Dec 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I was originally planning to keep blogging throughout the Christmas holidays, but we've got so much going on, as I'm sure most people do, that I think I'll join many of my fellow bloggers and take a break for a while.

Here's to us all having a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas. I'll see you all in 2012.

Here are some puppies:


Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Dec 21, 2011

Conor's First Christmas

As most of you know, my wife and I had a son earlier this year, who passed away after only three days. We named him Conor and gave him the middle names William and Henry, after our grandfathers. This should have been his first Christmas. It's been a hard time for us. We have friends who have new babies, or are expecting, and while we're thrilled for them, we miss our son.

However, as hard as this first Christmas will be, we are determined to enjoy it. We know Conor is with us, watching us. No matter what form his presence has to take, we won't let our son's first Christmas be a sad affair. His life meant too much to too many people for us to let him down like that. He taught us about the importance of those we love, and the strength that comes from expressing that love. That's what Christmas should be about.

So we're going to celebrate this Christmas and see it through. I know Conor would want us to be happy, not let our favourite time of year pass in sadness because he can't be with us in the way we wish he could.

To anyone reading this, I'll say the same. This can be a stressful time of year. It's expensive, it's crowded, it's loud. You may find yourself having to spend time with people you'd rather not, because a friend is bringing a guest you don't know, or you fell out once with a particular family member. Or there may be someone you dearly wish was there who can't be.

But this is also a time when we gather around those we love. We share gifts to show how much we care. We offer help to a friend or a stranger when they need it most. We do the most amazing things just to see another person smile and help their Christmas be that much better. We are thankful for the good in our lives. We forgive those who have hurt us. We offer peace and goodwill.

Life's too short, and there are enough times when we feel frustrated, miserable or afraid. Let this one time of year be spent with good in our hearts, each helping one another to be happy however we can. And maybe, just maybe, some of that feeling will stay with us when he season ends, and we can keep it through the year.

Merry Christmas.

Dec 19, 2011

Ring Christmas Bells

Just a few days to go until Christmas. To help celebrate the final run up I'd like to share something from Carnival Moon, a band that my friend Ash's husband is in. They've recorded a cover of Carol of the Bells with a really creepy, fairy-like tone. It's available for free download and I love it, so here it is:

Ring Christmas Bells

Dec 16, 2011

Last Minute Shopping

It's just about the last weekend before Christmas. Uncharacteristically, I actually have everything sorted as regards Christmas shopping, with just a few specific food items to get in. Every year I see people packing shopping trolleys to the brim with cartons of milk, soft drinks, alcohol, bread, butter, and all manner of other foodstuffs as though they were preparing for the zombie apocalypse. My wife and I don't do a massive stock-up at Christmas. It's too stressful and too expensive. Instead we just make sure to have a fresh batch of home-brewed wine on the rack, a bottle of port, some nice cheese and crackers, and the stuff we need for Christmas dinner. The shops open again on St Stephen's Day. It's not like we're going to run out of milk in a single day.

The only reason we even get in our turkeys and such so far ahead of time is that we don't want to risk shops running out. We're just not stressful shoppers. We both saw too much of that growing up so we try and keep ours as relaxed as possible. So our last minute shopping will just be for a few minor bits and pieces for the sake of convenience, rather than desperately trying to track down the last jar of cranberry sauce on Christmas Eve.

What about you? How are your preparations going? Do you like to get everything done well in advance or do you love the throngs of crowds as Christmas gets closer and closer?

Dec 14, 2011

Favourite Christmas Songs

Everyone's got their favourite. That one Christmas song that just fills them with all the good memories and positive feelings of this time of year. I've listed three of my favourites below:

Old City Bar - Trans-Siberian Orchestra


Part of the Christmas Eve and Other Stories album, this song has a place in a larger story about an angel sent to find the greatest thing done by man in the name of Christmas. It's a beautiful, simple song about how we can change the world for the better through simple acts.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas


Originally from Meet Me in St Louis, everything about this song exudes Christmas dinner, warm fires and friends all around. Plus I really enjoy the wishing for good times in the future.

Fairytale of New York - The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl


My all-time favourite. As soon as I hear the opening piano notes, everything is good. I was in a youth theatre as a teenager and on our last day of workshops before Christmas we would always gather around a piano and sing Christmas songs, including this. Aside from having one of the best piano melodies ever, I love that at its heart, it's about two people who fell in love, went through hard times, and despite everything still admit they love each other.

What about you? What's your favourite Christmas song?

Dec 12, 2011

Christmas Shopping

I love Dublin at Christmas. The lights look amazing and there are choirs up and down Grafton Street. It's not a proper Christmas unless we get to see the streets all lit up and hear the music playing.

It's great to spend time wandering the shops. While online ordering often has great deals, you really can't beat that feeling of picking out a present, taking it to the register, then bringing it home. We've managed to get pretty much all of our shopping done now, and the Christmas tree is looking great with the presents wrapped underneath it.

My wife and I always spoil each other a little at this time of year. As well as getting presents for each other, we pick out some things like DVDs we've wanted that we'll put under the tree with both our names on. We believe very strongly that Christmas should be enjoyed as much as possible, and we indulge our childish side more often this time of year than any other, which is saying something.

Once we get all our shopping done we still like to wander around the shops, taking in the atmosphere and stopping for tea or coffee. Christmas Eve, especially. It was on Christmas Eve that I proposed, in the morning in St Stephen's Green next to the fountains. There's nothing like a Christmas Eve where everything is done and you can just enjoy yourself.

What about you? Do you have any Christmas shopping traditions or preferences?

Dec 9, 2011

Writing Update

It's weird to think I only have 9 more blog posts for 2011 after today. That's assuming I don't take a bit of a break over Christmas. Still, I have been thinking about the things I want to talk about as we wrap up the year.

For now I thought I'd give a bit of an update of where the year has left me, writing-wise.

My third round of edits on Locked Within has been sent back to my editor. Things are going really well, I think. Kristine is a huge help in figuring out my weaknesses and playing to my strengths. I know there's still plenty of work to be done, but I'm looking forward to it. I can see the book becoming much stronger as we go.

I've been neglecting Nightfall for the last couple of months. Not that I'm letting it go, by any stretch, but Nathan's story has been so strong in my mind that I'm finding I have try hard not to get ahead of myself. I'm currently preparing to re-draft Silent Oath to take into account feedback from my crit partners and beta readers, as well as major changes which have happened to Locked Within. My goal is to have Silent Oath ready for querying in time to make a 2013 release, if it's accepted.

As well as that, I've decided to start writing the third book of The Memory Chronicles in the new year. I'm seriously looking forward to this, but I'm keeping a lot of it under wraps for the time being.

I've also been getting more and more ideas for other books, independent of The Memory Chronicles. A dark fantasy series, and a couple of ideas for MG or YA Christmas stories.

What about you? Where are you with your writing, or what are you reading that's really grabbed your attention?

Dec 7, 2011

New Additions

This week my wife and I adopted another puppy. He's a Japanese spitz mix who was part of an unexpected litter an elderly man's dogs had. He wasn't able to care for so many dogs, so he offered the puppies up for adoption.

My wife brought home this little dote yesterday:


We've named him Jasper. He was brought to the vet today and it was confirmed he's about five months old and very underweight. We need to at least double his weight, but aside from that he's quite healthy and has such a sweet personality.

Once our other dog, Pepper, has taught him how to play, there'll be no stopping the pair of them.

Dec 5, 2011

Me and Christmas

We have a pretty powerful relationship. I simply love Christmas. I see it as a time to be thankful for all the good things in your life and hopeful that the future will bring more of the same. We gather around our loved ones to share this joy and, when necessary, find strength to get us through the tougher times.

I don't view Christmas as a strictly religious holiday. In today's world it has evolved so much further than something any one religion can lay claim to. I think it should be treated as a universal celebration of love and togetherness. It's date was even chosen to coincide with older pagan winter celebrations. As I see it, Christmas is meant to be all-inclusive. A time to welcome everyone of every faith and background.

This will be a tough Christmas, but we're going to make it a good one. It means a lot to me to have a good Christmas. Part of our annual tradition is to host a Christmas Dinner for Friends, nick-named "Not-Christmas" by some of our friends. It's the highlight of the season for us and we can't wait.

