Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Niall Cunniffe

Aspiring Writers Series

Aspiring novelist Niall Cunniffe talks vampires, teenage fiction, and finding your own place in the writing community.

Could you give readers a brief introduction to what you’ve written, and what you’re currently writing?

To date, I have written one and a half books, including several short stories. I wrote my first book one summer while at University, having failed to find a job and wondering what to do with all my time. I’d been studying English Literature, so I thought, why not write a book?

I didn’t have much of a plan, apart from write a modern Gothic story for today’s readers. The book is called Elm, a character I was then obsessed with. I got up every day, started writing at 10am, and didn’t stop until I wrote 2,000 words.  Only about half way through the book did I actually know where the story was going. I think I finished it in about a month, and have been editing it since – that’s when the real work begins!

I am also currently writing a vampire book, and hopefully series, for teenagers as part of NanoWrimo. I’ve just hit the half-way point so wish me luck!

Do you have a place you always go to write, or somewhere you feel most inspired?

I wish I had my own ‘writing place,’ but my current lifestyle doesn’t allow for such luxuries. It’s difficult to find somewhere quiet in London. I tend to write best at home, in Ireland, as there are few distractions and I can let my mind wander. Thinking is very important, and undisturbed time. Libraries close too early, so that’s out. I get very distracted writing in cafes, as I am drawn into conversations and sometimes find them more intriguing than my writing! It’s terrible, I know, but I think all writers are curious like that.

Who is your favourite author at the moment?

Oh gosh – I admire so many for different reasons. I don’t think I have a favourite author. I mean I admire J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Dan Brown, but all for very different reasons, like how they have contributed to the publishing industry and beyond, not necessarily because of their writing. In terms of writing, if Madeline Miller has a follow-up to The Song of Achilles, let me know.

Do you think having a writing community is a good idea for aspiring writers?

Absolutely. It is important to stay motivated, and having others around you for encouragement definitely helps. Writing is a lonely pursuit, plagued with self-doubt. Ensure you surround yourself with encouraging people, unless of course you are one of those lucky few who have the utmost belief in themselves.

What is your favourite age range and genre to write for?

I would say teenagers and young adults. I read a lot of books as a teenager, so I feel I know how to write for that age group. Books helped me a lot as a teenager, so I feel I should help others struggling in that age group too. My favourite genre would be horror. There’s so much you can do with it, and so many sub-genres to explore.

If you have one piece of advice to offer to young aspiring authors, what would it be?

Believe in yourself. There won’t be a word on the page if you don’t believe in yourself.

 

You can keep up to date with Niall’s writing on his twitter or on his blog. Big thanks Niall for taking part in the Aspiring Writers Series!

If you are an unpublished writer with your own writing journey to share on Quills and Coffee, drop me an email at quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com. 

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: E.F. McAdam

Aspiring Writers Series

From her hometown of Manchester, aspiring author E.F. McAdam talks noisy writing places, the importance of Young Adult fiction, and why you should grab yourself some writer friends, ASAP.

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your current writing projects?

I’m Eleanor McAdam and I’m a Bath Spa Creative Writing graduate. At the moment I’m working on a seven book series of which I’ve completed two and started the third (that’s not including editing). The series is about a post-apocalyptic world in which Gods can be seen in human form: sitting on clouds, trampling cities and the like (I’m sure you can see now why it’s post-apocalyptic). The series follows Hara, Demigod of Sin, who is struggling to find his place in the world and protect the people he loves, namely Liliana, a girl who he gifted at birth. In a world with monsters, magic and some seriously messed up cults, the series follows Hara and his companions in the hope to regain a semblance of balance between the Creator Gods, Life and Death.


Are there certain must-haves for you to create your writing environment? 

For me (and I know I’m weird on this one), I need noise. I write best with other people, with music, in a bustling environment. Ideas come best to me walking on or the bus, so I’m sure to carry a notepad wherever I go. But when I need to get some serious words on paper, I usually sit in a coffee shop. The downside to this? It’s expensive! At home, I struggle to write, especially if it’s quiet. I can write while watching TV or a film, but mostly prefer it when my boyfriend is playing a game (and it helps when the genre is the same to inspire me!). But other than the actual environment, all I need are my notepads, coloured pens and my laptop. Then I’m good to go!


What are your favourite age ranges and genres to write for, and why do you think it’s important?

I am a fantasy and science fiction writer mainly, and usually stick to either adult or YA (most people tell me I’m best at YA). Everyone knows why YA is important: it’s the safety of a children’s book with all the real life issues and tragedy of an adult’s novel. My own novels (if they are indeed YA as I’m starting to believe) are horrifically awful, but that’s the point – it lets teenagers read it from the safety of their own lives.

