Category Archives: Musings on writing

Myth and Memory

Namita Gokhale, Jan Carson and Vayu Naidu in conversation with Paul McVeigh at JLF Belfast 2019 at the Lyric Theatre

Myth, memory and culture were the ingredients for a lively panel discussion between writers Namita Gokhale, Jan Carson and Vayu Naidu, facilitated by novelist and playwright, Paul McVeigh at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival in Belfast.Myth and Memory

One of the JLF founders and co-directors, Gokhale has written 19 books and has worked a lot “on myth and the constant reinterpretation of myth in current India.”

Naidu, also born and raised in India, has been “very influenced by myths and mythologies” and said they’d helped her to write about history in her fiction. However, for East Belfast author, Carson, her interest in mythology was more about “making up my own myths – contemporary myths.”

Indeed, growing up, Carson was surrounded by stories from the King James Bible rather than Celtic myths, which she said made her feel a bit more disconnected from traditional mythology than her fellow panellists. She added that her reworking of myths was subsequently coloured by this particular storytelling language from her childhood.

Asked by McVeigh why she created modern myths and what they allowed her to do, Carson said her magical realism style allowed her to address topical issues in a more indirect way.

Jan

Jan Carson

“For me, Northern Ireland is a prime candidate for that,” she said. “It amazes me that we don’t have more writers here working in that field.”

She added that in a society where people have “become numbed to the status quo,” surrealist writing was a way to “stop people in their tracks” and help them take stock of things.

During the discussion, Gokhale described how India was steeped in mythology and said there were two epic myths – the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇ – which were originally told in oral form before being written. She herself has retold the Mahābhārata in Mahābhārata, The Book of Shiva.

“It’s a very vital and living topic in India,” she said. “Myths dominate and control every aspect of life [there]… There are many different levels of gods and goddesses in India – and a lot of goddesses who are goddesses in their own right.”

Naidu, meanwhile, who performs epic literature as well as being a writer, said Indians tended to “think in a kind of poetry.” She added that, living as she does now in England, she carried Indian mythology with her as a way of viewing the world.

lyric ceiling“For me, the myths are a memory for how I understand the Western world,” she said. “I won’t give up that way of thinking.”

Each of the writers shared some of their work with the audience, with extracts read by Carson and Gokhale and a special oral storytelling performance from Naidu.

Reflecting on the differences between oral storytelling and writing, she said: “The oral tradition is action-driven. When you’re writing, you’re in isolation – it’s more immersive.”

Going on to discuss memory, Carson, who also works with people who have dementia, said she’d learned that memory was something that wasn’t fixed. “As you grow and gain life experience, it changes your perspective of the past,” she said. “The memory [of things] begins to change.”

Collectively asked by McVeigh if holding onto memory too much could also prevent cultures from growing, Naidu said people could indeed get very fixed into the past. However, she added that, “collated memory can be a transformative thing.”

With Gokhale previously explaining how Hindu icon Radha is “the subject of every Bollywood film,” the event finished rather fittingly with an impromptu rendition of a Bollywood song from another festival participant.

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Foremothers: Women and Freedom

Bee Rowlatt, Lucy Caldwell and Namita Gokhale in conversation with Vayu Naidu at JLF Belfast 2019

The second event I attended at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Belfast back in June as official festival blogger involved an all-female group discussion about strong women – those foremothers who had inspired the assembled writers and also, the importance of remembering women, who are all too easily erased from history.

Foremothers

Facilitated by Vayu Naidu, she posed this initial question: “Foremothers appear in the domestic and the political. But what is this thing called a ‘foremother’?”

Namita Gokhale, who hails from the Himalayan Mountains, said she had recently been handed a matriarchal family tree going back nine generations, which is unusual, as patriarchal family trees are more common. She said that this had given her a distinct feeling of where her inner strength as a woman came from. She added later in the discussion that she had always been part of a family of four living generations and that being part of that had also helped hone her identity as a strong woman.

