I am thrilled today to welcome Calum Kerr to celebrate the publication of his new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property. Calum is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife -  the writer, Kath Kerr -  their son and a menagerie of animals. Calum is guest-posting today on flash openings and endings, a subject dear to my own heart.

Calum Kerr
Take it away, Mr Kerr:

Alpha and Omega

Calum Kerr

In the beginning was the word, and the word was ‘flash’.

So, I’ve been asked to finish off my blog tour, by writing about beginnings and endings. Do you have any idea how hard it is to start a piece like that? With everyone analysing it? Anyway, I think what I came up with might have got your attention.

But is it as good as ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded’? Or, ‘Call me Ishmael’? Or, ‘You beg like a Bible verse: taut, memorable, ghost-written’? 

Don’t recognise the last one? Feel like you should? Well, don’t be ashamed. It’s not from a famous novel. It’s from a flash-fiction written by Amy Mackelden and published in the recent edition of FlashFlood for National Flash-Fiction Day here. When I was reading through the submissions, it was an opening line which stopped me in my tracks. It made me think, made me appreciate the concision of the writing, and most importantly it made me want to read on.

After all, that’s what a good beginning does. It forces us to read the next sentence because we want answers to the questions posed in the first. If it’s a good second sentence, it simply asks more questions, as does the third, and before you know it: you’re hooked.

The literary theorist, Roland Barthes, was a ‘structuralist’ who spent some time categorising the different types of sentences and phrases we find in fiction (in S/Z, Roland Barthes, Blackwell, 2002). He discovered five separate types, which he called ‘codes’. One was presenting information, one was using cultural references, and one was posing questions. This he called the ‘hermeneutic code’. And the purpose of this code was not simply to construct phrases which pose questions to the reader, but to pose questions that can only be answered from within the text. Thus, when we read a sentence like Amy’s, we immediately want to know who the narrator is, who they are speaking about, why they’re begging, and why they beg in such a way. Four questions with one sentence: no wonder I wanted to read on.

The hermeneutic code is absolutely crucial to flash-fiction. When I have tried to define what flash-fiction actually is, I’ve talked about the way it uses language and the way it tells a story by implication and connotation. This can occur because of the use of the hermeneutic code. By writing sentences which pose questions and ask the reader to do some work, often for the entirety of a story (bar the ending, usually, but more on that later) you are asking them to find answers which only exist within the story, but answers which are often not provided, only hinted at, or described by an absence.

This, I believe, is what makes the best flash-fictions work. They hook the reader, they pull them along on a line of questions, and the reader needs to decode the language, the setting, their knowledge of stories, and the few ‘clues’ in the story, in order to discover what has happened and what it all means. And for those reasons, it leads to a very engaging, immersive and memorable type of story.

Of course, in a story like that, the ending is going to be crucial. In many cases, it’s the one place where the questions stop, and some answers are provided. This, I believe, is what has led to the definition of flash-fiction which compares it to a joke: a feed and then a punch-line; and to comments about ‘twists in the tale’.

A good flash is not simply a joke, and a twist in the tale which is nothing more than a random event, a deus ex machina, satisfies no-one. No, the ending of a flash-fiction should be the moment of clarification, the point at which the tangled snarl of questions is pulled taut and the straight line from opening to ending is finally seen.

Now, this is not the only way to write a flash, but some structural analysis of flash-fictions shows that many are written in this way, making good use of the possibilities of the hermeneutic code, then resolving the questions at the end. There is something eminently satisfying about it. It’s not a model for writing flash, but it’s fascinating to see it in action.

Let me finish off by giving you an example from my own work which I like to think works in this way.

The Blackbird
Calum Kerr

Her bag was packed when I arrived home. She was still dressed in her work clothes, her shoes on her feet. The kitchen had been cleaned.
It’s not you, it’s me, I thought. It’s always me. It always was me and it always will be.
But it wasn’t, it was her.
She couldn’t stay, she told me. It wasn’t working, she told me. It had run its natural course, she told me.
Stay, I requested. Please stay, I pleaded. Please, please stay, I begged.
It’s not you it’s me, she said. I’m not the same person I was, she said. I need something more, she said.
Why? I asked. Tell me why, I asked. Please, forget the words you are meant to say at times like this and tell me why; tell me the truth, I asked.
I’ll call you, she said, as she pulled on her coat. Just give it a few days, she said as she picked up her bag. Just ... don’t ring me, she said as she closed the door.
I sat in the clean, empty kitchen, and heard a blackbird outside, singing into the silence, saying all the things that hadn’t been said, couldn’t have been said, have never been said, but in a language I couldn’t understand.

