‘Incubator’ published in Banshee Lit

My story ‘Incubator’ was published in issue #3 of Banshee. I love this journal, edited by three amazing writers, and am delighted to be included in the same pages as some amazing writers such as Deirdre Sullivan, Amy Blythe and Lisa McInerney.

‘Incubator’ is about a very politically controversial issue here in Ireland at the minute, that of abortion. I’m delighted it’s found a home as the more dialogue and debate around this topic the better.

‘Omega’ published in “The Queen’s Head”

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My short story ‘Omega‘ is published in the latest edition of The Queen’s Head. It’s a quirky, illustrated, literary publication and their latest edition is science fiction themed. It’s free to read online but hardcore print traditionalists can always buy a copy for the low price of £5 (P&P included).

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‘Omega’ is from a series of short stories I wrote about how a society changes once technology advances to the point that androids become commonplace. Stories cover topics such as ageing, war and beauty.

It is the first from the series to be published, though chronologically it is the last story in the sequence. As it seemed fitting to give the robots the last word in their own story, it’s told from the point of view of androids trying to attempt their own singularity.

Over the Edge New Writer’s Award

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I’m absolutely delighted to announce that my Short Story ‘Smithereens’ was longlisted for the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year award. You can view the longlist here.

It’s my third time entering the competition but first time making it this far, which goes to show: “try again, fail again, fail better.” It’ll all work out someday. The shortlist is announced in October. All my fingers are crossed waiting for it (making typing incredibly difficult). “Smithereens” is a funny story is based on a series of true events that happened to my uncle’s Austin A40 Farina, involving a murder, a rising tide and the IRA.

Introduced in 1958, the A40 Farina should not be confused with the other models carrying this designation. The A40 Farina was designed by Pininfarina of Italy and was notable as the first hatchback automobile ever produced. The A40 Farina was also available as a 2-door sedan.  It replaced the Austin A35, and was quite a modern car.

 

50 shades of bad and a few shades of good

50 shades of Grey has been lambasted from here to eternity. I’ll agree that in most cases it has been rightly lambasted. The prose is appalling and the dialogue is cringeworthy (‘Holy crap”, “my inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves”), the plot meanders about forever, the one-dimensional characters… I could (and frequently have) go on at length about this.

I could also rant and rave about the sexist messages and subtext in the book. The fact that it misrepresents BDSM, the fact that Christian breaks their contract by ignoring safewords, the fact that in pretty much every scene of note – including the one where the contract is drawn up – Anna is under the influence of alcohol, the fact that she repeatedly says no, states that she feels like an abuse victim (because she is), that his actions legally count as rape, that there are scenes when she runs away from him in fear, that after she drunk dials him he traces her phone and shows up and gives out to her and won’t let her drink, the fact that he stalks her, threatens her, tells her she can’t run because he will find her, convinces her that his mood swings are her fault etc. etc. etc. All are classic traits of abusive relationships. Like I said I could go on, and maybe I will at a future point, but if you’re interested in these arguments that it portrays an abusive relationship just follow the links in this paragraph. I’m not here today to talk about the bad things though.

No means no!!!

No means no!!!

But we have a tendency to only focus on the negative and, like I said, I don’t think I have anything game-changing to add to that side of the debate. I have a tendency to be cynical so in my bid to be a bit more positive in life I’m going to be controversial here and say that maybe 50 shades of Grey isn’t all bad, there are some (not insignificant) good points that should not be ignored.

