Sunday, December 21, 2014

And Finally

Less than a week before Christmas, my first semester of college at a Masters level came to an end, all assignments submitted, all the panic over and done with until the results officially come out in February. (I suspect the reason for the wait is actually because of the courses that have examinations after each semester, so we have them to thank for the delay in finding out how we did. Thanks guys!)

Despite the fact that being a Masters student is in some way supposed to be an indicator of maturity and adulthoodness (Blogger's spell-check doesn't recognise that as a word, but neither does it recognise its own name) we decided to go the way of the Undergrad. Namely, we went out for a few celebratory drinks.

Thirteen weeks before this, we hadn't even met each other. We had our orientation, in which we were commended on being mature, responsible adults, capable of the anticipating the challenges of adulthoodness. I might be paraphrasing. The point is that we were strangers, save for two trios who either (a) were in the same classes at Undergrad level or (b) were one year apart in the same Undergrad programme. That's about a quarter of the class entering with some sort of familiarity with someone else, even if that was just a face and a vague memory.

(Side note: as I mentioned in a previous post, one of my friends' girlfriends is actually sort of a neighbour of mine, whom I've never met. It also happens that someone else went to the same secondary school as someone else's boyfriend, the someone else originally from the States. And about a quarter of the class - at least - have some connection to Galway. We're not sure how to explain these small coincidences. Retrospectively, someone might say we were meant to come together as a class group, and I like to think that means we did/will do well enough after the programme to warrant mass-stalking of the group. Or just someone reading my blog.)

I could, once again, break down the thirteen weeks of the course for your reading pleasure, but it's much easier if you just read the previous posts about my progress in the Masters. What you'll find in there, aside from a brief overview of what I've been doing in the course and how sentimentally attached I've gotten to the group (on the few occasions we've gone out for drinks, I estimate I've been between 1-3 drinks away from "I love you guys!" Those of you reading this - that's how you know you've reached 100% completion in the game of Get Paul Drunk! Alternatively, just re-read this.)

[Insert incredibly subtle segue here!] 
No, today I want to talk about me, because eventually my egocentricity had to come to the fore.

Back when the course began, I hadn't considered much of myself. I didn't immediately introduce myself with "I've published 7 books on Amazon, and written a few more on top of that." I could have. The opportunity was there. Instead, I chose to talk about The Curve and my desire to get into publishing, and the fact that I come from an Education background but never managed to escape retail. Now, I want to talk to about another book - one I haven't gotten to actually read yet, but which I've taken part in a small section of a course based on the book: The Motivation Manifesto, by Brendon Burchard.

Early into the course, homework was set: write your own Manifesto. So I did. I'm not going to share the whole thing here. There are some things on it that are still quite personal. But the main point I want to make from it is the ending of what I'd written.

Life should be fun. Life should be full of joy. There will always be struggles. There will always be fear. But they don't need to define how you live. Let yourself be happy. Let yourself get to know people. Let yourself get hurt. It's all part of the adventure.

Okay, it's a little bit...dramatic? Sappy? I don't know. It's supposed to be something that keeps me motivated. And did it?

Well, as it happens, yes. Inadvertently. I guess putting it into words helped immediately. This is where we get a bit personal. Very early on, I got a feeling about one of my classmates - like, a vibe, not a crush. It's hard to put this into words - easier when drunk and talking with someone who knows him. The feeling said to me that I could be friends with this person. I won't name him. I'm sure my classmates know who it is. What was significant for me was that I hadn't felt this way about someone since I met one of my very close friends four years beforehand, and a year beforehand with pretty much everyone else from my Undergrad college I still talk to (including one who wasn't in my year.) I didn't get much of a chance for this to happen with other people, in fairness, but I hadn't felt something so certain in a long time.

And it was a scary feeling.

Historically, I'm not great at close friendships. I don't tend to be close in the right way. I know exactly why I behave this way, but when the other person doesn't, that's very difficult to deal with. So, I have a tendency not to talk about myself. At all. It's not healthy, I know. I didn't really break that habit until the summer of 2010, and not again until 2012, And then, nothing. Not until late October this year, and much more much quickly than any other time.

End result; more panic. More worry. It wasn't enough to talk about myself, if I wasn't sure it was the right idea. I promise that in due course this will all make a lot more sense, but the effective result of everything going through my head was a belief that I needed to alienate myself from that one person who I'd actually let myself open up, and who had been ridiculously supportive about the whole thing.

What happened next completely shocked me, and this really goes to show how far gone I'd become. A little bit of madness on a Monday morning was dealt with rationally and compassionately, and not with anger. Not with vehemence. Not with any sort of disdain for me having a freak-out in the same week we had deadlines for assignments. I hadn't thought that this specific person would react in this way; my fears were - and I suppose still are - founded on how I think everyone would react in this situation.

The conversation we had wasn't especially long - at least it didn't feel that way - but it was incredibly important. He talked me down from a freak-out, asked all the right questions to help me understand what was going on in my own head...and it seems like that was what I'd never experienced before. Historically, whenever I had a similar sort of freak-out (and it only ever seems to happen with people I feel like I'm getting too close to too quickly, because how unfair is it on me to dump any of my personal stuff on them) I didn't deal with it very well. It usually repeated itself on a regular basis. We're talking daily, here. But since Monday, nothing.

See, I didn't really pay much attention to the Manifesto I'd written for myself, despite the fact that it's within my eye-line so often. I didn't pay attention to a part near the top - Be Yourself. Be Honest. Be Open.

