Now, don’t labour under the misapprehension that I wrote this during lockdown. No siree. All I’ve done during lockdown is watch Poldark (because… I’m really interested in 18th century mining?!), curse my sinuses and basically fall apart, in an orderly fashion.
Writing during this time has been like everything else during this time – a mixture of extremes. Either I’m feeling really creative and motivated or I can’t even muster up the enthusiasm to switch on my laptop. I wrote this story last year with the full intention of submitting it for a short story award, but being the success-driven, laser-focused, ambitious writer that I am, I didn’t get around to it 🙂 But I’m so glad I didn’t, because finding it now feels like perfect timing. A gift from past-me to present-me. When I read it again, I found myself laughing out loud and enjoying the quirky characters I created. So I thought, what’s the best way to get this out into the world? Self-publish of course!
Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve released anything and the stuff I’m currently working on is more contemporary and more comedy. That’s the thing with novels – there is sooooooooooooooo much time in between, where your readers probably think you’re dead or off spending your royalties in Mauritius. When really, you’re writing TWO new novels, submitting, waiting, writing, reading, editing, deleting and repeating until another year has gone by and you’ve nothing to show for it. So releasing a little story is a great way to remind people that you’re alive and still writing stories.
And people do love a free book! It’s a great way to discover a new author. Betwixt – my first short story – which is consistently in the Amazon Top 5, is flying off the virtual shelves at the moment. So it’s a win-win, I get to share a bite-size piece of creativity and readers get a free story.
So please share, read, download, whatever it is you crazy kids do and help me to get this story out there. At a very short and sweet 15 pages, girl in the middle is fun, free and uplifting – and we could all do with a bit of that right now.
I’m a worrier, by nature. I tend to say ‘What if’ a lot. But I also tend to over-compensate for this by cracking jokes and making people laugh. So, welcome to my blog where I swing wildly from one emotion to the other and attempt to make some sort of sense out of the last few weeks, peoples’ reactions to it and how I’m coping/not coping.
Firstly, I never thought it was possible, but social media has managed to turn quarantining into a competition! Some people seem to be really thriving at this complete and utter ARMAGEDDON that has literally come out of nowhere and they are sharing this wonderfulness, to cheer everyone else up. People are baking, hiking, taking up new hobbies, fucking sky-diving (well, maybe not that last bit, but I wouldn’t be surprised). So now I feel like I’m failing at quarantining. I’ve not had any instagrammable moments, or read all my books on the shelf. I haven’t made buns or joined an online yoga class. My paints and brushes lie idle and the only gardening I’ve managed to do is to stand under the laurel tree listening to the blackbird (which I should have recorded for Insta – dammit!!) In our weird online world, everything has to be the best experience EVER, even this shitbox of a time can’t be wasted. You have to be doing something with it. Being positive about it.
I reacted like many people do; privately freaking out while at the same time, sharing what I hoped were soothing artworks and poems. Then I finally accepted that, actually, no – I wasn’t over-reacting and the world is in total turmoil (zoinks!) What’s the picture for that? The Scream?! No-one wants to see that. So I took to the bed, as we say in Ireland, and had a good cry for myself whilst listening to some sad AF music. Honestly, that was the most positive thing I’ve done so far and would highly recommend it.
If I had a dog I’d be putting up cute dog pics, but as it is, I live alone and have to make my own entertainment (steady). So really, I should be perfectly placed to deal with this. I know how to work from home, how to be unsociable and shop online. But it’s the unknown I can’t deal with. How can you prepare for something when the rules keep changing every day? Nobody really knows what to do and I guess that’s why one minute we’re being over-enthusiastic about how well we can handle it and the next, completely overwhelmed.
As for me, I did the only thing that made sense to me – I made masks! Yep, I did wonder if I was being a bit OTT, but guess what, everyone’s at it! All around the world. Even the governor of New York sent out a call for people to start making them for hospitals. There are lots of tutorials online, so even if you are a rubbish seamstress like me, you can probably cobble one together. They do not guarantee 100% protection from the virus, but they’re better than nothing I guess and I wanted to give my parents (who are in their seventies) something as a precaution if they have to go somewhere.
All the official advice here is that you don’t need a mask, and I can see why. There are no masks available to buy anyway and whatever protective gear they do have in stock needs to be kept for medical staff. But there’s no harm in making your own. You don’t even need a sewing machine. Obviously, the best option is to just stay at home and stay safe, but I wonder if more people wore these, would it make a difference? I don’t know, I’m not a virologist, but they’re washable and reusable and making them gave me something proactive to do and took away that yucky feeling of helplessness.
