On finally finishing Harry Potter

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.

potter-comic-hipster-voldermort 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

Welcome to Hogwarts, there the rules are made up and the points don't matter

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.

Can't read my Potter Face

“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.

Malfoy - Dungeon

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.

You're a Hairy Wizard

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.

Jehova's Witness - Snake

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

Dumbledore - gurrl

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.


Short Story Sunday: ‘Zombie’ by Chuck Palahniuk

So I thought I’d bring short story Sunday back from the dead (hence the zombie theme). I really enjoyed analysing short fiction in a way that I don’t have the time or space to do with longer fiction here and I’m struggling with two short pieces I’m writing at the moment so this might help get me in the right mindframe – spark something off so to speak. I’m not quite sold on Palahniuk. Fight Club is one of my favourite films, I’ll watch it again and again and again and again and…. the book is as good as the movie, which is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of it. I read Invisible monsters which was good but had some really sickening moments and I read haunted which had an amazing premiss that just fell flat and ultimately got quite tedious.

Click the image to go to the story

This story wasn’t really about zombie’s like I hoped (you know the way sometimes you’re just in the mood for the undead?), but nothing’s ever straightforward with this guy. Instead it’s about a new craze amongst teens and young adults to attach a defibrillator to their temples and shock themselves into idiocy. It’s kind of a painless but irreversible lobotomy. That way they don’t have to deal with the pressures of modern life, they end up with terrible jobs and are completes morons and simpletons but they’re happy. Rather than zombies traditionally hunting for brains and searching for brains to eat these guys are running away from brains, running from the pressures of everyday life and from the tragedies in the world and having to make decisions and take on responsibility and deal with things. I’d be lying if I said that kind of escape isn’t occasionally attractive.

Plenty of Palahniuk’s recurring themes also show up here – the dual destruction of the body and society echoing each other as well as the man child and infantile adults trying to recapture their youth as a way of rejecting society.

The ending of the story is a lot more hopeful and mature than I’ve come to expect from this man and to be honest I’m not sure if I liked it. The tone is not as rebellious as some of his other work and it seems almost like a lament for that kind of pigheaded rebellion for the sake of rebellion. It was missing something but overall it’s a good story with a good ending. The major problem with the story is defibrillators don’t work that way.  They won’t shock unless they detect specific heart patterns and (according to brief internet research) basically the entire premiss is flawed. So while it’s a good story, shocking your temples with a defibrillator just can’t happen (never mind surviving as a happy moron to tell the tale)

Notable Lines: ‘They continue to be young and hot but they no longer worry about the day when they won’t be. It’s suicide but it’s not.’

World Book Day

So it was World book day yesterday. I got a bit confused because of the time difference here and almost missed it entirely which is why this post is late. (For those of you who don’t know, I live in China now)

So here is a list of books on/about China that I have downloaded to read for the year that’s in it:

The Journey to the West Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China The Travels of Marco Polo Romance of the Three Kingdoms




I’ve provided Amazon links but a lot of these books, especially the older ones, are available for free on project gutenberg and it’s completely legal.

I haven’t read any yet but I’ll try to review them as I do, I think I’ve got a decent selection of fiction, non-fiction, modern and older texts but feel free to leave recommendations in the comments. Hope everyone had a fantastic World Book Day!


So I’m almost finished The Waiting Place. I’m going to be working on a collection of short stories to get it out of my system before editing it.

I have been teaching TEFL and enjoying it since April so I’m taking the opportunity before I get too tied down here to travel. Next month I am moving to China to teach for around 6 months to a year. I’ll be blogging about the experience here. This blog will probably be pretty quiet in the meantime (no more so than usual though)

And finally, if you really need a fix to keep you busy, my short story “The Ballad of Mr. Bones” was published in the Not One of Us annual anthology. The collection is called Coping and I’m told it’s on sale in shops in the states. If not you can email them to order a copy, only $3.50, great value, great stories and they actually paid me! I’m technically a professional! (scary, no?)

RIP Seamus Heaney

0000311074-001I would like to add my condolences to the vast list of condolences pouring in for Seamus Heaney’s family and friends.

‘Midterm Break’ was the first poem I ever studied, understood and enjoyed.

North was the first collection of poetry I ever read on my own, not because a teacher had told me, and though I didn’t get the complexity at the time I was still engrossed by poetry  -something I had never believed possible before.

Seamus Heaney was one of the first poets I taught and I got to see teenagers faces light up, like mine once had, when they heard the last line of ‘Midterm Break’ or when they dug deeper and deeper through the layers of his bog poetry.

In 2012 I had the pleasure of meeting him and shaking his hand and trying to explain, in a fumbling way, just how important he was.

I heard on Friday morning. My friend texted me. I passed the news on and we all spent the day in a daze. It’s difficult to mourn someone when so much of him is still alive, sitting between pages on my bookshelves.

