Tuesday 26 April 2011

X is for...(e)Xit

So I'm out of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. And don't get me wrong, I would have loved to go further in the competition, but I'm still very proud. For Ravensborough  to have gotten into the top 5% in its category has been a huge achievement for me. Now I just have to wait for my Publishers Weekly review and get my synopsis done for submitting it to potential publishers. I think I'll incorporate my pitch into my cover letter, it got through round one so I know it's fairly decent.

But the next week is aimed towards submitting Storms in Teacups. Which means writing another synopsis and doing another edit job.

Congratulations to everyone who progressed in the competition, it's a big achievement and you should be very proud of yourselves. :)

Monday 25 April 2011

W is for...Waiting, Wondering and Working

Hope everybody had a lovely Easter. I know I did. Well, I did until I had an incident.

I'd been thinking for a while that dairy wasn't agreeing with me. I was getting sick after I drank tea, was having a lot of nausea and other issues. At first it was mild, but over the past few weeks I noticed it had gotten worse. I tried a couple of days dairy free, and my symptoms stopped. So, I thought fine. I obviously have a food intolerance. That I can deal with. I can avoid milk products most of the time, and then occasionally I can indulge as long as I realise that there are consequences. Fine.

But yesterday was Easter Sunday. And I am a chocoholic. My husband had very nicely bought me a bar of Toblerone all for my very own self, and so I decided to do what any good chocolate lover would do. I ate three quarters of it. Only then did I discover I was not lactose intolerant, I have a full on allergy. My immune system went into full force trying to protect me, and the result was kind of scary. My body itched all over, I got bad nausea and headaches and my mouth swelled up. My husband wanted to bring me to the hospital, but we waited it out with antihistamines and water. Husband was very worried, I thought he was overreacting. He pointed out that I had rashes and tingling, I said that I'd had it for weeks. My husband, who has a severe allergy to paracetamol, said that they were symptoms of anaphylactic shock. Great. Every woman loves to discover she's allergic to milk on Easter Sunday!

But, on the bright side, I was vegan for a while, so I know how many great substitutes there are out there. And while I'm going to miss my Starbucks frappucinos, I'm sure I'll deal.

 Tomorrow I find out if I made it through to the ABNA semifinals. I don't expect to, competition is very strong and I'm delighted to have come so far. And I'm not going to lie, getting through would be amazing. But for now I just have to wait. And wonder. And work on my next novel.

Sunday 24 April 2011

V is for...Verbosity

Thanks to everyone who commented on yesterday's blog post. I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself, and it was nice to have people be nice to me rather than tell me to 'shut up you moany old bint.' I'm still the same physically as I was yesterday, except for the fact that I've gotten over myself and am in a more accepting frame of mind. I'll be fine.

Anyway, I've started to notice a worrying trend. I am becoming more verbose. Not as verbose as Polonius in Hamlet but still pretty impressive.

The thing was, in college I was always the one who came in under word count. I used to hear about crazy people (in fact, I married one) who would burst through the word limit and hand in assignments that were substantially longer than the guidelines. For me, brevity was what was important. I outlined my argument, made my case, concluded and still with a sizeable (admittedly, sometimes too sizeable) amount of words to spare. I managed to get decent grades, both in my primary degree and in my master's, so it was all gravy. Occasionally I worried about the shortness of my essays, but mostly I spent my spare time in college daydreaming about the stories I would write when I went and got a bit of self-discipline for myself. My journalism.articles were tighter to word count, because they had to be, but my the first draft of my first novel came to 40,000 words. It's now at 70,000.

But over time, my writing has evolved and I now find that my writing is in fact too long. My books are getting longer, my blog posts could do with being more concise, and I have now turned into one of those crazy people.

What about all of you? Has your writing got more concise or more verbose?

Saturday 23 April 2011

U is for...Ugh.

It's a lovely bank holiday weekend. The sun is shining, my husband is off work, there is a ridiculous amount of chocolate in my house. But I have decided to disregard all these things in order to have a rant thread.

My fibromyalgia has been bad this week. My hips and knees are so bad that I had to bow out of a fun game of rounders that my husband and his friends had organised. I was never going to be playing, I wouldn't be able to, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to stand and watch or sit on the grass either. So my husband went off on his own. He didn't want to leave him, but I made him go. He misses too many things due to my ropey health. Even so, I know that he'll be worried about me while he's there, and I feel so guilty for taking the shine off the day for him. And I really wanted to go out, enjoy the sunshine and chat to some nice people. I'm a bit down about that.

I had four of my siblings over yesterday for dinner. They're 7, 10, 11 and 14 and I love them to bits. We had a good time, but I struggled to seem cheery and upbeat for them because of the pain I was in. I really hope that they didn't pick up on it. They're only kids, and the last thing I want is for them to think I don't enjoy their company. I do, so much.

