Tag Archives: journalism

Author appearances…

In my last post I mentioned some upcoming interviews and events … Well, I’m happy to report that I have since visited Northern Visions TV (NVTV) in Belfast to take part in their Novel Ideas programme. 19510322_817633191734311_6052347708625643068_n

NVTV is a local TV station which streams online as well as on Freeview and Virgin (check their website at the link above for specific channels), so I was delighted when Debbie McGrory asked me to come along and chat to her abut my writing and Magical Masquerade. I’m told the interview should air sometime in July, as there’s about a three-week turnaround on these, so I’ll keep you posted as to when it’s available for viewing!

It was an interesting experience in many ways, not least in seeing what goes on behind the scenes during the recording process. As a print journalist I’ve never really worked with cameras etc. so I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the practicalities of it all. Let’s just say – I have a renewed appreciation for people who make programmes or films of any kind as there was a lot of equipment and a lot of work involved just to record one author!


Aside from chatting with Debbie, I also had the opportunity to read a little extract from Magical Masquerade as well, so I’m looking forward to seeing how everything is edited together for the final programme.

Flowerfield Arts Centre Open Day event



In other news, I’m excited to say that I’ll be taking part in Flowerfield Arts Centre’s open day in Portstewart on Saturday, July 22. This is the first of two open days at the centre, and will include everything from a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, to pottery fun and lots more – including a little storytelling from myself, as I’ll be taking up residence on the Storytelling Chair (if it’s sunny… if it rains I’ll be inside!) to read from Magical Masquerade and answer any questions the kids have about the book or writing in general. I’m looking forward to this as I’m keen to do more events up on the north coast, where I live, and it sounds like a fun afternoon!

You can check out details on the Flowerfield event page for this here: https://www.facebook.com/events/313629819090667/

Books Ireland article and listing19732063_822271447937152_8027612305948428255_n

Yesterday, I was also delighted to receive my copy of Books Ireland Magazine in the post, a publication which features news and reviews of Irish books, and supports Irish writing in general. I wrote an opinion piece on my self-publishing journey to date and Magical Masquerade is also featured in the First Flush section of the magazine, which lists all books published in Ireland within the past two months.

It’s great to see a publication like this supporting all writers – both traditionally and self-published – and I was happy to see that MM was deemed of good quality and design in the First Flush section (which doesn’t review the books listed but records the readership they’re aimed at and remarks on the overall quality of each book).19905148_822271521270478_431312977935644621_n

Plotting and planning…

Aside from this… I’ve been working on some other things in relation to book number two, though life has got in the way a bit over the past couple of weeks, so writing hasn’t really had a look-in for various reasons (other than the day job). That being said, however, I’m still plotting and planning away and looking forward to what might come next. 🙂


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CULTURE NI_I first discovered the treasure trove that is Culture NI a few years ago, when I was working as a newspaper reporter at The Coleraine Chronicle. The weekly newsletter that was delivered to our office inbox was a fount of information about what was going on in the arts across Northern Ireland, and it not only kept me and everyone else up to date on events, it also allowed us to follow up on north coast artists, and give them even more exposure in the paper.

Eoin McNamee (photo by Sarah Lee), who I recently interviewed for Culture NI

Eoin McNamee (photo by Sarah Lee), who I recently interviewed for Culture NI

Without Culture NI, we wouldn’t have heard of many of these artists and events, as there’s no other online resource which so brilliantly archives the cultural scene in Northern Ireland.

Culture Northern Ireland is, as it says on the website: “Northern Ireland’s leading arts and cultural website, covering music, literature, heritage, sport, dance, theatre, the visual arts and much more besides.

“With thousands of articles, reviews, profiles, event listings, and multimedia content, Culture NI is a unique and exciting resource.”

The cover of Oils, a poetry pamphlet by Belfast poet, Stephen Sexton, which I recently reviewed for Culture NI.

The cover of Oils, a poetry pamphlet by Belfast poet, Stephen Sexton, which I recently reviewed for Culture NI.

Produced by the Nerve Centre in Derry – Northern Ireland’s leading creative media arts centre – Culture NI was dealt a seemingly fatal blow this week with the announcement from the Arts Council NI – its principal funder – that its core funding was being cut.

It wasn’t the only organisation to hear such news of course. Blackstaff Press and Guildhall Press –  our leading publishers based in Belfast and Derry – also suffered the same, along with various other arts organisations. (More details on the story here.)

You can read more on the devastating effects of the cuts to Culture NI here, but suffice it to say, after 10 successful years in supplying Northern Irish readers and indeed, readers worldwide with news of our thriving arts scene, five jobs are now at risk, as well as many more part-time jobs in the myriad freelancers who contribute to the site.

The faces behind Culture NI

The faces behind Culture NI.

News of the cuts in Northern Ireland is nothing new of course. Belts have to be tightened, as the NI government, while telling us they’re committed to developing and supporting the arts on the one hand, continue to take away vital funding on the other. Budgets must be managed, but the question on many people’s lips is this – when the cuts not only threaten to reduce the output of a key service like Culture NI but will actually kill it altogether, surely there needs to be a rethink?

Culture NI has been campaigning about the funding cut since the news broke and so far, its 400,000-plus readers seem to be getting behind this, tweeting and signing the petition to have the funding restored. If you have a couple of minutes to add your name to that, it would be much appreciated. Just click here.

So, why keep Culture NI?CULTURENI

  • It’s NI’s leading arts and culture site
  • It updates daily with FREE content on ALL the arts in Northern Ireland
  • There are interviews, reviews, features, competitions and more
  • It’s FREE promotion for artists/musicians/writers/performers/festivals and more
  • You get a FREE guide to What’s On in NI
  • You can discover new events/artists that you’d never hear of otherwise

EwagoralsThese are but a few reasons why we should keep Culture NI.

You’ll notice the word FREE is mentioned a few times. This fantastic resource is free for anyone to browse, read and digest at their leisure at any time of the day or night.

It’s crammed full of more than 10 years of archived material on Northern Ireland’s arts and culture scene and if it goes, that’s an online museum lost.

The website also recently underwent a revamp just a couple of months ago, launching a fully mobile responsive site as it prepared to march on into the future.

Newspapers and magazines have little space to give to the arts. They offer massively reduced coverage of the vibrant cultural scene that we still have in Northern Ireland and the thing is – if Culture NI is to disappear, who will be left to champion this? There are other organisations and publications of course that promote the arts, but Culture NI is your one-stop shop and more. It’s unique in the level and quality of content that it provides. Read freelancer Terry Blain’s views on the matter here.

With (L-R) NI crime writers Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway and Steve Cavanagh

With (L-R) NI crime writers Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway and Steve Cavanagh

I’ve been freelancing for Culture NI for the past year and have enjoyed every minute of it. I love the arts and am a big fan of the local literary scene (as readers of my blog will know!). I’d hate to see this wonderful website disappear over money.

If you’ve read this far, then thank you. As a writer, this is how I can show my support.

The Arts Council NI has today posted this message on Facebook:

“We are receiving emails regarding the annual funding award made to Culture NI. Thank you for your views. You will know that the Arts Council has had to take difficult decisions in a very challenging funding climate and we appreciate your interest. We will be meeting with the Nerve Centre soon to hear their concerns.”

We know belts have to be tightened, and the Arts Council NI is, of course, a vital organisation in Northern Ireland that is very much appreciated for all that it does for arts and culture here. Let’s not forget that for a minute. They’re simply having to make tough decisions in an ongoing economic climate that’s battering the arts.

If you’re interested, you can read my archived work for Culture NI here, or on the Articles section of this blog.

I’ll keep you updated! #SaveCultureNI

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Take heart

‘Write about something you know and care about’…

…and ‘write like you speak’.

Two pieces of advice gleaned from Maeve Binchy’s biography last week. Ok, so it’s not exactly rocket science, but it helps to be reminded of these things, I think. It takes me back to last week’s note on emulating other people’s writing, or being inspired by it – that’s good, but make sure you write with your own voice.

I seem to have developed, at last, some sort of addiction to memoirs and biographies (of writers anyway!) and was very interested to read of Maeve’s life as a teacher, traveller, journalist and author. I admit I’d only really thought of her in the past as an author – I had no idea about the very many other things she had devoted so much time to.

