Welcome to the Inspiration Diaries! Last year we had six writers – three published, three on their way – checking in each month as a sort of ‘year in the writing life’. (You can catch up here.) This year we’re doing things a little differently. Three new Inspiration Project graduates will give us a monthly insight into their writing lives, but first Catherine, Carmel and Hazel will be taking it in turns to share some of their favourite writing advice in our new series, 5 Steps To…
5 Steps To… The Year in Review
BY HAZEL, CATHERINE, CARMEL, AMY, LISA AND TANYA
Yes, we skipped November. Yes, we don’t have the usual 5 Steps To… Yes, we decided to do a Year in Review instead for our final posts of 2020. Yes, we are very glad to wrap things up on The Year That Shall Not Be Named! But before we get to that, we want to say a huge thank you to our three IP scribes this year: Amy, Lisa and Tanya. You have been so honest, generous, gracious (and punctual) with your monthly blog posts, and we couldn’t have picked a better squad to navigate the murky waters of 2020 with. Thank you all, from the bottom of our always half-full glasses of gin.
OK. Without further ado, here goes. Six writers, twelve months, and a global pandemic. How exactly did that all pan out?
Write a year in review, she said. Keep it to 400 words. Seriously? I need 4000 words to sum up 2020, but brevity is the soul of a good blog post, so here goes…
I’ll start by sharing my word for 2020: HOPE. I chose this word because it encapsulated everything I felt about the book I was releasing during the year, and was the word I used most often when talking about the themes in the book. As it turned out, hope was what sustained me in 2020. I bought a print of the word recently, as a reminder of what was, and what might yet be.
In my personal life, 2020 was a difficult year. I lost my 100-year-old grandma in May and wasn’t able to travel home for her funeral. My youngest son left primary school without the usual milestone of a graduation. My eldest son’s first summer trip to the Gaeltacht was cancelled. We all missed out on a skiing holiday the night before we were due to travel. A 50th birthday weekend with friends in England was postponed. You know how it went… There were so many disappointments, and yet in my professional life, there were an exceptional number of bright spots.
Releasing a book with two different titles, over three months, in three territories was always going to be a challenge. Plans to travel to the UK and the USA were quickly changed to plans to travel to my desk for a hectic schedule of Zoom events. My messy office needed to be presentable to the world, as did I (my GHD curling tongs were definitely the best thing I bought in 2020), and the show, did indeed, go on! THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE was an Irish Times bestseller for several weeks, secured my first ever review in The Times, was chosen as an Eason Must Read title for autumn, and was – icing on the cake – shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. In the USA, WHEN WE WERE YOUNG & BRAVE (same book, different title) spent five weeks on the national bestseller list, and hit several Best of 2020 lists. Not bad, eh, considering! Among all this, I finished my next co-written book with Heather Webb, and finally unpacked all the boxes from our house move at the end of 2019.
The reality of lockdown, home schooling, and making banana bread all ate into my writing time, and I finish 2020 with a glaring gap where my next book should be. But I also finish 2020 with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude. I lost so much this year, but I also gained so much along the way.
My word for 2021? EMBRACE. Whatever it brings, I will wrap my arms around it, mix a cocktail and take each day as it comes. If 2020 has taught me anything, it is to take nothing for granted, to grasp every opportunity that comes my way, and to make sure there is always plenty of gin for my tonic. Words shall be written, come what may.
So don’t hate me but… I didn’t completely hate 2020. Yes, things got cancelled. Yes, I couldn’t do any of the things I wanted to with this year. Yes, I spent most of it alone – literally alone, because I live alone, and we had two lockdowns and when we weren’t locked down I was still being overly cautious to make up for what I thought was a lack of caution elsewhere. BUT… I’m still here. So are the people I care about. I didn’t lose my job, and I even got a book idea out of all that time spent alone. I delivered the second draft a few days ago. (Yes, my next novel is set during lockdown. Write what you know, right? But rest assured, no one bakes banana bread or parents a sourdough starter. I promise.)
My latest book was published during a time when, okay, nothing was normal, but we were allowed outside a bit, and I could go see it stacked in bookshops, celebrate its release with my friends and mark the occasion with the hangover it deserved. The Nothing Man went to number one and just before that, something utterly amazing happened that I’m not allowed to tell anyone yet (sorry!) but it’s the sort of thing where, if I was complaining about 2020, someone would remind me of it and tell me to cop myself on. And so, as we get to the end of this year that none of us will ever forget but which many will want to, what I’m feeling most of all is grateful.