  • This a HUGELY successful franchise, a massive money spinner whose popularity has launched the careers of thousands of writers in similar genres and really brought some credibility to self-publishing and ebooks in places like Ireland that haven’t really adopted it like the rest of the world. However, the most heartening thing about the whole phenomenon is that this HUGELY successful story was inspired by a successful woman writer (Stephanie Meyers), written by a woman, adapted for screen by a woman and directed by a women. In a world where industries like writing and publishing and film are traditionally dominated by men (pun intended), and in a world where this infographic rings dishearteningly true, this is a fantastic achievement for women and should be acknowledged as such.
  • This is a franchise written for women. Despite the highly problematic portrayal of relationships in it, and the justified worry that this portrayal may subconsciously influence people into normalising abuse and not recognising it when it occurs, there are still some positives to be gleaned from this relationship. One of my main problems with the porn industry is that it’s all for men. It’s all about men getting off and men enjoying themselves and women get nothing out of it. There is very little aimed at women, very little female sexual empowerment and agency or even very little female sexual representation except for the purposes of giving men orgasms and making them feel all macho and awesome. 50 shades has got women talking about sex and has normalised women’s sexual desires (not the specific desires represented in the book necessarily, but even the fact that we have desires at all seems to have come as a shock to some people). In our incredibly repressive, uptight, reserved society, I see this as a good thing. Porn where women get off too is good, and there is no denying that Anna enjoys some of the sex in the book, it’s just everything else that has her running in fear.
  • It has normalised non “vanilla” sex (to borrow a phrase from the book) and encourages people to explore sex and their own sexuality which I reckon is a good thing. Honesty and open mindedness is always positive, and it has helped dispel some of the notions that people tend to have about those who engage in non-traditional sexual practices. The BDSM is the book’s main hook, but I would caution anyone who intends to use it as a manual. Some of what’s represented in it is decidedly dangerous (don’t tie someone up with cable-ties, seriously, don’t, a trip to the emergency room is not sexy). And to be perfectly honest, none of the sex is that surprising (apart from Christian’s behaviour and refusal to uphold the contract), I’ve read about far more deviant and shocking sexual practices in ancient Roman texts than between the covers of this book so everyone needs to relax about the so-called depravity.
  • This point isn’t exactly positive, it’s more just speculation, but while I believe that we should criticise the book, and scrutinise it, as we should look at all art with a critical eye, a vast amount of the backlash has not been aimed at the book, but rather at the fanbase, mainly because they’re women. This angers me. Though the book gets people talking about sex and normalises women’s desires this is instantly dismissed (by people who usually haven’t read it and are usually men) as ‘Mommy porn.’ What a horribly condescending term! While the abusive relationship has the potential to have a negative influence on some of its fans, a lot of its fans are also sensible enough to realise this and read it as a guilty pleasure, they just enjoy the sex scenes while recognising the disturbed nature of the characters’ interactions. But this ‘Mommy porn’ criticism doesn’t look at the problems in the book, doesn’t look at the book at all. Instead it criticises and demeans women for wanting or doing or enjoying anything sexual or having any sexual agency whatsoever. We saw the same backlash at the Twilight fanbase of teenage girls and we will see it at the next predominantly female franchise despite its quality. Yet you never see this kind of backlash against male fans or male-dominated franchises like action movies or the WWE (which is arguably of equally bad quality). This policing of people’s tastes infuriates me, and while I feel that the abuse in the books needs to be highlighted I will not judge you for reading them or shame you for liking them (though in some cases I will point out why I don’t like them).
  • The sheer volume of the book’s detractors has gotten some people looking at relationships in a new light and has generally made people more aware of abuse, people who might not necessarily have become aware, had they not been exposed to this criticism and dialogue before or even been aware of this dynamic in fiction and in life.
  • And lastly, while I found the book pretty tedious to get through, there are hours of entertainment to be had from ingenious parodies of the series. From 50 shades of tae to 50 sheds of hay, to if the books were written by men, to Ellen Degeneres’  staring in 50 shades of grey, the lego trailer, the musical version, the Steve Buscemi version, the #IrishShadesOfGrey, Ellen Degeneres again – this time making the audiobook, this list of the exact shades of grey (all 50 of them), priceless google image searches, the list goes on. There is something for everyone, those who love it, those who hate it and those who are just looking for a laugh.

50 shades of Grayskull

 

For the record I have not seen the film and have no intention of seeing it. I have read the first book in the trilogy, but slogging through that was a challenge so I didn’t bother with the other two. I’m just waiting for Valentine’s day 2016 so I can go see the Deadpool movie.

