Category Archives: Novel Fair

Niamh Boyce’s Blog Tour, all aboard!

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Photograph: Alan Betson © The Irish Times

Three months after the Irish Writers’ Centre inaugural Novel Fair in 2012 Niamh Boyce signed with Penguin and was on the speckled road to becoming a novelist in realtime. Today, as the book hits the shop shelves the author and the story are ‘trending’ on Twitter. The genesis dates back to May 1942 (though the story is set a few years earlier), a report in a local paper of a ‘coloured man’ arrested for serious offences against girls. Irish Times journalist Sineád Gleeson, who interviewed Niamh for the paper earlier this week, says the book is loosely based on a real court case and is all the more intriguing because it’s a work of fiction based on one small abandoned fact.

‘It concerns an exotic potion and tincture seller, who arrives in a midlands town and sets up a market stall. Before long the townsfolk, particularly the women, are beguiled by him. A strong cast – a prostitute, an ageing wife desperate for a child, two young girls who suffer similar fates – dominate a story that is sharply rendered, and full of dark humour,’ writes Gleeson. ‘Boyce perfectly captures the hysteria in the town’s see-sawing obsession with the herbalist. “The market in the real case was in my home town so I could really visualise him,” she says. “I also thought about [Arthur Miller’s play] The Crucible . . . about mob mentality and how a town can scapegoat someone”.

The novel is completely fictionalised, because she was fearful of “trespassing on people’s real lives”. The story is set in 1939, and examines the class structures of Irish life, and the sense of predestination that comes with being born into a specific background.

“That structure was still there when I went to school in the 1980s,” says Boyce in her Irish Times interview. “We were all still divided into groups according to whether our parents were farmers or shopkeepers. Emily [a young girl who becomes obsessed with the book’s title character] has no standing and is a nobody. When you live in a small town, before you’re born you’re ‘one of the Kellys’. The day you start school is a new experience, in a new place – but not to the nuns who teach there and know exactly who you are. The herbalist character represents what an outsider can do – he sees Emily in a different way.”

Emily has competition for the herbalist’s attentions. The women of the town – the women from the big houses and their maids, the shopkeepers and their serving girls, those of easy virtue and their pious sisters – all seem mesmerised by this visitor who, they say, can perform miracles. But when Emily discovers the dark side of the man who has infatuated her all summer, once again her world turns upside down. And while we can’t give away too many of the book’s Gordian knots, we can say that it is a magical tale with an ability to capture Ireland at a certain point in time without any caricature or causticity.

What began as a ‘few sentences’ penned in a creative writing workshop with John MacKenna, finished up as a 2,000 word a day bid-to-combat until the story was done. “My children were young and I didn’t have much time to write,” she explains, “But I found the time, often into the early hours of the morning and soon enough I had a first draft completed. When I heard about The Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair I decided to enter The Herbalist. I was lucky enough to win a place at the Fair with twenty other writers. I can’t say enough good things about the Irish Writers Centre’s staff and the way they organised the day of the fair, they were wonderful!”

The Sunday Times has called it ’an elegant morality tale about the inescapable strictures of women’s lives’ and Dermot Bolger has commented that the book is ’richly layered and finely realised … compelling’, while reviews elsewhere (Image magazine, RTE Guide and elsewhere) are glowing.

Niamh Boyce’s fictional debut – about a 1930s potion seller whose real business is a dark secret – captures small-town Ireland of both then and now…

The herbalistWhat we can say is that we are ridiculously proud of Niamh’s acheivement and are delighted to take part in her Blog Tour to celebrate the launch of this unique and beautifully written book. Here are three questions we put to Niamh about sustaining the writing life, living with your characters and ways to stay sane in the process:

Which character in the book consumed you more than others? In the beginning it felt like I was taking dictation from a quarrelling Greek chorus. I wasn’t sure which of the women was speaking or who exactly they were, let alone if they were telling the truth! So it immediately felt like there was mystery to solve, threads to unravel and I liked that.  But as I worked on, Emily’s voice became strong and she became the central storyteller, so if there was any consuming she did it!

Did you ever have any premonitions about being/becoming a writer? Never! I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember.  I still do! I loved reading, and read constantly but it never occurred to me that I could or would write a book myself. I don’t know why. I started ‘writing’ in 2008, when I fell in love with short stories, but saying that my old notebooks are full of poems and half poems going back to when I was a teenager. I just didn’t consider them as poems back then, not in a real sense.  So no premonition!

What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer? The ability to retain perspective is important, so that you don’t fall into the very real temptation to use writing as form of a semi permanent escape. There’s a life to be lived, people to be loved, worlds to be seen. (And you’ll need the material!)
It also helps if you love the process, if you love the very act of writing and the way stories reveal themselves; the way characters surprise you, and the very simple and wonderful fact that something exists that didn’t exist before.

Niamh Boyce is the 2012 Hennessy XO New Irish Writer of the Year and she has been shortlisted for the Francis McManus Short Story competition 2011, the Hennessy Literary Awards 2010, the Molly Keane Award 2010 and the WOW Award 2010. Originally from Athy, Co Kildare Niamh now lives with her family in Ballylinan, Co Laois.

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Bestsellers, Creative Writing, Fiction, Novel Fair, The Herbalist

Cinnamon toast on the move

cinnamonFor the next three weeks Novel Fair winner Janet Cameron is taking her newly-published (and fab) book home on tour around Canada. The story is set there, so Janet is a little more nervous than usual and we just can’t seem to convince her they’ll love the story as much as we did! So…we’ve decided to publish some of her blog-thoughts during this three week stunt in blightey. The book is a fantastic read, the characters are well-rounded and believeable, the story is about a multitude of funny and serious things, from house parties to pick-up trucks, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, sexuality and unrequited love. A la blurb: ’Welcome to the spring of 1987 and the world of Stephen Shulevitz who, with three months of high school to go in the small town of Riverside, Nova Scotia, has just realised he’s fallen in love – with exactly the wrong person. Welcome to the end of the world. As Stephen navigates his last few months before college dealing with his overly dependent mother, his distant, pot-smoking father, and his dysfunctional best friends Lana and Mark, he must decide between love and childhood friendship; between the person he is and the person he can be. But sometimes leaving the past behind is harder than it seems…Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is a bittersweet story of growing up and of one young man finding happiness on his own terms.’

It’s a coming-of-age, coming-out, come-tither-and-look-closely-at-my-world-if-you-dare story that isn’t afraid to tackle hard topics such homophobia, bullying and parental abuse.

We are *big* fans of Janet’s at the Centre, and not just because she got drunk with us after the inaugural Fair (!), but because she’s sparky, bright, fun, positive and simply good to be around. She also happens to be a very good writer. The book is published by Hachette Ireland in March 2013, and is available in Canada now! We wish her all the luck in the world with her book. Here’s a snippet from Blog Post One. Expect more over the coming weeks (and yes, we have asked her permission!).

I raced through it, found it hard to put it down when I had to and wanted more when I was finished….Her prose gets more elegant the further you get in and, the further and further Stephen gets into what he sees as the end of his own personal world, the more you genuinely care for him and the screwed up kids and adults that populate his world….It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if someone were to option this for a film….page-turning, top drawer stuff in the genre it lives in….More please. – broadcaster Rick O’Shea, for the Bord Gais Energy Book Club, April 8, 2013

May 7, Dublin, Ireland, 8:00 a.m.

Okay, today’s the big day. Of horrible travelling. Dublin to London, London to Toronto, Toronto to Emonton, with two hours in Heathrow and five in Pearson. But it’s all worth it, dammit!

Boredom may drive me to report on the wonders of international airports on two continents. Will boredom drive anyone to read it? If your name is Nettie Morine, perhaps. Hi, Mom!

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May 8, Edmonton, Alberta, 11:00 a.m.

Well, over a full day later, I can report that two hours really isn’t that long of a time to spend in an airport, especially one with such thorough, and…um…disturbingly intimate security procedures as Heathrow. Getting onto that connecting flight was a bit of a stressful rush, but nothing terrible happened and no one was injured, by me anyway. On the long and uneventful journey to Toronto, the teeny speakers fell out of my in-flight headphones and I couldn’t be arsed asking for a replacement – however, I did have fun reading the capsule descriptions of the films involved, and now think that “As Bella awakens transformed into mother and vampire” is probably one of the most delightful dependent clauses I’ve ever encountered. I read Brian Finnegan’s new book Knowing Me, Knowing You, about a group of Abba fans reuniting after 30 years, and found it to be an excellent travelling companion and a very engaging and emotional read.

toastIn Toronto’s Pearson airport the sun set behind us in a deep haze of orange as I watched a fellow passenger loudly berating the employees of an A&W outlet for not providing enough ketchup to suit his needs. Parachute Club was on the sound system, Tim Hortons was very much in evidence, and I was surprised to see that our currency is now threaded with transparent plastic and that the latest incarnation of Elizabeth II bears a faint resemblance to Chico Marx. Also the internet access in Pearson is kind of poo. Otherwise it was a Jim-dandy five hours, and another four flying off to my destination. I started Mary Grehan’s Love is the Easy Bit – very impressed so far.

I arrived in Edmonton at around 6 a.m. Irish time, roughly twenty-one hours after I set off from the apartment waving goodbye to husband and cat. Dazed, drooling, and barely coherent, I awakened the next morning transformed into mother and vampire. No, actually. I just awakened, ate some strawberries, got reaquainted with my 16-month-old niece and wrote this update. Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is in stores in Canada now, which is still difficult for me to get my head around. If you see the book, please tell it I said hello.

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, competition winner, Irish Writers Centre, Novel Fair

Pride and Petulance

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By Diana Friedman

A petulant writer confession: I almost didn’t make it to Dublin this trip. Many years ago, a good friend asked me: when is the last time you really let yourself feel desire for something you want? We weren’t talking designer shoes or beachfront holiday property but deep soul-wrenching desire, the kind that makes your heart swell and expand into your cavity when you finally give yourself permission to chase that long-elusive dream.

I answered that question by diving into my novel. With two young children and a demanding job, it was no small feat researching and writing a story partially set in another country. Never mind facing down all the fears that had kept me from attempting it up until then.

During the time spent writing the book, I’ve learned that the heart is a sensitive little creature. One of the consequences of reaching inside so you can hold this lovely little pulsating, squirming core of self in your hands is that when you hit a road block, as I did a few weeks ago, it truly can disintegrate, leaving you vulnerable to falling to pieces.

