Friday, December 19, 2014


Kindle Newsletters are a mine of writing information.

The following tips come courtesy of award-winning writer Maria Murnane

Book descriptions can be an effective marketing tool, but they can also be tricky. Here are three keys to writing a good one:

  1. Show, don't tell: Much like an online-dating profile, if you toot your book's horn too much, it's a turnoff. If your book is funny, don't write, "This is a laugh-out-loud story!" Instead, write something funny to describe it. Another downside to the overselling approach is that if the reader doesn't laugh out loud when reading your book, he/she is going to feel cheated. (This unfortunately has happened to me several times, which is why I decided to write this post)
  2. Don't go into too much detail: When I'm perusing potential books to read, I want to know what the story is about, period. I don't need to know all the details, or all the minor characters' names, or exactly how the book ends. None of that matters to me before I begin reading it. Plus, when my eyes start glazing over because there are simply too many words in one massive, overly descriptive paragraph, I question how good the writing in the actual book is, and I usually move on without making a purchase.
  3. Watch your grammar and spelling: As in the above example, if the book description is well written, I assume the book is well written. The reverse is also true, so make sure you don't have any grammar or spelling errors in your description.

There are literally millions of books out there competing for attention, so the description is a great way to entice potential readers to choose YOURS. It may be just a paragraph or two, but it's worth taking the time to make it shine.

Friday, December 5, 2014


 National Novel Writing Month took place during November. It was brainchild of Bob Clary,
Community Manager, Webucator ( - Google Analytics/AdWords Trainer, and was hugely successful. The spin-off is being run through December, and Bob asked me to write a Blog, explaining my writing journey and answering the questions listed...  

 I always knew I’d write. When the other girls in my class were dreaming of being models, air hostesses, actresses of having a career in banking or business, as many were, I dreamed of having a book – one book – on a shelf for sale in a real bookshop in Dublin city.

Before I started writing, I had a variety of jobs – all very interesting in their own way but it wasn’t until I got married and had my first child that I began real writing. I’d an ancient typewriter on the dining room table and churned out short stories for magazines. Several were printed; then the rejection slips began. After too many rejections, I decided to give feature writing a go. It worked. I freelanced for Irish newspaper groups and magazines. It was my career for a good 15 years. I primarily did interviews with celebrity actors, writers, business people as well as features like House of the Month, hotel brochures. You name it I wrote it.

Next I tried my hand at radio documentaries, plays, talks. A documentary titled Dying with Love led to my first book of the same title. And I was hooked. It was a real book, not only for sale throughout the country, but favourably reviewed and garnering good publicity. Four more non-fiction titles followed. Now it was time to step into fiction. My first was Once Upon a Summer; second Felicity’s Wedding; followed by Time & Destiny, A Type of Beauty, the story of Kathleen Newton, and this year The Interview. Next year I’m on a book tour in Israel.

I was delighted to get the invitation from Webucator’s Bob Carey to write this Blog. Pressure of work and looming deadlines meant I couldn’t write the novel in themonth – I couldn’t anyway, ever.

 I wouldn’t change my writing life for anything

What were your goals when you started writing?
I just wanted to write, to play with words, to put words on paper and as they began to flow, I was back to my childhood dream of being published. Having had a successful, well-paying commercial career,  I was amazed at how little magazine short stories paid and they took a long time to write and edit to professional standard.

What are your goals now?
After my first story was published, I looked at it with a critical eye and knew it could be improved on. Since then I’ve been highly critical of my own writing, spending time re-writing and re-writing. I consider it pays dividends for quality of work. My goals now are to write as well as I can – I try never to send anything out until it is as good as I can make it. For my novels, I use a freelance editor who knows my work and can look at it objectively. I don’t believe writers can be the final editors of their work.

What pays the bills now?
 I also look to negotiate fair contracts where I’m paid for my work. That said, fiction would not pay my bills, though its pluses are invitations to talk in libraries, at literary functions, book fairs.  I‘ve written two how-to manuals on writing and run various writing courses, including Writing Fiction (1) & (2) in University College Dublin. These are other strings to my money-earning bow.