Personal Writing: Granddad George

So I’ve been doing workshops with some sixth year students about how to answer the composition questions on their upcoming Leaving Cert Exams. The composition question is compulsory and it’s worth 25% of their total mark. Along with old favourites like the short story, one of the most popular options is the personal essay. I’ll probably do a blog post about how to write a personal essay at some point. But first of all I just wanted to post some samples of my writing that I used as examples in class. These aren’t part of larger pieces yet, I might turn them into something eventually, but I thought it would be nice to start the New year by sharing some of my stuff. Looking back over old posts, I don’t think I’ve ever put some of my own writing on this blog, so here we go!

I made the students bring photographs to class to use as inspiration. One of the exercises was to describe a person, pick one incident that shows their personality and describe them in an interesting way using this incident. Below is the photograph I used. It’s from the day after I was born, when Granny and Granddad George visited me at the hospital.

Photograph of my Granny and Granddad visiting me on the day I was born

If you look closely you can see that he made it all the way through the maternity hospital, past doctors and nurses and incubators, with a lit cigarette in his hand

Granddad George

He marched through the halls of the Coombe hospital. Armies couldn’t have stopped him. The Hulk would have barely dented his stride. Not even Granny could talk to him. He walked with his belly thrust forward daring the world to reprimand him.

One brave nurse politely stood in his way and asked ‘Sir, would you mind, this is a maternity hospital. I’m very sorry, but you’re going to have to put out the cigarette…’ She withered under his cheeky grin. The grin that said he knew he was being bold and he loved it. He was coming to visit me, the sixth grandchild, but the first granddaughter. And, most importantly, the first to share his surname.

Every Christmas this story is retold, how he held me in one massive hand, lit cigarette still dangling from the other, how I met my Granddad George. Of course I don’t remember, but I was present for many of the sequels, for the following years of divilment and cigarettes.

New Office Reveal (Ooo, Ahhh)

Finally, I’ve spent long years writing at the kitchen table or at a desk crammed into the corner of my bedroom or in cafés or libraries. This means that I always have to pack up after every writing session and spend good long whiles looking for notes and trying to find things and put up with other noises and interruptions and everything. It’s not very conducive. Now, finally, I have a place that’s just mine, that I don’t need to keep tidy, where I keep everything to do with writing and I can just walk in, write and leave. Psychologically it’s so nice to just keep the kitchen for cooking and not worrying about oil splattering all over my notes, to leave the sitting room for TV and gaming and keep it as purely a relaxing place. It also means when I’m in my office I write, rather than messing around with other stuff. It’s great! Let the creation of masterpieces commence!

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The hub of the whole operation: desk, chair with decent back support, speakers for music, a bin for the disposal of rejected ideas and my fluffy blue thinking cap

Blackboard wall with Samuel Beckett Quote

The thing I was most excited about is my blackboard wall. Great for planning and brainstorming. Since I can’t reach the top, even on a chair, I put one of my favourite quotes on it rather than waste space (I had to use a ladder to write it). Handy DIY tip from someone who’s been there: don’t test your new blackboard wall by drawing lewd pictures, it might turn out that the paint you got is subpar and might be stuck there for all to see until you cover it with at least 4 more coats

My bookshelvesI greatly underestimated how many bookshelves I would need. The shelves in the rest of the house are overflowing with books and it didn’t take me long to fill these.

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Extra desk, which is useful for organising and separating writing stuff from work stuff, along with my stationary drawers, my exercise ball that I pretend to use, and the all important lava lamp and alcohol related motivational poster.

Before we began this was just a tiny junk room, that contained no less than 1 bed, 4 wardrobes, 2 coffee tables, 2 dressers, horrible mouldy yellow wallpaper and curtains and 1 concrete floor. Fixing it up was a big job, but totally worth it. Let the creation of heartbreaking works of staggering genius commence!

2015 “Resolutions”

I don’t like resolutions. Once something becomes an obligation I tend to lose interest and use every excuse I can to get out of it. I don’t think they’re inherently bad, I’m just bad at them. The only thing I managed to maintain for 2014 was not ironing (for a whole year, that kind of commitment deserves a glass of wine). However, the fact that I am now what is technically know as an ‘adult’ (and have been one for quite some time) has finally hit me. So I’ve decided to set some goals. If I achieve them or get closer to them in 2015 that’s awesome, but I’m not going to beat myself up if not.

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To be clear, this isn’t a bucket list. I don’t like bucket lists because it turns life into a to do list as we count down the seconds until we die. It lends a whole aura of desperation and efficiency that seems to get in the way of actually living (at least in my experience), and then there’s huge pressure on these items to live up to your expectations and the meaning you’ve imbued them with as they are THE things to do before you die. This also isn’t one of those mid-life crisis things where I plan to have an emotional break down at thirty. But I am now 25 and I have never had stable income for more than a few months at a time. I’ve jumped from job to job, constantly having to retrain and learn new skills (while still always being on the bottom rung), meaning my writing time has been severely constrained. Below are my plans to rectify that

New Year's Resolutions Whiteboard

  1. Do something that relates to writing every single day. Even if it’s just updating this blog or submitting stories rather than actually writing new stuff, at least my head’s still in the game and it’s habit-forming.
  2. revamp my query letter and query process and go into this year all guns blazing trying to get an agent and get some more of my short stories published.
  3. FINISH The Waiting Place. Finish all edits that remain, structural edits, line edits and everything. By the time 2016 hits I will be finished with it (I realise this one is more like a resolution but writing deadlines will help me put this one to bed)2012-01-02-resolution
  4. Plan and research DreamCatcher and, if possible, write the sequel for Nano in November.
  5. Begin my teaching qualification and keep working in the school. From here on in, teaching will be my day job.
  6. work smarter (i.e. stop procrastinating and dicking about on the internet or cleaning things that don’t need to be cleaned)
  7. Really focus on the writing as my main goal in life
  8. Other miscellaneous things like stop worrying about money, travel etc.

 

Resolutions Cartoon

Anyway, we’ll see if this method helps, so far I’ve done writing stuff about every second day but I’ve managed to see some of the flaws in the way I’ve been approaching this so far. Hopefully I can approach 2015 with more clarity and focus, but if not? Well, it’s not the end of the world. All I can do is my best.

2014 Wrap-up: Better Late than Never!

So 2014 was eventful, and 2015 promises to be even more so…

Writing Stuff

Two of my short stories were published this year.

January – ‘The Ballad of Mr. Bones’ is a story that I loved writing. It’s about a post-apocalyptic obsession with shoes (and other obsessions) and was published in a special issue of Not One of Us called ‘Coping.’ Copies of ‘Coping’ can be ordered here for the low price of $3.50

April – ‘Symposium’ was published in the Irish edition of Literary Orphans, an absolutely fantastic journal run by Mike Joyce. It’s about love and life and a local pub. It’s the first story I wrote when I decided to take this writing lark seriously and in 2012 it was longlisted for the RTÉ/Penguin short story award so I’m glad it’s finally found a home. It can be read for FREE here.

Other writing related adventures include re-editing the submission chapters of my novel and renaming it to Human Child. I did a lot of planning and preparation and began edits on my second novel, The Waiting Place. Edits will start in earnest now.

I wrote two new short stories and will begin submitting them this year. I also completed NaNoWriMo!!! Woo, Huzzah! This is my third attempt at Nano and the first time i’ve succeded without breaking the rules. I started on November first with only a vague idea and by the end I had 50,000 words of a new novel that I reckon is a pretty solid opening to a trilogy of fantasy books. Edits and teasers etc will follow but I’ve tentatively titled it Dream Catcher.

China Stuff

I also spent seven months living, working and travelling around China. You can read about my exploits here, the blog is still being updated because there’s too much to tell. Ultimately it was an amazing experience, I’m delighted I took the plunge and did it but 7 months was enough. It has ignited a travelling bug in me though so we’ll see where the next few years take me.

Work Stuff

So I’ve been teaching for a few years now, giving grinds, teaching EFL and working in secondary schools and I’ve decided that I’m going to give it a proper go. I enjoy teaching and it’s a great way to finance and allow time for my writing. When I returned from China I got a job as a substitute teacher in a secondary school and I got accepted onto a PME course with Hibernia college. This is an online course so I can continue to work and write, but expect a few blog posts here where I talk about any ideas I’ve used in class to teach creative writing

House Stuff

We had a problem with rising damp in the house, started picking away at that and before we knew it we were sleeping on the sitting room floor because we were renovating three different rooms in the house and doing all the labour ourselves. The end result is that most of the house looks awesome (only two rooms left to go!) and I now have my very own office! For the first time ever I have a little writers’ hole that I can lock myself away in. There’s still a few finishing touches and I’ll post pictures and things as soon as it’s all gussied up.

