Monday, March 28, 2011


While sitting at my laptop on Twitter (as you do) a link to this video popped up. If you can't view it right now, I'll just explain (sorry if you've watched it). One character in the video wants to write a novel. The other character asks him why. The set-up is that the aspiring novelist believes that he will become rich and famous very quickly with his book that he's only written one page of. He doesn't read, he's never attempted writing before, and to make matters worse he just quit his job. The other character tells him that the process is quite complicated. It really is, mind you. She warns him about contacting literary agents in bulk and tries to stop him being so disillusioned about the craft of writing.

To make things a little more interesting for me, I went through the comments a bit and found this:

"I asked a classmate what she was doing after graduation...she said to me "Oh, I am gonna write a novel." ??? WHAT ELSE?? I mean, I am an English major but I am not so disillusioned that I don't realize that there is a certain small, saturated market for traditional English major work. Some of us get into teaching, freelancing and or business, the rest of us return to the coffee shop we were working at during college, and VERY FEW of us become famous. Reality check! Only hard work reaps benefit!" (username: tulip2111)

There are actual people in the world who believe writing is a path to guaranteed success. I will tell you now, from having looked at all sorts of lives of authors and reading all about the business of writing, making money from it - a lot of money - isn't a guarantee, it isn't commonplace and it isn't something we should believe we can do from the offset. This isn't a suggestion not to try write, but sacrificing the rest of your life to write a book that you think will become a best-seller is disillusioned and frankly quite stupid. (Note: the person is not stupid, unless they ignore my advice to come).

Every writer I know, unless something is stopping them, works. Now, that something can be children or illness or simply a lack of jobs available to them that suit other things they might have going on (children, college, extra-curricular activities that make them a better, well-rounded person). No writer worth his or her weight gives up their job before they've even started writing. At least, not one I've heard of doing it.

My advice, if you want to write and think giving up your full time job is the way to do it: get a part-time job instead and use the extra time. But that's long-term. If you have bills to pay, go to bed later. Or wake up earlier. Or stop watching so much television. And use the extra time to write. You might find that you can get a good bit done a day - and that's all that matters - and when it comes to the stage where you're in a rhythm of writing or, for example, you're able to earn a slight income from selling articles and short stories, then the part-time job will suit you better.

In my case, I work part-time (mostly weekends, but more hours at Christmas) and I attend a full-time college course with enough assignments to keep me busy through the days. I get three and a half months off during the summer.

So, for people like me and like the student mentioned in the quoted comment, ideally I have time to write. People in my situation, attending college through the year, have the blessing of time off to write a novel. Really, a first draft, if done without wanting to be too meticulous (that's what rewriting and editing is for!), only takes a few months to write, and that's a stretch for some people. I wrote Meet Sam in a month - 50,000 words - while working weekends and going to secondary school, and going to the cinema with my friends at the weekend, attending three birthday parties and having a couple of sick days off. Last summer I wrote a 20,000 word novella in 72 hours, during which time I also slept and ate and watched some television, and I possibly went to the cinema. And I had a six hour shift in work.

What I'm saying is that people have time to write and they shouldn't wait until they're done in full-time education to give it a shot, nor should they quit their jobs in the hopes of making a living from writing very early on. It does happen to people that they make money from writing and don't have to work an office job anymore, but it doesn't happen straight away and it doesn't happen to everybody.

Meanwhile, bbphnix writes:

"wait wait wait wait wait.....
can't you just sell your book yourself? why go through the horrible experience of using a publisher? ..... publisher=corporation; corporation=evil ergo: publisher=evil;
either do it manually... or by the INTERNET! give it about the same price as an app or something; over the internet enough people might buy it to get you a relatively large amount of money"

Slight problems with this... first of all, I wouldn't say corporations are evil. Corporations, unfortunately, make the world go round. Apple and Microsoft have revolutionised the computer industry, and it's likely the comment wouldn't have been made with them. Publishers are corporations that specialise in releasing books to the market, and with these books some people make a living, some get an income and many readers are affected in very powerful ways to encourage them to change their lives (and I don't just mean self-help books!) I wouldn't say that publishers are necessarily evil. Disagreeable, in some cases, but not evil.

And as for the doing it alone remark (i.e. "by the INTERNET!")... well, it's not that easy. Well, it is that easy. It's very easy to put something in the market online. So easy, in fact, that people are releasing both trash and masterpieces into the market, and sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which. A word of advice, though: if you can find an author that hired editors (or at least didn't edit alone) and that had somebody else design the cover and that is serious about their trade, then the odds are the piece of work they release themselves isn't going to be entirely dreadful. That's not a guarantee, in any of the cases (because there are exceptions), but it is a good thing to go by when trying to determine whether or not a book will be any good when you buy it.

And for people looking to do it, even if they go for self-designed covers, aren't that well known, and receive help from friends editing, the important thing to remember is: don't price yourself out of the market. Also, don't do as one Indie author did and tell a reviewer and his commenters to, and I quote, "Fuck off". Remember that it's not just an author's book that people see, it's the author too. Etiquette and professionalism should be observed, especially when attempting to portray yourself seriously.

By the way, I'm aware that keeping a personal blog and using it to talk about problems I have with other people doesn't seem professional. But that's why I call it personal, and it's why I don't name and shame people. Or even just name them, even if they're awesome and I don't have a problem with them. But I avoid being overly bitchy about people, and only using particular language when trying to convey a particular point (such as this one).

So, to sum up: don't be disillusioned by writing success; write in your spare time (and make your spare time, don't just complain you have none); don't give up your job before you've started; hone your craft; take into account all the work that goes into writing and getting published (even Indie authors - and actually, especially Indie authors - have a lot of work to do). And remember: write for fun, sell for money. Unless it's non-fiction, in which point you may just be writing to get a point across or inform people, but in that case just choose what you write about carefully.

