10 Writers I Look Up To

It seems to me that, in most cases, the people we admire and aim to emulate often have no idea how well they’re thought of. Particularly, I think it’s true of women. We often don’t know our worth, and how would we when no one really talks about their inspirations?

I’m here to change that. Because I know that, on the occasions people have given me encouragement and/or praise, it makes a world of difference. It matters because those people you think are so great have just as much imposter syndrome as the rest of us. Sometimes more, if they’re successful.

It can be easy to think that there’s no need to tell someone with awards coming out their ears how their work impacted you – because surely they should already know, and doesn’t it go without saying?

Dear reader, say it. Always tell your heroes how you feel, just in case they’re not feeling so heroic.

I’ve been thinking some more about the specific people I really respect in terms of writing. This is in addition to Colin Dardis and Anna Sheehan, who I have previously recommended on this blog, and in a similar vein to a post I wrote for ‘Women Writers, Women’s Books’ a long time ago.

My list is as follows:

Jen Campbell

I found Jen through her YouTube channel and have been falling in love with her words ever since as she continues to bring out wonderful book after wonderful book – short stories, bookish non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books.

Malorie Blackman

When I started to read as an adult, Malorie’s books were the first I picked up. No matter than most of her writing is targetted at under eighteens. I actually have a picture book by her that I tresure.

Claire Savage

Claire impresses me on multiple fronts as she turns her hand to poetry, copywriting, journalism, and books for children and is fantastic at all of them.

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On being “Very Young”

The evening before this year’s John Hewitt International Summer School kicked off, I was sat on a bench out the back of the Charlemont Arms hotel alongside some of my fellow bursary students, sipping a pint of Diet Coke while others had a smoke. The group of us had only just met and were getting to know each other ahead of the crazy week-long adventure we were about to have.

“You’re very young,” I was told by one of them, with a tone somewhere between surprise and confusion.

“Okay,” I replied, because I had no idea how else to respond. I found it kind of amusing, I suppose, that this was someone’s initial reaction to me.

When the week started in earnest, though, I heard the comment again. And again.

“Everyone keeps telling me I’m really young!”

“Well, you are.”

This got me thinking, because I was certainly not the youngest person there and I’m not particularly babyfaced. I am, in fact, almost thirty.

In reply to my initial post about JHISS in which I said I was intimidated by the heavy schedule, someone said, “If you feel intimidated, imagine how I must feel!’

What I conclude, taking those bits of context into consideration alongside the “very young” comments, is that people don’t think I’m young in per se. If you’re one of the people who made these comments, you can correct me on this, but what I think is happening is that I – somehow – have given the impression that I’m accomplished, or established, or vaguely know what I’m doing, or… something. The surprise seems to come from the fact that I have achieved this mystical level of influence/achievement at my age whereas for most people it comes much later if even at all.

Just typing that out makes me feel uncomfortable; like I’m bragging or something, but I don’t know how else to figure it. I certainly don’t feel impressive for my age. In fact, I panic fairly frequently that I haven’t done enough and should be doing more – should be being more.

On these expectations, I have also been musing.  Continue reading

On Impatience and Self-Publishing

When I first found out I could produce a book and put it out into the world all by myself, I got so excited I jumped at the chance. Then I jumped a second time, and a third. Suddenly, I wanted to self-publish everything. Within a few months, I had several projects planned and– yep, I basically got wayyy ahead of myself.

Not all of the projects I planned saw the light of day, in the end, and I think that’s for the best.

As I said in my previous post, I wasn’t ready to self-publish when I first did. I just didn’t know enough to realize how much I didn’t know.

In part, I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve joined the recently formed Irish Independent Authors’ Collective. It’s also on my mind because I’m trying to get traditionally published at the moment as well.

At some point, I started thinking a bit more long-term and realized that all of my impulse publishing decisions might have hurt my writing career in the long run, which – oops?

Let me not beat around the bush: the very first books of mine ever printed were sub-par quality, and I’ve had to spend a LOT of time and effort re-doing them in the years since. The editions available to buy now I’m mostly okay with but, if I could do it all again, I’d have brought out fewer titles and spent more time over each of them.

I would still have self-published Juvenilia (the bind-up of my teenage poems), brought out a poetry chapbook as a stepping stone to submitting a full-length poetry collection to traditional publishers, and maybe released a short story collection (that just had stories and was not mixed in with poems) as I worked towards my novel, which I would aim (and still do aim) to get traditionally published.

I like the idea of being a “hybrid” author – having a foot in each camp – a lot. In the modern day, I think it makes sense to try and build an audience while you’re trying to attract an agent.

BUT – and here’s the kicker – only if you’re ready.  Continue reading

On Book to Movie Adaptions

I’m not a particularly fast reader. Maybe that’s down to my dyslexia, maybe not, but whatever the reason, the fact stands. Books over 300 pages make me nervous because I know they’ll likely take me forever to get though.