Back in October 2012 I submitted the first four chapters of my novel to the Novel Fair at the Irish Writers’ Centre. I knew it was a long shot—the first year of the competition, the Centre had over 500 entries. In general, odds are never good in contests like these.

lepglassesI wasn’t planning to submit, but a number of friends encouraged me to apply, as I’d already invested so much time researching the book and doing due diligence to make sure I captured Dublin as is, not just as a city rich in its past and pubs or, as portrayed through the typical Americanist-leprechauny-four-leaf-cloverly-Guiness-tinted glasses.

And, I was no longer a neophyte. I’d been at the book for six years, was working with a professional editor, and had just placed an excerpt for publication. Three pieces of my work had recently been shortlisted in competitions in the States.

So, what was to lose? For 40 euros—a lot of money for one contest, yes, but as a donation to a Writer’s Centre, particularly to the Irish Writers’ Centre and all it offers, not very much at all—authors were to submit the first 10,000 words of a novel, and two judges would pick the top ten entries. Those ten authors would then receive the privilege of one full day of pitching directly to agents and editors from Ireland and the UK. For the non-writers among us, this is the equivalent of being handed an all-you-can-eat card at ten five-star restaurants in France.

As the date approached, I grew more excited about the prospect of being selected. A year earlier, I had attended the Algonkian Pitch Conference in New York City. If I could survive pitching to New York editors, Dublin, I imagined, would be a breeze.

The format for the New York pitch conference was completely different than Dublin. After submitting a synopsis to the conference organizers, applicants were either accepted or denied. If accepted, for the price of trip to Europe, plus some, attendees registered to spend a day and a half learning how to hone their 30 second pitch, and were then given two and a half days to pitch directly to four editors from the New York City publishing world.

It was hard to delineate where the adrenaline bled into the anxiety at the New York conference, except to say that by day four, the hallways smelled like a slaughterhouse just before the cows went under the blade. I have relatives in New York, so I got off easy, financially speaking, but most attendees had spent thousands of dollars to get to and stay in the city. Furthering the tension, we were meeting at the Horace Greely studios in Midtown Manhattan, home to dance and theatre audition spaces. The two groups were easy to distinguish—the dancers cavorted in hot colored spandex with beautiful erect posture, while the writers slouched around in baggy pants, hunched over their manuscripts and laptops. The entire atmosphere was choose me, choose me, choose me, a cramped and antiquated New York City building jammed with dozens of people sharing the same fantasy—that all their years of hard work would finally be met with reward.

We were divided into four sections of 15 writers each, and lucky for me, I wound up with a remarkable group of supportive and encouraging women. We didn’t start menstruating together, but it was the kind of group that had we been there longer, I’m sure we would have. Under the guidance of our very able workshop leader, we were primed, edited, and then instructed in the basics—be polite, articulate, look the editor in the eye, keep the responses brief and focused. And dress nicely. It was a bit like finishing school for writers. By the end of the first day, excitement was running high.

And then the editors arrived.

The first one was from Penguin. She listened to our pitches, asked questions, told us what she liked and what she didn’t, and gave us suggestions for improvement. Over lunch she talked with our workshop leader and gave her the list of books she wanted to see. She selected three.

But as the editors made their selections, and people realized they might not get chosen, the mood shifted. The conference organisers had clearly stated that if your book was not getting selected, it probably meant your pitch was too unfocused, which in turn, was a reflection on the state of your book. This was, not surprisingly, very hard for people to hear. In the hallways, people insisted they’d been put in the wrong group and hence were pitching to the wrong editor, or, blamed the editors for being too narrow-minded. The environment truly was a bit like Survivor for Writers—there were only so many people who were going to be selected—but our group supported and cheered one another on so that by the end most of us felt that the impromptu community we formed was probably the most valuable part of the conference.

Before the New York Pitch conference, my novel had received interest from a prominent agent, who later rejected it after I completed significant rewrites, suggesting I work with a different kind of agent to bring it to publication. I suspected that this meant that the book was good, but not quite good enough for the big leagues. And I knew that selling a book at this conference—despite what the web site promised—was going to be next to impossible, so I entered with somewhat low expectations, which made the landing somewhat easier for me. I wanted to test the market potential of my idea, learn how to pitch the book, and then, if I was lucky, get the manuscript into the hands of an editor who could tell me what precisely the book needed. I was very lucky; I managed all three. The editor who read my novel gave me very concrete feedback on what the novel needed to come to full strength. She offered to look at it following rewrites and point me to some agents. It was a rejection, but as far as rejections go, it was as good as they get.

The Dublin Novel Fair was completely different. The price was right, but only ten lucky writers were going to be selected. It was pretty clear that anyone who made that cut would have a very good chance of getting their book into the hands of agents and editors, since the vetting had already been done.

anxI waited, waited, waited, my mind spiraling with anticipation and anxiety. And layered below my excitement percolated a question that I really wanted answered: had any of the passion I experienced in writing the book come through in the story telling in a way that would resonate on the other side of the pond (this side, that is)? In November, a very kind relative bought me a plane ticket as a birthday present, under the assumption that I would go to Dublin either way, as I was once again tackling significant rewrites. I made a hotel reservation and I was all set.

When I learned I was not selected, though, all I could manage was to reach for the phone, from very deep underneath the covers, to turn in my ticket. For days, I could not bear the thought of being in Dublin knowing that there would be ten lucky bastards eating fillet while I would be sucking up crumbs across town.

