Writers In Ireland: Catherine Kullmann

This week, the featured author on my Writers In Ireland series is Catherine Kullmann. Born and educated in Dublin, following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. She has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector. She is married and has three adult sons and two grandchildren.

Catherine has always been interested in the extended Regency period, a time when the foundations of our modern world were laid. She loves writing and is particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on for the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them. Her books are set against a background of the offstage, Napoleonic wars and consider in particular the situation of women trapped in a patriarchal society.

Catherine’s debut novel, The Murmur of Masks, was short-listed for the 2017 CAP Awards (Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors). Her latest novel, A Suggestion of Scandal, was released on 1 August 2018.

Welcome, Catherine, and congratulations on the publication of A Suggestion of Scandal. Can you give us a snapshot of what it is about?

When governess Rosa Fancourt surprises two lovers in flagrante delicto, her life and future are suddenly at risk. Even if she escapes captivity, the mere suggestion of scandal is enough to ruin a lady in her situation. In Sir Julian Loring she finds an unexpected champion but will he stand by her to the end?

What inspired you to write this story?

The initial impulse came from a notorious Regency divorce case that was triggered when a governess surprised her employer with her lover, her hand inside his military pantaloons. The lovers made no attempt to hide their guilt but I began to wonder what if they had tried to do so. What would have happened to the inconvenient witness?

Tell me more about your interest in the Regency genre?

It is the period rather than the genre that attracts me. The first quarter of the nineteenth century was one of the most significant periods of European and American history; an era whose events still resonate two hundred years later. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 all still shape our modern world. But the aristocracy-led society that drove these events was already under attack from those who saw the need for social and political reform, while the industrial revolution saw the beginning of the transfer of wealth and ultimately power to those who knew how to exploit the new technologies. It was still a patriarchal world where women had few or no rights but they lived and loved and died, making the best lives they could for themselves and their families, often with their husbands away for years with the army or at sea. And they began to raise their voices, demanding equality and emancipation. It interests me to explore women’s lives in particular against this background. It is not so long since many of these restrictions, whether legal or social, still applied in Ireland. It is important to realise how far we have come, and also to be aware that that which was gained can also be lost.

Do you think that authors should stick to writing in one genre only? 

Authors should follow their muse wherever she leads them. They should not shy away from challenges and be willing to accept commissions if they are prepared to put the time and effort into them. Good writing is as much craft as art. Although I only started writing fiction after I retired, in my professional life I wrote a lot and rarely had a choice of subject. I learnt to express myself as clearly and as elegantly as possible. I don’t see why an author should not write in one genre for their bread and butter and in another for their jam, for example, or write in various genres as the stories come to them. It may make it less easy to build a brand and, if they are writing in two conflicting genres, it might be advisable to use a pen-name for one of them, but if they feel the urge to try a new genre, they should go do so.

Did anyone – famous or not – inspire you to write?

I was introduced to the extended Regency period not only by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, but also by the great essayists such as Hazlitt and Charles Lamb, and the romantic poets—Keats, Wordsworth and Shelley. All of them have inspired and influenced my writing, as have the great military diarists and auto-biographers of the day such as Harry Smith and Kincaid of the Rifles. Print was the only mass medium then and there is a wealth of contemporary writing from that time. The print shops also thrived; thousands of hand-coloured engravings – fashion prints, caricatures, illustrations, portraits—have survived and are tangible reminders of the period. I now have a considerable research library to which I add constantly and any free space between the bookcases is hung with prints from the time.

How long does it take you to complete a book?

About a year, excluding breaks. I like to set an almost completed work aside for several months and then look at it with a fresh eye. Apart from A Suggestion of Scandal, I have a novella, The Duke’s Regrets, and another novel, The Potential for Love, more or less ready for publication and plan to release them next year. In the meantime I shall start on a new book to be published in 2020.

Do you write every day, Catherine? If so, how is your writing day structured?

I write almost every day. I started writing after I took early retirement and I am usually at my desk by eleven a.m. at the latest. I work until lunch-time and, again in the afternoon for three to four hours. Work includes writing, research and marketing. The amount of time spent on any one of these activities depends on where I am in a new book. As I write this, I have a new release due next week so marketing and promotion is a priority at the moment.

And your thoughts on social media for authors and marketing?

As an indie author, marketing is part of my job description and I find social media invaluable. But they are not only useful marketing tools. Writing is a lonely business and it is wonderful to have access to the various online communities of writers who are, in general, very supportive.

Which leads me to my next question – your opinion of the current business of publishing?