So if you want to give it a go, check out #millionmaskchallenge on Twitter, try this tutorial on Instructables or have a read of this article on Forbes. At the very least, they will stop you touching your face! And I made mine using material with miniature dachshunds on the front, so, I mean, what’s not to love about that?! Anyway, that’s what I’m doing. Apart from worrying, binge-watching The Crown, eating stuff and wondering if what I think is a toothache is actually the beginnings of a stroke! That’s how I roll folks.
I really hope you are all minding each other and doing whatever you need to to feel okay (or just be okay with not feeling okay). I hope we treat ourselves and our planet with a little more care when we get to the other side of this. Life isn’t a race to the finish line – a game of Monopoly where you simply produce and consume. It’s an experience and we can all help to make it a good one for the majority of people, rather than just the few. People can be so kind and community-minded – it’s amazing how it takes something like this to see it. I hope we will view things differently, through a lens of common good rather than self-interest. Also, where would we be without our arts & culture?! Through this time I relied heavily on actors, artists, musicians and of course, writers. We need their work to comfort us, to help us escape, to offer hope.
Speaking of, look at what this artist Mathieu Persan made – a gorgeous poster with a simple message. Free to use as you please. We’re in this together. x
Oh dear, there are veritable cobwebs on my blog. I may have forgotten how to drive this thing, but let’s give it a go.
This year has been a lot of upheaval, personally and professionally. Yet, thankfully, in these final few weeks of 2019 I can look back and see that I’ve done the best thing for me, stayed true to myself and got through what I needed to get through. I imagine that for most of you, your year has been a similar journey of ups and downs and I sincerely hope that you’ve all come to trust yourselves more as a result.
January saw me get an email in response to a submission I’d sent out. They wanted to see more. So, in March I got the phone call I never thought I would get. An editor from Penguin Random House had read my writing and wanted to work with me. I tried to keep my expectations from going off the charts, but after a half hour on the phone to London, I allowed myself to believe that things were indeed, looking up.
I spent the next few months sketching out a story idea and eventually writing some sample chapters. The feedback was positive and I was asked to prepare a chapter breakdown and synopsis to present to ‘the team’, all with a view to putting a contract in place. A CONTRACT!!! The summer came and went and I waited to hear back. During this time, I gave myself permission to start dreaming about how this would all play out. I thought, ‘come on Evie, stop being so cautious all the time, it’s actually happening!’ Then in September I got the email I never could have anticipated. The editor was switching jobs and taking up a position with a different publisher. My story had, as a result, fallen between the cracks.
I was devastated. I had never been so close to signing with a major publisher. And I was angry at how precarious this industry can be for authors. Angry that the biggest break of my writing career was just, over and for everyone else, it was just another day in publishing. It was tough to take.
It was nobody’s fault and in time I even began to see the silver lining – if my writing had impressed the editors at Penguin, I must be doing something right! And if I’m honest, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what it means to be a writer through this experience. I learned the difference between working with a multi-national publisher and an independent publisher. There are compromises you have to make, no matter which path you choose; creative freedom, royalties, etc. I also learned how some decisions are taken away from you entirely and all you can do is make peace with it and move on. I was reminded of what really mattered to me; telling a story I’m passionate about.
On a more personal level, I got a new kitchen!! Finally. This has been on my wish-list for ages, but I was dreading the inevitable chaos. Anyone out there who has revamped their kitchen will feel my pain and sense of achievement on this one 😀 It seemed to go on forever, and I had to become the project manager of at least four different tradesmen, as well as qualifying in amateur kitchen design. What did I learn? NOTHING GOES TO PLAN, but most things will get sorted, more or less! Also, there’s something you don’t expect when doing work on your house – it’s like doing work on yourself. The cluttered old kitchen I had was, unbeknownst to me, making me really unhappy. But now, with my new streamlined kitchen, I just feel good about myself; like, investing in my home was investing in me.
Before – ahhhhhhh!
After – ooOOooh!
Physically, it’s been hard to write (which is another reason the blog has taken a back seat). I have an old injury that’s been causing me pain, but this year, I found someone who is really helping to literally straighten me out! I won’t go into the gory details, but it’s been a challenge, mentally and physically. I know I’m not alone in this too – everyone is dealing with something and I really wish that you find the path to good health. I know so many writers and bloggers who keep on writing despite chronic conditions that may or may not be visible. Well, let me say that I see you and I am inspired by you!
