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Getting Noticed

Here‘s a brilliant idea for anyone who wants to get more eyes on their blog. Comes with a health warning, though, only works if your blog is interesting.


A Date With. . . Max Power

My ‘date’ this time is Dublin born author Max Power. In his response to my first question he agrees that his Dublin childhood is an important influence, but goes on to say that it is only part of the story.

“The Jesuit maxim of ‘give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’ is not something I buy into. It’s never too late to change direction. Perhaps the greatest influence in my writing has been the deaths of my mother, my father and my elder brother who died all too young aged 53. I struggled with grief when my mother passed in particular and I know in hindsight that I was damaged by not dealing fully with the loss at the time.

Love, loss and death are central themes in all of my books, I suspect largely because of how my life has developed. I have been asked for example, why I write across genre. For me there is no line that divides the twisting paranormal tale of Darkly Wood from the book I wrote about a little boy whose name I never reveal. Both are written in my voice and it is a voice that comes directly from my head to tell the reader a story.

I am a simple story teller, no more, no less.

Other writers will understand the huge effort that goes into writing a book, but I like to think that whoever reads my stories is sitting comfortably and hearing the lilt of my voice with each written word. It is certainly what I like to feel when I read a book and I spend a lot of time when editing, focusing on words that hopefully achieve this. I guess therein lies the craft.”

81nobyqnfnl-_sy300_Like so many indie authors, Max’s writing journey began quite late in life although he had always had stories in his head waiting to be unleashed.

“I have always been a writer I guess and I devoured books as a reader for as long as I can remember. I have a vivid recollection of being beaten by a De La Salle Brother for writing the title of my essay at the top of every page, just like I had seen in books. He ignored the fact that while every other boy in the class barely managed to fill one page for their essay, mine was 12 pages long. The shock of being punished for working so hard was unbearable at the time.

I have worked hard all through my life and part of that involved extensive travel, including a full year living and working in Australia. Along the way my children had to be reared and as you say, life gets in the way. I tend to work on multiple projects at once and one such current rewrite dates back to a book I first wrote in 1990. In short I have always tipped away, but I have finally reached a place in life where I have a little more time to dedicate to my writing and therein lies the answer.”

His first three novels were published in 2014. Subsequent books have appeared at longer intervals in what turns out to have been a deliberate marketing strategy.

“One of my primary degrees is in marketing, so I knew I had to get a batch of books to market to have any chance of developing a profile as a writer.

The first book I published was Darkly Wood, a true labour of love for me. I had already written first drafts of the next two books so in the first year I was working to a very specific plan – 3 books. I always work on multiple projects. Right now for example I am finishing Darkly Wood III, rewriting a book I mentioned earlier, a thriller called Apollo Bay set in Australia, there is a story set during the Irish Famine, and one that has a loose connection to Little Big Boy as well as a couple of other projects in development. I like to move from project to project at different stages as I feel it keeps me interested. I never have writers block and I think my methodology has a lot to do with this.”

81wqpmhuxil-_sy300_A recent reduction in published output is undoubtedly the result of what I chose to refer to as “a brush with ill health”. Turns out that was something of an understatement.

“My ‘brush with ill health’ saw me go to hospital for a relatively routine procedure. Unfortunately on the table things went wrong and to put it simply, my heart stopped and I had to be revived.

I had suffered a heart attack and ended up in a critical care unit for two weeks. It was a wrecking ball through my life. I am still relatively young and I went from being a healthy, fit man, to someone who couldn’t walk up the stairs without stopping for a break.

People asked me what was it like and I do have decent recall of what happened, though not a full memory of course. I was conscious up to the point a nurse climbed onto the table and started to squeeze a bag of fluids to which I was attached. I distinctly remember that the mood in the room changed and another nurse took my hand. She calmly told me that everything would be fine – that I would be fine.

I understood in that moment, I’m not sure why, that I was dying.

