Raheen House Children’s Writing Competition: Winning Entries

Emptiness, written by Róisín Burke (aged 12)

With illustration by Sean Connolly (aged 9)

My earliest memory of my home is from when I was about one year old. It isn’t very distinct, but there are a few details that I remember. The smell of the grass, still slightly damp from a shower of rain. The sweet sound of birds whistling in the trees above. And, most memorably, the warm embrace of my mother, her trunk wrapped around me to stop me from falling into the water hole. It was a lovely place, my home. There were tall, lush trees as far as the eye could see, and when the sun shone it would  bounce off of the water, making it glisten like a diamond. 

My mother cared for my brothers and I. She was so gentle, so loving. Everything seemed perfect. But then, the hunters came. Myself and my brothers were playing on the grass with our mother watching over us when a loud bang went off somewhere deep in the forest, causing us all to jump. Then there was silence. The others didn’t seem too concerned and went back to playing, but I could tell by looking at my mother that something wasn’t right. She looked panicked, her pupils dilated in fear. Before I could ask her what was wrong, there was another bang, though it sounded much closer this time. She started ushering us towards the water hole, trying to hide her increasing hysteria. 

Suddenly, we heard a loud crash from behind us as a vehicle broke free of the forest and I realised why my mother was so terrified. There were four men, all wielding large guns, sitting in a truck. Then we were running, sprinting faster than we ever had to escape from the people that we had heard so much about. A flurry of bullets rained down on us, barely missing their targets. We sped up, flattening bushes and shrubs as we ran. I risked a glance behind me and, to my horror, saw that our pursuers were reloading their weapons. I was beginning to tire now. The adrenaline was starting to wear off and I noticed for the first time just how sore my legs were. 

Suddenly, another round of bullets were shot in our direction. I thought that we had evaded them again until I heard a thud from beside me. I glanced over and stopped dead in my tracks. There, lying in a pool of blood, was my mother. The others were screaming for me to keep running, but I couldn’t. All that I could do was stand and stare in horror as I tried to process what had just happened. Mother was dead. I could never talk to her, or hear her laugh, or feel her comforting embrace ever again. My brothers had left at this point, clearly wishing to save themselves. Just before the truck reached me, I walked slowly over to her body and lay down beside her, trying to feel her warmth for the last time, but I only found emptiness.     

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Raheen House Hotel: Children’s Short Fiction Competition

We are launching a children’s fiction writing competition for kids aged 5-12, because we understand how hard it is to keep little people upbeat and entertained at this time! 

For those of you with children that like to draw and paint, we will run a second competition in June for children those with artistic talents, to illustrate the winning story. The winner will receive a €50 book voucher and have their story published on this website for the world to see! We will also publish a shortlist of ten writers that almost made the winning spot. Once the winner is selected, we will run a second competition for children with artistic talents, to illustrate the winning story.

I will be selecting the winning story, and I look forward to reading the creations of the next generation of local fiction writers!

RULES OF ENTRY:

Age range: 5-12

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Open

Word limit: 500 words

Conditions: Must be a resident of South Tipperary

Deadline: EXTENDED to MIDNIGHT OF THE 7TH MAY due to issues with email.

Winner to be Announced: The shortlist will be announced on the Raheen House Facebook page by the end of May and the winner will be selected in early June, depending on entry numbers.

Submission Rules and Guidelines:

1. In the subject bar of the email please put the name of the story and the name of the entrant, their age and the general area in South Tipp they are from.

Example:

Barry Jotter and the Angry Wizard by Jane Rowling aged seven from Cahir

2. Do not put any identifying information on the story itself as the stories will be judged blind. Please submit entries by email to raheenmarketing@gmail.com

There were issues with the original email address posted, so please resend if you have any concerns.

3. Please submit only PDF documents or Word documents

4. Please double space entries and use a size twelve font, either Ariel, Calibri or Times New Roman

5. The title of the story must be the name of the document so that it can be connected to the email that sent it when identifying winners.

6. Decisions are final.

7. The work must be an original work by the child submitting.

8. Parental consent to the publication of the story on this website must be granted before the final winner is selected from the shortlist. The rights to the work will remain with the child.

9. If the conditions of entry are not met, the entry will be disqualified.

10. We reserve the right to extend the competition in terms of geographical boundaries if there are less than 100 entrants.