And, so, such is the nature of desire; when we heed its call, it takes us to amazing new heights, but how much harder the fall when we don’t reach the destination.

And yet, forcing myself to take my book to completion has taught me a few things about surviving this business. In particular, I’ve had to learn that staying the course sometimes means surrendering to the immaturity of my artist self.  It is a child-like and vulnerable being. It has to be. How else to open myself up and get under and inside the skin of the characters and scenarios I’m creating?

But when it comes time to face the world—the rejections and cruelties and dismissals, that artist self needs quite a bit of help. Because it is also petulant. And irritable. It becomes a delicate balancing act, allowing the artist-self some tantrum time, and then knowing when it’s time for the adult self to step in—first with compassion, and then a gentle shove back into the world, the same way a parent helps a child along with a skinned knee or a failed exam. And, most importantly, making sure that no matter how bad things feel, that the adult self is the one who faces the world in those hard times—with professionalism and decorum.

Somehow, this time I missed that part about the adult self. It wasn’t until after watching me drown my head in my seventh batch of chocolate chip cookies, that my very same good friend poked me in the ribs and asked: what exactly would be the downside to going? 

And this is why she is such a good friend. Because once I put away the chocolate I knew she was right. In fact, I realized, all the contest had done was paralyse me. I had two directions to take the rewrites of the book, one focused for an Irish audience, and one for the American women’s fiction market. In the three months while waiting for the response, unable to decide which one I was going forward with, I worked on precisely neither of them.

So I stuffed my suitcase with rain gear and then, for reinforcement, made a quick pit stop at my neighborhood hippie haven. Hillary, local Goddess extraordinaire, smudged me with sage and cedar for creative inspiration and good luck. Holly, a massage therapist of zero balancing expertise, passed along visions of me grounded inside a huge pyramid while on the plane. It was an image, I have to confess, I had never considered, but rather liked. It made take-off and landing a bit less traumatic.

By the time I arrived to Dublin, I had mostly forgotten about the Novel Fair. June Caldwell welcomed me warmly and has been an enormous help with my project, as have so many others around the Centre, including random writers popping in and out to talk with me, and the Ink Splinters, a writer’s group that so kindly opened their circle to me one night.

As the Novel Fair date approached and I watched the staff move chairs and tables around the Centre in preparation, I admit to some curiosity, but it was more fly-on-the-wall type.

Happily clicking away on my laptop on this blog and my book, what I mostly felt was relief that I wasn’t going through it again. Eventually I will be pushing the novel at US conferences when it’s ready, but for now, how much more fun it was to be in Dublin,  and, rather than suffer the anguish of selling, bask in the pleasure of writing.

The publishing industry may be fickle and arbitrary, but such is the nature of art;  no voice will ever speak to everyone. Expecting any work of art to resonate across the board is simply setting yourself up for disappointment. As artists, when we become dependent on others to validate our voices, it’s easy to freeze and lose ourselves.

I’ll close out with another confession: Halfway through writing this blog I still have no idea what it means to be an American writer in Dublin, as June dubbed me, but it’s a label I’ve happily worn and enjoyed. Because while the blog format will most likely never attain the same status as the short story or essay, it’s a powerful tool for a writer—pure voice, unadulterated and luminous and radiant as voice comes.

windowIndeed, gazing out from the Centre’s top floor classroom window over the rooftops and chimneys and historic buildings of Dublin, my heart once again thumping safely and softly, the words and stories erupting non-stop in an almost mystical energetic flow, I re-discovered one critically important thing: losing one’s voice may be misery-inducing, indeed, but in the whole entire world, for this writer anyway, there is absolutely and truly nothing better than getting it back.

 

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diana

Diana Friedman’s work has received several awards, including being selected as a finalist for the Howard Frank Mosher Fiction Prize, a top 25 pick for Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Contest, third place in Bethesda Magazine’s Annual Short Story Competition, and as a finalist in Sport Literate’s essay contest. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in various publications, including Sport Literate, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, Whole Earth Review, the Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, Bethesda Magazine, Stone Highway Review and the Legendary, among others. An excerpt of her novel will be published in a forthcoming anthology of Washington, D.C. writers, Defying Gravity, available from Paycock Press in 2013.  www.dianafriedmanwriter.com  and to keep up with her newest writings or hang out with her in cyberspace, you can “like” her on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/DianaFriedmanwriter or follow her on Twitter @Dfriedmanwriter

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Creative Writing, Dublin Event, new writing, Novel Fair, novels, publishing, writing groups

