Writing Tip of the Day: Virginia Woolf

Picture courtesy of virginiawoolfblog.com

“Lock up your libraries if you like,

but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt

that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

– VIRGINIA WOOLF, A Room of One’s Own

A Writer’s Journey

I actually can’t believe it.

My dream of becoming a writer – a real, proper writer – is finally coming true.


I’m sitting here in 30 degrees of sunshine, hearing snippets of French drift in from the open windows. Clutching my notebook and a blue pen, I’m scribbling swirls of ideas for articles and thinking about the rough drafts of my book. My future book! (Cue several squeaks of excitement.)

Today I received an email from one Geraldine Mills, a widely-published novelist, short story writer and poet (Wow! Not short on talent). In conjunction with my university, she has become my editor/mentor for a wonderful, blissful year of incredibly challenging work. I will concentrate on the development of my novel during the course of the year, submitting a few thousand words in my weekly revision sessions with her, for my third year undergraduate studies. This is the year I’ve been waiting for since I started college: being able to focus entirely on just creative work.

Over the past two years that I’ve been studying Creative Writing at university (check out writing.ie for my article discussing it), I’ve discovered that it can be so much hard work; dedication and effort are needed in spades to succeed. Writing, though, is so utterly rewarding that every day, I just fall in love with it more.

My writer’s journey is just beginning.

A Book You Wish You Could Live In: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The crazy, mad world of today is hardly ever quiet: from the bleeping of text messages, banging of doors, screeching of owls, and the blaring of the radio, sometimes curling up with a great book in your warm bed or a snug armchair can be the best way to get away from it all.

When we read, we immerse ourselves completely in the universe that the author has created: we visualise the sprawling setting, hear the thoughts and comments of the narrator and envisage the different characters. We allow ourselves to be swept away by the world of the story. If we are not convinced by the tale the writer has produced, we simply cannot believe in it.

A book must be spilling over with imagination.

‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ by J.K. Rowling

That is why the book I wish I could live in would be Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. Published in July 1999 by Bloomsbury, it became an instant bestseller, satisfying the cravings of Harry fans worldwide.

Not only did Jo Rowling stay faithful to the original world she had established in the first books of the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (both of which I will discuss in this book challenge), she went above and beyond readers’ expectations. Revealing the new setting of the enchanting wizard village of ‘Hogsmeade’, showcasing the new characters of Professor Remus J. Lupin and Sirius Black (the latter being briefly mentioned in Book 1) to name but a few, and adding the chilling Dementors, scary Boggarts and majestic Hippogriffs to the list of astounding creatures that inhabit the Potter universe all served to enhance J.K. Rowling’s story.

WANTED: The Azkaban Prison escapee, Sirius Black

As her protagonist, Harry, learns more about his father and why his parents died, we, the readers, follow him on his journey into the past, and, indeed, the future. The book is jam-packed with plot twists, seemingly insignificant but vital characters (Scabber and Crookshanks) and the author’s ever-present humour (Harry inflates his aunt before he returns to Hogwarts).

His discovery of the Marauder’s Map (an enchanted piece of parchment, mapping the school grounds and detailing the whereabouts of everyone on it) gives a whole new dimension to the secrets that can be uncovered in Hogwarts. It aides Harry in his adventures and proves to be a source of increased tension among the characters, in the midst of a renowned murderer on the loose. This map, however, is not the only outstanding magical object in Prisoner of Azkaban; in fact, my personal favourite is Hermione Granger’s Time Turner. The scenes that it is featured in are beautifully written and wonderfully evoked.

Hermione’s Time Turner

The world that J.K. Rowling captures in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of mystery, beauty and magic. Remarkably, this is the only book in which Lord Voldemort, the series’ villain, does not make an appearance, and the novel does not suffer for it. Rather, the novel’s strength is based on its engaging characters, its prose, and its originality, which is why it is the book I wish I could live in.

What book would you choose?

A Book That Makes You Cry: Atonement by Ian McEwan

You know those people that are so sentimental, it’s almost comical? They sniffle over the ending of a series, they shed a tear over Titanic and absolutely bawl their eyes out after seeing The Notebook?

I’m one of them.

We cluster together, unified by our heightened emotion: knowing that the sad part is coming, the lump in our throat is getting harder and harder to ignore, our eyes sting as we try to avoid the tears…receiving the odd pat by a bewildered, wary and usually guy friend, who can’t understand this outpouring of grief…

Sad films always get me. They make me cry more than literature, probably because of the huge emphasis on the visual and aural elements, with 3D dramatic death scenes – complete with close up shots of the characters – unfolding before my eyes, accompanied by a soaring music score. Books have a slight disadvantage in this regard, because they do not have so many elements to appeal to the reader’s senses; they can only trigger those tears through the power of the words on the page. It must be one outstanding book that has the ability to move a human being by just an arrangement of black marks on paper.

‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan

This masterpiece of a book by Ian McEwan, entitled Atonement (2001), is written so beautifully that it can’t fail to move you. The tender subject matter is treated delicately and thoughtfully by the author, captured through the eyes of a young playwright named Briony, who makes a terrible mistake about a serious crime. It really struck a chord with me. The innocence of the child at the start of the novel has been shattered by the end. Her lack of life experience makes her unaware of the gravity of the situation at first, but when she realises the horrific error she has made, she spends the rest of her life trying to make amends. The sad fact is: she can never atone for what she’s done.

It is a wonderfully composed novel, well worth the read, and it might even bring a few tears to your eyes too.