Month: October 2011

NaNoWriMo: Ready, Set…

Ah, October 31st, a very special day…..No, not Halloween…the last day before NaNoWriMo begins. It’s also my deadline for having my first 3 chapters and synopsis written and polished for a novel writing competition. (And no, I haven’t finished yet.)

I’ve done a couple of posts in the last while for Writing.ie on NaNoWriMo. I’m going to give it a go. If you are too, buddy me. I am RandomOptimism on the NaNoWriMo site.

Write 50,000 words in 30 days when you don’t have 5 minutes

Nanowrimo: How to get words on the page

My Amazing Week of Treats and Tricks

This has been quite a week in the world of Wells the writer. Since due to family life sometimes quite extraordinary things seem to whizz by in the periphery, not receiving the full attention they deserve, I’m going to take a moment to reflect on the upward momentum that has happened all at once. I take this relatively quiet moment, even as I grapple with polishing the first three chapters of my first literary novel with the intention of beginning to send them out into the world and even as I pretend that I haven’t signed up to write 50,000 words between next Tuesday and the end of November.

It began on Tuesday, often a day that goes under the radar, don’t you agree. Tuesdays are the middle child of the week I feel, even Wednesday has more of a profile… Anyhow. On Tuesday it was the launch of the Eighty Nine anthology from Literary Mix Tapes in which I have a story inspired by Cher’s If I could turn back time. I aslo made an apple sponge that day which the children agreed was DELICIOUS.

On Wednesday I was delighted to see a wonderful piece on Flash fiction by Declan Burke published in the Irish Times. I had been able to contribute my thoughts on flash fiction to the piece and one of the projects I am working on Flashes of Sadness and Light  was mentioned. I gave the bathroom a quick wipe over that day and bleached the sink. I took my second son swimming and dealt with a minor family crisis.

On Thursday,  once California woke up my story “Breaking News” was the story of the day on Metazen. It’s one of my favourite stories, written quite a while ago. I was glad it found a home. My daughter was off school that day and we went for a nice morning out. We also rescued a friend who’s car had broken down. Once I had picked up the older boys, things were busy. I did not notice until late that I had received a mail from Cill Rialaig Writers and Artists Retreat in Kerry telling me that I had been offered a weeks residency! This residency will enable me to work on my next novel The Exhibit of Held Breaths which I will begin during Nanowrimo. After this good news I helped my son with an essay on the Vikings.

On Friday  I got up very early as I was determined to finish a couple of flash fiction pieces for an interesting competition at the Irish Writers Centre where your inspiration was to be taken from paintings in the Frank X. Buckley collection. I had been struggling a bit with finishing them but in the early morning quiet I succeeded them and submitted them. My daughter’s teacher rang to say that my daughter wasn’t feeling the best. The 3yo and I went to pick her up early and later we picked up the boys and the Halloween mid term began.

I include the day to day details to show how this writing progression is meshed into the fabric of everyday domestic reality. Now it’s back to business, more writing and submitting, minding the kids and tidying the house, many more adventures!

Flash fiction in the Irish Times

Regular readers of the blog will know that I am a great fan of flash fiction and that I regularly take part in #fridayflash on Twitter where writers post their short fiction and read and review each others pieces. I’ve also talked about what flash fiction is on writing.ie

Today in the Irish Times, crime writer Declan Burke whose new novel Absolute Zero Cool is out now (and sounds fantastic) has written a great piece about flash fiction Flash fiction: ‘Intense, urgent and a little explosive’ and has kindly quoted some of my thoughts on this wonderful medium.

You can read some of my flash fiction pieces here. One of the flash fiction pieces ‘Unwritten’ was published by Crannóg and I read the piece at the launch of Crannóg 25.  Writing flash fiction has been the single most helpful activity in my development as a writer. It demands editing skills, attention to detail, brevity and impact. It also – as Declan Burke – explains is a wonderful showcase for the talents of many writers who came to the attention of agents etc through this medium.

