Thursday, July 31, 2014

The End and the Beginning

Operation Overdrive has come to an end. Sort of.

I started this month with a big idea: to write a 75,000 word novel, posting daily blog posts, poems and videos. 31 days to do an awful lot of work, whether I did the novel or the daily posts. Attempting to do everything, that was where I fell behind.

And, life got in the way. But that's okay. That will happen.

I don't consider Operation Overdrive a failure, however. Quite the contrary. I think, with everything I did, it's been a success of sorts. I've managed to get back to blogging in a way that makes me happy. I've managed to put out a lot of poems, some of which were quite popular as far as my little poetry and prose blog is concerned, and I've managed to get back my confidence in front of a camera for my YouTube channel.

I've also discovered that I can't force myself to write a book if I only end up feeling guilty about not doing anything else.

Is this a problem for the dream of being a writer? No. It's a problem for any future attempts at NaNoWriMo in any way, shape or form. At least, not when the word count target is set to 150%.

The issue, you see, was trying to balance the workload when I was finding myself at my busiest, when I was working more hours in the bookshop, and when the sun was actually shining in Ireland. (Honestly - we had a weird summer.)

I know that I can write a novella in a week.

I know that I can write a non-fiction book using all of my spare time during a busy period.

I now know that I cannot dedicate a whole month to a book, while doing everything else in my life that I don't have any control over - like work, or babysitting, or burning up in the heat - because I will only tire myself out.

Part of the issue, for me, has been sleep, though. I haven't gotten much lately. We're talking the past couple of months. Since the sun started shining brightly in the morning, I haven't been able to sleep on past six most of the time. But this is after going to bed at twelve. I was drained, and that made me too groggy to start work earlier. The end result was guilt. Guilt at doing anything that wasn't writing. Guilt that carried over into the book. Guilt at trying something new.

And that last one? That's where the biggest issue for me was this month. I bought a new camera, my first DSLR. I wanted to take photographs. I wanted to practice, to get better, to really improve upon the very basics of photography that I had. And every time I did that - guilt.

Bad. Very bad.

That's why I left the book behind. I made a conscious decision, when I found myself incapable of writing the book because of how badly I felt for not doing it as much as I should have, to drop it. Not forever. Just until I get a couple of things in order. I have other books to write. I want to practice my photography more.

Operation Overdrive finishes today, officially, but the aftermath is this:

I want to write blog posts more often. I want to record videos more often, and I want to put more effort into them than a direct upload. I want to write poems with greater purpose for ParagraVerse. I want to set up a photography blog - and a business - and I want to get out more to take photographs. I want to write a couple of books that have been on my mind for a long time, and I want to continue to write my novel.

The month is over, but the desire to create, and the aspiration that I began with, they've only grown stronger.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why I Self-Published

In 2012, when I was preparing to write Balor Reborn, I had to make a decision - write and prepare a book for publication in a week, or do the whole thing by myself. The first option would have only been exciting if (a) I had written a full-length novel that (b) was accepted by a publisher in (c) a short period of time after the writing.

The second option at least allowed me to publish by the end of week.

But that wasn't the only reason I decided to self-publish. It wasn't just a time issue. It was also a case that there weren't, at the time, many publishers of novellas that excited me. There was no one there to take my book seriously, that I knew of, because of its length.

I was aiming for short and snappy, and I could only provide that publishing service myself.

The same reason stands for why I continue to self-publish some books, and why I don't self-publish others. At the end of the day, I still want my first full-length novel to reach publication to be through a traditional publisher.

However, self-publishing, for the time and books that are in it, is ideal for me. It gives me complete control over everything I want to do with particular stories, and allows me to figure out what does and does not work in an actual marketplace - not just in terms of what books sell and what books don't, but also which marketing methods I can pull off, how I can run a business, that sort of thing.

All in all, I like the control I can get from self-publishing, and I like that I can bring certain stories into the world without going through a gateway.

This isn't to say I don't appreciate the work of publishers, because I do appreciate it, but when it comes to new projects that require particular care in terms of pacing and publication, I'd like the risk of not meeting publication deadlines to be entirely on me, and not down to a department in a company not being ready to deliver, or doubting the decision to publish at a particular time.

(Some context: I plan on releasing a series of books with publication dates at very particular times of the year - several books per year. Only big-name authors can get away with that in the traditional publishing field, because of the cost involved in printing the books. This is why I'm sticking with ebooks, for the time being, too, because I don't have to worry about finding the right price from a printer, while trying to balance several other aspects of life.)

All in all, the decision to self-publish comes down to my lifestyle. I work three days a week, and mind my niece every week, too, and this is on the back of spending my entire week either in college or working. I have a limited amount of hours free in the week, one way or another, and that's all about to happen again - I need to know that the deadlines are mine to impose, around everything else I've had to do in my life for the past few years. To be perfectly honest, I'm still striving for the right balance in my life. I'm not ashamed to admit that. But I'm getting there. I'm figuring things out. And at least I get to do it on my own time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Non-Writing Book Recommendations

After my other list of books for writers, it makes sense to follow up with one that isn't primarily focused on writing, but can illustrate some important ideas and styles for writers to take note of. This isn't extensive, and it all comes down to my personal tastes, but I can guarantee you one thing: a book won't make it onto this list if I haven't read it - because there are already dozens of articles online with the same books on them as recommendations.

Paper Towns by John Green

Why? It is, in essence, a road-trip novel, and one that captures the experience so perfectly that it made me want to go on one myself. (Though, for the record, I don't actually have my a car of my own to do that with.) Don't attempt to write a road-trip book unless (a) you've been on one and (b) you've read a road-trip book. This one is my suggestion.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

One reason: a thought provoking but inoffensive exploration of suicide, and why one girl in particular took her own life. It's a very sensitive issue, and Asher manages to tread carefully, while covering the necessary ground - how the girl felt, how those she blames felt, their reactions to her death. It's not an easy read, in the sense that it's emotionally unsettling, but overall it's worth the experience.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

For it's treatment of racism, and the exploration of race through a child's eyes, it's a vital read. Why any school would ever ban this, I'll never understand. Bare-faced and daring, tense and unnerving, if you haven't read it, you need to.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Lawson's only book to date, this memoir of growing up in Texas explores a number of topics that many writers may never find themselves going through - and many more than writers are incredibly likely to experience. From a bizarre childhood to issues in parenting and motherhood, as well as an exploration of depression, Lawson somehow managed to create a book that was both hilarious and insightful, and, for a couple of chapters, heartbreaking.

One Red Paperclip by Kyle McDonald

The message from this memoir is simple: strange things are possible for ordinary people. If you think writing about suicide or racism or motherhood or road trips might present themselves as being too out-there for some readers, seemingly normal, but just a stretch too far with the imagination, then look no further than the Canadian who, through a series of trades, went from owning one red paperclip to owning a house. It's happened in real life - so who's to say whether or not you're pushing your luck with an idea? There are no limits in fiction, but especially not after Kyle McDonald pulled off this amazing feat.

The Commitments by Roddy Doyle

Why? The music. You don't necessarily have to like Soul music, but as a novel, it's a good example of how a band can come together, and how to include songs in a book. It also works as a great example of how a book can be written almost entirely using dialogue. Some of the colloquialisms may be difficult to understand for readers outside of Ireland, but there are always Irish readers out there who will happily translate for you.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

For an understanding of Asperger's Syndrome - albeit one that should be taken with a pinch of salt - Haddon's novel is a must read. A story of emotional difficulty, a search for meaning, and a seemingly impossible journey, it's ideal for writers trying to figure out how to make their characters different without making them weird. Even today, few writers include stories with autistic characters in the main cast - I've only ever seen one other character who fell into the category, in Cassandra Clare's latest novel, City of Heavenly Fire, and even then it isn't stated explicitly. If it doesn't challenge you to do something out of the ordinary with your protagonist(s), then nothing will. (Just, you know, be respectful of people who are actually going through the same things as your characters, and don't glorify what makes them different.)

Do you have any recommendations?

My list isn't comprehensive, but the books here present vast differences in stories and how they're told. I hope that, when you're working on your own ideas, these books might help highlight some key ideas for you to explore in a contemporary setting. (Or not.) Do you have any recommendations of your own? What books do you think writer should be reading?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Books for Writers

I have a habit of reading a lot of different types of books, but my non-fiction focuses on writing and business, for the most part. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to recommend some books for writers, no matter what stage they're at. (Though, obviously, more established writers may find less benefit from these than relative newbies.)

1. Screenplay, by Syd Field

Not everyone will write a movie. Not everyone should write a movie. However, as far as stories go, getting a strong overview of how to write one for one medium is a good idea, so long as you're prepared to transfer the lessons to another. Syd Field's book is incredibly approachable, and it covers all aspects of writing a story. The actual screenplay aspect of the book is limited to particular chapters. The rest is applicable to writers generally, with exercises most books on writing fiction don't include at all.

2. The Millionaire Messenger, by Brendon Burchard

While I would consider it of greater benefit to someone writing a non-fiction book than it would be for a novelist, The Millionaire Messenger is an excellent way of ensuring you focus on the task at hand. It's an important book for understanding the value of your message, whatever it may be, and it can help inspire you towards greater things.