A high point of my year was featuring in The Gloss Magazine . So many of my favourite authors have taken part in the ‘Writer’s Block’ series, so I was delighted to be asked. It was the most in-depth interview I’ve ever done and it was an amazing opportunity to delve into my past and the inspiration behind my writing career. I was a bit apprehensive about putting myself in the spotlight, but someone told me that they felt they got to know me better after reading it, so I’m glad I was able to show a more personal side. The cherry on top was Sophie Grenham’s introduction to the piece, which I’m still smiling about! I feel really fortunate, as an indie writer, to be featured in the mainstream media in Ireland. It just goes to show that, at the end of the day, the story is all that matters.
Through all the ups and downs, my family have been an amazing support, as always. It’s funny, when I look at those author bio’s that say ‘Jenny lives in Wicklow with her husband and two kids and twelve labradors’, I worry that mine looks a bit empty. Evie lives with herself and has grown ridiculously fond of her own space! But it’s true. I like my life and being single just makes me appreciate the relationships I do have even more. And if that isn’t success, I don’t know what is. Or as Maya Angelou put it,
So, that’s my year, or some of it anyway. I don’t think you really need to hear about the time I got my hair chopped and dyed some AWFUL colour so now I’m wearing lots of hats!! Oh, and I wish I could tell you the exciting news my publisher just gave me about The Story Collector, which is nothing short of an early Christmas present, but alas, I’ve been sworn to secrecy (again). Either way, I feel like I should end this with a song. Music always gets me through – no matter the sitch, there’s a song for it. So I’ve been listening to this one a lot, which is all about having strong foundations and belief that you can get through all of life’s storms.
PS. Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway (my favourite indie book store!) has The Story Collector on special offer at the moment and FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY!! Get it here
Well, I didn’t win the Costa Book Award, which is the first of today’s problems, but at least one of my favourite novels of last year – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – did, so that’s some consolation.
Now before I delve into the dark and murky waters of #WriterProblems, I have to preface it with a caveat, of sorts. A prologue, if you will. A prolo-blem. And it is this: nobody gives a shit if you have writer problems. You’re the one who kept banging on about writing a book and now you’re published, you should be full of the joys of spring and stop moaning to everyone about how hard it is. Right? *whispers* So when we talk about writer problems amongst ourselves, we need to do it in the softest voice that only bees can hear, lest we come across as ungreatful whingers.
There is nothing like finding yourself waist-deep in the tundra of a first draft to start questioning all the rose-tinted crap you once spouted about the charmed life of being a writer. That’s the stuff you say after the book is written and published and safely out of your hands. But writing is like a game of snakes and ladders – when it’s time to start writing your new book you are unceremoniously shoved down a snake and sent back to square one, having learned (apparently) nothing. In fact it’s even worse the second time around because you know you did this before, but you have no recollection of how you did it. Was it this hard? Was I this ill-prepared? It’s like like people telling you that you climbed Everest as a toddler, yet now, as a grown-up, you’re suddenly terrified of heights.
So what are the main problems we writers face on a daily basis? What are the shared agonies that can make us feel, if nothing else, less alone? Well, strap yourself in, literally, for number 1.
Problem Number One:
How to stay in the chair –
This might sound basic, but Jesus Herbert Christ, it is probably the most challenging part of writing a book. Your house suddenly becomes a wonderland of endless activities – everything from doing housework to making tea to ‘getting some air in the garden’ are all colluding against you finishing your novel. With the help of some fellow authors on Twitter, I’m currently working on a prototype for a writer’s chair™ featuring a seatbelt, tea-making facilities and a timelock. Kind of like an electric chair, only with cushions and a shelf for your biscuits.
Problem Number Two:
Nobody takes your job seriously
If you manage to avoid the distractions of giving your oven a deep clean or attacking the grout with a toothbrush, people drop by because you’re ‘not doing anything’. It’s hard to convince people that staring into space wearing your pyjamas is work, but IT IS! ‘Sure you can do that later,’ is the battle-cry of well-meaning muggles who have NO CLUE that ‘later’ you’ll be putting together a soundtrack for the film adaptation of your book, so no, that’s not convenient either. When you have a book out, people actually start to take you seriously – they see your book on the shelves and think ‘Wow, you really are a writer.’ But no sooner have the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price’ stickers faded than you resume your lowly position as a work-shy chancer, dealing in ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ rather than real work.