“We’re told Indian women are shy,” she said. “We’re not… I’m very religious and I always identified with the bad-tempered Indian goddess.” She added that she liked the mantra, ‘fear nothing’.

For Northern Irish writer, Lucy Caldwell, highlighting foremothers, particularly in the writing world, is incredibly important. Having been involved with two all-Irish female author anthologies in recent years – The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore – she said that she considered those part of her history. She added that her mum had always taken her to the library as a child and was another influential woman in her life. Becoming a mother herself had further helped to shape her writing.

“The thing that changed my writing life was having children,” she said. “It gave me a new fearlessness. I didn’t care what anyone thought about my writing anymore.”

For Bee Rowlatt, Mary Wollstonecraft – described as ‘the first celebrity feminist’ – has been an incredibly influential foremother and she spoke passionately about her during the discussion. Discovering Wollstonecraft’s story as a literature student, Rowlatt subsequently travelled the world with her baby son, mirroring Wollstonecraft’s own voyage back in the day and writing about the experience in her travel book, In Search of Mary.

“Mary Wollstonecraft went on a voyage – a treasure hunt – with her 11-month-old baby,” she said. “She wrote a bestseller along the way. I decided I would try this too…

“Everywhere I look in history it’s the women’s voices, the women who are vectors of information. They know what’s going on and you ignore that at your peril.”

The event closed with a Q&A from the audience, which saw some further discussion on the importance of recording women in history.

Gokhale had earlier urged everyone to “reach out to the older people in your lives and record.” She added: “It’s the lack of records in women’s lives which makes it more important to research them.”

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Patrick Gale and David Park

A few of my blogs from this year’s inaugural Jaipur Literature Festival in Belfast and Bellagy have now been published on the JLF website (see my previous blog post here for more details on this), but there’s a few from the Saturday which haven’t appeared, so I’ve decided to post them on my own blog in the meantime, starting with the first event I attended below. 🙂

Places Called Home

Patrick Gale and David Park in conversation with Elaine CanningDaviv Park1

Family is at the heart of the most recent novels by British writer, Patrick Gale (Take Nothing with You) and Belfast author, David Park (Travelling in a Strange Land). It was subsequently very much at the core of this event, facilitated by Elaine Canning at the Lyric Theatre.

With both writers brought up in very religious households, they agreed that this was something which had seeped into their work.

Park, whose upbringing was in the Baptist faith, said the first stories he ever heard were from the Bible. “The language of the Bible became cloaked around my brain,” he said.

Gale also had a “very religious upbringing.” Indeed, his father was the son and grandson of a priest and may have become one himself, said Gale, had he not married Patrick’s mother…

The event was interspersed with readings from both authors, including both their non-fiction and fiction.

David Park Me

With David Park

“When you write about yourself and your family, as Patrick has revealed, there are pain moments,” said Park. One of those ‘pain moments’ for Park was in writing about an instance at Primary School, when he told the class his father was a bread server, as he felt shame in saying ‘labourer’.

Both Park’s and Gale’s novels ultimately focus on the dynamics of family relationships and belonging. “What you’re doing is writing about interesting failures,” said Gale.

In Gale’s novel, his protagonist, Eustace, reflects on his youth while receiving treatment in hospital. His parents are going through a rocky patch and Eustace, who is dealing with the business of growing up and discovering who he is, subsequently finds solace in music. “It brings him into contact with people who become substitute family,” said Gale.

A cellist himself, Gale added that the discipline of learning to play music has helped him as a writer. Park agreed that music was a big part of his own life. “Music, for me, is a constant all day long,” he said. “It calms and motivates me.”

As Canning pointed out, place also plays a huge role in both Park and Gale’s novels and not just place, but enclosed spaces. Indeed, Park’s story plays out in a car while Gale’s sees Eustace reflecting in a confined room during his treatment.

