Category Archives: Books

Bookish wrap-up and review

This month I have an addition of a short book review, so I’ll try to keep the rest of the blog short!

Big Telly Theatre project

First up, May saw the first professional read-through of my story for Big Telly Theatre (see previous couple of posts for more details on that). Essentially, this means that some local actors gathered together with myself, the Big Telly team and the other writers involved with the project to read through our work ahead of the audio recordings which will follow later on this year. It was great to hear the other stories for the first time, as well as listening to people reading my own work aloud.

We brainstormed feedback on each piece of writing and discussed some other things relating to the overall project too. I’m really looking forward to seeing how everything comes together in the end, so more details as I have them!

Riverside Readings at Ulster UniversityMD

One of the writers involved with the Big Telly project is poet Moyra Donaldson, and she’s also just launched her latest poetry collection, Carnivorous, performing readings across NI with fellow Doire Press poet, Glen Wilson.

While Moyra was unable to make the reading at Ulster University in May, we were still able to enjoy hearing her poetry, which was kindly read by poets Stephanie Conn and Kathleen McCracken. We also heard Glen reading work from his debut collection, An Experience on the Tongue.GlenW

It’s always great getting out to meet and hear from other writers and especially good when it’s so close to home, so this was a lovely afternoon.

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

Our book clubbers met last night to discuss our May read, which was The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland. This medieval thriller scored a fairly respectable 6/10 – I think most of the group felt that it was missing ‘something’ but our discussion revolved around lots of things we liked about it, so I think it went down better than the scoring reflects! Personally, I found it a page-turner and I enjoyed the story and the multiple narratives, which allowed the reader to see from various viewpoints and gave an insight into each of the main characters.June FB cover

Our June reads are the play, Peter and Alice, by John Logan (performed in 2013 by Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw), along with Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Everyone was keen to read this after our April book choice of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit so we decided to read this as well. They’re short books, so will be easily read in a month!

Pan’s Labyrinth book review* (*contains spoilers)Pan

And so, to the book review! I’m a big fan of the film, Pan’s Labyrinth, by Guillermo del Toro so when I discovered there was a novel of this due out in the summer, I just had to ask for an ARC. Thankfully, the lovely publicity people at Bloomsbury Publishing sent me out a review copy and I subsequently devoured it over a couple of days…

First up, the book is being published on July 2 and you can pre-order a copy at the link below if you so wish (or click if you just want to find out more about it): https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/pans-labyrinth-9781526609557/

And so, to the review.

For those who, like myself, enjoyed the Pan’s Labyrinth film, no introduction is needed as to what the story is about. However, if you haven’t seen the film then, essentially, it’s a deliciously dark fairy tale (for adults) set in Spain after the civil war. The year is 1944 and the Resistance has fled to the forests. Our main character, a young girl called Ofelia, moves to an old mill beside one such forest, as her widowed mother has married an army captain who wants her with him when she gives birth to their son (and no, not because he loves her…) When they arrive, Ofelia quickly discovers there’s more to the place than meets the eye, including fairies, a faun and a whole hidden world to which she’s told she belongs and can return to – an underground kingdom where she’s a princess…

There’s more, but we’ll discuss that as we go. I really like the story and on the whole, I enjoyed the novel, which is written by both Guillermo del Toro and children’s author, Cornelia Funke (of Inkheart fame). Each section is preceded by a myth which weaves in the story of the underground princess, Moana, along with other tales which tie in with what’s happening with Ofelia in the present-day. The fairies lead her to a faun who explains that she must complete three tasks to prove she is truly Princess Moana and so return to the underground realm. This involves facing a giant toad who lives in the roots of a huge tree, as well as the terrifying child-eater, or Pale Man, and finally, sacrificing an innocent.

The myths fill in the background to these tasks, explaining their significance to the reader and I think they work well in the book. There are also beautiful illustrations at the beginning of each section, which are always nice to have!

Although I haven’t watched the film for a few years, I could easily picture the scenes from that as I read the book and to my mind, I didn’t come across any material which was truly ‘new’. I had understood that the book would contain a more fleshed-out narrative but in my opinion, it was all as expected. This is completely fine, of course, except that the promo says the book has ‘expansive original material’. On reflection, this may simply refer to the fact that as a novel and not a script, the material is freshly written, but for some reason I thought there might be added layers to the story which I just didn’t find.Pan2

I haven’t read many books by multiple authors and I think that on this occasion, it may have affected the flow of the writing. Personally (and of course, this entire review is made up of my own personal opinions, so make of them as you wish), I found the overuse of the words ‘for sure’ fairly irritating and in every instance (my inner editor says), they could have been cut. I found that they disrupted the flow of the writing and it may seem a minor thing, but for this reader, it irked.

That being said, there was lots of the writing that I liked, for example:

‘Her mother said fairy tales didn’t have anything to do with the world, but Ofelia knew better. They had taught her everything about it.’

I thing fairy tales help us to understand the world and our place in it and I like how fantasy is used here to reflect the world back at us and Ofelia.

‘But men don’t hear what the trees say. They have forgotten how to listen to the wild things…’

On occasion, there are pieces of writing which I felt could have been reworked to keep in with the old ‘show, don’t tell’ aspect of writing. For example, when Capitan Vidal is listening to playful music, do we need to be told in black and white that ‘It gave away that cruelty and death were a dance for him.’ ?? To me, it’s unnecessary, as the simple juxtaposition of the cruel Vidal shaving himself while listening to the light-hearted music shows us this without the need to spell it out. Sometimes, subtlety is lacking.

However, we always dwell on the negatives, don’t we, and while there are a few things which snagged me while reading, I did read the book very quickly (always a good sign!) and enjoyed doing so. It’s always difficult reading a book after having seen the film and in this rather unusual case, the film preceded the writing of the book. However, if you enjoyed the film then you’ll most certainly enjoy the novel and as I was reading a proof copy, who knows, perhaps those pesky ‘for sure’s will have vanished by the time of publication… 🙂

All in all, Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun does exactly what you would hope it to do, delivering a dark fairy tale which is packed full of myth, magic and murderous men… NB I definitely found it easier to read about the Capitan’s violence than I did watching these more gory aspects of the story on film (but that’s just me!) and I would point out, for those unfamiliar with the story, that this is not a book for kids.

If I was to give it a star rating out of five then I think for me, it’s a solid four. It has all the ingredients of a great fairy tale and is a compelling story which is always moving swiftly onwards, with everything from magical creatures to rebel fighters and of course, a young girl trying to find her way home.

 

 

 

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Balancing the books…

Being a bookworm and a writer goes hand-in-hand. Reading improves writing and exposes you to all sorts of wonderful wordplay, language styles and ideas. It makes you more empathetic and widens your vocabulary and, as a self-confessed bookworm myself, I have to say, it’s my favourite hobby.

However, as a writer, it can’t just be all about the reading – one needs to actually write, too, and over the past few months I’ve found myself consumed more with the former than the latter. I read on average 8-10 books a month but have also managed to write half a novel since the New Year, so it’s not that I’m not writing, it’s just that I think I need to balance my books a little bit better – i.e. spend as much time writing my own book as I’m investing in reading other peoples’.

If my day job wasn’t also being a professional copywriter/journalist then I think this would be much easier to do. I’ve reflected on here before about how the mind often just needs a rest from writing when you’ve been doing it all day long. My novel-writing and whatnot happens in the in-between times, like most writers – squeezed in before bedtime, or on a lunch break; perhaps on a Sunday afternoon or in a snatched hour between other work/chores etc. As with reading, writing comes from making the time to do it. I don’t ‘find’ time and I certainly don’t have oodles more of it than anyone else – we all have busy lives – but if I want to keep being a writer, then I prioritise it above other things.

David Mitchell at Heaney HomeplaceDavid Mitchell

Of course, sometimes we just need a kick up the backside when we feel complacent in our work, and being around other writers helps with that. Indeed, one of my favourite authors – who is a superb writer – said the same himself on Saturday, when I saw him in conversation at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy. David Mitchell had just taken the Homeplace tour, which documents Seamus Heaney’s life and work, and said he felt humbled by the sheer volume of work Heaney had produced, as well as its excellence. He joked that it made him want to run home and get some work done, adding that being around other writers and attending events etc. are good motivators for getting your own writing done.

It’s easy to forget that even very talented and accomplished authors like Mitchell still need that inspiration/motivation and that, just like any writer, they fret about the quality of their work and how it will be received. Poised to send his latest manuscript (which is about music and takes place in the late Sixties) to his publishers, Mitchell told us that he was nervous about what they would think of it, particularly as he always tries to make each book markedly different from the last. To give readers the same thing over and over again would be, he said, unfair to them, so he constantly challenges himself to reinvent his writing with every book (rather like Queen, if we stick with the music theme! They have a distinctive sound but always sought to create something totally different with each album, sidestepping the formulaic). DM books

I think this reinvention is certainly evident in Mitchell’s books and is something which I, as a reader, enjoy, along with his writing style, which can be very poetic and always conjures up vibrant imagery and ideas. I always tend to describe his stories as ‘sprawling’ (in a good way), as they weave together so many different threads to create writing which is rich and intense and very exciting to read.

As someone who’s always working on various copywriting and other creative writing projects, I like the variety in my work and, by the time I finish writing a manuscript or even a short story, I’m generally looking ahead to the next project. So, it was reassuring to hear that Mitchell, too (and other writers I know) have the same compulsion. He jokingly likened it to being “in the final throes of a decaying marriage” – or something to that effect. Make of that what you will! In all seriousness, however, once a longer-form piece of work is finished, you’ve already spent so much time working on it that it’s only natural to relish the thought of getting stuck into something new. Variety, after all, is what keeps us sane. 🙂

The skill of any good writer is, of course, to make their work appear effortless and Mitchell’s readings at Saturday’s event demonstrated this perfectly as he shared some very lyrical lines with us. The final polished piece shows no sign of the word-whittling and tweaking; of the deletions and additions and the rewritings and rewritings and rewritings …

All in all, it was a great event and one which I had been particularly looking forward to for a while. It was lovely to get all my books signed afterwards too, and to have a chat with the man himself. Homeplace always has a great programme of events (all-year-round), so if you’re in NI and a bookworm, do check it out!

Giant’s Causeway Book Cluboranges

Last week also saw our latest meet-up of the Giant’s Causeway Book Club, where we discussed Jeanette Winterson’s novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. We scored the book 7/10 and enjoyed it so much that we now all want to read her actual autobiography, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, which we will do very soon!

I would describe Oranges as ‘faction’ – a blend of fact with fiction – and I found it very quick to read and very enjoyable. Indeed, I intend to reread it, as it gives you a lot to think about, despite it being rather a short book, and has a wide range of themes, symbols and whatnot woven throughout which I’d like to ponder a bit more.

I was surprised that it actually focused more on Jeanette’s (the protagonist is also called Jeanette) general life growing up with Pentecostal parents as opposed to her later coming out, which is of course featured, but doesn’t dominate the novel as much as I thought it would. With Jeanette trying to make sense of her life as she grows up by writing fairy tales and myths, the book is punctuated with these stories of hers – something which, when you understand what she’s doing, really adds to the overall story (for me, anyway. I know this element jarred with a few people). The writing is beautiful and I’m definitely going to get onto her backlist of books!owl

Our May book choice is a historical fiction novel called The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland. We have five weeks until our next meet-up (and a Bank Holiday within that!), so I thought a chunky story like this would be ideal. I’ve only ever read Maitland’s first novel, which I loved, so am expecting this to be another page-turner.

The whole point of the GC Book Club is to read beyond what’s being published at the moment and delve into the many books which already exist, as well as exploring a range of genres. It’s very easy to be consumed by reading only what’s on the current bestseller lists and to forget about the wealth of great writing not being promoted in the Top 10, so that’s why our book choices are quite varied. That being said, we do also read recent books – the idea is to cover all options.

Anyway, that’s all for now… Still also working on my Big Telly Theatre story, with a feedback session on that due soon, so … more as I have it. 🙂

 

 

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Bookish snippets…

The past couple of months have been filled with all sorts of bookish projects and shenanigans, hence the little blogging break… So, without further ado, here’s what’s been happening!

Big Telly Theatre project

Back in January I was one of various Northern Irish writers approached by Big Telly Theatre Company to submit a proposal for an exciting new project called Sea Gods, Shipwrecks and Sidhe Folk – Treasures of the Causeway. Fast-forward to February and I was delighted to hear that I’d been chosen as one of four NI writers to contribute to the project, those writers being myself, Jane Talbot, Moyra Donaldson and Dominic Montague.

Big telly

(L-R) Dominic, me, Jane, Zoe, Moyra, Linda and Wes

Essentially, we’ll be writing original stories about eight different sites along the Causeway Coast, using the archaeology and mythology of each for inspiration. The narratives will then be recorded by local actors, with an audio installation placed at the locations for visitors to enjoy. I’m working on a story linked to the Lissanduff earthworks/raths in Portballintrae, which is close to my home and a location I’m very familiar with. I’m looking forward to seeing all the stories come together soon!

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

Since my last blog we’ve enjoyed two further GC Book Club meetings. January saw us chatting about our December/January reads – The Explorer by Katherine Rundell and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by RL Stevenson. We scored the former 8.6/10 and the latter 6.9/10 (being very specific now by including the decimals!) We thought The Explorer was very well written, with strong, interesting characters and an original narrative, while Jekyll & Hyde was atmospheric and interesting, despite everyone obviously knowing the ending already.

For February, our selected book was a modern fantasy classic – Little, Big by John Crowley. Not everyone had finished this one as it’s very long, at over 500 pages, with very small font, but we went ahead and scored it anyway and it got a respectable 6/10. Personally, I loved this book and scored it 10/10 as I think the writing is rich and beautiful, the story infused with magic throughout and the narrative interesting and full of many threads which all kept me hooked. Anyway, for more on these books just click onto my Instagram account (linked to the right).

McGilloway

With Brian McGilloway

Our March read is a crime fiction novel by New York Times best-selling author, Brian McGilloway, who hails from Derry in Northern Ireland – Little Girl Lost. Details in the next few weeks on what we thought of it!

NOIReland Crime Fiction Festival

In keeping with our crime-themed book club read for March, myself and fellow book-clubber Julie went along to the launch event of the NOIReland Crime Fiction Festival at the Europa Hotel in Belfast at the beginning of March. I haven’t really read much crime since I was a teenager, but I’ve interviewed a fair few crime authors from NI over the years and I know lots of local writers, so we had a great time looking for (and photographing) authors at the launch.noireland

We were also gifted a free book (there were a few left over at the end, so we nabbed a second!) and the weekend itself seemed to have gone very well. On the way out, we bumped into none other than Brian McGilloway himself, so we had to get a wee snap with him too. 🙂

Phantom Phantasia at the Causeway Visitors’ Centre

On the day of the NOIReland launch, I also delivered a few boxes of my second middle grade novel Phantom Phantasia, to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, along with several more boxes of book one (Magical Masquerade).

It’s great that both books are now stocked in the shop, so if you’re visiting and want to pick up a copy of either, please do!Causeway shop

World Book Day dress-up!

Keeping with the books… I was delighted when a young local reader decided to dress up for World Book Day as the main character in MM and PP (Felicity Stone). I haven’t included her pic here but it’s over on my author FB page if you want to take a look. 🙂

Coffee shop writing…

Aside from all of that, I’ve also been writing odds and ends of poetry recently and also working on my next middle grade novel. In fact, I even decided to try a spot of writing in a local coffee shop back in February (not normally what I do at all, as it’s too noisy – and it was), and I discovered it had become fully dog-friendly. Ergo, my next few visits to Koko Coffee Shop in Portrush were with my pup and no more coffee shop writing was done!reuben

Coleraine library reopened

Unfortunately, lots of libraries are being forced to close or operate with reduced opening hours in the UK these days, but fortunately for us on the North Coast, Coleraine Library just recently reopened after what I believe was a £2.5m refurb. I haven’t used the library in years, as I do like to keep my books, but I’ve already been along twice now to borrow books and it’s been great! I’m very glad to see our local library being looked after.

Anyway, more as I have it. 🙂

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Festive writing wrap-up …

Christmas is drawing ever closer and for me, that means one thing (in terms of my writing life) – time to get stuck into the scribbling of stories… But first, a catch-up, as I realise I haven’t blogged since just after the launch of Phantom Phantasia back in October!Port PS 1

Portstewart PS visit

As I think I mentioned previously, I was invited along to Portstewart Primary School on November 8, when I spent time with the two P6 classes, reading from my books and doing writing exercises with the pupils.

We created characters and wrote stories and I was impressed with what they came up with – and just how much they read. Port PS 2
The school also has its own lovely library, as well as its very own radio station, so the pupils also get experience in interviewing guests and being mini journalists, which I think is just great!

Crumlin creative writers Crumlin

November 20, meanwhile, saw the final creative writing workshop with the writers in Crumlin, who also produced some good writing over the eight weeks of the course.

They very kindly showered me with gifts at the end, and I gave my own parting presents – a book each (from the local second-hand book shop) – to inspire them in their reading and future writing.

Giant’s Causeway Book ClubExplorer

The last Thursday of November saw our final meeting of the Giant’s Causeway Book Club until after Christmas and we ended on a high, as our November read managed to score highest out of all the books we’ve read since June.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is a great book – and one I think everyone should pick up – so I’m glad it went down so well and that it ranked highest out of our book choices this year.Jekyll

For December/January we’re reading the multi-award-winning middle-grade novel, The Explorer, by Katherine Rundell as well as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by RL Stevenson (which we picked from a ‘hat’ out of various classics). Jekyll and Hyde is a very short read, but that’s maybe a good thing, with two books to discuss at our January meeting!

Books Ireland listingBooks Ireland

Back to my own books… and it was great to see that Books Ireland magazine included Phantom Phantasia in its ‘First Flush’ section of new Irish books published in the November/December issue.

I love the cover of this edition and am very pleased to see PP inside. 🙂

KS2 book map!

As well as this, I was delighted to discover that Magical Masquerade has been included on a KS2 literary location map alongside various other middle-grade titles – including books from a few authors who are just a BIT better known that me…like Philip Pullman, for example!

I’m listed on this currently as being Belfast-based, but the story takes place a little further up the country – on the Causeway Coast. However, the main thing is that MM is on the map, so big thanks to the guys for including it.

KS2 mapThe map has kindly been compiled by Mr A, Mr C and Mr D – three primary school TES-recommended authors who create educational songs and resources for this age-group. If you’d like to download it for free for your classroom/school, then you can access it here: https://bit.ly/2BdJ4yv

Christmas scribbling…

If you’ve read either Magical Masquerade or Phantom Phantasia then it would be lovely if you left a wee review of the book/s over on Amazon. You don’t need to have purchased them online (I know various local readers bought theirs at the book launches) and a few words is more than adequate – you don’t need to write loads (unless you want to!). I just thought I’d mention that, as it all helps! Also, if you want to gift one to a young (or older) reader for Christmas, that’d be great also. 🙂dfw-cs-group-nologo

I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to write after PP came out, but inspiration strikes when you least expect it and a few weeks ago I had a bit of an idea for a new story… So, I’ve been scribbling down some notes and plotting a bit, which I hope to build on over Christmas, with a view to getting some writing done. That’s the plan anyway!

I’ve sort of let my earlier tradition of writing a festive short story at Christmas slide a little the past year or two, but who knows – perhaps the mood will take me to write one this year. We will see.

More as I have it. 🙂

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Writerly reflections…

I think this month I’ll begin with the most recent bookish happenings and work my way back to when I last blogged. We’ll see how that goes, anyway…

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

First up, we enjoyed another Giant’s Causeway Book Club meeting last night at the Causeway Hotel. It was dark, rainy and a little bit windy – with some unexplained noises floating along the hallways – so the perfect place to discuss our October read, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson!

Although, for me and most of the group, I’m afraid Ms Jackson just didn’t spook us quite enough, as we gave this book an overall rating of 6/10 and really would have liked a few more scares. General consensus, bar one, was that it had an interesting premise but didn’t deliver on the frightening front – and a few would have liked a clearer ending with all loose ends tied up. I personally found it very funny and a bit of light relief after reading Josh Malerman’s Bird Box before I turned to this. (PS If you do want a spooky read, then Bird Box is my recommendation).Nov book front

Anyway, our November book choice is a non-fiction title: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by London-based journalist, Reni Eddo-Lodge. I’ve heard this spoken about a lot on Book Tube and I know many people recommend it, so we’ll see what our book club thinks in a few weeks’ time! We have five weeks until then, however, so we’re also going to have a quick chat about Anna Burns’ Milkman, which just won the Man Booker Prize, as I know a lot of people in Northern Ireland especially are reading this right now and I don’t think we can skip over it. I’m really looking forward to reading both of these books myself. 🙂

Crumlin creative writing course

CW classSince we last spoke, I’ve enjoyed delivering four of my eight creative writing workshops in Crumlin, to a great group of scribblers.

We’ve been looking at various techniques to help improve your writing, and doing all sorts of exercises and whatnot, so it’s going well and will hopefully help them craft those words the way they want them when it comes to writing their stories and novels.

National Trust ‘Meet the Makers’ DayKids pic with MM

I also enjoyed taking part in the National Trust’s ‘Meet the Makers’ Day on October 6. The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre invited a variety of local crafters/makers who have their products stocked in the centre to come along and show customers what they do and have a chat with them.

I had a table full of Magical Masquerade and had a great time meeting visitors  (mostly from the US!) and signing books for them. It was lovely to see who was buying the book and to have a conversation with them, as normally, you don’t know who’s picking it up. Hopefully all recipients enjoy the story!

Phantom Phantasia book launch party

IMG_2784

And finally… October began with the launch of book number two, Phantom Phantasia, at the Portrush Coastal Zone and I’m delighted to say that it went swimmingly! There was a wonderful turnout, including lots of younger readers, which was lovely to see, and I think they all enjoyed searching for the little gossamer party bags the fairies had hidden around the centre for them to find…

We enjoyed refreshments in the form of elderflower cordial and other fizzy delights, as well as some homemade star-shaped shortbread and top hats and, of course, a celebratory cake, which was brought out after the bookish chat. For that, Denis McNeill kindly interviewed me and then I gave a short reading before signing lots of books. IMG_2774

It was great to meet everyone who came along, and to chat to the kids about their writing and the books they like to read. It was a bit of a whirlwind really, but a very good evening. (PS I have almost 200 photos of the launch so if you want a nosy then pop on over to my FB page, which is linked to the right of this post!)

The question is – now that it’s all over, just what will I write next..?!

In the meantime, I have a school visit pending after Hallowe’en, which I’m looking forward to, along with the remainder of my creative writing sessions. There’s also another secret bookish project in the pipeline so we’ll see how that progresses in the next few months too!

More as I have it. 🙂

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Autumnal events

Book launch

dfw-cs-pp-cover-smallAs I write this it’s just a few days until the official launch of Phantom Phantasia, so hopefully in my next blog post I’ll have some lovely pics from that to show you!

There’s been a lot more to organise for this book launch as I was keen to make it into a more social event/book party than previously, and that means sorting out refreshments and lots of other bits and bobs. It’s all the little details that you might not really notice, or that you take for granted on the night, which actually, take a bit of time to create!

Anyway, if you’re coming along, then you can expect a Q&A as I chat with Denis McNeill (formerly of Q Radio) and then I’ll do a reading from the book and the audience can ask me questions and whatnot. coastal zine

After that, it’ll be book signing and mingling  as with any party – with some little treats thrown into the mix… If you’d like to come along and celebrate launching PP into the world, then please do!

PP scrollsEntry is of course free and the more the merrier. The kids will also enjoy exploring the Coastal Zone itself, as it’s full of interesting aquatic objects and displays.

As well as my online invites to the launch, I sent out some written invitations to family members and then got creative with some messages in bottles, which I hide along the North Coast at the weekend. Girls PP

One woman posted this lovely pic (right) on Facebook after finding a bottle, so I’m very happy that it worked! 🙂 And the Coleraine Chronicle also printed an article about the launch, which is always much appreciated (see below).

Free Magical Masquerade e-book

dfw-cs-mm-cover-ebookTo celebrate the pending launch for Phantom Phantasia, book one – Magical Masquerade – is currently free to download as an e-book for Kindle, so if you want to grab a copy of that, please do! You can download it here: https://amzn.to/2DGhjmO

The offer is running until Wednesday noon (UK time), so there’s still a few days left to get your hands on this. If you read it, let me know what you think!

Love is Blind ARC

Speaking of books, I was excited to receive an ARC of William Boyd’s latest novel, Love is Blind, earlier in the month from Viking Books UK. The book was published on September 20, so you can get a copy of that now if you’re interested. I’m a big Boyd fan, after being introduced to his work by a friend a few years ago. I particularly enjoy the novels where he tracks a character’s entire life (e.g. Any Human Heart, The New Confessions, Sweet Caress) and, while this one didn’t quite do that, it did follow a sizeable chunk of Brodie, the protagonist’s life. WB book

This was a bit of a slow-burner of a book and centred on Brodie’s obsessive love for a singer called Lika Blum, taking us around the world as Brodie worked as a piano tuner, first for a company and then exclusively for an Irish pianist. I enjoy Boyd’s richness of writing, as he spends two years before writing his books just researching everything. Personally, I always learn something from his work – this time around it was mostly to do with pianos – and as a reader, you trust that what he is telling you about places is how it was at that time. I enjoyed this book and am glad to add it to my Boyd collection. 🙂

GC Book Club

hill houseOnto last month’s Giant’s Causeway Book Club then! In September we read Yoko Ogawa’s collection of short stories – Revenge – and I’m happy to say that it went down very well with the group! Only one reader didn’t like it (and didn’t finish it) – saying that it was a bit too dark for her, while one other also thought it was fairly dark and creepy… Quite a few of the rest of us, however, thought it wasn’t as dark as we’d expected, but we all agreed that it was well-written, engaging in its style of linking the stories together, and yes, was a bit weird. But then, aren’t most good short stories ‘a bit weird’? 🙂

Our overall book club rating was a healthy 7/10, which is the highest score yet! For October, we’ve decided to read a spooky book for Hallowe’en and have opted for The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson…

Creative writing workshopscreative writing

From books to the writing of! I’m looking forward to delivering a series of creative writing workshops for Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council, beginning October 2 at Crumlin Leisure Centre. These will run for eight weeks and will hopefully inspire those who come along and get their creative juices flowing! You can book via council – Tel: 028 9445 2733.

I’m also doing a workshop at the Irish Writers’ Centre on marketing for self-published authors on Saturday, October 13. You can sign up for that here: https://bit.ly/2Oph9UV

Craft Day at the Causeway

Meanwhile, on October 6, the Giant’s Causeway Visitor’s Centre is hosting a craft day, where members of the public can come along and meet some of the crafters and creators whose work is sold at the centre. I’ll be heading to this for a short while in the morning to sign copies of Magical Masquerade, so if you’re in the area, call in!Chronicle PP

And finally…

Once the busyness of the PP launch is over, I intend to start thinking about my next writing project – though as yet, I’m not quite sure what form this will take. MM and PP is being left as a duology, so Felicity and her friends are being set aside for now. I do have a previously half-written manuscript which was abandoned when I decided to publish MM a few years ago, so perhaps I’ll finish that. Or maybe I’ll start something completely new… We will see!

More as I have it. 🙂

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All about books

It’s been a busy old summer so far and I’ve lots to share with you all, as there have been lots of bookish goings-on which I should have been blogging about!

Giant’s Causeway Book ClubGC book club 1

First up, the Giant’s Causeway Book Club has enjoyed two meet-ups since last we spoke, with the next taking place on Thursday, August 30 at the Causeway Hotel (7.30-9pm). Our first book was Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things which we scored an average rating of 4.5 out of 10 (with scores ranging from 6 to 3/4). The general consensus was that it was a light summery read but maybe a bit too neatly tied up for our readers and perhaps a little too schmaltzy. We also wanted more about the lost objects and their stories!

GC book club 2]Our second book was this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Less by Andrew Sean Greer, which scored a bit higher at 5/10 (we’re hard to please, lol). Generally, it seemed to divide our group – most felt frustrated by the main character Arthur Less and a bit perplexed by his actions, but we felt he sort of redeemed himself by the end of the story. I quite enjoyed this myself, as I like reading books about authors and I enjoyed his travelling escapades. The scores fluctuated from 2-9 though, so you can see how much people differed in their opinions! iam

Our August read is a book by one of my favourite authors, Maggie O’Farrell, and it is of course her memoir, I Am I Am I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. I’m hoping this will go down much better, but we shall see! If you’re local to the North Coast and want to come and chat about it on August 30, then do! Sign-up details are over on the Giant’s Causeway Facebook event page for the book club here.

Tishani Doshi reading

Tishani

In June I enjoyed a reading and dance performance at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace Centre in Bellaghy where poet/author/dancer Tishani Doshi read from her latest poetry collection, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods. 

I’d heard good things about the collection on YouTube and having now read it, it certainly didn’t disappoint. These are very topical poems and very relevant to women (and men) everywhere – definitely worth a read.

Magical realism workshop

I love reading magical realism literature and some of my own short stories for adults are within this genre. With my next children’s novel, Phantom Phantasia, now complete, I’m now planning to write more short stories again and so, I decided to book myself into Jen Campbell’s online magical realism short story workshop. (You can find out more about Jen here: http://www.jen-campbell.co.uk/)

I really enjoy Jen’s BookTube channel and also, her writing, so I knew this would be a very useful workshop and so it was. I took part in a group workshop, which basically meant that she sent us all some exercises to work on, along with writing our own short story, and then we had a Skype chat afterwards, where we received line edits on our work and general writing feedback. I found this very useful and it was also nice to read the rest of the group’s work. I would definitely recommend her workshops and might do more of them myself in the future!

Irish Writers’ Centre self-publishing workshopScreenshot (6)

Speaking of workshops, I was delighted to be asked by the Irish Writers’ Centre to deliver a workshop in the autumn on marketing for self-published authors. This is an all-day event at the IWC in Dublin, with the morning session covering the A-Z of SP with Castrum Press. I will then deliver the afternoon session on marketing, so it should be an all-round informative day! If you’re interested in self-publishing, are in the process of self-publishing, or have already published books and want to keep learning, then this is for you.

The link to book is here: https://irishwriterscentre.ie/collections/all-courses/products/mindshift-the-art-of-self-publishing-day

Magical Masquerade at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre

NT BOOK CLUB 4I also had some exciting news – or rather, I was able at last to share exciting news that I’d been sitting on since last December – in July as well. Which is to say, having submitted Magical Masquerade to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre buyers last September, the order for the books finally came through and it is now sitting pretty on the visitor centre shelves. 🙂

This makes me very happy as MM takes place in and around the landscape of the Causeway and indeed, the Giant’s Causeway also features at the end of the book. It’s the perfect place for it to be and it’s great to have the book supported in this way by the GC team.

Visitor centre

Visitor Centre

I’m also very happy to have a few copies in the lovely independent bookshop, Books Paper Scissors, on the Stranmillis Road, Belfast too, which is great. Again, big thanks to them for also supporting MM!

Eastside Arts Festival reading

Moving on to Phantom Phantasia, the sequel to MM, I did my first public reading from this last week at the Eastside Arts Festival in Belfast, as part of the Women Aloud NI Prose, Poetry and Pastries event. I think it went down well… It was certainly nice to read from it at last! There was a great mixture of readers at this event, including poetry, short stories, novel extracts and the like, and it was lovely to hear such an array of talent from a wide range of local women writers. 🙂

Phantom Phantasia update

dfw-cs-pp-cover-large

Which brings me to my latest update on novel number two aka Phantom Phantasia. I’m pleased to say that I have now confirmed the book launch venue – which is on the north coast and is the location I was really hoping to get! More details on that soon, but it is a perfect place for the launch, in my opinion!

I also now have my cover quote and have sent the book off to have the interior professionally formatted and laid out (I tried my best again – what can I say – but you just need someone who knows what they’re doing to get these things sorted properly!). So, once that is done and I get my cover back with quote inserted, I can order my physical book proofs and then get cracking with the next stage.

I’ve provisionally set the launch for the beginning of October, so hopefully this will still be ok. Shipping books from the US eats up weeks but I think I’m still just about on track! More on that as I have it…

Heaney poetry anthologyheaney anthology

My last piece of writing news is a lovely note to end on, I think. About four years ago, shortly after Seamus Heaney’s death, a call-out was made for poets to contribute poems in memory of – and celebrating – Seamus Heaney, for an anthology to be published in his memory. As with any project like this, it took a lot of hard work by the editors – Angela Topping, Bethany Pope and Grant Tabard – to pull everything together. They sought permission from the Heaney family to go ahead with the anthology, which was granted, and although the original intended publisher was unable to take things forward in the end, Dennis Greig from Belfast-based Lapwing Publications very kindly stepped in to publish the collection.

Suffice it to say, the anthology – entitled Be Not Afraid: An Anthology – is now available to purchase, with official book launches in the pipeline – both in Northern Ireland and also in London, I believe. I’m delighted to be one of the contributors in this anthology and am awaiting with anticipation my copy in the post as we speak. If you’d like to order a copy then you can do so here: https://sites.google.com/a/lapwingpublications.com/lapwing-store/editors-angela-topping-bethany-pope-grant-tarbard

Anyway, I think that is all my news for now! I’m also working on a few other things which I will share at a later date, including some writing workshops and whatnot, so hopefully I can tell you about those in the near future.

More as I have it. 🙂

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GC Book Club & NN2…

There have been all sorts of bookish things happening over the past few months, which I can now share with you – although, if you follow me on social media then you’ll probably already know about them!

GC BOOK CLUB 2

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

First up, the folks over at the Giant’s Causeway (which is a mere five minutes from my house), have launched a new book club, which I will be hosting on the last Thursday of each month. For a bookworm like myself, to have this on my doorstep is, you will agree, a dream come true! Our first book is ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ by Ruth Hogan, which I have just finished, so I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts on this on June 28.

The idea is to read a variety of genres and encourage readers to pick up something they might not normally read, as well as those books they would more naturally gravitate towards. June’s meeting is now fully booked, which is great, and will take place in the lovely Drawing Room at the Causeway Hotel with, I am told, tea/coffee and buns, so what could be better?!

Thanks to everyone who shared the news on social media, and to the Coleraine Chronicle and Coleraine Times for covering the story both online and in their print publications. 🙂

Manuscript book2NN2

The second thing is that NN2 (Novel Number 2) is well and truly finished, edited/re-edited and awaiting – yes, you’ve guessed it – a wee bit more editing still. But it’s alive and kicking and gearing up for publication probably around autumn this year, with details TBC with regards to the book launch… I have hopes for where this will take place but am currently in the process of enquiring after my desired venue, so I will keep you posted!

What I can definitely say is that I plan to have the main launch on the North Coast, which is where it really should be at, given the huge inspiration the area has been for my books. Then we shall see if any other events can be arranged elsewhere…

Other things…

FullSizeRender (26)Other than all of that, I’ve been reading some great books recently and just uploaded my latest bookish video over on YouTube, chatting about the books I read in May. You can watch that here if you like: https://youtu.be/st-4OexbqFE (It’s a tad long what with all the reading I’ve been doing but you can always watch it in bits or fast-forward etc…)

There are other bits and pieces going on in the background, as there always are, but that’s the gist in the meantime! The cover designer for NN2 is also due to touch base with me soon, so we can get cracking on getting the new cover done. I have very specific ideas for this (as usual!) but I’m sure he will do as great a job as last time. 🙂

 

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Celebrating women writers

International Women’s Day events

This time last week I was in the midst of celebrating International Women’s Day with a collection of women writers from the North Coast, so this week, I thought I’d reflect on how it all went.

Claire Savage, Bernie McGill and Margot McCuaig at Waterstones.

With Bernie McGill and Margot McCuaig.

 

All of the writers taking part were members of Women Aloud NI, which you will know all about if you read this blog regularly but if not, just click the linked text above. Basically, it aims to raise the profile of women writers from Northern Ireland and last week’s events are one example of how this is done.

