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Writing advice from our tutors


With just three weeks left until the May 31 deadline for our inaugural ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards’ (3,000 euro worth of prizes), we asked authors who have been tutors at our retreats for some helpful writing tips.

Here’s what they had to say:


Anthony Quinn


With nine novels under his belt, including his debut novel ‘Disappeared,’ shortlisted for a Strand Literary Award in the US, there’s little Anthony doesn’t know about the craft of writing. His latest work is ‘The Listener,’ described as a ’gritty police procedural written with a literary twist.’


Anthony shares a light-hearted moment with a retreat participant.

ADVICE

Creative writing courses overlook the importance of beginnings. The opening is the reader's entrance into the labyrinth and is the most unforgiving place in the story. It has to lead somewhere, and if it doesn't, then find another opening. There are lots of ways of beginning and you have to choose the right one - with a question, an anecdote, a symbolic object or a character portrait. I'm not a fan of the idea of startling a reader in the opening. Instead, if you begin in an understated way then you have a contrast to work against, a delay, that helps intensify the surprises when they do happen.

Bernie McGill


Not only the author of two novels, Bernie has also written a short story collection, audio scripts for heritage projects and theatre scripts. Her novels are entitled ‘The Watch House’ and ‘The Butterfly Cabinet’ while her short story collection, ‘Sleepwalkers,’ was short listed for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. 

Theater scripts, short story, novel...Bernie has mastered most genres.


ADVICE

Read and write as much as you can, and stay open to new ideas. Many new writers have an inkling of what genre they want to write in, and many are surprised to find, when they put pen to paper, that their strengths lie elsewhere. Write to your strengths.”

Bradley Harper


US Army Pathologist with over 37 years of experience, now adviser during the coronavirus outbreak, Bradley is also an author of historical fiction. His first novel ‘Knife In The Fog’ in which Jack the Ripper meets Sherlock Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was finalist for the 2019 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and winner of the Silver Falchion Award at Killer Nashville for Best Mystery. His second novel, ‘Queen’s Gambit’ involves an assassin with Queen Victoria in his sights.

Bradley, also known by many as 'Santa Claus,' likes to mingle when he teaches.


ADVICE

When I revise/edit I use the acronym CUBER to evaluate my work. It helps guide me for what needs to be worked on further and what it needs. C-Confusing. U-Unbelievable B-Boring. E-Editing (Good stuff, just needs to be tightened) R-Redundant.

I also ask my Beta readers to use the same system. It makes the rewrite much easier.” 

Danny Morrison


Former political prisoner and experienced author including several novels such as ‘The Wrong Man,’ about an informer inside the IRA, as well as nonfiction, ‘Then The Walls Came Down: A Prison Journal’ about his years behind bars. Danny also established one of the most successful community festivals in Ireland.

Danny's seems satisfied, surrounded by smiles.


ADVICE

I’m a ravenous reader (both fiction and non-fiction) who unfortunately can no longer read novels innocently, as I now look to see how the author created certain affects regarding character, plot, time and tension, etc. I cannot overstate the importance of reading – and of reading books that have survived the test of time because therein lies great writing.”


As added help Danny also kindly compiled a list of his favorite books on creative writing:

The Art of Fiction – David Lodge (Penguin)

The Practice of Writing – David Lodge (Secker & Warburg, 1996)

The Agony and the Ego – edited by Clare Boylan (Penguin 1993)

The Art of the Novel – Milan Kundera (Faber and Faber, 1988)

My Appointment with the Muse – Paul Scott (Heinemann, 1986)

A Writer’s Diary – Virginia Woolf (Grafton, 1978)

The Art of Writing – AndreMaurois (The Bodley Head, 1960)

The Art of the Novel – Henry James (Charles Scribener’s Sons, 1962)

Aspects of the Novel – E.M. Forster (Edward Arnold, 1974)

A Writer’s Notebook – W. Somerset Maugham (Heinemann, 1979)

He also advised writers to see –

Ernest Hemingway on Writing – (Granada, 1984)


John DeDakis


Veteran correspondent and editor, John worked in journalism in the US and abroad, including 25 years with CNN (he even interviewed Alfred Hitchcock). His series of novels feature strong-willed protagonist Lark Chadwick, with journalistic integrity and mentoring relationships as prominent themes. His novels include ‘Fast Track,’ his first, ‘Bluff,’ ‘Troubled Water,’ ’Bullet In The Chamber’ and ‘Fake.’

Versatile John: from newsroom to classroom.

ADVICE

Overcoming Writer’s Block

I believe fear is at the root of writer’s block. We want our writing to be perfect, yet we know instinctively that it won’t be, so we freeze. My suggestion: relax. Just write. You can always go back and make it better later.


Rachael Kelly


Belfast–based Rachael is not only an author of historic nonfiction with ‘Mark Antony And Popular Culture,’ but also of fiction, sci-fi ‘The Edge of Heaven,’ winner of the Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair Competition.

Rachael - first she conquered nonfiction, then fiction.


ADVICE

Know much more about your characters than ever appears on the page.

Write even when you don’t feel like writing — even fifteen minutes will do.

Try the Pomodoro Method if you’re having trouble getting started.


Sean Hillen


Journalist, editor, publisher, author, Sean has worked in broadcast and print media for several decades in both the US and Europe, including stints as a foreign correspondent. He has authored fiction - contemporary novel 'Pretty Ugly,' and nonfiction - 'Digging For Dracula.'

Sean - proud of developing his special 'IQ for Creative Writers' class.


ADVICE

On pain of death, refrain from reading what you wrote the day before. By all means, read the last paragraph to see where you’ve left off. But don’t read all the previous day’s work. You’ll be sorely tempted to start editing it. And in doing so, you’ll probably end up editing out its very lifeblood, leaving it dry and withered on the vine. Leave editing to the end-end.

Check every word ending with –ly. In all likelihood, they’re adverbs. And you know what you can do with most adverbs. Toss ‘em.

Listen to Dan Brown and David Baldacci on ‘Masterclass.’ Some of the guest writers are just so-so. But Brown and Baldacci are incisive and thoughtful.

Pick up a copy of Elizabeth Berg’s ‘Escaping Into The Open,’ and Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird By Bird.’ Slim, snappy, easy-to-read writing guides."


Here's hoping the words of these wonderful writers will inspire you to enter your words 

in the competition below.


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