Change of Heart

Yesterday's blog post painted a picture of wanting to write The Jump... well, I've had a slight change of heart. That series won't be what I pay most attention to (in terms of writing) for the next while. It's not that I won't be writing it ever, I just don't want to write it right now. See, shortly after writing the blog post and talking to my friend about all sorts of random crap (that's a technical term), I started writing a Young Adult Urban Fantasy...about the apocalypse.

That sounds weird... good. It's a parody novel, with the narration taking the piss (again, technical term) out of everything. Well, not everything. But as serious a theme as the apocalypse is, that didn't stop me including a penis related joke within the first 1000 words. That's the sort of high brow humour I'm going for, folks. Well, not just penis jokes, but you get the point - it's not a work of serious comical merit, but that doesn't mean it won't be written well. I won't give away too much, but hopefully in reading it people will like the main character and all of his oddities. Let's face it, when you're writing about the apocalypse using low brow puns (That Guy I Am can attest to how poor they are) and penis related jokes, you've got to have a weird protagonist.

As well as that, I will be seeking to get a work on non-fiction written. I am not publicly announcing what it will be about, though I have told a few people in private already (family and a couple of friends). It's not going to be a work of absolute genius, it most likely won't challenge any accepted norms, but it will do as I aim for it to do: give a clear and easy to read account of the topic at hand, using language that anyone can understand. I will be doing my research on the topic shortly after exams (so, in June) and when I've plotted out my notes on writing the book, I will be going to a small e-publisher about it. Or possibly going it alone. I will see. (Thoughts on this greatly appreciated, particularly if you know about this sort of stuff).

About the "going it alone" thing. I've been reading a lot, lately, about self-published authors. With my friend Rebecca Woodhead self-publishing her first book, Palaces and Calluses, within the next couple of weeks, Barry Eisler turning down a half-a-million-dollar book deal to self-publish instead and Amanda Hocking having made two million dollars self-publishing and now selling a four-book series to St Martin's in the US for a contract rumoured to be worth over two million dollars, the whole thing has been getting me rather... I don't even know the word for it! Anxious? Excited? Wantingtotryitmyself? I'm baffled by the figures involved.

Anyway, that's something to mull over. In the meantime, I have to study for exams, write my apocalyptic book (this will be my de-stress hobby for the next two months) and sort out a schedule for during the summer. I need to shuffle about:
- Research for non-fiction book
- Editing of Meet Sam
- Writing of the new book
- Writing of short stories

My summer is going to be weird! It seems like every time I bring it up I have a new plan for it. Seriously. Have you noticed that? I always seem to come up with new plans for the summer every time I look at it in terms of work I can do. I mean, the list above, if I was to include everything I planned on doing, would get a lot longer. I can think of at least two other significant things I have to do that I haven't put on that list!


Moving on... and back to where I got started. The book, the apocalyptic book, is set in the American Bible Belt. We've been looking at one case of how crazy some of the people there are, so naturally my story is being set in an overly religious area with a school that almost breaks the law. It's fun! Within time, I will be harassing friends to read this book to get an impression of what they think of it.

Oh, and a friend commented on my Facebook status about it saying "ZOMBIES". All I'll say is... not this one.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Way back to right before I started college, I'd been writing a young adult Sci-Fi called The Jump. I wrote 36,000 words of it, but I eventually stopped and can't quite remember why. Part of me really wants to get back into writing it, but I know I'd have to start again from the beginning. I can follow most of the main story line, but it needs tidying up. I think having thirteen chapters written already gives me a highly details plot-line to follow, I just don't have a proper story. The writing isn't as good as what I know I can produce. I was aiming for quantity of words rather than quality, though I did also aim towards creating a world of superpowers and darkness.

The whole book was focusing around darkness. There was so much wrong with the world and so much getting worse that steadily it was turning into a dystopia. That was what I actually wanted, but I think about it enough before writing. I had complex relationships in place without developing them, poor dialogue and the pace was way off. But it's in recognising that that I hope to improve on The Jump, probably this summer between projects.

Part of me wants to scrap the current plot line and do something completely mad - write haphazardly. I'm tempted to make up a board of superpowers and pick them randomly for my characters so that I have no control over who can do what, with the exception of certain key characters. This way, I can avoid having things looking too planned, which was the impression I got very quickly into reading the original chapters back over. I've got access to all sorts of files on superpowers to get a good mix of them - stuff from Heroes, X-Men, and my much mentioned Geneticide, all of which have dozens of abilities to pick from. The different between The Jump and everything else is how I do things with the powers. There's so much possibility in the book that it really can't afford to be a standalone, because it'd be too long.

But I know what I want to do with it. Just now, as I write this, stuff is coming into my head. I need to reconsider this stuff, but I can always do something with this. I may shift around the setting of the book, though I also don't want to overstep into other ideas I've been getting that are a similar sort of genre. For some reason, I can't think of a Young Adult book that isn't fantasy or sci-fi, and most of my older-audience ideas are general fiction, though usually with a bit of a twist.

Anyway, I guess this is just my brief public announcement that I may or may not be writing a teenage fiction book this summer in which the characters have superpowers, and it'll be focused around the same concept as The Jump, because it's a uniquely awesome way of doing this. In my humble opinion.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review - The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower is a relatively old book by bookseller standards, but still one that can massively impact on readers today. The author, Stephen Chbosky, wrote the book as a series of letters from the pseudonymous 'Charlie' to the person known only as 'friend'. Charlie is is starting high school, a freshman, too smart for his own good but by all accounts socially inept. While it's not officially stated in the book, Charlie could count all the people he spoke to on a daily occurrence with one hand; only one of these goes to his school: his sister. So, things are a little bit desperate for Charlie, and as far as teenage socialising goes you wouldn't want to look at Charlie at the start of the book to see how to do things "right". But early on things take a twist, and a couple of seniors in the school take Charlie under their wing. We can presume they realised he had no friends, which affected their decision to keep him around, but it is also clear that they see friendship material in the young freshman; what happens after this encounter changes Charlie's life in a fantastic tale of love, friendship, parties, music, books and the discovery of regular conventions of human life that become part of the wallflower's life.

