Tag Archives: longlist

Nice Surprises

Yesterday, the results of the 2013 Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair were announced. I already knew I wasn’t one of the winners, but what I didn’t know was that the judges had decreed that I, along with 9 other writers, had produced work of a high enough standard to be considered longlistees.

Sulu say 'whut?' Image: ratemydrawings.com

Sulu say ‘whut?’
Image: ratemydrawings.com

This was a real surprise, and rather a comfort in the face of, once again, missing out on the top rank of ‘winner.’ I came in exactly the same position last time around (in 2012’s competition, the results of which were announced in 2013), with the same book (albeit a vastly different and entirely reworked version); if I decide to enter this competition again, I think the universe may be telling me: ‘Choose a different book.’

It’s wonderful to know that I am a strong enough writer to make a longlist two years in a row – sweetly, my husband did the maths and worked out that I was in the top 7.2% of entries, which was very cool to hear – but what I want to take from this experience is a lesson about what my writing is missing, what it needs to improve on, in order to be good enough to make it.

Over the past eighteen months or so, I’ve learned that I can put together reasonably good sentences, and that I can write on demand and under pressure. I’ve learned that I can hit deadlines, and that I have a reasonable amount of self-motivation. I’ve discovered a love for short stories and flash fiction, and I’ve ‘met’ some talented fellow writers who seem to think my stories – at least, some of them – have a little merit. I’ve found that I respond well to prompts, and that I am capable of turning an idea into a fully-fledged novel.

But where am I falling down?

 

Image: vecto.rs

Image: vecto.rs

One of my main issues is, I think, with plotting. Taken as a series of scenes, I think my writing works fine, but overall, as a completed novel, I’m not so sure. I think I manage to come up with good seeds for a story, good ideas which form the basis of whatever I’m working on, but the act of fleshing them out seems to drown them. My plots either aren’t strong enough, or the conflict isn’t sufficiently dangerous, or the antagonist not adequately evil. It’s hard to write a story which you believe in, one which you love, the sort of story you’d like to read, while at the same time thinking about marketability and originality and whether your characters are unique, your baddies not ‘stock’, your protagonist not a walking bundle of stereotypes. Sometimes, a plot you adore won’t find a home with an agent or publisher because they know what you don’t – the shape of the market, the fact that ten thousand other books are already out there on just the same topic, readers’ needs won’t be met by your work – and it’s hard to be told that something you’ve worked on just doesn’t have a place in the landscape of publishing. I know I struggle with plotting, and I guess the only way to overcome it is to practice – and to read as widely as I can.

Another thing I need to work on is pacing. Yesterday, I finished my paper edits of ‘Emmeline’, and – while I’m still happy with the direction the story took – it does feel like the ending is rushed. Also, while I’ve managed to remove a substantial total from my wordcount, I think I am still being too wordy in non-critical places, and not wordy enough in others. The middle third of the book, which I had thought was all right on my first round of edits, actually is a bit longer than it needs to be. The thought of changing it substantially is making my brain melt, but it’s going to have to happen. As well as this, I know my pacing issues centre on the final ‘act’ of my novel, when everything comes together and the final showdown takes place. My Grand Conflict ends up falling flat, because it’s all squashed into one or two chapters. This is a problem. However, knowing you do it and finding a way to fix it are two entirely separate things.

Something else I learned about myself while doing the edits for ‘Emmeline’ was my tendency to use redundancies, like ‘her stomach yowled with hunger‘, or ‘his eyes flashed in anger,’ or – my personal fave – ‘he stared at her with a mixture of anger and fear on his face‘. Of course a stomach yowls with hunger – what else would cause it to do that? And naturally a person, when staring, does it with his or her face. It would be hard to do it with any other body part. So, why did I include the words ‘on his face’? Poor writing, that’s why. I haven’t yet read over ‘Tider’, so I’m not sure whether errors like that cropped up in that book, too, but it’s likely they did. I also tend to repeat myself, whether on a micro- or macro-level; repeated words within paragraphs (sometimes, within a pair of sentences!) are not unknown in my work, and larger repetitions – plot devices, sentence structure, conversations between characters – are also no stranger to me. Somehow, I do this without noticing when I’m drafting, so it’s important to be aware of it when it comes time to edit.

But I am aware, and I am trying. So, I guess it’s just a case of doing it again, and again, and again, until I get it right.

Image: brandonvogt.com

Image: brandonvogt.com

Huge congratulations to all the authors who were shortlisted for this year’s Novel Fair, and to my fellow longlistees. The Novel Fair is a fantastic endeavour, and – year on year – it leads to book deals, the successful publication of some wonderful novels, and a lot of happy people. Novel Fair 2014’s closing date won’t be until October, so there’s plenty of time to get your magnum opus written. See you there?

