Category Archives: Writing
Today, it is exactly one hundred years since the birth of Roald Dahl. I have written previously about how much Dahl has meant to me over many years, and why. This year, I was lucky enough to fulfil a childhood dream: to visit Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, and see for myself where the great man lived and worked.
Great Missenden is a place-name that had become mythical in my mind since the day in 1985 when I received this letter from Dahl, in response to one that I had sent him:
First stop on my visit to Great Missenden was the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre. The exhibition there is a delight for the Dahl fan: hundreds of objects large and small have been carefully preserved and put on display in an easy-to-follow and engaging way: household objects, childhood items, books, book paraphernalia and, of course, handwritten letters (some of the nicest are those written by the young Dahl at boarding school to his mother). Murals, signs and multimedia installations greatly enhance the visitor experience.
A specific part of my childhood dream was to see the hut in the garden of his house where Dahl did his writing. This couldn’t be fulfilled to the letter (after all, Dahl’s wife still lives in their house), but I came as close as it is possible to get: the interior of the hut – chair and all – has been re-located to the museum and re-installed exactly as it was. I spent a long time staring through the protective glass (much to the annoyance of other visitors, I’m sure) at the treasures within.
In the photo above, on the table on the left, you can see several artefacts from Dahl’s life, including his hip bone, which had been surgically removed in a hip replacement operation. This is a lovely hint at the macabre in Dahl’s imagination.
The museum shop is likewise a treasure trove. I bought a print from The Twits, to hang over my and my husband’s bed (it seems apt!).
My favourite Dahl book for many years was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was thrilled to see on display this first edition from 1964:
Quentin Blake’s illustrations have become synonymous with Dahl’s work for children, so it was interesting to see how another artist (in this case, Joseph Schindelman) interpreted the story.
Lastly, I wandered up Main Street and visited Dahl’s final resting place. My daughter, also an avid fan, came with me. We were both very happy to spend a short time with him there and think about all the happiness he has given to children and adults the world over. I personally sent him thanks for the letter that made a young girl very happy.
As the old Irish saying goes, Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann (his like will never be seen again).
I’m thrilled to have been asked to interview Mia Gallagher for this year’s Imagine Arts Festival. The event takes place on October 24, 2016, 7:00 PM in St. Patrick’s Gateway Centre, Waterford city. Admission is free but seating is limited so come early.
Mia has a new novel called Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland. The Irish Times recently published a review of the book. The reviewer, Sara Baume (herself a ‘new’ Irish author with the amazing Spill Simmer Falter Wither under her belt) describes it as “rich in colour and broad in scope”. I’m just a few pages in but that description is being borne out already.
Mia Gallagher published her first, hugely well received, book, Hellfire, twelve years ago. She says this of her new book: “I didn’t finish my first proper draft until six years after I started, and it’s taken a further five-and-a-half to reach the bookshelves.” (There’s comfort there for many an author fearing that their work may never see the light of day.)
Aside from her writing, I can’t wait to meet Mia herself, based on the friendly tone of her emails and the author photos of her that I’ve seen. Many author photos feature a serious-looking person against a serious background. Mia’s photos are colourful, and show her smiling, laughing and goofing about. She looks like fun.
This writing business is very much ‘in the head’. Watch a writer working furiously, and you will see him or her sitting at the desk, not moving very much at all – not much change in facial expression, even – and staring intently at screen or page. There will be occasional bursts of work on the keyboard or with the pen. That’s it.
So I take every chance I get to move my work more into the physical world. I got the chance recently when I started to edit a story that I am preparing for publication (more on that soon). Editing on-screen produced a lot of head-scratching but not much else. I somehow couldn’t get my head around where everything fitted together in the story.
Enter our old friend, paper. I printed out the story and got to work with my pen and scissors. I literally cut out the bits I didn’t want and wrote in new material by hand, old school style. Then I stapled the pages together in one long scroll to create the new draft of the story.
The process of editing in this way was a tangible one. It felt good to work with physical objects.
Of course, once I had done all the work I could with pen, scissors and stapler, it was back to the computer to make the changes in electronic form, too.
Back in 2011, I wrote a series of blog posts about how to write a short story. These posts are still some of the most popular on this blog. I’ve decided to revise and re-run them. Note that these posts describe how I went about writing one particular short story; they are not intended as a definitive guide or as the final word. As always, I’d love to hear your comments below.