I am indie published—my books do not fit comfortably in current genres, falling, I am told, between the stools of historical fiction and historical romance. I call them historical women’s fiction. The protagonists are fictional but they live in an authentic historical world and their behaviour, attitudes, morals etc. reflect this. The stories are relationship-driven—I like to consider what happens when life gets in the way of love—and I feel a happy end has to be earned. To come back to your question, I think that the decisions of many of today’s publishers are both genre- and formula-driven. For example, at a recent workshop on pitching to agents, participants were advised to compare their books with recent debut authors in the genre, as publishers tended to want more of the same. Indie writers have more freedom when it comes to genres and topics.

And finally, Catherine, would you like to share with us what you are working on now?

I am at the very beginning of a new book, still at that stage where wisps of ideas are coming together. It is the story of a woman who deliberately breaks society’s rules and the consequences for her and her family.

Check out Catherine’s Website HERE | Facebook | Twitter | Catherine’s Books HERE

Writers In Ireland: Derek Flynn

This week, I’m chatting to Derek Flynn, an Irish writer and musician with a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. THE DEAD GIRLS is his second novel. Readers called his debut novel BROKEN FALLS “a gem of a book”, and “a perfect crime drama”.

Derek’s short story “The Healer” was featured in “Surge”, an anthology of the best new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press. His non-fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including the Irish Times. He is also a regular contributor to Writing.ie, where he writes his “Songbook” column. Like most writers, he is fuelled solely by caffeine and self-doubt…

Welcome to the series, Derek, and I’ll start with a question we writers are often asked – when you first began to write?

When I was twelve/thirteen, I was obsessed with comics. I would write comic scripts and either draw them myself or give them to more talented artistic friends who would draw them for me. Eventually, I moved on to writing stories. But that took a back seat from about the age of 16, when I joined a band. Music became my main passion for the next few years. I moved to New York in the late 90s and played music there for five years. It was while I was living there that I got an idea for a novel.

And how did you get your first publishing break?

After I moved back from New York, I started to write the book that I’d gotten the idea for over there. This was around 2004. But it was another 10 years before I published anything! I wrote a couple of novels in that time and submitted them to agents, often coming tantalisingly close. My first publishing break came in 2014, when one of my short stories was published in an anthology of the “Best New Irish Writing” by O’ Brien Press. Then, in 2016, I was offered a bursary from my local arts office to self-publish one of my novels. So I decided to take the plunge!

As a self-published author then, you must contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

I have to – there’s no one else to do it for me! Being an independent author brings with it a lot of work when it comes to marketing and so on. But, at the same time, I love being in control of that side of things and trying to come up with new and innovative ways of getting my books in front of readers.

Do you find social media useful for marketing?

I can only speak as an independent author, but from my point of view, it’s essential. There are so many books and authors out there, that it takes a lot to cut through the noise. And social media is a great way of speaking directly to readers. I published my first novel, Broken Falls, during the Waterford Writer’s Weekend 2017 which was curated by Rick O’ Shea. There were some members of The Rick O’ Shea Book Club there and they happened to pick up a copy of Broken Falls. They went on to post some very lovely comments about it on the ROSBC Facebook page and word of mouth spread from there.

Is there anyone you would credit with inspiring you to write?

As I said, I was a huge comic’s nerd, and the one comic that made me want to be a writer was the science fiction comic 2000AD. And the 2000AD writer who inspired me the most was Alan Moore, who would later go on to write Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell, amongst others. For me, Moore was – and is – a genius. And he’s a magician! What’s not to love?

Do you write every day, and if so, how is your writing day structured?

What is structure!? I aim for structure but it usually descends into farce! Having said that, when I’m working on a book, I do try to write every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. Every little helps, as they say!

Tell me a little about the genre of your work?

I think of my novels as occupying the territory somewhere between crime and thriller. And the great thing about those genres is that it gives you the opportunity to explore issues that might not necessarily be associated with them. So, in my first novel, Broken Falls, I looked at the legacy of the Magdalene laundries and the “Mother and Baby” homes in Ireland through the lens of a crime story set in Newfoundland. Likewise, my second novel, The Dead Girls, looks at the horrifying story that has recently come to light in the US of hundreds of women who were murdered, their bodies dumped by the side of the highway. Forgotten women who slipped through the cracks. Being able to explore those kinds of issues while telling a good story is what attracts me to these genres.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, Derek?