Family Stuff

Some of my family and friends have returned to Ireland so that in itself is awesome. I continue to be very fortunate to be friends with such awesome people and writers and even more fortunate to be related to such crazy and caring people. Also my nephew is finally walking and kind of talking so that’s awesome, rather than a quiet little baby he’s an actual human now with built-in interactivity. And of course I am incredibly lucky to have such a supportive boyfriend who didn’t raise one word of complaint when I left to go travelling alone for 7 months and always makes me smile.

2014 was awesome, it set the standard pretty high. So onwards and upwards for 2015!!

Short Story Sunday: ‘The Last Question’ by Issac Asimov

So after many years sitting on my ‘to read’ list I finally picked up some Issac Asimov in the form of his short story ‘The Last Question.’

Warning: here be spoilers

Insufficient Data for a Meaningful answer

So this was my first direct exposure to Issac Asimov. I watched some films like i robot and I’ve read loads of stuff that reference him and that was inspired by him but this was the firs thing I’ve read that was penned by the man himself and it was AWESOME!

The story is structured as a series of scenes, spaced thousands and thousands of years apart and always dealing with different characters. In each scene the characters decide to ask a computer the ultimate question: “How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased.” They are concerned that, despite the fact all of their society runs on solar power, the sun will eventually expire and humanity will face crisis. The computer returns with the wonderfully dismissive response “Insuficient data for a meaningful answer.”

The following scenes are set millennia apart and we get to see humanity evolve and spread amongst the stars and technology surpassing the minds that made it. The breadth of his imagination is incredible. In every scene a character asks this question and receives the same answer.

Until the last scene.

Here’s a second spoiler tag for those bold people who ignored the first

SPOILERS

ready?

Humanity progresses and technology along with it so that the original computer is this massive intelligence that largely exists only in hyperspace. Over the course of trillions of years, man populates all galaxies, discovers the secret to immortality and eventually evolves beyond the need for physical forms and fuses together to form one great consciousness and finally it’s just the computer left who finally has the answer and reboots the universe with another big bang and the phrase “Let there be light.”

The computer has become God, created by man in his own image to answer his fears about death and decay. Mankind consumes, spreads out, takes over the universe, completely altering the face of it. Though the story never mentions it one can picture all the colonised peoples and destruction that’s caused in the wake of this expansion. The computer is there to babysit and bail out humanity though, to give it a second chance.

The stories is a series of conversations, and while we never get too close to any one character we get to see that all across society and time, from young children to mates bunking off work, everyone is concerned with death, whether it be their own or the eventual extinction of the race. The abundance of dialogue also makes it very easy and quick to read. The breadth of imagination and economy of language required to tell such a vast tale in 4,000 words is incredible. There are some complaints about the science in this story and the presentation of population dynamic. However, it’s difficult to linger on them as the story barrels along.

The problem with such an old, influential story is that many people either already know the answer or can guess at it because they’ve seen so many things that were inspired by that. It’s lost some of the impact that it might originally have had. It’s still worth a read, quite short, you can see Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett were hugely influenced by this story as well as many other writers.

Definitely check it out, you can read it here

Notable lines: Insufficient data for a meaningful answer

Literary Orphans

My short story ‘Symposium‘ has just been published in the wonderful journal, Literary Orphans. It’s an Irish themed issue and I’m lucky to be published alongside some incredible talents. Please go check out some of the stories if you have time.

Literary Orphans Issue 12: Swift - Ireland and the Irish

I wrote ‘Symposium’ back in 2009 or 2010 (I can’t really remember). But it’s basically the first story I wrote when I decided I was going to take this writing lark seriously. I’ve submitted it to quite a few places since, it was longlisted for the RTÉ/Penguin short story award and it finally found its place with Literary Orphans. So the moral of the story is perseverance is key.

Bonus Points: Read the story and see if you can guess which Navan pub it’s set in.