Writers: ditch your angst

Writers, we’re special, we’re creative, artistic, we tap into the hum of the world that ordinary folk don’t. Hmm? We are struck by ideas, by the muse. We struggle and strain to manifest our gorgeous ideas into words that will astound, entertain, move. We’re reaching for something and sometimes we get there and we send out a story or novel that strikes a chord, is published, enjoyed, rated. At other times we leave stories along the highway of our writing journey, discarded, littering

But that’s just it, sometimes we say the thing and it sounds right, feels right. But get ten people to read it and it might only hit home with one or two. Does it mean that our writing has only limited appeal or is it that it has proportional appeal to similar minded individuals that enjoy the kind of work we produce?

I’m assuming a certain level of quality here, a level the writer has reached where we’ve learned to uncover the grain of truth in cliché without letting the reader know we are doing it. Where we invent the juxtapositions of language, says things differently, are technically competent or have through thousands of hours of practice becoming intrinsically expert at writing without having to think too much about it.

The world is full of opinions and trends, many of them conflicting. Just some of the ideas I’ve heard lately is that flash fiction is a new and exciting genre with the punch of short stories and the fluidity of poetry or, opposingly that flash fiction is not something distinct, it’s just a writing exercise. Some people like reality TV, others the opera, we can’t cater for everyone.

Writers, we’re often subbing. We read the journals and the submission criteria but it’s often not possible to be sure whether our piece will hit the spot for the particular editor or judge. We all have different backgrounds and personalities and sometimes a piece of writing that makes absolute sense to us, will mean nothing to someone else, something that seems innovative and striking to one will be inaccessible and contrived to another. In entering competitions I’m often confused as to what to send in but it’s not always possible to hit on the right answer because of the subjective nature of reading and enjoying various elucidations on life.

I’m subbing a literary novel at the moment. Having finished writing it just a short time ago it’s hard to see whether it’s a solid novel or perhaps is flawed in some fundamental way (of course not!). But I’ve had readers who absolutely got it and loved it, readers who got most of it or preferred one storyline because they identified more with that than the other. We can see that even when a novel is published it may have many different critiques or even if we really like a book, we might still find an element that disappoints or didn’t quite do what we wanted it to do.

I’m also preparing to self-publish (sometime in May) my space/sci-fi comedy book Housewife with a Half-Life under the name A.B.Wells. It’s been out to some publishers who liked some aspects but not so much others, or who couldn’t quite place it in a genre that they were interested in working in. However I know the book has appeal, (and an extremely endearing protagonist, Fairly Dave) and that there are a lot of readers, both men and women, out there who love humour, science, psychology, surreal comedy, geek stuff, Dr. Who, the great themes of life and the meaning of life who will find something to enjoy in the book.

We first need to do all the things we’re supposed to do when getting your work out there: careful research of agents, publishers, journals etc, be professional and produce high quality, beta read, proofread material.

When we have done all that, I think it’s really important  to stop fretting and second guessing and adjusting our material (although be open to feedback and editing once a piece is accepted). We need to stop feeling so much angst about whether we are writing the right stuff for the times, or whether we are good enough to submit. Submit and then move on. Keep writing, write every day you can, write something, improve it, move on, write new things, be new with words and ideas and all the ways that fiction and the way we tell ourselves stories is changing. Get words out into the world and keep going, keep writing more and more again and be hopeful, always, rate yourself, be brave.

Flash fiction thoughts and A.J. Ashworth’s short stories

Howdy. I’ve been putting myself about elsewhere today. On writing.ie I interview A.J. Ashworth whose wonderful short story collection Somewhere Else, Or Even Here won the Scott Prize and is now released by Salt Publishing. The collection is fabulous. Read more about it and A.J. Ashworths views on short stories here.

I’ve also been pontificating here about what flash fiction is and whether it is really real for the National Flash Fiction Day site. I say lots of fancy things so go see if they make any sense.

