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Magical Masquerade

ink-316909_1280So … it’s the start of a new year and I’m happy to report that, aside from taking a few days off over Christmas to celebrate the season, I spent most of my time editing The Book. What’s more, my winter whittling shaved off a further 16,000 or so words from that, which I consider a definite result.

My book is aimed at what would be termed middle-grade readers, and is a fantasy story which, my research shows, provides more scope for length. Fantasy novels for any age just tend to be that bit longer, what with all the world-building and so on, so I think I’m on track, though there’s still time for more snipping before publication if needs be. My beta readers also said that when reading a fantasy book, they preferred something chunkier, which signified a story they could really get stuck into. So, we’ll see.

Introductions, please…. 

Before I go any further however, I thought I’d share something which probably should have been shared a little while ago now. Yes, that’s right – it’s maybe time now for a title??

In truth, my title has been in place more or less since I started hand-writing The Book quite a few years ago. It did undergo a complete revision at one stage, but I ended up reverting back to the original because I just felt it fitted what the story is all about and well, because I’m also an alliteration addict….

I’m still holding back on sharing the cover, as I need to get a further wee thing added onto that and would rather it was in its final form before I make it public (maybe I’m being precious about this but that’s just how I want to do it! Also, if any of you good people subsequently feel inclined to share it when I do put it’ out there’ [here’s hoping!], then at least the right version will be floating about the internet.)

Anyway, I hope I haven’t built this up too much, and if you’re an eagle-eyed sort of a person, then you’ll know the title already, as it’s also the title of this week’s blog post. Yep, you’ve guessed it. My book is called:

Magical Masquerade

I hope you like it.

If you don’t, then apologies, but that’s what it is. 🙂

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CreateSpace

Back to the business of book-making…. I’ve been re-reading my self-publishing manual over the holidays and New Year (which is Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard, for those of you who are interested), and it’s been great. Again. Although there’s A LOT of work to be done in formatting the e-book and POD (print on demand) paperback once the manuscript is good to go, knowing what the things are that need to be done is better than not knowing (or forgetting), which just makes the process seem scary and impossible all over again.

So, thank you again Catherine for (A) blogging about all this stuff in the first place and (B) self-publishing a pretty cool book about it.

One thing I did forget though, was that Self-Printed isn’t written in the order that you’ll necessarily be doing things (which Catherine does make clear at the start). So, there’s some stuff in the final section for example, which is all about selling SP books, which you need to be aware of early on, as you’ve got to get certain things in place re promo etc., rather than waiting until the book is live on Amazon. This is why I read the book last year, but I forget things, hence the re-reads…

That said, I think I’m pretty much on track with most of the prep work, though much still needs to be done. I’m someone who likes to have lists and lists and yet more lists when doing pretty much anything in life – it’s just ordering them into a chronology that will ensure everything happens in a timely fashion which sometimes complicates things!

For example, while I’m going to wait until the finished book is uploaded to CreateSpace and I can order proof copies for myself and hopefully, some reviewers, if I want to get a quote for the cover, then an ARC (advanced reader copy) would be ideal. The book still needs to be in a near-final form to do this, however, so one has to think ahead for that. Have I got someone who’s actually agreed to do this…? Stay tuned my friends, and I’ll keep you updated. 🙂

The copy-edit

clockAs we speak, Magical Masquerade is back in the inbox of my editor, who will be working on the final copy-edit throughout January. After that I will take a couple of weeks to work through her feedback again and make the required changes. Then, once I’m happy the book is worthy of publication (!) I will format and upload the e-book and paperback interiors (and order my proof paperbacks), wait up to a week for these to be approved and then wait a further week or two for my proofs to arrive in the post.

After that, I’ll be happily spending a few more weeks poring over the paperback and once that’s finally cleared for publication, I’ll hopefully get, at last, to hit that ‘approve proof’ button on CreateSpace and release it into the world. (Though it’ll then still take a week or two to actually appear on the Amazon site).

This is the timeline, and I’m aiming for an April release of Magical Masquerade, BUT, I know plans are all very well, but things don’t often go to plan. The holidays are over and I’ve still got a copywriting business to run, while there’s bound to be some sort of hiccup when it comes to formatting the different book versions. (I just know there will be – I’m not a technical whizz!)

