The weekly herding: fear and finding your voice

“Oh look, an article. That’ll be good for the blog. I’ll come back to that later. Oh look, an article…” etc

I compile my regular round-up of shiny internet things by dropping links onto a template as and when I stumble across them. Then at the end of the week I reread them to see what suits – not to mention jogging my memory because I have the retention of a blue tang fish (I can only be this specific because of having to sit through Finding Nemo with my daughter). But when I sifted through my list this week, I ended up jettisoning most of the links. Why? Because I realised that they were all formulas: how to save your plot from sagging, how to write a killer ending, how to bring your characters to life. While that advice is, by and large, terrific, there’s also a danger of getting bogged down with information that actually strips all the heart out of what you want to write and suppresses your unique voice. In the case of these particular articles, I felt on rereading that they were structured so as to send the writer down a formulaic path.

So what I’m left with is mostly news of competitions and magazine submissions. And it’s heartening to see there are so many avenues out there to pursue, and room for diverse writing by very different types of writers.

Going public

Something I did enjoy this week was this beautifully honest piece for Litro magazine. In Performance Anxiety. Or When Writing A Book Is Easier Than Reading It, Niyati Keni talks about her terror of doing readings. This was her first experience of standing before a microphone:

‘I stood up and walked to the front, my palms already sweaty. Now I would love to say that it was easier than I’d expected and that I’d been worried about nothing. But it wasn’t. It was terrifying and I literally shook with fright all the way through my reading. My eyes glued to the page I read too quickly, rushing back to my seat the instant I’d finished. I felt so disheartened by this experience that I wondered how I was ever going to read live again. My first launch reading was only three weeks away. I seriously considered cancelling, feigning illness, paying an actor to read for me’ – Niyati Keni

I’m amazed at how well authors read their work when the general wisdom is that writers are introverts who prefer to be locked in solitude with their fictional creations. It’s such a different skill set from being able to breathe life into a world of characters that will captivate readers. Obviously it must get easier with practice, with many writers enjoying the chance to share their words, but still… [Incidentally, if I’m ever in a situation where I’m invited to do a public reading I WILL be hiring an actress. I’m thinking of Renée Zellweger as she’s so good at accents and doesn’t seem too busy these days, Bridget Jones aside. I reckon she’d knock an Irish accent out of the park.]

Happily, Niyati was able to overcome her fears and shares the advice that got her through. Do please give it a read.

The post put me in mind of a few videos I’ve seen of writers who really know how to hold their audiences’ attention. I’m sharing two here because they’re such a joy to watch. The first is Claire Keegan, reading an excerpt from her story ‘Foster’ (and if that snippet whets your appetite, you can read it here in The New Yorker):

Then there’s Paul McVeigh, who performs rather than reads his work. I assume it’s because of his theatre background (he started out as a playwright), and he certainly knows how to bring words to life:

Putting the literary call out

Ck8GjEjXAAAooDLThe Ogham Stone literature and arts journal comes with a wonderful pedigree. It is curated by the University of Limerick, and their last issue had contributions from UL professor of creative writing Joseph O’Connor (Star of the Sea, Redemption Falls) and Donal Ryan (The Spinning Heart, The Thing About December), as well as a host of fledgling writers. The submission window has just opened for the Spring 2017 issue, and they’re looking for fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, memoir, short graphic fiction (what’s that when it’s at home?), visual arts and photography. Get your work to them for consideration by August 28.

Northern Ireland-based The Incubator is currently inviting submissions for their 10th issue. I have a soft spot for them [plug alert!] because they were the first publication to accept a flash fiction piece from me. The submissions window closes on June 30.

Short story competitions

Last year, the inaugural Books Ireland Short Story Competition was so successful they’ve decided to run it again this year, as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations. Entries should be a maximum of 2,600 words, with no theme. First prize is €400, a writing course at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin and publication in Books Ireland. There’s a second prize of €200 and third prize of €100. The entry fee is €10, or €5 for subscribers or members of a writing group. The rules state it’s open to writers of all nationalities writing in English. August 31 is the closing date.

The 2016 Over The Edge New Writer of the Year Competition, which has its roots in Galway, is now open for entries. There’s both a short story and a poetry category, with entries invited from around the world. The cash prize fund is a complicated business where an overall winner will be chosen from the winners of the individual categories, but both winners will also have their work considered for publication of a collection by Doire Press or Salmon Poetry respectively. The entry fee details are too much to go into here (plus I know you won’t read them anyway. Congratulations on reading this far!) and the closing date is August 3.


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