Category Archives: novels

Two courses, one writer, and a fantastic story

The Secret Son

By Jennifer Burke

I am so excited, I think I might spontaneously combust. My first novel – The Secret Son – is hitting Irish bookshelves this month. Yet this time two months ago, I hadn’t the smallest inclination of what was about to happen. On 4th July, Martin King of TV3’s The Morning Show burst into my office where I work with the Commission for Energy Regulation and announced that I was the winner of TV3’s “Write a Bestseller” competition. Life since then has been a whirlwind – of the best kind. I had spotted the competition, which was run in conjunction with Poolbeg Press, when I was happily procrastinating from writing my third novel. Clicking around Writing.ie I stumbled across it and my mind flew to the dusty old copy of The Secret Son sitting in my drawer.

lawI’ll go back a few years. In 2008-2009, I was training to be a solicitor. While studying Wills & Probate law I was genuinely amazed at the amount of cases that came before the courts involving families having fallen out with each other over the contents of a dead relative’s will. An idea began to form. What if I could write a story about a will that went one step further than the cases I had been studying. Instead of just dividing up the family fortune in an unexpected way, the will could reveal a dark secret that threatened the very stability of the family. And so the character of Andrew Shaw began to form in my head. A sick young man in need of a kidney transplant who is horrified to discover that a recently dead stranger is in fact his biological father. Unsure how to even begin constructing a full novel on this scrap of an idea, I attended Juliet Bressan’s one day ‘How to write a novel’ course in the Irish Writer’s Centre.

Meeting other aspiring writers was itself inspirational. I learnt the basics of creating a story arc, marking plot points and developing characters, all which enabled me to structure the novel in my mind. Though the story ultimately changed and matured over the months, I had a plan to work from and I finally got down to the serious business of writing a novel. I wrote whenever I could. I got up early before work, scribbled down sentences in the evenings and stole some hours at the weekends. Eventually, the words added uPictured Jennifer Burke, author. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.p and I had my book done. Sort of. It was mostly finished, but I knew it was lacking. I just couldn’t put my finger on the exact problem. So I returned to the Irish Writer’s Centre and took Conor Kostick’s Finish your Novel course over ten weeks. He gave me the tools to shape and polish the book – being true to your voice, how to write dialogue authentically and creating villians; writing love scenes, being certain of your theme and book endings. I left the course with the skills I needed to hone and perfect my story.

It took many edits, more reading around (I particularly recommend Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages), and ultimately taking time off work, but I eventually finished. A year later, I came across TV3’s competition and sent The Secret Son off to Poolbeg. I had no conception at the time how it would change my life. In the past two months, I got to see a whole new side of writing – the process of turning a manuscript into a book for sale. Normally this process takes months, but we had weeks, if we were to capitalise on the publicity I have been so fortunate to receive from TV3. The editing process was the best part. I was nervous – you hear horror stories of editors cutting characters and decimating storylines. But that wasn’t the case at all. All of the edits suggested were spot on and mostly centred around making the book readable and consistent. It was the final polish and ultimately professionalised the novel. Aside from editing the actual book, there has been plenty of other fun stuff to do – acknowledgments, dedication, front cover consultation, photo shoot, marketing and PR. I’m still not entirely convinced this isn’t all a dream. It’s just unbelieveable that all this has been made possible in such a short period of time. Right now, I’m busy organising the launch of The Secret Son and I have my minions (ie. my very dedicated family and friends) spreading the word to their friends, colleagues and book clubs. I hope The Secret Son does well and that I get the opportunity to keep writing. For the moment, I’m enjoying the crazy, crazy reality that I’m actually being published. To anyone who is mulling over a spark of an idea, I say go for it. Just look at what can happen!

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Bestsellers, Competitions, Creative Writing, creative writing course, Fiction, How to Write A Novel, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, Juliet Bressan, literature, novels

Pride and Petulance

dream

 

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

On Never Having Been Struck By Lightning

coloured lightning

I have been waiting almost 50 years now to be struck by lightning. It hasn’t happened yet. And I don’t expect it will anytime soon. So in the meantime I have simply been reading and writing. Waiting. For? Something. The tap on the shoulder. That moment of self-recognition. The moment when I become a true writer: someone inspired.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m misinterpreting the signs, missing the signals. Writers are inspired, of course – all the time. They are kissed by the gods. Beloved by their muses. Seduced by characters. Overwhelmed by plots. Overcome with ideas. To be honest, I’ve not had an idea since … I don’t know when. And the closest I’ve come to inspiration is a slight physical discomfort.

