Doing it With Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Hazel Gaynor

Hazel Gaynor is a novelist, freelance writer and author of New York Times best seller and RNA Historical Romantic Novel of the Year, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, and new novel, A MEMORY OF VIOLETS. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland.

Welcome to the series, Hazel. Let’s begin with your writing journey so far…

I’ve always written in one form or another. Even when I spent a late gap year in Australia in 1997 I did a correspondence course in creative children’s writing. I never really thought I could make a career from my love of writing, and only started writing seriously after leaving my professional career in 2009 when my two children were very young. Initially I wrote a parenting and lifestyle blog called Hot Cross Mum (I still love that name!), which led to writing freelance features for press and websites in Ireland and the UK. I wrote my first full novel in 2010 (this has been hidden away under the bed ever since!), and wrote my second full novel, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, in 2011.

And how did your first publishing break come about?

After both my novels had been rejected by publishers, I decided to self-publish THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. The novel is based on a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on Titanic and with the centenary of the sinking approaching in April 2012, I knew I had a great opportunity to connect with the resurgence of interest in Titanic. Having said that, I wouldn’t have self-published if I really didn’t believe in my novel. I felt so passionately about the subject matter, and firmly believed that there was a readership for it. The self-published ebook sold around 100,000 copies in its first year of publication, and during that year I wrote a third novel, titled DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS. However, despite the success of THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, my third novel – also historical fiction – was rejected by twelve publishers in Ireland and the UK and at the start of 2013 my agent and I parted company. This was the lowest point for me. It was really hard to keep going, but I did. I started writing a new novel, and within a few months everything completely turned around for me.

Having parted company with your first agent, do you think it important to have representation?

From personal experience, I think the most important thing is to have the right agent for you. Having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all and I would strongly advise new writers to take their time, do their homework, find agents whose published authors they love and who they feel they could work well with and who can best represent their work. I am now represented by an amazing agent, Michelle Brower, from Folio Literary Management in New York. Michelle read THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME on her Kindle in 2013. She loved it so much that she contacted me via Facebook to ask whether I was represented and if I had written anything else. I have that message printed out on my noticeboard above my desk! I wasn’t represented at the time, and I had an unpublished novel to send to her. Within six weeks of that initial contact from Michelle, she had my two books – THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME and DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS – at auction with three major publishers in the U.S. In June 2013, I signed a two-book deal with William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was republished in paperback in 2014 and the retitled A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was published earlier this year. I am currently editing my third novel for HarperCollins which will be published next year.

Do you write every day, Hazel? And how is your writing time structured?

During term time I am at my desk in the attic, Monday to Friday, from 9am-2pm, while the children are at school. I spend this time writing, researching, promoting, updating my website – any number of writing-related tasks. When I’m writing early drafts, I try to spend all my writing time just writing, and use the evenings to focus on admin/interviews etc. I try not to write at weekends, but when the pressure is on, it happens. When I’m not writing, I’m constantly thinking about my characters and figuring our plot issues. They often unravel themselves when I’m out walking, or in the shower! I do try to maintain some structure to my writing, but during school holidays I just have to grab whatever time I can. Often this is very early in the morning or very late at night.

So you also take some responsibility for the marketing and promotion of your work?

Absolutely! I would be worried if a writer wasn’t! A significant portion of my ‘desk time’ is dedicated to marketing/PR activities. Authors are very visible now and readers want to be able to connect with them through all forms of social media, as well as in person at festivals and conferences etc. Authors know their books better than anyone, so I would always encourage the author to be very involved in the promotion of their books and to work with their publisher to generate ideas. Authors often have really strong local networks which a publicist in another country (in my case the US and UK) might not be as strongly connected into.

What draws you to write historical fiction?

It’s a genre that is often misunderstood! Far from being stuffy and boring and using old-fashioned unfathomable language, historical novels are as dramatic, engaging, emotionally compelling and as readable as contemporary set novels. In fact, for me, the fact that the stories and characters, events and settings in historical novels are based in fact, makes them even more dramatic, engaging and emotionally compelling. That’s why I’m drawn to the genre; to discovering fascinating and forgotten stories, events and people from the past. My own brand of historical fiction is set in the twentieth century. I’ve written about Irish emigrants on the Titanic in THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. I’ve written about orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London in A MEMORY OF VIOLETS. In the forthcoming anthology, FALL OF POPPIES, I’ve written about events on Armistice Day in WW1. In my new novel, I’m writing about a young maid trying to make it in the theatre in 1920s London.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Finish the book!

And write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

Write what you want to know. Write the book you want to read. Write about something you will still be passionate about in five, six, twenty years’ time, when (hopefully) people are still discovering your book and want to talk to you about it.

Thoughts on how to handle negative reviews – if you’ve ever had any?

It is never easy, but an unavoidable part of the creative process. Some people will love what you produce, others won’t. I try not to dwell on reviews – good, bad or indifferent. Reviews are for other readers, not for the writer. Of course, it is very tempting to read every single review, but my one piece of advice is to NEVER engage with a negative reviewer. You simply cannot win that argument. Let it be. Go for a walk. Have a good cry on your friend’s shoulder. Pour a large G&T, but NEVER publicly respond or engage in a debate about it.

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

I’m currently editing my third novel, due for publication summer 2016. It is set in London in the 1920s and tells the story of a maid at The Savoy who longs to be a star on the West End stage. I have also contributed to a WW1 anthology FALL OF POPPIES – Stories of Love and the Great War which will be published in the US in March 2016. Nine authors have each contributed a story to the collection and we are all really excited about the release.

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

It would be a gin and tonic and my drinking companions would be Audrey Hepburn. Grace Kelly, Tallulah Bankhead, Charlotte Bronte, JK Rowling and my mum.

A Memory of Violets high res

TheGirlWhoCamHome PB

FallofPoppiesREV2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find Hazel on Facebook, Twitter, and her Official Website here

 

 

 

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Louise Phillips

LOUISE PHILLIPS is an author of psychological crime thrillers. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS was nominated for the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year 2012, and her second novel, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, won the award in 2013. LAST KISS, her third novel was also shortlisted. Louise’s work has formed part of many literary anthologies, and she has won both the Jonathan Swift Award and the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform, along with being shortlisted for the Molly Keane Memorial Award, Bridport UK and many other awards. She teaches crime fiction writing at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin, and in 2013, she was the recipient of an arts bursary for literature from South County Dublin. This year, she was awarded a writers’ residency at Cill Rialaig Artist retreat in Kerry, and she was also a judge on the Irish panel for the EU Literary Award.

Louise, with your latest novel, The Game Changer, just published, your fourth psychological crime thriller, can you explain what it is that draws you to write in that genre?

I’m not one hundred per cent sure. My writing tended to be dark, and I was also drawn to writing about human fragility, a fragility which went beyond the so-called ‘good guys’ or victims, but also asked the why, when it came to people doing harm to others. Humanity is complicated, and when good and bad collide, we can learn a lot about ourselves

And having published four books in four years. how long does it take you to complete each book?