Lurgy

I’m afraid today’s post is going to be brief. This is because *cloak flourish* I am unwell.

Image: parentsconnect.com

I’m afraid I’m not as cute as this little guy, but I know just how he feels. Image: parentsconnect.com

I actually think most of Ireland has been unwell, more or less since this year began, due to the weather we’ve been having. Considering two weeks ago we had snow, last week it was bright, sunny and clear (with a cold wind), and today it’s like every drop of water in the universe has decided to land on Ireland, all at the same time, it’s no wonder we’re all crocked. Everywhere you go, you hear people hacking and snuffling, so it’s inevitable that those tenacious little germs get a foothold. I’m coughing, my throat feels raspy, and I’m exhausted, so I assume I have some sort of cold which has, in all likelihood, been recycled several times this year already. Charming.

Let’s hope I don’t start popping out in buboes or anything like that, though. If I do, I’ll give you all plenty of warning so that you can run and save yourselves.

The only real news I have on the writing front is that I managed to make the longlist for this year’s Fish Flash Fiction Prize. I was on a longlist of something like 300, out of a total of 1,400 entries. Of course, making the shortlist would have been better, but for a gal who hasn’t been writing flash fiction all that long, to get on the longlist of a major and reputable competition is a great achievement, and I’m very pleased.

I started work on ‘Eldritch’ again the other day after writing my cathartic blog post about feeling The Fear. I managed to get about six chapters into it before I was felled in my prime by this coughing-disease thing; however, it was going well up to that point. The book is not without its flaws, of course, but it’s still good work and I’m determined to see it through, to polish it into the best little book that it can be, and to get the darn thing off my computer and into the hands of an agent before the summer comes. I have a Red Letter Day in my head, the day on which I’d ideally like to be pressing ‘Send’ or putting a hard copy in the post or whatever the case may be; once it’s gone, then I can turn my eyes back to ‘Tider’ and get that sorted. I have Plans, you see. Big Plans.

However, today will be spent under a blanket, nursing a hot cup of Lemsip, reading – oh, and trying not to rip my own lungs out with the force of my coughing.

Image: shaaark.com

Image: shaaark.com

Good morning to you too! I hope you’re feeling better than me, and that your day is going swimmingly.*

*I (sort of) apologise for all the Fish-related puns. The lurgy must’ve gone to my brain and started affecting my thinking process, I guess.

The Next Steps

The shortlist of the Novel Fair competition was announced last night, and, unfortunately, I wasn’t on it. I had no expectation that I would be, given the calibre of entrant I was up against, but it was wonderful to get as far as I did. Being longlisted for a writing prize, on my first time out, has given me a great boost.

So.

What now?

Well, I’ve joined ‘Authonomy’, and some of my WiP will be posted there in the coming days in an attempt to gain some feedback and (hopefully helpful!) critical opinion. I’ll put some up here on the blog, too, in order to give those who don’t use Authonomy a chance, should they wish for one, to have a look at what I’ve been working on. I’m already nearly 30,000 words into an entirely new WiP, so I’m going to bring that one to completion before I revisit ‘Tider’, and try to get it ship-shape and ready for submission to agents and publishers.

And if all that fails, well – we’ll see.

Wish me luck! And thank you for being such stalwart supports on the journey so far. I hope you’ll all be with me as I take the next steps towards achieving my life-long goal of seeing my work in print.

Happy Saturday! I’m looking forward to having a day off from writing, actually. My husband and I are off to visit one of our best friends and her brand-new baby girl, so we’re extremely excited about that. Writing will take over my life again from Monday – hope to see you there.

It's Off to Work I'll Go!Image: arenaconsulting.net

It’s Off to Work I’ll Go!
Image: arenaconsulting.net

Dangerous Dreams

The world is frozen today. Everywhere I look, all I see is whiteness – the sky matches the ground, and there’s a quiet layer of frost over everything. I feel like the only living thing in a hundred miles.

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Today I’m thinking about dreams – not so much the visions that dance behind your eyes when you’re asleep, but the hopes and plans you build for your future, which you work towards and focus on. They might be gentle, private dreams, ones that nobody else knows about, or they might be dreams you’ve chosen to share with your family and friends, or perhaps with the world at large. Whether everyone knows about your dream, or nobody does, the struggle to make it come true belongs to you, and you alone. Letting people into your dream means you have a wider support network to draw on (though you’ve bound to get some detractors, too.) Usually, people who love you will be behind you all the way, ready to help in whatever way they can. However, the thing with having a dream, one you’ve cherished and treasured all your life and hugged close to your heart, is that it becomes a part of you. No matter how many people stand around you cheering you on, working towards your dream can still seem like the most personal struggle you’ve ever faced.

