Book Launch

My class is finally launching the print version of our anthology this Thursday. everybody is invited:

On the night there will be wine (lots of that), readings (plenty – everyone is reading a 2 minute section from their piece in the collection), finger food (some of that), and Paul Murray! (there can only be one)

Everything will be going down in the Printing House in Trinity College, which is very good at hiding in plain sight so here is a map:

And if you just can’t wait until Thursday our ebook is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk for the very reasonable price tag of $4.91. My short story, “Mrs. Culann’s Dog”, is the first in this collection therefore the first half of it is free as part of amazon’s first chapter samples deal, so please give it a go.

Posted in Literary Events, TCD, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Malling-Hansen Writing Ball

I. Want. One.

Look How Pretty

I just discovered the Malling-Hansen Writing Ball and I have never wanted something as much in my life. It’s so beautiful, and steampunk and just damn cool. It might take ten times longer but imagine writing a novel on a machine like this? It’s one of many unusual typewriters out there, but by far my favourite.

Rasmus Malling-Hansen was a Danish inventor in the 19th Century. He reformed the Danish education system for teaching the deaf, he invented the writing ball (for which he won first prize gold Danish merit medal in the Scandinavian exhibition in Copenhagen in 1872), did extensive research into the growth rates of children and revised the writing ball that could type in colour and included a paper platen (in 1888 the revised device won first prize at the Art and Industry Exhibition in Copenhagen).

Nietzsche even wrote a poem about it:

“THE WRITING BALL IS A THING LIKE ME: MADE OF IRON

YET EASILY TWISTED ON JOURNEYS.

PATIENCE AND TACT ARE REQUIRED IN ABUNDANCE

AS WELL AS FINE FINGERS TO USE US.”

(Friedrich Nietzsche, on February 16th 1882)

The Writing Ball in Action

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any videos of the writing ball in action, but imagine how cool would it be as a piece of art in your home, something to look at, be inspired by and, of course, something to play with. However after long hours of tracking it across the internet I could only find one for sale. Apparently it’s incredibly rare, so the one I saw was being auctioned for $39,000.

So, I either need to find a replica, figure out how to solder, weld and just generally overcome my incompetence with construction, or learn to live with my four year old Dell laptop (which is missing the ‘K’ key and the battery). I think I’ll have to stick with the laptop for now, but when I’m rich and famous…

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

I Quit

So I took part in the GoodReads Reading Challenge last year and without thinking I signed up again this year. It is only now, five months into it, that I realise exactly why I didn’t like it:

  • I already read quite a lot. I don’t need some pseudo pressure to read more
  • Gamification works for some things, such as study, exercise, things that aren’t traditionally fun (or at least things I don’t find fun). However, when I turn something I already enjoy into a game it sucks all the fun out of it. Instead of just enjoying what I’m reading I keep thinking ‘I must update my status now’ or ‘I’d better read quicker to catch up.’
  • It’s not an accurate measurement of how much you read. I could breeze through comic books at the rate of knots (or whatever the measurement is for speed of page turning) and add a few books a week. Or I could sit down to a behemoth like Ulysses or Atlas Shrugged and it would take forever and a day but still only count as one book.
  • I tend to read a lot of unpublished stuff. I read a lot of stuff for writer friends such as novels, poems and stories. These take up a lot of time because not only am I reading them because they’re awesome but I am also trying to help improve them in any way I can so I have to read slower, pay more attention. These cannot be added to the challenge because they are unpublished therefore do not have ISBNs.
  • I read a lot of other things that don’t count. I read poetry online, but it may only be one or two poems rather than an entire collection. I read lots of essays and journals, none of which count either.
  • In the process of editing my class’s anthology I read it in its entirety about seven times and I read lots of sections more often than that. This took up a lot of time and I don’t feel like spending more time on it adding it to the challenge seven separate times.

I didn’t make the target of 100 books I set myself last year because I was reading so many essays and journals for my finals. Today I saw I was 14 books behind the challenge this year (already) and I know I’ve been reading plenty. It annoyed me. I thought of all the books I had to read to catch up and it felt like a chore. And the day reading becomes a chore is the day I’m doing something radically wrong. So I quit.

Don’t get me wrong, gamification can be great technique if you’re trying to develop a new habit but it’s been a habit for me since I was old enough to read. So I’m going to continue reading for pure pleasure (over 90% of the time) and occasionally for research (which can also be fun, because I’m that boring). And, if I get really desperate I’ll divert my gamification efforts towards exercise instead.

Posted in Books, Miscellaneous | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Public Reading at Cúirt

So it’s been awhile since I posted (I know, I know, don’t look at me like that). As cheeky as it might be to not post for ages and then do some self-promo here we are, at this intersection of business and cheekiness.

My class is launching their anthology at the Town Hall bar in Galway tomorrow evening (Sat 28th April) at 5pm. I will be reading from my short story “Mrs Culann’s Dog.” And to make up for the aforementioned cheekiness there will be free wine on the night! How about that now? Everybody is welcome to attend, we have plenty of wine and readings from a great variety of writing styles planned. Nuala Ní Chonchúir will be launching A Thoroughly Good Blue.

