Literary Events: The Haunted, Poetry Brothel Dublin

The inside of Cafe Rubis, Dublin

The curtains on the windows are drawn. I understand. Privacy is important, especially on Hallowe’en night when the city heaves with people and prying eyes, but it means that I won’t know what awaits me until I’m through the door. I’m nervous. Self-conscious. I’ve never done anything like this before. I take a deep breath and go inside. The Rubis Café is small, intimate. Its walls flicker with shadowy candlelight. There are gilded mirrors and paintings on the walls, and people sip ruby red wine. I am greeted by a tall, blonde Amazonian woman in a bodice who explains the menu of services on offer to me at the right price. Her voice is sultry, and already I feel thoroughly seduced. I feel the eyes of the various women and men scanning me. They are clad in lace and leather and fishnet, their bodies stretched languorously on silken chaise longues, or perched on velvet sofas. 

I’ve never done this before. And I’m not sure what is expected of me…how did I end up here?

Yes! It sounds like I have wandered into a brothel; a decadent 19th-century-style bordello. But the nakedness on offer in this place is not physical. I’m at a Poetry Brothel event, and the services on offer are private poetry readings, tarot readings, face-painting and poems composed just for me. The entertainment will be poets and musicians taking to the stage and offering their memories, feelings and experiences up for our consumption; stripping away their emotional clothing. 

Our jazz singer and musician in her beautifully batty dress

How did I end up here? Well,I’m a huge Hallowe’en fan; and yet this year, I was at a loose end. It was as though by some miracle, or some spooky sixth sense, but more probably by some terrifyingly accurate algorithm, that The Poetry Brothel’s: The Haunted event popped up on my Facebook page. I read the blurb and it piqued my interest. I mean, it’s a Hallowe’eny literary event! Hello? My favourite two things rolled into one. So, did some more research.

Poet and occultist, Ruiairi Conneely

The Poetry Brothel describes itself on its website in a way that I can’t, so here it is:

Based in concept on the fin-de-siecle bordellos in New Orleans and Paris, many of which functioned as safe havens for fledgling, avant-garde artists, The Poetry Brothel presents a rotating cast of poets as “whores,” each operating within a carefully constructed character, who impart their work in public readings, spontaneous eruptions of poetry, and most distinctly, as purveyors of private, one-on-one poetry readings in back rooms and other secret and intimate spaces, propitious surroundings for the advent of psychic connections and true poetical/existential experiences. The idea is to purchase a piece of the “whore’s” poetical spirit and absorb yourself in the true nature of readings and literary performances.’ 

The proposition couldn’t be more seductive. So, I clicked on the link and bought the VIP tickets. Basic tickets were only €15, and €25 for VIP tickets. My sister and I decided on the VIP tickets which meant that all of the various experiences on offer were included, otherwise, you can buy tokens for individual ‘services’at the event.

Before this event, I’d never been to a poetry night. This is despite the fact that poetry was my first love. At eight years of age, I wrote my first poem. My parents loved it and declared me to be a child prodigy. I learned two things from this 1. That parents be delusional, 2. that I liked writing poetry, that I liked praise and wanted to write more. Following on from that my parents started buying me books, and encouraging me; and that confidence boost along with a new love of reading was all I needed to get me writing. To make me put pen to paper and write poem after poem, and it led me to eventually fall in love with prose.

Lena Chen

Attending The Haunted would be a journey back to my writing roots. So why did I feel so apprehensive? I think it’s because I’d left poetry behind. I was no longer a poet and I was now afraid of poetry and of poets with their magical ability to make words sing both on and off the page. I was worried that I wouldn’t ‘belong’at this event. But I needn’t have worried. The Poetry Brothel isn’t a place for stuffy or pretentious poets. It brands itself as being ‘accessible’ and it is. The poets were open, friendly and sociable. I quickly relaxed with these people who were willing to be brave enough to bare their vulnerability, so that gave me permission to do the same.

The Haunted took place in the French style wine bar Cafe Rubis. If you’re ever looking for somewhere in Dublin that is romantic, atmospheric, intimate and has rivers of fabulous wine in its cellars; this is your place. Perfect for a date and equally perfect for a poetry event.

A back and forth on eyebrows

The evening opened with the most fantastic blues/ jazz singer. I absolutely loved her, and her fabulous vintage ‘40’s style red dress which, when you looked closer, was covered in bats in a subtle nod to the day that’s in it. I could barely tear myself away to enjoy the other treats on offer upstairs: the tarot, face-painting, personally tailored poems and private readings. Stephen Clare clicked and clacked away on an old typewriter with a missing key to type up an impromptu, bespoke poem dedicated to my cat. Ruairi Conneely, poet and occultist, did an incredibly detailed tarot reading for me. One of the most interesting readings I’ve ever had. But every time I ventured away from the main stage I suffered serious FOMO, worrying that I was going to miss an exquisite poetry performance. In the end, after my tarot reading and with my typed poem in my bag, I settled into my seat in the audience with a huge glass of red wine and enjoyed the poets perform their poetry in a way that was raw and accessible.

My sister Orla waiting for her fresh poem by Stephen Clare

I loved the honesty and passion of Lena Chen and Andrej Kapor. The poets offered up details of their loves, heartbreaks, their losses, their highs and lows to us auditory ‘voyeurs’ seated only feet away from them. As they spoke I was transported into their lives, but also into moments in my past where I felt exactly as they did. The poetry was funny, sexy, surreal, evocative, current, and at times, totally improvised. The waxed lyrical on the pitfalls of tinder and we were treated to an impromptu back-and-forth between Stephen Clare and another poet on the importance of good eyebrows.

All the Dead Animals You Bring Into my Life, by Stephen Clare

There are poetry brothel events taking place in cities across the world: Buenos Aires, Barcelona, London, New York, San Francisco. Catch one if you can. I’ll definitely be back. It really is an experience like no other, though I’d imagine that they share one thing in common with most poetry evenings: there’s a wonderful atmosphere of openness, kindness, respect and support. I came with a reminder of my roots in poetry and looking to the future. Feeling inspired and excited about all the possibilities for my own writing. 

