Whistling Dixie

There is no easy way around it.

Revising a novel that is.

Writing is the easy part (for me anyway)

I have written 2 novels now and have to say, I love turning up for the page.  I have yet to experience writer’s block (lucky me).  The biggest hurdle I experience is fitting writing in around my part time job  and my young family life. So when I do show up  and start writing – it is a real buzz – I love it.

When my  first draft is completed, it is truly a  ‘Draft Zero’

Draft Zero – the rough draft – warts and all.

The writing has been more or less vomited onto the page.  It is not a pretty picture to a reader.

first draft

The experts advise to sit on a novel for a bit – leave it ‘in a drawer’ and then to return to it some weeks later.  So you go back to it with a fresh view.

But I have found that the weeks go by, months even,  and I avoid returning to it.  There is that dread.  My characters are nagging me – tapping me on the shoulder – “hey! what about us, that scene – you know it doesn’t work – fix it”  or the character that is a bit fuzzy looking – standing in some fog, cos you haven’t written their back story to give them a good foundation – some depth.

Why do I put it off?

Because  revising is soooo hard.

keep calm

I recently gave my Draft Zero to my writing group for their first impression.  The are my Beta Babes.  My Writing Sirens.  My Realists. They are an honest bunch – I got to hear the plot strengths and weaknesses.  Plot holes essentially.  Don’t get me wrong – it was great.  Very productive.  It just means I had to go back in and sort it out.

Needless to say, there is a lot of work that needs doing.  And THAT is when I had to  convince myself to go back to the keyboard and start the shredding/slashing/re-creating.

Which then is the beginning of Draft one.

My last book, K-Girls took about 17 drafts before it was ‘done’.  Yup,  One Seven.

So I have a bit to go yet on this book 2, before it is truly finished.

There could be many a sleepless night – but hey, I have 3 kids – Sleepless nights don’t scare me.

Anyway – why am I going into all this now you might ask?

Well – I have been putting it off.  And as any decent procrastinator will tell you, it is not my fault that I have not got round to revising my novel.  Naturally, I blame the husband, the kids, the housework, work – my blog………

And here I am – writing this – when on my next PC window sits my novel – Whistling Dixie for my attention.  And so I will take a break from my blog for a bit.  As I get my teeth into revising my own book.

I am sweating thinking about it.  But hey – all for the greater good.  And no one else can do it but me.  This I have to do on my own.

So I am going to knuckle down.

I may be some time

procrastination

Almost ‘and back again’ – last day in New York

Day 6 – last of the ‘Little Adventure’ – Thursday, March 19th 2015

One last burst of exploring the city – left to my own devices and full of confidence, I returned to Grand Central station, and this time headed North.

So what was on my agenda?

Thursday was about research and…. a bit of a ‘business meeting’……..

Throughout my posts about my New York visit, I have commented very little about my writing/novel.  This day was being driven with both in mind.  Whether it is an idea for plot or character for the next book or if it is a whole new book for another time, I felt New York would give me inspiration.  But, again, I wasn’t choosing the usual tourist path.

images (1)

I LOVE history now- not the big stories per say, but more the stories behind the big stories.  I also find, that  from a writer’s view, when I hear a date,  I find my mind relating it back to Kylemore.   What was going on there at the same time?

So for example, when construction was underway at Kylemore Castle in 1867:  the International Exhibition was opened in Paris – Jesse James was busy robbing a bank in Missouri – Karl Marx had just published ‘Das Kapital’ – The widow Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the Albert Hall – the Medicine Lodge Treaty was signed between US/Native American Indians – the Fenian’s were organising a Rising in Ireland…….  Needless to say the list could go on.

Did you know that 1867  was also the year Charles Dickens gave his first public reading in New York at Steinway Hall?

Anyway, for research there was a few places I wanted to visit,  to ‘put my eye’ on the locations that I had read about and filed away.

New York is a pulsing  city today – what was it like during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s?

Here is what I did NOT get to see.

I had missed an opportunity to get to the Tenement Museum – note:  you can only visit here while escorted by a tour guide and that has to be pre-booked.  AND I also messed up on  getting to the Merchant House (it is open Thursday – Sundays)  AND with the week that was in it, Ellis Island was totally booked out! 😦 All/any of these,  would have been a fantastic opportunity to see how people lived (and died)  during the late 1800’s etc in New York.   I was very disappointed not to have been able to visit them.

I have promised myself to get to them on my  NEXT trip to New York!

