Hello reader, I hope your year has been a good one, or at least tolerable. The world feels like a strange place at the moment, partly back to normal, partly going to hell in a handcart. Everyone I know seems to be finishing out the year struck down by cold/respiratory virus/not-Covid-thing and writing paralysis, though hopefully the New Year will see new beginnings.
My annual round-up is a bit paltry because it hasn’t been a great writing year in Wordherding Towers. But here’s what I’ve been up to. I am currently under the influence of Lemsip because of my own lurgy so apologies in advance if some of this is garbled.
To be honest, I have really felt blocked this year and any progress, whether with book two, flash fiction or short stories, has been tough. I hate admitting that, but perhaps it will help someone reading this to feel less like they’re the only one struggling.
One way I tried to tackle the problem was by doing courses and workshops that took my fancy, so here’s my brief summary of the ones I did, all of which I recommend highly:
Time Management for Writers with Sarah Moore Fitzgerald: Sarah is a powerhouse who teaches creative writing at the University of Limerick and runs the UL Winter School in Doolin. She also occasionally does an afternoon’s workshop (both online and at lit festivals) on the aforementioned subject – carving out time for your writing. Honestly, if you are struggling to put pen to paper, Sarah’s the person for you. She gives writing exercises with specific time limits, motivates like nobody’s business, sets out realistic goals – everything you need. Keep an eye on her Twitter account for any upcoming dates as her workshops book out extremely fast.
The Sound of Stories with Emily Devane: this was a five-week course using music to spark story ideas. We worked our way through a different musical style every week – classical, bluegrass, jazz, pop, you name it – examining the storytelling aspects of music. Emily is a wonderful facilitator, kind and humorous, and I’d recommend her highly. She was also willing to give personalised feedback on anything we wrote as a result of the course, which is really going that extra mile. Incidentally, if you’re looking for something to jumpstart your year, she will be running a one-off workshop called Folky Flash on January 15 (pay what you can), which I know will be a lot of fun.
Your Life in Five Senses with Rachel Fowler and Kate Beales: this three-parter wasn’t a writing course per se, and not all of the participants were writers, but it did draw on the five senses as a way into creative expression. Run by grief coach Rachel and theatre practitioner/writer Kate, this one delved surprisingly deep. I found it an unexpectedly moving experience, and many of the short pieces I wrote during the writing sessions were very personal – because, of course, sensory things evoke strong memories. Lovely facilitators, lovely group, I found this one very nourishing for the soul just when I needed it.
Inside Story with David Nicholls, Curtis Brown Creative: David Nicholls is one of my favourite writers so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn more about his approach to writing in this five-week course. I did a CBC Three-Month Novel Course last year and knew what to expect – a combination of weekly prerecorded modules, written supporting material with writing tasks and a forum board on which to exchange work and thoughts. The main difference was that this one was less interactive, in that you didn’t have to participate in the forum where it’s obligatory as part of the novel course, which is fun but pretty time-consuming. I found the exercises excellent, and David’s considerable insight clear and valuable (and you can get a sense from the trailer below how reassuring he is). Having put my WIP down for some time, it was a relief to write scenes (using the prompts) and find that the narrator’s quirky voice hadn’t totally deserted me. I found it good value at £185 and it runs every five weeks. There are also versions with Marian Keyes, Kate Mosse and Tessa Hadley.
No published work for me this year as I submitted very little. One piece of good news at the start of the year was an audiobook release of Everyday Kindness, the charity anthology I participated in last year with proceeds going to Shelter UK. Edited by crime writer LJ Ross, the audiobook was narrated by a very starry list of celebrities including Richard Armitage, Dame Julie Walters and Celia Imrie. My story ‘Planting Out’ was sensitively narrated by Irish actor Aidan Kelly. It was a privilege to be involved in such a lovely project.
Otherwise, while it wasn’t published this year, I did get to read an excerpt of my story ‘A Simple Loss of Balance’ from the anthology Cork Words 2 at a Fiction at the Friary launch in February. Twelve of us read at what was a warm celebration of local writers.
I started the year with the news that my MS Fundamental Things had been longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award 2022. The winner of the competition, Alex Hay, subsequently signed with head judge and literary agent Alice Lutyens, and it looks like his winning book The Housekeepers will be making waves in 2023. Fingers crossed for him!
