Monday, February 28, 2011

Crossed Fingers Win The Day!

I'm not participating in Microfiction Monday this week - I just couldn't come up with anything good for the picture.

Susan mentions this week that she is worried MM is becoming 'a life-support system for a blog that passed away (in spirit at least) long ago.' She is considering discontinuing it in the future, so I probably should participate while I can, but Susan has made me think about the issue of 'forcing' blog content, which I don't want to do. I am loving next week's picture, though, and am already thinking of possible stories to go with it :)

However, I had to pop up to say thanks to everyone who responded to my last post, whether here, on Facebook or in person. Thanks to everyone worldwide who crossed their fingers and hoped for the best outcome for the Irish!

We have achieved a change of government - so far, the former ruling party and major coalition partner, Fianna Fail, have won only 18 seats out of 166 compared to 71 last time out. Their nearest rivals, Fine Gael, are at 70 and Labour, likely to be their coalition partner, are at 36. We're on course for a strong and stable government if those two parties can work together, so don't un-cross those fingers yet - but the good news is that the Irish people have thrown out a number of TDs (members of parliament) that were considered 'safe' and several very high-profile members of Irish political families.

The Irish are great at slaughtering sacred cows in every sphere except politics and religion. One down. . .

Friday, February 25, 2011

Grandmothers and Racehorses - The Irish General Election

Today I voted in the Irish General Election.

In the last twelve months, the Irish have sought a bail-out from the IMF to prop up the economy that successive governments destroyed through mis-management and corruption. We've endured ridiculous tax hikes - since the last Budget in December, I am taking home over €100 less every month and I am not a high earner, nor even an average one. I was in college during the boom years so I never benefitted from the high-wages/low-tax Celtic Tiger economy. And few graduate jobs were available when I left college, yet here I am, every month, paying for mistakes I didn't make, that were made by people I didn't vote for.

There is a lot of anger in Ireland. We're a young country, and many of us are still idealistic - we collectively flipped when we heard that we may have surrendered some of our economic self-determination to external bodies. We are not good with people we don't like telling us what to do.

Record voter turnout is predicted today. I hope that's right, because the Irish can also be terribly apathetic, prone to rolling their eyes and saying 'Don't vote, the government will only get in,' and consoling ourselves with a few highly-taxed pints, a highly-taxed cigarette or in my case, VAT-free books (readers of the world unite! Escapism without tax!).


Both of my grandmothers were born in 1910. Women in Ireland, along with most of Europe, couldn't vote when my grandmothers drew their first breaths. The right to vote was conferred on women over 30, subject to certain educational and property requirements, all over the UK in 1918. Ireland was part of the UK then (nominally - we were seriously working on getting out at that point).

In the following four years, a lot happened, and universal women's suffrage was not very high on Ireland's list of priorities. My grandmothers grew up in a country of upheaval, guerrilla warfare, civil war and unrest. One of my grandmothers lived in West Cork, not far from where Michael Collins was shot, and she remembered her mother cooking for the IRA columns as they moved through the area.

Then, when they were both 12 years old, at opposite ends of this tiny island, the Irish Free State was established, and with it women were granted equal suffrage, six years before their counterparts in the UK.

On the way into the polling station with my mother today, I pointed out to her that when her mother was born, her parents looked down at a child who would live in a country in which she had no voice. And here we were, 101 years later, making our way together to do something that we considered a right, and she no doubt considered a priviledge.

Emily Davison (and not Emmaline Pankhurst, as many people think) died under the feet of the King's Horse in 1913 so I could vote (as my country was ruled by hers at the time she did it, I feel I can honestly say she did it for women like me). She hid in the Houses of Parliament on census night in 1911 so she could list it as her residence (Tony Benn erected a plaque in her honour). Many others, men and women, campaigned and protested and made enormous sacrifices so I could get up extra-early today to vote before work.

I try to remember them every time I go into the little booth with my pencil and ballot paper.

And men haven't always enjoyed universal suffrage either. A lot of very brave and passionate people campaigned so that voting wasn't restricted to men of property, wealth, title or status.

If you're in Ireland today, please try to vote. Spoil your vote if there is no candidiate you can support, but in honour of the people who won this right, this priviledge, for us, at least show up and honour the process.

Have a good weekend, guys. Cross your fingers everyone in Ireland votes smart!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Straight-Talking Bloggers

I wrote a few entries recently about blogging - blog identity, blog bios, blog pictures . . . and I wrote about how, when I started this blog in earnest so I could give my two cents on the Harlequin Horizons debacle, I decided to be honest. I would admit that sometimes, the combination of full-time day job, social life and home commitments means I don't get to write for a week. I would admit that I have been known to book dental appointments to get away from editing.