3. Write and Get Paid For It, by Terry Prone

The title alone is worth paying attention to, nevermind the how-to information in the book. Terry Prone's guide on how to earn money from writing is important for writers who actually want to do that, and while the most recent edition is before most of the major successes in self-publishing and ebook publishing, the advise is still applicable to writers today. (The last edition was published in 2010, but take it from someone who's been publishing for a couple of years, and from a long-time bookseller - it's now an "old" book.)

4. The Curve, by Nicholas Lovell

Not everyone believes the future is digital. That's a problem for those people. Nicholas Lovell reveals what he knows and believes about digital technology, "superfans" and the power of free in his book The Curve, published in October 2013. It's an important book for understanding the challenges you could well be facing in the future, and it's handy to be able to prepare for them now rather than waiting to respond to them as they happen.

5. Is There a Book in You?, by Alison Baverstock

Alison Baverstock has always been a go-to writer for me. She writes plainly (which is a plus - everyone can understand her!), and she writes about topics that are important for writers. This book, her first about writing, is a good tool for self-identity. Not only does it help address the issue for many people - whether or not they can write a book - it also provides tips from the pros about how to write. It's old, at this point, but it's still a useful book to read, especially if you're just starting out.

6. The Writer's And Artist's Yearbook


Writer's Market

While you only technically need one or the other - the former being for the UK market, the latter for the US market - they're both incredibly handy to have at hand. Keep in mind they update annually. While older copies are good for finding listings, and for the advice articles inside, you need to be sure that (a) the agent or publisher is still in business and (b) that the contact details and editors listed are still current. If new copies are out of your budget (and the library doesn't have them in stock), a good Internet search should give you the answers you need.

7. Teach Yourself: *Insert preferred genre/form here* (e.g. Write a Play, Write a Novel, Write Children's Fiction, Write a Romance)

Some people wouldn't dare recommend Teach Yourself or For Dummies books, but I find them useful for getting down to the bare essentials of a writing style or genre. Pick one, and give it a read, but don't rely on it for everything. The most important thing is to find out how to do what you need to, or to uncover the tropes of your genre, and then to discover more about it all by writing. That's the best way to learn.

For marketing advice... go to Seth Godin.

For life-hack advice... go to Timothy Ferriss, Chris Guillebeau, and Niall Harbison.

For my books on writing... click here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

For the Aspiring Authors Out There

More often than not, the piece of advice successful writers give to aspiring writers is this: write more.

That's the gist of it. Write more. Keep writing. Write until you have no more ideas left in your head, find some more, and write again.

The purpose of this exercise is to help you become more aware of the words you use, and to develop your "voice" as an author. It helps you build upon your writing skills, no matter how poor or strong they are. But what about the people who've been doing this for ten years?

I have another piece of advice: drop the "aspiring" part of your title.

Stop dreaming, and start making things happen. I don't necessarily mean publish a book by yourself right away, or submit a book to a publisher. Start with something smaller. Try submitting a short story, or a poem, to a literary agent. Pitch an article to a magazine or newspaper. Do something to get your name out there, and edit your online bios.


Let's look at it this way - you look a lot more professional if you say, for example, "Mum of three, working on my first novel" than "Mum of three, aspiring author". One says you're doing something, the other says you're thinking of doing something. Similarly, "Aspiring author, 16, student" says a lot less about you than "Young author, working on a book, 16, student".

Do you see the difference, yet?

If you want people to take you seriously, start presenting yourself seriously. The amount of people who want to support young authors and writing mums is astonishing. Yes, you need to keep writing. However, by living your dream instead of just wishing for it, you're much more likely to do something you can be proud of.

When I dropped the word "aspiring", I found the courage to set up a website and apply for a writing job (which I got.) A year later, I published my first book, and wrote an article for a magazine about it. It's all mindset and confidence. I improved as a writer by that simple act of identifying as one now.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Holiday Destinations

Travel is kind of a big deal for me, because I don't get to do it very often. I have big plans that are way outside my budget as it stands, but if I had to make a list of five places I'd like to see... well, that's exactly what I'm going to do now.

New York City

Beginning the Incredibly Clichéd List with NYC is no big surprise. I've never been to the States, but I've always wanted to go. We just aren't one of those families that had the money for a big holiday like that - sun holidays are expensive enough, and you can go on them and not worry about the whole Capitalist Nature of the place you're visiting. But New York? No, not a chance. Not one of us could have afforded to go there and justify spending money on most of what we wanted - which, from an Irish point of view, is a waste of a trip to New York. It's seen as a shopping holiday.

For me, though, it's more than that. I want to do the stupid tourist things. I want to see the city in the flesh that I've seen in comic books and movies for most of my life. I want to make this big Dream City a reality.


I've already been. I have to admit that right now. But I want to go back. I want to see the London Dungeons, and do the Jack the Ripper tour, and go see the big tourist attractions. Yes, my trip to London was amazing. Yes, I would do most of it again (the trip to The Who Shop was disappointing...). But we didn't have enough time for everything. So, I want to go back, and I want to do everything I missed out on. Even if it took me two weeks of being a Tourist-with-a-capital-T.


Again, I've already been. Twice, in fact. But I love it, and it was the last place we went as a family. I want to see the architecture again, and Monte Serat, and the Gaudi museum. Everything, really. I want to see the city, and relive some memories, and try some of the more authentic local cuisine. The Hard Rock Cafe is good, but it's the same everywhere you go.


I never thought a huge amount about Paris beyond it being one of the big romantic getaways for couples. But, and this is largely from reading Michael Scott's books, I've come to see that the city is full of this extra life. Take into account the fact that two of my favourite people from history lived in the city - Nicholas Flamel, because of the myths around his life, and Marie Curie, because of her contributions to Science and recognised achievements in Physics and Chemistry - and it's a package deal. There are at least a dozen other people and reasons I'm not even thinking about right now, and that's just more reason to go see the city for myself.


When I was college, I had three opportunities to go to Rome, and I could never afford it. Ever. I always regretted that fact. So, I want to go myself (or, you know, with someone - not the point.) Basically, I just want to be a tourist for a bit, and eat fresh pasta, and try catch a mass with the Pope, even if at that moment in time I'm not feeling the whole Christian-vibe thing.

And the rest...

It's bad, but Europe keeps calling for me to visit it. I want to see Amsterdam, and Auschwitz, and Berlin. I want to go to Stockholm, and Edinburgh, and Belfast (which, really, isn't that difficult for me to do!) The main thing holding me back is money, because full-time work at a rate higher than minimum wage just isn't a reality for me at the moment. But I want to make it happen. When I finish my Masters, I want to mark one of these cities off my list. I want to just get away for a while, get some experience in the world. I think, before I get bogged down in the world of Being an Adult, I need to do some soul searching abroad. It's cliché, and everyone talks about doing it, and I think, right now, I really just need to make it happen. No more fussing about over it. No more just thinking about it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Music to My Ears

My musical tastes have changed radically in the past ten years. When I was thirteen, I didn't listen to anything. Not really, anyway. I never chose what music would be played.

Then I gave Green Day a try, and they were all I played for a year. Literally. It wasn't until reading and watching The Commitments that everything changed. I found Soul. I became especially fond of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, and Bill Withers. I would switch their CDs around, listen to their greatest hits, attempt to sing along - all the usual things a teenager does when they listen to music, except that most of my favourite artists were dead.

Over the following years, I was introduced to Muse, Nightwish, Hollywood Undead, Smashing Pumpkins, The Doors, Elbow, Oasis, and a plethora of others from the 60s and beyond, including The Beatles, She & Him, and The Mountain Goats.

These days, I find myself listening to three different things over and over again, two bands and one "genre" of music - Walk Off the Earth, A Great Big World, and Disney songs.

I first found Walk Off the Earth when one of the papers printed a link to a cover they did of Gotye's Somebody I Used to Know, when the whole band played the same guitar for the performance. That turned into subscribing to them on YouTube, going to see them live in Dublin, and playing their EP on repeat in the kitchen until I knew next to all the words.

My discovery of A Great Big World is a little more geeky than that. I first heard one of their songs on Glee. I loved This is the New Year so much that I looked up the original song, and fell in love with the band right away. I waited for months for their album release, played it constantly in the house, even got my niece singing along to Rockstar, and have tracked their tour right to London - which is still too far away for me to travel to for the day to go see them.

The Disney music varies quite a bit, depending on my mood. Sometimes it's songs from Frozen. More recently, Hercules and Mulan found their way in there.

All of this leaves out soundtracks, and a collection of albums from DFTBA Records. I don't listen to single genres anymore. I'm more open to listening to new bands for the first time. And I love it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Top Ten Favourite Movies

I go to the cinema a lot. I mean, every week, sometimes twice. In the past seven years, I've seen over 300 movies on the big screen alone, never mind the movies I saw on Sky or on DVD. Narrowing it down to a top ten is a little bit unfair, but it comes down to this: if I'm looking for a movie I want to re-watch, whatever I think of is worthy of a place on the list.