So, in the absence of all else, I have had to rely on my own resources – a little common-sense, some self-discipline, a few books. I have also sought out the example of other writers who seem as utterly uninspired as me. I have turned often, for example, to the work of the Oulipo group of writers – Raymond Queneau, Jacques Roubaud, the truly inspiration-deficient. (Oulipo stands for Ouvroir de la littérature potentielle, the ‘Workshop for potential literature’.) ‘The goal of potential literature’, according to the Oulipo writers, ‘is to furnish future writers with new techniques which can dismiss inspiration from their affectivity.’ To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what this means. But it makes sense.

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iansansomIan Sansom will be teaching a Writing Fiction workshop on 23rd & 24th March: Sat & Sun 10.30am-4.30pm. €150/135 members. The course will seek to debunk some common myths about creative writing and will provide some simple methods and techniques that can be used by writers at any stage of their writing careers. Using class exercises, examples and reading, the course will explore some of the different ways in which writers appropriate, recycle and steal ideas. There will be no discussion of inspiration or story arcs, nor any profound insights into the meaning of life or the human condition.

Ian is a novelist, journalist and broadcaster who currently teaches creative writing at Warwick University. He has been a columnist for The Guardian and has written also for The Irish Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The London Review of Books, The Spectator, and The New Statesman. His essays and reviews have appeared in numerous international magazines and journals, including The New York Times. He is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. Books include The Truth About Babies (Granta, 2002), Ring Road (4th Estate/Harper Collins, 2004), and the Mobile Library series of novels including The Case of the Missing Books (2007), Mr. Dixon Disappears (2007), The Delegates’ Choice (2008) The Book Stops Here (2008), The Bad Book Affair (2010). A cultural history of paper, Paper: An Elegy (4th Estate/Harper Collins), is due for publication in October 2012. The first in a new series of novels, The County Guides: Norfolk (4th Estate/Harper Collins) is due for publication in June 2013.

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Bestsellers, courses, Creative Writing, creative writing course, Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, literature, new writing, novels

Experimentation, comedy and metaphysics: Mike McCormack on the short story

The Dublin Book Festival came to a close last night, with two of Ireland’s finest short story authors, Kevin Barry and Mike McCormack, in conversation with Sean Rocks, presenter of RTÉ Radio 1’s ArenaMike McCormack has published two novels and won several awards, among them The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. His story The Terms (video above) from his collection of short stories Getting It In The Head was adapted into an award-winning short film. Mike’s new collection of short stories, Forensic Songs, was published earlier this year. He is currently teaching a short story course at Irish Writers’ Centre exploring several aspects of the short story including structure, pacing, dialogue, endings and experimental compositional techniques. Please keep an eye out on our courses page for more short story deliciousness in the coming weeks for next term. Meanwhile, here’s Mike’s interview from last night, with many thanks to the Dublin Book Festival team:

You grew up in the West of Ireland and indeed studied there. How much does the element of place infiltrate your writing? 

Place is fundamental to my work. It is the generative ground of what I do and I am speaking about West Mayo and Galway – the villages, the fields and bogs of Mayo are a huge part of my imaginative landscape so too are the narrow streets of Galway. I would like to think that this deep rootedness and immersion in this landscape enables me to explore universal ideas of the human condition. It is both fount and ground.

Do you think there is such a thing as a distinctive ‘Irish’ voice when it comes to fiction writing? 

Speaking for myself, I think there is. I hear it as a three part harmony of experiment, comedy and metaphysics. Bringing those three voices together in close harmony is what the Irish voice is about for me in Irish writing.

Your first collection of short stories, Getting It In The Head enjoyed much critical success and indeed it won the Rooney Prize as well as being voted book of the year by the New York Times. Did this help or hinder you in terms of writing after that? Was there more pressure to live up to what others had seen in you?

