My Story “Dead Money”

Back in the day, I wrote a story called “Dead Money” which won second prize in the Global Short Stories competition in April 2009 and earned me the princely sum of £25 sterling. (I was unemployed at the time. It was the only income I received that year not from the government.)

I had a link to it on the Global Short Stories site in my Writings and Links pages only to discover that the link was broken. So I’ve dug it out of my email, saved it as a PDF, uploaded it here and updated the link.

Read my story “Dead Money” in PDF format here

A word about the title. I placed this story in 2009, but I wrote it in late 2006/early 2007. Ireland was in its false boom when I created this. Reading it now, it sounds like more Irish navel-gazing. But writing it then, I was a bit of a Cassandra. No wonder it took me so long to place it, and that I did so in a British magazine!

 

 

Thought for the Day – from Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

In my limited experience of reading science fiction, the best sci-fi is that which makes a direct and incisive comment about the way we live our life now, not in the future. Given the day that’s in it, with the ongoing saga of the Anglo tapes which has outraged so many in Ireland, I thought a quote from C.S. Lewis’s thinky-thought space opera Out of the Silent Planet really says it all. I loved this book when I was just out of childhood and it’s still relevant to me as a full-grown woman. It probably helps to know that the reference to “sun-blood” is a desire to mine for gold on Mars.

But Devine had jumped to his feet, and interrupted him.

“No, no, Oyarsa,” he shouted. “You no listen him. He very foolish man, he have dreams. We little people, only want pretty sun-bloods. You give us plenty sun-bloods, we go back into sky, you never see us no more. All done, see ?”

“Silence,” said Oyarsa. There was an almost imperceptible change in the light, if it could be called light, out of which the voice came, and Devine crumpled up and fell back on the ground.

[Devine’s accomplice Weston philosophises some…]

Then the voice of Oyarsa continued [to Weston]:

“I see now how the lord of the silent world has bent you. There are laws that all hnau know, of pity and straight dealing and shame and the like, and one of these is the love of kindred. He has taught you to break all of them except this one, which is not one of the greatest laws; this one he has bent till it becomes folly and has set it up, thus bent, to be a little, blind Oyarsa in your brain. […] Do you know why he has done this? I will tell you. He has left you this one because a bent hnau can do more evil than a broken one. He has only bent you; but this Thin One who sits on the ground he has broken, for he has left him nothing but greed. He is now only a talking animal and in my world he could do no more evil than an animal. If he were mine I would unmake his body, for the hnau in it is already dead. But if you were mine I would try to cure you. Tell me, Thick One, why did you come here?”

Daily Science Fiction to publish my short story

I am pleased to report that Daily Science Fiction magazine is to publish my SF short story “Those Little Slices of Death”, a tale of attempts to engineer humans out of dependance on a highly addictive natural narcotic. Daily Science Fiction is an online publication that pays professional rates and drop high-quality short fiction into your inbox every day should you desire it. When the story comes up I will let people know.

I am particularly pleased this story got placed as it has a distinct note of social consciousness. More and more, since late 2011, I’ve begun to sound a campaigning note in my fiction against those who exploit undeserved power brutally and blatantly. This story is an example of that and it makes me happy that it’s out there, sounding that delicate note of anger.

On another note, this being my third pro-SF publication, I am now eligible to join the Science Fiction Writers Association. Though I’ve heard recently they’ve got into a spot of bother with talk of hot lady writers, Barbie as a role model and chain mail bikinis. Sounds like they got stuck in an episode of Mad Men and couldn’t get out. More pertinently, I’d have to pay for the privilege, and I don’t write enough SF for it to be worth my while, so…

Once You’ve Learned to Swim

Image courtesy of fortyfootmovie.com – the Forty Foot,one of my favourite bathing places.

What a lovely Bank Holiday Monday, with the sun shining in the open back door, which serves as a window, and a feeling of happy possibility in the air. I might pump up the tyres of my bike, I might footle around on the piano and compose a song, or…who knows.

As for writing – after checking in with my agent that I am on the right track with my plans, I am currently drafting notes for the next novel while the first one is under consideration. It feels strange to be tagging my notes with “first draft” again. First draft discipline is very different from fourth draft discipline. The latter requires meticulous editing, sewing up scenes after deletions and inserts, endlessly tweaking and rewriting and cutting. Not to mention forgetting to get milk, wash dishes, sleep etc.

First draft discipline is simply sticking as many words on the page as possible and blasting through the outline as if one had the engine on – until a favourable wind begins to lift the sail and the little craft takes off under sail power alone and is away on the high seas. I learned from writing White Feathers that the quality of the first draft really isn’t important. It’s the heartbeat from which all the other drafts take their lifeblood. It’s a prolonged introduction to the characters and what they want. I remember thirty thousand words into the first draft I wrote this conversation between the protagonist and this minor character who was only meant to be in one scene. Some people in the informal group I write with said – “hey, we like this guy”.

And the entire story turned left. Left turned out to be the direction it should have been going on in all along, of course, but my writing apprenticeship has been learning that by doing it.

I served my apprenticeship writing that novel. I thought I knew what it was to write before, but to paraphrase St Paul, I was looking through a glass darkly. It was a struggle. I was reading about the wonderful musician Laura Mvula, who was classically trained and struggled to gain recognition as a composer. Then after much rejection and anguish, she sent a demo and got a response. I am deeply in awe of Mvula and am very glad she did not give up. I know the novel I have written has powerful characters, a driving plot and that the reader will care what happens to the three characters therein. I am glad I did not give up either.

This pleasant June bank holiday marks a turning point. After attending a very happy family occasion a week back (and gaining a new brother-in-law in the process) I felt it was a natural break – from completing the MS back in early May to attending the ceremony – that marked a new phase in my life.

John Lennon put it succinctly: “If The Beatles or the 60’s had a message, it was ‘Learn to swim. And once you’ve learned – swim!”

Time to get into the water 🙂

My Writing Plan

Further to several paragraphs of angsting and thinking out loud, I have made some decisions about what I want to write and where that fits in long-term.

The first decision is to cease writing short stories for the moment. While it is pleasant when I do well in competitions, and even more pleasant when I get paid actual real-life money, there are too many prestigious longlistings and near-misses to make it worth my while at present, financially and professionally, to write any more. Plus the stories I write are, I suspect, not conforming to current fashions.

Therefore I will concentrate exclusively on writing novels. Now that I’ve mastered writing one, I might as well keep working on more. The novel that is currently with my agent is set a century in the past, and its theme is the betrayals and exigencies people can force on each other during war, and the power of romance and redemption alongside it.

I like big historical themes like that, with living, breathing characters who stay in the reader’s heart, right in that heart’s city centre, and don’t float along like literary abstractions on the perimeter suburbs. I wish to write more novels in that style, particularly revering writers like Némirovsky, and feeling humble when I think of her accomplishment. I wish to write as many novels as the muse will allow me in the next few years and I will strive to do my best.

That’s my plan.

What Kind of Writer Are You?

Recently a professional in the business, someone whose opinion I respect, asked me where I saw myself as a working writer. He meant, what sort of thing did I want to write? What genre do I want to work in? What is my plan?

And I realised I didn’t have a plan, at least not a conscious one. And that it was high time I got one.

Up till now, I’ve exclusively followed my heart. It’s led me along a course of short story writing, various starts and stops at a novel, and finally to the project that has consumed my energy for the last two and a half to three years. This is the novel that got me into the final of the Novel Fair. A tale of passion, power, betrayal, war redemption. I was tweeting to Arlene Hunt today, one of the Novel Fair judges, to thank her for her belief in my novel and how crucial her comments were to the process. She modestly pooh-poohed this idea, but it’s true. She was the first to explain to me that it was a big work – in that its passions and themes were grand and operatic, like the opera singer character who opens it. Hearing that from an outside witness helped me understand my own work better.

But I still haven’t answered the question. What is my plan? What do I want to write?Continue reading “What Kind of Writer Are You?”

Paris

From parisinfourmonths.com

Having completed the novel and being on a break from writing, it was time to relax. I am just about to return from the City of Lights, where I was whisked away on a beautiful long weekend.

I have been to Paris several times, and it never gets boring. The beauty of the place just keeps hitting me at every corner; the bench in the sun in the Jardins du Luxembourg, the view at the top of the Sacré Coeur, the sweeping walks along the Seine where buildings of majesty and beauty are casually littered along the right and left banks as if such aspirations were perfectly normal. My travelling companion and I walked for miles, doing a loop of the canal St-Martin to the Bassin de la Villette and then to Montmartre, around by the Louvre and back to Bastille. And there was the obligatory stop at the ice cream shop near Notre-Dame.

My last visit was in August of last year, when bruised and exhausted at the corruption, pettiness and raw chill of this country, I more or less fled for a long weekend and met a few writers and drank mojitos during an open mic at a bar off the Place de la République, people spilling onto the footpaths, rowdy and cheerful in the heat outside even late into the night. I remember nobody appeared to care about anything political other than Valerie Trierweiler, the mistress of President Hollande, who still couldn’t manage to make him look interesting.

When here, I always drop into Shakespeare and Company, the bookshop founded by Joyce’s champion, Sylvia Beach and re-opened by George Whitman in 1951. I love its old-style windows, its narrow passageways – with apologies to wheelchair users – and piled-high rows of books. On the first floor, there are nooks aplenty to rest in, a piano, and at the front a library where every Saturday a drop-in writer’s workshop is held and which is free the rest of the time.

And on that topic, a writing-related event – Shakespeare & Co were involved in the Paris Literary Prize in which my novella, A Trifle, was long-listed. To my great regret, I did not make the final seven on the shortlist. The lady behind the counter reassured me that there were many hundreds of entrants – up to 600 – so getting on the longlist was impressive. Still, missing out on that massive prize, argh! That would have been lovely.