We do have comparable tourist experiences  here in Ireland:  Living The Lockout, for the tenement side of things in Dublin, and our own Cobh Heritage Experience for the Famine Ships, Titanic and Lusitania stories, and of course we have our own fine examples of the Big Houses, Kylemore and Muckross House being two of them.

But would they be a similar experience?

I think not. ( I will endeavour to get to the Irish ones before the year is out)

I did get to seek out some places on my list for New York.  One was the Dakota building (built between 1880 and 1884) – I had recently finished a great time travel book (recommended by Stephen King) – Time and Again by Jack Finney,   where the Dakota was used in the book as the base for time travel – the building reportedly got its name from being built so far on the Upper West Side, that it might as well have been in Dakota.

 

The Dakota in winter c. 1890 - (image as appears chp 17 of Time and Again)

The Dakota in winter c. 1890 – (image as appears chp 17 of Time and Again)

 

Of course the building now sits nice and snug, blending in very comfortably with its’ towering neighbours….. I had great fun finding it, and then wondered what stories IT could tell.

Dakota Now,  2015

Dakota Now, 2015

 

On a side note, did you know that prior to establishing the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, that her torch bearing arm was first exhibited at Madison Square Park?  The story, as I understand it, is that the state couldn’t afford to build a base and erect the statue and so the arm was on display instead, tourists paying to climb up into the torch, while fund raising continued.

lending a hand of Liberty

lending a hand of Liberty

 

Lunch time soon snuck up on me and I had to attend my ‘Business Meeting’

For lunch I meet with a ‘Certain Someone’.  Now this person shall remain nameless as I do not want to identify them in this blog, until such time that they advise otherwise.  And as casual as it may have been arranged, it was actually a PR exercise for me to push the idea of my book and for ‘He who shall not be named’ to put a face and character to my name. In case you get too excited, they are not an agent/publisher or an author even, but they are in the industry and lets just say they were doing me the favour by giving me some of their very precious time.

On the surface it was all very relaxed and easy going, but I have to admit I was nervous and very conscious of not coming across as too cocky, or too wishy-washy either.  I had about 30 minutes to talk up my book and me, without appearing pushy and needy.

As a result the first 20 minutes we talked about everything BUT the books and my writing – and the last few I had my ‘window’ to try and capture the very essence of what I was all about and where I wanted to bring my book series ‘K-Girls’.  It was my first real ‘pitch’ without trying to make it sound too obvious that that is exactly what it was!

I think it went very well – not to any degree of signing any book deals but I certainly got some interesting feed back, picked up a professional tip or two.  I think they went away reasonably impressed, not just with my book series idea,  but with me too!  If they go away thinking this girl has some good ideas that go beyond the traditional, and they drop my name in their professional circles, then I would be very happy with that.

We shall have to wait and see what outcome, if any, comes out of that.

Meeting over, I sauntered for a bit near by and I have to say I was in my total element when I found this little Gem – not a building – but a book of buildings!

images

 

Fab imagery of New York back in its early days, with comparison shots from modern day – (hats off to author Marcia Reiss and photographer Evan Joseph)  I had great fun finding some of the buildings within and making my own comparisons.

As a result,  I walked miles around the city and felt I even did my own bit of  ‘time travel’  …….the weather was glorious and I got to walk across Central Park (where the pond was still frozen) and ‘popped’ in (how naive was I) to the Met Museum.   I would need a whole new trip to New York to get to see everything there.

Oh how weary was I by the end of it all – how wonderfully wonderfully weary.

At the end of the afternoon,  I made it ‘home’ to Mamaroneck with blistered feet and a very happy soul.

The next day was ‘Going Home’ day and so I spent it with my hosts, dear friends – and I will always appreciate those last few cuddles on the couch, from my beautiful and pixie-like god daughter ‘Berry-Boo‘.

It was a quick and sad good bye. (save having to go back to collect a forgotten purse!!!! – thank you AGAIN Rozzy)

I arrived home to Ireland in one piece – and I have to admit I was very happy to see the familiar patchwork green fields from Aer Lingus just before we set down in Dublin.

My trip was  – oh there is no denying it – AMAZING – as cliched as it sounds.

I would like to think that my one was one with a difference – I hope my  last few posts have caught some of that.

Looking back on the last year, it goes to show that you have to Put It Out There – whatever IT is that you want in life –

it might just come true –

After all

I got to New York didn’t I?

Little Erin stroll

New York- Paddy’s Day with a Difference.

17th March 2015 – Day 4 of my ‘Little Irish Adventure’.  It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!

IT’s St PATRICK’S DAY IN NEW YORK CITY!

patricks day in NYC

And my day was all the more special.

First thing in the am,  Roz and I got to read some Irish stories to children in Mamaroneck’s Montessori – this was tough- not because I am shy at reading in public (as if!) but it is so hard to find an Irish story where it doesn’t end in bloodshed and slaying, or at the very least,  curses or banishment.

I didn’t want to scar the little innocents for life!

So we stuck to fairy tales.

Parental responsibility over, Roz and I headed back into Manhattan.

Now, I am the sort of girl that likes to do things a bit differently.

So, NO,  I didn’t go to watch the Paddy Parade.

For those out there who expect floats and giant air balloons or acrobats….You would be disappointed – because those type of parades happen on  Thanksgiving.  (think of the movie ‘Miracle On 34th Street’)

New York Paddy’s Day parades are all about marching bands.

Pre Paraders

Pre Paraders

Roz and I walked parallel to the parades and took glimpses here and there – but to be honest, we were on a different mission.

By private invitation (cough cough) we were off to Pier 90, where the NYPD were having their own Paddy’s Day celebration.

Where?

What?

Who?

cat I could tell you

I will let the pictures speak for themselves….

held in a secure location……

NYPD cruising for a bruising

NYPD cruising for a bruising

NYPD keeping an eye on the Party

NYPD keeping an eye on the Party

and some amazing  music – I promise there WAS dancing

The in house entertainment

The in house entertainment

and lots of men in uniform

Cuchulain in the flesh!

Cuchulain in the flesh!

Who's got your back!

Who’s got your back!

Friends from San Fran

Friends from San Fran

Guardians of the Peace

Guardians of the Peace

best NYPD sandwich ever!

best NYPD sandwich ever!

And then we had our own private parade as the NYPD pipe band arrived……

 the pipes are calling

the pipes are calling

Short side view!

Short side view!

I never felt threatened or on constant alert (a natural feeling I get when surrounded by lots of testosterone) as these guys were natural minders.

True gentlemen  to the core!

We had a great laugh  – the NYPD gang were so welcoming and genuine.

And sure  after a couple of beers, I felt we both blended right in!

cagney and lacey

What an afternoon!

Roz and I were VERY tempted to stay on but,  we being good Catholic boarding school girls,  and not forgetting we are both married….

we took ourselves off out of temptations way…….lol

After resting some, and strolling  along the very pleasant Hudson river walk, in the sharp (and I mean very sharp) air…..

Riverside Rest

Riverside Rest

…..we linked up with Aileen (who had preformed at the fund raiser)

aileen

Aileen (pronounced ‘I-Lean’) has lived and worked for years in NYC -she currently is the Piano Artist Studio Manager working on a fab project Sing for  Hope – (she also is a fab musician/song writer) – note the plug Aileen!

Anywaaaays, I know Aileen as my old pal from Kylemore.  We have linked up over the years, and until this trip, always on Irish turf.

This was my first time to visit Aileen at her own base – and WOW!  If I ever had a ‘far away fields are greener’ moment – this was it!  City living is not for everyone but if I was without kids and didn’t own 3 dogs – I would gladly have what she has.  Aileen couldn’t live anymore central to the creative world that is the bones of New York.  As a writer I had little flashes of what my life  could be  like if I too lived somewhere similar…..how my writer’s world might be……..I wouldn’t give up my life now that as I have it….I have a fab husband and kids after all…….but if I lived in a parallel one?……..oh well, it might make a nice story someday.

We had a fab evening – it was lovely to see Aileen again, and have her show us a snap shot of what she is up to these days- I was tempted to take lots of photos of her super stylish apartment, but I thought that would have been just plain rude – but I did take a few to capture the evening – so I will let the photos speak for themselves!

When all was done and dusted – it was a truly amazing Saint Patrick’s Day – one I will never forget.   A huge thank you to NYPD, and Aileen,  for making it such a Paddy’s day with a difference.

Roz and I managed to get home before midnight, and not only that, but  managed to get home sober – ish.  As Roz  had an early start for work the next day (5am),we were both conscious of the late hour.

I too was keen to get some sleep.  The next day I was going to be flying solo and heading into New York again for some research.  I would be going in wearing with my writer’s hat

– but that my dears, is for the next post…..

Plot – Story or Grave?

