24 Feb 2015

2015 Oscar-Nominated Screenplays

So you want to write a screenplay, huh?  And sure why wouldn't you?  But where to start?  Read them. Read as many as you can get your mitts on.  Or at least that's the theory I'm currently road-testing without spending a bean given so many are freely available online.

Only this week, studios made available some of the 2015 Oscar-nominated screenplays, some of which are listed below if you want to clickety-click and get stuck in.

Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees  

Best Original Screenplay Nominees

23 Jan 2015

Linen Press Competition - Runner Up

Phew! A load has been lifted. The opening chapter of my novel Tough Love snagged joint runner-up position in the recent Linen Press Beginnings Competition for its ‘multiple layers, depth, political backdrop, and vibrant, rich Irish dialogue’. Hearty congratulations are due to Kate Farrell for her wonderful winning entry Or The Cat Gets It and fellow runner-up Jay Merrill for Reality Show.

And the prize? A pep-in-my-step Linen Press critique by Judge Rebecca Brown. Here it is below if you’re interested. Otherwise, it's back to work for me and I'll see you on the other side.

* * *
I love the opening in which a mum, with her child in a buggy, sets off at a run down a hill, pretending to be a pilot while above them a plane comes out of the sky preparing to land at Dublin airport.

‘Brace for impact!’ I order, heaving the buggy forwards in to a running trot.

‘Faster mammy!’ Sarah’s brown eyes laugh back at me. ‘Faster!’

Barrelling down the hill, Sarah’s squeals get louder and louder, the wind catching the hood of her purple anorak, releasing a mop of curly hair darker than her eyes and so different from my own.

There’s so much here - the setting of Dublin, the nice parallel between the real plane and the push chair plane, and the hint of concern about a child who does not look like her mother - a theme that is developed in the next paragraphs when they almost collide with a woman who says:

‘She’s not yours, is she?’

And the response:

‘She’s mine,’ I toss back. ‘All mine. Not that it’s any of your beeswax.’

And so the stage is set and we wonder. Ciara delivers Sarah to her parents while she goes to work. Dialogue drives this narrative, and it’s brash and energetic and real, the Irish brogue adding warmth and colour:

Throwing open the door, Dad reaches down and swings her into his arms. ‘Sarah Moloney is it yourself?’ He kisses first one flushed cheek, then the other. ‘Jayney mackers you’re freezing.’

The domestic narrative is layered against a strong political backdrop, giving it depth and context. Ciara’s father is reading about the Sands hunger strike while Ciara’s mother’s heart strings are tugged by photos of tragic starving children in faraway continents, seeing starving brown-eyed-brown-skinned Sarah’s everywhere. And there’s more politics with Ciara’s volatile, troubled son, Finn, who is off to protest yet again:

I pick up the megaphone and place it on the table. ‘What is it this week? Liberate Palestine? Ban the bomb? Free Nelson Mandela? Animal and vegetable rights?’

Dominant in this first chapter is the theme of maternal anxiety. We’re left with Ciara’s recounting of her interview about Finn with the psychiatrist, her maternal angst and guilt, and her absent partner’s heaping the blame on to her:

‘You’re far too soft on him Ciara. What Finn needs is a kick up the arse out onto a football pitch five times a week.’ Tilting his head back, Gerry exhaled a steady stream of white smoke into the damp air. 'This is all your fault anyway. None of this would be happening if it weren’t for you. None of it. Next time Finn’s in trouble, I’m coming down on him like a tonne of bricks. No more discussion and no more pompous gobshite quacks costing an arm and a leg.’

What will Finn do next and how will Ciara cope?

Indeed. Of greater concern is how Caren's going to cope. I’ve still got another 50K or so words to cobble together before Tough Love can start doing the rejection rounds of the publishing houses and it’s slow going I can tell you. Still, there’s nothing like a bit of praise for ramping up the typing speeds.

Cheers Linen Press!

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!