Problem Number Three:
Other writers –
Yay! Look at us and our brilliant award for being brilliant!! Damn them and their daily wordcount updates, their new contracts, their constant doing stuff! It puts you forever on the back foot, feeling you’re not doing enough. You think, great, I’ve written a page that wasn’t totally awful today and then you see somebody is doing a writing retreat to kickstart the 10 book deal they’ve just signed and all before breakfast All of a sudden, your accomplishment pales in comparison – but it’s a trap. Don’t let other peoples’ success diminish yours. We’re all moving forward, we’re just at different points along the way and as Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Bloody joy thieves!!
Problem Number Four:
This is a two-part problem – not knowing if what you’re writing is any good, but also having to persevere with your ‘not any good’ writing because that’s what a first draft is. I almost have to write with my eyes closed! And the perspective keeps changing, like those mirrors at the fun-fair – one minute you think what you’ve written looks great – then it looks like one of Frankenstein’s nightmares. What seemed pithy and clever yesterday is tired a cliched today. But you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day (badum-tish!) and you just have to fake it until you make it. (I’ll stop now.)
Problem Number Five:
Having/Not having a contract.
This is where those 10-book-deal-joy-thieves are smiling on the other side of their faces!! While the security of having a book deal is nice, being creative on purpose is a lot of pressure. In one sense I feel lucky because I’ve never really had to write to a deadline. Ideas have come organically and I’ve had the space to let them germinate into something approaching a plot. But the flip side of that is the sense of futility that creeps in. ‘Is anyone ever going to read this? Will it ever get published?’ It takes a lot of grit and determination to keep going when you don’t know the answers to those questions. And I think most authors, regardless of what stage they are at in their careers are very aware of the shifting sands in publishing, so nothing is certain. The best solution is to write for yourself and worry about the rest later.
Problem Number Six:
Refusing to give up
Well-meaning Muggles: So if it’s that tough, maybe you should pack it in?
Me: I’m sorry, what now? What gave you the impression that I don’t want to do this? I’ll be a writer if I wanna be, dammit!!
So you see, despite all of the problems with writing, it’s still the one thing you get a kick out of doing, even if it insists on kicking you back. We all have romantic notions of what it is to own a bookshop or be a musician or a circus performer. But all of these exotic-sounding jobs have very mundane daily rituals. The gloss is just the tip of the iceberg that everyone sees and many envy, but the hulk that lies in solitary darkness is the part you have to make friends with if you want to get to the end of the story. And I will get to the end of this story, just as soon as I finish this cup of tea….
Sound the 30 days to launch klaxon!! It’s just T minus 720 hours until my new book, The Story Collector, hits bookshelves and I’ve decided to draw up a helpful list of all the things I should be doing during this final phase of publishery and book launcherism.
Panic. I’m particularly good at this and have devoted many years of worship at the altar of worry. Some people say that stress is a negative use of energy… I say they’re not doing it right!
2. Have my immune system turn against me.
Immune system: Hey, remember that time of the big freeze when you’re pipes burst and the house flooded and you got a chest infection and just for fun, I thought I’d spice things up with some weird eczema rash on your legs?? Let’s do that again!
Immune system: You know, it’s been ages since we’ve been to the dentist for a filling…. it’d be a shame if you had to get a really deep filling and upset all your nerve endings right before your launch…
3. Start comparing myself (unfavourably) to other authors
It doesn’t even need to be launch time to do this – authors can do this any old time they fancy but it’s particularly effective when you’re looking for proof that everyone else on the planet is doing a better job at this than you.
Me watching someone have a better launch than me.
4. Plan my spontaneous wardrobe
Why do we spend two months planning an ‘I just threw this on’ look? Why is it so damn hard to look natural? And why oh why is it that when authors buy an outfit for their author photo, they look like someone trying to look like an author?? What do authors even wear? If I’m being authentic, I should just wear pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt. READY!
5. See how many times you can remind people of your launch date before they take out a barring order.
Work in progress.
Did I say cry? I meant smile, dementedly.
7. Reality check
Remember that anyone without a book deal would bite your arm off right now – in fact, you yourself would have gnawed off an appendage less than two years ago to be where you are now. So try to be mindful, greatful and remember that it’s a book, not a rocket launch. You don’t need to be a scientist or anything other than yourself. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
But seriously folks, it’s not all fun and games, I have actually done something productive! I am planning a VIRTUAL BOOK LAUNCH and you’re all invited 🙂 Love book launches but hate having to leave the house? Want to chat with booky people AND stay in your pyjamas? I’ve got you covered!