Publication of ‘Going Down’

Another of my little monsters has been released into the world! It is a testament to the fact that moulding a story into the right form can take many years, even a short one. I submitted GOING DOWN to many journals and competitions over the past four years. Every time I prepared to submit it, I tweaked it, edited it, reread it, uncovered new layers of my antiheroine (she’s quite the onion). The story started out as one thing, and over the years it evolved into something else. Something much better. I am delighted tht it has found its home in the fabulous Wraparound South. I’d like to thank Wraparound South for having faith in my story and taking the time to understand Amy.

Enjoy!

https://georgiasouthern.libguides.com/wraparoundsouth/spring2020/going_down

Near FM Interview

I was checking my email one day when I noticed one from a Mary Oyediran asking me if I’d do an interview at Near FM radio to discuss my work on her International Writer’s Network show. I was absolutely stunned and thought it was some kind of wind-up, but eventually, I agreed (with the fear of God in my heart) to go and do it. I drove to the station, got lost (of course), and after I’d parked up, I couldn’t find the entrance to the place. By the time I actually got into the room with my interviewer, I was breathless, red-faced and panicked. Thankfully, Mary made me feel totally relaxed, and after a few minutes of chatting, it was like I’d known her all my life and we were ready to begin. So here it is: my very first radio interview.

Shortlist: Words By Water Prize

As if I need any excuse to attend the wonderful Words by Water Literary Festival in Kinsale, but it just so happens that this year I do! I was amongst the lucky five entrants shortlisted for their Story prize 2019; and the organisers have invited me to read from my story THE DAWNING at the awards ceremony. I really don’t mind if I win or not, getting to enjoy Kinsale while also attending literary events and finding an audience for my work is enough of a prize for me.

Update: THE DAWNING has since been selected for publication in the wonderful Irish literary magazine: The Ogham Stone, 2020 Edition.

Publication of ‘A Stalked Animal’

The first of my stories has been published online, and I couldn’t be prouder. It has been a long and rocky road of submitting, editing, submitting again, and continuing to have faith in the piece. Not only did they publish my work, but they paid me for it which is a rare thing in the current environment. This is a time where art and creative toil are expected to be offered free-of-charge. It is a rare thing for someone to say ‘please, let me pay you.’

I would like to thank the guys at Delay Fiction for having faith in me, believing in my work, and understanding my occasionally crabby protagonist.

Also, please check out the other published stories on this website. They are fantastic.

Enjoy!

https://delayfiction.org/2019-05/a-stalked-animal

Literary Tourism: What the Dickens?

I love Charlie Dickens. I’ve loved him since I was a small child when Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transformation warmed my heart and Mrs Havisham languishing in her dusty wedding-dress terrified me and my encounter with Fagin made me consider petty theft as a way of supplementing my meagre pocket-money. I love all of his novels, except for the one I haven’t read yet: Bleak House. I’ve attempted Bleak House three times because it’s supposed to be his best novel– and I’ve never managed to wade past page forty. Between the small print, and the flood of characters introduced at the outset, reading it required intense concentration. It became an endurance exercise in squinting and frowning, and clearly, my facial muscles weren’t up to the task.

Anyway, I’ve forgiven Charles Dickens for Bleak House, and for the fact that it added at least one extra furrow to my brow, and two crow’s toes to the skin around my eyes. A good thing too, because I recently had the opportunity to visit the Charles Dickens Museum. I was in London visiting my sister, and I decided that it would be a lovely way to pass a couple of hours. Off I went on the tube to Russel Square Station and made my way to 48 Doughty Street.

48 Doughty Street is a three-storey, terraced, red-bricked Georgian building, and it was Dickens’ former home between 25 March 1837 to December 1839. It’s the only former home of his that is currently open to the public.  The entry fee for the museum is a very reasonable £9.50 for adults. Once you step through the museum’s vermillion green door, you’ll be transported back to the 19th Century and into an upper-middle-class Londoner’s home. You will learn about England at that time, about Dickens the man and, of course, Dickens the writer.

A Social History Museum:

Although the house is Georgian, it is decorated in the style of the Victorian era, but the Victorian era wasn’t merely notable for its distinctive aesthetic. Huge social changes were afoot in England following the industrial revolution and London’s population had increased rapidly. Due to public pressure and Church initiatives, literacy levels had increased massively across the country. A great many of our beloved classic novels were written in the Victorian era in response to the sudden explosion in the market for books. Finally, authors were enjoying fame and fortune from their writing, and Charles Dickens and his peers took full advantage of this. In the time before television, and the passive consumption of entertainment, books were the ultimate form of escape from the everyday.

