Happy Easter...

To any Christians I know well (or those raised Christian) who say Happy Easter to me, I'm usually:"Did you hear that? Can you smell it?"

But if a Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim bids me a "Happy Easter" I'm like:

PRAISE THE VERY LORD! EAT AND DRINK THAT GUY - AND PRAISE YOU FOR SAYING IT!!! HAVE AN EGG - WAIT! HAVE A DOZEN! EACH ONE REPRE- Hang on - this one? This one represents Simon Peter The Rock Johnson! This one? This one here is Matthew Levi's Jeans...THANK! YOU! BLESS US ONE AND ALL!!!"

Pressed Flowers by Bianca Bowers: A Review

Like many of the finest scribes, such as continental Irishmen Beckett and Joyce, Bianca Bowers is an exile. A poet and author originally from South Africa, now living in Australia, she often writes about rootlessness and place, and searches for a definition – or redefines the idea of – “home” in a variety of ways.

Pressed Flowers is a collection of poems she has retired. Think of them as a Greatest Hits album of the songs she no longer performs. Much of this work has been previously published and, given that many poetry publishers and contests demand first-publication rights, it’s easy to see how such a collection could come about. What is not so easy to understand is that Bianca Bowers is now giving away this inspiring work for free. All you have to do is to subscribe to her web presence.

Bowers’ poems frequently have a power, whether through the force of the language to which she’s clearly entitled given her eloquence, through a compulsion to claim the aforementioned space, or to articulate themes such as motherhood and aspects of the feminine. She’s not a man-basher, but anyone with any social insight will acknowledge that Bowers has some vindication to make a case for herself and for women more broadly. One of the most anti-man poems – if we could call it that – is His Sin, where the futility of fate is examined. A woman has to accept that her life will not be what she had hoped for. Whether abusive or unfaithful, the narrator’s lover is clearly a factor in this realisation – or at least the articulation of the idea.

Given that we don’t have far to look into many world cultures of both the present and the past to determine that men have frequently been (for example) pissing their wages against the alley wall next to the pub rather than bringing it home in the form of groceries or clothes, the universality in the personal is apparent.

Much of her work is characterised by loss or sadness. But again, to stress, Bowers’ poetry is rich and multi-hued in themes and tones. Her work is frequently vivid in its imagery, emotionally charged, dynamic, and raw. It features nature in various guises – both at its most brutally Darwinian and in its sheer beauty - often at the same time. It covers human interaction insightfully, and the strength and fragility of relationships. While I don’t want to give away details, the morbid Smiling Bag is a clever piece of work that could be shoehorned into a detective noir novel.

There is a very creative exploitation of language throughout this collection. What we can assume to be a road surface, hot underfoot, is described as "solar-powered tar"; in the same poem, a "secret sin" is apparently sent out as a bottled message into the sea in an act of catharsis. In this and other work, Bowers has a remarkable capacity to surprise.

Perspective is important too: A butterfly rests upon an elephant’s trunk, perhaps feeding on the larger beast’s tears. The sun is a mere star, the moon a whole planet.
Not every poem's ideas appear fully developed, but – just as we can read a brilliant short story and say the same, in the sense of things being left open, the reader can draw conclusions – fully-teased out detail is unnecessary with imagery like this, and each piece is a satisfying read, distilled to fine thoughts and wonderful word choice.
There are images and ideas throughout Bowers’ work to inspire further thoughts and ideas, concepts and themes that leave this reader both contemplative and envious in an “I wish I’d thought of that” way.

Bianca's website is here. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, and elsewhere.

How do you add character to characters?

Quirks and tics, motivations and fears (can be said to) dictate a character's behaviour. But how often do you remind a reader of these personality traits?

I'd argue it ought to be quality rather than quantity, and that referencing a tic or habit a number of times is painting-by-numbers if it doesn't seem natural. So less of the constant sighs of impatience of someone with a low attention span.

(Of course, if it’s done successfully, you will fake the organic nature of a character trait.)

The Skywalkers’ shared failing is impatience. Anakin’s too keen to become a Jedi Master, and Luke takes off to rescue Han and Leia before he’s completed his training, and what happens? He loses his hand, and loses his Han.