The thing is, I'm trying. I'm trying really hard to pay attention to my own Manifesto. I'm trying to be a good friend. I'm trying to be a good son, and brother, and uncle (as well as nephew, grandson, cousin, godson, etc.) I'm trying, and it's difficult coming from the point of view that getting close to people isn't necessarily the best thing I can do (there's a whole set of stories about that one, but basically things got better for a while when I started my Undergrad, and then plateaued until recently.)

I don't believe life should be spent alone. I'm not very good at practising that belief, but I carry it with me every day, and I try not to be alone when it matters, when it can be helped. It took a long time to get to this point. I definitely wasn't ready for this way of thinking a year ago. I wasn't ready for adulthoodness and the accompanying pressures, expectations, and maturity that come from it. Similarly, I was completely unprepared to make even one extremely valuable friend - valuable not because I'm allowed to talk about whatever's going on in my head, but because I'm allowed to just be myself and speak my mind, and even when our opinions don't match, they still fit. I'm not sure I can really count how many I've made this semester, and I can't quantify the good it's done me.

These past thirteen weeks have brought me almost entirely out of my comfort zone. I have practically no technical background that would have helped with the course. I didn't study art or the media at an academic level before. More significantly, more personally, I don't do well meeting large groups of people for the first time when the expectation is that I should be able to work with them. (The first three days of teaching placement every year were especially terrifying in that regard.) I haven't been in a new class group since 2009, and I've never started in a new educational institution without my twin brother. We've been with each other the entire way, from the first day of primary school to our graduation from Mater Dei in 2013. I was scared. I was nervous. And bit by bit, as the first couple of weeks went by, I started to get the vibe-feeling about other people. Bit by bit, I started to feel like I was in the right place. Finally.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How Did We Get Here?

I have a single week of lectures left in the first semester of my Masters. I'm still coming to terms with that one. How did we get here so quickly?

Let's go back, to before the Masters started. Let's go back to March. In March, I was acquiring copies of transcripts to be sent off as part of my application. In January, I moved from one bedroom in the house - the largest - to another - the smallest, and ended up misplacing a few things as I tidied up. I know where my original transcripts are. Unfortunately, there are also about three thousand other sheets of paper in that one place, and that may be an underestimation.

So, new transcripts, application completed, and I waited. I got an interview, I was offered a place, I almost cried (yep, that happened) and I paid my deposit. We've reached May. By July, I know how much the course will cost. I checked my budget, and I knew then that I could afford a laptop and a camera - specific ones that I'd had my eye on for a while. I practised with the camera. I got used to framing things, to playing with depth of field. I didn't know much about photography, except that depth of field was cool.

I was still shooting in Auto. Then: September.

The month dragged by after I paid my fees. I was waiting all the time. The day of my orientation, I met up with a friend of a friend, from Germany. The orientation was boring. It rained heavily as I walked home, and for the next two weeks I was sick. Brilliant start, right?

Well, yes. The first lecture was moved forward in a timetable change, and even then I didn't meet my classmates properly until Wednesday - everyone was in, and our lecturer encouraged us to meet up for coffee after the first lecture. And that lecture was, in itself, an ice-breaker. We went for coffee, we set up our own little Facebook group, we added each other, marvelled at how many people were from Galway, and at the little coincidences that seemed to pop up. I had a couple of mutual friends with various people already, and live near one of my friend's girlfriends. (By near, I mean she's essentially around the corner. And we've never met. Whatever happened to suburban values?)

Week two, lectures started.

So, we'll fast forward through this. We've been through this, mostly. I put together my audio drama, I took some photographs that I love, I gave a presentation on the Selfie, as understood from a reading of Susan Sontag's On Photography. Pretty early on, I considered many of my classmates friends. By Halloween, having only just parted from someone's company, I was texting to say I considered him one of my best friends.That was perhaps the most embarrassing thing to happen that night, and it's not really all that embarrassing. (I did try to teach people to do the Time Warp, but I'm not embarrassed by that.)

Foggy Path
The path became clearer the further I walked.
By the end of week eight, I was exhausted, stressed out, and feeling entirely comfortable in the company of my new friends. We were also getting ready to start our next projects, including creating a new soundtrack for a video - foley, dialogue, environmental noises, music, everything. By the end of week eleven - that's where we are now - we're getting ready to write essays, and complete reflective journals. We've met industry professionals who work as photographers, marketers, a social media strategist, a videographer, to mention just a few.

I can remember it all, yet I don't understand how we've gotten this far. We're almost done with our first semester. We've had several varieties of home-baked food. We've been to see some less-than-conventional films. We have our in-jokes. Some people have nicknames they don't want. We've gotten used to using ProTools - I even composed some music for it for my group's soundtrack in our second project - and we've been dabbling in various aspects of the Adobe suite. We've had to use Macs for everything, to the point that when I return to my Windows laptop, I scroll in the wrong direction way more often than I'd care to admit.

But see, it's more than all of that. I'm now at the point of wanting to produce short documentary pieces. I want to create audio dramas, to actually release to the public. Eleven weeks ago, I thought my main focus would be on photography. And while I love photography, while I still want to pursue it, to develop (ha!) my abilities further, I'm not restricting my options so much anymore. I want to work on sound design more in the future. I want to write about visual culture, and new media. I know that by the end of next semester, I'll be looking to learn more about multimedia authoring. I'm dying to learn more about video production already.