Next week I will start posting again about other stuff – mainly writing and reading as usual – and hopefully I’ll have a good explanation for my absence. Ta ta for now!

Posted in Literary Events, TCD, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Existential Angst (AKA the nativity reborn)

So I’m in the throes of my final edit (scary days ahead), I just thought I’d drop in and share two of my favourite stories that explore what the holiday season is all about: The birth of Santa!

I kid, I kid, but these are somewhat non-traditional stories about old St. nick, enjoy

Nicholas Was… by Neil Gaiman.

I’m very tempted to side step the whole ‘telling your kids the truth about Santa thing’ by just reading them this as a bedtime story one christmas eve. It’s a really short story/poem but for those of you who don’t like following links here is a reading of it:

And here Gift of Ages by JohnSu

feel free to link to your own favourite Christmas Stories in the comments, even ones you’ve written yourself, I need to get rid of my Curmudgeonly Scrooge-like sensibilities before Sunday

Posted in Miscellaneous, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

NaNo Reflections

So that was… Interesting, to say the least.

Turns out November is a pretty crap month for getting things done in; there’s fighting the obligatory winter cold, End of term meet ups/parties/shindigs, so much college work, the fact that my class has only just decided we want to publish an anthology of which I masochistically chose the role of associate editor, Christmas money woes and anything else that happens to crop up (such as Terry Pratchett visits, parent wedding anniversaries and the like) so I didn’t reach my goal.

Because about 70% what I was doing was editing, not writing from scratch, I had intended to get the whole thing edited and ready for one final draft, or realistically speaking 60,000 words. I got about 52,000, fraud though I am I’m still sticking the badge up on my profile.

On the plus side I think I’ve got a pretty good system for editing sorted out now and I should have Rapeseed polished to the best of my ability by mid-January, then it’s in the hands of my beta readers.

You may have noticed my new Wordcount-o-meter in the side bar? It shows my various projects that my short attention span has birthed. I have some poetry and short stories in the works, maybe working towards a collection, joint or separate I’m not sure yet. I kind of like the idea of a joint poetry and prose collection a la Neil Gaiman. I also have begun my Creative Writing portfolio for college which will count for 70% of my mark (I think), so far it’s untitled. I’ll blog about that some time in the future. I also suffered a fit of frustration in the face of editing the sprawling mass that is the second half of Rapeseed and started a new novel called The Waiting Place, I intend to continue that sometime after the holidays.

That’s about it for now, as fun as NaNo was I wouldn’t recommend it for those who are editing, NaNo is about quantity not quality whereas editing is the exact opposite. Also for those of you who agree that November sucks I’d recommend A Round of Words in 80 Days instead.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

24 hours stalking Terry Pratchett

I should probably give some background before I’m arrested.

I love Terry Pratchett, absolutely adore everything he’s ever written. When I was about 10 my uncle from Delaware recommended the dragon lance books to me. You couldn’t get them very easily here so they used to send them over to me. Then Mom got me to read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I began to work my way through my local bookshop’s tiny fantasy and sci-fi section. I read Terry Brooks, Douglas Adams, quite a few of the star wars books but I always shied away from Pratchett because his book covers looked so lurid and out there, I was only beginning to get into fantasy and trying to avoid children’s books because I was ‘all growed up,’ and lets face it, his covers did lead me to believe that they were for children. But the books were always intriguing. In my bid to be a ‘growed up’ I even read the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, marginally more disturbing than anything I’ve ever read before or since. Eventually I ran out of other books to read (like I said, they didn’t have much) so I picked up the Colour of Magic and I was hooked.

Professor Sir Terry Pratchett OBE and Blackboard Monitor

A typical Sunday or Saturday back then: Myself, Mom, Dad and my sister walked into town. We’d leave Dad at the square so he could go to the pub and the rest of us would go do the shopping, groceries, clothes, school stuff, whatever we needed. We’d always end with a trip to the book shop. Then we’d join Dad in the pub and me and my sister would sit in the corner reading while the barman gave us free crisps and dairy milks.

It was a small pub, often packed to capacity. I read through all-Ireland finals like that. I read through the hitchhikers guide trilogy of five and a good portion of the discworld. That’s when I stopped trying to be grown up because it didn’t matter at all. Occasionally when I discovered a quote I would run over and recite it to my parents and the barflys that still recognise me to this day but I have trouble telling apart. I’d declare something like ‘Give a man a fire and he’ll be warm for an hour, but set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.’ then I’d run back to my corner and keep reading in search of more gems. Terry Pratchett is the reason I write because he taught me the fun you can have with language. He taught me how important it is to imagine how things should be and work towards them.He taught me a lot about people.