“There’s no such thing as the perfect family,” said Park. “My book is from the father’s perspective and about how to be a father, which is a difficult thing to know. It’s about a journey from Belfast to Sunderland.”

P Gale me

With Patrick Gale

“Both books illustrate the way we carry our families in our heads,” added Gale.

The novels also explore the idea of self-love and self-protection, said Canning, who also touched upon the function of music in both narratives. The cello and classical music is integral to Eustace, said Gale, while for Park’s story, pop music takes precedence.

The event itself finished on a musical note, with Gale reading an extract about music from his novel, followed by an audience Q&A. During this, Gale was asked what book of his own he would recommend a young person to read with regards to understanding their sexuality, as he speaks a lot in schools and is often asked the same. He said Friendly Fire was what he would advise and added that it was loosely based on his own upbringing.

The final word of the day went to Park, who was asked if things had to happen in real life to be able to write about them, or of imagination was enough.Patrick Gale book

“Everything you need is in the world of the imagination,” he said. “It’s the richest gift humans have.”

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Summery artistic delights

Max Porter and Sarah Moss

Max Porter

With Max Porter

In my last blog, I chatted about a recent visit to the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy for JLF Belfast, which took place at the end of June. Just a couple of weeks later, I returned for another great event, this time an evening of conversation and readings with the authors Max Porter and Sarah Moss, interviewed by Sinéad Gleeson. I went along to this with friend and fellow writer, Kelly Creighton, and we both very much enjoyed listening to all the bookish chat, as well as meeting the authors afterwards.

Both Max and Sarah were very friendly and I was given a wee look at Max’s notes and doodlings in his copy of Lanny as he signed my copies of both this and Grief is the Thing with Feathers and chatted about the writing process. He told us during the discussion how Sarah often deletes entire manuscripts as well as other bits and pieces she’s written, if she’s not happy with them, while he (like myself!!) prefers to hold onto his work in case it later proves useful. Sarah added, however, that she’s a very fast writer, so it doesn’t worry her to get rid of work as she’s going along.

Sarah Moss

With Sarah Moss

Both Lanny and Ghost Wall, Sarah’s latest novel, hold a mirror up to today’s society, as Sinead Gleeson pointed out during the event. Both deliver tension in different ways but are reflective of what the world has become/is becoming and look at how (and perhaps why) people are the way they are. Def worth reading if you haven’t!

All in all, it was a really enjoyable evening and I look forward to reading The Tidal Zone, which is the book I bought by Sarah Moss at the event. I’d already read Ghost Wall from the library and have read both of Max’s books, so I await his next one!

Art in the Garden

Dali

Lady Godiva with Butterflies: Dali

Another great event I got along to at the end of June was Art in the Garden, which took place at the Culloden Estate and Spa in Belfast. (Click the highlighted text above for more info.) I just got along to it the day before it ended and was very glad I did, as there was a wealth of wonderful artwork on display both inside and out, including pieces from Salvador Dali – flown in from Switzerland – as well as Andy Warhol, Banksy, Picasso, Freud and many more.

I’m not in any way an art expert, but even I recognised most of the artists on display and I discovered lots of others too, including Northern Ireland’s Eamonn Higgins, who had a beautiful ghostly horse sculpture in the gardens outside, and Sicilian sculptor Giacinto Bosco, whose lunar sculptures were also amongst my favourites of the day.

Eamon Higgins

Legend of the Lough: Eamonn Higgins

It being Northern Ireland, the rain was pelting down as we arrived but we toured the interior exhibitions first, had a coffee and then walked around the garden exhibits in lovely sunshine! It was a great exhibition and I for one would love to do it all again.

I have so many fabulous photos from the visit, but just have room to share a couple here!

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

The last Thursday in June also saw our monthly GC Book Club meet-up, where we discussed our very short play – Peter and Alice by John Logan – which was our main book of the month, along with Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? We scored them 7/10 and 8/10 respectively, and I was pleased to hear how well the play had gone down, considering most of us there never really read plays. (Must rectify that!)