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills what motivates you to keep writing?
I write because I love it. A day when I don’t research, write or edit seems to me to be a day wasted. I also love the whole business end of writing and publication. With this in mind, I self-published’ A Type of Beauty, the story of Kathleen Newton’, French artist James Tissot’s
 mistress and muse. I learned a lot and found the process fascinating but
 incredibly time-consuming. I was glad to have The Interview picked up
 by New Island Books, an independent publishing house. 
And next year I'm going on a book tour to Israel.

And optionally, what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?
This is raised frequently during my various classes/lectures. My advice is to write every day, to make writing an integral part of your day. When you have that niggle that something is not quite right, you, the author, are usually right, and should stay with it until you can resolve whatever the issue. Not to send out material too soon (When I’m editing, I frequently return the manuscript for the author to carry out more work) While those of us who want to write usually have a way with words, writing is like any other skill, it needs to be worked at, practiced and nurtured.
more info:

Monday, October 27, 2014


This week we're looking atConflict within the structure of a  Story 

The Basic Three Act Structure
The simplest building blocks of a good story are the Three Act Structure. Separated by Plot Points, its Act 1 (Beginning), Act 2 (Middle), and Act 3 (End) refer not to where in time in the story they lie but instead fundamental stages along the way.

  • In the Beginning you introduce the reader to the setting, the characters and the situation (conflict) they find themselves in and their goal. Plot Point 1 is a situation that drives the main character from their "normal" life toward some different conflicting situation that the story is about. 

    • Great stories often begin at Plot Point 1
    • thrusting the main character right into the 
    • thick of things, but they never really leave out
    •  Act 1, instead filling it in with back story along the way.

  • In the Middle the story develops through a series of complications and obstacles, each leading to a mini crisis. Though each of these crises are temporarily resolved, the story leads inevitably to an ultimate crisis—the Climax. As the story progresses, there is a rising and falling of tension with each crisis, but an overallrising tension as we approach the Climax. The resolution of the Climax is Plot Point 2.

  • In the End, the Climax and the loose ends of the story are resolved during the Denouement. Tension rapidly dissipates because it's nearly impossible to sustain a reader's interest very long after the climax. Finish your story and get out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Writing Fiction (Transformation) -  This Checklist compliments Structure of the process of change.:

1.  Does plot of transformation deal with of change as protagonist journeys through one of the many stages of life?
2.  Does the plot isolate a portion of the protagonist's life that represents the period of change, moving from 
one significant character state to another?

3.  Does story concentrate on the nature of

change and how it affects the protagonist from
 start to end of the experience?

4.  Does first dramatic phase relate the transforming incident propelling protagonist into a crisis, starting process of change?
5.  Does the second dramatic phase depict the effects of the
transformation?  Does it concentrate on the self-examination and
character of the protagonist?

6.  Does the third dramatic phase contain a clarifying incident

representing the final stage of the transformation?  Does the character understand the true nature of the experience and how it has affected him?  Does growth and understanding occur?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Writing Fiction - Transformation

This is an occasional blog with tips for writers of fiction:

'Transformation' in fiction is the process of change in the protagonist as they journey through one of the stages of their life.
The plot isolates a portion of the protagonist's life that represents that period of change, moving from one significant character state to another.

Some "standard" points of change: 
becoming adult; war and combat; 

search for identity; divorce and 
other family shifts; facing violence;
 deaths; and learning something new 
remember Pygmalion?).
But the large-scale change is only one kind.  Consider small events that may build and shake lives...

Phase 1 - an incident that starts a change in the protagonist's life.  Be sure your protagonist is obvious before the change.
    Let the ripples of the incident stretch out...There are lessons to be learned, judgments to be made, insights to be seen.
Phase 2 – show the full effects of the transforming incident.
What hidden parts of the main character are stirred up in the wake of the storm?
Phase 3 - show (often via another incident) the results of
the transformation.  What does the protagonist learn?
In fiction it's common for a protagonist to learn lessons other than what he expected to learn.  The real lessons are often the hidden or unexpected. Expectations are baffled; illusions are destroyed.  Reality overtakes fantasy.

