Three Reasons to Love Blockbuster Novels

The death of novelist Jackie Collins at the weekend filled me with both sadness and nostalgia. Her novels, and those of contemporaries like Jilly Cooper and Shirley Conran (note their similar names!) were the delight of my adolescence. These novels may seem a little dated now; they had their heyday in the hedonistic ‘90s. But quite frankly, they left 50 Shades of Grey, well, in the shade. Their thick, glossy novels were filled with forbidden delights and offered the perfect escape route from grubby reality.

 Jackie Collins

Yes, there comes a time when you outgrow such novels, and as recession bit in the 1990s, it became tacky to write about the super rich with their super rich lifestyles. My own tastes turned to more literary works, but no literary masterpiece will ever give me the thrill these novels did, so I’ll always think of them with affection. This is my tribute to the old-fashioned blockbuster novel.

There are three reasons why these novels are such good reads, and linger in the popular imagination.

They’re Unashamedly Glamorous

All right, we’ll get it out of way. These novels featured lots of sex in glamorous locations, enjoyed by beautiful people. But everything about them was glamorous, the locations, the characters and particularly their clothes. Today’s chicklit can’t compare. Heading to the local on a Friday night for a tipple is nothing compared to being whisked off to St. Tropez in a helicopter for the weekend. These novels opened the door to exciting worlds, the worlds of fashion, sport, television, movies, music and wine making.

They’re Full of Exciting Plots

These are books that you race through in your thirst to know what happens next. There’s a scandal around every corner, and the authors skilfully drop hints to keep you hooked until the truth is gradually revealed. There are lots of dirty family secrets and wicked deeds to keep you entertained, and all the strands are tied up in a satisfying bow at the end.

The Dialogue Is Cracking

These authors are great at writing as they speak, and their dialogue reflects the speech patterns of real people. There’s also lots of it, and this keeps the story moving forward. Jilly Cooper is particularly good at writing dialogue; a speech and drama teacher I had at school actually recommended her for this. It’s hammy at times, crudely imitating the speech patterns of different nationalities, but it’s full of witty wordplay and zinging one liners. There are also lots of quotes from Shakespeare and the classics, so you learn as you go along too.


Who would get your vote as a top blockbuster novel, or novelist? And who out of today’s crop could be seen as a worthy successor?

Three Great Reference Books for Writers and Editors

There are plenty of books and Internet tools to help you improve your creative writing techniques, but what if you just want to figure out where to insert an apostrophe, or what’s the right way to spell Gorbachev. The trouble is that the Internet will drown you with conflicting information, leaving you more confused than when you began. That’s why there’s nothing to beat a good, chunky reference book. The information in it stands still long enough for you to absorb it, and is carefully researched by experts.

reference books

Here are three that help get me through my writing day.

Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors

This is the definitive style guide for writers and editors. It gives you advice on how to spell commonly confused words or how to correctly spell the names of historical and current political figures. It also tells you whether a word should be capitalised or not and whether a word is a verb or a noun. For example, it will inform you that when you want to talk about the practice of law, you spell practice with a c, but when you talk about practising law, you spell it with an s.

New Hart’s Rules

This book covers all aspects of grammar and punctuation, and it’s useful for editors because it describes how books should be laid out. American and UK English are commonly confused and this book has a whole chapter dedicated to helping you make the distinction. The book also helps you achieve consistency in your writing and editing, as it tells you the best way to write numbers, dates etc, so that they’ll look the same throughout the manuscript you’re working on.

Collins Concise English Dictionary

No writer or editor’s shelf is complete without a dictionary. There are a million words in the English language and the average person knows 10,000-12,000 of them, so no matter how good we think our vocabulary is, we’ll have to reach for the dictionary at some point. We often think we know what a word means, but the dictionary tells a different story. Every writer or editor will swear by the dictionary they use. Mine is the Collins, and it’s not as concise as the title suggests. In fact, it’s the size of a small child.

What grammars, dictionaries and style guides do you use to bring polish to your writing?

How Authors Relate to Their Characters

I had the pleasure of hearing Donal Ryan, one of Ireland’s top novelists, speaking about his writing process. When he talked about how he creates his vivid characters, he quoted French novelist Olivier Adam, who claims that creating a character is like tuning in a radio. Once you’ve found the right frequency, all you have to do is listen. That’s how deep the relationship goes between authors and their characters.