Giant's Causeway Book Club_one year birthdayIt was also our first birthday, so as well as tray bakes and tea/coffee, we had to have some chocs and cookies too. 🙂

Our book for July is Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave, so we’ll see how that is received on July 25!

Writing snippets…

As for my own writing, it is ongoing! I’m almost finished the first draft of my next novel… I had planned to get that tied up by the end of, erm, May, but my self-imposed deadline drifted away into June and now July. It’s simply because I just haven’t put the time in to complete it, as I’ve been distracting myself with editing a short story I’d written a while ago (which I’ve since submitted to a journal, having not sent anything off for absolutely ages), and have also written a new short story. I haven’t written short stories for a wee while, but I had something I suddenly felt compelled to write, so it’s being edited now and we’ll see what will be done with that once it’s done!

lunar

Altalena: Giacinto Bosco

(I’m still reading copiously, of course.)

Anyway, more as I have it. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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At JLFBelfast 2019

JLF image

Described as Simon Schama as “the most fabulous literary love-fest on the planet,” the Jaipur Literature Festival is a global phenomenon which came to Northern Ireland for the very first time this month. In the festival organisers’ own words, JLF ‘brings together a diverse mix of the world’s greatest thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, sports people and entertainers on one stage to champion the freedom to express and engage in thoughtful debate and dialogue.’

notebookYou can imagine, then, how delighted I was to be involved with the festival as an official blogger for the weekend, after entering their recent blogging competition. Although I was unable to attend the opening night celebrations due to other work engagements, I did get along to several events which took place at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy on Saturday, June 22 and Sunday, June 23. I managed to cover three events on Saturday and two on Sunday and my blogs for those will be published on the JLF website in due course. This blog, however, is all about my experience of the festival and what it was like taking part as official blogger…

JLF at the Lyric TheatreLyric stairs

As soon as I entered the Lyric Theatre on Saturday, I was greeted by the friendly welcome team, who promptly tied a little colourful bracelet with bells on around my wrist. At the time, I thought it was just a lovely gift – which it was – but I later found out that it was also a much nicer equivalent of a festival wristband. Even better, as everyone was wearing one, the air was filled not only with excited chatter, but also the gentle undertone of tinkling bells, which only added to the overall atmosphere. When speakers were applauded during events, the bells also added a further layer of appreciation and were a constant reminder, to me anyway, that we were all taking part in something extremely special.

giftsThe welcome desk, I should say, also had JLF bookmarks, bindis and sparkly elephant keyrings for guests and of course, further on inside, Belfast’s best independent bookstore, No Alibis, had tables groaning under the weight of all the wonderful books the authors in attendance had written (ready to be bought and signed!).

The JLF team had also bedecked the space with beautiful gossamer fabrics, dream catchers, bells and other colourful decorations, bringing a real flavour of India to the venue.lyric ceiling

My key contact as JLF blogger was Vidushi Khera (and also, our own Belfast author, Paul McVeigh), who quickly gave me a tour of all I needed to see. After travelling down from Bushmills I was a little peckish, so I made the most of the spread of snacks on offer, grabbing a coffee and muffin from the authors’ area upstairs before heading to my first event of the day. This was a discussion between authors David Park (from Belfast) and Patrick Gale (from the Isle of Wight), facilitated by Elaine Canning (author and executive officer of Swansea University’s International Dylan Thomas Prize).

with David Park

With David Park.

After the event, I then dashed upstairs to write my blog in the authors’ lounge (being very anti-social I’m sure, tapping away on my laptop!), so I didn’t do my usual ‘buy the book and get it signed’ afterwards. However, once I’d finished writing, I popped into the dining area and lo and behold, there was David Park sitting with a variety of other speakers, finishing his lunch. I had about 10 minutes to grab a bite and of course, didn’t want to disturb him, but as he was leaving he caught my eye and recognised me as the JLF blogger (which did surprise me!) and was quite happy to have a few words and pose for a photograph. (Readers, it had to be done. I do like a photo with my favourite authors and I love David Park’s writing, so I always ask! 🙂 )

I’m not a food blogger, so I won’t go into detail about the culinary delights on offer, but suffice it to say, the Lyric had put on a lovely selection of delicious muffins, scones and whatnot, along with tea and coffee in the authors’ upstairs retreat. The lunch was also lovely – I had some sort of vegetarian dish with rice and the staff were very friendly and helpful in encouraging me to tuck in!Lyric flowers

My next event was just an hour after the first (my first, that is – there were a couple of morning events that I sadly missed) and this was a panel discussion on the subject of foremothers. (Again, these blogs will be put onto the JLF Belfast website, so I won’t share my thoughts here). After that, I had an hour-and-a-half to go over my first blog and write the second (I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I do like to check things meticulously!), so I had a bit more time before my last event of the day. I’m not a multitasker when I write, so I wasn’t partaking in the background chatter in the room, but with a busy programme, most of the speakers were just enjoying some downtime and gathering their thoughts for the next event, so it was all very relaxed.

Jan

Jan Carson (R)

The third and final event that I attended and blogged about was a ‘myth and memory’ themed discussion and one of the writers involved with that was East Belfast author, Jan Carson (who recently won the EU Prize for Literature in Ireland with her novel, The Fire Starters). I’d bumped into Jan earlier in the day and also ran into one or two other familiar faces, including events organiser Hilary Copeland (recently appointed as acting director of the Irish Writers’ Centre) and of course, David Torrans from No Alibis Bookstore. As I was literally attending an event, then going upstairs to write about it, I didn’t mingle as much as I would have if I’d been attending as a regular audience member. However, I like to be busy, so I enjoyed having something proactive to do in-between times and liked seeing behind the scenes. As a journalist, I’m used to covering events but normally, I’d write everything up the next day, so that was one thing that was a bit different for me – writing immediately after the event ended. It made for a slight bit of stress, but who doesn’t enjoy a bit of adrenaline?!

JLF at Seamus Heaney HomeplaceHomeplace outside

Sunday, for me, was a more relaxed day as festival blogger as I was to cover two events back-to-back and then write them up at home and send to the team later. So for one thing, I didn’t have a laptop in tow, and for a second, I wasn’t dashing off between events to blog.

With colourful bunting outside and more decorations once again inside, SH Homeplace was a hub of activity when I arrived at lunchtime. After checking in with Vidushi I found myself having lunch beside Patrick Gale, award-winning poet and conservationist Ruth Padel and a short while later, was joined by Jan Carson, Bee Rowlatt (journalist, writer and broadcaster) and Salil Tripathi (author and chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee). Definitely one of the perks of helping out at a festival is getting to mingle up close and personal with the speakers.

Tara Gandhi

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee (centre)

My first event on Sunday was a discussion with Gandhi’s granddaughter, Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee (as inspirational and interesting as it sounds!), followed by a discussion on Yeats and Tagore. In between these, I picked up a couple of books from No Alibis and, upon discovering that Patrick Gale was sitting behind me in the events, happily got him to sign his latest novel for me afterwards.

Colouring the air with words

All in all, my experience of JLF Belfast 2019 was one of fascinating discussions, impromptu author meetings, great food and a wonderful atmosphere. What stood out for me was the fact that everyone seemed so full of energy and genuinely delighted to be there. The speakers all spoke passionately on their subjects, the audience members were fully engaged and the programme was packed with variety across the weekend.

with Patrick Gale

With Patrick Gale.

There was a real sense of shared passions and of people discovering new-found interests, as well as a general celebration of literature and an overarching sense of fun. (We had Glenn Patterson singing in the hallways of the Lyric Theatre and unplanned musical performances in some of the events, which only added to the richness of what was being delivered.)

