‘Mental’ front cover reveal


One of the most fun tasks in this self-publishing voyage so far has been working with my graphic designer to create a front cover image. And here it finally is:

mental-cover-3d

To say I’m excited to finally release the cover is an understatement. After all, it is the front cover, more than any other part, that we visualise when we plan to publish a book.

To create the cover, I worked with book designer and illustrator Jana Vuković. Jana came recommended by a writer friend who had used her services. Jana and I have never met; in fact, I don’t even know where she lives! We communicate solely by email.

Jana started off the process by asking me for examples of existing book covers that I liked, to give her an idea of the direction we needed to head in. I sent her links to three or four. Then, she got me to complete a questionnaire in order to help me to express exactly what I wanted to achieve with my book cover. I was a bit taken aback by how vague my thoughts had been up to that point! We pinned down the key words, my preferred colours and the most important part of the book to be reflected in the cover image.

The one thing I was specific about from the start was that I wanted the cover to be an illustration, and symbolic rather than depicting an instantly recognisable ‘thing’. I felt this was appropriate for a book that focusses on the mind, thoughts and mental turmoil but also hope and possibility.

I found Jana to be utterly professional and always quick to respond. Her prices are reasonable and her ‘after-sale service’ is great. (Being the rookie that I am, I temporarily forgot that my book needed a back cover! She stepped in at a moment’s notice to provide me with one.)

The current step in my self-publishing process is waiting for the proof copy to arrive from CreateSpace. I may just about explode with excitement to hold an actual physical copy of my book for the very first time! I will post here as soon as it arrives.

Advertisements

The author head shot dilemma: professional or DIY?


This is something I was undecided on for a long time: do I need a professional author head shot?

All the self-publishing experts I know say yes, you do. They say it’s an investment in your work. They say it reflects a professional ethos. They say that a cropped image of you squinting in the sun on holiday with a disembodied arm around your shoulders may not send the right message about your work.

Then there’s our old friend, self-doubt. I’m ‘only’ self-publishing, after all. I’m trying to keep my costs down. The cropped holiday snap will do fine, won’t it? Who do I think I am?

I found that my decision was made even harder by the fact that I already had a very nice author photo, taken by a friend who does photography in his spare time and is excellent at it. The snags were: 1) The picture is several years old. Hands up, I (sadly) don’t look much like that any more. 2) My friend had very kindly taken the picture free of charge. I value the friendship and didn’t want to ask him for more free work, nor I did I want to cause him awkwardness or embarrassment by trying to insist on paying him.

After agonising over the decision a little longer (I can be indecisive!), I decided to grab the bull by the horns. I would go professional.

I found a local, female photographer. This was important to me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my big, established brands when it suits me, but when it comes to bespoke work, especially anything artistic, I try to support my local economy and women who are setting up in business on their own.

Enter Bara Alich, whose work I had seen and loved in a local charity calendar. Bara works from a pop-up studio in a room in her home. She tears down the studio after each shoot because the room is used by the family the rest of the time. She brings in a local make-up artist to prep subjects before shoots. She’s incredibly nice (I had a cold at the time, and she made me fresh honey, lemon and ginger tea!), professional and ambitious. That’s the kind of set-up I like.

Here we are getting ready for the shoot:

orla-and-bara-sept-2016

Bara took huge pains to find out from me what I was aiming for with the photo. She made me think about what I really wanted the photo to ‘say’. My book is about mental health issues so, together, we worked out that we wanted the result to show friendliness, kindness and understanding, yet strength and reliability as well.

Bara helped me pick outfits that would fit in with those key words, and her make-up artist did a very professional job (and managed to cover up the rotten cold!). Here’s the result:

Portrait by Bara Alich Photography

It is always cringe-inducing to look at pictures of yourself, but I am happy with this one. It fulfils my expectations and hopefully, it does something to persuade people that my book is worth a look.

You do have to grin and bear it when you’re handing over money for a self-financed project – and that little voice saying “You could have just done it yourself” never quite goes away. I’m happy with my decision and with the result.

PS. My next post will be the book cover reveal! Stay tuned!

My new book ‘Mental’ comes out this year


Allow me to be selfish for a moment. 2017 is going to be a huge year for me because this is the year that I publish my first book.

It’s a book of short stories and it’s called ‘Mental’. The stories all deal with the issue of mental health as it affects the five main characters, who are of different ages and backgrounds. My aim with the book – apart from creating a piece of work that hopefully has some artistic merit! – is to shed light into the often darkened corners of our mental worlds.

I’m self-publishing the book, a process that so far has been mostly enjoyable. As a child, I was fascinated with the physicality of books. I tried a few times to make my own, in an attempt to fulfil my dream of seeing my name on a front cover.

Armed with the Olivetti typewriter that Santa had brought, my drawing pens, paper and folders liberated from my Dad’s workplace, and lots of sellotape, I sadly found that the results were never quite up to my expectations. Back then, this was the best I could do (this ‘book’ was the result of a school history project): 


Had I been born only a few decades later, my younger self could simply have used one of today’s self-publishing platforms to publish my early attempts at a novel.

For Mental, I’m using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for the ebook and CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service, for the print version.

One of the most exciting tasks so far has been working with an awesome graphic designer to create the cover of the book. I’ll be revealing the cover on this blog very soon!

Last books of the year


Mother knows best. So too, apparently, does Other Half. This is part of my Christmas book haul:

‘Cowboy Song’ by Graeme Thompson was a gift from my partner and ‘Hilbilly Elegy’ by J.D. Vance was from my mother.  I’m halfway through the former. It’s utterly gripping and the cause of the current crop of grey smudges under my eyes (in a good way). ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ – subtitled ‘A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis’ – will be a great, if sobering, read.

Happy new year, everyone.

Mia Gallagher interview, Imagine Arts Festival 2016


Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing author Mia Gallagher as part of this year’s Imagine Arts Festival.

orla-mia-gallagher-imagine-festival-2016

Image credit: Kate McCarthy

As I suspected, Mia is a delight. She is an interviewer’s dream: chatty, friendly and open. She has lots to say but isn’t in the slightest overbearing. Despite being an internationally acclaimed writer, she is completely down to earth and generous.

We talked a lot about her latest novel, Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland, as well as about her writing life, her process, and creativity. I loved hearing that at one stage during the writing of BPLH, she sat cross-legged on her floor, surrounded by stacks of paper. That’s such a romantic image of a writer. Much more appealing than sitting bolt upright in front of a computer screen!

The occasion was further enhanced by the venue, St. Patrick’s Gateway Centre in Waterford city. As the image above shows, this former church provides a highly suitable and atmospheric setting for arts events.

My thanks are due to Ollie Breslin, Nora Boland and everyone else on the Imagine organising committee for a perfectly run event, and to the audience members who turned out on a Monday evening.

Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland is available from all the usual book outlets, as is Hellfire, Mia’s first novel.

What are you reading?


I love asking people that question, don’t you? The answer can sometimes give you a glimpse into someone’s inner world. Other times, it’s a glimpse into their everyday life. 

This week, I’m reading three books: Roald Dahl’s Collected Short Stories Vol. 2, Mia Gallagher’s Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland (see my previous post) and Lucy Caldwell’s short story collection Multitudes


I would love to be able to claim that this shows what a wide, eclectic and voracious reader I am. Sadly, what it really means is that I have trouble focusing!

On the positive side, all three books are truly wonderful. I’ll be posting more about them in the near future.

Last week, I finished Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard, a thriller that held my attention from start to finish. 


I’ll post a review of that soon, too. 

Am I over-committing myself again?

Roald Dahl: one hundred years


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:

img_9174

Letter I received from Roald Dahl, 1985

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.

img_7863

The interior of Dahl’s writing hut in the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Great Missenden

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:

fullsizerender

First edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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).

img_7873

Dahl’s grave

Mia Gallagher interview, Imagine Arts Festival, October 2016


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.

Author Mia Gallagher

Author Mia Gallagher

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.

img_9158

Mia’s new novel

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.

How to edit a short story


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.

editing scroll

Short story editing, the old-fashioned way.

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.

How to write a short story, part 1


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:

Timeline

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:

Practise paragraphs

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.

What’s next?

The next steps are: fill out the timeline, create detailed character profiles, and identify key scenes. I’ll be moving forward with these tomorrow.

%d bloggers like this: