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?”


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?

Being Human Is My Crime

The title of this blog entry comes from a Kelis song entitled “Lil Star”. It’s the song of a tired, demoralised woman who “forgets herself when there’s so many others around”.

I certainly can’t be accused of that. As my immediates enjoy reminding me, I have nothing of the carer in my nature. But I can still identify with the singer when she tells of “barely getting over the bar”.

I am completing the final stages of a novel while working full time. This is a serious endeavour as I’ve got professionals waiting to look at this last bit and it requires meticulous work to point the plot and characters where I want to go. When I get a bit of time, I find I can rise to the challenge. I’m writing better, in my opinion, than I’ve ever written before because this work is demanding that I raise my standards just that bit higher.

When I get a bit of time.

I want to write this as a warning or message to people who are writing and working full-time. For the first and perhaps the second draft, it works fine. But when you get to the point where you are under time pressure and trying to produce your best work, it’s extremely tiring and very difficult to balance the two. I want to warn people reading this that energy is a finite resource. I have put a lot of things on the back burner for this, and could not have more interested and encouraging colleagues in my workplace – they are sweethearts – but am still feeling exhausted.

Many people scoff at the idea of writing full-time but there are times when doing it the other way consumes every spare resource you have. I have NO redundancy / padding at the moment and have to be rigorous that I am in good mental and physical shape as a result. This will continue until the end of the month. All I have to do is hang in there and keep writing. But make no mistake: it’s very hard. Very hard indeed.