Monday, January 31, 2011

Microfiction Monday 68

Once again, Susan at Stony River has posted a picture for Microfiction Monday - the challenge is to write a piece of fiction in 140 characters or fewer.

Here's my entry this week - I found it really hard for some reason!

Jack would be pleased when this newfangled photography took off. Posing for oil paintings just to advertise soap took ages.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm Hyper-Interesting, Check Me Out! Or, the Art of the Bio

Today is the last day for submitting your stories to 100 Stories for Queensland. It's a great cause and time is running out for you to submit, so go do it now and then come back here (there is a time difference so best hurry). I'll give you a minute, go on.

I submitted mine yesterday after a beta-read, a proof-read and a polish. What I had forgotten - perhaps because I chose to - is that my submission had to be accompanied by a 50 word biography. No problem. I've done harder things than that for charitable causes, although now that I come to think of it, not very many. . .

Writing a short biography is hard. I had to do one before, for Explorer Publishing, and because that was appearing in an actual printed book, the tone was slightly more formal than most bios you read online. It also made sense to give some idea why I was qualified to write about Dublin, so some of the content was effectively decided for me by the nature of the book. But for most online submissions, and for my blog, I find myself hopelessly lost.

My default voice - as regular readers may know - tends towards the flippant, so my impulse is to write a bio like this:

Ellen is almost 27 years old but still feels like she's 17. She drinks a minimum of five mugs of tea a day and bakes the fourth-best chocolate chip cookies of anyone she knows. Her ambition is to kill the other three and steal the crown. She writes about the more miserable periods in Irish history and is relieved to find that a contemporary setting suits this best.

Most of the above is true, apart from the cookie thing. I would never kill the others. It would result in a glut of substandard cookies and I may be vindictive but I ain't dumb.

Some writers do the 'list of random facts' style bio, which I love, provided I already know the blogger. My random facts meme on Wednesday was great fun to read (for me at least!) because I already knew the commenters. If I find one on a random blog, unless I've read enough of the blog first (and a few entries is usually enough), it doesn't always grip me. The facts need to be very well chosen - Kitty's blog is actually a very good example. Rather than just a list of unrelated minutiae, the combination of lifestyle, aspirations, interests and principles works well.

A very nice spin on the random-facts style bio is the 'I prefer. . .' one. Kitty (who really seems to have this online bio thing nailed) used to have a short bio that said she preferred running to walking and hoodies and jeans to sweaters and pearls, among other things. It was short but very effective because the contrasts painted such a clear picture of a person withough being too exhaustive.

I don't have the knack of random fact selection, sadly. Even the bio I wrote for myself above, which was mostly done with tongue firmly in cheek, went off on a totally irrelevant subplot about baking cookies and made myself sound like a serial killer. I probably should have made more of the fact that contemporary Ireland has become a pleasingly misery-heavy setting for books again.

But I don't want to be boring either.
Ellen is almost 27. She was born in February 1984 and currently lives in Dublin. Her hobbies include knitting and baking. She usually writes realistic fiction with a historical bent and is currently experimenting with an urban fantasy. She is 5'3.

I've come to the conclusion that my preference is for a mixture of the two. I like to have some idea of how old a blogger is and where they live, which is just my own taste (also, if you're 16 and write a good blog, I need to envy you fully because I was nowhere near that interesting when I was your age). But those details alone give very little sense of a person so some colour, in the form of the random facts, makes a huge difference.

What types of bios do you like best? Have you had different responses based on bios you've used?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fun Facts on Writers

Literary agent, blogsphere superstar and renowned nice person Kristin Nelson has posted a lovely series of fun facts about her clients on her blog.

In the same spirit, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about bloggers we know and love, so if anyone fancies taking part, please post your fun fact in the comments! I'll start with a couple about me to get the ball rolling - how about one writing-related and one not?

  • I cannot stand wearing shoes indoors. It makes me feel weirdly formal, like I'm at work or something.
  • My first novel was written when I was 12, and it started when I wrote a sentence to test the thesaurus feature on Dad's new word processor. It was about six runaway kids in Liverpool who ended up working for a local drug baron to pay off a debt that one of them had run up. I was a middle-class child living in a tiny town in Ireland, had never seen Liverpool, a drug user or a firearm, and the book was strangely silent on the subject of why some 11-13 year old kids with no particular street smarts were of any use to a drug baron. It was about forty pages long, single spaced. I still have the last page.
Anyone else want to play?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Microfiction Monday 67

It's time for another Microfiction Monday, hosted by Susan at Stony River. The challenge is to write a piece of fiction in 140 characters or fewer, based on a photograph. Join in by following the link above!