Then, after being traumatised through his amputation and ungodly provenance, he has to build his own new lightsaber out of the cheque he received from his very bad Jedi healthcare plan. (Not really.)

Impatience is a major failing of the Skywalkers that feeds into the plot (in a good way). The incorporation of similarly subtle characteristics is better than constant sighing or ARE WE THERE YET type stuff.

You can milk a tic or quirk for humour too. In much literature and comedy, writers use the “rule-of-three” and the idea of call-backs, where they reference a previously made point.
Or there can be a set-up and a pay-off related to a quirk. And all-the-better if the quirk itself can seem like not-a-quirk at all.


If I could be so bold as to provide an example from one of my own works-in-progresseez:
A character explains his motivation for not trusting his psychiatrist. He says to the psychiatrist:

“Doctors have to do very well in school. They have to be very intelligent. Psychopaths are often highly intelligent too. A lot of doctors - particularly mind specialists like yourself - must be psychopaths.”

His psychiatrist talks about his qualifications and principles to try to get the character to open up. Finally, the patient is convinced to reveal his secrets.

But it turns out that this shrink IS a villain in the story after all.
Later on, while this same psychiatric patient is held at gunpoint by the psychiatrist-villain and his goons, he meets an astrophysicist, who has also been taken hostage by the psychiatrist.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, the patient says as they're introduced to each other and thrown into a cell, but I don’t really trust astrophysicists.”

The psychiatrist roars at him to shut up.

Reluctance to trust people of high intelligence isn’t really a quirk you’d consider workable in that way. But we could argue that unless you have something as idiosyncratic as that, or a nervous twitch, you shouldn’t be explicit in putting your finger on it.

I mean, if a character is shy or untrusting more broadly, don’t use the words shy or suspicious.
Just show her being a wallflower, or checking the last dialed number on someone’s phone.

I’d suggest that each time you show any quirk - if you feel the need - you develop it a little bit, as above. And try to make it.work for the story you’re telling.

The Perduror: Inspiration for the novel

This is from my novel The Perduror (available on Kindle):

"We pulled up outside the cemetery and got out of the car. We walked through the gate. In the summer heat, a swarm of mosquitoes was circling above a stagnant pool on the path we walked on that cut through the middle of the graveyard. The graveyard was divided roughly into two sections. The older section’s headstones were haphazardly arranged, arbitrarily placed in seemingly little order, almost as if people had come here to die and were buried where they had fallen."

The scene's setting is loosely based on a graveyard near where I grew up.  There's an old church on the cemetery grounds - among the very smallest churches in Ireland, no bigger than an apartment living room, and although it only dates back to around the seventeenth century, apparently there has been a site of worship on that same ground since at least 800 AD.

Although it's difficult to see the headstones in this graveyard from the photos, beyond the graves right next to the church, the other burial places are in fact haphazardly arranged around the chapel and throughout the old graveyard.

Headstones and tombs date back to the 1600s. They have faded over the last couple of decades; I could read them when I was younger, but the inscriptions are mostly gone now.

Maybe there's a purpose or pattern to the layout of the graves, but if there is, I don't know about it.

The Perduror is the second work of fiction that's been inspired by the little church.

The first is a short story called Ramsey and the Child, which won a short fiction prize in 2011. So the inspiration has served me well.

You can buy The Perduror for Kindle.

Morium by SJ Hermann: Book Review

SJ Hermann’s Morium, available at Amazon, features school kids who are emotionally overwhelmed with life. 

It would not be too glib to suggest that the concepts behind EMO behavior are probably more broadly embraced than by those who identify overtly with the culture, and they are rife in this novel.
One might ask why that is. What with pallid handsome Edward Cullen, and the grip of vampiric subculture on the zeitgeist in the last ten years, teen angst has its outlets in pop culture in ways that are darker than, say, 90s grunge. Sure, there were always Goths. But black, today, is the new tie dye.

Introspection is a little more profound in the teenager – and solitude brings negative thoughts. This is all made explicit in this impressive debut.