Now, that said, I just finished The Girl on the Train. I finished it in like three days, and it’s 400 pages. So, it’s fair to say I loved it. Fantasic page-turner and highly accessible. It got five stars from me.

Originally, I started reading it in way back in October last year. I devoured the first section (thirty or so pages) and was instantly gripped. I loved the writing even more then than I did when I restarted it a couple of days ago.

But why did I stop and take several months to go back to it? You might be wondering. Well, put simply, I watched the movie adaption.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed the movie adaption. It gripped me, too. And I thought it would, which is why I chose to go see it. Some people refuse to see adaptions before reading the book they’re based on, and I understand why, but not me.

Experience has taught me that if I see the movie after I read the book, I will hate the film. The casting will be completely unpalatable because of how I’ve imagined the characters in my head, and I won’t be able to get past it. I know a lot of people have the reverse reaction, but reading the book after seeing the movie has never proved to be a problem for me before.

In fact, when I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower after seeing the film I actually think knowing the story in advance improved my experience. If I hadn’t known where the story was headed, I may have felt bored and frustrated with the slow start.

Anyway, back to the Girl on the Train. As I’ve already said, I enjoyed the movie and loved the book. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s not really a problem, exactly, it’s just that, for the first time, I felt that knowing all the twists and turns in advance did dull the experience for me, if only a little. I still loved it, but I think I could have loved it more. And yes, I probably would have disliked the movie had I not watched it first, but perhaps my heightened enjoyment of the book would have been worth that sacrifice.

The Thing About Buffy

When I was in my formative years – fourteen, fifteen, sixteen; probably before that, if I could remember – I was a lot of things: frustrated, depressed, creative, hopeful, and incredibly, incredibly lonely.

High School was hell, home was… not a place I would actually define as a ‘home.’ But I found that music helped, some, and the creativity and hope kept me thinking that if I could just make it to eighteen I could go wherever I wanted and be and do anything.

The day to day, though… that was tough. I’m not going to go into it and I’m not going to try and pretend that I had it hardest. But it was still tough. Hardness was my reality.

I closed myself off, repressed the pre-teen years, and become someone who, frankly, wasn’t very nice in return. Someone who literally didn’t understand what being nice meant. Again, I’m not saying I was a bully who tortured small animals and wished death upon children, but life was hard and so was I.

And then there was Buffy – this innocuous little TV show about teenagers living on a Hellmouth. A TV show that had layers, and pain, character development that was mind blowing and just so many things that, amongst all the vampires and demons, were just so damn real.

The show dealt with sex and relationships, domestic abuse, betrayal and, yes, death. Everything in between. The scary and the funny and the dramatic and the exciting and the gross.

And the thing is, it made me – broken teenager on the verge of suicide me – it made me feel things. It made me feel all of the things I’ve already mentioned and a million besides. It connected with me, and I was obsessed. I was mocked for it – still am, sometimes (screw you, Steph!) – but I didn’t care. I’d found my thing and it mattered to me more than anything.

That thing is now twenty years old and still touching lives. How freaking crazy is that? THAT is what I aim for in my art. And that is what I am forever thankful to Joss Whedon for.

America

malcolm-reynolds-quoteSince I was a little kid, I’ve been kind of obsessed with the USA.

Most of the TV shows I watched with my brother, growing up, were American. Ergo, pretty much all of my pop culture references are American.

All my writing is in American English, most of it implicitly set in the states, because it just seemed natural to me.

It’s been my life-long dream to emigrate. To visit all the main cities and tourist sites, and to take a road trip down Route 66.

If I believed in reincarnation, I would have guessed I was American in a previous life.

But, well, that was before. This past week has killed a lot of my enthusiasm for the country, and – in case you can’t guess – I’ll tell you why, in two words: Donald Trump.

I’ve heard some people say he should be given a chance and that we shouldn’t condemn him yet, but the thing is, even if he never does a single one of the racist, misogynistic, homophobic things he promised? A great deal of the country I once loved voted him into power based on those promises. That is terrifying, and it says a hell of a lot about what those people think and feel.

I read about the attacks and hate crimes people have suffered just in the last few days, since some people felt validated in their hate by the result, and I’m disgusted. Horrified.

This is not the country I once fell in love with, and it’s certainly not something I want to be a part of.

My question to you, however, is this: if you live in the states, is this really how you see the nation becoming “great again”? And just what are you going to do about this injustice?

Don’t be quiet. Speak up. Speak out.

Let love guide you instead of fear, and let’s really get back to the liberty America’s supposed to be based on.

Lulu Junior, but for Adults?

Comic Book Front CoverApparently it’s been around since February 2014, but I’ve only just heard about this thing called Lulu Jr.

Lulu.com (the parent company), for those who don’t already know, allows people to self publish using the print on demand model, meaning there’s very few overhead costs to releasing a book. As a big fan of this M.O., I’ve used Lulu to create the paperback versions of all of my books.

