On Researching Contemporary Fiction

I don’t think it’s particularly big-headed to say I have a somewhat decent set of writing skills at this point – it is my job, after all – but world-building is definitely not something that comes to me naturally. This didn’t matter, I told myself, because I mainly write stories set in the real world in the modern-day.

Well, as you can probably guess, I was wrong.

I may have been basing my descriptions on places and things that already exist, but I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of stuff even I know fairly well. Like, I can picture a road I’ve walked down dozens of times, but I won’t necessarily know the name of that road because it hasn’t ever been relevant to me before. And the thing about characters is that, if done right, they take on a life of their own, which means things will be relevant to them that have nothing to do with you as a writer.

If you don’t want your reader to stumble over something out of place, sooner or later, you’ll have to look things up. Even if the real world is your source material, the reader probably won’t know which part of it you’re drawing direct inspiration from, so you’ve got to rebuild that world inside their head – not as big a deal as creating an imaginary empire from scratch, but still no mean feat.

In preparation for National Novel Writing Month last year, there were a series of Instagram inspiration prompts and one of them was ‘Last Writing Related Search.’ Displayed in the photo, below, is what was in my Google search history.

Yes, it was all research for my book, odd as it may sound.

Since then, I’ve actually gone even further, to figure out what subjects my main characters would have studied at G.C.S.E., what dates the exams would have been on, and plotted this info on a calendar next to the plot points of the book.

No one else is ever going to need this information, and it doesn’t end up in the book directly, but it certainly helped me get my head around timelines and pacing, which ultimately makes the book better. Continue reading

Six-Month Stats Round Up

It’s a new week at the start of a fresh month. We’re now entering the second half of 2019 and, personally, I’m excited. But before I jump headlong into the next round of CampNaNoWriMo, it’s time to look back. I said I’d be more open with my stats, going forward, so here we go:

Books Read

  • 31 out of my goal of 60 for the year = 52%
  • So, just ahead of target. That’s a win.

Words Written
(Rounded to the nearest thousand)

  • January: 4,000
  • February: 6,000
  • March: 6,000
  • April: 37,000
  • May: 12,000
  • June: 13,000
  • Total = 78,000

Continue reading

On Taking Opportunities

It is my firm belief that success rarely happens on its own. There’s a huge amount of random chance involved in winning the lottery, but there’s always another key ingredient, too: buying a ticket.

Award-winning author Kit de Waal wrote a piece for the Bridport Prize website urging people to enter competitions. Lots of them, in various different shapes and sizes; paid and unpaid.

I found this advice as I was reading through this year’s website, preparing to put my work forward for a few of this year’s prizes (the Bridport actually being made up of a few different competitions: one for poetry, one for short stories etc).

Kit de Waal offered up five bursaries to people wanting to enter the flash fiction competition. I was eligible, I entered, and I won one of those five chances to enter the flashfic competition for free.

On top of this, I paid to enter the poetry competition and the short story comp.

Fingers crossed something comes of it. I’d love to be able to end this post with a big success story to perfectly illustrate my point, but I don’t think the pay off is the point at this stage. Success will come in time, I’m sure. If not with this competition then somewhere else.

I also think successes tend to build on themselves.

Once you’ve won an award for a short story (for example), you won’t necessarily find it easier to hook a literary agent for your novel, but it might help and, in the meantime, other doors may open.

All that’s in the future, though. The main takeaway message for right here, right now, is to try. And to keep trying. Continue reading

The Bittersweetness of being on Book Deadline

I’ve often found starting something to be the hardest part. It’s like I have two settings: no focus and hyperfocus. As such, deadlines are both my best friend and worst enemy.

My husband, as a gamer, is often trying to find games that I can enjoy as much as he does. One I had a go at, on his recommendation, was Fable II.

Now, for those who aren’t familiar, this particular game includes a few in-game mini-games. (For those who have no interest in gaming and are waiting to see where I’m going with this, hold tight a second. I’m getting there.)

So, as well as the main Fable quests you can make money on the side by chopping wood, pouring pints, and forging weapons. These are tasks you have to really grind at (a concept I hadn’t heard of before, in terms of gaming). To get anywhere, you had to get into the flow of repetitively doing the same action again and again for actual hours at a time.

When Steve first told me this, I was not impressed. “That sounds like work,” I said, “Not entertainment.”

He said he enjoyed it, so my first go ’round, I got him to do it for me.