My experience to date is four months writing the first draft, having spent some months letting the idea play around in my mind. Once my editor has read it, I will then get an email with suggestions. It will be about 600 words of feedback, and I usually spend another six weeks to two months doing structural edits. The next phase is line edits and then copy edits, and you could add in another month or two for those. That gets us up to eight months, and allowing for holidays and Christmas, you’re at nine+ months. Fire in a month or two of publicity events, launches, book signing, you’re at eleven months all going well. Actual answer – One Year!

So you write every day?

When I’m writing the first draft, I write practically every day. It is both an exhilarating and daunting time. It will take me four months to get the first attempt done, and no matter how much I repeat Ernest Hemingway’s words that ‘the first draft of everything is shit,’ the doubts never leave. I try to harness them to drive me more.

Thinking back, Louise, when did you first begin to write?

I began to write in my teens, mainly as a result of having an amazing English teacher. He quite literally changed my life. We all need someone like that to cross our paths and thinking about it now, not only do I feel lucky; I also think about people who didn’t get chance.

And your first publishing break?

I was in my late forties when I began to write really seriously, going to workshops, joining a writers’ group and submitting short stories and poems to competitions. I did get short stories and poems published within a couple of years, but it was five years before I heard that my first novel would be published. It was a very productive five years

Thoughts on the importance of literary awards?

They help to raise the profile, but more importantly, they can alleviate some of the self-doubts. It’s a peculiar industry. There will be ‘good’ moments and ‘not so good’ moments, but irrespective of awards/competitions, a writer will write.

And do you enjoy the social media element so necessary for authors these days?

Social media is another form of communication. It is here to stay, although it is not for everyone. I enjoy it, especially when I get feedback from readers. Interacting with others is a good thing. It’s what we humans do.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Keep writing.

Want to tell us a little about The Game Changer?

It’s a story about the sins of the father, and how they can ripple through to the next generation, secrets, lie, the darker elements of group behaviour and danger being closer than you think, all form part of the narrative. The intro line is….What if you went missing and couldn’t remember anything?

Thanks, Louise!

 The Game Changer by Louise Phillips (2)

 www.louise-phillips.com

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Sean Ryan

Sean Ryan, from Waterford, has written numerous short and feature-length scripts. He has also worked as a writer-for-hire on adaptations and as a script doctor on feature screenplays. His films Revenge (Action/Western) and The Lunch Break (Black comedy) screened at the opening day in Cannes Le Marché du Film festival 2013, and along with Choices (Drama/Thriller) have won awards at The Cinerockom International Film Festival, 2013. Choices also won best narrative short at the Cannes Artisan Festival and the platinum award at the 2012 Oregon Film Festival. Change (Drama) won Best Short Film at both the Jersey Shore Film Festival and the Ocean County Library Film Festival and Audience Choice Awards at both the Texas Black Film Festival and the Jersey Shore Film Festival. His script Fading Numbers (Drama/War) was placed in several national and international contests, including the KAOS BSSC, and with his family, Sean travelled to Canada in 2011 to meet the two Auschwitz and Tluste survivors that inspired the script. Tears In The Rain (War/Drama) was also a finalist in the BSSC contest in 2013. In the same year, he worked closely with the Department of Theatre, University of Alabama and their advanced film making students who produced his script, G.P.S. (Thriller) as their final year project. The University plan to use more of Sean’s screenplays for future projects. He has worked as a producer on Choices and Speed Dial (Comedy) and completed his directorial début on Connection(Drama), which screened in festivals in 2013/2014. Now concentrating on feature scripts, his final short film was Failing Hope (Drama) which starred Rowan Blanchard, Scottie Thompson and Elizabeth Regen.

Sean has several features due for release in 2015 and 2016. Decommissioned (2015 – Action/Thriller) starring Johnny Messner, Vinnie Jones, Estella Warren, James Remar and Michael Paré; 4GOT10 (2015 – Thriller/Western) stars Johnny Messner, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Michael Paré and Vivica A. Fox; SWAP (2016 – Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller) starring Johnny Messner, Tom Sizemore, Mickey Rourke, Jon Foo, Taylor Cole and Michael Paré. Currently in production is Fragmented (Thriller), starring Tony Todd, and Darkness (survival horror) and Awakenings (Horror/thriller) are presently in preproduction stages. Sean featured on RTE Radio’s ARENA program about his attendance at the premiere of his produced featurette screenplay, Too Good To Be True  (Comedy/Drama) in New York.

Impressive list of credits, Sean, so when did your writing for film career begin?

About 12 years or so ago. The first short film I wrote I sold for a few bucks and it has yet to be made. My first feature film was this year (2015).

And how did that first production break come about?

For short films was because of hustling and hard work. I kept writing as much and as often as possible. Pitching every short script anywhere and where I could find indie producers looking for material. Until I landed a production.

Did you have an agent to help you along?

I have had a couple in the past, before I had any feature films produced. This was to help either sell a spec script or land a write for hire assignment. Neither happened, so I have been pitching my own work and writing specs that I think could/would make good films. I think a great active agent or manager would make a massive difference in getting work out there, onto the right desks. But it’s not enough to just have an agent, you need the right one, who works as hard as you do.

So you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

If I get the chance yes. But more often than not you don’t get the opportunity – which is a pity.

And social media?

It’s an important tool. Social media is like someone organised the Internet and for most, social media is the internet. So having a presence and a voice on it, is important. It’s free advertisement space (mostly). So why not use it?

On inspiration – did anyone influence you to write?

Stephen King. After leaving school I had no real interest in books until my sister suggested I should try King’s IT. I read nearly everything he wrote after that. Even read some of them twice.

Do you write every day?

I try to write around five pages a day and try to make them five good pages. But I have learned over time that it is very important to plan everything in your head first. Break down scenes; work out what makes those characters interesting before you touch a keyboard. But if I can manage a couple of hours a day and make five good pages, I’m happy. Any more is a bonus. I try every genre and don’t limit to one. I also try to write films I want to see. That could be comedy or science fiction. The characters are at the heart of every great story. The genre is just one element.

And how long does it take you to complete a script?

It depends. A first draft I can lay down in a month but the rewrites could take as long if not longer. But from a blank page to about 100 pages of a script, takes about four weeks.

What are you currently working on?

I’m adapting a write-for-hire script and rewriting a spec of mine called “Redacted”. I’m finding it hard to make the final act all that it can be, but I think I finally have it in my head, just need to get it down on paper.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

My last film was about drug lords, agents and corrupt lawmen, so do I know any of that in real life? No. I think writing what you know can help you to connect with the material, but I think the key is just to write every day and treat it like exercise. The more you do, the better you will get.