As a young journalist she discovered her knack for writing  – writing which appealed to a mass audience and subsequently saw her turn to fiction and of course, full-time novel writing. She did, however, keep up the journalism alongside this throughout her career and at all times, remained very clear about who she was. She retained a natural style in her writing and the story-telling flowed from that. 2012 209She was comfortable in her own skin and, at a time when women were only really taking off in the world of work, was a true inspiration for many. I wonder how many women journalists out there today were inspired by her column in the Irish Times, or by her novels? I for one, can now admit to being a late convert to the Binchy work ethos. She herself was influenced by the existentialist theories of French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, and had an unwavering self-belief in herself as a result. This does not mean she had an air of superiority, but rather, that she developed a sense of who she truly was and set out to find what she was good at and stick with it (which she did).

She learnt to accept the hand she had been dealt in life and as a result, made the most of every opportunity that came her way, without worrying about what people thought of her, or about fitting into a particular mould.

I recommend a read…

From biography to poetry and this week, I decided to begin reading ‘Poem for the Day’ (One), which does exactly what it says and gives you a poem for every day of the year to read.. and memorise. Well, the reading I will do, but I have to draw the line at attempting to memorise a year’s-worth of poems! I haven’t recognised any of the poems that I’ve read so far this week, so I’m looking forward to getting to know some new voices – old and new – and hopefully, the more I read, the more it may rub off on my own attempts…

I won’t do this every week but, as it’s the start of the New Year, I thought the very first poem of the year was a nice way to kick it all off and subsequently, a good one to share.

New Every Morning – by Susan Coolidge (also author of the Katy books)

Every day is a fresh beginning,

Listen my soul to the glad refrain.

And, spite of old sorrows

And older sinning,

Troubles forecasted

And possible pain,

Take heart with the day and begin again.

I will finish for now, with the words of another poet who featured this week – T.S. Eliot –  who very wisely advised that, “the essential advantage for a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal; it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory.”

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As my last post of 2013, tradition suggests that it should perhaps be both a reflective one and one which looks ahead to the year pending – 2014. I did, however, do most of my reflections of 2013 in a previous post, so am instead going to consider what I hope to achieve throughout the next year.

Picture 1A writer friend who wished me a Merry Christmas, suggested it would be a case of ‘New Year, New Book’, which I do like the sound of. However, knowing the time restraints imposed by my meandering career this year, the likelihood of writing that book is, well, not great. But, I have decided to be realistic rather than over-ambitious in my writing goals for the year to come (and just be satisfied for the moment that I have already written a fairly lengthy book and so have at least proved I can write one to the end).

Perhaps, at the beginning, journalism will have to take the lead, as it is, after all, what pays the bills, but there will always be a place for creative writing – just not necessarily a novel-length piece of work. That being said, as the year goes in, who knows what may rear its head, so it won’t be ruled out completely… (It is only healthy, I’m sure, to keep my ‘ideas’ book up to date!)

There is little point though in spreading oneself too thinly – as I am wont to do – so, instead of trying to write another novel, poetry and short stories, as well as sub-edit and do freelance journalism, it will be subbing, journalism, the odd bit of poetry and maybe a short story or two. Oh, and as much reading as I can cram in! Flying lettersI had thought a few weeks ago that reading had swamped all my writing energy but, if I’m honest, even reading has been swamped in recent times by freelancing and simply – working. Writers, I believe, need to have an equal-ish balance of reading and writing and so, this year, I intend to immerse myself in great writing – of poets and novelists – and recapture the inspiration which towards the end of the year, has somehow ebbed away. The John Hewitt International Summer School, On Home Ground Poetry Festival and similar literary events help greatly with keeping writing ambition buoyant and fully fed, and will hopefully be part of my 2014 as well, but you need to have an internal drive to want to write and if you’re not reading and not actually making the time to put pen to paper, then that drive can easily abandon you.

Not usually one to read biographies or the like, I am currently reading John McGahern’s memoir, which I actually received a few Christmases ago and for whatever reason, set aside. (I do this with books a lot – create a little library of titles, so I always have something waiting to be read, except sometimes… books get forgotten or overlooked.) Anyway, it is an interesting account so far of his early life in rural Ireland and will soon be detailing how he got into literature and his subsequent growth into a highly commended writer. Considering that he is all set for the priesthood at the minute, I’m intrigued to see how his story pans out.

I also have a biography of another late author – Maeve Binchy – who juggled journalism with writing, and am equally intrigued to find out how her career unfolded as a young woman.

I’ve mentioned before how much it helps to be encouraged by other writers and with these two books, much inspiration will be gleaned I am sure.snow beach

Anyway, as this year peters out and the new one creeps in, it is time, I think, to hit the ‘refresh’ button and welcome in 2014 with renewed vigour and not a feeling of dread at a long, cold January. It’s a state of mind, to be sure – January 1st is, after all, simply the rather ordinary day which follows the equally rather ordinary day before it and is not in any way noticeably different – but, a writer’s imagination is a wonderful thing and so, January 1st can be whatever you want it to be…

And the rest of the year as well.


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‘The Elements of Style’

We’ve all had the occasional struggle with words. Be we writers by choice, ambition or otherwise, everyone does write (or type) and, while some may argue that today, pretty much anything goes in terms of the written word (I allude here of course to ‘txt spk’ and other such social jargon – yes, I’m calling it jargon, as to the uninitiated, it can be slightly confusing!), in certain situations there are standards to be upheld – namely in newspapers, books and any officially published piece of work.

Those who know me from my old weekly newspaper job will agree that I am a stickler for good spelling, punctuation and grammar (so, of course, any errors here are simply as a result of my over-enthusiastic typing…). With that in mind, I thought I’d reflect on ‘The Elements of Style’ – a handy little grey book I picked up a few years ago, which contains the bread-and-butter basics of good grammatical writing.

As a journalist and now also a full-time sub-editor, I have to write accurately and I have to admit – you start to second-guess even the most basic ‘elements of style’ when you’re subbing a story, zoomed up close to you, on a screen. Is it basically correct? Is it the ‘house style’ of this newspaper (or the paper I used to work for?!)…. Doubt creeps in and I will argue that simply because you haven’t written the piece yourself, it makes the job more difficult. Things you wouldn’t think twice about typing, you now ponder in terms of spelling and so on.

Anyway, this is a blog aimed at creative writing, not journalism, but the same rules apply. Writing is writing. I have therefore decided to draw on some inspiration from great writers and thinkers, as well as ‘the little grey book’ and hope they similarly inspire my fellow writers and thinkers on writing, style and all that makes up the world of the wordsmith…

Literary inspiration from a New York sidewalk...

Literary inspiration from a New York sidewalk…

‘Style is the moment of identity between the writer and his subject’Marcel Proust

Will Strunk, co-author of aforementioned book, on brevity: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer makes all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Approaches to style (ref: The Elements of Style)

  1. Place yourself in the background – ‘to achieve style, begin by affecting none.’
  2. Write in a way that comes naturally
  3. Work from a suitable design
  4. Write with nouns and verbs (not just adjectives and adverbs)
  5. Revise and rewrite
  6. Do not overwrite
  7. Do not overstate
  8. Avoid the use of qualifiers (e.g. ‘rather’, ‘very’, ‘little’, pretty’ – the, er, and I quote, ‘leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words….’)
  9. Do not affect a breezy manner – ‘The breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day’. (I’m sure they didn’t include blogs in that!)
  10. Use orthodox spelling
  11. Do not explain too much
  12. Do not construct awkward adverbs (e.g. ‘tangledly’)
  13. Make sure the reader knows who is speaking
  14. Avoid fancy words (e.g. ‘discombobulate’!)
  15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good
  16. Be clear
  17. Do not inject opinion (in prose)
  18. Use figures of speech sparingly
  19. Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity
  20. Avoid foreign languages (‘no regard for the reader’s comfort’)
  21. Prefer the standard to the offbeat

‘Full of belief, sustained and elevated by the power of purpose, armed with the rules of grammar, you are ready for exposure.’

You may or may not agree with these tips, but there you go – some thoughts on the elements of style in writing. The key element of course, must be to write – corrections can come later…

 “The difference… between the person who says he ‘wishes to be a writer’ and the person who says he ‘wishes to write’. The former desires to be pointed out at cocktail parties, the latter is prepared for the long, solitary hours at a desk; the former desires a status; the latter a process; the former desires to be, the latter to do”Sir John Mortimer

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