If these people can be so brave in sharing their stories with the world, why can’t I? Indeed, why can’t you?

A Visit to the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick

I love a bit of literary tourism. Whenever I leave Dublin I research wherever I’m visiting beforehand. I look for indie bookshops, museums, statues, libraries, tours etc. So for my husband’s birthday, I decided we should take a trip to Limerick. We hadn’t been in years and I’ve learned that everywhere in Ireland has something unique to offer if you do your research beforehand. So, to my surprise, on doing a little bit of googling, I discovered that there’s a Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick city centre.

Frank McCourt was a former resident of Limerick City and wrote the bestselling memoir, Angela’s Ashes. The book tells the story of his ‘miserable Catholic childhood’ which he spent in Limerick, having spent a small portion of it in Brooklyn during the depression. It’s a story of dire poverty and deprivation, but told with such skill, humour and hope that it doesn’t descend into misery-lit. The memoir has since been made into a movie and, surprisingly, a really successful musical. But I hadn’t heard of the museum until I decided to make my trip to Limerick.

I went to the museum on a Saturday afternoon. It’s in a beautiful 150-year-old Tudor-style building: Leamy House. Frank’s old school house. Alan, two Dutch tourists and I waited for 2 pm to come around and on the button, a smiling, harried lady appeared to let us in, apologising profusely, even though she was right on time. This was Una. The founder and curator of the museum. From the outset, she was friendly and chatty. Clearly passionate about her museum. Her ‘labour of love’. She led us upstairs for our tour and we were joined by two more Dutch tourists. The museum was only €4 each, which is a bargain for a thoroughly fascinating couple of hours, so I decided to buy a book after the tour because I felt €4 was too little.

‘Little Italy’

On the first floor, we were led through recreations of the first living-room/kitchen of Frank’s childhood and then the bedroom: ‘Little Italy’ from the novel and finally to the schoolroom. In the living spaces, Una explained how Frank’s family had lived in the 1930’s and 1940’s. We learned about how they lived in cramped conditions. Washed their clothing in the same water they washed themselves in, used the baby’s pram as a ‘vehicle’ to transport coal, cooked over an open fire, slept on a flea-ridden bed with army surplus coats instead of blankets and hung their clothes to dry on a clothes-line running across the middle of the room because of the incessant rain.

Una’s family purchased Leamy House and turned the building into a garment factory. The second floor, where Frank when to school was to be the factory floor, so the internal walls were removed. Part of this huge room is set out as a schoolroom with desks and blakcboards, and the rest as a museum with cabinets and shelves full of Una’s collection of Frank McCourt related paraphernalia, including some of Angela’s ashes. While in this part of the museum she told us what life was like for children attending school in those days, and the brutal punishments meted out by the priests.

Frank McCourt’s collection of rosary beads

There was religious iconography all over the two floors, just as there would have been in Irish homes and schools at the time of the novel. As I wandered around the museum exhibits, I was struck most by Frank’s beautiful collection of rosary beads, one of which was given to him by the Pope. Throughout his adult life, Frank was extremely critical of the Catholic Church, describing it as ‘the worst thing that ever happened to Ireland’. The collection of beads might seem to contradict his anti-church stance, but I can relate to it. I think he was a cultural Catholic, and I think a lot of us Irish are. We take comfort in the familiarity of the rituals, symbols and traditions of the church, and the superstitions we, as a nation, attached to those things. They make up our own particular, Irish brand of Catholicism. Those things aren’t precious because of their connection with the church, but because of their connection to our past. Saint Anthony finding lost items, or the Child of Prague bringing good weather for a wedding or Saint Brigid’s cross over your door to keep evil at bay. We associate them with protection, and safety and kindness, and they are separate and apart from the teachings of the church. I’d imagine there was a little of that in Frank. I’d imagine there was a wistfulness for those things he left behind when he left Ireland. Except for poverty. I’d imagine he was quite content to leave that firmly where it was.

One of my favourite things about the museum was getting to meet Una. Una was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour-guide, as well as an honest and open one. A person not easily forgotten. As a Limerick native, she offers a unique into the city itself. She has a passion for documenting and collecting objects and facts about Frank and his writing, as well as artefacts from that time. She recreated the rooms herself and was true and faithful to the times in doing so. There was a bit of nostalgia there for me and will be for many Irish people, as a lot of the items in the rooms were things my grandparents would have had in her home.

Una herself is a fascinating person. A social historian but also an artist, and a talented painter, hoping to write her own book about the museum. She shared little anecdotes about the museum itself. For example how she can’t keep herself in plastic fleas due to the inexplicable fascination that visitors have with stealing them from the beds in ‘Little Italy’. She also told us that she once opened the museum to find a homeless man curled up on one of those same beds.

Una and I talked about how the Irish hid their poverty well when they suffered it, and out of pride never discussed it. But my mother remembers seeing it. My mother told me that she had seen terrible poverty as a child growing up in Clonmel. My grandmother owned a pub and served men like McCourt’s father, while mothers struggled to care for their many children. And though the pub is an important part of our cultural heritage, I’m glad so many are closing down and coffee shops are opening up in their place. Caffeine is an altogether less destructive drug.

Una is creating mosaics for the back wall of the schoolroom one of Frank (now completed) and one of Angela. Huge mosaics that visitors can paint a tile and contribute to. Before we left Alan and I painted two tiles to be added the mosaic of Angela that is slowly coming together I hope to visit again when it’s finished.