May he rest in peace.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam


I’ve noticed a few journals have a list of stories they’d rather not see. These lists can be entertaining but also educational when you realise that your fantastic idea for a story has been done so often that magazines have actually gone to the trouble of including them as ‘things not to do’ in their submission guidelines

Strange Horizons

Here is a selection from the Strange Horizons Website (more at the link above)

  • In the future, criminals are punished much more harshly than they are today.
  • An alien or an AI/robot/android observes and comments on the peculiar habits of humans, for allegedly comic effect.
  • White protagonist is given wise and mystical advice by Holy Simple Native Folk.
  • Brutal violence against women is depicted in loving detail, often in a story that’s ostensibly about violence against women being bad.
  • Baby or child is put in danger, in a contrived way, in order to artificially boost narrative tension.
  • Aliens and/or far-future posthumans think, talk, and behave just like upper-middle-class Americans from the 20th or early 21st century.
  • The narrator and/or male characters in the story are bewildered about women, believing them to conform to any of the standard stereotypes about women: that they’re mysterious, wacky, confusing, unpredictable, changeable, temptresses, etc.
  • Strange and mysterious things keep happening. And keep happening. And keep happening. For over half the story. Relentlessly. Without even a hint of explanation.


Here is a selection from Clarkesworld (more at the link above)

  • stories in which the words “thou” or “thine” appear
  • talking cats
  • talking swords
  • stories where the climax is dependent on the spilling of intestines
  • stories that depend on some vestigial belief in Judeo-Christian mythology in order to be frightening (i.e., Cain and Abel are vampires, the End Times are a’ comin’, Communion wine turns to Christ’s literal blood and it’s HIV positive, Satan’s gonna getcha, etc.)
  • stories about young kids playing in some field and discovering ANYTHING. (a body, an alien craft, Excalibur, ANYTHING).
  • “funny” stories that depend on, or even include, puns
  • sexy vampires, wanton werewolves, or lusty pirates
  • zombies or zombie-wannabes
  • stories that take place within an artsy-fartsy bohemia as written by an author who has clearly never experienced one

The best place to learn about clichés and waste a year of your life is on TV Tropes but there are a few things I would like to add to the list:

  • Any American adaptation of a property or idea that is innately tied to another country or culture (I’m looking at you Akira)
  • “Subversions” of genre tropes that aren’t actually subversions of anything (Rothfuss)
  • writers trying to be too fucking clever for their own good (Moffat)
  • Strong female characters that are only sidekicks (Gaiman’s new novel is a good example of both that and the girl sacrificing herself to save a guy)
  • gritty retellings. I like original stories that are gritty and I loved Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight but not everything works as a gritty retelling. Please cheer up, the more gritty stuff I read the more I appreciate absolute nonsense)
  • Magic systems that are pretending not to be magic systems.
  • Following on from that: magic systems that are very vaguely defined and can be used as a fill-all-holes plot fixer

Writing Spots: Keogh’s on Trinity Street

Keogh's Trinity Street Exterior

Keogh’s is a place I walk by frequently and am always tempted by the smell of their baking but I’ve never been inside until today.

It’s a pretty cool little spot, right in the city centre but quiet inside. Very small and cosy. This was planned to be attempt number two at the sex scene I tried and failed to write in Costa.


  • There were sockets to charge your computer
  • internet (that I didn’t use so I don’t know if it’s any good)
  • nice place, small or large tables, interesting decoration/style without being distracting, windows that open out onto the street and an area to sit outside so it doesn’t get very stuffy
  • the music is decent but not the kind of music I like to write to
  • They didn’t seem to mind me sitting there for hours after only buying one cup of coffee
  • There were others there with laptops so it seems like a writer friendly spot


  • I’ve seen it very packed at times and hear it can be jammed at rush hour
  • a bit too noisy, too many people, too much movement, too many people walking by the window, talking loudly and generally being distracting. Not quite at the sweet spot yet where there’s enough noise to be a background buzz without being distracting
  • food looked amazing but not exactly cheap
  • staff were kind of abrupt
  • I was sitting next to the window which meant that if anyone was smoking outside the smoke was blown in my direction

After 2 hours 40 minutes I wrote about 800 words, completed the scene (Huzzah) and read four articles to research another story. It cost me less than €3

Overall it was a but too loud and busy, and the smell of smoke was really distracting. Apart from that it was a lot better than Costa. I have a feeling that if I went in at a busy time I’d be rushed out as soon as I was finished my drink

Short Story Sunday: ‘The Fog’ by Freya McClements

I know it’s technically Monday but I haven’t gone to bed yet so it still feels like Sunday. That means short story Sunday ahoy! This week’s story is ‘The Fog’ by Freya McClements, whose debut collection of short stories is published by Guildhall Press. ‘The Fog’ can be read on Darker Times Fiction.  They run a monthly competition for short stories, flash fiction and poetry. The Fog won the June edition of the competition.

It is written in the second person as if the narrator is instructing the reader, inviting them into an incredibly atmospheric world. Unfortunately the atmosphere sort of takes precedence from the very beginning and other plot moments aren’t as strong as they could have been.