Just go for it. I was asked in an interview recently what my biggest fear was. My answer? Not having tried. You’ll hear a lot of naysayers telling you you can’t do things. I say ignore them. I’ve recorded albums; I’ve written books; I’ve just staged my first play. And it’s all gone pretty well. I’m not buying a house in the South of France, but I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. People think the worst thing is to fail – I think the worst thing is to never have tried.

I couldn’t agree more! Now, a fun question – is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

The Sandman comic series by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is mostly known now as a novelist (and the husband of Amanda Palmer) but he got his start in comics and The Sandman is his magnum opus. Incorporating fantasy, horror, historical fiction, and just damn good storytelling, it is stunning.

Final question, Derek, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’m about to start work on my third novel in my Detective John Ryan series. I’m also working on a Young Adult novel which I’m very excited about.

 

Check out Derek’s Facebook Page HERE

THE DEAD GIRLS is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US Or from the author’s Website HERE

Writers In Ireland: Sharon Thompson

This week on my Writers In Ireland series, I am delighted to welcome Sharon Thompson, author and co-founder of #WritersWise tweet-chat on Twitter. Sharon has also recently set-up an exclusive, online writing group (indulgeinwriting.com). Her short stories, articles and other writings have been published in literary magazines, newspapers and online resources such as writing.ie. She writes a regular column, Woman’s Words on donegalwoman.ie, as well as recommending new book releases on indulgeme.ie (#indulgeinbooks).

Sharon’s debut crime novel, ‘The Abandoned’ was published by Bloodhound Books UK in January, 2018, launching at #1 Bestseller in Kindle Irish Crime Fiction. She has signed for two more crime novels, and has a further two manuscripts on submission through her agent.

Welcome to the series, Sharon, and congratulations on co-creating #writerswise, such a valuable resource. It is so nice to see writers encourage others on their journey, and with that in mind, how long were you writing before you were published for the first time?

I was writing in a sustained way, for five years, before my debut crime novel ‘The Abandoned’ was released. I entered writing competitions and joined online writing groups. I practiced. My short stories were accepted into literary magazines and this helped me go on to try novel-length pieces and to have them read and subsequently submitted to agents and publishers. It was a long road with lots of words and many stumbling blocks along the way. It feels like it was a longer process.

Did anyone inspire or encourage you? 

Carmel Harrington, the Irish Times bestselling Harper Collins author is my writing, fairy god-mother. She is called @HappymrsH on twitter and she is my leading light in the writing world. We found each other many years ago now and she lead me to start taking writing seriously and she has helped me every step of the way. I cannot thank her enough for all of her support. Carmel changed my life.

I see from your bio that you have an agent. Do you think it necessary for writers to have one?

Tracy Brennan from Trace Literary agency, is my agent. It also feels like I fought long and hard to get my great agent. For me, an agent is necessary. It is a lonely enough road sometimes. I like having someone in my corner, who works in my best interests. I don’t annoy Tracy (I hope I don’t) but we communicate regularly and I would be lost without her.

From my experience in talking to authors, marketing is often the most daunting aspect of the work. Do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your writing?

My life is full of social media and what I consider marketing. Outside of actually writing the manuscripts, all of my work is connected to writing and being immersed in the industry. All of the platforms I contribute to, hopefully extend my readership and support other writers.

Last question, Sharon. What are your thoughts on writing in multiple genres?

I hope that we can write anything that takes our fancy? I love to write across genres. I am drawn to dark crime or historical fiction, but I also write fun pieces. I try to write contemporary romance or ‘lighter’ fiction. I tend not to worry about the genre or the box I fit in, but merely write. I love what I do and write whatever I enjoy. I need to explore and read across even more genres and see if I could write in them as well. I am thinking on a project a fellow writer asked me to collaborate on – a script for a play. This is all very exciting!

That is lovely to hear, Sharon. I wish you the very best of luck with all of your projects!

Find Sharon on Twitter at @sharontwriter and on her website HERE

Link to The Abandoned HERE

Writers in Ireland: Niamh Boyce

Today, I am delighted to welcome Niamh Boyce to the ‘Writers In Ireland’ series. Niamh’s first novel, The Herbalist, won Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2013, and was long listed for the IMPAC Award. Her stories have been adapted for stage, broadcast, published in literary magazines and anthologized, most recently in ‘The Long Gaze Back- Irish Women Writers’ and ‘The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction. ‘ Niamh has just published Inside The Wolf, her first collection of poems.

Niamh, congratulations on the publication of Inside The Wolf, a collection I am thoroughly enjoying at the moment. The poems feel interconnected, exploring issues such as death, memory and transformation. Did you plan to write this collection, or have they been gathered over the years?

