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Emma Hannigan on writing, editing & show don’t tell!

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Emma Hannigan

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As my fifth book Keeping Mum hits the Irish shelves I am still as proud and humbled as I was the day Designer Genes my debut novel did the same.

I started out as a writer quite by chance. I was stuck in hospital with nothing to do, so instead of going insane I began writing. Instantly I knew this was going to be my way of getting through the difficulties that lay ahead.

As it turned out, I clocked up a whole lot of time in hospital as I’ve just beaten cancer for the eighth time. On the upside I am currently in the whole of my health and I’ve churned out a grand total of five books!

I adore my job and know I’m incredibly lucky to have a book deal in these times of economic difficulty.

As I have no formal writing knowledge I literally had to feel my way through my first novel. I had no idea how to go about writing a book, so I simply wrote from the heart.

I’ve no doubt my editor at the time must’ve blanched when she saw the size of my first attempt. If I recall correctly it was close to 400,000 words!

It was pared down to a less staggering value (around 130,000 I think). Since that first book I’ve learned as I’ve gone along. With each book I write more of the editing process makes sense to me.

My current editor is a wonderfully talented lady called Ciara Doorley from Hachette Books Ireland. She has literally been like my guide over the last few months.

I know I’m incredibly lucky as Ciara gets my sense of humour and my writing.

It’s so important as an author to have an editor you like and more to the point – one who likes your style of writing. That may sound lame but believe me it’s vital.

I find the editing process in general both nerve wracking and eventually exhilarating.

At first I’m very tentative as I wait to hear if the book is any good at all. I’m yet to meet a writer who hits the send button to his or her editor and walks away in total certainty that they’ve created a masterpiece!

On my part, I wait like woman on death row peeping through my fingers at my email in-box hoping against hope that it’s going to be okay.

Getting the green light that the book has potential is the most marvellous feeling!

It’s undoubetedly very difficult to edit your own work. In fact I always reach a point where I have no idea where the mistakes or gaps are. I become so engrossed in the story and characters I can’t see the wood for the trees any longer.

So having an editor who can read my work with a fresh eye is fantastic.

In turn this injects all sorts of new enthusiasm into proceedings. It fires me up once again and gets me thinking of more ways to expand a scene or emotion.

In my humble opinion the best thing a writer can do is find their ‘voice.’ In other words that we all develop our own style and way of getting things across.

I know one of the elements that comes naturally to me is my dark sense of humour. It carries me through my day-to-day existence and I love to expand it into my writing.

When I was told I had cancer the first time, I was sitting in a hospital room gazing out the window at some school girls who were heading inside to sit their leaving cert exams.

‘Jesus I’m glad I’m in here being told I’ve cancer rather than going in there,’ I said to the astonished doctor as I pointed outside.

I really enjoy getting my teeth into hard-hitting subjects. But I sincerely hope the fun parts balance my stories – I’d hate my readers to feel suicidal by the end of one of my books!

I firmly believe that once you write from the heart – your voice will shine out.

Show not tell has to be the most used phrase in editing. I can’t say I’ve mastered this one by any stretch – I’m still a work in progress believe me. But the only way I can ‘show’ you what I think it means is this:

I imagine I have a tiny cam-corder attached to my characters forehead. So it’s kind of like one of those video diaries we all see on TV…

Then I try to imagine I’m explaining the characters movements to a visually impaired person. I know that probably makes me sound as if I should be locked up! But it works for me! Otherwise I find it so hard to remember the reader doesn’t live inside my head and cannot read my thoughts… Too much of an inside into the crazy workings of my brain? Sorry.

In short I reckon that being published happens when many planets collide. A publisher will jump on a book that clicks with them. That’s because the person reading understands your unique voice, style and storytelling method. If you start out trying to write to a formula or in a way that isn’t true to who you are, it must be seriously difficult to maintain.

Most of all I think the most vital element when writing is to enjoy it. Hand on heart I adore writing. I can’t imagine doing anything else now I’ve been bitten by the bug.

I am blessed to have a wonderful team behind me and I hope I am in a position to continue writing books for many years to come.

I hope you all enjoy my latest offering Keeping Mum.

Wishing you all love and light,

Emma x

About the author

(c) Emma Hannigan June 2012

Keeping Mum

Happily married Ava and her daughter Daisy have always had the same outlook on life. Marriage (to the right guy) and babies. But when Daisy begins to question her life choices, Ava is forced to examine her own.

Independent widow Mia and her eighteen-year-old daughter Felicity have always been close. Until Felicity moves to Dublin and starts a relationship with a man ten years her senior.

Image-conscious, diet-obsessed Greta and her daughter Tally could not be more different. But mothers and daughters can love each other without actually liking each other right?

As each of the daughters finds her own path in life, the women must confront the new dynamics in their relationships. And a holiday in Spain provides just the opportunity to discover whether growing up really has to mean growing apart…

Praise for Emma Hannigan

‘Hannigan’s novel, much like the vivacious author herself, is brimming with hope, joy and inspiration’ Sunday Independent

‘Unmissable’ U Magazine

‘So honest, so darkly humorous and – above all – funny’ entertainment.ie

For more from Emma, read Getting Personal with Emma Hannigan and all about her Will to Succeed

Emma Hannigan lives in Bray with her husband, son, daughter and cat.  Her fiction novels, Designer GenesMiss Conceived andThe Pink Ladies Club were published with Poolbeg press while her memoir, Talk to the Head Scarf, was published with Hachette Ireland.   Emma also maintains a diary on her website Emmahannigan.com.  

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