Anyway, we gathered at Waterstones Coleraine, where the staff once again kindly hosted us for the afternoon, talking about our work and sharing it with members of the public by reading short extracts. First up was a panel discussion entitled A Sense of Place which saw myself and Portstewart author Bernie McGill discuss how the local landscape has influenced our work with Glasgow-based filmmaker and novelist, Margot McCuaig. Margot splits her time between Scotland and Rathlin Island on the North Coast, where she has her roots, and is also heavily inspired by the rugged landscape on this northerly part of Ireland.

Back (L-R) Claire Savage, Elaine Donnelly, Antoinette Bradley, Hilary McCollum, Anne McMaster, Bernie McGill, Yvonne Boyle. Front (L-R) Julie Agnew, Mandy Taggart and Jane Talbot.

Some of the read-a-thon crew.

 

It was great to have the opportunity to chat about this and to hear from Margot and Bernie about their writing processes, but of course, all too soon, our time was up and it was on to the next event – a read-a-thon filled with everything from poetry and prose, to memoir and travel writing.

If you’ve never been to a read-a-thon before then you really should give it a go as it provides a flavour of a wide variety of writing and introduces you to lots of great new work. We each read from our work for up to five minutes, with timing carefully controlled by Women Aloud NI director, Jane Talbot. It was lovely to see a healthy crowd assembled for each of the events and hopefully, some of them will have been inspired to look up one or more of the writers in attendance and check out their work.

Magical Masquerade in the library

Claire reading

Reading from MM.

Women Aloud is a great support for women writers and, as well as our public Facebook page, we also have a private members group, where we can chat about all sorts of writing-related things. And so it was that, during a chat last week about getting books stocked in our local libraries, I was reminded that my own book is available in branches throughout Northern Ireland and I’ve never really told anyone about it!

You may recall that I took part in a Dublin Book Festival event last November, which was held at Portstewart Library. Libraries NI very kindly bought in 35 copies of Magical Masquerade, which were given to a class to read before the event. Those copies were subsequently dispersed throughout the Libraries NI branches so, if you’d like to have a read, then please do call in and pick up a copy! And … if your branch doesn’t have any, then feel free to request that they get some in. 🙂

The sequel…

Which brings me onto the next instalment of Felicity’s adventures. Writing is continuing to progress with NN2 (Novel Number 2) and I’m on the downward slope to completion of the first draft. My aim is to be typing up the completed handwritten manuscript in April, which will see the first cycle of editing, as I find that once you start typing it up, you make little changes along the way. Once typed, it will then rest a while, before the serious editing, re-editing and, well, editing again commences.

The story has taken another turn recently into an area that I just hadn’t predicted and to me, this is all part of the joy of writing. I know my destination, but my pen continues to present me with fabulous new ways of getting there. (Well, I hope they’re fabulous – at the minute, I certainly think so anyway, but we will see what future editing Claire says!)

Bits and pieces

Other than that, I’m very busy reading and yes, I managed to upload a couple of BookTube videos recently, so you can watch those here if you feel so inclined: http://bit.ly/2HBVYbv 

I may also be getting involved in another exciting bookish project, but more on that if it comes to fruition… Apologies for being cryptic but I’ll let you know when I know more myself!Culture NI pic

And … if you missed it, or are interested, I interviewed NI Children’s Writing Fellow, Myra Zepf, and also wrote a little about my own path to becoming a published author for Culture NI recently, as part of its creative careers initiative for Creativity Month this March, so you can read that here: http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/features/literature/why-theres-no-right-way-becoming-writer

Think that’s all for now! 🙂

 

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Writing things in 2018…

It’s been just over a month since my last post here but while I haven’t been blogging, I have been making headway with NN2 (that’s Novel Number Two) – and reading copiously of course.

Reading

I keep a book journal and was pleased to see that I read 51 full books in 2017, with various others started and not finished (I no longer persevere past a certain point if a book doesn’t grip me). I didn’t count a few poetry collections either, as these I dip in and out of. So, all in all, that was a good reading year. I’m presently on book six I think so far this January, so let’s hope the reading frenzy continues! Though it may be inhibited a bit by some writing things…

Copywriting work has recommenced with my business, alongside the novel-writing, and I’m also working on a couple of other writing-related projects which may or may not come to anything, but require a good bit of prep work to see if they do. Fingers crossed they will happen but we will have to wait and see. (I like being cryptic but also, I don’t want to jinx things by mentioning what they are!)

Women Aloud NI events WANI event 2018In March, I will once again be participating in International Women’s Day with Women Aloud NI. You can view the updated event listings for 2018 over on the website here: http://womenaloudni.com/

This year, I’ve decided not to do the Dublin event with the Irish Writers’ Centre, as I have other commitments, but I’m looking forward to taking part in two events at Waterstones Coleraine on March 8. Both events are FREE so if you’re local or in the area that day, please do come along!

BookTube Channel

By the way, if you’re interested in what I’m reading/plan to read, check out my YouTube channel here: http://bit.ly/2rdQgJm 

It’s all a bit of fun and I do plan to record more videos re my favourite books and other bookish things, so watch out for those!

Anyway, that’s about it for now. I didn’t manage to write my Christmas ghost story this year, as I decided to just concentrate on NN2 and not get too distracted… My ‘problem’ is that I get lots of ideas for things all of the time and am therefore constantly trying to do all sorts of things all at once. Which does tend to pull one in all kinds of directions and is a little bit stressful. So, I removed that stress this year and stayed focused on the one project. 🙂

More as I have it! 🙂

 

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