify the means." 
She's probably right. I've been blogging for two years or so and have 204 followers.If I published a book in the morning, would all these posts equal 204 sales? Of course not. I'd feel honoured if 10% of you guys bought my book. Hell, I'd feel honoured if three of you did (Zoe and Paul have to, you see, because I knew them pre-blog, so we can assume at least two).

Wendy essentially feels that blogging is not an effective way to stand out, and on this she's right too. Everyone has a freaking blog. 

Roni goes on to say that the blogosphere is 'glutted', that she's noticed herself skipping more and more blogs as the legions of writing-and-book bloggers are, naturally enough, producing very similar material.

She goes on to say:

Does that mean I'm giving up blogging? Hell to the no. I love blogging. It makes me happy and I feel blessed that you guys are still reading me after two years, lol. (Thank you!) And I really do love reading others' blogs.

That's how I feel about it. At his point, I have read probably dozens of posts about writers' block, making characters likeable, balancing writing with family/work, self-publishing vs. traditional. . .  but I keep coming back.

The reason why? You guys. I read blogs because I like the blogger's voice, whether they're personal, detached, funny, engaged, highbrow, lowbrow, giggly or serious. When I meet up with my friends, we don't sit around producing new 'content' in the form of new and exciting topics. I don't think 'Ooh, coffee with Writer Friend later, I hope to hear lots about something completely new!' or 'Oh great, Paul is online, maybe he can tell me something amazing about South African politics.'

Nope.

When I meet up with my friends, we talk about the same things over and over - our lives, work, writing (some of them talk back about this, others listen politely while I drone on about it), hobbies, whatever. But I don't go to them for innovative new subjects.

I go to them because I like them, regardless of what we talk about.

Likewise, I read blogs because I enjoy them. They may not always give me fabulous new insights, but I like knowing how you guys are doing, even if we're not sharing anything deeply personal. It's about connection, and it's about enjoyment.

Derek has an excellent post about how blogging connects us, which is an excellent take on a subject that's really doing the rounds at the moment.

By contrast, and as is so often the case, I have nothing much new to add today. I'm not contributing to the sum of human knowledge here, I'm not creating enormously valuable content. I'm just saying 'Guys, I'm here because I like to be here. And I enjoy reading what you all write.'

I'm not here to market myself, or build a following. I'm here to write, to read and to enjoy both. And it's going really well, regardless of how saturated the blogosphere is. Depending on your intentions, blogging has different things to offer and different levels of benefit. For me, it's fulfilling exactly what I want.

Why do you guys blog? Has the answer changed since you started? :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Assuaging My Conscience

I have talked to some people recently who hate and distrust my Kindle (Writer Friend, usually in favour of the written word in any form, eyed it suspiciously on first meeting it as though it were a large growling dog. It took them a while to learn to get on).

I've heard that Kindles and their ilk are killing 'real books' (I have read tons of books on the Kindle at this point and the only one that felt like a fake book was, well, my own). I've heard that as a writer, I shouldn't own one because I should want 'real books' to survive.

My usual answer to this is 'I have bought over 100 books this year, for my Kindle, and I've only had it for seven months. How many have you bought?' If the 'but they're not real books!' argument continues, I tend to say 'This year I've managed to give royalties to more authors than I ever have before. And they get a higher royalty rate from my purchases than yours. I don't see how this is a problem?'

Depending on whether or not I'm doing my Scary Voice, most people back off at this point. You should never mess with a short girl who likes books - she will have honed her sarcasm skills.

But there is one thing I feel bad about, and that is bookshops. I love bookshops, and I am very aware that the money I have spent on books this year has benefited authors and publishing houses. But not bookshops.

I don't believe print books will die anytime soon. There are far too many well-read and intelligent late adopters of technology. I live in a country that doesn't have universal broadband availability yet (#firstworldproblems), which will no doubt affect uptake as buying books online is a headache with slow speeds.

That said, I am concerned that, as a young city-dweller, bookshops may die out in my own environment soon. This year, Dublin lost Waterstones. Who knows who it will be next year?

So what is a broke, Kindle-loving bookshop enthusiast to do?

Well, my mother's birthday is next month. I'm buying her a book. And for the dreaded C-word of which we do not speak, I usually buy books for at least a couple of relatives. This year, I'll be making an effort to buy as many books as I can (there are no Kindle/Nook/iPad owners on my gift list - well, there is one iPad-owning uncle but he prefers print books).

Have your book-buying habits changed? Do you make an effort to buy any kind of book (new releases, special editions, etc) to support the retailer or the industry?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Back from Abroad - Looking Ahead

I've been in Budapest for a few days, so I'm sorry I've been so quiet on the blog. I was really sorry to miss Talli's launch party and am delighted so many of you enjoyed my post. The weekend here is shaping up to be pretty wet and miserable so it's good to have plenty of interesting blog posts to read when I curl up by the fire :)

I'd also like to say thanks to you all for taking the time to read, follow, comment etc. over the summer. I've done quite a bit of travelling and have been fairly crap at keeping up with everyone in Blogland, and yet I'm gaining new followers. . . So thanks to you all for sticking around.

I'll be sticking around myself for a while now. I'm out of annual leave and money so the next few months will be rather more Irish than the last few have been.

There is nothing like end-of-holiday blues to make you think about your life. This time yesterday, I was sitting in a heatwave, drinking spiced tea, and thinking about coming home to Dublin.

Where it was raining. It's always bloody raining.

And I thought 'Oooh, Nanowrimo is starting in six weeks! I get to meet tons of new, cool writers and write for the sheer fun of it for 30 days! And Draft Three of Becky is going well. And I'd really like a Dairy Milk . . .'

All in all, I was happy about coming home. It was a nice feeling, knowing that I loved all of my travels this year but that I was still looking forward to getting back home.

How is the rest of 2011 looking for you guys? Any fun plans coming up?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Watching Willow Watts - If I Could Be Anyone, I'd Be. . .

The utterly fab Talli Roland has a new book out! And if her last one is any indication, it'll be a cracking read. I'm dying to read it but in the meantime, I'm chuffed to be participating in Talli's online launch party.

Talli's new novel, Watching Willow Watts, is about a girl who becomes an overnight celebrity when she is filmed impersonating Marilyn Monroe, and someone spots Marilyn's ghost in the background. And in keeping with the theme, Talli is throwing a virtual costume party, where we all come dressed as the person we'd most like to be.

After a lot of soul-searching, I have decided to come as Dorothy Parker. I'm not sure I want her private life, which was troubled by bad relationships, suicide attempts and addiction issues, but in spite of her personal demons, Dorothy is still inspirational, both as a writer and as a person.

Quite apart from the volume of short stories and poems she left behind, Dorothy had a formidable reputation as a wisecracker. When President Coolidge died, she asked 'How can they tell?' She said that Katherine Hepburn ran the gamut of emotions from A to B. She assured us that if all the girls who attended the Yale Ball were laid end-to-end, she wouldn't be a bit surprised. Google 'Dorothy Parker quotes' and watch twenty minutes disappear in a cloud of giggles.

But her contribution as a political activist is often forgotten. She campaigned tirelessly for the issues that moved her. Her short story, Arrangement in Black and White, is a brilliant satire of racial issues among the 'smart set' during the 1920s. Dorothy Parker was passionately pro-civil rights.

When she died, aged 73 - not, everyone was shocked to hear, by her own hand, but from a heart attack - she left everything she owned to Martin Luther King Jr. When he was assassinated, her literary estate passed to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, which continues to benefit from her sales to this day.

However, her friend and executor, Lillian Hellman, was evidently a bit miffed that she didn't receive any money, and after a protracted legal battle, she refused to claim Dorothy's ashes. No one, in fact, claimed them, and they sat in a filing cabinet in her lawyer's office for twenty years.

Yep. Twenty.

Eventually, someone realised this and the NAACP built a memorial garden to her in Baltimore. Her epitaph, in spite of the many jokey ones she suggested for herself, is simple and fitting for a woman who was a finer character than anyone (herself included) gave her credit for:

"Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) Humorist, writer, critic, defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested "Excuse My Dust". This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind, and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people."

So she was pretty cool, and an inspiration. But she was also a right laugh at parties, so for today, I'll pour a Martini and relive a few of her wisecracks :)

'I don't know much about being a millionaire but I bet I'd be darling at it.'

"This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it." 

"If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you." 

"I'd like to have money. And I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have money."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Electric Picnic 2011

I'm away for a couple of days this week guys but have scheduled a few posts because I don't want to miss Talli's launch party :) I may not be responding to comments as much as I'd like though, so apologies for that! - Ellen

Last weekend I went to Electric Picnic on Sunday. I mostly went to see Pulp.

When I was a teenager, I wasn't very happy (I gather most teenagers aren't). I read a lot. I wrote. I told myself I was unhappy because I was an artistic genius, but I believed that I was unhappy because I was a gigantic pain in the face. The latter was closer to the truth :)

And I listened to music.

I have the musical equivalent of dyslexia. I cannot sing to save my life - my tone of voice isn't unpleasant but I can't hit a note. I am tone deaf. But I love music. I don't get it, and I never will, but I trust it to work its magic.

I still listen to music a lot, but the artists that I loved when I was a teenager, dreaming of being anyone else but me, will always have a special place.

I saw two of them at the weekend.

There was Bob Geldof, who I loved first as the frontman of the Boomtown Rats and later as a solo performer. The Rats were making music long before my time, but I found Geldof's autobiography in my parents' bookshelf and read it. I enjoyed it so much (although it doesn't pull any punches so it's not for the easily shocked) that I sought out his music.

