Aug 31, 2011

A Male Perspective

If you had told 15 year-old me that it was difficult for a man to write from a woman's perspective, he would have told you "Not for me, I can write anything!"

15 year-old me still had a lot to learn.

This topic comes to mind as I look at stretching the limits of how I've written before. Despite writing urban fantasy, a genre usually featuring female protagonists, I generally write male protagonists. Quite simply, I can write from a male POV much more confidently than from a woman's. However I've decided this just won't cut it. That's one reason why in Silent Oath, the character of Cynthia Keller becomes more important and this book features more of her POV than the first.

I have to grow as a writer. Constantly strive to improve myself.

Looking ahead at future book ideas, and the ongoing story of Nathan Shepherd, I can see many more areas where I'll need to be able to show a believable female perspective. Generally, I have been more comfortable talking to women than to men. Most of my closest friends are women, but until recently I have never considered how to train myself to look at things from that female perspective. Sure, there are plenty of things I get, plenty of things I understand are different for women than for men, whether due to genetics or societal influnces. But now I need to learn how to apply these differences, fairly, in my writing.

Thankfully, as we as my wife to ask for advice, I also have two great crit partners who are women, and several female beta readers.

I do think a man can write from a female point of view, and do it well. Just as a woman can write from a male point of view. It does, however, require a certain amount of self-awareness and ability to not only ask the right questions, but listen to the answers.

What about you? Do you think a writer should stick to protagonists of their own gender? Are there some things men and women simply will never understand about each other, or is it a more individual matter, that some men and women are just more open to understanding differences?

Aug 29, 2011


Most people who read this blog know that I'm a very spiritual person. I believe in a higher power, or powers. I believe in life after death, and in reincarnation. I also practice Reiki.

For those who don't know, Reiki is a form of healing first developed in 1922 by Dr. Mikao Usui in Japan. It is perfomed by the practitioner placing his hands on or over the chakras of a person's body, usually while lying down, but it can also be performed on someone in a seated position. Reiki energy passes through the practioner and into the person being treated. This energy then helps the person heal physically and emotionally; releasing stress and soothing physical discomfort. One of the things I love about Reiki is that it's not the practitioner actually helping the person heal. It's the person themself, aided by the Reiki. Reiki just gives a boost to your body and mind's own natural healing. So in the end, you're making yourself stronger and healthier all on your own.

Now, one of the most important principles for any Reiki practitioner is that we are not doctors. We do not refer to those we treat as patients, and can not give diagnosis. If anyone were to come to me for treatment who had a serious illness, I would insist that they always see their doctor on a regular basis. Reiki is a natural complementary treatment that can help with sympoms of illness, never a replacement for professional medical care.

This last weekend I completed my Level 3 Reiki attunement and training, meaning I am now a Reiki Master. I can treat myself and others with Reiki, as well as perform treatment over a distance, and I can attune others to Reiki and teach them how to use it.

Probably the most significant thing, for me, about Reiki has been how it has helped change my life. Since starting Reiki, my confidence has increased, as has my own inner strength. Reiki teaches responsibility for one's own healing. It teaches that we have to take care of own healing and health - physical, emotional and mental - before we are able to help others and that the very act of caring for ourselves will help others find ways to seek their own healing. If all we do is give of ourselves and never accept anything in return, eventually we run out of anything to give, and we can no longer help those we care about.

I did my Level One Reiki course in December 2009, and my Level Two course in February 2010. That year, I finished writing my first novel, the one which sold earlier this year and will be released in 2012. I am a stronger person now than I was before I started doing Reiki.

I'll leave off with the very simple, but powerful, guiding principles of Reiki:

Just for today I will not be angry
Just for today I will not worry
Just for today I will be grateful
Just for today I will do my work honestly
Just for today I will be kind to every living thing

Aug 26, 2011

Gender Double-Standards

In my last blog post I asked you all to share some of the "no-go" elements that put you off a book or a movie. As turnabout is fair play, and since Ellen Brickley discussed her issues with particular use of offensive language,  I thought I'd share one of my biggest bugbears in fiction: Double standards.

Now to clarify, I'm not talking about characters who apply double-standards to their outlook on life. I have no problem reading about a male chauvanist or a woman who believes that men only think with their genitals.

When it becomes a problem is when I feel that I'm not expected to see these as negative character traits.

Now, double standards exist in many different forms. Not all of them inherently bother me, depending on how they're used. The ones that will turn me off a movie or book, almost immediately and without fail, are the ones where one form of behaviour is clearly acceptable and rewarded in one case, but punished and reviled in another. The most common form this takes in fiction, is related to gender. Whether a character is male or female can have a huge bearing on what actions seem to be permissable.

To give an example:*

Chris and Alex are married. Chris has a good, but demanding job and works long hours. Alex is resentful of this, while Chris doesn't appreciate Alex's lack of support. Chris also doesn't like Alex's friends and objects to them coming over to their house all the time, especially when coming home from work to find them there chatting.

One day, Alex meets George. George is exciting, sexy, and seems to care about Alex's interests. The two become close and start an affair. When the affair is finally revealed, Chris is outraged, but Alex decides to stay with George, leaving Chris.

Who is in the right?

In most cases, it largely depends on whether Chris is a man or a woman. If Alex is a neglected wife whose husband spends all his time working and complaining about her girlfriends, then Chris is the bad guy. If Chris is a hard-working career woman whose husband wants her to spend more time at home, then Alex is the bad guy.

Movies such as It's Complicated or The Devil Wears Prada portray women who are shown as being within their rights to engage in behaviour which, were it a man going the same, would be criticised. Situations where the woman's choices are automatically right seeimingly because she is a woman completely put me off the story and the characters.

Of course, the double standard applies both ways. While it's considered right for a man, especially a younger one or a teenage boy, to bed many women, when a woman behaves similarly, she is often criticised or outright insulted for it.

While I'm not saying that promiscuous behaviour, cheating on a partner, or neglecting other committments for your job should always be treated as good or bad, I would rather see some consistency and logic in the consequences of these actions.

The one double standard, however, that literally sickens me every single time I see it, is the one applied to sexual assault and rape.

In the majority of books and movies, the rape and sexual assault of a woman is treated as the most vile and reprehensible thing a man can do. Rightly so. I personally feel that the subject of sexual assault is sometimes treated too lightly and applied too readily by an author as a method of quickly creating shock, revulsion, or sympathy. In some cases it's almost become the new "they killed my parents" motivator for a character.

However, then the victim is a man, there are three general ways the matter is treated:

1: It's not an issue. Movies such as Swordfish and The Rookie have instances where a man is forced into sexual acts without his consent, but the men in question don't seem bothered by it.

2: It's the man's fault. As seen in 40 Days and 40 Nights and Ricochet, if the victim is in a relationship, or trying to start one, and is raped by another woman, the act is often revealed to or witnessed by the love interest. However, even if the man is drugged or physically restrained, he will have to apologise and try to make amends, while the perpetrator typically receives no punishment.

3: It's comedy. The Wedding Crashers, Taxi 3 and even The Nutty Professor 2 both feature scenes where this is played to uncomfortable comic effect, with the victim in The Wedding Crashers eventually marrying the woman and ending his womanising ways, almost portraying her behaviour as a cure for his own flaws.

It tends only to be the darker, often less-commercial, films that try to show a man being raped as something devestating and traumatic. Even in Disclosure, whose plot is entirely based around the issue of female-on-male sexual harrassment, the protagonist's struggle is not against any feelings of violation or trauma, but the fact that he has been wrongfully accused of harrassing his co-worker.

To varying degrees, seeing these double standards crop up can put me off not only the book or movie in question, but further titles by the same author or director. It's just something I really cannot stand experiencing when I want to be entertained.

* I can't take credit for this example, I originally found it on TV, but it seems to have vanished, so I've retold it here, likely with some changes.

Edit to add: George's gender in the story is dependent on Chris and Alex. If Alex is a man, George is a woman (Georgina) and vice versa.

What about you? Do these kinds of double standards ever bother you? Have you noticed them before? Or do you think I'm taking some it a bit too seriously?

Aug 24, 2011

Drawing the Line

If you haven't heard, I was interviewed by Dawn Alexander this week on her blog. I talk a bit about how I got published, how I manage my writing schedule, and what I'm currently working on, so check it out.

I'm very close to the end of the first draft of Silent Oath. The climactic showdown is about to start and I'm looking forward to it all playing out. I have gotten to thinking about the rest of the series, and while brainstorming ideas I came up with some events that, while likely to grab the reader's attention and keep their interest, are just too much for me to include. It's not how dark they are that turned me off them, more what it might say about me as a writter if I included them, depending on how I portrayed the events.

There are some things I just don't want to write about, no matter how much of a sensation they might cause or readers they might draw. I'm not interested in being gratuitous.

This led me to today's topic. Where do you draw the line, both as a writer and a reader? Are there particular events you can't tolerate? Does even the possibility of certain events put you off? Have you ever put a book down and walked away because the author crossed a line that you couldn't stand?

Aug 23, 2011


Today I'm being interviewed by Dawn Alexander over on her blog, Writer in Waiting. I talk a bit about my writing process and my upcoming novel.

Please stop by and say hi!

Aug 22, 2011


Sorry for being absent over the weekend. It was my birthday on Saturday so I took a few days off from blogging and writing. Back to the grindstone now, though!

Ireland, for the most part, is very mono-ethnic. Sure, we have a fair number of immigrants, and people of other ethnicities than Caucasian, but we just don't have the same diversity of people seen in England or the United States. Even those immigrants we do have mostly started arriving only over the course of the last twenty years, so as a nation we're still learning how to adjust to the presence of other cultures. As a result, I've spent my life having very few friends who weren't Caucasian and born in Ireland.

I sometimes feel like this has left me at a disadvantage when it comes to my writing. I have little direct experience with other cultures aside from the time I've spent in Italy, so this can limit my comfort in protraying people from cultures outside my own. This could be one reason I enjoy setting my books in America, because we're so saturated by American culture anyway. It's more comfortable to use that setting since everyone usually knows what to expect, and examples of cultural differences there are very easy to research.

What I've also found is that I don't instincitively create characters who aren't white. Sometimes when creating a particular character, the idea might come to me use an alternative ethnicity, or I may choose to do it because it fits the story better, but often the majority of my characters are, in my head if not specified in the text, white.

I get honestly concerned that my books could turn into the Charge of the White Brigade if I'm not careful. But on the other hand, I don't want to seem like I'm adding in black, Chinese, or Jewish characters just for the sake of seeming to be diverse, and then failing to represent their cultures appropriately.

I know I'm probably worried for nothing, and particularly in fantasy I can show only the parts of a culture I'm definitely familiar with and not risk losing out on depth of character, but this is just one of those things that gets to me from time to time.

What about you? Do you find yourself with any habits regarding ethnicity or background? Do you find them a problem? Are there any other things you worry about getting right when writing? Or, does it bother you when certain ethnicities don't show up as often in fiction?

Aug 17, 2011

Looking Back

Today teenagers all over Ireland get their Leaving Certificate results. For those who don't know, the Leaving Certificate is the final exam students take before leaving school and going on to full-time employment, college, or another form of further education.

It's a damn hard exam. Arguably the hardest you'll ever sit in Ireland. There's a lot of pressure on students to do well and it's not easy to score high. Anyone who scores in the upper percentiles has reason to be proud of themselves.

But it's not the be-all and end-all of your professional or academic career.

It's been 13 years since I first sat the Leaving Certificate. I did badly enough that I had to do an extra year in school and sit the exam a second time, finally getting the marks I needed to get into college. That was the first lesson I learned. Doing badly in the Leaving Certificate is not the end of the world.

Over a decade on, very few people I know are in careers that related to how well they did in the Leaving Cert, or what they studied in college. In fact, looking at the people in my life, I can honestly say I see no correlation between Leaving Cert grades and how well they are currently doing in life. Certainly, those grades opened certain doors and allowed certain paths to be chosen, but many of the same goals can still be attained regardless of performance in the exam. The only thing that changes are the ways to reach those goals.

I don't regret having to re-sit the Leaving Certificate. Nor do I regret my academic choices following it. I think I've done quite well for myself. I'm happily married. I have a house, a stable job that pays well. I have one book coming out next year and another two already in the works to follow it. I have friends who love me. All in all, I have a very good life.

And I did so badly in the Leaving Cert the first time around that the only college course I qualified for was a course that amounted to learning how to use a word processor and send e-mails.

If anyone reading this is facing exam results, or knows someone who is, please remember that the little slip of paper you get does not dictate how your life will go. Only you can decide that. There are always options available, always other ways to chase your dreams. And if you find out that what you've chosen to do with those results isn't right, that the course you chose isn't for you, don't feel pressured into carrying on just because it's what is expected. Those results are just numbers on paper. They don't rule you.

Just get back up and keep chasing.

Aug 15, 2011

Progress and Titles

I've been focusing an awful lot on Silent Oath lately, the sequel to my first novel. I'm sure I'm getting ahead of myself, but the story is there, wanting to be told. After the first draft is done I'll go back to working on Nightfall while I wait for my crit partners and beta readers to come back with their comments. I'd like to have editing done by Christmas.

As if that wasn't enough, the title for the third book in the series came to me today: Soul Mates.

Normally I'm terrible at titles, but I think this one fits. It's definitely a better working title than I've had before. It may even do as the final title.

I'm really looking forward to finishing Silent Oath. It's an important part of Nathan's story, and should set things up nicely for the ever-increasing stakes as the series goes on.

How about everyone else? Are your WIPs coming along well? Do you ever work ahead in a series like this, or do you wait until one book is released before working on a sequel?

Aug 12, 2011

Guest Post at Pink Tea and Paper

Today I'm guest-blogging for Ellen Brickley over at Pink Tea and Paper.

I decided to talk about my journey to publication and the choices I made along the way, since it was actually through Ellen that I found out about the open contest which led to my publishing deal with WiDo Publishing.

Hope you'll stop by.

Aug 10, 2011


I missed my blog post on Monday because I was sick. Thankfully it looks like it was just a brief bug and I'm feeling a lot better now.

The break gave me some time to get up to speed on the riots and subsequent looting that started last weekend in London, and spread to Birmingham and Liverpool. What started out as a peaceful protest over the shooting of Mark Duggan, a Tottenham resident, has, it seems, been used as a flashpoint for unleashing blind rage and greed. The rioters can't even claim to have been protesting anything anymore. It's just greed and a desire for violence.

I'm aware that there are people who believe that this was an inevitable result of marginalisation of lower classes and unemployment, but the fact remains that some people have decided they have a right to cause violence, injury and destruction to people, places and businesses that have done nothing to them. I've watched videos of people left beaten on the street, only to be robbed by opportunistic passers-by. I've seen images of buildings burning to the ground. Businesses left in ruins. People fleeing their homes. Double-decker buses reduced to crumpled slag.

There are places in the world where people stand and fight for their freedom, for their rights as human beings. In the UK there have been people, en masse, violating the rights of their fellow human beings, all to watch a building burn or get a free television. These actions have no noble motivations. They have no worth or value. They are sickening and selfish.

I am, however, glad to see that there are still some people with a sense of decency; evidenced by volunteer groups rallying across social media to help authorities with clean-up efforts. Now that things seem to be calming down, I hope that the damage can be repaired, and that the cost isn't too great. It's heartening to see how decent people are pulling together to repair what's been done and protect their communities, showing that they won't stand for this kind of behaviour.

I hope that when the last fires have died, and the last bits of rubble have been cleared from the streets, the people of England can look to that solidarity as a sign of that they can achieve. There'll be all manner of blame thrown around in the coming months. I would rather see individuals held accountable for their own actions, myself, than lay all blame at the foot of the police or the government. Choices were made, and there will be consequences.

By the same token, rather than see marshal law or "quick fix" answers like curfews or the banning of hoodies, individuals should take responsibility to rebuild their communities, stronger than before, and to remember these lessons. For every window broken, every car torched, let there be people there with the strength to rebuild. And let that decency spread into everyday life.

Aug 6, 2011

Soundtrack Saturday - I'd Lie For You (And That's The Truth)

Two weeks ago I posted the video for I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That). Today I wanted to post the spiritual sequel to that song, from Meat Loaf's Welcome To The Neighbourhood album. I love how the opening mirrors the end of the previous song, though it's clear that this is a different couple. There's a whole epic love story going on in the 7-minute video, with Meat's character the unsung hero, always there for her, but always one step behind in winning her heart.


I'd never tell you one lie, I'd never let you down
I'd never leave, I'd be the one who'd always be around
Baby give me a chance

I'd pull the sun out from the sky to light your darkest night
I wouldn't let one drop of rain fall down into your life
Put your heart in my hands

Baby Believe me, I could never do you wrong
And I would never paint your world blue
And if sometimes it seems I must have lost my mind
I might be crazy but I'm crazy about you...

I'd lie for you and that's the truth
Do anything you ask me to
I'd even sell my soul for you
I'd do it all for you
If you'd just believe in me

Just take a look in my eyes, you'll see a love that's blind
Just take a hold of my hand, I'll take you to paradise
Ain't a star that's too far

Your every wish will be a wish that I will make come true
And if you want the moon I swear I'll bring it down for you
Let me into your heart

Believe me baby got your name carved on my soul
’Cause You're the only one that I'll give it to
Go let 'em say that I'm I fool to act this way
'Cause if I'm crazy, I'm just crazy 'bout you...

I'd lie for you and that's the truth
Do anything you ask me to
I'd even sell my soul for you
I'd do it all for you
If you'd just believe in me

I'd lie for you and that's the truth
Move mountains if you want me to
I'd walk across the fire for you
I'd walk on the wire for you
If you'd just believe in me...

And you will never see a day I'll ever break your heart
You'll see the sky fall down before it ever gets that far
I'll show you heaven every second that you're in my arms
Baby I'm crazy, but I'm crazy about you!

[Instrumental bridge]

I'd lie for you and that's the truth
Move mountains if you want me to
I'd walk across the fire for you
I'd walk on the wire for you
If you'd just believe in me...

I'd walk across the wild for you
Move mountains if you want me to
I'd walk across the fire for you
Do anything you asked me to

I'd lie for you and that's the truth
Do anything you ask me to
I'd even sell my soul for you
I'd do it all for you
If you'd just believe in me

I'd lie for you and that's the truth
Move mountains if you want me to
I'd walk across the fire for you
I'd walk on the wild for you
If you'd just believe in me...

I'd lie for you and that's the truth

Aug 5, 2011

Things That Help You Get By

This has been my first week back at work. It's been tough leaving Jen at home, but she's had people around her all the time to keep her company. Settling back into work has had its ups and downs.

Given that it's been a fairly rough week, I felt it'd be nice to start the weekend by talking about things that friends and loved ones do for us that just make us feel loved and help give us that little bit of a boost to get through the day.

  • Friends showing up with food 
  • My parents and sister cleaning the house and stocking up our kitchen while we weren't there
  • A friend finding out we hadn't any plans and offering to come over, just to keep us company
  • A very close friend's dad being there at Conor's funeral because she couldn't
  • Someone turning to us and saying how proud they are of us, or how they look up to us for how strong we're being and how we seem to be coping
  • Friends just being there to chat online, about anything and everything
  • An old friend coming back into contact
  • A stranger commenting on a blog post about how they're thinking of us
  • Friends coming over, without any plans for what to do, and letting us just have a great night of fun and food, without any expectations
 I've noticed things like these so much more recently. How much they matter, and how blessed Jen and I are to have so many people who care so much about it. It's these things, these people, who give us the strength to carry on. I am glad to say that I have never felt more loved than I do right now, thanks to these people.

So let's get this rolling. What things, big or small, have people done that make you feel loved, or helped pick you up when you needed it?

Aug 3, 2011

Musical Inspiration

Anyone who knows me knows my love of music. Any time a new movie comes out that I like, I buy the film score as soon as possible. I think my music collection currently clocks in at over 25 weeks' of playing time.

Music is such an integral part of cultures across the world. We use it to celebrate and to grieve. It allows us to mark happy times, cope with sad ones, and hope for better ones. From tribal dances, to nightclub anthems, to driving rock ballads and sweeping orchestras, music fills every part of human life.

Many writers, myself included, have playlists of music to listen to while writing. I find it helps draw me into the world and characters I'm building. I can feel the story become more real. With the right music playing, I can feel such exhilleration and enthusiasm that I feel like if I don't write I'll need to start running and jumping just to release the energy. It doesn't matter if the music is orchestral or has lyrics; if it fits with the story and the scene I'm writing, it's like it turns the dial up to eleven on me.

Even when not writing, I find that just listening to music can help provide me with the inspiration I need to plan out my story, pinpointing the significant emotional points, both for the characters and for the reader.

To the writers out there, what role does music play in your work?

To everyone else, how else does music add to your day to day life? Or to your own work, whatever that may be?

Aug 1, 2011

Book Length

The length of books has been on my mind a lot the last few days. I got little to nothing done over last Thurday, Friday and Saturday. It's been a rough few days; a family friend's mum passed away on Thursday. The funeral was Saturday, and my wife and I collected Conor's ashes on the same day as she was also cremated. 

I made up for that lack of work by writing two chapters yesterday. I feel better about that this morning than I did yesterday, believe me.

From my point of view as an author, I wonder a lot about the length of my books. At this stage, Silent Oath* is looking at being around 70,000 words. Locked Within* was longer than that by over 4,000 words when I completed the first draft. Of course it has lost a lot in editing so far. I'm very conscious that I don't want to pad out my books with chaff, but am I letting myself down by not using a more detailed author voice, or providing more plot points and challenges to my characters? Or should I just accept that my own writing style is relatively concise and straightforward?

As a reader, I find I get frustrated if I think the author is dragging a chapter out and not getting to the point. Of course, this could also just be from empathising so much with the characters that I want to find out what happens next, so therefore a mark of the book's quality. But on the other hand, I can feel a little cheated if I read a book too quickly. Like I've let myself down and spoiled it. I like a book to last a while, which may be why I read so infrequently. I keep asking myself, would I enjoy my own books if I knew nothing about them beforehand? 

What about you? Would you rather a longer, drawn-out book that takes several sessions to read? Or would you still get the same satisfaction from a shorter novel, one which could be read in a day or two?

*Working title only