I’m sure every writer would agree that the writing ego, of all professions, has to be one of the most delicate. They’re far too easily deflated, and let’s be honest, with the amount of rejections most of us receive when entering competitions or submitting to publications it’s a wonder that many of us are able to pick ourselves up and carry on. And although as a writer, the more you write the better you become – it appears that self-doubt never fully disappears!
I was shocked to hear so many great authors, with lists of acclaimed books to their credit, admit that there comes a stage in every novel (usually mid-way) where they feel like throwing in the towel. They doubt the current book will ever see the light of day and that even if it is published that it will be torn apart by the critics. But that’s the difference between professional and amateur writers – the professional perseveres regardless, pushing through the pain until they reach that elusive final page. Then, at least, they have the bones to work with – a manuscript they can edit and edit and edit – until it finally becomes the polished work which arrives in our local book shop.
While working on my debut novel the last few years, I’ve entered a number of competitions and submitted to a couple of publications. Sure, they may have taken me away from the novel, but in times of self-doubt, in among the rejections, there have been the highs of being long-listed or short-listed or winning or of having a poem or flash fiction or short story published. They’ve had me dancing around the kitchen, forcing my family to read whatever piece has brought success (that’s if they haven’t already been forced to read it before submission!?!). But more importantly, as two good friends and mentors are fond of saying, ‘success breeds success‘ (Eileen Casey) which helps to ‘keep your bum on the seat‘ (Valerie Sirr). And that’s what keeps you writing.
This week, having just returned from a wonderful trip to San Francisco and Vegas, I was jet-lagged like never before and began a week feeling drained and tired instead of rested and refreshed. But I couldn’t have pictured a better week. On the professional front, the contract in my new job was extended into next year, and on the writing front; my poem, Lavender Scented Memories, was aired by the lovely Brenda Drumm on KFM Radio. Then I received a beautiful, hand-written letter from Rosaleen Thomas (wife of Eamon MacThomais and mother of Shane MacThomais – the wonderful historians and writers) telling me how much she enjoyed one of my short stories which was recently published in My Weekly and wishing me well with my novel. The following day a letter arrived from the Jonathan Swift Awards to advise me that my short story has been short-listed, with the award ceremony taking place next Saturday.
Such an exceptional week really can keep you focused and driven and stuck to your seat, so that you can get words on the page! I’m currently attending the NUI Certificate in Creative Writing for Publication – part short story writing and part novel writing – so right after I upload this blog post I’m signing up to NaNoWriMo. I’ll then be committed, from 1 – 30 November, to writing 2,000 words per day to get my second novel well and truly on the way.
Wish me luck!
What better way to get your writing year off to a great start than by joining one of the highly recommended writing classes about to start in Dublin. Find a selection below to whet your appetite:
Lecturer: Valerie Sirr, is a Hennessy New Irish Writer award winner with a B.A. Hons Psychology, M.Phil Creative Writing. This workshop is for those who want to discover and develop their creative writing skills by exploring the imagination, overcoming fear, developing a writing habit and finding a voice. Trigger exercises and writing games will be used and assignments will be set. Constructive feedback will be given to those who bring work.
There will be two terms of ten weeks each and participants can sign up to both or to either the first or second part.
Date: Wednesday, 15 January 2014
Venue: The Peoples College, 31 Parnell Square
Time: 6.15pm – 7.45pm
Valerie Sirr, Hennessy New Irish Writer award winner, began writing after graduating with her Diploma in Advanced Computer Programming at Trinity College, Dublin. She then graduated from University College, Dublin with a B.A. hons. Psychology degree, going on to study at London’s Institute of Psychiatry. She later returned to Trinity College, graduating with an M. Phil. in Creative Writing and also received a University College Dublin School of Film scholarship to study for her Certificate in Screenwriting.
This workshop is for those who want to discover and develop their creative writing skills. If you’re a beginner or if you’ve already done some writing, you’re welcome to come along.
Date: Monday, 20 January 2014
Venue: Crumlin College of Further Education
Time: 6.45pm – 8.15pm
Louise Phillips is bestselling crime author of the psychological crime thriller, Red Ribbons, shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year 2012. Her work has been published as part of many anthologies, including County Lines from New Island, and various literary journals. In 2009, she won the Jonathan Swift Award for her short story Last Kiss, and in 2011 she was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform. In 2012, she was awarded an Arts Bursary for Literature from South Dublin County Council. Her second novel, The Doll’s House, another psychological crime thriller was published August 2013.
There are many elements to successful crime writing – tension, pace, memorable characters, effective dialogue, a plot with twists and turns, and an uttering gripping story. Over the course of eight weeks you will examine these elements, along with looking at the area of research, rhythm and shape within the narrative, and through weekly critique, develop your voice as a crime writer.
Date: Wednesday, 5 February 2014
Venue: The Irish Writers’ Centre
Time: 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Recently, I was approached by the extremely talented writer, Valerie Sirr, as she wanted to tag me in an on-line blogging chain – The Next Big Thing – a way for writers to promote their work-in-progress through a series of questions. Valerie, as I’m sure many of you know, is a Hennessy New Irish Writer winner – and if you’ve already read any of her short stories or poetry, then you’ll see why – if you haven’t yet, then you’ve a treat in store. I’m a big fan of Valerie’s work – and was honoured to accept the challenge along with fellow writers, Celeste Augé and Brian Kirk.