(Side note: a wallflower, in terms of a social status, is someone who knows how to listen and how to keep quiet about what they hear so that people can't directly relate experiences Charlie retells to his addressee 'friend' to the real people he writes about.)

So, what made you buy this book?
Well, I was browsing for books similar to John Green's Paper Towns and this one popped up, over and over again, on a number of sites online. I looked into the book, and decided to go out on a limb and buy it. I did not regret my choice. It definitely is something for John Green fans to consider! Charming, funny, easy enough to read, somewhat heartbreaking, it has the elements of a Green novel (including new experiences in school and lots of driving!) that so many people love.

How did it compare to Green's books in terms of quality?
In terms of humour, this isn't as good. There are less laugh-out-loud moments in the book than Green exposes us to, but there is a certain warmth to be found in the reality of the people Chbosky writes about. There always seemed to me to be a certain exaggerated (albeit delightful) quality to some of Green's characters that, while adding a wonderful thrill to the reader's understanding of them, Chbosky downplays, making his book seem somewhat more realistic. And in terms of content, Chbosky certainly covers a lot more issues in this book than Green does in his, though I do find that the effect of Green's books is that the underlying messages are driven in very deeply without being forced upon you (relaxing narrative, use of humour, etc. all being helpful in making sure the reader is not overwhelmed by Green's philosophies of life that he passes on in his literature).

What exactly does Chbosky deal with?
A number of issues, ranging from sex, homosexuality, first dates, drugs, high school, friendship, love, literature, music, depression and domestic violence. Though that is a somewhat blown-out-of-proportion list.

Is it recommended?
For fans of John Green - definitely. (Also fans of authors in the same bracket of wonderful literature, like Maureen Johnson and David Levithan.) For everyone else... pretty much definitely, too. It's a coming-of-age novel that reads more maturely than you'd expect, and deals with a range of issues and emotions that anyone and everyone can appreciate in a good book. Not just for the socially awkward, either!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Paddy's Day et al

On Tuesday, I had plans to go out on Wednesday night. The pre-Paddy's Day night out was something I hadn't done last year, and something I was really looking forward to this year. Halfway to the bus stop on Wednesday morning, I sneezed. By the time I got to college, I felt like I was dead.

In the space of about half an hour, a head cold had set in. I was fairly miserable all day (I did my best not to be miserable, so all in all I just couldn't do very much but I was trying to keep a smile on my face). I got home from college feeling more dead than I had been when I got there, and I knew that deciding to go out would have been a bad idea.

So, scratch out those plans.

Thursday, Paddy's Day, I was meant to go to Bray. I still felt sick. I was congested and headache-y and tired, and really going outside for prolonged periods of time was bound to be a bad idea. So I stayed at home and did nothing all day. I wasn't exactly happy about it, but I wasn't down in the dumps. I knew that if I had gone to Bray, I would have had to go outside - that was the plan, after all - and in going outside I would have to go to the fair. I say have to, because I am obliged to do what my friends had planned, unless I pull out altogether. I don't mean that to sound bitchy, I just mean I wouldn't ask them to give up their plans on going on the rides at the fair just because I was sick. Besides, if I'd gone, even if I didn't get on any of the rides I'd have only gotten worse.

So I stayed home knowing That Guy I Am was having a good time in Bray, went to bed later than I'd have liked and lay there trying to drift off to sleep.

Followers on Twitter might now be wondering if this is the part where I get a drunken phone call that keeps me up for a while. Regrettably, no. This was more disruptive than a phone call, and considerably less enjoyable. At this point in time, my parents, other brother, his girlfriend and his friend all arrived at the house from the local pub. They spoke at the top of their voices, sometimes to the volume of shouting. They laughed a lot. Then they put on music.

Really. Fucking. Loudly.

I'm all for having a good time. But I'm also all for being slightly considerate for the person suffering from headaches because of congestion. The last thing I needed was for there to also be a cascade of noises roaring at me through the floor.

Finally the music and the loud talking stopped downstairs. My parents went to bed...

And spoke to each other as if it was noon and no one else was home. And laughed. And had drunk, stupid arguments that they didn't treat seriously. And kept me awake.

When they finally stopped, it was too late. I was awake. I was wide awake and it was half three in the morning, and I did not receive a drunken call to at least keep me somewhat amused. I decided to write an email and only stop writing it if (a) I finished it or (b) I felt tired. I finished it at five in the morning. I sent it. I tried to sleep. I could not.

Sometime over the next half hour, I fell asleep. Four hours later, I woke up.


I'm still getting over my head cold, so losing considerable amounts of sleep isn't exactly a good thing. I had to opt out of the cinema tonight because I couldn't sleep last night. I wasn't exactly looking forward to the film, but I like going every week anyway, because it's the only time I get to see my friends from secondary school. I've lost track of how many films I've seen with them over the years. Missing a week isn't fun.

I'd be in bed now, except True Blood is on. I figure I'll watch it then collapse into bed. Oh the joys of illness and tiredness...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review - Raggy Maggie

Raggy Maggie (Invisible Fiends)Raggy Maggie is the second book in Barry Hutchison's Invisible Fiends series. The books follow twelve year old Kyle through a series of forgotten-invisible-friends related catastrophes, with adventure, courage, magic and intrigue at the heart of the tales. I read the book a couple of weeks ago, after an overly-long waiting period trying to find the money and the opportunity to purchase it. Thankfully, the wait was worth it!

Was it as good as Mr Mumbles?
In my opinion... no. At least, not in every way. I loved the creepiness of the character Mr Mumbles, how he came into the story, how he was just so damn horrifying. And I do suppose that there is a similar creepiness about Raggy Maggie and her "owner" Caddie; Caddie's a five year old girl who some psychopathic tendencies, and combined with her ability to possess people and frustrate the environment around her with childish delight, she's a force to be reckoned with. You can't outrun her, you can't hit her (because she's a little girl) and you can't cheat in her "games". Mr Mumbles was all BFI (Brute Force and Ignorance) and sometimes overly ferocious, but he was manageable. You didn't have to try outsmart him, you just had to beat the living daylights out of him!