Anyway, home tomorrow. I’ll spare you the obligatory “me outside the Eiffel tower” pic 🙂

I Love Writing, But…

…you know what I hate?

Well, dialogue. I hate dialogue, when you have to be constantly on the alert for the bits in the middle of the conversation where you “zoom out the camera” so you don’t have talking-head syndrome. Or when the dialoguing characters get lost and you have to pull them back to where they’re supposed to be doing. Not to mention where you put the commas if you’re breaking up a sentence to say “he said”, “she said”, or “replied” or “answered” or whichever damn verb.

And I love writing, but sometimes description is a pain. Like Margaret Atwood said, somebody looks at you like an injured animal. But what sort of animal, what sort of injury? And you have to think, and then you have to go and look up species of animals in wikipedia and whether they’re behaving properly for the season in question and and and…

And I love writing, but I could really do without the bits you have to fill in. You know, when you need to explain something and you haven’t filled it in properly and have to go back and do it before you can get to the meaty bit? And how to do that without taking too long so the reader gets bored and wanders off and makes a cup of tea and you’ve lost her, lost her for good.

And I love writing, but I hate trying to sort out the narrator. I mean, you try limited third person, but then realise you need to get something from the point of view of person Y which is not narrator person X so you try omniscient and then get that thing E.M. Forster warned about where the writer degenerates into a showman. So you have first person and immediately the page is littered with “I, I, I” which you can only sort out by having more passive voice to limit the perpendicular pronoun, but passive voice is YUCK.

But still, I love writing, if it weren’t for constantly having to sort out the plot. Now if I wrote literary fiction I wouldn’t have to worry about such superfluous nonsense, I would make like Milan Kundera, but wait, even he had a storyline to stick to. Plotting is a beeyotch because plots tend to come with more holes than a secondary boreen in Lisnaskee and half your time is spent filling the damn things up and even then not knowing if you’ve managed to do it.

But I do love writing. Apart from all that.

Watching My Hands At Work: Festschrift for Adrian Frazier

Ten years ago, I left my job in Galway and became a student of the inaugural MA in Writing programme headed by Adrian Frazier in NUI Galway. I have very fond memories of that time, and of the encouragement given to me by Adrian and by my tutors such as Mike McCormack and Louis de Paor, who happens to be a co-editor of the above named volume published in Adrian’s honour.

My story “Infinite Loop”, a tale of music, programming and tender, fragile love, which was published in the New Irish Writing section of the Independent in 2011, is featured in this volume which is available on order from Salmon. It will also be launched next week, Thursday 9 May in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway at 6.30pm.

When I started the Masters, I was in a rather unhappy and vulnerable place in my life. My confidence was not high at all. I have very happy memories about spending time writing and getting that confidence back, very slowly and gradually, and meeting wonderful people. So I am delighted to be featured in this book. And I’m grateful to Adrian, Mike, Louis and all the others who gave me the power to believe in myself.

Longlists and Shortlists

The people organising the Bath Short Story Award are having quite a bit of fun tweeting teasers about the content of their longlist, due up Saturday. Rachael Dunlop blogged about her opinion of longlists here – she is not impressed in general, though finds the Bath tweets entertaining – and Tracey Upchurch is also quite amused. Got me thinking, well, what do I think of longlists.

I think my answer is jaundiced by the fact that I’ve been on too many of them. Just recently I had a novella on a very short longlist and I didn’t make the shortlist of 6. Well, get over it, one might say, but dear reader, the prize money was HUMUNGUOUS. Lots of lolly and it broke my heart not getting on that shortlist. As Rachael says, I’d been allowed to hope and that raised my expectations.

I’ve been longlisted for the Sean Ó Faoláin Prize, the Bristol Prize, the Raymond Carver Prize, the Fish Prize (again and again – oh and then on a shortlist of 30! Argh!) the Aeon Award and possibly a few others. I’m kinda burnt out with longlists because for all that everyone says “oh they’re an achievement”, what can you do with a longlisting? You can’t convert it into dinner for two in a mid-price restaurant, or even one of those burgers which fall apart when you’re eating them at Eddie flippin’ Rockets. When I make up my writing CV, for example on the front page of this website, I don’t have a consistent record of my longlisting because, well, people are more interested in actual prizes.

But I’ll tell you the longlists I hate most. It’s the ones where the people in the know crow about how the shortlistees have already been chosen and informed – so those who haven’t are sitting cooling their heels and refreshing their screens all in futility.

I think if I summed up my thoughts on longlisting it would be: a miss is as good as a mile. Or, as Yeats says, too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart. Or, as Coleridge says:

Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.

That said, I think what the Bath Short Story Award are doing is pretty clever. It’s fun and gives them a lot of publicity; they seem to get the process and inject a bit of humour into it. So, what are your thoughts about longlisting?