Hermann’s Morium – the first book of a series – tackles the issue of bullying through the prism of science fiction and the supernatural. The novel features broody moody (although decent) teens, bullied in high school, who find themselves endowed with supernatural powers that they struggle to control.

Lexi is a self-harming girl whose single-parent father struggles to find a job. Like Lexi, her friend Nathan is undermined at school by bullies. A third character – whose sexuality was questioned by even parents when she arrived in the area – rounds out the triumvirate.

Small-mindedness is shown to be not exclusively prevalent among teens. And as the story progresses, we find out that the superpowers discovered by our heroes can become messy.

The metaphysical problem of other minds is addressed too, and issues concerning what constitutes a soul, although not explicit, are woven into the plot.

Nathan and Lexi – the victims of school bullying – level-up. Their high school adversaries are supplanted by villains such as bank thieves, rapists and muggers. Both supernatural and science fiction elements feature– and it is clear here that superpowers often corrupt. It would be fair to suggest that although the characters are identifiable, there is no clearly defined good vs evil – and so too in life. The roundedness of the story – and the dysfunction of the central characters – means that good people can turn bad.

The old billboard posters for the original Superman (1978) advised that the movie was worth watching because you’d believe a man can fly. Hermann’s detail in the flight of his characters is rich enough that you’ll believe the same. And in the best way, bringing about supernatural powers brings on superhero themes. Think Spiderman's Uncle Ben on power and responsibility. Think the best of the Marvel Universe. And continuing the theme of movies that are like this book, in terms of character development and dynamics - splintered families, extraterrestrial stuff - it has touches of a great Zemeckis or Spielberg movie too.

There’s a dash of clever feigning on occasion – readers may be unsure sometimes who they’re following through the story for a page or two. But these sleights of hand have neat rewards.
Explaining the science bit also wraps neatly into the story. It is a tale with a moral core that impresses in this era where such details are rare.

You can get Morium today at Amazon. You can find other books in the series at SJ Hermann's author page. Follow SJ Hermann on Facebook and Twitter.

Ireland this St Patrick's Day: A report

Instead of Tuam babies, can we call it state genocide of the infants of single mothers from the early 20s to the 1990s? 

Something that doesn't make us sound like we still talk about shockin' holy saints and raise funds for the Knights of Columbanus Biafran Blight appeal for the big-bellied black babbies while we feed potato peels to the piglets under our arms.

And don't we show a great deal more agreement with the centre right internationally than we need to? We're a small country, with the reputation of a banana republic.
Start acting like it!
We should be more like Iceland. It's not all rosy in Iceland right now. But do they have a homelessness crisis? No. How is their healthcare? It's still all better than ours. 

Point out the articles about how people are poverty-stricken in Iceland, with their cars that they still own, their healthcare, education and housing. Poverty is relative. 5000 homeless in Iceland out of a quarter or third of a million would be passed off elsewhere as a margin-of-error glitch.
Taxes are crazy-high in Iceland. But they're still better off. If they are made redundant, they are cushioned by the system.

We're small enough to do stuff on our own, to show some initiative, and not to be disgracing ourselves in the process. If we do disgrace ourselves - if we had stood up to bondholders and it all went to shit, for instance - we try something else. And we do it quickly, because we can.

Even if it's mimicking whatever Dutch model or Swedish model or pilfering whatever policies can be found across the world that work. Maintaining of the status quo from this government is disappointing.
Look at how FG coalitions reacted to Veronica Guerin (setting up CAB) or their economic policy (lowering corporate tax) in previous governments. They were culture-changing measures.
And look at the government in these last two Dails, waiting for the boat to upright itself. Setting up portokabins for €80,000 a unit when it had been €5000 the previous week, or whatever it is.
The last six months, Minister Coveney has simply rattled off the same old stats on RTE tv at ten pm every couple of weeks. 
"Things are coming on stream!" 
He'll be there saying "The crisis is nearly as bad in Cork." 
But what did you do the day AFTER you told us that, Simon?
You're in the process of introducing a scheme that might encourage a landlord to reduce the number of farts from his tenants? It's been sent for independent review to the Dail committee and a mandarin ordinge.
Why DIDN'T you tax the fallow zoned land two or five or ten years ago?
Why can't you do it tomorrow?
Why did you let the Irish banks keep interest rates high when they were low in Frankfurt? Coz they needed the money?
There are houses available NOW. You basically OWN them. The banks OWE the government. Let people INTO the houses. 
The toilets won't flush? Pay someone €15 an hour to pour water into the cistern. Set up some kind of generator. 
It will cost less than the hotel accommodation.
Markets dictates XY and Z. Well, the market was artificially inflated by corporate tax rates that the EU and US suggested were anti-competitive and turned us into a tax haven and a bunch of gangster economists and worse. 
Back in the day, it took a few hours to set up a hedge fund at the IFSC. 
It took days in The City or on Wall Street. It wasn't because the Irish government had streamlined the whole process with amazing mathematical skills and prowess. 