This week, there is some really beautiful writing already. Definitely worth popping back to Susan's blog and working through the links.

Here is my story based on this week's picture:

Every morning before work, they would walk to the place where they met. It had never looked the same twice.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Blackadder - Goodbye

I recently re-watched the last scene of Blackadder. Spoilers follow, so if you haven't seen it, look away now.

This is one of the most famous shifts in tone ever in television - probably in popular fiction. After a series which managed to make trench warfare in WWI funny, the final series ends with an unexpected tragedy. Our characters go over the top to their deaths, like so many servicemen did in those four awful years.

I have always felt the finale is brilliantly done. The episode is funny right up until seconds before the famous closing montage and it follows exactly the same formula as the rest of the series - Blackadder trying ever more elaborate ways to avoid going over the top. Baldrick's final cunning plan, which we don't get to hear, just makes the first-time viewer even more convinced that something will happen and they'll be saved. And Captain Darling, whom nobody likes, being sent to die by the General he's served faithfully for years is heart-breaking. Technically speaking the last scene isn't great - I heard somewhere that the slow-motion and limited soundtrack were suggested because the special effects looked so poor, but it has an emotional impact unlike anything else I've seen in a TV comedy.

And no credit sequence either - it's the last episode of the last series and there's nothing to say who made it. Because it wasn't important, compared to what it was trying to say.

I don't write comedy (which is weird because I love it), but I have always felt there is legitimate humour in everything. I try not to joke about other people's serious stuff unless they do it first or I know them very well, but the most serious things in life are funny. Death is funny, and if you don't believe me, read Woody Allen's prose on the subject ('Is there an afterlife, and will they be able to break a twenty?'). Panic attacks, which I suffer from, are very funny (I admit I don't tend to see the humour during them, but during them I couldn't be relied upon to see a jumbo jet headed for my patio doors at speed). Illness is funny. World War One, it turns out, is very funny, when the Blackadder crew are involved.

But when we laugh at the darkest moments in our lives, it's not to trivialise them. It's to fully experience the richness and complexity of them. Sad times can be funny. Funny moments can be tragic. No one would think you were odd for tearing up a little on your wedding day when you thought of all the people who couldn't be there. So why do we get freaked when someone can laugh or smile at a funeral or at a hospital bedside?

And I think that good writing can do that - drag those strange contradictory moments on to centre stage and make them dance. It can keep us laughing right up until the boys go over the top of the trenches after Captain Blackadder's final 'Good luck, everyone.' It can make readers writhe with sympathy for Amber St Clare although they *know* what an amoral trollop she is. Terry Pratchett is especially great at that contradiction, keeping readers laughing even as they wonder if Sam Vimes could be called a murderer for what he just did.

So how on earth does one do it?

Well. Being a genius helps.

And the rest of us? I guess if we ever find out, we should agree to tell each other. . .

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tone And Why It's Really Hard

. . . or at least it was, until ten minutes ago.

Janice Hardy has a good post on tone over on her blog. It's worth a read, because tone is a really horrible topic and Janice has some useful things to say on. This is unique.

In school, we always had to answer questions on the 'tone' of poems - theme, tone and technique, the three Ts. 'The theme of the poem is death. The tone of the poem is fearful. The poet creates a sense of fear by convincing us he is very scared. He does this by including a copy of his royalty statements which make the reader tremble and hide under the table.'

In other words, we knew exactly what tone was, but it wasn't always very easy to figure out why something made us feel the way we felt. Luckily, most poems are on school curricula because it is possible to talk about them, so while we usually could say something about word length or imagery, for the most part they were uninspired offerings. And we never talked about the tone of novels; we were too busy deciding what they said about the role of women in society during Decade X.

Then I went to university and studied English and we weren't allowed to feel things about texts anymore.

All good novels - and many bad ones - have a tone. It's an atmosphere, a feeling, a sense. It makes you, as Fry in Futurama once said, feel ways about stuff. And you know it when you see it. Creating it can be hard, which is where Janice's post may come in handy.

The hardest part, though, is finding out whether you've succeeded or not. I know exactly the tone I want for the novel but my brain supplies it naturally while I'm reading, so I have no idea if I achieved it or not. That's where beta readers come in handy :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Microfiction Monday

It's Microfiction Monday again, except this week I'm not cheating :) My entry is below.


The fashionable 'feature wall' in her living room had been improved rather than marred by her six year old's graffiti, she thought critically.

100 Stories for Queensland

I know this is a break from my new posting schedule (couldn't even last a week . . . ) but normal service will resume on Monday. Right now, I need to tell you all about something more important than blogging.

