It's months into the third lockdown in a year, and the rain outside my dimly lit studio window is torrential. It's also a Friday, but without the prospect of any sort of recognisable weekend. Such concepts don't really count these days.
Which is why I think that this audiobook I voiced for Audible, Susanne O'Leary's 'A Holiday to Remember' is the perfect antidote to our collective pandemic malaise.
Following two women whose unexpected lottery win sees them sighing over cerulean waters as they skirt the European coastline in their snazzy red convertible, this - at times hilariously far-fetched - romp of hedonistic pleasure and luxury could not be more perfect for the inevitable dullness so many of us are experiencing in captivity.
Give it a listen - it might just be the virtual shot of Vitamin D you need to keep you going until spring arrives in earnest.
Here's a short snippet (below) of the first chapter via my soundcloud.
You can buy the full audiobook here.
I had a way of doing things with writing in the past that eventually burned me out. Taking on Donal Ryan's 'scattergun' approach - it worked out well for him, didn't it? - I was sending short stories out to journals and competitions left, right, and centre, whilst finishing my second book, ghost writing, writing articles, applying to arts councils and residencies, and keeping up voiceover work to pay the bills. I suppose many a writer would read this and say, so what? So do we all. But what I learned through doing that for a few years with an extremely low hit rate, if any at all, was that all that output with no response was extremely draining for me. Perhaps other writers thrive off the uncertainty, are even emboldened by it, but after decades in an artistic landscape, first as an actress, then as a writer and voiceover artist, I have come to tire of the 'no guarantee' lifestyle. For me, it seemed that the thinner I spread myself with writing, the harder it was for any of my work to land. I learned I need to sink in to a piece more deeply for it to render into what it needs to be. I need time and space and a slow pace - not just for the work itself but for my own peace of mind.
It's not that I never want to write again. I just want to write less. I want to care less. I want to be less hinged upon the outcome of pressing GO on Submittable. I am trying to cultivate a state that if I never do get a piece published or placed again that it won't affect me so deeply. Of course, it still does. But I am learning to let go more and more.
One of the ways I am going about that is to focus on one project at a time. So, as I finished my second novel (now looking for its publishing home through my lovely agent, Paul Feldstein), I did nothing else but that. I wrote my novel. I ignored, with difficulty, the many tweets about competition entries and submission windows, and what seemed like endless wins in the #amwriting news on Twitter, all the while fighting the mounting panic that I was doing something very wrong - that I was missing opportunity after opportunity, and slipping away ever more deeply into the shadowlands of obscurity. I forced myself to focus. I took a year or two and wrote until I was as happy as I could be with it, then I gave it into the hands of my agent. Then, I took a break. A long one. I didn't think about writing anything new. I didn't think about submitting anything old, with a new title, to the same journal, in the hopes I would do what that writer that I read about who did that once (was it Stephen King? Ian McEwan? Martin Amis? Google fails me) on the editors and this time, they would like it.
For a while, I was completely over it. Over writing, over trying to 'be' a writer, over everyone else who was one. I barely read for about a year. I could only read non-fiction, one chapter at a time, or maybe a short story here and there. Novels felt like a life-sentence - I think the only two I managed to finish were Kate O'Brien's Mary Lavelle and the latest Pullman Book of Dust - and that was HARD. What would ordinarily have been consumed in a day or two took me months to get through. The whole thing just wore me out, I think. Maybe it was because I had so many wins early on with my first book that felt so promising, all coming to nothing. About six years of that - it was extraordinarily demoralising, more than I realised at the time. I kept pushing through thinking, next one, next one, next one. I came to my senses, finally.
This blog post is really just an acknowledgement of all of that - that it was difficult, that it was trying, and that it ground me down. It is also a quiet marking of my recent first foray, after a long hiatus, of beginning to submit things again. I dipped a toe into arts council waters, and send a story out to one or two carefully chosen potential homes. I have already received one rejection. It smarted a little, but no matter. Quietly, gently, and with a lighter heart, I think I'll try again.
I am a woman given to a certain predisposition towards magical thinking, but coming into 2021 I am sure I am not alone in attempting to scry into the future for a meagre glimmer of hope.
We have entered the new year in much the same state we left the old one - despite many of us illogically holding to the fantasy that things would miraculously shift for us all overnight. In fact, despite the brief respite of a few weeks in early December, we are worse off. Stricter lockdowns, dictates of separateness, yet more bonkers political unrest across the water (as well as the failures of our own government), and, to top it all off, it's fecking freezing. Subzero is surely the phrase of the early part of this new year, because we are all frozen in place, waiting, hoping for the thaw to come in.
