The Harder I Work, The Luckier I Get…

magcover63I’m a subscriber to the excellent Mslexia magazine and look forward to it dropping through the letter box every quarter. I always find something of interest but sometimes a particular article really stands out and it’s easy to kid myself on that it was written purely for my benefit.

The feature that spoke to me directly was ‘First, Stalk Your Agent…’ written by Sarah Hilary, a writer I follow on Twitter. In the piece, Sarah describes her relentless pursuit of securing representation by her ideal literary agent – Jane Gregory. The gist of it is that Sarah worked hard, really hard, to respond to feedback from Jane, to raise her profile on social media, to put herself and her work out there and she continued to write and rewrite until her efforts resulted in representation and having her debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin published in the UK, later this year in the US and the rights sold to six other countries.

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Jammy! An understandable reaction to a success story like Sarah’s except it wasn’t down to luck. Sarah feels that it was stamina that bagged her an agent and a book deal, “If we believe too much in luck, we might neglect the hard work that’s far more vital to success”.

The reason Sarah’s words appeared so personal to me was that her outlook mirrored my recent application to the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award. I hate having to ‘sell’ myself in applications and although I take my writing seriously, I try not to take myself too seriously so in the opening lines of my personal statement, I’ve also considered the role of luck.

If I said that I hoped it would be a case of ‘third time lucky’ in my attempt to receive a New Writers Award, it would imply that I’m superstitious.

For the record, I do not: own a rabbit’s foot, search for four-leafed clovers, have a horseshoe nailed above my door, avoid walking under a ladder… you get the picture, ask anyone who knows me, I’m too cynical to believe in all that hocus pocus guff.

Another issue that needs clarification is that by referring to my application as ‘third time lucky’ I commit the crime of using a cliché in my writing, which would suggest that I am lazy and show a lack of originality in thinking.

Once again, it’s easy for me to refute these characteristics. Years of commitment prove, beyond doubt, that I could never be described as lazy as I’ve written three novels and if my writing is worthy of publication in Gutter literary magazine then it must be original.

So I’m unrepentant in my use of the ‘third time lucky’ phrase (here’s another cliché – ‘rules are made to be broken’) but I would never rely on luck, whether I believe in it or not, as the reason for a successful application. A recipient of a SBT award needs to be justified through hard facts.

10615523_717819518287446_5539425465759396936_nI can demonstrate that if lazy isn’t an appropriate word to describe me, tenacious is accurate. How else could you describe someone who has relentlessly pursued their writing ambitions for almost ten years?

My application rambles on with a list of reasons why I might be considered worthy but the common denominator is determination. Since applying, like Sarah, I’ve literally put myself and my words out there and read aloud at Woo’er With Words organised by Untitled for the second time. I actually felt more nervous than my debut at the local spoken word event, mainly because the subject matter of my story was a Catholic POV on sectarianism and it contained a few ‘bad’ words which I wasn’t sure would go down well with the audience.  I lived to tell the tale and the most stressful part was knowing that Eddie, the photographer, was sitting in front of me pointing a camera upwards and would be able to capture several chins on camera.

When I read the Mslexia article, the tone of my application and attitude to achieving my dream sounded so familiar, it could’ve have been written by Sarah. It’s not easy trying to follow Sarah’s example to keep going but I live in hope that one day I’ll also be able to celebrate and share how perseverance won in the end.

How do you keep yourself motivated? Do you believe in luck making the difference between success and failure?

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The Highs and Lows of my Writing Year

1473055_612428212125677_1989818867_nIt’s been an interesting year as far as my writing goes with a couple real yippee moments but also a few harsh kicks in the teeth. I’d hoped that 2013 would be my year and all those hours locked away with my laptop wouldn’t have been better spent watching The Great British Bake Off (at least I might have been able to eat the results of my hard work).

I started 2013 raring to go on my 3rd novel and for the first time I used the ‘freefall’ method. This has its good and bad points with the main bonus being that you quickly get the story down on paper (or screen in my case) so it’s great for keeping up momentum BUT when you finish and begin editing there’s a LOT of work to be done. I naively believed that I’d be able to finish editing by the end of the year but no matter how much I wanted to reach my goal,  I soon realised that my target was unachievable if I wanted to give it my best effort. Patience is a virtue which I don’t possess, I want to get it out there and also I’m keen to develop ideas I’ve had for my next novel (ask any writer, there’s always a next one…).

ups-downs-in-life-278x278Of course, I WILL finish editing at some point (hopefully early in 2014) but annoyingly it’s taken a lot longer than I’d like. Because I’ve dedicated my time to the novel, I decided to put writing short stories on hold this year. However, I submitted a story I wrote a while ago and was chuffed to bits to have it published in Gutter magazine. That was no2 in my top highlights of the year as I’d been unsuccessful in my previous submission and to have a piece in Gutter is to be in prestigious writing company.