And then, of course, there's my writing. Despite resting my hands and arms, they're in bad shape and it hurts to write. This is bad, because I've reached a seam of writing where it's all flowing, and I'm in the middle of some intensive edits too. I can't work right now. Writing is what got me through my illness, and now I worry that physically my body can't do it.

Living with a long term illness is hard. Not only the pain, the nausea and the lack of energy, but you sometimes feel like you are losing yourself, the person you'd like to be and the person that you want to become. I think to be honest that that's the worst part of all.

I'm just having a bad day. Tomorrow will hopefully be better, and I'll remember that in the scheme of things I'm a very lucky woman. I've a great husband, a lovely family, I get to write a lot and have a lovely house and supportive friends. But right now? I need to vent.

Anyone who has a chronic illness, or knows someone who has should check out The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino. It gives a great explanation on what being ill feels like on a day to day basis, and my husband said it really helped him realise what it's like to be me.

Hope this all finds you well, and that you have a great Easter. I'm going to go cuddle my dog, drink copious amounts of tea and read a book.

Friday 22 April 2011

T is for...'The Five Things You Wish To See More of In Fiction'

Ok, so this is a little bit of a cop out, but the people over at Paper Hangover are great at coming up with blog prompts, and if I don't take them up on it then I'll end up talking about how much I missed my broadband connection. Again.


5: More non-white protagonists. I'm Caucasian, but one of my sisters in Chinese and another is mixed race (my parents have seven children, but I'm the only one that's biological). I never realised until my sister's came along just how unrepresented they are in popular culture. Though that is getting better.

4: Strong female protagonists. I like there to be more going on in my YA fiction than just the love story.

3: Less of a dichotomy. Some YA books pretend that teens don't swear, drink or have sex. Other books assume that all teens do these things all of the time. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

2: More elements from medieval history, but that's probably just the historian in me. Or the fact that I've just discovered Game of Thrones.

1: More books with the name 'Christine Murray' on the front.

Thursday 21 April 2011

S is for...Surprise!

This device is mostly used in crime or mystery novels, but most books will have some element of surprise in them. After all, if you knew exactly what was going to happen to either the character or plot, you wouldn’t read the book, would you? This reasoning may be slightly different for classics where the story is well known and part of popular culture, or a book that has been made into a movie that you’ve seen. You may know the story, but want to see how the book is written. But as I’m sure most of you, like me, don’t have books that are part of the literary canon or that have sold movie rights, I’m going to plough on.

Surprises are great. They can change the dynamic of the characters, and the pace of the book. It can raise the stakes, or bring the story to a suspense filled standstill. It’s a great device, but it is one that you have to be careful using, especially if you’re using the deluxe 2.0 version: the twist.

The twist does exactly what it says on the tin. Everyone has seen a movie or read a book where at some point, usually in the last quarter, the story is flipped and everything that you believed to be part of the tale changes. This can be brilliant, if it’s a fair twist. A fair twist is tricky to do. In order to pull it off, there must be moments throughout your story that lead up to the twist, and retrospectively the reader can see where it was going. The hints should not be so strong that they flag to most readers (you always will get some people that see it coming) what is going to happen. If a twist is effectively foreshadowed, then it is easily accepted by the reader. ‘Of course!’ they’ll think, as the story clicks into place. It’s a satisfying conclusion.

An unfair twist, a twist that is not foreshadowed at all, is not satisfactory for the reader. It can be what makes a reader throw the book across the room in temper (unless they have a Kindle. Anyone who destroys over a hundred euros worth of gadget over an unfair twist has anger management issues.) Changing the book up without warning usually suggests that the writer is too lazy, or doesn’t have the skill, to use a twist seamlessly. An unfair twist usually doesn't mesh with the story, and feels like it’s been thrown in solely to prevent the book being labelled ‘predictable.’ Like throwing Tabasco sauce into a delicate lemon flavoured sole dish.

                ‘You weren’t expecting that, were you?!’

                Ahhhhm... No.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

R is for...Respect

When I started writing first, I came across a couple of writers groups that were a little exclusionary and hostile. I'm glad to say that other than that, everyone else has been so nice and supportive.

I got some great feedback from the query blog hop, so thanks to Alicia Gregoire for that. The advice was spot on, I have a heart of my novel and I need to emphasise that in my query. Also, while my novel is about ordinary people and their lives, what makes it special is its voice, so I need to write the query in that register. My comments were nice yet constructive. Seriously, it never fails to overwhelm me that people take time out of their busy lives to help each other out. If I ever manage to sell a book, it'll be partly because of the support of the online writing community. You're all fantastic.

Broadband man is coming tomorrow, so I can return to my blog to its usual level of verbosity. Which will save my husband's ears  :)

Tuesday 19 April 2011

P is for…Pain, Q is for…Query Blog Hop!

