What is a Live Wire? I know now!

I’ve just dashed (yes, I know, FABULOUS word choice) from a LiveWire event for the Dundee Literary Festival. Run by Eddie Small, the event is an ongoing production that showcases the writing of recent and current students, and no doubt a whole lot of other people also but I’ve only been to one so give me some leeway here. And, call me stupid if you will, I was walking home and wondering why in the Hades it was called ‘LiveWire’. It’s live, sure, but there’s no wires. Even the roving mic was just that, roving, and in today’s world of Health and Safety regulations, you can bet your bottom dollar that it didn’t have a wire. Then, as I came home and sat by my computer, I realized that I felt electric. My fingers are actually pulsing as I type this. Maybe it’s because I know I’ll have to do one one day, or maybe it’s the awesome talent I just witnessed that inspired a creative surge in me, but either way I feel electric. And then it hit me. Live Wire, as in the one that’ll kill you if you touch it.

I get it now.

We’re approaching a nervous section of the course. The place in the movie where the sea starts to swell and some screenwriter adds a joke to the movie like, “Hey guys, hope we don’t sink,” while he washes his hands in a sink. And then, because the movie is called “Sinking Ship” or “Titanic 2” we all know exactly what’s about to happen. That ship’s not arriving in any port, any time soon (insert dirty joke here). I spoke last week about it, and I’ll continue doing so until they’re over – assessments are coming. But, unlike last week, I am more confident. I’ve had formative feedback on a review I submitted – the main critique being “be less catty” – and I’ve had a one on one meeting with Kirsty. So I have followed Gail’s advice and removed certain phrases from my assessed review on The Girl on The Train that poke fun at Paula Hawkins cameo being removed from the film adaptation of her novel. So far, so good.

It is from my one on one with Kirsty, however, that the true pride of this week lies. I submitted a rough sheaf of five pages of manuscript for her perusal to begin working on my portfolio for the end of semester one. I shall keep most of what she said confidential, as I am too cowardly in the face of fate to jinx the most exciting part of what we discussed, but I would like to share a short extract from one of the homework exercise she gave us.

 

The kitchen is his favourite room of all. A fridge and freezer stand side by side, the top of the fridge more yellow than its brother. There is no work surface. No unit. So the fridge must suffice. Gentle yellowing is an easy price to pay. Another bare light bulb swings from a pendulum coated in cooking grease. But the room is large, the window larger still and so it swings on unnoticed. Its early evening. The sun hasn’t set yet. And so the window is alive with honey light, seeping in through the glass and coating every surface of the kitchen. Checkered linoleum, a burnt kitchen table – scarred with the mark of an incense stick let to burn for too long – and a dull green microwave that, only in this light, looks like it’s worth a million bucks. He stands there. In the honey light kitchen. And wonders how he came to be so lucky. Many flats have kitchens only half this size. Cracks in the ceiling are nothing compared to the gloriousness of standing here, right now, in the warm sunlit air. The window sits slightly open, just a crack so that cat can’t stray too far out, it’s too high and he may fall, and a breeze weedles its way in – no doubt jealous of the boy’s dumb grin. It notes the disheveled pajamas hastily thrown on between the bathroom sink and here, and congratulates itself on being incorporeal, unneeding of such mix match clothes. It stands beside him, that jealous gust of wind, and basks in the sunlight of another day endured. The boy feels it with him but says nothing, not wanting to scare it away. Instead he sniffs, in between tears, at the fragrant vanilla that gently wafts around them both.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I once quit my job and spent every penny I had on trying to get my first novel published. It didn’t work. But now, as I discuss my work with other writers and explain the heart of what I’m trying to write, I feel that little bud of a daffodil – the flower of hope and Spring – unfurl after a long Winter of disappointment. This piece if about me, about what a place I know, and it’s the heart and bones of who I am. A boy in his pyjammas thankful to still be alive, to still have hope and to still be writing.

Assessments are coming…

…see what I did there? #GameOfThrones

 

It’s week five. As in, we’ve been doing this for five weeks already. And something peculiar has happened. An extraordinary, miraculous thing has occurred. I feel confident in my writing. I feel different to my undergrad degree, I feel like I am paying attention and learning. My exercises in class are not always spot on, but I never feel a need to preface it by saying “I don’t think it’s good.” That’s not to say those that do should be herranged in the foyer of the Dalhousie Building as faux writers deserving only humiliation. All it means is that, in a room full of people I admire for their talent, I don’t feel out of place. And as someone who always feels out of sync with those around him, that’s a big deal.

I’ve just submitted (well, Poppy handed it in for me as I was working and prescribe to an “oh sweet Jesus that’s for tomorrow” method of handing in my work, despite doing it days before) five pages of rough draft work that may or may not evolve into a 6,000 word portfolio for the end of semester one. I’ve chosen to work on the two areas I hope to develop on this course: horror and historical fiction. Although my novels are Young Adult Fantasy works, the daily five fingered exercise of Kirsty Gunn’s division and the in-class exercises, I feel, are helping me in leaps and bounds better explore my worlds on the page – instead of merely describing them. I don’t just want to be a fantasy writer though; I have many ideas that don’t quite fit with that genre. Ideas I want to explore.

My horror piece is perhaps more ‘creepy’ than horror – for now. It’s about a manic depressive boy who lives alone and spies on his neighbours to feel part of something other than his own illness. He doesn’t do it for perverted kicks, simply to feel included. But when he is confronted about his behavior, he is told that he and “the dirty old man” he lives with better stop it before the neighbours call the police. “But,” the boy says, “I live alone.” Chilling, right? I’m unsure whether I’d like to develop that story further, or look at a short story collection in which the ‘dirty old man’ and his ‘dirty family’ all stalk different people. Initially, when I first looked at this course, I hoped to develop this idea of the boy who lives alone into a play – but maybe that will come at another time.

The second piece I included I think I would prefer to keep for my dissertation at the end of the year. It is a fictionalized account of Eva Braun in which I work to tease out the woman behind Hitler’s empire. Her ambition, her fears, her normalization of her boyfriend’s evil, her exclusion from the other Nazi wives and, ultimately, the extreme power she held over her boyfriend’s decisions right in the last throes of his terrible war. I definitely think this would work well as a novel, and it’s something I will keep on the back burner, ready to cook through when my time comes. When my proficiency at writing is higher than it is now.

Lastly, a quick little scribble at the bottom of the page, I am thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this year. I did it last year (though in Oct for the extra day) and got 57,000 words done of a novel called Cetilla. I flat lined at the last hurdle, but I wonder if it would be worth trying again this year? Maybe. Whatever I decide, I’ll keep you updated.

 

And so, for now, au revoir and goodbye for another week!

I don’t understand… but I’ll make sure I do (one day)

Perhaps what I’m getting most from my fellow students is that they think I have a tremendous amount of confidence. And that’s true, I guess. But only because I know there’s a world full of people just waiting to not believe in you, if you give them the chance. Which I don’t. They’re easy to spot, as often they are walking around with the shards of their own broken dreams littering their sensibly priced fleece. I’m a believer, a hoper, and an ardent follower of my dreams, but that doesn’t always feel like confidence, it doesn’t mean I am not fully aware of my shortcomings. And this week proves that point spectacularly.

IMG_6613            I have a reading list as long as an escapee toilet roll that my cat has decided is more entertaining than an episode of FRIENDS, and all I can think of is how woefully under equipped I am to properly appreciate these novels. I’m a lazy reader. I want to be entertained. To fall into a world so unlike my own and feel for people that exist only in my heart. I was discussing today with the wonderful Poppy how, if an author doesn’t explicitly state what they mean (she cried hysterically), then I probably won’t get it. Many a paragraph has been read and re-read because I can tell there’s something there I’m supposed to be picking up, some morsel of information that the entire plot hinges on, but often, I just can’t. And so if the book doesn’t flow with a good story, then I just can’t immerse myself in it. Technical brilliance or no.

It could have been that I never paid enough attention in English class. I didn’t want to know what an adverb was, I wanted to see one being used. I wanted to run before I could walk. Laborious reading of heavy texts may have instilled within me an aversion habit, and for that, I certainly do not blame my English teachers. But I better understand the rowdy kids that never paid attention in History class now. Because nothing is more boring than something we don’t understand. The Sound of Fury by William Faulkner is one of those books for me, the technically brilliant ones whose composition changed the way we write and read. Decry me as an indolent fool, as that may be what I am, but the constant time jumping just threw me for six, right out of his own novel and into the more forgiving arms of Philippa Gregory. I feel stupid as I type this. I feel like an indolent fool. I couldn’t read Wuthering Heights during my time in China, I don’t always fully understand what Shakespeare is on about and Jane Austen is synonymous in my head with Keira Knightley. I want to understand. Truly, I’d love to type to you all as a master of Chaucer and Twain, a veritable encyclopaedia of prose composition and poetic metaphors. But I’m just not. I like stories. I write stories. I’m not an English student, I’m a book reader. But that doesn’t mean I won’t ever be.

I’m just beginning to read His Bloody Project by Graeme MaCrae Burnet and I am IMG_6631terrified I won’t get past page 65. However, there’s something pleasant about this anticipation, this fear, which is reminiscent of starting university way back in 2011. Leaving my comfort zone. No excursion beyond our limits, beyond our little kingdom of safe words and experiences, ever leaves us empty handed. As I listen to the advice of wiser readers, their suggestions my compass pointing North, and begin my journey down a reading list I’d have never thought to venture down, I know I’ll find some skills, some techniques, and some pleasure that I can bring back to my safe space. And hey, who knows, maybe I’ll even find a new favourite along the way. And maybe, just possibly, I may even understand what they’re saying.