Judging from your bio, you obviously place some importance on film competitions and awards…

They can really open doors but I can’t help but feel they are like playing the lotto with a really, really expensive ticket. The odds of placing are fantastic and most aren’t going to open any doors for you. It might help with your personal sense of achievement, which is healthy. Just don’t depend on writing that script that will win that competition and land you a million dollar deal. Write for enjoyment. Write from the heart. If success comes, it comes. If awards comes then great, but write for yourself.

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

Schindler’s List or Jaws. Either or both. If I could have written them I think then I could say I’m a screenwriter.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
Three things: Don’t limit yourself/don’t keep you eggs in one basket. Don’t be afraid to write and rewrite and finally never, ever give up.

Thoughts on film in general?

Film wise there are way too many remakes, reboots and superhero movies. Not that most are not solid films, it just seems to be a case of “I’ve seen it all before” and I find myself too rarely getting excited about seeing something. I think the issue with all the reboots and remakes is that the studios think it is minimising the risk. If it worked well once, it will work again, but as we’ve seen this is more often not the case.

And Indie Film? 

Indie film is the future in my opinion. It’s the heart of cinema that will continue to beat long after the big movies and massive budgets will become too risky. There is a massive demand for content these days with streaming and alike. Indie film can deliver small, low risk, big heart films that studios won’t produce because financial return is all that interests them (being in a business). A lot of indie films remind me of the first films that some of cinema’s greats made when they were starting out, like Godfather, Terminator and alike. Films when they were hungry to prove themselves and taking risks.

Would you consider crowdsourcing to fund your own work?

I would consider it but it kind of conflicts with me as I’ve supported a lot of crowd funded films yet never received any perks. Which just hints it’s a little bit of take your money and run. Also you are asking people to give you money so you can potentially make money from their money. I think the only fair model is that everyone that invests is treated like an investor. Not perks, but they should get a return on their investment and should 100% not have to pay to see they film they help get made.

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

Film is subjective so you won’t make something everyone will like. Which is fair enough but you will meet people that love to hate and will be very vocal of that fact. But I always remember a quote from the great Paul Newman who told Tom Cruise that negativity is like white noise, just ignore it. Listen to every review and remark, just don’t live by them.

And finally, Sean, is there anyone, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

I would like to go for a pint or two with my Mum and Dad, so we could talk about life. What they have missed out since they passed away, in terms of their grandkids and children and to just experience once again what once we took for granted, time together.

You can check out Sean’s links here: IMDb  FACEBOOK   TWITTER  and BLOG

 

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Len Collin

Len Collin was born in London and has lived in Ireland. He trained as a professional actor at Arts Educational Drama School, London and is also a production and Direction MA graduate of the Huston Film School, Galway, Ireland. Len started writing for the theatre in the early nineties. His award-winning play Box, set during the first Gulf War and WWI, brought him to the attention of TV producers and he began writing for that medium. In 2010 he wrote, directed and produced the award-winning Irish web series Covies and he has written for several TV shows, including Holby City, Casualty and London’s Burning.

Welcome Len. Your writing credits are quite impressive – so where did it all begin?

I’ve always written, from diary entries as a teenager to bad poetry. At drama school I began to write scenes and then plays. Eventually screenplays. I started writing seriously after leaving drama school. I’d write plays when I wasn’t working as an actor… seven years later I wrote Box, which won a national competition in the UK, and kick started my writing career. After the success of Box I got an agent and was invited to write for two TV shows. The Bill and Families. Drama is my genre. Within that at one time I specialized in crime stories. However I tend to just be interested in justice and injustice. I tend to write about bigotry and intolerance. I’m a Yes voter.

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

I think all writers are influenced by other writers. My influences range from Stan Lee to Sean O’Casey. The Silver Tassie was a particular influence as well as Shadow of a Gunman. Spiderman comics were really just storyboards…I loved the humour. Joe Orton, Tennessee Williams, Tony Marchant, Budd Shulberg, Charles Bukowski and more recently Charlie Kaufman.

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

Withnail and I – Bruce Robinson.

With regard to screenplays, how long does it take you to complete a script?

The fastest I ever wrote a first draft of a one hour broadcast screenplay was twenty-two hours. It was surprisingly good. But writing is all about the rewrites, so I have written good material that took a week and other good material that has taken years. I have no idea why that happens.

You mentioned that you have an agent, Len. Do you think it necessary to have one?

Yes. A good agent makes all the difference.

What’s your opinion of the current world of film and writing?

Nationally, I think Ireland struggles to find a voice. I really admire Terry McMahon (Charlie Casanova. Patrick’s Day) for his work. He has something to say and he says it, and that’s what writing is all about. But I despair at the lack of rigour when it comes to screenwriting in general. There is no excuse for lazy writing.

And Internationally?

Internationally, the market is dominated by facile superhero movies (Remember I like Stan Lee) I cannot get excited by another Superman reboot or Avengers Go Shopping in Supervalu. Then you get a drama like Birdman – which is good but gets over hyped because there is so little intelligent drama out there. In TV everyone now believes slow is good so we have British and American shows aping the Scandinavian dramas. Only the cable channels, and new online broadcasters seem to be taking risks… and what wonderful shows they have produced. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are particular favourites, and Netflix’s Lilyhammer. Love / Hate and Pure Mule seemed to signal a new era of drama for RTE, but perhaps that was just a blip. In my opinion RTE need to think more about international sales, so that we can do what the Scandies have done and export our stories.

Do you place any importance of film competitions and awards?

Anything that gets your name out there is ultimately a good thing. I got attention because I won a playwriting competition, there were two awards in that competition, two plays that were produced and two careers that came from that competition, myself and Conall Morrison. So yes I think they are a good thing, but would advise that it’s all about the right competitions.

And your thoughts on Indie Film?

Indie film is very important. Equipment is cheaper and better now than ever. Buy a DSLR and Tascam and go out and shoot a movie. Yes most of your efforts will be mediocre or worse…but you will learn…and then there is always the chance that your next movie will be the catalyst for your career.

Have you ever considered self-publishing, funding or crowdsourcing?

I have considered self-publishing a novel I have written. E readers are ubiquitous, and there are gems. The problem is the advertising. How do you market your novel? It’s a vast ocean.

What are your feelings on social media as a marketing tool for writers and filmmakers?

Writers have to learn how to use social media… we all have two personalities now… our online and our real. I try to keep my online persona as close as possible to my real persona to stop me going insane. That way I make sure I never say anything online that I wouldn’t say in person. But social media is here to stay… and we have to use it.

If you’ve ever had any – how do you handle negative reviews?

If you produce enough work you will get good reviews and bad reviews and you should treat both imposters the same. Only you can judge your work at the end of the day, and you will always be your own harshest critic.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Keep notes. Write down the names of people you meet, who they are and what they do. What you think of them. Read the end credits of films you like and don’t like…because if you are going to have a career you are going to work with some of these people – and for when you forget there is IMDb.