[Originally published in Lost Property.]

Readers you can buy Lost Property here or direct from the publisher CinderHouse. The individual e-pamphlets which make up the book are also available via Dead Ink here

Dromineer Lit Fest Writing Comps - poetry & flash

The Dromineer Literary Festival Writing Competition is open for entries. There are two categories: Poetry and Flash Fiction. The Judges are Jean O'Brien for Poetry and John MacKenna for Flash Fiction.

Entry fee for poems is €5 for the first poem, plus €3 per additional title. Entry fee for flash fiction is €10 for each entry.

Prizes (in each comp.): 1st: €500, 2nd: €350 and 3rd: €150.

Deadline: 30th August 2013.

Further details: Dromineer Literary Festival


I'll be on Arena tonight on RTÉ Radio 1 reviewing Gerard Stembridge's rollicking 1970s novel The Effect of Her. Between 7pm and 8pm.

The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2014

The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2014 is now open for entries. 

The judges are looking for an outstanding English-language story of 6,000 words or under from a fiction author from anywhere in the world who has been published in the UK or Ireland. The winner will receive £30,000, and the five shortlisted writers will each receive £1,000 as well as having their work published online. A longlist will be announced in February.

T&Cs and entry form here.

Screenwriting links: Friday, July 26

My first writing job: ‘Orange Is the New Black’ [Death and Taxes]

Inside Look at How Netflix Launches an Original Series [Techland]

Warner Bros Turns To The Black List To Find Screenwriters In Under-Served Demos [Deadline]

Writers Room' shows TV's creative process []
"Hosted by Jim Rash - the Academy Award-winning cowriter of The Descendants - Sundance Channel's The Writers' Room, which premieres Monday, takes us to the heart of the creative process behind six current shows, including HBO's Game of Thrones, Showtime's Dexter, and FX's American Horror Story."


Namoredeira from Brazil
I am reading tonight with Seamus Scanlon at the Dominican Hall, The Claddagh, Galway as part of the Artistic Atlas celebrations. I don't read often in Galway so that's kind of fun. 6pm, admission free. Please come!
Marisol Morales Ladrón
Belfast was fab, I must say. Again, I took very few pics (too busy walking, eating and enjoying the sights and shops.) I loved Marisol Morales Ladrón's eco-critical look at my novel YOU, at the IASIL Conference at Queen's University. She was spot-on in her assessment of the importance of the river in the book. It is fascinating to hear your work talked about by academics - they go to the heart of it so much more than critics. Gracias, Marisol :)

Queen's Uni, Belfast
This particular conference is like the queen of Irish Studies conferences so there were lots of the lovely people there whom I met in Brazil last August, including Laura Izarra who brought me the namoredeira above, the statue you see in so many windows in the north of Brazil. Sweet :)

In other news my short story collection Mother America is now available as a mobi file at New Island's page on Small Epic for £4.99 (about €5.80) for all you e-reader readers.


Atlas inventor Liam Duffy - pages from the book behind him
Sometimes I get lazy and refuse to carry my proper camera to events. I bring my little camera which is light but fairly mediocre, it has to be said. Anyhoo, I was lazy yesterday so herewith a few mediocre pics from the Artistic Atlas of Galway launch last night in the Dominican Hall in the Claddagh. It was great - Sarah Clancy gave a rousing speech on the importance of the arts to Galway. She reminded me of why I first came to live in in Galway by saying it has always been one of those places where it feels like anything might happen and often does.

The Atlas itself is a thing of beauty - my poem is accompanied by a stunning photo of train tracks from John Lawless. All the writers I spoke to were thrilled with the quality of the production.

There were readings, Mexican food, wine and shots. There were writers and a hall chockful of beautiful art (exhib runs all week). All this week writers featured in the Atlas will read at 6pm. Myself and New York based Irish writer Seamus Scanlon read together on Friday at 6pm. The Atlas is for sale at the hall and also online here.

In the meantime I am off to Belfast to hear a paper on my novel YOU from Spanish academic Marisol Morales Ladrón at an Irish Studies Conference. Accompanying me on my trip will be Gerard Stembridge's new novel, The Effect of Her, which I will review on Arena next Monday. I can't wait to get stuck in.

Helen Freeburn and Mary Mullen at the launch
Artwork on exhib by Sylvia Gryczuk
Jimi McDonnell reading
Sarah Clancy launching the Atlas
Artwork 'The Chase' by Aran Young
BVM candle

26 Minority Screenwriters to Inspire You

In April, Amanda posted 30 Female Screenwriters to inspire you, which included female feature screenplay writers. I wanted to do a similar post, this time focusing on minority screenwriters. This 2013 report from the Writers Guild of America shows that just in TV staffing, the percentages still aren't great for women or people of color. But there are some minority screenwriters who have made a name for themselves both in film and television. This list includes some juggernauts, some up-and-coming writers, and writers who have been in the business for a few decades.

I hope these names can inspire you. As you'll read in her article below, Issa Rae, the writer/star of the Awkward Black Girl webseries, sent a "letter to Love & Basketball director Gina Prince-Bythewood nearly a decade ago. "That movie just changed me," she said. "It was a simple love story. I hadn't seen that. And the fact that it was written, produced and directed by a black woman made me think that I could do it, too."" Gina Prince-Bythewood is on this list and many other lists featuring women and minority screenwriters, and now Issa Rae is making her way on to these lists. You and I can be similarly inspired and one day we'll make it to someone's "list of inspiring writers," not limited by color or gender.

Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal)

Tyler Perry (Tyler Perry's Madea Series)

Mindy Kaling (The Office, The Mindy Project)

Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing)

M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense)

Issa Rae (Awkward Black Girl webseries)

Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)

Yvette Lee Bowser  (A Different World, Living Single)

Shalisha Francis (Castle, S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Aisha Muharrar (Parks and Recreation)

Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Black Nativity [upcoming])

Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees)

Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends, The Game, Being Mary Jane)

Felicia D. Henderson (Moesha, Sister, Sister, Soul Food, Gossip Girl, Fringe)

Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy)

Kriss Turner (Something New)

Dee Rees (Pariah)

Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans) 

Rob Edwards (Treasure Planet, Princess and the Frog) 

Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S., Herbie Fully Loaded)

Sunil Nayar (Oz, CSI Miami, Revenge)

Sherman Alexie (Smoke Signals)

Sebastian Gutierrez (The Eye, Snakes on a Plane, Gothika)

Michael Elliot (Brown Sugar)

Who are your favorite minority screenwriters?


The Artistic Atlas of Galway, the brainchild of Liam Duffy, will be launched tomorrow, Monday the 22nd July at 6pm in the Dominican Hall in the Claddagh. The Atlas features poetry, prose, photography and art from Galway-based and Galway-connected creatives.

It is a gorgeous piece of work and it features, among many others, Mary Mullen, Maureen Gallagher, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Fred Johnston, Sandra Bunting, Pat Jourdan (as writer and artist) and John Lawless.

Launch: 6pm, Monday 22nd, Dominican Hall, The Claddagh

Exhibition: 2pm to 8pm daily, same venue

Readings: 6pm daily until Saturday 27th, same venue. My reading is on Friday the 26th and I am performing with NY-based Irish writer Seamus Scanlon.

Screenwriting links: Friday July 19


Judge Joyce Russell
There are just 12 days to go to the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize deadline on July 31st. The prize is ten years in existence this year and is open to all writers. €15 entry fee.

Judged once more by former winner Joyce Russell, first prize consists of €2000 (approx $2600/£1700) in cash, publication in Southword, a reading spot at the Cork International Short Story Festival in September, with hotel accommodation and meals provided AND a week at Anam Cara writers' retreat.

Entry details here. Read last year's winning story here. There are also prizes and publishing opportunities for second place and four runners-up.


Niamh Boyce
I am delighted today to welcome Irish writer and blogger Niamh Boyce to WWR for a chat about The Herbalist, her début novel. A Hennessy XO New Irish Writer of the Year winner, originally from Athy, Co. Kildare, Niamh now lives in Ballylinan, Co. Laois, where she's writing her next novel.

The Irish Times said recently of the book: 'Boyce’s subject matter may be dark, and she treats it with the seriousness it deserves, but she writes with a lightness of touch not often seen in the genre; this is the most entertaining yet substantial historical novel I’ve read since Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea.'

Hi, Niamh, and welcome to WWR.

Your novel The Herbalist is out now in trade paperback and the cover is really gorgeous. As you are also a visual artist, I imagine the cover looking 100% right is very important to you. Talk to me about the cover and how you felt when you first saw it/feel about it now. And are there different covers planned for the paperback and the UK editions?

Delighted to be here, Nuala! And I’m glad you like the cover. I’ll be honest - I’m delighted with the cover now but I wasn’t too fond of it at first.  I saw it then on a screen, without detail, and the girls dress was black, not red. Because I paint and love art, I had visualised many possible cover images and had certain expectations regarding ‘the look’ of the book. The publishers asked that I bear with them, and explained how it would appear in the final version, which, as you can see, is beautiful with a matt texture, embossed gold lettering and wonderful attention to detail on both the outside and inside covers. I realise now that the image, as well as fitting well with the story, has a much wider appeal than anything I might have chosen. I’m partial to a slightly gothic aesthetic which might have misled readers as to what genre it was! (And it will be the same cover for the paperback and UK editions.)