I believe fantasy and science fiction are undervalued as a genre. They not only allow imagination to grow and an escape from our own horribly boring world, but they are often metaphors for real life. I can never completely make up a new world, whether fantasy or alien, so I use our own world as a base. I take the weird and wonderful and often atrocious events and places from our own world and explore. It’s the perfect way to highlight the terrible things we do: such as colonising a new planet and killing all the aliens, just as colonists have done hundreds of times in our lifetime.


Where’s your favourite writing place?

It’s changed over the years: first, the end seat on the sofa at my childhood home. For some reason, I’ve always loved that spot. I’d spend days on end there, barely moving (apart from snacks) and it has produced a lot of stories.

When I went to university, I was amazed to find my bedroom in second and third year was perfect. I didn’t use my desk, just sat in the chair and had my legs up on the bed. From that position, I could see through my window and watch the traffic of Bath bustling by.

Now, it’s a cute little café Nero by the river in Manchester. I love the barristas and I love my little booth at the back (anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that!). I’ve written both the books in my novel there, and I intend to keep that spot for as long as I can.


Do you think it’s important for writers to have a writing group to workshop with?

Before university, I wouldn’t have agreed. I hated showing anyone my work, but after that got beaten out of me at Bath Spa, I loved it. I value every single one of my friends’ opinions and I know they are honest and truthful. The key is to not only find someone with whom you’re comfortable enough to share honestly, but someone who writes just as well as you do. Non-writers are great readers to give a clue of the audience’s reaction, but real editors your own age are the best. I’m so lucky to have met so many at Bath Spa!


Finally, what advice do you have for young aspiring writers?

It’s cliché, but just keep writing. It was one of the hardest things to get my head around, but you need to just write. Don’t get too crazy on the right word in the right sentence; just write something and move on. My first drafts are awful, but my second is better. I’m a total ‘write first edit later’ writer. If somethings on the paper, not only will you feel better about yourself, but you’ll be able to finish things much quicker.

And lastly, believe in yourself. Anyone can be a writer and anyone can get published. You just have to want it.

 

Big thanks to Eleanor for a fun and inspiring interview! If you’re an unpublished or aspiring writer and would like to be featured on Quills & Coffee, drop me an email at quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com. Or if you’ve been motivated by this interview – leave a comment below!

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Keep your eyes open: inspiration is everywhere

Writing

It was only this afternoon, when I spotted an abandoned antique shop on the way to Callen‘s house, that I realised how much of my writing is influenced by normal, mundane, everyday things.

A bit of context for you – I was heading to my friend’s house because he has the new Taylor Swift album and, uh… I need to listen to it. On repeat. So, I was POWER-WALKING through Bath, desperate to go and listen to some banging tunes, and then I saw this antique shop. It’s kind of run-down. Decrepit, really. It’s so dirty that the windows look grey, and there are old rusting bars across the door, and Scott’s Antiques is written along the top in a creepy, willow-y font. I had to stop. Look. Take it in.

I’ve already decided that this particular antique shop will be picked up from picturesque Bath and plonked wherever I decide it needs to be in my novel. I have so many ideas already – haunted objects, illegal squatters… All of this came from that one shop, a shop that I’ve walked past a thousand times and never noticed. Maybe if I had been even more desperate to listen to Taylor, or if I’d crossed the road at a different point, I never would have seen it at all.

“You cannot wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Every Creative Writing lecturer or guest speaker will always tell you the same thing – carry a notebook everywhere. I used to just kind of ignore that little bit of advice. Uh, I have things to do? I can’t just whack out my notebook in the queue at Starbucks because I see some woman has cool hair that I want to use for a character. But, flash-forward a few years, and I rarely go anywhere without a notebook / laptop / some form of writing instrument.

It’s not just settings either – cool antique shops or whatever catches your eye – it’s everything. People can inspire characters, certain places invoke certain feelings, and any kind of sensory experience is absolute gold-dust when you’re writing in first person. As a writer, I believe your brain is already hard-wired to look out for this kind of stuff. You’ll store anything you see automatically, but you might not actually use it unless you’re paying attention. When you see something that inspires you, make a note of it so you can integrate it into your creative work later.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if another writer tells you that it’s important to always have a notebook… don’t ignore them. You’re wasting time. Get a cheap (or expensive, whatever floats your boat) notepad and just keep it with you. Because, honestly, ideas can flit so quickly out of your head. You know when you have a cool dream and then you can’t remember it in the morning? Same kind of deal. Just make sure you have something to WRITE with when inspiration strikes.