Yes, that’s true Caroline, those themes – especially transformation – reoccur throughout the collection. I was always interested in reclaiming forgotten voices, and in subverting fairy tales, especially the wolf and Red Riding Hood. But there was no plan to concentrate on certain themes in any way. The poems were just written over the years, reflecting my interests, or my life – some go way back. Night Feed is sixteen years old, written during a wakeful night with my baby. Poems from that time are short, echoing the conditions under which they were written, baby in one arm, pen in the other. I felt very close to the elements then, very primal. It was a creative time, despite the exhaustion!

The rest of the poems were written over the years since then, and I wasn’t aware of the themes until I had laid them all out on the floor in front of me last year. That’s when I saw that there were art poems, ghost poems, fairy-tale poems, transformation poems and so on. The interconnectedness was not immediately obvious to me, it took a while to figure out how to shape the book; in which order to place the poems – some fitted together naturally – the ones about The Beast, Bluebeards Wife, Sleeping Beauty and so on – but seeing exactly how the others spoke to each other, took some time. At that stage, I sought out Grace Wells, as I needed a fresh perspective, someone who could see what I was too close to the work to see. That was very fruitful, as Grace has a very clear eye and was very honest. Its only now, looking back that I realise that what I thought of as the end stage, was actually the beginning of a potent process of transformation itself – any number of editorial decisions about placement and inclusion, could have led to many different types of book.

You also write novels, but what is your first love, poetry or prose?

Poetry is my first love, and I find poems most satisfying as a writer, closest to the bone. Sometimes they come in an organic way, unbidden – poets often refer to poems that come that way as gifts, and they are. They are pure joy. Others require a lot of redrafting, I was Swallowed by a Harry Clarke Window, a pretty short poem from the collection, was originally four pages long. But I enjoy working like that too – whittling away at the words, trying to find the poem within the poem.

You are traditionally published, with a great deal of success. Why self-publish Inside The Wolf?

Yes, my novel The Herbalist was published by Penguin, and I was very happy with that. When it came to the poetry collection, a poetry press that I greatly admire, told me it would take two years; if they were to decide to publish my work. That was one of the main reasons I went ahead and set up Red Dress Press. My collection was ready, and I didn’t want to have to wait till 2020 – not if I didn’t really have to – before publishing it. I wanted to go to print this summer, and without being flippant, why not self-publish? I enjoy all aspects of creating and love a challenge – plus it gave me full control over the timing, the cover, the contents. So, I found it a relatively easy process, and will probably publish my next collection under that same imprint.

It is a beautiful publication, and the cover is very evocative, and eye-catching. How much input did you have on how it would look?

Thankyou! I am so happy with the cover. I commissioned Jessica Bell to design it. She asked me to fill in a detailed questionnaire about the book and read some of the work. She responded to the information with three different cover ideas, one of which I loved immediately. We exchanged ideas back and forth, and she tweaked the image until it became the one on the cover. It was a very smooth process as Jessica really ‘got’ what the book was about.

Well congratulations, Niamh, I wish you every success with it. Also, you have a second novel in the works, I believe. Can you tell us anything about it?

I can yes – the novel is called Her Kind and was inspired the Kilkenny witchcraft trial – an event which occurred after a bishop called Ledrede accused a local moneylender, Dame Alice Kytler of sorcery. It was a 14th century case which required all sorts of fascinating research. It will be published in April 2019 by Penguin Random House.

 

You can check out Niamh’s Blog HERE. Inside The Wolf is available to purchase HERE

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Niall Queenan

Niall Queenan is a screenwriter from the North West who currently lives in Dublin and graduated from the National Film School at IADT in 2012 with a Masters in Screenwriting. He was recently awarded an emerging screenwriter talent development mentorship from the Irish Film Board, won the gold prize in the thriller/horror category of the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards for his feature thriller script NEXT OF KIN, and the bronze prize in the thriller/horror category of the World Series of Screenwriting Awards for his feature thriller script SHADOW OF THE BLACKBIRD. He was consequently signed by manager/producer Peter Katz of Story Driven in Los Angeles. His feature debut, THE HIT PRODUCER, an independent Irish crime thriller, screened and won awards at a number of international film festivals and recently had a limited cinema release in Dublin. He has worked with Irish director Cathal Black under his Nightingale Films Ltd production company in a script development capacity and also co-produced his recent short film BUTTERFLY. He has completed feature re-writes for Propaganda Italia in Rome, Bee Holder Productions in Los Angeles, and is currently developing a slate of spec genre thrillers.