I’m fascinated by social history. I suppose one of the reasons why is that, as a woman, my life and sphere of influence would have been restricted to the domestic, and so the everyday lives of ordinary people interest me far more than the stories of big wars and political manoeuvring that feature in most history books. I want to know what people ate, and where they slept, what they wore, how they worked and how they amused themselves, and this museum offers all of this and more. Most authors’ homes are social history museums too to some extent, but this one even more so. Charles Dickens was a renowned social critic, satirist, commentator and reformer. 

48 Doughty Street is an example of what an upper-middle-class home would have been like in Victorian times. You can wander around the servants quarters, the kitchen, the washroom, the dining room, bedrooms, dressing room, drawing-room and cellar, as well as the nursery where Dickens’ children played and slept. You can take in the decor, the ornaments, the paintings, the trinkets, the furnishings, and know that a great many houses across London would have looked very similar, though they would be unlikely to have housed such famous inhabitants.

The house is beautiful, but not everyone that lived there was fortunate enough to live like Dickens. The museum recounts the stories of the lives of the working-class inhabitants of the house in the kitchen and servants’ quarters. I’m sure that they were treated better than most servants, as Dickens’ intense sympathy for the poor and his passionate desire to see their lives improved is clear from his writing. Dickens believed that his novels had the potential to influence readers morally and politically, and he was right to use fiction as a medium for influencing people’s views. Reading  has been proven to increase empathy.

If you are interested in learning a little more about the poverty suffered by many in Victorian London, and the inspiration behind one of Dickens’ most famous novels, the Foundling Museum is a very short walk from the Dickens museum and well worth a visit. The Foundling Hospital was Britain’s first hospital for abandoned children. Dickens and his wife, Catherine spent a lot of time there, as it housed the chapel that was their place of worship. The Dickenses raised awareness of the hospital and the plight of the children abandoned to the care of its patrons. It’s a stark reminder that London’s wave of economic success and social change didn’t sweep everyone along with it.

A Museum of the Writer:

The servants’ quarters: the walls are covered in quotations from his writings

The Charles Dickens Museum didn’t earn its title easily. The building holds the world’s largest collection of Dickens’ rare book editions, letters and original manuscripts. Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and The Pickwick papers within the walls of this very house, and you can enter his study and gaze upon the very desk that he scribbled and toiled over as he crafted his unforgettable characters. One of my favourite rooms in the house is the servants’ quarters, whose walls are decorated in the most thought-provoking and famous quotes from his novels.

When you visit this museum you will have a lot of ‘ah, that’s where he got that from’ moments. People tell writers all the time: ‘write what you know’. Dickens was absolutely a man that wrote what he knew and achieved great success in doing so. Inside the museum, you’ll find information on the various people, places and creatures that were sources of inspiration to Dickens, such as Grip, his pet raven, his tragic sister-in-law Mary and the nearby Foundling Hospital. What becomes abundantly clear about Dickens the writer, is that he was fascinated by people. Unlike many writers, he didn’t keep himself aloof or apart from the people that he studied, he mingled amongst them, lived with them, loved them, despised them. He observed, in close proximity, their foibles, weaknesses, motivations and their sufferings. He was moved by their pain, empathetic to their plight, and critical of their misdeeds.

A Museum of the Man:

As well as holding the largest collection of Dickens’ writerly memorabilia, the museum holds the largest collection of Dickens’ personal belongings, family mementoes, portraits. Dickens moved to Doughty Street shortly after his wedding to Catherine Hogarth, when he was aged only twenty-five years of age and it is in this house that the first two of his ten children were born. You will learn about the many highs and lows in his life, his passion for fashion, and his love of entertaining.

In terms of learning about Dickens the man from the house itself, I know my favourite room should have been his study, but it wasn’t. This could be because I had nightmarish visions of poor Dickens toiling away in an ocean of balled-up paper frantically trying to fill cavernous plot-holes. No. The room that I spent the most time in was the dining-room, which was the first room I wandered into on my tour. It’s a gorgeous room with pale blue walls, decorated with portraits of Charles and his wife Catherine as young people, just as they were whilst living in this house. It was in this room that I could imagine Dickens at his most animated because Dickens was as far from the reclusive, introverted stereotype of a novelist as you can get. He threw many parties, and liked to dress flamboyantly– he was quite the dandy. He was also an actor who acted out scenes from his own plays, a skilled orator and speechwriter, and would regularly treat guests to readings from his works-in-progress. He was a man that liked to be read, but he also liked very much to be seen and heard. 

On the dining table there are six places set, and at each place lies a plate. Each plate features the face of a person with whom Dickens would have associated with, and beside each plate, there’s a description of who that person was and what their relationship to Dickens was. I got a real sense of who Charles Dickens was, by the company he kept. Many of his friends were famous in their own rights, such as the author William Makepeace Thackeray and the artist, Daniel Maclise, but all were accomplished in their respective fields. Dickens socialised with artists, illustrators, fellow novelists, medical practitioners and lawyers. Dickens’ wife also features on her own plate, a published author in her own right. It was in this room here that I could vividly picture Dickens, holding court with his guests; the room filled with people, everyone dressed beautifully, smoking pipes and cigars and going through bottle after bottle of wine from the cellar beneath the house. They would be discussing politics, social reform, writing and art and laughing as Charles Dickens made witty jokes and shared his incisive observations on the world.

Thanks to my visit to the museum I understood that Dickens was not just a very talented writer who depicted fascinating characters in his novels; he was a fascinating character in his own right. Until I visited the museum I didn’t know that Dickens had left school at twelve to work and lived in a debtors’ prison with his family as a child.  I didn’t know that he had a very chatty pet raven named Grip.  I didn’t know that he and his wife parted ways after Dickens had an affair. These are just some of the gems of information I gleaned from my visit to the museum. They gave Dickens a three-dimensionality that he didn’t have for me before. It means that next time I attempt to read Bleak House, I’ll be reading it in the knowledge that Dickens knew poverty, he knew wealth, he knew society, and most importantly, he understood people.

My purchases from the gift shop.

The museum has a cafe which sells great coffee, and a quaint little gift shop. Of course, I love gift shops so I went in and had a nosey and I couldn’t help myself. I bought a canvas bag… to go with my copy of Bleak House! Yes! I bought it again after losing the last one. I’m hoping that my investment will lead me to give it one final chance. So far, it’s still sitting on my bedside locker, propping up my TBR pile. I am currently attaching weights to my face and exercising my frowning and squinting muscles in readiness for the great (but no doubt, worthwhile) undertaking ahead of me.

A Visit to the British Library

The Entrance to the British Library & the statue of Isaac Newton

On my last visit to London, I decided to finally make my way to The British Library. As an avid reader and a fiction writer, I’m obviously a big fan of libraries, but this is no average library. This one is the big daddy of public libraries. The numero uno. The library to put all other libraries in the shade. Depending on your sources, it holds either the largest or second largest collection of books in the world. Formerly part of the British Museum, The British Library houses some of the most important books, documents and sound recordings in the world; both culturally and historically. Its collection is so extensive, that if you attempted to look at five items in the library every day it would take you precisely 80,000 years to see its entire treasury of books.

The Foyer

Originally, the libraries contents were scattered around London in various different buildings. Eventually, a purpose-built library was constructed in 1998 and its extensive and precious collection was carefully collated, catalogued and stored here. Despite the library’s relative youthfulness, as iconic buildings go, it has already been listed as a building of architectural and historical significance. When I arrived, I was very impressed by the exterior of the library, with the sprawling red-brick library hunkered close to the ground and the massive bronze statue of Isaac Newton, based on William Blake’s painting in the gardens. The exterior is interesting, but the interior is something else. Modern, bright, airy. The most impressive part of the building being The King’s library. It is housed in shelves within glass columns passes through each floor to the ceiling, and six floors downwards into the basement like a spine. There are high ceilings and light-filled reading rooms, and there is so much space. Unlike many places worth seeing in London, it wasn’t overcrowded.

And the abundance of space is where I hit a stumbling block. I wasn’t sure where to start in my exploration and began to get into a tizzy that I’d rush past the most important parts. Luckily, there are tours. on offer. I opted for The Treasures Tour, which is a guided walk through The Treasures Exhibition in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. It is £10 for the hour-long guided tour and well worth the money. The Treasures Exhibition can be viewed without a guide but it is huge, and somewhat intimidating; so if you’re short on time, or you don’t know what you’re at, it’s worth doing the tour. You will get so much more out of your visit.

The King’s Library, view down from the first floor

The Treasures Tour has something for everyone. Obviously, it’s a must for lovers of fiction writing and history; but you can bring anyone along and I guarantee you they’ll take something from it (as long as they don’t actually try and TAKE something from it, cos that’s highly illegal, and you’ll probably get caught).

  • There are ancient versions of sacred scripts such as the Koran, Torah and Bible. The Library features texts such as The Gutenberg Bible and The Cuthbert Gospel, a 7th-century manuscript written in Latin that is the oldest European book to survive fully intact. There are also formerly banned copies of the bible written in English.
  • Original pages from one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks.
  • One of the four existing copies of the Magna Carta
  • Original handwritten compositions by Mozart, JS Bach, Elgar and Handel.
  • Original handwritten drafts of the lyrics to Strawberry Fields Forever’,’She Said She Said’ and ‘In My Life’ written by John Lennon for The Beatles.
  • Historical documents such as the original WWII ultimatum letter from Britain to Germany.
  • Old maps of an unrecognisable Britain.
  • Original letters from British Kings and Queens, such as an original letter from Mary Queen of Scots and one from Queen Elizabeth to her brother after she was refused permission to visit him on his sickbed. I’ve always found female monarchs more interesting than the male ones because they had challenges relating to perceptions of their gender that Kings never had.

In terms of the purely literary treasures, there were too many to list, so I’ll just give an idea of the some of the items held by the British Library, which may be exhibited in the Treasures Hall when you choose to visit.

  • The sole existing manuscript copies of Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Malory’s La Morte D’Arthur.
  • An original copy of The Canterbury Tales from around 1476 and 1483.
  • Shakespeare’s first folio.
  • The Bronte Sisters’ school report, which entirely overlooks their talent as writers.
  • Notebook drafts of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.
  • A handwritten draft of Jane Austen’s Persuasion as well as pieces of juvenalia and her writing desk.
  • First drafts of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, originally entitled Alice Adventures Under Ground, and illustrations by John Tenniel.
  • The original manuscript of De Profundis by Oscar Wilde, a letter of apology penned to his lover while in prison for gross indecency.

I loved the fact that there were many, many manuscripts by women writers. It’s not often that you will go to a museum and see things created by women, so carefully and lovingly preserved and showcased. In writing, particularly in English, women are well represented and recognised for their gifts. Some of the most famous novels of the 19th and 20th are written by women. I am lucky that writing became my passion. It is important to see what you can be; or at least aspire to be.

Obviously, I was there for the literary treasures, but every bit of the tour was interesting to me. Every moment of it. One of the highlights for me was the Magna Carta. I actually didn’t know anything about it before I arrived. I’ve only recently started taking an interest in the history of the British and French monarchies; and that interest has probably been prompted by current world events. I’m starting to look at the difference between modern colonialism (American style) and the disruptive influence of social media and historically, who held power and why. I’m looking for patterns, similarities, differences. It fascinated me, and was an unexpected highlight of my visit.

Our guide was excellent; offering insights into the history and operations of the library itself. He proudly spoke about one of their recent acquisitions. He spoke of the history of printing, writing in the English language, how the books exhibited in The Treasures Room are rotated regularly; so that no one item is given too much attention and that all of the treasures are given their day in the ‘sun’ and then safely stored away. I’m emphasising this because if you visit, you may not see everything that I’ve listed, but you may see something even better.

You’ll note that I took no photos inside the Treasures Room. That’s because photos are NOT permitted, and I wouldn’t even chance a sneaky snap in here. I wouldn’t dare. I can tell you that the in which the treasures are kept is dimly lit, presumably to preserve them, but it adds an extra aura of gravitas to the exhibition. I can also tell you that the texts are illuminated in glass cabinets with descriptions beside each. But if I want to look at the treasures again, I can do so online. There are digital versions that can be accessed on the website, and one of my favourite tools is the virtual book Turning the Pages. But really, like most precious things, nothing is quite so special as seeing them in person. In fact, knowing that I couldn’t snap away and that now was the time to listen, look and enjoy, made me mindful that the time was now to appreciate these treasures and planted me firmly in the moment.

The library is hugely popular with tourists like myself because of its tours, exhibitions, events etc., but it is, first and foremost, a proper working library with a huge number of reading rooms and well-lit study spaces for students and readers. A fantastic local resource, that offers paid, but also free of charge workshops and talks. They also have incredible online resources such as webinars for people hungry for knowledge but who may not have regular access to the library. I didn’t have time to settle in with a book, or settle down with my laptop and do some writing, but I definitely will do that one day. It would be lovely to write in a place where, only feet away, there are pages in cabinets whose surfaces bear the handwriting of Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen.

Londoners are blessed to have this place at their disposal, and yet most Londoners I know have never been. People take for granted what they have on their doorstep, I’m guilty of it myself. I only recently visited The Book of Kells for example. But I implore you… Londoners, come and see this place. All libraries are special. All are unique by virtue of the librarians that look after them, and the books inside them, and the access to knowledge that they provide to the community no matter what their age, class or circumstances.

But this library? Well it’s just a little bit extra special.


Advice on the Agony of Waiting

Something that I wasn’t fully prepared for when I decided to pursue a life as a fiction writer, was the amount of waiting I’d be forced to endure. Waiting for responses from agents, waiting for responses from journals, waiting for decisions in competitions. And I’m Irish, so patience comes naturally to me: we are the world champions at queuing. But on average, it takes about twelve weeks before a response to a submission of any kind is to be expected. That’s a long time to be anticipating, wondering, hoping. Because as a writer, you must always be hoping. And often, when the deadline for a response passes? There is still nothing, and then you must start nudging, and then recommence the waiting… And I’ve heard that the waiting doesn’t end when you get an agent or a publisher. There is still more to come.

Writing is hard. Honing my craft, applying my craft, coping with rejection, maintaining a writing habit, combating the paralysing fear of failure; all of those things have been hard. And yet the hardest thing of all is the waiting. It is inertia. It slows time. It creates a sense of powerlessness which inhibits my writing because it makes me question the very point in it all. A lack of response, good, bad or indifferent, is worse than a rejection. It makes you feel as though you, and your writing, are invisible. That even bothering to read it in order to issue a generic ‘this isn’t for us’ email is more than you deserve. And when you toil all day in an office with only the people generated by your own imagination for company, and without flesh and blood colleagues to confirm your existence, it can lead to a certain questioning of your very being.

The post is entitled ‘Advice on the agony of waiting.’ So I’d better sprinkle in some advice. Here it is: the only way that I’ve found to deal with it, is to give myself more stuff to wait for! I know, I know. It sounds counter-intuitive, but why wait for one person to respond to you when you can be waiting for many? The waiting may as well be worthwhile. The only way out of limbo, is to keep moving. Keep moving, keep working, keep progressing.

There is a school of thought amongst the writing elite that if you don’t get 100 rejection letters per annum, you aren’t sending your work out into the world frequently enough. Even a rejection letter is useful, because it may indicate something about the piece itself, your submission strategy, or both. So even a rejection, though it may sting, is worth something. And the sting of rejection lessens with each one, so bring on the rejections, I say! More submissions = more rejections= brief moment of pain and indignance followed by learning = thicker skinned and ready to get better.

I’m being proactive; being dynamic despite my desire to simply sleep through the waiting like a hibernating bear. In the latter part of 2018 and so far in 2019 I have been honing, toning and polishing up my best stories and submitting them to journals, competitions etc. I am aiming for at least 150 submissions this year; and therefore, over the next couple of months, there should be an upswing in interaction from various places.

So go forth, fellow writers, and multiply…your submissions.

What not to buy the writer in your life for Christmas

As a follow-up to my post entitled ‘What to Buy the Writer in Your Life‘ I thought it prudent to outline the items that you shouldn’t buy for your writer friend under any circumstances:

Another Notebook

I find it hard to resist the allure of a nice notebook with its pretty cover, and the blank pages and all the potential they hold. I’m sure that most writers have a notebook fetish, but it’s more of a magpie instinct. An urge to collect and leave to gather dust in a drawer.

One of my bestest friends, who may or may not read this post, will probably be horrified and think I’m an ungrateful wench when she reads this, but I’m willing to take that risk for your benefit, dear reader. She bought me a very special notebook.  It is tan, leather-bound, monogrammed and gorgeous. But can I write in it? Hell no! It’s too beautiful. I could never defile its crisp white pages with my hideous handwriting. It’s sitting in a drawer in its fancy protective bag and that is where it’ll stay.