In a similar fashion to my book list, there's a caveat or two: there is no set order to this list, and, if a movie is an adaptation of a book I read before seeing the movie, it won't appear on the list. (So, no The Fault in Our Stars or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example.) Onto the list!

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

My first time seeing it, I was alone, and I loved every bit of it. I loved it so much that, the next day, I watched it again with my brothers. It was quirky and weird and funny, and it played off so many perfect video game and comic book devices that I couldn't not fall in love with it. (So far, I've only read the first graphic novel, but I loved that too. Double win!)

The Breakfast Club

First year in college, when I should have been studying for exams, a bunch of us sat around a laptop in a lecture room and watched a movie. This movie. This was during a tough period of my life (see A Bad Seven Months), and it helped me come to terms with myself in a way that I needed about five years beforehand. I felt more secure in who I was. More than that, I felt confident in who I was, for maybe the first time in as long as I can remember. I needed the movie, and the experience, and the people I shared it with.

Ferris Bueller's Day off

Did you ever see a movie that made you want to take a step out of your life for a while? For me, Ferris Bueller was that movie. I can't remember the first time I saw it, because I've seen it so many times since. I've watched it with family, with friends, with family of a friend, drunk and sober, and sometimes I've barely been able to hear it, and every time it made me want a friend like Ferris who could make a day off possible.

Stranger Than Fiction

My favourite Will Ferrell movie isn't a comedy. It's funny, in a way, but it's more charming and romantic and weird than it is funny. It forced me to think about what I write a little more closely, and it made me want to try new things in my life. I revisit it every time I'm feeling a little lost in my writing, and while it doesn't always serve as a therapy session, it does succeed, every time, in making me feel better.

Never Let Me Go

When I needed a story that sought out life, I found Never Let Me Go. I found a story of people who just wanted to live their lives together, against all the odds. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, and I fall in love with it every time I watch it.

Across the Universe

What do you get when you take Beatles songs and make a movie out of them? A pretty damn amazing movie, that's what! We watched it in a friend's house, on a laptop, all of us cramped together in a little room, and when it was over, I wanted to watch it again. (So I bought it, and did.) It has all the psychedelic nonsense you need from the Beatles' later albums, it has pro-peace rallies, and drinking, and bromance, and all the sort of stuff you need to make a movie set in the 60s all the more awesome.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Don't even ask me how I heard of it. Somehow, it found its way into my life, perverse and sexual and full of crazy dance numbers, and I never let it go. On the off chance I'm ever out on Halloween night, I request that the Time Warp be played, so I can teach people the dance moves. It takes everyone by surprise. The show even found its way into The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which made the reading and watching all the better, and when Glee did a Rocky Horror episode, complete with soundtrack, it was all I listened to for a long time. (And, you know, sang along to. Every time. In public. Including Touch Me.)


New to the list, after a salivating viewing experience a few weeks ago, is Chef. It's all about what it says in the title - a chef. Specifically, one who loves to cook real authentic food. And he drives a food truck. And makes amazing sandwiches. And between the outright food porn and the score, I came out of the movie feeling more upbeat and thrilled with life than I ever have.

The Muppets

Yep, the Jason Segel one. When I watched it, I was reminded of an experience that no one should ever truly forget - my childhood. It felt like being a kid again, sitting in the cinema, laughing out loud and not caring whether anyone was judging me. It was upbeat, hilarious, and released a soundtrack that I still listen to to this day. (I even ended up watching old Muppet movies afterwards, and getting two mugs from the Disney Store in Dublin.)


Ending on a darker note, we have Seven, the crime-thriller with a series of murders, each based on one of the seven deadly sins. It was disturbing when I first watched it, and it stuck with me. Years later, then, when I was writing my undergrad. research paper, I had something I could use as part of my research, as a primary text I could study. It was one of several saving graces that made the paper more enjoyable to write overall.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Top Ten Favourite Books

Today, I want to do something different - I want to look at my ten favourite books. It's a list subject to change, it's what I think of when I look at my shelf, and it doesn't do nearly enough justice to books that I read a long time ago. In fact, the list is of books I've read in the last 6 years, give or take, and comes with a caveat or two: I refused to include two books by the same author, and I don't have a particular order of preference to them. They are what they are.

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

It's simple, but smart, and it digs down to the core of how we place meaning on things. It's also short, which - for a college student - is perfect. I was able to read it guilt-free, and did so in one weekend while working. I couldn't put it down.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Challenging my ability to feel, it carries a certain weight over Green's other titles simply because it's the most recent one I've read. I think, if I'd read it before Paper Towns or Looking for Alaska, I would have preferred them. To put it clearly, I love his writing style, his wit, and the characters he creates. Deeply insightful, and the sort of book I wish I'd discovered when I was younger.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

In a desperate need to find something like John Green's books, I found Chbosky. I found Charlie, who was weird and hurt and who found friends who were just that little bit older than him to make a difference, and a lot of how he felt about life and a lot of what he was experiencing - though not the Thing That Shall Not Be Spoiled - were identifiable in myself, when I read it. (And, yes, definitely one for fans of John Green.)

Gone by Michael Grant

When Gone was being advertised, it was with a comparison to Heroes. This boded well with me. For the weeks and months before its release - a release to which I was savvy thanks to working in a bookshop - I allowed myself to build up a degree of excitement. I was not let down. I fell in love with the book, and the series, and aside from a couple of the more gruesome scenes, it's one I recommend wholeheartedly to a lot of parents looking for books for their young-teen kids.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

One evening, on Twitter, John Green and Maureen Johnson were talking about a book - We Were Liars. I looked it up. I liked the sound of it. I bought it. I struggled, on a tired day, to read it. Then I forced myself to try again, when I was a little more refreshed, and I loved it. I couldn't put it down. It was full of mystery and charm and it said a lot about the world in a very beautiful way.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Did you ever notice everything always seems to come back to one person? In the book, that's Gatsby himself. But my reading of it? That was John Green. I had tried to read it for college, only a few months before John announced it for the Nerdfighter book club, but I couldn't. Then I tried again, and I looked more closely, without the pressure of exams, and I fell into its charm. Plus, John Green agreed with a point I made about it in the comments on YouTube, and that made everything really awesome for a while.

Screenplay by Syd Field

Syd Field changed how I look at stories, and how I looked at Hollywood. While I've always had a burgeoning interest in screenwriting, one which I never truly followed up on, I didn't know much about it. Even that aside, I was granted an insight into cinema in a way I never would have imagined. It's a remarkable book, and very easy to understand.

The Curve by Nicholas Lovell

The future is digital, and people need to understand that more. I didn't, not for a long time, not in the way Lovell talks about, and it was this book that helped me realise what it was that I wanted to study at a Post-Graduate level. I owe him a lot, with that in mind - though the repeated mentions of his book on my blog will have to do for now!

The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard

This book shaped my online activity for a time. Simple, direct, and filled with powerful lessons to be learned, it was one I loved when I really made myself read it. I forced myself to do every exercise, to give myself the time - no matter what else I wanted to do - to complete them fully, and I came out feeling like I had a better sense of what I wanted to do with my life and with my writing. I'm not a millionaire, but I know I've learned some valuable lessons on how to address my life in the future.

The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

I never thought I could do so much with my life, realistically, until I read this book. I didn't think travelling and working at the same time was really a possibility. I didn't think other people did it. I'm at a point in my life where I'm just getting ready to take on life fully, and while it's still early days, I'm allowing myself the dream. I'm allowing myself to think about it, as a reality, and while it's not entirely Irish-based, it's an excellent push in the right direction that I don't just need to dream.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When I'm Not Writing

When I'm not writing, my time gets divided up with a few different activities, some regular, others less so. Work aside, because that's a whole other kettle of fish, I tend to do as much as I can to fill up my time. Sometimes it's productive. Other times, not so much.

The biggest regular activity is my weekly visit to the cinema. I've gone almost every week for the past seven years, or so, sometimes twice a week, and almost always with the same 2-3 people that I went to secondary school with. Take that as a load off your worries if your academic situation is in any way like mine was when I started college - none of your friends are in the same college as you, and none of them are studying the same subject. We managed to use the cinema to ensure we met up regularly, and as a result we've also seen a huge chunk of the movies that came out over that period of time.

Aside from that, and my various online activities, I try to work in a balance of reading, baking, and watching television. Don't get me wrong on the last one, though - I despise just casually watching reruns of something. I end up doing it, occasionally, for nostalgia more than anything else. Usually, I'm watching a particular series, and it's more likely than not that it's been recorded in advance.

The latest edition to any of my non-writing hobbies is photography. But let's just be clear: as of writing this, I am not a photographer.

I own a nice camera. It takes really good pictures. I enjoy taking them. But I can't exactly call myself a photographer. When I start taking pictures more often, when I start getting around with the camera a bit more, I'll describe myself as an amateur photographer. When I actually start making money from it, then I'll upgrade the description to photographer.

But not a moment sooner.

The most I've done is an excursion to the Botanic Gardens, to take as many pictures as I could in the blistering heat. And, because I'm so new to this, I want to keep doing things like that. I want to try get to the point when I'm taking pictures a lot, so I can call myself a photographer, of some description. But for now, photography is just a hobby, and one I'm not even sure I'm any good at yet.