That’s right, folks. Lack of internet connection has lead to a brilliant development…a reduction in procrastination! I have managed to write thousands of words while waiting for my broadband man to come a visiting (he’s coming on Thursday, by the way). Without my connection I’m unable to spend hours of my life reading other people’s blogs, catching up on celebrity gossip and researching what jeans to buy when I get back to a UK size 10. And while I am feeling the loss of all those things keenly, it has its upside in the fact that I am writing like a woman possessed. It’s fantastic! My story is progressing, I have new scenes, new characters, new facets, new subplots…Oh yeah, and really painful wrists.
See? Looks sore, huh?

Apparently procrastination was my friend, helping me from hurting myself. Who knew? My increased output coupled with the fact that I have double the amount of journalism work to do means that my wrists and finger pads ache and my hands are cramping and curling in on themselves. I look like Lady Gaga doing her 'Little Monster' claws. You'll be glad to know I don't dress like her, though. Pretty soon I’m going to have to type by holding a spoon in my mouth and using the end to press the keys. Maybe it’s the fibromyalgia that’s making my pain so bad. Or maybe it’s the fact that I can’t pace myself and think I’m Wonder Woman. You'll be glad to know I don't dress like her, though. So people, you’ve been warned. Embrace procrastination, or prepare for pain. 


Even if you’re not in the query blog hop please give me any critique you can. It’s like a CV (or resume, if you’re in the States). It has to be good or my little manuscript won’t be leaving my desk drawer. This is my first attempt, I hate these things so much.I would much prefer brutal honesty than niceness, though obviously if you could try to couch your brutal honesty in a little niceness, I’d be much obliged ;)

As if it wasn’t hard enough living with her sister and her Dr. Phil obsessed partner, Alex Geraghty’s job was starting to drive her mad. Her job as a journalist at one of Dublin’s most notorious tabloid papers mainly involved rewriting press releases for self-important pop acts, and correcting her colleagues grammar is about as exciting as her life gets. What she really wants is to work for a glossy magazine, one of those publications that realises that it’s possible for women to care about Desperate Housewives and the situation in Israel/Palestine. When she meets gorgeous music journalist Carl Colgan, Alex has never been happier. But when life throws a spanner in the works and she has to choose, which will come first? Her boyfriend or her job?

Rose is living her dream.  She’s working in a job she loves as a teacher in a disadvantaged area, and she’s living with a gorgeous man who she adores. But as her school goes under more cuts, she starts to spend more time at work picking up the shortfall. Cracks start to form in her relationship as her boyfriend Daniel begins to feel that she is taking him for granted. Is she taking on too many responsibilities? Or is the problem that he’s refusing to face up to his?

Shannon is dispirited. In her early thirties, her acting work is starting to dry up and her work at the local call centre is only bringing in a small amount of money. Her partner Ian is supportive of her, and encourages her to go for what she wants. But when Ian is put on a three day week they start to suffer financially, relying on Shannon’s sister Alex living with them in order to pay their bills. Ian urges her to continue, but Shannon starts to have doubts. Is she being selfish? Does there come a time when you have to put your dreams aside for the one you love?

Storms in Teacups is the light-hearted story of three modern women trying to come to balance their careers and their relationships.

Monday 18 April 2011

O is for...Organisation (or lack thereof)

So, I was a little ahead of this whole A-Z blog thing, and that turned out to be very good news. Because my new house does not have an internet connection. It started out as something liveable with, and anyway my husband and I had far too much work to do in the house to procrastinate on the internet. It was rustic, and old timey. And then I realised just how spoilt and technology dependent I have become. I couldn't write on my blog, or more importantly read other people's. My access to forums was gone, my access to news was gone (why not watch the television, you say? Or buy a newspaper? All good points, but the petulant child in me just wanted to whine). I'm currently writing this in my parents house, as I need the internet for my journalistic work. Oh interweb, how I've missed you...

We moved house on Friday. Our car (with keys), my parents car and even my Grandad helped move boxes, bags and furniture. The move wasn't helped by my husband and I's laid back approach to packing i.e. throw it all loose in the back of the car, it'll be fine. Chaos ensued, but I am pleased to report that all belongings plus Roxie the Labrador are now happily installed in our new house.

So, organisation. I'm starting to realise the importance of it in the abstract, though I'm not so good at it in practice. Fibromyalgia has actually helped in this regard. It affects my cognitive functions so on a bad day I forget everything. I forget what I was saying half way through sentences, I forget what I was going to do, I forget important things like closing doors, and turning the oven on, and ordering a broadband package for my new house in advance before I move in. So I have discovered lists, they are my saviour. All I have to do is remember that I have a list and everything is well.

Now that I'm getting nearer to that oh-so-scary activity -submitting to publishers- I have had to become more organised about my writing. When you first sit down to write a novel, it's all about Words on Page. This is the novel that you're going to finish, and you find an hour here, a half hour there to make it happen. Some days you write thousands of words, some weeks you don't even open the file. But that's alright, because you're writing regularly, your word count is going up, and everything is rosy in the garden. But then you realise that writing is addictive, and if you don't put some order on matters everything else in your life will suffer for your art. Which is noble, I suppose, but my muse doesn't make me tea, give me hugs and buy me a chocolate egg on Easter Sunday so I need to keep my marriage going.