And write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

It’s nonsense… so much of the “Rules” you read about are. My first piece was set partly in the First World War…I had to do that thing called research. A better rule is “Write what you are passionate about” Because if you are passionate about something the chances are that someone else will be too.

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

About to direct my first feature – Christian O’Reilly has written the script – It’s funny, thought-provoking and quite brilliant. It’s called Sanctuary – and the cast are mostly actors with intellectual disabilities from Blue Teapot Theatre Company in Galway.

And finally, name six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with…

Eamon Collins (He was killed by the IRA and wrote a book called Killing Rage. I tried to secure rights for it. He was brave and idealistic.) Charles Bukowski (Poet), Louise Brooks (Actress) my Dad (He died before I could ask him all the things I would want to ask him) Now I’ve realized they’re all dead so I’ll have to add fellow writer Ted Gannon and Edwina Forkin (our producer on Sanctuary) Because she really is the brightest, funniest person and if Bukowski was getting sulky on us she’d sort him out.

Cheers, Len!

Check out Len’s new website and IMDb Profile Here

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin, and lives in East Galway. She has published four short story collections, the most recent Mother America appeared from New Island in 2012. Nuala’s critically acclaimed second novel The Closet of Savage Mementos appeared in 2014, also from New Island; it was shortlisted for the Kerry Irish Novel of the Year Award 2015. Under the name Nuala O’Connor, Penguin USA, Penguin Canada and Sandstone (UK) published Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, in summer 2015.

Congratulations on the success on Miss Emily, Nuala. You must have done a huge amount of research for this book, can you tell us about that?

I read about thirty books of research by and about Emily: poems, letters, biographies, books on food and dress pertaining to the Dickinsons. I did the research as I wrote. When I had a first draft written, I visited Emily’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts; I saw her white dress on display in the Amherst History Museum and I went to Harvard University, which holds many Dickinson artefacts, including Emily’s original cherrywood desk. The research is ongoing – she gets hold of you!

And what drew you to the subject of Emily in the first place?

Poetry and cake. I loved her poetry at school and, later, I heard she loved to bake. I love baking too so I made some of her cakes (Coconut Cake and Black Cake, for example). I wrote a poem about that but couldn’t let the subject go and began to think of the Irish domestics she had and the whole thing just blossomed from there.

Back to the beginning, Nuala – to when you first began writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, I still have my first notebook of poems. Naturally, they are appalling and sentimental. Subjects range from a blind sister (all my sisters have their sight) to James Dean. But I didn’t get serious about my writing until my mid twenties when I moved from Dublin to Galway to work in a theatre company. Meeting real live writers helped me push myself along.

And how long were you writing before you were published for the first time?

I was serious about it for about a year, I suppose, when I had some poems published in literary mags in Galway, such as The Cúirt Journal and Burning Bush. My first collection of poems came out in 2003 – there was about six years worth of stuff to draw on for that.

Do you write every day?

I write five days a week, 9am to 2pm, pretty much. I don’t write creatively for all that time: I write first, then edit or write articles/interviews, do my mentoring work with the BA in Writing students at NUI Galway, write reviews etc.

How long does it take you to complete a book?

The first draft of a novel takes about a year, then the editing with agent and various editors might go on for another year (depending on the publisher’s schedule). Short story collections are different as you gather stories over a period of years.

Do you think an agent is necessary?

You need an agent if you want to be published outside of Ireland, but you don’t if you plan to publish in Ireland alone. I am on agent number three now and I hope she is the lifer. It took me a while to find the right agent for me, one who I could communicate openly and freely with and who is definitely prepared to work hard on my behalf.

And on marketing and PR of your work, do you contribute?

Yes, hugely. My novel Miss Emily has just been published by Penguin – my first time with a really big publisher – in the USA and Canada. Naively I thought I would have less PR stuff to do as they would do so much. Wrong! I have never been as busy on the PR side of things: they have drummed up huge amounts of notice for the book so I have 3 or 4 radio interviews a week with North America; I’m writing article after article on subjects pertaining to the book or directly about it; I have a book tour in the USA; I was in Scotland yesterday for a newspaper interview and I’ve lots of appearances in Ireland at lit fests and so forth. And the same novel comes out in the UK in late August so I am now on the PR whirl for that too. I am lucky in that I enjoy social media so it is not a trial for me to keep blogging and tweeting about the book and all that’s happening. It’s like this, you spend two years writing and editing a book, the least you can do is support it out into the world by doing PR stuff for a few months. Yes, it’s time consuming and it wears you out a bit but, hopefully, it will be worth it in terms of readership and sales.

What is your opinion on the importance [or not] of literary competitions and awards?

I guess they shine a spotlight on books that is welcome if your book is on the shortlist! But you cannot compare like with like, so it’s the personal taste and the group dynamic of the judging panel that determines the winner. It would certainly be nice to win one of the biggies as it would get you a wider readership and welcome sales. But prizes shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of judgement on the merits of literature.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Read like a loon – voraciously, widely. Write every day. Join a writers’ group. Go to literary festivals. Be friendly.

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

Probably hundreds. But there’s certainly a short story I read recently that I wish I had written: Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘EDickinsonRepliLuxe’ about a couple who buy an Emily Dickinson robot and the madness that ensues. It’s poignant and weird – true Oatsian shenanigans ensue between the couple and the robot. I wish I had come up with that story, so badly.

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

A Victorian novel set in London and Ballinasloe (where I live), based on the true life of the local Viscount and his dancehall girl bride.

Miss Emily UK cover

Miss Emily is published in Ireland and the UK on August 20th. Keep up-to-date with Nuala’s writing on her website and her Blog

Doing it with Passion: Writers in Ireland Series: Hugh Travers

Hugh Travers is a graduate of D.I.T (B.Sc. Film and Broadcasting) and The Huston School of Film (M.A. in Screenwriting). He received a scholarship to The Professional Programme in Screenwriting at UCLA. He has written a number of award-winning short films, and is currently working on Over The Bar, a feature film in development with the IFB, Deadpan Pictures & Dan Films. Over The Bar was recently selected for The Brit List, a shortlist of the best unproduced scripts of 2014. Most recently his critically acclaimed play LAMBO completed a national tour, was nominated for the Little Gem Award in the Dublin Fringe Festival and was adapted for RTE Radio. It won the PPI Drama Award for Best Radio Play of 2014. His previous play Clear the Air ran at the Theatre Upstairs in Dublin and the Electric Picnic Arts Festival in Stradbally. He recently completed Rough Magic SEEDS, a two-year artist development programme for theatre writers which included staged readings of his plays Cardboard City and The Disappeared. Hugh co-wrote The Variety Show, an animated series, produced by A Man & Ink and RTE and he developed The H-Files and Chicklings with the IFB and Paper Dreams. He created the comedy panel show format Choose or Lose with Screentime Shinawil and RTE and was head writer on the pilot episode and was the head writer on The Big Pitch a panel show pilot for Sky and was the writer and chief researcher on Green Is The Colour, a hugely successful four × one hour historical sports documentary series for Treasure Entertainment and RTE.

