Hitting the Airwaves with Virus-free Radio Drama

radio drama on location
Masked Crusaders of Draaaaaaa-ma

I don’t know about you, but all this social distancing has glued me to audio. Between the news, the documentaries, the drama, and the podcasts – oh, my Blog, the podcasts – I’ve become a person led by my ears. And mostly to radio.

So much so, that it’s been on my mind for weeks to do a whole post about podcasts. I’ve consumed so many of them in the past year that I am declaring myself a indisputable podcast guru. A Patrician of Podcasts. A Professional Podcast Purveyor. In short, a Pain.

So many podcasts have passed through my ears that I’ve been mentally categorising them into genres and styles, ready to make multiple online pronouncements about what I think is good or not. And why. This is serious, folks. I’ve gone aural.

But first, I need to speak to you about the more serious business of comedy. Because:

I have written a radio play.

Here be the proof!

And it was played by real people, for the radio. This makes it the first official broadcast of my work in forever.

Literally forever, because to date, my sole broadcasting experience of my work consists of a radio interview I did over 20 years ago about a piece I wrote about dead or deadly Australian animals, during which my interviewer read out some of the piece. Not exactly Sunday Miscellany.

So what’s this radio play all about, Sparling?

It’s called Mr McGuffin’s Plot Device and Writer Unblocking Emporium. Long-time residents of this bloggy parish will recognise it as a skit I wrote some years ago about a man named Mr McGuffin, who has a very special kind of shop.

In this shop, writers might go to find themselves a hero, a villain, a motive, an ending, or something to get their characters out of the jam they never meant to write them into in the first place. We writers all need a Mr McGuffin in our lives, and he is duly coming to yours next Sunday 30th August.

The skit has been adapted, extended, bashed around the place, funnified, soundified, and put together by an incredibly talented bunch of actors, director and sound designer. Just wait ’til you hear the sound effects in this one. They’re worthy of being listed in the cast.

Fine, but when, where and how can I listen?

It’s being broadcast at 2pm with a repeat at 7.30pm (Irish time) next Sunday 30th August. Scariff and East Clare locals can listen on 88.3 and 92.7FM. Everyone else can listen on www.scariffbayradio.com by clicking on the listen live button, or on your smartphone or tablet via the TuneIn Radio app.

But wait! There’s a pandemic! No Drama Allowed!!

Aha! Well, that’s where you’re wrong. Oh ye of little faith.

Sliabh Aughty Drama Group - Mr McGuffin Radio Play
Spacers

The piece was performed, directed and edited by the Sliabh Aughty* Drama Group and produced for Scariff Bay Community Radio. And all was done in a socially distant manner. Seems like radio drama is pretty much the only thing you can produce in a socially distant manner these days, without quarantines, Perspex, cling film, or a gun.

radio drama in a pandemic
Joe was so socially distanced, he couldn’t even get near the microphone

We should all be doing radio drama, is what I’m saying.

Grand, but what’s in this for me?

It’s short and will give you a giggle. What the hell else do you want in a pandemic?!

Now go and set your alarm for some laughs on Sunday. And I’ll be back with podcast pronouncements in due course.

 *please don’t try to pronounce Sliabh Aughty at home. Tune in on Sunday and you’ll find out how it’s done.

Ease Your Way Out Of #Lockdown with POST-LOCKDOWN CHAT BINGO!

Well, folks. I’ve been quiet for such a long time, but now lookit, everything has changed, again.

Even the good governments are saying it’s time for most people to start poking our scared little heads out of our hidey-holes, and say a bleary hello to the world outside.

But there’s a problem, ladies and gentlemen. After months of getting used to not being allowed to do anything because of COVID-19… now we’re frightened of being allowed to do stuff.

Going outside is scary. Travelling around or to a built-up area is scarier. Interacting with people we don’t know well, or at all, is TERRIFYING.

We’ve forgotten how to be. What do we say? What do we NOT say? How do people behave when they’re not on a video call??

Plus, personal responsibility is a dangerous thing to be depending on. We don’t know who to trust, and suspect we should  be trusting nobody at all. How can we relate to this cowardly new world where fear reigns, and yet we’re expected to once again interact with people we’re neither living with, nor related to?

Why, with cynicism and humour, of course.

And as always, I’m here to help you with the Post-Lockdown Chat Bingo card.

This exclusive, free-to-all Bingo Card gives you two choices, ladies and gentlesirs.

The most terrified of us can use it as a conversation cheat sheet. The Bingo card contains no (okay, very little) rhetoric which is liable to detonate any of today’s various conversational or societal bombs*, so is safe to use for the most squeamish of political ostriches.

However, I would suggest that you go for Option no. 2, and instead, play it like a proper Bingo card, and use it as a humorous reminder of the most inane side of human interaction which we all just had a lovely break from (except for those who lived the last 2 months entirely on social media).

It’s also a handy training tool to remind us that we will no longer be solely interacting with people in the virtual sense. A good test of your fitness to re-enter society will be if you’re capable of hearing an entire Bingo line of inanity without rolling your eyes ONCE.

Horizontal, vertical, diagonal, the possibilities are endless! [I know, I know… shut up, mathematicians]

And so, without further ado, it’s time to play……………….

Post-Lockdown Chat Bingo

*See how I’m commenting without commenting? See? You’ve enough signs/articles/news showing you that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, you don’t need me to tell you. I know you’re only here for the LOLZ, and to be honest, I don’t blame you one bit. 

Your Do-Nothing Lockdown Manifesto

I haven’t blogged in a month.

