The Manuscript is Finished.

Scenes from a Homecoming is finally finished, now I have the equally difficult task of summing it up in 500 words or fewer before sending it out. It would be funny to me if the book is accepted by the same publisher who turned down my other work. It might put them in the position of publishing three books instead of one.

whatever happens, I’m looking forward to finishing the 500 words so I can get on with the stage play I started.

And poetry, of course. I read some of the work that’s been sitting on the computer for ages. I think it’s good but I don’t know.

Opening Paragraph

Here’s the opening paragraph from Scenes from a Homecoming, the book I can’t decide whether to self publish or submit to a traditional publisher. It feels ready to be cast out into the world, but it’s less than 57,000 words, and I’m having great trouble reducing it down to the dribble agents seem to want these days. Anyway, enjoy and please share.

Frank Moran entered his childhood bedroom for the first time in over twenty years. He flicked the light switch; a forty-watt bulb in its dusty shade gave the room a derelict patina. He went to the window to draw back the curtains and see the room in natural light. His head pulled away as the opening curtain revealed a new darkness. A beat or two before Frank realized tinfoil covered the glass. He stepped away and looked about the room, as if the explanation were somewhere in the shadows.

Never Mind the Drafts!

I made a useful discovery last week, useful to me, maybe to others. I had just finished draft 16 of my WIP and loaded chapter one to start draft 17. I couldn’t face it. I kept asking myself how many more of these things will it take? Jeffery Archer does 18 handwritten drafts of each book. Ten drafts ago I had been thinking along similar lines, although I’m working on a laptop. I left it for the night and the following day reduced the workload to a paragraph. It’s so much better, the writing has become more fluid and I’m finding questions that need to be answered. The thing is, that’s how I used to write before I decided to be a writer. I’m still working on that first chapter, and still doubtful that the book will sell, but my characters are speaking to me again, so who knows, maybe in six months I’ll be able to volunteer at my job and write full time.

Shakespeare & Co.

I’m about halfway through writing a full length play. Unfortunately it’s not my own. Although I’ve had three plays produced, they were one acts, and I’m far from confident about my ability to write something longer.

I remember, years ago, reading that Sean O’Casey learned to write plays by transcribing Shakespeare. I don’t know if he copied all the plays, but I figured if it was good enough for O’Casey, it’s good enough for me.

I take a scene a day, two if they’re very short, and I find myself thinking about the characters differently than when I simply read the plays. More than that, I’m thinking differently about a play I’ve been trying to write for ages. In fact I’ve abandoned three plays because I couldn’t see how to make them longer than 30 to 40 minutes, even thought I know the subject matter can handle three or four times that length.

I’m on The Merchant of Venice now; I’ll do two more after that, and then give my own work another go.

The Aftermath

This is the first draft of something I wrote a few years ago. There is no second draft.

The curious thing about a car crash is that no one ever sees one happen. What you see is the aftermath; the suddenly crashed car with dazed or dead occupants; the lamppost or street sign suddenly bowed. You experience time-displacement while your brain tries to understand why the world has just side-stepped reality. Some people recover more quickly than others, and try to help. Some people walk on, because despite the evidence, they haven’t quite realised what’s happened.

* * *

As David Muir walked past the entrance to the shopping centre car park, Karen Golden slammed on her breaks, screeching to a halt with a few feet to spare. She had the lights, he shouldn’t have been crossing, but when she looked up and saw how old he was, she let it go. She was a basically nice person and hoped that when she got to his age people would show her kindness when necessary.

On hearing the screech of tyres, David turned and suddenly found himself high-stepping it away from the car. Just as he registered what had happened, he was hit by another car coming up behind. That car was being driven by a life insurance salesman on the phone to a prospective client. He dropped the phone, started swearing at the old man, and trying to regain control of his car, crashed into a party of children in Dublin on a school tour. There they were: five school children, one pregnant teacher and one old man dead in the street. Ten others had superficial injuries.

The life insurance salesman was taken into custody because he had been talking on a mobile phone while driving a car, but nobody was really sure who to blame, although they all agreed that the old man and the dead children were entirely innocent, and some claimed that if the teacher who died had been more vigilant, then the children might all have survived. And if the woman had not been driving so fast, (although she wasn’t), that harmless old man would still be alive.

Then there’s the other aftermath.

David Muir left no family and so the state claimed all of his worldly possessions. This amounted to a bungalow with a small garden, given over to vegetables which he shared with his neighbours. One hundred and fifty thousand pounds stored in several biscuit tins. Seventy-five thousand Euros in a collection of shoe boxes on top of the wardrobe in his bedroom, and the remains of twenty-five people, ranging in age from seven to fourteen, who had disappeared from various parts of the country during the years when David worked as a rep for a major brewery.

The remains had been discovered in the vegetable patch. The neighbours with whom David had shared his crop, and there were many, tasted again the tomatoes, the carrots, the peas, all the salads and sandwiches they’d made for themselves and their children.

Marks on the bone of some of the victims suggested a carving knife, and although this did not automatically indicate cannibalism, those neighbours whom David had invited to dinner, and there were many, tasted again the succulent roast and wondered. Only the local butcher felt any kind of relief, for he now knew why David had been such an infrequent customer.

Reporters came, talked to the neighbours and filmed their stories. One reporter even won an award, partly for the story, but mainly for lowering his voice to the appropriate key.

Soon after that, tourists began to arrive to take pictures of themselves outside the murder house, and to question to any of the neighbours who would talk to them. Soon the neighbours discovered that they felt sorry for David. Whatever madness had led him to murder must have been murder to live with. It must have been something that happened in his childhood. It wasn’t his fault. The real criminals had been whoever did that to him, whatever that was.

After people lost interest in the story, the local council proposed selling the house and using the money to pay for various civic projects that had been held up. The house of death should fetch a good price. This revived interest in the story and the reporters returned with cameras and appropriate voices. But now they were there to condemn the Council for exploiting a tragedy.  One reporter even won an award, partly for the story, but mainly for raising his voice to the appropriate key.

After people lost interest in the story, the local council proposed selling the house and using the money to pay for various civic projects that had been held up. The house of death should fetch a good price. This revived interest in the story and the reporters returned with cameras and appropriate voices. But now they were there to condemn the Council for exploiting a tragedy.  One reporter even won an award, partly for the story, but mainly for raising his voice to the appropriate key.

The public outcry was such that the plans were scrapped and the house torn down. Some of the local businesses announced that if the Council donated the land, they would pay for the monument. The deal was agreed and the job put out to tender. Several designs were submitted and all were turned down. The business people wanted something appropriate, something that would memorialize the victims without actually referring to them, because whatever was erected would be there long after everyone had forgotten about David Weir and his victims. In fact, the only thing they agreed on was the plaque listing the names of those who had sponsored the memorial.

Eventually, they decided to shelve their plans for a year so they could travel to various countries and study other memorials. They went to New York where the saw Starlight Express on Broadway. They went to China where one of them fell asleep and began to snore during a Kabuki play. They went to Egypt where one of them fell off a camel and broke his back. The others were to Brazil where one of them fell from Jesus’ head and cracked open his own. They went to the South Pole because they were in that general area and they had the money, so why not? They went to Paris where one of them realised that what Ireland really needs is a building like the Pompidou Centre, not necessarily for artsy-fartsy stuff, but because it could bring in lots of business that would otherwise go elsewhere. Finally, they took the Blue Train to the south because there was a documentary about the murders playing at the Cannes Film Festival. The director was a friend of a friend of one of the businessmen and they were able to get tickets. After the premier, one of the business people found himself having martini’s with an actor who hoped to be the next James Bond. He had introduced the documentary and after empathising with the families of the victims, he praised the heroic efforts of the local business community to find an appropriate memorial.

Six months later the movie star was invited to unveil the monument, a pillar of glass, representing the life-force of the murder victims, rose from a conical base, representing the collective energy of the murder victims brought to a point of intensity, to support a glass platform, representing the elevated spirit of the community brought together by the tragedy. And the people who claimed it looked like an upside-down Martini glass simply didn’t understand art.

* * *

What of the families of the children killed in the car crash? Well, that happened somewhere else. That was someone else’s problem.

Writing Advice

I’m calling this post Writing Advice because I said on the About page that there would be no writing advice.

Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever had came in a rejection slip. I don’t know if it was intended as advice, but it worked. The Editor said she could see how much work and creativity had gone into the book. After I got over my initial disappointment, which included a lot of ‘What the hell does that mean?’ moments, I had another look at the manuscript and discovered it was so overwritten it could be fairly described as the work of someone desperate to prove they could write.

As I write this there’s one thing that comes back to me. The protagonist, Jack Higgins, is a burglar, and in one sentence I had written ‘To Jack, burglary was an art form, and those on whom he practiced his art…’ It goes on. When I read it out loud I couldn’t believe how bad it was. The idea was fine, the expression was terrible. It took a few rewrites before I arrived at ‘the victims of his art’, much better.

I went through the entire book like that, making the language as straightforward as possible without compromising the story. In some parts I cut whole sections. When I finished I had cut about twelve thousand words. I had also turned what was a run-of-the-mill thriller into what I’m told is a literary thriller, a term I’d never heard.

Unfortunately the finished book was too short for publishers. I didn’t mind that because indie publishing was by then a serious option, so I went that way. Now if I could just figure out how to market a book that’s written for the characters instead of the reader, I might actually sell a few copies!

That book is The Company of Thieves


Once again,

Day breaks in upon her
Like a thief,
Like a tender, nervous lover;

Sets a shadow

Like a veil


Her eyes --

Her perfect body turning--
Her fragrance fills the sky--
Her lips smiling warmer than the sun

Light on her skin. The needle shadow
Marks her
Passing through the day.


I joined Librarything, they give you the option of describing your book with a haiku. Here’s what I wrote for Online Cupid:

She is the woman 
Of his dreams. He is the man  
Of her worst nightmares. 

Granted, it’s not a real haiku, but it does, somewhat, sum up their relationship.

You can find it here.