Never give up – The Exhibit of Held Breaths goes to Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair

In 2010 I began scribbling in a notebook, imagining a decrepit museum-gallery “I’m writing to tell you about a place where I worked many years ago and a particular exhibit – the Exhibit of Held Breaths. I recently revisited the museum-gallery after an interval of ages. It’s a grim place now; dust shored up in the corners, the spiders spinning improbable threads, descending not from old beams but from torn polystyrene ceiling tiles interspersed with chunky fluorescent lights. The museum was shut down quite a few years ago – I’ve kept a key, although I hardly needed it; when I put my hand on the side door it crumbled, rotten, into flakes and shards.”

As any writer knows, writing is not as others might imagine – a solitary person stares out of the window, pen in hand, face lighting up as a idea appears in consciousness, pen goes to paper – or in these day perhaps fingers start tapping on soft computer keys – and a story bursts onto the page. No! More often it is small scratchings, false starts, sentences struck out or the delete key, head in hands, standing up, walking round, more useless words that need endless revision before they take shape – and only ever approximating the first vision.

But on a handful of occasions (in my experience anyway) a story arrives, yes, arrives as if sent from somewhere, as if already existing in some alternate reality library and plonks itself on the page. Without too much agonising on this occasion the short story – quite a long short story at 5000 words – was written and within it was encapsulated a larger story, a whole trajectory. It asked to be a novel.

Art and belief collide when the strange Exhibit of Held Breaths and its twin exhibit Sighs take apart 1980s Rivenstown and the life of reluctant curator Norman White.

Featuring a Miss Havishameque Mrs Reeves, the reviled aristocrat of a failing 1980s town, and her protégée, The Exhibit of Held Breaths follows the quest of an ordinary man to explore the exaltation of art, and burn bright beyond his usual existence. Through her own warped motives, Mrs Reeves ignites the fire in him and raises up the town, but at what cost to Norman, his wife Jenny, their children and the people of Rivenstown? The sinister influence of the exhibits begins to unravel it all. Art reveals more about Norman and his past and his future than he’s prepared for.

Time is strange and our writing journey exists alongside life. In 2010 I had four young children aged ten and under, my mother-in-law suffered a devastating stroke that put her in a wheelchair and left communication difficult, one of my children was diagnosed with Aspergers. At the same time I had been utterly thrilled – and shed a tear of joy – when the one other story that had almost written itself Bog Body was shortlisted for the Hennessy Award ceremony that took place in April 2010. Around that time I had also been shortlisted for the Bridport prize. I had fallen for writing aged 8 when a poem I wrote in school was well received and I had been writing since then but only began in earnest when in 2000 I decided to give up paid employment and raise my children at home.

In the early years I wrote when I could, when my husband took sole charge of the children. My artist sister and I shared childcare to free the other up for creative activities. I became a member of the 5am write club to eek out words at my most productive time of day – although small children strangely also like to wake early sometimes. In latter years my family worked together to build a writing shed. From my files I see that a draft of the novel of The Exhibit of Held Breaths was completed in 2013, although I know that I let it sit after that and completed further drafts and improvements based on feedback from people in the publishing world and my writers group.


In 2014 I was focussed more on short stories and was delighted when I was invited to the Irish Writers Centre to read my flash fiction piece Eat! for the Stinging Fly launch of the anthology it was published in. By coincidence last year the novel that emerged from the flash fiction was longlisted (next 12 after the finalists) in the Irish Writers Centre’s Novel Fair Competition. This year I decided to give The Exhibit of Held Breaths a try and was thrilled when I received a call from Betty Stenson of the Irish Writers Centre to say that I was a finalist and would be part of the Novel Fair in February 2020. The Novel Fair is an opportunity to meet sixteen agents and publishers in person to pitch our novels (and ourselves). And in a satisfying full circle the room where we will be pitching our work is the same room where I performed my flash fiction back in 2014.