Our mosaic tiles for the large mosaic of Angela on the back wall of the schoolroom

I highly recommend a trip to the Frank McCourt Museum. Not only is the museum a beautiful tribute to a very talented local writer, but it captures a little piece of social history. So often the stories of the poor are ignored. We walk around cities and marvel at the old, beautiful buildings commissioned by the wealthy: iconic architecture, ornate cathedrals, stately homes. We imagine how grand life would have been back then. Yet we forget about the lives of the majority. The majority who lived very different lives, but no less fascinating, and certainly, no less important. Thanks to Frank and Una and her helpers this little piece of Limerick’s history won’t be forgotten.

As I left the museum I reflected on the conditions that Frank and his family lived in. I thought ‘how horrible for a family to be crammed into one room. How terrible that they didn’t have proper cooking or laundry facilities. How awful that they moved from place to place because they couldn’t pay their rent’. And then I remembered: that entire families are living in hotel rooms in Dublin right now, moving regularly, because they can’t afford skyrocketing rents and there is no social housing available or being built. And I remembered Una’s story of the homeless man that broke into the museum and slept willingly on a bed in ‘Little Italy’ to escape the cold of Limerick’s streets. I realised: we think we have come so far since Frank’s time, but we haven’t. Many people were angry when Frank published his book. The fallout of the memoir (there almost always is a fallout when it comes to memoir), was that some people in Limerick took exception to his portrayal of their city. They denied the veracity of the story. And yet here we are, many years later, many years after the great depression. We are now apparently a very wealthy country, and yet people sleep on the streets. Entire families live in hotel rooms in our capital city. And again, many would be scandalised at the suggestion that Ireland was anything but a modern, compassionate, civilised nation. Have we changed that much?

Incredibly, despite the poverty that Frank grew up in, he and his two brothers, Malachy and Alphie, are all published writers. Not many rich families can claim that. Una believes that the poverty they grew up in forced them to dream of better things. To use their imaginations to picture a different life in ways that middle-class children didn’t need to. I think that poor children do dream, and hope to improve their lot in life. Not many will scale the heights of success that Frank McCourt did, and very few will, as he is, but there is hope. And that is why, despite Angela’s Ashes being very sad, its very existence makes it a book filled with the bright light of human potential.

Writer’s Tools: The Coded Kind

The writer’s toolbox is something that is much referred to in Stephen King’s, On Writing. The writer’s metaphorical toolbox is filled with a knowledge of grammar, punctuation, syntax, vocabulary etc. But what if there was another kind of toolbox? One filled with programs that can help you get your novel written, or edited? Or even help you sharpen the contents of the toolbox in your brain? It turns out that there are many resources for writers online or in app form. Here are my top writer’s tools of the coded variety:

FOR REMEMBERING: zoho notebook app

Inspiration can come at the most unexpected times. It’s a disaster if you don’t catch an idea before another thought jumps into your brain. Never forget/mislay a good idea again by installing a notebook app on your phone.

My mobile came with a basic one preloaded and it was grand for a while, but I found that over time my writing-related notes ended up lost among to-do lists and shopping lists. There are hundreds of notebook apps available but I opted for Zoho’s Notebook app. The app is compatible with Android and iPhone and is an intuitive and aesthetically beautiful thing.

You can store writing, PDF documents, images and audio in individual notebooks. Multiple notebooks can be opened up so that you can assign a notebook to each project. In the screenshot above, you can see that I have a notebook for my novel, a notebook for my blog etc.

Although it wasn’t specifically designed just for writers, it feels like it was, with inspirational quotes (mainly from authors) popping up every time you open a new notebook. And I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but just look at those notebook covers? Look at them! Beautiful. They could only ever contain worthwhile things.

For vocabulary: wordnik

I love my thesaurus and dictionary, but even though I have my physical books right beside me on my desk, I rarely use them. More often than not I end up using online versions. It’s just quicker. Wordnik brings a number of trusted online dictionary and thesaurus entries together. In terms of its role as a synonym generator, I prefer it to a standard one. It’s so extensive that it will make some more obscure/tenuous suggestions, but that makes it a little edgier than your average thesaurus.


I was amazed to attend my writer’s group and learn that many of them hadn’t heard of Scrivener. I sent them to read my blog post and so that’s where I’m sending you. Read all about it, here.


When I got to the final draft of my novel, Hemingway was a lifesaver. It identified stylistic offences that verge on the criminal in modern writing. It highlighted the use of the passive voice, adverbs, weak verbs and lengthy sentences. Trust me, by the time you reach your final draft you won’t have the energy to go looking for these things to weed them out. Do yourself a favour, save yourself the time and heartache and get the Hemingway app, here.


Grammarly identifies misspelt words, grammatical mistakes, and mistakes in punctuation. When suggesting that a word is misspelt, it checks for context, which is really clever. The app works across the web, meaning that it’ll also flag up errors in your social media posts and blog posts.

Is the app making me lazy or complacent? No. In fact, Grammarly is making me a better writer. I’m a person that learns best by doing. For example, I read a book on punctuation to improve my difficult relationship with commas. It was a painful read, but I managed to wade through it. When I’d finished, I put it down and promptly forgot 99% of the rules listed. This is why I love Grammarly. Each highlighted error comes with an explanation as to why it has been identified as a mistake, and I’m instinctively making fewer errors. I’m being conditioned to write better.

If you use the basic Grammarly plus Hemingway you should catch MOST serious errors for free.

Get Grammarly, here.

to avoid distractions: Freedom app

The internet is by far the biggest distraction for most writers. The momentum of the first draft kept me away from the internet, but I found that going into the second draft a few bad habits began to creep in. I ended up downloading this app. I highly recommend it. The app blocks listed sites at specific times/for specific durations on multiple devices. Simple, but effective. Your productivity will increase significantly. Get the Freedom App here.

to tap into the musical muse: Spotify

Some people detest any kind of music when they write, but many more of us love a bit of musak! Spotify recommends music to the user depending on their taste, and there’s no limit to the amount of music you can download. I’ve created a number of playlists for writing. A general one, a playlist for tension, love/sex, violent scenes, fear, fun and sadness. All are available here.