Writers, in my opinion, were uniquely positioned to deal with 2020. We already work from home, alone, and had amassed a large collection of clothes made of sweatpants material with elasticated waists before owning them got signed into law. We are used to looking forward to something that then doesn’t go at ALL the way we’d hoped; we’re good at adapting, repeatedly, to disappointment and surviving it with our motivation intact. Everybody still needs what we make: stories. But unlike our counterparts in theatre, events, music, TV and movies, our work and the production of it could continue unabated throughout. Even when bookshops were closed they weren’t really, with truly herculean efforts going into setting up websites, fulfilling online orders, etc. It may not have felt like it for most of this past year but in many ways, as writers, we are lucky.
I don’t want to jinx anything – go away, pesky monoliths! – but we know that 2021 is going to be a better year. So let’s not take that for granted. Let’s get ready to make the most of it. Let’s make stuff up.
I suspect that my year has been much like yours, lovely reader – with extreme highs and lows. As our family grappled with staying apart to stay safe, family occasions, holidays and important milestones were cancelled and rescheduled. A year of so many contradictions, I felt my life slow down, take pause, then decide to gallop so fast that I felt quite dizzy.
There was nothing to do, but to keep my faith – this too will pass. As a family, we managed to face all of the difficulties that 2020 threw at us – with a smile and the knowledge that we’d get through this because we always do, no matter what.
Like so many industries, the arts have been affected by our global pandemic. It’s been a tricky one for me professionally. My Pear-Shaped Life was published just as we entered our first lockdown. The plans, that had been made over the previous six months, prior to publication, were all cancelled. In fact, here in Ireland, my lovely book found itself stuck in a warehouse until July. I thought I’d never get to see a copy in an actual bookshop! Publication in Australia and New Zealand were cancelled and the hardback publication in the UK was on a much smaller scale than we hoped for. As my editor said, My Pear-Shaped Life was one of the true book casualties of Covid. But despite this, I knew that it would have its day andfind a way into the hands of readers. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed, you have helped keep my faith this year. And last week, My Pear-Shaped Life was one of four books chosen by critics, in the Sunday Independent annual Best Books of 2020, Popular Fiction category. So proud!
(Paperback release is January 7th, so please universe, no more lockdowns…)
I’ve been busy writing too – working on three novels no less! My 9th book, The Moon Over Kilmore Quay is now ready for its May 21′ release. I also wrote my first children’s book, The Quest to Find Red Leaf Farm. It goes on submission early January. I am crossing everything a publisher falls in love with my story about a very special rescue dog, who goes on an epic adventure to reunite his family. And right now, I’m writing book number ten, which has a working title of HeartPrints. Proof I suppose, that even the might of a global pandemic can’t stop me writing.
Full transparency here, 2020 was one of the most stressful and difficult years I’ve ever had, both personally and professionally. So, I’m eager to say goodbye to it and welcome in a new year and a new beginning. Early January brings a milestone birthday for me – FIFTY! Notions to tick off an item from my bucket list – to see The Northern Lights – will have to wait. But I’ll get there one day.
I plan to continue living my life the way I want to – loving, writing, learning, creating, accepting, discovering, feeling, hoping, embracing, dancing, singing, eating and yes, occasionally gin drinking. Not a bad old life after all…
I’m writing this entry on the eve of Thanksgiving; a holiday celebrated here in the US on the fourth Thursday in November. Typically, family members and friends gather together for a delicious meal and to give thanks for all our many blessings. But as we all know, these are not ordinary times and many of our get-togethers will look very different this year. Despite the smaller number around my own table we will still prepare the traditional meal of turkey with all the trimmings and express gratitude for our many blessings. I suspect being thankful for the health and wellbeing of our family and friends will be a common theme around most tables this Thanksgiving.
This year has certainly had its challenges but gratefully there have been some bright moments as well. For me, one of the highlights has been participating in the Inspiration Project Diaries. Writing these entries each month and connecting with all of you has helped me stay motivated and focused on my writing. Another positive result of lockdown was some newfound free time which I was able to apply towards taking a few virtual writing classes, listening to podcasts, attending a few zoom author events, and reading. My ‘to-be-read’ pile was out of control and growing faster than Jack’s beanstalk, so having the opportunity to knock it down a bit was an added bonus.
In a few weeks, we will leave 2020 behind and begin the new year with fresh hope and prayers for better times ahead. While I’m sure we’d all agree there is much to forget, I would imagine we all experienced a few happy moments and maybe even a lesson learned which we will carry with us. In addition to these memories, I will bring something else with me…a mess of a first draft, copious amounts of notes and a large dose of determination to start the rewrite/repeat process.
As we say goodbye to the year and each other, I want to say thank you to all the lovely readers out there who followed along. And to the talented, accomplished, rockstar trio of Carmel, Catherine and Hazel…my heartfelt and eternal gratitude for asking me to be one of the contributors. It’s been an honor and privilege to join my fellow scribes, Amy and Lisa, in posting each month. Wishing all of y’all a healthy and happy 2021.
It has quite been a year, hasn’t it? It feels like it has been about ten years long and yet also I cannot
believe that it is finally drawing to a close. Who would have thought, a year ago today how 2020 would
For me, the plan for 2020 involved putting my writing first and it did seem like that was not going to
happen. The first lockdown was strange. While many people were either working from home or laid off, I
was redeployed from the library to the community section. I was part of a team manning a call line which
connected isolated older and vulnerable people with volunteers and voluntary services to ensure that
those who had to cocoon had food, fuel, essential medicine and help if they needed it. Many of the
people who called were lonely and anxious and just needed some reassurance. My own anxiety though
was high, and I don’t think I even realised at the time how exhausted I was. It didn’t help that my own
family were far away. My parents aren’t elderly, and I knew that they were safe, but anxiety is not at all
conducive to good writing. I could not focus on my current novel, so I wrote something else, something
completely different, unedited and unplanned and raw. It served a purpose and maybe/hopefully I will do
something with it.
I had planned some time off just to write and I had two writing courses booked and paid for which had to
be cancelled. Nonetheless I did manage to do a full edit and rewrite of my novel and I read a huge
amount of fiction. I did a fantastic zoom writing course with Cat Hogan as well as a brilliant one-day
course with Sarah Moore Fitzgerald and Justine Carberry both of which really helped to build my
confidence and my word count. Being part of the Inspiration diaries for this year has also been a huge
boost. Being invited to take part made me feel that Catherine, Hazel and Carmel took me seriously as a
writer and that I should too.
I have also done a huge amount of writing in work. Because so much of our work has had to move online
while the library has been closed or providing limited services. It’s not fiction of course but I have been
practising with sentence structure, conveying information and trying to be creative which helps to fuel by
abilities as a writer.
I could be tough on myself and say why didn’t I get more done. Why didn’t I do two or three edits of my
book? Why didn’t I turn the thing I worked on in spring into another book or short story? Why have I still
not put together the proposal for my non-fiction idea? What do I have to show for the year? Well I
survived and so did my loved ones and I did some writing. I think that is enough. I hope the next year
brings better things for all of us. I hope everyone has a Happy and a safe Christmas and New Year.
Well fellow word wranglers, can you believe we’ve come to the end of 2020 so soon? It’s almost
unimaginable, it’s been a helluva year and one that has brought many challenges as well as lessons. I
looked back at my January post and had a giggle and a little sob at what I’d hoped to achieve this
In January I wrote that my hopes and plans for 2020 were to continue to work on the craft of
writing, to get out and meet more writers, to continue to support other writers no matter what
stage of their writing they are at, and, of course, to dream of finally getting that book deal!
And as far as it goes, it was all of that – minus the getting out and about and meeting up bit. I’ve
learned so much despite it all. I’ve made a little dashed foray into self-publishing – which I had to put
on hold for a bit as I had some interest in my work (woohoo!!!), and I’ve written an 11,000 word
poem documenting the early stages of our Covid-19 journey. I have work on display in a local gallery
too! I’ve just about wound up a new novel – I’m at 75,000 words, so I’ve another bit to go and I
entered into a lot of competitions (shortlisted in one, rejected by many others) and made a lot more
of an effort to stay in touch with people via WhatsApp and Zoom.
So in a way, even though the year was not the one I expected, it gave me what I needed – I
discovered that I need a routine for my writing (morning between 9 and 2), that I can write but that I
love and crave people to talk craft with, words with, share ideas and notions with. I decided to
terrify myself and push forward with making my dream of getting that book deal by ending my
relationship with my agent and beginning the search for a new one. At the end of this year I feel
brave, bold and excited about my writing journey. It’s been a fragmented and disjointed time but
through it all there was always a writing friend or a reader who I knew would be able to pick me up
and steer me in the right direction again.
So I sign off, what an honour this has been – and I wish you all a Happy and Healthy Christmas and a
better New Year xxx
That’s all folks! Join us next year for more from The Inspiration Project. In the meantime, we wish you all a very merry Christmas, and hope you and yours are safe and well.