Category Archives: Writing Tips

Dublin Writers’ Conference Packs A Punch!

Margaret MurphyDublin city is buzzing on Saturday, 27 June as I walk along O’Connell Street towards 19 Parnell Square and the beautiful Georgian building that is home to the Irish Writers Centre. It is nestled between the Dublin Writers Museum and the aptly named, Michelin star awarded, Chapter One, in the soon to be developed Parnell Cultural Quarter. I am attending the second day of Dublin’s first Writers Conference so I’m keen to see what it has to offer. Running from Friday, 26 June to Sunday, 28 June it promised sessions on writing craft and digital marketing for writers.

Along the way I hook up with a back-packed lady from Idaho who asks for directions. It’s already 9.55am yet we are both compelled to stop and take a couple of photos as we battle our way through the throngs of colourful and good-humoured parade participants who congregate for the noon start from the Garden of Remembrance to celebrate the outcome of the marriage referendum.

Once we reach our destination, she enters Jessica Morell’s session on The Sizzle: Tension & Suspense in Fiction while I attend Margaret Murphy’s, Dialogue in fiction: more than an exchange of words.Water bottles are at the ready and a little good-bantered humour is bandied about as some of the attendees reminisce about the previous night’s social evening. But once Murphy begins the session, the only noise to be heard is the scribbles of pens across notebooks as writers take notes to ensure they don’t forget any of the writing gems she imparts to her captive audience. With nine critically acclaimed psychological thrillers to her name and over thirty years teaching, she is perfectly positioned to deliver an interesting and informative workshop.

LOB writers conference

You can read the full report on by clicking here where I share some tips gleaned from Laurence O’Bryan’s digital workshop on his writing journey covering Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more …

And snippets from the inspirational after dinner speaker at the Gresham Hotel, Paul O’Brien, introduced as:

The Only Self Published Author ever endorsed by Rolling Stone magazine, “…. a one of a kind literary offering . . .” – Kenny Herzog,

Paul tells an enraptured audience about his writing career, sharing a journey which has led him from Wexford to LA to work on a TV show currently being developed from his Blood Red Turns Dollar Green novels set in the world of wrestling.

O’Brien is definitely a rising star to watch – all that hard work, dedication and self-belief are paying dividends – as news just in that WWE legend Jim Ross announces to the wresting world that Paul O’Brien is onboard to help him write his autobiography.

The Writers Conference may be in its infancy but judging by the applause and chatter at the end of the night it’s guaranteed to become an annual diary event to arm new and established writers with tips, tricks and inspiration for the year ahead.

 Dublin is the UNESCO City of Literature:

The city of Swift, Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Wilde, Synge & Shaw
as well as the modern masters: Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann and a dozen others.

Writers’ Conference: 26 – 28 June 2015

 Take A Step Towards Your Dreams!

This unique conference offers a road map
for you to achieve your full potential as a writer in the 21st century.

Enjoy a weekend in Dublin – an exciting and historic literary city – while traditionally published authors,
with industry experience, give you the inside story on this rapidly changing industry.

Ideal for both fiction and non fiction authors, this conference will be hosted at the Irish Writers Centre in the heart of Dublin and sponsored by, the leading global online book promotion service and will consist of:

  • Writing craft sessions to help you improve your craft and broaden your writing skills
  • Digital marketing sessions for writers will show you how you can gain readers, fast, online
  • Conference Dinner & Awards on Saturday night in The Gresham Hotel, O’Connell Street, Dublin
    – After Dinner Speaker: The Only Self Published Author ever endorsed by Rolling Stone magazine, “… a one of a kind literary offering . . .” – Kenny Herzog,

The line-up of conference speakers include:

Laurence O'Bryan

Laurence O’Bryan
(founder of, published in 11 languages, Harper Collins & other)
teaches digital marketing at diploma level, has been training authors in digital marketing for 4 years and is also a published author. He spent ten years trying to break into the publishing industry and finally won a contract after starting a blog and launching a Twitter account in 2009.

Margaret MurphyMargaret Murphy
(Bestselling & Award Winning British Crime Writer & Writing Craft Instructor)
has published nine critically acclaimed psychological thrillers under her own name – in the UK and the USA, as well as in translation across Europe – receiving accolades from newspapers including The Times, Guardian and Telegraph in the UK, and starred reviews from both Publishers’ Weekly and Booklist in the USA.

Jessica Page MorellJessica Page Morrell
(Editor, author of a variety of acclaimed writing craft books and regular U.S. writing craft conference speaker)
understands both sides of the editorial desk–as an editor and author. She is the author of Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected; Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction; The Writer’s I Ching: Wisdom for the Creative Life; Voices from the Street; Between the Lines: Master The Subtle Elements Of Fiction Writing; and Writing Out the Storm.

Jean Gill
(Author, teacher and writing craft instructor)Jean Gill
is a writer and photographer now living in the south of France. Since 1988, she has published eighteen books in a wide variety of genres, both with traditional publishers and self-published. A member of the Welsh Academy and Writers on Tour scheme, Jean has led writers’ workshops for all ages and abilitites/disabilities.

Catherine Ryan HowardCatherine Ryan Howard
(Leading European self-publishing expert and social media consultant)
is a writer, self-publisher and caffeine-enthusiast from Cork. She started self-publishing in 2010 with the release of her bestselling travel memoir, Mousetrapped, and is known for the pragmatic self-publishing advice she shares on her blog, Catherine, Caffeinated. Since 2012 she’s worked with Penguin Ireland, helping them devise and execute their commercial fiction social media campaigns.

Debbie Young
(PR Guru & Commissioning Editor at the Alliance of Independent Authors)Debbie Young
had a long career as a journalist and PR professional. Having self-published two collections of short stories, Debbie is now writing her first novel. Her non-fiction books include the Alliance of Independent Author’s (ALLi) guidebooks. She also helps drive ALLi’s campaigns, launching #PublishingOpenUp at the London Book Fair in 2014 and #Authors4Bookstores in 2015.

Dublin is the UNESCO City of Literature:

The city of Swift, Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Wilde, Synge & Shaw
as well as the modern masters: Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann and a dozen others.

Full conference details available here

Toastmasters for Writers

I am a word lover! I would have said I’m a book lover, but over the years how my world has changed.  I’ve grown from an avid reader of the physical book (still my favourite form, I have to add!) to loving my Sony eReader which allows me to read six books on holiday without paying the dreaded penalty of luggage charges, as I cram books into my suitcase.

But I then became a writer – if I thought I loved words as a reader – I love them even more as a writer.  Finding just the right word to portray the image I’m compelled to create brings back memories of my dad, cup of tea in hand each evening, as he sat with his daily crossword fix.

But how exactly does this all lead on to Toastmasters?

Toastmasters International

Well, I don’t know whether you agree – and would love you to let me know either way – but early in my writing career, I realised that how you deliver your writing to the wider audience is every bit as important as the way you write it.  Never having trouble reading in class as a child, I suddenly found myself becoming tongue-tied and emotional as I read aloud memoir pieces in my creative writing class.  My throat would dry up and my heart thunder in my ears. It may be a good thing to ‘feel the moment‘ in what you’ve created, but it dawned on me then, that as a writer you bare your very soul to the world. You feel that anyone listening to you read is judging you not only on your writing, but also on your delivery.

Although I’m still going to buy their books, I have occasionally come away from a book launch just a little disappointed if my favourite writer has mumbled their way through their reading. On the other hand, I have often listened to writers read so beautifully, that even though I might not have been a fan of their genre, I have purchased their book.

I considered a quick-fix and scoured the internet.  I found various sites on public speaking courses and even psychotherapy – which I considered enough to send off an enquiry email. A couple of friends mentioned Toastmasters (even though they didn’t know much about it)  and the name popped up favourably, again and again in forums – so I decided to give it a try. I rang the President of Clondalkin Toastmasters, who was friendly and encouraging and informed me that it was free to attend the first couple of meetings to see what I thought. I still hadn’t a clue what to expect that first night, but if I told you I’m in my second year and currently hold the title of Vice President Public Relations, I’m sure you’d figure out that I enjoyed it and found Toastmasters did exactly what it said on the tin!

‘Our Club is made up of people from all walks of life who come together to practise public speaking, evaluating and inpromtu speaking in a supportive, friendly environment.’

It is and it does. Toastmasters hold meetings all over the world. Their members are from all walks-of-life; young, old, rich, poor, confident and shy, but all with one goal – to become better public speakers. And believe me, it works. Every meeting is an enjoyable night as you partake or listen to speeches or tall tales; a poem or a joke, give your feed-back and enjoy the laughter and banter over a cuppa at the break. It is the most encouraging environment you could imagine where you learn from watching others and put these tips into practice in your own speeches. The ‘pause’ is one I have yet to master – it adds so much to a speech – I’ll keep practicing . . .