Which is ironic, or lazy, or lazily ironic or ironically lazy, I’m not sure which. I issued what amounted to a cultural fatwa, urging writers to inspire the world with their musings, and then I went into a huddle with myself and did nothing.

To put it bluntly, the last time I blogged, I was wrong. And I could not be prouder of myself.

I’m so proud that I’m not doing any writing, and nor am I improving myself in any way. I’m not exclusively sitting on my arse, either, but I am certainly not bettering myself. And I have to say, it’s the best thing I’ve ever (or never) done.

Not that I’m not hugely impressed by all those folks who have taken up lockdown challenges to achieve enlightenment by next Thursday and running marathons or cycling Tour de Frances in their 8×8 backyards in Chester: I am, sort of. I think it’s admirable that people have taken up trombone juggling and writing operas about virtual reality helicopters. And I think it’s a great idea if people want to spend the next month learning how to sing Nessun Dorma in Mandarin sign language whilst losing weight by leaping from ceiling pendant light to wall hanging.

I just think they should stop banging on about it, and I invite people to join my Do-Nothing Lockdown Manifesto instead.

The New Social Media Bullies

Resist the perpetual Instagrammers who want you to think that their locked down life is the best locked down life.

Ignore the incessant TikTokkers who have rustled up a gourmet meal families will love with two fava beans and some out-of-date cider vinegar.

What Book Are You Afraid To Write? Why?

Say sayonara to the unflappable Facebookers who feel they need to tell you that your child will never be bored again if only you spend thirty minutes per day ramming mindfulness into their confused little curly heads.

Blank the Twitterers who tell you that they once wrote a Nobel-worthy novel whilst in full plastercast after a horrific outdoors Zumba accident, so if you don’t have yours written by the May bank holiday, you’re just a bit shit really.

And most definitely shut your eyes to the WhatsAppers who ask you to join their challenge to find perfect happiness by reading the most bonkers and ridiculous conspiracy theories the world has ever seen and forwarding them to 598 of your closest friends as a proxy for proper social contact.

Superblogger Selfie Gold

For Once: A Manifesto Which Has Already Been Tested! (You’re Welcome)

Day to day – and especially over Easter when I had the last 4 days off – I have done nothing I could say I have ever aspired to, and in doing so, I have achieved what can only be described as the most smugly content state of being I have ever experienced.

In order to achieve this social media Nirvana, I didn’t buy anything or take up anything new. I didn’t learn anything or change anything. Instead, when not working, I’ve been exclusively cooking, cleaning, clearing, sorting, eating, watching TV, reading, drinking good wine, video calling my friends (often whilst drinking good wine), and sleeping. In terms of memorable achievements, I can therefore safely classify this as a whole lot of Nothing.

I acknowledge that I am uniquely placed to enjoy a lot of this stuff, so I’m not saying this is for everyone. But bits of the Do-Nothing Manifesto are at least appropriate for many.

The cooking feels nice because I never have time otherwise to do so. That means it’s technically a novelty for me, because I haven’t spent the last 10 years trying to think of what people will eat and getting complaints for my trouble. But it does feel good. Sometimes I use what’s been lying around in the freezer and cupboards for far too long. Mostly I don’t. I mean really, who the hell cares?

The cleaning feels good because I’m locked down in my family home in the west of Ireland, which has needed a bit of love since my Dad passed away last April. I have more space here to work, read and goggle at screens and birds, and I’m earning this good fortune by scrubbing every last inch of it so it looks like it used to when he used to be here.

The clearing and sorting is another Job-Hanging-Over-Your-Head thing which is like cleaning your mind out at the same time. I would stress that this is not a Marie Kondo thing. This is purely an old-fashioned spring clean, and I won’t have it associated with any online self-help directives. But when somebody dies, sorting through stuff can either be the worst thing for you (if you do it when you’re not ready) or the best thing (if you’re ready and have the time). Me, I am finally ready and I have the time.

The eating, drinking, watching TV, reading and sleeping things are self-explanatory. But all that precious downtime would be ruined if I was going around worrying about not writing the novel or the blog or submitting novels to agents who are now drowning in manuscripts or queries for books which haven’t even been written yet.

I Realised Something And Now You Get To Suffer For It

It’s All Work-Life Balance Really

I have to caveat all this by saying I’m lucky enough to still have a job I can do from home, which means that my Monday to Friday 9-5s are pretty much taken up with normal life, minus the commute, the salads, the face-to-face wheedling and the office banter. Which is an excuse in itself, but some people would think that all that saved commuting time should be spent doing something amazing.

And I am. I’m staring at birds, thinking about what to have for dinner, and wondering whether I should go to bed with a book or Netflix. I can’t think of a better way of doing nothing, and I can only recommend it.

You now have the ultimate freedom to Do Nothing, folks. It’s the best way I know of preparing ourselves for the lives ahead of us.

And unlike learning Swahili, writing the next Booker or losing 10 stone, we may never have the chance to Do Nothing again.

Hey, Writers! Now Is Your Time…… To Save The World For Real (For Once)

Writers….

The world needs your help. Right now this minute.

Think about it. Seriously. When was the last time someone shouted “HELP!! I NEED A WRITER!!”

(Around the same time as someone shouted “HELP! I NEED AN AUDITOR” or “HELP! I NEED A KALE GENETICIST”, I would imagine).