Watch out for some new short fiction (not quite flash fiction but almost) from me tomorrow (Thurs 27th October) at the wonderful Metazen.

The Eighty Nine Anthology launches!

A few months ago I joined in with Jodi Cleghorn’s Literary Mix Tapes venture where crowd sourced fiction meets music. The particular project was Eighty Nine, the result is 26 stories of speculative fiction prompted by songs from 1989 and including events from the Berlin Wall to Tiananmen Square.

My song prompt was Cher’s If I could turn back time. Martin visits his mother Agatha in a nursing home. A former NASA employee now said to be suffering from Alzheimers, she is convinced that it’s still 1989, the year that her husband died. With references to the Voyager II flyby of Neptune and the Galileo probe, the inauguration of George Bush and Magnum PI mustaches the story sees whether it’s Agatha who really knows what’s going on.

Read more of the background to the project and a full list of the participants and their stories on the website at Literary Mix Tapes.

Here’s me holding with my copy of Eighty Nine. In 1989 I was 19 but there aren’t too many of those photos around..

 

There’s lots of fun and giveaways to be had at the virtual launch party today, including trivia quizzes, best dressed, videos and more  on the Facebook page and you can get a sneak peek of many of the stories details via Twitter on the @LiteraryMixTape account.

If this whets your appetite for the collection (which includes stories from many of my favourite writers from Twitter’s #fridayflash) or if you are nostalgic for 1989 you can check out the anthology it in the usual places, links to which are given below.

LMT Bookshop

Goodreads

Goodreads give away

Amazon UK page

Amazon US Page

 

Tuesday Interview: Jane Travers on Tweet Treats Blog Tour

Jane Travers was one of the first people I met on Twitter and I’ve subsequently had the pleasure of meeting this intelligent, friendly and wry lady in real life. The Tweet Treats project is a brainwave with a difference and the book has just been released. I asked Jane all about it….

(Sincere apologies at the moment, I am unable for some technological reason to add images of Jane and the Tweet Treats book in the post (am working on correcting this) but click on the links at the end to see the book and see @janetravers on Twitter!

Me: Who are you, Jane Travers, tell us a bit about yourself?

Jane: Who am I? I’m a full-time mum, a part-time company director, a former estate agent (for my sins) and a writer. If I’m allowed to call myself that when I’ve just put a load of tweets together into a book.

Me: What’s is this #tweettreats book all about then?

Jane: Well Alison, I had a dream… Ahem. I had an idea to create a recipe book that was really usable, not a coffee table book that was lovely to look through but no use at all if you were in a hurry to put dinner on the table. Reading a long passage about finding and pressing one’s own olive oil while sojourning in Tuscany, then preserving one’s own larks’ tongues in it is all very lovely when you’re in the mood to flick through some food porn; but I wanted recipes that you could read in seconds and then get on with making.

Me: How did you come up with the idea?

Jane: It was born out of boredom and frustration. One miserable Thursday night I had been working on a novel which was frustrating me utterly. I was dragged away from it by a starving child who demanded petulantly to know when dinner would be ready – it was already 6.30pm and I hadn’t even thought about dinner! I stood in the kitchen staring blankly at a packet of chicken thighs, entirely devoid of inspiration as to how to turn them into a meal. In desperation – and a hurry – I tweeted: “Any suggestions for what I can do with a packet of chicken thighs? No rude ones, please!” Within a minute I had received five perfect little tweet-length recipes from twitter friends, and an idea was born. So was dinner.

Me: What has been the most challenging aspect of putting the book together?

Jane: There have been different challenges at different parts of the process. Firstly, explaining what I was doing over and over again to new people as they became aware of the project. That wasn’t hard, but it was frustrating. Then trying to attract the attention of celebrities, who are tweeted by so many followers that it’s hard for them to notice just one person in their stream. When I’d collected all the recipes I had to write a book proposal. Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie gave me a crazy amount of help here, though I could gleefully have killed her a few times during the process! She kept ordering me to do more, get more information, devise a marketing plan, etc. It was harder than writing my masters’ thesis, to be honest. However, Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press – who are publishing Tweet Treats – has told me several times that it was the best proposal they’d ever received. Which was nice.

