Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012: Year in Review

2012 was an excellent writing year for me. Now, my goal is to make 2013 a year in which I do excellent writing. Ba-dum tsssccch. See what I did there?

My main writing achievement in 2012 was finishing The Curse of the Carberrys, which I'm happy with as first drafts go (translation for non-writers: I am not actively planning to enter the Witness Protection Programme now that some of my closest friends have read it).

I won Nanowrimo in spectacular fashion, writing 31,000 words in six days and earning both a dedicated congratulatory thread on our regional forum and a round of applause when I showed up for our end-of-Nano lunch. I have to point out that this achievement is of dubious character, since it was only made possible by falling really really far behind in the first place, and it made my fingers hurt.

I also finished my Nano novel, and it may be the worst thing I've ever written, including shopping lists and phone messages taken while my colleagues are having lunch. That said, I am fairly pleased with the ending (which reminds me of that old joke - your teeth are alright but your gums have to come out). I think the novel has some potential and I'm looking forward to going back and digging that potential out.

This isn't as quantifiable, but it's certainly important to me - I feel far closer to the point where I can start my pending YA project, One Other Person. I haven't written YA before, but I read a lot of it, so I'm both inspired and intimidated at the thought of stepping into one of my favourite genres. This year I have put a lot of thought into One Other Person and I'm dying to get started on it.

Aaaaand I finally figured out how to fix the fairies-in-Dublin novel I wrote for Nano 2010 - the one I usually just call Becky, after the main character, because no other name has stuck. It means a total rewrite from the bottom up. I am changing everything bar the characters - we will still have Becky, our slightly cynical fairy-hunter, Sammi, her skint journo flatmate, and even Scissors Gogarty, Sammi's source for crime features and an inadvertent fairy dupe, may make the final cut, but they will be encountering all sorts of menaces and secrets that weren't there in either of the first two drafts.

Thus, my writerly to-do list for 2013 looks like this:

1. Make list
2. Edit The Curse of the Carberrys
3. Write a query letter for The Curse of the Carberrys. Cry a lot. Re-write query letter. Cry some more. Eat cake.
4. Send off query letters.
5. Crap self.
6. Edit/rewrite The Soldiers of Bruges
7. Start (and hopefully finish) One Other Person
8. Ruin Becky Barrett's life. Again. Worse this time.
9. Finally learn to spell 'occasion' and 'necessary'. This is ridiculous, I am almost 29 years old.

Where are you guys on your writing journeys? I've been out of the loop in 2012 - please take this opportunity to share your woes and let me congratulate you on your awesomeness!

Oh yeah, and 10. Try to make 'awesomeness' a socially acceptable word for almost-29-year-olds to use.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where am I at? - A Catch-Up Post

This has been a sproadic year for blogging.

There are a few reasons for that. My day job has kept me busy and this year I attended four weddings, only one of which was in greater Dublin (they were all excellent) so there was a lot more travelling than usual. With one thing and another, I found myself very short on free time.

But I also got tired of blogging.

I started blogging in 2009 as an unpublished writer, and it's now almost 2013 and I'm still an unpublished writer.I haven't even started to query, because I haven't yet produced something that I feel is quite strong enough to query - although I'm really happy with the first draft of The Curse of the Carberrys and I'm hoping to query the edited version in the New Year.

So I'm OK with my ongoing unpublished status, but it is leaving me with very little to say here on the blog.

You guys all know about my tendancy towards fictional arson, my Nanowrimo evangelism, my love of Dorothy Parker. I've even told you about the Diffney quiz! I could keep posting about starting small fires, reaching 50,000 words or all the girls at the Yale Prom being laid end-to-end and Dorothy Parker's resultant lack of surprise, but you guys know how I feel about all of those things.

The other reason why I've been quiet lately is because I have been writing a lot. I know, shocking, huh? Too busy writing to update my writing blog :) I have a few works-in-progress at the moment and I'm looking forward to the Christmas break from my day job so I can get a decent run at a few of them.

That's where I am. I've missed the connections I've made through blogging, and I've missed checking in with all the fabulous bloggers I really like, but I am short on things to say. I am hoping that will change when I embark on my first ever querying journey - but I have to edit the book first! I got some great comments from my beta-readers (even if two of them disagree passionately on one point and I can't decide who to listen to!) and I'm excited to incorporate them and make my book better.

I'm also excited to take the next step and start putting my work out into the world in 2013. I hope to be popping up here and saying hi more often next year.

Happy holidays and a happy 2013 :D

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I Finally Started A Small Fire!

It happened. This year in my Nanowrimo novel, I had three characters escape the enemy by starting a small fire. And I think it made sense in context too!

Regular readers may know that this has come up before - it's my go-to suggestion for getting out of tight spots and I finally got to use it.

A sense of achievement has settled upon me.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Nanowrimo: I won, but only just

I became a Nanowrimo Municipal Liaison (local volunteer-type) in 2010 and I've won Nano ever year since. This year was the hardest yet.

To win Nanowrimo, you need to write an average of 1667 words per day. It's not like writing a shopping but it is a realistic and achievable target for a lot of writers.

But when you miss a few days, those 1667s start to add up super-fast.

I fell behind for a variety of reasons, some silly and some less so. I went away for a long weekend (Thursday to Sunday) and my flight was cancelled the day before we left (island living - yay!). So that had to be rearranged, time off work had to rearranged (I don't talk about my day job on the blog, deliberately, but I have to give my job a quick shout-out here for being as reasonable and accommodating as anyone could ask), and with one thing and another, I didn't write anything that day.

Then I was away for four days, and when I came back, I got some news that while it isn't actually bad, has the potential to maybe be bad at some point in the future, which distracted me quite badly for a few days.

With the result that I had over 30,000 words to write in less than a week.

My fellow participants were sympathetic. They said I wasn't allowed to have anything to eat at our celebratory lunch this week if I didn't make my target. I could read the menu (and we go to a really nice Japanese restaurant so this was a *mean* suggestion!) but I couldn't eat anything.

I would have liked to see them try to get between me and a California maki, even if they were armed with chopsticks.

Anyway, I managed to create time where previously none had existed.  I wrote on my lunch break instead of reading. I wrote whenever I had five minutes to spare. I wrote for an extra hour at night and slept less, and I cleared my schedule for a whole evening and wrote from I finished eating dinner until I went to bed.

And I finished. Last night at two minutes past six (just under six hours to the midnight deadline) I logged on to and validated my novel and won.

It was fun, it was exhilarating, it was challenging and I ended up with a book with large tracts of rubbish but an ending I really like.

And I hope to never put myself through that again!

Today I'm meeting the other participants and my co-ML for lunch. I can thank them for their lovely support on the forum - I got such nice comments when my word count started to climb. I can advise them to never fall behind like I did this year. I can commiserate with the people who didn't make it and congratulate everyone, whether they made it or not, for trying. We can share stories of awful plot holes and terrible instances of deus ex machina and cardboard characters and those rare, magical moments when something goes well instead of badly.

But most importantly, I can eat my noodles without having to defend my right to do so with chopsticks.

Happy December everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Photos from the Launch: Paul Anthony Shortt's Locked Within

Locked Within, all set for its debut.
I have been to several book launches and contrary to popular opinion, no one smashes a bottle of champagne against a stack of books and announces 'God bless her and all who read her!'

Oh, no one else thought that? Just me? Excuse me while I take a moment to blush.

In spite of the lack of champagne-shattering, book launches are fun. Paul has said that they're probably the only moment of public recognition that a writer gets - which is a bit of a swizz, really, since musicians get to play gigs and impress everyone at parties, and artists get exhibition openings and can post photos of their amazing works on Facebook. But writers mostly work in private, so launches are extra-special.

"I am a proper writer with a pen and everything!"

I have been to several launches, and they've all been very special occasions, but this is the first time I had attended the launch of a book I had watched grow from an idea to a book. This is the first time that I've been involved every step of the way.

It was a great event. I knew Paul at college, so there was a mini-reunion vibe as people I hadn't seen in years reappeared. The book was officially launched by Dr. Ron Callan, deputy head of the School of English in UCD (both my and Paul's alma mater), who spoke eloquently and elegantly about the book and his relationship with Paul. Then Paul said a few words - I don't remember much of them, because he thanked me quite early in his speech and all I remember after that is pleasant but total embarrassment.

It was unique in another way. It's unusual to get the chance to honour our friends' professional lives, beyond a quick congratulations when they have an accomplishment. Bragging about your professional achievements (in Ireland anyway) is not culturally typical and we rarely celebrate our friends' professional successes. It was nice to have a chance to do just that.