As it happens, this year I've had two ideas for Christmas-themed novels, and settled that the fourth book of my Memory Chronicles series will be set at Christmas time.

Dec 2, 2011

The National Craft and Design Fair

As I said on Wednesdaty, my wife and I went out to the National Craft and Design Fair in the RDS. I thought I'd share some pictures from our day out to start the Christmas season.


This fair is on every year and really does have some great selections from Irish businesses. There's very little in the way of chains present, and if you look around you'll find things to suit most budgets.


It's great seeing the place decked out with Christmas lights. People were also generally polite and helpful. Great Christmassy atmosphere.


This stall was selling a new type of syrup they've invented, made from apples. It's like a kind of apple honey, called Highbank Orchard Syrup. We tasted some and just had to buy a couple of bottles.


There was a craft section dominating the center of the main hall, with people working a pottery display right there at a stall.


Almost everything you see there is some form of biscuit. Yum.


This is another stall that drew us in. Banshee Legend is a new whiskey-based liquer with a hint of ginger. Very nice, and I'm not normally a whiskey drinker. We picked up a bottle, but it's also available in the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street in Dublin.


A close-up of Banshee Legend. I love the design of the bottles.


Lots of the stalls have some really great and unique gift ideas for kids as well as adults.


Everything here is hand made and beautifully glazed. Unlike a lot of the pottery on sale at the fair, this stall had some really reasonable prices, too.

If any of you ever get the chance, I can only recommend going to the fair. Tickets are €10 and if you get a return pass before leaving, you can come back any day during the fair for no charge. It's a great way to get into the swing of things for Christmas, though it can be tiring to walk around all the stalls, so small children are likely to get bored easily.

Nov 30, 2011

Christmas Shopping

Yep, it's an oft-cursed thing, but no matter your beliefs or traditions, every year we must all brave the crowds, if only to get to work or meet some friends for a coffee.

I've taken a few days of my annual leave to both get some editing done and to attend the National Crafts and Design Fair in the Royal Dublin Society. My wife and I went last year and loved it, so we decided to make sure to go again this year. We'll be able to get a good start on our Christmas shopping.

Christmas is really the one time of the year when my wife and I go ahead and spoil each other. My family tends to chip in so that each of us can get one thing we really like or need, rather than several things we'll never use, so most of what Jen and I get in is stuff we can both enjoy or share with others. We have a Christmas dinner for friends every year and it's really the highlight of the season for us. So we'll be looking for lots of things we can bring home to share.

What about you? Do you love or hate Christmas shopping? Do you prefer online, the crowded city centers, small market stalls, craft fairs?

Nov 28, 2011

Hero's Journey: Thor

I figured it was high time I did another Hero's Journey post. I've been wanting to talk about this movie for a while. It's one of the best recent examples of monomyth in film, and a damn near perfect superhero story:

Because he's worth it
Many heroes in later interpretations of the Monomyth are blessed with some form of divine or unique heritage. Well as the son of Odin, Thor's got that covered. His story starts with what is to be his coronation as the new king of Asgard. One of the key moments in this scene is when the audience is introduced to Mjonlir, the hammer of Thor, forged in the heart of a dying star. Although Thor has possessed this weapon for some time by this stage, it still qualifies as his Talisman, the symbol of his right to be a hero and challenge the forces of evil. Mjolnir, and Thor's right to wield it, will form the heart of this story.

The Call to Adventure: The frost giant attack on Asgard spurs Thor into action, leading him to defy his father's orders and take his friends on a quest to strike back at the giants in the heart of their home, Jotunheim. On the way, we meet Heimdall, the watcher of the ways and the story's Threshold Guardian, protecting Asgard from invaders and acting as gatekeeper between the worlds.

Crossing the First Threshold: Heimdall agrees to allow Thor and his friends to pass to Jotunheim, sending them across the Bifrost. The battle against the frost giants represents Thor's first challenge, to establish him as a mighty warrior and cause the offence which results in his banishment to Earth.

Belly of the Whale: Thor's separation from his mundane world is completed once Odin strips him of his power and sends him to Earth. Here, in an unfamiliar place and without any of his powers, Thor must undertake the quest to redeem himself and, eventually, restore peace and safety to Asgard.

It's a hard life

The Meeting with the Goddess: Though not a literal goddess, Jane Foster represents a stabilising force in Thor's journey. Standing above most mortals by virtue of her theories on the nature of the universe, Thor sees in her a quality that could help guide humanity to heights to rival those of Asgard. His growing feelings for her help steer him on his path to humility and redemption.

Yeah, I can make out with him. I mean, if you really need me to, I can manage it, I think

The Road of Trials: Thor is put through several trials on his path, starting with acclimatising to life as a mortal, then his failed attempt to reclaim Mjolnir, and finally facing the worst possible outcome of his actions in the lie told to him by Loki: That his father has died and peace between Asgard and Jotunheim is dependent on Thor remaining in exile, an exile which his own mother insists remains in place.

Apotheosis: In order to ensure that Thor cannot come home, Loki sends the armoured Destroyer to Earth. Realising that it's him Loki wants dead, Thor sacrifices himself so that his friends and the other innocent bystanders can be saved. The Destroyer seemingly kills Thor with one strike. However, in facing death, Thor transcends his mortal form, having learned his final lesson and proved his worth.

Still, beats New York rush hour

The Ultimate Boon: Thor's newfound humility and willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good prove his worth as a hero. Mjolnir returns to him and its power revives Thor, returning to him how power which he uses to defeat the Destroyer. With his power restored, Thor returns to Asgard to confront Loki.

The Crossing of the Return Threshold: Loki's plans threaten to destroy all of Jotunheim. Having learned the value of his responsibilities as heir to the throne of Asgard, Thor now knows he cannot allow this. Although the Jotun have been his enemies, not all are responsible for the recent attacks on Asgard, and it is wrong to destroy an entire race for the actions of a few. Applying his lessons of self-sacrifice, Thor does the only thing he can to save Jotunheim. He destroys the Bifrost, though it means he may never see Jane again.

You can't touch this!
Freedom to Live: His brother defeated and both Asgard and Jotunheim safe, Thor is free to live his life again, though not yet as king. He has learned to accept that he still has much to learn, and though he mourns for his brother and wishes to see Jane again, he neither holds on to guilt for the past, nor does he fear what trials are yet to come. Even as the story ends, he asks Heimdall if Earth is lost to them and he is told simply, that there is always hope.

Nov 25, 2011

Being Thankful

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Even though I'm Irish, I think Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. People need to take the time to be thankful for the things in their life.

It's been a rough year. A damn rough year. But I think I'll talk about that some other day.

It has also been a good year in many ways. I've watched friends get married, have babies, start new relationships, take on new challenges, follow old dreams and discover new ones. I've seen friends rally around my wife and I. I've felt the thrill of signing a contract for my first novel to be published. I've learned that my wife and I can go through hell and come out still standing.

I am thankful for all of these things. For all of you who read my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter. For every comment I get. Every word of advice and support I've received as I carry on my writing journey. For every friend who just said "what do you need?"

It's good to be thankful, to see the things that are good in life and embrace them. It's good to hug a friend and tell them you love them. Or pass on a favour or good deed. We can make the world such a beautiful place just by taking small steps in our own little corner, and helping others be thankful.

So go do it.

Nov 23, 2011

Threatening Language

It's not wrong to say that someone screaming and swearing is a very intimidating thing to experience. It's loud and aggressive and scary.

I find though, that swearing can be overused in fiction, especially movies and television. Take the show Deadwood as an example. When this show was being created, it was decided that period-appropriate swearing sounded a bit silly by today's standards. That's fair enough, modern audiences need to find something they can relate to in a story to feel connected.

But in the first scene alone, the amount of repetitive swearing takes over and it feels like dialogue has been replaced with swear words. This doesn't feel intimidating or edgy, it feels lazy. 

Take another HBO series, Rome as a different example. The writers used a variety of modern swear words and slurs, but in a very measured way. The menace and intensity of the characters comes across in smooth dialogue and sharp delivery. Sticking with westerns, watch Unforgiven and see if the lack of frequent swearing makes Gene Hackman or Clint Eastwood any less intimidating.