So yes, in some ways it's better than Mr Mumbles, but I think I enjoyed the first book more. The sense of adventure and the obvious nature of the fear invoked gripped me from the start. It took me some time to get into the sense of wonderment of Raggy Maggie, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable!

Would you recommend it?
I'd recommend that you buy and read first Mr Mumbles, and then immediately afterwards Raggy Maggie. And, because I'm sure it's going to be great, The Crowmaster, which I have yet to buy (and therefore read). The books are great horror stories, suitable for children of 9+ (though I sometimes say 11+ because they're scary!). The trauma of the horror doesn't last forever, and in my own professional opinion kids need to be scared every now and then. The adrenaline rush, the wildness of imagination invoked by fear, they're necessary for kids to grow up properly. And, if like me, you just like reading kids books, then all the better! I don't know anyone who hasn't liked these books!

What about the next book? Do you have high hopes for it?
Indeed I do! I haven't heard much about it from the author (Barry, if you're reading this, some comparison would be nice!), but it looks to take the reader away from the series' suburban setting and throw us into the wilderness of the countryside, where there are less people to protect Kyle from the straw-grip of The Crowmaster. Seriously, though, what sort of horrifying child imagines up an animated scarecrow?! That thing's going to be freaky as hell! Can't wait!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Imagining Complexly

I have a very peculiar imagination. At least, from my point of view it seems peculiar; I have no experience with how other people imagine things, so maybe when people are done reading they can give some feedback on the issue. It's fascinated me for years, now, how people come up with ideas. I'm under the impression that it's different for everyone.

For me, when I imagine things, I get things that are sort of like film clips playing right in front of my vision. I can still see things, by all means, but my attention is on the things that aren't there, be it a flash of light where there is none, or a purpose for something aside from the truth of the situation (like a flash of light being a signal rather than a faulty bulb).* When I was at the Script concert last Thursday, I got an idea for a book in my head. I'd already had some of the idea before, but that night, with music blaring and people all around me and lights going all over the place, brought me back into the feel of that story, and combined it with an idea I had thought about doing. Since that night, a series of at least three books has been coming into my head, going wilder and wilder and getting more and more complicated, and each book is filled with these really beautiful images that I just hope that by the time I get around to writing them that I can describe those sights with enough justice.

The scenes unfold at different paces. Sometimes there are sounds to them, most of the time not quite. Sometimes there are voices and no images. That sounds like schizophrenia, I know, but I am fully aware that these are just stories, that I'm not being told to do something. I make the mistake of speaking out the words of the people - and that's when I can see them in my head, though sometimes as cartoons and not people - and I don't record what I say. Yeah, badness. I forget what I said. And I look crazy, because I'm usually walking outside when it happens. Yeah...

Moving on swiftly before someone sends psychiatric help (that's a defence mechanism called self-depreciation; I would advise trying it, but only if you don't take it too far). So, I imagine things like film reels. But not always. Obviously not always. If that was the case, I'd never pay attention to anyone. And that's obviously not true, because I recall too much at the wrong time. I have been told it's very annoying.

Other times when I imagine things - sometimes against my will (actually, mostly against my will) - it all comes in images, flashes of images in sequence, like I'm blinking really quickly. It's the same way I remember things, sometimes; I just get all these flashes. Sometimes I remember what people say in a similar sort of way. That's also considered annoying. Sometimes it's also considered helpful.

Now, one thing about imagining - sometimes we don't imagine, we remember. Weird, right? I know this is true because my good friend Rebecca Woodhead often gives me the advice of taking note of how something feels to use in a story, but not to re-imagine the event exactly as it happens, because... well, lots of reasons, not least of all being that those stories aren't always coherent. And, you know, they can annoy people. Other times, there's always the chance of reminding people about things they did when they were drunk. I've been told that''s annoying, too.

By the by, Rebecca has a novel coming out in e-book this month, and I'm sure she: (a) took her own advice of using emotions in any situation that in any way relates to her life and/or (b) used her imagination in a very interesting way to write a fantastic book. Personally, I can't wait for it. But I'm a tree-book person, not an e-book person. So I have to wait a bit longer.

Back to this imagination stuff... actually, that's about it. Except, I have a question: how do you imagine? I don't mean where do you get your ideas from, but how does the experience of imagining work for you? I am very curious to learn this, and I can't read people's thoughts (yet). Imaginary prize for the best comment! (Note: may be a story in which you get killed and/or find true love - I like writing those stories, because I'm a strange person... that's self-depreciation again. Yay!)

*Incidentally, that was an awkward sentence to phrase right. I hope you know what I meant by it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Thursday night. Dublin City. The O2 Arena. The wind was cold, people were shouting, lots of people. About as soon as they got inside, the shouting became talking, conversations, and smiling, lots of smiling. Giddiness, too much of it, maybe, and rumours spreading through the growing audience by the minute.

The lights went down. Ryan Sheridan came on stage. He began playing. The conversations became cheering. Some people sang along to his music. Some people did not know all the words. Some people had not heard of it. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. Five songs later, he left the stage. The lights came back on. The stage was blacked out. Music began to play to stop people getting bored.

The lights came back on. It was nine. The Script walked on stage, one by one, beginning to play their music. Everyone cheered. Everyone sang along to every song. There was banter between music. Someone kept holding up a sign in front of everyone. Abuse was roared at her for blocking the view of the stage. The music kept playing. There were no mosh pits. There was no fighting, except for things being thrown at Sign Girl.

The music stopped. People cheered. People sang. The Script came back for an encore. Everyone sang along.

The music stopped one last time. The lights came back on. Sixteen thousand people poured into the night.

People talked. People who didn't know each other talked. Someone who was in her thirties got away with looking twenty five. She got guided along through Dublin by complete strangers, and together she and her friend got in a taxi on O'Connell Street, safe and sound.

