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Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall

Carmel Shortall lives in London but grew up in Northern Ireland. She is currently doing the Certificate of Higher Education in Creative Writing at Birkbeck having previously studied Journalism there and she has a degree in Humanities from Middlesex University. Carmel is writing her first novel and hopes to progress to the MA Creative Writing when she has finished it. Once a year in August she goes crazy and tries to see and review 28 shows in 28 days during the Camden Fringe Festival.

NaNoWriWee Competition Winner: Interview with Chris Brosnahan

Last week we interviewed Scott Pack, publisher, editor and blogger at HarperCollins, The Friday Project and authonomy. Earlier this year Scott and authonomy were invited by The Kernel online magazine to judge and subsequently publish the winner of NaNoWriWee – write a novel in a weekend, cheekily following the format of NaNoWriMo but asking participants to write their novel (or, more accurately, novella) in 30 hours instead of 30 days.


This week, we interview Chris Brosnahan, writer of the winning entry, POV. Scott said of it last week: “POV was, of all the entries, the one that felt like a complete novel in miniature and was an impressive feat for just 30 hours’ work.”


Chris has recently completed the first draft of his second full-length novel and the first is with his agent. POV, will be published as an ebook by HarperCollins under the authonomy imprint later this summer.


I asked Chris about his background and other writing projects as well as the experience of writing a novel in 30 hours.


First some basics - what’s your background? What started you writing? What do you write? And how do you normally write?

Writing's always been something I've been interested in. My mother (Geraldine O'Neill) is a writer, with ten books to her name, and it meant that I had an idea what could be achieved. I studied Devised Acting at University, which combined acting with writing and directing and, over time, I moved more and more towards writing as a primary interest.


I normally write in whatever time I get free, and most commonly on the sofa with my netbook.

You’ve been running an all-genres writing group at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green for two and a half years now and it’s thriving. How much of a help has that been in terms of keeping you focused?

It's been an enormous help. We meet every two weeks, and at the very least, it means that you are very aware if you haven't done anything. Also, it's a very supportive group. It's useful to remind yourself that other people are in the same boat, and it's also a great way to get over your nerves of sharing your writing and reading it out loud.

What was the experience of writing a 20-30,000 word novella in 30 hours, over a weekend, like?

It was intense. The magazine that set up the competition invited participants to write in their office, which was an opportunity I jumped at. It was basically two fifteen-hour stretches of writing in exam-like conditions, and involved more caffeine than any human should probably drink. I listened to a lot of soundtracks while I wrote. It was exhausting but a huge amount of fun to do.

Obviously the 30-hour draft will have required editing and polishing – how close to what you originally wrote in 30 hours will the published novel/la be? Have you had the benefit of any editing from Scott Pack himself? What’s been happening as a result of winning?

It hasn't changed much. We've sanded off a couple of the rougher edges, and Scott and Rachel Faulkner gave me notes on it, which I took into account, but we all agreed that we wanted to keep it as close as possible to the original text. It was a case of allowing a couple of scenes to breathe a bit more, moving a couple of scenes around in the middle so they flowed better, and cutting a few of my cheesier lines.

It should be coming out soon, and we're currently planning on putting some bonus material in there, in the form of some short stories I've written in the past, and a short article about tips I'd give for writing something like that in 30 hours, and what I learned from doing it.

You’re also writing a weekly (52 part –naturally) serial called Magic Falls on your blog. Writing up each instalment and putting it straight out there – how scary is that?

Terrifying, but exhilarating. The main thing is that I'm not able to go back and edit earlier entries, so I have limited space to make plot errors. It's a lot of fun.


Tell us about Magic Falls - what is it about?

It's a modern fantasy story. It's about magic, belief and the end of the world. Our main character has come back from a year in the future to save his wife and the world from an impending war. Things are getting strange, but I've got a definite way forward.


Can you describe the process and why you are doing it.

Basically, I've challenged myself to keep a regular story going, with a new segment written each week. I've mostly kept up to it, although while I've been finishing another project, it had to take a two week break. I'm not allowed to write ahead either - I can't start writing a new part until I've published the previous one.

I'm doing it with the aim of training myself into good habits. This way, I'm always having to write something. Also, I thought it would be fun to throw myself in at the deep end.


How much, if any, planning was involved? And how has it differed from writing your novels?

At the start – none. I came up with a basic idea and started writing. Now, as I'm getting up to the midpoint, there's more planning because I have a rough idea where it's going. Or, rather, I know the elements that the end will involve, but I don't quite know what's going to happen yet.

What do you think you will gain in terms of your own writing. Will you change the way you write normally?

Hopefully, I'll gain a bit more confidence in writing quickly, and not agonising over everything I do as much. I may also have more confidence in going off-plan and seeing where things go. Although the main thing is just trying to find a way to beat writer's block!

How has it felt to expose your writing more or less unedited in such a public way?

To be honest, it's not been too bad. I'm not always as happy with it as I am at other times, but it's useful to know that I've not dropped my standard too far yet.

Fingers crossed, but I haven't put anything out yet that I was actually unhappy with, so it's not so bad so far. As a result, it's more exciting to put it out that unedited.

Do you find your writing inevitably improves? Have you found that your ability to self-edit, as you write, has sharpened?

I'm usually not giving myself time to do so, although that's leaving me more aware of the luxury of it with my other writing. One thing I have noticed I've been doing with the serial is seeding in more open plot points that mean I've got some wriggle room later – which is a useful thing to do with something like this.

Do you think it’s important – even essential – now for writers to engage with a potential readership digitally?

I think it has a lot to offer, definitely. I'm a twitter addict, but it's not going to work for everyone. In fact, some people should probably avoid it rather than do it badly. However, as a free tool that allows you to tell people about what you're doing, and as a way to engage with readers, it's an amazing resource.



Since NaNoWriWee, the Kernel Magazine has folded but it may be up and running again in August so who knows – there may be another NaNoWriWee competition next year. In the meantime have a look at our own fiction and poetry competition links under ‘Resources’.


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