Man of the River

I wrote this for the Waterways Storymaking Festival, and it wasn’t chosen to be shared anywhere, so I decided to share it here myself.

It is all true.

I never met my paternal grandfather. He’d passed on before my parents were married, long before us kids came along. But when I think of waterways, my mind is immediately drawn to the Upper Bann, and to the somewhat eccentric man who spent many of his years quite literally on its banks.

Outside the tiny village of Rathfriland, my grandfather lived with my grandmother and four sons in a tiny cottage––two rooms total, with a mud floor and a waterwheel on one side. The tiny scrap of land on the other side had no railings. No fence. Just six feet between the front door and the water’s edge.

One of my uncles almost drowned as a toddler. And as with so many of my family’s stories, I have no idea how any of us made it this far.

Yet, here we are. 2022 and the McKee genes live on.

I remember my dad taking us to that cottage. Through the then knee-high nettles to the spot where he could look up and point out the very tree from the infamous fishing incident.

My grandfather tried to be a man of efficiency. Emphasis on tried.

One time, after a few too many drinks, it occurred to him that it might be a waste of time to eat dinner and dessert as separate meals, so he tossed one atop the other and ate them as one.

And proceeded to throw them up as one, a few short minutes later.

It was with a similar burst of inspiration that he once decided to go fishing. Not with a rod, or a net… but a shotgun.

You read that correctly.

And it went about as well as you might expect.

He climbed a tree, hung out on a limb over the Bann, and waited. Then, when a fish swam within reach, my grandfather fired––and the recoil sent him out of the tree and into the water.

Needless to say he was none too happy upon hauling himself out, scrabbling up the river bank, utterly soaked to the skin.

The river took his shotgun, but we’re likely agreed on that being for the best. Especially when you consider this is not the only shotgun/river anecdote about my grandfather, past down in laughing voices and with shaking heads.

It was the summer of ’69 that my grandfather packed up the family and headed for the bright lights of Bangor, but I’ve got a funny feeling his soul is back there in Rathfriland, on the banks of the River Bann, even now.

Maybe he’s still hunting for his gun.

2022 Take Two

I know most things never go completely to plan, what with life getting in the way at every turn, but my gosh has the first half of 2022 been the opposite of what I hoped for. Thinking on it as a whole, I’m left feeling disappointed for opportunities I reached for and didn’t get, and frustrated for projects I didn’t complete. Looking part that into the details, however, I can see there were good points, too.

In the first half of this year I:

  • Wrote 65,000 words––considerably less than I usually pen in six months, but still sixty-five thousand words!
  • Attempted Veganuary for the first time (and did better than I expected)
  • Got the third Belfast Writers’ Group Anthology out into the world (FINALLY!)
  • Published the first Perilla Magilla book for CL Scott
  • Became a moderator of Elysian Fields, an online fan fiction archive of almost 25,000 members

I also lost pretty much the entirety of my June to COVID––but I was fully vaccinated and I’m still here to tell my story, so I have that to be thankful for.

My Goodreads Goal is on track (11 books read off my total of 20 for the year), and I have been working on my art, as planned.

I’ve had art mentoring sessions via Zoom that were really helpful, completed a bunch of Skillshare classes that were also really good, and attended some in-person art classes that were… let’s just say not up to the standard of the Zoom and Skillshare lessons.

So a mixed bag! Maybe not even too bad, considering. You might be wondering why I’m feeling so down about the year so far, all considered, and to answer that, I point you at the three things still currently in the pipeline for 2022:

  • Life Lessons: Book Two in my YA Trilogy
  • Girl Imperilled: My Short Story Collection
  • An Art Zine

I had planned to have all three of these published by now, and if things had worked out, I’d currently be writing book three of my trilogy, but that’s been pushed to next year.

Which is frustrating, as I’ve said, but I’m also trying to be gentler with myself this year. One of my goals was to actually chill more, and I think I’m maybe a little better on that front. Either way, we’re now in July, having crossed over into the second half of the year, and I’m considering it a fresh start.

Let’s go onward from here!

What I Wrote and Had Published in 2021

Some stats for the calendar year that’s just ended:

Starting with the biggest things first, my debut novel came out, followed by two poetry pamphlets!

Books Read = 28 (Goal was 20)

Blog Posts Published = 19 (Goal was 24)

I met my goal of getting three newsletters out.