 

 

 

What do I want? All of it. Everything.

Week Two

 

Roughly a year ago (June 30th 2015) I was a Dundee Uni History Graduate (2:1, let’s not WHOOP!) and recently, voluntarily unemployed. Why you may ask? Because I had to prove to the world that I was putting up with no more of its nonsense and my time was NOW. I took all my savings, plus some hard earned, much needed money that my gran insisted I take, and ventured into the world of publishing blind. I sent out one (read: ONE!) query letter to begin with. I wanted that particular agent and how could she not want Conniption? Two weeks later, before she responded, I sent out a few more just to be safe. Rejections came thick and fast. I tried to scramble together another book, which only garnered more, if a little kinder, rejections. And there I was, December, no money, no job and, most painful of all, no Book Deal.

 

Fast forward one job in management later, and I knew I had to get back on the horse. “Taking a year out” wasn’t an option. So my old job, thankfully, took me back with open arms and I applied for Writing, Practice and Study under the multiple award winning author, Kirsty Gunn. I sent in a sample story (quickly, she warned) and then the unbelievable happened – I wasn’t rejected. I believe in fate, and Karma, and destiny, and all of them convened on my place here, on this course. So here I am.

 

Ta. Da.

 

There’s no point pretending I want anything other than that which I do. And that is a Book Deal (fabled as they are). All I need is some time in a room with a publisher, just ten minutes, and I can get them to see my vision, my passion and, most important of all, all the money I’m going to make them. Just ten minutes. How lucky this course has a module that gives its students a placement in a publishing house, right? (#Destiny)

 

However, something’s happened which I hadn’t anticipated – I want to learn about the people around me. Kirsty wants to write fantasy for games. Stephen wants to be a better writer and Poppy wants to find her North – and I care. I want to see Cameron’s winning entries in short story competitions, and Sarah’s lyrical prose. I want to hear more about Jo’s crazy life and where exactly it is that Matt’s disappeared too. I care about the people around me and I haven’t felt that in a long while. So, from this course, I’d love to see the success that my fellow students earn, and the greatness they achieve and be part of it.

 

And, of course, a Book Deal of my very own.

 

You may snigger now, or warn me not to dream too big, but when you’re riding the rollercoaster at my theme park after having seen the movie of the book I wrote, remember the boy that quit his job and sacrificed everything for his dream. And remember, when that boy failed, he started again.

Guess who’s back…back again…

Conner’s back!… tell a friend.

Conner McAleese

Hello!

I’m Conner, a recent graduate and returning Post Grad student at the University of Dundee. Although my Undergrad degree is in History, it’s in writing stories that my destiny lies. And yes, I am exceedingly thankful I completed a degree with such easily transferable skills and hadn’t spent four years doing Mathematics or Sport Exercise. Praise the Fates for they are generous.

I grew up reading whatever my mum read as we couldn’t really afford to splurge out. This meant that, as an eight-year-old, I would read books like Along Came a Spider and other James Patterson classics. It was brutal. But it was exciting. It was also liberating. I wasn’t scared of big books. In fact, I loved them. I remember selecting the first book in the Wind Singer trilogy by William Nicholson purely to show off to the librarian. I subsequently learned one of the most important lessons of my life in the trilogies’ second novel, Slaves of the Mastery, but that’s a story for another blog.

Currently, my favourite author is Marian Keyes. If you haven’t read one of her novels then I insist (see, INSIST) that you open Amazon.com in a new tab and purchase Rachel’s Holiday this very moment.

On you go, I’ll wait.

Her innate sense of funny, which she combines with harrowing, severe subjects (in this case, drug addiction) is one of the single greatest pleasures I take from her work. It’s also something I hope to emulate as, in my own novels, I try and combine fantastic adventures with real problems. I write primarily for Young Adults and see no reason why depression, alcohol addiction, unwanted pregnancy, suicide, rape, abuse, self-harm and even murder should be withheld from anyone until they reach a certain age, especially as several of these issues affect teenagers much more than they do adults. It is to Marian Keyes I look towards when I want to remind my readers that life may suck now, but there’s still a whole new world out there – if only you’d step out of your bubble and see it.

(Joss Whedon encapsulates this perfectly when he says, “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke”.)

At this moment in time, I have written two novels (none, as of yet, published). Conniption and The Court of Wolves and Rabbits, with a third novel five thousand words away from completion. A handful of other manuscripts, all twenty thousand words plus (which is the graduation stage, in my head, from ‘idea’ to ‘work in progress’) litter my hard drive and I hope, one day, they will be plucked from a bookshelf somewhere on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

I’m Conner and I write stories.

That’s all you really need to know.

Everything else is buried there, somewhere, in my stories.