To cure writer’s block: writing prompts

There are loads of wonderful ways a person can unclog a word blockage, but if they don’t work, there are websites and apps for that. I’ve listed the best online/ appy writing prompts on a separate post, because there are too many to list here. They are all unique, and great in their own special way. Click here to have a look at the best of them.

What apps/programs/websites do you recommend to aspiring authors and why?

Why Writers Need Antagonists in their Own Personal Narratives

Motivation is something that we all find hard to muster at times. There are loads of ways to reinject it into your life, but I’ve discovered one way that not everyone knows about: identify your nemesis. Lots of writers advise you to ‘write for your ideal reader’ but I think ‘write to destroy your enemy’ might work better for those of us that like their goals with a little more spice.

I have a friend, let’s call him ‘Randy’. We have an inside joke about the number of ‘enemies’ that he has and that it seems to get longer by the week. Many of these people aren’t even aware that they are on his mile-long blacklist. They might have committed some small slight against him in the distant past, and Randy is still holding onto that grudge like a baby clings to its teething ring. It’s something that we laugh about together a lot.  It’s all a big joke of course, except that on some level, it isn’t. Many of the people Randy has selected for his blacklist are in the same line of work as him. What he is doing is selecting competitors to measure himself against. He picks people that he secretly admires, and guess what? He works hard to better himself and surpass them, all the while motivated by pure hatred. And he succeeds every time.

I’m not the most competitive person. I’ve mentioned this before. I’m really good at telling myself that ‘I can’t’. Completing my first novel taught me that this is a terrible attitude to go through life with. But if someone else tells me I can’t? Lord help them! I shall absolutely prove them wrong!

So I’ve decided to fabricate a feud (in my head) with a fantastic author for the craic, and see how it goes. I won’t reveal the name of the author, because the odds of me ever surpassing her are slim to none. But in my head she’s an awful bitch– she propositioned my husband, laughs at my fashion sense and most importantly, she mocks my writing daily on her Twitter feed. She is totally innocent of these charges and completely unaware of my existence, but I will vanquish her (not literally, but yes, literally) one day.

And so this brings me to the blank screen not lightly. Not lightly at all. Today I sit with grim determination on my features and burning vengeance lighting a fire under my fingers.

And I will write angrily. And I will write well. But most importantly, I will write ’til I am done.

Why Starting Novel #2 Will Make You Question Everything

I started my second novel at full pelt and full of enthusiasm.


A shiny new project to work on!

I felt more confident going into this novel than the first for three reasons:

  1. This one had been simmering away in the back of my head for a couple of years so the outline was clearer in my head.
  2. I knew I could write a novel.
  3. I had studied and put into practice the rules.

So this time around, it should have been easier. But it wasn’t. And I couldn’t understand why.

I pondered this question… ate a bar of chocolate…pondered a lil bit more….drank some wine…then took a nap, woke up and pondered further. I think the nap did it. Like a scatterbrained Sherlock Holmes I had worked it all out. I reached several conclusions:

1. I know how to write a novel

When I started writing the first draft of novel #1 I was in awe of the fact that  I was actually writing the novel. After so many false starts over the years, I was finally doing it. I was dreamy-eyed. In love with my progress. Book #2 is so different and I wasn’t expecting that. The first draft process feels completely different. I think that the reason why is that this time around I know that I can write a novel and I realise that the first draft is an achievement, but I’m acutely aware of the fact that it is only one step in a process. I’m conscious this time around that there’s a long way to go yet. So I’m not feeling that sense of achievement that I did with the first. The excitement is still there but the road ahead is more daunting than before.

My advice: The first draft of your second novel will feel different because you know that it’s only one small step in a long, arduous but ultimately rewarding process.

2. I have greater expectations of my writing

I should be a much better writer now, shouldn’t I? I should know what I’m doing, right? The process should be easier and should yield better quality writing faster, correct? Correct, correct and correct.

But, why doesn’t it feel that way?

With draft #1 of my first novel I didn’t care about the fact that I didn’t know what the novel was ‘about’ yet. I didn’t really care about the fact that there were enormous plotholes or that the grammar was bad or that the dialogue didn’t flow immediately. I didn’t see any of this as I wrote because I was just being carried along by the momentum of my writing. I didn’t have time to stand still and take in the minutiae. And this is the best way to write first drafts, but it isn’t how I’ve been writing this one. Now that I’ve learned how to self-edit, I can see everything that’s wrong with my prose. I can see the problems as they emerge and it is making me stop and want to fix them now rather than later. This is sucking the momentum from my work and giving me time to dwell on the things that need fixing rather than being content in the knowledge that I’m getting shit done.

I had forgotten that the rule, so beautifully articulated by Ernest Hemingway:

‘The first draft of anything is shit’

STILL APPLIES TO ME! This rule applies to all writers and all first drafts. It does not discriminate.

My advice: Your writing is better, it just doesn’t feel that way yet. The first draft of EVERYTHING is SUPPOSED to be shit so cut yourself some slack.

3. I started writing my second novel too close to the end of my last

I took a very short break between finishing my first novel, of which I am very proud, and launching into the utter shitshow that is the first draft of my second novel. This closeness in terms of proximity means that I’m subconsciously comparing the two in terms of quality. It makes me feel as though my writing has deteriorated. I need to constantly remind myself that I’m comparing my new novel to something that had undergone four drafts before I deemed it to be a finished product.

My advice: Be aware of the fact that you may judge your first draft of your second novel against the final draft of your first. You aren’t comparing like with like.

How to Journal for Writing Success

When I left my office job I thought I would have loads of free time to just, you know, contemplate stuff (read that as: ‘watch Netflix’), but that hasn’t happened. In fact, I’m busier than ever. There are so many tasks required of me as I work towards becoming a published novelist. I categorise them under the following headings:

  1. Learning: reading, research, study
  2. Platform-building: social media, connecting, networking, reviewing, attending to my blog, building my list of subscribers, research, entering competitions
  3. Writing: blog, writing daily word-count, tweeting etc.
  4. Business: querying agents, research– this will evolve into something more when the book is eventually published
  5. Writing-related self-care: walking, meditation, mindfulness practice

I am not a naturally organised person, so I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the stuff I have to do and all of the hats that I’m required to wear in a day on top of trying to just live life. It is that sense of being overwhelmed that causes me to stand still, frozen with panic and get nothing done. But I know as a writer that without building habits and sticking to them I’ll get nowhere.

