Attention (Microfiction)

This is the final piece of writing I did during Bernie McGill’s fiction workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School. Short but, I hope, still able to strike a chord. Based off prompts given in the class.

She always said I was useless, though she never said it to me; never looked at me long enough to realize I was there, and could hear.

The worst decision I made was to make her aware of my presence.

I find myself now in the cupboard under the stairs, the door locked.

I am here because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed attention. I needed her to look at me.

In my pocket I am carrying the hair she pulled from my head when I spoke to her.

When people look at me, they see my bruises. They gasp and look away again. I hear them whispering.

The truth is, I think maybe I deserve to be here. I think I must be the worst kid in the world. Why else does my grandmother hate me?

Dystopia in the Modern Day?

While at the John Hewitt International Summer School, I took a three-day workshop with Bernie McGill and, over the course of those three days with her, I completed a few different writing exercises. Below is what resulted from one of those. I was given a photo prompt and some starting words. I’m not sharing the photo for copyright reasons, but you should be able to gather from my description what it depicted.

I read the final piece at the JHISS Showcase at the end of the week and it got some really strong reactions. It was labelled dystopian and I suppose it is but I think, for some people, the word dystopia conjures up the idea that it’s set in some distant or alternative future where everything has fallen apart, but that’s not where my mind was when I wrote it. Maybe not here in the west but, as far as I understand it, the things I mention can and do happen here on earth, in this reality, in the modern day. In a lot of ways, I think that makes it more striking. But enough preamble, here is the piece. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

I can’t remember my name anymore and I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what age I am, or how old she is either, though she’s smaller than me. She can’t talk, but she clings to my side. We stay together on the streets and I keep her safe from the dogs and the bad men.

I wasn’t born on the streets, but in a house. It had one big room, and there were many of us. It was always warm, and there was always a fire.

It is still warm outside, the sun making the dust on the road rise up and burn in our throats. We cough and, despite the heat, cling harder to each other.

I like her close to me. I like to think of her as my sister, though I don’t know where she came from. She was never in the house with the rest of us.

I don’t like that I don’t know where they went –– all of my real brothers and sisters from the house. The night they were taken, everything was dark and loud. I ran and hid until the sun came up. Then I found her.

The last time I saw my mother, she was stooped over the fire, stoking it. She didn’t look up at me and I can’t remember her eyes, but I dream about them. The girl has nightmares, most nights, and I try and tell her about my dreams; about my mum’s eyes. She stills and listens to my voice until her breathing slows again.

I wonder if I’ll ever see my mother again, or if I’d recognise her. I wonder if she’d take my sister in, too, if she came for me.

I remember one day my brother found a dog and brought it home –– it wasn’t angry like the rest of them. My mother said we couldn’t keep it and my brother cried. She hit him for ‘acting out’, then told him to leave the dog and go fetch more sticks for the fire.

I watched her kill the dog and mix the meat in with the rice.

I have always wondered if my brother knew. He didn’t ask for the dog after the first time, when she hit him again, and he didn’t eat dinner that night.

I was angry with my mum for doing it, but when I look at my sister and hear her stomach growl, I wish we had a dog I could kill for her. The ones in the street now are too big, though. I worry they’ll get us first.

Five Years Writing FanFic!

When I first heard about fanfiction, I thought it was a fantastic idea. I didn’t start reading it right away, however, and I told myself I was not – absolutely categorically NOT – going to start writing it.

Why? Because I recognized it for the rabbit hole it was. I knew that if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop.

Regardless of knowing that in advance, though, and no matter how much I told myself I wouldn’t give in, temptation finally got the better of me.

And, as it turned out, I was right. Fan fiction kind of took me over, just like I thought it would. Do I regret that, speaking from my place now five years down the line? Nah! It gave me a lot of writing experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise and, aside from all that, it was fun!

It’s still fun.

If and when I get traditionally published, I plan to continue with fanfic on the side. Granted, I’ll no doubt have a lot less time to devote to writing in other people’s worlds, with other people’s characters, when I’m also trying to focus on my own, but I’m no longer in denial. I’ll still dabble any chance I get.

Continue reading

Story Triage

One of my husband’s favourite authors is Dan Abnett. Recently, he was reading a book by him (The Magos – part of the Warhammer series) and was surprised/amazed/amused to hear him describe a little bit of his writing process in the introduction.

Dan writes a lot of books – his Goodreads page lists him as having 1,403 distinct works – and, by the sound of it, he has ideas for at least ten new writing projects for every single one he completes. How does he carry all of that around in his head? Well, imagine his brain as a waiting room…

“At any point in the last decade,” he said, “I could have told you, in order, what books I’d be writing this year, next year, and sometimes the year after that.” He explains that most of his novels “plan their visits” months or years in advance. “They line up, take a number, and then go and sit in the waiting room, glaring at me, surrounded by their carrier bags of reference books, clutching their lists of problems and demands.”

On the other hand, some of his books “turn up without warning.”

Sounds intense, right? I’m sure most writers don’t ascribe to the same system, and almost no one else to that degree or volume. But when my husband read me the introduction, awe in his voice, I looked back and him and was like, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Which is to say, I’m not normal either and I’m thankful for it.  Continue reading

Writing Goals for the Second Half of 2018

Being pretty much halfway through the year, I thought it would be a good time to refocus myself and set some goals for the next six months.

I’ve come up with five specifically writing-related ones.

Here goes…

1. Put a Big Dent in Book Two

Having completed a novel during the first half of 2018, I want to start work on a second – the sequel. Mostly, I see myself doing this during CampNaNo in July and NaNoWriMo in November, setting myself up to finish it during CampNaNoWriMo in April 2019.

2. Finish One Piece (Short Story or Poem) a Month

Given that I have so many things half-written, this shouldn’t be too difficult. I just need to dig them out and wrap them up. (It helps that I already have a spreadsheet for this.)

3. Submit Two Pieces Per Month for Publication

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. There’s no point in finishing things up and having a back catalogue of work if I’m not gonna do anything with it. Already, I have a bunch of completed works sitting doing nothing. I’m gonna get on that.

4. Self-Publish Two Micropoetry Collections

I have both of these almost ready to go and have done for some time. Why I haven’t finished the polishing process and pressed ‘publish’, I’m not quite sure. I just wanna get them out into the world already.
Torn between having a launch this summer or trying to get them out for National Poetry Day in October, I’ll be happy as long as they’re complete this year. Details to follow on that soon.

5. Acquire Literary Agent and Join the Society of Authors

This has been on my list – and, indeed, a few different lists – for a long time. Eventually, it’ll happen and I’ll keep going (and keep including it on my ‘to do’ lists) until it does.

Writing Update – May 2018

I’ve been fairly quiet on social media recently, partly because I needed to recharge my batteries in that respect (it was all getting a bit much, you know?), but also: I’ve been really concentrating on my writing.

On that count, I have some updates:

The two pieces of flash fiction I said had been accepted in my March update have now both come out – one micro piece in issue two of the Bangor Literary Journal, and a brand new short story in issue nine of Corncrake Magazine.

I finished and won CampNaNoWriMo, writing 20,000 words during the month of April.

But, most importantly, I have finished my novel!!! (Yes, those extra exclamation marks are necessary. Didn’t you hear what I said?) I don’t mean I’ve finished the first draft – oh, no. We’re way past that! – I’ve sent the whole thing out to my beta readers and finished a round of edits.

I had a meeting with a writing mentor on Friday who looked over my pitch and first 10,000 words and she was so positive about it, encouraging me to not delay in sending it out.

So, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

My novel will be in the inbox of an agent come morning!

On Almost Giving Up

Two days before the end of NaNoWriMo in November, I had ten thousand words still to write. So I thought to myself, I’m probably not going to be able to do it, I might as well not bother trying.

I probably don’t need to tell you that that’s a terrible attitude. I knew it myself even as I thought it, but that didn’t make giving up any less tempting.

So I went to a few friends and asked them for a pep talk. They waved their virtual pompoms, I wrote the ten thousand words, and the rest is history. I have another NaNoWriMo win under my belt, and that win had me riding high on good feels for good while.

Way back at the start of 2017, I wrote a blog post that stemmed from a lot of frustration with myself. I put on too much pressure, and I buckle, and I don’t finish a lot of projects (not compared to the number I start, anyway). But that’s only half the story, because you know what else I do? I get up and I try again.

Today has been a crappy day. The course I was supposed to start teaching tonight was cancelled for lack of people signed up. I turned down client work, because I wasn’t up to it. I cancelled an event; deleted my Patreon. Then I had a nap, and I started writing again.

I’m currently behind on my CampNaNo word count, but I’m still going. Tomorrow is a new day.

Reading and Writing Update – March 2018

What I’ve Been Reading

As of right this minute, I have read eleven books this year so far – three audiobooks, three poetry collections, two non-fiction books, a novel, a short story collection, and a novel-length piece of fan fiction – though I’m hoping to make it twelve this evening.

11 books off my goal of 52 is 21%, which means I’m exactly on track.

You can follow my reading challenge on Goodreads here.