You are obviously a prolific writer, Hugh. Tell us how you got started?

I wrote terrible songs in secondary school so always had an interest in creative writing. Then I began to write scripts in college. I studied Communications: Film & Broadcasting but really started writing through the drama society where you could kind of put on anything you wanted and have the freedom to fail.  I then specialised in writing for my final year and went on to do a masters in Screenwriting and a professional programme in UCLA.

Freedom to fail, love that! And your first big break?

Well, I came back from UCLA in 2006 and started properly trying to chase funding and make applications to get things off the ground for the first time. In early 2008 I got funding for an Irish language short (An Cosc) through Filmbase and TG4’s Lasair scheme, so it took me about a year and a half before I got anywhere. It’s hard to know if that short was a break necessarily but it was a small step on the road. I had written a rough first draft of it on my own. I pitched the story idea to the producer Claire McCaughley. She really liked it and so we reworked the script a bit before applying to Filmbase. Then once we were shortlisted we got Vincent Gallagher on board to direct. The same team then got funding for a second, English language short not long after and things began to build slowly from there.

Do you have an agent, Hugh and do you think one is necessary?

I do have an agent and I have found it to be very helpful. We have a good relationship and it’s good to have a supportive ‘consultant’ as much as it is good to have someone fighting your corner on contracts and getting you meetings etc. Is it necessary? No it’s not essential at all. I think it’s possible to get ahead just fine without one but it has certainly helped me. I think once you reach the top-level, it would become absolutely essential.

Do you contribute to the PR and marketing of your work, for instance on social media?

I’m more a consumer of social media than I am a creator of content. In other words I’m on twitter but I don’t tweet. I’m on Facebook but mainly as a procrastination tool rather than as a means of expression. But when it comes to marketing, it’s a completely different story. I think it’s essential. You have to find your audience. The right people for your work. They’re not just the people who will pay to see it, they’re the people who will actually enjoy it because it’s in their wheelhouse. So if they’re on facebook you have to communicate with them there.

Back to the practice of writing. How do you structure your time?

I keep office hours. I generally start at ten and finish at six. Monday to Friday. A lot of that time is naturally spent avoiding writing but I do try to put myself in the chair for those hours. I am at least threatening to write!

And how long does it take you to complete a script?

It depends. A first draft of a feature script can take anything from a few weeks to a few months. But the real writing begins with the rewrites. That can sometimes take years, depending on what the process is.

Do you place much importance on Film competitions and awards?

I think for a writer, awards and competitions can be very helpful early in your career to get people to take you seriously. If you’re lucky they can buy you a few months of attention or replies to your emails. But I think it’s important to remember that not all writers and not all scripts fall into the categories that tend to win awards or place well in competitions. They’re not the be all and end all. I think when it comes to getting a finished film seen, they are really helpful. In the crowded market place, they hang a lantern on your movie and allow it to be noticed. It’s easy to be dismissive of the industry love-ins but I think they are a necessary indulgence.

Any thoughts on our film industry in general?

We’re living in strange times as far as film goes. I think there has never been more opportunity and yet things are getting more difficult. Technology has opened up all manner of possibilities and yet it has had a lot of side effects.  The streaming and VOD model is still bedding in and it remains to be seen if it will work financially for filmmakers. Illegal downloads can be damaging to smaller independent films. The tent-pole movie culture in Hollywood has squeezed out grown-up dramas, comedies and mid-range films. So ultimately it’s easier to make a film than ever. But it’s harder than ever to get that movie seen and to make money from it. And consequently, it’s harder to get paid to write them.

And on Indie Film?

I love the fact that indie films continue to exist because at the moment, it’s the only way that interesting movies are getting made. Again, I think the independent sector is still in flux. After the initial boom in the 90’s we’re probably now entering a new era with streaming and VOD and different distribution possibilities but the jury is still out on whether it will be boom or bust. It could be hugely hugely positive and usher in a new golden era or indie films could go the way of indie music and the music industry in general where passionate artists are making great work but it’s next to impossible to make a living.

Have you self-funded or considered crowdfunding for a project?

I did use crowdfunding to stage my first play. It was a great resource and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who rowed in behind that project. I do think you have to use it responsibly. I will never say never but I don’t plan to go back to the well any time soon. You’re essentially asking family and friends for a dig-out and you can’t do that too often. Unless I ended up in an unusual position where a project I was working on had interest from the wider public but couldn’t get traditional funding. If you were genuinely finding a way to service a demand that was out there by allowing an audience to effectively pay in advance, then crowdfunding is absolutely the way to go and that’s a responsible way to use it.

I’m learning through this series that feedback, and how we handle it, differs from writer to writer, particularly if it comes in negative form. How do you handle such reviews?

I’ve been lucky enough to have avoided scathing reviews. There have been a couple of middling to negative ones and the ease with which I shake them off depends on the nature of the project. The worst review I got was probably for a comedy panel show that I worked on but the whole point of the show was to be genuinely silly and embrace that completely so it’s easy to be philosophical about that. I’ve never been panned for my plays or my work on TV but even good reviews often include the odd throwaway criticism and you have to remind yourself not to obsess about that one line.

Given your experience to date, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Find a way to stay in the game. If you have had any sort of indication that you have talent and aren’t banging your head up against a brick wall, then it’s all about staying in the game until your number comes up. For some people that involves working a day job and writing in your spare time. For others it’s working part-time in a bar or cafe or shop. Maybe it’s even trying to get by on the dole. Whatever your way is, you need to keep living while you keep trying. If you’re good – and if you’re dedicated to continually getting better – your number will come up eventually. So find a way to stay happy, to stay writing and to pay the bills while you’re waiting.

And ‘write what you know’ – agree or disagree?
It definitely helps but it’s not at all essential. I’ve written about worlds that I know nothing about and written stuff that has been a little autobiographical. I feel they both scratch different itches and each option still requires due diligence. In the ‘write what you know’ scenario you have to stop yourself form being too self indulgent and getting too close to the material. You have to still see it as a story in its own right and allow it to go where it needs to go, not in the direction of your experience. With the other stuff, it just takes research. Lots and lots of research.

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

How about a book that became a film? I’m a big fan of The Butcher Boy. I’m not sure it’s something that I necessarily would write – even if I could – but it’s one of those pieces of work that has always resonated with me for reasons that I can’t even properly understand or analyse.

Apart from your feature, Over the Bar, are you are working on anything else right now?

The reality of being a working screenwriter/playwright is that you have to have a lot of irons in the fire and a lot of work in development. It’s necessary to pay the bills but it’s also necessary if you want to get something produced. If you’re concentrating on one piece of work, your odds might not be great. You have to keep all the plates spinning and hope that one of them will somehow take off. I’m hoping to do a new play next year and I have a few exciting feature and TV projects in development, which I hope will go into production soon.

