The Day Job…

The day 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?

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 marvelous 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 laborer. 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.


Fighting Dark Ages

A sheila na gigA Sheila na Gig

I’m neither British nor American but two democratic results this year have soured my world. Brexit disappointed and upset me. Trump’s election, and his appointment of right-wing old-white-men (largely called Mike) as his closest counsel, downright scares me. Yes, we don’t yet know how it will all pan out – but that there’s pretty scary writing on “the wall”.

Like many, I’m looking for chinks of light. I’m taking comfort in that in challenging times artists often produce their finest work. Many of us have spent this week putting foot to floor, pen to paper, brush to canvas, all with renewed urgent vigour. We cannot let progress stop, or turn back the clock. Artists have a duty. Create, speak out, fight on and do not let us sleepwalk into another dark age. Artist be a soldier.


1916 Remembered

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Podcast available here

On this Armistice Day, I’m re-posting my KCLR 96fm BAI-funded play CAKE. This 45-minute play, set in Waterford 1915-1920, focuses on a local family challenged by opposing allegiances: Lance Corporal Joseph Bohan-O’Shea is fighting at the Somme whilst his Northern Protestant wife May raises their four children down south in Waterford City. However, Joseph’s staunchly Nationalist mother is angry with her son for taking the ‘Saxon shilling’ and betraying the family by joining the British Army. Her gender barring her from taking up arms herself, Mother persuades Joseph’s poet twin, Michael, to fight for Irish freedom, but Michael’s true passion is his unrequited love for his sister-in-law, May…. This story is a fictionalisation of my great-grandparents’ own story.

CAKE is directed by Jim Nolan, and stars Michael Power (winner of the Portsmouth International Film Festival’s 2014 Best Actor Award), Madeleine Brolly and Jenni Ledwell. CAKE also features a special recording of Waterford anthem In Happy Moments by William Vincent Wallace, performed here by Matthew Sprange, fresh from his Olivier Award winning performance in English Touring Opera’s Paul Bunyon.


BLUE KING PODCAST

The Blue King of Trafadden

 An Rí Gorm Oileán Trá Fada. 

PODCAST HERE]

Sue Healy’s ninth radio play, The Blue King of Trafadden, is a 45 minute, bi-lingual action-drama concerning a troubled Afro-Caribbean dentist, Henry Ryan, who believes he descends from the last king of a Co. Waterford island, a hero exiled during the Cromwellian invasions.

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Henry is intent on burying his grandmother’s ashes on this ancestral land, along with his secret drug addiction. Henry lodges with the ferryman Séamus, his partner Eimear and her son, Óg. However, it soon becomes clear that everyone on this island has a secret….

The Blue King of Trafadden was inspired by the little known Irish diaspora on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Although bi-lingual, the play has been expressly written so as the plot can be easily followed even by those with little Irish.

Directed by Jim Nolan, The Blue King of Trafadden stars: Jenni Ledwell, Michael Power, Nicholas Kavanagh and Eoin O’Brien.

BIO:

Sue Healy’s drama credits in 2016 include a comedy at the King’s Head Theatre, funded by Arts Council England (May); and a play workshopped by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre (October). Sue was a finalist for the Eamonn Keane Full-Length Play Award (June), is currently a finalist for the Nick Darke Award and is shortlisted for the Old Vic 12 (both results TBA).

In previous years, Sue’s radio dramas have broadcast on BBC Radio 4, WLRfm, KCLR96fm; she has also won the Sussex Playwrights’ Award, and presented in the Festival of Contemporary European Drama. Sue has had staged readings of her work in theatres in London, Norwich, Brighton and Cornwall.

UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, Sue’s prose won seven national prizes including the Molly Keane, BBC Opening Lines, Escalator and HiSSAC awards. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. Presently, she is London-based, researching a PhD on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is the Finborough Theatre’s Literary Assistant. 


Tune in and Turn on…

I’ve discovered that this cool site has gathered together six of my radio dramas for you to access. I need to add a couple more, not least my latest ‘The Blue King of Trafadden’ which airs on WLRfm this coming Sunday at 8 p.m. GMT.

I notice that first on the list is ‘The Angel of Trafadden’, which I think is rather current, being that it warns of the dangers involved in electing a hubristic narcissist to a position of power….


Old Vic 12 Shortlist

As I touch down in Dublin, London sends some happy news – I’ve been shortlisted for the Old Vic 12 programme (see here). I recognise a lot of names on this list, so appreciate I’m in talented company. Best of luck to all!

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Abbey Days

This week a play of mine receives a developmental workshop courtesy of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The Abbey, the National Theatre of Ireland, was founded by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory and accordingly is a name that looms large on the international stage. Therefore, apart from being very useful, an Abbey workshop is quite an honour.

It promises to be a fruitful and instructive few days. I heard a key theatre person in London recently say that you should not be afraid to surround yourself with people who are far better than you, and learn from them. I have a feeling that the dramaturgy, direction and acting skills I’ll experience over the next few days will see that philosophy in action.

 

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Gradgrind’s Corner

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Once you’ve had your feedback and have chopped, pruned, rewritten and reshaped your work, you’re ready to go, right? Wrong. Next, you need to don your pernickety gloves and work on grammar, spelling and punctuation.

This type of revision is called a proofread and it is separate from the critique your friends gave re characters, story, POV, tone and structure. A proofread regards layout and correct use of language. A proofread is the final polish.

Never hand in a submission blighted by incorrect or inconsistent punctuation, bad grammar and misspelled words – thinking the story will shine through. They (the slush pile readers) will be turned off by your sloppy copy and will probably never read on into your story, so it won’t get that chance to shine through. If you’ve spent a year writing a novel, respect your work enough to spend another couple of weeks proofreading. It’s only common sense.

As you’ve probably read your own work countless times, you may be blind to copy mistakes. A keen eyed friend is invaluable here. Also you could cut a sentence sized gap in a blank page and place it over your text to check every sentence individually, with the rest of the text blanked out. This may sound painstaking but it is a very good focusing tool.

Many emerging writers are concerned about grammar, unsure of their own knowledge and application. I’ve been an English (as a foreign language) teacher for fifteen years and can recommend the following grammar self-study book (known in the TEFL world as ‘the grammar bible’): Raymond Murphy Grammar in Use. You’ll be able to pick up a cheap copy on Amazon. Spend a night or two doing the exercises, it’ll stand to you.

Also, I could wax lyrical about whether to use double or single quotes for dialogue (or to use any at all) and the difference between US and UK conventions regarding the same. However, I think the best is for you to take ten novels down from your shelf and see how the majority of them format dialogue and then apply the same convention to your work. Whichever you choose, ensure it is then consistent throughout your text.

Finally, here are some of the most common problems:

****Are you using the right “Its”?

“It’s” (with an apostrophe) is short for “it is”.

Its” (no apostrophe) is possessive (ie: the dog lost its bone).

NOTE: somewhat confusingly, when you want to use the possessive elsewhere, you do use an apostrophe: “Mary’s coat”, “John’s golf club”, “the dog’s bone.”

 

****Same sound, different spelling (homophones).

“They’re”, “Their” and “There”.

They’re (they are) sitting the car. They’re listening to their (possessive) music, they’ll be fine there (preposition of place) for a while yet.

 

****Using “done” instead of “did” and vice versa.

“Done” is the past participle of “do” and is normally used with the auxiliary verb “have”.  “Did” is the past simple of “do”.

(And if you have no idea what any of that means, you really do need to order that book).

So, you say either “I have done my homework” or “I did my homework” – and never “I done my homework,” or “he done his homework.”

 

****Saying “could of” rather than “could have” when using the second conditional tense or “could” as a modal verb in the perfect tense (yeah, see that grammar book).

“He could of gone to the shop,” is wrong.

“He could have gone to the shop,” is correct.

And please accept sincerest apologies for sending any of you off into a coma of boredom with this grammary post – believe me, it hurt me more than it hurt you.


What’s the story, Rory?

I’ll tell you a story about Johnny McGory.

Will I begin it?

That’s all that’s in it.

Irish nursery rhyme.

What’s the story?

Story trumps all. The toppermost bough of the literary elite tree may disagree and say literature is about language, the perfect sentence, la mot juste. However, for most writers in today’s economic climate – if you don’t have a sound story, you don’t have a publishing deal. Having a well-constructed plot and a good story means you’ll be forgiven all sorts of other failings (blingy adverbs, oddball syntax, clichéd characters). It’s simply today’s reality.

Firstly, in order to have a story, you have to have some sort of conflict. These conflicts usually fall into one or more of the following categories:

man vs. nature

man vs. man

man vs. the environment

man vs. machines/technology

man vs. the supernatural

man vs. self

man vs. god/religion

Examples of good conflict ridden plots can be found everywhere, in the Bible, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, ethnic folk tales and even jokes.

Structure

A typical story structure might be plotted thus:

Stasis – the status quo. The reader is introduced to the character and setting.

Disturbance. Something occurs which upsets the normal run of things. For example, a stranger arrives in town.

The main character is affected by the disturbance.

The main character decides on a plan of action to rectify or improve matters.

Obstacles stand in the way of the plan of action succeeding.

Complications occur in the guise of choices/new characters/new ideas/discovery.

These lead to a crisis, when the focus of a play comes together in an unavoidable way.

The crisis usually leads to a climax or the major confrontation.

Finally comes the denouement or resolution which results in a new stasis.

The above will often feature a character development arc whereby the protagonist is changed in a fundamental way by the events.

 

A good exercise in plotting is to take a book or a film you’ve really enjoyed and try to break it down into a series of plot-steps, like the ones I’ve outlined above. Now, change the setting, the gender of the protagonist, the era, the goal and the type of obstacles that stand in the way. Yet, stay true to the plot template. When you’ve finished you’ll find you have a completely new story. Don’t feel as though you’ve stolen another’s plot. In truth, there are no new plots, each is a retelling of an older version. You’ve simply adapted and updated a classic plot line and in the process have created a unique story.

That’s all that’s in it.

 


The Blue King of Trafadden – Oct. 30th

bluekingamended

An action/adventure radio drama in 45 mins, in English and Irish.

Scéal eachtraíochta, ar raidió, in nGaeilge agus i mBéarla. 

The Blue King of Trafadden is my 9th radio play and concerns a troubled Afro-Caribbean dentist, Henry Ryan, who returns to the birthplace of his ancestors, Trafadden Island, Co. Waterford, with the intention of burying his grandmother’s ashes. Henry lodges with the ferryman Seamus, his partner Eimear and her son, little Óg. Secretly, Henry also hopes to exorcise the curse he is convinced his abandoned grandmother has put on him, a curse he believes has driven him to drug addiction and robbed him of his marriage and career.

Henry is not the only one on the island with a secret. Ferryman Seamus, afraid he is losing Eimear, is determined to make his fortune by developing a plot of land  of historical significance and is worried that the authorities are going to slap a protection order on it. Seamus comes up with  an illegal solution… Meanwhile, nine year old Óg, finds a skull, which he decides must be the head of his father. Eimear  spends her time in earnest, secret Skype conversation with her sister….

The Blue King of Trafadden is funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the television licence fee.