For a newbie writer, unpublished, unagented and frankly not even querying, this wasn't a huge decision. I did consider what it would be like if an agent spotted my blog and thought I was a waster. But in the end, I decided to be honest about my writing life, because everyone has difficult patches and I'd rather an agent knew that I was committed even through the difficult bits.

Then there is Natalie Whipple. Natalie is agented and has been on submission for a long time. She has watched people get agents and book deals in the time she has been on submission. And she writes openly, honestly and helpfully about how much this has sucked for her.

Writers at my stage need to believe in the fairy tales. We read about the six-figure deals, the massive ebook profits, the awards, because it's what we need. That's what makes us sit down in front of the computer after a long day at work. It makes us edit a book that a part of us believes no one will ever see. It makes it easier to switch off the phone and forget that our friends are out having fun without us while we're taking dictation from the voices in our heads.

But we need to know the truth too. We need to know six-figure deals are rare. We need to know that a celebratory drink with friends when you get an agent is fine, but it's worth keeping it low-key because an agent doesn't equal a deal, and you don't want to deal with everyone you know constantly asking when your unsold book is coming out.

So thanks to all professional, agented, published and contracted authors out there who have the guts to tell it like it is. You're making the road easier for everyone who follows you.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Microfiction Monday

It's time for Microfiction Monday again, thanks to Susan at Stony River, who posts the weekly picture.

This week's picture:

I usually try to write something a bit unusual or unexpected for MM, which is difficult with so many great bloggers participating, all looking for the slightly off-beat angle on a picture. So far this week I've encountered mysteries, near-death experiences, pizza stalls and hallway-skating and I've only read a handful of entries. I've also found several institutions, asylums (asyla?), hospitals, schools. . .

So there is plenty of scope for creativity, but sadly all of mine has deserted me. Instead, my MM entry this week is actually a moment from my first novel, The Home (currently being edited, slowly, by me, with lots of swearing). It was the only thing I could think about when I saw the picture.

She reached up to where her hair used to be and looked down the corridor. This would be her home for the next nine months.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Strange Fruit

This article about Billie Holiday's song Strange Fruit appeared in the Guardian this week. And I have a story about Strange Fruit that I'd like to tell.

I studied English at university. I finished in August 2006 when I handed in my MA thesis. In my first year (which was almost ten years ago), we had a lecture on slave narratives.

I went to the largest university in Ireland, and English was a popular subject, so we almost filled the largest 500-seater lecture theatre. On this particular day, I was sitting with a friend I'm still in touch with, scribbling on my refill pad (I'm a chronic doodler) and presumably talking before the lecture started. I don't remember what we talked about, but I remember everything else.

Our lecturer was a slight woman with a Northern Irish accent and a nice smile. She was spending longer than usual faffing about the front of the theatre, so there was still a low hum of conversation.

Then she turned to face us, and the music started.
Strange Fruit opens with a long instrumental section, and the recording sounded faded and crackly. It took a while for the conversations to stop - the opening is difficult to hear and didn't immediately overpower the sound of 400-odd people talking. But slowly it did. We sat listening to the haunting trumpet music, wondering what this was about.

Then Billie Holiday's voice: 'Southern trees. . . . bear a strange fruit. . . . Blood on the leaves. . . . and blood at the root.' And the shiver that ran through me.

I could feel the tension in the bodies around me. There was no sound but her voice. Everyone had frozen.

'Black bodies swinging. . . . in the Southern breeze. . . strange fruit hanging. . . . from the poplar trees.'

There were parts of the song where I couldn't hear the lyrics properly, and I wrote down the song title so I could rush to Google them as soon as class was over.

When the song died, the whole theatre was silent.

Our lecturer began to speak. I don't remember what she said. I don't remember very much about the slave narratives at all. I do remember a highly intelligent friend in the bar saying that we studied them because of political correctness and not because of literary excellence, and I remember not knowing enough about them to agree or disagree with him. I still don't.

But that was a powerful moment, when Lady Day's voice filled a lecture theatre in a country she never saw, 42 years after she died.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: The Hating Game, by Talli Roland

Remember my interminable Kindle thoughts? I now have a Kindle! My birthday pressie arrived a couple of weeks ago and I was a very happy reader.

Unfortunately, the following day I caught a stomach bug and was laid up for most of the following week. I have rarely been so grateful for a piece of technology, because I could just order books as I needed them, from the couch, without having to dispatch minions to the nearest bookshop.

One of the first books I bought for the Kindle was Talli Roland's
The Hating Game, which has been garnering great reviews since its release in December. I love Talli's blog so I suspected I'd like her writing voice - and I did.

The Hating Game
, for those of you who have been in solitary confinement lately, is about Mattie Johns, a smart and ambitious businesswoman who takes part in a reality TV show in the hope the prize money will save her ailing business. She doesn't know that the men on the TV show are all her exes - nor does she know whether they are there for a second chance or to get revenge. . .