WRITERS! Now is Your Time... To Save The World For Real (For Once)

I’m not writing this blog post from the point of view of someone who can help. I can’t help in this virus crisis. I am as useless as a sponge raincoat. A dial-up internet connection. A weak handshake. A superfluous simile. I am writing this blog post as someone who is asking for help.

Why’s that, I hear nobody gasp at all, because they are all glued to the rolling headlines which for once mean something that’s really bloody serious whilst simultaneously reminding us of something bubonic from the 1300s?

Well, it’s because it occurred to me that something is happening globally today which has actually never happened before in human history. And that is that the world needs help… from writers.

This is because the world is currently dealing with a new reality. And when we can’t make sense of things, we all go hunting for advice.

So quite apart from the fact that there is more of a thirst for content now than ever, meaning that for the next 3-4 weeks blogs will be more relevant than they have been since those last famed five minutes in 2008, it’s time for writers to think about what they can offer the world, and give it. Now. Because all of a sudden, the world is lacking simple answer to the most rudimentary questions which bizarrely, only writers will have both the experience and skills to answer, such as:

  1. How the hell we’re supposed to work from home long-term

Newspapers are awash with articles about working from home, but few of them give people practical advice about how to do it AND KEEP YOUR SANITY AT THE SAME TIME.

But writers have been doing this forever. They are the only cohort of people who have consistently worked alone, from home, for years. Nobody knows this like a writer.

So I want loads of advice, please. It’s not just about productivity and purpose. We need answers to questions such as:

  • Should I wear clothes if I never use video calling?
  • Assuming the answer is yes to the above, what clothes should I wear?
  • If the answer is no, what the hell do you do for a living?
  • I normally walk to work, attend yoga classes and play sport at the weekends. When and how should I exercise now?
  • Should I get a dog?
  • How does lunch work around here?
  • How do I structure my day and avoid distractions when nobody can see what I’m doing?
  • What time should I start working?
  • What time should I finish work? Does it depend on how much I did or didn’t achieve?
  • Why is everyone posting pictures of ironing boards online?
  • How do I minimise family distractions? In other words, how many times is it legally permissible to shout at bored out-of-school children?
  • I’ve been working at home alone now for eight days, and I think I’m being bullied. Can I complain to HR about myself?

Selfishly, if you could reply with definitive answers to the above questions before Monday morning (my time), that would be great, thanks.

  1. How to stay connected with people whilst still practicing social distancing

It’s no secret that being a writer in the modern age is 95% social media, 5% writing. But it’s not just any old social media: no other cohort of people uses social media to such a bespoke and personal degree than writers. Writers aren’t about sharing cat memes and political diatribes coined by other people. Writers will generate their own memes, spew their own political DNA, and post unique answers to questions nobody asked them all day long if permitted.

This is more important than you think, because the end result is that writers are more genuinely connected to people they never meet than anyone else online. Everyone can learn from this as we close our doors. We’re hungry enough for real connection in a world where we can meet and slobber over each other in a physical sense; being locked away from each other can be as deadly for some people as a virus.

For this reason, I say writers: let your social media feeds be a beacon to those who are about to find out what loneliness feels like. Just one reply to a comment, or two silly sentences you write from the point of view of your dog could be the difference for someone in isolation between happy and sad.

WRITERS! Now is Your Time... To Save The World For Real (For Once)

  1. I’m afraid of losing my job/paycheque/clients because of the virus. What should I do?

I’m not even going to make a joke about this one. This is fecking serious. Loads of people all over the world are terrified that social distancing or lockdown rules are going to take away their livelihood, and no vague and detail-free announcement by a government about temporary debt or tax relief is going to take away from their fear on this one. Hairdressers, physical therapists, bus drivers, airline cabin crew, childminders, event managers, dancers, conference organisers: the list goes on.

Writers obviously don’t have an solution to this question (just as starting to write a book now about a pandemic is not going to help anyone). What they can do is offer some advice about living without money. About what happened that time that they quit their job and tried to write full-time. How they coped when a missed deadline, poor sales or a publishing decision resulted in them having to change horses mid-stream with no idea how to pay any bills, let alone the two red ones on the doormat.

Most of all, writers can offer stories about how the worst case scenario didn’t result in destitution or permanent damage. And what the world needs right now is positive stories about how things don’t result in destitution or permanent damage. Because they usually don’t. No matter how viral the bad news gets.

  1. I’m so bored I think I might punch a hole in the wall. What now?

Oh man, have you come to the right place! Look, writers: you are kings and queens of Imagination in today’s world. So, come on. Suggest things.

Think of the world as characters in a novel where people are locked inside rooms and apartments and buildings, and give them something to do. Make them specific to your genre – whether it be crime, YA, children’s stories.

Make a daily challenge out of things you’ve invented for your characters to do, and post them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, your blog, (TikTok if you’re under 20). The world will thank you for it. Strung out parents may even want to pay you.

That said, if you’re a literary fiction writer, good luck with that.

And if you’re a crime writer, I would suggest that you don’t suggest that people in lockdown inflict violence upon each other. Theft either. Up to you, though.

 

The moral of this story is that in order to get through a pandemic, it’s becoming clearer than ever that we need inspiration, imagination, creativity, and a happy ending. Writers: you have never been more relevant than you are today. So get on your marks, and…. GO.

A Passive Aggressive and Yet Somehow Loving Exchange of Views With My Internet Profile

A Passive Aggressive and Yet Also Somehow Loving Exchange of Views With My Internet Profile

 

My Blog: [quiet font] Psst. Tara. Hey.

Me: What?

My Blog: Tara. Hiya. Remember me? I’m your blog.