I don't plan my novels, but I plan my work. And that is today's project (after I finish the work that pays the bills) to write up a time frame for completing manuscripts and edits for every project I have going on. Which, is fairly organised.

I should really be writing 'P' today, rather than 'O'. And I have to do 'Q' tomorrow as part of my query blog hop. If I run the letters together as a sample of a 'Pathetic Query', does that count?

Thursday 14 April 2011

N is for...Novel Status

Thanks for all the good wishes. The keys have been located, and all is well. At least until we lose something else.

I write in two genres. Young adult urban fantasy and women's contemporary fiction.I usually have two projects on the go at any one time. I just find it easier that way.

Young Adult:

Ravensborough: Fantasy novel set on an island plagued with divisions and the supernatural. Currently on hold until April 26 when I find out whether it has made it through to the semifinals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. If it hasn't, I'll start submitting it to prospective publishers in May.

Guildhall: A work in progress. I'm working on the first draft, but have a long way to go before it's complete. I have about 11,000/70,000 words written.

Women's Contemporary Fiction:

Storms in Teacups: This is pretty much finished. I'm doing a last polish to bring it up to standard. I hope to start submitting it to agents in May.

If Life Gives You Lemons: Also a work in progress. Currently at 23,000/120,000.

I recently found out that I have to write a query letter in order to submit to a couple of agents. In Ireland and the UK the process is usually cover letter + sample chapters + synopsis. Does anyone know what the differences are between a submission cover letter and a query?

Wednesday 13 April 2011

M is for...Moving On. Both Figuratively and Literally.

I'm moving house this weekend. This is a scary thought because me and organisation do not go hand in hand. We're moving to a nicer house in the same area, so most of the work will be in flinging our belongings in the back of our car and doing many car trips. Did I tell you my husband lost his car keys? Two people as disorganised as us should have super organised spouses to balance ourselves out. But we married each other, so we continue to live in barely concealed chaos.We may be carrying boxes back and forth along the twenty minute walk. My chocolate Labrador may have to double as a pack mule.

I managed to write 3,000 words yesterday, so at least my book is progressing. I hope to write a good bit today if my wrists hold up, they're grumbling a little from yesterday.

Monday 11 April 2011

L is for...Life Getting in The Way

So today I finally got back to work with a vengeance. I spent the weekend editing large chunks of Storms in Teacups, but not writing any new material. I was stuck on a scene in one of my WIP's and I just couldn't resolve it. So I sat down today with my twin buddies, chocolate and caffeine, determinedto resolve it. And it worked! Now I've managed to resolve that scene it should all be plain sailing. Well...for a couple of days at least.

First drafts can be tricky for me. At this point  I'm still getting to know my characters and discovering what's happening as I go. I know some people find that outlines help, but I find the whole process too sterile. I have a rough idea when I start a novel where I'm going to go with it, but for the most part I play it by ear.

Before I finished Ravensborough and Storms in Teacups I found it a lot harder to get motivated to write. I had a pile of college work, a pile of housework and I was struggling to come to terms with illness. I enjoyed writing, but it was hard for me to prioritise it. I mean, who knew if I'd even finish my books after all? It seemed like a big waste of time.

I find it easier now that I know I can actually finish it. But if you're struggling with first drafts then there are some free applications that can help. First I used Write or Die. This ominously titled website lets you set a time limit and a word count goal. If you stop typing for a certain amount of time then it makes an annoying noise, which doesn't stop until you start typing again. I found this great, though I've recently graduated to Focus Booster, which puts a little bar at the top of your page. You set a timer, I set it for twenty five minutes, and it starts off green, then moves to orange, and finally red. It makes you much more aware that time is passing, and therefore focuses you on your writing. I like the fact that you can write in Word with this app, whereas with Write or Die you have to type in the box on the site, unless you pay for their desktop version. Both of these are handy if you have a busy life and can only commit to twenty minutes or so of writing a day. They help focus you so you get the most from your time.

For edits, I like EditMinion. It's still in beta, but is handy for identifying things like repetition of words, passive voice, that kind of thing.

What about all of you? Do you have any tricks to keep you motivated through the writing process?

Oh, and I'm going to take part in this query critique blog hop. Anyone thinking about submitting soon should think about taking part. On April 19 everyone involved posts their query and critiques at least five other queries. Like Query Shark but with less sarcasm :)

Sunday 10 April 2011

K is for...Kindle

When I first heard of ereaders, I was disgusted. I was a bit of a purist, the idea of a machine didn't appeal to me.  I love the feel of the paper, the smell of a new book, the smell of an old book (I do have two history degrees after all) the whole sensation of reading a proper book. But slowly I'm beginning to change my mind. Partly, it's because my illness makes it difficult for me to hold a book for a long time. I spent a day reading a couple of weeks ago, and spent the next day in pain with heat pads on my wrists. The thought of not reading, or even of reading less horrified me. I'm addicted to books. I read every day, and get uneasy if I can't for some reason. I get antsy if I don't have another couple of books lined up for when I finish my current one. I like the fact that if I'm too sore to leave the house, I can still buy books.