Something I'd love to do would be to combine my various hobbies - taking pictures to accompany writing pieces, food photography when I get my ass in gear and go beyond a couple of different recipes, writing about film and television and stories generally. That sort of thing.

Is it bad that I want to make a living from hobbies? Maybe. I mean, from a bank's point of view, yeah. But in terms of personal fulfilment, I don't think I could find anything better.

Monday, July 21, 2014

First Stop in a Bookshop

When I visit a bookshop, I tend to go to the same sections first, every time. It varies from shop to shop, of course. In my own shop, I'm usually there to work, so I'd leave my belongings out back first. That in mind, we'll leave my own shop off the list.

Let's take Chapters, though. It's a big bookshop in Dublin, with a huge range, and I always find myself tucked away in the corner of the Business section first (unless it's been a while, in which case I have a look at the tables at the front for some good deals I'll only end up ignoring anyway.) I don't know why, but I always browse the Business section, even when I know I won't be buying anything.

From there, I move on to have a look at the books on writing, then to the Children's section, for the YA books. Following that, I end up looking at Classics and Science Fiction. Every time, even when I'm just trying to pass the time.

A similar path is taken in Eason on O'Connell Street. Business, Writing, then over to the Personal Development section, and back upstairs to the Teen section. But that's about it. Unless I'm getting stationary, I tend not to buy anything in the shop at all - not unless I've never seen it anywhere else before!

With Hodges Figgis, the journey is a little bit different - right to the top, and work my way down from the Writing section. I go through all the usual places, while I'm doing that, but I always seem to want to start at the uppermost level. It's a habit, and I don't intend on breaking it. It is, after all, where I found Screenplay by Syd Field.

The big three out of the way, there's really only one other bookshop I like to visit whenever I'm near it - The Gutter Bookshop, on Cow's Lane. It's small, but it's one of the nicest shops in the city. Plus, the owner, Bob, shares some of my interest in books - he's the only other person I know who reads Andrew Kaufman's books, and it was thanks to his interest in Kaufman's books that I was able to get my hands on Born Weird last summer. So thanks, Bob!

When I visit The Gutter Bookshop, I literally do a lap of the entire shop. Their range isn't huge, but they stock lots of titles you wouldn't find anywhere else - because no one else seems to realise they'll sell! Thanks to the size of the shop, people who go in looking for something to read usually end up with something that most Irish bookshops don't sell. Bob makes use of an American supplier that many find too inconvenient. The end result is that he gets to stock niche books for his very popular Indie bookshop.

What about you? What's your first stop in a bookshop?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Favourite Genres

A couple of years ago, I decided to be a little more open minded with my reading and stop avoiding certain genres. The biggest step I've taken is towards reading more fiction that wasn't a Fantasy or Young Adult novel.

For me, that was pretty important.

See, Young Adult is my favourite genre to read in. Up until John Green, this meant Young Adult Fantasy, but I've since opened up my reading list. In the end, it's led to me placing Michael Grant, David Levithan and Cassandra Clare all on the same bookshelf.

Why is that important?

Well, Grant is - more typically, anyway - for male readers. At least, by sheer observation. (The real reason it's noticeable - the female readers where I work read lots of other books, as well!) The Gone books are Science Fiction-Horrors, gruesome and violent and scary at times.

Clare is generally considered to be writing for a female audience. There's obvious romance. The male characters are described in terms of beauty, not by their masculinity. The lead protagonists are always female. And yet, I've read the entire Mortal Instruments series. And I loved it. It was heartbreaking, and exciting, and it's easy to look beyond the elements of it that are designed to make a teenage girl swoon with delight.

Levithan, then, is a mixed bag. He's funny, his characters can be male or female, straight or gay, but he doesn't include something that Grant and Clare do: magic. (Okay, yes, the powers in Gone aren't necessarily magic, but think of it as an inclusive term, for now.) Levithan, with the exception of A in Everyday, writes about normal people, living normal lives, who fall in love or go through tragedy, and most likely both. Love is the Higher Law deals with the consequences of 9/11, from the fear of the parents, the responsibilities of the teenagers, and the consequences of being a homosexual person in post-tragedy America.

None of them are alike, and of the three, only Grant would have appealed to me a few years ago. In fact, before my adoration of John Green as a person, I would never have considered fiction without a Fantasy element to it. Except, I had already. I just wasn't willing to accept that there were other authors out there like Roddy Doyle or Harper Lee or Mark Haddon, authors whose books I'd read in school, and loved.

The consequence of this, for me as a writer, is that most of what I've written has had a Fantasy element to it, or has attempted to emulate the feelings I had when reading "standard" fiction. (Contemporary Fiction?) I wrote about superheroes, or girls with magical powers, or gods and fairies.

Then, this month began, and I began writing something more like Levithan and Green. And you know what, it's more fun than I would have thought two, three years ago.

The point of all of this, of course, is that readers should always be willing to try something new. Read something new. If you need a suggestion, and your friends and family are proving useless on that front, ask your local bookshop. In my workplace, we all have different interests in reading, and even with a small staff we're still able to address most customers' needs.

So give it a shot, and then see how it affects your writing. It might surprise you.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Influential Reading

Like many readers, there are stand-out books that have influenced my life significantly. Ignoring the obvious answers of In Deep Dark Wood and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (my first favourite book, and the first book in a series that would get me hooked on books), the fiction options dwindle significantly.

Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak threw me into his books quickly, which lead to his overall influence on my life. That was important for me, at age 12, to find a new series that I could read, a new author whose books I adored.

But the non-fiction is where the biggest changes have occurred in the past few years.

When I got my hands on Tim Ferriss's The Four-Hour Work Week, it opened up my mind to the idea that I didn't necessarily have to live a standard life. I didn't have to restrict myself to the idea of working a 9-5 job, if it ever came down to that.

However, it wasn't a full set of answers.

It was Americanised. It presumed prior knowledge or prior work experience. It presumed that I wanted to live my life in a particular way, and it avoided one very important issue: how did I want to earn a living?

While Ferriss's idea of a four-hour work week was appealing (except, you know, if you get paid by the hour), it wasn't for me. I didn't want to set up or own a business I didn't believe in. I would rather work 40 hours at something I loved and could talk about passionately than to do four hours of maintenance per week on a business that was just a source of income.

I couldn't sell the idea to myself.

When I read Nicholas Lovell's The Curve, things changed. I had a model to follow a little more closely. I could see how I could run a business I loved, on a time-scale similar to that Ferriss presented. I could see the value of free, I could see how what I wanted to do in life could be both fun and profitable.

I was almost there.

I had a near-ideal model. I had an explanation of how that model might work for me. All I needed was something to make that model make sense to me passionately.

Enter Syd Field's Screenplay.

I know what you might be thinking. That's not a business book. Hollywood is incredibly competitive. Blah-blah-blah. It's a dream. It's an aspiration. It's something to strive for. But that wasn't all I got out of the book.

I could see myself using his teachings. I could see my craft explode in front of me - not into nothingness, but into something more. It was like a new beginning, and it gave sense to the model. I worked it out.

You see, I want to work in publishing. But publishing is a big business, and a loaded term. It could be my own business, or it could be for one of the biggies, but it's the dream. It's also not a great way to make money.

The only way I see this working is to combined writing and publishing, and the writing can't just be fiction. It needs to be non-fiction that seeks to help others. It needs to be screenplays that, if they're lucky enough to make it to cinemas as a finished film, will give people a sense of joy. I need to be able to teach people about the world in some way, shape or form. Movies change lives. They can show people something with just enough reality that the message gets through.

That's the passion - the message. That's what Ferriss couldn't show me how to deliver. That's what Lovell was guiding me towards. And Field, he finished the job, by going back to the basics, back to where my dreams started - with writing, and with the business of it.

The thing is, I didn't go looking for change. I went looking for an interesting read. The books that influence us most aren't the ones we expect to change our lives. The books that influence us just happen, mostly by accident, and that's where the pleasure lies in them. While there are other books that have helped shape my life in different ways, like Brendon Burchard's The Millionaire Messenger, there's less than a handful that actually piece together to form a cohesive model that I can follow - one that requires my own input in the making. Those are the books I'll cling to, the ones I'll return to for advice and wisdom, again and again.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Childhood Reading and Beyond

I've touched upon this recently, but I think it's worth looking at again: when I was younger, I didn't read much.

My problem was stories. I couldn't find one that I liked. My primary school's library was horribly out-dated. In all the time I was in that school, I found only a few books that I actually enjoyed. The one to start it all?

In Deep Dark Wood by Marita Conlon-McKenna. It had magic. It had dragons. It was perfect for me. If I hadn't read that, if I hadn't realised that that was the sort of book I wanted to read, then I might not have turned into a reader.

Yep, you read that correctly. And you know what? No reading, no writing.

It was thanks to that book that I could find enjoyment in literature as I grew older. I found Harry Potter, which got me hooked straight away. I also read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, though I felt certain I was too young for it at the time (10-11). Still, I managed it, and I loved it, and it didn't make me lose my faith in God, which is all the better. (That's a whole other issue. Faith is complicated. Let's move on.)