Me: Not now, My Blog. I’m extremely busy.

My Blog: But you’ve always been busy. You never ignored me before.

Me: I’m not ignoring you. I just haven’t got time to update you right now.

My Blog: But it’s not just right now. You haven’t updated me in ages, like.

Me: I know. Sorry about that. It’s just the busyness. I am very busy right now being busy. And also important.

My Blog [injured font]: Too important to think about me?

Me: Don’t be silly. I think about you all the time.

My Blog: So why haven’t you updated me?

Me: Well, there’s a big difference between thinking about something and actually doing it, as you well know.

My Blog: Oh, you can sing it, sister.

Me: And then there’s the fact that I just started a new day job.

My Blog: Oh, Christ. I’m never going to see you again, am I?

Me: Not at all. I’m just not into my new routine yet, that’s all.

My Blog: This does not bode well.

Me: I think you’re taking this a bit personally.

My Blog: It’s all right for you. You get to exist every day. You go out to work, doing functional member of society stuff. You even get to earn money by having a day job. Not like me. No blog has earned money since 2011, and no new blog has been considered a valuable addition to online content since before even that. What am I supposed to do, while you go off doing real-life stuff? I mean, does anyone even talk about me anymore?

Me: Well, I don’t really talk about you outside of here, if I’m honest.

My Blog [seriously injured font] I knew it. You’re dumping me.

Me: I am not dumping you! I needed a bit of a break, is all.

My Blog: Not true. You proper left me for your new day job.

Me: On the contrary, I haven’t exactly committed to that relationship just yet.

My Blog: What, you mean you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile?

Me: Precisely.

A Passive Aggressive and Yet Somehow Loving Exchange of Views With My Internet Profile

My Blog: [whiney font] But that doesn’t mean you haven’t abandoned me! Why can’t you write me every week like you used to?

Me: Well, for starters, I had a suspicion it was taking me away from my actual writing, My Blog. I mean, I hadn’t written any actual fiction for the guts of 12 months. But then I had 2 weeks off in between finishing the old day job and starting the new one. And do you know what I did?

My Blog: [sullen font] No.

Me: I finished a novel I had started in 2016, My Blog. That’s what I did. Instead of an unfinished story, I now have a completed first draft.

My Blog: [passive aggressive font] Congratulations. So?

Me: So a novel is something to work with, My Blog. It’s something that can go out into the world and, you know, network. Meet people.

My Blog: [indignant font] I am networking by definition, you daft eejit! Social networking!

Me: Yeah, but you’re one of a million, My Blog. There’s always a teeny tiny chance that a finished novel might turn into one IN a million.

My Blog: That is the most insulted I’ve been since someone compared me to a motoring blog.

Me: I really don’t understand how you can have such a thin skin, My Blog. I mean, you not only exist for the internet. You actually are the internet.

My Blog: I had dreams, blogdammit. I could’ve been a contender.

Me: Ah, you were, though, My Blog. You were a great contender. We’ve had some great times.

My Blog: I’m more than that, surely. Where else are you going to put the weirdest contents of your head, if not on your blog? I mean, where the hell are you going to put your snark? Your pathetic attempts at humour, and comic sketch-writing? Your imaginary conversations with inanimate concepts?

Me: But I never said I wasn’t going to blog, My Blog. I was just explaining why I haven’t, you know, been spending all my meagre available writing time updating you.

My Blog: [emotional blackmail font] You’re rejecting me. That’s what you’re doing.

Me: I’m not doing that at all, My Blog. And you know, you’re incredibly argumentative for an inanimate concept, I have to say. I’ve had better imaginary conversations.

My Blog: [resigned font] You try existing for the sole purpose of being a public receptacle for the dross from someone’s head, and tell me how it goes.

Me: Fair enough. I have to give you that one.

My Blog: So you’re not leaving me?

Me: No.

My Blog: But you’re not going to update me every week or two?

Me: Probably not. Not until I get settled into a new routine, anyway.

My Blog: But it’s not my fault?

Me: Not a bit.

My Blog: [wheedling font] Will you update me next week or the week after, though? Just in case?

Me: There’s a very good chance I will, yeah.

My Blog: Could you maybe… maybe just hold me for a minute?

Me: Oh my Blog. You are SO weird.

[A unique combination of ones and zeros embraces a keyboard with unquantifiable success]

 

THE END

Why Writers Should Stop Torturing Their Goals… and Fail Better

I was thinking about goals recently, Blog knows why. I mean, why would anyone start thinking about life goals around the time a year changes its end digit, let alone TWO end digits? It’s a mystery.

It’s possible that I started thinking about forward intentions in 2020 because I spent most of 2019 looking either back, under, behind, into, or arseways. (I’d stick more prepositions in there, but it reminds me too much of studying German grammar, and I can’t remember whether arseways takes the dative or the accusative case… if you know whether an arse is a direct or an indirect object, you might like to leave the answer in the comments, thanks.)

It’s also possible that I was thinking about this stuff because someone actually asked me this year what my new year’s resolutions were.

I was shocked. I mean, most people only tell you what their own resolutions are. What kind of monster would ask you what yours were? (A monster I live with. That’s who.)

Anyway, it occurred to me that the problem with goals is not that they’re unattainable, or that we fail: but that we keep changing them.

And when you’re talking about writing, and writers, who have the constitution of a Mayfly with a narcolepsy, this is a very dangerous pastime. Because changing goals can result in chronic writing paralysis.

