The deadliest, jelliest site ever. Brought to you by Niamh Shaw

Before I started Smart/Casual, my greatest literary accomplishment was a Top Tip published by Viz.

I don’t know whether Viz claims copyright on Top Tips, but it’s not as if the bastards paid for it. In fact, all I got for my tip was an empty envelope with a Viz pen-shaped hole in the side. Since the transaction is still incomplete nine years later, one could argue that the following remains the intellectual and creative property of Niamh Shaw:-

Avoid paper cuts by carefully cutting off the sharp edges before handling

After this pinnacle of achievement I considered myself ready to move on to bigger things, so I started writing my first novel. My book was going to have it all: plots, twists, Ming the Merciless style villains, slaveringly handsome heroes, characters with depth and quivering emotion, maybe a dragon or two.

At the time, I was happily ignorant of the fact that I possessed not even half an iota of a clue what I was undertaking. I knew nothing about plot, technique, tension, pace, or the sheer scale of the project.

Smart/Casual started out as a parody of the general romance genre. Despite being a chick-lit fan, I was frustrated by the eroding quality in a market flooded with crap since the success of the original chick-lit queen, Marian Keyes. I could barely read them for all the eye-rolling they inspired. I figured I could do better than these half-dimensional characters, backfiring jokes, and wafer thin plots featuring contrived and/or implausible misunderstandings.

The first five chapters of Smart/Casual came effortlessly, possibly because they had little to no bearing on the plot, which had yet to be conceived.

Five chapters in, it struck me how arrogant it was of me – an unrepresented, unpublished, barely author – to send up the romance genre. Also, I realised there was probably only a small to non-existent market clamouring for that type of work.

At that point, the book morphed into a standard chick-lit style novel until, five years later and roughly halfway through, I felt the plot would benefit from the addition of a habanero chili or two. Whereupon it turned into a kind of comi-tragedy supernatural thriller murder-mystery without the corpses.

Kind of.

Please rest assured that the manuscript has been subjected to NUMEROUS editorial evolutions.

As has the title. It started out as ‘Memos to Self’, but there were no memos in the story. I changed the working title to ‘Plan Z’, but experienced similar issues with that (distinct lack of plans A through Y, never mind Z).

Smart/Casual was one of those 4am revelations inspired by a dinner of beans washed down with margaritas


Comments on: "How to avoid painful paper cuts" (2)

  1. Ah. I feel beautifully reassured, all of a sudden, about the terribly random approach I have taken to writing my book. No agent, no editor, no Masters in Letters, not even a community college creative writing course. Am I mad to think I can write? Probably. But I shall keep at it for the next 5-10 years before I write myself out of the plot completely. Thanks.

  2. deadlyjelly said:

    I think ‘terribly random’ is the best approach! I doubt Smart/Casual would ever had been written had I thought about it too hard.

    I completed a creative writing class years ago – before starting Smart/Casual – and it was a big, fat waste of time. IMO the only way to learn is by writing it.

    By the way, I found online writing communities and invaluable sources of information and inspiration.

    Good luck!


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