From Harry Potter, I found A Series of Unfortunate Events. In secondary school, I found Darren Shan. I was also introduced to Garth Nix, with the Abhorsen trilogy. By the end of 3rd year, I'd also found an interest in Douglas Adams, and had begun reading Dan Brown.

That was when I began to change as a reader. I wasn't put off by "adult" books anymore. Over the next few years, mainly as I was getting settled into college, I began experimenting with other authors.

From my childhood, I knew I liked the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, superheroes. These were things I could look for in the future. They were things I relied upon, these guideposts for reading. Yet, slap bang in the middle of all that were Lemony Snicket and Dan Brown, and that gave me the push towards trying other books.

John Green, Maureen Johnson, Andrew Kaufman, Philip Roth, all of these on top of the other authors I found myself following, like Barry Hutchison and Andy Briggs and Steven Erickson.

And, eventually, I found non-fiction.

I now balance my reading between fiction - still lots of YA, but delving more into books intended for older readers when one looks interesting to me (as before, it all comes down to story - I won't read an "adult book" just because it's intended for older readers) - and non-fiction. I read a lot of books on writing, and business, and lifestyle management. I've touched upon books on mental health, and science, and to be honest, I'm happier with my reading habits now than I've ever been.

And it all started with a boy, a girl, and a neighbour with pet dragons. Who would have thought?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I Found a Hero

When I was growing up, if someone asked me who my favourite author was, the response was always the same: Darren Shan. It wasn't because I liked his books better than everyone else's. It wasn't because I especially loved horror. No, I liked him because of the author he was, not the books he wrote.

To make sense of this, we need to go back a few years. As in, primary school. I read two different authors' books - JK Rowling and Lemony Snicket. Rowling was my favourite of the two, and continued to write some of my favourite books right up to the time when I got my first job. (Specifically, the midnight release of The Deathly Hallows was when I was offered my job.) Snicket, on the other hand, I only picked up - and this will sound ridiculous - because Klaus Baudelaire looked like Harry Potter.

Yep, I was that shallow.

I was completely enamoured with Snicket and Rowling, whose books were published regularly throughout the first four years of my secondary school life. But it wasn't enough. I needed a new author.

That was when I found Darren Shan, upon the suggestion of perhaps the first friend I made in second school, after a friend from primary school recommended them to me a couple of years beforehand. What was most important, then, was that the library in school actually stocked the books. I had a ton of books to catch up on, and by the time I finished them, he was getting ready to release another series.

I was also open to reading different books, the more I actually read different authors, which was a major plus. Garth Nix quickly found his way onto my book shelves, and by the time I started working I was ready to try new books by new authors.

In the meantime, I got to meet Darren Shan for the first time - on the day I arranged work experience in the shop that I would later work at on weekends. He was funny, he strangled everyone, and he made everyone in the queue for signing feel welcome.

The next few years are a blur of me showing up at every signing I could, reading The Thin Executioner even when I was supposed to be studying for exams. He imparted some wisdom upon me when my shop closed down, and helped me through that period of my life, until, a couple of years later, I moved from fan-in-a-queue to guest-at-launch.

Yes, in the summer of 2012 I got to sit down at the big fancy dinner held my Simon & Schuster to celebrate the launch of Zom-B and his moving over to them from Harper Collins. All around me were authors and journalists, booksellers and book buyers, publicists and Shan. It was wonderful, and he made sure I was comfortable before the night began, introducing me to different people from different places so that, when we sat down for dinner, even if he wasn't there, I'd know somebody.

When I was a boy, I thought authors were hermits, sitting alone in a room writing their books. I thought authors didn't know how to talk to people, because everything about the idea of writing a book seemed isolated. I think, for me anyway, I needed to meet someone like Darren Shan, whose real life personality was as big as his narrative voice. I needed to see that an author could be outgoing and write books that people loved. I needed a hero, and I found one.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Bad Seven Months

A recurring question in interviews seems to be to ask someone what the most difficult period of their life is. I don't understand that. I don't know why, if there are no guarantees that someone has moved past that period, anyone would ask that question.

So here's the thing - I don't want to be asked that. If anyone wants to know what, at the time of writing this blog post, the worst period of my life was, they can just look here, for a glimpse at that time. There's some stuff I'd rather not talk about at all, online, which you'll just have to accept. Anyway...

It started in February 2010. In the space of a week, I lost my job, an online friend went missing, and - less catastrophically, more upsetting with the others happening at the same time - my iPod broke. (Actually, it was dropped on the floor by someone else and broke, but that's not the point.)

I felt broken inside, lost and confused and with no idea how any of this was going to pan out. I didn't know how I'd fund any sort of writing career, if I ever hoped to have one, and I didn't know whether or not my friend was going to turn up safely.

While Darren Shan helped me cope with the job-loss-writer-problems, bad news was around the corner. My friend, a young writer by the name of Jonny Havron, was found. He had fallen into a river on a night out with some friends.

A couple of months later, my aunt was admitted into hospital, having just given birth to her second child. She went into a coma, and stayed that way - undiagnosed - for several weeks. During that time, while studying for exams, we had to accept that this was not going to end well - if she woke up, she wouldn't be the same. If they couldn't wake her up, she would remain in a coma. And if they couldn't fix what was wrong with her, she would die.

I can't say I coped very well with that idea, the finality of which hit the week after my exams. It took a lot for my best friend to calm me down over the phone.

A couple of weeks later, after a "successful" diagnosis of vasculitis in her brain, she entered the recovery stages. When she eventually woke up, she had no memory of giving birth, of naming her daughter, of feeling ill before her hospital visit.

There's more, things the family as a whole are still dealing with, but four years later she's still in permanent care. She's not the same woman she used to be, emotionally, mentally, in terms of personality, but she recognises her children, she recognises her husband, and she has some good days when she makes her family laugh.

Anyway, back to 2010.

After six months of hell, between the job (which I got back - Rise of the Phoenix sort of stuff with the company), my friend, my exams, and my aunt, I was on edge. That's putting it lightly.

The icing on the cake came in September, when my best friend - the same person who calmed me down after our fears over my aunt - left college. (There were circumstances, but that's not my story to tell.) That tore me up inside in ways I can't really describe (not without explaining the circumstances, anyway.)

It felt like I'd lost him as a friend - which I didn't, not really - and after everything else I'd gone through, it just felt like too much. It was a couple of months before I really integrated myself back into social groups properly, and longer still before I could talk about a lot of this stuff with people without getting upset all over again.

I'm putting it all down now for one very clear reason: this isn't something I want to talk about all the time. This is a time in my life I want to put behind me. I will always remember it, but I don't want it to rule me, and I don't want it to be something other people fixate on about me.

Let it be clear: I have moved beyond these seven months of my life. I finished my degree. I published my first book. I'm about to start a Masters - which I saved up for myself. I'm happy with my life, and the fact that it took me a long time to say that doesn't make it any less true. Sure, this isn't the full story, but the end result is the same. In the four years since all of this, I've learned to cope, I've learned to grow, and I've done a lot to make myself proud.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Presently, For a Living

The big dream for so many writers is to do it full-time, without having to work a "regular" job to pay the bills. I'm no different. Unfortunately, I'm still at the "regular" job stage of my career. I work in a bookshop, which is no longer just a bookshop, with three days a week at the moment.

I get paid minimum wage to process deliveries, work on the till, help out with the magazines with the senior staff member in charge of them is out, price and merchandise books, and generally keep the place clean when I'm in. And that's just the half of it.

There's very little I don't do in the shop, but the standout task for me is recommending new books to people. It tends to happen more often in the children's section than anywhere else in the shop, because I have the most experience of personal reading in that section out of anyone else in the shop - though the staff member in charge of book orders would know the section better than I would from more direct involvement in the stock processing.

No other job in the shop is quiet like getting to recommend a new book series to a teenager who's only figuring out what they like to read, or finding something similar to books someone's read and enjoyed.

Recently, with the big John Green craze, it means getting to recommend The Perks of Being a Wallflower and We Were Liars to readers. For fans of The Hunger Games, I just to Gone, and fans of Divergent to The Mortal Instruments. Figuring out what people would like is a big job - and one that relies on their personal taste as much as my opinion - and it's the thing I don't mind dedicating a little bit of extra time to, especially if it means that someone will have something to look for the next time they come in.

It's not quite a job for a living, not the same way my parents' jobs are for a living, because I'm still lucky enough to be living at home while still in part-time employment. However, it's let me save for a Masters. It's let me replace my old laptop, with one of the hinges shattered to pieces so that it can't close, and get some equipment for the Masters and beyond. It's a job that's let me go to the cinema on a regular basis, and buy books when I feel like it, keep up with magazine subscriptions, go see friends and eat out for dinner every now and then.

It's not a living, not with a mortgage and bills and a car to run, but it is a life I wouldn't have otherwise.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What I Studied At College

Anyone who knows me can pretty much skip this post entirely. It'll be of no interest to you to read about my college studies.