Impressive work, Niall. So, when did you first begin to write for screen?

Six years ago. My initial forays were a total disaster. I wrote two scripts without knowing a thing about the craft, thought they were gold, and paid a professional screenwriter to critique them. To say he hated them would be putting it mildly. That said, he was very understanding and gave me some really solid advice. Three months later I still felt like it was something I wanted to do, so I started over, read pro screenplays and began to study the craft. The learning continues and I can’t imagine it ever ending.

Did anyone, famous or otherwise, inspire you?

Well, they’re famous in our house, but my father always made up stories when we were kids and it was time to shut us up for the night, and my mother got me hooked on mystery novels, so I imagine the seed was planted there. But it wasn’t until I saw ‘Catch Me If You Can’ that I knew I wanted to write screenplays. Something about that film really captured my imagination and in that case, for whatever reason, I quickly came to the conclusion that the magic had started on the page. From then on the desire has been to write something that will ultimately result in an audience being as engrossed and involved in a story as I had been that evening. So, I suppose you could credit Jeff Nathanson, and also – shocker – Steven Spielberg.

Do you write every day?

When I’m working on something new I write every day. I believe that it’s important to keep your head in the same space while plotting and writing the first draft. If I’m between things or planning to re-write I’ll leave it alone, or work on something else, and let the subconscious mull over whatever it needs to, which I find productive in the long run… plot holes, inconsistencies and bad dialogue always seem to spring to mind during down time. I don’t have a specific daily structure, but I tend to write a lot at night and into the small hours.

Do you have a preferred genre?

I usually write thrillers, be they crime, conspiracy, supernatural etc. I just love being in that headspace, where there’s a sense of mystery, danger or intrigue, and working out how to assemble the pieces of the story into a compelling read.

How long does it take you to complete a script?

Usually somewhere between three and four months to outline it and get a solid first draft down.

And on your first production break? How involved in the process were you?

I’ve had just one film produced, an indie crime thriller called ‘The Hit Producer’, which had a very limited Irish release a few weeks ago. I met the director at a pitching event set up by the writers’ and directors’ guilds, and after swapping scripts/ideas he sent me his treatment for it. We unsuccessfully pitched it as a Storyland project, but by then had come up with enough material for a feature so I wrote the script. The budget (€18,000) came from a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the crowdfunding campaign, which I was heavily involved in, and after that I was on set as and when bodies were needed to chip in during the shoot. I sat in on the edit for a time during post-production and once that was done so was I. So, very much a DIY break, but it has led to other opportunities and was absolutely worth the effort. Big thanks again to all who backed the campaign and in fact gave us that break!

Do you have an agent, or think one is necessary?

I don’t have an agent, but as of very recently I have a manager! I think when you’re an unknown you have to prove yourself, which means writing strong spec scripts, completing assignments and getting your name out there. I expect that once work generates positive word of mouth, and assuming there’s a demand for the writer, an agent gets involved. I think if a writer was in serious demand an agent would absolutely be necessary. The contractual/negotiation side of things alone is a headache that I’m sure few writers want to spend their time dealing with, but want to make sure their best interests are served, so an informed manager/agent is likely vital in ensuring things get done right.

Thoughts on social media and marketing for filmmakers?

It’s absolutely necessary where you’ve made an independent film or you’re looking for backers for your crowdfunding project, nobody else is going to talk you up, but with hashtags and viral marketing tactics it’s possible to build buzz. That aside, when writing, or developing ideas etc., the less time spent on social media the better… it’s a total time suck unless you’re incorporating social media into the progress of your project in order to engage.

And do you contribute to the marketing of your own work?

I use a few social media platforms like Stage32, Twitter and LinkedIn, and post updates if I feel like something is worth sharing, but outside of that I don’t really “market” myself. To be honest, I’d rather be writing, but if there’s a project I’m involved in out there then I’ll absolutely help the team get the word out.

What’s your opinion of the current world of film? National? International? Indie Film?

Where indie film is concerned, I expect that there are tonnes of gems going undiscovered that word of mouth and cult status in their respective countries will eventually bring to a wider audience. Indie film in the US seems to be defaulting toward a Sundance style formula but there’s still plenty of really interesting stuff being made. In the mainstream, I’m a bit tired of the superhero films because they all play out in the same way – more or less – and few risks are taken. Similarly, everything these days seems to be based on book franchises, or is inspired by true events, and it feels like spec scripts are for writing sample purposes only, which is borderline a crime. Where Ireland is concerned, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2020’s prove to be our golden age. A widespread confidence in craft is emerging on all levels, which is very exciting, and will hopefully result in greater funding for the respective bodies and lead to more opportunities for Irish writers and filmmakers.

