The weekly herding: sunshine, empty chairs and Frank O’Connor

It’s been a struggle to write and/or blog this week, and I blame the devilishly enticing weather. How writers in balmier climes get any work done, I’ll never understand. Nonetheless, those words won’t herd themselves, so here’s a (pretty hasty) round up of the things that worked hard to catch my eye this week.

This was the problem, right here. Too much of this blue stuff


Sobering sight of an empty chair

So you’ve gotten your book deal, completed your edits and now your book is available in all good bookshops. What could possibly go wrong at this stage? Well, for starters, you might find yourself facing a sea of empty seats at the first celebration of your hard graft. ‘What to do when no one shows up to your reading’ by Matthew Norman, who speaks from excruciating personal experience, is the funniest, bravest and most honest article I’ve read in a long time:

‘But then it dawned on me that my book had only been out for about 72 hours and no one had any reason to have any idea who in the hell I was. And then something else dawned on me—something far worse. I hadn’t really told anyone about the reading. I’d posted something about it on Facebook, but that was about the equivalent of shouting the date and time of my reading out my open car window on I-95 in a rainstorm. A lone microphone stood in the café. Lined up there before it were five rows of startlingly empty chairs. My literary career had started’ – Matthew Norman


By the end of this highly entertaining post, you’ll have to manually uncurl your toes, want to wish him well and fervently hope that all his subsequent readings were a sell out.

And it seems it isn’t an uncommon rite of passage for the newly minted writer, as Hazel Gaynor (author of The Girl from the Savoy) attests in a reaction piece for

‘What I especially love about Matthew Norman’s piece is that it shows a side of writing that isn’t often talked about, and yet when it is, it turns out this has happened to pretty much every writer. Empty chairs in the venue. No line of fans outside the bookshop waiting for you to arrive. Nobody actually coming up to your signing table at all. It’s excruciating for everyone involved, but it isn’t uncommon, and it isn’t only debut authors who suffer empty chair syndrome. It has happened to more established writers too’ – Hazel Gaynor


The great and the (nearly) good

The one consistent piece of advice given to would-be writers is to read a lot. The problem with that is that when you immerse yourself in quality literature you can feel that your own work is like shapes scratched on a cave wall with a piece of flint by comparison. In ‘The Book That Finally Got Me Writing Again’, Australian novice Bri Lee describes how being  advised to read the works of Helen Garner (also Australian) threw her into such a pit of despair that it almost railroaded her own ambitions:

‘I started with Joe Cinque’s Consolation and This House of Grief, and I read them in the same week I started my manuscript. It also turned out to be the week I stopped writing my manuscript, because I froze. I had that horrific realisation that someone had already written what I wanted to write – and they’d done it better than I could ever hope to’ – Bri Lee

Thankfully the story has a happy ending – as the title suggests – and is a great description of the pitfalls and vulnerabilities of becoming a writer.


Frank O’Connor Effect

frank_oconnor-250pxGenerations of Irish children have been introduced to the art of the short story through Frank O’Connor’s work. I still count ‘The First Confession’ as my personal favourite, having initially read it way, way back in secondary school. It was the wit as much as the skill that won me over, not to mention the fact that it was actually set in a place I knew and had been to.

In a recent podcast for The New Yorker magazine, novelist Anne Enright discussed her own fondness for O’Connor, and read his story  ‘The Masculine Principle’ , which was published by the magazine in 1950. Remarkably, they published more than 40 of O’Connor’s short stories between the 1940s and the 1960s.


Novel competition

The Caledonia Novel Award is an international competition which is now open for entries. Entrants are required to send the first 20 pages of their novel, along with a 200-word synopsis. First prize is £1,000, though the real prize is the chance to catch the eye of judge Richard Pike from Curtis Brown.

There’s also an additional prize this year for UK and Ireland entries, of a place on a week-long residential writing workshop at Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre in the Scottish Highlands. Their website will make you want to be teleported there immediately.

The entry fee is £20 and the closing date is November 1.


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