It was coz in Ireland, under a No Smoking sign at the DART station, you're often likely to find a second little message that says "Keep it to yourself." 
The late Terry Wogan talked about how somebody from the Irish embassy phoned his agent and asked him to attend an event at the embassy. He asked if he could be there at 7pm. The agent said "No. You bring a car to pick up Mr. Wogan at the BBC. Because that's how it works."
They ask if Mr. Wogan can be outside the tv centre at 6.30. The agent says "No. The driver parks the car and goes in and asks for Mr. Wogan at the front desk."
Terry goes to the event. As he's entering the building, he's handed a programme, where it says that the event is being compered by Terry Wogan.
That's the culture we have, and to sit and do nothing when we can do something even on-the-fly, seat-of-the-pants, with a nudge and a wink IN A GOOD WAY - coz it can be GOOD as well as BAD - is no more than silly lip service to broader centrist dogma.

Three Writing Tips: Contests and Submissions

First tip here is plain and simple: When it comes to submission guidelines, do what they tell you to do. If their demands seem excessive and they're charging you for the privilege of entry, don't enter.
If their demands are excessive and they seem like a good outfit, take your time and make sure you do it all right.
This view is my own.
I tend to avoid any general fiction appeal with a submission guideline that stipulates "No pornography, erotica, gratuitous violence, children's literature, profanity, sci fi..."

Not because all of my fiction contains this stuff, but because there are degrees.
Does magic realism constitute science fiction? Does a child calling somebody a pooperhead constitute profanity? Does a woman getting beaten for calling her boyfriend a pooperhead - by her boyfriend - constitute gratuitous violence?
It's a straw-man argument, but these people have set themselves up as straw men.
If they say "No gratuitous violence" it is surely and purely a matter of taste as to what that is. But if a free-to-enter story contest theme is The Longest Journey and you have a story that fits, and the organisers say no erotica and there is no erotica in your story, send it in!

When filling in the form for a short story contest, if there's a space for "Title" and a space for "Name of Story", you should put Mr or Ms, etc in the Title field, rather than, like, "The First Will Toward Good vs Entropy", or whatever you call your OWN story. 

(That's just an example name of a story.) 

The reason for this is that if you put the title of the story in the Title field instead of the Name of Story field, you run the risk of receiving correspondence from the contest organisers that reads something like
The First Will Toward Good vs Entropy John Smith (instead of Mr John Smith). 

Well, folks, don't they always tell you to end on a joke? I'm outta here!

Novel background: The Perduror by Richard Gibney

My first collection of shorter stories, called Fade to Black, will be out some time in the near future.
I planned to bring it out last year but then an opportunity came up from four wonderful fellow writers to put my novel, The Perduror, into an independently produced boxset alongside their works.
Posing in front of a castle (really, this one is just a big old Victorian pile.)

The novel (also available on its own on Amazon at a far more princely sum) features a family at its core that has a (recorded) history stretching back many centuries – and I did a little research on this to see how feasible it would be to have this family history passed down from one generation to the next. 

It turns out there are some tribal clans in Ireland that would have a history going back to Pagan times, and some about three hundred years before Christ. The O'Briens - their most famous ruler being Brian Boru - would be one such family.

The Earls of Ormond – the Butler family – are another example.
One of them was apparently engaged to be married to Anne Boleyn before Henry the Eighth got his hands on her!

