Womentoring 2014 – An Opportunity

Writer Kerry Hudson has come up with a wonderful scheme to connect aspiring women writers to mentors in their field. She has set up a twitter account called @WomentoringP and if you are a female writer and interested in being assigned a mentor (it’s totally free!) do follow that account.  (Apologies to the gentlemen but I will keep my eye out for mixed equivalents in future.) The website is in train and more details will be available for interested candidates in the coming months.

I am one of the people who has volunteered her time as a mentor – check out my bio if you are interested, though there are many other great people there too. If that hasn’t put you off and you’re a woman and like the idea, do follow the twitter account for updates, if you can!

Five Things for the Editing Process

In the tradition of “five things”, I wanted to note five things that are coming in useful now that the novel is in edit stage proper.

1. Decent Hardware

This one I can’t overemphasise. Your editor will probably send you over a MS Word document with annotations in the margin which will appear as comments. You may need to reference another document while you have this one open. And personally I find it hard to work without music in the background so I like to put on Spotify and listen to my favourite pieces, as well as my browser being open when I need to google “1913 rubbish coats”. That’s a lot of memory intensive apps open and the last thing you need is your concentration broken when you’re in the middle of a rewrite. I recommend at the very least 4GB RAM on your machine, and preferably 8GB.

2. Walking

Sometimes sitting at your desk you will get stuck thinking of a way around a plot hole or re-configuring a scene or what-have-you. If you’ve been thinking for a while and getting nowhere, there’s nothing like a walk to come up with a brainwave. Your brain will chew over the problem and often come up with a solution. However if it’s turning into a 10-mile hike, you know it’s just procrastination and you need to get back to your desk.

3. Magic Code

This is a little utility I modified from existing Visual Basic code on the internet to write a macro to download all comments into an excel spreadsheet: this includes comments, the sentences they refer to, and the page number. I find this highly useful as then I can compile a status report in the excel file using all that information. Ask me nicely and I’ll send it on to you.

4. Paper and Pen

This is for scribbling things down as I work along that otherwise I will forget about. Also the notebook doubles up nicely as a mouse pad.  Novels tend to have a lot of dependencies i.e. when you introduce one thing, it has a domino effect on lots of other things way up the line. So if I delete a scene, I might need to write that down in big letters on the notepad so it will stay in my memory. Post-It notes fulfil a similar requirement.

5. Coffee

Or insert poison  of your choice 🙂

Have fun!

Terms of Endearment

You can blame Athena Andreadis – aka @AthenaHelivoy – for this unscheduled blog post. Oh what the hell, nearly all my blog posts are unscheduled! 🙂 But for this one, I’d read a tweet of Athena’s where she had said, in response to another conversation: “English is pitifully sparse in endearments. Most tongues I know say “my soul/light/songbird/heart…”

And I have lots of feels on that topic, and now have the excuse to talk about it. The fact that I’ve been working on a novel that contains a strong romantic element has only encouraged me in this regard. Names, vocabulary and language being used to express feelings that are so strong they become well nigh inexpressible…ah yes!

First, where I’m coming from on this: there are two languages that go back to my childhood: English, my mother tongue, and Irish, which is taught to all children in the Republic of Ireland from a young age. These are two very different languages in their philosophy towards endearments. Athena correctly says that English has a paucity of endearments.  Irish, on the other hand, has loads and loads and loads: grá mo chroí, spéirbhean, a mhúirnín, a stór, etc. etc. Love poetry in Irish, though generally miserable as hell, is slightly more successful than English because its rhythms are incantatory and anapaestic. It’s a beautiful, resonant language in poetry.

