Review – ROGUE ONE (spoiler free)

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Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Cert: 12A Running Time: 133 min
Release Date: 15th December 2016

The opening crawl of A New Hope will never be the same again. What was once a story catch up device for the events of Episode IV has been given a heady dose of CPR as director Gareth Edwards brings to life the faceless rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star all those years ago. Right from the start, it positions itself as a stand-alone film, grittier, more realistic – a rogue addition if you will. At its core is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) a fearless young woman who knows first-hand the sword the Empire can wield against its subjects. An outsider herself, we find her after a brief childhood prologue, detained by stormtroopers and on her way to imperial prison. Without giving anything away she is soon thrown in the path of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a member of the rebellion, kick starting an introduction to the men who will join them on their mission.

They are a rag tag bunch – all perfectly cast. Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut steals every second he’s on screen,  ably supported by Wen Jiang as Baze. Riz Ahmed plays Bodhi, an imperial pilot whose secret mission fires up the action and an android called K-2SO charms with the funniest lines and biggest laughs. Voiced by the brilliant Alan Tudyk, his relationship with Cassian is like a parent and truant teenager (the android being the kid) with the script peppered with great quips to ease the dark battle at hand.

In the team’s path is the Imperial Military Director Krennic (played icy cold by Ben Mendelsohn), power-hungry and keen to impress the Emperor. He’s wonderful and his introduction to Lord Vader Will give you chills, shot as it is in shadow and light. Vader, doesn’t disappoint and its his appearance along with other nods to the Star Wars story that Edwards melds together so beautifully. The old and the new blend so seamlessly, a Jedi master could do it no better.

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Like Rey in The Force Awakens, Jyn’s another strong galactic heroine, standing up for what she believes in and Felicity Jones does a brilliant job anchoring what is a massive war movie. As you might expect the film is a jaw dropping spectacle (the 3D is well worth the money) and while the final act is battle driven, Edwards thrills bringing the fight to blue skies and palm trees, an approach that works beautifully. CGI is used sparingly and concentrated on certain key scenes and the film-making team are to be commended for aiming so high and pulling it off – confirming the level of dedication, love and ambition that went into making it.

To Star Wars, Rogue One is like a cool older cousin, visiting from another star system. It’s fresh and exciting but also vaguely familiar sharing as it does the same DNA.

Go see…immediately.

5/5

Can a writer’s anxiety suffocate their chance of success? How learning to back yourself is crucial…

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So you’ve written a book. When do you decide to tell not just agents and publishers but stand up and shout proudly from the nearest mountain top that you have written a book in all its glory for anyone and everyone to hear?

Whether we recognise it or not, the moment we decide to send it out on submission, its begun a journey, albeit a very long, lonely one but one filled with surprises along the way and soon that book begins to eclipse your worries of failure and your need for re-assurance and become something separate to you, away from the anxiety – for you and your book are not one and the same. The book is fine, its the unpublished writer that’s the mess.

We talk to people in quiet voices, half in embarrassment as they ask how the book’s going and I answer truthfully that I’m still knocking on doors but perhaps its not until you can get over yourself that your book can set sail under its own steam.

‘What’s it about?’ they ask politely and you die inside, judging them judging you before you’ve even finished. You stumble out the word fantasy, then say horror too, then regret that cause it’s not really and then you say, “Well it would be similar to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.” While this has lots of meaning to me, I imagine them stumped – not fans, not interested. Isn’t the whole vampire thing done already? Always knew she was odd, I can almost hear them say.

And so, you keep your book to yourself, tell people on a need-to-know basis to save yourself those conversations. And then something happens. Perhaps tired of feeling this way, tired of waiting for answers that could quite frankly change your life, you decide that you will put your head above the parapet, take a little peak around. You breathe the air in at an agent workshop and think, hey, there’s enough oxygen up here for all of us . You take the feedback. You realise that maybe you’ve learnt a few things from the rejections in the rear view mirror and that what you have might just be okay.

I sit in the front row at a ‘how to get published’ panel during the Dublin Book Festival and take notes – brazen as you like! I even wave hello to the agent I met the day before. Jeez, hold yourself back there girl – you’re in danger of behaving like any other normal person in the room. And though I skulk off afterwards instead of chatting to the publishing folk hanging around (my gumption only lasts so long), I can feel something different in myself. Gone is that helpless feeling of sitting around, being shy both for myself and most dangerously for my book.

I even attend a seminar the following weekend on self-publishing. Something which at the beginning of my journey seemed like a last resort, an oh-well-if-all-else-fails-I-can-shove-it-out-there, ashamed that I couldn’t get any real publishers to take it. I’m not proud of my small town view of e-publishing but the dream was a traditional one. And then in the course of one day, my perception changed totally. A complete 180. Control. Self-publishing means you have control and that notion swims even now in my mind a few weeks later. I now know that this journey is actually a hell of a lot more exciting than I’d anticipated and while I continue to chase traditional submissions, I know that there is no way that my book will ever be a throw-it-out-there thing. The skies of the year ahead suddenly went from grey to blue, even just at the thought of taking its fate into my own hands.

And so I stand proudly over my book. I’m not the sort to rant about its merits, quite the opposite but I know that the feedback I’ve had from my chosen readers has been abundantly positive and so I’m ready now to stand up and own it. So here’s what it is and here’s to not choking on my words when someone is kind enough to ask, ‘What’s it about?’

OUR DESTINY IS BLOOD

New York. 1847.

An Irish girl with a murderous secret. A vampire out for revenge.

Brought together by a powerful force…their destiny is blood.

Seventeen-year-old EVEYLN MOONEY has just burned a man to death with her bare hands. Now she has to run, keeping it a secret from her protective brother MICHAEL, until she can figure it out. Together they flee their famine stricken homeland, crossing the Atlantic to New York and into the household of Russian aristocrat VLADIMIR DERMATOV. But their new master has a secret of his own and when his dead brother makes a miraculous return, the stage is set for a reunion unlike any other. For SASHA is now a vampire, seeking retribution on the brother that left him in the hands of a monster. Their fates will be decided in the mansions of Fifth Avenue and far below them, for a dark force lurks beneath the city who would bring them all together.

©Clare B. Daly 2016

Why Rejection Is An Essential Lesson For Every Writer

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Rejection is the bane of every writer’s life – that soul destroying moment when you see the agent/publisher’s email in your inbox and a brief moment of hope flickers before you open it and your eyes quickly scan through the words….‘after careful consideration’…’unfortunately’…’not right for my list’…’another agent may feel differently’…’good luck’. Instantly you wonder if the off-license is still open or if there’s chocolate cake in the fridge cause you’re gonna need something to get through yet another knock back.

Having gathered more than my fair share, I’ve realised that those ‘no thank yous’ could be the best thing that ever happened to my writing. Allow me to explain.

The more the merrier!

Gather rejections. As many as you can, for some hidden gems may lie within. Keep sending out submissions but when you get to double figures on the rejection pile take stock. Is there a similar vein to each one? Casting aside the form rejections, did any offer feedback or insight and if so, are they of any use to you? We are too quick to let the disappointment in and you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel deflated and not good enough but later go back, read it again, for there are nuggets to be gleaned.

Consider the market stall you’re setting out

One agent (whom I admire –that’s important) told me that while he liked my writing, he couldn’t place it as a historical novel right now (it’s set in the 1840s). Initially I was horrified. That’s my story, it’s not something that can be altered. Head explodes! BUT when I thought about what I had said to him in my query letter, what my title may be suggesting, what my synopsis was saying I realised that perhaps I was highlighting the very thing that is in fact putting agents off. Yes, my story is set in harsh historical times but it’s a fantasy, a swirling gothic fantasy. A good story should shine through no matter the setting.

His words forced me to look at my book with a marketing eye. I may have written a book worthy of release (I have to believe so) but I also needed to re-check what my market stall was actually selling. Are the two things the same? If that agent in question found the setting a daunting one, then I would need to convey it to agents in a different and more commercial light. The first part of that was looking at the title. I thought it was perfect but perhaps only had true resonance after the reader had finished the book. My new title, which I shall keep under wraps for now, is much more enticing and tells the reader what to expect in simple terms from the outset, from the bookshelf. In following my gut, I know it’s the right move.

I re-shifted too the focus on my synopsis. Play down the setting, play up my heroine. What she’s capable of, what her fight is. What the true hook is. Think, think and think again. What am I selling? Agents are so busy and see so many manuscripts that they are rarely going to take the time to break down for you what needs to change. They will reject and move on so you must learn to read between the lines. Rejection, in forcing you to take a long hard look at what you’re selling, helps you see more clearly. You are getting a taste at last of the literary world as it repeatedly slams the door in your face. You want in? Yeah well you’re gonna have to work that book and that pitch like you never thought you would.

Silence can be a lesson in itself

Earlier this year, one agent asked me for exclusivity in considering my submission. A writer friend had introduced us personally and so I put all those fragile eggs in one basket and waited. And waited. And waited. Six months and still no response but after three, when I had dragged myself from the pity pit of panic, I took up my manuscript for a little read and immediately saw ways to improve it. So I wrote another draft, a better draft. Without floating in that limbo, I never would have done that. I took apart my book forensically. Wrote out new chapter cards, stuck them all up on my notice board without the chapter numbers and just looked at the plot laid out before me. I was like a miner striking gold when the contents of old chapter 29 became new chapter 3. When 53 short chapters became 27 more meaty ones. Again an exercise I would never have done without rejection. Comments of short chapters from agents, were now dealt with. I saw my book in a way I never did before I started submissions and it was better.

Without rejection, you won’t realise just how much your work means to you.

Want to find out how truly deeply invested you are in writing? Try some rejection. It’s the most telling signal as to how you will feel about your book and how hard you are willing to work it until someone somewhere finally says yes.

So get it out there, take the rejections, take their lessons, bury the ones that hurt and move on. There is much to be learnt and we as writers have nothing if not time on our hands. Remember you’re in it for the long game and perseverance is key. Me? I go back now into the abyss, with hopefully a stronger book, a better title, a sharper synopsis. More rejections will come, for that is the way, but I’ll keep learning from them and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.

 

Review – THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

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Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Edgar Ramirez
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Cert: 15A Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: 5th October 2016

Good thrillers are always about surprises, curve balls we never see coming that sweep us up in a moment where we forget we’re reading or watching a piece of fiction and are immersed in a moment that shatters our perception of what’s gone before. How disappointing then when we begin to see the cracks early on, when the mysterious is in fact the plain obvious and once deciphered leaves us to bear out the tedium until that which we’ve already guessed, is finally revealed. While readers of Paula Hawkins’ bestseller need not be troubled, knowing as they do the culprit, the same cannot be said for the uninitiated, delivering a lacklustre journey made only redeemable by its leading lady.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) commutes every day on the train to New York City, watching a couple (who seem to have no curtains), have breakfast, dinner and sex on her journey to and from work. When one day she spies the woman, Megan (Haley Bennett) with another man after which Megan disappears, Rachel injects herself into the investigation in an obsessive quest to find her. So far so good. But throw in that the gone girl of the piece is also the nanny to Rachel’s ex-husband (Theroux) and the woman Anna (Ferguson), he left her for and the plot begins to spin far too many webs to remain safely intact. Amidst flashbacks and viewpoints (we get Rachel’s, Anna’s and Megan’s) we are taken into the lives of a group of very unlikeable people and the tone goes from sinister to nasty as each character is unveiled to us.

Rachel herself is flawed. She is an alcoholic, swigging vodka from her water bottle on her commute, bitter from her divorce and scarred by her failure to conceive. All of the women are broken in some way and the depiction of motherhood as driving a woman to the point of madness is unsettling and disturbing to watch as none of the women paint it in even a faintly positive light. Blunt remains the best reason to give it your time and you can see why she would be enticed. She’s terrific and does bring a vulnerability but Rachel is the sort of person you’d rather cross the road to avoid than someone you’d like to help. As the plot threatens to strangle itself, any empathy we feel with her begins to drift away beyond our reach so that when required we can’t pull ourselves back into the story she began.

As a thriller, director Tate Taylor (The Help) sets the premise up well but the film is too self aware. It pushes the sexy button, then the dark button, the shocking one etc. like a vending machine dispensing what it thinks the consumer wants at that given moment. And they do probably want this, but by contrast where Gone Girl was dark and cleverly abstract, The Girl on The Train is heavy handed and pushes too hard leaving the ending when it comes, strangely lacking in tension and ferocity.

Fans of the book may enjoy or they may prefer the version they read on the page. The box office no doubt will tell the tale.

2/5

Review – MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

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Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, with Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Tim Burton
Cert: 12A Running Time: 127 mins
Release Date: 30th September 2016

There are times throughout Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that you want to punch the air for another Tim Burton movie has arrived, one not a million miles from The Nightmare Before Xmas or Edward Scissorhands – for Burton, himself being a celebrator of the peculiar, seems the perfect fit to take on Ransom Riggs’ 2011 bestseller. We are treated to the slurping of eyeballs, stop motion fight club and many more dark and deliciously disturbing things within, but it is the slanting differences between his own aesthetics and  Jane Goldman’s screenplay that ultimately trip the film up in final quarter.

Similar to Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, teenager Jake (Asa Butterfield) finds himself falling down a rabbit hole or time loop to visit the children’s home of the title after his Grandpa Abe (Terence Stamp) dies in mysterious circumstances. Whispering only a cryptic message before he dies, Jake knows his death has something to do with his stories of Miss Peregrine and the childrens home she ran during the Second World War. He sets off on an adventure to discover if the home still exists with his disinterested father in tow (a convincing Chris O’Dowd) and soon discovers a collection of children who along with their guardian (Eva Green) exist in a fracture of time where it is forever 1943.

It’s a mixed affair in terms of delights. Meeting all the peculiar children is a treat, each one weirder than the last,  from the cloth covered scare-children to the boy with bees in his mouth (Milo Parker), the girl who sets fire to things by touch (Lauren McCrostie), the young man (Finlay MacMillan) who like Burton’s Frankenweenie can animate objects with tiny animal hearts and Emma (Ella Purnell) who is as light as air. All of these lead to a picnic of visual delights and Burton has fun exploring their gifts however, their peculiarities are all we see, with very little personality to back them up so that they remain oddly at arms length to the audience.

Eva Green is luminous as the matriarch and protector of these strange children, her costume by Colleen Atwood feeding into her gothic presence while Asa Butterfield excels as the young man who may be just as peculiar as they are. However, the film begins to slowly buckle under its own weight as the plot begins to get more and more confusing. Conflict comes in the shape of Barron played by Samuel L. Jackson, who along with his stilt-walking ‘hollows’ – eyeless creatures with tentacles spewing from their mouths have been looking for Miss Peregrine’s children for many years. Were the story simply an attack by the hollows pitted against these extraordinary children in their spooky home it would have been everything the first hour had promised but when the plot veers to a sequence in a bright techno-pumping fairground, you know something’s gone awry somewhere.

Burton is not all about the visuals, he’s also a terrific storyteller and the theme of isolation – of being at odds with the world around you is well captured but sadly here his pairing with Goldman’s script has straddled him between two worlds, a little like the peculiars.

3/5

 

Short Story: ‘Little Miss Ashleigh’

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Come closer. Move in. Take a closer look. Don’t worry they can’t see us or hear our footsteps. We are merely watching, invisible, like a fly on the mirror over the mantle or a piece of china sitting on the sideboard in the drawing room. Come with us now into the home of the Boudreaux family. Feel the warm Georgia air through the open French windows, your collar beginning to sweat. You’re wondering why we are here. Don’t worry it will soon become clear. This is Ravenwood. The largest cotton plantation west of Atlanta and the year is 1837. Home to the Boudreaux family for three generations, we have come to look in on the youngest Boudreaux at this time, little Miss Ashleigh.

There she is, her golden ringlets bouncing as she bounds down the long staircase. She can smell the cookies Annie has made and she’s making a beeline for the kitchen eager to get there before her older sister Marguerite. But her sister is already hanging from Annie’s apron strings as she takes the biscuits from the oven. Before the tray is even rested on the stove top Marguerite grabs the biggest one, throwing it between her hands, the heat burning her as she scores a victorious look to her newly arrived sister.