So now there’s this new thing – essentially Lulu for kids – and it sounds so cool! (No, I’m not getting paid to say this.) Lulu Jr’s book making kits come with everything needed for a child to draw out pages of a book, which they then send to Lulu via the included envelope, and then Lulu compiles the pages into a proper printed masterpiece and sends it back. I told you it sounded cool! WHERE WAS THIS WHEN I WAS A KID?!

Ahem.

Don’t judge me, but I find this so awesome that I’m tempted to do it myself. Yes, the kid’s version and, no, I’m not joking.

As and adult that shamelessly reads children’s books, and enjoys a good spot of coloring in, this is right up my street. But here’s what I’m wondering: why isn’t there a Lulu Jr, but for adults?

Okay, okay, I can practically hear you rolling your eyes at the screen. There’s already the main Lulu service, I’ve already said that, I know. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a third option, in which adults who are not professional artists but who like to doodle as well as write can, not only self publish a book, but can illustrate one too.

In 2014 I made a comic for 24 Hour Comic day, and that resulting comic is available through Lulu’s main site. But let me tell you, it was not easy getting it there – I fought with my printer/scanner for three hours straight!

What I’m essentially saying here, in my perhaps not so humble opinion, is that Lulu is great, and Lulu Jr is a stroke of genius, but I want more. I want to be able to draw out pages to accompany my text, and then have Lulu put them into a book for me, no stress of misbehaving scanners whatsoever. Now, wouldn’t that be a nice Christmas gift?

The Misconception

Edinburgh Writer's Museum Wall QuoteRecently, I’ve been reading Write Good or Die, and the very first section in it reminded me of a post I’d once published over on my old blog. Still being relevant, I thought I’d share it again here, now. (It has been edited, a little.)

Anyone Can Write a Book, eh?
Originally Published March 2011

I’ve been both thinking about, and discussing this belief that anyone can write a book a fair amount recently, and I thought I’d share some of conclusions I’ve came to regarding it. You may not agree with my conclusions, but I do ask that you hear me out and read until the end before voicing any objections.

So, this idea that anyone can write is a bit of an inside joke between authors, and with good reason. It’s actually written on the bathroom wall in Edinburgh’s Writing Museum and this amused me so much I had to capture it (see photo).

You’d be amazed how often we hear “anyone can write a book” in a dismissive and/or patronizing way. But what most people, who haven’t even attempted a book, don’t realize is how much effort it actually takes; how many hours we can spend on a draft only to have to redraft it again afterwards.

We don’t really know how to respond to the comment other than with a look that could clean corn BUT in a sense, they’re right, anyone CAN write a book – in a sense.

Anyone can write a book, but that doesn’t mean it would be a good book, let alone publishable. Writing a book and writing a book that will sell are two different things, after all.

I’d also like to point out that, while anyone can write a book, not everyone can write a novel. Unfortunately, this is what people actually mean when they say anyone can write a book. And it’s simply not true.

If you can speak, form sentences, express yourself on a basic level, then technically all you’d have to do is record yourself talking about a specific topic at length and then transcribe this to form a manuscript. If you did this you would indeed have a book, but the chances of anyone reading it are very low and novels are different ball game all together; they take a different skill. You need to have the talent of a storyteller (and then some!).

My last word on this is the following: You can write a book? Writing a novel is easy? Prove it. Go on, I dare you.

Thoughts on Kindle Worlds

As I said in a previous post, I write a fair bit of fan fiction. I also said I had no intentions of publishing it for profit, mainly because doing so wasn’t really an option. The copyright issues are unclear to say the least, and making money off fanfic is not why I write it. That said, I recently was reading about Kindle Worlds, and it changes things, slightly.

Now, Kindle Worlds has existed for about two years, and apparently there was a big uproar about it in the fanfic community in general, and on Tumblr in particular, when it was first announced. Don’t ask me why I’ve never heard about it before, because I’m as baffled as you.

For those who, like me, don’t know what it is, basically Amazon have a branch of the Kindle store specifically dedicated to paid, legal fan fiction. The catch is they only have permission to do this within certain “worlds” (i.e. fictional universes, or fandoms). Oh, and you also need a bank account in the US.

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Comics as High Culture

For a lot of last year, I was producing a weekly radio show all about the Arts Scene in Northern Ireland. It was a mixed bag, regularly featuring interviews, reviews, and exhibition notices. As part of it, I spoke to poets, authors, painters, and singer/songwriters, not to mention a range of people involved at various levels in the organizing of Belfast’s many cultural events and festivals.

One group of people I didn’t initially seek out were the city’s many talented comic writers and graphic illustrators, however. A good friend kept insisting I do a feature on comics, but I dismissed the idea. Comic books are for kids, I kept thinking, they’re not particularly cultural. Needless to say, my friend challenged this thinking, and he was right to, because I was wrong. Let me break down why, for a second:

  1. Comics are not just for children (Watchmen, anyone?)
  2. Even if they were, that wouldn’t make them inherently less valuable to society
  3. Who even gets to decide what culture is? Everyone and no one. My friend’s definition was as valid as mine (except for the fact that mine was wrong).

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