Research: Trip to Inishbofin

As I named the parts of my novel after the four seasons, and most of the action in the novel takes place in the course of a year on the fictional island in my book,  I wanted to spend some time on an Irish island in the winter to get a sense of island life when the weather is at its worst. I’ve only ever visited islands in the spring/ summer months so I had no memories to draw upon. I’d never been to Inishbofin before and I’d heard lots of good things. This was an opportunity to visit the place and get a sense of island life in the cold, dark winter months.

When I went looking for accommodation, it turned out that most of the hotels/B&Bs were preparing to close down for the winter. In fact, it was the closing weekend so the accommodation available was very limited. I managed to get a room in the Inishbofin Hotel.

We drove through Connemara to get to Cleggan Pier. As we journeyed along the stunning Connemara roads the rain was pelting down. For the first time in my life, I was happy to see rain. It was exactly how I wanted the weather. Moody, stormy, grey and wet. I’d driven through Connemara in good weather before, but incredibly, it is even more stunning under a dark sky.  We boarded the ferry, and realised that unlike other island ferries I had been on, it was packed with islanders on their way back from the mainland, and not tourists.

When the ferry moored up, we made our way along a badly lit and deserted road towards an area that seemed to have a bit life to it. We went for something quick to eat and coincidentally our hotel was right beside the pub we had our dinner in so went straight to bed.

I woke up the next day to a perfectly blue sky. I couldn’t believe it! The weather was absolutely beautiful and very mild all day, unheard of for October in Ireland! That’s typical Irish weather for ya! Whatever weather you’re hoping for, you’ll probably get the opposite. It’s a sick joke.

But we got over it quickly enough. We hired bikes and cycled most of the island. We hardly encountered another person, that day. That evening, we managed to bump into Alan’s cousin and his fiancée (given that there was barely a tourist on the island the odds of meeting anyone we knew were tiny). We spent the evening with them, attempting to party like the locals. The end of season festivities are something else, and Alan and I weren’t able to keep up with the islanders at all.

I did take a few things from my short trip. I learned that Inishbofin isn’t a Gaeltacht island, which most islands off the West of the Irish coast are, and in that sense it is similar to the fictional island in my novel. It also felt authentic, and is still very much an island that belongs to the islanders, again like my own fictional island. If you want a buzzy place, with plenty of choice in terms of where to eat and drink, and lots of shops selling knit-wear  and sheep fridge magnets and leprechaun hats, this ain’t your place. If you want to escape from the madness of daily life, take in some gorgeous views and see some beautiful and rare flora and fauna, come here, and maybe visit Connemara en route.

It was worth the trip in any case, I definitely came home with clearer picture of the kind of island that my characters live on.

Between Draft One and Two- What to do?

Putting distance between you and your first draft

You’ve finished draft one with the help of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. What you need now, is to look at what you’ve written with an objective and discerning eye and spot what needs fixing. Stephen King recommends that you spend at least six weeks away from your first draft once it’s complete. Yes. You must allow your novel to rest.  Like a big, juicy steak. And, like a steak that has been set aside to rest, when you return to your novel, it’ll look like a bloody mess. But don’t worry about that now. Don’t worry your little head about it. Try and strike that image from your mind.

I know you’ve just emerged from the warm, cosy cocoon of the first draft. You’re feeling good about yourself. You’re proud of what you’ve achieved, and you have every right to feel proud. I should allow you to bask in the warm glow of your success a bit longer, but it would be remiss of me not to advise you that (a) your novel is far from finished and (b) you are facing all manner of threats during the time you spend away from it. The worst threat of all is the icy spectre of self-doubt. The only thing that will keep you sane is keeping busy while your woeful prose is coagulating. Keep busy with learning and writing.

Writing?’ you cry ‘but I thought this was a break!’

It is a break. It’s a break from your book. This isn’t a ‘break’ break. This isn’t a Ross-from-Friends-style ‘break’ from writing. You’re not allowed to abandon writing altogether and fool around with origami or something. You’re not allowed to not write. In fact, if you want to be a writer, you’re never allowed to not write, ever again!

I recommend writing a few short stories during the resting period, and enter some competitions. I entered a writing competition with multiple stages and didn’t do too badly. It kept my self-doubt at bay by boosting my confidence and keeping my mind occupied.

Another thing you can be doing is studying the technical stuff, because you’re going to be doing a lot of editing in draft two. Don’t assume you’ve learned all the rules by osmosis. I’ve written three blog posts on books that I advise you to buy and read during this resting period to get you ready for draft # 2.