Publication and pondering: There’s a café in this story


Dear reader,

I’m knee deep, waist deep, actually head under water in my monster novel of 140,000 words. No – as I keep saying – not an actual novel about monsters but the more I say that the more I want to write a novel about monsters. My novel is based on a flash fiction published in the Stinging Fly in – was it 2014? – quite a while back anyhow and it’s about a girl with pica running about eating the world to shore up her own loss (a mother dead in childbirth, an emotionally absent father) but it’s really an allegory for the 2000s boom hysteria, so everyone ends up eating the world (consumption see) and everyone’s out to shore up their loss (bad relationships, the spectre of the Famine in Irish society, feeling inadequate) and there’s a guy who wants to be a cannibal. So typical run of he mill stuff really. So I’ve been untangling years of notes and scenes and then going to Mia Gallagher’s workshops and now working on an online Self-Editing course run by the Writer’s Workshop and putting other pet projects aside for what seems forever. So I haven’t written many short stories recently but was so pleased to have one printed in the fabulous Welsh based The Lonely Crowd back in July.

As part of the publication we were encouraged to submit a piece on how we wrote the story submitted, or what was the crux of the story. As a man begins to become emotionally attached to a woman he meets in a café the narrative he tells himself about the state of his life, the feelings he feels he has for the woman and where his wife fits into the picture are key in how the story – an the ultimate conclusion will play out. However I wanted also to think about how, each time, we as writers set out to try to conjure up a story out of a slim idea, a visual, an anecdote, a phrase or a rough sketch of a character, we set out to make some kind of reality out of nothing and how this must always fail in some way (more on that in the next post.)

The writer tries to construct a whole that will, as the sum of its imperfect parts provide some epiphany or at least a satisfying sense of recognition, a consoling (or disquieting) feeling of common humanity or experience.

I talk about how with every version something is left out – something we need to become more aware of in this era of fake news

“As a young college student taking a module in media studies in the early 1990s, I remember the astounding realisation that news was not just news, it could be partisan, that parts of a story could be left out. And in this era of fake news and endless rhetoric, the watering down and frowning on any absolute moral stance, it is often implied that all views are equal. With the narratives we make of our own lives on social media, in our own heads, in the frenetic, consumerist, production-centred world we live in, we have never been more aware that all stories are a version.”

You can read the full version of my musings on The Lonely Crowd website here and I would be grateful if you do.  Issue 7 of The Lonely Crowd with my story and stories from Danielle McLaughlin, June Caldwell and many more can be ordered from the website.

How are you doing? Are you working on more than one project at a time? Do you feel bereft of the shorter stuff when working on novels? Listening to Nuala O’ Connor/Nuala Ni Chonchuir at the Bray Literary Festival recently she said she was bereft of her poetry in particular since her focus has been taken up by novels. I thought a between version lull in my novel would allow me to go back to another project but with the editing course it hasn’t turned out that way.

Blogging apparently is dead since I started this blog many years ago. That said I hope to be back here a little more regularly to connect with whoever passes this way.

8 thoughts on “Publication and pondering: There’s a café in this story

  1. Hi Alison

    Nice to hear from you again.

    Once a writer always a writer.

    Writing is a long-term activity. I have learnt this since starting in June 2010

    After six years I found how I wanted to write in the form of novels made up of short stories.

    Editing my million words written to January 2014 is taking as long as the original writing. I am nearly halfway there now.

    Publishing looks a hassle so I am continuing to read and write for pleasure.


    1. alisonwells

      Hello, lovely to hear from you too. The approach of writing short stories combined into a novel is close to my heart as well Alexander and it can allow you to create very strong and engaging passages and characters as well as do things with chronology and form. I’ve got to finish the flash fic novella that’s been on the go for years. I do sympathise with editing ‘the million words’, I feel just the same about the monster novel. The editing seems to be going on forever, so much so I haven’t written anything new for a long time, or very little. Publishing is a very strange beast as well so I don’t blame you for focusing on what is pleasurable about writing for you.

      1. Hello,

        Some more thoughts on editing. In my original writing, I left sections in note form or incomplete to come back to later. Big mistake. Coming back often five years later I have lost the thread. Notes in handwriting both hard to read and not in enough detail. So my advice finalise in draft at the time as completing later gets harder.

        I use the old version of Autocrit and Style Write computer software to help my editing. Tried quite a few of these aids and found these two suited my way of working, are simple to use and help consistency. Autocrit in weeding out word duplication and Style Writer in writing in shorter sentences and picking up spelling of similar words. These are less expensive than professional edits.

        In 2011 I paid for two professional edits of my first 100k monster book. One by a man and another by a woman. They both made similar comments, so I felt my writing could appeal to both sexes. They both said by writing was unusual … perhaps code for rubbish? They also gave me the tools to self-edit.

        My 100k book is now a trilogy of 375k words. I have really enjoyed the writing process. The other task I have enjoyed is beta reading of other writer’s near final drafts at the same stage as me in writing experience. New writers have a freshness in their writing which seems to be knocked out over time in the “this is the way you should write” mill. I certainly feel this is true of my own writing.

        I ramble on too much. Alexander

      2. alisonwells

        Please don’t apologise about rambling! It really resonates with me what you say about leaving incomplete sections and notes, I too am a culprit and it is frustrating not to be able to understand what you were hoping for at the time. Your comments about the packages you used and paid editing services are very helpful. And your monster book got even bigger! So glad to hear that you were able to develop it in this way and enjoyed the process. What do you plan to do with the trilogy – I know you said that the publishing industry felt too daunting. Did you think of self-publishing? I totally agree with you about new writers and new writing, it seems a shame to knock the personality and originality out of that passionate writing that was always a feature of someone like Ray Bradbury. His work is not perfect but is vibrant and enthusiastic for the wonders of life.

  2. ginandbooks

    I love that you seem to have found your writing rhythm again at the same time I am finding my way back into mine. I think we’ve said this before but we often seem to be on a similar trajectory (I think I had a story in same Stinging Fly on the opposite page!).

    After a long break due to a difficult family time, I’m also knee deep in writing a novel but trying to flex my short story / flash fiction muscles when I can. I find without it I’m less creative and the longer stuff suffers as a result. Not easy to find the time though!

    Good luck and great to back in this place of writerly support with you.

    1. alisonwells

      How lovely to have you pop in here. Now I’m sorry I’ve left this personal blog lie for so long! Yes we were together on that page in the Stinging Fly, I hope we can get something done again soon. I know you faced into such difficult circumstances and it takes such resilience to keep pushing on. I totally get what you are saying about being less creative about the shorter stuff. I must say I have really felt the loss of it and because this book is taking so absolutely long I just can’t see when I’m going to get back there. I have a flash fiction novella (based on all the Friday flash stuff, again, from years ago). I went back to it for a bit but then the editing course sent me back to the monster novel. Years just seem to zip on by and then I came up with the idea of a full time (library) job. I have applied but nothing more at this point. I think I will post about it soon so I will see what people think is possible.

    1. alisonwells

      Hi Susan, I’m sure you are very busy with life at the moment. I think we have all stepped aside in recent whiles as life took over. It’s really good to hear from you and I hope you and the family are well too. I’d love to hear how it’s all going.

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