Thanks, Hugh, and just for fun – six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

Woody Guthrie, Larry David, Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Billy Bragg, Orson Welles – literally the first six people that came into my head – in that order.  And my favourite beverage? Currently a whisky sour.

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Caroline Finnerty

Caroline Finnerty is the author of the novels ‘In a Moment’, ‘The Last Goodbye’ and ‘Into The Night Sky’. Her fourth novel ‘My Sister’s Child’ will be published in September. She lives on the banks of the Grand Canal in County Kildare with her husband, three young children and their dog.

 

When did you first begin to write, Caroline?

I have memories of making little books complete with illustrations as a child; I would staple them together and ‘design’ their covers. I also remember in secondary school being really excited when our English teacher gave us essays to write while everyone else was groaning but it wasn’t until I reached my early twenties that I had an idea for a story that I thought it would make a great book. I started writing it but ultimately I never finished it however I had caught the bug and have been writing ever since. I was probably writing for about 8 or 9 years on and off before I got my publishing deal.

And do you write everyday?

As much as I’d like to, I have to be honest and say that currently no I don’t get to write every day. My children are quite young so I’m still trying to squeeze it in around family life. I do think though that if you can, writing every day really helps to create flow and momentum so I strive to achieve as near to it as I can.

So, how long, on average, does it take you to complete a book?


Usually around a year, although the book I’m currently working on has taken 8 months for a first draft and another 8 months of rewrites.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?


I Disagree. Not everyone will experience everything in their lifetime. That’s the whole point of fiction – you have to make it up. How would Harry Potter or Twilight have ever been written? What we do know though are feelings – we know how it feels to want something desperately, to be scared or sad or happy or disappointed. If you don’t have direct experience with something you need to draw on your knowledge of your feelings from a similar encounter and try to put them into your work.

Any advice for aspiring writers?


Don’t let the self-doubt put you off, keep going until you reach the end of a first draft, then you go back to the start and revise but don’t be put off by your initial drafts. Everyone thinks that their own work is awful.

On negative reviews –  if you’ve ever had any – how do you handle them?


It’s hard. Generally, (even if it kills me) I will try to recognise constructive feedback and use it to improve my writing. If I find myself really upset by something somebody has written I always remind myself that even my favourite books have had bad reviews. Sometimes it can be hard if somebody gives you a bad review because maybe you have used swear words in your book or if they don’t agree with the viewpoint expressed. For example with my book ‘The Last Goodbye’ somebody left me a scathing review on Amazon because the characters in it, Ben and Kate were having a child out-of-wedlock even though the book is set in 2012 . . .

Are there any books by other writers that you wish you had written?


The Snapper by Roddy Doyle because it’s side-splittingly funny. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson because it’s so bloody clever.

The agent question, Caroline. Do you think it necessary to have one?

I am represented by the lovely Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates. I don’t think it’s necessary to have an agent – I signed my first deal without one but if you want to make a career out of writing and to negotiate the best possible contract & sell your work internationally, then I think it is necessary. Also they are a good sounding board to air your thoughts and ideas to. It’s also nice to have somebody in your corner, rooting for you.

How about the marketing  and PR of your work – do you contribute?

Absolutely. Social media, organising launches, contacting journalists, coming up with PR angles – it’s all part of the job nowadays. Authors are expected to do a lot of the marketing/publicity themselves.

From an author’s point of view, do you think it essential to get involved with social media?


Admittedly I’m not great at it but nowadays publishers expect it. The days of the reclusive author, sitting by a typewriter and making the odd appearance a couple of literary festivals a year are gone.

The publishing trade in general seems to be transforming, would you agree?

I’m only recent enough to it but from what I see, the world of publishing is changing rapidly. Publishers are playing it safe and aren’t willing to take a punt on debut authors like before. It’s not just enough to have a good book; they want people who have already built a ‘platform’. I know of several self-published people who are proactive about marketing their own books and as a result have been approached by agents/publishers about their work. Also, when you go into a bookshop you will see so many different authors from all over the world whereas previously the range was much narrower and these books wouldn’t have made it to Irish shelves. Traditionally published authors are also competing against self-published ones so it can feel very hard to stand out in the crowd.

And self-publishing?
Would you consider it?

I definitely would consider self-publishing. I think many traditionally published authors are now trying the hybrid model, where they do a bit of both.

Finally, Caroline, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’ve just sent back edits for my next book ‘My Sister’s Child’, which will be out in September. ‘My Sister’s Child’ is the story of two sisters, and one huge question. Jo is the elder sister, responsible and hardworking. Isla is carefree and has always avoided being tied down. The sisters have always had a strained relationship, but when Isla asks Jo for something that rocks the very foundations of the family that Jo has worked so hard to have, Jo is horrified. And, as Isla’s demands become relentless, Jo is threatened with losing the one thing she holds most dearly in the wreckage. Can the sister’s fragile relationship withstand Isla’s request or will they ever be able to recover from the fallout?

 

Check out Caroline’s website and her Facebook Page here

 

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy is a writer, spoken-word performer, musician and journalist. His debut novel, John the Revelator was shortlisted for both the Costa First Novel Award and the Kerry Group Prize for Fiction. His second novel, Shall We Gather at the River, once described by Kevin Barry as ‘A wild inventive butt-kicker’ and by Metro as ‘Thrillingly unpredictable, if not downright malevolent’, was published in 2013. Peter’s band, The Revelator Orchestra released their second album The Brotherhood of the Flood in 2014. He is currently working on his third novel and a long-prose poem.

Have you always been writing in one form or another, Peter?

I wrote stories and essays in school for English assignments, mostly inspired by the stuff I’d had my nose in since I was eight or nine: comics like Starlord and 2000AD, and everything Stephen King wrote up to 1984 or so. After I left school I played drums in bands for nine years. I started hustling as a freelance journalist when I was about 26. All through my 20s I was sporadically writing stories and the odd stab at a novel, but I didn’t really knuckle down until I was 30 or so.

And your initial publishing break?

The journalism happened pretty fast: soon as I started submitting reviews and features I got published. But with the fiction, I put in about a six-year apprenticeship before I had a book accepted for publication. An acquaintance suggested I send Marianne Gunn O’Connor a sample of my stuff back in 2001. That was early days, and I was still pretty raw, but she saw some potential. We met in Spring of 2002 and she became my agent for the next 12 years. I finished John the Revelator and handed it over in April 2007. Marianne sold it to Faber that August. When I got the news I went out and had a beer and tried to take it all in. It was the best beer I’ve ever had.

I get mixed opinions as to whether an agent is necessary – thoughts?

A good agent is part boot-camp sergeant, part cheerleader and part business manager. I like conspiring with agents and editors. I’ve just joined forces with Lucy Luck at Aitken Alexander Associates.