Nathan and Paul on their big night. Paul clearly wants to kill me here.
Finally, I have to share my favourite photo from the launch. Paul was not happy with me, which may be obvious from his expression. Hint: he is the one on the right.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Post: Paul Anthony Shortt on the Dark Side of Irish Literature

Paul Anthony Shortt's debut urban fantasy novel is released this month. Today he's joining me here to talk about how Irish literature has a darker side. . .

I am proud to have this post in my Locked Within Blog Tour hosted by fellow writer, and one of my dearest friends, Ellen Brickley. It was Ellen who first pointed me to the open call that led to my book deal.

When most people think of Irish writers, they think of Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Roddy Doyle, William Butler Yeats, etc.

A lot of our most famous authors tackle issues of what Irish life is like, the political, social and economic issues our country has faced through the years. And really, it’s understandable. As a nation, we’re incredibly young. The conflicts which brought us to where we are today are still fresh wounds for many, which sadly leads to continued violence even to this day.

But I feel in the rush to experience what these writers have to say, it can be all too easy to forget those writers who delved into even darker areas. Stories so dark and mysterious that they simply can’t be contained within the confines of the real world.

Fantasy and horror have been among the earliest widely-read works by Irish authors. The most macabre tales come from cultures where people have suffered and been unable to directly confront the cause of their suffering. Ireland has it pretty good now, even taking into account recent economic changes. But we were a third-world country less than 30 years ago. We were steeped in fear and tradition for generations. My own parents, who aren’t all that much older than I am, remember teachers lashing their hands with metal rulers as a form of punishment. We’re a people very much in touch with our own dark sides, and it shows in our art, our movies, and our writing.

From Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the sinister world of the supernatural has always had a strong place in Irish literature. This is a country where fairies aren’t to be trusted, and woe be to him who breaks ground in a fairy fort. We know to avoid black cats and to this day children warn each other about the house down the street where nobody lives, but if you walk too close at night, a light will come on or you’ll see something moving in the shadows.

It is this tradition of taking the mysterious and supernatural and pushing it into the light of day which makes me proud to be an Irish author. It is a tradition which lives on in the work of modern writers like Sarah Rees Brennan, Celine Kiernan and Ruth F Long. Readers young and old are taken on journeys into strange realms, in a way I think might be missed by readers in a more cosmopolitan country. Even in the 21st century, few Irish children can pick up a book about witches and ghosts without thinking of the old church that’s meant to be haunted, or the ghost who’ll scratch off your face if you say her name three times while looking into a mirror.

I think this might be why the Irish are so strongly drawn to such stories. Superstition and folklore are still a very important part of our culture. We still want people to take our hand and show us the things that creep through the night. I hope I’m up to the task.

About Paul:

A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren't enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life.

Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

He lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. Jen is pregnant again and is expecting twins.

About Locked Within:

The supernatural realm and the mundane world have existed side by side since the dawn of time. Predators walk the streets, hidden by our own ignorance. Once, the city of New York was protected, but that was another age.

Now a creature emerges from the city's past to kill again, with no one to hear the screams of its victims. The lost and the weak, crushed under the heels of the city's supernatural masters, have given up hope.

But one man finds himself drawn to these deaths. Plagued by dreams of past lives, his obsession may cost him friends, loved ones, even his life. To stop this monster, he must unlock the strength he once had. He must remember the warrior he was, to become the hero he was born to be.

His name is Nathan Shepherd, and he remembers.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Starting A Small Fire

These is a moment in Stephen King's Misery when the main character, a writer called Paul Sheldon, is trying to solve a problem with his novel. His main character has killed someone in a cinema and needs to get away with the crime for a while before getting caught. Paul is trying to figure out how to make this happen in a plausible way.

Eventually he thinks 'Suppose the character starts a fire?'

He decides it will work.

Since then, starting a fire has been my go-to solution for every plot problem that comes up. It rarely helps me, because very few of my novels have scenes where it would work, but I always advise people to have their characters start a small fire.

At various times, I suggested it to all three other members of my old writing group. The final time, I had to preface it - 'I really don't wish to sound obsessed, but could they perhaps start a small fire?'

I'm not sharing this for any reason except to clarify that a) I am not a pyromaniac in real life, only in other people's books, and b) to  point out that every writer is crazy in their own special way.

Happy Monday!

Friday, October 19, 2012

And the results are in. . .

I have counted the votes and the Nanowrimo project that won the contest is - Sasha!

Thanks to everyone who voted here and on Facebook :)

#AuthorsAgainstBullying - Saving Yourself First

Today authors are coming together to blog against bullying. Non-authors have also been invited to participate, but although I have been a victim of bullying in the past, I have nothing much useful to say about it.

It's a horrible thing to experience.
It's a horrible thing to do.
If you ever feel tempted to do it, don't.

That's pretty much the sum total of my wisdom on the subject, except to say that sometimes bullying can come from very unexpected sources.

You may realise one day that your best friend is bullying you, but you hadn't spotted it before because, well, she's your friend, right? So it must be your fault that she sometimes says things that make you want to cry, right? You're just too sensitive, that's the problem. Maybe you can Google 'being less sensitive' and find some useful hints!

If that ever happens to you, step away from Google and consider that you may not be the problem.

From there, though, I can't advise what's the best thing to do. Which is worse, loneliness or being bullied? I can't answer that. I couldn't when I was bullied by friends when I was a teenager. Eventually, in my case, loneliness won (it just looked less crap) and I spent a lot of time on my own, writing bad story ideas in a notebook with a mottled green cover.

Which led to me being bullied by a whole new bunch of people. Seriously, they're everywhere! I'm now a working adult and I still meet them. I have no useful advice on how to deal with them either, except to run like hell (literally or metaphorically) when you realise you've met one. Put as much distance between you and them as you reasonably can.

One of the most damaging and pervasive myths of our time is that bullies will go away if you just stand up to them. I've met a few of that variety in my time but I don't think it's a good idea to assume that's the case, any more than it's a good idea to assume every other driver on the road is sober, alert and smart. Saying that bullies will back off if you stand up to them is also a nasty form of victim-blaming - if the victim just reacted right, then the bullying would stop. How about if we worked on modifying the bully's behaviour? Might that be a smart plan, since they're the one with the problem?

If you ever encounter a bully, whether at school or at work or in your private life, don't feel bad that you're not 'fighting the good fight' and 'sticking up for yourself' and 'teaching them a lesson.' That's not your job. Your job is to protect yourself and do what's best for you. You're not there to train other people to be reasonable human beings.

One final point - when you know what it's like to be bullied, you really, really appreciate fun, welcoming, warm, safe spaces like the ones I've found on the blogosphere. Not everyone's online experience is so good, sadly, but it's nice to be able to fully appreciate what we have.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vote on my Nanowrimo project!

I've whittled it down to two options from the original four.

I can't decide which one to write. They're both Nano-friendly, involving lots of world-building and character interaction. They're both slightly fantastical. They both have flawed female protangonists. They each have an equal chance of getting me to 50K.

Really, there's little to choose between them. One of them has a contemporary setting, the other is futuristic. Both can be fun and wordy. I have beem mulling this over for a week without a breakthrough.

The time has come to turn the question over to Facebook and the wonderful world of bloggers :) Help me choose! For fun, I'm asking people to vote blind, based on the main character's first name.

To vote, comment with either 'Sasha' or 'Becky'.

So far on Facebook, Sasha is winning out, so don't be shy with the Becky-love! Whichever name has the most votes by 5pm GMT on Friday 19th October wins.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nano in Numbers

Some Nanowrimo stats that might surprise you!

1999: 21 participants, 6 winners.
2011: 256,618 participants, 36,843 winners.

There are over 500 official Nano chapters worldwide.

Last year Dublin alone produced over 5.5 million words. I can't tell you how proud I am to be Co-ML for this region - not only productive, but the local Wrimos are lovely.

The total word count for Nanowrimo 2011 was 3,074,068,446.

Want to be a part of it? Contact me by email (firstname dot lastname at gmail dot com) or find me on where I'm known as nycelle.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Changing Seasons

I am back from mainland Europe, and very happy to see that people were reading and commenting in my absence :) You guys rock!

I had a lovely time, ate rather a lot of chocolate (oh, Belgium, thou art a harsh mistress. . .) and overcame my combined fear of enclosed spaces and spiral staircases to climb a few monuments. It was lots of fun.

And I have arrived back just in time for the start of October.

For me, autumn starts in October. In Ireland, it's not unusual for us to have a period of nice weather in September (we joke that as soon as the schools re-open, the weather improves) and although winter can descend very early, October feels like autumn to me. The weather is cooler and crisper, and you will no longer be surprised by the occasional unseasonal sunny day. The shops are full of Halloween and the air is full of woodsmoke and blown brown leaves.

