This is the BBC…

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Tune into my BBC Radio 4 short story broadcast, August 2nd, 19:45 (UK time).


Proper Job!

A wise writer once said to me that it’s not so much the pram in the hall that’s the impediment to a writing career, but the bills on the door-mat. Money worries are the bane of creativity. And unless independently wealthy, the emerging writer will have to make a living while waiting for that book/film deal (and probably for a while after that fact too). Writers need to work; the question is what kind of jobs are out there?

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Many will consider other (more lucrative) forms of writing to bring home the bucks. Journalism is an obvious choice and is still, probably, the most common second career for many creative writers. Moreover, a journalistic background provides marvellous training re editing and brevity of approach. Copy-writing, particularly website copy, is also a popular income booster for writer but both copy-writing and journalism are less satisfying forms of writing for the creative writer and spending all day writing on the day job can make it difficult to come home and do the same at night.

Teaching English and/or creative writing is another common earner for writers. My TEFL training and experience has given me a sound grip of grammar and the intricacies of the English language – all of which is of great practical use to a writer. A TEFL teacher also (usually) travels and such experiences can feed into your work. Teaching creative writing allows you to deconstruct the tools of creative writing, which may benefit your own writing. However, you usually need a track record of publication before you begin to look for work in this area.

It is not uncommon for writers to work a mundane job such as on a factory line or as a manual labourer. Such tasks sit quite well with a writing career as they give the writer time to think, to let ideas bubble and boil ready to write down after the shift has finished. Also, with a job so utterly removed from writing, you will be fresh and eager to sit at your laptop of an evening. The downside of any brain numbing, repetitive work is that it has no status. This fact should not be important but it is because writers are human, so for a writer to stay in a lowly job, s/he needs determination, focus and confidence in their reason for doing this type of work.

Writers, of course, come from all walks of life and all career backgrounds. For those of you who may be considering giving up your job to write full time, you need to remember that you’ll (most likely) still need to make a living. Maybe the job you have is not glamorous or interesting, but these are often the best complementary jobs for writing. So, if you really want to be a writer, the greatest sacrifice you make may be NOT giving up the day job –  but staying with it.


Your Fertile Hour

Inspired by the midday sun

Inspired by the midday sun

There is a theory that the brain is more creative in the morning, especially in your waking moments. For this reason, many writers keep their notepad by their beds and make sure that the very first thing they do when they open their eyes each morning, is write. The resultant notes are called “morning pages”.

Morning pages might contain what a writer remembers of their dreams or perhaps the writer will jot down the very first words that come to mind – however nonsensical. Some writers say that this exercise helps them ‘slip’ more easily into what writers’ call the “writing rapture” when a writer feels ideas are pouring into their mind. When writers write in the morning, so the theory goes, they are closer to their sleeping state and the mind is more imaginative and/or receptive to ideas.

Nontheless, there are plenty of writers who write late at night – for the same reason that they say the closer to sleep they are, the more creative their ideas. Then there are other writers who find their most productive hours are in the middle of the day (the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling is a good example. She wrote her first book in a busy Edinburgh café).

Therefore, it is clear that different times of the day work for different people and it is really of no consequence whether you are a morning, day or night writer. What is important is that you write and that you find your ideal writing time. Experiment and find what works for you and then set an hour aside each day at that time and write, but do write.


Hit Target!

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Thank you, you beautiful people!

I’m running a half-marathon in Kew Gardens and Richmond at the end of the summer, raising money for the mental health charity ‘Mind’. Generous souls amongst you have ensured that I’ve now met my target of £350 raised for the charity. Nonetheless, ‘Mind’ would certainly benefit from more support, so please feel free to keep on giving, whilst I keep on training.

‘Mind’ provides advice and support to empower those experiencing a mental health problem, while concurrently raising awareness and promoting understanding of mental health issues.

To find out more about what I’m doing and why, please click  here  where you can sponsor me online.


Working through Writer’s Block with Writing Prompts

Writing is a skill, and just like any other skill, it’s one that is improved over time, through constant work and dedication, and through the practice of always challenging yourself and seeing how far your writing can take you. But just like any other endeavor, there are certain challenges that writers inevitably face, with one of them being writer’s block.

Anyone who has ever tried to get some writing done, be it for recreational or academic purposes, has experienced writing block. Some would argue that there are actually many kinds of writer’s block, stemming from either the inability to come up with an idea on what to write about, or the inability to commit to an idea, or even just the inability to focus. As such, there are many different strategies presented for combating writer’s block as well. One easy way that’s proven quite effective is the use of writing prompts.

