Sunday, 29 September 2013

I was pleased this week that my piece Essential Advice: RTE Guide Penguin Publishing Day was published on and I hope it has given any writers who didn't attend the day a better insight into what the industry is looking for, how to improve your writing and tips on getting published.

On Saturday I watched a workshop on Children's Writing on WritersWebTV presented by Vanessa O'Loughlin. Interviews with authors and illustrators, writing exercises, comments from a panel and from the public via Twitter, email and Facebook, it addressed many questions and was really useful. I only managed to dip in and out all day as I had children to ferry to endless activities, but the course can be purchased for anyone who missed it live.

The plan for WritersWebTV is ambitious and I'm looking forward to courses including Getting to the Heart of it: Writing Women’s Fiction on Tuesday, October 15th, Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction on Wednesday, October 30th, and Getting Published on Saturday, November 9th. Recommended viewing, very professional and very helpful.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

New! Published Works Page

I've added new pages to my blog: details of published stories and some samples on the 'Short Stories' page.

To begin with I would like to share my short story 'Kalashnikov for Shoes' which won the Writing West Midlands Short Fiction Competition earlier this year. I was invited to Birmingham to read my story and accept my prize and it was really a proud moment.

With kind permission from Writing West Midlands I quote from Sian Buckley's blog:

'The Short Fiction Competition turned out to be a beautiful intimate event where we enjoyed wine and readings of the winners’ short stories. Each was presented with their award by the wonderful Tiffany Murray and, being the sociable bunch that they were, everyone ended up staying late to chat and swap contact details (and drink more wine!). We were amazed to discover that Hilary McGrath, the first place winner, had drawn inspiration for her story, Kalashnikov for Shoes, from her friend Sumaya, who had travelled all the way from Kurdistan especially for the reception – not only that but she and runner up Ed Briggs had both travelled from France for the occasion! It was an honour to have them there and of course our more local winners; Ken Elkes and Garrie Fletcher.'

And this is what novelist and guest judge Tiffany Murray said about Kalashnikov for Shoes: ‘This is a big, sweeping journey. It’s one that tells the story of these particular characters, but also one that tells a story of a whole nation. It’s hard to get such ‘bigness’ into a very short story without becoming sweeping, general, or mawkish. I think Kalashnikov for Shoes succeeds. Of course it starts with a great title.

'Shiro and his Aunt’s family are travelling across a border, through the mountains. Their guide is Khalid. Shiro’s cousin, Sa’eeda is lame. It’s a hard journey. They reach their destination. This is the story, but the third person works very well here, taking us step by step; letting these characters speak, focusing on simple showing, on clear unfussy detail. This is a short story that shows the reader a big canvas with detailed, light brushstrokes  – it is a snapshot, and one that certainly lingered with me.’

Read the story here.

Friday, 20 September 2013

They actually don't bite

The RTE Guide/Penguin publishing day

So, a first experience of meeting editors and publicists and people-in-the-know in the writing world--and they actually don't bite.

The room in Pearse Street Library was buzzing with the group of writers longlisted for the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland short story competition. We were looking forward to a day of talks and workshops, not to mention the networking opportunity and the chicken and stuffing sandwiches. The line-up included Jane Alger, Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Cliona Lewis, Publicity Director, Penguin Ireland, who spoke about the industry in its current state, with some warnings about how hard it is to get published and how polished the manuscript needs to be. A dollop of luck is also a requirement. We had some informative talks and Q&A sessions with  Patricia Deevy, editorial director Penguin Ireland and Faith O'Grady, Lisa Richards Literary Agency. They were both very approachable and unassuming and urged us to polish, submit and keep writing.

There were three authors present (Sinéad Moriarty, Niamh Boyce and Mary Grehan) and also an interesting talk from Stephen Boylan, Books Purchasing Manager, Eason & Son and Donal O’Donoghue, Features Editor, RTÉ Guide. After lunch we had an excellent overview by Rachel Pierce, freelance editor, peppered with the real experiences of the authors on the panel. All in all a good mix from the publicist to the book buyer to the authors and the editors, the day was well-organised and efficient. All through the day there were plenty of questions and a chance to mingle.

The authors on the panel were: Mary Grehan, Love is the Easy Bit, who seemed to be enjoying the whirlwind of the first book publicity tour. And, this being Ireland, we discovered that we had both taught English in the same school in Japan. We compared just a few of our battle scars.

Niamh Boyce (The Herbalist: I blogged about it here) gave a very honest account of her writing methods and habits and entertained us with her dry wit.

Sinéad Moriarty, Mad about You: Her love of writing was evident. An established writer, on her tenth book, and such a positive energy and attitude. I'd say she works damn hard too, but she reminded us that we need to be in it for the journey and not the destination.

That reminds me of a documentary I saw recently on John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany and The world according to Garp.) He compared writing to preparation for a wrestling match. There's a lot of training, repeating and perfecting every move, and then a short match that can be over in minutes. Irving takes about seven years to write each book. He says that you've got to love the journey, because the day the book comes out and for about four months, he's on the publicity/interview circuit, but then he's back to his desk for the next six or seven years.

So we left the event in high spirits and I got to enjoy a rare night out in Dublin.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Have you done a MOOC?

  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)

"The New York Times dubbed 2012 'The Year of the MOOC,' and it has since become one of the
hottest topics in education. Time magazine said that free MOOCs open the door to the 'Ivy League for the Masses." (Source Wikipedia)

I've only discovered MOOCs recently. While searching for information on Flaubert I found a free online course on called The Modern and the Postmodern, which includes an introduction to Kant, Rousseau, Marx, Darwin, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Nietzsche and many more. The selection of courses available on Coursera is vast, from Exploring Quantum Physics to History of Rock.

Anyone for quidditch? Opposite Auch cathedral, Gers, France

I decided to enrol on this course: 14 weeks of readings and lectures brought to my sitting room by Professor Michael S. Roth of Wesleyan University. The readings are mostly available online and the video lectures are posted every week.

From the course syllabus: 'We shall be concerned with the relations between culture and historical change, and our materials shall be drawn from a variety of areas: philosophy, the novel, and critical theory (with possible forays into music, painting, and photography). Finally, we shall try to determine what it means to be modern today, and whether it makes sense to go beyond the modern to the postmodern.'

Although I don't want or need a final certificate, it is possible to get an accreditation from this prestigious university. There are essays to complete which are peer-graded. There is also a forum and it's interesting to read comments from students of all ages and nationalities. For my purposes I'm content to do the readings and watch the lectures, or 'audit' the course, as they say at Wesleyan.

So far I'm finding it excellent, and inspirational, and would recommend both the course and the method of learning.