#FridayFlash Self-Possession

I have a 300 word flash up on the #amwriting site today. It’s called Self-Possession. It was written in response to one of the paintings on view at the Irish Writers Centre. (Full details on my guest post). If you can’t post a comment there I’d love to have your thoughts here.

Update: I’ve added my story here today Sat Mar 10th.


Fiona stepped around a dead bird in the road. By the railings and the rush of the buses, she became aware of implausible nausea, olfactory conspiracies of street tarmac, cafe onions. She saw Jack. The momentum of her body checked. Inside her the tiny astronaut unravelled, tethered to the mother ship; a jolt under the skin.

Self-possession. He had it. In his arctic white t-shirt; blonde haired, broad shouldered, unburdened. “I will make you love me” he had said, in a bar.

In the street she reached him. He kissed her, leaning in. He possessed her neck. At dusk in the flat he tore at her clothes under milk white window sills. In the entrance hall his hand at the small of her back.

The figure in the painting stared at the caged bird. She had been proud of herself before meeting Jack.

Jack was an architect. During lovemaking he considered her geometry, their wall shadows thrashing against each other; parabola, rhombus, polygon.

“The bird – it’s beautiful don’t you think?” Jack stroked her hand.

She didn’t answer.

“Look at it” he commanded.” She did as she was told.

She leaned her other hand against her stomach. Her midriff was becoming convex. Soon he would notice, insist.

“You don’t know what’s good for you” he’d said, that first time at her flat.

Even the bars of the cage were lovely.

His fingers loosened. She made her arm bird bone thin and slipped it from him. Eventually he would turn his eyes from the painting, his face dark against the outline of her absence.

Fleeing to Pearse Street, a feather stuck to her shoe.

In the train she watched the framed shapes of her possible lives flicker. In the bleached air an arrow of birds headed south.

his story was written in response to the painting The Caged Bird by Gerald Dillon on view at the Irish Writer’s Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin and part of the Frank Buckley Collection. The painting can be viewed among others here.

Help Michael’s dream to walk

My eldest son’s classmate in St. Cronan’s school, Bray, Co. Wicklow is Michael Tiron. Eleven year old Michael has Cerebral Palsy and has been in a wheelchair since the age of three. He has just been accepted for a significant operation in the USA in St. Louis Childrens Hospital which will give him greater mobility and let him be able to walk independently with an aid. The operation including post operative care and physio costs €60,000. There have been a large number of fundraising events organised and the total reached so far is €15,000.

I’m appealing to anyone who can to visit the site that tells you all about Michael and his operation and Donate using the Paypal button on the site. Even a small donation from many people could do so much for this boy. Thank you! Visit the site to find out more and donate.

Reading as a writer and my novel is finished!

Today on Writing.ie I ask if being a writer ruins your love of reading.

I’ve also been reading this lovely optimistic and interesting article on the short story by Arminta Wallace in the Irish Times.

Apart from that I’m almost ready to submit my new novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities.  It’s my nanowrimo 2010 novel and I’ve been flat out working really hard on it particularly over the last few months. It’s a story of many layers and I’m pleased with how it’s turned out. One of the main themes is the power of storytelling and the novel contains four standalone short stories. Here’s my blurb for the book.

Sometimes stories can keep a life together; sometimes stories can tear a world apart. Set in the flux of the Celtic bust, Freya’s life is far from perfect. After a traffic accident Freya has lost her memories and somehow gained some she doesn’t recognise. Whilst her archaeologist husband is on the far side of Ireland immersed in the history of a newly found female Bog Body, Freya’s crumbling life is infiltrated and haunted by Glisa who seems to represent a perfect life. For Glisa, her perfect world it isn’t enough and it’s only by telling stories – both her own and those from Freya’s chaotic existence that she can make a life worth living. There’s a sinister undercurrent to Glisa’s life and Freya’s background is uncertain and hidden by her mothers deceit. Fairytales of the past, present and future, mirrors, castles, children present and lost all converge to bring Freya closer to the life she wanted and to threaten Glisa’s very existence.

(If you’ve any constructive criticism for my blurb please let me know, I’m here to learn!)