21 Aug 2014

Taking a Break / Best Writing Tips Ever

As I don't post here that often, it seems a bit daft to be 'announcing' I'm taking a break from 'blogging' after being on vacation these past months. 

But I am. To write a book. How unusual is that, hey? It seems like everyone is writing a book these days.  However, as I've quit the day job, put the Diva Daughter into care, and the Lover on ice, I'd better deliver. So it's fingers out, heads down, and go-fast typing until Christmas , which is when the Prodigal Son returns from Oz and I'm back to sweating over a hot stove cooking fatted coddles wearing a nose-clip. 

Naturally, I've been doing a lot of research by way of preparation for the steep curve. On the way I found these 10 writing tips listed below from crime author PD James. They are, by the far, the most sensible tips I've ever read.  Or, as my favourite short story writer of the day, Nuala Ní Chonchúirdescribed them: "Unpretentious and straight forward".  

And before you ask, no, I'm afraid I'm not going to talk about the opus-in-progress as per PD James tip number nine.  Suffice to say it's a chaotic comedy of coincidence set in Dublin of the early 1980s. 

As the Diva Daughter would say ... Toodles!

PD James's Ten Tips for Writers

1. You must be born to write
You can't teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don't think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.

Nobody could make me into a musician. Somebody might be able to teach me how to play the piano reasonably well after a lot of effort, but they can't make a musician out of me and you cannot make a writer, I do feel that very profoundly.

2. Write about what you know
You absolutely should write about what you know. There are all sorts of small things that you should store up and use, nothing is lost to a writer. You have to learn to stand outside of yourself. All experience, whether it is painful or whether it is happy is somehow stored up and sooner or later it's used.

I love situations where people are thrown together in unwelcome proximity. where all kinds of reprehensible emotions can bubble up. I think you must write what you feel you want to write because then the book is genuine and that comes through.

I believe that someone who can write, who has a feeling for words and knows how to use them will find a publisher. Because after all, publishers do still need to find new writers. We all get old and we die and that's that and there have to be successors.

3. Find your own routine
I think all we writers are different. It's interesting, isn't it, how different we are?

Some people have to have the room, the pen and others do everything on a computer. I write by hand and I can write more or less anywhere as long as I've got a comfortable chair, a table, an unlimited amount of biros to write with and lined paper to write on. And then the next day when my PA comes, which she does at 10 o'clock, then I've got quite a lot to dictate to her and she puts it on to the computer, prints it out and I do the first revision.

In a sense, therefore, I revise as I go. It's important to get up early - before London really wakes and the telephone calls begin and the emails pile up. This is the best time for me, the time of quiet in the morning,

4. Be aware that the business is changing
Goodness gracious, how the world of publishing has changed! It is much easier now to produce a manuscript with all the modern technology. It is probably a greater advantage now, more than ever before, to have an agent between you and the publisher.

Everything has changed and it's really quite astonishing, because people can self-publish now. I would once have thought that that was rather a self-defeating way of doing it but actually publishers do look at what is self-published and there are examples of people picking up very lucrative deals.

5. Read, write and don’t daydream!
To write well, I advise people to read widely. See how people who are successful and good get their results, but don't copy them. And then you've got to write! We learn to write by writing, not by just facing an empty page and dreaming of the wonderful success we are going to have. I don't think it matters much what you use as practice, it might be a short story, it might be the beginning of a novel, or it might just be something for the local magazine, but you must write and try and improve your writing all the time. Don't think about it or talk about it, get the words down.

6. Enjoy your own company
It is undoubtedly a lonely career, but I suspect that people who find it terribly lonely are not writers. I think if you are a writer you realise how valuable the time is when you are absolutely alone with your characters in complete peace. I think it is a necessary loneliness for most writers - they wouldn't want to be always in the middle of everything having a wonderful life. I've never felt lonely as a writer, not really, but I know people do.

7. Choose a good setting
Something always sparks off a novel, of course. With me, it's always the setting. I think I have a strong response to what I think of as the 'spirit of a place'. I remember I was looking for an idea in East Anglia and standing on a very lonely stretch of beach. I shut my eyes and listened to the sound of the waves breaking over the pebble shore. Then I opened them and turned from looking at the dangerous and cold North Sea to look up and there, overshadowing this lonely stretch of beach was the great, empty, huge white outline of Sizewell nuclear power station. In that moment I knew I had a novel. It was called Devices and Desires.

8. Never go anywhere without a notebook 
Never go anywhere without a notebook because you can see a face that will be exactly the right face for one of your characters, you can see place and think of the perfect words to describe it. I do that when I'm writing, I think it's a sensible thing for writers to do.

I've written little bits of my next novel, things that have occurred to me. I've got the setting already. I've got the title, I've got most of the plot and I shall start some serious writing of it next month, I think.