Although the plot was great, my favourite thing about The Hating Game was the characters - not just Mattie, but the secondary characters. I often judge books by the 'best friend' character. William Goldman said once that in life, no one is 'the best friend' - we all believe the camera is on us. That came through in spades in The Hating Game, and not just in Jess, the actual best friend (who really could have had a book of her own running alongside this one, a la Midnight Sun). Every character had their own story and their own journey (with the possible exception of Silver, the TV exec who made Mattie, hard-nosed businesswoman that she is, look like a baby chinchilla - and if she had grown as a person I would have enjoyed the book much less!). The secondary characters didn't take away from Mattie; they just made the world of the book seem much fuller and richer.

Mattie was brilliantly written too - there were moments when I wanted to throttle her, but overall, in spite of a near-total lack of cuddly traits, I really liked her. Even her ambition and ruthlessness (not traditionally endearing qualities!) became likeable once I got to know her. It was also nice to read about a heroine I could respect as well as like! It's impossible not to admire a woman who, in spite of her total desperation, won't just lie down and take whatever life hands to her.

I also loved the humour of the book. The situations were funny, the characters could be very funny, but there were no attempts to shoe-horn in bad jokes followed by multiple exclamation marks . . . the humour arose naturally from the situations and from voice, which is how I like my humour in books.

Overall a cracking read, and one that I'm sure I will go back to. I noticed today that The Hating Game was back in the Top 100 on, and so it should be. Long may it stay there :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Microfiction Monday

Once again it's Microfiction Monday - Susan posts a picture and lots of people write a piece of fiction about it, in 140 characters or less.
Here is this week's picture, and my entry:

He would write a poem about this, he thought, and he stared at the meandering river as he tried and rejected rhymes in his head.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Question of Identity

Lately I've written about blog bios and blog userpics.

A cynic might say I've been scratching around for topics and my eyes keep landing on elements of my blog. 'Erm. . . ooh. . . erm. . . how about. . . BLOG USERPICS!' A cynic might be expecting a post next week on netbook keyboards versus desktop keyboards, whether I should continue growing my nails or clip them now, and which colour mug I should make my next pink tea in.

Sorry, Cynic. There is method to my madness, I promise.

I've been thinking a lot about creating an online identity. For a lot of writers, this process starts with the book deal and is dictated by the content of their book, by the brand they are trying to establish. Increasingly, though, writers are starting this process at querying stage, or even earlier.

And increasingly, writers are blogging because it's fun - but at the same time, they have to be mindful of the online footprint being left behind.

When I started blogging, I was conscious that someday an agent might read my blog. I considered blogging with this in mind - never mentioning problems, blocks, or difficulties in case and an agent read my posts and said 'Wow, once she didn't write for a two weeks, she'll never keep to a deadline!' But when I read a few writers' blogs and saw the honesty that blogging allows, I decided - feck it. I'll be myself.

And that means blogging in my natural, slightly-snarky voice, having bios that may mention cookie recipes or cable knitting needles and maybe getting my photo wrong sometimes. I'm okay with that. I made the decision to blog as myself but to keep as much of my private life out of it as possible.

Did anyone else obsess about this? At what stage? I started blogging regularly and then pondered all of this a couple of weeks later. Did you consider the importance of online identity before or after you started your blog - or do you ignore it completely?

And more importantly, is 'deciding' to be yourself on a public blog actually horribly two-faced? I'm afraid to think about that too much in case the wave form collapses :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Public Faces

I posted recently about blogger bios, a subject that gets overlooked a lot compared to author bios (and fair enough, too - we can change ours!).

I've heard lots of interesting stuff about head shots for writers too - Kristin Nelson has a good post about it here. But again, how about us unpublished bloggers? We're trying to connect with people, to 'platform-build', to 'network'. How do we go about representing ourselves visually?

As you can all see, I use a photo of myself (yes, that is me, not some random girl in a park!). It was taken by Writer Friend, my moth-phobic trilogy-writing pal, a couple of years ago and I really should update it. Plus, I've been thinking of switching to a photo where I'm actually smiling.

But the problem is, I do not take a good photo. The current one is good, but it's rare. Replacing it is a problem. Facebook pictures are the same - I am trying to be one of those people with the cool Facebook profile pictures, you know the ones, that show the subject abseiling and white-water-rafting and canoeing and skydiving and such. Not because I want people to think I'm more interesting than I am (although that would be nice) but because, crucially, in those photos it is harder to see the face.

Such photos are hard to fake in a coffee shop, though, so no luck so far.