The Herbalist is set in rural-ish 1930s Ireland. The men in the novel are somewhat shadowy – apart from the herbalist himself, though he is mysterious. Was it important to you to have women as the main agents of this story?

With regard to women being the main agents of this story – no, it wasn’t a conscious decision made from the outset. Actually in the earliest drafts, Dan was a main character. So the men in the novel are secondary characters in the same way that some of the women like Birdie Chase and Mrs B are secondary characters. Voice was important and I followed the voices instinctively and decided who got main parts on the basis of how many words they gave me (I made a graph!) rather than gender. But gender, voice and silence are of course very much linked. So as my pen crossed the page, I felt as if I was scratching away at silence, that the voices I heard were confiding, telling secrets, crossing over. For example, there was a palpable silence around the tiny newspaper article [that inspired the book], a few sentences really, that eventually led me to write the novel. It told me nothing.  And it was a nothing I was ready to dive into. As Rose says in the book – You wouldn't know it but it's my story. You won't find me in the column inches. You won't find me in the newsprint. You'll find me in the gaps, the commas, the full stops - the small dark spaces where one thing led to another. So I was aware, that on the level of voice, I was working against a silence. In reality, the tale of that summer, the summer of The Herbalist, would never have been passed on. So I was conscious of that. And that in turn is connected to shame and to the wider dynamics of power – of class, religion and gender. But for me to consider those issues as I wrote the book, to make a conscious effort to weave them into the narrative would have been death to the fiction, so I didn’t. But it all comes out in the wash as they say…

You write both short and long fiction, as well as poetry. Can we expect a short fiction collection from you anytime soon? A poetry book?

My short story collection is finished. I might play around with the order of the stories but I just need to find the time. I’ve no definite plans for publishing them at the moment. I also have the guts of a poetry collection, but not the whole shebang yet!

How does the long haul of the novel compare to writing short? What are the positive aspects of novel writing for you?

Short fiction is very satisfying to write but with novels, you get to enter a whole world, a world of your own creation and you get to build it at a slower pace, step by step. You get to explore further and in a more winding way. You get to spend ages looking up strange and wonderful things and call it research! You get to change your mind, rewrite, have characters walk in and announce themselves, or walk of in a hissy fit; there’s so much room for the unexpected. It’s exciting.

Oh, I know, I love research.

The voice of Emily sings from the book – she is sassy and funny. How easy does humour come to you as you write?

It comes naturally or not at all, it depends on the character. I’ve never tried to be funny but I think the absolute bald truth of any situation can be hilarious. So if you have an honest character or a young character who speaks as they see, I think that humour is almost unavoidable then. The truth of how we are as people is funny in and of itself.

Who are the women writers who make you think ‘Yes!’ and for what reasons?

As a young woman in the 1990s a trio of poets made me aware that my life, my ordinary, everyday life might be worth writing about, might even be rich with a myth and magic of its own. They were Paula Meehan, Mary Dorcey and Rita Ann Higgins. The title alone of Higgins poetry collection Goddess On The Mervue Bus made me think ‘yes!’ Especially as I rode the Mervue Bus in and out of Galway City with my baby girl on my lap. And she put a community welfare officer in a poem, and she told the truth about power. And Dorcey wrote about mothers and daughters, real women, not some Róisín Dubh or Mother Ireland, or dying swan, or gormless muse. That was new then, or new to me at least!

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber also really spoke to me – it said, ‘never mind all that paring it all back and good clean prose, the short story can be a lush baroque burlesque of prose!’ At the moment I’m enjoying how Tove Jansson writes about women sharing a life and making art. There is something stunning in the calmness of her delivery, the understatement, the lack of ego in her writing.
Writer Sara Crowley tagged a Smash Hits style set of questions to an interview she did with me and I thought it would be a fun way to end with you, Niamh, so here goes:

What’s your favourite biscuit? Toffee Pops rock!

Who is your favourite Sesame Street character? Has to be Oscar- the Heathcliff of Muppets.

Cheese or chocolate? Cheese.

Who is the most famous person you have ever met? I met the song writer Mick Hanly last week in Castlecomer library and he was really lovely. 

Whose poster did you have on your teenaged bedroom wall? Paul Young. So unpunk. Don’t know what I was thinking…

Ha ha, me too. I was going to marry Paul Young!!
Best milkshake flavour? Strawberry.