Author Donal Ryan forms deep relationship with characters
Author Donal Ryan forms deep relationship with characters

For authors, characters are like their children. They know them as well, if not better than, the real people they love. While the end result of this relationship may be the same – characters that leap off the page – the ways authors create characters and relate to those characters differ. Here are the three main types of author-character relationship, which tend to be shaped by the author’s personality and writing process.

The guide: Like Adam and Ryan, authors who view their characters as a guide follow their lead. They’ll often claim the character is telling them what to say and they’ll write down their words, which must be a deeply exhilarating experience. They also see their characters appear before them like ghosts. These are the authors who mutter to themselves as they go about their daily business. They’ll start their books by writing down what the character tells them, and use the later drafts to make order out of chaos.

The puppet: This is the partnership approach to writing. Like a puppet master, the author breathes life into the skeleton of a character. While the character does take on a life and personality of their own, the author controls their actions, like the puppet master pulling the strings. Their approach to creating a character is still quite intuitive, but they want to bring structure to the process as well. So while they may think about what a character will do in a given situation, the author will make the final decision.

The construct: Authors who use this method build their characters from the ground up. They believe that writing a novel is like building a foundation; you can’t succeed without a foundation. They lay that foundation by doing character sketches, where they do profiles of the main characters in their books. They may also draw spider diagrams, showing how the characters are linked to each other, or draw detailed family trees. If you’re a logical, methodical person, this method will suit you. It’ll be a blueprint that you can use to move forward.

Which character relationship resonates most with you? I reckon I’m more of a puppet girl myself.

Three Reasons Why Blogging is Good for Writers

I was reading an article in The Bookseller which talked about the importance of authors finding a way to sell their books that’s natural to them. Being able to sell your books is a necessary evil in today’s crowded marketplace. Yet selling doesn’t come naturally to many authors, who tend to have introverted natures and prefer to hide behind their books.

But selling doesn’t have to mean deafening people with the constant blast of your trumpet. The best way to sell is by telling, and telling stories is something that does come naturally to authors. The article stressed the importance of finding a way to sell yourself that’s comfortable for you. Author Penny Vincenzi has found that blogging is a good fit for her, because she finds it hard to condense her thoughts into a tweet or Facebook posts.

Blogging can be an avenue to sales for authors who want to spread the word about their books, but are a little shy about it. Here are three very good reasons to take up or continue blogging as a way of selling your books or writing services.

Blogging - a way for writers to sell by telling

Blogging – a way for writers to sell by telling

You can display your writing flair.

Blogging is a form of writing, and you can use it as a way to express your creativity. You can use your blog to share your passion for writing and your love of words. It’s also a good way to hone your writing craft, because blogging gives you the chance to hone the ability to write in a practical, accessible way. You’ll also get the chance to show your readers your prowess with language and if they enjoy your writing, they’ll be more likely to invest in your words.

Blogging gives you space and time.

Like Penny Vincenzi, writers are wordy people. Blogging gives you the chance to explore the subjects you’re passionate about in depth. You won’t be constrained by the need to summarise your thoughts in 140 characters, so you can develop your ideas more fully. If you’re a person who likes to think things through and do some research before you hit Publish, blogging gives you a chance to do this, and readers will appreciate your expertise and atteiont to detail.

You’ll develop your relationship with readers.

Readers are just as interested in hearing your story as the stories they read about in your books. Blogging gives you a chance to talk to your readers, to let them in on your writing secrets and share the things that inspire you as a writer. It also gives them a chance to respond and ask questions, so they’ll know you’re a person, not just a name on a book. Blogging builds trust and if readers trust you’ll they’ll be more likely to buy from you.

Call to action

The best sellers sell without appearing to sell. Weave a call to action into your text, a link to your website or a place where people can buy the book on Amazon. After reading your fabulous blog post, readers will be keen to find out where they can buy your books, and providing a link will make it as easy as possible for them to buy the book.

How has blogging helped you to sell your books, or helped you in general as a writer?

Three Lessons Commercial Authors Can Teach Literary Authors

If you look at bestseller lists for books, you will see very few literary titles in the top 10. That honour tends to go to authors of more commercial fiction, particularly thrillers and women’s fiction. More literary authors, who may spend years toiling over their novels only to sell a few hundred copies at most, may wonder what commercial authors are doing that they are not.

I believe that literary authors can learn valuable lessons from their commercial counterparts. There’s a reason why these books sell by the truckload, and if literary authors can learn to incorporate some of the techniques of commercial writers in a way that fits with their own style, they’ll increase their appeal to the reading public.

Here are three techniques you can use to help you achieve monetary as well as literary success.

Write Like You Speak

Commercial writers are able to capture the rhythms of everyday speech in their writing, which makes it easier for readers to slip into the story. This comes out particularly strongly in their dialogue, which reads as convincingly as if it were real conversation. Don’t be afraid to add in current slang or dialect words to bring colour to your dialogue.

Tighten Your Plotting

Commercial authors create a great sense of momentum in their writing. You get the sense that something could happen at any minute, and you keep reading to find out what it will be. Commercial fiction writers understand the power of story and create stories that sweep you along, helping you to forget about the outside world. While you can create compelling plots through character interaction, it’s good to build your story around a compelling event that will engage readers.

A Satisfying End

Most literary novels leave their readers hanging. I understand that the authors want readers to make up their own minds, but real life is ambiguous enough, so it’s nice to feel a sense of completion when you finish a book. Commercial authors deliver this in spades. It can be satisfying for a reader to work at a book to glean its message, but it’s a good idea to reward readers for their work at the end.

What lessons do you think literary authors can learn from commercial fiction authors? Or do they need to learn any?

Three Helpful Writing Magazines

We are swimming in a sea of information for writers and it is easy to feel as if you are drowning in it, especially with the explosion of online writing resources. That’s why writing magazines are still so valuable in the digital age. They gather together the most useful information, and that information stays still long enough for you to absorb it. You can find out about the latest market and get tips on how to improve your writing.

These magazines also offer publishing opportunities to emerging and established writers. They invite contributions on the craft of writing and they also run short story and poetry competitions which give you the chance to showcase your work and receive critique from experienced writers.

Here are three magazines that offer a treasure trove of resources to writers.

Writing Magazine

This magazine is a meaty read, stuffed with articles about publishing markets and techniques for improving your writing. It offers information on a wide array of writing markets and is particularly useful for writers who are interested in self publishing and those who write in specific genres, such as horror or thrillers. It also offers writing competitions and the winning entry comes with a judge’s critique. You can also read interviews with top writers, to find out how they do it.

Image taken from Mslexia magazine website.

Image taken from Mslexia magazine website.

Mslexia Magazine

This magazine has a similar format to Writing, but it’s for women writers and has a more literary feel. It’s a quarterly magazine which publishes thoughtful articles on issues that particularly affect women writers, such as women of colour. It does cover the business end as well, with more practical articles on publishing and the craft of writing, with an emphasis on opportunities for women. It too runs competitions, which are judged by leading women’s writers.

3. Books Ireland

This magazine gave a start to a lot of young journalists who cut their teeth writing book reviews for it. It does exactly what it says on the tin and reviews all books published in Ireland. It sadly closed in 2013 but was recently revived by Wordwell Publications which publishes History Ireland.

As well as giving writers the chance to submit book reviews, it also gives them an outlet for their books to be reviewed. They will review all books sent into them, which gives self published authors. You can also put yourself forward to them as a book reviewer.

These magazines are available on the British and Irish markets. International readers, what magazines do you find helpful?

Why People Attend Creative Writing Classes

Creative writing classes are often seen as growhouses, incubating the next bestselling author. Occasionally, articles will appear in newspapers and magazines, questioning whether creative writing classes offer a valid path to publication. But publication rate is a narrow view of the success of creative writing classes. The value of creative writing classes goes far beyond a sparkly cover with a name on it.

There are as many reasons for attending creative writing classes as there are people.





There are as many reasons for people to attend creative writing classes as there are people attending them. From four years of giving creative writing classes, these are the main reasons that I’ve identified.

  1.  It’s a fulfilling hobby

People often look for an outlet, a new experience that will bring them satisfaction and enrich their lives. Maybe they’ve retired, their children are a little older or they want to they’ve moved and want to meet new people. They appreciate the opportunity to learn new skills and feel satisfied when they create a complete piece of writing. They may continue to write for their own pleasure after a course has finished, and if an anthology comes out of it, they enjoy getting a taste of the publication experience.

2. For self expression

Many of the people who come to creative writing classes are driven by a desire to express themselves, either emotionally or creatively. They may be creative in other ways, as artists and musicians, and see the written word as a complement to their primary art form. They may also have had important formative experiences in their lives and appreciate the opportunity to give shape to those experiences through words.