What I’ve Been Writing

After a very slow start to the year, which I promise to stop going on about from here on out, I’m finally getting back in gear.

I wrote just over 5,000 words in January, almost 6,000 in February, and I’ve written roughly 3,000 so far this month but, again, I’m hoping to finish another piece tonight. Mostly, I’ve been editing. A lot. Which brings me on to my next topic.

Works Accepted & Published

In January I had a small, jokey piece of flash fiction posted on the Belfast Writers’ Group website – we decided that’s something we’re going to do periodically, now.

In March I had a poem published in the inaugural issue of the Bangor Literary Journal, AND I’ve recently heard that a flash fiction piece by myself will be included in Issue Two as part of a feature on Women Aloud NI members. That’s due out in April, as is a different literary journal that is publishing a flash fiction piece of mine – not sure if I can publically announce the details of that one, yet, but keep your eyes peeled on Twitter and Facebook.

Things Just Passed

I’ve just finished my first term at Crescent Arts Centre as a tutor and my last there as a student.

International Women’s Day is over for another year, but it was fantastic to be part of a brilliant set of events both on the day itself and the following weekend. There’s a video of my reading at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin here.

The past two days, I’ve have had Kindle editions of my books all on offer for free and was delighted to find that I topped a few of Amazon’s charts in doing so – see photo, below.

Things Still to Come

Camp NaNoWriMo is happening in April, and I’m all signed up. My target is set to 20,000 words which will see my novel finished. Hall-e-lu-jah! It can’t come soon enough. But, that said, I have one important thing before that – my birthday, which is on Friday *does happy dance* 

Finally, a new term is starting at Crescent Arts Centre soon – after Easter – and I’m all set to teach again. My class will be running on Friday evenings, and I’ll be trying out an all-day workshop as well. More details on that here.

Did I mention things had been busy?

What I Wrote in 2017

It took me some time, but I now have a typed record of everything I wrote last year, and I can tell you it all totals one-hundred-and-forty-six-thousand (146,000) words (rounded figure). That equates to a decent sized novel.

For context and comparison, it’s quite a bit more than Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and a bit less than Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which are 107,253 and 168,923 words, respectively – source for that info. here).

On average, it’s 400 words per day, which is just shy of the 500 words per day that Ernest Hemingway wrote during his life (source).

So, this blog post can be summarized by me saying I’m basically the Ernest Hemingway of Harry Potter. Except, you know, nothing like that at all.

A lot of the words I wrote were towards my novel, but most of them were scattered across a lot of other projects, including 42 blog posts, 80 poems, 20 pieces of flash fiction, a hefty amount of fan fiction (as always), and non-fiction (reports and memoir).

All of the blog posts made it into the world (most of them here on this very website), the fan fiction was all published, and some of the flash fiction got shared online, too, while most of the poems form the second micropoetry collection I’m working on.

I had a poem published in print as part of an Arlen House anthology, had two-and-a-half short stories published in anthologies by Belfast Writers’ Group, a poem published on the website of the Imagine Festival, a short story in an anthology by A New Ulster, and another one published by ANU in their regular journal. (Full list of publishing credits for all years here).

I’d say that’s pretty good output for a year that threw me more than a few curve balls. We’ll have to wait and see how the rest of 2018 pans out for comparison.

The Fear

I have wanted to be an author for a very long time and have been working on novel drafts since 2009/2010. That’s nine years ago, give or take, which seems crazy to me.

Undoubtedly, a lot has happened in that time, not least of which, I have improved my writing and related skills.

I’ve said before that the novel I’m working on at the minute (that I started at the beginning of 2017, I think) just feels right to me. I really think this is the one that could see me getting an agent and publisher. I’m also so close to finishing it; on the pinnacle of sending it off for submission. My beta readers have given me nothing but positive feedback (and I’m not even bribing them, promise!).

And here’s the thing: I am scared to go that last mile.

For all I’ve dreamed about coming to this point and talked almost incessantly about nothing else for months of my life at a time – and for all of the hugely terrifying, genuinely important things going on in the world for other people (like, you know, terrorism and Brexit) – I am currently gripped by the sudden realization that this is real. Or it could be.

I’ve built this up in my head and heart for so long, I… I’m not scared I’ll fail, I don’t think. I’m not sure what it is that’s behind the fear, I just know that it’s here and it’s making me hesitate.

Maybe I’m worried I’ll actually succeed – get an agent and publisher – and that it won’t live up to my expectations, which aren’t even that inflated, realistically. I’ve done my research. I’m under no illusions that I’ll become a rich and famous. And yet… there’s something.  Continue reading