I’m ending the year with a shortlisting for Fundamental Things in the Flash 500 Novel Opening Competition. Judged by Headline Publishing, the winner was Nicola Whyte for Godfellas. I’ve seen Nicola’s title pop up on another list recently so I’m sure we’ll be seeing her book soon too.
Because I think it’s important to be balanced about these things, I also have to report that I struck out on everything else I entered. My spreadsheet shows that I submitted nine things spread over competitions and journals/publishing opportunities. The result was one shortlisting (Flash 500), one in-progress, seven big nopes. That’s the reality, but in my opinion the rejections make the victories feel more hard-earned.
This year, I spoke to some amazing authors on the blog. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to ask them the kind of questions that bubble up in my brain at readings, but that I get too shy to ask in front of a crowd.
First up was Olivia Fitzsimons, whose debut novel The Quiet Whispers Never Stop is a beautifully written tale of two women trapped in their own lives. Set in a rural community in Northern Ireland during the 80s and 90s, the book is raw and dynamic, and poses probing questions about how women are pigeonholed by society. While the subject matter is serious, Olivia herself is lighthearted and hilarious. You can read our chat about everything from difficult women to bubble perms here.
Next up was Cork writer Gráinne Murphy, whose third book Winter People is an evocative tale of isolation and redemption. Set over three days on the west coast of Ireland, the lives of isolated characters Sis, Lydia and Peter become intertwined. You can read her very eloquent thoughts on her writing process and personal experience of dealing with grief here.
And then there was Rose Servitova, whose third novel is a completion of Jane Austen’s unfinished work Sanditon. A Season at Sanditon is Rose’s third visit to Austenland, having previously written a completion of The Watsons, as well as imagining the correspondence between Pride and Prejudice gentlemen Mr Bennet and Mr Collins in The Longbourn Letters. I can happily report that Rose stays true to Austen’s dry, witty style, which is also evident in our conversation here.
Favourite books and distractions
My reading year was pretty disastrous, my concentration dire. I have books all over the house decorated with bookmarks in the hope that I’ll return to them, and my husband keeps complaining about the tottering pile of half-read books on my nightstand (“Relax, perilous is the look I’m going for” doesn’t reassure him as much as you’d think it would). The very popular books I have finished I’ve grumbled endlessly about to friends – maybe I’m getting hard to please? I suspect it’s just my current headspace, so I won’t do them the disservice of naming them.
What has really been satisfying my need for good storytelling is Kdrama. Like pretty much everyone else in the rest of the world, it was Squid Game and Parasite that first made me realise South Korea was producing some very interesting work. Western films and series feel very formulaic, and you can usually work out every beat before it happens. Kdrama follows different scriptwriting rules and so feels surprising and fresh to me. I also enjoy the deft balance that many achieve between humour, drama, suspense, wisdom, romance, back to humour… Some series I’d recommend include: Our Beloved Summer, Descendants of the Sun, Something in the Rain, Guardian: The Lonely and Great God and Healer.
Thank you to everyone who has stopped by the blog this year to read, comment and generally give a thumbs up. I tentatively put up a link to a Ko-fi page at the bottom of my listings posts earlier this year, and was amazed that some readers actually contributed! I don’t know how to thank those people directly, but I appreciated their appreciation and put the donations towards my own competition entries for good luck. That proved successful on at least one occasion. My 2023 lists will be ready soon, so keep an eye out.
If you’ve had a good writing year, I hope that momentum continues into 2023. If it’s been a bit rubbish, I hope the New Year will see a chance to start afresh, like cracking open a new notebook. Most of all, I hope you keep writing, if only for your own enjoyment. Happy New Year all and cheers:
Photo: Deborah Hudson/Pixabay
4 thoughts on “A farewell to 2022”
Lovely informative post Anne. Happy New Year.
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Thanks, Brenda. Happy New Year to you too and here’s to words flowing freely in 2023!
I’ve only more recently started receiving this blog, which I learned of through Twitter. I’m really enjoying it and I wish you a bright new year as we all recover from dreaded lurgies!
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Jennifer, thanks so much for following the blog. I’m hoping to get the first of my lists posted fairly soon. Wishing you all the best for 2023!