 3. Escape

I’m always struck by the fact that the people who come to my classes are often the busiest, people juggling children, jobs and elderly parents, sometimes at the same time. Coming to writing workshops lets them rise above the daily grind and live differently for a while. Creative writing classes help them carve out time to savour new experiences and be stimulated by new ideas. It’s like a mini-holiday for them.

4. To find out how writing works

Some people come to creative writing classes because they’re bookworms and the classes give them a chance to find out how their favourite authors create their books. And some people just enjoy learning about the mechanics of writing. Creative writing classes help them to read at a deeper level and expose them to new types of books and stories.

5. And yes, to be published.

If you have the hunger to be published, a good creative writing class will give you the tools and inspiration to set you on your way. If you’re halfway through a story and you’re stuck, the classes will help you get over the line. You’ll get feedback from your fellow participants, which will help you improve your work. Above all, you’ll realise you’re not mad to want to be a published writer, and that it’s a feasible and realisable dream.

What made you sign up to a creative writing class? And if you give them, what reasons have you identified for why people attend them?


An Unapologetic Love of Words

As writers, it’s easy to lose heart if the words in your heart don’t match the words the public want to read. You read all these articles telling you what the hottest trends in publishing are, and you realise that your work is, according to these articles, desperately out of fashion. The publishing gurus and best selling authors tell you to write what’s inside you, but those words can ring a little hollow if the words you write are often rejected.

Last Saturday, I went to a highly original one-woman show in my local town of Tramore, Co. Waterford. It was my second time going to Seriously Now, by Petra Kindler. Part monologue, part stand up comedy routine and part reflection on the meaning of language, it defies categorisation and is the most original and stimulating show I’ve seen in years.

Petra’s originality and dedication to her vision to prove that Germans really can be funny has been rewarded. She’s been included in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and will give 19 performances of her show next month.

Picture taken from Edinburgh Fringe Festival Website
Picture taken from Edinburgh Fringe Festival Website











There are three lessons that I think writers who are worried they don’t fit the mould can learn from Petra’s performance.

1. You don’t need visual aids

We live in a visual age and attention spans are dropping like stones. Social media is driven by pictures, and people who are more aural or language oriented can feel they’re being drowned out. Petra uses two highly effective visual aids, but apart from that, her message is driven solely by her words, and she’s able to keep people rapt for 60 minutes. Sometimes words really are enough.

 2. Translation is vital

Translation can be seen by many to belong to the dusty realm of academia, or obscure literary awards. In the opening part of Petra’s show, she demonstrates that translation gives a glimpse into the soul of a people, and that the quality of translation greatly changes how a reader perceives a book’s meaning. She also warns authors who want to be translated into German never to use the word “hen party.” If you go to her show, you’ll see why.

 3. Your life is more interesting than you think.

One of the great skills that writers have is being able to mine their own lives for stories that will resonate with a wider audience. Everyone has aspects to their lives which seem ordinary to them, but fascinating to everyone else. Petra is a German woman who moved to Waterford in South East Ireland and being able to send up commonly-held stereotypes about Germans has given her a rich seam of material to mine. She’s able to give an affectionate outsider’s perspective on Irish culture too.

If you happen to be in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, you can catch Petra between July 31st and August 24th in Laughing Horse @ The Phoenix, at 3.45 every day, except Mondays and Tuesdays. Petra needs those days off to gather what’s left of her marbles.

Three Advantages of Traditional Publishing

This month’s Writing Magazine has a big special on self publishing, in which authors frankly share their warts and all experiences of the self publishing world. Self publishing is certain gaining momentum as a way to get your work out into the world. Authors are carving out incredibly successful careers independently of publishing houses. It’s never been easier to put your writing out into the world, and authors are seizing those opportunities, and profiting from them too.

But I’ve got to say that if I ever manage to finish that difficult second novel, I’ll be choosing the traditional route to publication. And I’m going to slaughter a sacred cow and hazard a guess that some self published authors would agree with me. here are three good reasons why.

1. You don’t have to produce your own book.

Why did you become a writer? My guess is that you wanted to tell stories and find an audience for them. Developing your stories to a degree that will make people want to read them takes 100% of your effort. Yet for a self published author, that’s just the beginning. They then have to format, design, produce and distribute their own book. To me, that’s like expecting artists to produce their own canvas, or musicians to produce their own instruments. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will carry that financial and logistical burden for you, and let you get on with the business of being a writer.