Since I wrote The Exhibit of Held Breaths there have been further difficulties and tragedies in the family but also positives. I now work as a librarian in the largest public library in Ireland and absolutely love my role in connecting with library users and being surrounded by books and readers.

In this blog over the years I’ve tried to help others to find headspace and resilience to write and shared submission opportunities that will help writers to raise their profile. There is no clear formula, no clear or linear trajectory to success. You may write the perfect and most lovely novel but it may just not be for these times, you require an element of luck but you need to create opportunities, visibility, you need to keep following your fascinations and inspirations and writing new things. You need to try new styles of writing, new genres, new types – poetry, screenplay, playwriting, worldbuilding for games – and see what freshness they can bring to your work. You need to dust off old work and see if it still sings and whether it can now find a place. You need to look at your writing with a critical eye but be on your own side and advocate for work you believe in.

On 1st February the 12 finalists for the novel fair were welcomed, congratulated and supported in a preparation day at the Irish Writers Centre. In a few days time we will get a chance to meet agents and publishers and for all those writers who usually send manuscripts into the void, its a fantastic chance to connect up with people in the publishing world. The Irish Writers Centre run the competition every year and will soon be announcing details of what will be their tenth competition on their website. Whatever happens it is a tremendous opportunity and one I’m grateful for and I’ll tell you more about the process after Feb 14th.


Get on with writing and forget about the rest

We all do it, whether we mean to or not, and social media is our worst enemy. We all compare ourselves to others, how we’re progressing in relation to them, whether as writers someone else is published, sold more books, got more shortlists, likes and comments on their posts etc.

I’m thinking about a post for next week about how we really need to think about what we want to do with our fiction because that’s central, what we want to achieve with our writing, our sentences, our ideas. Everything else is noise, so much of people’s perceived worth/talent depends on the zeitgeist, social norms, the in-thing, culture, visibility and who has the power and voice in the arenas that are seen as important. We want to find a clear path and say if we do x and y we’re going to make it. But it’s not that straightforward, the world is chaotic and while we can steer as true a path through as we can, there are a whole lot of waves and sharks that might change things one way or another.

Author and blogger Iain Broome says it best this morning and with terrific humour. How many of us sighed at the Granta best 20 under 40, especially those of us for whom 40 is a lovely landmark we’ve sailed by. Iain Broome says the green eyed monster is normal but that the main thing is to keep writing and making our work the best we can. In psychology it’s called intrinsic motivation and it works far better than the outside kinds like rewards (tho’ a nice award wouldn’t go astray!) Listen here on youtube to Iain’s uplifting and true discussion on our green eyed monsters and about staying true to the words.

31 days: Writing Goals, how to achieve them & what if you don’t

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.

Aims and intentions – direction but not dictatorship.

There are many blogposts across the internet about setting goals this January but the emphasis I want to put on this post is yes, on achieving goals but not beating yourself up in the process! Speaking from experience I know how we can scupper ourselves by getting frantic, confused and guilty so this is what I’ve done that helps me.

1: Write a desire manifesto
Write what you want to do/achieve most of all. Under that write your lesser aims. You will know what’s most important to you and what you need to put ahead of everything else.

2: Be optimistic

There is tremendous energy in intention itself. I talk about intention in this post and how Orna Ross says that aims are not about ‘should’ but come from a more positive position. So set out what you would love to achieve in the coming months. We want to give ourselves parameters within which we can organise our life, we’re not talking sticks and sadness. We want to get away from a vague sense of dissatisfaction and see what kinds of activities and achievements will give us energy and makes us happier. At this stage jot down your wildest dreams.

3: Be realistic and specific

We’ve all heard about making aims SMART, specific, measurable, achieveable, realistic and timebound. Again, we need to set the parameters. It would be marvellous if we could write 3 novels in a month but it probably won’t happen. Subject your wildest dreams and aims to a reality test. Could you finish your novel draft by next month? Do you hope to start your next project by March. Do you need to fit in smaller projects along the way? Can you assign specific time slots to these?