My life didn’t flash before my eyes but I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. I’m melancholic by nature although I cover it up for the greater world. I suspect in those moments, as I briefly crossed over, my natural self took over. I just felt sad for those I was leaving behind, my darling Joanna and my wonderful children. When I came around I was changed.

Bizarrely for a man who is a total sceptic and has no time for ghosts, spirits etc, I discovered that I now have a new dark companion who I have blogged about so I won’t go into detail here. I strongly suspect it is a delusional apparition, but there is a very dark and frightening, portentous element to his visits that make me uncomfortable.

In the last year I have had a run of bad luck health wise, mostly relatively minor things, but they have hugely impacted my writing time. As I type, I am struggling with a shoulder injury and to be honest, I have a serious pain in my backside with the recent list of creaky, old man ailments that have hunted me down one after the other. But on the bright side, my trips through the world of medicine are always good food for my blog.”

8197jivbbal-_sy300_Max’s often satirical, and always very funny, blog has a large following. He offers this advice to bloggers wishing to emulate his success:

“I approach my blog very differently than most bloggers – or at least I think I do. It is not a commercial enterprise, nor an exercise in narcissism. I love telling stories. Even in the flesh I never shut up. My blog is an extension of that side of me. I sit at my laptop and have a little wander through my thought process. I will tell a story, usually multi-compartmented, and my goal is either to bring a smile or just to share some often very honest truths about myself.

It’s not a confessional but I know from interactions with readers of my blog, that I often connect with others going through similar experiences. It is a sampler if you will, of my writing. It is my penny dreadful in a way, a teaser of me and a good place to practice being concise, which is important for me as a writer.

The advice I would give for whatever value that might be, is to know what you want to write about.

If you have to struggle each time you sit down to write a blog, then you haven’t discovered what it is you are trying to achieve.

My blog is what it is, it does exactly what it says on the tin. I do use imagery and spend more time choosing my images than I do actually writing the blogs as I understand the importance of the visual impact – again my history in the world of marketing coming out.

Like all my writing advice, I go back to the heart of what writing should be.

Be interesting, be relevant and always think of your audience first.

Some writers think too much of themselves and forget that ultimately they need to engage and entertain their readers.”

He does not (yet) have a special place for his writing:

“I write anywhere. Kitchen table, sofa, office at lunch break, hotel rooms when I travel, there is no special place. We moved to our current house three years ago and there is a space I’ve got my eye on, but with one grown lad, Joanna’s 93year old mother and three dogs, I have yet to find the time to confiscate and decorate. I write every day, if only a small amount it doesn’t matter. I alternate from a first draft, to editing different drafts or rewrites, and it is a slow process but I keep at it.”

81rjxrvczjl-_sy300_Although his books are strongly character driven they are mostly worked out in his head before he begins committing them to paper.

“I write every book in my head, start to finish. It can take months for me to develop a story, my mind is a whirlwind of noise, it never stops and that can be a bad thing. But among the clutter there is always my latest planned project. When I am happy with it, I sit down and write it through start to finish without any edits until I get the story down. My books are entirely character driven and perhaps the best example of this is Wormhold in Darkly Wood II. He changed how the book developed and was entirely responsible for me writing book III.

Originally he was supposed to have a far smaller part in the book, but as I inked him to life, I fell madly in love with his twisted horror and I couldn’t help myself and he became central to the story. I couldn’t end the book without curtailing his wild twisted beauty, so I replotted and realized I would need a huge book to get to where I wanted to go. The upshot is a third book in the series that wasn’t originally planned.

In general I allow my characters to take their natural course, but they ultimately stick to the end goal. I’m a far more technical writer than most people would notice. Writing a book in the first person without ever using the character’s name was an enormous challenge and within Little Big Boy for example, there was a need to write about terrible things that the reader had to understand but the narrator, my Little Big Boy didn’t understand and on occasion had to be oblivious to the events in the story.