Ashleigh’s face is a disgruntled snarl and even though Annie burns her own hands she lifts one to give to the smaller child and draw a line under her defeat. Ashleigh devours the cookie, crumbs falling to the kitchen floor and grabs another before knocking the tray into the air, falling into a jumbled mess as Marguerite screams. What you’re seeing is typical sibling rivalry but it is important to see Ashleigh for the eight-year-old child she is, for children are not equipped some would say, to understand the proper order of things, not yet. They have much to learn. They are impetuous, acting on instinct and finding their way between the folds of good and bad behaviour.

This is where we must jump forward, only by a few nights to the events that would shape the child into the young woman she would become. See, there she is, lying in slumber, her hair a halo of fallen curls. She looks restful doesn’t she? But inside, her mind is a torment of voices as they try to gain control. The demons have spent years delicately burrowing into the girl, every night, twisting her mind a little further. Some nights she wakes screaming for her mother and they giggle to themselves already planning their mischief for the next opportunity.

Close your eyes for a moment and you can hear them whispering to her. Their voices, first a low rustle and then building, until hundreds of them overlap, crawling over each other to be heard. They are strong and they will her mind, manually turning the tiny cogs to their deeds. This night they will truly test the girl and themselves. Arise they command and so her little body sits upright, her face still lost in the façade of sleep. At first they are satisfied to just move her but when that proves an easy task, they goad her out of her bed and into walking, one little bare foot in front of the other, until her tiny hand meets the glass doorknob. You are thinking we should wake her but we are merely watching these moments like sketches in an artist’s book already drawn. We are visitors and the future is already set. We have no actions here but to witness what befell the girl. Across the landing to the stairs, she moves silently without a creak of wood to give her away and like a spectre in the darkness, we follow her little white nightgown.

They are taking her outside. The night air is cool, but they cast their invisible arms around her, keeping her in the warmth of their embrace. As her feet touch the grass, they lay themselves beneath her lest the blades disturb her wander and they draw her now to the woods where they will end it. Inside a clearing not far from the slaves quarters, they halt her, dropping her to her knees. They seek her voice now tunnelling through her body to find it, enclosed in the back of her throat. Make her speak they chant.

“Let me in” she whimpers, her voice weak as her hands find the soil beneath her and begin to move it slowly. The demons are marvelling at their power, one voice complimenting the other.

Again.

“Let me in.” This time a little louder as she scratches at the earth, making furrows with her fingers dragging it to her knees. The girl is lost inside and if the demons have their way they will take her down into the soil with them. A loud scream sounds from deep within her. The girl has fight after all for even in their torment she makes a mutinous revolt of her own. They must silence her and so they strike her head to the ground rubbing it in the small pit she has dug, the earth finding its way up her nose and into her open mouth. She is lost, yet she is screaming, her eyes sealed to the nightmare.

Can you hear the whipping of branches as he runs through the low bushes and gorse? Running from the slave quarters to the cries of a child in the darkness. Keep watching, there to the left. Here he comes. Joshua. He sees her, the Master’s child. Little Miss Ashleigh screaming, her nightgown thick with muck, her face smeared by her own hand it seems. He calls her name and for a moment he thinks he sees her head turn before it strikes again and if we move back we can see his feet sliding through the leaves as he lands beside her, grabbing her shoulders.

“No, Miss Ashleigh”, he says, holding her back.

Her body is rigid in his grip and her dirty hands have found his face, her head turning to him. Inside the demons scream and her eyes flash open, milky swirls before they shut tight again. The demons will fight him for her. Her hands become claws, dragging through his skin, drawing blood. His long arms clutch around her body trapping her flailing ones beneath his, his face now out of reach as she takes them both to the ground, the demons bucking and jolting her. In the distance through the trees, gather more witnesses but unlike us, they are flesh. They are like Joshua and they are frightened.

“Get the master, quick” he yells to them.

“He’ll be mad” one says.

“Get him” shouts Joshua.

For a moment she stops fighting and her limbs soften as he whispers softly into her ear.

“You’re safe Miss Ashleigh. You’re safe”.

Her head twitches, her ear turning to his lips, lost among the mess of her hair. Her body convulses as she hears his voice. She hears it, as do they and he is invading her mind with soothing words at odds with their hoarse cries.

“Where is little Miss Ashleigh?” he whispers. The one who sits on the top step of the porch, tapping her feet, eating rose water jellies, or clutching blossoms picked from the meadow, wildflowers in their hair. “Are you still in there?”

Her little body is shivering as the demons slowly lessen their embrace allowing the cool night air to prickle the hairs on her arms. Joshua’s voice rises in the darkness singing softly to her as he rocks her gently in his arms. He can’t think of one song she and he might share and so instead chooses a slave song, the deep timbre of his voice vibrating in her bones as he sings it into her ear.

The demons are listening for they fall quiet and suddenly they release her to him. Oh there is more merriment to be had this night, they think. Inside Miss Ashleigh’s mind they recede to the shadows, poking her with long fingers as they go causing her to shudder again. They howl with laughter and the sound of it starts to fade slowly as the girl begins to return, a song of redemption bringing her back to the surface. At last her rigid muscles relent and she sags into his embrace, curling her body into him. On he sings and she opens her eyes, looking at the man holding her as if he were Christ himself, a deity who made the monsters go away. His eyes are kind and she bursts into tears. He stops singing, wiping muddy strands of hair from her little face. She is tiny in his arms. She can smell the wood smoke from his worn shirt and through her tears comes the slow dawn of her surroundings. She is outside.

“The Master’s coming”. A man runs back into the trees away from them and she can hear her father’s voice bellowing across the lawn. He is worried and angry. He is always angry.

Her father is coming. Here. To her now. She is weeping fresh tears as she pushes her hands away from Joshua to look at him properly. She sees not the face of her saviour but that of a slave.

A slave.

She feels his hands on her holding her still, his eyes questioning hers. The sound of the wind in the leaves is suddenly very loud and he is asking her if she is okay but she can’t hear him. All she hears is her Daddy’s voice and the whipping of the branches. Her cheeks are hot and red and her stomach is squirming.

A slave.

Her eyes blur before settling on the image of Alfred Boudreaux in his nightgown, the tassel on his nightcap blowing in the wind. His face drops when he sees the two of them and that’s when the demons begin to celebrate and Miss Ashleigh begins to scream anew. She kicks her legs, her bare feet flying back and forth, her arms struggling in his. She’s afraid. Afraid her Daddy will see that she could be comforted by this man. And oh to explain how she came to be there with him. For he simply will not understand it.

“Help me” she screams.

Joshua sets her on the ground quickly and she runs from him, hugging her Daddy’s hip as he picks her up. He registers the state of his child, running his hand over her golden hair, ridding it of twig and leaf, glaring at the man before him.

Joshua speaks, his voice shaking as the situation now present dawns.

“Master, she was o’come with a madness Sir.”

Miss Ashleigh buries herself from his words but she has decided and when she speaks her voice is meek but definite.

“He took me here Daddy. He took me from my bed”.

Joshua protests but his words fall into the wind. Mr. Boudreaux sees the scrapes on his face, the trails of blood from her tiny fingernails. And how the demons laugh. They will happily find another to torment. This child has chosen a path now that will give them so much more amusement than if they had simply taken her life. Little Miss Ashleigh clutches her arms around her father’s neck as they walk away, her decision nesting within her, its roots taking hold. Her toes are tingling as her father holds her tightly, Joshua staring at her as he is set upon by the foreman with his noose – no pleading now – just a steely gaze in her direction, a recognition between them of the lie and he can almost see the demons circle her like ribbons as they celebrate his fate.

The Boudreaux’s don’t stay for the hanging and nor shall we. Instead we will watch as she is carried back to her bed, simpering at her father’s kind touch, and as sound slumber reaches for her in the warmth of her covers, she is again soothed by the slave song playing in her mind.

 

©Clare B. Daly 2016

 

 

 

 

Writing competitions: Running the endless race…

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Epiphanies are rare. That moment when the right thought finds the right cubby hole in your brain in which to nest and nurture itself. This morning I realised after much anxiety this week that writing competitions just aren’t for me. What was I torturing myself for? How I’d goaded myself into believing that there’s a path and if you want to be a successful writer you must follow it to the letter. Given I’m a bit of a newcomer and have had my head wedged in the pages of my first book for the best part of four years, I told myself that I really should be writing some short stories and entering local competitions. Get yourself noticed. Get yourself heard. A chance to shed the invisibility cloak for a while. Sure look at this writer and that one who started out winning competitions and so on until my brain wrote one just to shut the voices up.

I should have known really that competitions weren’t for me for I am an eternal optimist. I do the lottery rarely but when I do I get a little tingle at the prospect that yes – it could be me and I have it all but spent by the time the draw comes round and someone in Belmullet has won it again. Unlike the lottery you’ll be surprised to find writing stories requires a bit more effort than a Quickpick and so time and energy must be exhumed in order to bleed the right shade of blood that a particular competition is looking for.

Don’t get me wrong, I see their worth, their value to those that win but what of those that don’t. Eight hundred people entered the competition I agonised over this week and twenty-four were shortlisted. Brilliant for those writers and fair play to them but what of the seven hundred and seventy-six writers bereft of any words in the pool of disappointment, not knowing if they came close or were the first to reach the recycling bin. Did I think I could win it? No but God I hoped. It’s the lottery all over again and so I found myself all week refreshing the relevant website for news. Again and again and again. I care a little too much and that scares me because its damaging to me and its also distracting me from the actual joy of writing. I have enough to be thinking about with my novel currently out on the hunt for an agent and that I have discovered, is all the anguish I need right now.

Compare if you will a writer to an athlete. Always writing, always training, breaking a mental sweat versus the physical one. Now imagine that athlete running a marathon, urging every last cell in their body to get them over the finish line, pushing themselves until they can no longer breathe, the finish line the only thing keeping them going as it appears in the distance, growing nearer and nearer. Perseverance is needed but they reach the end and have the beautiful satisfaction of recording their time, checking if it’s a personal best and if they’re lucky enough maybe even picking up a record and a nice medal. Now imagine that marathon runner is a writer and they have secreted themselves out onto a page and entered a writing competition. Their mind will run that marathon for months waiting on the result for they can’t enter that same story in another race while still running this one. They have cut loose a piece of themselves to be judged, only in the end satisfaction is not forthcoming. Only silence. Now the two are melding, the athlete running among his peers but he is invisible, like a ghost moving one foot after another as other runners jostle past them. For the invisible runner, the finish line just keeps moving further back into the distance and they may never ever reach it and if they invest themselves as they do in all things with 110%, they will end up forever exhausted and unable to do what it is they so loved in the first place.

Having taken my short story from an anecdote told in my novel, I do realise that it comes down to personal taste and maybe my tragic notes are not for everyone. Hell I get that, I do. Completely. And so rather than torture myself and burn my energies finding more competitions, I shall leave it to the pros. There are so many talented writers in Ireland and so I bow to those of you who have what it takes mentally and the physical arsenal of material to keep firing at these deadlines all the time.

I’m not an athlete (I spend far too much time sitting at this computer) but I fully appreciate that training is a huge part of finishing races and achieving goals. But there is a pressure out there, probably self imagined that mirrors my I’m-a-mother-I-should-be-able-to-do everything to I’m-a-writer-I-should-be-able-to-do-everything that is just not realistic and for the foolhardy among us leads only down a road of further torture.

I’m not afraid of showing people my work (if I was my novel would be sitting in a drawer right now and I wouldn’t be writing its sequel). It is what it is. I do what I do. Like all forms of creativity it speaks of the individual who made it and one story, song, painting, poem is not going to speak to everyone in the same way. And so I have decided that writing, much like the film reviews I write should be expressed and sent out to float into the atmosphere and find their own natural home. So no more competitions, no more judges, no more waiting. I shall post it here and continue what I love best.