I’ve posted before about how ready I am to face rejection and knockbacks. Of course, it’s one thing to have yourself steeled and prepared to go through rejection, and another thing altogether to actually go through it. I’ve never really gone through it because I’ve never allowed anyone to see anything I’ve written, with the exception of this blog. I can only hope I will manage to negotiate the difficult waters of rejection when it’s time for me to go through it for real. But over the last few days I’m realising how terrifying it can also be to meet with success, or at least the hint or possibility of success. Being longlisted for the competition I entered some time ago was wonderful, but also scary. It’s like having a crush on someone when you’re not completely ready to enter into a relationship with them, I suppose. Having feelings for someone which you keep to yourself, while treasuring the pain of your unrequited love, feels a lot like having a dream that you wish you could share with the world but which you’re afraid to even talk about with other people. If you do pluck up the courage to share your dream with the world, and you’re met with the merest hint of acceptance, it’s like the sweet horror that greets you when you tell your crush you love them – and they reciprocate.

I’ve been thinking about writing all my life, and I’ve been dreaming about writing for nearly as long. I’ve always wanted to do it professionally, but I never thought I actually would. I thought I’d keep it as ‘the great unattainable’, the tantalising thing just out of reach. I thought it would be a treasure just for me, and that I’d keep it safe inside my heart. And then life handed me the opportunity to give my dream a chance to set foot in the outside world, and I didn’t have any excuses any more. It was like someone telling my greatest crush exactly how I felt about them, spilling my secret love all over the place for everyone to see, and laugh at. But instead of my crush walking away from me, joining in the ridicule, he gazed at me and said, with a smile, ‘let’s give this thing a try’. And so, I’m starting to feel the terror now. The terror that maybe it might all work, it might all happen. Will I be good enough? Will I have what it takes to make it? Will my writing – my secret love – meet with approval?

Image: tradebit.com

Image: tradebit.com

I know that being longlisted for a competition isn’t the same thing as meeting with success. Things might still come to nothing, and I may yet have to pack my dream back up into my heart-coffer, and keep it for another day. But it’s a hint, a ray of hopeful light, a suggestion of what it might be like to make it, and I’m surprised to find that I’m scared by it.

It’s normal to be nervous of the new. Isn’t it?

Some Happy News

Dear faithful blog companions, I have some happy news!

You may remember I’ve mentioned (once or twice, at most) the competition I entered way back in October, 2012. Well, the longlist of finalists was announced at around 10pm on January 18th.

Friends – I am on the longlist!

http://writerscentre.ie/novelfair/?page_id=454

Joy to the World!

Joy to the World!

Now, before we get out of control, and start handing ’round the brandy, it’s good to remember that the shortlist of 10 won’t be announced until next week. But – out of 300 entries, I made the longlist of 31.

I am so happy – there are no words to describe it. Of course, it may yet come to nothing – I might be one of the 21 people longlisted, but not shortlisted. And if that happens, I will have no issue with it. The sheer fact that this competition was, in real terms, the first time I have ever been able to allow anyone to read any of my work, and that I’ve been chosen among the top 10% (more or less!) of a group of writers – some of them seasoned, all of them extremely talented writers, at that – is mindblowing.

I’d been waiting for the announcement all day, and was utterly convinced I hadn’t made the cut. At around 8.30 p.m. I reasoned it was a foregone conclusion – the results had surely been made known to the people who had been longlisted, and there was no point in obsessively refreshing my email, hoping for good news. I closed the computer down for the night. I drank some beer with my husband, and forgot all about it.

(Well, that’s not quite true – I couldn’t resist another peek just as I was going to go to bed. And, there it was! The longlist had been announced while I wasn’t looking, the pesky thing.)

Even if I never enter, get longlisted, shortlisted or win another competition, I will always be glad I entered this one. The feeling that a group of judges read the first 10,000 words of my novel, and liked it enough to include me on a longlist, is one I will never forget.

It’s a feeling of validation. It’s a feeling of ‘yep, you made the right choice to follow this writing dream.’ It’s a feeling that says ‘maybe, just maybe, you might make it.’ Even though it’s no guarantee of success, it’s such a huge boost to my morale and confidence, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

So, thank you to everyone I’ve ‘met’ on my blogging journey, to everyone who reads my posts, to those who’ve made such friendly and wonderful comments on my posts and all the encouragement you’ve given me. It means the world!

You do know what this means, though, don’t you? I have a *serious* editing job to do before next week!