Still no one can believe how much older she was than she actually looked.

The night ended. People slept.

Friday night. The cinema. The wind was cold. The wind was angry. Someone waited for his friends, who were running unusually late, but not so late they would miss the film. They bought student price tickets to see Unknown. They sat in the dark in a row of six - five of them, leaving a seat at the end. They talked. Loudly. The ads were playing. Everyone talked. Everyone laughed. Everyone smiled.

The ads stopped. The film began.

Everyone sat in silence. It wasn't the biggest screen in the cinema, but it was big enough. People tried to keep up with what was happening, trying to figure it out before the end. People got roped into it. Everyone enjoyed it. The credits began. The lights did not go back up. Someone said it was better than Taken. They were deemed wrong.

People went home. The night ended. People slept.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review - Everyman

EverymanI was recommended by a lecturer in college to read the work of a particular author. I am sure it was Philip Roth, author of Everyman, among many others. If not, I can still be thankful that I found the book in the second hand section of a bookshop in Dublin for a decent enough price that I would be encouraged to find it. I loved the premise, and I subsequently fell in love with the book.

What specifically about the book did you like?
There were some little quirks in the book that got me, like never knowing the first name of the main character. (That's my recollection, at least). I liked that Roth used his title to the fullest, making his anonymous protagonist a symbol for the average American male of his day and age, a Jew living in America from the time of the war, an artist who has to go commercial because of practicalities, a man whose lust overpowers his love, a man who experiences illness and grieves the loss of loved ones, a man who just about sums up everything there is to be when it comes to being human. And not just him, but the people he encounters throughout his life, his brother, his children, his wives - plural, but he's not a polygamist -  and all the friends he has throughout his life. He was every man in every sense of the word, suffering from all their faults and living with the same doubts and fears and regrets as everyone. The characterisation of the protagonist was just stunning and perfect, and I don't think Roth could have done himself any more justice in this book if he tried.

Beyond all that, the ways in which Roth deals with deaths and illnesses and the growing Everyman is just sublime. There aren't many books that can tell the story of someone from youth all the way through old age in such a brilliant way as Everyman does, with style developing slowly as the character ages, and the bitterness of old age setting in between the words towards the end of the book. All the fears and all the worries of the protagonist fit in neatly and come out through the tone of the book as it goes on and on through all the events of his life, focusing so much on his regrets that I couldn't help but realise how true a story it really was, that people tend to focus too much on the things they did that they didn't like about themselves, and yearn for the simpler days of their youth.

Is there anything you didn't like?
One thing - chapters. Roth didn't number the chapters, which may have ruined things if he did, but I personally like having chapter numbers. They give us a sense of achievement as we read a book. I understand that they may have been left out intentionally to avoid making the book a series of chapters in someone's life rather than an account of life from start to end. It's just a thing I like in books, and not something against Roth.

How does it compare to similar books you've read?
In this case, I don't think I have an answer for that. I've never read a book where the main character doesn't have a first name that we're allowed to know, or a book that covers so extensively the mind and matters of man, not least of all in such an accurate way. If I ever find a book like this, I will be sure to mention it!

Will you be reading anything else by the author?
Not immediately. While I loved Everyman, I have dozens of other books to read before I even get around to buying another one by Roth. But eventually, I will get around to it, and if anyone can suggest one to read, and if I like the look of the suggestion, then I'll know where to go after this.

Oh God yes. The moment I finished it I told the people closest to me that they had to read this book because it was brilliant and wonderful and everything nice you can say about a book. If you want to see into the workings of man, this is definitely a good place to start! (or, you know, to include on your journey at some point!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


My life has undergone some very weird changes since I started college way back in September 2009. I made new friends from places I never thought I would have friends from, places that seemed to be built up of stereotypes and old people, and none of my friends are these types of people. If I'm being honest, my friends aren't exactly normal. But then, I don't believe in normal. It was something I strived to be for so long, reaching towards it in recent months, without realising that I was reaching towards a phantasm, an illusion, an idea that held no place in the world in which we live.

There is no such thing as normal.

That said, there is "normal" - the generally accepted standards of society and professionals regarding health, clothing, morals, education, lifestyle and all sorts of things that at this present point in time I cannot care to list. But "normal" does not extend to the individualistic nature of humans, however much we may try press it upon one another, so that the friends I say aren't normal simply cannot be by definition, as the word implies a standard of person and character that is unique to each individual.

Normality is a playground/workplace/Church/cult/sect/pub/pitch (etc.) curse that cannot be escaped at any point in our lives. I have been held back by the idea of normality for far too long.

This post is called Reaching. Those of you who cared to read it will have to forgive me for repeating it. Those of you who skipped over it to see if I was going to give out about social situations again, there you have it. It has multiple significances for me; I used to be reaching for normality, I am currently reaching for meaning, and I will always be reaching towards personal perfection.

Yes, perfection. I do not believe it is achievable, hence the personal before it. Yes, I'm actually going to say this... I want to be the best me I can be.

Shoot me now.

But there you have it. I want to improve on myself. I want the happiness I remember that may not have been true, the sense of oneness I feel at three in the morning after a deep and meaningful conversation, the sense of achievement I don't feel I've ever gotten in that I've never been moderately successful at anything quantitative or qualitative, and I want the unity that comes from friendship with so many people I'm afraid to open up to. I reach towards all this, but I always remember that there is a certain degree of courage lacking in all of this, something that I don't have all the time and never enough of it; unity with others is impossible, on the scale I want, so that I don't keep secrets from people, because no matter how much I care about people and no matter how well I get along with them, my mouth just doesn't say the words my heart is screaming.

The search for meaning, oddly enough, is normal. It is the one thing that is entirely normal by human standards because all humans search for it at some stage in their uninterrupted lives. The problem with searching for meaning is focusing entirely on it, and the paradox of it all is that one must give up the life in which they may find meaning while on their search.