No, the difficulty in writing my second book had totally to do with the nature of that second book. My first book was the book of the ‘head’ and the second, Crowe’s Requiem, was the book of the ‘heart.’ As such it dealt with emotions and sentiment and I found at the time a much more difficult proposition than writing about themes of ideas and things of the mind. So in answer to your question, any pressure I felt was self-inflicted. However, I look back on the writing of that book now and see it as a crucial experience in which, for all its challenges, it deepened the reach and register of my voice.

Your second book did not get the fanfare enjoyed by Getting It In The Head and you said in an interview with Peter Murphy, the short stories were a product of the head, while Crowe’s Requiem was one of the heart. Did this disappointment affect how you approached Notes From a Coma?

No, not really. In my mind’s eye, I have always considered Getting in the Head and Crowe’s Requiem to be two halves of the one book, My third book, Notes from a Coma was always going to be a further exploration of the governing ideas and impulses underlying those two books but now within a more experimental idiom and framework – hence the marriage of science fiction and domestic realism and the whole Event Horizon construct. It is a book in which the reader is invited to be an active, constitutive part of an evolving experiment, to become an integral part of an authorship in which the reading of the novel goes some way towards mirroring the tides and shifts of consciousness itself. Notes from a Coma will be published in March 2013 in the US by Soho Press and it will be interesting to see how it is received there.

There has always been a kind of tension between the short story and the novel as a form- something which the likes of Anne Enright has spoken about at length in her editing of the Granta Book of the Irish Short Story a few years ago. You started out with this form. Was this a conscious decision for you or did you toy with the idea of debuting with a novel?

It was a conscious decision on the part of the short story to have me write short stories at the time. Ideas, in different times and circumstances, for me, present themselves in varying shapes and forms. The ideas in Getting it the Head came to me as short stories, the ideas of Crowe’s Requiem came to me as a novel, the ideas of Notes from a Coma came to me as an experimental choral piece of six narrative voices. Forensic Songs as a collection of short-stories, continues this experimental marriage of various voices and idioms.

You seem to have a strong preference in your work for a kind of magic realist, dystopian science fiction if I may be so bold! You also, in the words of New York Times reviewer Michael Upchurch, ‘flout’ the strictures of Irish Catholicism.’ Do you think this is a fair summation of your style?

Yes, all of those elements are present in my work. However, I have always thought that fiction was the work of a measured and sober realist who has due regard for the metaphysical and fantastical elements which underpin every moment of our lives. One fundamental premise underpinning my work is not the fact that we are alive as humans but the incredible fact that we are alive when the cosmic odds are so stacked against us being anything at all, dead, alive or otherwise. It seems to me that any comprehensive realism is bound to be inflected by this cosmic wonder or anomaly – the unlikely being of the individual human being.

You have been compared, rather favourably to Ian McEwan and Edgar Allan Poe. How do you feel about this? Are there other writers and artists who you would see yourself as emulating?

Poe as a short story writer and as a theoretician of the form would be a big influence. I have said it before all the ‘Bs’ have been inspirational, totemic figures for me – Ballard, Bartheleme, Borges and Beckett and of course a K, Kafka. Those are my Olympian figures.

You once said that the 19th century Gothic in Ireland is ‘critically neglected’. With the Bram Stoker Festival coming up, do you perhaps think it’s time to broaden it out to include the likes of Le Fanu and Charles Maturin?

Yes I do. It would be nice to see a wider, more popular appreciation of Le Fanu and Maturin. They were extraordinary writers and sensibilities.

Who has influenced you the most in terms of your writing?

In short stories, all the ones I have mentioned already but especially JG Ballard. It was he who showed me the short story as a place of formal and thematic experiment. In the novel, the biggest influence was Thomas Pynchon mainly because his work illustrated how the glitter and bric-a-brac of popular culture could be redeployed and considered as high art. Also, his introduction to Slow Learner was a hugely enabling piece to come across as a young writer.

If you could absorb any one element from another artist, writer or musician- be it fashion sense, creative style or bank balance, what would it be?

If I could redeploy Maradonna’s goals against England and Belgium from the ’86 World Cup as a prose style – that would be a gift worth stealing…

What was the first book to have made a serious impression on you?