Note: This is not set in stone! Your projects will take longer or less time than you think, family issues will occur. You DO NOT NEED TO FEEL YOU HAVE FAILED OR SHOULD BE GUILTY. So what if you’re 20 years too late to be considered for the 30 under 30 prize, is that really what you wanted anyway? And what would you be happy with instead?

4: Keep a ‘to do’ journal and track progress and achievement (this is magic!)

Get an A4 book into which you write your monthly, weekly and daily aims. Each day or week tick off what you’ve done (a big enthusiastic tick). If something is left undone add it in to the following week. Periodically (monthly, quarterly) write a list of achievements such as submissions made or pieces accepted, words written, ideas gathered. (There’s more on this below!)

What I find so good about this practice is that it gets everything out of my head, my to do list is not circulating in my mind and causing anxiety, I can clearly see what I want to do, what I have done and what I need to do to finish what I set out to do.

3: Regig your schedule regularly.

Based on the information you discover see where you need to add effort, prioritize or take away goals altogether. Again this is a rational and clever thing to do. There is no shame in not achieving everything. (Even superheroes have to send their costumes to the dry cleaners every so often!)

4: Set both tiny goals and marvellous ones

If you set tiny goals you can build on them. If you aim to write 500 words a day you will energise yourself by your success rather than disheartening yourself by your aim to do 2000. The energy of your achievement and it’s confidence will make it more likely that you can achieve 2000 words. Didn’t you know you had wings and could fly?

But equally big goals like the 50,000 word writing challenge Nanowrimo can work. If you see yourself by steady progression scaling the heights of such a challenge (through effort and camaraderie) you will forever know what you are capable of and that is a certainty that cannot be taken away from you.

5: Write an achievement manifesto

When I arrive at the pages where I write my quarterly summary of successes I am always surprised. It’s so easy to forget what you have achieved, even if it’s something quite significant. We often have a tendency to underplay success and focus on what we haven’t done yet. So writing down what we have achieved from solving family squabbles to winning the local poetry competition to writing your first flash fiction to winning the Booker prize is very important. We can take some time to see how these achievements reflect what we set out to do or whether some of the things we did took us in new directions that turned out to be rather wonderful. You can even go a bit crazy and write compliments to yourself on this page. I’ll be talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to help stop negative thoughts more fully in a future post and the positive feedback we can give ourselves in this achievement manifesto is an important part of that. This is our feelgood CV, imagine listing your achievements for a job, you can make yourself sound very impressive!

And what if you don’t succeed?

Psychology and Weiner’s attribution theory tells us that we attribute our own success to our efforts and other people’s success to luck. Failure works round the other way. I’m not so sure that those of us who feel responsible for everything, don’t attribute our success to chance and our failure to ourselves. There are those of us who set such high standards that we are bound to fail.

In the modern day though we have this impression that everyone can succeed if they just try. There is truth to the idea that if we start off more optimistic we’ll be more alert to opportunities and we’ll try things, whether it’s enter competitions or self-publish, become entrepreneurs or apply for a job that’s a little too far out of our reach (or is it?) It’s also true however that even if we’ve written a brilliant book for example or have been writing solidly for 20 years, there is a chance we’ll be unlucky and just won’t make it or perhaps we’re not as good as we hoped.


If we are not getting where we want to we might need to get some constructive criticism. We might have to decide whether the love of writing is enough beyond financial success. We might take joy from other aspects of our lives that can make a rich cloth in its entirety. We can hope for posthumous fame. We need to figure out what aspects of life make it just good enough, what small pleasures add up into a satisfying whole. There has to be balance between making our goals and dreams strong enough and big enough to make us work hard & commit to our own success and also realising that to make one ambition the be all and end all is to set ourselves up for misery.


We need to become good not beating ourselves up about not meeting targets. We need to be clever and reassess, not take it as failure.

What do you think, is there a way to maintain our optimism and intention while not beating ourselves up for the things we don’t manage to do?