So does that mean the Irish language is more romantic? Only if you find romance in utter obfuscation and lack of straightforwardness. Irish does not allow me to say I love you. It permits I have a love for you which, if I may sound British for a moment, sounds like Terribly Poor Stuff to me. I can then say I have a great love for you, or I have an overpowering love for you, if I’m particularly smitten with a Gaelic-speaking gentleman. But the bit where I assume agency for my feelings, that bare, unadorned nominative is never reached. Similarly, I cannot say I failed – the literal translation is “it failed on me”. Suddenly the Celtic Tiger crash becomes clear. We once spoke a Peter Pan language, and we haven’t quite shaken it off.

So, that’s Irish. What about English? It is true that we have the opposite problem there. The magnitude of what I must confess to my Anglo-Saxon beloved is considerably greater, hence more risk. Hence, if I may be so bold, the stiff upper lip stereotype! I saw Parade’s End on BBC a few years back and was touched by the scene between the unhappily married, repressed Tietjens and the suffragette Valentine Wannop. There is an understanding between them, but every time he means “love”, he says “respect” (with an appropriately wobbling lower lip Cumberbatch stylee) and then when he can’t quite repress his feelings, he blurts out “Dear – ” and leaves it there and God your heart goes out to him.

In fact I think in English the power is in the repression rather than the expression. In Jane Eyre, Rochester piles on the endearments – fairy, elf, strange unearthly thing, et al (Good job he doesn’t speak any Irish or we’d be here all night!) but aren’t we straight ladies all more likely to catch our breath when he looks meaningfully at Jane and says “Goodnight my – ” and STOPS THERE, yes? And then there’s the whole big deal about switching from last name to first. Names were a big romantic thing then.

I used to think that “love” was an irritatingly vague term and that a language like Greek defined it better. However I have been reliably informed that in spite of having agape, eros, philos and storge, the same romantic misunderstandings happen in Greece as anywhere else! Which makes me think that in spite of what I’ve just written, maybe these spaces between the spaces are universal everywhere, especially when it comes to love. And I do love when the same word means something else in different languages. Cara  means, I believe, “dear” in Italian and is used in affection; in Irish it means “friend” and is used as a salutation on letters from the Revenue Commissioners.

What about you – what terms of endearment do you like?

The Blog Tour Q&A – I answer some questions!

I was tagged by Una McCormack to take part in this – so here are my answers to the questions!

What am I working on?

My novel White Feathers, which is currently in edit/rewrite stage after being acquired by the O’Brien Press’s Brandon imprint last September. It’s a novel based during WWI and its premise is: a young girl’s family try to push her into giving a white feather of cowardice to the man she loves.

That’s it, for the moment; these edits are taking up all my time. It’s hard work, but I enjoy it.

Before the edits started, I was working on the first draft a second novel about Germans in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and a dangerous love affair, but that’s on hold for the moment.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m not sure I’m that bothered about difference for difference’s sake. I’d rather write a good story that is in an identifiable genre than a wodge of text in some sort of “oh I wouldn’t call it X” category. I suppose it’s a story from a very popular time period that doesn’t often get told, and protagonists that perhaps wouldn’t tell it. Other than that, I don’t know really – and it isn’t important to me.

I do feel that in historical fiction a certain – if not reverence then workmanlike respect, at least – for the facts is necessary. One can take (acknowledged) liberties with the facts to a certain degree. But if you drop an anachronism into your work, be prepared for readers to notice and, rightly, judge you.

How does my writing process work?

Before I resigned in January, I worked full time while I wrote. The novel I’m currently working on took four drafts, with breaks between. I wouldn’t say I wrote every day, but as the process got more intense, I had more motive to finish the draft and so naturally wrote more often. I rarely write early in the morning – I’m an owl by nature. Now that I’m home, I do write mid-morning. I plan a few scenes ahead each time – particularly for a first draft that helps as while I have an overarching knowledge of where the plot is going, I haven’t always worked out the fine details. This is when I start making private notes on a dedicated blog space. I have a tag for every character and I just make notes for each one.

Every November I take part with an online writing group in a group writing project which has enormously helped my writing process because of the feedback for each small segment each one of us posts.