Of course, not everyone wants to use a photo. I'm very fond of Talli's coffee cup picture and a good graphic can be far more eye-catching and personal than a blurry or substandard photo. I used Livejournal for years, just to keep in touch with friends, and their standard 100x100 pixel squares are a new art form.

Why did you choose your userpic?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Microfiction Monday

Welcome to Microfiction Monday, where Susan at posts a picture and lots of people write a 140-character piece of microfiction inspired by the picture.

My entry is:

As the students stared out at the clock, counting the minutes left in double Geography, Miss Regan stalked over to pull down the blinds.

In other news, the list of stories to be included in the 100 Stories for Queensland anthology has been released. I'm not on it sadly, but I am looking forward to reading what looks like a great selection!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Writers' Graves

The tomb of Oscar Wilde, Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

As I mentioned on Wednesday, once upon a time, I was a 24-year-old wannabe novelist who suffered from anxiety disorder. And a friend of mine suggested we go interrailing for a couple of weeks, and I said ooh, cool, yes. Or maybe I suggested it, I can't remember.

This is why I am now a 26-year-old wannabe novelist with less anxiety disorder than before.

While interrailing, my friend and I ended up in Paris, and we went to visit the Pere Lachaise cemetery. People can have very mixed feelings about cemeteries - my own feeling is that they are pleasant but a little sad, and I don't find them terribly meaningful. If I told you how many times I'd been to my Dad's grave since he passed away, you'd be very shocked (especially if I told you about the time I almost drove into it but that is another story entirely). I just . . . don't believe there is anything much there. If there is an afterlife, I don't think anyone is hanging around in their final resting place unless it was chosen for meaningful reasons.

However, Pere-Lachaise is also beautiful and historically interesting, and I was very keen to see it. My friend and I had a lovely morning there. We visited Jim Morrison, who has a full-time security guard, and Abelard and Heloise, and lots of other interesting people.

Then we found Oscar Wilde. Two Irish girls in Paris - who else would we go looking for?

Oscar's grave, as you can see above, has been decorated with lipstick kisses and notes from fans from all over the world.

At the base, there is a plaque that reads:

Respect the memory of Oscar Wilde
and do not deface this tomb.
It is protected by law an as historic
monument and was restored in 1992.

We smiled at that. We didn't leave notes or kisses - but we did leave the cemetery thinking that the rock star had a security guard but the writer didn't. And yet it was the writer who was drawing people to him, the writer that prompted this outpouring of affection. Much of this is down to Wilde's private life, and the persecutions he suffered, of course - but it was nice to see, and the two former English students and book nerds left the cemetery happy, and it certainly gave me a little blast of patriotic warmth.

Have any of you guys seen a writer's grave you enjoyed seeing?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Dollop of Personal Experience

I think the title for this blog comes from a book by Terry Prone called Write and Get Paid for It, but I may be misquoting. I liked it, though.

Before I start, I wanted to say thanks for all the lovely comments on Microfiction Monday this week. I've had a horribly stressful week (nothing serious, don't worry!) and they really lifted my spirits, so thanks to all and to the new followers whose blogs I'm looking forward to reading. It's been a very good blogging-and-writing week overall actually.

I was sitting around yesterday thinking of how I could tell you all that I'm on the long-list for 100 Stories for Queensland without just, you know,
saying it. I couldn't have a whole post that just said 'Guys, I'm on the long-list! Chuffed to bits! And so is Kitty, chuffed to bits for her too!' It's barely a line, and you guys have novels to avoid. I needed to come up with something more to say on the subject.

The good news is, I found it and I'll try to make it quick.

My piece was very autobiographical. Not completely (I took quite a few liberties, made some things sound worse than they were), but it dealt with something that really happened to me, or rather something I really did.

Two-and-a-bit years ago, I went interrailing, as lots of young Europeans do. But I went while I was suffering from quite bad panic attacks, which is somewhat less common, and the trip helped with that a lot. One might think that haring across a continent, armed with very heavy backpacks (yes, I had two backpacks, but one was small), getting by in four languages (five if you count English) and with only ten fingernails to bite, would make a person a bit anxious. It seemed to have the opposite effect on me.
So when I saw the guidelines for 100 Stories for Queensland, and I saw the word 'uplifting', I went to one of the most uplifting moments of my life for inspiration - my first glimpse of the clear September sky over the Museumplein in Amsterdam.

Writing about something semi-autobiographical did throw up some issues though. I deliberately focused the writing on myself, and not on my travel buddy, but when my travel buddy did demand a mention, I left her anonymous. She didn't even get a placeholder name. I exaggerated some bits and left out others, and ended up with something that was quite true to the experience if it wasn't strictly factual at all times.

Do any of you guys write much autobiographical stuff? Do you change it much?

PS Have an amusing list of Neil Gaiman facts, link nicked from Janet Reid's blog: