The Storytime Express Comes to Waterford

You’d be surprised how quickly you can put a story together. Of course, to bring it to publishing standard takes months or even years, but the basic idea can emerge in a matter of hours. I give a workshop for beginning writers to help them kickstart their stories, and after just two hours, they come out with the first draft of a story. I’ll be giving that workshop for an upcoming writing festival, Waterford Writers’ Weekend. I call it The Storytime Express. Due to the demands of the schedule, it’ll be three hours instead of two, but that will give the participants some much needed breathing space.

Overall, I hope the workshop will give people the confidence to start writing and the power to tell their own story. I also want them to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from producing a complete piece of writing that is their own creation. At the very least, they’ll come out with a story plan that they can develop in their own time.

Building the Story

After some icebreaking activities, we’ll start to build the story by creating a character, setting and plot. They’ll be given a picture of a strange looking old man and be asked to create a character for him. Then they’ll sell a destination, writing a brochure blub for a place with a wacky name. Finally, they’ll be given a headline and will write the story behind the headline. These activities will form the ingredients for their story.

Maurice Murgatroyd
The unlikely hero of our express story.


Planning the Story

After a well-earned break, it’ll be time to combine those ingredients together to make the story. The template I have devised for the story is that a valuable treasure has been stolen and the old man is the unlikely choice to get it back. It’s your classic quest narrative. I will outline that template with a story spine, which is a series of sentences with blank spaces for you to fill in. They’ll use the information from the three previous activities to complete the story spine.wr

Writing the Story

Now it’s time to add flesh to the skeleton of the story and to create a story with a beginning, middle and end. Depending on time, the participants spend the rest of the session writing the story. If they finish reasonably quickly, we’ll spend the last 10-15 minutes hearing the stories, and enjoying the surprise of the participants at how creative they can be in a short space of time.


If anyone reading this blog is in the Waterford area and likes the sound of this workshop, it’s on Saturday 7 May at Greyfriars Gallery from 10am-1pm. Visit the website for details on how to book.

Why I Joined an Editing Society

Last week, I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The SfEP is the UK’s professional organisation for editors and proofreaders, and though I’m Irish, my sources told me that this organisation has excellent resources and more opportunities. I took a long time to make the decision, for two reasons. To progress in the organisation, you need to do a lot of training, which is expensive, and I also know plenty of people who aren’t members of an organisation, but are still reputable and get plenty of work.

Still, the advice I received from respected editors burrowed in on me, so during a hiatus last week, I filled in the form. Ultimately, there are three reasons why I think joining the SfEP was the right decision.

For credibility

Membership will give my editing services a professional stamp.  It shows potential clients that I am willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to be a professional editor. Editing is just one of the writing related services I offer, but my ambition is to make it the central one. By displaying the SfEP logo, I can demonstrate to future clients that I will deliver work to the highest possible standards, and charge a fair and realistic price.

Apostrophic Errors
Keeping editing standards high.

To upskill

However much you may think you know about books and language, there is always more to learn. The SfEP gives discounted training courses to help you continuously improve, and you can also avail of a mentoring service, which gives you the chance to test your editorial skills on an editing professional.  I’ll be able to learn more about grammar, applying a consistent style, how books are laid out and how to work well with clients.

To ask questions

I will be able to use the SfEP as a sounding board for any issues I have as an editor, and to ask slightly embarrassing grammar questions without fear of ridicule. There are private forums where you can find discussions about pretty much every aspect of editing. I’ll be able to freely avail of the expertise of senior and experienced editors, and I can use what I learn to edit more effectively.

Are you a member of an editing society? How do you find it? If you’re a writer, would you be more likely to trust an editor who is a member of an editing society, or do you just trust in your good relationship with your editor?

Is Self Publishing for Everyone?

A self published author I know, a lively, go-getting character, posted on a Facebook I run about how fed up he is with the stigma around self publishing. He was published by a traditional publisher, but found he sold far more copies as a self published author. Yet he felt that self published authors like him were looked down upon for not being with an established publisher. Several self published authors then shared their positive experience of self publishing, and the general feeling was that self publishing was now a force to be reckoned with and snobbery should be set aside.

I would certainly agree with that. I self published copies of my novel after the publisher I had stopped printing copies. I did enjoy the control that came with self publishing, but I’ll still be trying for an established publisher next time. I still nurture fantasies of lunch with my editor in a swanky restaurant.


editor lunch
Toasting success with a future editor.

I regularly recommend self publishing as an option at my creative writing workshops. But I also believe it’s not for everyone. Here are three instances when I believe self publishing is not a good idea.

If you write literary fiction

I read an article in The Guardian which said that self publishing worked for most genres –  except delicate literary fiction. The trouble with literary fiction is that it’s quiet and understated, and needs the gentle push of  a publisher to make its voice heard. Also, unlike other genres, it doesn’t follow strict rules, so you’re creating each book from scratch. This takes up a lot of headspace. If that headspace is taken up with worries about how you’re going to get your book out, it will affect the quality of the work. Using an established publisher at least takes that concern away.

If selling gives you the shivers

Some authors are naturally quite commercially minded, and those authors tend to make very successful self publishers. As I said, you need to be able to shout loudly to be heard as a self published author. Some authors have neither the personality or the inclination needed to do that shouting. You do have to do your own publicity when you have an established publisher as well, but at least they will do the basics for you, and this gives you a leg up.

If you don’t have a specific audience

Self publishing works really well if you are writing for a defined audience. You can learn who that audience is, what they want and how to deliver it to them. You can narrow your focus and tailor your sales approach to that audience. If you write books that are very general, it will be hard for you to find people to target, and to compete with authors who know what readers they want to reach. Having an established publisher behind you gives you a platform to reach a wider audience, and from that experience, you may discover which readers favour your book.

What do you think? Is self publishing a go-to for every author? Or are there authors whose work is more suited to an established publishing model?

1916 Writings

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the 1916 project I’m going to be involved with, which will use creative writing and arts and crafts to tell the stories of ordinary women in 1916. In recent weeks, the project has undergone a few challenges. We held information sessions, which we promoted as widely as possible, to encourage women to get involved. The attendance was very low, and I have to confess, all looked lost.

Fortunately, the good people at St Brigid’s Family and Community Centre in Waterford, who I’m working with, found another solution. They were in touch with the local library service and we’re now going to run the project as part of the Bealtaine Festival for older people in Waterford Central Library. Word about that festival gets out to hundreds of people and the events are very popular, so we’re hoping to feel the benefit of that popularity, and of people’s interest in exploring the past.

We’ll be running three workshops during the month of May to gather materials for an exhibit, which will be part of the overall Bealtaine exhibit. Participants in the craft workshops will create 1916-inspired artworks and crafts. Then in the creative writing workshops I’ll be running, we’ll be creating diary entries capturing a day in the life of a woman in Waterford in 1916.

Women and the Rising
Telling the stories of ordinary women during the 1916 Rising

These diary entries aim to give a sense of what it was like to be a woman in 1916 and to capture the spirit of the times. We’ll be doing very exercises to help us compile the diary entries. Here’s a sample of some the exercises we’ll be doing to get into the 1916 mood.

Character Sketch

This is one of my staple exercises, where people look at a picture and use it as the basis to create a character. They fill out a profile of that character under various headings. In this case, the picture will be of a woman who could have been alive in 1916, dressed in the clothes of the period. Clothes at the time often indicated the class a woman came from, so the characters will either be hatted and gloved, or dressed in rags.

100-Word Diary

The participants will get a feel for writing a diary entry by first writing about a day in their own life. Sticking to 100 words will be a challenge for them. But if they find it difficult to cut down to 100 words, it will demonstrate to them that they’ll have no problem writing a 250-word entry for the exhibit. It will also be useful to compare their lives to those of their counterparts 100 years ago.

The Shopping List

We’ll also be doing activities to immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of the time and I’m going to use an exercise I’ve come across before, but haven’t yet used. I will ask people to produce their receipts from their supermarket shop, and then we will compare it to a grocery shop in 1916. They will then write a shopping list that a woman in 1916 might have compiled.

If you like to write historical books, what tricks do you use to immerse yourself in the times?

How Editing Develops Your Writing

When most people think of editing, they think of corrections to spelling and grammar (proofreading) or fussing over whether the Democratic Presidential nominee is Hilary or Hillary Clinton (copy editing). But editors don’t just “nit pick” over small errors. They look at the bigger picture, how the story works as a whole. Combining objectivity with a passion for story, they can advise authors on how to make their stories better. This type of editing is known as developmental editing.

While I do offer proofreading and copy editing, developmental editing projects really get my juices going. Developmental editing is the line where writing and editing meets. You need to know how stories to do it. I’m going to be doing a developmental edit on a book soon and here are three things I’ll be advising the author on.

How well the story works

When you’re writing, you can feel as if you’re trapped in a maze. You’re so lost in the story that you can’t find a way to the end. Developmental editors hold out the ball of wool that you can use to find your way out. They will tell you if your characters are convincing and if the world you have created for them is vivid enough. They will alert you if your point of view isn’t consistent, or if your dialogue sounds wooden. They’ll also give you a sense of which events are central to the story and which are not.

Developmental editors get writers out of the maze.

How to shorten and lengthen

Some writers feel as if they’re drowning under the weight of words. Others may feel they are scrabbling for them. Developmental editors are objective, so they can tell you which scenes to cut and how to tighten your sentences. If you only have a scrap of an idea and you want to make it into a novel, developmental editors can give you tips on how to expand: for example by weaving flashbacks to the past into a contemporary story.

Whether you’re mad or not

When authors come to developmental editors, they are either muddling through a first draft and want to reach the end, or at the point where they need to decide whether to publish or not. These are delicate stages in an author’s life, and it’s easy for them to doubt themselves and wonder if they’re nuts to want to continue. Developmental editors will help them make that decision. I will give a verdict on whether the story has merit or not, and what the author needs to do to bring the story to fruition. Whether they tell an author to go ahead and send in that submission or go back to the drawing board, it could be just what an author needs to hear.

Have you ever used the services of a developmental editor, or a critiquing service? How has it helped you advance your writing?


Writing With the Visually Impaired

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’m a writer and I’ve visually impaired. I’ve shamelessly milked my sight problem for my journalism and creative writing, and while I’m now moving on to other topics, I wanted to give other people the opportunity to experience the power that comes with telling your own story and turning what seems like a disadvantage into a source of inspiration.

Visually Impaired Writing
Photo credit:

As a result, I’ve struck up a relationship with the National Council for the Blind, and I’ve now given three one-day workshops at its Training Centre, thanks to the generosity of its director, Stuart Lawler. The participation has been lively and fun and (no pun intended) a bit of an eye opener. I’m partially sighted and have been so my whole life, so it’s been interesting to learn about the challenges faced by totally blind people and by people who have lost their sight, either gradually or suddenly.

Visual impairment is always portrayed as a hindrance, but in the writing world, it can be a powerful creative force. There are three qualities I noticed in the budding writers I worked with at NCBI which I think will help them to be fine writers.


Visually impaired people concentrate harder. They pay attention to what you tell them, because they don’t have the luxury of leafing through prepared handouts. They are more likely to retain the nuggets of information you pass on to them. Sight is such a powerful sense that it almost blocks the other senses out. When it goes, other senses come to the fore, and as a result, visually impaired people may notice things that other people miss. This trait is essential for a good writer.


This isn’t quite the negative trait it may seem, but visually impaired people can be cranky, frustrated by a world which is designed for people who can see, in mourning for their lost sight. Writing helps them to channel that anger and use it to create something new. Their anger can help them create writing that makes people sit up and take notice, and (pun intended) view the world in a different way.


In writing, it helps if you have a perspective that is different from everyone else’s, a different way of looking at the world. When you’re visually impaired, you already have that. Some visually impaired people may prefer not to be defined by their disability and to write about other topics that interest them. If they do choose to centre their writing on their visual impairment, they have a wealth of life experiences at their disposal to draw on, which will help them to create fresh, original writing.

Have you ever worked with writers who have disabilities? Are you a writer with a disability yourself? How do you think disability shapes writing?


Why Copywriting Is Worth Investing In

It’s hard to quantify the value of copywriting to a business. You could tell a business owner that you could deliver a magical formula of words that would boost their bottom line by 20%, but you would be lying and that wouldn’t be fair. What businesses fail to realise, in their rush to reach that bottom line, is that before you can sell, you need to know what to say, and that’s the value of copywriting.

Investing in Copywriting

If you’re willing to take the time to figure out what you’re about a business, then you will stand out above other companies who did not invest that time. When I do copywriting for a business, my goal is to help them figure out what they want to say, and how they operate either differently or better than their competitors. The content that the copywriter creates gives them a foundation that they can then build into a sales strategy.

copywriting image
Copywriters – their words have the power to sell.


In the coming weeks, I will be helping a company go through the process of figuring out what to say and how to say it. I will be creating a service manual, which lays out the fundamentals of the company, so the staff can refer to it in their communications with customers. It will essentially help them figure out what to say, and they can use it to create content. I will also be compiling a style guide, with guidelines on the types of words they can use to describe their company. This guide will tell them how to say it.

Defining Your Message

The goal of the service manual will be to define the company’s core message, and how it delivers on this message. Every company has a goal, a mission behind all the activities it does. Successful companies recognise that behind every business, there is passion and purpose, and the core message crystallises that passion and purpose. The manual then elaborates on how that message influences the company’s activities, how they go the extra mile to deliver customer service, and how they enhance their customers’ lives.

Saying It With Style

In general, a style guide aims to ensure that an organisation uses language consistently, so that their content looks professional. This short style guide will help the staff decide what wording to use when they’re writing their content, the tone they want to adopt and how they will refer to their company. Will they say “we” or will they use the company name? It will also ensure that they are consistent in how they lay out that content and how they use grammar and punctuation.

Copywriters, how do you convince businesses of the power of words to sell? Business owners, have you found copywriting services to be worth the investment?