Days 1 & 2
Physical environment – house sketch
After mulling over various possibilities for the story for a while, I develop a picture of the family at the centre of the story. The family – mother, father, and three or four children – lives in a big, chaotic house in a medium-sized town. The family’s life revolves around their shop. The small grocery shop is integrated into the house in the converted front downstairs room.
Part of the dynamics of the story is that the mother in the family runs several mini-businesses from within the home. The house is always being extended and modified to make room for each new business venture. So the house is always noisy and busy.
I realise that movement and the physical environment – all the family members moving around this big, chaotic, disorganised, confusing house – are key to the story. So I decide to sketch out a plan of the house. I want to be completely familiar with the layout of the house in my own mind, so that the characters’ movements around the house are consistent and flow smoothly.
This is my initial sketch:
At this stage, the characters are still in their infancy in terms of development. Later, I will create detailed character sketches. Before that, I need to create a timeline for the family in the story. This is to ensure that all aspects of time in the story are correct and consistent. For example, to specify the age of each character, I need to know when they were born, and all the family members’ dates of birth have to be consistent with each other.
This is the initial timeline that I drew up:
By this stage (the end of day 2), I have also written a few disconnected paragraphs of the actual story. These are really sketches themselves, rough “practise” drafts to help me get an idea of how the story might look and sound.
The next steps are: fill out the timeline, create detailed character profiles, and identify key scenes. I’ll be moving forward with these tomorrow.
The nominees for this year’s Hennessy Literary Awards have been announced: Hennessy Nominees Announced & New Home For New Irish Writing. Hearty congratulations to all nominees!
The winners will be announced on February 24th.
The article also reveals exciting news about New Irish Writing: the hugely influential and popular writing page has moved to The Irish Times.
Have you come across any of the articles about the spaces in which writers do their writing? They were published as a series in The Guardian a few years ago. I must admit to drooling over some of them. Just look at the room where Seamus Heaney did his writing: with its shelves of books, framed photos, little sculptures and the sloped ceiling, it is every inch a writer’s haven. Or the writing room of Michael Morpurgo, unmistakably writerly in a different way, with its ascetic wooden bed and bare walls.
Now to go from the sublime to the ridiculous. This is the space in which I currently write:
A recent bedroom re-assignment in my house has meant that my “office” (half a room, fenced off from the other half, which is a play room) is no longer “mine” but “ours”. In addition, several years’ worth of hoarded items are now temporarily stored here, as there is no safe (i.e. child-proof) space anywhere else in the house.
The bits of wood that you can just about see on the left of the picture belong to the “fence” – complete with lockable gate – that my husband constructed across the middle of the room, to keep the children away from the computers. Yes, we really have a room with a fence running through it. (There is probably some The Field-like metaphor in there, if only I could think of it.)
I can only pass the buck on some of the hoarding; much of it is mine, years of memorabilia from travels, studies and life events. So the Herculean task awaits of sorting, culling, clearing and storing. Yet another task to take away from writing time.
On the plus side, I get great psychological benefit from de-cluttering. I find the process, once started, to be energising, and the results bring me a great sense of calm and order.
A friend has recommended Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, which my friend says is excellent for motivating oneself to have a life-altering de-clutter. I have the book on my Kindle and plan to get stuck into it tonight.
Have you got a work space in your house that is exclusively yours? How do you go about keeping it clutter-free?
Our back garden in the snow. Let’s build a snowman, says my father. The winter light is milky, shot through with a tentative sun.
I am wearing a brown pinafore. Its fabric is thick and scratchy. Do I have gloves? I don’t know. I don’t feel the cold.
The snowman is made before I know it. He is a fine creature, as tall as me. Dad fetches pieces of coal from the coal bunker for his eyes.
We have a grooved metal rubbish bin at our back door. The snowman needs a hat. The bin lid will do the job. It clangs as we lift it.
Years later, my daughters sing songs from the hit Disney film ‘Frozen’. The character of the little snowman who longs for summer brings me back to my own first snowman, his stick arms pointing skywards, his wide-brimmed metal hat shielding his eyes from the sun.
Put up your arms like the snowman, says Dad. Click.
Do I really remember the day itself, or have I retrofitted a memory from the photograph? I am sure I can still hear the metallic ring of the bin lid.
It is 1977. I am just gone three.