Having just won a PAGE Award – and mighty congratulations on that – what is your opinion on the importance of screenplay competitions?

I think they’re a useful way to judge where your writing is at, and if you win, or place, or make the finals, it definitely justifies contacting producers/managers/agents – or will see them contact you. That said, I think a lot of aspiring screenwriters make the same mistakes I made before and submit scripts that just aren’t ready, in hope of magically hitting the jackpot. Even if you’re confident that the basics of the story work, I would suggest taking additional time to be brutal with your dialogue, and to work the hell out of the descriptive passages. There are tonnes of ways to describe a room, but maybe only a couple that fit the tone of your story, so print it out, red pen it, grab a dictionary and don’t just settle for the easy option before you shell out your hard-earned cash.

And since you have been heavily involved in crowdfunding – what has that experience been like?

I’ve worked on two crowdfunding campaigns, the first was for ‘The Hit Producer’, and the second was for a short film called ‘Butterfly’ – both were hosted by Fund It and, fortunately, both were successful. Crowdfunding is tough, though, and while my experiences of it were ultimately worthwhile, they were extremely time-consuming and exhausting. Engaging your audience on a personal level and putting in the time to talk about their projects is just as important as promoting your own, and it’ll pay dividends when you’re looking for likes/shares/re-tweets. What’s even more key is beginning the process of building your audience a long time in advance of the campaign launch. Trying to get people to notice you when the clock is already ticking is a stress you don’t need, so my advice to anyone considering it down the road is to set up your Twitter/Facebook pages now and start communicating. Talk about the development process, ask opinions, basically involve people so that they’re invested in its progress. I’ve a lot of admiration and respect for those who stick their necks out and decide to crowdfund, and even more respect for those who pledge and green light aspiring creatives. It’s a huge leap of faith and the hope for those who get to move forward is that your backers will ultimately be proud of the work.

Any advice for aspiring film writers, Niall?

Well, I’m still one of them, but from my limited experience I think writers should write the ideas that they personally connect with and can’t stop thinking about, as opposed to writing what people tell them is more suitable for the market/funding bodies. Getting to the end of a script is hard enough, but if you’re not engaged in it, or just doing it for the sake of it, then that’s what will come across on the page. Also, trust your instincts. If something’s bothering you in the script and you just can’t shake it, then cut it or re-write it. For me, re-writing is the best part of writing screenplays… it’s like being given back a test paper and getting to change the answers to something “correct” or at least closer to it, with the benefit of perspective and hindsight.

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

There are hundreds. ‘Taxi Driver’ by Paul Schrader, ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’ by Sergio Leone & Sergio Donati, ‘The Usual Suspects’ by Chris McQuarrie, ‘Catch Me If You Can’ by Jeff Nathanson … those are the first that come to mind.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’ve written a very rough first draft of a psychological thriller which I’ve been working on with the assistance of script editor appointed by the Irish Film Board as part of their emerging screenwriter talent development initiative. I’m also developing a high-concept single location thriller that I’m very excited about, and a handful of other genre ideas.

Would you consider directing your own work?

Yes, at some point, but I think before trying I’d like to shadow someone else just to get a better idea of what to expect, and maybe make a really cheap short or two, just so it’s not all new. Even at that, I’d definitely be dependent on the crew’s technical expertise, but I love the idea of working collaboratively with a creative team to achieve a particular vision with a view to ending up with something unique that holds up over time.

And just for fun…six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

For the sake of seeing just how crazy things would get… Charles Bukowski, Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson, Richard Pryor, Elizabeth Taylor and Chris Farley – all while at the height of their infamy.

 

You can find Niall on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Stage32

 

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Carolann Copland

From Dublin, Ireland, Carolann Copland is the founder of Carousel Creates, a writers’ centre in the Dublin Mountains. She has a Bachelor of Education in English and Drama and has been a teacher for sixteen years. Her first book, Summer Triangle was published by Emu Ink in October 2013, followed by Scarred launched in June 2015 and a third novel is currently underway. Carolann has also lived in the Middle East and the United Kingdom. She is married to Neil and is a mother of three children aged twelve to twenty-four. She is a member of two writing groups and works to promote other writing groups in Dublin. Through mentoring writers of all ages, from all walks of life, Carolann is happiest when she is sharing her passion for writing.