Total Words Written = 158,000 (Less than 2020 and 2019, but more than all the years before that.)

Poems Written = 13

Poetry Submissions Sent (some including multiple pieces) = 16

Poems Published = 4 (in three different places)

Short Stories/Pieces of Flash Fiction Written = 3

Short Story/Flash Fiction Submissions Sent = 14

Short Stories Published = 3

And I appeared in one anthology.

If you’re a writer, feel free to comment below to let me know what you achieved these past twelve months! It doesn’t matter if it’s more or less than what anybody else did, all wins are awesome!

Linchpins for #NationalPoetryDay

I released Linchips, a poetry pamphlet, on the 28th of September, and followed it up with my second pamphlet, Flinch, on October 1st.

Linchpins is a selection of my strongest poems tackling themes of fertility, femininity, and finding yourself, and Flinch is darker, looking at fairytale twists, personal mythologies, and brutal facts.

Copied below in the title poem from Linchpins:

Swiss army wife–
no cape, no mask,
only tasks
(maybe an apron).

Unpaid,
like all good superheroes.
Multi-purpose,
like those scissors in that drawer.

You know the drawer for
all the things you could ever need
that don’t quite      fit
anywhere else?

String,
shoelaces,
sleep,
and such.

Those scissors, stuffed
far away in the back, are dull
from years of duty–cutting
time, food, corners;
hair, clothes, and card.

The universe would self-destruct
if the pin ever managed to pull loose, but

how long before
anyone would notice?

Both Linchpins and Flinch are available to buy on Kindle (just 99p in the UK, or 99c in the US & Europe) or in paperback.

A Guide to My Fan Fiction

Today is eight years since I started writing fan fiction. As per tradition (and as promised in my previous post), let’s do a little deep dive into the specifics of that.

What is Fan Fiction?

Fan fiction (or fanfiction, or fanfic) is simply fiction written by fans. It’s stories written in the universe of their favourite movies or shows or books or games, sometimes using the characters from ‘canon’, sometimes with original characters, sometimes both.

Generally speaking, fanfic is written and shared without the exchange of money, as the writers can’t profit from someone else’s intellectual property. The exception to this is when the source material is out of copyright, or if the copyright holders commission someone to write novelisations.

All those literary “retellings” of fairytales or Shakespeare or Jane Austin? They’re fan fiction. Though publishers don’t want you to think of them like that, as per the taboo surrounding fanfic that I discussed last time on this blog.

What Kind of Fanfic I Write

I haven’t done the math on this to confirm the figure exactly, but I’d say about 95% of my fanfic is set in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel universe, and of that, it’s all romance stories between Buffy and Spike. But the romance is sometimes comical, sometimes dark, a lot of the time angsty.

I’ve written fanfic that’s actually poetry. I’ve written love stories that are 300 words, and ones that are 50,000 words. So there’s still a lot of variety there.

The other five percent is mostly epilogues I’ve written for various things that left me wanting a little more.

Which Fandoms I Write In

Outside of Buffy, I’ve written:

And also a story in which characters from Once Upon a Time crossover with characters from Buffy.

How Much I’ve Written

According to official stats, I’ve written 648,000 words of Buffy fanfic, but that includes a 30,000-word story I co-wrote with someone else. All of the other words in all the other fandoms, listed above, total maybe 10k.

Where the Words Live Online

The place I originally shared fanfiction to, and still continue to use, is a site specifically for Spike and Buffy (Spuffy) love stories called Elysian Fields. Then, after a while, I started archiving my work on Fanfiction.net, and later again, Archive of Our Own (Ao3).

FF.net and Ao3 are huge, open to almost all fandoms (excepting ones where copyright holders such as Anne Rice have threatened to sue if people write their characters). I used to have my non-Buffy fic in both of these places, but have recently removed most of my work from fanfic.net as it doesn’t have the community that Elysian Fields does, nor the infrastructure of Ao3.

Some Other Stats

As of right now, over 200 people have me marked as a favourite author on Elysian Fields (meaning they get notified every time I post something new). It was 165 last year.

I have 118,000 hits on Archive of Our Own, 5,900 kudos, 488 subs, and 821 bookmarks.

Anything Else? 

If you have any questions either about my fanfic or fan fiction in general, please leave a comment. Also let me know if you’ve ever written fic and what fandom it was for.

Happy eight-year anniversary to me!

