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?