By the time I actually figured out what I was doing with the game in general, I decided to restart it all from the beginning so as to get right some parts I now knew a little about. On this occasion – mostly because Steve was asleep at the time, and I was low on coin – I began to do the wood cutting myself.

Lo and behold, five minutes into it, I found a rhythm. ‘Maybe this isn’t so bad,’ I thought, and I carried on. Once I got my first star, I was encouraged. I kept going. Kept grinding. And by the time I had my full five stars in woodcutting, I also had a real sense of achievement.

It was rare that I would have stuck to anything that long – my attention span really can be an issue at times, have I mentioned that? – but I went on to complete the two other grind tasks as well.

Recently, I have been reminded of those times playing Fable as I work on book two in my trilogy, tapping on keys to hit a specific word count each and every night in a row. Continue reading

Afeared Afresh

Back in February last year, I wrote a blog post aptly titled ‘The Fear‘ in which I talked about how, after several years of trying to finish a novel, I was on the verge of doing just that and was scared sh*tless. Said fear was making me drag that last little bit out longer than it ever needed to be.

Writing the blog post helped.

I finally finished writing the book.

I got even more positive feedback – my writing mentor said it was “good to go.”

It was May by that point. I sent the novel out to an agent that very month and considered the issue resolved. I had got past my hesitation. All was good, right?

Well, I submitted to a second agent in July and then, inexplicably, stopped.

To be completely honest, I had gotten so caught up with other things, I hadn’t even realized I’d stalled again. When I opened my list of agents recently, I was horrified it had been so long since I had contacted any of them. Then, when the horror wore off, I found that old fear hiding underneath.

I hadn’t dealt with it, I’d just put a lid on it and left it on a shelf for a while. Continue reading

PitMad March 2019 Results

Yesterday – Thursday the 7th of March – was the latest round of #PitMad, a Twitter event in which novelists pitch their books to agents and publishers. I had dabbled in the past, deciding last minute to take part without giving it a lot of thought.

This time, I prepared. I pre-wrote my tweets. I scheduled the date in my diary. I double checked the timezone difference. (PitMad being mainly an American thing.)

Do things like this actually work and secure people publishing deals? Sometimes, yes.

Someone – last year I think it was – shared information of what they tweeted and how far they got with it. I find it fascinating to look at this data alongside success stories and crunch the numbers.

Naturally, I put together some stats for my own experience. I wondered if there was any point in sharing it – it’s a fairly niche set of information, of importance really only to me – but, hey, why not? I found that other person’s findings interesting. If no one else connects with this post, no harm, no foul.

But enough preamble. Continue reading

My Writing Journey (So Far)

How long have I been writing? It’s a simple question, but the answer is… not. In fact, far from being simple, the answer isn’t singular. There are a number of equally accurate responses, depending on what kind of writing you’re talking about.

In the bio that I share about myself all around the internet, I say I’ve “been writing poetry and short stories since primary school and been blogging for over ten years.”  Which is true and works well as a summary but, by its very nature of being a summary, leaves out some pretty key details.

I mean, everyone writes stories and poems in primary school, right? For class assignments if nothing else. It was just that I never really stopped.

I focused on poetry in high school. In the five years I was there (2000-2005), I think I wrote about 100 poems total. Some might consider that not many, some might count it as a lot. I guess it doesn’t matter either way because most of them have been lost (some intentionally and some inadvertently) in the years since.

In college (2005-2007 | ages 16-18), I don’t think I wrote anything other than a metric shit-ton of coursework.

My very first ever blog was made in February 2007, but I only got a couple of hundred words on there before I swiftly forgot about it. It was 2015 that I found it again, during a random Google search.

My time at university (2007-2010) was when I really got into blogging regularly (if not all in the same place).

2009 was the year I first attempted National Novel Writing Month, for which I completed a grand total of 216 words.

In 2011 I started writing posts for other blogs for free. (I mean – ahem – exposure.) And had my first ever poem published in an anthology – which turned out to be by a vanity publisher (not that I knew what that was).

I also signed up for a workshop with Nicola Morgan. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a real turning point for me.

Continue reading

Novel Updates/What I Wrote in 2018

It’s hard to believe (for me, at least), but it’s been months and months since I shared any real update about my novel on here.

Back in December 2017, I announced that the title of my book changed (from Ripped to Full Term), I discussed sequels (stating that I had two planned), and I shared some concept cover art I’d made.

Around the middle of 2018, I finished writing book one, had it looked over by a writing mentor, and sent off the first submissions to agents. Then (in news I have shared here previously), I was awarded funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to help support me write book two (Life Lessons).