However, I do now actually have a CreateSpace account and have filled out my tax details and completed the required tax questionnaire for that. I’ve also got my trim size confirmed (i.e. the size of the paperback) and have downloaded my interior files template (which I’ll copy my manuscript text onto for formatting later), so it’s all getting more real by the second.

Oh – and I now have an ISBN, so it’s official. The Book is really real. 😉

What’s next?Q

Good question. A lot of stuff, but I’ll need to consult my ever-lengthening list and get back to you on that one. More details are definitely coming soon about my self-publishing journey though and … perhaps also a little snippet about the official launch? Well, maybe, maybe not. Suffice it to say, there will definitely be a launch, but details are under wraps for the moment, though discussions are ongoing, so I’ll share about that when I can!

In short story news, The Ghastling journal should be out this month, so I’ll post a pic of that when I have it. (I’ve got a story in it, in case you didn’t read my last post).

That’s all for now!

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A changing wind

Sometimes, you just have to read a really good book (or three) to make you want to pick up your pen and get to work. Yes, great books can also have the opposite effect, where you think the writing is so good there isn’t much point attempting anything yourself, but usually, reading something I love inspires me to get back to the notebooks.

After all – we should acknowledge our own style and story as being unique and stop comparing ourselves to others. Whatever you write needs you and you alone to write it.

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Anyway, I’ve now finished the Fillory trilogy (the books that is – the TV series continues), and it has blown some more wind into my writerly sails. It has reignited my desire to finish the story I’ve been working on since last year and which has been set aside for lengthy periods since then (it could well have been finished long ago). However, I’m not too worried about that, as I’ve written shorter stories and poetry in between and am a firm believer that you need to be in the right frame of mind to write particular tales. I’ve also realised that I find it much easier to write in the winter, when the days are short, the evenings long and chilly, and the fire warm at my feet. I’m by no means a ‘sun person’; I think I just find the atmosphere towards the year’s end more inspirational to my story-telling! (Which is perhaps reflective of the kind of stories I write…)

Anyway, having moved on to a very different type of book for my next read – an Arab novel which is very firmly set in reality – if I want to meander through a more fantastical type of landscape, then at this moment in time, I’ll need to conjure it up myself. And that’s quite ok – it’s like I’ve just been doused with inspiration and I’m ready to let the ideas flow from my head into the pen. I’ve been reminded of what we can achieve with our words and I’m back on form again. And – maybe it’s because our Northern Irish summers sometimes resemble winter, but the mood right now seems just about right…

Now – where’s that notebook…

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Fillory – and further…

If my title makes any sort of sense to you, then you will also be a reader of the Lev Grossman Magicians trilogy – or be watching the 5* TV series inspired by the same. The world of Fillory has been described as being like a Narnia for adults or, if you’re watching the show, it’s been referred to as a grown-up Harry Potter tale. The TV and book versions differ a fair bit in their form, as is to be expected, though their make-up remains very much the same…

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My feeling is that, as we all know, there are no really original stories left in this, or any other, world. Hence, there will always be comparisons to those novels which came before. Of course in reality, Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, isn’t really like Hogwarts at all, and Fillory isn’t really like Narnia, though it’s easy to see why they’ve been compared. The ingredients are similar – young people learning magic and travelling to other worlds; a beast out to get them – it’s a new spin on a classic type of tale. Which is, of course, where the author’s skill comes into play – how Grossman makes his stories come alive in fresh and unusual ways.

His fans are pretty high-profile in the writing world, with the likes of Junot Diaz, George R. R. Martin and The New Yorker among the many to rave about the writing. All three books were also previously New York Times Bestsellers – which I love to see for  the fantasy fiction genre.

Usually, I prefer to have read the book before watching a film or TV version of it, as I like to have confirmed the characters and the landscape in my mind before the screen dictates it to me. However, I stumbled upon The Magicians TV series before buying the books, so have actually been reading and watching at the same time – which has made it interesting in terms of seeing how the scriptwriters have adapted the novels. I’m currently on the final part of the trilogy, but there are elements in the TV series which have migrated into the series already – the writers weaving the book narratives into the show in unexpected but very clever ways.