I feel like I've come a long way with a lot of amazing people, and I'm not entirely sure how I managed to get here. That said, I love it. I love every bit of it. Choosing this course was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and I refuse to apologise for getting sentimental over it, not after everything I've done in the past eleven weeks, not after the people I've met. I can't be sorry for that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Learning by Doing

Week nine. That's how they define time in my college, by how many weeks into an academic year we are. By this point, I've been to see one night's worth of short films, one 3D museum experience, and one actual museum; I've read more for a single class than I think I did in my entire final year of my Undergrad; I've baked three times for friends in the course, and been out with them three times; submitted one photography project, and one audio design project, with artist statements for each, and; met some amazing people I am proud to call my friends.

The semester thus far has proven to me once again that I find it easier to learn by doing, by participating in the material, practising with Pro Tools and the Adobe Suite, and implementing suggestions from various and assorted guest speakers.

What has this meant, in reality? That, I think, is something best looked at across three areas: photography, audio design, and professional development.


For the sake of understanding how my understanding of photography has changed, we need to go back to before I started the course. To eliminate most of the history of my life with cameras, we'll start in July 2014 - when I bought my DSLR camera. Everything before that was with camera phones and standard digital cameras.

From late July to early October, I made one big mistake: I shot everything as JPEGs. They look great - the camera did a lot of the work, I just found things to photograph - but they're practically useless. That was mistake number 1.

The second mistake was in using Auto. Sure, you're guaranteed to use the best settings for the lighting available, but you have a lot less control over an image. In terms of learning how to take a good photograph, that's less than ideal.

The end of week eight - last week - marked the deadline for my first imaging project. Between week's four and eight, my understanding of photography, and ability with a camera and with Camera RAW, were put to the test. Thankfully, I took an approach to learning that my years studying Education suggested was the best option available: learning by doing. Practical work. 

I could read about taking photographs, or I could out with my camera and take and re-take photographs until I found one I actually liked. I could study Camera RAW meticulously, and watch dozens of videos online showing tutorials of how to use the program, or I could just try use it based on a couple of demonstrations to show me where the relevant sliders and editing tools were.

In the end, I had twenty six photographs to choose from, fully-edited to achieve the look I desired for the project. I needed ten. Thankfully, my classmates helped me whittle it down. I had thought maybe one person might help. I ended up with about eight people contributing ideas and thoughts while we waited for the Mac labs to open one Tuesday afternoon. Fundamentally, I feel like I could go out and do the project all over again, different idea, different concepts, and manage to do it in half the time, with less hassle. I understand the process a lot better.

Audio Design

Once upon a time, I took a class in college called Digital Storytelling. The course required us to figure out to use one programme particularly well; Audacity. Now, Audacity is great, but limited. Great in that it works, and it's free, and I have enough experience with it that I would have been extremely comfortable using it in college.

Instead, we were required to do all our sound editing in Pro Tools 10. A new interface to get used to, a whole other arrangement for tracks. New terminology. More complex. Not free - which meant I had to accustom myself to use of the Macs in college. (End result: scrolling in the wrong direction when I returned to my laptop.)

The learning of Pro Tools was just one part of the project I had to put together. I also had to record sound to actually edit, which, for me, lead directly into writing an audio drama. As I mentioned in my 'What's New(s)?' post, I wrote a short play called Love At First Date, which starred two of my former colleagues in the Mater Dei Drama Soc - the leads I had cast in our production of The Playboy of the Western World - Darren Lalor and Aisling Hayes.

Of course, I had problems with it. It wasn't just a script and some actors. It required me figuring out how to use the recording equipment, where to get the sounds I wanted, and then how to actually use them. Part of that included producing my own music.

I'm no expert at music. I listen to a fair amount - often albums on repeat - but I don't have any formal training that could have been useful in any way. In the end, I had to teach myself four chords on my six-string ukulele (that's apparently more difficult to play than a standard four-string, and therefore not suitable for a newbie - thanks Music Shop Guys all those years ago for not helping out with that piece of information!). Those four chords then formed the basis of the small piece of music that played during the drama.

Again, the best way to learn how to actually use Pro Tools was to dive in half-blind. We had done a project on it before, resulting in the reiteration of the word "Gatekeeper" on an almost daily basis. When volume is no concern, it gets even more fun. And that's the thing - the whole project was fun. Difficult at times - especially trying to get rid of wind from my dialogue tracks, or find a way to make the noise blend together well enough with my background noises to be less noticeable - but highly enjoyable all the same.

I feel like I could it again, with more interesting and daring ideas. Hearing everyone else's projects really helped provide inspiration to create more complex and entertaining pieces. Thankfully, people seemed to like my drama, something I was repeatedly surprised about to the point of failing to return the compliment (genuinely, too - some of them were frighteningly good!)

Professional Development

My course has three theoretical modules this semester - Visual Culture, which loans itself to the theory behind my entire Multimedia Imaging module; Communication Theory and New Media, and; Best Practice in Multimedia. The latter pair are vital for professional development in the mass-encompassing field of work that is multimedia. Communication Theory has, thus far, provided a step forward in the field of understanding the field, particularly with regard to any journalistic and creative-entrepreneurial endeavours. Various ethical concerns, concepts in the field, and case studies have been explored.