At the age of nine or ten, after I stopped reading children’s literature, I read from my father’s collection of westerns. So many of those novels thrilled me but the one that really got me was Shane by Jack Schaefer. It is a brilliant story, beautifully written and a powerful enchantment to this day. I can still read the opening page with wonder. ‘He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89. I was a kid then…’

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading two novels. One is a thriller from Northern Ireland, Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast and the other is an experimental work from Hungary by Laszlo Kransznahorkai, Santantango. Two very different books but both very good.

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Filed under Bestsellers, courses, Creative Writing, Dublin Book Festival, Irish Writers Centre, literature, new writing, novels, Short Story

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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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Creative Writing, Liberties Press, literature, Novel Fair, novels

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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Just. Keep. Going.

The sun poured through the Georgian windows of the Irish Writers’ Centre for the duration of the Publishing Day event last Saturday. The room was buzzing with anticipation as people chatted with their neighbours. Jack Gilligan, the recently appointed Chairman of the Centre, kicked off proceedings with fire safety announcements. He apologised that unfortunately perfectly formed novels wouldn’t be dropped from the roof in the event of an emergency. I think there were one or two sighs of disappointment.  Do it because you love it and because you have to do it

Ciara Doorley, Editorial Director of Hacette Ireland, was the first speaker. She dove right into the nuts and bolts of the industry. Giving us guidelines for putting together a gleaming shiny submission, sure to catch someone’s attention. She really stressed the importance of being concise and professional in both the cover letter and the synopsis and for the writing itself to be as fine-tuned as possible before submission. Once you’ve submitted, she said, the key thing is to keep writing. Do it because you love it and because you have to do it. However, it could take months to hear back and it’s important to take the pressure off both yourself and the book while you wait. So learn the art of patience.

Ciara was the first but not the last to mention Stephen King’s book On Writing as a great book to check out for writers at all stages. And of course do I even need to name the other book that got more than a few mentions? Yes it’s a current trend, which of course publishers are aware of, but no she’s not an over-night success. Erika Leonard (E.L. James) had previously e-published other work. Another shining example of the ten year over-night success.

Gareth Cuddy, CEO of ePub Direct, gave an over view of the, blink and you miss it, ever-changing epublising industry. On average people with e-readers read at least a third more books than their 3D book counterparts simply due to ease of access. He ran through a couple of requirements for epublishing yourself. The technical things like formatting and where you can get it done. Who the major players are in the industry at the moment; Koby, Kindle, Direct Publishing and he spoke briefly about the constant battles (for battles read: hard-core litigation) between the traditional publishing work and the e-publishing world.

He showed a video, much to the amusement of the group, of a toddler playing with an iPad. The child successfully navigated her way around it; passwords, opening and closing of files, zooming into pictures, etc. Then the iPad was taken away and replaced with a magazine. The child repeatedly tried to expand the pictures in print without success. She got frustrated and tested her finger on her little chubby leg just to make sure it was working properly. Once she realised her finger, was in fact, working properly she gave up on the magazine. Gareth said that the child would forever more think that the magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work. Can evolution even keep up with that?

Then it was a quick breather for lunch and a chance to soak up some of the sun. Sitting across the road in Garden of Remembrance I thought about the little girl in the video and what would be lost if that was to become the reality for the children to come. What if browsing through an actual library or book shop was lost forever? What if we didn’t know what books smelled like? Or how it felt to flip over the feather thin pages of a dictionary? How can the ‘consumption of ebooks’ ever equal that?

Cliona Lewis opened the second half of the day. As Publicity Director for Penguin Ireland she knows a thing or two about what it takes to get out there and get noticed. Of course social media now plays a crucial role but traditional media, especially radio, inIrelandis still the winner. We are after all the biggest consumers of radio in Europe. She spoke about how important it was to be able to sell yourself and how gruelling a book tour can be. She said it was hotel to hotel, flight to flight. But even with that dampener put on our fire I don’t think any dreams were crushed in the room with that realisation. For the unpublished this still has a silver lining.

Emma Walsh took the podium next and spoke about the difference between the “art of writing and the business of publishing” and how important it was to not only to be able to tell them apart but to be well versed in the later. Browse your local bookstore to see what people are buying, keep an eye on blogs and websites, the Guardian in particular, so that you’re up to date with trends and industry gossip. And network, network, network. Along with Ciara she highlighted the importance of a professional, well edited and spell-checked submission. And more importantly not to lose heart, ‘if something doesn’t work try something else.’

There was no denying that most of the speakers did at some point express their dismay at the current upheaval in the publishing world. But any qualms were quietened with a belief that in the long run it’ll be positive for the industry and good work always gets through.

After yet another caffeine jolt and the aforementioned networking Arlene Hunt couldn’t have been a better end to the day. Herself and her husband took the proverbial bull by the horns and set up their own publishing house, Portnoy Publishing. Alongside this she also happens to be a best-selling author with no less than seven novels to her name.  And with the rights of one just sold in Germany she is on the up and ever up.

Determination, determination and some more determination along with never giving up and a drop of luck were her wise words. She too had been rejected at the beginning but she just kept going. Writing every day is crucial. And always with an eye to finishing the first draft and not getting bogged down in edits of early chapters before the thing is even finished. How can you know what is wrong with it when it’s not even finished? And then you must edit to the point where you don’t care about the characters anymore. That means there is nothing else to change and you’re ready to put it out there.

At the end of the day my head was fried, yes, but, I left with a renewed sense of conviction. Just. Keep. Going. Was the message that was received load and clear over the day. If the journey was easy it wouldn’t be worth it.

BIG THANKS to Niamh MacAlister who attended the Publishing Day & reviewed it for us! Niamh completed a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews, Scotland with the assistance of The Arts Council of Ireland, An Chomhairle Ealaíon.  She was selected as a ‘New and Emerging Poet’ for the 2010 Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and also for the Lonely Voice Short Story Series. She has had prose published in 3009 and poetry in The Stinging Fly, Raft, The Moth and Washington Square Review. She will complete a residency in Cill Rialaig in 2012. 

 

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Writing away from the agonies

In a week where we saw yet another person die on the streets of Dublin from random violence, do you think that contemporary novels are covering contemporary themes enough? I don’t know that we should look to novels to remedy the problem of violence on the streets – novels can do many things, but I think it’s a matter of some doubt whether they are capable of ameliorating severe social problems. But to answer your question more usefully, I think there is – at last – a gradual movement in Irish writing away from the agonies of the 1950s and towards an engagement with various kinds of contemporary experience. You can see it in Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies and you’ll see it in Claire Kilroy’s wonderful new novel, The Devil I Know, which comes out in August. It was bound to happen eventually – sooner or later, all the people who can’t seem to get over the 1950s will be dead, and all the young turks will be complaining that older Irish novelists won’t shut up about the Celtic Tiger.

What was the very first piece of fiction you wrote? When I was about seven I wrote a story about a boy who travelled into the future with his Professor friend and had a lovely day out. It was about a page and a half long and I still have no idea what obscure impulse moved me to write it. But that was it, from then on I was, for better or worse, a writer. The next thing I remember writing is a ghost story called “The Thirteenth Floor.” I suppose I was eleven or twelve by then. It dealt with a bed-and-breakfast with a haunted thirteenth floor. Must have been one hell of a bed-and-breakfast.

Bad Day in Blackrock was set in an era of ‘easy credit, two-car families and cheap cocaine’…what kind of ‘recession themes’ are we likely to see in books over the next few years? The four year period we now mean when we use the word “recession” is already the most written-about period in the whole of Irish history, and the flood of nonfiction coverage isn’t going to stop any time soon. I suspect this will discourage novelists from tackling it directly, in the short term. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: novels work best when they don’t have an axe to grind. I won’t make predictions, except to say that in certain quarters, the response to the crisis will be to write about farms and priests, just like always.  As long as there are Americans to think of Ireland as a priest-ridden potato field full of shivering orphans, there will be Irish writers to tell them they’re right.

How long did it take? About six months, all told.

What has changed for you since it was first published? I’ve become a full-time writer, which I never thought was possible. I’ve also learned that “being a writer” is pretty much just a job, as opposed to a permanent state of adolescent daydreaming. It’s a good job, though. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

Do you have themes that you explore in all of your work? It’s too soon to tell.

What’s something that might surprise your readers about your writing life? I write at night, from midnight to four a.m. Plays havoc with my social life.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Laziness.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Humourlessness.

Who’s your favourite writer? Martin Amis.

Inspiration? I have a three-by-five card pinned above my desk that says in big letters, “IT’S FINE.” That’s usually enough to keep me going, whenever I start to worry about the work.

Give us a writing tip. The trick to a good novel is to tell a secret and keep a secret all at once. Not my quote but a good one! Obey the Ancient Mariner principle: your narrator simply has to tell this story – he/she has no choice. Tell every story as if your life depended on it.

Can people be taught how to write!? They can be taught how to write better – but only if they’re already passionate about writing.

Have you ever seen a ghost? No, and I never will.

What’s the first record you bought? Oasis, Definitely Maybe. It was the Nineties and everyone was doing it.

Kevin Power is an Irish writer and academic. His novel Bad Day in Blackrock was published by The Lilliput Press, Dublin, in 2008. In April 2009 he received the 2008 Hennessy XO Emerging Fiction Award for his short story The American Girl. He is the winner of the 2009 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. He is teaching a one-day writing workshop on The Novel at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Saturday 14th July, 10.30am – 4.30pm. It’s aimed at people who have already done some work on the first draft of a novel and are interested in completing a full draft. Accordingly, we will be looking at techniques for structuring a novel-length story (how the story might best be told), and examining point of view and voice(who’s telling this story?), as well as emphasizing page-by-page issues, such as tone, style, sentence structure, paragraphing, and characterisation. Close readings of participants’ work will be combined with discussion of general narrative strategies. Participants are asked to submit NO MORE than 15 pages of their work – ideally, a brief section from the beginning of their manuscript. Typescripts should be double-spaced. Due to the nature of the course, spaces are limited to ten people. Book a place on the course here.

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Arlene Hunt on crime fiction

Your stories have been described as ‘dark and atmospheric, why did you get into crime writing above other genres? Without a doubt, crime fiction is my favourite genre to read, so it was natural for me to want to write it above all else. I’m trying to imagine attempting a romantic fiction or sci-fi novel: I wouldn’t even know where to start. Where would I hide the body?

There’s lots of talk about Ireland being more crime-riddled and dangerous since recession, has this impacted on how crime is portrayed in fiction? Is there? I thought we were pretty bloody before and during the recession, that seems to me to be era the gangs rose. It’s possible that lesser crimes like burglary have increased, but murder and other violent crime seems ever present regardless of who has what in their pockets. There are definitely more weapons available, that translates into fiction. Weapons and drugs.

How long does it take you to write a book? About nine months, a good old gestation period.

Do you interview sources or pluck the details & plots from the ether!? Depending on the book, I’d say both. I did a good bit of research for my last book, The Chosen, as it was set in the USA. I had to be very sure of my terrain which was essential to plot, and I had to learn how to operate a long bow and how to make arrows and so forth. It was very enjoyable. I read a lot too, hunting magazines, forensics, books on psychology, that sort of thing, but that’s a pleasure and something I would do in my spare time anyway.

Do you have any quirky habits when writing or a particular time of day when you’re most creative? I write in the morning (badly) and in the evening (fluidly), with the mid-afternoon taken-up with reading submissions or editing. I’m also training for a marathon at the moment, so it’s a pretty full day, with little time for quirks: unless you consider operating as a cat butler a quirk. I don’t. More a chore. Stupid mammals, not having opposable thumbs.

Are any of the characters based on people you know? Not really, most of the people I know are far nicer than the people who appear in my books. That said, if I met someone I actively dislike you can be sure they’re going to meet a grisly end amongst my pages.

You list your favourite authors as: Robert Crais, George Pelecanos, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, John Connolly – what do you particularly like about them? That they have the ability to combine good writing with escapism without losing credibility. I think it’s fair to say that you can read any one of their novels and come away with something you didn’t have before you cracked them open. The older I get the more I appreciate the skill and practice that goes into good writing.

Give us a writing tip! Read! Don’t ever stop reading. I cannot fathom people who write but do not read.

Your last book The Chosen was a departure from the QuicK Investigations, was it harder to write? No, but I had the story kicking around in my head about a year before I sat down to write it, which is unusual for me. It was kind of nice to stretch myself mentally too. It’s easy to get moored to one particular formula, so this was a nice break.

What inspired you to launch your own publishing company? I thought the time was right for such a move. It was a huge learning curve of course and many lessons were learned in the process, but I’m glad we did what we did; it seems to be working out for us with two titles behind us, and hopefully two more to come this year.

What are you working on now? A novel set here in Dublin about two children who run away from home to escape an abusive father and walk straight into a drug war in the process.

“Arlene Hunt may just be the best female crime writer to have emerged from these islands in recent years” – John Connolly

Arlene who will teach a Crime Writing course at the Irish Writers’ Centre from 25th April began writing at the age of 27, and produced her first novel, Vicious Circle, within the year. This book was eventually published by Hodder Headline at the end of April 2004. Her second novel, False Intentions, introduced two characters, John and Sarah of QuicK Investigations, who were set to become a regular part of Arlene’s work, and was published in May 2005. Her third novel Black Sheep was published in June 2006. Arlene’s 4th novel, and the third in the John and Sarah series, is called Missing Presumed Dead (MPD) and was published in June 2007. It was translated into Dutch and is available under the title ‘Vermist’ and is due to be published in Russian. Her fifth novel, the fourth QuicK Investigations book, is entitled Undertow and was published in Septmber 2008. It was nominated for Best Crime Novel at the 2009 Irish Book Awards. In 2009 Arlene completed her 6th novel, Blood Money, which was published in March 2010. It continues the QuicK Investigations series. Her 7th novel, ‘The Chosen‘ was published in October 2011. It is a standalone thriller based in the USA and will be published by Portnoy Publishing.

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Trekkies Beam Down to Parnell Square!

On Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th March, The Phoenix Convention (P-CON for short), a Science Fiction and Fantasy convention takes place at the Irish Writers’ Centre. Admission is €20. With a literary focus, Guests of Honour include writer Robert Rankin and comics creator Bryan Talbot, as well as Irish authors John Connolly and Kevin Barry. The convention features a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and likely topics of discussion include tyhe dangers of writing Science Fiction by mistake, how Sherlock Holmes invented fan culture, why eBooks aren’t the end of literature, and the difficulty of translating Harry Potter books into Irish, and much else besides, both serious and light-hearted. We decided to ask Pádraig Ó Méalóid about the conceptions and misconcpetions of the genre.

IrishWriters’ Centre: Most non-sci-fi folk think the typical ‘fan’ of the genre is a lonely murky soul who spent too much time reading comics in a box room before venturing out into the monotonous world… how far away is this from the truth?

Pádraig Ó Méalóid: Does anyone really take that kind of image seriously? I know that journalists, for instance, always like to have a handy pigeonhole for pretty much anything they see as being opposed to the norm – for instance, if we had two hundred people turn up to this event, and *one* of them happened to be wearing a Star Trek uniform, you can be guaranteed that he’s the one whose photograph would be in the paper, along with a caption saying ‘Trekkies Beam Down to Parnell Square.’ Because, as we all know, papers are more interested in having something faintly derogatory to say, rather than telling the duller truth, which is that people of all kinds, and of all walks of life, of all ages, are the kind of people who enjoy the kind of genre fiction we’re looking at re: the convention. Or, let me put it another way: some of the most successful films and TV series of all time are SF*, and *somebody* must be watching them, and they can’t *all* be living in box rooms and their parents’ back room, can they? (*which we prefer to use, rather than sci-fi…)

IWC: Where/how did Science Fiction, as a genre, originate? It’s often been described as a ‘literature of change’…

PÓM: A good question! There are all sorts of earlier precedents, but I’m going to say that the real flowering of what we’d understand as Science Fiction was in Victorian times, along with a lot of other literary forms. There was a huge amount of scientific and social change in those years, and what was at the time called Scientific Romance grew out of an attempt to understand what some of those changes might mean. The work of HG Wells and Jules Verne – books like The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and A Journey to the Centre of the Earth – are still touchstones for the genre today, well over a hundred years after they were written, and quite rightly so.

IWC: Would you consider George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four a sci-fi tale or merely a book about inventions, technology and ideas?

PÓM: Another good question! First of all, let me admonish you for suggesting that it’s ‘merely a book about inventions, technology and ideas.’ *All* books are about ideas, surely, aren’t they? There’s actually very little hard science in Nineteen Eighty-Four, as it’s simply not that sort of book. There’s lots of Science Fiction that isn’t about technology, but about social change, and this sits very firmly in that tradition. There is of course the argument that Nineteen Eighty-Four isn’t SF because it’s a ‘proper book,’ which of course works of SF couldn’t be, now could they?

