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).
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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
I 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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
Plan and research DreamCatcher and, if possible, write the sequel for Nano in November.
Begin my teaching qualification and keep working in the school. From here on in, teaching will be my day job.
work smarter (i.e. stop procrastinating and dicking about on the internet or cleaning things that don’t need to be cleaned)
Really focus on the writing as my main goal in life
Other miscellaneous things like stop worrying about money, travel etc.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
So I finally finished reading the Harry Potter series. I started reading when it first came out, gave up around book five and went back to it last month because I had a long plane journey ahead of me, they seemed like an easy read for that environment and I’ve felt like there was a lot of pressure on me to read them or either justify why I hadn’t finished them (apparently ‘they were getting boring’ is not good enough). So I know I’m late to the party on this one and the internet has already flogged this horse to death but I’m gonna jump in and help give the old nag a good send off.
First of all, to be absolutely clear: I don’t hate the Harry Potter books. Really, I promise I don’t. A lot of fandoms seem to think that “This is not for me” = “I hate the things you like, they’re stupid and you’re stupid for liking them” and this provokes anger. I don’t hate them, initially I really liked them, the attraction just wore off after awhile. This post will probably be dry and uninteresting so I’ve added a load of Harry Potter memes to help lower the tone. Needless to say, spoilers are incoming.
Why I gave up the first time round The plots were getting repetitive and formulaic – quirky stuff happens with the Dursleys, school starts, lots of catch up and plot threads teased, go to school for hundreds of pages and conveniently learn the exact spells you’ll need to defeat Voldemort when he shows up again with some overly complicated plot in the last few chapters.
By the time the fourth came out I could tell she was succumbing to one of the symptoms of publishing success – your books turn into cinder blocks. They just get longer and longer. It happened to Stephen King, Iain Banks and George R Martin as well. While the fourth book was actually quite good in terms of pacing the series overall gets really drawn out and there’s an increasing number of scenes of angsty teenagers dawdling about, doing nothing relevant. Then the fifth book was just abysmal.
Part of what annoyed me is that they’re all going through a selfish angsty teenager phase which is fine and realistic but there was no counterbalance, everything got angtsy which can wear on you after several hundred pages. Then they faff about just going from class to class to DA to class and oh my god I hated school and even I wasn’t this angsty and don’t get me started on the end [SPOILER – a certain character fell through a curtain, a bloody curtain, and then a few pages later everyone was talking about how he was dead? I had to re-read the chapter to see what I missed] So I gave up after book 5. These pacing problems get so much worse in books 6 and 7
there’s not much I can add to the reasons why the time turner was a universe breaking device. But apart from that the whole creation of the wizarding world is a bit slapdash with each book clumsily rewriting and contradicting what went before. For example, why didn’t Peter Pettigrew show up on the mauraders’ map when he was basically living in Ron’s pocket? Also, Harry saw his parents die so why can’t he see thestrals until book 5?
Now please don’t get me wrong, again, some of the details are really good and some of the ideas and spells and devices etc etc etc that she comes up with are really inspired but the world is quite patchy and wizard society as it’s described doesn’t seem sustainable.
The thing that bothered me most is that this is a world where wizards co-exists with humans, except you wouldn’t know it. Surely one of the muggle born kids thought to bring a pen to school? Why do they all use quills, why does no-one have a phone, why does nobody think of using muggle weapons against Voldemort? Why oh why has nobody ever heard of technology? Presumably a lot of these kids have been using it prior to arriving at Hogwarts?
Also, a lot of the concepts had been done before, just as well or even better, magic schools, time travel, ringwraiths (sorry, I mean dementors) weren’t exactly new concepts. This isn’t inherently a bad thing but it meant that when the writing and the plot failed to keep my interest the world itself had to work triple shifts to do so and it didn’t always succeed.
Problems with Hogwarts
This is a pretty dangerous school to be in (forbidden forest, Peeves, troll in the dungeon, a never ending queue of horrific injuries for Madam Pomfrey), health and safety should shut it down and the board would be sued for all they’re worth. It also fails to provide a well rounded education, this is explained a lot better in the Cracked video below but think about it, these kids are removed from traditional education at age 11 and never again learn history, maths, sex ed, anything. Also, the house system is really messed up. Does anyone else think that telling an 11 year old that you’re basically evil and now go live in the basement and talk to snakes might be a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Business Genius In fairness to Rowling, she’s a business genius. But that is one of my problems with the books. It seemed like often she was doing things to sell books rather than to make them better. Telling people that characters are going to be killed off became a bit of a gimmick, I know dozens of people who bought every book at launch just to read the last chapter and see who would die this time. Also, fair play and all for making Dumbledore gay, we need more positive portrayals of gay people in fiction, but she didn’t do that. She didn’t portray him as gay. She mentioned it afterwards in a press conference and not once in the books is he ever openly gay, in fact he’s basically asexual. I know lots of people started to read a lot into his friendship with Grindelwald but that’s just it, they were reading into it, it wasn’t necessarily there. If people didn’t cop it when reading the books before the announcement then you didn’t write it well enough, simple as, I’m all for subtlety but this is not that. If you’re going to make a character gay at least have the courage to show it, don’t shy away from it. At this point she was untouchable, I think having it confirmed in the text would have sent a much stronger message.
“How can you call yourself a writer/fantasy fan/human if you haven’t finished Harry Potter?” On a lesser scale is the ‘But you like Lord of the Rings/Star Wars/Insert Media Franchise here, how can you not like Harry Potter?’ This got really wearing after awhile, as if people were questioning my judgement and my very ability to write purely on an issue of personal preference. And if you haven’t figured it out by now I’m stubborn and occasionally pig ignorant so I dug in my heels and decided if that’s how everyone felt about it then I bloody well wouldn’t finish them. Then you have to deal with equally annoying problem of people demanding you justify that decision or that fact that your world doesn’t revolve around these books.
The message I know they’re kids books but the morality is fairly one-dimensional until the last two books where she makes the same attempt at course correction she did with her world building. having a hat tell an 11 year old their destiny is a bit messed up. The good characters are always good, the bad characters are always bad (except for Snape) and the writing kind of ends up very lazy on this part. Also the ‘chosen one’ narrative can be tedious, predictable and boring. It’s a great excuse for Harry not even trying to learn things that can help him defeat Voldemort and getting away with being a dick for much of the time. And the mother’s love thing is nothing short of deus ex machina.
But it’s getting people reading! I’m not wholly convinced about the Harry Potter as a gateway drug to books argument. Sure, a lot of people read Harry Potter who didn’t usually read. Then they stopped. Then maybe years later they picked up Twilight or the hunger games or whatever the YA media darling of the moment was. The people who read a lot growing up and happened to read Harry Potter are the people who would have read a lot anyway without reading Harry Potter.
Also, as much as I love reading and want kids to read more just because it’s popular doesn’t give it a free pass from criticism. See the Twishite series to understand why.
The romantic subplots I was never convinced by any of the romance in these books. They’re badly written and Ginny is a non-entity. She doesn’t have much of a personality, she seems to just exist as nothing more than a love interest, there’s no chemistry between her and Harry on page or screen. the only time she almost becomes a character in her own right is her function as a plot device in book 2
I liked the books up to a point, I even really enjoyed some of them. A lot of the preceding will sound really bitter but it’s not meant to be. These books just aren’t for everyone, but I did enjoy the first few growing up. I learned a lot about what I do and don’t like from reading them which in turn has helped my own writing. For nostalgia’s sake (and hypocrisy’s sake, while we’re at it) I did one Harry Potter tourist thing in London. Maybe I should be a bit easier on a series that just didn’t live up to it’s hype but it’s hard to stop reading critically if you’re a writer. Having recently finished the books I know I was right to stop when I did. They’re a good story but they have a lot of problems and lets just leave it at that.