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Naomi Louise Jenkins

Aspiring Writers Series, Writing

Aspiring author Naomi Louise Jenkins (teatimewithnaomi) talks mental health, writing essentials, and how she’s finding the process of writing her first full manuscript.

Tell us a bit about your current work in progress.

It’s about a young woman in her mid-twenties, rebuilding her life after a failed suicide attempt. The novel is set in Wales, where my protagonist tries to reintegrate herself into family life and resolve conflicts that have been years in the making. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns about what pushed her over the edge, and why she so desperately ran away from who she used to be, and where she came from. I’m really enjoying the process of getting to know these characters; it’s a novel about relationships, mental health, and more than anything – new beginnings. There’s always time to start again – to chase the life you really want to lead.

You focus a lot on mental health issues in your current novel. Why do you think it’s important for readers to engage with literature that tackles tough subjects?

You know, I think mental health is so stigmatised. It’s getting better, but it’s still not something that people openly talk about, so I think literature is our way of having a silent conversation with ourselves. When you think of reading books, you think of going on these wild adventures, but sometimes a character’s adventure is more introspective and emotional. And sometimes – that’s the adventure we need to read.

So many people suffer from mental health issues these days – my main hope is that people will come away from the novel with a sense of understanding, and maybe even a sense of belonging. One of the worst things about mental health is how lonely it makes you feel, but that can change. I want readers to know that it will get better. It will. And maybe the novel will be able to help the friends and families of sufferers – these people are the support systems, and sometimes it can be hard for them to truly understand how their loved ones feel.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I love writing in cafes. I love watching people interact, listening to conversations – I especially love sitting near a window with natural light, and just really connecting with the world around me. Although my eyes tend to be glued to my laptop, I am, essentially, writing about life, so I like to be somewhere where life is bustling on around me.

Do you have any writing essentials?

Without a doubt, I have to have a cup of tea. Always. I have to have a notebook with me, even if I’m writing with my laptop. It’s kind of my anchor, in a way. If I get stuck on what I’m writing, I’ll turn to my notebook. I’ve always found it easier to write when I’m putting pen to paper – the traditional way.

I used to listen to lyrical music, but now I prefer classical or ambient mixer. I like to find ambient sounds that match the scene I’m writing – it’s a great way to connect to your fictional surroundings and really immerse yourself in what you’re writing.

Who is your favourite author at the minute?

Louise O’ Neill. Her honesty is just beautiful. Her courage to write about important, and sometimes difficult, topics is hugely admirable. She’s the author I take most inspiration from, and I aim to have the same kind of honest, raw emotion in my own work.

How do you find the process of switching between writing your blog, and writing your manuscript, a much longer piece of work?

At times it can be difficult, especially times when I’m deep in my manuscript and know I need to write a blog post. There have definitely been times when I’ve neglected to write a blog post because I’m just too committed to the novel and the path it’s taking. However, the break is nice, and sometimes it’s good to write something shorter and grounded in my world, and then flit back to writing about these fictional characters. Often, my blog posts will inspire certain elements of the manuscript as well, or prompt me to think more deeply about an element of my plot. So they kind of go hand in hand!

Finally, do you have any advice for young aspiring writers?

Always have a notebook with you. Always. Don’t compare yourself to other writers because the work you’re reading has been edited a million times, and you’re only just beginning. Write the story you would love to stumble upon in a bookshop because, chances are, there’s someone else who wants to read that book, too.

 

You can keep up to date with Naomi’s writing journey on her blog.

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Why is it SO important for girls to be feminine?: A good-natured rant

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Oh, guys. It’s such an issue. Even when you think things are starting to get better in the world, and there are more toys and clothes and TV shows that are gender-neutral… it still isn’t enough. There’s such a pressure, not just on young girls, but on ALL WOMEN to be conventionally attractive and feminine. WHY?

Why, when my friend goes to work wearing heeled boots, does she have to hear from her female co-workers, “Wow, you look so nice today! You actually look really feminine!”, as if this is the be-all-and-end-all of what is considered attractive?

Why, even if I leave the house feeling confident with no make-up on, do I have that niggling thought in the back of my head saying I should have put more effort in today. What if I see someone I know?

Why do we compare ourselves to edited pictures of Instagram models EVEN THOUGH we know that standard of beauty just isn’t achievable?

“Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me.” – J.K. Rowling

I don’t want to bang on about the whole ‘society is to blame’ thing, because we all know that’s true, for the most part. And I’m sure there are things we can do to combat this, but it’s easy to feel helpless when the issue is so above and beyond something that one person can solve.

Please know that this isn’t a dig at women who are feminine, and are comfortable and happy being that way – I am too. I wear make-up, most of the time. It makes me feel more confident, and I know it’s the same for a lot of women – but I find myself questioning on a regular basis… why? Why does it make me feel more confident when I’m, effectively, pretending to be something I’m not? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where being attractive doesn’t even cross our minds? Where we can focus on our intelligence or our passion or our kindness and not have to think about which clothes we’ll look best in or whether we’re too spotty or fat or unfeminine to succeed in life?

That’d be Utopia, right? Totally unachievable. But is there a way we can at least try to bring other women up, instead of inadvertently and unintentionally bringing each other down? There’s nothing I can do to change society – let’s be real – but there are things I can do to change my own outlook, and self-monitor my thoughts when I’m subconsciously judging myself or others.

If I meet a friend, and they’re not wearing make-up, I’m not going to ask them if they’re okay or if they’re feeling ill, like so many of my friends, co-workers and even teachers have said to me in the past. I’ll compliment them in the same way I would if I liked their eyeliner, or the shoes they were wearing the other day. Better yet, I’ll congratulate them on their achievements and encourage them in their pursuits, because there is so much more to life than just. Being. Pretty.

I’ll never steer my sisters away from Action Man and towards Barbie, just because that’s what’s expected of girls. I’ll encourage them to be who they want to be, and they’ll know that if they want to be the prettiest, girliest girly-girl the world has ever seen, that will be their choice, not a requirement. It’s important for kids to know that every single person who has breathed and is breathing on this planet is completely different. We don’t need to strive to make ourselves carbon copies of what society finds beautiful.

Here’s an idea: be kind. Be confident. Be ambitious. Be feminine or be masculine or be whatever the hell you want – but do it because that’s who you are. 

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Set short term goals and create your own timetable for life

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Tonight, my wonderful friend and I were talking, and she was telling me about how she feels a failure when she has to ask for help with things, or when she isn’t at the same point in life as everyone else, because she’s in her mid-twenties now. Life can be so difficult when we convince ourselves we should be doing something or should have achieved something by a certain age – and there are so many pressures around us that we have to fight to create our own timetable in life.

Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.

Creating your own timetable doesn’t mean deciding you’re going to be married by twenty or have your first novel published by twenty-five. Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.

It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be.

Everybody marks success in their own different ways – and it’s vital to remember that when you’re setting your own goals for the future. I don’t want to be a chef, or an athlete – so I don’t need to train hard in the gym or spend my days preparing for my Masterchef debut. Someone else’s success of running a marathon might be my equivalent of eating a cheeseburger – our different achievements are equally valid, but rarely perceived that way by others.

It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be. Think about what you’d like to achieve in the long-term, and rather than setting a date you want to achieve it by, think about the steps you can take every day to get there.

For example, I want to write another novel. I’m not setting myself a date that I want to complete said novel by – because if I don’t meet my self-imposed deadline then all I’ll feel is guilt and failure. What I can do is set myself a little goal of writing 1,000 words a day. That way, I know that I’ll have a draft of my novel in less than six months, and then I have lots of time to edit and polish that draft before sending it to publishers.

Sometimes, even small goals (like 1,000 words a day) can be risky – any kind of goal can be risky, when you think about it, because it opens you up to the prospect of failure. It can be a vicious cycle, but I always remind myself; if I don’t set goals, I won’t feel like a failure… but I won’t feel like I’ve achieved anything, either. The only way to achieve success is to set yourself reasonable goals to achieve. You’re working towards something. Learning. Growing.

If little goals seem insurmountable (and they often do, depending on how we’re feeling), then set yourself a goal that has a little more flexibility. Another example – if I’m having a busy month with lots of writing deadlines and other commitments, I set myself a writing goal of 5,000 words a week. That way, I can get away with writing nothing on a couple of days, and 1,000 or 2,000 words on others. I can trick myself into meeting my target by making things just a little bit easier for myself in the short term.

When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen.

Moving on to things that aren’t wholly creative – those ‘real world’ jobs, for instance – we also need to factor those into our life timetables. Sometimes, we need to recognise when our mental or physical health is taking a turn, or when we just aren’t happy in the place we’ve ended up. Taking time off from your job, or taking a break in your career, can help you to truly understand yourself and your needs.

