‘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.

An extract is available on Banshee Lit’s website.

‘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.

 

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.

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.

Clichés

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.

Clarkesworld

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

Short Story Sunday: ‘The Blind Chinese Soldiers’ by Hirabayashi Taiko

The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories

I haven’t read any long Japanese literature. It’s only ever been poems and short stories. I’ve seen a lot of their cartoons, films and played the games though. ‘Blind Chinese Soldiers’ is the most striking story I found in this little gem of a collection.

The author is a woman who was writing at a time when both Japanese women writers and working class writers were beginning to distinguish themselves. By all accounts she was incredibly intelligent, very politically active and had a very tough life – she suffered from tuberculosis, cancer and her only child died from malnutrition. Despite this her prose is very measured and avoids the over-the-top flowery sentimentality that would be easy to slip into.

‘Blind Chinese Soldiers’  is set in Japan near the end of World War Two and while much more understated than the obvious comparison that’s part of the point. The whole country was devastated by the war yet very little information was available. The story is set in a train station and as the protagonist is waiting to board his train a lot of Japanese policemen arrive and it turns out that the train is occupied by both Prince Takamatsu and almost 500 Chinese prisoners of war. These soldiers have been blinded, most likely by experimentation and they are lead off the train and treated very roughly by the Japanese escort.

Stop what you’re doing. Go watch this now. Bring tissues.

People stand and gawk but ultimately are more concerned about their own personal tragedies than the larger problems of the country. The train is a great metaphor for this as people come and go, have brief moments of connections and then forget, yet they are all connected through the train of carriages.

There is massive diversity in this collection but this story is so brief – much like the encounter it depicts – so pared back and raw, that it is one of my favourites.

Notable Lines: All of them half-closed their eyes as if it were too bright, and tears were dripping from every eye. It was certain that every one of them was blind.

Writing spots: Costa Coffee on Dawson street

So I’ve recently started doing the majority of my writing in cafés and other places that are not my home. (I also recently bought a Mac. I know, I’ve become the enemy)

Some places are better than others for a variety of reasons so I’ve decided to write about why this is just in case it helps anyone else who needs a quiet spot in the city to write. I will source my images from the internet. I know I’m about three quarters of the way towards mutating into a hipster but I refuse to start taking pictures of my food and coffee just yet.

The corner or Dawson and Nassau Street

PROS

  • good coffee, prices are okay depending on what you order. Good cakes and food too. So it has passed the first hurdle.
  • Wifi Access
  • loyalty cards if you’re into that kind of thing (personally I keep losing them and don’t have the patience for points systems. I got rid of mine once I realised I had more empty loyalty cards than money in my purse.
  • very pretty, nice surroundings, and a fireplace that I really hope they light in the winter time
  • very central, very convenient if you’re in town
  • the music is not unbearable
  • they don’t seem to mind you eating food from outside. I was blatantly eating a kit-kat with my coffee and no-one said anything

CONS

  • the WiFi is kind of crap, it’s that bitbuzz thing which periodically logs you off and is just generally annoying
  • no sockets to charge your computer (or else the sockets are very well hidden)
  • It’s a bit too central. I went in for a bit of quiet writing and immediately ran into a friend I haven’t seen in years so got distracted talking to them. The last few times I was in this Costa I ran into people I know and I’m not even from Dublin
  • I sat down and a family with small children sat next to me. Now this was distracting enough with the loud talking and fidgeting and spilling their drinks everywhere and interrupting me to ask about my computer, but it was also kind of awkward because I was in the middle of writing a sex scene – it threw me off to say the least so I decided to write this instead.

After 1 hr 30 minutes my word count is 400 words and my pocket is €2.50 lighter

Overall Costa fails, I will keep searching for the holy grail of writing spots, I know if must exist somewhere in this city and if I believe and my heart is pure I will find it