At any stage in our lives – be it weddings, funerals, meetings or book launches – the ability to stand up in front of a crowd and speak is one we should all strive to master.

Do you agree with me?

Or are you already a fellow Toastmasters who would care to share?


Writing Tips: Scrivener


Unless I’m wrong, I’m guessing that most of you write with a word-processor, most likely, Microsoft Word.  I started there too and couldn’t fault it for short stories and poems.  But, when I got stuck into my novel and a fellow writer suggested I try Scrivener, I reluctantly decided to give it a try.

I didn’t want anything to take me away from writing, but apparently Scrivener would help me to organise everything (index cards, notes, character CV’s, PDF’s etc) into one place for easy access – and it does!  You get to create virtual index cards, stack and shuflle them until you get them in the order you want and then pin them on your virtual corkboard.

Admittedly, it does take a couple of hours to get to grips with it, but once you do, you get to reap the rewards.  Microsoft Word is still necessary, in my opinion, but Scrivener works at pulling everything together for novel writing and makes it easier to keep track of all those missing scraps of paper and pages of notes.

You type your novel in the main screen while, at the same time, you can see your chapter titles on the left of the screen.  Scribbled notes and comments on the chapter you’re working on appear on the right of the screen.  The function that I love most; is where you can have a narrow window running side-by-side with your current chapter.  Here you can view whichever chapter you need to scan over to ensure that you’re familiar with what you had written earlier.  It saves having to scroll through pages and pages of Word to find exactly what you need.

I would recommend downloading the trial version.  You can find it here.  This allows you 30 days of actual use to try it out – so if you only use it two days a week, it lasts fifteen weeks.  I found it so great, that after two weeks I bought it – at $40 it’s a steal!

You can then export your finished novel into a wide variety of file formats, including Microsoft Word, PDF and HTML or even self-publishing formats.

If you’ve tried Scrivener already, please comment.  If you haven’t then give it a try and let me know what you think.

Writing Tips: Books


Since I began writing some years ago, the one thing that has astonished me, is how giving, every writer I have met has been.  It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a writer, at the top of their game, with a bundle of published books on the shelves or someone on the bottom rung of the writing ladder. I’m sure I’m not the only one who pounces on these nuggets of information, shared by these wonderful people, especially when they seem to be especially relevant to my writing at that particular moment in time.  What better place to share with fellow writers than here! Hopefully, with your help, this post will grow and we will all pick up even more helpful tips and advice to push us to the top of that ladder.  To get started, I’ve included books on writing but watch out for future posts I’m currently compiling, on software tools and general tips:

‘The New Author’ by Ruby Barnes
A self-help guide to novel writing, publishing as an independent ebook author and promoting your brand using social networks.




Eats, Shoots & Leaves‘ by Lynne Truss
The zero tolerance approach to punctuation.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

‘The Five-Minute Writer
‘ by Margret Geraghty
Exercise and inspiration in creative writing in five minutes a day.

On Writing‘ by Stephen King
A memoir of the craft.

Cover of "On Writing: A Memoir of the Cr...





How To Write Damn Good Fiction‘ by James N Frey
Advanced techniques for dramatic storytelling.

How To Write A Thriller‘ by Scott Mariani
This book is designed to help aspiring thriller writers to create exciting, suspenseful novels and to give you the best chance of getting your work published and into the bookshops.

Cover of "How to Write a Thriller"

Write And Get Paid For It‘ by Terry Prone

From Pitch To Publication‘ by Carole Blake
Everything you need to know to get your novel published.

Cover of "From Pitch to Publication: Ever...

‘The Author’s Toolkit’ by Mary Embree
A step-by-step guide to writing and publishing your book.

‘Becoming A Writer’ by Dorothea Brande
As recommended by @maryjoburke1
A reissue of a classic work originally published in 1934 on writing and the creative process, Becoming A Writer recaptures the excitement of Dorothea Brande’s creative-writing classroom of the 1920’s.

‘Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White
– As recommended by @n_appleton
First published in the 1930’s and considered classic and timeless by many. Mentioned as a must by Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’.