The Bloggy Bit Where It’s All Me Me Me

Case in point: this time last year, without consciously nailing it down as a goal, I aimed to finish the novel I was working on at the time. That was fairly significant for someone who had a day job which ate her life, refused to leave a tip, and then asked for seconds.

Had I been consciously thinking about it, I would have realised that I was going to have a uphill battle. And I most probably wouldn’t have articulated the aim of finishing that novel enough to make it a real goal, because I probably would have been afraid of failing. Finishing a half-written novel is bloody hard, and I knew it.

But do you know what happened? I actually did it. I decided in February that I wanted to finish it in order to send it to somebody who had asked for it. And I did. I finished the whole novel only about a month after I’d hoped to get it done.

Goal accomplished, right? Well done me – right?

Wrong.

Because do you know what happened then? I succumbed to the Writer’s Curse, and moved the bloody goalposts.

I wanted people to love my novel. I wanted everyone, including the people I sent it to, to love it hard. And I wanted to be published and I wanted to have something to show for all the novels I’ve worked on over the years whilst doing the day job and all the other stuff that life is when you’re not writing.

Superblogger Selfie Gold

The very moment I finished the first draft of that book, I dismissed the original goal as though I’d had a different goal all along. All of a sudden, the goal wasn’t finishing the novel any more. It was getting it published.

And then lots of life happened. My Dad passed away, and being level-headed got harder, and the day job got harder, and I discovered that not only had those I’d sent the novel not loved it, they hadn’t even read the bloody thing. But in the meantime the door had closed, and my new goal was on the other side.

In the process, I’d forgotten that finishing a novel doesn’t mean writing ‘The End’. An epic rookie mistake. My writing hadn’t failed. I’d failed.

At failing.

By August, I realised that I did indeed have a good idea and the makings of a good story. However, I also had two characters without a motive, and a mystery without any intrigue. They needed a rewrite, and I needed a bit of cop on.

How can anyone achieve anything if we keep discounting what’s actually done, and focusing on what isn’t?

How The Writer’s Curse Works

I’m only small-time stuff, but I’ve seen this happen so much too in the writing world, when writers start comparing themselves to other people and re-setting their goals all the time. And the unhappiness is rife. It’s crippling. And social media does NOT help.

  • Say you’re an unpublished writer, and you want to get an agent.

Congratulations – you got an agent!

  • But wait – your two best mates are already published.

Congratulations! You got a book deal!

  • But So-and-So got a better book deal, with a request for another book, and a better advance.

Congratulations! You got a 3-book deal with a stonking advance! So you quit your day job!

  • But your publisher is starting to make noises about recouping the advance, and now you need the book to sell. A lot. And every time you hear the word ‘marketing’, you cry a little.

Congratulations! You made back your advance!

  • But So-and-So made the Sunday Times Bestseller List.

Congratulations! You made the Bestseller List too!

  • But So-and-So made the New York Times List. And USA Today.
  • And now they’ve been sold into 5 further territories, with deals in progress for translation rights in another 9.
  • And now they’ve been nominated for an award.
  • And now they’ve won the award.
  • And your publisher is looking for the 2nd novel in the book deal.
  • And your editor doesn’t like the idea you came up with.
  • And you’re starting to get up later and later.
  • And you wear pyjamas to the cinema.

Anyone else got a headache?

The Bit Where I Attempt to Tie It All Together

I spent so much of 2019 bemoaning the goals I’d changed when all the time I should have been trying to (in the words of Samuel Beckett) fail better.

With that in mind, this year I am going to try and finish this novel PROPERLY.

At the end of the year, there will still be things wrong with it. But you know what? It’ll be less wrong than it is today, and that’s an admirable goal (in my book).

Anyone out there got some writing goals they can actually stick to?

Why You Shouldn’t Live With An Underwritten Christmas Character

I’m over at Anne R. Allen’s blog this week, with a take on all those standard Christmas characters which are rolled out at this time of year – every year. It’s the next in my series of Why You Should Never Live With… and here’s a taster. For more, the full post is available here.

Why You Shouldn’t Live With An Underwritten Christmas Character

It’s December the Somethingth. You come home from a long day at work. You were supposed to buy Christmas gifts, but the traffic was awful and you didn’t make it to the store before it closed. All you want is a stiff drink and an hour online in order to finish the shopping you now know you should never have left home to do in the first place.

The antique Victorian street lamp illuminating your driveway casts soft light on the dusting of snow, which is inexplicable, given that it’s positively balmy outside. You stumble over something at your doorstep and it yelps. You look down, startled. It’s a small, scruffy looking dog. He looks back at you. The expression on his furry face somehow manages to convey that you have something to learn about life, that the lesson will have to be learned before Christmas is over, and that he’s going to help you learn it.

 

YOU: I’m betting you have something to do with my housemate.

A voice trills merrily behind you. It is UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER.

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: [walking up the driveway and singing gaily] Ding Dong, merrily on high!

YOU: Oh, here we go.

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: Hey Roomie! Whatcha doing, standing out here in the cold with Wenceslas?

YOU: As I keep saying, it is categorically not cold. Is this yours? When did you get a dog? And you seriously named him Wenceslas?

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: [picking up the dog and nuzzling into his neck] It’s Wenny for short. Isn’t he the cutest? How could I resist this bundle of woof! It’s fate that we found each other at Christmas!

DOG: [wags his tail obligingly before cocking his head to the side] Woof.

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: He’ll be no trouble, I promise. He is definitely not going to pee in your shoes, chew your computer power cable, or knock over the Christmas tree.