Building habits is key to success in anything, but if you don’t track your progress you (a) you may not realise how much you have achieved in a given day and that may lead you feeling demoralised (b) you may feel overwhelmed by all that you still have to do, rather than seeing where you have come from and learning from it (c) you may lose focus on where you’re trying to get to.

I believe the answer to moving forward is bullet journaling. I became aware of bulleting about a year ago but I was put off by the videos. There were all these young girls with gorgeous nails, creating journals so intricate and ornate that the Book of Kells look would look boring beside them. The usefulness of the bulleting method was overshadowed by the work that went into making the thing look fabulous. But I returned to the idea after having a bit of a meltdown one day after feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of things on my to-do list and feeling like I was getting nowhere. I stripped away all the frills, and what I found that underneath was a really simple method of keeping track of my progress and keeping my goals in sight at all times. I started bulleting and I absolutely fell in love with it. I found it to be a really effective and satisfying way to track the small steps taken each day towards my writing and publishing goals. It gives me an instant visual on whether I’ve had a good or a bad week/month.

So here are my top tips:

1. Handwrite it:

I don’t handwrite very much these days, but I do handwrite my bullet journal. It means that every week I’m forced to carefully assess what I want to achieve as I prepare my task-list and tracking grid. If I make a mistake it isn’t as easy as deleting a column or line from a grid in Word or Excel on my laptop. Preparing your task list for the week is effort and if you mess it up you’ll have to start from scratch. So it focuses the mind.

2. Leave the journal where it can be seen:

A physical journal sitting beside your keyboard is impossible to ignore. This is another benefit to having a physical journal over a virtual one. Virtual journals are easily forgotten, and once you fall out of the practice of completing your journal it is just one more habit that has fallen by the wayside, which is another knock to your confidence and morale.

3. Keep the design simple:

Most videos for bullet-journals involve unicorn stickers, rose-gold card, buckets of multicoloured pens, a steady hand and the artistic talents of Picasso. I mean, you’re free to beautify your journal any way you want, but the whole point of the journal is to achieve your writing goals so YOU SHOULD BE WRITING instead of designing your own fonts. The fancy-pants videos for these journals are what distracted me from the usefulness of the bullet journal initially, so don’t be distracted by the faff and glitter. To start your journal, all you need are the following:

  1. A notebook/diary with lined pages
  2. A ruler
  3. Two pens of different colours. You can be as boring as blue and red if you wish.

4. Don’t put too much detail into the weekly tracking grid:

The bullet journals you see in most YouTube videos contain all kinds of information. They track eating habits, fitness goals, spiritual goals etc. All of this stuff is important for life outside of writing but when it comes to your writing goals it is best to keep the content simple. It is important that the tracking system is easy to replicate each week and takes very little time to fill out each day. If the system is too complicated it just becomes another mammoth task to add to the mountain of things on your to-do list. A simple task-list with a space for entering a tick or a cross for each day of the week works really well. The task list works as a prompt and the grid is for tracking frequency of completion/non-completion. You can create a grid to enter a tick or a cross beside the daily task, or to keep it even simpler you can use a series of dots to strike through beside your tasks.

5. Prepare separate grids for weeks, months and years:

It is useful to start your bullet journal by preparing a grid containing your annual/ long-term goals, then a grid which breaks those longer-term goals down into monthly goals, and then figure out how you get there through completing daily/weekly tasks. Your weekly grid is the key to achieving all of your goals, and so it is the most important of all, but it is useless without having thoroughly examined what it is that you want. All successful businesses set and track their progress regularly in terms of meeting their goals weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis, and as you are trying to make money with your writing, you must treat it as a business. Keep regular tabs on where you are and where you’re going, set deadlines, and reassess your priorities and progress regularly.

6. Ensure the goals are achievable:

Don’t work against yourself. When assigning weekly time/frequency to each task, think realistically about how much you can afford to give and how much of a priority that task is. Setting unrealistic goals is the fastest route to losing motivation and feeling utterly shite about yourself. My blog is important but my novel must always come first. So reaching my word-count for my novel is a daily task, and working on the blog would be a twice-weekly task to complete one post per week, and so I write ‘Blog x 2’ into the task box. So I expect to see two ticks in that row come Saturday.

7. Bullet first thing and last thing:

Make reviewing your journal the first thing you do every day when you sit at your desk to write. Review what you have to do for the day, plan, and make ticking off your task grid the last thing you do before you get up from your desk, so that you can give yourself that well-deserved pat on the back.




My Favourite Podcasts on the Business of Writing

I had this image of what a ‘writer’ was before I decided to become one. He (yes, always a ‘he’– annoying when that shit is internalized, but I digress) is dignified, solitary and mysterious. He is white-haired, smokes woodbines and has badly-fitting reading glasses that slide down his nose so that he has to push them back up just before they fall off his face altogether. He has an ironic smile and when he’s not writing, he likes to gaze into the distance as ideas ignite and flicker in his head.

This writer-man doesn’t have to sell a thing. Selling isn’t his job. His job is writing novels. His books sell in the hundreds of thousands. People know his books are worth reading because the publisher tells them so and the publisher has someone that does that work, an expert. A charming, confident, gregarious marketing-mogul. Someone very different to the writer–man.

I wanted to become a version of this man. I mean, obviously, I couldn’t be him anatomically, and I wasn’t going to take up smoking woodbines, it took long enough to get off the smokes. But I thought I could manage the dignified, solitary, mysterious, does-nothing-but-writing bit. But I know that isn’t how it works anymore.