I think the programme (NB JLF Belfast was curated by Teamwork Arts, who produce the ZEE Jaipure Literature Festival) really succeeded in bringing a flavour of what Jaipur Literature Festival is all about to Belfast and Bellaghy – vibrant, inspirational and fun – and I for one, look forward to the next time!

homeplace decor

 

 

 

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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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Writing reflections…

At this time of year, most people like to take stock of where they’ve been and where they intend to go in the next 12 months. I think it’s good practice to reflect on what you’ve achieved in the past year as, generally, it’s a heck of a lot more than what you thought.

In 2018, I managed to get book two out into the world, finishing the writing and editing of it earlier in the year and then launching it in October with a lovely book launch party at the Portrush Coastal Zone. img_2762

With regards to other bookish things, I was delighted to get Magical Masquerade stocked (and restocked a few times!) at the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre, after being accepted as a supplier by their buyers back in December 2017. I also took part in a Meet the Makers day at the centre in October. Meanwhile, MM was also stocked in Belfast bookshop, Books Paper Scissors.

Staying with the National Trust, I was very happy to be asked to host the new Giant’s Causeway Book Club around this time last year, which launched in June 2018 and is still going strong. (Our next meeting is Thursday, January 31st if you’re local and interested in coming along!). I also started my own BookTube channel, though this fell by the wayside a bit later in the year due to technical glitches… I’m not sure if I want to pour too much energy into this going forward, but with a new phone finally on its way to me (!) I might give it another go in the near future and see how it pans out. Watch this space. 🙂GC BOOK CLUB 2

Speaking of BookTube, I took part in an online magical realism writing workshop with the very talented Jen Campbell.  She’s a very skilled writer and editor and I do write a lot of magical realism, so it was great to get her feedback and advice on a new short story which I wrote for this. I don’t always make solid goals to achieve in the year but perhaps one that I would like to jot down for 2019 is to reinvest more in my writing over the next 12 months and do more things like this. I found this particular workshop well suited to me as feedback was provided over Skype and via email so there was no travel involved and it was more flexible. I took part in a group workshop so I also benefitted from seeing the feedback given to the other writers too. I fully believe, of course, that it’s important to get out to events and whatnot in person, but a mix of digital and in-person is good, I think!

I myself was invited to run a creative writing workshop in Crumlin for eight weeks, which I enjoyed doing during October/November last year. I also did some writing exercises with two classes of a local primary school as part of an author visit, which is always fun!

Alongside all of this I also took part in events at Waterstones in Coleraine, the Belfast Book Festival and Eastside Arts Festival, and became an Irish Writers’ Centre member and writing mentor. I received the final instalment of my Arts Council National Lottery grant towards the end of the year and I also saw my poem, written for a collection (Be Not Afraid) in memory of Seamus Heaney and accepted for publication back in about 2014/15, finally published in book form by Lapwing Publications. The project took a few years to get off the ground, but it was great to see everyone’s poems in the collection at last – and well worth the wait!Claire Savage, Bernie McGill and Margot McCuaig at Waterstones.

2018 ended with a nice surprise when MM was included on a KS2 map of middle-grade books across the UK, and the only NI-based book on the map. (See a few blogs back for that). And PP was also included in Books Ireland’s First Flush section of newly published Irish books.

So, all in all it was a good writing/bookish year (I also read 92 books and that doesn’t include my many rereads of Phantom Phantasia during the editing process!!). I won’t go into work-related achievements in terms of my copywriting business, as I think this post is quite long enough, but reading all this back I realise I achieved a lot more than I thought. Indeed, the intention of this post was to reflect on my author-related achievements last year as a means of realising that yes, I did actually achieve things (!) and also, with a view to thinking about what I’d like to achieve this year.