YOU: Wow. That’s quite specific, and yet I’m somehow not reassured at all. [unlocking the door] Where’ve you been?

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: Oh, I just had the LOVELIEST day! I bought every Christmas gift on my list. Well, all except the quirky one I need for my one-dimensional slave driver boss who hates Christmas. Then before I left the mall, I stopped off for a mug of cocoa. I got talking to the old lady next to me, and she told me her entire life story for no reason at all. You know, I think she’s lonely. So I invited her for an impromptu eleven-course feast tonight. You don’t mind, do you?

YOU: My gut feeling is that I don’t really have a choice here.

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: [suddenly producing fourteen bags of Christmas shopping, full to the brim with perfectly wrapped gifts, all of which are exactly square or rectangular shapes] Don’t you just LOVE Christmas??

YOU: You work a minimum wage yet somehow simultaneously stressful job. How you find both the time and money you spend on Christmas I’ll never know.

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: Then after I met the old lady, you won’t believe who I met – my old boyfriend! The one I left behind when I came to the big city.

YOU: Let me guess. The one that got away.

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: As IF. I was the one who got away. I’m far too busy and ambitious to think about lame exes who stay in small towns, instead of achieving something amazing.

YOU: Like adopting dogs, or inviting crazy old ladies for dinner without consulting the people you live with?

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: [blissfully ignoring you] So you wouldn’t believe it – Chuck and me nearly got into an argument.

YOU: You haven’t seen each other in years. What could you possibly have had to argue about?

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: Well, He and I both wanted the last limited edition snow angel in the store We both reached for it at the same time, and—

YOU: [settling in for the long haul at the kitchen table, sighing. The dog hops up on the bench beside you and puts his paw on your knee.] Let me guess. Your eyes met, and then narrowed, and you wrestled for the snow angel, which he won, but then you both realised who the other one was, and—

UNDERWRITTEN CHRISTMAS CHARACTER: Oh my Lord, how did you know?

YOU: Never mind. Go on.

DOG: Woof.

**************************************

For the rest of this post, hit the link below!

Why You Shouldn’t Live With An Underwritten Christmas Character

Why Brexit and Trump Mean Big Romance is Due a Comeback

Sometime in the last century, an economist whose name I couldn’t be bothered researching put forward an argument that women’s hemlines mirrored economic health.

When times are good, said the economist so famous for the theory that nobody could be arsed remembering their actual name, hemlines go up; when they turn bad, skirts plunge below the knee. When times are terrible, the most fashionable fight recession with ankle-skimming layers, as though a mere glimpse of thigh might frighten the most fragile of economies.

Why Brexit and Trump Mean Romance is Due a Comeback

The same could be said for popular fiction, where the most popular genres of the day move in line with economic booms and busts.

Although certain genres always sell, whatever the weather (crime, romance, horror, cookbooks and celebrity autobiographies), what’s changed in the post-internet market are the crossover sensations which are read by everyone – especially people who wouldn’t normally read that genre.

And unlike hemlines, these crossovers are what mirror, or flip, our daily reality. Whatever we’re going through, we want to read about its opposite.

Now, I don’t know if anyone’s said this before, but I may as well claim it, because this is the internet, and anyone who said anything truly original was scared offline a long time ago. But still, a short history of the last couple of decades is enough to make this argument irrefutable (just like all my other arguments, only more so, obviously).

A Short History of the Economy (In Books)

Consider the noughties economic boom up until 2007, which saw a surge in popularity of the Misery Memoir; Lee Child’s Jack Reacher going small town, and getting revenge for the little guys in America’s heartland; and John Grisham’s hotshot young lawyers hitting the plutocrats where they hurt.

Why Brexit and Trump Mean Romance is Due a Comeback

Then came the global financial crisis of 2008-2012 which spawned the political dystopia of The Hunger Games,  the wide-eyed albeit well-heeled innocence of Twilight, and another thousand vampire romances read by young and old alike; along with E.L. James’ copycat billionaire fantasies, and a surge in celebrity lifestyle bibles which showed emerging social media addicts how the increasingly richer other 1% lived.

From 2013 to now, in an age of growing political uncertainty, pending economic storms and ongoing incredulity regarding who has all the power and how the hell that happened, what are we clamouring for? Up-lit, that’s what. The love songs to local community which were Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and A Man Called Ove might have started it, but it’s far from finished.

Why We Like The Books We Like

The emergence of the popular book genre never been more prevalent than in the age of viral sensations.

Even though the big publishers still have a lot of influence, they don’t have half the influence they used to, when they and only they decided what was going to be on our To Be Read piles. Nowadays, something can take off from nothing and become an overnight sensation in just a few short months.

Once the internet and word of mouth took over, we got zeitgeist fiction: stories which captured what people were thinking and feeling right now, as opposed to just more of what sold very well last year.

This works out particularly well for indie authors, who have a far shorter lead in time to market, and can often capitalise very well on whatever’s hot right now.

Why Brexit and Trump Mean Romance is Due a Comeback

The “Hey, Authors! Gimme What I Want!” Bit

So whatever’s on the menu right now, I have a special request for the kitchen.

Even the internet can’t argue against the fact that readers have always wanted to escape into a world which is far removed from the reality in which they live.

I know I do. I really need a good reason to stop reading the news. And I think as a species, we’re long overdue a virulent dose of the kind of all-encompassing celebration of unique human connection we commonly call romance.

This means Big Romance, now, mind you. This means good romance with another story involved; romance with a twist, with the twist being that hook reeling in the reader who doesn’t normally read romance.

