Sunday, March 8, 2020

Where Does Poetry Come From?

Someone asked me recently what the poem My Couch Says is about. I struggled to answer, feeling foolish. What made you write it, they pressed. I said something about the strange feeling of being so insulated from the people we see every day in the news, whose lives are dominated by war or poverty.

The question reminded me of an answer a poet gave in a talk I went to some years before - he said suffering was necessary to write poetry. I disagree. Thinking something you can't express with normal language is what's necessary. You must feel something you cannot speak, so it lurks in you, until it attaches to a metaphor and escapes onto the page! That's a poem. But it doesn't have to be tragic. Sometimes your thoughts just need to be constructed in second person with an upbeat rhythm to feel fully expressed.

And I realise that is not just about poetry. It's about all art. To dance, to paint - these expressions carry ideas too layered for words. They tell of contradictions and parallels; They say many things at once that can only be said together. 

Sometimes we ask what came first: complex thought or complex language. Since an inner voice expresses our thoughts, could we think without words? 
It's a concept experimented with in the book 1984: A language, Newspeak is created with limited vocabulary, to control human thought. For example, the word love is forbidden in the belief that humans won't feel love without a word to think it. 

While it is certainly true that language shapes our perception of reality, surely that which cannot be expressed still remains inside us. Are the arts not evidence of that? Emotional cocktails finally finding a way to escape without the traditional constructs of language. Otherwise there would be no need for expression other than the form we are taught.

Thank goodness language is inadequate! The next time someone asks me what a poem is about, I'm going to say, If I could explain that, it wouldn't exist!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

My Other Hat

Long time, no speak, Internet. Since we last met I got busy with writing a game app. As a software developer who likes to write fiction, developing a game is the best of both worlds. It allows me to write code for a solo project (this is what all programmers secretly want to do), and I get to create characters in a make-believe world. 

I took a year off work to focus on this and spent some time designing a puzzle which I hoped would be fun and also challenging. I love brain teasers, so creating an original problem-solving game, incorporating a little fiction and humour was, well, just about the most fun I can have.

On the back of that, I got a new job in a new industry, as an app developer, which I am loving! And while my efforts are now focused on that job, I am still writing poetry and hope to write more fiction in the future. Just waiting for the inspiration.

So now with two books and an app on the market, it became apparent to me that while I seem to be good at creating quality products that people enjoy, I am rubbish at marketing. I've gone for some paid advertising in the Android store and have paid to advertise my books when they're free on Kindle - as they are right now! (Here are my blog posts on previous efforts: the experiment and the result.)

But I think it's time to take a course and focus on marketing the same way I focus on writing or coding. Tips very welcome!

     Orla's Code free on Kindle UK                Beverly free on Kindle UK

     Orla's Code free on Kindle US                Beverly free on Kindle US

So while I'm looking at my options, let me end with this: Fiona Pearse is actually a pen name. When I started writing, I was still working in the industry on which my book was commenting. I thought it was important to take distance from it and using a pen name seemed like a good step. Also, my real name is a tricky Irish name - Gráinne Shannon. My first name is pronounced grawn-ya, and is generally considered the Irish equivalent of the name, Grace. Some people already know this through our interaction. But mostly, for the sake of simplicity, I didn't point it out. Apologies if you feel like I should have. By now, it's no longer necessary to use the pen name, so I wanted to be more open.

My personal website is here, where you'll find my non-fiction opinion pieces published in various magazines, plus updates on my app, Bug Hop. 

You might enjoy my post, The Making of Bug Hop since it's about the creative process. There are real overlaps between writing fiction and writing code!

I'll update in the near future about my marketing efforts. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

FREE on Kindle!

These 5-star books are FREE for a short time on Amazon! Quick, download your copy!

"I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a character driven novel."
Go Book Yourself

"I connected deeply with the characters, I felt each and every dramatic moment."
Awesome Indies

"Orla’s Code is well-written, with a fresh style, and subtle and insightful humor."
Awesome Indie Review

 "I was impressed with the author’s ability to communicate the challenges of Orla’s job."
BigAl, Books and Pals

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Where's the Conflict?

It’s about fifteen years ago. I’m in the shower, washing my hair and I’m thinking, write what you know … hmmm … I know about stuttering. How about that? I had started a creative writing course and it was time to attempt a short story. Perhaps I could write a story about a woman with a stutter who has to speak in public – a school girl maybe, with an assignment. Okay, good. But, so what? Our week's lesson was on creating conflict. So where was it? She doesn’t want to speak? Well, obviously she doesn’t. But who cares? Er … there is something she can gain by speaking – a prize. Ah, she’s won a competition and she must recite her wining slogan/poem at a press conference/on TV - there'll be cameras - terrifying. So why do it? The prize is a lot of money … or tickets to see her favourite band ... So, she goes through with it and it’s unpleasant, but worth it. The End. Where’s the conflict? Er, maybe she DOESN’T go through with it … I was on to conditioner by now, leaving it in my hair for a few minutes, as you do ... I know! She asks her friend to pretend to be her! Her friend gives the speech, collects the tickets and hands them over! ... SO WHERE’S THE CONFLICT? ... Her friend wants something in return for doing the speech. Something our protagonist doesn’t want to give up. Hmm, that's interesting. What do teenage girls care about? Teenage boys. There’s a boy, see. He’s cute. Both girls like him. Our girl has to introduce him to her so-called friend and encourage a date ... Conflict! What will she choose? To brave humiliation and do the speech herself, but still have a chance with the guy? Or will she give up the guy because she can’t face public speaking? 

