Friday, December 26, 2014

East of Yang Pass, With Love

It is the day after Christmas. In Ireland, we call it St. Stephen's Day - but I shouldn't say 'we', because my family call it Boxing Day, and hating people who call it Boxing Day could be called one of the last acceptable prejudices in Irish society.

My mother bought me a copy of The True Secret of Writing, by Natalie Goldberg, in which Goldberg quotes the work of the poet Wang Wei.

Seeing Off Yuan The Second On A Mission To Anxi

At Weicheng morning rain has dampened light dust,
By the hostel, the willows are fresh and green,
I urge my friend to drink a last cup of wine;
West of Yang Pass, there will be no friends.

I am blessed to live my life east of Yang Pass. A belated merry Christmas to everyone celebrating, a happy 26th December to everyone not, and a wonderful 2015.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Guest Post: Careful With That Axe, Eugene! – Peter McCluskey on his new Murder Mystery Book.

It’s great to have a chance to do another guest post for Ellen on her Pink Tea and Paper blog. I’m delighted to appear again.

A couple of months back I had written 95% of my latest novel, “Careful With That Axe, Eugene!” but I was struggling to kill it off - a bit of a pun given that it’s a murder mystery book. I needed some space, some clear air and some alone time. I decided to head for a favourite place of mine.

I parked the car down at the south great wall in Dublin, just past the two ESB chimneys, and went for a walk out along the wall to the Poolbeg Lighthouse at the end. Half way along the walk out there's a little concrete hut and a bathing place - the half moon bathing club. There were three or four old-timers in the hut having a chat and a cup of tea - bit early in the year to be getting into the sea for a dip. I nodded into them as i was going past and they shouted out a hearty"Grand day, thank God" to me.

I continued on to the lighthouse, a couple of hundred yards further along. I hadn't been down there for a year or more. I noticed as I drew up close to the lighthouse that the authorities had done a great re-paint job on the lighthouse - a lovely vibrant postbox red. I also noticed a good patch of new concrete pathway on the right hand side of the lighthouse and also two nice marble type benches, both of them having dedications carved into them in memory of people who have long since passed.

Apart from the few auld lads in the bathing hut, I hadn't seen a sinner all the way down to the lighthouse. The wind was swirling around and i had my head down as I made my way.

As I got to the lighthouse I saw a man sitting on one of the benches. He was wrapped up in an over-sized overcoat that seemed to swamp him, his bulk hardly noticeable, lost in the folds of the coat. He had a mass of grey curly hair and a substantial beard that was blowing wildly from side to side in the sea breeze. I couldn't make out was he a down-and-out or what. He had a newspaper and a pen in his hands and he seemed to be deep in concentration. Just as I passed him by - and without him even looking up at me - he suddenly spoke. "Two down, six letters, hard work." I was taken aback a bit. I didn't know was he talking to himself or was he addressing me - I mean, the wall is the guts of a mile long, there was no one else along its length as far as I could see and I was the only other person there. I thought for a split second about his statement and I quickly figured he must be looking at the crossword in the paper. On the spur of the moment I decided to answer him. "Labour," I said. Without any movement from him to acknowledge my presence he replied, "That's it, alright. Thanks." He set to work with the pen and in another stride I had passed him. I walked the few extra yards to the other side of the lighthouse and spent a few minutes looking out to see as one of the car ferries approached over the horizon.

I cleared my head and tried to think how I was going to end my murder mystery book - I had been stuck for an ending for over nine months. Happily - and I'm paraphrasing here - a few reasonable ideas came into my mind and I figured out who the murderer was. His/her identity surprised me - I didn't think it was going to be him/her when I started the book.

I came back around the lighthouse and the man was still sitting on the bench, engrossed in his newspaper.

"She's gone a year now," he said into the paper. 
I stopped in my tracks in front of him.
"Is she?" I asked, unsure if he was talking to me or not.
"This day last year," he continued. "A whole year."
"It flies by alright," I said, not knowing what or who he was talking about.
"Time flies - you're right. There she was one minute and there she was gone the next. Hard thing losing your wife - d'you know what I mean."
"Well, I can't say I do. My wife is still with me, thank God."
"It's a terrible thing, sonny, a terrible thing."
"But you're thinking about her," I said. "Did she come down here with you?"
"During the good weather, yeah. We'd come down and have our bar of urney's chocolate and our flask of warm tea."
"Well, so long as you think about her, she'll always be with you, won't she," I offered. He seemed to mull this over, rubbing his forehead as he thought about it.
"Maybe so, maybe so." He gazed out to the ocean and followed the flight of a gliding seagull. I turned back towards the shore and moved to head back in.
"Labour, you say?," he enquired.
"Yeah," I said. "Six letters, hard work. I'd say it's labour."
He glanced down at the paper and without looking up and me he said, "Thanks, sonny." I took a stride away from him and he soon called after me.
"... and thanks for the chat, sonny."

Proceeds from the first 500 sales go to The Children’s Hospital Temple Street.
Copies available on line at

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How To Keep The Faith As A Writer/Artist/Singer/Creative Person

Warning: There will be a little bit of profanity in here.

I started this blog in 2009, back when God was a boy and Big Brother was a thing people cared about and before I fully accepted the healing power of chai lattes into my life. I was 24 years old, almost 25, and I didn't think I would still be here five years from now, blogging about my life as an unpublished writer. I blog infrequently now because I have very little to say about being an unpublished writer that I haven't already said.

But when (if!) you log into Feedly and think 'hmm, haven't heard from that Irish girl who likes Dorothy Parker in ages. Hope she didn't, like, die or something. Or quit writing,' don't worry. I haven't died and I haven't quit, and here is what I've been doing while not updating my blog:

  • I've won Nanowrimo five times (2010-2014 inclusive)
  • I have been an ML for Nanowrimo for five years (2010-2014 inclusive) and I ain't going anywhere. Nanowrimo participants in Dublin wrote 5.1 million words this year and I am beyond proud of every one of them.
  • I have written four complete novels
  • I have edited two of them to what I feel is query-able standard
  • I've queried one of them (The Curse of the Carberrys - my own favourite of my books so far, I think, but probably not the best one) and had positive feedback, but ultimately it hasn't found representation. I'm still looking but it's slightly on the back burner in favour of a newer project. I feel I can wring another edit out of the second edited one, The Ripple Effect, and improve it a lot, so I haven't queried that yet. That's slated for January/February 2015.
  • I have two more incompletely-edited novels that I feel have potential (whether it's the character, the voice, the setting - they each have something in them that I got right) but that need major edits. I plan to turn my attention to these after The Ripple Effect (April 2015-ish). It was from one of these novels, The Soldiers of Bruges, that I read at the Irish Writers' Centre and at Dalkey Creates to positive responses, so they are definitely still on my radar.
  • Speaking of which, I've read my fiction at two open mic events, once in the premier literary venue in the country, and one of them on a Sunday afternoon in Dalkey, when my friend Catherine turned out to support me and one of my favourite YA authors EVER was in the audience and I had to not fangirl at her because no one deserves a fangirl hepped up on cinnamon and steamed milk. I pretended I was telling the story only to Catherine because otherwise I would have fallen off the stage. After both events, writers I respect hugely were kind about what I read and how I'd read it
  • I have had done professional freelance content writing, which I loved more than any other paid work I've ever done (although travel writing was a close second)
  • I'm looking into self-publishing two non-fiction/travel titles

But the book deal I've dreamed of since I was a kid, and worked solidly towards since I was 25, eludes me.

Given that nice bulleted list of achievements, do I even care?

Of course I care. But every single thing on that list started as a baby step, that I thought would lead nowhere, but taken together, it's not a bad list.

  • I sent a Nano mail to a friendly lady who was already an ML for Dublin, asking if she wanted help. She said yes, and became a friend and a mentor.
  • I started every one of those four novels with a blank page, a churning stomach, a hot beverage and a flimsy idea. One of them started as (I kid you not) 'Torchwood with fairies and not everyone is necessarily bisexual.' One of my friends still asks me about that novel and that is what she calls it ('Have you ever gone back to Torchwood with fairies, Ellen?')
  • I sent every query for The Curse of the Carberrys with aforesaid churning stomach, and I never imagined I'd get a response, let alone a positive one with useful feedback.
  • I signed up for the open mics convinced I would be rejected.
  • The freelance content writing came my way through no action on my part, I must admit - a former employer needed a writer and thought of me. They still hired me based on a sample I was afraid they'd hate, though.
So what do you do when you've been chasing your dream for five years and it feels like it's no closer?

I don't know what you do, but here's what I do.

I sit down and I quantify what I have done - even if the list is short, even if it consists of no recognition, just your own efforts ('I sang for twenty minutes yesterday. I emailed someone about my painting. I followed four YouTube tutorials and photoshopped my pictures'). Even if the list makes you laugh. You've done stuff - own that. It's better than not doing stuff. Even if the stuff you've done isn't directly related to your dream, it proves you have it in you to do the things you need to.

I tell myself that there are new innovations exploding around me all the time, that I have some ideas unlikely to find a mainstream audience so self-publishing is something to consider, that we might be telling our novels on YouTube in five years, or YouTube might have dropped into the ether, like Bebo. But avenues we can't even dream of are opening every day.

I tell myself that it takes years to be an overnight success, that I didn't rock my first job out of college either, that my first college essay probably sucked (I don't remember but if it was good, I'd bloody well remember that), that it may be my fifth or sixth book that gets me to where I want to go. It may be my tenth. I can't control that.

But I can control this. If there's breath in my body and I can sit and type, there will be a fifth and a sixth book. There will be a tenth book. As artists, all we can do is do the work. No matter how many people are doing better than us, no matter how demoralising and crap it all looks. I can't promise that I will post here this time next year and tell you that I have a book deal (although I hope I do, maybe even sooner than that).

I can promise you that there is a blank page, and that I will fill the fucker.