Use above and see how it changes your manuscript. In a few days, I'll post the Checklist that goes with this.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sunday, August 10, 2014


  • I absolutely love this class! I’ve been coming since 2009 and have gone from newbie writer to published author and the classes played a huge part in this.
  • I have been at a couple of creative writing courses and this is by far the best
  • … a weekly fix for writing motivation
  • …the course was very honest and practical
  • I will suffer from withdrawal symptoms now
  • The class was informative, educational and fun…

I too love Wednesday mornings in UCD's Carysfort Campus. Year in year out the group of writers who turn up are a joy.

This year's course is titled: Writing Fiction(1) - Plotting & Planning. The autumn term runs from Wed 1 October to Wed 3 December from 10 o'clock to noon.

Writing fiction is an adventurous act best served by nudging aside reality, a word at a time. The focus of Writing Fiction 1 is to bring participants on this adventure. The 10-week course is tailor-made towards writing fiction to appeal to today’s changing market. In Fiction 1 focus is on sourcing storylines and creating strong plots. The course is suitable for emerging as well as more established writers interested in writing novels and short stories for print as well as radio. The core strengths of Writing Fiction 1 are analysis of writers’ work, group participation and discussion.
As well as being an adventure, writing fiction is an acquired skill, nurtured by tapping into:
  1. Life experiences
  2. Stream of consciousness exercises 
  3. Studying media stories.
Tips of the trade and how to devise and write page-turning plots which includes plot arc, the importance of opening sequence and learning how to structure plots are all explored.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Historical Novel Society Conference

I'm a huge fan of the conferences hosted by The Historical Novel Society. The next is taking place in London over the weekend of Friday 5, Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 September  on the campus of the University of Westminster.

These conferences which alternate yearly between the UK and the States draw the creme de la creme of top international writers who are experts in their specific era of historical writing.

Guests of honour this year include Elizabeth Chadwick, author of 20+ historical novels and winner of a Betty Trask Award. Con Iggulden, one of today';s most successful authors of historical fiction. Jerome de Groot, expert in contemporary historical fiction and Kate Forsyth, one of Australia's favourite novelists and award winning author of more than 20 titles.

Conference sessions include BOOK VIDEO TRAILERS - How to make Attention-Grabbing book trailers; THE PERILS AND PITFALLS OF WRITING 20th CENTURY HISTORY - Advice & Top Tips; FIGURES OF SPEECH - Recreating Past Voices - Methods and Approaches; RESEARCH RAPTURE - Making the Most of Your research Hours.

Also in attendance are booksellers, agents, publishers and a cross section of journalists. One of the most popular sessions are the pitches to agents, when aspiring writers can pitch their work to an agent of their choice.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Why, oh why don't our government protect our artistic heritage?

Recently Edna O'Brien's childhood home in Co Clare was withdrawn from auction after failing to meet its guide price and is being sold by private treaty - to whom is not clear. According to reports O'Brien was stunned to hear it had gone for auction, saying she 'loved the place'. There is probably not much to love now as it's reduced to a crumbling ruin with an overgrown garden. But it could be turned into a museum or a writer's retreat, a fitting way to honour one of Ireland's greatest modern writers

Eileen Gray's  E1027 in Rocquebrune Cap Martin is regarded as one of the most iconic houses of the 20th century.  When Le Corbusier refused to remove the eight sexually explicit murals he'd painted on the'pristine white walls', Eileen Gray left the house, never to return. The Irish government passed up on the opportunity to buy it. It is now in the hands of  the French state, acquired in 1999 through the national agency 'Conservatoire du littoral' and the murals more than gray's designs are prime items for protection.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Even the most assiduous of emerging writers appear to fall flat on their writing face when the sun emerges. Over the course of the summer, I've met many of the writers I work with, both in person and online. The chat has generally concerned non-production. No writing, difficulty with words, words not coming, hitting a blank wall, writer's block - the list goes on and on. By the way, those excuses don't exist in the early stages of a writing career. All it means is that writers who are supposed to be writing are not.