So you wouldn't hold it against me, I am sure, if I indulged in a spot of bibliomancy - my favourite of the prophetic arts. The wonder of this art is you can pick up any book lying close at hand, or randomly pick one up off the shelf, and let the book fall open at random, allowing your finger to find a spot on the page. Read the message you have landed upon, and I would be surprised if you did not find in it an uncanny prescience for your current situation. Better yet, ask a question before you let the book peel open, and see what comes of the answer.
I sometimes do this with my own journals of time past. I get through a large volume of journals in any one year, given that the simple act of writing with a nice pen on beautifully textured paper - whether it is a list for the Aldi shop, or observations on the types of birds that have visited the garden since I put the seed down (pheasants, gloriously - two golden ladies and richly auburn strutting male) - is one of the simple pleasures of my life. Often I will find a small bite of wisdom in an old entry that has survived the fire (I have a habit of burning my old journals when they pile up too high). You never know when something you have once thought or wondered at becomes an important message for you at a later date - I often feel that we time travel without realising it when we write, which is why I believe the practice of bibliomancy is so effective.
So I ask you to do this with me - find the closest book to hand, or one that seems to call to you from a nearby shelf or table. Open it at 'random' should you believe such a concept exists, and let your hand lead you to a word, a phrase, a sentence. I will do the same. Closest to me is 'Business for Punks' by James Watt. Closing my eyes, I let my finger run along the tight wad of pages, my nail find an opening, my fingertip glaze the page and come to rest. The sentence?
"DEFEND YOUR GROSS MARGIN LIKE A JUNKYARD ROTTWEILER"
In other words. know your worth, and stick to it. No more playing small in 2021. Decide on what you're worth - whether that has a literal, financial meaning, or whether it relates to how you find yourself being treated in relationships with family, friends or your significant other. Defend your territory and your peace - it may be harder to do these days when there is so little movement, but all the more reason to make it a priority now. Very few others will do the same unless you don't first set the rules about how you deserve to be treated. In 2021, we're staying fierce. Are you with me?
If you're interested in this exercise, please share your bibliomancy messages in the comments below. You never know who might benefit from them!
I was honoured to be asked by Film Network Ireland to lead a podcast in tribute to a wonderful actress, and my dear friend of fifteen years, Nika McGuigan.
Nika died in 2019 aged just 33, while her final film, the moving and impassioned Wildfire, was in post production. In this podcast I speak to directors who worked with Nika, Wiebke Von Carolsfeld and Imogen Murphy, as well as Nika and I's former voice teacher from our wide eyed drama school days at the Gaiety School of Acting circa 2004-2006, Cathal J. Quinn. There are also a few anecdotal memories from former GSA classmates, remembering Nika's formidable talent, work ethic, kindness and quirky humour.
I was so happy to be able to be involved with this piece and to remember Nika with others who loved and admired her brilliance and fierceness, as I did, and still do.
To listen to the podcast, go HERE.
This podcast also marks my first outing as a Film Network Ireland Wrapchat podcast host. More to come on that front in 2021...
Well, after a questionable year, this was very nice news.
I may not have made any end of year book lists, not that I had a book out, but somehow not making an end of year list when one doesn't have a book out is all the more jarring. Neither did I have it in me to submit anything to anywhere.
BUT I've been named one of the top Voquent voices in the world, as voted by them and their clients. And, I was the only Irish voice to make the list - both in Europe and globally! It's very nice indeed, and lovely to feel like all the hard work of this year, which required a rapid rethink of how I work, a rush build of a home studio in the first global lockdown when equipment suppliers had shut up shop and postal services were considerably delayed, followed by a crash course in sound engineering, paid off.
My work day looks very different now to the way it did this time last year - and I am actually pretty happy about that. Having a home studio has opened me up to opportunities and avenues of work I wouldn't have known of were I still following the old model of only waiting for my agent to call. I still wait for my agent to call, of course - and I love my agent - but the truth is that the world has changed, and if I were to wait by the phone for news indefinitely, I'd starve. The new way is one of multiplicity, and greater personal agency, and I am here for it.
The Voquent Year in Review is a fascinating read, delving into the lives of voiceovers all across the world, what they worked on, what they hope to work on next and how they go about their days. We're global now, baby!
If ever there was a year that taught us that, it was this one.
Read more here!
Over the last year of lockdown in some form or another, I've been spending a lot of time in my studio recording things - either for other people or myself.
As well as narrating my own writings and becoming the AI voice of Microsoft, I also wore a few different hats when it came to the type of voiceover work I put my voice to.
In this project for new tech device Scandit, I not only brought up the cheese, I left it sitting out in the sun for a bit. At the end of recording this (video above a short snippet of longer work), my smile was plastered to my face and I had jaw ache. Thankfully, the wind didn't change, so I was able to move onto to something like this:
The opposite to cheese, and yet possibly a wonderful pairing, this is more of a silky and decadent rich red wine, which I might be able to term my usual: a soft, sensual and whispery read that has become my trademark sound over the years. Based on this article I wrote for Voquent about the vocal vibe, I suppose you could call this my 'unique signature.' And honestly, these are my favourite ones to do.
So, just in case I was putting out the signals that I was a bit of a one trick pony, I wanted to tell the world* that I can do at least two things. Not just wine, but cheese too. Two things that are better together.
Also, if you haven't had a chance to hear the audiobook versions of my short stories, here's one for you. Compost, it's called, first published by The Irish Times in 2018.
Maybe I can do as many as three impossible things? But only once I've had a good breakfast.
*my own website blog
This short story, the second in my series of audio versions, was inspired by the ruins of Kilmacurragh House, which was devastated by a fire in the 1970s. It has long been one of my favourite places to explore on an unoccupied afternoon, any time of the year. This story is set on February the 1st, on the pagan feast of Imbolc sacred to the Goddess and Saint Brigid, marking the turn to the brighter half of the year. Imbolc is when you can feel Spring being called back.
Though the ruined house and beautifully kept botanic gardens are now an OPW run public space visited by thousands every year, this story imagines how the home could be regenerated by combining the public and private worlds.
This story was published by The Corridor magazine in association with the Irish Writers Centre and The Arts Council of Ireland in March 2019.
You can buy a copy of The Corridor magazine here.
Compost is a short story I wrote for the Irish Writers Centre and Arts Council Northern Ireland XBorders:Accord writing project in 2018. It was later published by The Irish Times in May 2018.
It is a mournfully sensual piece that is teetering dangerously close to nature writing, on that crumbling line I often straddle between writing literary fiction and a full blown Gardener's World episode transcription. Basically, if you like flowers and failed romance, this is for you.
I am slowly turning my stories and books into audio form; this is the first.
If you're more of a purist however, and have never quite got into the audiobook thing, the published story can be read here.
And if you're down for this audio thing, there's more to come soon.
Over the past few months of Lockdown I've been spending a lot of time in my home studio, The Barfly (so called as my partner built it for me by dismantling an old wooden bar). Apart from the work I've been recording for my clients in Ireland and abroad, I've been thinking of creative ways I can use it for personal projects, doing some of the things I've longed to do for years but have never quite gotten around to.
So, I'm in the process of recording the audio version of my first novel, The Glass Door, as well as my short stories, among them Compost and The Letter.
But before I begin releasing my books and stories, I thought that what might be most helpful for people just now would be something soothing and escapist. With so much chaos in the air between the pandemic and, now, the campaigns for racial justice across the world, we need it. Necessary as this chaos and protesting is, it is enormously taxing on our nervous systems to be exposed, through traditional and social media - as well as by simply feeling the air around us - to consistent messages of violence, pain, suffering, injustice, cruelty and oppression, and all of us need to take breaks from it to be able to continue to fight, campaign, educate, or vision the brighter, equitable future that will benefit us all, everywhere.
So I have created The Happy Place - a collection of meditative escapes to soothe troubled minds in trying times. Escaping to these 'mind palaces' is a technique I have often used over the years whenever I have felt as though I'm gasping and barely keeping afloat, and I thought they might help others in similar states. They are nature-focused, sensual, escapist and calming, because these are the tools that work for me. I have tried to create soundscapes and imagery with my words, voice and the supporting music and sounds that create beauty and harmony for the listener, and I hope I have managed to achieve this. I am currently selling them on my Etsy shop for the price of a fancy coffee, and 10% of every sale will go towards MASI, the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland.
For more, visit My Happy Place. And I hope you are all taking care of yourselves out there.
I wrote a series of articles for Writing.ie called 'Rules for Writers.' (Spoiler alert, there are none.) It draws upon every small thought I have ever had about myself on the writing path, and every thought I imagine others might have had. Though by no means would I call it an extensive list of self-loathing thoughts, it still gave me enough material for three separate articles.
"You have a book in you. You know it. You need to get it out, somehow. Not just anywhere mind; neither the gutter nor the pub will do. You need to get it onto a page, or series of pages, preferably. Maybe you’ve started. You might have even finished (for the eleventh time).
But then, it hits you: you’re not a writer. You can’t be. You’re not Edna O’Brien, or Hemingway, or Dickens, real writers who have written real books notorious enough to be banned, or have whole sections in academic libraries dedicated to them, or whose works have been turned into films and television shows over and over again. Sure no-one, apart from that one person, and your cat, has even read a word of what you’ve written. So how on earth can you even begin to think you can call yourself a writer?"
If you've ever struggled with your writing, or wondered why the hell you do it at all, or felt overwhelmed by feelings of abject failure and helplessness, you might find something of use in 'Rules for Writers.' I even throw a bit of practical advice in there, too.
You can read the article series HERE.
RM Clarke is a writer and voiceover artist. She has written for various literary mags and anthologies and won awards. She has put her voice to most things she can think of.