We have a beautiful, diverse language available to us. Why rely on quick fix words to get a brief reaction when you can take the time to build real tension and fear between your characters?

Nov 21, 2011

Editing

I'm deep in edits for Locked Within and it's hard to concentrate on much else, to be honest. Unfortunately I lost a chunk of last night's work because the file didn't save correctly for some reason. It's not an impossible setback to overcome, but it has doubled the amount of work I had left to do before I was going to move on to scene re-writes.

These re-writes have been burning in my head for weeks now. I'm really eager to get them done while they're strong in my mind and I have that enthusiasm to get them done. I may take a chance and just dive into them, leaving the last 40 pages of word-culling until I get back to them. The re-writes will be the most intensive part of the process, I think, and I already feel like it's taking too long to get them done. I really would like to have both the edits on Locked Within and the second draft of Silent Oath done by Christmas.

Have any of you ever felt such a strong desire to get re-writes done? Mine are going to have a really big impact on the course of the series and I'm so glad I had Silent Oath written before Locked Within came out so I could see what changes would be the best to make the ongoing story the best it can be.

Nov 18, 2011

Our Hero's Flaws

I've been thinking a lot lately about character flaws and how they're used. The kinds of quirks that flesh out a hero and make him feel more alive. In my experience there tends to be two main types of flawed character, around which their specific traits are defined.

On the one hand you've got the highly-capable protagonist who has skill and the wherewithall to use it properly, but who is in some way unlikeable. Antiheroes tend to fit into this quite well, and this kind of character is a staple of fiction. The ruthless assassin who redeems himself. The career criminal who turns on his old associates. The badass loner who reluctantly joins the fight against the villain. Scarface, Leon, The Killer, even X-Men, all feature such characters. These heroes's flaws are ones of character, in the real-world sense. They rarely make mistakes or fail when faced with a challenge, so the drama of their development comes from seeing them choose to do the right thing when everything about who they are tells them to do otherwise.

On the other hand, we have the person who wants to help and do the right thing, but who is either woefully undertrained or prone to making mistakes which create even further complications for them to overcome. The Dresden Files, Thor, Tombstone, and The Hunger Games feature heroes that generally want to do the right thing where they can, but because of rashness, denial, or simply not having all the information available, make poor chocies which lead them into trouble. Their failings are still personality flaws, but they get things wrong more often than their other counterparts, and their development becomes less about how they choose to become better people, but how they learn to do so.

The first type of hero tends to be more cynical and world-weary, and their stories often reflect this. The second fits a more idealistic type of story, though both can be mixed and there are certainly characters that fall between the two extremes.

Let's talk! Personally I find I relate more to, and sympathise with, the second type of hero. If I just plain don't like a character, I'll find it harder to care about their struggle and I'll usually start rooting for one of the supporting characters and become more invested in their story rather than the protagonist. Of course, there have been movies that have just swept me up in story and performances and made for forget the character's flaws. I'm less likely to experience this when I'm reading a book, though, probably because I like to get myself into the head of the hero and feel what he's feeling right along with him.

Do you have a preference for one of these two extremes? What examples do you know where the hero shares traits of both?

Nov 16, 2011

Faith, Hope and Love

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:13

My wife and I chose Corinthians as part of our wedding mass. It's one of my favourite passages. That said, I've heard the argument that the passage is wrong, that in fact it is hope that is the strongest, because without hope what do we have left? I've considered how this applies in fiction for a while and I've come to the conclusion that, in fact, Corinthians is correct.

There are times when the hero has lost everything, when there's nothing left to fight for, even the hope that the villain can be defeated. A rational person would give up and let the bad guys win.

Luckily, human beings are far from rational.

Sometimes a person will keep fighting, despite all odds. They'll stand to protect someone because they can't stand to see them hurt and they'll do anything, even face certain death, to try and prevent their suffering. Not because they think they have any chance of succeeding, but because they love them. Sometimes, just trying to make a difference is what really matters.

And that is stronger than anything in the world.

Nov 14, 2011

Review: Invincible Summer

Just last week I finished reading Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz. The following review will contain some spoilers.


Score: 5 out of 5


Now, Invincible Summer is not the sort of thing I typically read. But Hannah Moskowitz is awesome and following her on Twitter attracted me to her work.

Nov 11, 2011

Weddings

No proper post from me today, I'm afraid. Been a little preoccupied getting ready for the two weddings we're going to today. The first is a friend of my sister's, and my wife is singing at the ceremony. The second is down in Wexford, for two friends of ours. It's going to be a long day, but it should be fun.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Nov 9, 2011

Review: The Hunger Games

This review is a little late coming. I recently finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.


Score: 5 out of 5

The Hunger Games brings us to a grim future where the rich are richest and the poor are their playthings. The eponymous Hunger Games exist as a yearly tournament used to entertain the wealthy citizens of the Capitol and as an ongoing punishment for the citizens of the Districts for a disastrous rebellion seventy five years ago. Each year, one boy and one girl from each of the twelve Districts is randomly chosen to be taken to the Capitol and entered into the Hunger Games. The whole event reminds the Districts that the Capitol owns them completely. Even their children are not safe and can be taken from them at the Capitol's whim, and they are forced to treat it like a festive event.

Katniss Everdeen is thrust into the Games when she volunteers to be taken in her sister's place. What follows is a harsh battle for survival, even before Katniss enters the Arena. The contestants are paraded as celebrities, playing it up for the crowds from day one to get the support they'll need to win. There's a gripping reality tv theme running through the book, playing on the real-world obsession with them. As much as The Running Man played on the Eighties' love of game shows, The Hunger Games delves into today's reality tv and rockets that obsession up to the most twisted extremes.

This is one of the most tense and exciting books I've read in a while. I was brought to tears by page 30, and it threatened to happen again a number of times throughout the book. By the end, I felt as exhausted and drained as Katniss. She really is put through hell and although she's a hardened, pragmatic girl, I still felt such strong sympathy for her, and for her fellow District 12 contestant, Peeta Mellark.

All I can really say to finish this is read this book! I'm itching to read the next in the series. Suzanne Collins' style, concise and direct, has incredible impact. It's a style I find easy to just fall into and she's definitely an author I can learn from.

Nov 7, 2011

Making Changes

As any of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will know, I've been getting some amazing feedback from my editor, Kristine. I can't tell you how amazing it is having an editor who just gets me so well.

As you may also know, I've decided to try out a pretty big change. I'm taking two characters, both who treat my protagonist in quite different ways, and merging them into one. I'm hoping this will be the best choice for the book and for the series as a whole.

So here's a topic for discussion, have any of you writers, when editing, made a change that has a serious impact on how your story goes? And have any of you readers wondered how things would have gone if the author had made just one different choice at some point in the novel?

Nov 4, 2011

Pot Luck Dinners

My wife's birthday party is this weekend. Last year we had a pot luck dinner party and it was so successful we figured we'd do it again this year.

I love how simple pot luck dinners can be. Show up, bring a dish you've prepared, everybody eats. It appeals to my love of friends and of food both at the same time! With so many people bringing different things, there's bound to be something for everyone to enjoy.

We're not picky with what gets brought; main courses or deserts are all good in our book. Lots of our friends who don't have time to cook anything will just bring some snacks they've picked up on the way out. We don't even ask that everyone who comes brings something. We just like having a good time and sharing good food with our friends.

This year I'm thinking of doing a chili or maybe a jambalaya. I'm good at both. I think my wife's going to make her chocolate and peanut-butter cheesecake and possibly a custard pie. My problem is that I want to just cook so many different dishes.

Have any of you gone to a pot luck dinner? Do you have some favourite dishes that you've brought along, or think would go down well?

Nov 2, 2011

Gospel

I'm sorry I missed my Monday post. The Gaelcon weekend is a long weekend here, and it tends to take it out of you.

It was a good weekend. I got to see lots of people I don't see very often, and spent the vast majority of the convention surrounded by beautiful ladies. I also took some time to consider how I can promote my book at next year's convention and talked with a friend about some of the sci-fi/fantasy conventions which take place around Dublin, so I have some homework to do there.

On the Sunday night of Gaelcon, my wife Jen and I went to see the Harlem Gospel Choir perform in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. The show was amazing. I never realised Dublin had such a strong Gospel community, but everyone was really getting into the show and got swept up in the mood.

The highlight of the night, in my opinion, was when one of the choir members invited people up to sing on stage. Jen decided she couldn't let the chance to sing on stage with a member of the Harlem Gospel Choir just pass her by, so she got up.

Now, due to a virus she contracted as a child, Jen needs a wheelchair to get around. She manages with crutches for short distances and whenever she's at home, but long walks can be painful. Still, she got up and walked with her crutches to the stage, climbed up, and stood there to perform. The choir member held the microphone for her as she sang Stand By Me.

The crowd went wild, giving her a standing ovation. After the show, people came up to congratulate her and one even invited her to audition for a Dublin-based gospel choir.

Jen has generally kept her singing and music for herself, but I think she may be giving serious consideration to doing something more with it. I've been suggesting she set up a Youtube channel for herself for a while now. This may be the thing that gives her the final push, so watch this space!

I'm off to continue being an immensely proud husband now.

Oct 28, 2011

Enticing Endings

This week I'm talking about story structure.

Here's the thing about endings. No ending should be the end. The best ending, while satisfying, leaves the reader wanting more, and also hints that there might still be more to come. Whether it's just the end of a chapter or the end of the whole book, there should be something calling the reader back for more.

When I finish a book, even if it's the last in a series, I want to believe that the characters could still have more adventures ahead of them. I feel like, if what I'm seeing is the greatest adventure these people will ever have, how sad will that be for them? To go through life knowing they've already achieved the best they can hope for? In life, I believe the next greatest thing we experience is always just around the corner. Things should keep getting better. I want the same in the books I read. This might be why I love origin stories so much - When you're seeing the protagonist just become the hero for the first time, you know he's got countless stories ahead of him.

An ending which is clearly the last point of a character's adventures can be deeply satisfying as well, but I think I'll always have a stronger fondness for seeing the hero ride off into the sunset in search of more dangers to face.

My least favourite kind of ending sees the story come slowly to a standstill, like the fuel of the story has simply run out. If an ending has happened just a little too late, coming because there's simply no more story to tell rather than being the perfect moment to say goodbye to the characters, I tend to feel somewhat hollow. It's like waiting around too long at a party and realising you're the last one left. It's just you and the leftover streamers lying across the tables, the band packing up their gear, and an empty glass in your hand.

Do you have any favourite endings? What do you long to see most as you turn those last few pages?

I'll be at Gaelcon for much of the weekend, so my replies to comments and general online presence won't be as frequent as usual.

Oct 26, 2011

Romantic Subplots

This week I'm talking about story structure and some of the different elements to how a story is crafted.

Today I'm discussing romantic subplots. I love romantic subplots. Even when there's no prominent romantic plotline, I'll be looking for ways to pair characters together.

The thing is, it drives me crazy when a romantic subplot suggests that certain behaviour is a positive thing when in fact it's really unhealthy in a relationship. Things like where a girl has a brief encounter with another guy and decides never to tell her boyfriend. Or a man who treats his wife badly and, rather than being made to answer for his behaviour, is instantly forgiven with one nice gesture. I'm a big believer in truth and honesty in relationships. A couple doesn't have to share every intricate detail of their day every evening, but no-one should ever feel that they can't tell their partner something, and they should realise that their partner deserves to know about things that have an important effect on them.

I realise that not every story can afford the time to detail every argument and reconciliation in a relationship, and not every relationship in fiction is going to be a positive and healthy one. What worries me is when the author seems to be suggesting that clearly unhealthy behaviour is something to aspire to. This is especially worrying in fiction aimed at teenagers.

I believe quality romantic plotlines can show the consequences of unhealthy behaviour, and the rewards of a strong relationship.

What do you think? Are there any romantic plots that have driven you mad? What about them got your hackles up? Are there any love stories you think stand out as great examples of how to write a romance?

Oct 24, 2011

Trilogies and Tetralogies

This weekend my wife and I will be at Gaelcon, the largest gaming convention in Ireland. I typically run a roleplaying game at the convention. Since running rpgs features a lot of consideration for story structure and offers a great proving ground for plot ideas and usage of themes and tropes, I thought I'd spend this week talking about certain aspects of storytelling structure.

For today's post, I'm dealing with two of the most common series formats, the trilogy and the tetralogy, going all the way back to ancient Greek theatre.

Ancient Greek theatre was often crafted and performed in a 3-play format. We get our term "trilogy" from this, when audiences would spend a day at the theatre, seeing three tragedies forming one over-arcing story, accompanied by a more comedic "satyr" play.

The trilogy has remained with us to this day, becoming the most common form of storytelling in any genre and format. Even within standalone novels and movies, we talk about the 3-act structure. In a typical trilogy today, the first story will handle the introduction of the heroes, the villains, and establish both the state of affairs from before the beginning of the story, and a new status quo after the villain's defeat. The second story further develops the nature of the heroes' struggle and often reveals more of the villain's motivations, often culminating in an ending that pitches the heroes into their darkest hour. Finally, the third part of the story will bring elements of the previous instalments together as the heroes come to their final realisations, unlocking their true strength and finally overcoming the villain.

A four-part series is properly termed a tetralogy, coming from the Greek "tetra." When the trilogy of tragedies in Greek theatre is taken together with its accompanying satyr play, it forms a tetralogy. Unfortunately no complete ancient Greek tetralogy survives. The only Greek trilogy which survives is the Orestia. Recently movie trilogies have been revisited, turning them into tetralogies. Examples include the Rambo, Die Hard and Indiana Jones series. However the term quadrilogy, first actually recorded in 1865, is usually used instead when marketing 4-part movie series.

The structure of a tetralogy is more difficult to define. In planned 4-part series, tetralogies often eschew convention and while the third part may resolve many of the challenges faced by the heroes, the final victory will be delayed until the fourth part, or a previous lesser antagonist, or even an entirely new threat, may rise to challenge the heroes one last time.

Other formats of set series include a diology, pentalogy, hexalogy, heptalogy, octalogy, ennealogy and decalogy. These become ever more difficult to describe in terms of a predictable act structure, and usually become either more or less standalone stories connected by common characters and possibly an over-arcing metaplot, or simply one ongoing story broken up into component parts. In most cases, once a series has gone on long enough to move beyond five or six instalments, it can become difficult even for the author to define what kind of series it is until the final instalment has been released.

Do you have any favourite series? Is there a particular series length you find you prefer over others?

Oct 21, 2011

Heroes, In The End?

This week I finished playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Like many games with RPG elements, the game has the possibility for several different endings, each one with a different moral spin.

Here's the thing. I like it when my heroes do the right thing in the end. Typically, multiple endings are lost on me because I'll always try to figure out the one that simply offers the most honest and just ending for all involved. The ending I'd want to see if the game were a movie or a book. As much as I love seeing heroes go through hardship, suffering loss and setbacks, seeing loved ones die and facing almost unbearable defeat at the hands of the villains, in the end I want to see good prevail.

Because the best villains don't see themselves as evil, sometimes you can see an ending, especially in video games, where the hero sides with the villain's cause, if not their methods, and chooses to complete a (hopefully) less immoral version of their plans. This often rings a little hollow for me, because it suggests that, but for a few mistakes here and there, the villain's plan, the very thing the hero has spent all this time fighting against, was actually the right thing to do. Since the involvement of the hero inevitably causes the violence of the situation to escalate, how many lives could have been spared if he just hadn't gotten involved? In these cases, is the hero really any better than the villain?

Examining what a hero must become in order to defeat the villain is an important aspect of storytelling. It's a difficult balance to master. Push the hero too little, and there is no internal conflict, no struggle to find the right choice. Push the hero too far, and you risk the audience wondering what was the goal of the story.

What do you think? If a hero only succeeds because they become like the villain, or have lost so much of themself, and gained so little in return, that they're truly broken, have they really won? If you allow your enemy to change you just so you can overcome them, can you truly call yourself strong? Or has the villain just found another way to make you weak?

Oct 19, 2011

World-Building

I'm doing a bit of world-building at the moment for another of my side-WIPs. It's a dark fantasy set in a massive tower city. There's a lot to do because it's a very unusual setting, a world with no sun. I want to make sure the world feels like it could be real and the people in it live their lives as people who have never known light greater than torches and firelight.

All this work got me thinking about the importance of world-building, not just for very unusual fantasy settings, but even for everyday settings. I like to think of the writer's job as being a puppet master, with a great big curtain between the audience and his collection of puppets and props. The audience may never see everything that's behind that curtain, but the writer simply must have a complete selection back there, and be familiar enough with every prop and tool to be able to put any one of them to use at a moment's notice. I think most readers can tell when an author has had to scramble to find an explanation for certain unexpected events, or pull out a new character they weren't prepared to use.

Even if you're writing in a modern day setting with no monsters, sci-fi or magic, it's so important to make sure you know the ins and outs of the place your characters inhabit. Is the hero's work next to a dry cleaner or a pizzeria? How often does it rain? What's the daily commute like? These small, simple details can help you add life to your story, giving you background and ways to interact with the world beyond pursuing the over-arcing plot.

I like to plan out bits and pieces like that before I start writing. If I'm using a real city I pick out the real-world locations I want to include and decide how they fit in. I come up with the fictional places and people who add to the setting. I like to play around with real places and give them my own twist. It frees me up to do things with the setting I couldn't do if I was restricting myself solely to how a place exists in reality. When creating a fictitious setting I tend to start with a more overall, macro-management approach. I work out the things most important to my protagonist first. In Nightfall, for example, I created the town of Little Falls, and started out with things like developing the local school and popular places for kids to go driving up in the hills and woods near the town.

I won't have the chance or even the need to reveal everything I've come up with, but it's comforting to know the information is there. It's like a wonderful security blanket, knowing it's there should I need it.

What about you? Do you enjoy world-building? Have you ever experienced a jarring moment in a movie, tv show or book where you just get the feeling the author needed to come up with something quickly to get through a scene?

Oct 17, 2011

Sacrificing Story

I play video games sometimes. I tend to prefer ones with rpg elements because I like deep storylines and an idea of character evolution.

A lot of such games these days have plotlines that diverge based on a player's choices. Make one choice, and a certain supporting character will be there for the rest of the game, involved in the story. Make a different choice and that character might die and a major element of the story is gone.

That gets me thinking. Gone. Not just changed. Gone. So is the player missing out because of a particular choice, or are both versions of the story just as fulfilling?

I think this question can be applied to writing. When we decide to subject our characters to something potentially life-changing such as the death of a loved one or other major trauma, how often to we consider how this decision will change the story? Do any authors ever wonder what stories they're giving up my removing a character for good?

I've never really thought too much about it until now. I think, especially when writing a series, it's dangerous to throw in a death for the sake of drama without considering how that will affect the rest of the series. Otherwise, you could end up in situations where you need to introduce a similar character just to fill the role now left empty. Or worse, pull out a "back from the dead" plotline, which rarely goes down well, especially when it's out of the blue.

What do you guys think?

Oct 14, 2011

David Boyer

The other day I read this post on Writer Beware about a man named David Boyer.

This man plagiarises the work of other authors - established, debut and those yet unpublished - and then sells it under his own name or one of a series of pseudonyms. B.Thoughtful's blog contains a wealth of information about Mr. Boyer's publications and his aliases, as well as the people whose work he has plagiarised. His attitude towards those who call him on his behaviour is nothing short of despicable.

It sickens me that Mr. Boyer has been able to get away with this for so long. Even if an author were successful in the expensive legal battle over copyright infringement, Mr. Boyer has so far been able to prove that he lives below the poverty line, so he can escape being forced to make reparations. The worst of it is that the small minority of individuals like him creates this atmosphere of mistrust and fear throughout the writing community. Having a story stolen and sold as someone else's work is probably the worst nightmare of every writer, but it's incredibly rare. Certainly, no legitimate agent, editor or publisher will ever attempt to steal someone's work. They've got enough of their own work to handle without adding plagiarism to the list. Still, the fear that it could happen seeps through the community, to the point where the first thing I was advised to do by my parents way back when I first started writing seriously was, before submitting anything, to send a copy of my book to myself by registered post as proof I had written it. Now, my publisher, like so many, would never dream of betraying my trust and is always honest with me, but when you're just entering into the publishing world, that lack of experience allows so much fear to influence your decisions.

If people like David Boyer didn't exist, that fear would never have found its way into the collective conscious.

However, there is at last hope that something can be done. Ferrell Rick Moore was one of David Boyer's earliest victims. He has filed a Consumer Fraud case against Mr. Boyer, on the grounds that he is defrauding those who purchase books from him. If the case is successful, it could result in jail time. Mr. Moore has asked for support in this, for which he provides information on his blog. He is asking people to write to the Indiana State Attorney's office by letter or e-mail, bringing to their attention the fraud that David Boyer is committing and supporting the case against him. All the information needed is in the link I've provided. I have sent my e-mail and I hope more people will too. If nothing else, I hope I can help spread word and awareness of David Boyer so others can be warned off dealing with him or purchasing anything that bears his name or one of his pseudonyms.

There is also a Facebook page set up to spread awareness of David Boyer.

The last thing I'll say is that any budding writers reading this should not be afraid to seek publication. Do your homework, absolutely. Before querying to an agent or publisher, before hiring an editor, research them as much as you can. Make sure you're dealing with a legitimate professional and you'll be safe. Above all, keep writing and keep querying. There are so many stories out there, it would be a shame to lose even one just because of one man's selfish actions.

Oct 12, 2011

Music to Write to

I love music. I've never studied it, I can't play an instrument, and my singing voice is forgiveable. My wife is the music expert, not me (and you should hear her sing!), but I know what I like and what works to go along with a narrative. Music's like the most amazing drug. It just lifts me and invigorates me.

So it should come as no surprise that I love listening to music while I write. I'll assemble playlists in Media Player, on iTunes, on my iPod, or even just on Youtube to play while I work, depending on my WIP, and often keep certain songs playing just to keep my mood in the right place.

I thought I'd share some of the tracks that most often find their way into my playlists to keep me in the right mindset.


This song was my main theme for writing my first novel. Particularly significant, I feel, is the line "Fire and water, earth and sky. Mysteries surround us, legends never die." This is Nathan Shepherd's theme song, most definitely.


This is just a track I found on Youtube which really resonated with me. It's got such a great beat and the rising motif really gets my heart thumping.


Back to Nathan Shepherd again. This is my "Nathan saves the day" track. Apart from the quiet section in the middle, it just exudes heroic moments. I have an edited version on my PC with the middle section removed. It works really well.


I love me some Wicked. This version of Defying Gravity has become the theme song for my current WIP, Nightfall, since my hero suffers under a curse that turns him into a half-bird creature every night. Through the course of the story, he learns to turn his curse into a gift and use it for good.

How many of you listen to music while you write? Care to share any favourites?

Oct 10, 2011

Finding My Voice

Everywhere, you see people talking about an author's "voice." Writing blogs tell you to develop it. Reviewers comment on it. Agents and publishers look for it.

For the longest time, I have to admit I didn't understand voice at all. I thought it was just something to do with writing style and word choice. Finally, however, I get it. It's so much more than just word choice. It's the use of sentence structure, the flow of the language. The way the words feel when you see them or read them aloud.

I've spent several years trying to model myself on specific authors whose books I enjoy, but it's only now that I'm branching out my reading choices that I'm starting to see more variety in voice. As a result, I've learned that the authors I've been trying to model, while excellent, have their own unique voice. I need my own. Not theirs.

My voice isn't about long descriptions or minutae. It's not about a narrator cracking comments to the reader. It's clear, concise, but vivid. My editor tells me I excel at dialogue and action. I was thrilled to hear that. These are the areas for me to focus on, because they're my strengths. The more I write and edit, the more I learn to let go of clunky, repetetive dialogue tags or overly-wordy narration. I want to write the way my voice tells me. Fun, snappy dialogue. Fast-paced adventure. I want to entertain readers with my own unique voice.

I don't have to be like any other author. I can be myself.

What are some authors' voices you've loved? If you're a writer yourself, how did you find your voice, and what is it?

Oct 7, 2011

The Solution to Bullying

It was this vlog by Hannah Moskowitz for the YA Rebels that got me thinking about bullying this week. It takes a lot of strength to dig into yourself and share something like that.

I'm sure I've also been guilty of hurting someone's feelings, talking about them disrespectfully, or treating them badly for one reason or another. I wish I could apologise to everyone I have hurt like that. I think everyone has it in them, somewhere, to act like a bully. Bullies are all afraid of something, and instead of facing that fear, they bury it. They lash out at their insecurities by targetting those weaker than themselves. They're cowards.

All of us are cowards sometimes. And it's okay to be a coward. We each have learn to deal with our fears in our own ways. It becomes a problem when we divert our fears and attack someone else because they're short, overweight, dress differently, have religion, have different sexual preferences, or have different opinions to us. All forms of prejudice come right down to bullying, pure and simple.

How do we stop it? On a case by case basis, don't stand for it. Don't let yourself be victimised just because you're different. If what you choose to wear, say, think, feel or do causes no harm to others, then stand up for your freedom to be who you are. Celebrate it. Love it. Love yourself.

On a more long-term outlook, the only way to erradicate bullying is for every person to make the choice not to do it. To educate, embrace, and accept. If you've been bullied, don't carry that pain and force it into someone else's life. Don't repeat what was done to you. Raise your children the same way. Teach others, whatever way you can, to love and respect one another.

In short, folks...

Oct 5, 2011

Bullying and Prejudice

I've made no secret of my dislike for prejudice. I've previously blogged about gender double standards in particular. Today I'd like to talk a bit more about bullying and similar forms of abuse.

Like a lot of kids, I suffered from bullying throughout my time in school. Some of it was brought on by others taking issue with decisions that made me stand out from the crowd; I had long hair, didn't wear the same clothes as other children, didn't like the same music, and was generally quite withdrawn. Some of it was just because the people in question wanted someone to target and would pick on anything from the way I walked to the way I spoke - I just happened to be an available target. Some of it was worse. Some of it was an attempt to let me into a particular circle and let it appear as thought I was welcome when in fact I wasn't and wouldn't realise what was actually going on for a long time.

I had my share of emotional, verbal and physical abuse in school. I've had my sexuality taken into question in the most vulgar ways. I've been threatened and physically attacked. I've listened to my spiritual beliefs be ridiculed. I hardened myself to it. Told myself everything would be better once I was done with school. What I wasn't prepared for was for that abuse to continue in college. It was by no means as frequent and, unlike school, it never resulted in violence. However when the people responsible are older, I believe there's a higher level of intentional cruelty present. The thing about it, in this case, was that I hung around it far longer than I should have because the people responsible were popular members of the college drama society.

I love theatre. I grew up around theatre and music and was part of a youth drama group during my teens. I was never able to be part of any of the cliques, though, and this inability followed me to college. The college drama society had some pretty bad ones while I was there. I let some of them treat me badly, never standing up for myself because I was so afraid of not being part of the in-crowd, when in truth I was never a part of it.

The last mistreatment I allowed was when some of the in-crowd sat in the front row of a one-act play I had written, while it was being performed, and laughed at it. It wasn't the best thing I'd ever written and it could have used some more rehearsal time, but there was no call for that. One of them did come to me to apologise after the last performance. I told her I didn't appreciate their behaviour. It was the last time I spoke to them. Thereafter I associated less and less with the drama society, spending more time with the games society, which became my second home. That was where I started to find myself, with the help of my friends.

Looking back, I know that those people made the drama society a cruel, toxic place. I should have left long before I did, but I was afraid. I'm not afraid anymore.

If anyone is reading this who has found themselves trying to please others while suffering their behaviour, staying for fear of what might happen if you're not accepted into their world, don't be afraid. You wouldn't want to be one of them even if they wanted you. You're better than that. Bullies never change. They're all made strong by people who suck up to them and people who fear them. You don't have to fear them. You can just walk away and find something better, because you are amazing, even if you don't realise it, and the right people will love you for just being you. Once you turn your back on those kinds of people, you'll be surprised who you find waiting to accept you.

Oct 3, 2011

Benefits of Not Writing

If you'd told me even a month ago that not writing can be good for you, I'd have scoffed and gone back to slaving away at my MS. I was a firm believer that a writer had to write every single day. I still believe that a writer should write as much as possible, but I don't think there's any need to feel guilty about taking time for yourself to just unwind and get your head out of the work for a while.

I'm just back in the office after a 4-day weekend during which I barely even thought about writing. I got up in the mornings and played some Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I had breakfast with Jen when she got up. Then we went out for a few hours or had people over.

On Saturday night we went to the Batman Live show in the O2 in Dublin, which was fantastic. It was a very well put-together production with excellent multimedia elements and just enough campiness to make it family-friendly, but not so much that anyone over the age of 12 was going to cringe. Highlights include the self-driving Batmobile designed by a Formula-1 engineer, a comic book-style display on the massive bat-shaped screen behind the stage, and some non-show related moments like seeing two parents, one dressed as Robin and the other as Batgirl, with their two sons dressed up as Batman, and one lone child shouting "Batman! Behind you!" at one point in the show.

I've also started reading The Hunger Games and I'm loving it. The first-person present-tense narrative takes some getting used to, but I love Suzanne Collins' writing style. I could learn a lot from her.

I'm feeing quite nicely recharged and looking forward to getting back to work on my writing.

What do you find helps you recharge? What's your most guilty non-writing pleasure?

Sep 28, 2011

Review: Ghost Story

I'm a huge Dresden Files fan, but I buck the trend in that the twelfth book, Changes, didn't really do much for me by comparison to the previous eleven books. Still, the ending left me desperate to find out how Harry's story continued and what was going to happen to the characters I've spent the last several years coming to love. It was with no small amount of trepidation that I cracked open the first page of the latest in the series, Ghost Story.


The following review contains some spoilery details, particularly about the end of Changes and the set-up for Ghost Story.

Score: 3 out of 5

Sep 26, 2011

Catching Up

I've been horribly lazy the last few days and fallen behind on my blog-reading. I apologise for that. I've even been spending my time playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution instead of writing. It's actually been nice to have a break and relax a bit. It also helps that Human Revolution is fantastic, evoking all the cyberpunk dystopian appeal of the original and delivering it in an updated package. So long as you can get past the fact that Adam Jensen is trying with all his cyber-augmented might to be Clint Eastwood, it's a gem of a game.

In other news, I got my eyes tested on Saturday and, yep, it looks like the headaches I've been suffering from for a long time were caused by eye strain. I spend my working day at a computer and then I'm on my desktop or netbook at home. I could easily rack up 12 hours a day on a computer during the week. So I've got my glasses, to be used when reading or working at a computer, and my bank account is looking a bit green around the gills, but if it means I won't have headaches once I've gotten used to them, it'll be worth it.

My game plan, now that I'm armed with my new glasses, is to get back into writing Nightfall this week. I'm not sure exactly how long the first draft will be, but I can cross that river when I come to it. It's the first part of a trilogy, so I may keep writing and finish it once the first book is done, but I'm unsure about the wisdom in setting out to query a second series while still getting my first off the ground. We'll see how it goes.

I haven't been cooking much, which is why there's been a lack of recipe posts. My wife has taken over the kitchen since the remodelling was done. She might let me cook for her birthday in November, if I'm lucky. :-)

Blog-wise, I may make a regular thing of posting up ghost stories and other such tales. It's fun research.

That's about it for today. Here's to a good week, and come back on Wednesday for my review of Ghost Story, book thirteen of The Dresden Files.

Sep 23, 2011

Ghost Story Week: The Banshee

To end off the week's stories, I thought I'd include one about what is arguably the most famous of Irish spirits: The banshee.

This text comes from Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, a collection edited by William Butler Yeats. This story is called How Thomas Connolly Met the Banshee, written by J. Todhunter. The text is taken from Sacred Texts and repeated here without permission. If anyone wishes it to be taken down, I will do so
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Aw, the banshee, sir? Well, sir, as I was striving to tell ye I was going home from work one day, from Mr. Cassidy's that I tould ye of, in the dusk o' the evening. I had more nor a mile--aye, it was nearer two mile--to thrack to, where I was lodgin' with a dacent widdy woman I knew, Biddy Maguire be name, so as to be near me work.

It was the first week in November, an' a lonesome road I had to travel, an' dark enough, wid threes above it; an' about half-ways there was a bit of a brudge I had to cross, over one o' them little sthrames that runs into the Doddher. I walked on in the middle iv the road, for there was no toe-path at that time, Misther Harry, nor for many a long day afther that; but, as I was sayin', I walked along till I come nigh upon the brudge, where the road was a bit open, an' there, right enough, I seen the hog's back o' the ould-fashioned brudge that used to be there till it was pulled down, an' a white mist steamin' up out o' the wather all around it.

Well, now, Misther Harry, often as I'd passed by the place before, that night it seemed sthrange to me, an' like a place ye might see in a dhrame; an' as I come up to it I began to feel a cowld wind blowin' through the hollow o' me heart. "Musha Thomas," sez I to meself, "is it yerself that's in it?" sez I; "or, if it is, what's the matter wid ye at all, at all?" sez I; so I put a bould face on it, an' I made a sthruggle to set one leg afore the other, ontil I came to the rise o' the brudge. And there, God be good to us! in a cantle o' the wall I seen an ould woman, as I thought, sittin' on her hunkers, all crouched together, an' her head bowed down, seemin'ly in the greatest affliction.

Well, sir, I pitied the ould craythur, an thought I wasn't worth a thraneen, for the mortial fright I was in, I up an' sez to her, "That's a cowld lodgin' for ye, ma'am." Well, the sorra ha'porth she sez to that, nor tuk no more notice o' me than if I hadn't let a word out o' me, but kep' rockin' herself to an' fro, as if her heart was breakin'; so I sez to her again, "Eh, ma'am, is there anythin' the matther wid ye?" An' I made for to touch her on the shouldher, on'y somethin' stopt me, for as I looked closer at her I saw she was no more an ould woman nor she was an ould cat. The first thing I tuk notice to, Misther Harry, was her hair, that was sthreelin' down over her showldhers, an' a good yard on the ground on aich side of her. O, be the hoky farmer, but that was the hair! The likes of it I never seen on mortial woman, young or ould, before nor sense. It grew as sthrong out of her as out of e'er a young slip of a girl ye could see; but the colour of it was a misthery to describe. The first squint I got of it I thought it was silvery grey, like an ould crone's; but when I got up beside her I saw, be the glance o' the sky, it was a soart iv an Iscariot colour, an' a shine out of it like floss silk. It ran over her showldhers and the two shapely arms she was lanin' her head on, for all the world like Mary Magdalen's in a picther; and then I persaved that the grey cloak and the green gownd undhernaith it was made of no earthly matarial I ever laid eyes on. Now, I needn't tell ye, sir, that I seen all this in the twinkle of a bed-post--long as I take to make the narration of it. So I made a step back from her, an' "The Lord be betune us an' harm!" sez I, out loud, an' wid that I blessed meself. Well, Misther Harry, the word wasn't out o' me mouth afore she turned her face on me. Aw, Misther Harry, but 'twas that was the awfullest apparation ever I seen, the face of her as she looked up at me! God forgive me for sayin' it, but 'twas more like the face of the "Axy Homo" beyand in Marlboro Sthreet Chapel nor like any face I could mintion--as pale as a corpse, an' a most o' freckles on it, like the freckles on a turkey's egg; an' the two eyes sewn in wid thread, from the terrible power o' crying the' had to do; an' such a pair iv eyes as the' wor, Misther Harry, as blue as two forget-me-nots, an' as cowld as the moon in a bog-hole of a frosty night, an' a dead-an'-live look in them that sent a cowld shiver through the marra o' me bones. Be the mortial! ye could ha' rung a tay cupful o' cowld paspiration out o' the hair o' me head that minute, so ye could. Well, I thought the life 'ud lave me intirely when she riz up from her hunkers, till, bedad! she looked mostly as tall as Nelson's Pillar; an' wid the two eyes gazin' back at me, an' her two arms stretched out before hor, an' a keine out of her that riz the hair o' me scalp till it was as stiff as the hog's bristles in a new hearth broom, away she glides--glides round the angle o' the brudge, an' down with her into the sthrame that ran undhernaith it. 'Twas then I began to suspect what she was. "Wisha, Thomas!" says I to meself, sez I; an' I made a great struggle to get me two legs into a throt, in spite o' the spavin o' fright the pair o' them wor in; an' how I brought meself home that same night the Lord in heaven only knows, for I never could tell; but I must ha' tumbled agin the door, and shot in head foremost into the middle o' the flure, where I lay in a dead swoon for mostly an hour; and the first I knew was Mrs. Maguire stannin' over me with a jorum o' punch she was pourin' down me throath (throat), to bring back the life into me, an' me head in a pool of cowld wather she dashed over me in her first fright. "Arrah, Mister Connolly," shashee, "what ails ye?" shashee, "to put the scare on a lone woman like that?" shashee. "Am I in this world or the next?" sez I. "Musha! where else would ye be on'y here in my kitchen?" shashee. "O, glory be to God!" sez I, "but I thought I was in Purgathory at the laste, not to mintion an uglier place," sez I, "only it's too cowld I find meself, an' not too hot," sez I. "Faix, an' maybe ye wor more nor half-ways there, on'y for me, shashee; "but what's come to you at all, at all? Is it your fetch ye seen, Mister Connolly?" "Aw, naboclish!" sez I. "Never mind what I seen," sez I. So be degrees I began to come to a little; an' that's the way I met the banshee, Misther Harry!

"But how did you know it really was the banshee after all, Thomas?"

"Begor, sir, I knew the apparation of her well enough; but 'twas confirmed by a sarcumstance that occurred the same time. There was a Misther O'Nales was come on a visit, ye must know, to a place in the neighbourhood--one o' the ould O'Nales iv the county Tyrone, a rale ould Irish family--an' the banshee was heard keening round the house that same night, be more then one that was in it; an' sure enough, Misther Harry, he was found dead in his bed the next mornin'. So if it wasn't the banshee I seen that time, I'd like to know what else it could a' been."

Sep 21, 2011

Ghost Story Week: True Irish Ghost Stories

Today's story is an excerpt from True Irish Ghost Stories by St. John D. Seymour, made available for free through Project Gutenberg:


"My first encounter with a ghost occurred about twenty years ago. On that occasion I was standing in the kitchen of my house in —— Square, when a woman, whom I was afterwards to see many times, walked down the stairs into the room. Having heard the footsteps outside, I was not in the least perturbed, but turned to look who it was, and found myself looking at a tall, stout, elderly woman, wearing a bonnet and old-fashioned mantle. She had grey hair, and a benign and amiable expression. We stood gazing at each other while one could count twenty. At first I was not at all frightened, but gradually as I stood looking at her an uncomfortable feeling, increasing to terror, came over me. This caused me to retreat farther and farther back, until I had my back against the wall, and then the apparition slowly faded.

"This feeling of terror, due perhaps to the unexpectedness of her appearance, always overcame me on the subsequent occasions on which I saw her. These occasions numbered twelve or fifteen, and I have seen her in every room in the house, and at every hour of the day, during a period of about ten years. The last time she appeared was ten years ago. My husband and I had just returned from a concert at which he had been singing, and we sat for some time over supper, talking about the events of the evening. When at last I rose to leave the room, and opened the dining-room door, I found my old lady standing on the mat outside with her head bent towards the door in the attitude of listening. I called out loudly, and my husband rushed to my side. That was the last time I have seen her."