Whether we like it in the current publishing environment ALL writers are expected to build an audience. Most writers consider these things a distraction from their work, but we have to accept that this is now part and parcel of our work. Here are the most popular podcasts that deal with the business of writing, and here are my favourite episodes from each:

1. The Creative Penn- Joanna Penn

Yes. Her name is Penn and she is a writer. Coincidence? I think not! Purely on the basis of this evidence, I’m changing my name to Catherine E Bestseller by deed poll.

As well as having a great name, it just so happens that Joanne gives really great advice on the craft and business-side of writing.

Listen to this: Social Media Tips For Writers with Frances Caballo. In this episode, Penn talks social media with Social Media expert Frances Caballo. This is a fascinating discussion around what kinds of social media you should use depending on what you write. Social media is a necessary evil when it comes to growing your audience, but it’s clear from this podcast episode some platforms are better than others.

2. Create If Writing- Kirsten Oliphant

When I heard that I had to ‘sell’ my book I had nightmarish visions of myself going door-to-door with copies of my novel in a battered briefcase, my hair inexplicably slicked back with engine oil trying various nefarious tricks to flog my novel. Thank goodness for Kirsten Oliphant! Her podcast is absolutely bursting with information and advice on:

‘how to build an online platform without being smarmy’.

In her tagline, she hits on the biggest fear that writers have when they try and build their audience.  That we will be seen primarily as desperate, dishonest and smarmy salespeople. Kirsten is acutely aware that building an audience in today’s publishing climate is absolutely essential to ALL writers. Her podcasts are really practical and she has done her homework in terms of how to use the tools of social media, data and software to get your book out there.

Listen to this: I found it really hard to pick one episode, Episode 51: How to Turn Readers into Raving Fans.

3. The Self-Publishing Podcast

These guys are fun, and they like to swear. I like to swear too, so I felt like I was sitting in my office with my brethren as I listened. They offer great advice on progressing the business side of your writing career.

Listen to this: I didn’t really get the importance of data until Cambridge Analytics happened. I thought it was all about finding out whether I preferred chocolate over crisps (it’s crisps, if you’re wondering). But I never thought about using the data that I gather on my website or social media profiles to benefit myself. I was happy to just hand it all over to massive data-sucking tech companies. Writers can use their data in a number of ways and in this episode Chris Fox explains how  Sell More Books by Using Better Data with Chris Fox.

4. The Portfolio Life- Jeff Goins

Let’s forget about the romantic image of the starving artist. The fact is, that unless you make money from writing, you won’t be able to sustain yourself on it. You won’t be able to write. Jeff Goins is the king of real talk around the business of writing. He knows what it takes to make a living at writing, because he’s doing it. His advice is practical and sensible, and his attitude is that if you want to keep doing what you love, you have to make a living income from doing it. So if you want to be a writer, you have to find a market for what you do and you have to sell books. I recommend his podcasts, but he also does great webinars too, so tune in.

Listen to this: On Becoming a Perennial Seller as an Artist: Interview with Ryan Holiday


My Top 4 Motivational Writing Podcasts

I’ve begun the difficult and demoralising journey that is seeking representation for my first novel ‘The Darkest Harbour’. Up to this point I had total, unwavering confidence in my novel. This confidence is being sorely tested by the querying process (I will write a blog on that separately). For those of you, like me, that don’t have lots of writerly friends to turn to for reassurance, I recommend finding a friend in a writerly podcast. There are loads of them aimed at writers that are mostly motivational in terms of their content.

Here are my favourite go-to podcasts for those days when you’re feeling a bit deflated and you need a nudge. You’ll come away from these thinking ‘how lucky I am to love this magical thing they call ‘writing’.

1. Magic Lessons- Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the blockbuster novel ‘Eat Pray Love’. She has also written a book to help those of us that need to boost our creativity entitled ‘Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear’. I’m sure you can guess from the title that she is all about helping others to live their creative dreams. Some of her older episodes feature Gilbert giving general advice on progressing in a chosen pursuit. In more recent episodes Gilbert and an expert guest advise a struggling creative on how to overcome the obstacles to achieving their goals. Though this podcast isn’t all about writers (not everything is about US, you know?). Gilbert sees all creativity as coming from the same well of magic, so you will encounter dancers, comedians and poets on your journey through her episodes. Their stories have you laughing and crying in turns as you relate and learn. Gilbert is a funny and charming host and her chats are engaging and entertaining, whilst also being gently encouraging. Also, I think she may have the sweetest and soothing voice in the world. No exaggeration. She should do audio novels. I could listen to her for days.

Listen to this: Every guest’s story is different, but I guarantee that you’ll find your episode. The one that resonates with you on a personal level. This is mine: Episode 207: ‘Living the Dream and Facing the Nightmare’. The guest on this episode is a published author who is struggling with her second novel. This is an absolutely fantastic episode that I can’t recommend enough wherever you are in the process. (PS. I’m an otter.)

2. Beautiful Writers Podcasts- Linda Silvertsen

This monthly podcast attracts guests that are big-hitters in the world of writing such as Dean Koontz and Mary Karr. It covers topics such as how to harness creativity, the reasons why we write and how to build up the courage to go and live your dream.

Listen to this: Creativity Saving Habits with guest Gretchen Rubin. Rubin is the author of, among other books, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. This is a very enlightening episode that will help you work with your own natural inclinations in terms of habit building.

3. Ann Kroeker-Writing Coach

Ann Kroeker’s podcasts are proof that the best things come in small packages. There are only a handful of episodes over the ten-minute mark. There’s a mix of really useful content for writers here: from advice on how to effectively use social media to managing your perfectionist tendencies. This podcast is great for inspiring you to write and spurring you on– Kroeker is a coach after all!

Listen to this: I love practical tips, and this episode offers great ones on how to move past those difficult days when you question yourself and get writing #58: How to Affirm Your Own Writing Life.

4. Write Now- Sarah Werner

Werner covers a variety of different topics in her podcast but there is a lot of content focused on creativity and the less tangible aspects of writing. She draws on her personal experiences to connect with her audience and is engaging and candid.

Listen to this: Episode: 30- Letting Go. Perfectionism can lead to creative inertia, and this episode explores the importance of just ‘letting go’.


The Best 9 Short and Snappy Podcasts for Fiction Writers


I love the conversational style of many podcasts. They allow the listener to get to know a podcast’s host(s) and their guests in a very real way, and that’s nice. But it has a downside. Sometimes the tips, tricks and advice you came for can get lost in the chatting and banter and in-jokes. Sometimes, the digressions are just too frequent. Sometimes, just sometimes, you wanna get what you need and sneak out the backdoor without a by-your-leave!

Short podcasts are like the one-night-stands of the podcast world. They’re for writers that wanna get straight down to the nitty-gritty. They are for writers that don’t want to get to know their podcast hosts. Writers that are a teensy bit commitment-phobic. And sometimes, I’m one of those writers. They are also for the time poor writers who have to cram their writing-related learning into time snatched here and there.

So I went on a journey of discovery, to find the shortest and sweetest podcasts around, and here they are:

1. Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

When it comes to the main focus of this podcast, the clue is in the name: this girl digs grammar. Grammar isn’t exciting, let’s face it, but she deals with her subject-matter with such enthusiasm that she manages to transfer some of her excitement to the listener.

In terms of the rest of her content, I’d describe it as eclectic. She explores interesting linguistic conundrums and the origins of certain words. These things might have no practical use for the majority of writers, but they’re interesting all the same.

Listen to this: I’m known to commit a wide variety of criminal acts with commas, so here is a good episode on the comma splice.

2. Writing Excuses

WARNING! I originally believed that this podcast would provide me with fresh excuses for not writing. Some new excuses would come in reeeeaally handy. I was very disappointed when I realised that this channel provides you with ZERO writing excuses. Zilch. None. Nada. Instead, this crowd of ‘bait and switchers’ have the gall to offer advice on how to get writing again. Disgraceful! So if writing is what you want to do, this podcast is really very good. If you’re looking for ways to explain your lack of writing activity, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

Writing Excuses is a very popular podcast that has been around for twelve years. They have a massive back-catalogue of brilliant podcasts featuring a stable of excellent hosts and a huge variety of different guest writers, so the voices and perspectives are well mixed and kept lively, fresh and interesting from week to week.

The USP of Writing Excuses a writer’s podcast is that its episodes are short, and they rarely stray over the twenty-minute mark. Perfect. There is no room for idle chit-chat or digressing here. Each episode contains craft-focused advice. Each season (of which there are now twelve) focuses on a different aspect of the job of writing a novel. Also, they have transcripts for all of you committed ‘readers’ out there as well as writing exercises to practice what you have learned.

Listen to this: I found it hard to pick one podcast because there are so many good ones. I settled on this one: ‘Blocking’.

3. Helping Writers Become Authors- KM Weiland

This podcast is hosted by writer K.M. Weiland, and she has put together over four-hundred episodes, very few of them straying over the fifteen-minute mark. It doesn’t feature guests or other hosts, it is just her lovely voice offering lovely writing advice. The content varies from book reviews to opinion pieces on how to write a novel. At the beginning of each episode, she manages to squeeze in a short update what is going on in her world, followed by snappy, on-point bursts of advice, so you feel like you get to know her as a person whilst also getting the benefit of a nice, short podcast.

Listen to this: Check out the 12 February 2018 episode – ‘Cohesion and Resonance! Cohesion and Resonance! Cohesion and Resonance!’

4. Writing Coach- Ann Kroeker

Ann Kroeker’s podcasts are proof that the best things come in small packages. There are only a handful of episodes over the ten-minute mark. There’s a mix of really useful content for writers here: from advice on how to effectively use social media to managing your perfectionist tendencies. This podcast is great for inspiring you to write and spurring you on– Kroeker is a coach after all!

Listen to this: I find editing to be the most confusing and overwhelming part of the writing process, here’s a great podcast episode on High-Level Edits.

5. 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop

This podcast, hosted by Virginia Prescott, is really brilliant in terms of the quality of the content, but it also stands out for the quality and clarity in terms of its production and the calibre of their guests. Though there are many author interview podcasts, this one is specifically aimed at writers. These are interviews with writers for writers. And they interview all kinds of people that write for a living, including the less obvious. You will hear about writing from the perspective of cartoonists, writers that co-author, songwriters and even an associate Supreme Court Justice. You will also get to listen to successful and esteemed fiction writers such as Tana French, Colson Whitehead and Emma Donoghue. Sadly, the podcast is no longer producing new episodes, but there are sixty existing ones to get through, so enjoy!

Listen to this: I found it really hard to pick a favourite, but Workshop 30: Jodi Picoult is really good. I really connected with as she is attracted to the really dark stuff and I think we are alike in that way.

6. Story Works Round Table

This is a fairly new podcast with really fantastic conversations around craft.

Listen to this: Balancing the elements of your narrative is one of the greatest challenges of writing a good novel. This is a great episode ‘Balancing Action and Non-Action’.

7. The Guardian Books Podcast

The podcast episodes are described as ‘small and mighty’ and they certainly are. This is a podcast aimed primarily at readers, so it features a lot of author interviews and readings from big names such as Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. But the real gold for writers, in my opinion, is to be found in the discussions around thematic trends. The hosts and guests discuss things like memory, and Greek mythology, and black history. There is so much here to inspire and inform a writer as we listen to people, experts in their chosen topic, dive deep and share their knowledge with the audience.

Listen to this: The theme of memory and its connection with identity is a common one in novels. In ‘Do Our Memories Make Us Who We Are?’  the hosts discuss this question with Wendy Mitchell (author of the memoir, ‘Somebody I Used to Know’) and neurologist, Jules Montague.