This is romance with crime, or horror, or thrills, or fantasy, or even politics. But still, romance first, and not the plodding, forumalic, meet-cute kind either.

But first, we’re going to need to stop being so afraid of romance. When did you last hear a literary thought leader interviewed, who said that they adored a good love story?

It’s like we’re not even allowed to defend it nowadays. And you have to wonder if, traditionally, this is because of its association with women’s fiction, which I’ve ranted about before in I Hate Women’s Fiction and I’ll Tell You Why, and We Need To Stop Justifying Women’s Fiction Now.

This train of thought says: if women are the main audience of a particular genre, that means it’s lesser, right? It’s not as worthy. It’s not as important.

This is also why we’re not allowed to call books like Sally Rooney’s Normal People, or Colm Toibín’s Brooklyn romances. In fact it’s considered very naughty to do so. Because these books about romantic relationships and choices are not romances, apparently. Only a literary philistine would suggest it.

But consider this, also. Whoever that economist was, talking about hemlines mirroring economic cycles, nobody was thinking ‘well, if it’s to do with women’s skirts, there’s no real merit in that.’ No, indeed.

Instead, it was immediately hailed as a brilliant analogy. An idea which became so ubiquitous, it became the sort of throwaway quote which nobody even bothers attributing to a single person anymore, precisely because so many people have requoted it.

Hemlines matter. Women’s Fiction matters. Human connections matter. And what are human connections, without romance? Just give me a good love story, and I promise you: it will matter.

How To Write A Book Blurb Part 3

Over the past few weeks I’ve been revisiting a series on book blurbs, and specifically, how they generally follow genre rules. This means if you know what genre your book is, you can follow a pretty standard template for writing your book blurb (and yes I know this is easier said than done, but if everything was as easy as it should be, Brexit would be last week, climate change deniers would live on flood plains, and book bloggers would be paid.)

So far in the Great Dismantlement Of Blurbage, we’ve looked at Thrillers, Chick-Lit/Romance, Crime, Historical Fiction, and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Now, in the third and final instalment, we look at some genres which lounge a little more on the fringes, smoking. Throwing their ISBNs up to heaven. Sneering disdainfully at the blockbusters.

Oh – and Self-Help.

You just know I’m going to have my fun here… don’t you?

6. Short Stories:

There are two types of short story blurbs. One is for authors not everyone has heard of. The other is for authors who are so revered that the idea of even bothering with a blurb makes angels sigh. Let’s look at the former, because the latter is compete nonsense.

How to Write a Book Blurb Part 3

STONE MATTRESS – MARGARET ATWOOD

BY THE AUTHOR OF THE HANDMAID’S TALE AND ALIAS GRACE

A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire, and a crime committed long ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite.

In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle – and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

BLURB FORMULA

  1. Did something you wrote previously do really well? Or have you won an award? For any writing at all ever? In it goes. In bold type.
  2. Think clickbait. As succinctly as you can, mention unique images, objects or themes from your anthology which will make it stand out. It may be a constipated cat which is only mentioned once on page 23. This does not matter.
  3. Describe the overriding theme to your anthology, even if it’s just the genre (such as romance or sci-fi). This means that you must have one. If you don’t, it’s not an anthology and I can’t help you.
  4. Now praise yourself. BUT YOU MUST either make it look like someone else is saying all of this (it’s not easy, but it can be done), or actually quote someone else. Don’t sound like you’re talking yourself up. People will not believe you and they may take a violent dislike to you. Grab a review – it doesn’t need to be for this book – and quote it.
  5. It’s worth noting that none of the above was needed for Margaret Atwood, because she is Margaret Atwood. Blurbs for anthologies written by well-known and many-prized authors can often be complete messes. Those blurbs are very often non-stop guff machines. You could basically put a recipe for Eggs Benedict into them and it wouldn’t matter, because if you’re famous – or a publicly declared genius – you can get away with anything.
  6. Which proves that Margaret Atwood is a proper genius, because her books still adhere to that quaint, old-fashioned adage ‘give someone a better reason to buy your book than the simple fact that you wrote it’. All hail Margaret Atwood I say.

How To Write A Book Blurb Part 3

7. Mind, Body & Spirit (Self-Help):

12 RULES FOR LIFE: AN ANTIDOTE TO CHAOS – JORDAN B. PETERSON

The #1 Sunday Times and International Bestseller from ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now’ (New York Times)

What are the most valuable things that everyone should know?

Acclaimed clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has influenced the modern understanding of personality, and now he has become one of the world’s most popular public thinkers, with his lectures on topics from the Bible to romantic relationships to mythology drawing tens of millions of viewers. In an era of unprecedented change and polarizing politics, his frank and refreshing message about the value of individual responsibility and ancient wisdom has resonated around the world.

In this book, he provides twelve profound and practical principles for how to live a meaningful life, from setting your house in order before criticising others to comparing yourself to who you were yesterday, not someone else today. Happiness is a pointless goal, he shows us. Instead we must search for meaning, not for its own sake, but as a defence against the suffering that is intrinsic to our existence.

Drawing on vivid examples from the author’s clinical practice and personal life, cutting edge psychology and philosophy, and lessons from humanity’s oldest myths and stories, 12 Rules for Life offers a deeply rewarding antidote to the chaos in our lives: eternal truths applied to our modern problems.