The end-result: a more involved approach to the content I'm producing. Now, I can't put it all down to this one module. I have wanted to work in this way for a long time. But what's important is that, about a month before my lectures started, I stopped updating this blog. I wasn't producing any content, good or bad. I put the theory into practice, and despite the notion that blogging is killing culture, I've been happier for doing it.

I've also been doing some work on some Brain Things that happened, but for the time being I don't have much to say about them. They exist as concepts, barely fleshed out, but they are the practical implications of a module that had, in its first half, required research and written content on a weekly basis.

When it comes to the Best Practice module, things get a little less consistent. That's no judgement on the lecturer, mind you - the guest speakers are booked according to their availability (and, obvious, field of work within the broader industry). The diversity of work represented by the speakers is astonishing, especially considering that several of them were graduates from the Undergraduate Multimedia course in my college (the students of which we share the module with.)

Each week, a speaker comes in, and we'll be assessed on journals written on reflection of the talks and topics. One very important question asked in the assignment brief is to consider the call-to-action from each session - what can we do to begin working in a particular field? Thus far, we've addressed Television, Videography and E-Learning, with speakers working in multimedia in IT and politics. Most recently, and most immediately implementable, a speaker from LinkedIn.

I've been in my current role as a bookseller for over seven years, so it shouldn't come as a surprise when I say that I've been updating my LinkedIn profile since that session with a mind towards future work. I don't plan on staying in a minimum wage, part-time job for the rest of my life. It doesn't make me happy.

Conversely, actually updating my LinkedIn profile, while not the most obviously enjoyable form of procrastination, has been a pleasurable experience. Taking into consideration a depth of work I've done, and my involvement across a broad spectrum of work, going into detail on teaching placements, too, I feel like I've actually done something with my life. What was once a relatively empty page is now a more vibrant history of my professional work. I wasn't entirely sure I knew how to begin, but eventually it all started falling into place.

Moving On

I feel like I've set a standard for myself for the future. For a long time, I've been a cram-as-study sort of person. That works for exams, but not so much for the long-term commitment of knowledge. So, I'm going to work out a self-learning methodology. I'm going to teach myself to study. This isn't just for college - I don't have exams as part of this course. This is for future learning, and for future work.

The inevitable conclusion to this is that the classes I undertake that have the least amount of student interaction are the classes I least enjoy. While we've had a couple of passive, take-notes-only sort of classes for some modules, there's a a greater balance of work and in-class theory in many of them than in others, and it's been in those classes that I've felt my learning has been improved.

We'll see where all of this takes me in the future. For now, I'm hoping the 'learn by doing' approach will get me through the rest of the semester, learning outcomes achieved.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Get Better at Writing

During one of the many Deep and Meaningful conversations I've been having with a friend from college online during the procrastination sections of our assignments, I stumbled upon a realisation. Stumbled, and fell, mouth agape. I realised that my ability to write has improved over the years.

I feel as if this shouldn't have surprised me, like maybe I should have known that I was getting better as time went on. But no. Surprise. A bit of confusion. All the usual things that happen when I stop paying attention.

Here's what I think happened: I wrote so much stuff that was bad, like the first three-four years' worth of blog posts here, that I reached my quota. At that point, my brain decided I had to start doing things right, like maybe writing any old garbage just wasn't going to cut it anymore.

Or, the following advice I can now impart upon you in the infinite wisdom that comes from systematic procrastination, I got better with practice. Here we go...

1. Write more. I think there's still something to that whole writing enough bad stuff that there's none left idea. With enough practice, everyone begins to develop their own authorial voice. They figure out how they write, their idiosyncrasies, what they enjoy doing and how they can make the most of a bad situation when writing. (Exams became an easier experience as my writing ability developed - I knew how to write the way I enjoy writing, even when I didn't like what I had to write about.)

It's the standard advice given to every young write: write more, write often, and just keep writing, because you will get better. And it's true. If you don't believe me, look at the nonsense I wrote on this site back in 2009. Then, you will begin to understand the evolution of my writing.

2. Read broadly. Years of writing isn't enough. It never is. But it's one of a few necessary elements to developing your writing ability. Reading a lot also helps, and reading across genres and topics and authors is the best decision you can make when it comes to building upon your existing skills and vocabulary, which affect the way you write and think.

Just like you can't learn to make a movie by having seen a few and then picking up a camera, you can't write a book without having read a lot of other books, by a lot of other people. My advice is this: look for recommendations from people whose opinions you trust (or, look for a Staff Recommendations section in your local bookshop - independent bookshops are more likely to have them). Read across the board. Try some Contemporary Fiction, some Literary Fiction, some Classics, some Science Fiction, Crime Fiction, Fantasy, and yes, even try some Young Adult and Children's Fiction. Read a book on Business, on Personal Development, History, Biographies. Read newspapers, magazines, reviews, opinion pieces. Heck, even read those long Facebook status updates that are much easier to ignore.

Why? Because by exposing yourself to so many different types of writing, you force yourself to examine your own use of language.

3. Look for feedback. I know, the idea of sharing your writing with someone can be a terrifying experience. However, if you want to improve, you need to find out what other people have to say about your writing, and in a safe environment. Writing and critique groups are an essential part of many writers lives, where they can talk about their current works in progress, receive constructive criticism on the latest chapter they've written, and figure out whether or not an idea is working out.

Finding a writing group is easier today than it used to be. Facebook and Twitter are full of writers who write at different levels and across different genres. Even if sharing your material through email isn't to your fancy, you can still use social media to connect with writers you can then meet face to face.