Niamh, wishing you all the best with The Herbalist. Readers, you can buy it here and visit Niamh’s blog here for the latest on appearances, reviews etc. Signed copies of The Herbalist are available from Stone House Books in Kilkenny.

Thanks for having me over Nuala, and for the questions, they were thought provoking and good fun.


Colum McCann - photo by Nick Bradshaw
I went to hear Colum McCann read at his Galway Arts Festival sell-out event last night, with my friend Órfhlaith Foyle. Colum was - predictably - gracious, interesting, and both a great reader and a great talker.

He read, of course, from his new episodic novel TransAtlantic, which features several different narrative threads over several different time periods which, similar to his last novel, Let the Great World Spin, link and pull together as you read through.

He spoke about the genesis of the novel - it started really with a mild obsession with Frederick Douglass, the social reformer and slave who came to Ireland in 1845, just as the Famine was starting. Colum said that he recognised, in Douglass, a powerful metaphor for Barack Obama.

Colum was, at the time, trying to write a contemporary novel called 13 Ways of Looking, set in New York (where he lives) and centring around surveillance cameras. But he abandoned that in favour of Douglass, because he 'kept coming back' to him. (Anyone who writes fiction knows that feeling). So he tried to write a novel about Douglass but said, 'I constantly failed at it'. How heartening to hear that even Colum McCann doesn't always succeed at his writing projects!

He read several extracts from the novel - some about Frederick Douglass; the passage where Alcock and Brown land in Clifden, after flying the first non-stop transatlantic flight; as well as part of the section on Senator George Mitchell, who brokered the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. In between the readings he spoke to us about writing those parts of the book and what he hoped to achieve. He also told us that the ghosts of Alcock and Brown were in the ballroom of the Meyrick Hotel, where the reading took place, as they came there off the train from Clifden after their flight. A neat coincidence.

Colum talked about that question that writers always get asked, 'What is your book about?' He said that he would like to reply, 'It's about 301 pages.' But, ultimately, he said, 'TransAtlantic is about peace.'

One shouldn't like a novel more after hearing the author talk about it, I feel, but what can you do? Colum McCann talks with such clarity about his work it is hard not to admire TransAtlantic even more after hearing him read from it and discuss it from lots of different angles.

Colum McCann was on a book tour when he heard that Barack Obama had name-checked him, with reference to Frederick Douglass featuring in his novel, at the G8 talks in Northern Ireland recently. He was staying in a hotel and he said, 'I brushed my teeth with Deep Heat that morning.'

Colum McCann reading at The Meyrick Hotel - camera pic, hence wogeous quality...
I have been a McCann fan for years - he writes beautiful sentences and anyone who does that is good with me. I recommend TransAtlantic and I also highly recommend his other books -  his short stories are excellent. If you haven't read him, now's as good a time as any.


In other news, an interview I did with The Short Review (quite some time ago) about Mother America has now been posted. It is here.

And following on from yesterday's post, it did do me good to get away from the desk. I wrote more words today on the novel than I have been managing of late. Not a huge amount, but enough to keep me pleased and moving doggedly on :)


Patchwork by Pippa Quilts
I like this one of Sarah Waters' Ten Rules for Writing Fiction from The Guardian in 2010:

'Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. Saint Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.'

Yes, 'working doggedly on' is the only thing. The novel I am working on (novel #3) has had some hair-raising moments (the writing of it) but I am near the finish line, thank Saint Francis de Sales. Actually, the last sentence is written, but there are some in-between sentences that still need to be done, so I am patchworking at the moment and it is slow, laborious work, much like real patchwork.

Tonight I go to hear Colum McCann read from Transatlantic at Galway Arts Festival with a dear writer friend and I look forward to him, and to her, and to immersing myself in other writers' worlds for a few hours. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Who knows, my patchwork may even be a bit neater by the time I get back to the book on Wednesday :)

Cork Literary Review Poetry Manuscript Competition

The Cork Literary Review is now accepting submissions for the Cork Literary Review Poetry Manuscript Competition 2013. If you have a full collection ready to submit, this may be for you.

The prize includes the publication of a first poetry collection by the winning author and twenty free copies of the book. The overall competition winner and two runners-up will also be featured in the next edition of the Cork Literary Review.

Judge: Joseph Woods.

€20.00 registration fee.

The closing date for sending submissions is 5.30pm on the 21st July 2013.

Poets make an initial submission of 5-10 poems.

In August a long-list of poets will be announced. Long-listed poets will then be contacted by the Competition to submit their full collection. The winner and two runners-up will be announced in late summer/early autumn.

Further details can be found on the Bradshaw Books website. 