And do you personally contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

I like the creative side of it. I’m sort of a performer as well as a writer, so I enjoy readings and public events. I’m pretty invested in the visuals: Angus Cargill, my editor at Faber, was very good at giving me input into the first two books’ covers and design. Funny though, I remember when myself and a couple of friends made a promo clip for John the Revelator, certain reviewers were muttering about ‘the might of Faber’s publicity machine’. We thought this was hilarious. We made it on a budget of about thirty quid. I’ve since collaborated with the brilliant Colm Russell on book trailers and performance clips. I did musical/performance adaptations of the first two books with The Revelator Orchestra, and we released two albums, The Sounds of John the Revelator and The Brotherhood of the Flood.

Do you think that social media, as a marketing tool, is useful?

I find it useful for getting the word out about live shows and readings, but it’s no substitute for real-world publicity or marketing of books. As I understand it, a proper publicity campaign involves TV, radio, magazine and online press and ads, billboards in tube stations, posters on buses, displays in book shops. Unless you’re prepared to make social media stuff a way of life, to the detriment of your work and sanity, it won’t help sell diddley squat, bar one or two e-books, for which you’ll be paid a pittance. I made a resolution this year: with rare exceptions, I won’t do anymore email interviews instead of phoners or face-to-face, and I won’t write anything for free in the name of ‘exposure’. I might consider doing some form of online creative project or blog over the next year, but only if I’m as driven to do it as I am by an idea for a book.

Who inspires you, Peter?

Too many to list: Robert Louis Stevenson, Flannery O’Connor, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Ray Bradbury, William Burroughs, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Philip K Dick, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Lester Bangs, Hunter S. Thompson, Nick Cave, William Gibson. They all seemed like outsider artists. They weren’t MFA careerists. This stuff seemed like a matter of life and death.

And how does your love of music influence your work?

Primarily through rhythm. Rhythm is everything. It drives every line in Shall We Gather at the River. Also atmosphere. Very often I’m trying to nail a feeling that I’ve heard in a song or a piece of music, translating it into language.

In terms of genre, how would you describe your writing?

I’ve been told I’m sui generis, which is a fancy way of saying I’ll steal from anyone. My stuff tends to get categorised as literary fiction, but I love the atmosphere and language of noir and southern gothic, the philosophy and ideas of sci-fi, the plotting and dialogue of crime novels and modern westerns.

And when immersed in the work, how long does it take to finish a book? And how do you manage your writing time?

As long as it takes. Depends on what’s on the slab. I use the local library as my office, so I start at 10.30. If possible, I’d start at 9. On a good day I go until 5.30, with a couple of short breaks. No phone calls or correspondence before 3, if at all possible. I work Monday to Friday. Regardless of what’s produced, I have to put the hours in.

There’s been a lot of debate in the press of late in relation to negative reviews. Any thoughts on how writers should handle them?

Reviewers are readers with megaphones. I appreciate any close reading, but by the time a book of mine is published I’ve put everything I’ve got into it, so that horse has bolted.

And on literary competitions and awards?

If they generate money, sales or publicity, great.

A shift of change seems to be going on in publishing right now – how do you see it?

The Irish scene is thriving. Loads of great writers and indie publishers. Mainstream publishing could use an overhaul. I think big publishers acquire too many titles in the vague hope that something will stick. Of those titles, say, 50 in a given quarter, the marketing and sales departments will select a couple that they think will sell. These get the big push, and the rest are just sort of orphaned in the wild. I believe there’s an audience for most good books, but sometimes it’s a question of taking the time to locate a niche instead of trying to blindly sell something to everybody.

And on Indie publishing?

Indie publishers can be bolder than majors, and can move faster. Indie or major, I think it’s important to have a good team behind you: readers, editors, proof-readers, publicists, sales people.

Would you consider self-publishing?

If it came down to it, I’d rather put the work out myself than sit around waiting for someone’s permission.

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

Where do I start?!! Where do I stop?!! Blood Meridian, The Violent Bear It Away, The Third Policeman, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The True History of the Kelly Gang, Riddley Walker, Burning Chrome… And I’d love to have written Night of the Hunter (the film and the book), or Dr Strangelove, or Blade Runner.

Write what you know – agree or disagree? 

I say write what you can imagine and let reality take care of itself. All fiction is speculative fiction.

And any other advice for aspiring writers?

Put in the hours. Imagine you’re an athlete in training for a tournament. And once you’ve achieved a basic level of mastery, don’t ever work for free.

Thanks, Peter. Final request! Name six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?

Any six characters from Deadwood.

Details of Peter’s books Here, and The Revelator Orchestra Here

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Martina Reilly

Martina Reilly has had many careers. She’s been a supermarket packer (she knows you can’t put a loaf of bread in with a packet of bleach), a lounge girl (she can avoid a grope at close quarters), she even worked in her local council. Nothing, however gives her as much pleasure as the job she has now – it involves drinking lots of coffee and concocting elaborate lies. No, she’s not a politician, she’s a writer. To date, she has written nineteen novels, including four for young adults. Her books have been translated into many languages and have won prizes (A Bisto Book Merit Award, an RAI reading award, an International White Raven Award, and Something Borrowed was long-listed for an Impac award).

Martina also writes scripts, plays and poetry. She has dabbled in journalism. She acts and has also directed plays (mostly her own, because she’s a control freak) Her long-term ambition is to write a sit-com and in 2013, she and her friends got together and produced a demo dvd of her first venture – Headers. In her spare time, Martina walks her dog, acts with her local drama group, runs with her local athletic club (she was the All-Ireland Masters W3 champion in 2014 in the 200m and held the 60m indoor record). Sadly her knees are letting her down bigtime now! Martina hopes to keep writing in the hope that people will keep reading her books.

Nineteen novels, Martina. Impressive! So tell us, where did it all begin?

I have been writing since I could read. I started ‘seriously’ when I was eight, scribbling little stories into my school copies. When I was fifteen, I wrote a book called Livewire, which was about a boy called Joey who was in a band, much to the horror of his dad who wanted him to study for his exams. Even back then I recognised that there was something special about this story. When I was in my twenties, I had the money to buy a word processor and type it all up. This is the book that was eventually published.

And did you take inspiration from anyone in particular?

Enid Blyton was the first writer I read and I just loved the idea that you could make a living creating stories. I think I was born a writer really, I needed no encouragement!

How would you describe your writing, from a marketing perspective?

My work is marketed in the ‘women’s commercial fiction’ genre. I have no idea what that is as each time I write a book, the stories are vastly different. My latest one ‘That Day in June’ is about a homeless runaway and a mentally ill man. I just like to write about people, what makes them who they are and to allow the reader some understanding of what it means to be human. There are pretty good plots to.

And the length of time it takes you to complete a book?

It depends on the book. On average, it takes about a year, though I did write my second YA novel in two weeks – Fast Car. That was a goodie.