I won't go through a year-by-year analysis of modules and courses, but I can break it down into three major categories: Religion, English, and Education.

The Religion aspect of my Undergrad degree covers:
- Church history,
- Liturgy,
- Scripture,
- Philosophy,
- Ethics, and
- World religions.

What that meant was trying to balance my strengths and weaknesses across several completely different fields in an effort to attain the best possible grade for Religion overall. As it happens, the history and scripture modules were always my worst in terms of grades. I put it down to (a) the amount of material and (b) the marking style of the lecturers. It's a known fact that grades at third level vary according to the student doing the writing, and the lecturer doing the correcting.

All in all, it was interesting. I loved the Religion and Science module we had in third year, and surprised myself with a high grade in one of the scripture exams in first year. And, it's safe to say, I'll never want to be examined in Religion as a field of study - like that, anyway - ever again.

The English aspect of the degree was split into:
- Fiction,
- Poetry,
- Theatre, and
- Film.

Yes, we got to watch movies as part of our lectures. Yes, it was fun. And, if you did the same course as I did, it was all scarring. Blue Velvet is just one of the prescribed texts that will forever haunt me.

The English lectures were my favourites by far, because they focused on my longest-standing interest. While I came to enjoy Religion and Education lectures, I had always been excited about what we were studying in English, whether it was Shakespeare, Tragedy, Epic and Romantic Poetry, or Adaptations - even if I had no interest in reading the text, I loved learning about them.

The Education aspect of the degree was split more dramatically than anything else into two sub-categories: theory, and practice. The theory consisted of learning about the history of education, child psychology, methodology, and other such things that are Department-prescribed. The practical aspect of it... well... did I ever tell you the story about someone throwing a table at me in the middle of class?

I won't name names, but it happened. It's my horror story. It was a one-off event, in a heated situation, and I had to learn on the spot how to handle that - because no amount of theory of education can prepare you for the real thing!

Teaching practice was, and will probably always be, the most difficult and formative experience of my life as a student. I couldn't just talk to the students blankly about the topics - which usually covered someone I might have studied myself in college. I had to figure out how to make it interesting and engaging and relevant to them - even if that meant asking them, openly, what was the first thing they thought of when they thought of Muslims? (I won't lie, 9/11 and terrorism were offered as answers most of the time, a fact of which they were ashamed. Don't worry, I set them straight during my time as their teacher - they really didn't know any better.)

Of course, that was just my Undergrad degree. From September onwards, I'll be entering the world of the Masters, with war stories from the classroom to share with people when we're introducing ourselves to one another!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Where I Grew Up

Specifics aside, Dublin is and always has been my home. When I was a toddler, we lived in a tiny little house on a hill in a suburb, the road diving off to the right as you left the garden, the driveway a nightmare. We shared a bedroom, myself and my two brothers, and it stayed that way for a long time, even after we moved into a new house.

This new house - the one I'm living in now, until I really begin to Adult it up a bit and move out - gave us a bigger bedroom, with lots of extra room to play with our toys. They were simpler days. Eventually, my older brother moved to the boxroom, and later to the attic, and rooms in the house switched around, to the point that I'm the only person to have lived in all four bedrooms in the house since we moved in.

How's that for a fun fact?

Residents to what my parents described as a "main road" - really just the busiest road in the area until you reached the real "main road" - we were suddenly surrounded by families with children. By the time we were old enough to be allowed cross the road by ourselves - that was a thing in the 90s, that you weren't allowed to cross the road by yourself until you were older - there were at least thirty kids prowling the streets, coming from our road and one of two cul de sacs in the area.

We were loud, some of the mass of children were troublemakers, but all in all we were just living the suburban life of playing with a football on the road and watching out for cars. We rode our bikes, played football, hung around on swing sets in back gardens and ran away from dogs together.

A far cry from the city we live so close to, everything in my childhood was quiet and restrained and peaceful. With the odd exception of Halloween and New Years, there was barely any trouble worth mentioning that didn't boil down to neighbours just not understanding that kids will be kids.

(Side note: one Halloween, some of the teenagers in the area, when I was only about twelve, build a bazooka to shoot fireworks from. Wasn't that a fun discovery, when one of their rockets exploded on the other side of a window I was walking past!)

This little suburban life is probably what led to me wanting to travel a lot as I grew older. It can feel too small sometimes, especially when the option suddenly presents itself to leave the suburb, for the big park a few minutes down the road, for the city that's just a short bus ride away, to either one of two shopping centres on a single bus route, or three swimming pools, or any number of newsagents in walking distance (we had our favourites, back in the days of ten pence crisps and penny jellies).

It was a small world to grow up in, but it was safe, and it was homely.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Favourite Irish Myth

You might think my favourite Irish myth would be the one I used to start the Modern Irish Myth series. You would be wrong.

While I love the story of Balor of the Evil Eye, it's not my favourite. No, my favourite is the Salmon of Knowledge. Not only does it tell the story of a young boy become a veritable genius, not only does it break down the stereotype that the old man in a story has to be wise (after all - it's wisdom and knowledge he's looking for), and not only does it demonstrate that short-cuts to knowledge and power aren't always as simple as they might appear, it's also full of little twists that make it more memorable.

The young Fionn MacCumhaill, the namesake of Balor Reborn's protagonist, is sent to serve the poet Finn Eces, who proceeds to capture the Salmon. Fionn is told to cook the fish - because Finn cannot possibly do that for himself - with instructions not to eat it. Whomever first eats of the Salmon of Knowledge, the story goes, will gain all the knowledge in the world.

Fionn, in doing his job, prods the fish with his thumb to see if it is cooked. When he burns his thumb on a drop of fat that comes off the fish, he sucks his thumb. From that moment on, the Salmon's knowledge is within Fionn!

When the poet realises what has happened, he instructs Fionn to eat the entire fish. Some stories tell of the poet growing angry from Fionn instead, when he realises that he isn't experiencing any of the so-called wisdom that should have been his when he ate the Salmon himself.

The end result is the same, though: whenever Fionn MacCumhaill bites his thumb, he gains access to the knowledge of the world. This allowed him to become the leader of the Fianna, a band of heroes in Irish mythology, and ultimately defeated the fire-breathing fairy Aileen.

He was a hero of good-standing, and his "origin story" is one that has amused children for years. (And, it seems, grown men.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Why Irish Mythology?

Before I wrote Balor Reborn, I wrote up a list of options for myself, books I could see myself writing but hadn't yet planned. I emailed that list to three people and asked for feedback. Two out of three responded in favour of the Irish myth story that was Balor Reborn (the third didn't have a preference).

Out of that brief email exchange, I committed myself to the idea.

But why Irish mythology? Out of everything I could have written, Irish mythology is fairly unknown. Greek mythology is much more well known. So is Norse mythology, and Egyptian mythology.

And here I was, turning to the Irish. Yes, I'm a native and a resident, but that doesn't mean much these days. Rick Riordan is American and writes about Greek mythology. Alan Early is Irish but writes about Norse mythology.

The stories of Irish folklore and mythology just weren't touched upon that much, and I saw a sense of excitement in that. Here was Balor, a murderous, giant invader with a single eye and an army behind him. Or the literal black dog that, as in many stories, is a symbol of death. Here were fairies and gods that slipped away from general knowledge into ancient history, and heroes with magical powers and objects.

I could have written an urban fantasy series. I could have written about bullying and abuse of power. I could have written about alcoholism and the Irish way. I could have written about mutants or the powers of Heaven. Instead, I chose Balor. I chose to tell the story of an unlikely hero. I chose to give the world magic again. I chose the wonder of the old meeting the excitement of the new.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Writing About Writing

At the time of writing this - on a sunny Monday afternoon - three of the seven books in my Amazon store are about writing, with one more almost ready to go live. That's half the books I have published, focusing on some aspect of writing. The big question is, Why? Why write about writing at all?

It's not for the money. Really. There's not a huge amount of money to be made from writing, and I can't exactly boast huge royalties from my sales. It's a niche market, and each book addresses a different aspect of it.

I write about writing because no one ever taught me about it. I had to figure things out from books by people I'd never heard of, people who were twice or three times my age, and who didn't know what it was like to be in school anymore. I only ever had books to read that treated books like an entirely alien object, with many of them stating the obvious: if you want to write, you have to read.

So, I decided I could do better than just a standard book on writing, with a $20 price tag to go with it. I decided to write books about things that would help people with different aspects of writing, and make them more approachable and affordable than what I'd read growing up. The far-away best seller of the books I've published is Planning Before Writing, which shares the techniques for planning book and stories that I've used for years.

Why do I mention that? Because it highlights that there was a gap in the market for a book that would deal with precisely that one problem, of how to plan a book. I don't just offer one option, because that one option would never be enough for everyone. I don't just offer the how to plan information, either. The book is as much about why to plan as it is how to plan, and that's the information that people need to focus on first.

I realised that a long time ago, and wrote and published 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block as a result. Why? Because people always look for advice on how to beat it. Not just writers, but college students, too. There's are a lot of people who need help with it, and few people out there who can say not just what to do, but also why to do it, and how it benefits to do it. 