I love autumn. I love the start of any new season, but especially autumn. It has many advantages - I can enjoy that lovely back-to-school feeling, that sense of possibility, while luxuriating in the knowledge that I never have to go back to school and pretend I care about Irish grammar ever ever again. I can bundle up in giant cuddly jumpers. I can rediscover the depth and breadth of my tea collection and contemplate hot chocolate after dinner. And if you stare at the word 'autumn' for a while, it begins to look like nonsense.

There is a great deal to recommend it!

Autumn also means that we're drawing closer to Nanowrimo. I'm returning to my role as co-Municipal Liaison (volunteer-type) for Dublin for my third year, and I'm already trying to choose which book to work on for Nano 2012. And I'm heading for a weekend away with a friend in mid-November, which should a) be lots of fun, and b) will motivate me to get ahead on my word count early this time.

So what do you guys have coming up this autumn (or fall, if you prefer)? And what's your favourite season?

Monday, September 24, 2012

What I Want In An E-Reader

Following the launch of the Kindle Fire and the Kindle Paperwhite, the internet is rife with reviews, links and dim photographs of screens. Truly, we live in a golden age.

The line between an e-reader and a tablet is becoming blurred and as a consumer, this concerns me. The Kindle Fire seems to be a direct iPad competitor, while the Kindle Paperwhite is strictly a device for reading books. I'm relieved that I can still buy devices that just display ebooks (and do it well) but the general move towards a single all-singing all-dancing tablet that runs your entire digital life does not grab me as much as it might.

For reading, I want a dedicated ereadert. Beyond that, my needs are simple:

It must be compatible with Amazon's mobi format. An increasingly large number of writers are releasing exclusively on Amazon and I don't want to miss out on that.

It must read my own PDFs. This is a big part of how I edit my novels now.

It must have a screen that's easy on the eye, ideally not backlit. I have terrible eyesight, and am constantly being advised to spend less time looking at backlit screens. My day job and most of my hobbies involve looking at a screen. It's nice to give my eyes a break.

Beyond that, I have a few wants - I'd rather it didn't look too much like an iPad because I don't fancy getting mugged, long battery life is a big plus (because of my forgetting-to-charge problem, as well as the fact I like to travel) and a good, durable screen that can survive some serious handbag-time are all important.

I hope the market continues to provide that - however, I suspect my lovely un-backlit Kindle Keyboard is part of a dying breed.

What about you guys? What do you want in an ereader?

I'm still in mainland Europe, so may not be responding to comments too much. Please feel free to chat amongst yourselves!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Making It Through The Artistic Night

During my blog haitus, I discovered Dear Sugar. Sugar is the online handle of Cheryl Strayed, a novelist wih a delightful turn of phrase and an alarming ability to make me want to meet and hug her late inspirational mother. As Sugar, Cheryl does not mince her words - she talks openly and powerfully (some might say graphically) about her experiences, from grief, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, death, sex, sexual abuse to waitressing and working for minimum wage.

Sugar is a novelist, and she has fielded many questions from artists who are young, poor, struggling, jealous of the success of others, tired, bored, blocked and everything else in between. Some choice quotes for artists are:

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards."
"I had to struggle to be okay with this, to do what I call trusting the heat, to write what must be written in the way only I can write it. "

I wanted to write to her recently. I wanted to ask her how to go on doing this - working, writing when I have the time and energy, churning out terrible first drafts, trying to revise them even though the problems seem too big to fix. I wanted her to tell me how to keep going with this.

And then I realised, that wasn't what I wanted at all.

I wanted her to tell me when it would all suddenly be worthwhile. I wanted to ask 'Sugar, take a look in your crystal ball and tell me when the good stuff happens.'

Of course, Cheryl Strayed can't tell me that. She doesn't know.

I have a lot of artist friends, and sometimes they come to me with the same question. "When the hell does all this get OK?" "When does it get easier?"

And I don't know either.

But I do know that life is all about choices, and the biggest choice we all make every day is what we are willing to open ourselves to. Are we willing to take a risk that might make us happier, or are we content to stay as we are? Are we willing to embrace happiness? Are we willing to risk sadness? Are we willing to face disappointment or satisfaction when we aim for success, or will we sit back and not aim at all?

And trying seems a lot better than not, even when it isn't much fun.

How do you guys keep yourselves going during the difficult bits?

I'm away until early October, so my responses to comments, tweets and other contacts will be slow to nonexistant. Hope you all have a lovely late September!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Away From Keyboard

By the time you read this, I will be wandering around mainland Europe, probably eating ice-cream.

After my long haitus this summer, I don't want the blog to go totally quiet for two weeks, so I have scheduled a few posts to run while I'm away. I'll be back in early October and may be a bit sporadic about responding to comments until then.

In the meantime, if you're bored, I recommend:

My old college classmate, Sarah Rees Brennan, has a new book out! In fact, it's one of my holiday reads, so I may be reading it right now. Unspoken is a modern, quirky take on the Gothic novel, featuring a fiesty girl reporter who discovers the boy she's been talking to in her head all her life is a real person. It also has a crumbling old mansion, a sleepy English village and lots of secrets.  If that doesn't grab you, maybe check out Sarah's blog at the link above - her posts are always entertaining.

If you're craving a hit of Irishness in my absence, you could do worse than check out Denise Deegan's Butterfly Novels, a series of YA novels about teenage girls in a very exclusive South Dublin school. In spite of the fact she writes about a less-than-typical group of people, Denise creates an absolutely spot-on portrait of modern Dublin and very authentic teen voices. I loved the first two books and am dying to get started on the third.

Finally - I just wrecked your September. You can thank me in two weeks :)

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Perils of Find and Replace

When I was working on my last book, Crooked Paths (name change and dramatic, from-the-ground-up rewrite pending), I named one of the characters Paul.

It was a Nanowrimo novel, and I was writing quickly. I threw in the first name that came to mind and it attached itself stubbornly to the character. Very soon, in my head, the character was a Paul to the bone.

Unfortunately, this character was not a very nice man. And I felt bad about this, because of my friend Paul, whom some of you may know.

I asked Paul to rename the character for me. He chose the name Ross, with about as much thought as I had chosen the name Paul.

There was only one Paul in the book. It was set in Dublin, so I didn't need to worry about St. Paul's Cathedral or Rue Saint-Paul or Paulaner beer. I did what any lazy writer would have done. I used Find + Replace to replace every occurance of the word Paul with the word Ross.

But I had forgotten one crucial thing.

My main character, Becky, visits the Phoenix Park in Dublin, a large city park dominated by the Wellington Testimonial and the Papal Cross. The Papal Cross was erected to commemorate Pope John Paul II's visit to Ireland.

Can you guess what happened?

I got a mystified text from a beta-reader asking me who Pope John Ross II was, and were they missing something?


Find+Replace - it's a fantastic thing, but I've learned to use it with care. . .

Monday, August 20, 2012

Choosing Holiday Reading

I know I'm leaving my holiday a little late this year, but I'm heading off to foreign climes for the last two weeks of September.

Which brings me to the tricky subject of holiday reading.

Firstly, I don't agree that a holiday read needs to be fluffy or light. Last year, while exploring Bavaria, I read lots of Alice Hoffman, Kiersten White's Supernaturally (which is light-hearted in tone but not in content) and Giles Foden's Last King of Scotland, a novel about the dictator Idi Amin. Not exactly the kind of thing that's marketed to be read on a beach - but then I wasn't on the beach, so maybe my holiday reading needs are different!

With that in mind, I saw a photo of the covers of Louise Phillips's upcoming Irish crime novel, Red Ribbons. I am very keen to read it - psychological crime set in Dublin? Bring it on! - and it is being released about a week or so before I fly out. Seems like a great candidate for a holiday read, right?

Well, not quite.

When I am away, where possible I like to read something connected with the place I am visiting. I didn't manage that last year (although I did thoroughly enjoy the history sections of my travel guide). This year, I'm off to France and Belgium. My French reading list currently consists of Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette, which I've been planning to read for ages anyway,  several Kindle-only travel books, my trusty Rough Guide and a phrasebook.

My Belgian reading list is somewhat shorter. It consists of several Kindle-only travel guides, and a vague notion of finally trying some of Agatha Christie's Poirot novels.

But I think my list - my French list anyway - is flawed.

I'll only be there for six days. Is that really enough time to plough through one of Fraser's biographies? Won't it be annoying, travelling to Belgium while reading about the country I'm leaving and not the country I'm going to? And wouldn't the trip to France be more rewarding if I knew more about the history before I arrived, rather than learning it while there?