What I learned from the exercise is that creative writing is about giving a protagonist a choice and giving the reader enough information to speculate on what they would do - that's the hook that makes them want to read more.

It was a productive shower, because my short story about Siobhán and her best friend Lisa got an A. If you’ve read Beverly, you’ll know that it is a grown-up adaption. Beverly has to do a presentation at work in order to win a lucrative contract, or she faces a bad reputation in her industry. When she recruits her best friend Ella for help, it comes at a high price.

Every time I start writing something new, I play where’s the conflict. What techniques to you use?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Advertising: The Results

If you remember, I paid to advertise Beverly during a promotion back in May and promised to share the results. It turns out the results are not that exciting. In the previous freebie week, Beverly was downloaded 1,100 times. In the week I paid for advertising, she was downloaded 2,700 times. Over twice as many hits. Pretty good. But I was not impressed.

I thought the cheap options were okay. These sites advertised my book during the freebie period and contacted other sites to do the same. This is something I could have done myself if I had put the time into it. The expensive sites have a large amount of email subscribers whom they email at the start of the promotional period. This, I believe, is what doubled my numbers. 

BooksGoSocial interviewed me (via Your Book Promoter) and the link was heavily retweeted. Looking at the accounts that did the retweeting, I noticed they all had something like 50k followers, 100k followers, etc. They were following around that many too. And I thought: if everyone retweeting the interview is putting it into a stream following about 100k accounts then it's still only reaching a flooded market - which was the problem I had when I wasn't paying for advertising. No one commented on the interview and I notice, with a quick check, there are not many comments on other BooksGoSocial interviews.

On a side note, when I'm followed by someone who has about 100k followers and is following the same, I don't follow back anymore because I don't feel the authenticity. It's different for a celebrity account following about 100 people while thousands or millions follow it. But if a non-celeb can amount that many followers, I wonder how they spend their time - is it spent building connections? If not, the numbers must be somehow contrived.

Having said all that, the fact that every few months, 1,000 people or so read Beverly or Orla's Code is fantastic. And I appreciate being able to reach people through Free Kindle. It got me thinking about that audience. Who are the people checking out the Free Kindle bookstore? What kind of books do they read? I guess they're avid readers across a broad cultural spectrum, with varying tastes - was my first thought. But then I realised that I just had to look at the top 100 free books to answer the question. Ahem, it's all porn. Sorry, erotica. Ok, there's paranormal porn there too. This is what you see when Beverly or Orla's Code makes it into the top 100: Columns of semi-naked men and buxom women, and in the middle, Beverly or Orla looking very dressed. There's a little bit of sex in Orla's Code and Beverly. More in Beverly, if you want to know. 

I need to rethink how to reach my market. I'll report on progress...

Monday, May 1, 2017


I heard about this author who self-published through a self-publishing company, and once he got his book into a book store, visited the store with a plate of biscuits, offering one to those who picked up his book. Another self-published author featured a real hotel in her novel and then was able to enter her readers into a competition for a meal for two.

If only I was this clever at marketing. But my creativity does not seem to extend into this arena. So this bank holiday weekend, I'm promoting Beverly the old-fashioned way - with money.

Both Beverly and Orla's Code are exclusively e-published on Kindle which allows me to do a free promotion every three months. But I have found this isn't enough. Amazon is a noisy market and getting into the top 100 free books doesn't have a lasting effect on my overall sales ranking.

On looking about the internet, I have found some good advice on book promotion sites and where to invest. There are a lot of sites that will give your book a shout out during a promotion. I ended up enlisting Beverly here: I paid $121 I paid $165 I paid $35 I paid $10
The more expensive sites offer services like tweeting, exposure to book review clubs, promotional emails to subscribers and a featured page. The cheaper ones just advertise your book during the freebie time. I'll be sure to provide pre-promotion sales numbers and post-promotion numbers. We'll see if the investment works. As the heading of this post says, Beverly will be free from the 27th May, for five days. Don't be afraid to distort the numbers - remember to download your copy!

Helpful Sources:

Monday, November 14, 2016

Paperbacks for Christmas?

Are you looking for Christmas present ideas? Is it too early to mention? Well, to help you out, Orla's Code and Beverly are FREE this week on Kindle. So why not download these Awesome Indie Approved, London based tales, and if they meet your personal approval, you can buy the paperback for a loved one...

Orla's Code on Kindle
Beverly on Kindle

Orla's Code on paperback
Beverly on paperback

"Orla’s Code is well-written, with a fresh style, and subtle and insightful humor."
Awesome Indie Review. Read review...

"I would recommend [Beverly] to anyone who loves a character driven novel."
Go Book Yourself read the review...