Me: Congratulations, that is very impressive! So what aspect of the project has warmed your heart?

Jane: All of it! Seriously, I’ve been a soppy mess since I started this. I’ve had overwhelming gratitude from Medécins sans Frontières, which is strange to me, given the incredible work they do – I’m the one who’s grateful! Huge numbers of people have joined in, offered help and wished me well with Tweet Treats. That includes a number of really well-known celebrities; Paula Abdul, for example, has been incredibly supportive. A group of my Twitter friends declared themselves to be Team Tweet Treat, and spent hours helping me to round up recipes and celebrities, for no other reason than that they liked the idea. The day Marco Pierre White agreed to donate the foreword was another big one, just another example of the incredible generosity I’ve encountered. I’ve had such overwhelming help with this that I feel like a fraud to have my name on the cover, because there’s no way on earth I could have done this without everyone’s help.

Me: Sum up the book in one line (or 140 characters if you wish!)

Jane:  The tagline on the book says it well – 140 characters, 140 celebrities, recipes for every occasion! Short, simple recipes anyone can follow. And that line above was exactly 140 characters!

Me: Ooh, nicely done. Apart from it being pithy and witty, why should people buy the book Jane?

Jane: Not only is it really useful; not only is it chock full of celebrity contributions; but also every single copy purchased will directly benefit Medécins sans Frontières. All royalties for as long as the book remains in print (which will hopefully be many years) goes to MSF, who are on the ground providing medical aid in countries stricken by war, famine and natural disaster.

Me: Why will it make the perfect stocking filler? Because we’ve measured and weighed it carefully, and it’s precisely the size to fill the average sock (which is a size 7 standardised across men and women). No, not really. It’s a perfect Christmas gift for a number of reasons; firstly, the price (€7.99) leaves ample change from a tenner; secondly, it’s fun, cool and twittery; and thirdly, lots of people like to give socially conscious gifts at Christmas, and Tweet Treats is ideal for that.

Me: Terrific! No arguments there. So what else are you working on at the moment?

Jane: I’m currently editing a novel (women’s fiction) and working on a YA paranormal romance, which I hope will be a trilogy.

Me: That’s great to hear, hope to see you in print soon. In the meantime where can people buy Tweet Treats?

Jane: Loads of places, I’m glad to say! Amazon.co.uk, Book Depository, Waterstones, Eason, Dubray Books, O’Brien Press and all good bookshops.

That’s absolutely super and for a brilliant cause. Come on readers, it’s a great buy for so many reasons, click on the links! Well done to Jane and O’ Brien Press. Congratulations.

Interview with Sarah Bannon: Head of Literature at the Arts Council (Ireland)

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Sarah Bannon, Head of Literature at the Arts Council. (Ireland).  Sarah’s role is diverse and includes working with and helping to fund a variety of literature organisations and festivals and also assessing grants for individual writers under the Literature Bursary Awards Scheme. She is also active in creating policy and finding strategic ways to further the literary arts. She gave me tips for Irish writers who are interested in applying for the literature bursaries and described the activities of the Arts Council over the years as well as reflecting on the literary landscape in Ireland at the moment.

You can read the full interview here on Writing.ie, the brilliant Irish writing website which provides fantastic advice in it’s Writer’s Toolbox, submission opportunities and constantly interesting features on writing and writers. Enjoy!

Results Not Typical Tour: Guest Post from Catherine Ryan Howard

The energetic and talented Catherine Ryan Howard has released three wonderful non-fiction titles: Mousetrapped, Backpacked and Self-Printed all hallmarked with her wry and engaging writing style. She’s now releasing Results not Typical – her first novel. I’m delighted to welcome her here today on her Result’s not Typical blog tour with a guest post on writing with some great tips. And don’t forget to check out her novel!