We writers are good with commandments:
1. Work on one project at a time until it's finished
2. Don't even be tempted to start another project until you're finished the first draft of your current work
3. Work no matter what your mood - joyous, calm, sad, happy, angry
4. Work to your programme - not your mood - Note: Have a daily programme, say 2 hours or 1000 words
5. When you can't create, you can work.
8. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude
9. Forget what you want to write. Think only of your current project
10. Write first and always. Friends, Wine. Music. Theatre. Films - come after

Monday, June 16, 2014


Those of us who love books agree there is nothing like a book store that offers books and comfortable seating - coffee is an added bonus. But our book buying experience is fast changing.

The name Amazon is known worldwide. And why not, it's the world's largest online retailer. Over the past 20 years it has used books to benefit. Yet, it sell almost all of  its books at a loss. So where does its profit come from? The answer is in the form of 'fees' publishers pay in order to have their titles listed. So it is fees and not book buyers that drives how a book is displayed.

Amazon does not do interviews, does not accommodate the press with information.
It is powerful enough to be able to hide behind its wall of silence.

Recently Forbes magazine estimated that Amazon controls some 50% of book sales
 in the States. Amazon, founded by the dynamic Jeff Bezos, has virtually no competition,
 certainly not in the ebook area. According to columnist Amanda Foreman, recently writing in The Sunday
Times this is due to predatory pricing, strategic takeovers and tax avoidance.

So how are books faring? The answer is not well. The book trade has never been more vulnerable to distortion. Of necessity, it seems, publishers are going along with Amazon, and for survival they will have to continue to do so until market regulators step in

Friday, June 6, 2014


What a summer it is for our crop of talented Irish writers both established and new: John Banville, Eimear McBride, John Boyne, Sinead Moriarty, Sara Baume...the list goes on

With her first novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride won the
2014  €30,000 Bailey's Prize, as well as Kerry Group
 Irish Fiction Award, the Goldsmiths Prize in 2013. She wrote the book in six

months but it took her nine years to get it published and since its publication she
 and it have been making headlines in all the right literary circles.

Booker Prize-winner, John Banville writes both as himself (literary prize-winning novels) and as Benjamin Black he is creator of Quirke, an Irish pathologist based in Dublin. He has been described as 'the heir to Proust via Nabokov'. Among a raft of prizes his most recent is the 2014 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature.

Sinead Moriarty writes bestselling women's fiction - to date she has written eight books which have sold more than half a million copies. Her latest Mad About You has received the Richard & Judy  seal of approval. It is is listed on their book club's hugely influential summer 2014 reading list which guarantees an even wider audience and more sales.

John Boyne first lept to international fame with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a cross-over book which enchanted both children and adults. He is author of eight novels for adults and four for children and is published in 46 languages. His awards include Hennessy Literary Awards Hall of Fame, Orange Prize and The Que Leer Award for Best International Novel of the Year.

Sara Baume is winner of this years €15,000 Davy Byrnes short story award.
 Her short stories have a appeared in Moth, the stinging Fly and the Irish Independent.
Her debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither  will be published by Tramp Press in 2015

Monday, June 2, 2014


It's frequently said, indeed bemoaned, that the art of reading is being lost. Of necessity booksellers are becoming increasingly innovative. One small independent bookshop in North London has gained a devoted following of some 4,000 fans by tweeting about their customer, as reported in the Irish Daily Mail.

One customer was wandering around the shop apparently in a daze, picking up and dropping back books seemingly at random. When asked if he wanted help, he replied. 'No, I often come in here just to daydream.' Another when asked if he wanted a bag to carry the book he'd bought, replied, 'No, I'm going to find a tree, sit under it and read it now.' Another customer took an age to chose
two novels and when she finally came to the counter to pay, she was
beaming happily. 'That was complete bliss. Browsing in silence. A
 lost art.'

But as always it's the children's responses that really tug the heartstrings.
One little girl browsing a shelf of picture books was heard talking to herself.
 'I don't think you'd like this...And I know you'd love this one.' And what about the small boy who asked his mother while she was paying for his book, 'Can I read it as soon as we get home?'

Monday, May 19, 2014


Irish Times - How to Write Series - started today. It's written by Sinead Gleeson  whose creative finger is to be found in the majority of arts happenings. Looking into how to find the idea that can drive a novel, she interviews a series of writers.