I went on a walk this morning,  took a turn up past the small cemetery that lies on the coastal town of Schull (West Cork, Ireland).   It slopes gently down to the shore, overlooking Schull harbour and the Carbery isles – in turn lying on the edge of the Atlantic.  It is a beautiful spot.  I find it very moving and inspiring.

It set me thinking of plot.

And the pun therein.

Any writer will tell you that every good story has to have a great plot.  And while I like to think that ‘K-Girls’, my book, has one, I have to confess that the whole idea behind writing my series starts with a rather basic, very sad looking plot.

I discovered it at the age of 12, and was struck by it from the get go.  But it would take me the guts of 30 years before I gave it it’s due respect.

Not many know this, but the whole plot behind K-Girls started with the actual plot, that is the grave, of Ruth Stoker who is a 14 year old who is buried at Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Co. Galway.

For any who have had the pleasure to visit Kylemore, you may remember the lovely walk to the Gothic Church that lies to the east of the Abbey/Castle?  I could say a lot about this cathedral in miniature, but I do not want to waiver from the topic that is, Ruth.  Anyway, under the shade of the Oak trees and watchful eye of Gothic gargoyles is a simple cemetery where in lies the remains of the Benedictine community that have passed on over the years.

In the midst of the simple stone markers for the nuns, there is a small standing celtic stone cross.  It is the maker of Ruth.  It simply states ‘In loving memory of Ruth Stoker who died on 18th December 1923 aged 14 years. RIP’

Ruth Stoker grave stone

When I was a student at Kylemore the myth was that she had died having fallen from the tower (the reason why the Gothic was locked up at the time) , or another, drowned in the lake (explaining why us students were never allowed to swim or boat on the mass of water).  I suppose many girls saw the grave and wondered for a moment, perhaps some didn’t see it at all.  But it struck a chord with me – why was there a girl buried in the nun’s cemetery?  And admittedly, the romantic in me thought how lovely to be buried at Kylemore – imagining that she must have had a great love for the school and her time there.  And that one day, as I have a similar love, that I too might be buried there – or at least some ashes scattered.

Now that I am 44 and married with my own teen girls, I see a different side  – that of the view of a mother  – and try and imagine what it must have been like for the mother of Ruth to have to say good bye to her little girl, and then to witness her being lowered into the ground?  Did the sun shine, setting the church lime stone alight, or did the Connemara rains fall gently dusting people’s umbrellas, or cloche hats and caps.  Was there a good turn out?  How many would have been stood around the small ope and scattered soil into the dark earth on that December day?

As a student at Kylemore, I did not consider a mother’s love, I was too preoccupied with who Ruth was and where had she come from?  How had she truly died?

Perhaps that is where the seed of her spirit was captured within me at the age of 12 and she grew as I did over my years at Kylemore and then, unbeknownst to myself – Ruth came away with me.

It was only the last 7 years that I built up the courage to start writing in earnest and contacted one of the older nuns (Sr Benedict, historian) about Ruth.  While Sr Benedict was not too familiar with Ruth’s background, she went to the retired elders and discovered that Ruth’s story was a foggy one.

A fire in the bursar office in the 50’s (that is a story in its own right) destroyed all student records and so little was remembered of her, only that the retired nuns remembered something about ‘galloping consumption’ and being ‘buried in Kylemore at the request of her parents’.

Oh! – now that put a different perspective on it – galloping consumption? – buried at the request of her parents? What did that mean?  Consumption, I understood was TB but what did galloping?  It did not bode well.  And Ruth buried at the request of her parents? – Where they there after all?  My mind raced with supposing and surmising.

And so curiosity took me down a road of research and censuses – all the while, Ruth stood at my shoulder, and I felt as if she was smiling enjoying the mystery that she had become for me.

Writers will tell you that characters become alive and when writing, they will so often lead us down a plot path that we never designed in the first instance.   I have found this of Ruth.

Ruth Stoker the actual teen who died in Kylemore  has her own story, and one I will gladly share in another post another time – her grave side remains simple and I visit it every time I am back at Kylemore.  I place a stone on the cross to mark my return, (some think this is a Jewish custom but it’s origins are pagan – the stone symbolising the permanence of memory)

It is nice to see that a other stones have been placed by mine.

But the Ruth of K-Girls, the one that lives in my head and manifests as a ghost in my writing, well she is having a ball within the pages that is K-Girls with  her new mortal friend, Alice.  Ruth is getting to live her teen life all over again – albeit in the 80’s  – and as Alice has a whole 6 years to go as a student of Kylemore.

The two of them will  have a lot of fun with plot;

and sometimes even losing it every now and then.