MY LEAST FAVOURITE PART OF WRITING: THE BIT IN THE MIDDLE

I get plenty of ideas. I have lists of fantastic book titles, and pages of scribbled notes about the themes and settings that could potentially tell the stories that go with them. I’m great with beginnings and ends and they pop into being so fully-formed that I can play them in my head like little movies. I can even see the finished covers in the my mind’s eye, and the outfit I’ll wear to the glittering book launch, down to the outrageously expensive shoes and knees-to-armpits industrial strength magic underwear…

But anyway. I digress.

That’s all good – great, even. But I never, ever know what goes in the middle. I always have to drag that, kicking and screaming, out of the ether (read: the darkest recesses of my brain), and it never comes easily.

That pesky middle. It spoils all my fun.

The problem is determining just what is the middle? How are you supposed to get from A to B without resorting to pointless filler, like a suspiciously detailed shopping trip, dinner preparation or a three-page inventory of your character’s CD collection? What are your imaginary friends supposed to do with themselves for eighty thousand words without sending both writer and reader into an involuntary slump?

That was the biggest hurdle between me and my writerly daydreams and me and a somewhat finished book. I had what I thought was a great idea for a novel (a corporate satire about a slimming company), a great opening (each of my three main characters getting ready to start what would turn out to be the worst day of their lives for at least one of them), a great inciting incident (the formula for their newest product goes missing) and a killer ending with a big twist (which I won’t reveal because I’m hoping after reading this blog post you will feel suddenly and inexplicably compelled to pop over to Amazon and buy the Kindle edition of Results Not Typical, priced at just $2.99.)

But I hadn’t the foggiest about what would happen in between, or why something should. My reference shelf of “How To…” writing books banged on and on about character and setting and point of view and syntax and adverbs and word counts and formatting your manuscript and the kitchen sink, but none of them told me what I need to know: how – exactly – to plot a novel.

But then – phew! – I found one that did: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by the late great Hollywood screenwriter Blake Snyder.

Yes, it’s about screenwriting. But it has helped me no end when it comes to plotting fiction.

Using a three-act structure, a fifteen point “beat sheet” and your imagination, it’ll give you a plot in no time at all. And, if your plot is missing anything – if, for example, between chapter two and chapter eight there’s a black hole so big your entire book could slip into it – this method will make it blink on and off rapidly and sound an alarm. You’ll know about it. For instance, did you know that a good plot needs a midpoint? This, I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn, comes half way through your book (or script). Generally the midpoint will either be a fake high (e.g. the character thinks they’ve solved their problem and is victorious but in a few pages will be brought back down to earth again) or a fake low (e.g. the character thinks all is lost and starts to cry into the their Cornflakes, not knowing that just around the corner things are going to look a lot better). These events will also lead to a significant “stakes raise” where the consequences of the protagonist failing at whatever they’re trying to do suddenly becomes a lot more serious. The midpoint has a bookend later on in the plot, at the lowest point which Snyder calls “All is Lost.” As a general rule, he says “it’s never as good as it seems at the midpoint and it’s never as bad at it seems at the low point” (or vice versa). You may not even realize it but the most satisfying stories contain these and other “Snyder” elements, even if the author didn’t consciously include them.

Save The Cat says this needs to happen, and then that needs to happen, and then this needs to happen too, and it’ll tell you why, and then suddenly the leap between the action and how that action will look in your story with your characters, ideas and fictional world doesn’t feel like such an abyss, and that headache starts to subside.

So if you’re having plotting problems, buy Save the Cat. If you want to read a book that exists because of it, read Results Not Typical. If you’re still having plotting headaches, I’d suggest two aspirin, a dark room and a lie down.