All you need to come to my party is a Twitter account! Just follow the hashtag #TheStoryCollector or my handle @evgaughan and rock up at about 8pm on the 14th June for an hour of book chat and you might even win something for your trouble. As the book is all about folklore and superstition, I’m actively encouraging everyone to share their stories – perhaps an old family story that has been handed down or a superstition unique to your area. I’m really looking forward to it and hope you can join me!
When you write books, people are gonna want to ask you stuff. It is very important that you LIE when answering these questions. Lie through your teeth and don’t ever let them find out the truth. As a helpful resource, I’ve put together a mock interview, a mockterview if you will, to guide you through it.
Do you have a writing routine?
Yes. I like to see how long I can spend not writing before the guilt kicks in. Then I simply distract myself with the kind of housework I wouldn’t normally do if my life depended on it… like cleaning the oven, descaling the kettle, washing my make-up brushes or, worst of all, clearing out THE DRAWER OF NO RETURN.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Right at the back of THE DRAWER OF NO RETURN.
So can you tell us what your new book is about?
Oh. Holy. Jesus.
What’s your favourite part about writing?
The ‘not writing’ part.
What do you tend to wear when writing?
Um, Chanel No.5? And the elasticated pants I’ve been threatening to throw out for two years.
Who are your favourite authors?
Woah, hey, I’m not here to promote other peoples’ work!
How do you handle bad reviews?
Very well actually. I’m a big believer in karma. But just in case karma is busy, I simply fashion a home-made punching bag with the offender’s avatar taped on the front and take care of business myself.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
Bitter disappointment? Long periods of idleness? It’s hard to say.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, but then I’d never written anything, so I didn’t know any better. Reading books and thinking you want to be a writer is like watching the winter olympics and thinking you want to be an ice-skater… Then you realise how unbelievably slippy ice is! (It’s like, really slippy).
So I’m in the kitchen, opening a packet of Chia Seeds I bought in the health shop (because Omega 3, right?) when I notice a rather unusual claim in bold print:
‘Chia seeds, ancient food of the Aztecs.’ And I thought to myself, um…. they died. All of them. It was a wipeout. I’m not sure that looking to the Aztecs for health tips is such a wise move. I used to work in marketing, so I understand the process behind selling people things they don’t want or need, but even I’m baffled by the reasoning used to sell stuff these days. It’s clear that they think we’re idiots – mindless consumers who will swallow any old sales patter from these snake oil sellers.
Next, it’s the turn of the serial ‘common sense offender’, the beauty industry. There is a new face cream on the market that boasts as one of its ingredients, the leaf of some plant that a panther rubs up against in the rain-forest. I mean, WHAT?? It’s the rain-forest, panthers probably bump against all sorts of plants on the way to the local watering hole, should we be spreading them all on our skin? I just don’t see the correlation – is the panther doing it to stay younger? Nope, she leaves that kind of shallow thinking to us humans.
Then it’s fashion. Oh fashion, you give me an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Statement Tees are the big thing now. You don’t even have to speak anymore, or have opinions of your own when your friendly fashion label is having them for you. Although, would you really want your top to say this?
What the…. what does that even mean?! How can you follow your karma, when karma traditionally follows you? Well, kudos for challenging the principles of cause and effect, I guess.
What this says to me is that the PR people have finally given up on the need to make any kind of sense at all. I’m sure you’ve all seen the 250 million year old Himalayan rock salt with an expiry date doing the rounds. They’re literally lying to our face, and yet we still part with our hard earned money because, well, it’s Himalayan rock salt. It MUST be good!
Yet, it’s the way in which they target women which is really insidious. They seem to feed on our insecurities, or create insecurities where there were none. I mean, how can you sell anti-aging cream without making people feel old? Or sell diet pills? A few years ago I actually wrote to the broadcasting authority about an ad for diet pills targeting young women. They were shopping for clothes together and for whatever reason, one of them kept trying on clothes that were too small for her and as a direct consequence, she couldn’t go out with her friends. But then she took the diet pills, miraculously found a dress that fit and they all had lunch together (presumably more diet pills). The message was clear – be thin or be a social pariah.