8. The Open University Creative Writing Podcast

This is an old, and sadly defunct podcast from 2008, but the beauty of writing tips is that very few of them go out of date. There are only thirty-four gorgeous episodes, author-interview based, and they are absolutely TINY in terms of length, rarely do they exceed the ten-minute mark. They are like the Snickers of the podcast world, a small snack but satisfyingly dense in terms of content.

Listen to this: Tanika Gupta on ‘Voice

9. The Portfolio Life- Jeff Goins

You have probably heard of Jeff Goins by now. This goes to show how good he is at putting himself out there. He is proof positive of what effective self-promotion can do. He now makes a living from writing, something so many of us aspire to.

The episodes in this podcast aren’t all short, but many of them are around the thirty-minute mark, so I’m including this podcast on my list. There are some craft episodes in there, but the vast bulk of his content falls into two categories: practical business advice and more abstract advice on inspiration and the magic of writing.

Goins is well aware that modern writers are expected to be many things. Gone are the good old days that writers could shut out the world, get drunk and get on with the business of writing. Most writers hate the idea that they will have to get involved in the murky business-end of books, but unfortunately, all writers now have to make efforts to sell themselves, regardless of whether they are self-published or not. It’s not enough to just write a great novel, you have to tell the world how great it is– often enough to get it into people’s psyches, not so much that you seem like a braggart or the literary equivalent of Del Boy trying to flog your wares out of the back of a dusty old van. It’s hard to imagine being a salesperson as an author and maintaining your dignity, but Jeff can help you out here, because he’s a good writer, but he also happens to be a skilled salesman and platform-builder. Things that all writers should aspire to be.

Listen to this: This is a good episode about establishing your platform personality 3 Steps you can Take Today to Start Making a Living Writing

Add Sarah Werner and 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop



Why Writers Should Learn to Listen — to Podcasts

For a long time, I didn’t understand the allure of the podcast for aspiring writers. I didn’t understand the point in listening to advice on writing as opposed to reading it. It felt a bit like cheating on the written word to me, but I’ve since learned that I’ve been seriously missing out on some great entertainment with a side-order of excellent fiction-writing advice.

As with most things, with the exception of learning how to base jump from the roof of a very tall skyscraper, writing is learned best by just throwing yourself into it. Doing it, doing it badly and then redoing it. Because, unlike a misjudgment made whilst freefalling from a tall building, the mess can be fixed with a discerning eye and a delete button. But there are nuggets of advice-gold to be found in them thar podcasts, but something else too. Something just as precious. Writers are a sharey bunch, and they are sharing their experiences of writing with you. Their ups, their downs, their highs, their lows. Many of them will resonate, and it makes you feel a little less alone in your writing bubble. And all of these people came out the other side with a finished story. That’s reassuring. Not as reassuring as a safety net might be for that reckless base-jumper, but reassuring nonetheless.

Here are my top reasons to listen to writer’s podcasts:

1. You learn free of charge

I am yet to find a podcast that charges, but podcasts do cost people time and therefore money to produce. Most podcasts raise the money to produce episodes through advertising, and they get advertising based on listenership, so please, at a minimum, subscribe to a podcast if you like it. Other podcasters have a Patron site or similar, where you can make donations, or they are writers themselves, so buy their books. Podcasts are incredible resources, so keeping them going is in all of our interests.

2. You get access to some great minds

Podcast creators are often great minds in and of themselves and have so much to offer, but many podcasters invite really incredible guests on to discuss writing. The only way you will get to hear these people speak in many cases, is by hoping that they’ll attend a writing event near you, or wait, pen and notepad at the ready, for them to do a radio or television interview. Podcasts give you access to some incredible literary minds, and the best thing is you can rewind and replay a podcast over and over.

3. You can learn while you do other things

You can listen to a podcast while doing anything– except writing. I can’t listen and write at the same time. But you can clean, walk, watch the kids, commute etc. while listening away.

4. You feel like you’re listening to a friend

Writing is a lonely profession. Listening to a podcast makes you realise that other people are going through the same trials and tribulations that you are, and it makes you feel like you are part of a community.

So I’m going to recommend some podcasts…

Due to my newly discovered love of the podcast I’ve decided to write a few posts, concentrating on the various categories of podcast aimed at writers, and though many of them overlap to some extent in their content, I’m going to categorise them based on what the majority of their podcast episodes deal with, and I’m also going to write a post on short podcasts for those of you that can’t dedicate an hour or so of your day to listening attentively:

1. Writing Advice podcasts:

These podcasts might deal with the craft of storytelling, or they might deal with the nuts and bolts of grammar or punctuation. It is often solid, tried and tested advice mixed with the experiences of the host/guests in terms of what works for them.

2. Motivational and Inspirational podcasts:

These deal with the creative side of writing.

3. Business podcasts:

These involve discussion around the business of writing, such as marketing and platform-building. These are very important, as all writers must know how to build their audience, regardless of whether they are published or self-published. I include ‘techy’ podcasts in relation to marketing in this category.

4. Author Interview podcasts:

Authors will often read from their book and talk about how their novel came to fruition. Though these aren’t specifically ‘advice’ podcasts, it is always interesting to hear about the processes of other writers. You might learn something.

5. Book review podcasts:

Though these podcasts aren’t specifically aimed at writers, there are two reasons that a writer might want to listen to a podcast like this. Firstly, it is really important that a writer learns how to dissect a novel and analyse its composition. What works, what doesn’t. Listening to a book reviewer will help you to develop those critical thinkings skills. It also reminds you that you have an audience to cater to, and what kinds of things might they say about your novel if they were reviewing it.

6. Short podcasts:

There are a number of podcasts out there that pride themselves on being brief and to the point and come in under thirty minutes per episode. They fit into the various categories above but deserve an entire post of their own as I love trying to fit a few episodes into a day as I snatch time here and there.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together posts on specific categories of podcasts, and picking the best from each bunch. Let me know in the comments if you have any favourites you want me to take a look at.