Or we could just stop writing books, and make do with just reading them instead. I’m guessing that would be a lot easier

_____________________________

Results Not Typical on Amazon.co.uk:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Results-Not-Typical-Novel-ebook/dp/B005M33XD6/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316862559&sr=1-7

Results Not Typical on Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Results-Typical-Catherine-Ryan-Howard/dp/1466224657/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316862619&sr=1-8

Goodreads Giveaway:

If your readers visit http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/14791-results-not-typical they can enter a giveaway to win one of five paperback copies of Results Not Typical. Open for entries from September 30th-October 31st. Open to all countries.

About Catherine:

Catherine Ryan Howard is a 29-year-old writer, blogger and enthusiastic coffee-drinker. She currently lives in Cork, Ireland, where she divides her time between her desk and the sofa. She blogs at www.catherineryanhoward.com.

About Results Not Typical:

The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers and chick-lit meets corporate satire in the debut novel from Catherine Ryan Howard, author of the bestselling memoir Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. Through their Ultimate Weight Loss Diet Solution Zone System, Slimmit International Global Incorporated claim they’re making the world a more attractive place one fatty at a time. Their slogans “Where You’re Fat and We Know It!” and “Where the Fat IS Your Fault!” are recognised around the globe, the counter in the lobby says five million slimmed and their share price is as high as their energy levels. But today the theft of their latest revolutionary product, Lipid Loser, will threaten to expose the real secret behind Slimmit’s success…The race is on to retrieve Lipid Loser and save Slimmit from total disaster. If their secrets get out, their competitors will put them out of business. If the government finds out, they’ll all go to jail. And if their clients find out… Well, as Slimmit’s Slimming Specialists know all too well, there’s only one thing worse than a hungry, sugar-crazed, carb addict – and that’s an angry one. Will the secret behind Slimmit’s success survive the day, or will their long-suffering slimmers finally discover the truth? Available now in paperback and e-book editions.

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!

My useless writing genius knows no bounds

Oh this tightrope between delusion and despair, between confidence and crisis! It’s something that is familiar to every writer especially those who are endeavouring, really endeavouring to create something that they hope ultimately might be enjoyed by someone other than themselves.

I’ve written a collection of stories called Random Acts of Optimism and that’s what writing is, every time, an act of optimism that we can do something with an idea and get it any way close to what we intended. And when we complete something and submit it to a mag or book publisher, when we enter a competition, we are saying YES, I’VE DONE MY BEST, I THINK THIS IS GOOD. GOD SPEED.’

When we sit down writing, sometimes it all flows, we love it, the words are just right, or perhaps we’ve worked on something for a while and know that yes, the shape is coming out of the stone and it’s really,  quite….brilliant. Or maybe not, is it? Is it really a load of baloney, clichéd, face palmingly so. Not at all what I was trying to do and yes, of course that story wasn’t accepted for the mag or placed in the competition at any level and it’s no wonder the publisher didn’t even acknowledge receipt of my manuscript it’s, oh, it’s absolutely useless, I am absolutely useless, however did I think I was ever going to get anywhere and you know the odds are against us, even more so now with the state of publishing and I shouldn’t have sent it out at all, I should have stuck it under the bed.

But… that phrase there, it’s quite alright, actually and well, that character feels authentic, pretty funny dialogue, and that plot isn’t at all obvious and I’ve read it back several times now and the writer’s group said it was basically all there and a couple of them said send it out now. Actually it’s brilliant, a touch of genius there. And I got some great feedback on that other thing last week and well, yes, I was shortlisted in that competition, not too long ago and well yes, this IS good, I really like it. I should keep going. But I don’t know how to solve that chronological problem with the twins, this is really going nowhere, oh why do I even bother.

Stops.

Starts typing again.

Deletes whole line.

Starts typing again.

Keeps typing.

Laughs.

Stops.

Puts head in hands.

Starts typing again.

My useless writing genius knows no bounds

The shape is emerging from the stone.

I’ve nicked my finger with the chisel.

How can we maintain confidence (rather than delusion?). How can we curb despair and start again?