A lot of my readers will know Al and Denise, two fantastic Aussie bloggers affected by the terrible floods in Queensland. I'm so relieved to know that they and their families are all safe, but not everyone has been so lucky.

Which is why I wanted to let everyone know about 100 Stories for Queensland, a book due for release in February and March that is currently looking for submissions. Stories must be original, uplifting, and not deal with themes involving death, violence, destruction or natural disasters. For full submission guidelines, see the link above.

The press release says 'Writers across the world rally for flood victims.' Let's prove them right and do our favourite thing for a good cause :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

E-Books and Royalty Ethics - A Reader's Perspective

As I said on Wednesday, I read a lot. The sheer volume of books I own and the storage problems they create have convinced me to buy an e-book reader, even though I still love paper books and always will.

Once I'd made this decision, another benefit of ebook readers struck me.

I don't earn much money, and although a sizeable chunk of my disposable income gets spent on books, I have to be selective about what I buy and how I buy it. Unless I am in love with an author, or very stuck for something to read, I won't spring for the hardback or giant new-release paperback edition (NOTE TO SELF: Look up proper term for those so don't continue looking like complete uninformed idiot on blog. Ooops). The extra cost could mean half of another book.

And unless the author is a debut, a small press or otherwise very much in need of the sales numbers - essentially, unless it is a situation where, if I hate the book, I can reclassify the amount in my head and consider it a charitable donation - I will often try a new author by borrowing one of their books from a friend (how I discovered Cassandra Clare), picking up a copy second hand, or stalking the aisles of the local library until something shows up.

Now, if I like a book, I will make an effort to buy a new copy so the author gets a sales record and a teeny amount of royalties (I once had a horrific moment when I realised I had never bought a new copy of a book by one of my top-ten authors ever, and have been trying to atone for it since by giving copies of her books as gifts and replacing my originals).

If the author has written a lot, I won't always replace my second-hand copy of the original book. Instead I will buy most or all of their other books new. It seems like a good compromise between spending the money I budget for books in an ethical and author-friendly way, while not over-spending. Not over-spending also means I can maximise the number of authors I can support. Buying a new release hardback may mean I can afford two books fewer that month. If I wait for the paperback, three authors get to record a sale and pocket a teeny amount of cash that was once mine, and four people are happy instead of two.

[Yes, I do overthink everything in this fashion. I'm pretty sure people have died waiting for me to make consumer decisions.]

Which is where the happy side-effect of the Kindle comes in.

I've wanted to read Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series for a while (I tend to like the Nelson Literary Agency's taste) but they have only just become available in Ireland and thus are fairly pricey. Now I can just buy the Kindle edition - Ms. Carter records a sale and gets some form of royalties, neither of which she would get if I borrowed the book from a friend or bought it second-hand.

If I have twenty euro of my book-budget left, based on Dublin book prices, I can buy either two new paperbacks or four second-hand paperbacks. In the Kindle store, if I use the US store (which Amazon says I will have to), that comes to just over $25. I just did a search and yes, I can buy six ebooks through the Kindle store for that, and I deliberately restricted my search to authors I haven't read and want to try, to the books I would logically start with, and to books also available in print formats.

I'd be interested to know how any author-readers feel about this (published or unpublished). Would you rather more readers thought like this? Or would you rather take your chance on being one of the two paperback authors I spend a tenner on, instead of one of the six ebook authors I spend an average of $4 on?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kindle And My Cold Dead Hands

I've been hiding under the sofa for a few days since I came to a momentous decision. But I feel the time has come to crawl out from among the dust bunnies that have become my friends and declare myself.

I am getting a Kindle.

I know I am a paper freak. I love notebooks and dead trees in all their forms. I may even have made statements about paper books in the past that involved the words 'cold, dead hands' and were punctuated by whimpers.

But the books are taking over my house, and I need to do something.

Just before Christmas, I piled up 130 books that I no longer wanted, and managed to sell half of them to Chapters, Dublin's go-to spot for second-hand books (I sold them for store credit and spent half of that on Christmas presents, and hope to spend the second half next year). I received five books as Christmas presents this year and there is no room for them. They now live on the spare bed.

Please note, I was getting rid of 130. We are talking less than a fifth of my collection here, and it's a small house.

I am also currently embarking on a mammoth de-cluttering project (I brought some paint samples home, innocently, and my mother somehow managed to turn four testers of paint into a valid reason to rearrange the whole house. But to rearrange it, we first have to empty much of it). And since I'm getting rid of everything that I can't justify keeping, it seems silly to keep a book for ten years in case I want to read it again. So any books I didn't sell, and any others I can get rid of, will be given to charity shops, local senior citizens' reading groups, and Facebook friends who 'yoink' in time.