Perhaps it’s because of the fabulous summer weather we’ve been having recently but some of the images in the story fell quite flat and seemed too melodramatic.

we live our lives in the light. We draw sustenance from it, worship it, work in it. From its dark companion we shy away

While this image could have something to say in other circumstances I don’t know any characters, an plot or action, event the set-up remains a mystery to me so it’s kind of hard to get into mood of the story. The whole thing comes across as a little bit overwrought. This is a shame because when they plot does appear it’s very interesting. It’s about Jack the Ripper and the narrator leads you through the streets of Whitechapel looking for a murderer and in doing so prompts the reader to question their own motivations in following and indeed the motivations of anyone who is fascinated by true crime and gawks along at stories of murders, glued to television coverage of death and destruction.

The much-maligned second person perspective is handled deftly and is appropriate to the story and the atmosphere. There’s a tendency for writers to belabour the point when using second person but McClements  doesn’t beat us about the head with it, using it sparingly to engage the reader and to restablish her excellent atmosphere and letting it slide into the background when not needed. I’d recommend this story to anyone who would like to see an example of well crafted second person narrative (even if it is technically a first person addressing a second) and for fans of horror and drama.

The story takes an interesting turn at the end and McClements handles her theme, message and techniques well, I just feel that it was a bit heavy on melodrama without enough details or character building. However, I would like to read more of McClements’ work.

Notable Lines: I wonder… Forgive my forwardness, but what nightmares have you fashioned just now from out of my words?

How to make an ebook in 14 easy steps

Over the past year I’ve made a few ebooks. My class in college self-published an anthology and, because I was insane at the time, I was the Associate Editor and Webmaster. This meant I had to learn how to e-publish. I thought it would be easy. Oh how wrong I was, Afterwards this publishing experience (slightly embellished on my CV) led to me getting a few other jobs, including one in Coiscéim, an Irish language publishing house. In my time there I had to put my money where my mouth was and publish some of their back catalogue online. I think my experience may be useful to anyone who’s thinking of self-publishing online, so without further ado, How to Make an Ebook in 14 Easy Steps:

1. go along with falsely placed confidence
2. fuck up
3. panic
4. mix equal parts coffee and heineken
5. work like I’ve never worked before
6. comatose
7. get woken up by the FUCKING delivery man at half FUCKING eight in the FUCKING morning
8. calm down when I realise that not only is he delivering my copy of the Hobbit in Irish (Finally) but that I have an email from the college’s finance department containing information needed to publish the book (push for the beatification of the accountant)
9. realise once again that reading Irish is difficult anyways but may as well be Greek when I’m sleepy like this
10. Back to work.
11. Account info, upload, test test test
12. Hit publish button – wait……………………..……………………………..
13. fall asleep watching cartoons, clutching the Hobbit to my chest, and hope the ordeal is over
14. seek treatment for PTSD and tell my boyfriend that if he wants either of us to eat tonight it’s up to him

Short Story Sunday: ‘Earworm’ by Julian Gough

"Town & Country" book cover
Faber anthology of Irish Short Stories: “Town & Country” edited by Kevin Barry

Recently I’ve gotten into short stories in a big way. Most of what I write at the moment is short stories. I’m going to try and review one most Sundays because there is some incredible, often overlooked, stuff out there in this format.

‘Earworm’ is by Julian Gough and is the second story in Town and Country, this year’s Faber anthology of New Irish Short Stories. It is edited by the wonderful Kevin Barry, though he did not contribute a story. Two of my friends had stories in it so we all went to the launch at the Dublin Writers’ Festival and had a great night. Theirs were the only stories I had read in advance of the event so on the bus home I began to duck in and out of other stories.

I’d never even heard of Julian Gough before but this story… Wow. Earworm is a word from German (ohrwurm) that describes a catchy piece of music. The story follows two young computer geeks, one based in America, the other in Germany, who meet on 4chan on Star Wars day (May the 4th) and really hit it off. The story is littered with contemporary references like this and it’s a breath of fresh air to a lot of Irish stories that would have you believe DeV’s vision of girls dancing at the crossroads still reigns supreme. While they have the potential to become annoying they never reach that stage. Rather they make the characters very authentic seeming and they fit in with a story based around the internet, and the references are deftly explained by their context so the reader is never left in the dark.

The characters in this decide to build a virus that will spread through computers to humans. They mathematically analyse popular songs and why people keep listening to songs they know are shit, why things like Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ get so many plays. It’s hard not to get caught up in their obsessive research and joy as their theories are proved correct time and again. The writing has an amazing energy to it and has a few things to say about regret, about relationships and about governments control and censorship of the internet (which I particularly like in light of all the talk about SOPA and PIPA from a few months ago). These messages are subtle and take a back seat to the plot, though it might have been nice to learn a bit more about the characters and I’m not keen on the final lines of the story.

When they release their song onto the internet all hell breaks loose as the world slows down to listen, and listen and listen, the music industry panics and governments see this as cyberterrorism.  The collection is fantastic but if you’re in Easons and can’t make your mind up about buying it have a sneaky read of this story first, it won’t disappoint.

Notable Lines: “Did I feel this good because I’d helped build this song, or because the song would make anyone feel this good? TB was lying on his bed, laughing hysterically. We need civilians, I said. We need to check…”