 2. You get on the shelves

When my first novel was published, I was amazed at the extent to which, in this digital age, people expected it to be available on bookshelves. That’s why I believe that despite the availability and popularity of e-readers, if you’re not in bookshops, it’ll seriously damage your sales. Self published authors are at a huge disadvantage here, because it’s next to impossible to get your book into a bookshop on any significant scale using your own resources. Traditional publishers will put you in front of your reading public by ensuring your book is distributed using the major book distributors in your area.

 3. You get kudos

Being accepted by a traditional publisher means your book will be taken more seriously. You’re a lot more likely to be reviewed in national papers and to be put forward for awards. If you’re applying for arts council funding, your self published book is less likely to be considered as a viable publication. If your book is being traditionally published, it means that someone who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to books thinks your book is worthy of publication. Call it snobbery, but that still carries weight in certain circles.

Do you fly the flag for self publishing or for traditional publishing? Let me know your thoughts. I’m expecting some lively debate!

How to Get Your Self Published Books Into Bookshops

We may be living in a digital age, with ebooks on the rise and rise, but people still expect to be able to buy books in a bookshops, and won’t view you as a credible author unless your book is on the shelf.

Self published authors tend to imagine that this still-powerful selling resource is closed to them, but as writer turned blogger Lorna Sixsmith demonstrates, going independent need not end your dream of seeing your book on the shelf.

Here’s her post sharing her experiences. You can find this and other interesting posts about her self-publishing journey on Irish Farmerette.

Are you thinking of self publishing a book?  Many believe that self published books are only available from the author’s website, as ebooks or on Create Space but bookshops will stock self published books providing some criteria is met. Yes, printing your books is not cheap and depends cash up front but many readers still prefer to read the physical book rather than the ebook and furthermore, they expect to see it in bookshops.

Within Ireland, the main wholesalers are Easons and Argosy Books. Argosy is the wholesaler for all the independent bookshops. Easons have a large number of their shops nationwide. In the UK, Gardners is the largest book wholesaler. Many bookshops will only accept books from the wholesalers although it is possible to see if local bookshops will stock your books.

What will the Book Wholesalers ask for?

Kanturk Bookshop
Kanturk Bookshop

The wholesalers will want to know your sales to date, past publicity and future publicity. I had heard that Argosy had told a self published author that they would stock her book when she had sold 25o. I received my books on 29th November but didn’t contact either wholesaler until January – this was partly because I didn’t have time, partly because I knew they would take 55% and I would then be selling my first print edition at a loss (as I included all my expenses such as website, editor, illustrator etc in the first print run) which I wasn’t prepared to do and partly because I knew I had to prove first that it would sell.

As it happened, the Argosy buyer had heard my interview with Joe Duffy just before Christmas and had planned to contacting me. On hearing that I had sold 750 books and also been interviewed by Ryan Tubridy, they were happy to accept my books.  By the end of February, 105 books had been sent to 32 account holders. I’ve loved received tweets by people telling me they have seen my book in bookshop windows or on shelves. Kennys Bookshop is stocking it too and as they ship worldwide for free, it really maximizes the chances of people abroad buying it.

I’ve yet to hear from Easons although they did request a copy of the paperbook and some more information last week.  Not only did they want to know about past publicity but they want to know about upcoming PR too.  Trying to get continual PR is like a full time job and I have to admit I’ve taken my foot off the pedal lately! I’m waiting now until there are agricultural events and I will try to get coverage around my involvement in them.

It’s ironic though, I would have sold more books following the Tubridy interview if the books had been in the bookshops but on the other hand,  I needed the publicity first to be accepted by the wholesalers.  I have sold just over 1000 books now. I have about 70 hardbacks left and there are a few out there with one or two stockists.  There’s about 250 of my paperbacks ‘out there’ but of those, it is hard to know how many have sold. Argosy have taken 175 of which 105 went to bookshops in February (I’ll get an update on March next week) but they are still provided to the shops on a sale or return basis so I need to keep the publicity up to encourage sales.

In short, you need:

1. A well formatted book with an attractive front cover.

2. An ISBN number.

3. Existing Sales record.

4. Past and future publicity.

5. A book that the wholesaler likes and believe will sell.

If you happen to spot my book in a bookshop, I’d love to hear.  Do let me know too, of your experiences with self publishing or if you are thinking of writing a book.