It may sound simple, but I literally slaved over words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs, to achieve something that reads like it is falling off the little boy’s tongue, all the while revealing the sometimes unrevealable as my main character was too young to see or understand context and circumstance. I loved writing the book because I think I got into the space I needed to get to write it, the head of a seven year old boy. I also hated writing it, because I was very ill during the process so I struggled a lot getting this one finished.

Larry Flynn drove me to distraction. He is such a simple character in theory, but I understood his secret backstory so he diverted me quite a bit. I think both Larry and James Delaney in Bad Blood, had their own meanders but thrillers are easier to keep in line as they have a much more fixed structure if everything is to work out.”

91szeupvynl-_sy300_As I imagine we all know, the standard disclaimer “any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental” is only half true and Max is not afraid to admit it.

Little Big Boy has my face on the cover. I wanted a little boy on the cover and there were no copyright issues with my own photo. I stole many bits and pieces from people I knew in my childhood, but it was very much a case of taking all the fragments and creating something new.

In Darkly Wood some of the characters despite the strangeness of the tales, have origins in people I have met, but again they are only shadows of real people falling on my invention.

I did use one real name that might surprise people when they hear it. My daughter’s boyfriend has a friend called Zachary Westhelle Hartfiel. He is as Irish as they come despite his name and when I met him I told him that I simply had to steal his wonderful name for my book. I turned him into a swashbuckling chap in the vain of Black Adder’s version of Sir Walter Raleigh. He came to a dark end though. I would say that in general my main characters are pure inventions of my own, created in my mind as I plan my story.”

As you might imagine, Max includes a number of classics among his favourite writers.

“I love Charles Dickens, Henry James, George, Elliot, for example but I have a broad taste beyond the classics. Stephen King’s The girl who loved Tom Gordon is one of my favourite books but most people miss this short little gem in his catalogue of more famous books. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a cracker and I enjoy Flan O Brien.

Perhaps my favourite book, is still The Little Prince for its simplicity and for Alexander du Saint Expurés interesting life, I think I’d have to have him to dinner or a pint. As always with people I meet, I want to learn about them primarily. New people fascinate me and I think we have most to learn by simply listening.”

I always like to end my ‘dates’ by asking the subject to reveal something surprising abut themselves.

“There are things that if I put on paper people literally wouldn’t believe and tempted as I am, I’ll keep the strangest ones to myself. I can tell you that I have an empathic ability to feel the physical pain of others by touch. I can touch someone and from that touch I can literally pinpoint a point of pain on their body. I keep that to my self – until now – only Joanna can back that assertion up. There’s that and the fact that I have no tickles, never had. I used to tell my kids that they all fell out as I snapped back up from the bottom of a bungee jump – a little embellishment I know, but I simply can’t help myself I’m afraid.”

I thanked Max for some fascinating insights into his life and his writing. Do please check out his books, if you have not already done so. Probably the best place is on his website where every blog is ended with a set of links to your local Amazon store. He is also on Facebook.

A Date With . . . Sylva Fae

My latest date with an indie author arrived a bit late, but was well worth waiting for, as I am sure you will agree. I am grateful to Sylva Fae for interrupting her holiday to answer my questions.MMcover6x9-page-001

Sylva grew up in Lancashire where, “[If] there were hard times for my parents . . . they kept them well hidden from me and my brother. I had a simple but fun childhood, and I look back with fond memories. My parents were artists who had a love of travel and the outdoors. My dad especially loved travelling and would prioritise holidays abroad over buying expensive toys etc – he wanted us to experience new places and learn about other cultures first hand. My mum was the driving force behind buying a farm, which became a sanctuary for injured wildlife and unwanted pets. When not chasing hens and goats out of the house, we often went on adventures around the local moors and would play in the fresh air while my mum sketched the landscape.”