As an interesting aside, the search for meaning is related to the commonly asked question: What is the meaning of life? Douglas Adams was quirky and original enough to give the Ultimate Answer (42) but leave us without the Ultimate Question, itself more complicated than just the aforementioned question. Bestselling author John Green responded to the question, "What is the meaning of life?" by saying quite simply, "Other people." I would like to believe that my life is like that, that my meaning is other people - not in them, not to be gained from them, but them, as people and individuals in all their unique and wonderful weirdness, the way they start stories or the things they expect from others, the way they pronounce certain words, the smiles they give, the waves, the insights into life, the lessons they can teach us without ever meaning to, and the ones they teach on purpose without letting us know we're learning, the love that goes both ways - romantic and otherwise - and the signs that we care about each other and not what others think of us, and the ways in which we become the same yet distinguishable for having known each other, and in the end we feel better for having met.

I reach for my meaning of life and I may have already found it. Everything else is just reaching for something to fill up the days, problems that have to be overcome, adventures to be had and new things to learn for the sake of learning. I cleared my head of a lot of stuff last night in a lengthy email to a friend, and for the first time put down into words what it was that I wanted to do with my writing. Truth be told I'm still figuring myself out as a writer, and while I complain - most of the time jokingly - about being old, I know in my heart that my life has only really just begun, and that with the exception of a few wonderful meanings to life, everything before now was just a prologue to the things I have yet to face, good and bad.

And I hope I have the courage to get through it all without running back home and hiding underneath the covers in the dark, hoping for a phone call to come through to set things right...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

For A Change

Last night was different... I mean, not in the 'I got drunk' kind of different, but in the kind of different that really shouldn't be different - I actually wrote something. I've had this problem where words just didn't fit together for fiction, and last night I overcame it by handwriting a story that I hope to submit to a magazine when it's all typed up and edited. It's sort of Sci-Fi/Speculative Fiction, but I tried to write it so that it's more accessible than a lot of Science Fiction, which can sometimes limit its audience by being too technical.

It was nice to actually get writing again, to forget about the world for a while as I wrote away, creating a character that's more messed up than even me and having him go through a whole world of change as he goes from whining and depression to bursting with happiness; I won't go into detail about that, too much, because I'd prefer that the story remain mostly a secret until such time that (hopefully) it goes into print.

As I started to write this blog post, I wondered if maybe people thought I wrote all the time, and that was why I called myself a writer. Truth be told, I do more consistent writing on this site than on anything else, because it's a forum for self-expression but with an audience, and it allows me to communicate messages publicly to people without having to embarrass them by naming them or starting a private war. I like that I can write something, convey a message, and if people don't like what I've said they point that out; it's happened before, and I appreciate the comments, because it lets me know that what I'm writing is not only being read, it's being interpreted, and at the end of the day stories are made by the things we interpret.

Mostly, when I write fiction, I write in what I call binges. I go through the same stuff with reading, I might add. During the summer I wrote three novellas - one of which I refer to as the Book on this site. A couple of weeks ago, I read three books in a week, just for the sake of it. When I was seventeen, I wrote a novel in a month. Between reading binges and writing binges I generally do my college work, because I purposely don't let one overlap with it - it gets messy and complicated and bleurgh. That's a technical term.

I suppose last night was something of a writing binge, in micro format, but it was also a chance for me to just get away from things; I didn't want another night of doing nothing, I wasn't in the mood for television or for going out, I wasn't really sure what I would say to people if I decided to call someone, I've had this whole "bully" situation stuck in my head and college work is beginning to rear its ugly head again. So I just got away from it all. It's why I write a lot of the things I do, including those novellas; I turned the world I missed - the college life - into something I could have fun with for some time, and something I could later share, so I could get away from the mundane summer I was going through.

I suppose my summer was only bad because I never had money to do anything. I don't mean a holiday or anything, just regular things. After the shop closed this time last year, my saved-up money only lasted until May, and until about July I was paying people back for money I had to borrow or buying the things that I'd been trying to buy for a while, and I never really had anything saved up to get to do anything at all. The highlights of my summer were trips into town with Miley Cyrus, a visit to her house, a trip to a friend's house in Westmeath and a trip to our friend's house whose dad is a lecturer, and that single 21st birthday party I went to. I had a couple of days with other people, but mostly I was at home feeling like I was wasting my life and writing to try make up for it, and worrying about my friend's exams in August. It wasn't a healthy summer.

While I don't care if I go anywhere this summer - as regards a holiday abroad - I don't want a repeat of last summer. Yes, I want to hang out with Miley if she comes up to Dublin, and yes I would go to friends' houses if they were having people over and if I wasn't in work the next day, but I want more than that, because those days don't fill up a whole lot of time relative to the three and a half months off we have from college and only weekends to work in the shop. I want to write and to submit to magazines, and hopefully to a publisher, and get out a bit more and just do some exploring of the city I grew up in but never really looked at; there are so many places I haven't been that are open to me to explore, just a train away most of them, some of them less than that, and there's a whole culture and a whole world out there that I can see within a few weeks.

I find I always write these things down on my blog, my plans for the summer and my not wanting it to be a repeat of last year. I already know it won't be like last year, though, because so much is different already. For one thing, it's March and I still have a job. And, unlike this time last year, I'm actually happy. There was so much getting me down this time last year that really I wasted time even before the summer months came along. Writing that story last night is, I hope, only the beginning of the changes I'm making in my attitude to life; I don't want to waste days doing nothing. Even if I did nothing but write for a week during the summer, I would be happy, because that could at least lead to something, and the practice is important. Writing is a trade and an art, and people never stop learning about those things.

I'll stop now, before I accidentally reveal my plans for world domination in my ramblings.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I once heard that there are three versions of every story people tell - your side, the other person's side, and the truth. So far, in something of an issue in college, going back to the Facebook events I've mentioned before, and  the problems they've caused, I've heard a couple of different stories regarding one thing in particular: the Book.