Another family is the Talbots, who owned a lot of the land around where I grew up, including Malahide Castle (a twenty minute drive through some leafy backroads) here.

Although the elements of my characters' family history are a little daft coz fiction, there is some crazy stuff in Ireland - from architecture to anecdotes both apocryphal and confirmed - that are inspiring.

So my hero (a young man called Blythe) is upper-middle class, his politics a little more conservative than my own, and his family have funny upper class names like Glascott.
That's about it. More on the book later!

A chat with Dimitri Iatrou - author of Damastor

Dimitri Iatrou, a Canadian (Nova Scotian) writer, has recently released Damastor – available from Amazon.

With “themes of heaven and hell”, it’s a supernatural thriller set in the Middle Ages and in the present-day. It features a junkie, Kameron, who steals for his fix, and three mid-fourteenth-century figures whose lives have been devastated by the arrival of the Pestilence, or Black Death.

Dimitri Iatrou
Dimitri Iatrou
Tell us about the timeline of the novel, Dimitri. And this Kameron is a hero/antihero?

It's past/present. Goes from England 1349 to the present. Back and forth. Kameron is a druggie who mugs people for a living. But he's connected to the past somehow; moreover, he keeps having memories which do not belong to him. They’re becoming progressively more lucid and more frequent and he’s freaking out because he figures he’s going insane, that the voices are all attributed to years of drug abuse.

Have you done any marketing for your book? Book signings, events, etc.?

I haven’t yet had my official “book signing” event, but it is in the works. I've sold quite a few paperback copies just from my Facebook acquaintances alone, so I was very excited about that. I'm very lucky to have their support. Never thought so many people were in my corner. It's humbling. I never even intended to publish in the first place.
It was only when I was contacted by a publishing house saying they wanted it as their "baby" that I even began to think it was good enough.

Wow! Tell me how you got the deal.

Interesting thing about the publishing deal – It never materialized!
Damastor took me ten years to write because I was never planning on publishing it in the first place. I did years of research on the black plague, superstitions, language used in the middle ages, religion, gang warfare, drug addiction, etc. I had no time constraints and loved creating these worlds and the characters in them. 

Then I got an email from a senior editor who was interested in reading my manuscript. (She contacted me three years ago.) I sent in my manuscript to her on a Friday and a few days later she contacted me and asked if we could meet. So my wife and I met up with her and she basically said how impressed she was with it. I couldn't believe she was talking about my manuscript! She said that she had spoken to her boss and they wanted to make it into a hard cover. I was overjoyed to say the least and we talked about how we would move forward. I was given great insight and advice by both the senior editor and the owner of the company. Fast forward three years, I was made aware that there were certain problems at the company, so I decided to self-publish, full of confidence in my manuscript and my writing ability. I owe my editor full props, as without her seal of approval, I would not have had the courage to publish it.

So now you’re doing your own promotion?

I'm thinking of planning a book signing at my local library, but I'm nervous as heck. It can be overwhelming to think about your ideas being so public.  When one writes, there is a very intimate interaction taking place between thought and written word. To then have a party to celebrate that can be daunting: what if people don’t like what I’ve created? What if they don’t like my imagination? This can be hard. But then I think, “Oh well, never know until I try, right?”

I’ve had my own struggles. An agent had been sitting on a novel for about eighteen months a few years back when it got shortlisted in a contest – first prize was publication. Now, I should’ve continued shopping around while he was considering. But I had to prompt him and ask “Will I publish it with these guys if I win, and/or will you represent me?”
His advice was No, don't go with the small publishing house, and (due to the recession at the time, and the work it would take to get the novel up to scratch) No he wouldn’t be able to represent me. Then, someone else won the contest anyway!

It's stories like this that make me realize how lucky we are to be able to take control of our own publishing now with sites like Create Space.
Eliminate the gatekeepers! LOL

Yeh but it's a tough industry.

It really is. That's why indie authors have to stick together and help each other out, just like you’re doing for so many authors. A little share here and there, a positive comment about an author’s work not only gets the word out, but also instils belief, joy and confidence in that person that someone would take the time to ask them about their creation.