The moral of my story is this: I appreciate the sentiment, the expense and the beauty of the thing. In fact, I love the notebook so much I will probably ask to be buried with it. But it will never be used as intended. Not because I don’t appreciate it, but because I do.

I’m not a writer that uses notebooks. I use my phone to jot things down. The benefits being that I (a) always have it on me, ideas pop into my head in the strangest of places and (b) it is lightweight and fits in my pocket/hand (c) I don’t need anything more than my finger and the phone. Notebooks pose two problems, (i) you must always have the notebook with you to avoid forgetting important ideas and (ii) you must always have a pen. Pens tend to gather in gangs when you need them least and abscond when you need them most. There are many writers that eschew technology and prefer to use notebooks, but those writers already have a favoured notebook of exactly the right size and weight for transporting around with them. It is usually a precious but battered old thing, with dog-eared pages and coffee rings on its cover.

If you’re determined to buy a notebook, buy a particularly lovely one to be used for Instagram photos, but don’t expect it to ever have the nib of a pen touch its pages.

Distractions

Sometimes writers like to disappear down rabbit holes for hours at a time and hide from their writing. So buying a writer a computer game/console/ or series box-set which might be appreciated, isn’t going to keep them focused. It’s hard enough for writers to resist the lure of the internet but they can easily lose hours in a game or a series. I’ve been known to lose days to computer games. I lost an entire 24 hours straight to The Sims when I was a teenager. Between that and the fact that I like to manipulate the lives of my fictional characters, I’m starting to suspect that I have a God complex. Anyway, my mother had to physically confiscate the game when I emerged from my bedroom at 8pm in my pyjamas, with dehydrated eyes, grey-tinged skin and a twitch.

A lot of creative people have addictive personalities. Of course, we only become addicted to things that are bad for us. For example, I break out in a cold sweat if I don’t inhale at least one packet of salty corn snacks once a day, but somehow never developed an addiction to running…

If a writer is going to form an addiction, encourage them to develop one that’s good for their writing. See my Blog Post entitled ‘What to Buy the Writer in Your Life‘, # 1, ‘alcohol’.

Books

I loooove going to a bookshop to buy books. I could easily spend an hour in a bookshop browsing. But I don’t like it when people buy me books. The danger is that I’ll have read it, already have it (waiting to be read) or hate it. Most writers have a ‘to-be-read’ (TBR) list (many people put those lists on Goodreads, just FYI). Unless you can get a peek at that, don’t bother buying a book for your writer. If you have a book that you really like, lend it to your writer. Otherwise, give them a voucher and let them buy their own damn books you control freak!

There is one exception to the ‘don’t buy a writer books’ rule. Most writers will accept the gift of a particularly gorgeous classic in hardback that’ll look fabulous on their bookshelf but which nobody will ever be allowed to read.

Novelty stuff for Bants and Lolz

There are lots of silly, gimmicky things aimed at writers. They are an absolute hoot! Things like notebooks for the shower and writers blocks that are actually (wait for it) BLOCKS OF WOOD! Hilarious.

If you give the writer in your life one of these items they’ll say ‘haha, hysterical, my sides are splitting’ and then dump it at the first opportunity.

Ugly Mugs

Your friend is a writer. They sustain themselves almost entirely on caffeinated beverages. They are also pedantic. They have the strong belief that they are mug connoisseurs and there’s a right kind of mug and a wrong kind of mug for various drinks. They already have at least one ‘special’ mug. Probably three (I have a mug for white coffee and milky tea, a cup and saucer for black coffee and a transparent mug for herbal tea). I am aware that this is finicky and sad, but these are the real-world things that float my boat these days.

If you have your heart set on buying a mug for your friend, how can you ensure that your mug can compete with the tasteful mugs your friend has carefully chosen? How is it going to stand out from the crowd? The answer: buy something that looks like some thought was put into its design and it might actually be used. Whatever you do, don’t pick a fugly mug. You don’t want your mug banished to the back of their cupboard with the rest of the fugly mugs. What makes a mug fugly? It’s basic, usually white, it features a cliched quote, and worst of all, the quote is written in a horrible font. Writers take great offence to an ugly font. When I’m gifted a hideous novelty mug I leave it by the edge of the kitchen counter for my cat to knock off. That’s about the only thing it’s good for. Don’t let your gift meet a similar fate.