Screenwriting links, Saturday, July 13

Tig Notaro Says Being a Woman in Comedy Was Never an Issue [Twirlit]

'On Writing' with 'Weeds' and 'Orange is the New Black' pioneer Jenji Kohan  [Examiner]

6 Most Influential Women Writers You've Never Heard Of [Policymic]

It's Not Personal [Vela Magazine] - "But there seemed–not everywhere we went, but frequently enough for it to be a topic of discussion each night over nerve-calming beers–to be several presumptions at work when women pitched these stories: 1) that women would not write a journalistic story unless it had a personal angle and 2) that the personal should trump the journalistic, because what would sell was not necessarily the strength of the writing or reporting but the familiar formula of the young woman on a journey…the cover with a bright daisy and a cast-off pair of flip-flops on a serene beach."

‘Pacific Rim’ Premiere: Screenwriter Says Godzilla, ‘Jurassic Park’ Inspired Him [Variety]

'The X-Files' Turns 20: 'Breaking Bad' Creator On What He Learned From Mulder And Scully [Huffington Post]

Fruitvale Station: Interview Ryan Coogler [The Script Lab]

Black List to Host Inaugural Screenwriters Lab, Mentors Incude Billy Ray and Kiwi Smith [Indiewire]

When is it time to quit my assistant job?

J writes: When is it time to move on to another position or leave a company? I've been at a small TV production company for about a year. I began as an intern and worked my way up to an executive assistant to the EP one of the highest rated reality shows on the air right now - but I'm over it... I feel as though I given everything I can, I find my daily tasks to be the same thing every day and it's just so boring. I want to write for scripted TV but the company I work for only produces reality television. When is time to move on and find the next job? How do I move on with out my boss hating me?

Good question! I think that when you're A) not learning anything and B) not making contacts, it's time to move on. Reality TV can be an especially tough place to get stuck, because I don't think you're going to be able to move into scripted as a result of this job. I also know people who got stuck in reality TV, got promoted and now feel like they're too comfortable and making too much money to jump over to scripted, where they'd have to start closer to the bottom. 

That being said, I don't think you should quit until you find a new job. Right now you're in a good position, since you're making money and can do your job pretty easily. You also now have that first assistant job under your belt, so lots more employers will consider you. In terms of your boss hating you: unless you agreed to stay for a certain amount of time and you're leaving sooner, your boss shouldn't be mad...I'm sure s/he realizes that you don't want to be an assistant forever. As long as you give notice (two weeks is usually standard) and help your boss find a replacement (it's customary for assistants to collect resumes and screen people - probably including the company's interns - before sending them in to interview with the boss), you're fulfilling what's required of you. Some bosses are whiny and unreasonable, and hate the idea that their life will be disrupted by this change, so you may face that... but you're not doing anything shady by quitting. Some assistants feel that they're not able to be open with their bosses about going out on job interviews; you'll have to decide if you want to come clean about that (other assistants within the company might be able to advise you about what former assistants did). Also, you may get offered a job and be asked to start in sooner than two weeks, and you'll have to figure out how to deal with that... but I generally feel that you need to fight for the job that's best for you. Don't miss out on a great opportunity because your boss will be annoyed. It can be an awkward situation (and you should see if your new employer can wait a bit longer), but someone can cover the desk and life will go on. 

Once you feel like you've made enough industry contacts and need to focus on churning out more scripts (it doesn't sound like you're there yet), you might find that it would actually be better for you to stay in a job that's just a job. [Here's a post with more about that.] In that case, you simply want the highest-paying job you can find that also allows you to write at work OR features short enough hours that you can write a decent amount on the side. You also want a job that won't completely zap your brainpower; the trouble with script coverage is that after a full day of covering scripts, I'm not always mentally able to focus on my own writing. 


North Carolina based Irish writer Rich Rennicks has just reviewed my novel YOU, which came out three years ago (I can hardly believe it's been three years). Rich reviews it on his blog A Trip to Ireland. I love this about the internet - there is no two-week window for your book to get noticed; there is endless time and scope and space.

A small quote from the review: 'YOU is a quiet, surprising novel, that captures a young girl’s growing perception of the world quite beautifully.' Cheers, Rich, much appreciated :)

As an aside, 'quiet' is a word I often hear about my work. It gets me a bit knicker-knotted because I don't quite get what it means, except I feel I am being told that it is not altogether a good thing to be 'quiet'. The feeling I get is that publishers/reviewers/agents really want fiction a bit more shouty than mine and that's what will make a book a big hit, as opposed to the minor hits that I've had. Anyway, I think, as an introvert, quiet is where I'm at and will continue to be at for a long time to come. For what it's worth, Mr Rennicks didn't seem to think 'quiet' was a negative but others have (agents/publishers who have rejected my work in the past). Anyway, with a publisher I like for my last two books and my next (New Island) and a new agent on the foreshore also, this 'quiet' irritation may belong to the past.