9. Never talk about a book before it is finished
I never talk about a book before it is finished and I never show it to anybody until it is finished and I don't show it to anybody even then, except for my publisher and my agent. Then there is this awful time until they phone.

I'm usually pretty confident by the time I've sent it in but I have those moments when I think, 'well I sent it to them on Friday, by Saturday night they should be ringing up to say how wonderful it is!'

I'm always aware that people might have preferences and think that one book is better than another.

10. Know when to stop
I am lucky to have written as many books as I have, really, and it has been a joy. With old age, it becomes very difficult. It takes longer for the inspiration to come, but the thing about being a writer is that you need to write.

What I am working on now will be another detective story, it does seem important to write one more. I think it is very important to know when to stop.

Some writers, particularly of detective fiction, have published books that they should not have published. I don't think my publisher would let me do that and I don't think my children would like me to. I hope I would know myself whether a book was worth publishing. I think while I am alive, I shall write. There will be a time to stop writing but that will probably be when I come to a stop, too.

PS.  Aren't these wonderful?

30 Jul 2014

Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award

Write short stories? Have a publication track record in creative writing?  Excellent.  Read on so.

The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award is now open for entries.  Not only is this the world's richest competition for a single short story, it's also one of the most prestigious.  Get this … one lucky winner receives a whopping £30,000 and five shortlisted writers each receive £1,000.

But here’s the rub. This competition is for original, unpublished stories up to 6,000 words.  While it's open to writers of any nationality, entrants must have a previous record of publication in creative writing in the UK and Ireland.  The closing date is Friday 26 September 2014.

For more information hop over to The Sunday Times website by clicking here.

Best of luck!

18 Jun 2014

Ghost Wanted

Is this the best job advertisement ever or what? Or maybe it’s not just a job. Maybe it’s the kick-start of a fabulous next book for the talented Katy O’Dowd (www.katyodowd.com) who drew my attention to it earlier on Facebook.


Someone to play the part of ghost - or spirit or apparition - soul or personality of a person who has died and has somehow gotten stuck between this plane of existence and the next.

Most researchers believe that these spirits do not know they are dead. Very often they have died under traumatic, unusual or highly emotional circumstances. 

Ghosts can be perceived by the living in a number of ways: through sight (apparitions), sound (voices), smell (fragrances and odours), touch - and sometimes they can just be sensed.


Applicant must not be of a nervous disposition or be afraid of the dark or of the paranormal.

For more information click HERE. 

16 Jun 2014

The Road to Hell

There’s a behavioural trait many writers share. Some refer to it as displacement activity; others avoidance. Either way, it amounts to the same thing. Writers will do anything and everything to put off the actual moment of writing – plump cushions, deadhead ivy plants, clean the fish tank, pluck eyebrows to arched follicle twin perfections, swig gin, etc.

I’m prone to this myself. It’s been so long since I last updated this blog, I’d almost forgotten I had one. However, I do remember deciding on a few rules when I first started though, chief among them being to post little and often.

Without fail, I’d plonk my bottom down at least twice a week, pull over the keyboard and flex the ten digits into a starting position. I’d allow myself to spend a moment mentally sifting through the grey matter before selecting a suitable topic. I’d then type circa five hundred words give or take. No exceptions.

Following some light editing, I’d click publish and ooh-la-la-voilà – one scintillating blog post would shoot off into the void delivering regular insights into the teeming mind of Caren Kennedy.

Quite. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Which reminds me. The second rule was to dodge clichés like, well, umm, the plague. But feck it. Needs must. If I break off now and start cruising the information superhighway or ferretting in dictionaries in pursuit of an alternative, it could be months before I come back again. Years even. Just think what a loss to the world of English literature that would be.

There. I've clocked up 264 – no – 266 words and am tempted to stop. But I won’t. I can’t. Because if I do stop I’ll have to face the fact that I’m indulging in displacement activity right now by writing this. Today is D-day for starting my new novel, Tough Love.

The door to my office is locked. The windows are shut. The plotline is pinned down. I’m a veritable Reeling in the Years expert on 1980s Ireland. I've given myself a stiff talking to and my home is as clean as it’s ever going to be. There are simply no more excuses I can use to avoid knuckling down and getting stuck in.

On the other hand, woman cannot live on words alone, and although I might be prepared to starve for my art, my ten-year-old daughter isn't. I've just remembered there’s an Arts Council grant application form on my desk that needs filling in and submitting by mid-July. Without the grant, I can’t devote myself exclusively to writing the book, and four weeks hard sweaty labour isn't nearly enough time to do the form justice I reckon.

So, upon mature reflection, I think I’ll get cracking on doing that instead of this and resist doing anything else until I reach the end. Now that would be novel. Goodbye.