Welcome to the series, Carolann. Begin by telling us about your writing journey so far?

I’m not sure if I used to scribble stories as a child, but I definitely told stories. (Or lies?) As an adult, I first discovered writing stories when I went to university to study English and Drama at the age of 30! The last thing my English professor said to me when I left was Don’t forget to write and he wasn’t talking about a postcard… I was forty before I eventually joined my first creative writing class and I became addicted. I was writing novels for about three years before I published.

And how do you structure your writing time?

I need to write every day. I have a full-time job as a teacher so my writing day begins at 6am and ends at 7.30am. I often find time later in the day too but that’s a bonus… and then there are the school holidays. Most of my first drafts are written in the summer. My first drafts are written in a few months. The re-writes and edits take at least a year.

How would you describe your novels, in terms of genre?

I want to write stories that I haven’t read yet. My reading is of such a wide variety of genres and my novels reflect this. Real life is not trapped in only crime, politics or romance. Life is all of these and more.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

Disagree. I do believe we should use our experiences to authenticate our writing, but writers are inquisitive by nature. I want to learn about a subject before I write about it, but I don’t need to have lived it. If we could only write what we know, novels would be quite boring. Our lives are not always about death, heart-break and horror. But our readers want to read about such things as well as love, relationships and redemption. We make stuff up. It’s what we do.

What is your opinion on the importance of literary competitions and awards?

I think that the written word, like every art, needs competition to keep it moving forward. But we shouldn’t find ourselves too engrossed in only reading award-winning authors.

Do you contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

Completely. I think the days of authors writing the book, then sitting back and letting it all happen are gone. All my author colleagues work very hard on their own marketing and PR. I do put things by my publisher before I make big decisions though. Two heads are always going to work better than one. I also run Carousel Writers’ Centre in Dublin, where I facilitate writing courses for adults and children, so my life is pretty much surrounded by writing and writers.

And social media?

Social media is very important to me. My books meet their first readers through facebook and twitter before the snowball effect takes root. Also, the support that others in the writing industry give on social media is the push that keeps my pen flowing.

Do you think it would help to have an agent?

I don’t use an agent. When I’m struggling through PR and marketing, I do sometimes wish that I could let someone else take the strain. But my publisher is so supportive and knows the business so well that I don’t feel the need for a middle person. She’s bossy too in the best kind of way. I have huge respect for her.

What’s your opinion of the current world of publishing?

I think that the current international world of publishing is at a very exciting crossroads. The ebook has contributed to a massive increase in readers and authors. Our reading choices are much wider but it can also create a feeling of being swamped. Nationally I think we’re taking things a lot slower. Many Irish authors are saying that they might take the plunge into independent publishing but few are jumping.

And on Indie publishing?

I have read so many brilliantly indie published books over the last few years. I’m loving the choice that the readers now have and the competition it gives to traditionally published books. My own books are independently published using an assisted publishing company, Emu Ink, and for now this suits me very well. My readers hold me in as high esteem as my traditionally published writing colleagues. Indie Publishing works for me.

If you’ve ever had any: How do you handle negative reviews?

I don’t think you’ve made it as a writer until you get people thinking on your subject and arguing back at you. I like that. I’ve never had anyone tell me that my writing sucks. I’ll let you know how that feels if it happens.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Have faith in your story. Stick your bum to the seat. Write every day. Discipline your time on social media. Involve yourself in creative experiences. Mix with other writers. Love what you do.

And finally, Carolann, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I have just spent the summer in Andalucia, writing a novel set between Spain in post-civil war years and modern-day Ireland. I am deeply in love with all things Spanish and it was inevitable that it would creep into my writing eventually.

Summer Triangle and Scarred, published by EmuInk, are available to rent as ebooks from Emulink and are available to buy from Amazon also in paperback.

