Fly on the Wall sessions: Finishing that Book

Finishing that Book: Part 1 Panel Discussion

On Saturday the 14th of March I attended: Fly on the Wall sessions, an afternoon with Stinging Fly Fiction Workshop where writers discussed their working practices. These sessions were full of great tips and advice.

Afterwards I promised to another attendee who got so engrossed and forgot to take notes that I do a blog post about it.

Since then I’ve been busy. I attended my Creative Writing for Publicati0n course, been on a foreign holiday and was at three different launches

  • Issue 1 of Writing News in Loughboy Library, Kilkenny in which I am delighted to have two stories published.
  • By the Light of Four Moons, by John MacKenna in Carlow Library. Published by Doire Press (, which I highly recommend for a beautifully haunting read.
  • Hammered Glass, edited by Suzanne Power. Published by Kilkenny Campus Press, Maynooth University. An anthology from the “Two-Roads” group filled with humanity, humour and honest talent.


Here’s the photo from the Kilkenny People of me and Karen selling the book at the launch.

So over a month later I have managed to order my chaotic notes taken at the Fly on the Wall panel discussion and order them into some coherence! I am sharing some the jewels of wisdom here on my blog. (Part 2 Kevin Barry: Reading and in conversation with Declan Meade to follow.)

Finishing That Book Panel Discussion with Julien Gough, Kevin Curran, Lisa McInerney and Nuala Ní Chonchúir chaired by Thomas Morris of The Stinging Fly.

1st Question: How many books did you write before being published? All of the writers have abandoned novels that were never published.

The editing process

Nuala described the experience of editing two different novels simultaneously and the weird head space she had to occupy, long days hopping between both.

Kevin was discovered at the Irish Writer’s centre Novel Fair by Liberties Press. He cut from 120,000 to 90,000 words. The integrity of the work was important. For his editing process, the things he had to look at were simple things such as five people in one family make them two. He found himself going back to basics such as plot and character.

Julien in the beginning, makes big structural drastic changes. Can do 15 drafts. Throws a lot away, shifts it around until it gets kind of coherent

The writers advised to get it as perfect as you can before it goes to publisher.

Edit with the perspective of a reader not writer.

They discussed how difficult it is to read like a reader, and truly get the reading experience. If you are too close to it, what you read and think is there, is what you want to be there. Need distance after you’ve finished. Need to be able to see the experience of the reader. That’s why you put it away for a while before you take it out to edit.

Don’t be a mother protecting all of its flaws, be social services and save the child.

Kevin described how the eye can become overfamiliar with the appearance of the text on the page said that it helps him to change the font size to 16 to allow him to see something new. Move places of words on page. Or even 10 or 14 looks different. Don’t tend to see little things. The brain delivers it’s memory, learnt it off.

Lisa finds the editing process brilliant. Her novel was 145,000 words long. At 90,000 she was nowhere near the end of the plot. Lisa had two big characters and a question asked of her during the editing process was how come they never meet

On the topic of: Feedback

Need valuable feedback, several friends would provide as Stephen King calls it a cloud of feedback. You can pay an editor who’s good at genre and will give genuine deep response. You can find a type of “Gestalt editor” from a writers’ group. If you find someone good, don’t let them go, a good reader is difficult to find.

On the topic of: Reading other books

Kevin is a teacher and couldn’t wait to finish so he could read, there are so many books to read.

Lisa can’t read when writing.

Nuala reads historical fiction when writing historical fiction and contemporary fiction when writing contemporary fiction. She finds that for her reading can give permission, help solve a problem.

On the topic of: Planning outlines

(Question from an audience member: How do you deal with knowing where you want to get people?)

Nuala is not a post-it-notes type of person. She is about 2/3rd the way through before she knows what the end is. She just writes. The story will dictate what happens. Characters will lead you there. Have to explore every possible outcome.

Profound uncertainty is a huge part of the process.

For Julien the end was different for every book. Book 1 He knew there would be a damsel saving a knight. Book 2 No idea, a wild journey. Book 3 Didn’t know how the final battle would end climactic scene. Wrote the book to find out who they were.

Kevin begins with a strong image, thinking constantly, and surprises himself by writing. He carries around an idea for a new book for about a year. It builds up in the subconscious working away, a composting process. He says there’s often a gap between the idea and your ability to write it. The time to process can take a long time.

You outline with conscious mind but write with unconscious. Sometime the outline can be wrong.

Just get back to the desk and set modest word count goals. Stick with it, sit down every day, set realistic goals and do them. You can edit. You will get there, you might change ending.

If something haunts you and niggles you owe it to it to do it. They are the ones that finish themselves. Obsessions are the most important. Publishing is an eco-system. Do the unique weird obsessional thing they haven’t read before.

On the topic of: agents:

It can take a while to find the right agent, have to be able to talk about the big stuff. An intense relationship, have to get it right.

Kevin has no agent, novel fair got him to publishers. Other published novelists who are agentless include Donal Ryan and Rob Doyle.

Having an agent is not a goal. Having the right agent for you is more important.

Writer as hero

The hero’s journey, it’s what you go through as a writer, despair is so real. That’s why so many novels get abandoned when they are almost there. Believe in your inner hero.

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