Writing and Life: What to do when you just can’t

When my youngest child of four started school in September I thought that I would blog about that. After all this blog is called Head above Water, it’s about the years of juggling life and writing when the kids were very small. After almost twelve years, with all the children now in school I’ve entered a new era and perhaps I will blog about that in the future.


But for a number of reasons (lack of a clear holiday downtime during the summer, the effort that goes along with getting the children settled back into their routine and other things) rather than having a new lease of life I’ve felt worn down and came to the point where I was unable to blog, to write very much, tweet, market my self-published books or any of the the things that I’d previously thought important both because I enjoyed them and because I was building a career.

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. Not the kind where you stare out the window and wait for the muse to come and can’t think of anything. I’ve used writing prompts to help me get started, walking always makes new ideas come, focused effort has worked for me: I’ve completed NaNoWriMo (the 50,000 words in a month challenge) three times.

But the air sometimes gets thin when you’re running and running and don’t take the time to figure out why or where. We talk about fitting writing into our busy lives, eking out the hours around our work but we talk less about doing nothing, about enjoying ourselves, having fun, exploring the passions and interests we have for their own sake.


There’s a lot of talk now about marketing, building platforms, social networking, raising your profile, unlocking Amazon’s algorithms to gain visibility. But again, these activities can become vapourous when we are doing them just for the sake of keeping up, because it’s the done thing, because everyone else is running faster and faster now and we have to keep up.

Too much in the head

We know too much. We are aware of almost every tragedy and every success. We try to assimilate, to compare, to see where the world fits in relation to us and where we fit in relation to it. As writers we hear of the publishing deals, the advances, the runaway self-published successes, the wonderful word counts and so on. We are happy for others but anxious for ourselves, wondering if we’re doing things right. And publishing is changing so much, from week to week both on the traditional and self-publishing fronts that authors don’t always know if they are doing the right thing, making the right choices.

So what can we do if we have lost our way with writing and with fitting writing into a life that is rich and varied outside of our daily wordcount

What to do if you have lost your way


Stop writing, have some time off altogether, rest, don’t even think. Just stop.
Some people say we should write everyday to keep the writing muscle going, to keep in the story. Yes, yes if you are enjoying it. Yes if you love writing your book. But if you have lost your way in general or in the project you are working on, just stop.


But only if you can stand it. Sometimes being a writer can ruin reading. But if you can find books that carry you away, that make you feel like you did when you had no authorly ambition and you were just reading because you loved it.

Refill the well

Do the things you would do if you weren’t trying to be a writer. Watch the telly, play table tennis, tie conkers with string and smash them against each other with a friend, waste time, go out, chat, dig a hole in the garden, paint a picture, watch football, go to the library for non-research purposes. These are ways of being a writer when you’re not writing but do things to that have absolutely nothing to do with being a writer at all. Why do I even have to say that? Sometimes we develop tunnel vision.

Read Karen Rivers’ blog

Karen Rivers’ blog is about the experience of living. She shines a light on how we are in the world and the odd things we do and how we get through things. She makes us stop in the middle of a tornado and find quiet in the eye of the storm.

Remember it’s okay to take time out for yourself

This post from Barbara Scully is very apt for me as a mother in the home, life is very full on from 1.30 onwards to late at night, there is little time to recuperate. This applies to everyone, male or female, particularly those who spend much of their day tending to or sorting out the needs of others. How can you write and know what you want to write and why when you are still in the headset/mindset of a clamour of voices other than your own.

Listen to all the rubbish you are telling yourself and talk yourself out of it

When there is too much noise, when we know too much, when we compare ourselves, when we are giving to other people without taking time to reestablish our equilibrium we are wearing ourselves out with everything that is in our heads. Chris Brogan gives an example of how we can listen to what we our inner critic is telling us and how it is making us feel. We can learn to talk back and stop confusing ourselves and losing the focus of what we really want to do, not just think we should.