You can also find Carolann on Twitter | Facebook | Author Website

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Vanessa Gildea

Vanessa Gildea studied film as part of a Liberal Arts Degree at the University of Limerick. Subsequently she worked in film training for nine years, mostly for Filmbase. She has directed short documentaries for Amnesty International Ireland and award-winning Dublin based production company Venom Films. In 2006 she wrote and directed the Irish Film Board funded short film ‘The White Dress’ which won numerous awards (Best Short Film Foyle Film Fest, Belfast Film Fest, Cinema Tout Ecran Geneva, awards at Galway & Kerry Film Festivals) and was nominated for an IFTA. It has been purchased / screened by RTÉ, Swiss, French and Italian Television.  In 2009 Vanessa wrote and directed a short film called ‘The Beast’ for award-winning production company Venom Films. She has received three IFTA nominations including ‘The White Dress’, Dambé – The Mali Project, a feature-length music documentary shot in Mali, West Africa, which was nominated for an IFTA 2009 in the Best Feature Documentary category, and ‘John Ford – Dreaming the Quiet Man’ in 2013. Also in 2013, she was the first recipient of the Tyrone Guthrie ‘Film Writing Bursary Award’ and in 2014 she received the Arts Council’s ‘Film Bursary Award’. As writer / director she completed an Arts Council Project Award film called ‘The Abandoning’ which won BEST SHORT FILM at The Sky Road Film Festival, 2014, a Special Mention at The IndieCork Film Festival, and was highly commended at The Belfast Film Festival, 2015.

Vanessa, with such accomplished writing, directing and producing credits, can you tell us when it all started for you?

I was always playing around with ideas, since I was a teenager but I only started to write in my 30s. The first film I wrote was called ‘The White Dress’, I wrote it in one sitting and I never did any re-writes, but I had written the film in my head a hundred times, and luckily it got funded.

Did anyone, famous or not, inspire you to get into film?

The first filmmaker that blew my mind was Mike Leigh. When I saw ‘Life is Sweet’ as a teenager it changed my view of what a film is, up until then I had only seen hollywood movies. I didn’t know people made films like that, reflecting real life back at the audience and I thought it was the most exciting and moving film I’d ever seen. I still love it and when I’m writing I think about authenticity and Mike Leigh is always somewhere floating around that thought process.

And your first production break?

I had made a short doc for Amnesty [International] and someone from the Irish Film Board had seen it and she decided to take a chance on me as a first time writer / director of a drama. I am forever grateful.

Do you write every day?

No. I work in production, research or teaching. When I’m not working I can spend time writing but not as much as I’d like.

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

There’s a hundred. I am in awe of Charlie Kauffman, the complexity, simplicity and brilliance of ‘Adaptation’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. Also, I wish I had written or could write something as good as ‘The Visitor’ by Tom McCarthy.

Do you have an agent, Vanessa, or think it necessary to have one?

No I don’t have one and I think if you want to write as your profession then yes, an agent is a good idea.

Do you contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

A little, but I dislike that side of things, I’d much prefer someone else do it.

And on social media for filmmakers?

I have mixed feelings about social media but it’s here and it can be a very useful tool. It is boring to use it solely for self-promotion though, better to have a bit of fun with it.

What’s your opinion of the film industry in general?

There are great films being made all the time, some are Hollywood, most of the films I really love and admire are not from the Hollywood system. I have to seek out the films that I like, but it’s not hard, with the IFI, the Lighthouse and VOD platforms like volta.ie, but one major problem I see is the lack of women storytellers, women centric stories and characters. I recently heard most film crowd scenes have 70-80% men in them, what is going on? Women are not coming forward, they’re not being allowed to and when they do the kind of films they want to make are not getting the same support. We are 50% of the population, we should be telling 50% of the stories.

And on the importance, or not, of film competitions and awards?

Winning awards can be a bittersweet experience but the recognition is good and it definitely helps when it comes to getting the next project funded, well I think it does.

Have you, or would you, consider crowdsourcing to produce your own work?

I haven’t, but I have supported plenty of projects, I would consider it.

If you’ve ever had any: How to you handle negative reviews?

Of course you have negative reviews, I would like my films to provoke a reaction in people, but you have to learn to shrug it off, and also sometimes the person critiquing the film might have a point. I equally take praise with a pinch of salt, I know when I am happy with my work, I know the moment when I am happy to say that’s it, it’s finished, that’s all we can do. I also know when I have worked hard and done everything in my power to realise the idea. After that, I don’t think you have a clue what people will think or how they will react, but you make it to be seen and the rest is beyond your control.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

No, because I am still one myself.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I think if every writer stuck to that as a rule, we would have lost out on some great fiction and dramas, but you can write what you know about life, love, loss, emotions in to characters, in to situations without it being necessarily autobiographical.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

I am about to start an MA in Screenwriting at the National Film School Dun Laoghaire, so I am playing with a few ideas for that as part of the course we have to write a feature script. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

And just for fun…six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?

My Dad, my grandparents and Brendan Behan.

IMG_9892

Vanessa’s film, The Abandoning, will shortly screen as part of the Short Film Programme | Irish Women in Film, I am curating at the MFFA