Listening to Ryan Tubridy is annoying in the same way that stepping on a bit of lego is annoying. It happens, it’s irritating and sore for a little while, then you forget about it and go about the rest of your day. But if you got up and stepped on a piece of lego at 9am every weekday morning it would, no doubt, begin to have an impact. It would eventually start to leave a bruise, kind of how his insidious daily sexism has an impact on the people listening to it. Repeated everyday, it eventually leaves a mark.
I’m sure underneath it all Ryan Tubridy is a nice person but his brand of entertainment is about as amusing as a dose of thrush. Then again, his show is not aimed at me. It’s aimed at people who think that a Carry On Celtic Tiger smarmy sense of humour is…
View original post 956 more words
This is a superbly argued and beautifully expressed slap-down to sexism in the comic book world, courtesy of Derek Flynn of Rant with Occasional Music blog.
The phrase “Comics Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore” is hardly revolutionary. If you’re a female comic’s fan or creator, you’re probably saying, “Duh, obviously. We’ve known that for thirty years.”
Here’s the thing. It would seem that not everybody in geekdom has gotten the memo. In fact, if recent events are anything to go by, the memo is still in the “Out” box. One of the recent events I refer to is a critique of a comic book cover that Janelle Asselin – a former comic’s editor – wrote called “Anatomy of a Bad Cover”. Asselin was an editor and associate editor on such DC titles as Batman, Batwoman, and Detective Comics, amongst many others. So, we’re talking the big leagues here. The cover she wrote about was this:
This is the cover of the first issue of the new Teen Titans comic. You don’t need to be Brainiac…
View original post 568 more words
Ah, procrastination. The little devil on the shoulder of most writers.
There are as many techniques for enhancing productivity as there are ways to procrastinate. The most effective one that I’ve come across is Eugene Schwartz’s 33-minute rule. This is how you do it, as explained at the link above:
Set it for 33 minutes. Now start writing.
Write anything. Just fill the page.
If you can’t write, then sit there and stare until you start sweating blood.”
Yep, that’s right – blood. You are not allowed to move for the 33 minutes.
This may sound like a massive restriction. In fact, it’s liberating. You can do anything you like in those 33 minutes, as long as you don’t move from the chair. After staring out the window, examining your fingernails, and generally fidgeting for a bit, what else is there to do but write something?
The aim of the exercise is not to produce wonderful work. The aim is to get you writing – anything. Because writing is better than not-writing.
Here’s the product of my 33 minutes this morning. What do you think – of the piece of writing, or about the whole issue of productivity? Have you tried the 33-minute technique or any similar anti-procrastination methods? How did it work for you?
I’d love to hear from you in the Reply section below.
The pressure built up slowly in her vascular system. The coffee she had drunk at breakfast delicately burned the backs of her eyeballs. Rachel felt that she was fizzing on the inside.
Three hours until she had to stand up from her desk and collect Josh from play-school. What to do with this free time? She stared at the blank computer screen and tried to breathe her circulation back to normal.
It had never been like this when Mark was here. She guessed she had never felt the need to take a deep breath. Back then, noticing how she was feeling would have seemed like a frivolity, something that people with time on their hands did.
She looked down at her hands, crouched like crabs over the keys. Last night she had picked up a magazine and read about how to do a DIY manicure. Oh, the rubbing, the filing, the buffing, the warming, the wearing gloves overnight – did people really do this?
The fizzing was reaching her fingertips now. Ridges of cracked skin framed her fingernails. She thought about cuticle oil. Did such a product really exist?
She had once read a story, back in college, by the American writer Annie Proulx. In it, a teenage married couple set up home together on the American frontier. Rachel had blanked out the mundane tragedy of the story, but the frontier spirit described in it stayed with her. The people fought to acquire a patch of land, built their home from the ground up, created a life for themselves with unquestioning determination. If they had been handed three hours, they would have built a fence round their acre or chopped and piled enough firewood for several weeks.
Rachel let her wrists slump to the edge of the keyboard. Life, as she knew it, was something that happened to you. You just had to play along and it happened.
Her coffee high was ebbing away. Rachel felt herself able to observe the process within her body. A familiar dullness was seeping through her. The expanse of time that lay open before her darkened in her mind’s eye. She could no longer see it. Her paralysis eased and her fingers came to life.
She opened Facebook.