(A note on meeting people online: public places are your best friend. Pick somewhere you know well, preferably somewhere with CCTV. It may seem paranoid, and things are definitely better now than they used to be - meeting people "from the Internet" is generally more acceptable than it once was - but there's no point taking unnecessary risks.)


4. Leave the house. I know, it's a counter-intuitive idea if you plan on writing using a computer (or a typewriter, if that's more your thing). But here's the thing: most writing is based in the real world. If you don't leave the house and see some of that world, you don't stand a chance at really capturing what it feels like to walk through a park, or along a beach, or through a city in the middle of the night. You might just know how a school feels, or your workplace, or the usual haunts you visit with friends and family, time and time again.

I'm not suggesting a trip around the world - though, if you plan on writing a story set in a foreign city, it does help to spend some time there. I'm merely suggesting that rather than write in a house or apartment in a town (or near a town), you actually get out and see what it's like. Keep a notebook with you. Use your phone as a camera if you have to, to capture some images for reference later. Get to know the world in which you're writing.

Importantly, you can also get to know the Arts world around you. Visit museums, especially when there are short-term exhibits present. Look for events, like poetry readings, or storytelling nights. They do exist, if you look for them. Get involved with the community of artists that live around you.

5. Do your research. I've put this last for two reasons: if I'd put it first, it might have turned people off reading the rest of the article, and; "last but not least" tends to stick with people. So, last but not least, you need to do your research. If you're writing a book in which a character has "a terminal disease" - an example I'm using because of its frequency in writing groups - "that isn't cancer", you need to figure out everything about that disease.

Whatever your specific subject of choice, knowing something about it beyond the standard Wikipedia entry is a must, particularly if your novel deals with one of a number of greater subject areas in Science, Business, Politics, History, Sports, or Religion. If your protagonist is a rugby-playing, devout Muslim, student, doing research in Theoretical Physics while helping his father run in the local elections, while his sister is running "a successful business" and his mother is undertaking a Doctorate in History, you really need to know a lot about each of those five specific fields. More generally, if your character is an expert, or proficient, in an area of which you have little to no knowledge, you need to educate yourself.

How do you research? That depends on what you're researching. Sports are maybe the easiest thing to research, if they're regularly televised. Watch it. Ask a friend who's interested in it about the rules. Pick up a book on tactics, look up the official governing bodies, read what they have to say. Business, you need to be selective in what you study. Think about how much you need to include in a story. If you need to know more about the legalities of running a business, focus on that area. If you need to know more about marketing, there's your focus. The same applies for everything you might need to research.

A good rule of thumb is to research more than you need, but not so much you never write anything. Read books. Read articles. Look for YouTube videos. There are dozens of channels out there that specialise in educating their audiences in a number of different areas, from literature to sexual health, the American Civil War to the psychology of mental illness. Mashable kindly listed ten of them here:

The reason research is important is that it gives your writing substance. It's not enough to try write a story with a modicum of information and a good idea. While the good idea is essential, good writing should immerse a reader into the story.

Plus, all of that extra reading nicely fits in with Tip #2. You're welcome.


Improving your writing skills is relatively easy. There's a lot you learn without a mentor or a teacher to tell you how to do it correctly. For the most part, I'm a self-educated writer. Yes, I turned to books on writing to pick up some advice, but I didn't have a teacher. I couldn't ask those writers questions. This isn't to put down participation in writing courses and workshops. I've taken part in a couple myself. They're incredibly useful and powerful experiences. But they're not the most important part of your learning experience.

By writing as much as you can, and reading as widely as you can force yourself, you're already ahead of the competition. Feedback will help you hone your skills, research help you focus on the finer details you wish you include in your book, and real life experience - both of activities and places - will help make your writing feel more authentic. You can begin now, easily and cheaply - even, it could be argued, freely, depending on where you live.

What's your best advice for people looking to improve their writing? And, for those who want extra help, what do you really want to know?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Well Do We Really Know Each Other?

Meeting new people and making new friends is weird. Society's pressure to "fit in" requires that we do what other people do, laugh at their jokes, make our own, talk to people, and maybe get to know them. Fitting in requires either finding people who are like you, or adapting to the status quo of social paradigms. That, or spend your days alone.

Those are the options, right?

What if I told you that, for the past six weeks, I've worn my passions on my clothes? What if I told you that, despite not knowing a single person in my Masters course, I wore t-shirts with Final Fantasy VII characters, Guardians of the Galaxy references, and Harry Potter icons on them? For all I knew, I could have immediately alienated myself from the class group.

The big question still remains: have I been myself? While I've been unironically enthusiastic about a lot of different things that aren't exactly "normal" (a word that loses all meaning when personal expression is the aim), and while I've exposed a lot about myself to my classmates, I certainly haven't been myself, not 100% of the way.

This is no reflection on them. I don't feel like I can't be myself around them. I don't think they would think any less of me if I showed my full palette of colours. However, like everyone else with an insecurity issue or two, it's not always a matter of whether the other people will accept me. The problem isn't that I can't be myself, in the sense that I would be in intimate, private situations, but that, maybe, I shouldn't be myself.

My reasoning is simple, maybe to its detriment: emotional baggage.