She now lives in Cheshire and owns a woodland in Shropshire. I wondered how that came about and what were the pros and cons.cover3-page-001

“When my eldest daughter was a toddler we booked onto a supposedly child-friendly campsite. It turned into a nightmare of rules and regulations with tents regimentally spaced in a crowded field, then there was a horrendous rainstorm! Faced with keeping a rowdy toddler entertained in a tent, we gave up and came home. We had envisaged a relaxing camping experience, sat around the fire as the sun went down, space for our daughter to run wild and have fun, but instead we got the opposite. With a little research, we discovered that there were companies selling plots of woodland. We spent the summer pottering around different sites, until we found our vision of the idyllic woodland camp, hidden in the Shropshire countryside.

Everyone thought we were mad buying a woodland, and they’re probably right but we love it.

We have created a camping area with a fire pit and benches, that is enjoyed by many of our family and friends. Our three girls have the opportunity to experience a little of the childhood we had. They run wild, climb trees, make dens and have learned to cook on a campfire. It’s great to get them playing and learning new skills in the fresh air rather than slaves to technology, like so many other young people nowadays.YogaFox ebook cover1-page-001

Drawbacks? None that I can think of. The woods provide us with a safe place to camp, fuel to heat our house over winter, and as an investment, the value of the land has more than doubled in the nine years we have had it. The only thing I wish was different is that we’d done this years earlier.”

When I asked her about the challenges involved in her past career as a teacher of children and young adults with special needs, she explained how she “fell into this line of work quite by accident, mainly because most of the other teachers were daunted by the challenge the groups presented.

“I never saw disabilities or learning difficulties, I only saw people who approached learning in different ways.

I planned my lessons to enable them to achieve at a rate and in a meaningful way to each individual. It was incredibly rewarding but also frustrating in that the current education system doesn’t fully recognise the achievements these young people make.

The lessons I learned from working with groups of this nature have enhanced my life, and the skills I now carry forward are valuable in many situations.”RMcover6x9-page-001

Many of Sylva’s books are based on stories she created with her young children very much in mind and contributing to the process. I asked how she thought they compared to traditional children’s fiction like Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” and “Secret Seven” or more recent works like the “Harry Potter” books.

“I grew up as an Enid Blyton fan, I think I read pretty much every one of her books. I do have a few chapter books, aimed at a similar level on the go, but my main focus is producing picture books. My own children loved the rhyming stories by Julia Donaldson, and the repetitive Hairy Maclary books by Lynley Dodd, and I aspire to create stories that will engage children in the same way.

As her children get older she is adapting her style: “I wanted to create the picture books as memories for my girls of the stories we created together, but already they have outgrown them. I have a few middle school chapter books in the works and a young adult book half written. I must say that I do love the picture book style most of all, but maybe that will change as my girls grow.”

Asked when and where she writes, she explains that since taking voluntary redundancy from her teaching job she writes while her girls are in school – and continues:

“Well, that’s always the plan but inspiration seems to come mostly at night, so I often work in the evenings as well. I type ideas on my mobile phone as they come to me so I’m rarely away from writing. I love to ponder story ideas while I’m sat on a log at the campfire.”

Next we talked about the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing:iasd-page-001

“I was offered publishing deals by two small press publishers but I didn’t feel completely happy with either. I’m not sure what it was that held me back, but I decided to publish independently instead, and I’m glad I did as both publishers have since gone out of business.

I did discover a fantastic publisher through my good friend and children’s author Paul Ian Cross. The Little Lights Studio in Vienna has created a bedtime stories app for families, and I’m proud to have been a part of this project from the beginning. I have five stories in the app and I’m in the process of writing five more.

So now I self-publish books but have a modern publisher for online stories – it’s quite a good combination for me.”

Like all the best children’s books hers are prolifically illustrated – by the author:

“I spent a long time trying to find an illustrator to create the pictures I have when I write. I discovered several things – I am very picky about the styles I like, illustrators are justifiably pricey, and I only like the most expensive! Because of this I stalled for a couple of years, unable to afford what I wanted but unwilling to compromise. I then discovered I could create my own illustrations quite by accident. It started just as a bit of fun creating the story characters for my children, but after showing a couple of my writer friends, they gave me the confidence to illustrate my own stories. Cover design is really just an extension of the illustration process so I do that too.”