Award winning writer, Emma Donoghue says, 'I'm not naturally good at plot,
so for my last four books, I've planned in advance what's going to happen in
each chapter and scene.'

Liz Nugent of Unravelling Oliver fame says, 'I began with a character Oliver was
 very clear to me. I listened intently to him even though I had no idea where I was
 going.' Liz started her book with a gripping sentence that draws the reader in:
'I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.'

Dermot Bolger maintains. 'Novels are not written with inspiration - they're written through boring, repetitive routine. They are ground out.' A lot of writers would agree with that. The most frequent mistake new writers make is sending out their novel too early, when it requires several more edits t reach today's standard of professionalism.

Winner of this years Pen/Faulkner Award, Karen Joy Fowler says she started with a historical event in which the motivations of the main player were puzzling to her. 'Why wold anyone do such a thing?' I asked myself, and started the book to answer that question.'

Thursday, May 8, 2014


As writing historical has been my genre of choice for several years, I am interested in the 'official' definition of the time scale that constitutes Historical Fiction, a subject much debated by the experts.

Historical fiction can be defined as a literary genre with historical and or fictional characters in which true and fictional actions takes place in settings drawn from history. The best writers portray the manners, times and social conditions of the time.

There's a popular feeling that anything set back 30 years or more is a historical novel, and that's been my yardstick. But not so according to Richard Lee, founding member of the Historical Novel Society. He says that to be regarded as historical fiction, a novel must be written at least 50 years after the events described, or written by someone who was not alive at the time of the events
Historical Novel Society list forthcoming historical novels

In her definitive World Historical Fiction, Lynda Adamson states that a "generally accepted definition" is a novel "about a time period of at least 25 years before it was written". And "If the setting is in a time earlier than that with which the reader is familiar, it is historical fiction."
Historical fiction presents a story that takes place during a notable period in history, and often during a significant event in that period. Setting usually takes priority, with the author making a statement or observation about the period. Historical fiction often presents events from the point of view of fictional characters of that time period. Events portrayed in historical fiction must adhere to the laws of nature.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


The title of this Blog Hop is called THE WRITING PROCESS where writers answer questions about their writing. This is a subject that has long intrigued me - as I've discovered it intrigues most writers. I believe it has something to do with writing being such a solitary occupation. I've enjoyed reading the other hoppers' writing lives. Thank to Dianne Ashcroft for involving me in this. Her Hop was last week:

I  write books & convene writing courses. My latest novel is The Interview. My latest writing course: A NOVEL IDEA is in Irish Writers Centre, Dublin on Saturdays 17 & 24 May:    

Other fiction: A Type of Beauty, the story of Kathleen Newton
Time & Destiny: Felicity’s Wedding; Once upon a Summer  
Non-fiction: Writing for Success; Working Mothers; Earning Your Living from Home; Writing for the Market and Dying with Love. Various short stories are published in magazines and anthologies.

Currently I'm editing The Interview due out this summer. The story is about the relationship between reclusive Irish designer Eileen Gray (94) and rising star of Fleet Street, Bruce Chatwin (32). I'm enjoying working through the edits that have come back from my publishers, New Island Books. It's amazing the difference a good editor can made to a manuscript and so far I've been blessed with good ones. The editing stage is one of my favourite parts of the writing process.  

Recently I've become involved in Social Media, one of the downsides of being a writer in the current climae. While it's interesting and addictive, it's eating into my writing time. I've set up Twitter, Facebook + a Facebook page for Eileen Gray; LinkedIn; Goodreads, as well as my existing website and blogs. Also I contacted various publications which has paid off with commissions and a 4-page spread in YOU, Irish Daily Mail magazine:

Promotional poster 

 My previous three fiction books were fact-led historical fiction. I don't think mine is any different to others writing in this genre. I use the facts that exist as much as possible and fill in the remainder (fiction!). Nothing had been written on Kathleen Newton, the subject of A Type of Beauty which was both good and bad. Eileen Gray has been the subject of much media interest recently. Good, I hope for sales of The Interview.