My formative years weren't the best for developing social skills. I take jokes slightly too far. I don't always read people correctly. I have trouble shutting up. These consequences of my youth - say, age 12-15, give or take - are obvious after spending a bit of time with me. But the reason why things turned out that way, that remains a secret except to those who probably don't realise the lasting effect those years have had on my life.

I certainly haven't spoken at length about those years with the majority of the people in my life. This isn't a trust issue, except maybe in the sense that I don't trust myself not to dump every modicum of emotional baggage I carry on those who don't know how to deal with it. Put simply, I don't think I can volunteer that information to anyone any more.

And just by that decision, I'm hiding part of myself. But the fact is, if I felt like I could trust someone, and if they really wanted to know, and if I could feel it from them that they wanted to know for more reasons that sheer curiosity.

I hide my secrets under masks, masks carved from personal truths. I wear masks that say I'm a nerd, that say I like to bake, that say I like to stay on top of college work and the little intricacies of information that fly about in emails. I wear masks that tell people who I want to be when I'm in public, to hide the person I don't like to be, the person who panics, who stresses out, who succumbs to fear and doubt and dread.

The evidence has been made clearer to me over the past six weeks than ever before that I'm not the only person who does this. We all hide things about ourselves, little interests, stories from our pasts we don't share, opinions on the world around us. Everyone does it, because there's a prevailing fear of the intimacy of personal knowledge about other people, and letting them know more about us than we care to admit.

Bad jokes, nerdy t-shirts, enthusiasm, anger, curiosity, baking; these are the masks I wear, to hide the rest of what makes me up. It's all true, it's just not the full truth.

Any friends or family who may end up reading this, here's the thing: the next time you see me, if it really matters for you to know something about me, just ask. The thing about masks is that eventually, they have to come off.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What's New(s)?

As I begin week five of my Masters, I'm faced with a unique and oddly vague assignment: make the news.

The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines news as:

- new information or a report about something that has happened recently
- information that is reported in a newspaper, magazine, television news program, etc.
- someone or something that is exciting and in the news

It's the definition supported by Google, and it doesn't really help.

By the very notion that "news" is merely "new information", then this blog post becomes "news". For some, it certainly is. An account of what I'm currently doing in life, about what's different, adheres to one definition of "news".

Given the gap between this post and my last, back at the time of Robin Williams' death, a lot really has happened. While I have many good intentions on setting up a dedicated site to tell all about my new college life, an exploration of events to date does, by the definition of "new information" require something to written about here.

So, what's new?

For one thing, my cinema experiences. Regular readers will know that I have formed a habit of attending the cinema on a weekly basis. That hasn't necessarily changed, but recently, college life has forced upon me the option of attending something a little more...arthouse.

The Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, on a monthly basis, hosts a series of short films. At the start of my second week in college, myself and a few of the others in the course were in attendance. We barely knew each other. We weren't regular attendees of short films. We had no idea what to expect. But I did bring cookies with me, and that certainly made things that much easier.
That hasn't changed. Baking, whether it's cookies or brownies, has continued to serve as suitable tender for friendship. Mostly recently, brownies have made a presentation on Susan Sontag's On Photography that much easier to get through. That baked goods still manage to put people into a good mood is not news.

They did, however, appear as a bribe for class rep nominations. I use the word "appear" intentionally here; no one really wants to be take up the role. The fact that I shrugged in response to the proposition essentially secured my nomination (which became official when, last week, the head of the course took note of it during our Multimedia Imaging lecture.)

And that is news. That's something I haven't announced on social media. That's something that's so far only known to the twenty-odd other people in the course. It's a new role in my life, and whether that's of interest to anyone is inconsequential. Not everyone finds interest in every news story by the traditional media.
On top of the changes in cinema viewing, the types of books I read have changed drastically. Dropping the last book I had been reading, I was required by sheer time limits to read exclusively from the reading lists and module assignments as they presented themselves on a weekly basis.

This has meant turning to books like Nicholas Mirzoeff's An Introduction to Visual Culture, with the additional text Visual Culture Reader to turn to when I eventually work my way through the first tome.

On top of that, the beginning of my Masters has required an in-depth look at art and photography in very particular and specific ways. Susan Sontag's On Photography and John Berger's Ways of Seeing became books for the bedside locker. While the latter had an accompanying series of documentaries on art to make digesting the text that much easier, Sontag's book was a 180 page collection of essays that insisted on being supported only by intuitive thinking.

It was on Sontag's book that I was required to make a presentation, with a week to read and prepare a 20-slide piece on the subject of The Selfie.

I have never been so fed up with The Selfie as I am now. But that's just an aside point.

The advantage to reading such texts is that I was forced, by sheer reading requirement, to learn more about photography. The importance became evident when I began work on my photography project. Portraits were suddenly on the table.

While I would love to say I'm an expert in the making, that would be stretching the truth. But I have been practising, and I at least feel as if I have a fair enough understanding of portraiture and photography (at least in using the camera) to take a few half-way decent pictures. I have no doubt that many of them will be dismissed almost instantly by my lecturer. I wish that was a joke.

While my photography project is still a bit up in the air, with about four weeks to pull it all together, and a few hundred more photographs to take to really get there, my audio project received a warmer welcome. That is to say, aside from the sheer workload involved in it, my lecturer agrees it fits the project brief.

That's a start. It was also the call-to-action that led to my writing of an extensive and incomplete check-list. For my project, I'll be writing and producing an audio drama, tentatively entitled Love at First Date. And that, I think, is something newsworthy in relation to the context of this blog. It only took a few hundred words.

Beginning a Masters was, a few months ago, a very exciting proposition. Exciting, but terrifying. I had no idea how much my life would change as a result of a decision I made last February, except that I wouldn't know anybody. And that was worrying. I'd had enough of not knowing people. But I'm glad to say that, on top of approaching new subjects and new ideas, I'm getting to make new friends. That, though, is the topic of a whole other post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams

I held back the tears from the moment I heard that Robin Williams had died, in what had been an unconfirmed report of suicide. I held them back while I was with friends, and while I was in public, until I was too tired to cry.

He was a man whose movies had helped shape my childhood. I knew him for Mrs. Doubtfire, for Patch Adams, for Jack, for Jumanji. He was a father, a healer, a misunderstood child, a lost hero. He was the boy who was never meant to grow up, a teacher, a doctor.

In the end, he was a husband, a father, a comic genius, and he was suffering.

Depression takes people to strange place. For some, it can mean the difference between a productive day, or staying in bed until the sun sets all over again. For others, it can mean sadness at every incident in the day, tears held back only for as long as someone else is looking. For others still, it can cloud the mind to reality, blocking out the bright lights of family and friends and loved ones, until the person gives in to something bigger than himself - alcoholism, drug abuse, suicidal ideation.

It can happen at any moment in our lives. It can affect teachers, doctors, lawyers, builders, actors. Whatever form it takes, depression leaves a path of ruin and wreck in its wake, a path that's visible only in hindsight in many cases.

No one could have predicted that Robin Williams would die by suicide.

Let it just be said: someone who dies by suicide is not being selfish. From idea to act, it is cruel to everyone it affects. From a mind plagued by the thought of it, to the family left behind after it, suicide hurts. Anyone who dares to say otherwise who has never suffered from suicidal ideation is only contributing to the hurt of loss felt by the mourners and grievers.

In many ways, Robin Williams was a lucky man. Though he met a tragic end, he gave the world the greatest gifts any human being could ever give. He gave us hope, and laughter, profound joy and wisdom in equal measure. He was adored by millions, and I have no doubt that he knew it, and he will be missed sorely.

He will be missed while people watch a lonely man attempt to reach out to his family again. He will be missed while a medical student plays a clown in an attempt to alleviate the suffering of his patients. He will be missed when a young boy in a grown-up's body makes friends and comes to terms with his mortality. And he will be missed when a man ripped from this world tries to protect those who brought him back.

Robin Williams was - and still is - many things, to many people, and it is only right that when we think about him, we remember his work, the joy he brought to so many people, the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eye. His death is tragic and terrible, but if we are to focus on it, it should be in light of making the world a better place for other people who suffer from a mental illness. Like a star in the night sky, Robin Williams light can still shine on for years to come.

At this time, we are right to mourn, and the world needs to give his family that opportunity, and its support.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams.

Helplines: (Courtesy of, amended)
Samaritans 116 123 or email 
Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide bereavement)
1Life 1800 247 100 or text HELP to 51444 - (suicide prevention)
Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)
Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email - (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)
Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Two on the Go!

I'm a reader. If you don't know that by now, you really don't know me. I love books - which is a good thing, too, considering I work in a bookshop - and I often find that one is never enough.

No, I have to have two on the go at all times. That's how I do it. One novel or memoir, and one book of non-fiction - usually one on business or writing or personal development. (The latter being an incredibly vague descriptor for a genre. Some are total mindset books that lead you to take action, some are totally practical books that attempt to alter your mindset through method, some rely on spirituality - the variants are seemingly endless.)

The main thing is that I don't attempt to juggle two stories at the same time. Anecdotal stuff in a non-fiction book is fine - it can help to illustrate a point - but I prefer not to mix the stories up in my head while reading them.

Here's how I do it:

The story I'm reading - at this moment in time, It's Kind of a Funny Story, is reserved for my lunch breaks in work, and bus journeys, when I'm not too tired to read. When I start college, that guarantees me two hours of reading per week, when I'll only work weekends. That's a minimum, because I'll probably make more of an effort to read on the bus when I love the extra day in work for reading.

I use this time for reading stories because I enjoy the escape, and I like to unwind with them. But there's another reason, and it's why I read the non-fiction books at home, in my personal time and space - I don't feel like I'm wasting time by reading non-fiction at home.

Let me clarify - fiction is not a waste of time. But when I'm at home, I'm presented with an option - my fiction, or someone else's. It's a better use of my time when I use it for (a) writing or (b) developing myself, my writing knowledge, or my business knowledge.

When I read non-fiction, my current book being Get Sh*t Done! by Niall Harbison, I think of it as investing my time in learning something important. In the case of my current read, it's using someone else's life lessons to develop a means towards living the life that I want - not the life other people want for me.

That's a different lesson to the previous book on my list - Creativity Inc. - which shed some light on how to run a creative business. This was, of course, in the context of a company with employees, and not a solo operation. However, there's something to remember here, about education and learning: while authors and teachers have their own intended learning outcomes, students may come out of the experience learning something else. In my case, how to better work on a creative team.

Why is that important? Well, my college course will require a lot of creative work with other people, people from different backgrounds, people I haven't even met before.

Do I have a book on how to better improve my people skills before then? Yes. Of course I do. I also have a book on how to feel more alive, one on dealing with change, one of being more effective, and one on public speaking - just in case I need to make a presentation. Those lessons are all valuable uses of my time, and I wouldn't be surprised if I found myself dedicating a lot more time than usual to reading them in an effort to draw some inspiration before my course begins.

