I’ve been writing since my childhood, almost as long as I’ve been reading, and I’ve had nearly fifty short stories published, some light, some more serious. One of the more serious ones, Primroses, won a prestigious award, the Cuirt Award for New International Writing organized as part of Galway Arts Festival in 2005, and this was a great encouragement to me. It’s been marvellous to see my short stories becoming successful, after many years of failing to get anything published, but recently things have been even better for I achieved a lifetime’s ambition when my full-length novel, Belfast Girls, was accepted for publication by Night Publishing. It’s now out on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, both as paperback and Kindle.
I’ve always loved reading – I come from a family of readers, so it was the most natural thing in the world to me. Every fortnight I trotted off to the nearest Public Library, the Children’s Section at first, and came home with a careful selection of books by my favourite writers which kept me happy for the next two weeks. If I ran out of library books, there were always plenty of other books in my house, many of them too old for me but that didn’t matter. And the more I read, the more I wanted to write similar books myself.
The same is true of characters. Unless you draw inspiration for your characters from aliens in outer space, they are bound to be drawn from books or from real people. But there’s no need, again, for direct copying. My own characters all have a great deal of me in them. In Belfast Girls Sheila, the ugly duckling who grows up to be a supermodel, has a lot of the shyness and lack of confidence which I experienced in my early teens; Phil, her closest friend, is a much more confident and bouncy person than I ever was, but her reluctance to be involved in her boyfriend Davy’s drug dealing and the moral conflict she goes through are feelings I can easily relate to; while Mary’s spiritual experiences mirror my own quite closely. But none of these three girls are particularly like me, generally speaking. Certainly I’m not tall and red-haired, like the beautiful Sheila.
When I began writing, I wrote in the first person. Looking back, I can see that this was because I was mainly still writing about myself, and from my own point of view. Gradually I learnt to be more distanced from my characters, and often used the third person. First person has a lot of problems as far as the plot is concerned. It’s only possible to see the action from one person’s point of view, and this can create huge difficulties. You can find yourself forced to make one of the characters report on the action in a very boring, unsuccessful way whereas with a third person story you can change the point of view when it becomes necessary; and show the action directly instead of telling about it. I use both styles in short stories, but for a longer work I think third person works better. The only other person possible would be second person, and I suppose I’ve used this in a few short stories, addressing the reader as if the first person narrator is speaking directly to them, and making them an actual character, part of the action.
I’ve developed a habit of writing about a thousand words a day – or at least that’s the plan. Now that the children have left home I have the use of one of our former bedrooms which has been converted to an office for me, and I like to go there reasonably early in the day and work. My system is to reread the bit I wrote on the previous day, edit it as I read, and then move on. This works for me, and overcomes my normal writer’s reluctance to start, because I’m not starting straight in to write. Reading is easy, and editing follows quite naturally, and by then my creativity has begun to flow, and I’m keen to move on with the next part – which usually I’ve been thinking about at intervals overnight.
Seeing Belfast Girls published has been wonderful. With the emergence of eBooks, I’m finding that although people certainly buy the paperback, the vast majority of my sales have been on Kindle. It’s been amazing to watch the book make its way up the bestseller lists, reaching No 8 in Women’s Literary Fiction on UK Kindle recently, and being ranked at No 26 in Contemporary Romance on Amazon.com. But at the end of April, I was especially thrilled when the results of the vote for the Night Publishing Book of the Year were announced, and I found that Belfast Girls was the winner of this exciting new award. Unbelievable!
Next stop No.1 on the all-genres bestsellers list, and the Booker prize! Okay, not seriously. But I am hoping to keep on moving up, a bit more at least. And well, there’s no harm in dreaming – I’ve seen so many of my childhood dreams come true already!