love letter to the new moon

I wanted to start writing a newsletter but I’m bad enough at being consistent on social media without adding another format to the list. I haven’t posted here in months. How would I write this if it was a letter? A missive straight into your inbox, quiet and private?

Dear friend,

I’ve been writing a book, but I’ve been writing a book for about as long as I can remember. This one’s wild and authentic, rough around the edges. This one’s an avalanche of old stone. I’m crazy about it. The second draft is starting to crack open and there’s light everywhere, like a Leonard Cohen song. There’s this one scene that makes me cry every time I read it. I don’t think that one will change much in the edits.

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I’ve been writing a story, too, at the same time, that’s different to most of the stories I write – fewer ghosts, notably; less psychological trauma, more self-affirmation. Before starting to play with it (because that’s how stories begin, as a small and haphazardly-curated selection of snippets and half-ideas that you play with until they grow into something you could love), I took four giant crates of old notebooks down from the topmost corner of the wardrobe. Dust and spiders and secrets live there. So do the one hundred and fifty diaries that I’ve kept since the age of six.

Sorting through them was a gargantuan task — not just because the crates were heavy & stored several feet above my head, but because teenage Moïra did not believe in dating her diary entries. There are entire notebooks without mention of a year & even a whole diary without a single date. Not the day, not the month, no indication that a day has passed except for a small dash between paragraphs.

This is probably metaphorical. I had a difficult adolescence.

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I didn’t set out looking for inspiration but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if some of these diary snippets end up making their way sneakily into my story.

The story’s for Proud, an LGBTQ+ YA anthology for Stripes Books that’s being curated by Juno Dawson. The illustrated collection will include short stories & poetry from eight established authors & will also include four stories from new talent so if you are or know of an unpublished & unagented writer who falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, there’s a link to submission guidelines in the Bookseller press release.

It’s a thing of awe and honour to be part of a book I’d’ve loved & needed as a teenager – the proof is in these diaries. I said it already on Twitter but in an attic bedroom in a suburb of Dublin in 2001, 15-year-old Moïra is using an antiquated internet to look for a book like this that doesn’t yet exist & couldn’t possibly imagine she’d ever be writing a story for one. My heart’s huge with it.

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It’s Thursday and the moon is new. Here is a spell for dark moon days, just before the moon is new, when your past is gathered up in your bedroom in one hundred and fifty notebooks and even though you know you are strong enough to carry them (both metaphorically and back into the top of the wardrobe), you don’t have to keep it all strapped to your back. You can put some of it down, sometimes. Makes it easier to move around.

You’ll need:

A red candle, or several (the more the brighter the burn)
Fresh, dried sage
Old words: diary entries you can afford to lose, scraps from another life, photos, letters, clippings, or even just a piece of paper on which you’ve written things from the past you’re ready to put to rest
A fireplace, stove or otherwise flame-proof space in which to safely burn what you’ve come to move past

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The spell:

Light your candles. Sit comfortably. Take deep, cleansing breaths. If you have a daily meditation or affirmation, breathe through it now. Ground yourself. Centre. Concentrate on feeling who you are now & why you are strong.

Light your papers, scraps and secrets with the candle. Drop them into the fireplace & watch them burn. Whisper, chant or say I love you, I love you, I love you to your past self with every flame.

Watch the fire until it’s only embers. Close your eyes. Burn the sage. Listen to the last of the heat crackle the cinders. Don’t open your eyes until you can’t hear it any more, until the past you’re ready to move on from is only ashes. When you’re finished, blow out your candles with one more I love you for the road.

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novels in november

It’s November, it’s the end of the accident season, we’re safe for another year.

I wrote the first words of The Accident Season on the first of November five years ago. It wasn’t my first year participating in NaNoWriMo, but it was the first year I got this funny half-a-thought somewhere part of the way through. A thought that said: I have a good feeling about this.

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I fell so fast in love with writing it I barely had time to breathe – and there’s not a lot of room for deep breathing during NaNoWriMo in the rush of a thousand and a half words a day every day for thirty days – I raced from start to finish in six weeks and finished, dizzy, lovestruck and hopeful, halfway through December. I spent six months revising it before I sent the manuscript to agents. I revised it three more times before I signed the publishing deal. I revised the whole thing nine times in total (including copyedits and US-specific edits) before it went to print.

It’s a good thing I was so in love with it.

Usually, this is how I write: I have an idea, a thought, a kernel of story. I have a couple characters, maybe, floating around in my head from things I wrote when I was younger. I have some images I want to include, an energy, a mood. I have nothing else but my fingers on the keys.

When I sat down to write The Accident Season I had Elsie. I had mousetraps and butterfly nets, flypaper on the trees. I had a main character who was in love with someone she wasn’t supposed to be in love with. I had tarot cards in the school canteen. I had a bonfire in an abandoned house. I had an idea of the dreamy darkness I wanted to write, the magic realism, the slipperiness of reality and fantasy. I had no idea how I was going to thread it all together to make a story.

But I think writing is somewhere between a kind of magic and a kind of madness. When I sat down on the first of November to make a story about all of the little images and thoughts above, the first thing that came out was, It’s the accident season, the same time every year. And it kind of all just went from there.

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Usually, this is how I write: the first draft is chaos. There’s no other way to word it. The first draft is a mess of thoughts and ideas that go nowhere, half-formed moments and too many characters. It’s a storm of metaphors. It has no plot. It exists only to get gutted.

NaNoWriMo is perfect for writers like me. But it’s also perfect, I imagine, for writers who over-plan, who over-edit, who never get to the end because they want everything to be perfect the first time around. Nothing is ever perfect the first time around. If you’re anything like me, the first time around is absolute rubbish. But it’s supposed to be. I love NaNoWriMo because it’s a fantastic first step to making a book out of a story.

When I wrote the first draft of Spellbook of the Lost and Found it wasn’t November and I was on deadline. Actually, I was several months past deadline. (Having a baby six weeks before a book tour will do that to you.) But I used the basic principles of NaNoWriMo to blurt out the first draft. I didn’t fall in love with this one. It was a rough, rocky scramble to write those words down. I didn’t fall in love with this one until several difficult drafts later. I’m telling you this because I used to think you had to fall in love with your writing, that it was the only way you’d stick with it. I’m telling you this so that if you happen to come across this post midway through November and the book you started to write is a lead weight around your ankles and you just want to sink down with it – don’t. Stick with it. You might not have fallen in love with it yet, but you will. After the relief of getting to the end of the story, and of carving the whole mess of a mouthful into something you can stand to look at, you’ll fall in love with it. I did. If it’s meant to be your story it’ll bloody well mould itself into one. Mine did.

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I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and it’s not because I amn’t writing a book. It’s because I’m writing my third book in a very different way to my first two. I’m planning. I’m plotting. I’m doing research. I’m taking notes. I’m trying something new. I don’t know that it’ll work. I don’t know that the story will follow the plan. But this is a slightly different kind of book that needs a slightly different approach, I think. I’m interested in this process. I’m interested in documenting how it goes. So: for now, I’m plotting. I’m planning. I’m fifteen thousand words in and I’m crying every morning over the research I’m reading and I’ve fallen fast in love with my story and I’m really excited about how I’m going to tell it. Slowly. With more time to breathe.

But to everybody taking part in NaNoWriMo this November, I salute you. Breathe deep, drink tea, roll out your wrists. Light candles when it gets dark. Dream of your characters. Don’t look back, just keep telling your story. If you aren’t in love with it now, you will be.