IWC: What is the unique contribution that an Irish convention offers to sci-fi debates?

PÓM: Well, we’re in the city of the likes of Dean Swift, Bram Stoker, Lord Dunsany, and Flann O’Brien. I’ve even going to invoke James Joyce as a fellow traveller- he was the manager of the Volta Cinematograph in Mary Street, Ireland’s first cinema, right at the cutting edge of technology at the time, which makes him sound like a techy geek to me!

IWC: What trends in sci-fi do you see appearing, and what are they looking to explore in the future?

PÓM: Right at the moment there seems to be a lot of dystopian fiction – reflecting the uncertain times we’re in. SF is far more likely to be a reflection of the times it’s written in, rather than being about the future. By its very nature, it allows writers to explore what the future might hold, and how that might change society, and ourselves. Science Fiction, like all literature, is about people, not robots or rocket ships.

IWC: Women in sci-fi: have they played a strong(er) role in this genre compared to others?

PÓM: As it happens, there’s a very lively debate going on in SF circles about this very thing at the moment. Questions about gender balance, or the lack of it, in short story anthologies and at comics conventions are quite hot topics right now, and we’re actually going to be attempting to address these issues at one of the panels on Saturday. At the risk of generalising wildly, there seems to be a greater prevalence of women in fantasy fiction than in Science Fiction -and of course if you look back a number of years, you’ll see that some of thegreatest crime writers in the mid-20th Century were women. Whetherany of this has any deeper significance, or that it shows that women are drawn more to one form of literature than another, is obviously more that I could say, but it might be interesting to find out why this happens, or appears to happen.

IWC: Do you think that ‘digital natives’ (i.e. kids born into the internet/teccie age) find sci-fi less intriguing or far-fetched than the ‘on the ground’ analogue generation?

PÓM: I certainly think that people like myself – I’m 52 years old – would have had a very different idea of SF than the youth of today. When I was ten years old, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Science Fiction seemed as much a roadmap of the future as it was escapist literature. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. But SF reflects its times, and what written today is relevant to what’s happening today. I’m still wondering where my jet pack is, though…

IWC: Sci-fi romance! How do explorations of other romantic traditions compare to contemporary trends for paranormal romance?

PÓM: As I mentioned above, I’m 52 years old, and male to boot, so I don’t think I’m exactly the target demographic for this! But, I do know that romantic fiction in general seems to be growing in popularity, and that a lot of the traditional romance publishers – Mills & Boon, most famously – have branched out quite a bit, including into genre fiction of all kinds. And people who might not have wished to be seen buying romance fiction can now do so with perfect anonymity on the internet, or have them piped directly onto their e-reader. Again, this is something we’d like to explore at future P-CONs and we’re intending to relax our genre guidelines a little to allow us to address relevant issues with the likes of romantic fiction, and crime fiction, for example.

IWC: Star Trek is loaded with social commentary, some would say, how does the genre capacitate this?

PÓM: Star Trek is interesting – it was first broadcast 46 years ago, and still casts a long shadow. On the other hand, it has become easy shorthand for dismissing all people interested in SF – I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been asked, when telling people I’m interested in Science Fiction, ‘Does that mean you’re a Trekkie?’ And, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever understood the relevance of the question. But I digress. Yes, there was a lot of sometimes very heavy-handed social commentary in Star Trek, but its heart was very definitely in the right place. The inclusion of Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, for instance, was about the first time a black woman had a role as a non-menial on the television. It also included the first inter-racial kiss on the TV – hugely controversial at the time, of course – between Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk. Star Trek has another interesting first associated with it: it was probably the origin of what’s known as Slash Fiction. If you don’t know what that is, you can look it up on the Internet!

IWC: What will P-CON IX have to offer people, both fans and strangers to the genre?

PÓM: What we’ll have is: writers, from all genres under our fairly broad umbrella, including Science Fiction, fantasy, and horror; comics creators; and at least one film director. There’ll be talk on all sorts of things, both serious and frivolous, and an opportunity to meet and talk with these people in a relaxed setting. There’ll also be a writing workshop on Sunday morning, something we’ve been running to great acclaim for quite a number of years now. And, most of all, there’ll be good company, and kindred souls.

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