Susan Lanigan at the 2013 Novel Fair: all my heart and love

NovelIdeaIn 2009 I made the first rough notes for the novel I would spend the next three years writing. All I knew was the theme: the white feather: I had the barest of character outlines, no plot and had no idea I was going to be writing a novel. I thought it was a short story. I was trying, and failing, to write a novel about something else. Sometime in October 2010 I made a stark, bare outline – so stark I wrote it in Notepad, no word processing software for me! – and then got going. I joined an online group and the feedback they gave me, so early in the process, encouraged me to keep going as I pasted wodges of first-drafty material on the site and probably sorely tried their patience.
As the story began to flesh out and characters come to life (some quite rudely walking in and demanding to be noticed) the Irish Writers Centre were also coming up with the idea of their Novel Fair, which inaugurated in 2011. I had managed an unspeakable first draft and was part of the way through the second, so I sent in what I thought would be a good beginning, an in medias res effort. I remember just finishing printing it, glancing over the pages and my inner Reader remarking, a propos of nothing, “Don’t like it.”
“What do you mean, you don’t like it! The writing is good; it’s not dull or staying in the same place too long.”
“Dunno.” The Reader can be laconic beyond the point of frustration. “I just don’t like it, that’s all.”
I sent it in and sure enough it got nowhere. Then again given that the staff of the Irish Writers’ Centre were presented with several sacks and a total of 600 manuscripts – well, unemployment was high, what to do? – anything that was not coruscatingly good was not going to cut the mustard. And looking back on it, I was better off beginning at the beginning and not being a smart you-know-what about it. So I licked my wounds and kept on writing. And writing. And then next year came around.
I had a new character join the assembly, Lucia, an opera singer from Jamaica who had travelled over to England during the war. On her shoulders rested the prologue, and therefore the rest of the book. A night or two before the novel fair, I realised the prologue had to be rewritten. It was down to her. She pulled a blinder. And so I got the phone call and learned I – we – had made it through.
novel fairSo on Saturday 16 Feb, from 10.30 to 4, I went to the Irish Writers’ Centre with nine other novelists and pitched my novel almost non-stop to 14 publishers and agents in the industry. It was wonderful, exciting, overwhelming. When I got home that evening I went straight to bed and slept for several hours. (The three glasses of Prosecco I had afterwards courtesy of the IWC probably helped in that regard!)
It was an amazing privilege to speak about a dream that in Yeats’s words, “had all my heart and love” to luminaries in the Irish and English publishing industry. Each one of us novelists sat at a table and waited for the next publisher or agent to come around and when they did I would hand them my bio and, if they wanted to hear it, do the elevator pitch. If it happened that my particular elevator travelled five floors rather than one, I don’t think they held it against me they were all really nice  And also it was good to hear from the publishers about their own plans and what they wished to envision, as well as what interested the agents.
The people who spoke to us that day publishers: Penguin Ireland (Patricia Deevy); New Island (Eoin Purcell); O’Brien Press (Michael O’Brien); Hachette Ireland (Ciara Doorley); Liberties Press (Clara Phelan); Lilliput Press (Sarah Goff); Transworld Ireland (Eoin McHugh/Brian Langan); Picador (Paul Baggaley) agents: Ger Nichol from The Book Bureau; Faith O’Grady from Lisa Richards; Marianne Gunn O’Connor; Jonathan Williams; Sheila Crowley from Curtis Brown.
The previous Saturday, we had a talk in the IWC about what to expect. This was facilitated by Anthony Glavin, crime novelist Arlene Hunt and Niamh Boyce, who secured a publishing deal as a result of taking part in last year’s Fair. Anthony, one of last year’s judges, told us what worked in a novel and what he would have been looking for. Niamh explained what it entailed, advising full printing of partials for all and she was absolutely spot-on in her advice as partials went flying out. (In my bio a separate page with picture and writing CV I also added a public dropbox link in case people preferred the electronic option) Arlene was wonderful she made us all pitch on the spot and provided invaluable advice on how to structure the pitches. I took everything she said on board.
The Irish Writers Centre, ably staffed by June Caldwell and Clodagh Moynan as well as Gareth, covered the day very ably and efficiently. The all-important bell when the fifteen-minutes for each session was up made it very structured and well-organised. Food was on hand when needed, and at the end of the day, drink too!
I had an interesting conundrum in that two of the people I was due to meet had initially rejected my partial when I started tentatively subbing late last year. I decided I would tell them straightaway and offer them the option of having coffee and cake rather than hear me pitch. In a way these sessions were the best because I did not feel going in that I had to pitch and telling them they’d turned me down already broke the ice. As it happened, in both cases, they were happy to have another look so I pitched anyway!
By the end of it my head was in ribbons, but I also realised what a unique opportunity this is. I don’t know of anything like this anywhere else. And I realise how incredibly lucky I am to have been able to take part on a day like this and meet people you would normally as a writer never meet face to face. I would recommend 100 per cent that anyone seriously working on a novel enter this competition and I’m very grateful to the Irish Writers’ Centre and the publishers and agents for making it possible. No matter what happens, it was so beneficial to be there; the experience itself was an enormous boost to my self-confidence even if I was wracked with nerves beforehand!
But the fourth draft in full must still be honed. There is work still to be done. As a friend of mine said to me on the phone yesterday was a victory,Susan today is a day of rest. And tomorrow back to work on the MS!
Susan graduated from a Masters in Writing in NUI Galway with first class honours in 2003. Since then, she’s had short stories published nationwide in a variety of good quality magazines and publications, such as The Stinging Fly, Southword, The Sunday Tribune, the Irish Independent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Mayo News. She’s been twice shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, and won highly commended awards for short stories and poetry elsewhere. Currently (as well as being a Novel Fair winner) she has one story published and another forthcoming in Nature Magazine’s Science Fiction section and is also featured in a special sci-fi/fantasy anthology Music For Another World. Her work has also featured in the fundraising anthology 50 Stories For Pakistan. Susan was shortlisted 30 out of 1,900 entrants to the Fish Short Story Competition 2011, where I have been longlisted in previous years. She’s  also a professional programmer/developer.