So I think instead, I will read Marie Antoinette (and Red Ribbons!) before I go, and choose something shorter and less historical for reading while I'm there. Given that France exerts a powerful pull over Western imaginations, I imagine I'll have no trouble finding something good. I'm still a little stumped for Belgium - can anyone recommend any modern Belgian novels that are available in English?

What are your favourite holiday books? Do your holiday reading tastes change depending on where you go - or is that just me?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tips for Writing About Ireland: The Republic Today

The last instalment of my Writing about Ireland tips will focus on the part of Ireland I know best, the Republic. This is the part of Ireland that comes to mind for most people when they think about Ireland. Dublin, cobblestoned streets, Trinity College, Oscar Wilde, Yeats, Guinness, Temple Bar, stag weekends, shamrocks, St. Patrick's Day, Catholicism, dancers who never move their arms - we've got it all.

And a bit more besides.

We're in the grip of a pretty awful recession, deepened by the reckless actions of our banks and the Bank Guarantee Scheme, where the State assumed responsibility for all banking debt, which they seem to be determined to pay for solely by depleting my paycheck :p Taxes are increasing, we're seeing cuts to public services (numbers of teachers for students with special needs, for example, are being reduced) and to state payments like pensions and social welfare, and unemployment is high.

'High' at the moment means circa 15%. I like to put a positive spin on it and think that employment is at 85%.

So things suck, but we're not Greece (yet!). There have been no serious protests. Some people feel we should be taking to the streets because the State and its people are paying dearly for mistakes made by private corporations, who are still giving payrises to their employees and paying themselves substantial bonuses. Personally I think that is pretty disgusting, and have been tempted more than once to knock on a few CEO's doors and ask for my cash back, but I'm not sure street protests are likely to help much.

We're seeing a lot of businesses closing - I know I'm making very conscious consumer choices these days, ensuring I give my business to companies that I especially want to support and not just buying from the closest outlet. There was a period just after Christmas where it seemed like a major retailer was closing every few days, but thankfully that has slowed.

That's how it looks from the streets.

There's a lot of anger towards our previous government, who signed the Bank Guarantee Scheme and budgeted recklessly during the boom years. There is anger towards our current government for not going far enough to reverse those things.

We do have a lot of cobblestones, though. And Guinness. And I have no idea why the dancers don't move their arms.

If you ever find yourself writing about Ireland and want to check things, please feel free to give me a shout - during November, I'm usually on the Nanowrimo forums offering help. And there's almost always a decent contigent of North Americans writing about us, which is very flattering!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tips for Writing About Ireland: Northern Ireland and Names

In Friday's post, I talked about how the island of Ireland has two countries in it - Northern Ireland, which consists of six counties ruled by their own assembly, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is, as the name suggests, a completely independent state. I live in the Republic.

The Giants' Causeway, Northern Ireland. Photo used under Creative Commons from Locace
Today I want to post a little background about Northern Ireland. As I said on Friday, you may associate Northern Ireland with - the building of the Titanic in Belfast, the Giant's Causeway and, tragically, sectarian violence. It can be a challenging place to understand, especially if you're from outside Ireland.

**Edited to add: this is a very simplistic overview of the meanings behind some of the conflicting terms that are used about Northern Ireland. I'm not from Northern Ireland, so I'm far from the best person to comment on this. The following is intended as a very, very simple primer on terms that have the potential to be troublesome, but it is not a substitute for examining the many nuanced aspects of identity and history that have shaped the region**

The first confusing thing about Northern Ireland is the name. It is alternatively known as The North, the Six Counties, Ulster, the North of Ireland, the Province and very occasionally British-occupied Ireland. All of these names have connotations.

There are two main communities in Northern Ireland - unionists, who are quite happy to be ruled by the UK, and nationalists, who believe that Northern Ireland should be part of the Republic of Ireland. Within these very broad definitions, there is obviously a wide range of opinion, so what follows is not exhaustive. Unionists tend to use terms that emphasise Northern Ireland as a distinct entity - they are more likely to say Ulster, or the Province. Nationalists, on the other hand, tend to emphasise the geographical link with the Republic and are more likely to refer to the North, the Six Counties, or British-occupied Ireland (I haven't heard that one much myself, and it would mostly be used by people with more extreme views on the subject).

If you are writing about Northern Ireland, keep it simple and call it Northern Ireland. If you want to depict a unionist character, drop in an Ulster or two, and if you want to depict a nationalist character, have them call it 'the North', but the term 'Northern Ireland' is widely used.

In the Republic, we tend to call it The North. Which is technically incorrect because Co. Donegal, among others, is in what would be considered the extreme north of the country but is firmly and passionately part of the Republic (actually, the term Ulster is inaccurate too, because there are three counties in the Republic that are part of the region called Ulster but not part of the political entity that is Northern Ireland. See why I said it was complicated?).

The second city of Northern Ireland is rather simpler, but more divisive. You may know it as Derry or Londonderry. I know it as Derry, and some people know it from the song The Town I Loved So Well (if you're looking for a version of it to listen to, I like Luke Kelly's best).

During the Plantation of Ulster (a period of organised colonisation by England, when settlers from England and Scotland were sent to Northern Ireland to increase British control of the region), the city of Derry was substantially rebuilt and renamed Londonderry. It was popularly called Derry for several centuries until the outbreak of civil unrest ('The Troubles') in the 1960s, when the issue became politically charged and unionists began to use the official name Londonderry again. The city council, confusingly, is called Derry City Council, so when referring to local government issues, it is correct to say Derry. There has been debate for some years about whether or not to change the city's name to Derry officially, but the debate has been split completely along political lines. Unionists want one name and nationalists want the other, so the status quo has remained in place in the absence of a better suggestion. This happens a lot in Ireland, and probably everywhere else in the world too. . .

In the Republic, we say Derry, and you'd get a funny look for saying Londonderry - one of our government ministers called it Londonderry during a discussion in parliament earlier this year and it generated a lot of comment. It was as late as 2009 before we would accept passport applications that listed Place of Birth as Londonderry - prior to that, forms had to say Derry. Our road signs point to Derry. In Northern Ireland, both terms are used but it is highly politicised, so if writing, a character from the Republic of Ireland will say Derry, a Northern Irish unionist will say Londonderry and a Northern Irish nationalist will say Derry.

Wikipedia informs me that UK-based organisations have some creative solutions - the BBC will use Londonderry initially in any piece and then use both terms interchangably. The left-win Guardian newspaper suggests Derry and the right-wing Telegraph suggests Londonderry. The Northern Irish Civil Service are advised in correspondence to use whatever term their correspondant does. The last word, though, goes to Irish comedian Neil Delamere, who commented that the Irish national TV station's pronunciation guide is effectively the same as its BBC counterpart, except the word "Londonderry", in which the first six letters are silent.

I hope some of this proves helpful to visitors, writers or anyone else trying to navigate the confusing world of Irish history! On Friday I'll talk a bit more about writing about Ireland and her two resident countries, and next week I'll be posting some hints for writing about the Republic of Ireland (and there won't be a leprechaun in sight, I promise).

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Few Pointers On Writing about Ireland

Wow. There's been some pretty breathtaking ignorance about Ireland in this week's Olympic coverage.

First, we had the Telegraph claiming our (now) gold-medal winning boxer, Katie Taylor, as 'British.'

Then the Australian newspaper group Fairfax Media behaved with a Murdoch-y lack of journalistic decorum and made comments reinforcing the hard-drinking, aggressive Irish stereotype. The Irish Ambassador to Australia stepped in to sort that one out.

And then, because Australia clearly hadn't been mortified enough by their sportswriters screwing up, Russell Barwich decided the Irish were ridiculous for not competing as part of Team GB, likening it to Tasmania refusing to comete as part of Australia. The best bit is that as he said this, he admitted that he didn't understand Irish politcs - I admire his candor, but given that he had just said the most offensive thing you can say to an Irish person, clarifying that was wholly unnecessary.

Oh, and while I was Googling all this, I found out that the BBC's Daley Thompson said that a tattooist who made a spelling error must have been Irish, prompting me to yell things in my head. The corporation's response:

"Thompson’s comments about this were clearly meant as a joke, but we apologise if any offence was caused; it certainly wasn’t our intention."

was not an apology, because if you call 3.5 million people stupid, you don't get to use the word 'if' about offence caused. There was offence caused. Be grown-ups and own it and knock off the passive-aggressive crap.Calling it a joke - also not smart, because the person making the joke doesn't get to decide whether or not it was funny. That's the audience's priviledge, and I for one am exercising the hell out of it :)

Anyway, I could do two things in response to this. I could cry and eat cake, because racism is horrible, especially when half of it comes from a country from whom your grandparents had to buy back their own land during the Great Depression and the other half comes from a commonwealth state that should know rather a lot more than it does about what independence means and how complex it can be.

Or I could write a handy guide for people who want to write about Ireland, but find it hard to locate good informatio about our admittedly tiny and globally insignificant country. That sounds like more fun, apart from the cake, so I'm going to do that. Most of this will be pretty obvious to my readers, but there is some actual information in Point 1 that may be of use :)

1. This is the complicated bit - the island of Ireland has two countries in it. Ireland looks like a teddy bear. The teddy bear's head is Northern Ireland, 6 counties under the rule of Great Britain but with its own assembly, exactly like Scotland or Wales. That's the bit with a tragic history of sectarian violence, which it is admirably and constructively working to overcome. They built the Titanic and Belfast and produced lots of linen and they have the Giant's Causeway and the city of Derry and the giant lake that looks the teddy bears eye. The rest of the teddy bear is the Republic of Ireland, the bit I live in, made up of the 28 remaining counties, and it's a state completely independent of Great Britain. It's the bit that has Dublin, Guinness, the Rock of Cashel, Cork and the blue lakes of Killarney in it.

2. Calling Ireland part of the UK is about the most offensive thing you can possibly say. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, but saying 'Ireland' is lumps the republic in there too, and we really hate that.

3. We don't find the stupid jokes funny. But everyone already knew that, I presume, because people don't like being called stupid, right? So it's a no-brainer.

Paradoxically, some Irish people will tell and enjoy Irish jokes but non-Irish people calling us stupid, or being surprised that we have universities - not cool. We have more Nobel Laureates for literature per head of population than any other country, so we can definitely read and write :p

4. We're actually not that aggressive. The Irish have a rep for getting drunk and getting into fights. This is because so many Irish people who moved abroad did it - but you're talking about a demographic that never saw two shops stuck together until they got to New York or Boston or London, and yeah, lots of them went a bit crazy. But Ireland is a very safe country (both the North and the Republic - in spite of the North's history of violence, tourists are pretty safe). We don't allow handguns. Our murder rates and other crime rates are low. And in spite of some pretty seriously nasty austerity measures, we haven't had any violent protests. We're far closer to the other stereotype - that of the complacent Irishman drawing on his pipe and saying 'Ah sure, it'll be graaand.' We could stand to be a bit more aggressive sometimes!

5. The drinking thing. OK, I may be on my high horse at the moment but the drinking thing is . . . kinda true. The Irish drink quite a bit, but more importantly, all of our drinking is public. We don't have a culture of drinking at home (although we're working on developing one to save some cash!) so our consumption is very visible. Also I live in the Irish capital and even here, it can be hard to find non-alcohol-related things to do after a certain time in the evening, and it's obviously worse in rural areas. By necessity, even non-drinkers may find their social life centring around the pub. This stereotype is the least offensive, and I think most Irish people are more bothered by the implications that we get drunk and hit people than statements that we get drunk.

6. We are a modern economy with cars, roads and factories. This may sound daft, but there are people who think we're still stuck in The Quiet Man and picking blight off the potatoes. Not so much. Some years ago, because of the massive boom in the pharmaceutical industry here, our chief export was not potatoes, whiskey and postcards of the Cliffs of Moher, but . . .  Viagra.

Rest assured, we totally saw the funny side of that :)

This post is largely for the kind of people who say things that are very offensive, which doesn't include any of my blog readers, all of whom can read and research things, and know that calling someone stupid is not very nice, ever. Unfortunately, none of these people will ever read it, but I certainly feel better!

Next week, I will continue my 'Pointers On Writing About Ireland' with the less obvious stuff that might *actually* be helpful for someone setting a book here, as opposed to me spleen-venting :) If anyone has any questions (whether you want to write about Ireland, or visit it, or just ask a question that's been bugging you), please pop them in the comments and I'll address them on Monday! There are no offensive questions, because questions indicate a desire to know things which I believe is universally a good thing :)

Happy weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Romantic Heroines in YA: Anna and the French Kiss

A few weeks ago, I read Stephanie Perkins's excellent book, Anna and the French Kiss.

Why did I love it? It might have been the super-cool boarding school Anna attends. In Paris. It might have been the author's use of Paris as a setting - the Latin Quarter, the Pantheon, Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Co all come to life beautifully. It might have been the romantic lead - a French-English-American guy who is (gasp!) shorter than his leading lady.

It might even have been how the author managed to make friendship the main theme of a YA romance novel.

But mostly, it was Anna herself.

Anna likes film. She's funny. She has in-jokes with her best friend, she has crushes, she wants to be a film critic, she worries, she is left-handed and she has a gap in her teeth and a bright slash of dye running through her dark hair. She is mortified by her father's writing career and loves her mom and brother.

She is a well-rounded and definite character. Someone I can imagine meeting for tea, someone who has a life beyond the boy she likes.

She has a life, an identity and goals.

There has been a lot of criticism recently of books that treat their female heroines as mere receptacles for love, sitting passively by until the perfect man floats past and deigns to gaze on her,

Feck that. Give me Anna Oliphant and her film blog (which no one reads) any day of the week. While she makes some mistakes and bad decisions in the novel, she is a very real person and I think in spite of her mistakes, she is a positive role model. Because she's real and rounded, not passive and dull. I haven't been a teenager in almost ten years, but I adored this book as a 28-year-old and as a teen, I would have devoured it.

Can anyone recommend any other YA novels with well-rounded heroines?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Naming Characters: Won't Somebody Please Think of The Parents?

There have been some great posts about how to name characters. I like this one, by Nadia Jones guesting on Lisa Amowitz's blog.

Recently, I had to choose names for two characters in my next WIP, both of whom are Irish and younger than me. I don't know many people younger than me. With older characters, I can look at people I know and say 'Hmmm. I know lots of Lauras, Jennys and Sarahs in their early 30s. They're probably safe names to use for that age group - and seemingly the trend then was for nice, modern, simple, easy to spell names, so if I call a character Emmaline or Ada or Fylycyty, I may need to explain myself just a bit.'

Equally, a lot of simple, older names are currently back in fashion in Ireland - Rose, Molly, Emma, Eva. Even Ellen is making a comeback, which I never thought I'd see! I love those names, but if I chose one for a character born in 1996, it wouldn't ring true, because that trend hadn't taken hold then.

I know very few young folk born around 1996, being a curmudgeon at heart. So I consulted one (he was very helpful), and Googled a lot, and read census reports, and thought about what names would suit my main characters. I wanted one of them to have a feminine name that shortened to a male name (Samantha, Roberta, that kind of thing) but very few were popular during the period when my character would have been born.

When naming a character, I find it helps to remember that a character's name is a) a product of the time when they were born, not when the book takes place, and b) chosen by their parents. One my characters would have loved to be called Dylan or Madison, but her parents would never have chosen that. If I had called her Dylan, it would have been a mistake - and it would have really messed up my characterisation of her parents, who are quite conventional Irish people and would never chose such an unusual name for a baby girl.

Choosing a name is not about the character - it is about their family.

That can set up some interesting conflicts - my wannabe-Dylan's character has been shaped by the fact she feels her personality is at odds with her name. She feels as though her name holds her back.

So talking of the role that parents play in naming our characters, how do you feel about the role your parents played in naming you? Do you like your name? Does anyone? :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Return of the Blog: The First Draft Edition

I realise I'm a month late, but I am finally returning to the blogging fold! It's nice to be back.

The reason I am so late is because finishing the first draft of The Curse of the Carberrys took longer than I expected. It was my Nanowrimo project in 2011 and had stalled a little once November was over. Once I restarted writing in earnest, I expected it to be very quick.

It didn't quite work out that way, because as I re-read what I had written, I spotted a few issues and fixed them as I went (two sisters kept swapping ages. Not good!).

And then in the final week of writing, I sprained my right shoulder. I'm right-handed. My day job involves typing and picking up phones. I can expect to be in pain for another four weeks, and excessive activity could cause scar tissue to form and lead to permanent damage.

I was 4000 words from the end of the book and I had to slow right down. Writing those last 4000 words took about five days, which is much slower than I usually manage when I know where I'm going with the story.

But now it's done! Copies have been sent to beta readers and I am bracing myself for feedback. I know the book has weaknesses, but it's the longest book I've ever written, the only one I ever completed with a shoulder sprain and the first to feature a dead gay book-reviewer. I'm pleased with it.

I'll be resuming my usual Monday and Friday blogging schedule from this Friday 3rd August, and I know I've said this before, but it is nice to be back.

So what did I miss? :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Blog Hiatus

I doubt this will come as a surprise to most of you guys, but I have decided to take a break from blogging for a while.

I'm working on two writing projects alongside my usual day job, and I find that it's getting ever harder to find the time for blogging. Also, let's be blunt - I've been blogging about being an unpunlished writer for three years and it's getting harder and harder to find things to say without repeating myself.