I bought Loudmouth, a compilation of the Rats and Geldof's solo work, in a pound shop one town over from where I lived. There were two tapes with very similar track listings. One was five pounds and one was ten - I tried to buy the five pound one but the owner claimed he couldn't find it. I didn't believe him, so on principle, I didn't fork out the extra fiver.

I went back a week later. I had to know what these songs were like.

And it turned out that I loved Geldof's literate lyrics, and his Irishness. A young man who hated where he was from, and grew up to be first an artist and then an activist. He couldn't but inspire me.

My grandmother used to play the Rats' 'I Don't Like Mondays' on the piano. Hearing the opening notes of that song on Sunday night, in a tent, surrounded by people older than my parents and younger than my neices, was quite something.


Then it was time for Pulp to close the festival, and they were amazing. It was their last gig on the reunion tour and they have no plans to play together again. 'This may be the last time we all gather together to hear this song. . . ' Jarvis said, before the last song, '. . . and maybe someday our paths will cross again. Thank you all.' Then they played Common People, and the whole crowd roared, sang and danced like children - no one trying to look good, no one posing, no one caring.

Pulp seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if they toured again. If they do, I'll be there.

The first time I heard of Pulp, I was about 11 or 12 and I decided to watch Top of the Pops on the BBC so I'd know a bit about the music that everyone in school was talking about (I was a weird kid. I liked soul and blues, which gave me feck all to say to people my own age). Pulp's single, Misshapes, was the first song they played. I don't remember anything else. I just knew I liked it, and that when someone asked me what music I was into, I could honestly say 'I like Pulp.' I don't remember buying their album, but their lyrics, their stories, their songs became the anthems that carried me through those years.

Pulp became a part of me, and dancing stupidly to Common People in a field in Laois was a far more amazing moment than you might think.

What music has been important to you? What music gets you through the tough times? What artist would you cross an ocean to see play live?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Guest Post: Michelle Moloney-King on Social Networks

 The lovely Michelle Moloney-King is stopping by today to post about her experiences on Twitter. We hear so much about how writers should use Twitter for networking, promotion, making friends, etc., that it's interesting to hear something about the possible early pitfalls :) - Ellen
There I was, new to Twitter, getting blog hits on my new blog and loving it. Apart from two kinda disturbing facts. (1). I was getting very strange DMs from men. (2). Worst of all, people were calling me “nice.”  Now, if you know me IRL, you will know that I am not “nice”, I don’t do nice. I like to hear interesting stories, be entertained, have a laugh, be quiet when it suits me, spread my little bit of wisdom, listen to my friends when they need it. None of this is being nice but being a good Christian person. Treat others as you would like to be treated, that’s my philosophy. The “nice” thing was ticking me off. I made a decision to be helpful but no longer to add smilies, to give people links to helpful sites and not spoon feed them, I even stopped following new people, especially men!
But it made me wonder, was I doing something to sncourage all of this strange behaviour? Was I encouraging guys to be too familiar, people thinking it was OK to pester me into favours.....was I being too “nice”?

I started to tweet random things, I blogged about whatever took my fancy and I stopped caring what people thought of me. I stoped being fake, pretending to care, and being too helpful. The “nice” thing stopped.  My new image was complete. I was now being referred to as “cool.” Now that, that I do.

The one thing that didn’t stop was the overly familiar DMs and MTs.
I concentrated on my interviews for writing.ie and my writing course. The editors of writing.ie asked me for a profile picture, I took a new one, liked it and used the black and white one for my Twitter profile. All of a sudden the strange DM’s and MT’s stopped, the men stopped saying weird things like “so nice connecting with you babe, add me on Facebook” or “I know you sent me your Facebook fan page, but I want to be your FB actual friend.”
The black and white image worked, my Mona Lisa half smile told them all to “FECK OFF!!”
Twitter is a strange world, men seem to think it is ok to send you kisses, pester you into being their Facebook friend, other people calling you nice, people pestering you into sending a RT (I love doing RT’s for my twitter friends, so get to know me then ask...but just cold call DM me. It. Is. Rude.)

My advice to Twitter users:
  • Stay cool,
  • Guys - don’t send kisses,
  • Don’t hit people up for favours until you have exchanged at least 20 tweets,
  • Be yourself,
  • Have fun
  • Only spend 15 mins on twitter, any more than that and you are an addict! (now I gotta go and tweet, read tweets, follow peoples conversations (without joining) and do some promo form my blog...on twitter!!


Michelle Moloney King grew up on a farm in Co. Tipperary. Her lullabies were tales about banshees and fairy forts from her banjo-playing poetic father. His last words to her (“you won’t remember me, you're too young,”) started her penning down his stories and thus began her creative writing. She has a Bachelor of Science in IT with University of Limerick and recently completed a Post Grad in Primary School Teaching with Hibernia College.
She started a blog in April 2011 where she shares stories about teaching, the IFSC, creative writing, flash fiction, ICT, art and much more.
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