Writing prompts are often used in Creative Writing classes to give students an idea of what to write about, but even when you’re just writing recreationally, they can still be a big help. You’ll find several sources of writing prompts online, but for a more convenient option, you can actually start using your smartphone. As the operators of Free Casino Hunter have said, growth in mobile internet is one of the most powerful trends on the internet landscape today, and this has prompted many writers to begin turning to their phones for help with their projects. We now have apps such as Writeometer, which help writers keep track of writing goals with daily notifications and progress charts, even several choices of word processors so we can work on our projects right off of our phones. Among the most helpful, however, are the apps that help writers decide *what* to write about.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a plot for your next short story, you may want to try the following apps:

1 Writing Prompts and Exercises

Created by JG Applications, the Writing Prompts and Exercises app gives users several choices for easy inspiration. When starting up the app, users can choose to be presented with a “Random First Line”, “Random Subject”, “Random Character”, or a “Random Plot”, making it an easy go-to app for those without the slightest idea what to write about. The prompts are taken from WritingExercises.co.uk, and can be accessed even without an internet connection.

2. Writing Prompts

The premise behind ARC Apps’ Writing Prompts app is quite simple: they want to give users prompts that can be used regardless of how far along a story they may be. As such, the prompts presented by the app are short and sweet, including lines like “You keep your suitcase with you at all times; its contents are very valuable.” and “You stare out the car’s side window at the brightly lit downtown storefronts when an item catches your attention.”

3. Story Plot Generator

Also created by ARC Apps, the Story Plot Generator app is unique in that it allows you to choose the genre that you want your next project to be. The free version of the app has options for Action/Thriller, Misfortune/Drama, SciFi/Space, Murder Scene, Fantasy/Magic, Horror/Suspense, and Romance, while PRO users get access to prompts for Superheroes and Apocalypse stories. Each genre then has the following items: Situation, such as “You are buried underground”; Detail, such as “You have a note with a time and date scribbled on it”; Complication, such as “You are cold [or warm] and have no weapon”; and Objective, such as “You must regain your memory”. With these building blocks, writers can create complex stories, and see how far their writing skill can take them.

Writing prompt apps like these can even see further use with the help of character generators, which provide writers with the details and backstory of characters if they’re having trouble fleshing their own characters out. It’s important, however, to veer away from these generators as often as you can. These should serve as a guide, and never a crutch.


Mussels grows Muscles

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Firstly, thank you to all of you for your sympathy and condolences on my sister’s death. It’s been a hard month, but it had its moments of lovely support and family togetherness.

On the day my sister passed away, I got (and missed) an email informing me that a short story of mine had been long-listed for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was then short-listed, and eventually chosen as one of the three stories annually selected for broadcast on the radio station. As Radio 4 receives nigh on 3,000 submissions for this slot, I’m pretty chuffed (and slightly feel as though my sister is looking out for me).

‘Mussels’ is set on the Norfolk coast and follows a year in the life of Triona, an Irish prison tutor settling into her new life in England. The tale investigates how attitudes towards Irish immigrants have changed over the past two generations, and then explores, in this light, the responsibilities the present-day Irish arrivals might have towards other more recent waves of immigrants into the UK, from Eastern Europe and further afield. The story was recorded in June, narrated by Dervla Kirwan (Ballykissangel, Goodnight Sweetheart)  and will aired on BBC Radio 4, August 2nd at 19:45. I hope you can tune in!


Goodbye Little Sister

Kate in Wales in 2012

Kate in Wales in 2012

Following a long decline in health, my baby sister Kate died on May 15th. It was so sad to witness her suffer in ill-health for such a long time and even sadder to lose her. However, we know our sadness is only a measure of our love for her, which was immense. She leaves a great legacy in three wonderful boys: David, James and Eoin, of whom I am a very proud aunt.

When we remember Kate, we’ll hear her laughter firstly. She had a glorious, sharp sense of humour which delighted in finding the absurdities in everyday life and her laugh ran through her days like a bubbling stream. Kate would never let you take yourself or life too seriously. She has left us far too soon, but that laugh and her smile will live on strong in the remembrances of those who loved her.

The pain of saying a final goodbye to Kate on Monday 18th was eased by all the overwhelming support my family and I received from friends and extended family. They moved in like a SWAT unit and buoyed us with their condolences, phonecalls, visits to the house, handshakes at the removal, warm words at the funeral and willingness to take part in the same by reading, singing and pall-bearing; by their texts, messages, posts, mass cards, flowers, salads, sandwiches, cakes, biscuits; with their soup ladling, blaa distribution, marquee constructing (and deconstructing!); with their hugs (real and virtual), kisses, hand squeezing, conversation, songs, story-telling; with their sympathy and empathy with our grief.

Kate would have loved that wake.

Shine on, sweet baby sister x


Announcing Mrs Engels

Mrs Engels copy

‘Tis a truth universally acknowledged that behind every great man, there has to be a greater Irish woman. And, indeed, ’tis a little known fact that Friedrich Engels’ better half was a Lizzie Burns of the Emerald Isle. A working class immigrant to Britain, she had first hand experience of the hardships of the proletariat and was to play a key part in the formation of British socialism.

Taking this fact and applying his not insignificant talent and imagination to create a gripping historical novel, is Gavin McCrea, a writer and debut novelist from Dublin. I have to declare an interest here, not only is Gavin Irish, we also took our MA in Creative Writing at UEA, the same year (2009). However, this merely means that I’m familiar with his talent and his potential, and I would highly recommend you make ‘Mrs Engels’ your next book purchase.

‘Mrs Engels’ by Gavin McCrea will be launched on April 30th, and is published by Scribe, London. The novel will be published in the U.S. in October.

Remember you heard it here first.

Gavin McCrea, author

Gavin McCrea, author


East and West

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There are ten years and quite a few countries between these two pictures (above); the first one in Budapest, 2004, the second taken last week in a pub in Pimlico. And these girls are still as strong, funny, fun and gorgeous (even more so!) as they were when we were all young expats living in Hungary.

I spent eleven years in Budapest. They were heady years when I grew up in many ways: when I first fell in love, got a proper job, learned to drive, took my degree, first published my creative writing, bought my first properties and found many of my closest friends. All the above are milestones in one’s life and mine all happened in Hungary. It’s a country which continues to inspire and give grist to my creative output, even if I’ve not lived there in six years now.

I moved to the UK to do an MA in 2008. For the purposes of my Ph.D., I’ve been living in Kensington/Chelsea, London, since September 2014 (as it’s close to the focus of my thesis, the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square). This part of London is an impressive and captivating territory and as full of history as Budapest. Likewise, there’s culture and art and parks and shops and museums galore. And now spring’s here, there are visitors… and I’m using them as an excuse to explore the backstreets of Chelsea, or ‘my manor’ as they say in London.

In other words, Chelsea and I have hit it off. I feel that this area and I will have as long and positive a connection as I’ve enjoyed with my friends Kristina and Fiona (pictured above). Nowhere I live in the future will ever compare to Budapest and what I gained from my time there, but when Chelsea’s got her blossom on (see pics below), she sure is going to conjure your muse. Wherever you live, writers, make sure it inspires.

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Paper Never Refused Ink

Writers worth their ink need to be making some point with their story. By that, I mean your tale ought not be solely just a boy-meets-loses-regains-girl trip.

Beneath your storyline, there should be something else going on, a deeper message, your comment on how humanity works, or doesn’t. It is a writer’s (or artist’s) job to present the human condition as they interpret it. It isn’t meant to be heavy and scary, I’m simply suggesting that once you’ve written your story, or even just have an idea for one, you should sit back and consider what it could be saying on a larger, universal scale.

A good way to understand this concept is to consider Aesop’s Fables. Each one is a tale that could be enjoyed on a superficial level by a child, yet there is a deeper meaning, or moral, which endeavors to teach the child some universal truth about life, ie being slow yet determined is often better than being hasty and fickle (Tortoise and the Hare).

A good place to seek inspiration is a list of proverbs. A proverb is usually a metaphor and encapsulates in simple terms, a lesson from the common experience of humanity. Here’s an exercise that might get you going: sit down and have a think about the specific meaning of the following and then go freewrite a story illustrating this philosophy.

Graveyards are full of indispensable people.

You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

A little learning is a dangerous thing.

The belly has no ears.

Trees don’t grow to the sky.

A dumb priest never got a parish.

The only free cheese is in the mousetrap.

Eaten bread is soon forgotten.

The squeaky door gets the oil.


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