To be so far ahead in the books but to be watching the series at the same time, makes for an intriguing insight into how two types of writers create a story – for the page and for the screen. I can’t say which I prefer, to be honest, as they both tell the story in different ways, each one playing to its audience perfectly.

Lots of novels get adapted for stage and screen these days, so from a writer’s point of view, I think it’s useful to see how much a story may seem to change on screen, yet retain all the essential elements of the tale. Indeed, with TV always keen to add in a dash more drama to the mix, it can really bring a story to life…

I’ll always prefer to read the books – the page, after all, is where every story starts – but it must be nice for an author who’s achieved all they can with a book, to see their imaginings enjoy a second life on screen. I for one, can’t wait to see how it all ends…

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Are you a rapidly writing writer…?

As a blogger myself, I try to keep up with other writing blogs as much as I can, as it’s always inspiring/uplifting/interesting to hear different people’s points of views and how their own writing journeys are progressing. This week I happened upon a blog which dismissed the idea of writing rapidly, which I found quite ironic as my friend (a successfully published author) had also written during the week about the advantages of writing quickly, one such example being NaNoWriMo.superhero-534120_1280

It got me to thinking and despite all the theoretical pros and cons, I came to this conclusion – do what suits you best. It’s simple but effective advice!

As someone who likes to be busy and to do things quickly (but well), I write as often as I can and as quickly as I can. Sometimes, this means I write an entire short story or poem in a night, do some editing and it’s pretty much done. Great. Other times, it takes weeks or months to perfect a story (and then, is it really ever ‘perfect’…?) and that’s okay too. And that’s just short fiction.

With a novel, I’m of the opinion that if you can write quickly, get it on paper and go at your own pace, then if it takes an intensive month, great; if it takes two years, great; if it takes 10 years (as the Pulitzer prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See did), then why not? clock

Writing can be done quickly, depending on the writer and the ideas that they have. Pre-planning will assist with the speed, although if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself going off on tangents all over the show. It’s the editing, the re-drafting, the editing again, the rewriting etc. etc. which happens over and over again that will finally result in the completed novel. And that takes time. A lot of it. And that’s ok.

Writing rapidly? I say, if you can do it, go for it! Things like NaNoWriMo give people a deadline, which tends to keep you focused and motivated, and as a journalist, well, I’m all for that. 🙂

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Am reading…

Like most writers, I don’t have the luxury of spending endless days writing prose and poetry but instead, fit it in and around my job, household chores and whatever else may arise. Virginia Woolf might have proclaimed that if a woman is to write fiction then she must have money and ‘a room of one’s own’, but unfortunately, to obtain both of those things means there’s very little time for being creative. That’s not to say it’s impossible however, as there’s always time to write if you really want to do it. Point in fact – for the past two weeks I’ve been watching Life in Squares on the BBC, which is all about the infamous Bloomsbury Group, when that’s an hour which could have been spent writing… (By the way, if anyone’s watching that – what are your thoughts?)

Anyway, this week I’ve only managed a bit of editing on a short story and writing a few pages of another, but I’ve started reading Sarah Perry’s ‘After Me Comes The Flood’, amongst other things, which has so far proved quite intriguing and has made me think again about my own approach to what I’m currently writing. Writers often beat themselves up about not writing every day and I’m somewhat impatient and want to be able to produce lots of writing and often, but it’s okay to not have the right frame of mind to write some nights; it’s okay to just read and not write, but to absorb someone else’s writing and be inspired by it and learn from it. Don’t you agree? 🙂

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Book doctoring in Ballycastle

Ballycastle, as it turns out, is morphing into a literary haven of late and I for one am not complaining! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the north coast in Northern Ireland, this is a small seaside town located just 15 minutes from where I live by the Giant’s Causeway. This weekend, it played host to the Aperture Festival at Corrymeela, which combined a mixture of music, culture, literature and various other events to celebrate the centre’s 50th birthday.

The Book Doctors: Glenn Patterson, Sarah Perry, Paul McVeigh & Padraig O Tuama.

The Book Doctors: Glenn Patterson, Sarah Perry, Paul McVeigh & Padraig O Tuama.