I’ll write a related post about how we need to stay in love with our novels or learn to love them when the spark goes out but if it’s gone further than that and you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything you are trying to achieve then I hope this post shows you are not alone and that there are things you can try to help.

Related posts: 5 New year resolutions for writing parents

To the social media anxious: It’s okay

Childlike thinking makes for creative writing

The transition from childhood to adulthood involves a mental development that allows for more abstract reasoning, logical complexity, a greater awareness of consequence and an understanding of the nuanced dynamics of human relationships. However there are ways that childlike thinking can get us back to the basics of life and enhance our creative endeavours.


Babies and very young children are absorbed in the moment to moment awareness of their surroundings and the stimuli around them. The parents of young children often bemoan the snails pace at which a walk somewhere has to be undertaken but a key memory for me is when my youngest son was eighteen months and on one of his first walks in the big outside world. He became absolutely fascinated with a pebbledash wall, he looked at it, touched it, ran his fingers along it, went right up close. The other day I helped my daughter make daisy chains. To do so, we sat right down on the grass, feeling it under our fingers, surrounded by a galaxy of daisies, some fully open, some pink tipped. We selected the correct stems, just thick enough, made the delicate slice in the stem, threaded them through. There was a light breeze, bird sounds, occasional traffic, the concentration of the threading action. This slowing down and careful examination of things can bring us into the heart of a story or emotion. When describing a scene we can open it up around the mind of the reader by including the smallest of details, a cigarette butt, a shiny bottle top, a half-open fushia bud, the angle of a business man’s tie. 

Key characteristics

Children take things at face value; they make broad comparisons based on ‘similar’ or ‘different’. Only as they grow do they learn to make more nuanced distinctions. While the nuance is what differentiates a truly great writer from an adequate one, when we first introduce a character in a book, we need to use the broader brushstrokes, to give us a handle on the person, a hook. While it may not be politically correct; as humans we always make an initial judgement based on looks, similarity to ourselves, race, colour or accent. In our books our characters will make assumptions about one another based on initial impressions. These might later turn out to be incorrect. In writing, we can use the transition from the broad strokes to nuance to explore a developing relationship or an increasing or decreasing understanding between characters.

Fearlessness and Free thinking

Small babies have no depth perception and no sense of the danger of falling. Terrifyingly young children will run out onto a busy road with no sense of danger. Even older children, teenagers and even young adults carry with them a sense of invincibility. While many children invent rules for their games, there is a greater sense of freedom, where ‘let’s pretend’ means a car can fly or a giraffe can talk. As writers we need fearlessness to write at all and to take chances with our writing. We need to ‘run into the road’ into topics or subject areas that we find difficult to deal with in order to exercise our skill as writers. We also need to stretch our imaginations while making sure that our stories have their own internal logic.

Curiosity and Interest

Is a crane bigger than a whale?

Being party to my children’s homework, I realise how many facts they become aware of in a short space of time about history, mythology, geography, music, art, science. Browsing through their books I discover quirky interesting facts that are absolutely gripping. One of my favourite short stories ever is A Stone Woman  by AS.Byatt. She writes about a woman who literally turns to stone, but what stone! She is made up of so many different types that characterize the veins, the skins, the face, the limbs. The manifestations of stone also become more intricate over time. Stone happens to be one of my favourite things. In this story it was intrinsically fascinating, due to the level of detail employed but it also worked as a powerful descriptive device and metaphor. One of my sons knows everything there is to know about astronomy and I have used his knowledge in my work to provide an extra layer of interest in my stories. Facts are hooks that if used appropriately can inject life into writing.

Fundamental questions, fundamental themes

Why are we alive? Are you going to die? 