At Christmas, I decided in the end to take a break from writing and simply indulged in a lot more reading… e.g. I finally read the complete Harry Potter series (I only read the first few books over 20 years ago so it was long overdue that I read all seven!). heaney anthology

Although I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on writing-wise this year, I did have an idea for a story back in October/November, and had made some notes re that. However, nothing progressed with it until a couple of weeks ago, when I just took out my notebook one night and started scribbling. (This was around 11pm of course, and I ended up writing on into the night a bit… Always the night owl!)

I do still want to look at writing some short stories and poetry again this year, but for the meantime, this story is now underway and yes, it is novel-shaped. 🙂 Whether or not anything becomes of it is another thing – I like the story that I’m writing so that’s really all I need to write it. However, despite having enjoyed the independent publishing process with MM and PP, if I decide I want to pursue publication, this time around I may look into pursuing the traditional route. We shall see. Early stages…

Other than that, last year I started another bookish project which unfortunately I can’t tell you about, but which is still being worked on as we speak, so my hope is that at some point in the near future I can share details about that… It’s quite a beast of a project, so again, we shall see, but if all goes well, it promises to be very exciting.

I think that’s all for now. Nothing like a bit of an essay to start off the blogging for 2019… 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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Whittling away …

Women Aloud NI Community Day

Women writers everywhere – and lots of bookish talk. 🙂

WAagm

WANI board members

That was basically the premise for a recent meet-up of Women Aloud NI, as we had our very first Community Day at the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast last weekend, kindly supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

It’s always good to take the online, offline, and, while we run regular writerly events and the like, we’ve never had a day of our own like this to chat about the organisation and our plans for the future.

Suffice it to say that we had a lot to talk about but ultimately, it was just rather cheering to see so many women writers from Northern Ireland gather together to see how we can support one another going forward. Watch this space, I think…

NN2

With regards my own writerly news, I’ve been quiet on the blogging front these past few weeks because I’ve been very busy finishing off NN2 (Novel Number 2). Yes, the notebooks are finally full of their scribbles, the computer has been fired up for typing and those words are being edited as we speak. Things are coming on well with the sequel to Magical Masquerade so hopefully all will continue as such!

Kelly_me_MACI did find a bit of time over Easter, however, for coffee and a catch-up with my friend and fellow author, Kelly Creighton (also a WANI board member), to chat about our books and bookish plans…  I also discovered Kelly is a rather talented artist – not just a fantastic writer, then! (See the portrait she whisked up for me below.)

As this is a follow-up to book one, I will be publishing it independently again as I did with the first, so when I’ve worked out my dates for this I’ll let you know… I’ve certainly found that this second book has taken less time to write and I think that’s for various reasons.

First of all, this time I actually knew I was writing a book! With MM I started off with a short story and then just kept going – and going and going and going – and ended up with a monster of a book that was probably actually three novels, in terms of length. Not so this time. I’m continuing my story and know better now how much notebook space I have to fill and, while I’ve written enough to tell the story and wouldn’t penalise it just to keep things short, experience means I’m writing more succinctly from the outset, so it’s already more on track in terms of word count and so on.

I’ve also given myself deadlines for this manuscript where I didn’t for the first, and I understand the publishing process and how long that takes, so am bearing all that in mind. My audience is predominantly young (although adults – you really can read my books as well! If you’ve read HP then you’re already in my target audience 🙂 ), so I’m keen not to delay the sequel for too long.

Reading notesportrait

Writing aside, I’ve also been flying through some great fiction this month as well, and will record a video for my BookTube channel about those soon. I plan to give each book a star rating and to choose the best book of the month from what I’ve read as one which I’d recommend you pick up (if you haven’t already read it that is). I’ve discovered so many good books through YouTube so I’d like to help other readers uncover a few new gems too.

Anyway, it really has been a good reading month in April and I’m hoping the rest of my TBR pile will deliver the same greatness. More as I have it. 🙂

 

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