BLURB FORMULA

  1. Ask a question which is irresistible to Mind, Body & Spirit enthusiasts. This means a slightly more subtle reworking of: ‘How can you be less shit?’ ‘Which stuff will make you instantly happy?’ and ‘Do you want to be told that nothing is your fault?’
  2. State your credentials. “From the triple BS-awarded head of the Moneymaking Clinic in Butte, Montana, frequented by Gwyneth Paltrow’s chiropodist, and a Kennedy.”
  3. Give your idea historical context. Or invent one, it really doesn’t matter. Call it Buddhist, Zen, Ancient Greek, or Irish Pub wisdom*. Just make out it’s been around and used by folks for millennia, and you’re encapsulating it scientifically and neatly into one book, for the very first time. (Well done you.)
  4. Lob in the flowery adjectives. Life-changing. Authentic. Holistic. Healing. Recalibrating. Inspirational. Transformational. Muppetational. Whatever.
  5. Make it clear that the ingredients to wealth and happiness are within the reader, but mainly within this book.
  6. For extra credit, imply that if people do not read this book, they will sink further into depression, before being run over by a bus.

8. Literary Fiction:

How to Write A Book Blurb Part 3

I’m not even bothering with an example for this one. Most successful literary fiction blurbs are random, and about as exciting as a teenager telling you which smartphone they like.

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Does your book have something really, really weird in it? Like a man who learned everything he knows from elephants?
  2. No? How about a depressed mime artist who’s addicted to turnips? Yes? Excellent. Put that in.
  3. You’re on your own now.
  4. In the last paragraph, make sure you call the book a ‘dark, insightful exploration of the [human condition/world of fencing/souls of fathers]’. That sort of thing.
  5. Best of luck.

******************

And there we have it. I know some genres are conspicuous by their absence. But if there is no discernible pattern or too many sub-genres – such as in ‘Non-Fiction’ or ‘Young Adult’, for instance – it doesn’t fit this exercise. The best thing to do in that case is to look at blurbs for books similar to yours, and break them down individually. (Whilst poking fun at them, obviously.)

Oh, and never, ever forget the cardinal rule. If you’re writing your own blurb, for Blog’s sake make it look like someone else did it.

* As soon as I wrote this, I realised it was actually a superb idea. Don’t you dare steal it. My self-help book  Irish Pub Wisdom – A Boozy Guide To Deliriously Happy Mediocrity will be out next month.

How to Write A Book Blurb Part 2

Who out there remembers last week? I mean, it was ages ago, right? So long ago, that things and events happened in the meantime, and we’re all seven days older.

But I digress. Which is, if you recall, EXACTLY what I said last week you shouldn’t do in your blurb. In fact, it’s Cardinal Rule #1 of Blurbing. And you didn’t even remember that! Stilll, I’m not one to point the finger. Or maybe I am. But that’s not the point. Which is the whole point of the blurb, I keep telling you.

Anyhoo, last time round, we looked at romantic fiction and thrillers. This week, in revisiting this series, we’re in for a dose of crime, history, and good ol’ science fiction or fantasy.

So back to our key questions of blurbing: how do you blurb? What rules can successful blurbs teach us? And how can we break them?

How to Write A Book Blurb Part 2

  1. Crime

CAREER OF EVIL – ROBERT GALBRAITH

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Explain the modus operandi of your Evil Perpetrator.
  2. Introduce your Main Character [cop/victim], what’s important about their life/family and how the threat from Evil Perp targets them specifically.
  3. Ask: What is the [intriguing detail/further connection] between the crimes and the Main Character?
  4. Ask: must Main Character overcome an internal/personal obstacle in order to stop Evil Perp from doing even worse things?
  5. Suggest what might happen if Evil Perp is not defeated [and don’t forget the dot dot dot…]

How to Write A Book Blurb Part 2

4. Historical Fiction:

I chose this example because this blurb was brilliant enough to make me really excited about the story and therefore buy the book. If I’m honest, I didn’t think that the intriguing stuff from the blurb was resolved in the novel at all, so I was quite disappointed, but this doesn’t take away from the blurb’s pulling power.

Also, Historical Fiction seems to be the one genre where you can get away with praising your own novel with flowery adjectives, so go for it. All the big shots are doing it.

THE MINIATURIST – JESSIE BURTON

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. State the when and where: In [place and year], [historical event is happening] / Main Character is [doing/being something].
  2. Explain how [important life or historical event] intrudes and [creates obstacles for Main Character], he/she must fight against the [constraints of their time] to achieve [self-actualisation or greatness].
  3. State how this novel/story is a [flowery adjectives] examination of what it means to [be human, change society] and will delight readers who loved [any classic or successful historical novel which made shedloads of money].How to write a Book Blurb Part 25. Science Fiction/Fantasy:

A GAME OF THRONES (A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE) – GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing.

The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to.

Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Set the fiction: make it clear, through a unique event, character trait or description of place, that this is not realism.
  2. Introduce your Main Character(s), who discover [problem, threat, invitation], which sets them off on a [journey/chain of events] which changes [them/the universe around them].
  3. Introduce what it is about the Main Character which makes them uniquely qualified to fix everything.
  4. Throw in some specific scenarios/keywords to create intrigue.
  5. Optional: Ask a vague question about the future of the universe/mankind/Main Character which alludes to the wider theme of the book (and its relevance to our world).

********

How to Write A Book Blurb Part 2

That’s it for today. Next time, I’ll be dealing with short story anthologies and literary fiction.

And I’ll warn you now, I’ve been fairly straight with you so far, but I’m going to have to have my fun with this some time, and that’s probably going to be next time.

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