That's what I wanted to focus on. I could have written a blog post with just the table of contents, and that might have helped some people. Except it wouldn't have been beneficial to them in the same way, just like the methods in Planning Before Writing are useless without some guidance and reasoning behind them.

I write about writing because I'm a writer with experience with problems, and a teacher with the insight to find solutions to them. I write about it because I enjoy combining my professional practice with what used to just be a hobby.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Favourite Character

Since I wrote my first book, I've created a lot of characters. Aside from the ensemble of a dozen or so characters in What Lurks Through the Mirror, I've had characters from a sequel, and several planned sequels, the cast of Meet Sam, of Geneticide, or Bliss, and of the Modern Irish Myth books to add to the list, with over a hundred different characters in all of that. (Caveat: Geneticide had dozens of characters in written or planned stories, to its detriment. It's part of the reason I abandoned the project after completing the first draft.)

Those are just the books I've finished. There were many started-and-failed books over the years, and some I haven't written or, as is the case of my Operation Overdrive novel, are still being written. There are too many characters to keep track of, at this point.

I like to think of my earlier writing as necessary failures. Through the first books I wrote, I was able to focus on creating many (too many) unique and entirely human characters. I didn't have the time to tell most of their stories, or the inclination, focusing too much on plot. However, there have been some favourites.

Of them all, Ogma from the Modern Irish Myth series stands out. He's a poet, from Old Gods Returned, and with planned appearances in the later books in the series, as well as being the star of a few flash stories, who guides the dead to Otherworld. He struggles with the new language of Ireland - that is, English - and with the customs of the twenty-first century, and he's every bit a hero and a warrior, despite facing anxiety and panic at every corner. Ogma is an old hero, one of the last to disappear from the world of magic, and a prophet for the people.

While Bliss has some really fun characters in it, and while I like the other characters in the Modern Irish Myth books, I think Ogma presents an exciting opportunity. He's a god, with power over the dead, and his greatest power is limited by his lack of understanding of the language he's forced to speak.

(For the record: I love the protagonist of my Operation Overdrive novel. She's sarcastic and empathetic; she has to deal with trauma and anxiety; she's uncertain, and she doesn't realise she's intelligent and beautiful, and she doesn't treat people like she's better than them. She's not unnecessarily witty, and she doesn't want anything special from life. She makes writing the book a lot of fun.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Writing Achievements and All That Jazz

While looking up topics I could write about this month, one question that seemed to pop up in many interviews asked writers about their greatest writing achievements, as if there's a scalable way of determining what's good and what's better. I think it all comes down to how it makes the writer feel, which is why I don't have one - I have three.

The first should be obvious: the writing and publishing of Balor Reborn in a week. It was a tiring week of trying to keep everything on camera, writing and editing a book, creating a cover and a book trailer, setting up the sales page, and sending out a press release.

The main thing is, I managed it. I managed to write the book, and it was my first step into the land of independently published authorship. It's set a precedence on my writing, of what I can accomplish in a short period of time, and it's been the standard to which I try to work as a bare minimum since.

That week led to the second great writing achievement: having an article published in Writing Magazine, about the process of writing the book. While the actual article didn't take long to write, and while I was perfectly happy writing it, it was a professional stepping stone, and it showed me that I can write something that someone would actually want to publish.

The third achievement happened way before that, and rather than being a work-standard achievement, or a professional achievement, it changed the way I look at the word. It was the writing and performance of my first play, The Rest is Silence, a play that dealt with depression and suicide at a university level, performed by my friends in the Drama Soc, with two of my best friends taking on the lead role(s).

The actual writing of it meant a lot to me, to get to tell a story that highlighted what depression could feel like, but the consequences of the play were huge in a different way. From ticket sales - and some merchandising - we raised over €750 for a suicide charity in Ireland, Console. It was the first play I'd seen in my college to sell out, and it was the first original play to hit the stage for as long back as anyone could tell me. As far as I'm aware, it was the first time an original play had been performed by the Drama Soc, and not the last.

I can't pick any one of those three achievements as being greater than the other two. Each meant something different to me, and to different people, but each one shaped the way I write and work today. In the six months following the staging of The Rest is Silence, I became a published author, with a book and an article to add to my credits.

Monday, July 7, 2014

In Five Years

My friend Rebecca asked a question of people, sometimes, when she's trying to get them to really think about their lives. She asked them, Where do you see yourself in five years?, not just out of curiosity, but because of what their answer means to their current situation. If you see yourself married with two kids in five years, but you're currently single and childless, you either have high expectations for the future, or you need to really start taking relationships more seriously.

If you want to be doing something in five years - mothering, publishing, travelling - you need to be working towards that now.

For me, it comes down to a happy little mix of writing, publishing and travelling.

Don't get me wrong. I don't expect to become an overnight hit in the writing department. Writing books isn't how you make money from writing. The biggest earners, aside from the big bestsellers in the publishing industry, are usually screenwriters. Of the Average Joe variety of writer, screenwriters make the most from a single piece of work. (It's also the most competitive market - fun!)

But I'd love to be doing it. I'd love to be trying my hand at screenwriting, while continuing to write my books, and attempting something of a freelance career. It's a difficult life to get started in, nearly impossible to do while in full-time education as an Undergrad. student, but it's not outside of my reach at this point in my life. I have books for guidance on screenwriting and freelancing, and I understand the book publishing sector relatively well, and it's just a case of applying everything I have to that dream.

That's what this month is all about for me, with Operation Overdrive. I want to create my work-life balance now, with an over-the-top last ditch attempt before my Masters starts in September.

And that Masters is where the second part of my five-year-dream comes in: publishing. My Masters is in Multimedia, which will help build up a skill-set in digital image editing, video production, and audio production - among other areas - which I see as being vital for publishing in the future. I have my own plans, aside from wanting to work with a major publishing house in the UK or the US or even here in Ireland (though there are fewer publishers here), and I'm confident that once I get the ball rolling, I'll be able to sort out something big.

Obviously, my explanation here will be lacking in details while they're still being worked on, but I've already started working on what I want to do, and how I want to do it, and it's just a case of getting the background work in place before I fully commit to it all - including putting my energy into the Masters.

As for the travelling, that's where things get complicated. Conventional work wouldn't allow for travel, and neither would a low income, and I don't plan on living at home when I'm approaching 30. I could tell you all of the places I want to go - and I will later in the month - but that doesn't explain how I'm going to afford it.

The travelling aspect is where I get to see the world. I know I can't afford to do it now, not while I'm saving everything I've got for the Masters (because aside from the fees, I'd like to get my own equipment, like a new laptop, and a proper camera). But if I could make the travel part of my work, if I could use it as research, or as part of a freelancing job, then it makes the money put into flights and accommodation part of the necessary expenses.

It's a child's dream, I suppose, but growing older doesn't mean that those dreams have to go away. Growing older just means that I can make more sense of those dreams, and how to make them a reality. In five years time, I want to be doing just that.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Future Books and Future Plans

My friends poked fun at me when I said, in response to the challenge to come up with a book idea in thirty seconds, that I had a wall full of ideas, and I could easily pretend I just came up with one of them. I got the whole "Oh, I just have so many ideas..." line.

Well yes, yes I do.

I don't have plans, but I do have ideas. The ones I really like, I make sure to focus on. They're a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and I don't know how many of them are actually good yet. I have to see how they pan out when I try planning them, when I try to find the story around the idea.

My general plan for the next couple of years with books looks like this:

- I want to release the third Modern Irish Myth book. It'll require re-planning, and writing from scratch, but it's going to happen. Then, the series will be put on hiatus.

- I'll be releasing a series of books set in an Irish college. To put it really simply, it'll be creating a fictional world around my own college experience, inspired by events rather than people. I'm fleshing out a lot of it at the moment, but it's been exciting me for a long time, now, and it'll be appearing sooner rather than later.

- I'll be focusing on a couple more writing books in the future. Some will be specific genre-related titles, others more broad, addressing all writers. Without just giving away ideas, that's all I can say.

- After my Masters, I'll be turning my attention to researching and writing about mental health. I want to make the material accessible. If my experience on teaching placement in 2013 was any indication of the trend, even the people who should know about mental health don't. This is something I've been wanting to write about for a long time, and for the time being it'll remain in my fiction, but in the future I'll be taking on a more proactive role in the field in Ireland - and maybe even abroad.

That's just the books, of course. There's a lot else to focus on in the future, which I can't really discuss until I actually get started (I have books on mental health, and have read a bit of some of them, so I'm not breaking my own rule there). This isn't just a secrecy thing. This is a hype thing. As in, I don't want to create any hype in my own head over this stuff.

Being a writer can be a scary thing, especially when public announcements are concerned. It's with that in mind that I'm keeping a lot of things quiet until I'm ready to talk about them, and why I haven't given any indication as to what's actually going to happen in my new books. For now, you'll have to do with the vague answers I can give, and accept the fact that new material is on its way.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

My First Book

When I think back to the first book I ever wrote - the 120,000 word epic that was What Lurks Through the Mirror, I can only think of one source of inspiration for it: choice.

I was going through a tough time. I had some social problems that I wasn't addressing. I had some big exams coming up. I wasn't sleeping right. I felt a lot of pressure at home to do well.