His presence as a member of staff in Trinity College was the icing on the cake when choosing Trinity over Belfast or UCD. His inaugural lecture last year was brilliant and last Wednesday night there was a questions and answers session with him and the head of the English Department, the ever-quirky Daryl Jones (I think all English professors are contractually obliged to be eccentric)

It was technically only for alumni and I had an essay and a story to submit that week as well as NaNo, but I volunteered to help out anyway. Myself and my friends were sitting in the front row, a meter, maybe a meter and a half from the genius himself. Afterwards there was a wine reception and while a few people monopolised his time, asking questions and that, we still got a picture with him and got to hob-nob over glasses of wine in the same room.

Then on Thursday we had a class with him. This was definitely the highlight for me. There was only fifteen of us in a room sitting around a table with him and we got to ask him any questions we like about writing. We got world building advice, a debate on genre fiction vs. literary, ideas for novels, the writing process and a truly epic tangent when one guy asked where he bought his hat. He talked about his new novel Snuff, no one else had read it so he turned to me and said “I’m just going to address this to my reader and the rest of you can all piss off.” For the rest of the afternoon he called me “my reader.” Best. Moment. ever. We talked about so much but here are the best bits.

Gems of Terry Pratchett:

  • The hat tangent: When Zach asked him where he got his hat he got incredibly specific details, then a commentary on fashion, praise of Victorian fashion, telling us how Queen Victoria really did like sex after all, then he talked about Victorian birth control.
  • He calls Cúchulainn Cuhooligan
  • he recommended we get jobs in local news papers, it will help writing
  • We need an eye for the serendipitous – if you’re open to ideas and information it will come to you, if you’re receptive towards inspiration it will swarm towards you.
  • he told us stories from his life that stuck with him which he later inserted into his books. He also told us quite a few stories that he hasn’t written yet and gave us full permission to write them first. He took us through one specific incident that fascinates him – the frozen ice trade in America in the 18th century – that stuck with him and explained how one thing can become so many different plots.
  • He doesn’t outline – the first draft tells him what the second draft will be
  • G. K. Chesterton’s work taught him about humour and paradox. The Punch comics taught him about literature and the world
  • “Walking through London is like walking through a kaleidoscope of colours, all golden people and they’re all English.” If you speak English you’ll become English. He reckons Hiberno-English is a particularly rich dialect.
  • I asked him why fantasy has had such enduring appeal for him considering he started off his career with YA and sci-fi. He said fantasy has all the tools, all the colours. You don’t have to mess about with with other colours to get the same effect. Approaching reality with fantasy reveals something new, with it he can turn his hand to anything.
  • He defined magic realism as “a bastard that says’ I’m a proper writer, but I’m going to write some fantasy.'”
  • he didn’t expect The Colour of Magic to be as successful as it was, he was halfway through writing another book called The Long Earth, which dealt with parallel universes.
  • To write you need to have  a love of language, word games and puns. Dramatising the truth for the purposes of instruction is soulless, you need to be able to spin words on the tip of your fingers. Facility with language is half the battle.
  • You need to research both your genre and outside your genre, bring new things to it.
  • Ideas are 10 a penny, what’s difficult is finishing.
  • When world-building don’t give a travelogue. The reader already knows what high mountains look like. Instead use a piece of dialogue or something. Show what’s different about these specific mountains. You can go over the top in descriptions when you describe through perceptions. Use things to describe a storm that you wouldn’t be able to attribute to ordinary weather.
  • He was successful because he made fun of the fantasy that doesn’t understand human beings or doesn’t know enough about reality. In fantasy you have to be real about the things that are real e.g. how long a horse can gallop for. If you make it real, say with a barbarian warrior whose feet still hurt, it’s relatable.

Afterwards he even signed books, I thought he wouldn’t but he signed The Colour of Magic for me.

Occasionally he was grasping for words and there were quite a lot of tangents but the signing was the only time when his alzheimers became apparent, his hands shook and it’s fairly illegible but it’s still one of my most treasured possessions.

There was a debate in the Phil society that evening ‘that the house would legislate in favour of assisted suicide for all adults.’ It was the single most absurdly formal thing I’ve ever seen. They were all in suits an dicky bows, lots of formulaic talking and reading of the minutes, standing up and sitting down at alarming rates. Then the debate began in earnest. All the speakers were very good and engaging and responded to audience interjections and POI’s well (except for the last guy, what the hell was that about?). It was really interesting and the pro-euthnasia side won, because frankly I don’t think anyone there was going to vote against Pratchett. No-one interrupted his talk, he spoke very softly but you could hear everything he said. He said he’s signed the letter to Dignitas but hopes he’ll never have to use it, he’d prefer a more English death. He spoke about his illness and why he signed the letter and that he’s glad he has it in his top drawer for when he needs it.

But fear not, he  said he has a few more books in him and that he’s in the middle of his autobiography.

He is a great man, a genius I’d say, and it will be a sad day when he does make the trip to Switzerland. No matter what I will continue reading and re-reading the Discworld for as long as I am able to read and write.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments