Read All About It

I believe that reading out loud is a lost art. I have a sneaking envy for those genteel Victorian ladies who acted as companions to the wealthy and whose main role seemed to consist of reading aloud.

When you were at school, did you cringe when your teacher asked you to read out loud? Not me. I was right there, my hand waving. And when I did get the chance to read, I showed off gratuitously, doing voices, singing songs, the works. Maybe that’s what prompted my decision to perform my book when I was published.

Put simply, this means that when I give readings for my novel, The Pink Cage, I won’t read from a book. Instead, I’ll act it out. I’ve chosen three extracts that I will learn and then deliver, with accompanying actions. I’ll even dress a bit like my central character. In between, I’ll talk about the inspirations behind the novel and the writing process. It’ll come to about 45 minutes, but I can cut it down to a 10-15 minute slot if necessary.

There are practical reasons for this too. Because of my poor eyesight, I’d either have to hold a book up to my face, which would block communication between me and the audience. Or I’d have to bring a rainforest of paper with me to every reading. Instead, I’ll do an outline, which will be like a guiderope during the reading.

I’ve learned a few techniques that will help me in performing my book. I’m a member of public speaking organisation Toastmasters and I learn off all my speeches for them. So preparing for my reading will be like learning three speeches. And for four years, I went to Bag of Trees Drama Group in Waterford, where I learned improvising techniques.

The Ancient Roman statesman Cicero advised against learning speeches by rote, because if you blank, then you crash totally. Instead, he recommended learning by images, or prompts. There’s always a danger that I’ll sound over-rehearsed, or strain too much for the next line. That’s why I’ll be picking the brains of my actor friends to give my readings an edge.

A lot of writers dread giving readings. But to me, readings are a platform for displaying my writing to my audience. I want to give that audience an experience that they’ll remember. Above all, I want to give them a performance.

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Why Pay an Agent?

Two publishing deals were struck this week. One was splashed all over the media, a €500,000 struck by agent Marianne Gunn O’Connor, the queen of the zillion-euro book deal. The lucky author was Kathleen McMahon, a radio reporter with the national Irish broadcaster RTE.

The other was the deal that I struck with an independent publisher called Book Republic. Let’s just say that mine was somewhat more low-key. No advance and no fanfare, apart from the trumpets myself and Book Republic blew on our social media pages.

I can’t lie. When I started to send out my novel, The Pink Cage, I wanted a deal like McMahon’s. Certainly, I felt I needed an agent to make sure I didn’t get ripped off and that my novel found a good home. But while I was sending it out, I proofread a book for a local author called Brian Kennedy who was self-publishing a sports book called Blow it Up Ref! Listening to his story and to  a Liveline radio programme dedicated to self-published books made me think again.

I wasn’t quite ready to shoulder the burden of self-publishing and still hankered after the stamp of approval of a publisher. But I realised that there was a middle-ground – independent publishers who would bear the cost of publishing a book and help me bring it into the world.

So I adopted a two-pronged approach. I still approached agents, but I also began sending to independent publishers. A new site had been born, writing.ie, with details of publishers included in its treasure trove of writerly information. It was on this site that I found Book Republic.

A look at their book list and submission guide made me realise that they could be a good fit for my novel. So I sent it off and got a dizzyingly swift reply, saying that they were interested in publishing me. Fortunately, I was able to tap into some excellent advice that gave me the tools to negotiate the contract. The Irish Writer’s Union is an invaluable source of advice and there are also independent consultants you can hire for a one-off fee.

My deal gives me a sense of ownership over my novel. I get a lot of say in the cover design and in the editing process. I know exactly what royalties I get – and the terms are very fair. Because there’s no agent’s cut, I get to keep more of what I earn. And I will play a big part in selling it. And I have the satisfaction of knowing that I found the publisher and negotiated the terms myself.

So do I have regrets about not paying an agent? Absolutely not.

The Only Writing Books You’ll Ever Need

Buying a book about writing is a dubious business. Authors of these books either take a how-to approach that treats writing like assembling a flat pack from Ikea, or a flighty approach, advising people to waft through the woods and wait for inspiration to strike.

If you’re looking for a good writing book, this blog post will save you a lot of time and money. After much careful sifting, I bring you my top five writing books.

If you’re starting out: The Part-Time Writer by Marjorie Quarton

Marjorie Quarton offers down-to-earth advice about the craft of writing and where to send your work. She demystifies writing, giving the reassuring message that writing success is possible for anyone with ideas, dedication and a heart. She also sensibly advises people not to give up the day job – not only for financial reasons, but because your day job can be fodder for stories.

If you’re a little further on your journey: The Complete Creative Writing Coursebook, University of East Anglia

The Complete Creative Writing Coursebook is brought to you by the university that launched the UK’s first creative writing Masters. So they know what they’re talking about. This book guides you through every aspect of the writing process, but even more valuably, it shows you how to revise your work and what to expect from a creative writing workshop. There are exercises at every stage to give you focus.

For the poets: The Portable Creative Writing Workshop by Pat Boran

This book is designed to give a helping hand to writer’s groups, but is also ideal for the solo writers, with ideas to get you going and fiction and poetry exercises. Because Pat Boran is a poet, the exercises have a strong focus on imagery and the emotions and the exercises in the poetry section are particularly comprehensive. It’s good to see poets being catered for, as most writing books are geared towards prose writers.

If you want to get published: The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook

This is the bible for all writers who want to see their name on a book cover or a byline. It has listings for publishers and agents in the UK and Ireland that cover every genre.  It also has media listings, for magazines, newspapers and radio stations and literary listings for writer’s groups and festivals. It’s packed with articles offering advice on all aspects of writing. Top names featured in past editions include Maeve Binchy, Bernard Cornwell and Claire Tomalin. It comes out every year, but contains years’ worth of useful information.

And if you like wafting through woods: The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron is best known for The Artist’s Way, but this book is geared specifically towards writers. It shows you how to live a life that supports you in your writing and how to draw inspiration from the world around you.

Feel free to share your top writing books, especially if you’re reading this from parts of the world other than the UK and Ireland.