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.'


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 and my writing course. The editors of 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.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Insecure Writers' Support Group

First of all, I want to say hi to all my lovely new followers since Karen's BBQ. I've visited so many great blogs in the last few days and I have a growing list of great things to read, and in return I . . . missed my usual Monday post.

I'm usually more diligent than that.

Anyway, today is the first day of the Insecure Writers' Support Group, brainchild of the fantastic Alex J. Cavanaugh.

Now, I am an insecure writer, so I've blogged about insecurities before - how tough it can be to share your writing and being scared of success, for example.

My main fear as a writer is quite simple. 'Is it rubbish?' I get halfway through a sentence and think 'Is this rubbish?' I get ready to email a draft to my beta readers and I think 'Is this rubbish? Am I wasting their time?' I read anything that an agent has ever posted and I think 'Will they think what I've written is rubbish??'

I've only ever found one trick for getting around that terror, and still managing to get words on the page.

I tell myself 'No one but me ever has to see this. I'm writing this for me.' And off I go.

Stephen King says we should write with the door closed, and rewrite with the door open. In other words, the initial draft is for us, for our eyes only. When we get to the rewriting stage, that's when we let people in.

It works for me. I hope it works for some of you guys!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hooking a reader, and going it alone

I found a couple of things that I just have to share.

First of all, anyone considering self-publishing should check out the lovely and super-informative Catherine Ryan Howard's blog on She's also on Twitter as @cathryanhoward and is definitely worth following.

In other news, Mooderino has an excellent post on hooks: how to draw your reader in, how to pose a question, and most crucially, how to pose a question so that the reader may in fact care about the answer and thus read on. Definitely some food for thought there and great examples of what works versus what doesn't.

Apologies for being a great big boring person and posting links instead of content but today is one of those days where what I have to say is less important than telling what these guys are saying - all I have to say is 'yay, weekend!!'