"One peculiarity of this spectral visitant was a strong objection to disorder or untidyness of any kind, or even to an alteration in the general routine of the house. For instance, she showed her disapproval of any stranger coming to sleep by turning the chairs face downwards on the floor in the room they were to occupy. I well remember one of our guests, having gone to his room one evening for something he had forgotten, remarking on coming downstairs again, 'Well, you people have an extraordinary manner of arranging your furniture! I have nearly broken my bones over one of the bedroom chairs which was turned down on the floor.' As my husband and I had restored that chair twice already to its proper position during the day, we were not much surprised at his remarks, although we did not enlighten him. The whole family have been disturbed by a peculiar knocking which occurred in various rooms in the house, frequently on the door or wall, but sometimes on the furniture, quite close to where we had been sitting. This was evidently loud enough to be heard in the next house, for our next-door neighbour once asked my husband why he selected such curious hours for hanging his pictures. Another strange and fairly frequent occurrence was the following. I had got a set of skunk furs which I fancied had an unpleasant odour, as this fur sometimes has; and at night I used to take it from my wardrobe and lay it on a chair in the drawing-room, which was next my bedroom. The first time that I did this, on going to the drawing-room I found, to my surprise, my muff in one corner and my stole in another. Not for a moment suspecting a supernatural agent, I asked my servant about it, and she assured me that she had not been in the room that morning. Whereupon I determined to test the matter, which I did by putting in the furs late at night, and taking care that I was the first to enter the room in the morning. I invariably found that they had been disturbed."

Sep 19, 2011

Ghost Story Week: Lord Tyrone and Lady Beresford

This week I thought I'd serve up a selection of stories about ghosts and supernatural creatures from around Ireland.

This first one is considered one of Ireland's most famous ghost stories, that of Lord Tyrone and Lady Beresford. The following text is taken from www.colours-of-the-rainbow.com, used without permission. If anyone from this website wishes me to remove the text, I will do so. The original text can be found here.


Lord Tyrone was born John Le Poer and Lady Beresford, Nichola Sophia Hamilton. The two were orphans reared by an unbelieving (atheist) guardian who constantly tried to convert them to his atheist views. Because of this the two made a vow to each other that whoever died first would reappear to the other in order to prove that there was life after death.

In the course of time Nichola married Sir Tristam Bereford , the eldest son of Richard, Earl ofTyrone, and of Lady Dorothy Annesley, daughter of Arthur, Earl ofAnglesey. One night she awoke terrified to see her foster-brother standing next to her bed. He told her to be quiet, and said he had just died, consequently reminding her of the vow they had made years ago. He advised her of some future events, one which was the coming death of her husband and subsequent remarrying. he told her she would have four children and that following the birth of her last, she too would die on the day she turned forty seven.

Lady Beresford sought confirmation that her brother's appearance was real and not a dream. At this Lord Tyrone grabbed her by the wrist, and it immediately shrank and withered. This deformity remained with her for the rest of her life, covered by a black silk ribbon she wore to conceal it.
Lord Tyrone's predictions all came to pass with the exception of her death at forty seven. On her forty eigth birthday, Lady Beresford decided to celebrate with a few friends, including a clergyman who was an old family friend.

"I am 48 today" she exclaimed. To her dismay the clergyman replied, "No my dear, you are only 47."

Lady Beresford was shaken. "Are you sure?" she asked.

The clergyman assured her he was as he had been looking at the register only days before.
"Then you have signed my death warrant!" she cried. She retired to her room, made out her will and died later that night.

Sep 16, 2011

Not Burned Out

But close. I've been doing it again. Too much time wasted stressing about one thing or another, not enough time just enjoying what I do. Granted, it's been a pretty crappy two weeks. We've had kitchen remodelling, damp issues and resulting drywall damage, game nights cancelled, migraines, worrying about what my beta readers think of my new book. It's all been a bit, well, crap.

On the plus side, the new kitchen is great and so easy for Jen to use with just a regular office chair on wheels. We've also settled on trading in our car for a 2nd-hand Daihatsu Terios, since we figure having 4-wheel drive in the winters we've been getting lately is big and clever.

I need to start doing a few more things for fun. Reading more, for a start. Taking the time to enjoy working on my new WIPs instead of thinking I have to get them written as soon as possible, that's a biggie. I've spread out the last of my annual leave so that I have at least a 4-day weekend in every month for the rest of the year. I think there will definitely be some all-day writing going on, but also maybe the odd all-day cinema trip or something.

Something Jody Hedlund actually pointed out to me today was that, given everything that's happened, I've likely spent many days just sitting down and telling myself to write, no matter how I was feeling. It's easy to lose that sense of joy in doing something when you're telling your brain that it doesn't matter how you feel, you're going to do this anyway.

I love my writing, I really do. But I've got two novels written, one of which is out in 2012 and the other which I don't have to think about querying until some time after the New Year. I think it's time I made sure writing was fun again.

Sep 14, 2011

Beta Reading

A topic for discussion today. What's the best time to send a newly-written manuscript to your beta readers?

I tend to send off very raw drafts. There'll already be a number of things I want to change and correct, which I'll delay, by the time I send a draft to my betas. I think I do this because my mind is still at a stage of being aware that changes are needed, so I'm more open to criticism. I worry that if I think a draft is really good before I send it, I might not be as receptive to comments.

But am I making things more difficult for my beta readers in doing this? Is it worth their time to be going over the parts I already have marked for change, or is it good to get as broad an opinion on those areas to have a better idea of how to change them? Generally I like to get as many opinions as I can and weigh up the options before deciding what course to take.

Should a writer send out a rough first draft to be picked apart, or is it better to work in private, or with a smaller number of crit partners, and send out something much more polished, so that there's a chance any changes after the beta stage will be minor, but taking the risk that they'll have put a lot of work into something that has serious issues not spotted even by their crit partners?

Sep 12, 2011

10 Years Ago

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States. My wife had spent time with a number of cops and firefighters several years previous while in New York with her wheelchair sports team. They had been acting as chaperones for the group. Some of the firefighters she knew were among those who gave their lives doing their duty that day.

Yesterday our son, Conor, would have been two months old.

Life is filled with the greatest of sorrows and the most private of tragedies. These cannot be avoided. I believe that happiness comes not from living a life without pain, but from enduring that pain and surviving. Becoming stronger because you have faced hardship and seen the light that comes after. Even when we've suffered the worst we thought we could stand, we owe it to ourselves and those we have lost to carry on and find beauty in our lives.

Some events change the whole world. Others just change our own. I didn't lose anyone on September 11th, but I have watched those that did. I have seen a city, one of my favourite cities in the world, rebuild and watched its people find strength from rebuilding together.

Now, I've got some editing to do, and more books to write.

Sep 9, 2011

Getting Back To Normal

It's been a hectic week. At the start of it I finished the first draft of Silent Oath and sent it off to my beta readers. I figured on taking a few days to relax before getting to work on Nightfall, my YA novel. It hasn't been such a relaxing week.

We had work start on re-modelling our kitchen so my wife can more easily make use of it, which revealed long-standing damp issues in one wall. Repairing the damage and solving the damp issue added another day onto the job and was a hit to the wallet as well. We've been without a kitchen since Wednesday morning. Bozes and packing crates are in every other room. It's been a tad stressful.

But tonight the job will be done. We can reclaim our rooms and go make a proper cup of coffee without filling the kettle from the stand pipe in the garden. We can finally chill out again once this is done.

And then, after my "week off" is over, I can get back to writing Nightfall.

Sep 7, 2011

Setting Goals

The first few tentative comments on Silent Oath are coming back from my betas. So far my wife has decided I need to be beaten with pens and poked in the stomach for my spelling errors. This is what I get for sending out such a raw copy. I admit I did leave in some issues that I know need to be addressed, like spellchecking and retro-fitting a name change I decided on in chapter 8.

It's a time of the year full of new starts. Kids are starting school. Students are getting ready to go to college. It's a good time to be setting goals.

With the first draft of Silent Oath completed I can start to spend more time reading, which is something I really need to do. I've also decided that I want to have both Silent Oath and Nightfall completed and edited, ready for querying, by Christmas.

Granted I won't actually be querying Silent Oath that soon, but I do want to get Nightfall out there as soon as possible, and it makes a good deadline for both books. I need to try and get another 65,000 words written on Nightfall. So if I can manage roughly 20,000 words a month, I should be just about on-target.

What about you? What goals are you setting yourselves these days?