So, still not enthusiastic, my husband and I went to PC World to look at various readers. I'm not mad on the iPad or the Sony reader, so we looked at the Kindle. It was really light, much lighter than a standard book. But I still wasn't sure. I decided to think about it. I mean, we're not exactly rolling in money right now, and we can't afford to pay that much for a machine I think I might use.

But then something happened that changed my mind. For we are moving house. My husband packed loads of boxes of books last week. I packed loads of boxes today. We gave some books away to charity. And you know what? We still have an entire bookcase left to go. It's not good for my back, my wrists or my hips and I'm sore now. I could store 3,500 books on my Kindle, I think that's a good investment. So I think if I get knocked out of ABNA on April 26 then I'm going to buy myself a Kindle to reward myself for getting so far.

Is it true that I can lend ebooks to other Kindle users if I have one myself? Or is that just a scurrilous rumour?

J is for... (The New York) Jets

Ok, I'm a little ahead of myself here, but I discovered if I blog the A-Z challenge straight then it will take me up to April 26 when the next round of ABNA come out and we find out who has made it to the semi-finals.

So, today I'm going to talk about my one sporting love, American football. Thankfully it's starting to become a bit more mainstream in Europe, so we can watch it on TV rather than on a series of dodgy streams that seem to get taken down every time something really exciting is going to happen.

I'm not a sport person. I don't watch soccer, Gaelic football, hurling, rugby or any of that. But my husband's family holidayed in Florida regularly, and they had once gone to a Miami Dolphins game while Dan Marino was still playing. They lost. But that didn't matter to my then-teenage husband. He was hooked, and a Dolphins fan forever more.

Fast forward to our honeymoon in New York ( '...concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there's nothing you can't doooo...' you get the idea). It had been over a decade since my husband had last seen a live game. With great generosity of spirit, I agreed to go out to Meadowlands and watch the Giants take on the Jets. My only stipulation was that I could have a hotdog and a plastic glass of beer while watching the game, like I had seen people do in the movies. (Yes, this is an American stereotype and I know not everyone in the US does this, but in my defence when people come to Ireland they want to go to a thatched-roof pub, listen to Irish rebel songs while drinking a pint of Guinness. I have never done this. I also have never sung rebel songs about eight hundred years of British occupation. Except when the United Kingdom score us low in The Eurovision Song Contest.)  Obviously, the Jets and the Dolphins are rivals, so we would be supporting the Giants.

When we got to Meadowlands, all of the merchandise was for the New York Giants. The jumbotrons urged us to cheer for the Giants, when they were in offence and in defence. The Giants were winning. Now, a little thing about my home country. We are a tiny island with a population of about four million people, and we don't invest a huge amount in sport. We don't have a huge pool of talent from which to choose from.We go in to every sporting occasion expecting to lose. When athletes from other countries qualify for something like the Olympics, they think it's the start of something. In Ireland, if our athletes qualify, then we've won. We'll send our athletes, wave our flag and cheer them on. If they don't win, that's ok. We're used to it. We qualified, anything else is a bonus. We are sporting underdogs.

I felt for the poor Jets. They were behind, their fans were outnumbered by Giants' fans. The jumbotrons couldn't care less about them. So, used to supporting the underdog, I switched allegiance, much to the chagrin of my Miami Dolphin supporting husband. The Jets then came from behind to win the game. There's a message in there somewhere I feel.

I love American football now. It's such a social game, the break between the downs gives you a chance to discuss the game, and I love the way the referee explains his decisions to the crowd. Only problem is, the Jets have turned into a great team, and have narrowly missed out on Superbowl two years running. I'm supporting a strong team, I don't know what to do with myself.

I can actually spell, and I spell check every post. Any differences in spelling are down to the way we spell in the British Isles as opposed to in the USA. I've got a couple of comments about my spelling, just wanted to clear that up.

Saturday 9 April 2011

I is for...Inspiration

When I'm stuck in a scene, and want to procrastinate by kidding myself that I'm doing something useful, I visit writers forums. It's not a total waste of time, I've met some really nice people and got a lot of information about the publishing process from those sites. And writing can be very lonely sometimes; it's nice to make small talk with people at a virtual office water cooler.

One of things that took me surprise, was the amount of new writers who asked about inspiration. Now we were all new writers once, and the idea of writing an entire book is quite daunting at that point. When you realise just how difficult the writing process can be, but don't yet have the confidence that comes from having completed a first draft. But I found it quite strange that people have such a problem with finding an idea for a book. Plot holes, I can understand. That point when you've run out of steam after the first five chapters, sure. You know that you want a character to move from this point to this point, and aren't sure how to make it happen? We've all been there. And sometimes the sub plots are more difficult than any other part in the book.