The Book began it all. It was because of the Book that I received abuse a couple of weeks ago, and because of the Book that that same person approached me on Thursday to issue a threat to report me for bullying. He told me why he was going to report me, and I later asked somebody else about the event, and what I have learned is that one of those people is lying, and I don't think it was the person I asked - she had nothing to gain from lying, whereas he had the removal of the Book from the college, and ultimately nothing to show that he was over-reacting to something entirely.

His Version:
He was in the computer room and people were talking about the Book, saying it was "about" people in the college. He interpreted this as those people having read the Book. The Book was "in circulation".

The Other Version:
My friend, to whom I loaned the Book so she could better understand what his problem was, was having lunch with the very same people who were talking in the computer room. They saw the Book, said he told them that the Book was "about" people in college, and then they asked to read it. She said no, put it in her bag and later left it in her house. She has not read the Book. 

My Deduction:
He believes I'm trying to make him look bad.

My Version:
I loaned the Book to my friend so she could understand things better - I repeat this point because it's important. However, I loaned her the Book in the full knowledge that she understands that the Book is based loosely on things that happened in the college, that I happened by mistake to write somewhat accurately in a couple of cases, and that this guy was reading too much into the character in the first draft of the Book.

And why do I emphasise that it's a first draft? Because, as every writer knows, first drafts are rarely anything like the finished product. I do plan to change this Book, and not because it got one person upset. It was initially a writing project, something to just work on, to get a story out of, and it has yet to become what I intend it to be - a proper book. For a start, I did intend on changing the plot that focuses around the character to whom this guy relates - at the moment, he thinks it makes him look like an asshole. The character is an asshole, I won't lie about that, but that's because the Book, in its simplest form, does not work without him being like that. Cause and Effect reason that if he was a typical good guy in the Book, the events would have been different, and the one of the other characters loses some of her focus in the plot - she becomes a secondary character if there is no one to complicate things for her.

I plan on fleshing out the Book a bit. For a start, there's a bit more truth that works in the Book - time and time again, she keeps going back to him. But she has to be somewhere for her to go back.

I don't even know if he read the whole Book or if he just read the parts that he thought had to do with him. But I do know that I never intended for him to read that version of the Book. It's an unfinished product, raw and untamed and frankly a little out of my control. That he thinks the Book is "in circulation" is, lets me honest, a little ridiculous. Nevermind the fact that only two physical copies exist - the one I loaned to my friend and the one he practically stole from another friend after I gave it to her for her birthday - I just don't feel comfortable passing around my books like they're nothing. I choose who reads my books quite carefully; if someone's my friend and if I think they'd be interested or if they express direct interest in a book, I let them - and sometimes ask them - to read it. I don't just pass around my books to anybody. I certainly don't pass around books that are neither finished nor appropriate nor what I want people to read.

The accusation that I am a bully is just horrendous. I didn't do anything to directly offend him. Sure, that didn't exactly work to plan since he took the Book and interpreted it the way he did, but that was because he went behind my back to "borrow" a copy (for a day, I'm told... and that was in November and he still has it!). The person I gave it to for her birthday had already read the Book; she knew what it was all about, because she'd told me some of the stories. I asked her to read it so that I would know if she thought it was okay with me revealing some of the emotions she said she felt. The sentimentality of the Book was what was important for me and for her as a present.

The person I loaned the Book to said she won't read it until and only if he thinks it's okay that she does. So far, no one knows what actually happens in the Book and he mistook the eagerness of two people he told about the Book as it being passed around the college like a piece of juicy gossip. I was purposely avoiding that scenario by abandoning any plans to work on the Book and self-publish it through after the Christmas break. If I wanted people to read it I'd just email it to the whole college. That would be the Book in circulation. And it would be entirely against what I wanted. (And, just to note, the only reason I had for wanting to self-publish the Book was to try earn a little bit of money from it, not to tarnish the reputation of someone who is now doing that all by himself).

And, finally, take into account his own malice towards me, publicly too. I reckon that no one can take up a bullying case after that. I have a PDF of the whole conversation printed, in case he decides he's finally going to delete it, so he can't deny what he said - it was cruel and entirely unnecessary, and seems to have only been to get to me. And it did get to me. A lot. I'm not going to pretend that he didn't get to me with that, like I'm not going to pretend that I wasn't phased by his threat, until I learned the back-story to what had happened.

This person is a bully. He's a bully and he's trying to hide that fact by making the accusation of someone else. The simple fact of the matter is that he read something that was private, interpreted this as being public the very moment a second copy of the Book showed up, and then decided to take action, seemingly forgetting the way he treated me - the abuse and the snide grins every time he saw me because he knew he'd gotten to me. I say all this, but I keep his name private. I don't plan on doing something to him that could ruin his whole life. I don't have the same vicious conviction to hurt as he does. He just has to grow up and realise that this whole thing isn't about him, that the Book isn't about him, but that the problem is because of him disrespecting his friend by not giving back something he "borrowed", despite her asking for it back, and all in malice. That was my mistake, though - thinking that someone would be decent enough to give back a birthday present they had no right to even take in the first place, and assuming that because he never took the opportunity to talk to me about the Book face to face as an adult, if it upset him that much, that he had no problem with it. He had plenty of opportunities to talk to me alone, and he never took them.

And apparently that makes me a bully. Go figure.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Review - All My Friends Are Superheroes

All My Friends Are SuperheroesI love subtle and simple titles, don't you? I also love titles like this one, where it's everything but subtle and anything but simple, and I'm sure that every time I tell people what book I read they just look at me like I'm a mad fool (this is just proof of that, mind you). The book in question, All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman, delivers a simplistic story in a relatively short read, and it's as entertaining as the confused looks on people's faces when you tell them its title.

So, are all his friends superheroes?
Considering the fact that he was a nobody before he was a friend of every superhero in the city, yes. His friends are superheroes - by some definition - and his wife is a superhero and he's... well, he's invisible. To her. By no fault or cause of his own.

Okay, what? "By some definition"? What does that even mean?
Well... not all of them are especially "super". Some of them have powers that we would deem to be an ordinary skill. Almost all of the anecdotal descriptions of them - of which there are many - are highly entertaining nuggets of wit and imagination. And while the superheroes are quite a big part of the story, you don't need to be a comic book fan to appreciate the wonderfulness of their "powers" and how they contribute to the madness that is the protagonist's life.

Riiiight. And he's invisible to his wife?
Yeah, she was made to not notice his existence. She's called The Perfectionist. Anything she touches becomes instantly perfect. As the story begins, she's getting ready to start a new life in a city that will become perfect by her very presence, and so she can get over her husband's disappearance. He has the duration of the flight to figure out how to convince her he exists, or he loses everything he holds dear.

And that's what the book is about?
Books aren't "about" anything, but if they were, this one wouldn't be "about" a man proving his existence to his wife, or "about" a bunch of superheroes with powers that are questionably and variably super. This book is "about" love, undying and heart-wrenching and life-changing love, and how losing love can cause you to lose everything else, and how silent appreciation of someone is love and taking up smoking because someone's gone is love and following someone unbeknownst to them across the country trying to prove you exist is love, and everything else in between, all the hurt and all the joy and all the jealousy and the troubles are love. And this book is all "about" love.

So wait... what's the target demographic?
I would say anyone who likes quick and delightful reads, anyone who can appreciate the many unique powers that Kaufman can create, stories about love, stories about loss, stories that centre around characters and people, and people who appreciate and/or love any combination of the above, as well as many other things I probably missed out on. It's a wonderful book and possibly the most diverse and universal book I've reviewed; it's not complicated or too specific to genre, not overly literary, or any other complaints that might arise from readers about books. It is, quite simpl, a subtle delight, without the subtle and simple title!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fear and Other Things

So I have a theory which I am presupposing is accurate - people are afraid of following their dreams. Not everyone, but a lot of people, myself included. I was thinking about it on the way home from college, a book in a folder in my hand and the sun making me regret wearing my big green coat that really just killed me towards the end of the day. I wrote the book over two years ago. I have done no work on the book in about eight months. In that time I wrote three somewhat good novellas - they have potential, but they're nowhere near what I'd like them to be - and I started at least three other books that never got further than a few thousand words. But I haven't done what's important towards getting published, and that's finishing this one really important book.

The fear, I suppose, is that if I got published and if I'm to believe a friend that it'll make me "millions", my whole life would change. I would lose that drive to finish my college course, and maybe I'd become so involved in my own newly developing world that I'd give up all the people I care about. It's not uncommon for me to drift from social group to social group, to sometimes become entirely self-involved (without rubbing my existence in anyone's face, mind you, just not paying entirely enough attention to everyone else). It's my nature to become distracted by new and shiny things, and I worry (maybe that's the wrong word) that if I ever got anywhere I wanted to I'd leave behind the foundations of that life and lose the people I cared about because I stopped paying attention for just a bit too long.

I think that fear stems from my misunderstanding of people, jumbled up with the aforementioned self-involvement. It's as if, sometimes, if I annoy someone or if I don't talk to them, that I'll just slip too far away from them to matter anymore, as if my parting in one way or another matters so much that I won't get back. So, if I got published, if I became successful, then I'd be leaving behind the people I care about; not in spite, not in anger or because of an argument, but because I'd have to focus so much on doing something that's important to me, and this new and shiny adventure I'm on would bypass any need to keep in touch with people.

And I have the same fear that once people get over their own inhibitions or the obstacles set up by other people on their lives that maybe I'd be all forgotten about, or worse that I am one of the obstacles in their way and I'd have to give up one of my friends for them to be happy. I assume the absolute worst, sometimes, and I cannot help that, particularly if I get caught in some sort of downward spiral, and sometimes that feeling of being an obstacle just doesn't go away.

This fear I have, this multitude of fears that I have, is something I am sure that lots of people go through. It's why we procrastinate, is it not? It's why people don't study even when they want to do well, because it's like if they apply themselves then everything will change. Or worse: they don't think they're good enough, regardless of whether or not they study. I was like that. I know I could have done better in my Leaving Certificate, but I didn't do the work. That's my own fault, but it was fear of under-succeeding that got to me, and the fear that everything would change after the exams.

But there is the truth - things have to change. In the exam situation, whether you pass or fail subjects, things will change anyway. Everything changes, though not immediately, and what many people, myself included, sometimes fail to realise is that it's up to us to decide how our lives should change. While I don't encourage cutting people loose from your life, I do suggest that people do something selfish, do something for themselves, something that will make them, and them alone, happy. Whether it's going for that job they don't think they deserve, finishing the book and submitting it to a publisher or anything else that won't directly hurt someone (because obviously if you get the job or if you get published, it can significantly reduce the chances that someone else will get the same benefits... but remember: this is about you!), people ought to chase their dreams, big or small.

It's impossible to be completely released from our inhibitions, but we can sure as heck make an effort to overcome the challenges that hold us back. At the risk of being preachy (oh, too late),I'm going to finish by saying that people need to take control of their own lives. We don't have to do everything our parents want from us - such as becoming a teacher after doing this course I'm in  rather than pursuing some other career - and we don't have to be held back by their decisions about something that we disagree with entirely, that affect us negatively. If you want to go to college against their wishes, pay for it yourself. Find your passion and live it, be happy, and the rest will work out around it.

And when you get scared, what then?

I talk about it. Not always quite so publicly as this, but to a close friend. I imagined most of this being said to a friend without him being able to respond because it let me get things straight in my head, but really this isn't something I think I could have said to him - whether he was sober or drunk and calling at three in the morning - because I wouldn't have been able to put the words right out loud for fear of sounding like I was trying to take control of his life of have him make my decisions for me. But that's just me - I'm a complicated individual. But talking about fear, talking about the things that hold us back, is the first step towards overcoming those obstacles so we can get on with the race.

That was preachy, wasn't it? Sure, what about it? Live your life, live your dreams, be yourself and get over your fears. And do as I say, not as I do, because odds are I won't follow my own advice, whether it's good or bad.