The parents of young children hear these sorts of questions every day, and often at bedtime when the impending darkness and separation may whirl up anxieties in the children. It is poignant to hear these existential questions from the mouths of babes and very often we don’t have the answers. But these questions can remind us of the archetypal themes that underpin all literary endeavours. It is commonly known that so called ‘children’s’ fairytales deal with dark themes. But these are the themes that are eminently and poignantly human. Whatever the style or genre of a book, whether its tone is light and fluffy or serious, the undercurrent of the archetypal concerns and themes will still be there. Often as adults we bury the fundamental fears and concerns under the flurry of everyday life. As writers we have to expose and deal with these raw terrors. These concerns translate into our characters’ complex motivations, make people take

The child I was

unusual decisions and do extraordinary things.

The child that you were and in some ways still are has special access to both wonder and fear. This child makes judgements and takes risks and sees things with fresh eyes. Use those qualities to create writing that has an extra edginess and magic. 

Note: I wrote this article originally in 2010 as a guest post for children’s author Olive O’ Brien.

How to write a novel when you don’t have the time

You may have your hands full but you can still find time to write.

Most people’s lives are busy. For me it’s juggling the demands of four children under the age of twelve, and it’s true to say that there’s little time for quiet contemplation or courting the writing muse. But all would be writers are juggling,  whether it’s college, full time work, caring for children, sick or the elderly there are very few that can dedicate full days to the endeavor of writing, especially when starting out.

So how is it possible to fit in writing around our lives? I started writing again when my youngest child was a newborn, I wrote around his naps. Then followed a period when all the children were tiny so I wrote when friends and family offered a babysitting hour. In the last few years in particular though, I’ve been more methodical in how I create writing time and since 2009 I’ve managed to complete a shot story collection, and 2.5 novels as well as many standalone flash fiction pieces.
These are some of the ways you can create opportunities for writing.
1)      Create a quiet, dedicated writing space/time:. Whether it’s in a spare room or shed, the library or a coffee shop, it helps to move away from your normal space and its distractions. In my case I also need to find a time when it’s quiet and I don’t have interruptions from family. I’m an early bird so I choose to get up at 5am and write for 1 or 2 hours then, others prefer to write into the night.
2)      Take part in writing challenges: The bulk of Housewife with a Half-Life was written during Nanowrimo, the 50,000 words in a month writing challenge. It a) allowed me to state my aim to my friends and family and b) claim writing time for this special challenge. They were happy to rally round to help me achieve the word count. I also discovered that by making myself write 1667 words per day no matter what, some of the material (if not all!) was very useable and even on a very busy day I could squeeze in writing time, either with early starts, while waiting for the kids at an activity for example, or even in ten minute bursts through the day.
3)      Join an online or real world writing group. I joined a weekly peer review flash fiction writing hashtag on Twitter called #fridayflash. This is a group who post regular flash fiction and link to it on Fridays. While there’s no obligation to post every week, being part of a community makes me want to participate and keep involved and I’ve produced many pieces that would never otherwise exist, some of which can be developed further. I even won a short story competition by joining up some of the pieces I wrote for this meme. I’m also a member of a Dublin writing group, the feedback on pieces I write is invaluable.
4)      Integrate musing time into your regular schedule. Walking is wonderful. John Boyne discovered the plot to The Absolutionist during a 1 hour walk. Bestselling author Murakami runs every day. Each time I go for a walk I find phrases and ideas arrive naturally without having to search for them. Spending time on other activities  such as reading (of course), movies, art galleries and so on is feeding the imagination & helping make interesting associations that you can use in your writing. The late Ray Bradbury suggested that reading a short story every night and reading an interesting article was a great way of feeding passion and imagination necessary for writing well about the thing you love.
5)      Get away from it all. After I had built up some short story publications and successes I applied to a writing retreat centre and was successful. I had my first uninterrupted week of writing ever in July. The arts council in Ireland and local authorities provide grants for people to go to retreat centres such as the Tyrone Gutherie Centre and Anam Cara once you can show evidence of your writing development.
Finding the time to write is not about finding great swathes of time (although it’s great when it happens). It’s about creating opportunities for inspiration and building up your wordcount consistently and incrementally. A daily wordcount challenge of even 500 words can help you accomplish that. The kind of writing that will come from these endeavours will be more considered and of higher quality.
Related to this article and talking about whether it’s the quantity of time or how you use it that’s important is this one on writing retreats.
Note: my article here originally appeared on Paul Carroll’s blog

Banville interview and other matters

I was delighted to have the chance to interview John Banville for on the release of his latest novel.