When I’m near a final draft, I print the thing out, bring it to a nice café and scribble all over it!

So there it is. And I’m tagging the versatile and talented Sinead O’Hart and Andrea Carter to carry on the torch!

Full Time Writer

I have taken a leave of absence from the workplace this spring to concentrate on my writing. This was long planned. I really like my colleagues and have great respect for the people I’ve worked with, likewise for the ethos of the company. But I knew in advance that the novel would start to require my time again and this time I wanted to be energised and ready to give it proper attention.

When I was completing the final draft to send to my agent, I was doing a rewrite and working full-time during a very busy period. I was exhausted. My health was not the best – I was wiped out, severely overweight and unable to engage with the novel the way I wanted. I was so tired I got it into my head that everyone would get fed up of waiting and move on. When I eventually spoke to my employers and explained I needed more time to complete the novel, they were very supportive and kind.

I’m aware that I am lucky. Firstly, I was old and ugly and long in the tooth enough to know what I wanted and secondly, that I had an agent and publisher who were interested in my work. And thirdly, colleagues who were interested and rooting for me. And fourthly, the time to financially prepare for this.

Today, my decision was vindicated. I’m just getting stuck into the development/storyline edits for my novel White Feathers and they really are going to demand all my concentration – and this process has a deadline. I know there are superwomen  and men out there who have jobs/families and write a novel and pull it all off. I’m not one of those people. I’m not Superwoman and I can’t do both. And if you aren’t one of those people, consider this post a voucher you can show your doubting mind.

I hope to return to the non-writing workplace sometime mid March, but that date is not set in stone. For now, I have a job already, and I’m going to get on with it. And really enjoy it 🙂

Dr Henry Gee, Nature Futures Editor

ETA. 29 Jan – got some hostile feedback indicating I’d glossed over the content of the original tweet. Fair point: have edited the first para to include more detail.

ETA. 24 Jan – the invective surrounding Dr Gee from the scientific community has now reached the point of being beyond ridiculous. Since his one comment on his ill-judged tweet, he has been compared to Ike Turner, wife-beaters in general and terrorists. I fully expect an upgrade to “axe-murderer” the following morning, for God’s sake. This is unedifying, and I want to post my support for Dr Gee, whom I found warm, supportive and charming.

There is a lot of buzz going around the internet at present about one of the editors in the worldwide science magazine Nature, Dr Henry Gee. He is getting a lot of stick for issuing an angry tweet about a person critical of him, using his official account. This tweet mentioned the critic by name: while that is not a total secret, she generally blogs pseudonymously. It also slighted the status of her work by saying it was of no consequence. Before we go any further, I want to say that I don’t condone that tweet. Neither, on reflection, does Henry Gee himself.

But then – Seeing references on my twitter feed, and looking through the archives that this person had written, I saw her refer to Dr Gee in 2011 as a “feminist antichrist”.

And that stopped me short.

Because I have had dealings with Henry Gee, when I sent him those two relentlessly feminist short stories he published in 2010 and 2011, and which – gasp! surprise! – he was happy to publish. Apart from being uncomfortable with referring to a Jewish man as “the antichrist”, such a term was not my personal experience of him at all and she might imagine that she speaks for quite a few people – but she does not speak for me.

Continue reading “Dr Henry Gee, Nature Futures Editor”

Today I am Rather Excited

…because I have got an email from the publishers to let me know that I have been assigned an editor and the edits are due to start on White Feathers next week.

I am very excited about working with Liz Hudson, who has a great portfolio. I’m honoured to be numbered among Claire Kilroy and Arlene Hunt!

I am trying not to think of Operation Transformation, when the very hefty book tremblingly shuffles onto the scales and the announcer says – “Your starting weight…is…Oh Jesus -” breaking off in disgust – “how did you end up in this state?”

No more literary porkpies. It is TIME FOR BOOTCAMP!