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, competition winner, Creative Writing, Novel Fair

Janet E. Cameron on bagel-hating ghosts, novel writing and cinnamon toast

Writers are often said to have something ‘missing’ from the sane storehouse of life, but paradoxically have also something ‘added’ in terms of perception – the ability to scrutinise human behaviour and the connections between people and events. Where are you on the scale? What persuaded you to write? It’s true that a lot of writers have something socially weird about them, and I’m no exception. I was extremely shy as a teenager – still find other people a bit mystifying. As for what persuaded me to write…well, from the time I could read I thought stories were the best thing on earth, and the idea that they actually came out of a person’s head seemed like a miracle. So I’d find myself trying to imitate my favourite authors, with mixed results. 

What makes your heart fly? The cliff walk at Howth, and the woods on the North Mountain in Nova Scotia. I’m happy when the writing’s going well, grouchy when it isn’t.

A book that made you cry? After I read Skippy Dies I walked around feeling like I’d been punched in the chest for about a week. Also the scene in The Brothers Karamazov where Alyosha has a dream about Zossima in heaven. That always gets me for some reason.

Your working day, bring us through it? If I don’t have to teach, I’ll get up around seven or eight, spend some time getting coherent, and then go to my desk in the study/laundry room and work for three or four hours. The afternoon’s mostly a write-off because my brain’s fried by then, so I’ll do errands and housework, and then I’ll fall asleep for an hour around four or five o’clock. Then if it’s not my turn to cook, I’ll get in a few more hours before supper and a few hours after. I’m the most boring person on earth, in other words. And I get very antsy if anyone messes with that nap.

Strange avoidance strategies that pull you away from writing? For a while it was baking: bread, pies, cakes, muffins, bagels, pizza dough, pasta, gingerbread…when I finally got serious about the writing I lost a lot of weight.

Originally you wrote plays, how did you make the switch to fiction? The switch actually happened because I couldn’t find any night classes in writing drama after I moved to Dublin, and at that point I was still dependent on taking courses for motivation. So I decided to try stories like everyone else, and I found it was a lot less constraining. Sometimes I still write in dialogue and stage directions when I’m taking down ideas quickly, and I think the bits that work best in Cinnamon Toast were first written almost as play scenes and then I filled in the blanks with descriptive loveliness.

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is your first novel which will be published by Hachette Ireland, what is it about? It’s about a bright, restless kid named Stephen who lives in a small town in rural Nova Scotia in 1987 and is counting down the last three months of high school so he can escape. But he realises he can’t leave until he’s dealt with certain problems – the most serious being that he’s secretly in love with his best friend Mark. For a lot of the book he deals with this by not dealing with it, but events keep pushing him towards the climax anyway. Sort of like Hamlet but with more 80′s song references.

Growing up in Nova Scotia sounds positively exotic! Living in a cabin in Nova Scotia, moving to Vancouver, working as a teacher in Montreal, etc. Tell us more! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Exotic! The town where I went to high school had less than a thousand people. Until I was fifteen there were only two TV channels and most of us ordered our clothes off the same pages of the Sears catalogue. The cabin was a geodesic dome built by draft dodgers in the late sixties, no electricity or running water. My best friend and I were going through a back-to-the-land hippy phase around 1991, so we just had to try living there. I’d wake up every morning, chop wood, make a fire in the stove to heat up some coffee, and walk in the woods for hours. We spent the fall there, September to December, and then the next year I went back on my own. After that I moved around a lot. The teaching degree in ESL made that possible. Seven cities in fifteen years. I just couldn’t seem to stay put. Maybe it was because I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do.

You were chosen as one of the 20 ‘winners’ of last year’s Novel Fair (this year there will only be ten!), what was the process like, what was the day itself like? I was very impressed with the organisation and planning that went into the day. All the writers had tables where we stayed with our sample chapters and every fifteen minutes someone new would sit opposite and chat, a good mix of publishers and agents. I’d expected it to be nerve-wracking, but to my surprise I found I loved it. Going back to real life afterwards was such a let-down!

How long afterwards did it take to get a book deal? The Fair was in March and I was contacted by Hachette in May with a request to see the rest of the novel. The offer for the book came through a couple of months later. But it didn’t feel like a done deal until August.

What are you writing now? I’m working on a second novel and have a very, very rough draft finished. It’s about a family dealing with the aftermath of a suicide, based on a play I wrote in 1996, and set in the same town as Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World.

Have you ever talked to a ghost? In college in Montreal someone brought out a Ouija board at a party, and we contacted a spirit named Zola who had nine kids. Nobody could think of any decent questions about the afterlife – so we asked him if he liked bagels. Zola told us it was a stupid question, which I still find difficult to dispute.

What do you hate most in life? Currently I’m a bit sickened by this whole culture of self-promotion: collecting people on Twitter so you can bribe them into being mouthpieces for your product, making yourself into a ‘brand’, building an ‘author platform’…barf. But, that said, I’m having fun messing around with my website lately.

If not writing, what else would you do/be? It’s taken me most of my life to commit to writing, so…no. This is it. It might be nice to be Robert Smith or somebody, but only for a few days.