I wanted to change my whole life, right then and there, and I felt I was lacking one very important element: choice. To me, it felt like my whole life was being planned out for me by everyone else. It felt like I wasn't allowed to have proper friends, or to do anything other than study, or to have a night's sleep that wasn't disturbed by dread and bad dreams. Worse still, it felt like I wasn't allowed to talk about these things.

So, I created Sarah Tane, a teenage girl who was going to escape her boring, quiet life. At first, things were going to be scary. She was going to have to face monsters and magic, and none of it would make sense. But then, then, she was going to get away from it all. A magic mirror was going to fall on top of her, and drag her into a little room with large mirrors, and each one was an opportunity.

I gave Sarah a choice, to live a life without magic, exploring the streets of New York, and enjoying the hustle and bustle of a world so much like her own, but with the excitement that was lacking.

Or, she could explore the ruins of a broken world, all grassy plains and strange people - a strange breed of dragon and human, or angelic warriors missing only their wings, or a wizard in a house surrounded by a perpetual storm.

Or, she could find home in a very old kingdom, sit on a throne that she was told was rightfully hers, where magic existed in artefacts in the market, and people treated her with admiration and respect.

Sarah Tane was different. Sarah was Chosen. She could decide her own fate. She had everything I wanted, and I was able to give it to her just like that. I gave her adventure, excitement, magical powers to free a kingdom, and the noble heart to choose to do right by everyone - to save the worlds from an evil that threatened everything. I gave her courage, and found some of my own.

Fate and destiny were a big deal for me then. I didn't think everything was mapped out so rigidly, once I actually put some positive thought into it, because there was something Sarah had that everyone else had too: the ability to make a choice.

I spoke up about the social problems I was having, and guess what - everything else got better, too.

I was inspired to write the book because I didn't see that I had a choice in anything I did, and doing so gave me more choices than I ever dared dream of. I think it's fair to say that if I hadn't written that book, however poorly written it actually is, I wouldn't be writing anything. Writing makes me happy with my life, but I had to realise that first.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why I Want to Be A Writer

When I was a child, I wanted to be a journalist. I didn't know how to get into it, and I thought it was the only way to be a writer. I found out later that the people who write books were also children at one point, with those same dreams - to write for a living.

When I realised I didn't need to study journalism, and that I didn't necessarily want to write news pieces for a living, I turned my attention to what really mattered to me at the time: fiction. I started writing a book, and I wanted to do that for a living then for the same reason that I want to do it now: writing a book makes me unbelievably happy. When I finish the first draft, I feel a sense of fulfilment like nothing else I've ever experienced.

Over the years, I stopped just writing novels - especially since they weren't that great at first. When I realised that lots of people asked me for writing advice over the years, I decided to write about writing. That goes back to my second childhood dream: to be a teacher.

I love teaching people about writing. I love getting to explain how I do things, and why I do them, and how else things can be done if that doesn't work out. If my years in college taught me anything about education it's that everyone has their own way of learning. That affects how people write, too. Planning Before Writing is clear evidence of why I want to be a writer. It's split up with different methods of planning a book that address different ways of thinking.

Writing lets me deal with complicated issues that I've needed to read about in my own lifetime. It's helped me put to words the stories that I feel need to be told, and has helped me create lessons for other writers to develop their craft.

To put it all quite simply, the reason I want to be a writer is to reach out to people. If I can do that full-time, writing stories and books on writing (for now - I have other interest areas I'd love to explore in the future), and if I can earn a living from it, then I'll not just be earning money from what started as a hobby, from something that I love doing for the sake of doing it, but I'll be helping people. There's first draft fulfilment, and there's changing lives fulfilment, and the latter is the driving force that keeps me going, that makes me want to be a writer full-time.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Writer For the First Time

Identity is a big thing, and it turns out that leaving all of your friends to go to a new school is an excellent way of realising that your identity needs to be a little more established than "in the same class as..." or "friends with..."

The one constant in my life since secondary school started - and we're talking almost eleven years ago, here - has been writing. You would think, then, that I considered myself a writer from an early age. Nope.

It wasn't even when I finished my first book. I was just a guy who wrote a book. I was calling myself an "aspiring author", whatever the heck that's actually supposed to mean. Aspiring, from Google's definition, means "directing one's hopes or ambitions towards becoming a specified type of person." Wikipedia defines author as follows:

An author is broadly defined as "the person who originated or gave existence to anything" and whose authorship determines responsibility for what was created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work and can also be described as a writer.

There's nothing specific about being an author, except that an author writes something. It took a while, but eventually, I did something that would change the way I looked at myself: I dropped the phrase "aspiring author", and called myself a writer.

Why? It's simple: I felt like an author only wrote novels, and I felt like it was about time I stopped dreaming of doing that. I decided that I would actually just write the books I wanted to, and to write the stories and poems that I felt I was doing quite a poor job at.

It was only a few years ago that my Twitter bio reflected this unspoken change in me. A friend of mine encouraged any writers she knew to stop it with the whole "aspiring author" business, and I found things so much easier after that. I set up my own writer website, and I made the decision to start publishing my books.

I went eight years or more dreaming. Since then, I've been living that dream. It's not glamorous, but it's what I wanted as a kid. I was a writer for the first time in my life, in no uncertain terms.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What I Write

When I was younger, I thought I would only enjoy one type of book: one that had magic in it. Then, I found A Series of Unfortunate Events, and everything almost changed.

Except, that was it. That was the only non-magical series I was reading. Until I went to secondary school and was required to read Boy by Roald Dahl, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, I didn't read another book that didn't have magic in it. I was reading Harry Potter, and Darren Shan, and Garth Nix.

My first book was a fantasy book. My second was sci-fi. And it wasn't just a genre fixation. I was only reading and writing novels. Nothing else.

I tried to write some short stories. They were derivative at best.

Then, when I was seventeen, I wrote a book that didn't have magic in it. It was set in Dublin, it had swearing in it, and no one could throw a fire ball or read anyone's mind. It was a perfectly ordinary book. More or less. But it was still a novel.

I tried writing some poetry, and couldn't get it right.

Eventually, I found my poetic voice. That was important for me. I was writing things that had meaning for me, and I was able to put some form on them. It was a big step in the right direction.

As I entered third year in college, I wrote a play for the first time. The only time I'd ever written a script before this was a bad, short screenplay a couple of years back.

By this point, I was doing something else with my reading, too. I was reading all sorts of books. I was reading novellas, poetry, short stories, and non-fiction. I had actually found non-fiction interesting. I was reading books on business and mental health and writing, and I was loving it.

When I wrote Balor Reborn in 2012, I also started writing flash fiction. I managed to take ideas and turn them into 1000 word stories quite easily.

The end result: I now write novellas, in different genres, as well as flash fiction on romance and mythology and vague elements of fantasy and magical realism; I've been writing poetry, and I've written short scripts for stage production; to top it all off, I've been writing books on writing.

It may not seem significant for some, but when stories were my whole world, turning to all of these different areas and genres has been life-changing for me. I'm not just a novelist, or a poet, or a playwright; I'm a lot of different things, all at the same time, and it's the spice that makes my life that little bit more interesting.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

When and Why I Started Writing

I started writing when I was twelve. That was when I really tried to write my first book. I knew it was what I wanted, and it was something that belonged only to me. I was in a new school, away from my old friends, and I wanted to do something for me.

Then, the computer was replaced.

I had to start again. No biggie. I hadn't written much. So, I started again. I managed a chapter, and for some reason, I gave up. I wish I could explain why. I don't think I was getting the story any more.

So, once more, I started again. I made the character younger. I thought, "I understand a twelve year old much better than a sixteen year old." Except no. I didn't. I didn't understand characters.

That's a tough lesson to learn when trying to write a first book, but I didn't let it put me off. I started taking notes for the book. I numbered everything. I wanted to understand the world my characters were in. That way, I could let the story try to tell itself.

I started the fourth draft. I made my protagonist sixteen again. I was only fourteen. No, I didn't understand how a sixteen year old thought. I didn't understand how a sixteen year old girl thought, either. But I took a damn good shot at it, and didn't make her from Earth. The story was filled with parallel worlds, and she was from one a little bit like Earth, but less advanced.

Hello loophole.

I gave her a name. I gave her a crush. I gave her a best friend. I threw her into the deep end and surrounded her with some new friends, because I understand that one. I made her face monsters and magic and destiny, and I got to ignore bullies at school.

I finished the book when I was fifteen, at over 120,000 words, and right as my Junior Cert was starting. I wrote the book for the fun of it all, because I was useless at sports - and I'd tried a few, in my defence - and I didn't want to play computer games all the time. I also couldn't afford to buy many books, and my school's library had a limited choice available. I wrote the book I wanted to read, because there was nothing else in this world for me.

It would be over a year later before I got my first job, before I could afford a reading habit the likes of which I hadn't been able to sustain properly before. I would be over a year before I could read more than one author at a time without waiting for presents of books at Christmas and my birthday. And that wasn't enough for me. I wrote because I needed the stories, and they just weren't there.