I went along on Saturday and enjoyed a panel discussion on the media, as well as readings from authors Glenn Patterson and Sarah Perry, as well as a session entitled The Book Doctors, which saw both of these writers along with author Paul McVeigh, join Corrymeela’s Padraig O Tuama to chat with the audience and give book recommendations. It was great to hear from the authors, but also, to listen to what the audience was saying in the Book Doctor session about what they like to read, or what they want to read more of.

As writers, we write what we feel compelled to write, of course, and shouldn’t write what’s simply ‘in vogue’, but I found this quite an interesting session. One lady simply said she enjoyed Sarah’s reading because it focused on small details that made her empathise immediately with the character. She said she liked writing that featured experiences which you can often think only you experience. It’s comforting, she said, to see that others experience these things as well.Aperture

Another younger woman said for her, characterisation was more important than plot or any sort of storyline – if the characters were interesting, then she was hooked. Others said they wanted to read darker stories, while an older man wanted recommendations for something to read as a recent retiree.

I enjoyed this hour more than I thought I would and it was also great to note down some new authors to look up. I came away inspired and very glad I went along!

PS Just in case anyone’s interested, one of my short stories – The Mobile Librarian – is included in The Lonely Crowd journal, which is now available to buy here. Fear not if you have no wish to purchase, but there are obviously many more authors besides myself in there and you might well find something you like. 🙂

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Conjuring ideas

Hannah McPhillimy and Jan Carson

Hannah McPhillimy and Jan Carson

Between business blogging, writing articles, websites and everything in between, last week I inadvertently skipped this blog, such was the need for a little time out from typing, but I still managed to scribble some creative words along the way, so all was not lost. Maintaining a blog on writing while you’re also trying to write creatively may seem like an unnecessary distraction to some, but ultimately, I find that as with attending literary events, writing about writing actually helps keep you on track and motivate you. It’s maybe not for everyone, but there’s an element of accountability there, as progress and experiences are regularly charted.

My own literary journey in the week past saw me attend two inspiring events – one in Belfast and one in Ballycastle. Just click the links to have a read of how they went, as I wrote reviews of both for Culture NI. As I’ve already written all about them, I therefore won’t go into much more detail here, but the first event – Disappear Hear – saw writer Jan Carson and musician Hannah McPhillimy collaborate in an evening of music and literary delights. Hannah wrote songs inspired by Jan’s debut novel, Malcom Orange Disappears, which added a new dimension to the story and also raised funds for the Alzheimer’s Society at the same time.AM Fyfye

The following evening I then enjoyed a poetry reading by London-based poet, Anne-Marie Fyfe, who presented her fifth collection, House of Small Absences. Both these events were inspiring in their own way, not least in the very fact that getting out and immersing yourself in the arts never fails to motivate you in keeping going. It’s also interesting, I find, to see others’ reactions at such events, as often, there are people there in support of a friend who don’t ordinarily read poetry or count themselves as being ‘into the arts’. More often than not, they surprise themselves by having a good time and come away with an added appreciation of the arts…

Suffice it to say, as I wrote a short story the week before, I’ve now turned back to the poetry and am flitting between the two as I work out where to go next with my writing. It’s always good to find a genre you love writing about and feel comfortable in, but equally, it’s good to branch out and push yourself in new directions, or revisit story ideas formerly abandoned and realise that actually, there might be something in them after all.

Right now, I’m still writing words with a hint of magic, but why not also surrealism, philosophy, heck – even realism?! – while I’m at it…

PS I should add here that a few blogs back I wrote about Claire-Louise Bennett’s book of short stories – Pond – and how I wasn’t sure, at the outset, if I liked it much or not. Well, the more I read of it, the more I got drawn into her character’s voice and her world and the more I found I really did like it – the style, the stories and the concept of the collection. Which only goes to show why you should always give a book time to win you over! 🙂

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Writerly styles…

imageI may be 30 years late to this book, but The Magician by Raymond E. Feist is one that has always caught my eye over the years and finally, I picked it up in a pile of secondhand books a month or so ago. I’m now reading it, alongside Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, and wondering why I didn’t do this sooner…

The books are poles apart in their content and style, one also being a rather lengthy novel, the other a collection of short stories. With the first, I slipped into the story immediately and am keen to keep reading, but with the latter, I’m finding it harder to love. Which isn’t to say I don’t like it, but the style is terrifically different – a rambling type of prose that I thought I’d really like, given I’m a fan of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.image

It’s good to read writing that challenges you though, as well as the writing that fits like an old shoe, so I think I’ve got a good mix of that here! I’m still pushing on with my own writing, and managed to pin down a story this morning that I’d made notes on a while back – a story unlike the ones in my recently submitted collection.