I have loads of ideas for books. In fact, my problem is resisting the urge to start a new project when I'm up to my eyes with my current drafts. When I really need inspiration is not at the beginning of the story, but during it. That's when I discover problems in my plot that I hadn't anticipated. If I can't iron it out at the computer, I have to go and do something else. Usually I walk my dog, go and see a film, or go out with my friends. Usually, something will click with me while I'm doing something else that solves the problem.

What do you all do when you need inspiration?

Friday 8 April 2011

H is for...History

Hmmm. Now I know why I have such a bad back.
Other than writing, my other love is history. I've been interested in since I was a kid, and I think part of the appeal of the urban fantasy genre for me is that you get to create your own new histories and mythologies from scratch.

I studied for my BA in Trinity College Dublin. I met my husband there, also a history student and we met on a history society trip to Edinburgh.

After graduating I went to University College Dublin and got my MA in the Social and Cultural History of Medicine. When I told people I wanted to study history at BA level, they assumed I wanted to be a teacher, when they found out that I was doing an MA in the history of medicine they assumed I wanted to be a doctor. And the embarrassing thing is, at 24, I don't really know what I'm going to do with my life at all.

When I was younger, I was so definite. I was going to get my PhD, write in my spare time, and raise children. I was energetic and determined, but then I got ill. I just don't have the same amount of energy as I used to. I'm currently on a year out from college, and I don't know whether I should go back and start my research doctorate this autumn. My husband thinks I should focus on writing, but I worry if I do that I'll end up five years down the line no nearer to being published with all my dreams in the dust. I really don't know what to do.

If I do my PhD, I won't be writing as much. That's a fact. But other people seem to juggle lots of things in their lives. How do you all juggle everything?

The guys over at Paper Hangover are asking people what are five things they'd wish they'd known before becoming a writer. Here are mine:

1) No matter how great an idea sounds in your head, it always loses a slight something when it moves onto the page. This is normal, and not a sign that you are a failure.

2) When you're a writer, everything is material. Worried about going to a family occasion because you can't stand someone? That's ok. Save up the negativity and use it for a character. Stuck waiting in a queue at the grocery. Eavesdrop on other people's conversations. It helps you learn what makes people tick.

3) Coffee is fuel. It has magical qualities, the stronger the better.

4) Sometimes I will prefer my imaginary world to the real world. Though, I've been like this all my life, even before I started to write.

5) I wish I'd known how much writing can hurt. Your wrists, your back, your fingers (not to mention the whizzing of caffeine through your veins). I see physiotherapy in my future.

And that's it. Have a good Friday! ;)

Thursday 7 April 2011

G is for Genre v. Literary Fiction

Probably one of the most polarising topics among writers is the issue of genre. Among readers too. There is a set of stereotypes that surrounds each genre. Mills and Boon/Harlequin? They're for repressed women. Science fiction? For oddballs who spend more time on the internet than interacting with actual people. Literary fiction? That stuff is for people who would rather observe life than actually live it.

Popular fiction gets bad press. A small but vocal group of literary fiction writers would have us believe that in order to bring out a genre book, all you need to do is stick to a certain template and you could write it in your sleep. Authors of popular fiction point, saying that literary fiction is like the emperor's new clothes; nobody understands it but everyone is afraid to admit it in case people think that they're stupid. So which is true?

The problem is that the term literary fiction is actually quite an arbitrary concept. The works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens were considered popular fiction, and their books weren't seen as having much literary merit by their contemporaries. Yet both these authors are seen as classics now. There are also a lot of literary novelists who borrow themes and structures from so called genre fiction.

These kind of distinctions bother me, because some proponents claim that one type of writing to be superior to another, and run down other types of books in the process. Some of us have favourite genres that we stick to, but most of us read widely depending on our mood. I don't particularly like westerns, but I think it's a valid genre. I think every book offers something to a reader, and each reader's idea of value is different. 

But I think the whole thing is summed up quite nicely by Daphne Clair: "Readers of literary fiction expect to be challenged and like to be entertained; readers of popular fiction expect to be entertained and like to be challenged. They're often the same readers in a different mood."

Well said.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

F is for Finances (sigh)

I love writing. I especially love writing fiction. I think that I've managed to find both my voice, and the genres I want to write in, which is fundamental to my growth as a writer. When you finally sit down after years of good intentions, roll up your shirt sleeves and begin to write your novel, you very quickly realise something: it is hard work.

I enjoy all aspects of writing, the planning, the editing, the revising. But it takes a huge amount of time. And for those of us who dream of having a full time career as a writer, we start to wonder about money. Because while we would all happily type away for free for the sheer love of what we do, we know that love doesn't pay the bills. And either does three hundred pages of second draft contemporary women's fiction.