Eventually the ad was pulled, but it won’t stop companies coming up with new ways to manipulate our inner fears sell more stuff. Stuff that doesn’t even do what it promises to, but we keep buying it. Lotions and potions to hide wrinkles, mask grey hairs or eradicate hair altogether! So what are they telling us? Don’t get old, fat, grey, hairy. Just stop BEING. If that’s what they wanted, they should have just given us the chia seeds.
There’s something about the start of a new year that always induces a collective existential crisis. We’ve all been allowed to indulge ourselves for about a nanosecond, and now it’s time to overhaul our creaking ship of a life and become better people. TODAY! At this very moment, people are being mowed down by MAMIL’s (middle-aged men in lycra) and virgin cyclists, trying to atone for their yuletide gluttony. What is it with our obsession over deadlines and dates, meaning that new beginnings always have to begin, well…. at the beginning of something? Want to change your life? Well, best time to start is the beginning of the year, right? When it’s cold and miserable and dark and depressing A.F. Has to be Monday, beginning of the week and usually first thing in the morning, to start the day out right. To me, this seems like a recipe for failure. What if you miss the beginning? Does that mean you have to wait until the following week or the following year to get started again? And why is investing in yourself made to feel like a competition, or worse, a punishment?
As you may or may not know readers, I am at best headstrong and at worst, recalcitrant when it comes to these matters. I can’t bear to be told what to do or when to do it. Conforming is just not in my nature (and believe me, I’ve tried). So when the rest of the world wakes up on January 1st with a list of things they are going to give up, I start writing a list of things I’m going to take up, or simply do more of. I try to think of all the things that made me happy the year before and vow to do more of them. But that doesn’t mean I have to complete the challenge during the first week of January. Why rush when you’ve got all year?!
The wonderful thing is, every day can be the first of January. You can choose to begin at any point in your life and the most important thing to remember is that it’s never too late. Back in 2004, I began reading a book called The Artist’s Way, a kind of workbook on the subject of creativity. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, as it teaches you that every journey begins with one small but very significant step: giving yourself permission. This quote always makes me smile:
“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?” Yes … the same age you will be if you don’t. So let’s start.”
― Julia Cameron
Let’s face it, when you tell people you want to be a writer or an artist, the response isn’t always encouraging. ‘There’s no money in that,’ is the usual refrain. Or ‘Aren’t you a little old for hobbies?’ Becoming an adult can really suck the fun out of life and as for dreams? They have no place in a world where everything is valued in monetary terms. But honestly, what are we here for if not to explore our talents and express ourselves? Why waste your creativity because it seems silly or ‘childish’ or worst of all, selfish? You don’t have to become a concert pianist or win the Man Booker to justify your passion. People are writing, singing, acting, painting and all manner of things right now, even if they’re not making a living out of it, and their lives would be the poorer without it. So I guess its up to you to decide where the value lies.
For some bizarre reason, when 1st January rolls around every year, people don’t bat an eyelid at you if you decide to start training for marathons or triathlons. Somehow we’ve decided that physical activity is a ‘worthy’ pursuit. But compare this to the reaction you would get if you started taking singing lessons or announced your intention to write a novel – it’s somehow seen as self-indulgent or in layman’s terms, a futile exercise. Well I’m sorry, but I think running is futile, but I wouldn’t stand in anyone’s way (for obvious reasons). I have read so many blogs and articles where writers were afraid to tell their family and friends that they were writing out of some kind of misplaced embarrassment. I’m not sure why we view the arts in this way, but my wish for anyone of a creative disposition this year is to explore it, enjoy it and see what happens!
I think Neil Gaiman says it best in his New Year’s Wish.
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget tomake some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
You can decide to follow your heart any damn day you please. I know this blog post risks sounding a little bit trite or like something you might find on a kitty poster, but my heart is in the right place. I began my creative journey in Spring 2004, taking art classes and writing the draft for my first book. Things didn’t change overnight, but I stayed on my path and this year I had my first solo exhibition and typed the words ‘The End’ on the manuscript of my third novel. I’m making some money (at last!) and it’s possible that one day, I could make a living. But these last 12 years have been about so much more than that. I got to pursue the things I love doing and for me, there’s no greater reward. (Well, maybe a favourable review in The Times). The point is, once I decided what I wanted to do, I had lots of gentle nudges along the way; coincidences that encouraged me to keep going and confirmed that I was doing the right thing. For me. So I suppose this is my way of paying it forward.
Life isn’t about big dramatic changes (I mean, it can be, but they’re rarely sustainable). It is the small steps you take every day that will, over time, take you in the direction you want to go. Every day is a chance to begin something new and the only thing that matters is how badly you want it. Happy 2017 everybody!
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
In this episode of 20 questions, I’m delighted to introduce the ‘powerhouse’ that is Lorna Sixsmith (a name that, according to my friend Google, is derived from her occupation as a shoe-smith! Is there anything this woman can’t do?!). Lorna has combined her two passions – farming and writing, to create a series of books that offer a tongue-in-cheek view of life on the farm. Take it away Lorna!
1. Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Where the hell do you find the motivation to stick at it?
Having a deadline is a great motivator and I give myself one every year by launching a book at the Ploughing Championships. It means July and August are crazy! I do write better though when there is a deadline looming.
2. Which would you prefer: monetary success or literary acclaim?
Monetary success please! I make more money per copy sold via my website or to gift shops than selling the “Nielsen” route so money over status please.
3. How do people typically respond when you say you’re a writer?
I don’t tend to say it that often to be honest, maybe it’s because I’m self-published and I’m still a bit self-conscious about it. I was at an event recently and introduced myself to a guy at lunch as ‘a farmer who writes a bit’. I got a lovely response then, as not only had he read my books but he was able to quote a couple of lines from my last one!
4. Social media – love or hate?
Love – it was a blog post that inspired my first book.
5. What would you classify as a ‘bad review’?
Someone who didn’t “get” my book but having said that, this happened to me recently with a review in a national newspaper and it kinda made me feel that I was now a “real author” as I’d got my first bad review. In hindsight, it was fine and intrigued people to buy it.
6. What’s the worst review you have ever given a book?
If I think a book is terrible, I don’t finish it and hence, don’t review it. I’m loath to give a book less than 3 stars although I have given the occasional 2 star review.
7. Your publisher asks you to write a sequel to your very successful debut, but you never planned on writing one and you’ve left those characters behind. Do you (a) Write it and be glad that ANYONE is asking you to write more books? (b) Write it, but spend the whole time in an almighty huff about the whole affair, taking your anger out on your characters by killing them all off – swerving the possibility of a trilogy? (c) Refuse to sell out and walk away with your integrity intact, but your bank balance in a shambles?
A but probably with a bit of B in that I’d kill off the annoying characters. But then I’d reward myself by writing what I want to write for the next decade.
8. What book do you wish you’d written?
I love historical fiction that’s quite dark so I think it would have to be Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Loved it.
9. If you could ask your favourite author a question, what would it be?
I’d love to ask Donal Ryan if writing such dark stories affects his mood. I can’t see how they don’t and wonder how he can leave them behind at the office.
10. Which is your favourite part of the publishing process?
Publishing is always such a busy time and I always intend to have the books printed at least two weeks before the Ploughing Championships so I can get them into bookshops in time for the press coverage. It’s getting easier though and the two Irish wholesalers, Argosy and Easons, both took the new book in straightaway this year. My favourite part has to be taking delivery of the books and sending out some to shops and wholesalers straightaway. Oh, and reviews, good ones hopefully.
11. What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told a potential publisher?
I’m my own publisher but I do tell untruths to myself such as “I promise to be more organised next year”.
12. If money were no object, where would be your ideal place to write?
I’d love to renovate a derelict house on our farm, it’s very high up and only accessible with a jeep or tractor as it’s along a rough lane. It’s a fine two-storey house so a room in it with a wood burning stove would be perfect.
13. Do you think readers still value books in the same way?
I think so. I have a fan in Co. Donegal who texted me yesterday to say she has finished my new book and wants to know when next one will be out! High praise indeed from someone who loves books.
14. What genre are your books and do you find genres restrictive?
Mine are farming with humour but yet have practical tips regarding love and marriage too. A total mixture.
15. Do you have any unpublished books, buried at the bottom of the garden and doomed never to see the light of day?
No, but I have plans for about ten books – just have to decide which one is next.
16. What was your favourite childhood book?
Oh, I can’t choose just one. I devoured Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, some classics such as Little Women. Charlotte’s Web was a particular favourite though.
17. Do you have any other hidden talents you’d like to brag about?
18. Book launches: all fur coat and no knickers or a valuable rite of passage?
I had my first book launch with my third book and was terrified there was going to be empty seats as knew people might intend to be there but would be in another area of the Ploughing Championships. It was fine but I do hate that kind of thing. I love attending other people’s book launches though.
