Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 initialising. . . .

Every year since I started this blog, my goal for the year has been to get published. Some years, it was to get fucking published, depending on how unhappy I was in January and how much I felt I needed the endorsement of a kindly publisher to smile upon this thing I have done with my life on and off since I was five years old.

But that isn't entirely under my control, so I always tried to set some goals I could control - finish this novel, edit that one, query this or that. For several of the years I have been blogging, I couldn't possibly have achieved my goal because I didn't have anything that I felt was ready to query. 

So with the understanding that my semi-secret, heartfelt goal for 2015 is to get published, here's what I'm hoping to achieve:

  • Fully edit my contemporary YA novel, The Ripple Effect, identify agents and publishers who may like it, and query.
  • Write the first draft of my next novel, which will be women's fiction/comedy. Although I have a very dark sense of humour sometimes, so a foray into writing comedy novels might be nice for me but terrifying for the rest of the world.
  • Decide what to do with The Soldiers of Bruges. The Soldiers of Bruges is a very odd novel, and I say that as someone whose most serious and sensible novel so far was about a London Irish family who could curse their enemies. The premise is complex and I have literally no idea how to even begin writing a query letter for such a bizarre book. When I read an extract of it at Dalkey Creates, one of the writers present suggested it might make a good one-woman stage show. I've never written anything like that before, but the idea of it is exciting and I love trying new forms and genres, so that is worth exploring. We'll see how that goes, but I like some aspects of the novel a lot so I would like to do something with it.
It should be a challenging year, but hopefully also a fun one. 

What are you guys thinking of going in 2015?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Perfecting The Narrator's Voice: When Your Narrator is Telling Their Story

There are many unhealthy behaviours in which I confess I indulge. These include over-eating sugary food, drinking chai lattes to excess, refusing to exercise and writing YA novels with complicated narrative voices.

My current work-in-progress is a contemporary YA novel set in a tiny Irish seaside town which I envision entirely in shades of blue-ish grey. Our narrator is Nina Kelleher - tall, skinny, over-fond of the bass guitar, Patti Smith and Michael from Sixth Year.

At the time of the crucial events of the story, Nina is almost 16. But by the time she is telling us the story, she is a nineteen-year-old undergraduate student who has returned to her small town home for a summer. The first and last chapters are told by Nina at 19, the remainder by Nina at almost 16.

Sounds simple, right? But if the Nina of the opening chapter is 19, surely the Nina narrating the rest of the novel is also 19? In which case, she should have all of the knowledge and perspective of her older self. So is it OK that my narrative, allegedly from the perspective of Younger Nina, is peppered with occasional references to her life as Older Nina ("I know now that BLAH is the case. . .")?

That sound you can hear is me tearing my hair out my its very roots, which is silly of me as I'm getting married soon and will be half-bald in the photos if I let this continue.

Luckily, I have beta readers who save me from myself. One of them suggested delineating Older Nina and Younger Nina more clearly, perhaps by bringing Older Nina's voice into the main narrative more often, but in a clearly structured way. Rather than making the voice more homogenous throughout the book, I think my friendly beta reader was absolutely right - the way to fix this is by making my two conflicting Ninas more different, rather than more similar.

And funnily enough, I recently read a great example of how to do this well - the novel Missing Ellen, by Natasha Mac a'Bhaird. The novel doesn't span a timeline as lengthly as mine does (months rather than years) but the technique is simple and effective. When the narrator is in the present day (post-missing Ellen), her story is in the form of letters written to her friend in a notebook. The appear in a different font, which makes the reading experience more pleasant but isn't really necessary - the shift in voice from addressing her missing friend directly to telling a general story is clear enough.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review: Missing Ellen by Natasha Mac a'Bhaird

Isn't it funny how much baggage we bring to a name? Even our own name? Growing up, the only Ellen I read about was in Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series. That Ellen resorted to cheating to keep her scholarship and had a permanent frown-line. This cemented my picture of Ellens in my head - dark, bookish, overworked, uninteresting. I was called Ellen before it was cool. Hipster face.

I was quite surprised, for no reason than because of my own associations with the name, to see Natasha Mac a'Bhaird turn my preconceptions upside down. In her novel, Missing Ellen, the title character is a rebellious beauty with flame-red hair, who likes short skirts, guys in bands, guys near bands, drinking, sneaking out of school and her best friend Maggie, the narrator.

The story is ostensibly Ellen's, but it's also Maggie's. The book opens with a letter, written from Maggie to Ellen. She tells her friend about school, how she misses her, how she has concealed the letter in a notebook she hopes her mother won't find. Then Maggie begins to tell the story of how Ellen came to be missing.

The narrative cuts back and forth between Maggie's letters to Ellen, written after the climactic events of the novel have taken place and dealing with Maggie's life post-friendship-with-Ellen, and the story leading up to the climax. It is skilfully done - each section is in a distinct voice, although both Maggie, and both first-person. Maggie speaks differently when she is addressing Ellen directly in her letters, which comes across as authentic and real.

Maggie is not a firecracker like Ellen - she's more staid, calmer, loves sewing, is less rebellious and more of a worrier. I was that kind of teen myself and I have never, ever known how to write an anxious teen whose scared of booze/parties/older guys with beat-up cars/drugs/going outdoors without making them dull. Mac a'Bhaird manages it well, and handles the friendship between the girls realistically, especially how Maggie handles her knowledge of Ellen's disintegrating home life, and how she is torn on how to express her loyalty - by hiding Ellen's secrets or revealing them.

I was initially drawn to this book for the obvious reason that the title contained my name, and when I learned more, I was keen to read it as my current drug of choice is hard-hitting realistic YA, especially in an Irish setting. Although this book handles big things, I wouldn't call it hard-hitting - I've read books about less emotive topics that have affected me more - but it also doesn't cushion or shy away from the very real feelings Maggie endures as she copes with missing her friend.

In the interests of full disclosure, I won my copy of Missing Ellen on Twitter in a contest run by O'Brien Press (Mac a'Bhaird's publisher) - it was a draw, and the copy was not given in expectation of a review. I just got lucky!