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Janet E. Cameron was one of the winners of the Irish Writers’ Centre inaugural Novel Fair in 2012 which gave writers the opportunity to meet with and present their work to publishers and agents. Her forthcoming book Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is set in a small town in rural Nova Scotia, Canada during the spring of 1987. The protagonist, Stephen Shulevitz, is a socially awkward seventeen-year-old who has less than three months before he leaves for college. As Stephen prepares for the rest of his life, he finds himself in falling in love with the wrong person and, just like that, everything changes. It is a quirky, subtly humorous exploration of burgeoning sexuality, growing up in the confines of a small town community in the 80s while trying to come to terms with who you are. Born in Nova Scotia, Janet moved to Ireland in 2002 after she met her husband, an Irish journalist, while travelling in Japan. In November 2011, she completed a Master’s of Philosophy in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. She has been short-listed for the Fish Short Story Prize (2008) and the Fish Short Memoir Prize (2012) and has published an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for younger ESL learners (2010, Black Cat Publishing, Genoa).  She now teaches part-time at Dublin Business School and is working on her second novel.

 

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Kevin Curran’s Book Deal!

Kevin Curran was a shortlisted ‘winner’ in our 2011/12 Novel Fair. Now he has a book deal with Liberties Press have laid claim to Kevin Curran’s novel, Beatsploitation. Here he talks about his experience at last year’s Irish Writers’ Centre Novel FairWhen you sent in your novel initially, what were your hopes/expectations? This was the first time I had sent any part of the manuscript off so I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I had work-shopped it with the Stinging Fly Novel Workshop about six months earlier, but there was still some trepidation.  I always hoped it would get selected, but didn’t hold my breath!

What is your novel about? How long did it take you to write it? The novel is about a teacher who ingratiates himself with a young African student in order to steal something from him. The two main characters, the teacher and the African student are the driving force behind the story. The initial push took a year of intense writing. Once I found the voice for the narrator – the teacher – and then found a voice for the African student, the thing really took off. Also, the main element of the story, its structure was firmly thought through in my head, but the sub-plot was hard work to make come in line with the overall plot. After a year of writing in shorthand and typing up after every chapter, I spent a year – right up until this month – getting the novel in shape. I’ve stood back from it and edited and edited, and then edited some more to try and really get down to what the bones of the story is about. So, all in, the novel took two years to get into shape.

When you got the news that you were shortlisted and invited to the Fair, were you finished the novel at that stage? I had finished the long hand and the typing, but now, a year later after getting the word I was selected, I can safely say I was nowhere near ‘finished’ as ‘finished’ should be. But, I suppose, that was one of the benefits of getting selected for the fair, it made me really work toward it and get my novel in the kind of shape it needed to be in.

Did you get any advice or prepare in any way for the Fair? Do you think it would’ve been helpful to have had some guided advice at this point, in say, how to pitch, etc? I did a lot of preparation for the fair. I was aware that such an opportunity, to get face time with publishers and agents alike, wouldn’t happen again so I made sure I did my research. I think finding interviews on the net that certain agents and publishers did was very helpful. There were certain things that kept on coming up in the pieces I read so I made sure to look at my novel through the terms and try to use the vocabulary that was being used by the publishers and agents. The pitch wasn’t something I had ready beforehand. I wanted to just sit down with the people and get a sense of what they wanted. As far as the synopsis went, the word limit set by the fair was great in that it really made me distil what I wanted to say about the story into one page. I used back page blubs from books I liked and really tried to get my opening synopsis paragraph to have the same impact as they did.

What was the day itself like, what was most memorable? The day itself was great. The people at the Irish Writers’ Centre made us feel very welcome and relaxed. The schedule was intense with the agents and publishers, but that’s what made it so exciting. You barely have time to take a breath after talking books and pitching to one big agent you just know you might never have had a chance to talk to again and then you started all over again with a huge publisher. It was surreal, but thoroughly enjoyable. The day itself was one buzzing blur so any one moment is hard to pinpoint as the most memorable. But I remember pitching to Daniel Bolger from Liberties and thinking he really got what I was talking about. That was exciting, just knowing a publisher was into what I was pitching.

Was it easier to pitch to agents OR publishers? Both were just as terrifying as the other to pitch to as you knew any one of them could make the difference!

What about the aftermath, how long was it before you got an agent or follow-on calls? We had the Novel Fair on Saturday and on Monday I had received a number of full manuscript requests. That week was fairly mad as a number of other requests then came in. The feedback and contact with the agents and publishers was a real opportunity to get out there into the world of publishing. 

What are you expectations now? I’m delighted to have signed my first book deal but am already working on my next book, so I suppose it’s a matter of looking forward and trying to make the next book as good as it can be. I’m just delighted I took a chance on the Novel Fair as I’m sure my manuscript, had I sent it out, would still be sitting on many slush piles today waiting to be read.

Would you do it all over again!? Tips for others entering the Fair? Of course I’d do it again, to get face time with so many influential people from the literary world was a once in a lifetime opportunity. My tips for others would be just go for it, and then if selected work as hard as possible in getting the book in shape for when you meet with the agents and publishers. The initial contact and interaction with the agents and publishers, if not beneficial in the short term, could really be of use down the line!

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Deadline Approaching for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair

The Irish Writers’ Centre has begun counting down the days to the deadline of its esteemed Novel Fair. The deadline for the competition this year is on October 17th and the Novel Fair itself will take place on February 16th, 2013.

With just a few weeks left to enter, the terrific news of book acquisitions from last year’s winners is flooding in. Finalists from 2011, Niamh Boyce, Janet Cameron and Kevin Curran are three of our success stories.

