When Lizzy Shortall got in touch with me to get involved in our Fear-Less arts for mental health campaign I was stoked. When she agreed to become an honorary member of the Poetry Cooperative, I was over the moon. And then it was such a privilege to feature her first poetry publication in our book and have her perform at the launch. Thank you, Lizzy!
About Lizzy Shortall
Lizzy Shortall is qualified with a degree in Social Studies and a Master’s in Social Work from Trinity College, Dublin. She is certified to teach Mindfulness for Wellbeing to children and adults. She has also written the children’s book Joy’s Playground, which promotes resilience through teaching mindfulness, gratitude, and self-belief. Over the last twenty years, Lizzy has worked with children and adults, teaching mindfulness, life skills, and creative writing in education, disability, addiction, and mental health services. Currently, Lizzy is the Area Coordinator for GROW Mental Health Services in Kilkenny.
You can check out her website, the Mindful Playground, here. Her books are available on her website, in some bookshops in Ireland, and everywhere online, including Amazon.
Thank you, Lizzy for making the time to share your story and insights into writing and getting published.
Anita: Please tell us a little about your writing journey; the start and how you transitioned to becoming a published, well-established writer/author/poet.
I always wrote journals and poems. In 2011 I did an expressive arts course and discovered I loved writing. In 2012 I did a writing course with Creative Writing Ink and afterwards I kept writing. Initially about my own experiences. A few years later I moved county and wanted to meet other writers so I joined a writers group in Kilkenny. It was not until then, at the group, that I started to share my writing. I decided to shape what I had been writing since the writing course into sections and to add in some fiction. Over the next few years that became a book. Once completed (it took six years, with a two year break after my second child) I sent it to be professionally critiqued and edited also by Creative Writing Ink. They gave me some really great feedback. I made some more changes, it is a long process editing a book after it is written. Then I finally let my husband and a very close friend read it. They gave me the confidence to send it out to publishers in Ireland and England. I was thrilled when I got a request for the full manuscript and an offer of a publishing contract with The Conrad Press in England. The Lotus and the Tiger novel, fiction based on true events was published in July 2021.
While I was sending out submissions I began to think about some of the lessons I would like to teach my own children and the importance of mindfulness, gratitude and self-belief for emotional wellbeing. My daughters, who were three and five years old at the time, helped me create a story about Joy and her animal friends. I submitted it to publishers. I was offered a publishing contract with Cranthorpe and Millner publishers. Joy’s Playground children’s book with illustrations by Roberto Cruz was published in October 2021.
I have always written poetry and it really helps me make sense of how I feel about life and living. I made my first poetry submission to the Poetry Cooperative for their beautiful anthology called Fear Less and I was delighted when they published two of my poems in 2022.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: What was the key-step to publication?
First, persistence with getting the work as good as I could. I followed the advice from the professional critique and edit. I also welcomed any feedback that a publisher took the time to give me. I incorporated it and edited the book repeatedly. Then more persistence was required knocking on more doors until one opened. By doors I mean email submissions to publishers. It is essential to submit to the right publishers within the guidelines they set out. The Artists’ & Writers’ Year Book has all of the information writers need to make submissions, including sample letters and emails to guide you.
Second, I think using your own authentic voice is the best way to write then your readers will find and connect with your work. I wrote the novel for my own entertainment and to help me make sense of my experiences. It was not until it was complete that I considered getting it published. It is raw, written from the gut and the heart. If I thought others would read it I may have been more concerned about readers liking it. But there is no one book that all readers will seek. For me it is important to enjoy what I am writing about. The children’s book was written with love for my own children and when complete I then decided it would be lovely if as many children as possible could be introduced to the themes in the book.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: You write in genres, i.e. novels, children’s books, screenplays, poems etc. What is your favorite and how does the writing process differ?
The writing process is so different for each genre. The novel flowed out of me over years. I thought about so many of the various parts for months and wrote a huge amount each time and then chiseled it down.
The children’s book was a lot easier for me I planned the themes and my own children helped. The screen play I wrote the outline for the episodes, and the pilot episode so far, my publisher and I came up with an idea and he asked me to write it. It involved lots of research that was more like an assignment process and is probably the most difficult. Writing a script that is all dialogue, for people who lived in the 1920’s, while trying to get the language and tone of the time right takes a lot of effort, but is hugely interesting too.
Poetry I have been writing the longest. That is usually is a swift process, something sparks inside me and it flows out. Poetry helps me understand how I feel or what to think about events or circumstances in my life.
Writing novels is my favorite. Closely followed by writing poetry. I am currently editing another book. I get lost in the story and characters for hours, days, sometimes the story is what I think about for most of the day. It is wonderful to be in that flow and to create a whole world from scratch. So the answer to which genre is my favorite is; writing fiction. Although once I am committed to and working on any writing project I am in my happy place.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: Do you have a different ‘voice’ for each genre?
Yes I think I do. The book I am currently writing is a psychological suspense novel so it’s a bit like acting for me. Getting into the mindset of the characters especially the main ones. I find that the most fun and entertaining. This book is written from the perspective of three different characters, one of them is a male, and is dark in places and not so much in others. Each of them have a voice that I am portraying on paper.
My novel The Lotus and the Tiger is mostly my own voice, perhaps a little amplified. Some things are easier to write about, than speak about.
The children’s book (we are penning an idea for a second one, my children and I), that’s my mammy and educator voice and my little girls voices and imagination are in there too.
My poems are all me, almost like reading my diary (perhaps ninety percent of the time). That is likely why I have been most shy about having them published. It can feel vulnerable sharing your work when it is so close to your heart. Occasionally someone or something will deeply affect me, like migrants and I’ll find myself writing from their perspective.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: What makes writing publishable?
Practice, editing and the advice of readers on how to improve a story. Following the basic rules of punctuation and respecting that most people want it to be interesting but also easy to read. A good story, some intrigue and a unique voice.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: What are today’s publishers looking for?
I would guess and hope that it is quality. Of course there is a market for everything. Something that grabs people and is going to want to make readers stay up all night to keep turning the pages.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: What resources can help budding poets and writers?
Reading, especially in the genre you want to write in. Not to mimic anyone else, instead to see how what you are doing is done well or to establish what you enjoy about a book or a poem and to give readers that experience in your own unique style. Writing groups are extremely helpful and supportive. Creative writing courses also help writers get their ideas going and encourage them to go for it.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. People and landscapes (and everything on it from animals to old ruins). I am fascinated by both.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: What is your process for writing?
It is different for each genre. The longer I am writing the more I let something marinate or peculate both in my mind and on the page. I keep reviewing and revising, which actually ends up being quicker than what I did with my first novel, when I spilled it all on the pages and tried to make sense of it afterwards. My first novel was unplanned. I kept writing over years and years and ended up with a mammoth book which took a huge amount of editing and chopping and changing.
My current novel came to me very clearly. Once I got the idea I knew what it would be and what would happen in each chapter! I literally wrote thirteen or fourteen paragraphs about what would be in each chapter and then wrote like mad for about one year on most days. (It was during lockdown, I am not sure I will ever have the luxury of doing that again.) It was great to immerse myself in it fully. Even on walks I took the characters with me in my head and had chats about what they would do and how they would do it and then I would make little voice notes so I would not forget. Music is a big part of my life and I usually find music to match a character or a scene and will play that a lot when I am writing about them or that section of a book.
Once all that is done, I go back to the start and begin editing it all again. I edited my first novel about eighty times. I’m hoping for maybe eight with this one. It has been a steep and wonderful learning process.
As for poetry I am usually in a quiet frame of mind and a line springs to mind. I start writing and out flows a little poem. I might leave it alone and return a few days later and tweak it to be a little leaner. That is the one part of my writing I keep simple.Lizzy Shortall
Anita: How can people improve their work?
Practice and join a writing group. Read in that genre. Have others read their work or samples of it and seek feedback. (Everything in number 5 above really will help.)Lizzy Shortall
Anita: What is your top piece of advice?
Write for yourself and from the heart and gut. Entertain yourself. Someone else will likely enjoy what you have come up with. There is only one person in the world with your voice, so go for it!Lizzy Shortall
The Poem – Reptile
Dry mouth, Shaking heart, Dizzy mind, I stand up. Stumbling forward, Too much Thai whiskey. I turn on the shower, Trying to wash away the pain. There on the wall tiles, A foot long lizard looks at me, A very real hallucination, I think.