For the moment, I'm hoping to come back to blogging in early July. Obviously, if anything interesting or blog-worthy happens in the meantime, I'll pop up :) I'll also still be reading blogs while I'm taking a break, I just won't be posting.

I have email comment notification enabled, so if you want to reach me, leaving a comment on the blog will still do it :)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Movies and Man-Children: Is Growing Up a Bad Thing?

Steve Rose has a piece in today's Guardian about the increasing presence in Hollywood movies of men who won't grow up. Men who live with their parents, act like kids, play computer games and have traditionally 'childish' hobbies.

I do agree that the overgrown man-child figure in films can be very annoying, but I also don't like the fact we live an a society that worships 'maturity.' Yes, it's important that adults should be capable of earning money, supporting themselves and not behaving like pre-socialisation children (there's a reason all our parents/caregivers taught us the lesson 'If you aren't nice, people won't like you.' Because, seriously, they won't). Note that I said 'capable' - sadly in today's economy, too many people can't do some of these things, through no fault of their own, or temporarily choose not to, to pursue other goals.

But what the hell is wrong with a forty-year-old man liking computer games or collecting Star Wars figures, or meeting up with his friends for a beer? For that matter, what's wrong with a forty-year-old woman liking Hello Kitty t-shirts and collecting Pez dispensers and watching Roller Derby? Whatever it is, I can't see it. And I know I'm voluntarily childless, so I don't need to worry about 'setting an example for the kids,' but honestly - I remember my mother singing along with Paul Simon and Elvis like a loon and it never did me any harm, nor did my dad's devotion to Manchester United.

I have a couple of very immature vices - I love what Americans call soft-serve ice-cream (we call them cones or 99s if they have a chocolate flake stuck in them  - mine always have the flake, all else is sacrilige). I eat chocolate and sugar in amounts that would sicken the average child and send the average adult into a sugar coma. I have no plans to ever stop travelling (definitely not just for the young!) and age has not, so far, given me a taste for 'mature civilised person' alcoholic drinks like wine and whiskey. I still like my vodka drowned in Coke or OJ or, ideally, replaced entirely with peach schnapps.

What about you? Still a child at heart or happy to be mature? What are your most childish vices?

Movies and Man-Children: Is 'Growing Up' a Bad Thing?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A-Z Challenge Reflection Post - Thoughts on Writing the World

April was a very challenging month for me.

I rarely write short fiction, and in April I wrote 26 pieces of short fiction.
I rarely set stories outside of places I know well - usually my books take place in Dublin or London, the two cities I know best. In April, I had to write about places I had never heard of, with languages and cultures and complex political systems I could never hope to understand fully.
I rarely write stories that could potentially offend people. In April I wrote about a man reflecting on the legacy of apartheid and about a woman sneaking over the border from Saudi Arabia to Yemen in order to learn to drive.

It's been great fun, but it's been tough.

One of the most difficult things for me was leaving my cultural comfort zone. I'm a white girl, living in a very white country that has only experienced inward migration for about fifteen years. Ireland is still very culturally homogenous compared to, say, Britain or the US. My day job is in a richly multicultural industry and environment, but nevertheless, I live in a country where I can go from dawn to dusk and not see a face that isn't white outside my workplace.

I also enjoy some serious priviledge - yes, as a woman I can expect to earn somewhere between 15% and 30% less than an equivalently-qualified man across my lifetime, but guess what? That may suck, but I'm allowed to drive a car. I'm allowed to vote, serve in the armed forces and run for political office. I can wear what I like, go where I like and read what I like. Hell, I can read.

I have never gone to sleep at night afraid that my house will be bombed, or that the police will enter my home and harm me or my family. I have been afraid to walk down streets, yes, but I've been afraid of the actions of individuals, not of the state. I'm Irish, so I carry some legacy from a time when we did not have freedom of religion or the right to own property (the Irish state was paying the British government for our own land as late as the 1930s, because when we earned the right to own property, our government had to buy it back from Britain. We were paying for our own country during the Great Depression, seriously) but none of these things happened to me, or to my parents. I have priviledge, and this month I took the very scary step of trying to write about people and cultures who didn't have any. Who got screwed a lot by people very like me.

This scared me a lot. As a woman and an Irishwoman (a post-colonial, if you will) I am used to being comfortably 'other', to being the underdog, the 'minority.' But on a global level, I'm really, really not. I was so scared, in fact, that you'll notice a lot of my little stories this month were about tourists. This was a safety device, designed to excuse any massive cultural screw-ups I made. 'It's not me being ignorant - it's my characters. They're tourists, you know.'

But I was supposed to be writing about the world, not some white people looking at the world. So I tried to be sensitive, and I wrote about a black guy in South Africa reflecting on the end of apartheid, feeling gratitude for the things I take for granted. I wrote about a Muslim woman crossing the border from Saudi Arabia into Yemen to learn to drive, because when I googled 'Women in Yemen' and 'Muslim women + rights', do you know what I found? I didn't find lots of stories about stereotypical people living happily under a regime that minimised their rights. I found stories about intelligent, smart, religious, observant, spiritual, strong Muslim women trying to make sure their countrywomen didn't die in childbirth. I found stories of how they honour Allah while still campaigning for an end to child marriages. I found people, so I wrote about people.

And I have no bloody idea if I got it right or wrong, but as a white person with no memories of oppression who feels gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy, I believe I might sneak across a border if I couldn't drive in my own country (I'd certainly think about it!), so surely there's someone who looks a little different to me, and has had a different experience of life than I have, but who feels some of the same things that I do.

I doubt I will ever have the insight and intelligence to write extensively about cultures that are not my own. But it was certainly a fascinating experience to try, and I think it helped me to find some resources for researching characters, because I don't want to spend my entire life writing about bored white girls in their 20s.

Do any of you guys write about people from very different backgrounds to you? How do you find it? What resources do you use to find information?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Post A-Z Post (see what I did there?)

I cannot say enough nice things about the people who visited me on the A-Z Challenge this year. I appreciated every comment, every pageview and every follow, so thank you all :)

I'm leaving Dublin for a few days break (not to recuperate from the A-Z Challenge - geographical flash fiction is hard, but it's not *that* hard!), so things will be quiet on the blog front until next week, when I'll be back with a Reflections post next week, and to share what I learned about writing microfiction.

It's a long weekend in Ireland, so I hope anyone who also has a day off on Monday enjoys their break, and those who don't - try to have an extra-nice Saturday and Sunday to make up for it!

Monday, April 30, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: Z is for Zanzibar

I can't believe it's the last day of the A-Z Challenge! Today we're going to Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in Africa. Among other things, Zanzibar is famous as the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, the probable birthplace of the Swahili language and the location of the shortest war in history, which lasted 38 minutes. It is this last fact which inspired today's story.

Zanzibar, 27th August 1896, 9:00

"It is 0900 hours and there has been no surrender," said General Lloyd Matthews. "Open fire."
Andrew Graves should not have heard the order. He had left his station briefly, just to check on his friend, and at the sound of the general's quiet voice, he turned on his heel and tiptoed back to his post, rushing to arrive before the fire started.
But no gunfire could be heard.
Had the order not filtered down? Andrew wondered as he looked out over the sultan's palace. It was large and sprawling - not as large as Buckingham Palace at home, but large enough to house staff. He had  heard rumours from the other soldiers than the new Sultan had a harem. It sounded appealing then, but now all he could think of was unarmed women, sitting inside, eating breakfast, with nowhere to run.
The sound of gunfire pierced Andrew's reverie and he began to load his canon.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to visit, read, comment or follow me during the A-Z challenge :) I've had great fun. All of the entries can be read by clicking on the A-Z Challenge 2012 tag below.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: Y is for Yemen

Today we're visiting the Middle Eastern state of Yemen. It is almost impossible to write fiction set in this country without touching on serious issues - women's rights, access to health care, development. I've tried to keep my microfiction as light as I can this month, but today I'm not sure I can avoid issues.


Naaz felt Aadil squeeze her hand. "Hello," he said. "This is my wife, Naaz. We are here for her driving lesson."
The man at the desk nodded. "Wait here, please." He disappeared behind a door.
Naaz was glad Aadil had spoken first - she was just too nervous. She had been afraid that the man would ask why they had crossed the border to Yemen, where she could legally drive. She didn't want to have to blurt out the whole story about her ailing mother-in-law, how Aadil's job took him away from home so much, how she was afraid her mother-in-law would fall ill one night and have no one to get her to hospital. It would be a risk, driving at home - an enormous risk. But she would feel safer somehow if she could.
And who knew? Maybe one day she would be allowed to drive at home. And she would be ready.