Editing, however, is something Sylva regards as too important to undertake herself:

“Editing is definitely something I seek support with.

I believe in supporting other authors and have always offered my services as a beta reader and proof reader to anyone who needs it.

Now we have a faithful network of friends who share skills on a pay-it-forward basis. My work is currently being edited by children’s author Millie Slavidou.”

Noting that Sylva’s website has been rather neglected of late, I wondered how much effort she puts into marketing, probably the most difficult aspect of publishing for us independents.

“You are right! I started the blog after advice from experienced author Lesley Hayes, to write every day. She persuaded me to set up the blog and has encouraged me from the start. As soon as I found the way to illustrate and publish my own books, my energies have gone into that, and yes my poor little blog has been neglected. This is something I want to rectify. My next marketing plan is to reinvent the blog and use it as an additional marketing tool.

I think our best marketing tool is interacting within our community. The more we become involved and support one another, the more help we receive with marketing of our own books. You get what you put in.

I particularly enjoy doing live marketing events, reading to children and answering their questions. Young children are my main audience so their feedback is the most valuable.”

When I asked about her reading preferences she produced a long list of independent authors, including some who have, or soon will be, featured in these ‘dates’.

“I love a good psychological thriller, I want to be kept guessing right until the last page. Since I started beta reading for my writer group, I have read around many genres, perhaps ones I wouldn’t have chosen previously but it has been a great experience. Independent authors like Lesley Hayes, Nico Laeser and Val Tobin are current favourites of mine. In expanding my genres I’ve also discovered authors like Susan Faw, Eric Lahti and Melanie Smith. Each has a different style but I have learned so much from each of them. I would love to meet any of my indie author friends, as I feel we have become friends despite never meeting in real life.”

I like to ask my subjects to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their fans – or, in the case of a children’s author, the fans’ parents. Sylva offers three things:

“My debut book Rainbow Monsters won the Chanticleer Little Peeps award for best in category.

Perhaps not surprising given that I own a woodland, but I run a bushcraft and wild camping group when I’m not writing.

I’m a secret geek! I won the US Navy cryptology challenge two years running despite having no prior knowledge of cryptology or related subjects. Russian newspapers speculated that the winners were being recruited into a top-secret government taskforce, and

my local newspaper suggested I might be a spy!

Of course I’m not a spy, I only did the challenge because I enjoy learning new skills and I’m tenacious in pursuing my goals.

I guess I apply this same tenacity and persistence to my writing too. There is no luck in becoming an author, it takes a lot of hard work and a willingness to learn new skills constantly.”

Find Sylva’s books at Amazon, and connect with her on Facebook

Saturday Sound Off – Immigrants are not the Problem, Politicians Are.

Today I’m linking to a post on Sally Cronin’s blog. Sally mostly posts about writerly things – she is one of the most helpful of people when it comes to supporting writers with reviews, interviews and guest posts. She also runs a health column (she is a nutritionist by profession), a gardening column and writes regularly abut music. But this  week a particular piece of news that certainly incensed me also drove her to write a long and well argued piece about immigration and racism. Since I certainly could not have put it any better, I am happy to refer you instead to her piece.

I will add only my thoughts on the latest developments in the scandal: How can a Home Secretary on top of her job not have read an important memo? How can she not have been properly briefed before she came to the House of Commons to apologise still claiming that there were no official quotas for the removal of immigrants.