How is your writing day structured?

I write most days between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm – which is when my daughter comes home from school. I rarely write on weekends or during summer. I’ve been lucky so far in that I seem to be always able to finish a book within these parameters. Friends are very important to me so I’m not your stereotypical writer who abandons her friends and morning coffee in favour of an elusive chapter. I really believe that the best of writing comes easy, so a morning off to have coffee with my friend will not derail my work.

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

I do have an agent and yes, I do think, certainly in publishing that you need one. An agent ensures that your work gets read by editors in publishing houses. A lot of publishers only accept manuscripts from agents so the places a writer can send their own work is very limited. Even if a publishing house accepts manuscripts from a writer directly, there is often a long wait before the scripts will get read.

And do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

Absolutely, yes. I think that’s a reflection on the modern way of doing things – writers need to be their own PR machine. It’s not something that I enjoy as I’d much rather be writing, but it can be fun coming up with creative ways to get seen!

What’s your opinion of the publishing trade these days?

Book selling has changed so much in the last while. Ebooks are making their mark, but I don’t believe that printed copies will ever vanish. My route to publication seems hopelessly old-fashioned now – if I had to do it again, I guess I’d have to be a vologger (or whatever it’s called). God help the world then…!

Indeed, Vologging could become a thing! Would you also consider self-publishing?

I think it’s brilliant if done well. Of course I would. I love writing and I will write forever – a bit like that irritating kid who insists at singing at parties whether she’s wanted or not! If I don’t get published ever again, I will self-publish.

And literary competitions and awards?

It’s nice to be recognised but honestly, I don’t put any store by them. I’ve read prize-winning novels and hated them. I mean, really, really hated them. It doesn’t mean they were bad books, but they were not for me. I’ve also read books that have never caused a ripple on the publishing scene and been very moved by them. A good book for me is one where great writing and great characters combine. Sometimes I think books are picked for the cleverness and that irritates me.

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

I have had one bad experience with a review. I’ve also had critical reviews. The trick is learning the difference. Critical reviews  enable you to learn. I am always open to people’s opinion of my work, I don’t mind if they dislike it if I find out why. A bad review on the other hand, is an assassination job in which the book is shot down in a hail of smart comments. They sting but as my mother always says, ‘There’s a reason people behave that way. Be kind’.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The best bit of advice I can give, besides ‘just do it’ is – be yourself. Don’t try to ape anyone, don’t try to be funny, or pull at heart-strings, or scare people. Just write and be honest to the story. Put yourself and your voice on the page.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I’m not sure. Starting off it’s good advice, but I tend to write about what I want to figure out, or what I’d like to learn about or what I find interesting. I think better advice – if it interests you, write about it.

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

So many….The Poisonwood Bible, What is the What, The Patchwork Planet…

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

I am doing a book called ‘The Scent of Apples’ – it’s about corruption and evil in a small town. (I think!)

 

Check out Martina’s website here

 

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland: Shane McCabe

Shane McCabe was born in Dublin and graduated with an honours degree in economics from Trinity College.  He is also a graduate of the Gaiety School of Acting, and has been involved in the industry for a number of years. His short film LUCKY ESCAPE screened at numerous Academy Award® accredited festivals worldwide and sold to NBC Universal, (Italy), HBO, (Central and Eastern Europe), top comedy website Atom.com, UK Broadcaster Channel 4, NBC Pan Asia, Shorts TV in the United States, and all of Latin America and the Caribbean via the Latin American Discovery Channel.  Lucky Escape has over 2.3 million views on YouTube and Shane has just signed a deal which will see both Lucky Escape and his most recent short THE PRESCRIPTION hosted on Amazon, Amazon Prime and Hulu. The Prescription, his three minute comedy, set in Dublin, had its World Premiere at the 2014 Edmonton International Film Festival and recently sold to HBO and his feature, KOPKILLER, a supernatural thriller, won Best Crime/Mystery category at the 6th Annual GSIFF Screenplay Competition 2012.  Shane’s Latino-themed thriller, NEXT OF KIN, was a Quarter Finalist at the 2014 AMPAS Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, and has recently attracted the attention of Colombian actress Sofia Vergara. His latest script, MONEY TALKS, has just received development funding from the Irish Film Board.

 

How long have you been writing, Shane, and when did you get your first break into film?

In and around 2000/2001 and the first breakthrough came in 2005 when the Irish Film Board produced my short film, Never judge a book under their Short Cuts Scheme.

Do you write everyday?

No. But I will try to sometime. I don’t structure my day when writing. I write when I feel the time is right.

Is there a genre that you prefer to work in?

I write in many genres, from comedy to dark thriller, but I do tend to favour supernatural thrillers.

And how long does it take you to finish a script?

It depends on the project. I wrote my last script in eight days, but I did have a well fleshed out treatment to work off. I am currently working on a project I started three years ago. The lead-in time is always different. But the average time from Fade in to Fade out is three to four weeks.

On negative reviews – ever had any?

Luckily I haven’t been too often in that position. My short film Lucky Escape has over two million views on YouTube and there are negative and positive comments so I just take the rough with the smooth.

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

No and Yeah, I am currently talking to various reps in the US and UK.

Do you engage in your own PR?

One hundred per cent yes. I do all my own marketing and spend as much time as possible on it. Social media is a good tool if it is used wisely.

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

Yes. Quentin Tarantino. I loved his structure in Pulp Fiction and in Reservoir Dogs.

What’s your opinion of the film industry right now?

It seems all the good writing is gravitating to television now. Film is more and more about the franchise or super hero/comic book genre.

And on competitions and awards?

I rate competitions highly. The reason is twofold. Winning or being placed is a great shot in the arm and winning or placing in the big ones opens doors to getting your script read and/or representation. I was an Austin FF finalist in 2010 and a Nicholl Awards quarter finalist for the last two years.

What about Indie Film and publishing?

Indie is tough. You need a knockout hook and/or a name to get the finance. Also, I have considered crowdsourcing for film and I have self-published one of my scripts, Breakthrough, as a book.

Any advice you can offer to emerging talent, Shane?

Never give up. Write, then rewrite, then write again. Personally I like to have two projects going at once. Time spent away from a script is as valuable as time spent writing it.

Write what you know – agree or disagree?

Yes and No. Write what you’d love to see on the screen.

Is there a script by another writer that you would have liked to have written?

Yes, LA Confidential. This is beautifully structured, plotted, and executed.

Want to share what you are working on now?

Yes. It is a film called Money Talks a thriller with some very dark humour.

And finally, Shane, anyone, famous or not, you would like to share your favourite beverage with?

Only one name comes to mind: Nelson Mandela. He is one of the greatest leaders of all time. His ability to leave his twenty-seven years of captivity behind him and embrace those who imprisoned him is a lesson for all human beings.

Check in with Shane on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shane.mccabe.75