So here goes!
My Next Big Thing:
I’ve been working on my debut novel – a crime fiction thriller set in New York City – for the guts (good choice of word considering my chosen genre!?!) of the last year.
In between, and to keep my writing ego buoyant, I’ve managed to produce a few short stories which have done extremely well – one was Long Listed in the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition, 2012, another has just been published in the Anthology of Original Writing from Ireland’s Own, 2012 and another was awarded First Prize in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards, 2012.
What is the working title of your book?
My title, as yet, is not set in stone. I had originally opted for Killer’s Curse. But on advice from a couple of writers I greatly admire, they figure that when I get published, the right cover will give readers an idea of what’s inside, so a title that’s a little less telling would suit better. You noticed the ‘when’ – probably why I value their opinion so much! I’ve a title in mind, but I want to hold it there and savour it for just a little while longer . . .
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Reading a snippet about a killer and how he chose his victims set my mind racing and my fingers typing and they never stopped until I reached the end.
What genre does your book fall under?
It has to be crime fiction. I’ve always been an avid reader and I’d read extensively, but I’ve always LOVED thrillers – in any shape or form – the thrill of guessing what’s going to happen next keeping the pages turning late into the night. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t and occasionally you come across such a clever twist or turn that you really wish you’d been clever enough to come up with it.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
If I could pick any actor, from any era, to play one of my main characters then the first name to pop into my head as the good guy would be a young, Gregory Peck. Impossible I know, but as a kid I loved watching his movies. My favourite had to be Alfred Hitchcock’s, Spellbound, with the tag line ‘Will he Kiss me or Kill me?’ I was enthralled from start to finish. Maybe it’s time to watch it again? My villain, in this scenario, could have been Paul Newman – those piercing, ice-blue eyes, dismissing any doubts his victims might have.
And if I had to go modern day, then I’d go with Colin Farrell for my good guy. My character isn’t perfect – far from it – but in the end, you trust that whatever obstacles lie in his way and no matter how difficult the choices, he will strive to do the right thing.
Matt Damon would be my choice as my charismatic villain – his role in The Departed sealed the deal on this one!
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Your name appears on a list, along with six others – five are dead!
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
With work and life butting-in, it took me the guts of a year. But I also did quite an amount of research which I could probably have done during the editing stage to get the first draft down on paper much quicker. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose . . .
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Some of my favourite thriller writers include; Alex Barclay, Tess Gerritson, Jeffrey Deaver, John Connolly, Harlan Coben, Jo Nesbo, Tana French, Arlene Hunt and Louise Phillips – so I would be delighted if my novel compared favourably to any one of them. Aiming high, aren’t I?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always loved books – especially mystery stories – something to keep the brain engaged. That love of books eventually inspired me to write. I started with short stories and poetry. If I’m totally honest here (and shooting myself in the foot in the process!) I prefer to read a book rather than a short story – even by my favourite authors. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them – I most certainly do – but I feel that you’ve invested your time and interest in their story, you’ve got to know the characters, but then suddenly – it’s over! With a book, you know you can become more immersed in their lives and if it’s a good story, then you want that. And that’s why, when this nugget of an idea began to grow, I decided I had to use it to write my debut novel rather than another short story.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
This novel is based in New York City and contains elements of the occult – just a trifling – but enough to appeal to readers who are excited by something a little different to spice up their thriller.
When and how will it be published?
Well, first, I need to finish editing so that my debut novel is as good as it can be. I’ve heard, on more than one occasion, that you only really get one shot with agent’s and publisher’s and I want to ensure that when I come knocking on their door that I have a novel worthy of their time!
And now it’s time to pass the baton. I’d like to tag three diverse writers who are destined for big things: Derek Flynn, Jillian Godsil and Michael Whelan, for The Next Big Thing (Wednesday, 9th January 2013). Keep an eye out for their rising stars!
Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician, with a First Class Honours degree in English Literature. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and was First Runner-Up in the 2011 J. G. Farrell Award for Best Novel-In-Progress. He released his debut album, “Do You Dream At All?” earlier this year. His writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – can be found here: http://derekflynn.wordpress.com and on Twitter, he can be found here: http://twitter.com/#!/derekf03
Jillian Godsil is a writer, blogger and freelance journalist. She went viral in 2010, 2011 and traditional in 2012. She hasn’t looked back (much) since. Her blog is www.jilliangodsil.com and you can follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/jilliangodsil
Michael J Whelan is a poet, writer & historian living in Tallaght County Dublin. He served as a Peacekeeper with the Irish Defence Forces in South Lebanon and Kosovo during the conflicts in those countries. He was 2nd Place Winner in the Patrick Kavanagh International Poetry Award 2011 & 3rd Place Winner in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards 2012. He was also short-listed in the Doire Press and Cork Literary Manuscript Competitions and selected for the Eigse Eireann/Poetry Ireland Introductions 2012. He has written books on the Irish involvement in the Congo in the 1960s and Ex British Soldiers in the Irish Army during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War 1913-1924. He is the curator of the Irish Air Corps Aviation Museum and a member of Platform 1 and Virginia House Creative Writers. Follow his blog here: http://michaeljwhelan.wordpress.com/