But I'm never going to stop reading. My house is not getting any bigger - and my living space is likely to get even smaller next year.

I have a solution for the current books, but the time has come to consider a solution for the future books that I have no doubt I'll buy.

Once I started considering a Kindle, I saw a lot of advantages.
  • It's easily portable - it weighs less than most standard books.
  • No more missing my bus because I finished my book last night and must scour the house frantically for a new one. I can keep up to 3500 ebooks in my bag all the time and my physical therapist won't hate me (he doesn't like the weight of my backpack).
  • I can buy American books for far less money and far more quickly than I can at the moment.
So I'm going to be getting my Kindle on. For anyone interested in why I chose the Kindle, there are a few reasons. I am looking for a dedicated ereader that's comfortable to use for very long periods (I read a lot) and I don't care about web browsing features or anything else. I just want to buy books and read them comfortably so I decided that the Kindle was the best thing out there for me in my price range. The combination of e-ink and the size and weight were the deal-makers for me.

3500 ebooks. . . . :D

Monday, January 10, 2011

Not MM

OK, I know I said my regular blogging schedule would include Microfiction Monday, but this week there has been a change of plan.

You see, the picture this week is of a guy in a giant metal moth suit, and Writer Friend, who pops by here occasionally, is terrified of moths. And I would far rather the WF not have to look at a giant moth picture because of me - you see, I'm terrified of hedgehogs, can't even bear to look at a picture of one, and WF has a facebook page with which to wreak dreadful revenge if my blog takes a sudden turn for the moth.

However, I don't want anyone to show up here looking for Microfiction and leave disappointed, so please go to for lots of other fabulous mothy microfiction, and do a Google image search for 'pile of puppies' with my compliments. I hope this will suffice in place of microfiction.

If not, then have a bunny with a pancake on its head, in honour of Writer Friend, who likes bunnies.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Feature Writing

You may remember me mentioning a feature writing course that I took in late 2010.

It's starting again, for ten weeks this time, in the Irish Writers' Centre on January 31st. Details are here:

I found the course really good. I had wanted to write features for years but had no idea how to start. I read a lot (you may have gathered), I love to write and I enjoy newspaper features, but I just had no clue where to start. I didn't know how to think of things to write about, which is a pretty fundamental problem, and when something interesting did strike me, once a year, I had no idea how to express it.

Henry's course was very practical and tackled both of those issues head on. Each week we submitted a short piece, usually 300-500 words, for feedback (I actually called a friend of mine after the first class and said 'OMG a Guardian journalist will be reading my stuff OMG!!' for about thirty seconds. I am not making this up). Getting that kind of individual feedback from an experienced, working journalist was excellent and really helped.

If you're looking for a good feature writing class in Dublin, I highly recommend this one. Feel free to drop me an email (firstname.lastname at gmail dot com) if you have any questions and I'd be happy to tell you anything you want to know.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 - new posting schedule

Y'all know I don't talk about my personal life much on this blog, but I will say this: 2010 was a difficult year full of changes. I'm definitely ready for a new start and my new year started very well (not least thanks to the applesauce cake courtesy of and baked by Zoe. I had two slices at her birthday party and can't wait to make my own).

Taking a tip from Christine over at Digging out of Distraction, rather than just pile up a long list of unattainable goals, I'm going to take a look back at 2010 and what my writing achievements were.

1. I won Nanowrimo with a total of 57,000 words.
2. I volunteered as a Nanowrimo ML for my region and loved it. Can't wait to be more involved next year!
3. I kept blogging, and read great blogs, and loved every line.
4. I did my first ever blog interview.
5. Helped to start the Writers' Thingie, a group of four mad people who meet once a month to write together and eat biscuits.
6. I took a class in feature writing with Henry McDonald at the Irish Writers' Centre. He's starting a new course in late January and I cannot recommend him enough.

Not bad, all things considered! I was consistently working on a new project for much of the year, but it was shelved when fairly serious flaws emerged. I don't feel I can really call that a success, but I certainly learned a lot from it, so it sort of feels like one.

I have lots of aspirations going into the new year, and I think they're attainable - so fingers crossed! I may talk about some of those tomorrow if I feel I'm not tempting fate :)

However, one of them I can tell you about today - I am beginning a new posting schedule. From Monday January 10th, I'll be posting on Mondays (Microfiction Monday), Wednesdays and Fridays rather than when I come across something interesting. From now on, I'll save up interesting stuff and make sure there's something worth saying three times a week.

Happy new year everyone :)