Earlier in the year, Niamh Boyce sold her novel The  Herbalist to Penguin Ireland and more recently Janet Cameron‘s book, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, was snatched up by Hachette. As well as this, Liberties Press have laid claim to Kevin Curran‘s novel, Beatsploitation. With nine of the authors signed up with literary agents and many in talks with publishers, we eagerly anticipate more book deals before the end of the year.

The Novel Fair was introduced last year with the aim of introducing, in person, up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents who, in turn, have the chance to liaise with an eclectic bunch of talented, new authors. It gives promising, first-time novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas, bring characters to life and place their synopsis directly into the hands of the people they want to see it most.

Some changes have been made to last year’s set up, which include reducing the number of finalists to ten so that the novelists will benefit from more quality time with the publishers. To fully prepare them for the day the finalists also win a place on the seminar ‘How To Pitch Your Novel.’ 

This year, a brand new judging panel will be asked to select a shortlist of ten successful entries, presented to them anonymously. There is no limitation on style, genre, or target market and with a new set of eyes umpiring, writers who’ve submitted before shouldn’t hesitate in submitting again. The only requirement is that the authors mustn’t have published a novel before.

Publishers who have already confirmed attendance at this year’s Fair include Liberties Press, Penguin Ireland, Picador, New Island, Transworld Ireland, The Feldstein Agency, The Book Bureau, Marianne Gunn O’Connor Literary Agency, Jonathan Williams Literary Agency, The Lisa Richards Agency, and Lilliput Press. Each writer in attendance will have a stand at the Fair with copies of the synopsis, the finished novel itself and biographical material.

To enter send two copies of the opening chapters of your novel (max 10,000 words) along with three copies of a synopsis and a completed entry form, which can be downloaded from our website or collected from the C entre.  The Novel Fair Competition costs €40 to enter (€35 for members of the Irish Writers’ Centre). To find out more about the Novel Fair Competition, check out www.writerscentre.ie/novelfair, or email novelfair@writerscentre.ie. If you already know everything you need to know and would like to enter, click here.

 

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IWC Novel Fair – A Winning Tale

I always kept notebooks full of poems, lists, drawings and rants but I started writing seriously in 2008. I went to a workshop facilitated by John Mac Kenna and became hooked on writing short stories. I wrote till the early hours of the morning most nights during that time, it was like there was a backlog of stories needing to get out there. My stories were very short, 1,000 words and eventually they got longer and I started sending them out to magazines. I was lucky that the first story I sent out was published by Crannog, a Galway-based literary magazine. It was called The Wild Cat’s Buffet. My next story was published  by The Sunday Tribune and shortlisted for New Irish Writing Award. It was an encouraging start and I think encouragement is important to writers, it helps keep you going. Literary awards and magazines are vital in that regard, especially for short story writers and poets.

Nowadays poetry would have the strongest pull. I enjoy writing it more than I do fiction, it feels closer to the bone, more powerful (though short stories come a close second). For me, poetry can say things that the other two can’t. When I’m working on a novel I get terrible cravings to write poetry, I keep it at bay by buying beautiful notebooks with birds on them and stack them by the bed, for later, for when this project is finished, that’s what I tell myself. Often when I’m writing I don’t know what form the piece will take - I have a piece in a notebook for months now that still doesn’t know if it’s a poem or a story, and neither do I…it’s the tale of a woman whose brothers turn into wolves, so maybe it’s a hybrid…

The novel fair was a great experience for me, there were no negatives. It may have been more useful to have had more than 15 minutes with each agent/publisher but obviously it worked out very well for my book as I met my agent Ger Nichols and publisher Patricia Deevy on the day and because of that The Herbalist will be published in May 2013.

Yes the first draft was finished, I’d written it in 2008 and it took between 8 to 10 weeks to write. I wrote it fast and in the mornings longhand, typing it up at night when everyone was in bed. I averaged around 2,000 words a day and they seemed to flow out. That wasn’t the case with my other novel. Saying that, writing that fast meant I didnt edit or worry about meaning, contradictions etc.. so the second draft was a much slower and harder process. In many ways it was like reading something a stranger had written!

The novel is about a herbalist coming to a small town in the late 1930s – it is written from the point of view of four very different women who become involved with him.

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The Novel Fair 2013 will be launched tonight at 7.30pm. It aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents, giving novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of publishers and agents. By the time the deadline rolled around on November 11th last year, the Irish Writers’ Centre had received over 570 entries, a figure which demonstrates the vast number of people writing fiction in Ireland today. Twenty writers were selected for the Fair. Many of the shortlisted winners have signed with agents, a few of the books are under consideration as well as Niamh’s publishing deal above! This year’s Fair includes an additional prize of a place on a seminar on ‘How to Pitch Your Novel’ to help the novelists perfect their presentations and material for the day. The deadline for the competition this year is October 17th and the Novel Fair itself will take place on February 16th 2013. A judging panel will be asked to select a shortlist of ten successful entries, presented to them anonymously. There is no limitation on style, genre, or target market, the only requirement being that the writer has not published a novel before. Publishers and agents will be invited to come along on the day to the Irish Writers’ Centre and meet the ten selected writers in person. Each writer in attendance will have a stand at the Fair with copies of the synopsis of their novel, the finished novel itself and biographical material.”

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Fiction, How to Write A Novel, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, Novel Fair