I read on with gusto and I continue to be inspired! 🙂

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Getting The Lie of the Land…

Elaine Gaston

Elaine Gaston

This week I enjoyed the launch of Elaine Gaston’s debut poetry collection in Ballycastle, which saw a great crowd turn out to support her and hear some of the poems being read.

Entitled ‘The Lie of the Land’, Elaine’s collection is a beautiful mix of poems rooted in the landscape she grew up in and those she discovered on some of her travels.

They conjure up precise images of particular moments – bringing the reader to another time and place and allowing us a glimpse into life in the glens of North Antrim, on the rugged coastline of Northern Ireland. Even if you think you don’t like poetry, these are poems that are accessible to everyone and are very cleverly put together. IMG_0770

The collection was introduced by Medbh McGuckian, who said Elaine “writes as truthfully and tenderly as Heaney about sorrow, love and the difficulties and joys of developing out from a narrow Ulster experience to embrace the whole world as a home.”

This certainly leaps out at you as you read through the book – the poems are both poignant and humourous, and painful moments – both personal and societal – are dealt with delicately without shying away from what they seek to address.

Medbh McGuckian's introduction at the launch.

Medbh McGuckian’s introduction at the launch.

This is a collection that’s a joy to read and is indeed, easily consumed – which further shows the skill with which it was written. Elaine, who has a theatrical background, also knows most of them off by heart and entertained us at the launch with her fabulously enthusiastic renditions of her work.

It certainly makes me consider my own ‘collection’, recently submitted to the Arts Council – a meagre 16 or so poems that is dwarfed by this collection of, er, 51, but it gives me something to aspire to and I’m still adding to my own work!IMG_0773

We do what we can do in the time that we have, and we appreciate the good work of others when we find it. 🙂

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Writing reflections

Arts Council logoThis week saw the completion of my short story and poetry collection, which I’ve spent the past year working on as part of the NI Arts Council/Lottery grant, so hopefully it will arrive in the post tomorrow morning for them! As I printed everything off and put the work in some sort of order, however, I couldn’t help but think of something Carlo Gebler (who I referenced last week) said about writing – that the end result often doesn’t reflect the amount of work that went into producing it.

I’ve sent in 16 stories in all, and about 15 poems – not everything made the cut and in truth, the final four stories I included sort of stand alone from the main collection of 12, but were sent along as they were part of the overall work produced over the course of the past 12 months. I didn’t help myself, I think, by getting a flurry of inspiration in the past couple of weeks for stories, which coincided with an extremely busy time with my job, so another 13th story missed the cut, as it just wasn’t ready and I wasn’t sure of how it should end. It awaits me still.

But looking at the writing I amassed, I was both pleased and also a little apprehensive. Was it enough? Was the writing really any good? Would the Arts Council like it? In truth, I know the point of the award was to support me in developing my art – my writing – and to produce the body of work I proposed, which I have, so all has been fulfilled. I also feel more confident in myself now as a writer, and have been published a few times already this year, which I put down to receiving the grant – it motivated and inspired me to write, and gave me the confidence to keep going and to believe in my ability.Flying letters

The end result though, does not reflect the hours of thinking time – the countless edits and rewrites – the scrapping of whole sections of stories, and the read-throughs time and again. I’m not saying the stories I sent in are amazing, but they’re the end result of a lot of work and through that, I hope I’ve improved my writing. That was, after all, the point.

With all now done, I wonder what the next step shall be? I intend of course to keep on writing and to use this experience to push forward and see where it takes me. It feels sort of odd at this point to have lost the ‘reason for writing’ that has followed me this past year – yes, I would have written anyway, but with a hectic 12 months in setting up my own business, I think that without the need to create the collections for the Arts Council, my writing would have suffered.

So, I will keep writing short stories and poetry – and submitting to journals and competitions – I may also try writing a novel. We’ll see. It’s been an interesting year though in my writing life, and I look forward to the next stage…

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