When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to your body. Just by quieting the other things around you, you can learn when you need to sleep, eat, create – and let your body and your mind fall into a routine again.

Below are some little short term goals that I’ve set myself (with no time restrictions or limits to achieve them):

  • Write 500-1,000 words a day (more, if you feel like it!)
  • Read something new every week (a novel, a children’s book… even a blog post!)
  • Try cooking a new recipe once a month
  • Make your bed every morning
  • Clean the house (properly) at least once a week
  • Say yes to new opportunities (if they feel right)

I tell myself this all the time, so I want to tell you guys, too: there will always be people who seem ‘ahead’ of you in life. There will be people who are married with kids before you are, people who put a mortgage down on a house before you do, who get a dog before you do, who finish a novel before you do… and there will be people who complete these things way after you – or not at all. You are individual, unique, and worth no less than anyone who seems to have achieved more.

Your timetable for life will be just as unique as you are. It’s all about moving forwards.

What little goals have you set yourself recently? Let me know in the comments below.

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How do we balance our creativity?

Lifestyle

There are too many things I want to write / paint / create – and I have to squeeze a real life in my schedule, too. I imagine this is a problem that lots of Creatives have. There are so many things we want to dabble in – so many projects that we start but never finish because we get distracted by something equally wonderful – so how do we combat it?!

Balancing my creativity is something that is a huge issue for me. As well as writing children’s fiction, I’m also a singer and songwriter, with a bit of a thing for art as well. Tonight, for example, I know that I have to edit the final chapter of my novel. It needs work, I have a deadline on Friday, and I actually want to get it done. But then – BAM – out of nowhere, I get an idea for a song that is just screaming to be written. So… I’ll just sit down and write it, right? Surely that’s the only way to get it down and out of the way?

How am I supposed to manage all of this creative energy?

Sounds easy enough to just take five minutes out of my editing schedule… But then, that five minutes magically morphs into two hours, and I’ve written two and a half semi-decent songs that I know I will do nothing with… and done none of the edits on the final chapter. As if this wasn’t enough, I can now feel a short story idea blooming and have a sudden craving for hummus.

Alright, so the hummus thing isn’t that creative. But how am I supposed to manage all of this creative energy? How do I balance trying to be creative in so many aspects of my life – and also do “normal” things like go to work and pay the rent? IS THERE A SIMPLE ANSWER?

I spoke to my mum recently about getting a job that will be flexible enough to fit around my studies. She suggested doing some bar work.

“It’ll just be evenings and weekends,” she said. “You can fit it around university and still have time to write!”

My response?

“… But evenings are when I write.”

My mum sighed. “Well, can’t you just write in the mornings instead?”

I wish it was that simple to change my creative pattern, Mum. But things never seem to work out that way. Sometimes, I sit down at my desk at 9am and bash out a few thousand words before proceeding to tell myself I am basically Stephen King now and I can retire in a mansion brimming with pride. Most of the time, though, I go an entire day feeling terrible because I haven’t written anything, go to bed that night… and then wake up suddenly at 3am with a wonderful idea that insists I sit and write until 7.

Sure, it’d be great to get those wonderful ideas at a more convenient time. Would I like an undisturbed sleep pattern? Yup. A nice job doing bar work in the evenings to get some extra cash? Sure. But can I sacrifice my creativity just so things are a little easier for the time being? … Probably not.

Alongside this, I have the classic problem of never being able to finish anything. Sure, I finished that one novel, but the edits are taking forever and I can’t keep my mind focused on it enough to get everything sorted. I have another novel I’m writing on my MA that I’m super excited about and want to give all of my attention to, a picture book that needs a fair bit of work, songs to be written, paintings to be painted… There must be a way to stick to a project without getting distracted. Right?

Basically, I’m writing this post to let you all know that I’m screwed. We all probably are. I can’t seem to find a way to a) have a normal life without sacrificing my creativity and b) stick to one project and finish the damn thing. 

I found an article called A Much Better Way to Think About the Work-Life Balance, which includes some good advice like finding out when you’re most creative and integrating that into your schedule, being open to change, finding time to do the things that you love… I just have such a passion for writing and being creative that I feel like sitting in a part-time job, just to make rent, would just be soul-destroying. So dramatic, right? I keep taking short-term, temporary jobs in creative fields (reviewing shows, working at festivals) to keep myself afloat, but in the long-term, I might need a more realistic plan. But being realistic is not really my strong point (and it’s boring).

Have you found a way to balance your projects and your personal life? Or are you in the same sinking ship?

Who knew being creative could be such a nightmare?

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