A Powerful Blog Post by Sinéad O’Hart


Sinéad O’Hart blogged the following, powerful entry today on “tipping points”. There was one paragraph in particular which really nailed how I feel about starting up Walking on Thin Ice and advocacy in general. Sinéad knows what my “tipping point” was in deciding to start the contest – she saw my many Tweets of Rage before I deleted them – and this quote really had me nodding my head in recognition.

I can’t change the world through politics or diplomacy, or with money or influence; all I can do is put words together into sentences, and hope they’re good enough to read. But if everyone did what they could – in fact, if everyone was permitted to do whatever they could, however humble – to add their thread to the picture, then I think we’d be in a much better position. However, because there are so many in the world who are not allowed to add their voice to the collective melody, it’s even more important that all of us who can do something actually do it. I am a privileged person – free, healthy, and protected – and I owe it to those who possess none of these gifts to do whatever is in my power to make the world better for those who will come after us.

“Permitted” – that is the word. That’s where it gets dangerous. Because once we admit that we are permitted but others are not, then we implicitly call out the powerful forces that permit, that do not permit. And that provokes the forces that we have traditionally tiptoed around.

Walking On Thin Ice Short Story Contest

Ooooh I’m so excited! Remember the short story competition I blogged earlier about wanting to set up? Well I’ve gone and done most of the preparatory work and sent an application off to fundit.ie so that I can fundraise for prize money. I’m still waiting on them to write back and say, “Yes, we believe you are going to use the funds for the purpose stated and not flee to the Cayman Islands with the swag” and then hopefully we are good to go.

So consider this post as advance publicity, if you will.

I feel so very very strongly about this. Mental health campaigning has been a lot about encouragement and charity, which is great – but less about advocacy, which is just as important. And as I say on the website, writers are in the vanguard of making sure such advocacy gets damn well…um, advocated!

So here is the video below that I will hopefully have on fundit.ie. I’ve never made a video like that before so it was quite a challenge 🙂 And for more info, see the main page of the website. Fingers crossed everything will go well.


Summer Short Story and Novel Competitions

Fellow Novel Fairist (or should that be “fairest”?) Andrea Carter has mentioned a few short story competitions with upcoming deadlines for the summer. I’d like to add a couple more that I’ve heard of via twitter or just generally futzing around the internet.

Costa Short Story Awards – 4,000 words. Has to be submitted in Arial, possibly on the basis that if you still enjoy reading a story after that, it must be pretty robust, I guess

Abroad Flash Fiction Competition (500 words) – the first prize is a residential workshop and a chance to network with industry professionals. If, like David Drumm, you “need the moolah”, you might prefer a cash prize, though I think this definitely sounds worth checking out. And who wants to be like David Drumm?

Long Hidden anthology – this is an interesting one. A Kickstarter project that invites submissions for speculative fiction (i.e. kinda alternative historical universes) about marginalised people all through history. @crossedgenres at twitter have more info. They pay $5c a word, which adds up to a very respectable total indeed for a few thousand words. The guidelines are longer than War and Peace and rather daunting looking, but don’t let that put you off an interesting project.

The Marie Claire Début Novel Award – contemporary women’s fiction, first 6,000 words plus a 300-word synopsis. Judged by Cecelia Ahern, so if you’re not a fan of that lady, then obviously don’t submit. While I find her style a bit saccharine, I was intrigued by the novel she wrote where a woman befriends a younger relative’s imaginary friend, falls in love with the imaginary friend, and said i.f. turns her down. That’s a rather dark and interesting plot!

Writing.ie Short Story Competition – up to 7,000 words. Writers must be Irish by birth, citizenship, or be living here for a good while. Apologies all the good readers here from other places.

And a late edition – the Bath Novel Award – organised by the same people behind the Bath Short Story Award I blogged about earlier this year. Judged by agent Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group. Closing date not till 28 February 2014 so that gives time to lash out a first draft 🙂

If anyone has any event they’d like to add, feel free to drop a comment.

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?”