What kind of internships do I need?

Ally writes: I’m college senior in New York City with six internships under my belt, three of which are administrative/ communications related, the other three in television and film. One of them was with a well-known film studio, the others two with independent, semi-well connected production companies. Basically, I’m reading a lot of scripts and running errands in the city. Since I want to be a script reader and television writer and I have a year left of school to apply for internships, I’m wondering: where should I go next? Should I continue applying for development internships with production companies, where I do coverage for free all day? Or should I apply to high profile film studios within other departments for the aesthetic sake of my resume? 

Also, I know you’ve addressed this before, but do you think its wise for an aspiring writer like myself to move to LA and apply for agency work? Or should I just take the HR job that pays well, work on my specs and hope I get selected for a writing fellowship/ miraculously find an assistant position posting online?

It sounds like you are doing everything right - and I don't think there's a "right" answer to your question. Six internships is a lot! If you want to be a writer, I do think it could be useful for you to be at an agency or management company, just to see that side of it, but don't think about it as the way to get represented there - it's probably just too soon for that. Really, any internship - development, studio, production company, etc., would be valuable. You just want to be A) learning something and B) meeting people who can help you get a paid job once you graduate. Variety on your resume is good, but since you'll be looking for entry-level jobs when you graduate, it won't matter all that much. Just HAVING internship experience is probably the most important thing, in terms of your resume, if you get job interviews on your own - but making connections with your internship supervisors can be crucial for hearing about jobs (this is how I got my agency job). Don't be afraid to ask your internship supervisors for help with your job search; even if there are no open positions at the company, these people likely hear about openings elsewhere. Read more about internships here, especially this post about evaluating whether an internship is worth it.

Yes, I do think moving to LA is necessary once you graduate, if you want to be a writer. Unless you have really strong connections to industry people in NY, LA will be an easier place for you to find a job. It's just a numbers thing. And when it comes time for getting a job, not internship, try to get one that will get you closest to writers - whether that means agency, development, PA on a show, etc. You can find out more about the job search here.


10 Days in Dublin - an indie culture fest - is now on and I will be reading at it on Friday (the glorious 12th!) at This Never Was My Town, a multi-city event organised by writer/blogger Marcel Krueger. Venue: the Irish Writers' Centre.

From Marcel: "This Never Was My Town is a series of expat-themed, cross-European prose and poetry readings hoping to evaluate the question of how much identity is linked with the place you live in. Is a city adding to your personality, or does location have no influence whatsoever in our globalised and interlinked world any more? A group of expat writers from Dublin and other cities in Europe (patched in via screen) will read from their works and reflect on placelore, identity and if it's really possible to make a place 'yours'." . I am exiled in Galway, hence my participation.

Because Marcel is German (!) there is a schedule :). See here:

Introduction: Marcel Krueger 5 pm
Storymap Dublin Story and Commentary: Tom/Andy 5.10 pm
Edinburgh: Stu Anderson 5.20 pm
Aberdeen: Kit Fryatt 5.30 pm
Dublin: Nuala Ní Chonchúir 5.40 pm
Berlin/Dublin: Marcel Krueger 5.50 pm

Tickets are €5 and €3 and can be bought at this link.


Writer Tom Vowler
I am delighted to welcome back writer and blogger Tom Vowler today, to celebrate the paperback publication of his début novel What Lies Within. Tom has very kindly agreed to give away one copy of the novel to readers of this blog. Just leave a comment to be in the draw.

Tom’s short story collection The Method won the international Scott Prize in 2010 and the Edge Hill Readers’ Award in 2011. Now an associate lecturer at Plymouth University, his first novel What Lies Within is a psychological thriller set on the uplands of Dartmoor. It has already received wide critical acclaim. Tom is Assistant Editor for the literary journal Short FICTION and in 2008 he attained an MA in Creative Writing and is now studying for a PhD, looking at landscape and trauma in contemporary fiction. More at his website here.

Hi Tom and welcome once more to WWR. Always a pleasure.

Thrilled to be back your way, Nuala.

Your début novel What Lies Within is a literary thriller. Can you give readers a flavour of what to expect from it?

The story began in my head with a shocking news event, but it was the contrails of this that fascinated me. I wondered how far someone would go to hide their past, particularly to those they love, but also how things would evolve once that past returned. That’s the thriller bit, if you like. But language, character and setting are more important to me than plot, so it was important to weave the action, the narrative, into a textural milieu I felt comfortable with. I also like to challenge the reader morally, ask them some difficult questions.