But I won't just be reading those books. I'll be juggling some stories, like Maureen Johnson's The Last Little Blue Envelope, or Josh Sundquist's Just Don't Fall, or David Levithan's How They Met, or Darren Shan's Zom-B Clans - that's one novel on love and growing up and stuff, one memoir on growing up (with, and then without, cancer), one collection of short stories, and one zombie novel. Those are just the ones I think I can finish before college, comfortably, before I tackle Clash of Kings by George RR Martin.

This type of reading isn't sustainable, of course. There will come a time when I'll be forced to choose one or the other - and switching between the two as it suits me - because I'll have to read specific titles for college. But, while it's an option, it's the best one for me. Diversity in reading is important, and when I see people purposely choosing to avoid books that (a) have a story or (b) don't, I wonder if they've ever really given it a shot. I like to learn something new, and usually about something I wouldn't ever study in school or college (because, frankly, I don't think it's possible to grade somebody on something like personal growth), and I like to expose myself to new stories all the time.

Stories help us to develop a sense of empathy and understanding. That's one type of valuable lesson, and it's why I still write fiction when the truth of it has been revealed (the truth being that it's very difficult to make a living from writing fiction) - I believe that people can get something from reading lots of different types of stories, and that the exposure to new ideas and new people (albeit fictional ones) allows us to live a more open life.

At the same time, I believe that if we want to change our lives, we should. Society has this weird stigma attached to being different, and even when so many people read what are broadly described as "personal development" or "self-help" books, many people still look at them and wonder why they're reading something like that. (I used to. I'm speaking from experience here. My perception changed when I realised that I needed to.) Why do personal development books matter? Why should people care about what different people have to say about how to live life, or be happy, or run a business? Because we all live different lives and we can all learn from each other

If you don't know how to escape the 9-5 job, someone else has probably already written a book about it. If you don't know how to influence people towards your way of thinking, someone else can probably explain how they do it. If you don't know how to do more with your life that you actually want to do, someone has probably written a book about it. (In fact, books do exist on those three topics - The Four Hour Work-Week, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Get Sh*t Done! being the prime examples!)

I'm a reader, and while I still have the option, I'm going to continue taking on two books at a time. I'm not doing it because I think it'll make me a better person - I can change as a person, if I follow the lessons in the book, not just by reading it - but because it makes me a happier person. Reading is a pleasure, and whether I'm learning something new, or meeting new characters, I'll always find joy in a book (or two.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Clean Up in Aisle 11!

Facts for context:

1. I still live at home with my parents.
2. At 23, still living at home with my parents, I still sometimes act like a teenager.
3. Teenagers aren't always known for tiny bedrooms.
4. I moved from the biggest bedroom in the house to the smallest.
5. I made that move in a day.
6. At one point, I had no floor-space because everything was dumped in the room.

All of that in mind, you will be please to know that I have actually tidied my room! This might not seem like such a big deal, but when you look at how I was living up until a few days ago, you'll see why this is so important for me.

For me to access my desk - which is where I sit when I'm using my laptop to write, or record/edit videos, or do anything else laptop-related - I had to:

1. Move everything off the floor and onto my bed, to access the chair. This included: a laptop bag, a backpack, two cameras, a portable DVD player, three boxes (two of which were empty!), a pile of books, a bag of stationary, a pile of folded up jeans, a pile of sheets and printed articles, and a birthday present.

2. With my access to the chair secured, I then needed to move a laptop tray from the chair. However, on this laptop tray was a pile of: magazines, notebooks, newspaper supplements, folders of various sizes accessories for the DVD player, and a belt. This required moving two, increasingly wobbly, piles of items to the bed.

3. With the chair cleared, I then had to move a pile of notebooks from the desk to - you guessed it - the bed, so I would room on the desk for just about anything else.

All in all, it took at least five minutes to do it, and I had to put it all back at the end of the night to get into bed. That's not good. That's very much not good. The amount of effort it took to access my desk meant that I didn't even bother half the time. Translation: I didn't use my laptop an awful lot of the time. This is the primary reason I didn't finish my novel last month, because I had created a physical obstacle to work.

So, I fixed it. I still have the laptop tray on my chair, but it now only holds the cameras and the DVD player. One easy move. If I want to clear the floor, I only have a couple of bags to move - one of which contains the birthday present, which won't be around for much longer. I can now easily access my laptop. But I didn't stop there.

Because I had to clear the way to the laptop, it meant I also had to put a lot of stuff away. Every magazine is now stored properly under my bed. In fact, everything that didn't belong in the open, has been put away, and my bookshelves have been re-organised.

The process took me just over an hour - because I was rushing to finish by noon yesterday - and it means I can now easily find my books on business, personal development, writing, and mental health. Plus, all the fiction I want easy access to is either on the main shelves, or on the easiest to of the secondary shelves at the end of my bed. (Those books can't really be seen, because of how close the shelves are to the bed. Which is where a lot of the books I wanted to access were stored!)

All in all, the room feels cleaner, I can relax more easily in it, and I know that whenever I want to read a book from my shelf, I don't have to look very hard to find it. I may still sometimes act like a teenager, but finally I'm starting to treat my bedroom like I'm an adult. And by bedroom, I mean bedroom-cum-office. I think I'm going to need a bigger room.

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.