So does Kameron turn good or is he a Freddie Krueger / Faustus type?

Not going to spoil that here, haha! But I will say his supernatural stalker is hell bent on making Kameron see things his way, even if it means Kameron’s death.

It looks great just scanning the opening pages there, the healer nurse woman and the other chap - how do they play into the present day?

The female doctor (Ann), Herendin and Nestor are part of the past [storyline] and all three forge a very close friendship. But this time period (not the characters) also ties in with the present day where violence is widespread all over the world. Kameron is a druggie who gets his narcotics by mugging people. One day when he's about to attack someone, something jumps out at him from the shadows. Kameron decides to solicit the help of his best friend Macky, who also happens to be the leader of the most ferocious gang in the country, the Core. But even the Core isn’t enough to stop the thing that's following Kameron.

Damastor book cover featuring a tree with a winged humanoid in the branches in silhouette
Damastor by Dimitri Iatrou is available from Amazon
Tell me more about this group in the Middle Ages!

They’re basically trying their very best not to catch the curse. Everyone around them is dying. There’s chaos everywhere. Reason has lost its way. Their journey is full of tribulations. I love making my characters suffer! It makes what they fight for all the sweeter. Thank you, Richard, for giving me the opportunity to talk a little bit about Damastor. It's true what they say... once you release your novel into the world, you can no longer hear the characters speaking to you… Until the sequel, that is.

Ha! This is true. The Death of the Author and all that.

Ann is the daughter of a brilliant doctor who died from the plague. She is a realist, has quite a wit, she’s a strong personality and does not hesitate to put you in your place if you irritate her.
Herendin is an elderly man, formerly a knight of King Edward's army. His is a story of glory, love, and immeasurable torment. Nestor is a young man with mental and physical challenges, who has been abused all his life by his father. Only his precious mother loved him enough to force him to flee his village, for everyone there was "cursed". Nestor’s journey involves him trying to locate his mother. who told Nestor she would meet up with him a few days hence.

Sounds like an adventure alright! Nestor probably pre-dates Hodor from Game of Thrones, but he sounds a bit like Hodor.
Oh yeah! Never noticed that. I love Hodor’s character! The innocence and faith he possesses makes him so lovable. Nestor is very much like Hodor.

Do you watch GoT?
Absolutely! Can't keep all the characters straight, but GoT is awesome!

Or Nestor sounds a bit like that other guy. Jon Snow’s pal Sam.
So I heard the Bubonics culled England’s population (to be very crude about it) in a way that freed up farmland, raised prices, gave people an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Basically the rise of the middle classes!

Exactly. As the plague spread throughout Europe, people either died or fled their estates, manors, etc. So these places were left abandoned. No one was left to bury the dead. Because of widespread labour shortages, serfs were able to revolt against the nobility that sought to work them for lower wages in the past. They had the skills, and were smart enough to demand higher wages for their labours.

Unlike us today, eh?  Struggling writers one and all!

HAHA yeah!

Do you have a process or do you set aside the time to write?
Finding the time to write is tricky for me. What with work, a three-year old, an awesome life-partner and the gym, my time is limited for sitting and actually getting quality time to write. But writers write. We find the time, don’t we? We steal a moment here and there whenever we can.

Must be tough! But it’s worth it, right?
Absolutely - When you're so energized and excited about how your manuscript is progressing, you tend to lose track of time. The characters become a part of you. They’re real. I remember starting at 7 pm, next thing I know it's 5 am and I'm freaking out because I have to get up for work in an hour! Guess it's better than being hung over.

It's like day-jobs don't matter. You get through them and you're sustained by whatever you're working on, in terms of whatever story you’re writing.
It's a drug full stop. You’re creating worlds and characters and have the power to do anything your imagination wants to do to them.

It sure is. Hey! Thanks for the interview.
Cool man. It was great chatting. Thanks for the opportunity to speak on your blog. It's a first for me and I really appreciate the exposure you’re offering to so many people. It was my honour.
You can find Dimitri Iatrou on Goodreads and Twitter. Damastor is available from Amazon and elsewhere. He has a website too: diatrou86.wordpress.com