19. What did you dream about last night?
I can’t remember last night’s dream but I recently had a terrifying nightmare which was a mixture of Gone, Divergent and the Hunger Games. I’ve been reading my daughter’s books and chatting about them with her and I think Gone pushed me over the edge.
20. What would you like your epitaph to be?
As I strolled through the park the other morning (I say morning, could have been tea-time, but who’s counting) I realised that the life of a writer is really quite similar to that of an old-age pensioner. Don’t switch off! This is a good thing!! Seeing as the public at large like to view the title of ‘author’ as something of a non-job anyway, may as well make the most of this life on the fringes (as opposed to life on the edge, which frankly, sounds a bit dangerous). So when it comes to life in the slow lane, how does being an author prepare us for a future of being old and shuffle-y?!
You’d rather be taking a nap. Like, always. I think a nap can only be truly appreciated when you know the rest of the population are stuck in an office, hard at work, so afternoon naps are a good place to start. Contrary to popular belief, old people are night owls and this is probably due to their positively ninja napping capabilities. As a writer, I have begun to find myself slipping quietly away from my desk and sneaking under the covers for quick cat naps. I take my notebook with me of course, should inspiration strike, but as I fall gently into the pillowy arms of a peaceful slumber I think to myself, ‘Ah, it’ll keep’.
2. Your postman has inexplicably become your next of kin. He is the hinge on which the rest of your day swings. I’m not normally a fan of unannounced visitors, but the fact that he never expects to move beyond the doorstep earns him a mark of respect in my book. Year in, year out, we’ve shared stuff. Him, bringing the fat brown envelopes returning my manuscripts, me ruing the rise of Grip Lit and my inability to jump on any of the passing bandwagons that could lead to literary success (I blame my dodgy knee). Oh the laughs we share. Good times.
3. You’ve become adept at ‘making your own fun’. It’s funny how hobbies are encouraged in children and the old, yet are frowned upon during those years that you’re supposed to be earning a living. It’s a shame really, because we all need time to ‘play’. For a writer, there are a lot of ‘in between’ moments, so it helps if you can nurture an interest in hobbies that won’t allow you to stray too far from the house – should the muse appear. Old people manage to make all sorts of stuff fun. Like playing bridge and gardening. Still haven’t mastered that one yet, but I am trying (mostly by taking my naps in the garden – two birds, one stone.)
4. Time. What was once a series of numbers representing points in time that required your appearance at a certain location, has now become a mere construct of your imagination. Time. Means. Nothing. (Unless it’s four o’clock and my body instinctively knows I need to ingest some form of cacao.) Old people can seamlessly settle into an hour-long conversation about weedkiller or gout at any given moment, day or night, and you have to admire their complete lack of respect for time (their own and other peoples’). Postman (does he have a name?) will often ask me “What time will you be finished writing?” How on earth can I know what time I’ll finish if I don’t even know what time I’m starting!? Silly man. He’s lucky I put up with him really.
5. You start using your GP visits for so much more than just moaning about your dodgy knee. The clinic is the perfect place to find new characters, and you can discuss various new plot-lines with other patients in the waiting room (a captive audience if ever there was one). You can then use the appointment itself to discuss the medical conditions of your characters. As you get older, doctors expect this kind of increased interaction. They’re totally cool with it.
6. When you have got all this time on your hands, you can afford to be a little mischievous. Don’t waste the opportunity of visiting your local supermarket without doing a little ‘rearranging’. Old people love messing with your head, so it’s good to start practicing this early. In the spirit of Amelie, why not move the foot creams over to the toothpaste aisle, or replace the tags on a size five shoe with a size four. Better yet, visit your local bookshop and put all of your favourite books in the bestseller section. There’s far too much emphasis put on the next big thing in publishing, rather than quality books which may have a few more miles on the clock. Look! I’m even talking like an old person. I’m not even speaking in kilometres! The transition is complete 🙂
On a personal note, I have to admit that some of my best friends are old people! We are an ageist culture and it’s a shame because the older generation can be so much craic to hang out with. They’re not obsessed with their phones, social media or telling you where they went on holidays. Aging can take things away, but it also gifts people with wisdom and a very low bullshit threshold. I recently watched the documentary Older Than Ireland which interviewed several centenarians about their lives and how it feels to be old in Ireland. The funniest response was from a woman who was 113 years, who said she was sick to death of people asking her what the secret to old age was. In then end she started telling people she became a prostitute! So you know what, maybe being old (or being an old writer) is something to look forward to and living a life beyond the norms is a privilege, at any age.