Launching The Dead Ground

20140417_133701_resizedMy third book, The Dead Ground, came out on 10 April this year. Just two years ago I was excitedly waiting for my first, The Fall, to come out. I waited to see it on a shelf, thinking this would be the moment I’d dreamed of all my life. And you know what, it was pretty good. But time spools on and it’s 2014 and here’s my third – in the years between a lot of ink has been spilled, a lot of ideas germinated, and a lot of wine has been drunk. That’s not integral to the process, probably, but why risk finding out, is what I say.

This year I’ve been doing various promotional events and interviews. I took part in a live-writing event at Drink Shop Do in London (a great place I will be going back to…they have a ‘build your own lego robot’ night), which was really fun but showed me that novelists basically can’t write in teams. I had a launch in Belfast at No Alibis bookshop. I’ve done interviews in the Irish News (left), Irish Examiner, and Newry Democrat. I called into some bookshops in Dublin to sign stock and met up with Vanessa from writing.ie, and we spent a long time discussing our weird writing fetishes and why I need a certain type of pen and notebook. Next week there will be a launch party in London too.

The Dead Ground is the first time I’ve written a sequel, so in some ways it was much easier – I knew what had to happen to all my recurring cast. But it was also hard to remember what I’d said about things (what is the unit actually called? What colour are people’s eyes? How old is everyone?) and to make sure I wasn’t duplicating scenes from The Lost. You get to find out what Paula’s going to do about the cliffhanger at the end of the Lost, and a bit more about her missing mother, and there are developments for everyone else you met in the first book.

I’ve now almost finished the next-next one, Paula Book 3. It doesn’t have a title yet but it’s there. It will be set about five months after The Dead Ground and will pick up all the ongoing story strands from there in a story about terrorism, revenge, and grief. See you next year?

The next next book! What’s it called? Um, I don’t know. In the meantime you can get The Dead Ground here or from all good bookshops (if you can’t, it’s clearly not a good one…)

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Words with Wine

About a month ago, a friend of mine held a reading evening. The ingredients for this were pretty simple – a group of about fifteen people gathered, in a circle, and reading aloud pieces we loved to each other. Poems, polemics, bits of novels, non-fiction, diaries, letters – these were all by women, but you could theme it anyhow you wanted.

It was a chilly basement, with strip lighting. We had wine in plastic cups. We had our coats on. I don’t know about anyone else, but the chill rain outside seemed the perfect pathetic fallacy for my mood. Despite all this, such a simple idea had quite an impact on me. I began to hear the pieces as never before, and spot new subtexts in familiar works, and find myself moved in different ways as the words were formed in other people’s mouths, taking shape outside of my head and into the world. I began to have ideas, and scribble notes on the back of my print-outs.

There were sad pieces, that left a hollow space in the air for just a few seconds. Funny pieces – a big laugh on Caitlin Moran’s line about the revolution ‘not being smart casual’. There were sexy pieces, and angry pieces, and interesting pieces. The air filled with words, and smiles of recognition, and the voices of long-gone women speaking as if right into our ears. You could almost feel their lost breath, trapped between the syllables.

Reading aloud is something of a lost art, like barrel-making or recording mix-tapes so you don’t end up with just a few lines of one song at the end. I think we should revive it. Being read aloud to feels like someone coming up behind you and taking you in their arms. It’s the ultimate act of patient, and love, and sharing.

Try it. Get a group of friends, some wine (or drink of your choice), and gather, and take it in turns to read things you love, things that move you, things that make you angry, make you laugh. It’s free and fun and you will emerge refreshed and inspired. What will survive of us is words.

And wine, of course.

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Where do books come from, Mummy?

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Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s a common question. Some authors get annoyed and fire back snappy answers. I buy mine on eBay! I order them up, one adventure story with a strong female lead and side of elves!

I don’t find it annoying, just puzzling. Every month since I was seven, at least one idea has popped into my mind like a soap bubble. Some I forget. Some I write down, then abandon. Some grow into books. I have no more idea where they come from than I know what keeps the stars apart. Perhaps they are piped in, like the BFG’s lovely dreams.

It strikes me that this is a question that should be answered with the same delicacy as, ‘Where do babies come from?’ One way to answer is : well, honey, when an author loves their work idea very much, they spend a lot of time wrestling with it, and an idea is conceived. They’ll gestate it for nine months, and then there’ll be some screaming and crying and God, it gets messy! The sheets that are ruined! The scarring! But usually it was all worth it.

Another way to answer either questions is, we have no real earthly idea. No one really knows, despite science and tiny cameras that can look inside and millennia of learning. We don’t know. But somehow, there’s a brand new book (or person) in the world! Amazing!

If you ever go on baby forums, you will find a lot of similarities with book forums. Everyone swapping ideas to get what they desperately want – try cutting out exposition from your diet, and write every day, then put your legs in the air for twenty minutes. It’s full of strange acronyms, like WIP, MC, TTC, BD. Trying to find a science, an method to conjure the magic. Trying to make it not magic at all, but something that comes in a box or a syringe.  Yet really, no one knows why it happens for some and not for others. The books arrive, like babies, out of some ether we might call love, or the subconscious, or heaven. Or they don’t arrive, and it’s like staring all day at your empty hand, willing it to fill.

For me, the books came easy enough. I was lucky. The babies, not so much. One friend said of babies, ‘I now think it’s just something that happens to other people’ and I know what she means. I’m sure some feel this about books. Some get neither. Some get both. I don’t know why this should be. But I know both involve work, yes, and love, but more so some kind of spark that comes from outside ourselves.

This is the best way I can answer the question, where do you get your ideas from? Magic. Luck. Inspiration. The ideas shop. I wish you all book dust, and baby dust, or whatever-you-most -desire dust. There’s magic in it.

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What you say and what writers hear

If Twitter has taught me anything it’s that people who create stuff are a deeply neurotic bunch, quick to panic and anger, sliding into hopelessness at the slightest knockback, yet at the same time doomed to megalomaniac dreams of world domination (when I say ‘people’ here, I obviously mean ‘me’, you see). My own second book having just come out, I’ve been thinking a lot about the (mostly very kind) things people say, and what your neurotic brain thinks they actually mean.  For example:

They say: Here’s a list of some people we think wrote good books.

We hear: We looked at your book too, but it was so bad we all read out bits to each other in funny voices and had a good laugh about it in the pub.

I loved your book. It was the most moving, exciting, beautiful thing I have ever read –but by the way there’s a typo on page 94.

Your book sucks and I’d rather pluck out my own eyeballs than read another word you write

Random Twitter Personage: ‘I just read a book that I didn’t like very much but I’m not going to say who it’s by’.

I obviously mean yours, [YOUR NAME HERE]. You’re such a bad writer that the pens flinch when you come into the room.

Sales haven’t been as good as we hoped yet, but it takes time.  

There’s the door, sunshine. Don’t let it hit you on the way out.

You clearly have an exciting career ahead of you.

I see McDonald’s are hiring for floor staff.

Have you heard of A N Other Writer? I really like them.

And I hate you, loser.

I saw you at that event – you seemed to be having fun!

You were clearly hammered on all the free room-temperature chardonnay and made a complete tit of yourself, especially that bit when you tried to compare Baudelaire to Taylor Swift.

I read your book – wasn’t it funny about that bit that was very similar to something I once said or did?

I know it’s about me and you’ll be hearing from my lawyers post-haste.

It took me a while to get into your book, but I ended up loving it.

I hated it. You’re boring.

‘_____________’ (the deathly silence which emanates from one you know has read your book but not responded

I hated it. We’re not friends any more.

Oh yes, I read your book.

I hated it but am afraid to say.

Oh yes, I read your book.

I didn’t read it.

Oh yes, I read your book.

I have no idea who you are.

I tell you, it’s exhausting being this neurotic. I might go and have a lie-down in the cupboard under the stairs, or anywhere else that has no internet connection. At least the spiders definitely haven’t read my book.

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Seven Things About Me

V inspiring bloggerThanks to Vic Watson for nominating me for a Very Inspiring Blog Award. In return, I’m going to tell you seven things you might not know about me.

 

 

When writing this post, I really struggled to think of seven things people might not know about me. Which is probably a sign that I tweet WAY too much. Also, I haven’t really done anything that interesting with my life, expect for read a lot of books, and then write a lot of books (most of which ended up in the Great Recycling Bin in the Sky), inbetween travelling around a bit and obsessing over boys. But here goes anyway

  1. I lived in China for a year. After university, I took myself off to live here, nursing a broken heart, several unfinished novels, and a largely useless degree that involved a lot of medieval French. I had a great time, learning to speak Chinese, doing many tequila shots, and spending a lot of time writing. When I came back I did it overland, travelling across Asia and Europe for three months. I think this also helped my writing a lot- if you’re on a train for five days you really need to fill that time.
  2. I’m morbidly afraid of sharks, but I watch everything about them. I used to be so scared of sharks I couldn’t go in the local swimming pool, because it had a mural of dolphins on the bottom of it (I know, I know, but I was six). But I’m also obsessed with them, and no matter how rubbish the film – Shark in Venice, Shark Night, Swamp Shark –if it has sharks in, I’m there. Every time I write something I think wistfully how I can shoehorn a shark-related scene into it. As my new series is set in Northern Ireland, it’s unlikely, but one of these days…..
  3. I have 23 first cousins. I’m from a large-ish Irish Catholic family and my mum is one of seven children. That’s not even very large by Irish standards, but it tends to impress and/or scare people in England.
  4. Hardly a new fact, as I tweet about him incessantly, but I have a beagle dog who spends most of his life crammed onto my knee as I try to type. This despite not even liking dogs before I got him. He has ruined my garden, my house, and all my clothes, and he once ate through the cable of my computer, but I love him
  5. According to various exes, my worst faults are ‘you swear too much’, ‘you’re too obsessed with the difference between your and you’re’ and ‘your jeans have too many holes in them’.
  6. I speak fluent French, and spent a year living there teaching small French children how to sing Shakira songs in English (Miss, Miss, what does ‘underneath your clothes’ mean?’. This put me off teaching for life, and children for a long time. One my friends caught scabies off the kids. Like, seriously.
  7. I was under-15 Connect 4 champion at my Irish summer school. Connect 4, the real sport of kings.

So there you have it, I’m a scruffy, sweary, multi-lingual shark obsessive. What’s not to like?

While you’re here, other blogs I enjoy are as follows:

This Itch of Writing – brilliant writing blog by Emma Darwin, covers most writing issues that come up

Help! I need a publisher – ditto, for publishing queries, and by Nicola Morgan

Julia Crouch – gives an interesting insight into the writing process. Julia is very good at breaking down what she actually does all day.

Steve Mosby – it doesn’t really have a theme as such, but if it did I would characterise Steve’s blog as ‘cogent arguments on the burning issues of the Twitter day’. If Twitter is the tabloid, Steve is the Times Editorial.

 

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Five…worst literary losses

Last year, I taught a term of creative writing. Ten weeks. Intensive stuff. At the end of the term, I said to my students that I was going to tell them something very important about writing. Maybe the most important thing they’d ever hear. Were they listening? This was it:

BACK UP YOUR WORK.

They laughed a little. Of course they backed up their work! Like, duh. So perhaps the fear of lost data has finally percolated into our collective unconscious, like the way we jump when we see a spider. But I still get a shudder when I see someone bandying about a USB stick. Those things need to go the way of floppy discs. They blow up. They get put through the wash. They get eaten by dogs. Likewise, laptops expire (four in four years for me…I pound ‘em hard). Hard drives get corrupted, screens become detached, occasionally you drop them and/or spill a pint of water over them. Or they get stolen out an open window or out of your bag. So back it up! Dropbox is your new best friend. Download it onto your computer and/or phone or tablet, and you’ll always have everything with you, plus a copy floating in the ether (I’m not really sure how this works). Better yet, email the work to yourself every day. Put a post-it on your computer saying: BACK YOUR WORK UP, YOU EEJIT. Then you will never again wake up in the middle of the night strangled by the panic that you might have left your memory stick on the bus.

Oddly, I never worry about the fate of the hard-copy notebooks I use to scratch out my first drafts. Maybe because no one would steal a flowery notebook filled with writing so bad it looks like a Soviet-era cipher. Maybe because I play a game with myself where I can write the first draft by pretending it’s there, looking through it like a Magic Eye picture. Really I should take a salutary lesson from these sorry tales of literary loss over the years:

  1. ‘Oh you mean that old bundle of papers? Yeah, I burned that. That was OK, right?’ Many’s a literary gem has met a sorry end on the flames. Lucky for us this is most unlikely in these days of waning fuel and gas fire, but back then the fate of Samuel Johnson’s first dictionary (as Blackadder viewers know) was a real danger. Thomas Carlyle famously sent a manuscript to John Stuart Mill, whose maid then put it on the fire. Lesson – don’t annoy the staff, dude. Manuscripts of VS Naipaul were also taken out of storage and burned, mistaken for accounting archives (ouch!)

2. ‘Please take all personal belongings with you when you leave the train.’ A striking number of works have been lost on public transport. Jilly Cooper lost the first draft of Riders on a bus, and it took her fourteen years to try it again. TE Lawrence lost part of his epic work at Reading station (he’d have enjoyed the irony there, I bet). At one point, all of Hemingway’s work to date was stolen from a train his wife was travelling on. Lesson: Never trust anyone else with your work, especially if you’ve been busy eyeing up other Parisian laydeez on the sly.

3. ‘I hate you so much right now.’ Ever given a thought to who might manage your work after you die? Well, there’s a reason they call them ‘executors’, because it turns out they can’t keep their grubby mitts to themselves when it comes to passing judgement on your work. Be prepared to have things radically altered and/or destroyed. Ted Hughes made big changes to Sylvia Plath’s last great collection of poems, and burned one of her notebooks. William Blake’s executor also destroyed much of his writing. Lesson: do not pick as your executor someone who hates you.

4. ‘We tried to call but you were out.’ It’s not just nowadays you can’t trust Royal Mail. With an estimated half a million pieces of post going missing every year, never ever trust your only copy to the mail. A novel of Mary Shelley’s, Valperga, went missing this way on its way to the publishers.

5. ‘Better out than in.’ You could also be especially unlucky and find your work meeting the same fate as a script of Werner Herzog’s. It was apparently vomited on, then thrown out the window of a coach. Lesson: never travel with Werner Herzog. Falling out of coach (maybe a different kind though) was also the apparent demise of a lost concerto by Mendelsson. Keep those windows shut! Or you could also be like Robert Ludlum or Dylan Thomas, who lost their manuscripts on drunken nights out. Thomas lost Under Milk Wood three times while drunk. What a guy.

Take heed, readers. BACK YOUR WORK UP. You will thank me for it one day when your masterpieces are not being lost on trains and/or burned by irritated exes.

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5 Things…Not To Do On the Internet If You Want To Keep Your Sanity

These days half of writing is Tweeting. Or have I got that wrong? Anyway, authors everywhere are being urged towards the be-dazzled empty stage that is SOSHUL MEJEEA and told to perform. Turn tricks! Do a twirl! Dance, Baby! No one puts you in a corner! The sad truth though is that most writers belong in the corner. Preferably with a bag over our heads. It’s safe in the corner! You have a good view of all exits!  If you have the introspective discipline necessary to pore over hundreds of thousands of words rooting out each misuse of a comma, it’s unlikely you are all that social. Unless readers truly think it’s fascinating when we go on Twitter or Facebook and say how many words we did that morning or that we just had some tea?

Didn’t think so.

So here’s this week’s list, to remind us all that however fun and shiny it may be, if this were truly Dirty Dancing and Twitter the stage we got up on at the end, after we did our routine there’d be a deafening silence and they’d bring back on the tone-deaf sister, and NO social barriers would be broken down AT ALL. Engage in these online activities at your peril, for that way lies madness, ostracisation, and possible legal action.

1.       Responding to bad reviews

At some point, you really have to get over being upset by bad reviews. Don’t read them, if you find them so hard. Accept the fact that having a book out means you’re in the lucky position of having total strangers read your words, shorn of all knowledge about how nice you are and how you always let hedgehogs safely cross the road (much like Annika Rice). Otherwise you end up doing frankly terrifying things like finding out someone’s home address and hassling your publisher to see if this person really did buy your book (bet they loved that), then posting their details on the internet. See here for unparalleled lunacy.

http://voxday.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/a-rabbit-bites-back.html?m=1

Even million-selling authors have written of how they read every word of reviews and get really upset.  http://www.lisa-jewell.co.uk/2013/01/takes-deep-breath/ I’d have thought selling so much was a clear sign that many people think you’re amazing and those who are giving bad reviews are probably jealous, or maybe don’t like reading, or loved the book but deducted four stars because it looked bigger in the picture (it happens). Either way, they’re perfectly entitled to say what they like. Getting upset may be unavoidable, but responding is something you should never, ever, ever do. Some say you should try everything once, but they’re the kind of people you see at A&E on a Saturday night because they thought it would be interesting to ‘try’ snorting a mixture of Jeyes Fluid and sherbet dib-dabs.

2.       Looking up other people’s  rankings and reviews

It’s like Facebook-stalking the new girlfriend of your ex. Either you’ll be like, ‘she’s hideous, how could he leave me for THAT?’ or you’ll be like, ‘she’s gorgeous. I’m a troll.’ Eyes to the front, people. Don’t be like those runners who fall over because they’re busy trying to see how the Kenyan in lane 4 is getting on. Stay in your lane! I might write that on a post-it as a cool and gnomic motivational tool. Needless to say, I do this one all the bloody time.

3.       Keep track of who unfollowed you on Twitter

Seriously, why do people do this? Isn’t it just courting sorrow? Isn’t it a bit like making a list of all your exes, then going round to their houses to find out exactly why they finished with you? (A good idea for a rom-com and/or multi-selling song by Adele, but less advisable for real people who do not wish to find out what it’s like to be the subject of a restraining order). My followers go up and go down and whilst I notice this more than I wish, I never check to see who it was and I don’t know how. I have quite enough neuroses to be getting on with, thanks.  People unfollow for all kinds of reasons – maybe it was that Twitter ‘bug’ we’re always hearing about (yeah sure) or maybe they think you’re boring or dislike your politics or maybe your wild success has meant the rest of us can no longer bear to read about your life (I sometimes unfollow people because of this reason. Pathetic, but some days I just don’t want to see that you’ve won a prize/sold loads/got a Japanese rights deal/been on telly).

4. Looking at the shortlists for awards when they come out. Despite what that madly optimistic 1% of your brain is telling you, you won’t be on it. Especially if you never actually entered.

5. Scouring the internet for mentions of yourself. There will either be nothing (think twice about setting up an alert for a title with generic words in, like, say ‘The’ or ‘Fall’), or you’ll turn up some nasty review from a man in Hull that will make you cry and then go and find out where he lives and post it on the internet, and then you’ll be right back to Crazy-Making Behaviour 1.

 

In short, heed the wise words of Irish writer Colm Toibin, speaking at an event last year. ‘Why are you even here? Why are you out? No one gives a fuck about your book. Go home and write.’

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