In Ancient Light Alexander Cleave revisits both the memory of a teenage affair with a much older woman and looks further into the enigma of his daughter Cass’ fate previously touched on in Eclipse (2000) and Shroud (2002). I was keen to talk to John Banville about Ancient Light and the tricky art for the writer, of negotiating memory and invention.

On reading Ancient Light I felt that it had the cohesion and integrity of a short story. I asked Banville how he achieved this, but he is sceptical that Ancient Light had that kind of coherence. “I’m not sure that any novel could have. I think of the short story as something like Zen archery, or Japanese print-making: a long period of reflection and preparation, then a rapid, fluid gesture and the thing is done. The writing of a novel is a far messier, more incoherent process. But I’ll accept your flattering judgement,” he says. Whether or not he believes he has achieved this intensity and clarity of message, he tells me that he does try to make his “novels as dense and demanding as poems” (Apparently his publishers despair when he says this) “but it’s true – and perhaps a poem is rather like a short story, with the same kind of thereness.”

Click here for the rest of the interview

I also chatted to busy writer and mum of four Mary Vensel White about how her novel The Qualities of Wood was picked up by Harper Collin’s after she uploaded it to the writing site Authonomy. Click here for more

A nice writing boost to find that I was shortlisted for this Anam Cara writing retreat competition.

One of my favourite writers Tania Hershman chats about her new short story collection here on Nuala Ni Chonchuir’s blog. And another new writer Mary Costello that I’ve just discovered through the Stinging Fly is interviewed here by E.R. Murray.

And don’t forget that the Sean O’ Faolain short story prize deadline is July 31st. I was longlisted a while back and hope enter again.

In the meantime I’m like Niamh Boyce, wondering how to write in the summer with all the kids about. I’m adding words to my latest book The Exhibit of Held Breaths  while also taking an objective look at my completed (I think) book The Book of Remembered Possibilities which I hope to submit shortly. What about you, how are you finding the summer writing and living wise? Is it time to live, have fun and store up ideas or are there ways of doing everything, and should we?


Random Acts of Posting: April 15

Here are some of my posts that you may have missed in the last while. Enjoy!

Historical Fiction: Hazel Gaynor’s Titanic Novel The Girl Who Came Home Hazel Gaynor explains the intricacies of writing historical fiction for her Titanic novel.

Love: Writer & Journalist Lucille Redmond on her short story collection Writer and journalist Lucille Redmond’s new ebook of short stories is striking and powerfully descriptive.

Guest post by Dr. Ailsa Cox, founder of the Edge Hill Prize for Short stories. Dr. Ailsa Cox, founder of the Edge Hill Prize on the origins and selection process of this prestigious prize for short story collections.

Emotional Energy and Novel Writing Novel writing requires emotional energy: How do we maintain and access it?

Why Flash Fiction will last What Flash Fiction is and why it’s here to stay

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.

Metro Mums – Submission Opportunity

Metro Moms Network is an online magazine which provides content aimed at urban parents topics including those related to both parenting and work-life. Metro Moms Network supports all parents, but particularly those who are starting up small businesses or doing freelancing work.

One element of the Metro Mums Network is the Metro Fiction slot. It’s editor is P.J. Kaiser, and editorial advisor Debra Marr both familiar to many from the #fridayflash community. The fiction slot  requires stories between 900 and 1100 words that will appeal to a largely female audience. Genres include fantasy, historical, literary, paranormal, romance, science fiction and women’s fiction. It is a fee paying market.

For more details see here and for full submission guidelines see here and for the metro fiction slot see here.

My story Agatha Burns will appear on Metro Fiction tomorrow, check back here for the link!