So, in order to enable us to live the dream, we have to make us some money. In my case, I write non-fiction journalism. It's not too bad, and I like to think that everything I write (including my mad ramblings here) strengthens my writing muscles. But lately I'm starting to resent the time that is taken up with non-fiction. I'm starting to fall behind schedule with my new work and edits, which is stressing me out a little. I know that this is the real world, and I've got to suck it up, but I feel like I'm stuck in a sort of chicken and the egg situation.

I know that I probably won't make a lot of money with my writing. I've read all the articles written doom and gloom merchants who tell us that the we should stop thinking we can be the next JK Rowling (those people don't have any imagination, it's never any of the millions of other wealthy writers-its always our good friend Joanne) and that we are statistically more likely to to get run over by a ride on lawn mower driven by a cat than ever make more than twenty quid from our books.

It's a sad fact, but to spend as much time as I would like to on my fiction, I'd need to be getting paid for it. It's a hard business to break into, but it's still worth a try though, right? Is anyone else hoping to get to a point where they could earn a living from writing?

E is for...Eireann

Ok, I'm slightly changing the rules here, because Eireann is an Irish word, not an English one. But then again, who said that the words had to be in English.

Eireann means Ireland, and it's the country where I was born and I've lived here all my life. I love it. Not in a republican, nationalistic sense, but in a more familial way. Yes it has bad points. Yes it's tiny. Yes it rains most of the time. Yes we have hit the international headlines this past year for all the wrong reasons. But it's home.

I like the landscape, I like the people and I like the way we have an ability to laugh at ourselves. I even, God help me, like the rain. But what I'm proudest of, is the fact that despite being a poor nation for most of our existence, and despite having a small population, we have produced a lot of great literature. From Joyce and Wilde to Yeats and Shaw. A lot of our current female writers, Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes, Cecelia Ahern and Cathy Kelly sell copies of their books worldwide.

Dublin City, where I live, is a UNESCO City of Literature. And amid all the recessionary doom and gloom, the unemployment, our national debt, I think that is something to be proud of.

Monday 4 April 2011

D is for...Dogs

I was never a dog person. Cats I liked, I loved even. My first pet was a black and white abandoned cat called Merlin, and ever since I've adored them. I had nothing against dogs, even thought that they were cute, but I could never understand the crazy dog owners who talked about their pooch like it was an extra member of the family. Until I became one.

I got Roxie, my beautiful baby girl, a year ago next May. At the time I was studying for my master's degree, and my husband was working in a nine to six job. I was spending a lot of time on my own, and wanted company. Because I have a condition that sometimes affects my mobility, I was advised to get a small lap dog that wouldn't take much exercising. I've always been stubborn, so I went with my gut and went with a chocolate Labrador.

She was a puppy when I got her, so we built up the distance that we could walk together. She's now a healthy adult dog, and I am more mobile than I was when I got her as a result of forcing myself to exercise her. She's great company, and likes to lie on the floor beside my feet while I write. I love her to bits.

Sunday 3 April 2011

C is for... Coffee

Coffee is a relatively new love of mine. Like every good stereotypical Irish person, my first love is tea. My husband on the other hand, is a coffee lover. He samples different types of gourmet beans in the same way that some people collect expensive cigars or fine wines.  My husband is a journalist who works from home and the coffee machine we got as a wedding present is starting to huff and puff under the strain of making so many cups of coffee. I expect she'll be taking early retirement.

Before this month, I would have the odd cup of coffee, maybe once every fortnight or so. No more than that. But all of a sudden tea started tasting slightly bland, and I've moved over to having two mugs of coffee a day. Not much for most people, but for me it was the equivalent of a teetotaller starting to drink a bottle of wine a night.

I'm a very good person. I have no choice, I'm terrible at being bad. The one time I tried to sneak out to a pub when I was sixteen I was caught. Coffee has become my way of being bad. This sounds strange, but people with fibromyalgia aren't meant to have caffeine. I can't sleep without taking special medication (NOT sleeping tablets) and having the equivalent of four espresso shots a day isn't exactly going to help, is it? But I don't smoke, I only drink occasionally, and I have to cut down on sugar to drop body weight to improve mobility. We all need a vice, and I'm deciding right here and now, that my vice is coffee.

How badass is that? ;)

Saturday 2 April 2011

B is for Books!

I'm starting to feel a little like I'm on Sesame Street. You know, 'This blog post has been brought to you today by the letter B.' Or something.

Anyway, as I'd rather read a book than do just about anything else, I decided to list the books that have had the biggest impact on my life.

Number Five: Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes

I love this book. Not only does it talk about drug addiction and recovery, but manages to do so in a way that is funny but doesn't take away from the seriousness of the topic. It always makes me laugh, and it shows that women's fiction isn't all handbags and cocktails (though I do love both).

