Up in the eyrie!

ImageYesterday, I had the pleasure of chatting with NI writer Damian Gorman in the lofty heights of Belfast’s brand new arts venue, The MAC, where he dispensed some words of wisdom on the art of writing a synopsis (!)…

As The MAC’s most recent Artist in Residence (he finishes this week, having been there since March), Damian has been meeting individually with upwards of 60 local writers, advising and encouraging them in their writing, along with a whole host of other related activities. So, I was very appreciative that despite all of these commitments and his own personal work, he took the time to give me feedback on my novel and also to discuss synopsis writing.

With a very peaceful view of Saint Anne’s Square, the Artist in Residence room comes equipped with a shiny black piano as well as a writer’s desk and it was here, up in ‘the eyrie’ that the synopsis was tackled. My summary of Damian’s very useful advice is as follows:

  • Tell the story of your story in the synopsis in your own voice
  • Leave it a day and then return to it afresh and write it from scratch – and be more relaxed about it!
  • Distance myself enough from the novel and what I know of it to write the synopsis using ‘another Claire’ – my voice yes, but one which can look objectively at the task at hand
  • Convey the magic of the story and what’s at risk for the key character
  • Make it clear why the publisher/agent should read the novel and why I’m the one to write it
  • Read the book again and allow a new title to ‘float up’ out of it…

Yes, my working title is a bit generic and doesn’t quite reflect the book’s essence, so it’s back to the drawing board on that one! I have an idea or two for substitutes but as yet, nothing definitive. The problem is – when you’re so used to a particular title, it’s difficult to forget it, but I will hide it from view and push on with new suggestions.

All in all, it was time well spent and I also got a quick look at The MAC as well, which wasn’t quite what I was expecting with its exposed concrete and sturdy architecture (I think I was anticipating bright and shiny newness!), but impressive nonetheless.

Meanwhile, yesterday evening saw me head round to fellow Flowerfield writer, Jim Simpson’s house, for some craic and a few nibbles with a small group of like-minded people. I spoke with Jim last week regarding his second prize win in the Francis MacManus Short Story Competition 2013 with his story ‘Dark Secret’. Image

‘Dark Secret’ is a humorous tale told from a landlord’s point of view, as he recounts a series of disasters which occurred in a cottage he rented out to a group of young teachers. With some experience in renting out houses himself, Jim was inspired to write the piece knowing only too well what sort of problems could arise and he finished the story with what could be called a trademark of his work – a surprise.

“I’m interested in the craft of surprise – the reveal at the end,” he said. “I’m also interested in ordinary everyday human situations which challenge people and in using historical background in my stories.”

Having attended writing classes led by both Bernie McGill and Damian Gorman at Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart, Jim thanked both of them and told me over a cup of coffee that behind every writer there was usually a great teacher who had inspired them. I completely agree with this. Encouragement helps A LOT when it comes to doing anything and I’ve spoken to myriad writers who have told me they were spurred on to follow their writing dream by creative writing teachers, school teachers and so on.

I too would say that my english teacher for five years at The Rainey in Magherafelt – Mrs Crawford – helped me a great deal, as she brought the subject alive and was always very positive and yes, encouraging, about my writing and about reading (which of course makes a great writer…). I may not have fully appreciated this at the time, but I did enjoy her classes the most, so at least there was some sort of acknowledged of the fact when I was a teenager!

So… my meeting with Damian done, my pitch letters written, my chapters perfected, all that remains is the posting and emailing of submissions and… now is perhaps the time to say that lo and behold – one has already winged its way into publisher territory! The rest are to follow this week…

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