I write this genre because the subjects I choose fascinate me and as I research them and write their stories they become part of my DNA

Before I start the writing process I do a basic amount of research, then outline/ structure and decide on voices, tense etc of first draft. Get it down. Then research finer points before starting on re-write and many as it takes. As I run writing courses and an editing service, this aspect of my business takes priority over my writing at draft and re-drafting stages. But when editing my manuscript and I are together 24 hours a day. I only send out my work when I am certain I can no longer improve it.

Currently I'm thinking about, dabbling in and working on various projects - not for discussion until they're more advanced.

Thanks to the prolific Dianne Ascroft for involving me in this Blog Hop:

Next week it's Evie Hunter's turn -

Thursday, April 24, 2014


We had our last Writing Fiction (Characters) at the end of Marc in UCD's Carysfort Campus.As with the previous sessions, creativity buzzed and you could almost pick the dynamism of the characters from the walls. Well pleased we repaired to the restaurant for a well-deserved lunch, and sworn promises to continue writing every day. We needn't have worried about the latter because Elaine took it on herself to send all a reminder to write  every Wednesday morning.

I've all sorts of things happening: I'm giving one of my favouritely titled writing courses in the Irish Writers Centre on Saturdays May 17 and 24. Titled A NOVEL IDEA, all anyone needs to participate is their IDEA.

Secondly I'm in pre-launch run up to The Interview. It's both exciting and scary, though I'm happy with text love the cover and my publishers are relaxingly amenable.

To drag my reluctant self into the present time, I'm doing a lot of Social Media-ing. Twitter. LinkedIn, Website (I've had that for ages), 2 Blogs, Facebook and a separate Eileen Gray page. I look in awe at other writers and their apparently effortless facility for modestly hinting a their various activities. I've lots of help, a real expert posting for me and guiding me. I've tried, really tried, but suspect I blunderbuss in. To show I'm social media committed, here's cover of The Interview

Thursday, March 20, 2014


As expected, our second last session flowed creatively with dynamic fictional characters peopling room D101B in UCD's Carysfort Campus.

Two bits of good news:

Tricia Holbrook's  Penny for your Thoughts made the long list for Fish International Short Story Award, 2014. We had the privilege of hearing her read it and a privilege it was.

Carol Mullan's father's book With the Dublin Brigade, sub-titled Espionage & Assassination with Michael Collins's Intelligence Unit, first published in 1929 is reprinted by Mercier Press. He was Charles Dalton, 14 years of age when he joined up and by the time he was 20, he was a valued member of Collins' team.

Contratulations over, we analysed the power of the antagonist in fiction and discussed the various antagonists created within the group in action.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

WRITING FICTION (6) Characters with Secrets

Secrets can be integral to a plot, but usually the secrets belong exclusively to the characters - sometimes going as far as shaping a character's personality. There are big secrets, little secrets, important ones and silly ones. The best secrets are surprising.

10 Exercises
* A character harbours a secret that prevents hi fulfilling his true desire
* Two characters share a secret, but it's not what everyone thinks it is
* It's an old family secret and there's only one person alive who knows about it. Will she take it to her grave?
* A character has a secret and if found out it would destroy his life
* A character thinks she has a private secret, but most of the people close to her know about it
* A character knows a secret that would destroy one person's life, but save the life of another person

A word of warning, though, when writing about secrets - if you build a lot of tension, you'd better have a secret that delivers

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Another good session, number 5, with creativity filling the four corners of our room. And even better the read out of a splendid short story from one of the participants. And a joyous picture...

We discussed how good stories come in organic globs, not in strongly segmented or layered activities; not orderly, dry and technical. And how strong characters are at the heart of great literature - characters thrilling, troubling, seductive insistent. And how it's every writers' own enigmatic being that constitutes the focus of his research.

When writing fiction characters can emerge quickly or slowly. Shyly or Boisterously. The best way to learn how to present a character is to READ (I recommend that books that win or make long and/or short book awards are a good choice). By reading critically acknowledged authors writers learn how a character can be presented - through dialogue, action, physical attributes, interior monologue - a process that continues until it becomes reflex embedded in your understanding - making you access anything/anyone's potential for fiction.