The rest of my A-Z flash fiction can be found by clicking the tag under this post. Thanks for visiting!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: X is for Xanadu

We haven't been to Asia very much on this trip, so today we're visiting Xanadu, the site of the Yuan Dynasty Upper Capital, located in what is now Inner Mongolia. Most famous as the place where Kubla Khan did something (what exactly he did eludes everyone who only knows the first line of Coleridge's famous poem). 


Sally brushed her hair back from her forehead and stood up straight. Her back was aching from a long morning of digging and sifting through the loose silt, looking for any artefacts that might shed some light on life in Xanadu, or revive her flagging stature in the department.
Her colleague Brett was worrying at some earth. As she watched his tanned, dusty fingers probing, Sally caught sight of the tiniest glimmer. Her heart skipped. He'd found something!
"BRETT!" Sally yelled. "Mosquito!"
She hadn't got the word fully out when he leapt to his feet, flailing his hands and gasping.
"Shitshitshit, where? Is it near me?"
"No," Sally said, bending down and hunting for the fragment Brett had dropped. "Sorry, it's gone. My mistake. . . hey, I think I found something!"

I would like to point out that any archaeologists I have met in real life are lovely people and would never do this! If you want to read any other entries in my flash fiction world tour, click on the tag below this post. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: W is for Woolwich Arsenal

Today's flash fiction is set in Woolwich, in south-east London. Rather than have another maritime-themed story (after Kevin and Jack's exploits and our adventure with Ventian tides yesterday), I decided to move from the Woolwich dockyard to Woolwich Arsenal, close to the site of the Royal Arsenal ammunitions factory from 1805 until the 1970s. In peacetime, the facility built steam locomatives and railway wagons, and ironically spent a good deal of World War II empty due to ariel bombardment during the Blitz.

Woolwich Arsenal, November 1940

Tommy lay on top of an old laboratory work bench, a cigarette clamped between his lips.
"Ain't nothing like a good smoke, is there?" he said, with an air of great satisfaction. Alfie rolled his eyes. Tommy had pinched the fag from their dad that morning, yet he was talking like he had a source on the black market. Even their dad could only get a few smokes a week, and there would be hell to pay when he found this one was missing. He said as much to Tommy.
"Oh, stop being such an old woman. . ." Tommy said, taking a deep drag.
"We should go," Alfie said. "This place is a target, we should get home."
"Where is home?" Tommy sneered.
"Back to the Tube, then."
"Oh, shut up. We have plenty of time to get back."
The sound of an air-raid siren rent the air.
Tommy's cigarette fell to the floor as he and Alfie scrambled for the exit.

To read the rest of my A-Z flash fiction world tour, click on the tag below this post. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: V is for Venice

I had to go to Venice on my flash fiction world tour, didn't I? I've never been there in person, but I have hopes I'll make it there next year. Although it divides critics, I don't think there is a city in the world that occupies such a unique place in the popular imagination.

I chose today's story because my dad was a marine engineer, whose professional life was lived around the tides. I have never been any use at figuring out tides (I can rarely even tell whether the tide is going in or out) so today's story about the acqua alta or high water in Venice is a small shout-out to his knowledge.


She hopped from one wet foot to the other as the men pulled the high walkways out and settled them over the submerged pavement.
"Come on, come on. . ." she willed them silently. The hands on the church clock were pointed at five minutes to five, forming a straight but rusting slash across the crumbling clock face.
"Grazie!" she said, skipping across the temporary walkway. "Grazie!"
She made it to her front door with mere seconds to spare, hanging her coat and sitting on the couch with a magazine. He could not know that she has been outside. He would know where she had been.
Her heart was pounding and the fear was making her vision too sharp. But the lazy hours in another bed were worth it, more than worth it.
He arrived a little later than usual. Her heart had slowed by then, and she was cursing the few minutes that his lateness had stolen from her lover. She cold have stayed longer.
As he bent to kiss her, he froze.
"What?" she asked.
"Your shoes," he said softly. "They're wet."

For the rest of my A-Z flash fiction, please check out the tag below this post. Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: U is for Utah

Today's stop on my A-Z flash fiction world tour takes us to Utah - specifically to Hanksville, a small settlement of about 200 people located close to several large national parks. A large portion of the town's income comes from tourism, but it is also home to the Mars Desert Research Station and the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosour Quarry. I suspect all 219 of those residents are quite interesting. . .

Hanksville, Utah

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" Miss Anderson asked the first little boy.
"A paleontologist," he said, chewing on his finger.
"Wow, that's interesting!" said Miss Anderson. She'd have to keep an eye on this kid. He must be smart.
"How about you?" she asked the boy sitting beside him.
"I wanna be a paleontologist too," he said.
"Don't just copy Caleb, sweetie, tell me what you really want."
"I want to be a paleontologist, I wanna dig up dinosaur bones."
"You - what would you like to be?" she asked a girl with reddish pigtails.
"I'm gonna be a paleontologist and I'm gonna work in Hanksville-Burpee just outside town and I'm gonna have a house next door to my best friend Kennedy."
Miss Anderson had never encountered such ambitious seven year-olds.
"Would anyone like to be a NASCAR driver or play for the NFL or go on TV?"
The class shook their heads, and Miss Anderson found herself doing the same. She suspected she was going to like this town.

For the rest of my A-Z flash fiction, click on the tag below this entry. Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: T is for The Moon

Yes, OK, it's a bit of a cheat using The Moon for T, but seriously, when have you ever heard someone call it 'Moon'? :) And I wanted to do Monaghan for M, but I also wanted to have a space story in here somewhere. So, guys, today is the equivalent of winning the air miles lottery on our flash fiction world tour.

Only twelve people have set foot on the Moon. They have been farther from Earth than anyone else, they are the only people to have seen the far side of the moon, and they are the only people to walk on an astronomical object other than Earth. For this reason, I have tried to use their names respectfully, but I have had to populate my little story with real people.

The Moon

"I intend," said Commander Alan Shepard, "to be the first man to play golf on the moon." He produced the golf club and balls he had smuggled aboard their spacecraft.
"You may as well be the first," said Mitchell. "Because once they start letting the tourists up here, you'll never be the best."
Shepard pulled a face.
"Why golf, anyway?" asked Mitchell. "You could be the first man to do almost anything on the moon. Read a book. Drink a Coke. Play hopscotch. Why did you choose golf?"
"Because I like it," Shepard said. "And because it doesn't have any values. The moon shouldn't be about a writer or a drinks company. It should be for everyone. And golf is just golf. No one can have a problem with it."
He placed one of his golf balls on the tee and began to aim.

Thanks for visiting! My other stops on the A-Z world tour (can I call it a world tour now we've left Earth?) can be viewed if you click on the tag below.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: S is for Skeleton Coast

Today's stop on the A-Z flash fiction world tour takes us to the evocatively-named Skeleton Coast in Namibia. The Skeleton Coast got its name from the whalebones that once littered its beaches. Today's piece highlights what I think is the most interesting thing about the Skeleton Coast. It also features a reappearance of Jack and Kevin from our trip to Queensland.

Skeleton Coast

"What do you mean, we're stranded?" Kevin asked. Jack shrugged into his 'Ghost Ship Hunters' jacket and jumped over the side of the boat.
"That's the problem with the Skeleton Coast," Jack said. "A human powered boat can land. . . but it can't launch."
". . . You might have mentioned this," Kevin said, and kicked a piece of driftwood in frustration. He looked around. There were three rusting shipwrecks within view.
"You have to admit, though," Jack said, "professionally speaking, we could have landed in worse places."

To read the rest of my A-Z world tour, just click on the tag below this post. Thank you for reading!

A-Z Microfiction: R is for Rio de Janiero

This post is coming to you from the new Blogger interface, and it is a testament to my self-control that this post will contain no swearwords. . . instead, I'm going to get on with the R instalment of my round-the-world A-Z flash fiction. Today we're in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rio de Janeiro

Ines stormed through the dressing room door just in time to see Bianca and her posse sashay past Beatriz, with their usual sneers.
"Beatriz, what the hell are you thinking?" Ines yelled. "I heard you're not auditioning for the Carnaval parade. Is it true?"
"Yes," Beatriz said, tying her hair back.
"Are you crazy? It's practically a straight contest between you and Bianca. If you don't audition, she'll get it. Do you really want her dancing at the front of our parade?" Ines was almost in tears.
"If I audition, she might win it anyway," Beatriz said baldly. "But everyone knows she and I are the two best dancers in the troupe. If I don't audition," Beatriz went on, a sly smile creeping across her face, "then everyone will say 'Bianca only led the parade because Beatriz didn't audition.'"
"Oh. . ." Ines said. "Oh." She started to laugh. "You're good."