Cover of "The Elements of Style, Fourth E...

How Not To Write A Novel‘ by Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark
– As recommended by @gutterbookshop
200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published.

Write Away‘ by Elizabeth George
– As recommended by @JanetOkane
“Here’s what I tell my students on the first day when I teach one of my creative writing courses: You will be published if you possess three qualities — talent, passion, and discipline.”

Cover of "Write Away: One Novelist's Appr...

Getting The Words Right‘ by Theodore A Rees Cheney
– As recommended by @JanetOkane
39 ways to improve your writing.

Write To Be Published ‘ by Nicola Morgan
– As recommended by @JanetOkane
The Crabbit Old Bat whips you into shape and helps you make a publisher say ‘Yes’.

Writing Fiction‘ by Janet Burroway
– As recommended by @ValerieSirr
A guide to narrative craft.

The Writer’s Handbook Guide to Crime Writing‘ editor Barry Turner
– As recommended by @arlenehunt
With advice from Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Tony Strong and Minette Walters.

The Art of Fiction‘ by John Gardner
– As recommended by @MWheelaghan
Notes on craft for young writers.

I’d love to hear your comments and any recommendations which can be added to this ever-growing list.

What’s In A Name?

♣  Are names important?
♣  Does your name define you?
  Can a name influence the way you are perceived?

We have no control over who our parents will be.  And it is them, not us, who choose our name.  But we are the ones that have to carry this blessing or curse through school and work and dating and life . . .

There have been many studies, which claim that your name can

♣   influence what people think of you
  what job you will do
   and even how lucky you are

Who knows if this is true or not . . .

Some parents name their children after grand-parents or parents, although this seems to have died out a little over the years.

It seems that names generally become popular depending on who is in vogue at the time, ranging from movie stars like John Wayne to musicians, footballers and even to Popes.

In 1990, after Italia ’90 it was David and Jack.  Back in 1979, John Paul was one of the most popular names after the Pope’s visit to Ireland.  David McWilliam’s even named his book, “The Pope’s Children”, after them!

For the characters in my novel, which is set in the States, I spent days scouring lists of the top 100 girls’ names, boys’ names and surnames for different years.  Eventually, I cut out my favourites and had them set out in rows, for close to a week, while I mixed and matched to get the perfect names to suit my characters.

I still have clips of the names in each category – the names that didn’t make the cut – but I’ve found them so handy to be able to choose minor characters without going back to the drawing board.

A great tip I heard years ago was to visit a local graveyard in the area where your characters will live, so that you can choose names appropriate to that place and time.  It was especially good for a ghost story I wrote using Glasnevin Cemetary, both as a source of names and as a setting.

I have tried a couple of ‘name generators’ on-line, but for me, they never came back with anything I would like to use – maybe I’m just too fussy!  But I do feel, that especially in a story, the name alone already has your imagination conjuring up the characters job, social standing, origin etc . . .

I would be most interested in your views and comments, if you would care to share . . .

Write ‘What You Know’ or ‘What You Love’

It is hard to know, for sure, which works best . . .

I have attended numerous creative writing classes and workshops over the years, all of them offering valuable advice.  But there has always been two conflicting pieces of advice, from well-known, established writers, which still cause me confusion.  Some writers feel that you should only –



while other writers feel you should only –


Thankfully, I have done well with both.  But I do find it weird, firstly that I have ever written a poignant short story and secondly that it won first prize!  This obviously came about, sub-consciously, from the Write What You Know rule of thumb as, although most of it was fiction, elements of my childhood memories also emerged.  I remember being in an exceptionally good mood the evening I wrote it – and I knew it was totally unlike anything else I had ever written.  Weirder still when I NEVER, intentionally, read sad stories or watch sad movies.  But, I really liked this one, and thankfully, so did the judges . . .

Having said that, I feel that my heart definitely lies on the side of Write What You Love – which, for me, would have to be psychological thrillers!  Even though this is not necessarily the area that I would, personally, know the most about.  I devour thrillers and my latest rule, to read only one-book-at-a-time, has me reading a fascinating book on forensics.  Maybe not the best bed-time read, with pen-in-hand, as I take notes for my latest crime scene!  But I am delighted that, by writing what I love, one of my thriller short stories was recently given an honorary mention and is due to be published very soon.

I would be very interested in your views and comments, as either a writer or a reader, as to which you think works best for you and why . . .

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