Number Four: Mallory Towers Series by Enid Blyton

In fact, I liked all of Blyton's British Boarding School books. I was enchanted by it, probably because I was an only child at the time, and used to read them in bed, pretending that my bed was part of a dormitory and that I was at boarding school, waiting for the lights to go out so I could steal off with my school friends and have a midnight feast. Of course, I'm a complete home bird who would have cried my entire way through boarding school, but that's another matter.

Number Three: The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

I love this book. I wish she had written more books, but I reread this every so often. I love the imagery, and the way she manages to convey the sense of entrapment through her sentence structure. I think every woman should read this book.

Number Two: Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead

Confession: I love young adult novels. The teenage years are so exciting, your character is starting to form, you're beginning to make decisions for yourself, and your future could go literally anywhere. I liked how Mead too real vampire mythology and wove it into her books, and it made me think that maybe I could do the same with my historical knowledge, use it to form a supernatural but realistic society. So I did, and I wrote Ravensborough.

Number One: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

All right, so strictly these are two novels, but my Dad gave them to me together so I could compare two types of dystopian worlds and ideologies. He asked me to decide which society I'd rather live in, one that was repressive or one in which everyone was programmed to believe they were happy. That was ten years ago, and I still haven't made up my mind.

Friday 1 April 2011

Ambition and Anonymity

I saw on someone's blog that there's an A-Z April challenge. Everyday for the entire month, bar Sundays, you have to write a post about a topic that begins with that day's letter. Usually I find those things kind of twee, but as I'm new to this whole blogging thing I thought that it would get me into a habit of posting regularly. So I decided to take up the challenge.

I've decided to start with a double post on ambition and anonymity, since the two things are linked for me. My ambition, since I was a small girl, was to become a published author. My parents were both vociferous readers, and passed on their love of books to me. I read more than a hundred books a year, and I'd hate to see a tot up of exactly how much my habit costs me.

I wrote lots as a kid. I won poetry competitions, and short story contest at school. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but the cautious part of me knew that I had to have a back up plan. I went to college and studied history, and later the history of medicine. I started my novel dozens of times, but my critical inner-editor always clicked in and stopped me from progressing more than a few pages. The words on the page just weren't as good as the words in my head, and try as I might I couldn't seem to improve them. I didn't have enough confidence in my work to continue.

Everything changed in 2009. I finished my college finals, and got a pretty good result. I moved in with my fiancĂ©, got accepted for a master's course, and was preparing for my wedding in August. It should have been the happiest time of my life, but it wasn't. I felt listless, and even small movements caused me pain. Some days it was an achievement for me to just get out of bed.

I enjoyed my wedding day, and had a great honeymoon in New York. The pain and fatigue still held me back to some degree, but I had a wonderful time and would go back in a heartbeat. When I came home I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a disorder of the central nervous system, characterised by chronic pain and fatigue. My rheumatologist told me that while there was a two per cent chance I would recover, it would be healthier for me to accept the fact that I would probably never get better.

My first thought was relief that it wasn't something more serious. The relief was short lived as I came to realise just how much my life had really changed. College became difficult, it was hard for me to physically get to classes, never mind do the assignments. It came clear that after graduation, getting full-time employment would be difficult. I'd always been academic, and I felt that lots of lives paths were becoming closed to me. Being in pain all the time takes its toll on you mentally. I was in a very dark place.

In an effort to distract myself, I started writing short stories. Inspired by brilliant urban fantasy author Richelle Mead, I decided to try writing in a different genre. I started Ravensborough - this year's ABNA entry, as part of Nanowrimo and became so involved with my writing that it became a sort of escape. I was also reading a lot of women's fiction, their message of overcoming adversity to find lasting happiness spoke to me at that time, and I found a natural voice in both genres. To be honest I put more effort into my writing than I did to my coursework, though I still got a decent grade.

I now write my books full time, with the odd bit of freelance journalism thrown in on top. It suits me, as I can work it around my condition. On good days I can get a lot of work done, on bad days I mightn't write a word. I'm lucky that I have a supportive husband, he's encourages my writing and believes in me more than I believe in myself.

I haven't told anyone in real life that I'm writing. I'm quite a shy, reserved person, and the idea of putting myself out there and telling people that I want to be a writer makes me feel quite vulnerable. I want it so much, that failing will hurt me so badly that I'm not sure if I want other people to know that I'm a failure. That's where the anonymity comes in, I guess. I entered ABNA sure that I wasn't going to make it past the pitch stage, but thought that it would be a good way to practice the rejections that every writer gets. When I was lucky enough to make it to the quarter finals, I was overwhelmed. That coupled with my favourable vine reviews made me think that maybe I do have something.

Don't get me wrong, an awful lot of good books were probably thrown out unfairly, and a few bad books probably scraped through. But I'm still proud. It gave me the confidence to set up a blog under my real name, and a determination to get published somehow. In that sense, even if I progress no further, I've got a hell of a lot from this competition.

Telling other people though...I don't know. I'm still working up to that :)