The novel’s title is ambiguous and intriguing – did you deliberately reach for a layered title? How important is titling in your process (in stories and novels)?

Good question. I am drawn to abstract, evocative titles (see Peter Hobbs’ and EvieWyld’s latest – great books, great titles), more so than a single summative word, though of course we can name plenty of these that work well. What Lies Within might have been The Kiln at one point, but then the lovely Alex Preston mock-mooted Kiln Me Softly and I couldn’t take the former seriously again. But often these things are governed by factors outside your control. It’s always easier to think of titles that don’t work. Finding the right one is deeply pleasurable.

One reviewer said of the novel’s landscape: ‘The moor is more than just a backdrop to this story. The sense of unease and menace is compounded by the wild and lonely landscape.’ Is Dartmoor a place you know well? Is the setting a crucial part of the novel’s make-up?

I live on its fringes, and although I had a fondness for the place, it wasn’t until I spent a year immersed on its slopes, researching everything from the people who live and work there to its flora, geology and fauna, its pubs, that it got into my marrow. Certainly the moor adorns the book, working as allegory and metaphor for its narrative and characters. But I wanted the place to become a character itself, so the reader invested in its past, present and future as much as they did the people in the novel. To me the two – character and place – are inextricably bound. Landscape in fiction brings characters into relief, reflecting their internal states, often saying what they cannot. A symbiosis must occur between the two, where character and setting lay claim to one another in mutual dependency.

Were there times, during the two years or so it took you to write the novel, when you thought ‘What the hell am I doing?’, or did you have a clear path ahead of you as you wrote?

I like to plan, yes, having a vague sense of structure to fall back on, but it’s important to be flexible, to give your characters enough rein to wander, without being able to flee entirely. I’m not sure the path ahead is ever clear. If it is, you’re probably in trouble.

A lot of writers who write both short stories and novels say they are truly passionate about the short story rather than the novel. Do you have a preference for one over the other?

The two forms come with their own set of challenges, their own particular thrills. As someone who came late to fiction, I worked my way through the novels you’re supposed to read, enjoying many, one or two staying with me, forging an early influence. But I think reading and writing short stories really tightened my craft, awoke part of my aesthetic faculty that lay dormant. The story seemed to take more risks, be conducive to avant-gardism. It won’t be tied down or encumbered by structure, as the novel sometimes is. This said, I’ve read some wonderful novels in the last year, my love affair with them rekindled for now. And it annoys me when people, often writers, say how nothing can be wasted in the short story, that every word must count, as if you can just waffle on inconsequentially for pages at a time in a novel.

You seem to have had a good experience with your agent. Were you a long time looking for representation? Was it a smooth or bumpy ride?

As soon as I wrote something strong enough, I found an agent. There’s no real mystery. Yes, of course they are seeking something with at least a semblance of commercial value, but more than anything an agent wants an original voice. I wrote the obligatory dreadful first novel, submitting it everywhere, confidently waiting for it to be picked up, which of course it wasn’t. I look back, when I can bear to, at that book and for the most part it’s terrible. Most emerging writers send their work in too soon. Let it simmer. Move onto the next one, build up a body of work. But, yes, Charlie Brotherstone (A.M. Heath) deserves special mention for the impact he’s had on What Lies Within as well as my second novel. He’s a good drinking buddy too.

He sounds like the kind of agent most writers dream of having. Well done!

I know you are a big fan of Irish fiction. Who are the UK or international writers who keep you reading into the small hours?

I’ve mentioned two above, rising stars, the kind of writers to cause a small thrill in me when I see they’ve a book imminent. David Vann is one to watch also, Legend of a Suicide is a wonderfully brave and modern novel. And I’ll always come back to Banville, like a wavering addict needing a hit. Who else can write like that?

You play cricket. Can we expect a cricket novel – maybe the next Netherland – any time soon from Tom Vowler?

Not sure my agent or editor would be thrilled with that idea. Or at the Dartmoor pub-themed memoir lurking at the back of my mind, We Need To Walk About Devon.

Ha ha, love it.
What is next on the agenda for you, and/or what are you working on now?

The final edits for my second novel, due out next spring, plus the PhD are keeping me busy. Reading and editing stories for Short Fiction too. Like a stalker or sleuth, the third novel is loitering in the shadows, about to announce itself to me just as I plan a holiday.

Thanks for dropping by, Tom. Wishing you lots of luck with the book. Readers can buy What Lies Within here.