Just FanFic Thoughts

I’m having mentoring with Jo Zebedee at the minute (courtesy of funding from the University of Atypical), and in our most recent check-in I caught her up on what I’ve been writing recently. Which is––some of you who know me well will be unsurprised––primarily fan fiction.

When I said this, I wasn’t sure if Jo was going to wag her finger and tell me I should be working the sequel to Full Term (which I’d initially scheduled for this month). But of course Jo is lovely and not at all finger-waggy, so I think the mild fear came from my own subconscious.

I told Jo I felt a little guilty for writing fanfic instead of “original” fiction, but when she asked why, I found the answer hard to pin down.

“I just generally always feel guilt,” I said, which is true, but in this specific case I also think it’s because fanfic is looked down upon in some circles. As ‘not real’ writing. As cheating. And no matter that I know that’s nonsense intellectually, I’m not immune to feeling chastised by such opinions.

So why am I working on fanfic instead of my novel this month? Because this month has been hard, and I find fan fiction easier in a lot of ways than “original” fiction. I needed something easier––something that would make me happy without taxing my already overworked brain too much. Also because despite my self-appointed schedule, I have almost a year to write Life Lessons. It’s not like I’ve set up pre-orders, have the book coming out in under thirty days, and still haven’t written the damn thing.

So it’s fine. I need to chill. Which is, in fact, what I’ve been doing. And although I just went ahead and did it anyway, I don’t need to justify the writing of fan fiction. Any and all writing that gets done is a good thing. And I’m actually having my best writing month ever. I signed up to do 50,000 words for this round of Camp NaNoWriMo and I’m over halfway there.

But here’s the other thing Jo asked me: if writing fanfic is a big passion for me and I put all this time and effort into it, why don’t I talk about it more? That one had me stumped a little, because I’d been under the impression I talk about it too much. Though in going back through old posts, I can see the last time I made one about fan fiction specifically, it was almost two years ago.

I used to do yearly posts, collating stats on the anniversary of when I started writing fic, but skipped 2020 because, well… we all know there were some other things going on. But a main yearly post and vague mentions elsewhere do not indeed constitute talking about something a ‘lot,’ so I’m back to thinking that was my irrational guilt talking. An internalised sense of shame that I talk about it at all. I know some published authors have fanfic writing pasts that they think of as dirty little secrets, but that’s not me and will never be me.

So this internalised sense of shame acknowledged and unceremoniously shown the door, I next wondered if the topic was moot. If anyone outside my existing fanfic circles wanted to hear about it. I had assumed no, but Jo challenged that assumption, so I decided to put up a Twitter poll and get the actual answer…

And so, here I am, sharing these thoughts. And later this month, on the anniversary of when I first started writing fanfic (28th July), I think I resurrect the tradition of posting my yearly stats.

In the meantime, if you are one of the people who fell into the curious category, you can find my stories free to read online here: https://archiveofourown.org/users/EllieRose101

Mid-Year Check-In

I’ve been racking my brain for a way to summarise how I’ve found this year so far, and to give an account of all the ways I have (or haven’t) worked towards the goals I set out at the end of 2020.

I know that January, February, and March were frantic with rewrites and formatting and marketing for the release of Full Term.

I know April was Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’d previously said I wasn’t taking part as I didn’t think I had it in me. I was decompressing after the first quarter. But then I went ahead and did it anyway, albeit with a small (10k) goal.

If you’re to ask me how I reached that goal, or what I did in May or June… Well, I have the stats right in front of me, which I’ll get into in a second, but honestly? Everything mostly happened in a fog. I have an all too familiar sense that I’ve been very busy but also that I haven’t much to show for it, which is subjective at best and an outright lie at worst.

So, since that is the case, and my own thoughts and feelings are not the best barometer for measuring success, I will lay out these past six months in cold hard facts.

Words written so far: 85,000 across multiple projects––poems, blog posts, short fiction, fan fiction, and novel rewrites.

That was:

  • 31,000 in January
  • 18,000 in February
  • 3,000 in March
  • 10,000 in April
  • 17,000 in May
  • and 6,000 in June

Books read so far: twelve (and I’m in the middle of three more).

I set out to write a minimum of two blog posts per month, make at least two poetry and two short story submissions per month, and it’s these goals that have been the most hit and miss depending on whatever else I’ve had going on in said months.

My study goal was to complete my Masterclass subscription, which I did. (You can find my thoughts on that summed up here.)

I aimed to put out three newsletters this year, and I’ve done one so far and am planning the second for mid-July, so that’s on track.

I wanted to finish writing three fanfic works in progress, and I’m in the middle of that right now.

Still to come this year is finishing the third Belfast Writers’ Group anthology, finish books two and three in the Family Ties Trilogy, and publish a different book, which I’ve teased but haven’t officially announced yet.

I guess you could say things are more or less going to plan. As is often my takeaway from these kinds of posts, I think I need to not be so hard on myself. I may not have written as much as I’ve wanted, but what I want is often unrealistic, and I have done a lot.

Let me know in the comments section how you’re getting on, reader. If you set any goals, how are they doing? And more importantly, how are you doing? As much as my brain tries to convince me otherwise, goals are not the be-all and end-all of everything.

Stay safe, and I’ll write again soon.

Writing Masterclasses: A Review (Part Two)

It’s been a year since I signed up for a Masterclass.com membership, and I’m not renewing, so I thought it was high time I put together my final thoughts. (You can find Part One linked here.)

During the past twelve months, the platform has had a facelift (new logo and branding), they’ve added new instructors, and diversified the range of instructors they’re working with.

As with part one of this review, I’m going to be focusing on their writing content, so I cannot speak for other areas of the site, but having a mostly white, mostly male roster of ‘masters’ was something I had previously criticised, and I’m glad to see the imbalance is starting to be addressed.

New teachers include Roxane Gay, Walter Mosley, N.K. Jemison, Amy Tan, Salman Rushdie, and Issa Rae. Shonda Rhimes is on there, too but––unless I’m mistaken––her content’s not actually new, just newly recategorised under the writing section (both her and Issa Rae’s courses straddle the line between writing and filmmaking).

I initially set out to watch all the writing content that Masterclass had to offer, but after 315 video lessons consumed and 16 classes completed in their entirety, I’m actually pretty burned out on advice, especially when so much of it is the same, or at least in agreement (I’ll get onto notable exceptions in a minute).

I’m not renewing my membership in the first instance because of the price point, but being burned out on the content is the other big reason.

I’m worried that this will come across as arrogant, but I don’t think the platform has anything else to teach me. At this point, I’ve been writing for over ten years and have attended a lot of courses and workshops, not to mention read a lot of articles and books on craft, and so a lot of the things covered in the classes aren’t new to me. I’m not saying that I know everything there is to know about writing and cannot possibly learn anything more ever, because of course not. And I don’t mean it as a criticism of the classes, exactly, because a lot of people will find all that information put together in a single place incredibly useful, I’m just not sure that I’m their target audience.

To me, the concept of a masterclass is for someone who’s already doing a thing and wants to get even better, but a lot of the lessons I think are actually better suited to beginners, or people not long started out on their exploration of the craft. Other people’s mileage will undoubtedly vary, but that’s my personal feeling on the matter.

Speaking of personal feelings, I really didn’t gel with a couple of the instructors. Namely, Malcolm Gladwell and David Mamet. While watching video lessons from pretty much everyone else, I nodded along and knew exactly what they were talking about. But these guys… I confess to ranting at length to both my husband and online group of writing friends about them.

For illustration purposes, I have picked out three pieces of Malcolm’s advice that I not only fundamentally disagree with, but am genuinely baffled by anyone who does––yet these people do exist. I googled it, and he has some fans highly praising his teachings, so maybe it’s just me. See for yourself.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Writing Advice:

• When researching, look for irrelevant information you might never use.

• If your piece starts out with a question, don’t feel the need to answer it. Go on a tangent for three thousand words, then tell your reader you never did solve the problem.

• Great stories don’t have to be satisfying. An unsatisfying ending is sometimes what makes them great.

Regarding point two: If he’d said open endings can be great, which I think is perhaps what he meant, then I’d have seen some merit to the statement. I personally don’t think they should be used all the time, but they can be effective sometimes, sure. Except that’s not what he said. He specifically said ‘unsatisfying.’

…am I mad for hearing that and just thinking… what? Seriously?

Beyond these points, I didn’t feel like Malcolm had a lot to offer. (Besides a rambling anecdote about ketchup, for some reason?)

He seems like a really genuine guy, and I’d probably have a pleasant cup of tea with him in some post-pandemic bizarro world where we’d cross paths, but it’s fair to say we don’t see eye to eye.

That’s fine. I can live with it.

David Mamet, though… *takes deep breath*

He actually, actively pissed me off. Not just because he was saying things I disagreed with, but because he has this attitude that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. When, dude… have you seen the other masterclasses? They’re preaching some different sh*t.

An example: David said “there is no such thing as character,” and backstory is a waste of time. Another thing he doesn’t like is exposition. Or narration. Or “obligatory” heartfelt scenes. On one breath he says dialogue isn’t important… and then he says good dialogue is poetry, which feeds the soul.

Compare this to Judy Blume (oh, Judy! I actually fell in love with her over the course of her videos, not gonna lie).

She said she doesn’t really know what plot is, which perhaps is yet another odd statement on the surface, but she’s real about it. About not being a perfect author. About this only being her experience, and it maybe not applying to others. She got visibly choked up in a few spots and you could just feel how much she loves telling stories.

“Character is everything,” she says, and “backstory is interesting.” She is SINGING MY SONG! (Screw you, David!)

Margaret Atwood clears up the discrepancy when she said, “Which comes first, character or story? There is no such thing as first, because a person is what happens to them.” See how that thought works together with Judy’s?

Mamet later recommended watching movies with the sound off, then made a sweeping generalisation about most of them being awful.

He likes the gaming magazines his son reads, because they’re––according to him––written terribly.

“I don’t know what my process is…” he says, “but if you want, I’ll make something up.” And “Who cares?” he keeps asking.

“Me!” I kept wanting to scream at him, because Masterclass is pretty expensive. You’d be a fool to invest your time and money and not care. And so, yes, it makes me angry to think that he doesn’t. That he’s happy to just stand there and make stuff up, when the stuff is overwhelmingly negative and contradicts a lot of the teaching from the other writers, as I’ve said.

But I don’t want to leave this review on a sour note, or give him any more of my attention (lest I be accused of being overly negative myself), so I will instead say that most of the writers on Masterclass are great. I watched videos from all of them, even if I didn’t complete the serieses of a few.

My overall conclusion is that a newbie writer would likely find a subscription an amazing resource––so long as they take some things with a pinch of salt, and they can afford it.

February Writing/Publishing Update

So much has been happening lately, I have been remiss in keeping this blog up to date. At this point, I’m not even sure where to begin, so I’ll stick to the highlights.

At the end of January, I was told my application to the University of Atypical’s D/deaf and Disabled Artists Support Fund was successful, allowing me to purchase some equipment, get some mentoring, and work with my editor on the second and third books in my trilogy.

This news went public across my social media on Tuesday, swiftly followed on Wednesday by the news that I’d also secured a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland under their Individuals Emergency Resilience Programme. This money is to help me and my artistic practice survive the loss of earnings incurred due to the pandemic.

Both sets of funding are obviously a huge boost, but that’s not all!

I am currently setting up my own independent press, which I will be publishing my trilogy (and more) through––more on that in a future blog post.

And as for the trilogy itself, I am right on the edge of several things:

  • Finishing up last minutes tweaks to book one with my editor. (This has been such a long process, but the book is so much better for it.)
  • Sending book one to the proofreader.
  • Launching the pre-order campaign.
  • Having ARCs (advance reader copies) become available for review on NetGalley.
  • Being able to share the book with everyone who generously contributed to the crowdfunding campaign.
  • And finally getting a physical book to hold in my hands!

It’s a bit behind the schedule I had originally planned, but all of the above bullet points should literally be happening in the next week or so. (Maybe slightly longer for my physical proof copy to arrive.)

If I’ve missed anything, or you have questions, let me know!

What I Wrote and Had Published in 2020

In 2019, I wrote 166,000 words. At the time, it was a new personal record. This year, however, I outdid myself, writing a total of 242,000!

Poems Written: 5

Poetry Submissions Sent (many including multiple pieces): 20

Poems Published: 1 (and 1 held for publication in 2021)

Short Stories/Pieces of Flash Fiction Written: 6

Short Story/Flash Fiction Submissions Sent: 16

Short Stories Published: 8 – a new personal record!

Some of those stories made it into FOUR different anthologies, now available to buy worldwide.

And probably most important of all, I crowdfunded a fricken novel! Which leads me to say, I think 2021 will be even better. At least in terms of books.