So that’s where I’m at right now. I’ll be submitting Full Term to yet more agents by the end of the month and will have the complete first draft of Life Lessons done by the end of April.

As for what I wrote in 2018 more generally, I have just totted up the figures and they come to a grand total of 146,000 words — the exact same number as 2017! It’s an odd little coincidence, but I’m pleased with my output across poetry, blog posts, short stories, fan fiction, and — of course — work towards my novels.

Here’s to writing in 2019!


P.S. The image in this blog post was for a NaNoWriMo Instagram Challenge in which I had to imagine which actors would play the main characters in my book. Number One is Jessica Sula as Mya, the main character in book one. Two is Malachi Kirby as Richard, secondary character in book one and main character in book two. Image three is  Brian F. O’Byrne as Kian, my villain. And image four is Ella Purnell as Zhara, secondary character in books one and two, main character in book three.

Such A Night (Flash Fiction)

Here’s something I wrote at writers’ group last week. It’s a little bleak, but I thought I’d share it anyway. Would love to know people’s thoughts!

He didn’t want to go out on such a night but if he didn’t leave now, his head was sure to explode. The twins next door were both screaming to be fed and the dog in the apartment on the other side was howling in sympathy.

Gerald’s could feel his brain melting out his ears. He grabbed his coat and headed into the rain, just trying to get a little respite from the overwhelming noise in his tiny flat.

He didn’t ask for much in life. A quiet night on the one weekend a month he wasn’t working overtime was all he really needed. Six hours of uninterrupted sleep would have been worth all of the money his extra shifts were pulling in.

You can’t put a price on peace of mind. That’s what his mum always used to say. God, he missed her. Gerald didn’t think he was built for being alone.

Part of him wished he’d kept the house. It would mean he wouldn’t have to be dealing with paper-thin walls now, but he couldn’t justify keeping on such a big place just for himself.

Life after his mum was gone wasn’t the same. Existence was hollow. Maybe that made him sound weak, or pathetic, but he didn’t care. It didn’t change the fact that life for Gerald without his mother wasn’t really life.

He worked in a job he hated just for something to do. He came home to sleep – or try to sleep – because he physically needed to. But he didn’t want to do anything anymore.

Gerald’s mother had been a rudder in his life. Now he was adrift. No other family. No qualifications. No hope. And a blinding headache.

He hadn’t cried.

Some part of Gerald realized that he’d feel better if he just let go and gave into his emotions, but he was scared of them swallowing him whole. If he started crying, he didn’t think he’d be able to stop. That would be worse. It was all worse. There had to be a better plan than just being sad for the rest of time, right?

Gerald’s caseworker said he had a bad attitude.

“Sure,” he’d replied. Because that much was already obvious. “What do I do, though?”

She told him it wasn’t her job to offer solutions, so he didn’t go back.

He walked to the end of the block, turned for home, then thought better of it. He kept walking.

He didn’t go back.

He didn’t go back.

On Winning the Lottery (Writing Update – October 2018)

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The title of this blog post is a bit click-baity, yes, but it’s also technically true.

The big news I am delighted to share with you is that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland are funding me, using lottery money, to write my second novel.

I’m practically shaking with joy, just being able to write that. Each element of the statement makes me want to scream with happiness.

Let me break it down for you:

  1. I have written a novel.
  2. I’m writing a second novel.
  3. The arts council are funding me to do so.

If this is a dream, please no one pinch me!

The book in question is called Life Lessons and is the sequel to my first novel, Full Term. Currently, Life Lessons is sitting at the 10,000-word mark. I have between the 1st of November this year and the end of April next year to finish the draft. Those dates include NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where I’m hoping to get the bulk of it done and CampNaNo, when I’ll be going over it all again before handing it in at the start of May.

Between now and then, I have a letter appearing as part of an exhibition in Glasgow this December. Sadly, I can’t make it to the launch but I still think it’s such a cool thing to happen and I’m delighted to have been included.

I also have a few other opportunities I’m currently waiting to hear back from – there is a residency I have applied for and a competition I have entered book one into. Part of me wanted to wait on those decisions before making this post, but I just couldn’t put it off any longer.

I want to thank the wealth of people who have congratulated me across social media already this weekend so, so much for their love and support. It’s been a long road getting here – I can remember my disappointment this time last year, when I was unsuccessful – but I’m not done yet.

Onward and ever, ever upward 🙂