And now it emerges that a plan to engage post graduate medical students from India as temporary staff in the NHS has been scuppered because the quota for the issue of such visas has been reached. It’s all part of our so called leaders’ fetish for following those who voice their opinions the loudest when they should be countering with arguments about the benefits that freedom of movement brings.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2018/04/26/smorgasbord-something-to-think-about-the-windrush-scandal-and-immigration-the-backbone-of-our-success-as-nations/

Focusing on Mental Health #WATWB #DIL

This month I’m linking to two stories, both concerned with mental health.

watwic-bright-tuqblkThe first is about both an organisation and an event. Pieta House is an Irish charity dedicated to the understanding and prevention of suicidal thoughts. It provides counseling services for those experiencing suicidal thoughts and for people bereaved by suicide. It’s services are backed up by an extensive research programme aimed at establishing which services are most effective and how they might be improved.

In 2009 it began a series of annual walks that take place at dawn on the second Saturday in May. That first walk, over a 5km course, took place in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The idea was that participants would raise funds for the oganisation whilst the progress from pre-dawn darkness into the light of day symbolises the journey from the darkness of suicidal thoughts to the light of understanding that the organisation hopes that both it and its clients undertake.

Dubbed Darkness Into Light (#DIL)*, walks will take place at 4:15am on May 12th this year at 180 venues across Ireland and in 10 other countries around the world. Last year 180,000 individuals took part. It is not too late to register and participate in the experience of walking from darkness into light at a venue near you if you live in Canada, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia or, of course, Ireland.

000fc031-614Meanwhile, earlier this week an artwork was unveiled in Dublin. The work of Irish street artist Joe Caslin, it was intended to provide publicity for the national broadcaster’s series of programmes about youth mental health.

Have you got a good news story to share with the world? Here’s how to join in:

1. Keep your post to Below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The Link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.

3. No story is too big or small, as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar. Some of you have already done so, this is just a gentle reminder for the others.

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*You might be struck, as I was, by the similarity between the walk title and the strap line of #WATWB.

What do you Give a Writer for Christmas?

Inspiration! That”s what every writer needs and, if all those TV Christmas Specials are anything to go by, not to mention dozens of Christmas No. 1s from singer/song writers, Christmas is a great source of inspiration.

But we all know that genius is only 10% inspiration, the rest is hard graft, especially when you’ve got a deadline to meet. Here’s how Paul Andruss handled the problem last year, courtesy of Sally Cronin over at Smorgasbord.

via Smorgasbord Christmas Posts from Your Archives – Have Yourself a Merry Little Writer’s Block by Paul Andruss

Promoting Creativity #WATWB

Easter 1916 is a key date in Irish history. A watershed moment of enormous significance to the nation. The attempted revolution on that date failed, but the brutal treatment of its leaders gave a renewed impetus to the campaign for Home Rule. The compromise that was reached with the majority Protestant population in Ulster was not popular in the rest of the Island, and led to a bloody but mercifully brief civil war. The centenary of the 1916 rising last year was the inspiration for a programme promoting creativity in all its forms across the nation in the five years that echo the years between the rising and the establishment of the Republic.

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Saxophonist David Roach. Image via Culture Fox.

A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending an event that could not have happened except through the support of the programme: the world premiere of a new work by Belfast born composer Ian Wilson. Composed in collaboration with people involved in agriculture and nature conservation in the Irish Midlands, as a celebration of the importance of pollenators to the human food chain, Thresholds consists of a collage of recorded sounds and speech, overlaid by live performance by solo saxophone. British saxophonist David Roach, who performed the solo, has worked with Wilson before.

But that is just one of thousands of initiatives across all aspects of Irish life for which Creative Ireland is the inspiration. Take, for example, this article from the Irish Times, which describes how merging creativity with technology is generating incredible opportunities for young people.

Sometimes it seems that technology is driving the human race into a dark and dangerous place. I am a firm believer that creative thinking can ensure that human scale solutions will be found to the problems that scare us, just as they did in the past, and just as the young people of Ireland are demonstrating and will continue to demonstrate between now and 2022, the centenary of the formation of the Republic.

If you found this piece of news heartening, and would like to take part in this blogfest, sign up in the WE ARE THE WORLD Blogfest Linky List below and please help spread the word on social media via the hashtag #WATWB.
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