Midsummer, it felt like it was all happening! The no1 high of my writing year had to be making the shortlist of the Hookline Novel Competition.  I was skipping round my bedroom singing The Only Way is Up (takes me back to hearing Yazz played on a constant loop in Kavos in 1988). It was an anxious wait to see if my last novel would be selected by book groups to be published by Hookline but unfortunately the bubble burst. I didn’t make it so it was a bittersweet high that became the no2 low of my writing year.

And the no1 low? Being unsuccessful in my application for the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award, making the shortlist might have taken the edge off the disappointment but that didn’t happen either. The standard knock-back states that, “due to the high volume of applications we are unable to give individual feedback.” This is frustrating because this was my second attempt and I’m none the wiser as to how I could improve my chances next time.

imagesAnd will there be a next time? If the truth be told that despite positive experiences with Hookline, Gutter, Paragraph Planet and inspiration from seeing other wannabe writers succeed, I’m at an all-time low as far as my hope of achieving a career as a writer. I first blogged about my writing journey in 2011 when I began my MLitt course but I was on the long and winding route years before uni. I’d already been on two Arvon courses, written three novels, had a handful of stories published and yet although I’ve made progress, I’m wondering if being a published novelist will ever happen. What’s a girl (okay, forty something woman) to do???

When the latest rejection hit home there was a lot of, “Why am I bothering?” moans and groans. It’s not easy to constantly bounce back and keep telling yourself (and try to convince family and friends that you’re not delusional) that it’ll happen one day and maybe this latest novel is the ONE.

It took my hubby to point out that I was always writing the novel for me, for pleasure, not to win an award, a competition or even get published. The man talks sense. Seeking external approval is not why I started writing in the first place and it’s why I’ll keep going, no matter how many knock-backs 2014 brings…

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Roddy Doyle’s Jimmy Rabbitte is Back

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Chuffed to get my mitts on a copy of Gutter magazine.

images (1)I’d like to think of myself as being strong-minded but I’ve never claimed to be physically strong. And yet, I was able to drag a man of 15 stone to Edinburgh yesterday for my annual trip to the Edinburgh Book Festival (although the incentive of going for a meal and a visit to the NTS’s  Georgian House made him less resistant).

This year was especially exciting for me as I got the buzz of walking into the on site bookstore and seeing a book which featured one of my short stories on the shelf. I’m very proud to be in the latest edition of Gutter magazine along with a stellar line-up of Scottish writers. But the main reason I hauled my hubby to the EIBF was to see one of my all-time favourite writers – Roddy Doyle.

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My favourite one of the EIBF deckchairs. The Alexander McCall Smith quote is so very true!

Coming from a working class background myself, Roddy’s work appeals to me both as a reader and as a writer. I have the utmost admiration for his affectionate writing about family life, together with a dry sense of black humour that is conveyed to the reader mostly through the use of dialogue.

In 1993 Roddy won the Booker Prize for his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. The book was praised for Doyle’s ability to write convincingly in the language of his main protagonist, Paddy Clarke: a ten-year-old boy living in Dublin in the 1960s. I reread this book as part of my ‘Reading Journal’ for my MLitt course and was blown away by his skill.

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Ireland’s master storyteller.

In a first person narration, Paddy describes things in a childlike manner and this makes the writing simple and yet so effective. “The jellyfish was still floating there, like a runny umbrella.”

Genius!

The relevance of the title of the novel only becomes apparent at the very end when Paddy suffers from the social repercussion of his parents’ breakup with the loss of friendships. When his former friends taunt him with jeers of, “Paddy Clarke- Paddy Clarke- has no da. Ha ha ha!” you cannot fail to be moved. Even more poignant is when Paddy is forced to mature beyond his years, “I didn’t listen to them. They were only kids.” It’s a brilliant book along with another one of my favourites,  The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.

imagesAnd now, 26 years after he wrote The Commitments, Roddy Doyle has written a sequel to his bestselling Barrytown Trilogy with The Snapper and The Van. He has returned to Jimmy Rabbitte Jr, manager of The Commitments in the original book, to create a new story set in modern-day Dublin. In this opening night event he introduced us to The Guts and I doubt fans will be disappointed. Roddy’s wit is as sharp as ever and he had the audience in stitches with his patter.

I can’t wait to read it!

Is Roddy Doyle one of your favourite writers too? Do you find that your own social background draws you to particular writers?

 

Mustang Sally‘ must be one of the most murdered songs at family weddings and karaoke nights. But go on, click on the link, you know you want to… Give it laldie!

“Listen!
All you wanna do is ride around Sally
(Ride Sally, ride)”