Friday, 12 February 2016

Guest Blogger: Mary O'Sullivan - The Bottom Line

The best advice I ever received as a writer was to apply the seat of my pants to a chair, pen to paper, and write. That was a long time ago. The technology has changed but the essence of the advice is still the same – stop talking about writing, sit down and do it.

So you get an idea for a novel. You let it stew in your head for a while. It develops characters, plots, begins to nag you into solidifying the idea into words, the words into a story. Eventually the day comes when you sit in front of your computer, open up a blank document and start typing. Enthusiasm will fuel you to begin a novel. The words flow, hours race by as the story clamours to be put on screen. Suddenly you realise you have forgotten to eat lunch. No time to cook, you shove some meat and mayo between two slices of bread , or maybe just pour some cereal into a bowl .You bring the food back to your desk , worried that inspiration will dry up if you leave your work for more than five minutes. You sit again .And eat. And type. And sit.

It has been my experience that the frenetic activity of novel beginnings soon fades away. Three thousand flowing words per writing session becomes three hundred words wrung out with blood sweat and tears. I always start my mornings by editing what I wrote the day before. During this slow phase of novel writing, which I think of as the settling in period, it often happens that I delete two hundred, or even all, of the previous day’s work. This is the stage I know that enthusiasm is not enough. Discipline, that glowering, ram rod straight, lettuce eating, old bore must be brought to bear. Without it, doubtless the story would never be finished. So I dutifully sit and stare as I produce a sentence in one hour , delete it the next, make sandwiches , pour cereal. Sit. And eat. And stare. And sit.

Once the words start to flow again, it’s all guns blazing towards the halfway point. I know every author’s experience is different , but I find I hit a dip at the 70,000 word mark. Treacherous doubt begins to nag. That sinister internal voice begins to whisper that the story is no good. In fact it’s rubbish and it had better be got rid of it before anyone sees it. I would be a laughing stock. My confidence drifts away. I sit and stare at the screen, debating between deletion or reconstructing it entirely from the beginning. Hunger gnaws but I know if I leave the desk long enough to cook a proper meal, I may never go back there again. So I grab a bar of chocolate. Comfort food. I sit. And eat. And draw comfort from the chocolate. And sit.

That phase eventually over, I knock sparks out of the keyboard. The writing hours become even longer. I belt out chapters, afraid to stop in case I lose the flow. In a chocolate, cereal and sandwich fuelled frenzy, me and my characters hurtle towards ‘The End’. I am so tired at the end of each day that it feels as if I have climbed a mountain. But of course I have not. I have been eating. And sitting. And then doing eating and sitting all over again.

Even as I type the magic words, ‘The End’, I know this is just another beginning. I must start again at Chapter One , deleting, correcting, tightening up , sending characters on a different course , realising that blue eyes in chapter two had become green eyes in chapter eleven , that a ‘there’ and a ‘their’ had been mixed up . This self-editing is very demanding. Some of my favourite, and over- used, words have to hit the deck. My mother told me my first word was ‘now’. I still love it and use it all the time. It’s such a versatile word, adaptable to many situations, but it really doesn’t need to be in every second sentence. And so I sit and edit. And grab some quick food. And sit.

Next stage, after two edits, is to print out the story. Strange how different a story reads on screen and on the printed page. I always pick up errors in print I would have missed on screen. Perhaps it has something to do with the speed your eye scans the screen as against the page. Whatever the reason, this is a process I find very necessary before I can finally say I have done my best for my story and my characters. And so I sit , in an arm chair this time , the manuscript on the coffee table beside me , red pen in hand , and trawl through it page by page. I sit and read. And have coffee and cake. And sit.

I have a theory that the story is never ready until you hate it because you have gone through it so often. When that happens, you let it go. Submit it to strangers to be completely ignored, rejected or accepted. As my work goes off to make its own way in the world, I finally stand up. It’s such a surprise to realise I am twice the woman I was when I started on Chapter One. Small wonder , since I have spent the best part of the year sitting at my desk, grabbing quick food every so often and chocolate in times of dire need . I must have known what was happening when I put my jeans away to the back of the wardrobe and began wearing jog pants with elasticated waists instead.

I promise myself that if I ever write another book, I will exercise assiduously and eat properly. But I know for sure, if inspiration comes calling, I will sit at my desk and work my way through from enthusiastic beginning to exhausted end.

Thank you to outrageousgirlrants for hosting me on their blogspot and also to Lucy Felthouse (Writer Marketing Services) for organising my visit here.


Excerpt from Thicker Than Water

Here, in Rainbow Cottage high up over Ballyderg town, Jan had found relaxation. Ever since she could remember, possibly since she had been born, she was driven by an inner spring of energy that constantly bubbled up. She was always on the go. Tasks to be completed, decisions to be made, energy to be burned up. It was these hills, the still and brooding giants with wispy cloud hair, which first soothed her into sometimes slowing down. Changes swirled around them, the seasons, the weather, light and dark, but their core stood firm against outside influence. Eventually she had absorbed that lesson.

From the plate glass window of the lounge she watched a car wind its way up from the valley. She went into the kitchen and switched on the kettle, knowing from experience that the green tea they both enjoyed would be brewed by the time he arrived at the cottage.

Gerard Shannon parked in his usual place ten minutes climb on foot to Jan’s cottage. He stood and inhaled deeply before striding out. He always enjoyed the exercise but today he felt breathless, tormented, an iron band of tension squeezing his chest. If only the success and control he had in his business life applied to his private life also. If only he had been honest all those years ago. If only he could be honest now.



When local teenager, Keira Shannon and her father, business man Gerard Shannon, go missing, the town of Ballyderg unites to search for them.

As the search continues rumours of domestic violence, extramarital affairs and criminal behaviour are rife. The crisis causes families and lifelong friends to doubt each other.

The only certainty left is that the town has been visited by evil. Or has it? Could it be the evil one has always lived there sharing history, laughter and tears? And if so, who could it be?

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Author Biography:

Mary worked many years as a Laboratory Technician. Her hobby, her passion, has always been writing. Busy with family and career, she grabbed some moments here and there to write poetry and short stories. She also wrote a general interest column in a local newspaper.

As the demands on her time became more manageable she joined a local creative writing class. It was then, with the encouragement of tutor Vincent McDonald, that the idea of writing a novel took shape. She began to expand on a short story she had written some years previously. It was a shock for her to discover that enthusiasm and imagination are not enough. For the first time she learned that writing can be very hard work.

Mary now has six traditionally published novels, nine eBooks and hopefully more to come, inspiration permitting.

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1 comment:

  1. I like the intense feeling of not knowing what's gonna happen next!


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