Sharing my writing tips as an author is somewhat akin to a new mother offering parenting advice to someone who already has five teenage boys. But truthfully, nearing the end now of The Evolve Trilogy, I think I do have some wisdom to share.
The most important thing I learned after completing the first book, When Destiny Sings, is to listen to those who’ve gone before you, and learn to take criticism. Take it, it’s not personal. I remember being told as I was nervously wheeled through the doors of the maternity ward for the first time to “leave your dignity at the front door.” With writing, “leave your ego.”
You may think you’ve accomplished the unachievable when you finish a book, I certainly did! Still, you’re about to enter an arena where this is not at all ground-breaking. Instead, it’s like heading back to Junior Infants, with pigtails and a gapingly empty backpack. When I began writing my first book, then called Evolve, I just wrote – without much structure or any real plan. I had an idea, and an intense yearning, so I went with it. It was very pure. If I’d stopped for a moment to consider all the work that lay ahead after reaching what I thought was the end, I might not have persevered. Here’s what I learned after I wrote “the end” for the first time, and after Evolve evolved into When Destiny Sings – book one in what is now The Evolve Trilogy. I managed to get my original title in there, through compromise!
- So, you think you’ve finished a book? You haven’t! I remember calling my friend, Eoin Dempsey, an Irish author in America, to tell him I’d finished.
“Great,” he replied. “Now, the real work begins.”
“No. I’ve finished.”
“No,” I could hear him smiling at my naivety. “You’ve only just begun.”
And there nestled in his Karen Carpenter lyrics style message, was my first hard lesson. I had only just begun. It took me a few days to process that what this actually meant was rewriting the book. But hidden in amongst the words, there was a story – one that needed refining but something that I believed was worth the effort. Since then, I’ve learned my lesson. Before starting Sing me Home, the second book, I took the time to build the characters, along with a rough chapter outline. I knew how Sing me Home was going to end. I needed to. By then, the tale had moved in a fortuitous direction, and two more books. Which brings me to …
- Passion. Why do you want to write? If the answer is to make millions, please reverse slowly out of the door, turn, and run, fast! Yes, it happens. Of course, it does, and obviously, I wouldn’t say no, but it shouldn’t be what drives you. My motivation changed after completing When Destiny Sings, and I commenced Sing me Home with this in mind. I never had the pleasure of meeting the late great Emma Hannigan, but I did email her to ask her advice. At the time, I didn’t realise that she was very ill. Even from her sickbed, she offered me pause for thought. “Write from your heart. I do, and it’s served me well.” It’s advice I follow.
- Emma’s email also led me to Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin. Honestly, I’d never even heard of Vanessa, but Emma had sent me the gift of an angel, a marvellously honest one! She took a quick look, educating me on structure, characters, theme. The name is wrong. Was my theme old fashioned? Would I consider changing a character from a Reverend to perhaps a doctor? Vanessa also advised that I should write out the bones of each chapter on flashcards, lay them on a table and then shift them around. Again, I listened, moving sections, renaming characters. I’m sorry, Vanessa, but I decided not to change from Reverend to Doctor in When Destiny Sings (Michael is simply far too amusing as the bumbling Rev!)
- The actual process of writing is very personal. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way. When Destiny Sings was written somewhat furiously. I’d work through lunch, sometimes seven days a week, goggle-eyed and dehydrated. Not a good look! With Sing me Home, I felt more in control. I had my plan. My third book, Lying with Truth, has been slower again, more measured, and I can see that reflected in it. Like athletes, writers need rest as much as writing. Slow and steady for me, means fewer drafts. It all balances out in in the end. Writing is a discipline, but it’s become like oxygen, but take your time. It isn’t a race!
- Believe in yourself. When someone else begins to believe too, it’s all worth it. For me, it was Paula Campbell of Poolbeg Press. When Paula first suggested a trilogy I almost fainted. But The Evolve Trilogy has been my apprenticeship. I’ve learned so much. The plan for my fourth book is standalone. I’m hoping it will feel like a walk in the park compared to having to connect three different tales. But I’ve loved it. The Maguire family in all three books have become like my own. I’ll be sad bidding them farewell.
- Finally, know your superpower. I’ll probably never be the best writer in the County, much less Ireland – that’s the reality. But I write from the heart, and I’m as determined as a GAA fella about to score the winning goal. As long as I have that, I’ll continue to perfect my craft. And yes, while realism in writing is precisely what is sometimes needed, deep down, all writers are dreamers. And without the dreamers … it would be a very dull world. And you never know, you might find yourself a few years later standing on the pitch with three books tucked into your GAA shorts! So, let yourself dream.
(c) Judith Cuffe
About Sing Me Home:
A story of the aftermath, of picking up the pieces, of finding yourself again and discovering that life isn’t always easy . . . it’s not meant to be, but it can be worth it.
Ann Maguire believes that discovering the truth of her past will set her free, but sometimes having all the answers isn’t enough . . .
Forced to leave Dublin after her marriage crumbles, Ann returns to her childhood home of Knockmore, to find herself even more isolated than before. Catapulted back to grieving for her parents and the life she once knew, everything feels foreign. Perhaps her mother was right and there really is nothing here for her any more . . .
To work out how it all ends, Ann must go back to the start. Forging unlikely friendships, forcing herself through each day, the path to happiness is never easy. She soon learns it’s not about trying to mend a broken past but instead creating something new.
Craving companionship and familiarity, Ann finds herself magnetised towards another web of deceit, at which the beautiful Knockmore House, the home of her mother’s tragic childhood, is at the centre. Perhaps whoever lives there will always be tarnished by its past. Can Mark Dempsey help to fill the void of loneliness in her life? Ann can’t deny her feelings of unease about his overbearing mother, Olive, who also has secrets she’ll do anything to protect.
While overseeing renovations at Knockmore House, Ann finds herself falling for more than just the structure and begins to unearth further hidden truths. Ann becomes a pawn in a game – a dangerous one. Will Ann finally be able to set the house free? And will she find who and what means home to her?
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