To read the rest of my A-Z world tour, please just click on the tag below this post. Thank you for visiting!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: Q is for Queensland

Today's alphabetical microfiction takes us to Queensland in Australia, our first visit to the continent that as called Australasia when I was in school and Oceania on Wikitravel :) Any passing folk from the region care to tell me which is the preferred term? 


The small city of Townsville was busy when Kevin and Jack's boat departed.
"So are you guys checking out the wreck?" the skipper asked Kevin.
"No. . . " Kevin said.
"Then what brings you out here?" The skipper took off his felt cap and raked fingers through his hair. "Most people come to see the Yongala. I dove down myself a few years back - very interesting spot."
"We might see the Yongala," Jack said. "We hope to. If we have time on the way back."
He hastily hid the Ghost Ship Hunters business card that Kevin had let fall.

To read the rest of the A-Z world tour, please click on the tag below this post. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: P is for Patmos, Greece

After two days in Canada, we're back in Europe (barely, though - we're almost in Asia) to visit Patmos in Greece for more A-Z flash fiction!


Father Hurley sipped his wine, leaned back in his chair and let the sun warm his face.
I'm on the island where John's Gospel and the Book of Revelations was written, he thought. And it's paradise.
The pilgrimage was due to start tomorrow. For now, though. . .
"Could I have another glass, please?" he asked the waiter.

For the rest of my A-Z flash fiction world tour, just click on the 'A-Z Blogging Challenge 2012' link below this entry. Thanks for visiting!

A-Z Microfiction: O is for Ontario

Apologies that my O instalment is late - it's been a busy few days but I'll be back on track for the rest of the month! We're staying in Canada today (there's only so many virtual air miles a girl needs) and visiting the lvoely Ontario :)


It felt strange. His tools had been so much a part of him.
Madeleine hoisted the box on to her hip and walked towards the door of Dead People's Stuff. The uncompromising wording of the sign unsettled her a little, but it hinted at a sense of humour she liked.
"Can I help you?"
Madeleine smiled. "I hope so. I'm trying to find a good home for my grandfather's old tools. They're from the 1920s, and I can't use them, so I wanted them to go to someone who would. . .  well, appreciate them."
The lady looked through the box for a few moments, a line of concentration appearing betwen her eyes.
"I may have just the guy for these. Can you hold on a moment?"
As the lady dug for her phone, Madeleine felt a weight leave her body.

For the rest of my flash fiction world tour, click the tag below. Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 16, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: N is for Nahanni National Park, Canada

Yesterday's microfiction was close to home for me, as I was writing about a town 90 miles away from where I live in Dublin. Today we're off to the other side of the globe, to the Nahanni National Park in the Northwestern Territories in Canada.

Nahanni National Park

"Oh, this looks so amazing!" Natalie's nose was pressed against the window of their small floatplane.
"You see that part of the river there?" Jack said, pointing and checking his map. "That's called Funeral Range!"
"How did it get that name?" Natalie asked the pilot.
"Apparently some gold prospectors died here. There are a lot of stories about the place being haunted," the pilot said, not turning his head from the controls.

Natalie gave a slight shudder. Jack fingered the ring box in his trouser pocket. Hopefully she'd forget about that soon, so he could ask.

Thanks for visiting! The rest of my microfiction world tour can be found by clicking the tag below.

A -Z Microfiction: M is for Monaghan

Apologies for posting this so late. I had a very busy weekend with personal commitments, so unfortunately my microfiction got sidelined. But to catch up, the first of today's two posts comes from Monaghan in Ireland, a town with a population of about 8,000 people, that unexpectedly hosts one of the country's best known blues festivals.


It was the first night of the Harvest Time Blues festival when a tall young man in black made his way to the stage in the Anchor Bar.
The singer turned, as though some primal signal had alerted him of danger.
"Tom. . ." he breathed. "What are you doing here?"
The man in black stared into the singer's eyes. "I want my guitar back."
"Well, you can't have it back!" The singer squared his shoulders. "I won it fair and square."
"And now I want to win it back," said the young man, and he drew a harmonica from his pocket as though it was a pistol. "I'll play you for it."
The audience hummed with anticipation. A glimmer of fear danced across the singer's face, but it was replaced almost as soon as it appeared. "You're on."

For the rest of my microfiction world tour, click on the tag below. Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 13, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: L is for Lausanne

We're back in Europe today and visiting Lausanne, a small but vibrant university city in Switzerland. It is exactly the sort of place I might have ended up in when I was interrailing in 2008, so in that spirit, today's story is about two interrailers. I would like to point out that my interrailing companion would never have been as cruel as Libby. I might be, though :)


They stood at the top of the Sauvabelin Tower, the winding streets of Lausanne laid out before them.
"Can we go back down now, please?" Jess begged. Libby shook her head, the green streaks in her blonde hair swirling around her small face.
"No. You haven't confronted your fear yet."
"I am on holidays. Why am I confronting my fears?"
"Because our next stop is Paris and I am not climbing the Eiffel Tower on my own. You need to face up to this."
"I am on top of a tower made out of sticks. What more do you want?"
"Look out. Look down at the terrace." Libby began to snap pictures of the view. "Shall I take one to prove you've been up here?"
Libby took Jess's grimace as assent and aimed her camera at Jess. She had more sense than to ask her to smile.

Thanks for reading - the rest of my flash fiction world tour can be accessed by clicking the tag below this entry. PS - this is the view that faces Jess if she manages to inch her way to the edge. . .

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: K is for Kilimanjaro

We're staying in Africa for today's microfiction, and we're joining two characters as they tackle Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Kilimanjaro has - apparently - developed a reputation as an 'easy climb' because so much of the mountain can be walked (still, I wouldn't fancy trying it). However, it is estimated that 70% of climbers on Kilimanjaro suffer from altitude sickness, which can be prevented in some cases by taking the route slowly and allowing the body to acclimatise.

Today's piece is a little more light-hearted than yesterday's.


"What does the GPS say?" Alex asked. Mosi dug in the pocket of his jacket and extracted a small lump of grey plastic.
"About 9,000 feet," Mosi said. 'We should probably stop here for the night.'
The two men climbed down a few hundred feet. It was best to 'climb high and sleep low' on Kilimanjaro - once they hit their maximum elevation for the day, they would climb down to sleep. It helped with acclimatisation.
They made up their camp and watched the sun glowing in the afternoon sky.
"Don't suppose you brought a book?" Mosi asked.
"No. . ." Alex said. "Shall we play Twenty Questions?"

For the rest of the round-the-world flash fiction, click on the tag below.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: J is for Johannesburg

Today's stop on our world tour takes us to Africa for the first time, as we visit Johannesburg. I feel quite unsettled about today's piece - I have tried to avoid writing about the obvious or troubled aspects ofthe places I've visited, and writing about anything to do with apartheid when writing about South Africa felt obvious and lazy. I tried to find something else to write about but none of my other ideas went even a tiny bit well, so I decided to run with this one in spite of the theme.


Tau wasn't religious. He never had been. But still he removed his hat as he reached the door of the Regina Mundi church.
Inside it was quiet and dark. Regina Mundi Day had been a couple of weeks ago, and Tau tried to imagine the church full of people. He found he couldn't. He always came when it was empty - although that was difficult, because of the tourists.
Tau walked along the aisles, running his fingers over the pits and scars from the bullets, before he knelt. He set his briefcase down and joined his hands, thinking of the people who had once stood here. He didn't pray, but he gave thanks.

For the rest of the A-Z world tour, click on the tag below. Thanks for reading :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A-Z Microfiction: I is for Irishtown

This story takes us a lot closer to home for me - Irishtown is a small suburb of Dublin located somewhere between the city centre and my house :) The name always fascinated me until the A-Z challenge prompted me to look up the history of it. 

Irishtown, Dublin

"So why the hell is it called Irishtown anyway?" Emma asked me. It was funny listening to her say 'hell' in her accent, which sounded like tweed, private schools and Princess Diana. "Every town in Ireland is an Irish town by definition, surely." She stubbed out her cigarette and waited for me to reply as we strolled on towards the city centre.
"It's because - well, in the 1400s sometime, when the English occupied Dublin, they expelled the natives from inside the city walls. This is where they settled. So I guess the name dates from a time when not everywhere in Ireland was Irish."
There was a long, uncomfortable pause.
"I think," Emma said, "that I'd like to stop somewhere for a coffee. What do you think?"
"That sounds good," I said. "But you're buying."
I could hear the relief in her laughter, the sound of old tension breaking.

For the rest of the A-Z world tour, please click on the 'A-Z Blogging Challenge 2012' tag below. Thanks for reading :)