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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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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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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

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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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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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Book launch magic and more…

It’s been a little bit hectic the past week – post-book launch and a visit from my sister and nephews, who flew in from Switzerland for the occasion. So … I’ve been playing catch-up with work over the past few days, as this is generally a busy time of the year.

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With my family at the MM book launch.

The launch, however, went very well indeed – I was delighted to see a packed roomful of people, despite the very sunny Saturday and the fact that I received a fair few messages from friends cancelling that morning! Among the crowd was my English teacher from the Rainey Endowed School in Magherafelt, who taught me for five years (Eng and English Literature), along with my former Spanish teacher and of course, lots of family, friends and other guests.

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With my English teacher, Barbara Crawford.

It was great to see a few younger faces as well, and to hear afterwards that they enjoyed the readings and Q&A. As Jane Talbot, who was leading the discussion, said on the day – you can only enjoy your first book launch once, so enjoy it I did!

It’s been such a lot of work getting to this point – writing the book, editing it (so many times I’ve lost count!), initially submitting it to publishers, getting feedback on the manuscript, designing a cover, learning about the whole self-publishing industry and putting that learning into action, marketing and promoting the book on and offline…

The list goes on but basically, Magical Masquerade has been years in the making and is definitely a dream achieved for me, so a massive thank you to everyone who supported me last week at the launch.

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With Jane Talbot on stage.

 

If you hop over to my author page on Facebook, you can see a wee Facebook live video I recorded in the green room before going on stage, though I warn you, it’s a little jerky as I decided to do my first ever FB live right before my launch without any prior practice!

I arrived at the Crescent Arts Centre super early on launch day, as I wanted to make sure I had everything set up and that the books were carted in before anyone arrived. (Thanks to Jane for helping to lug those heavy boxes in!)

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With Kelly Creighton.

 

The room we were in also had lots of little round tables for people to sit at, so I’d brought along paper bowls which I filled with edible enchanted pebbles, magic mushrooms and Pebble People (aka Fruit Pastilles, pink and white mushroom chews and Jelly Babies, lol). Once those were set out and the books arranged beside my bookmarks and author business cards, we were good to go. My friend and fellow author, Kelly Creighton, manned the book table before and after the event, so a big thank you to her for that.

I have to say, I really enjoyed chatting about MM, my inspirations and my writing processes etc. during the on-stage part of the launch, even though it was slightly weirder doing this in front of family who don’t normally see me in author mode (or in a professional/work capacity). I love talking about writing and I always find it interesting to hear other authors chat about their work, so I’m glad this bit went down well.

Cake

The MM cake!

 

The Q&As were also broken up with three short readings from MM during the session and then I answered some audience questions at the end, before spending about another hour chatting to everyone, signing books and posing for a lot of photographs! I’ve shared some of those here, but for the full whack, head on over to my author FB page.

I should mention as well that ahead of the launch, my brother James surprised me with a beautiful (and delicious) Magical Masquerade cake (most of which was devoured at a family gathering on Friday night!), while my aunt (and photographer on the day) Moira gave me a lovely chocolate Magical Masquerade book creation. The cake is long gone, but I’ve yet to eat the chocolate… it’s almost too nice to tuck into, but it is chocolate, so it may well still disappear!

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With my aunt Moira and the MM choc cover!

 

On the morning of the launch, BBC Radio Ulster aired my interview with Anne-Marie McAleese, which you can listen to again on BBC iPlayer here: http://bbc.in/2sEOeRn I’m on near the start – approx. five minutes or so in I think – and there’s also a little 40-second video clip from the day we recorded it, which you can find just below the radio broadcast clip.

Backtracking a little bit more… (I probably should have written this blog post more chronologically!!), I really enjoyed my 12NOW (New Original Writers) event at the Belfast Book Festival on the Thursday evening before launch day. Big thanks to Lagan Online and the BBF for letting the 12 of us read our work (six readers split over two nights) and for everyone who turned up to hear us, as we had a great crowd for that. I really enjoyed the various readings, which included poetry, prose and travel writing, as each person had a very distinct way of reading and all were very captivating. (NB Check out the gallery of pics from both evenings of readings over at Lagan Online here: http://laganonline.co/gallery-12now-writers-at-belfast-book-festival/ ).

 

12NOW at BBF

Six of our 12NOW crew on the evening I was part of at the BBF.

 

I think that’s covered most of what went on over the past week… I also had an interesting meeting with someone about another writing project, but it’s in very early stages so I’ll keep that under wraps for now (spoilers). Feedback has also been coming in from more young readers about MM, which is just brilliant. It’s all very positive and I love hearing reader responses.

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Sarah Bennett at the launch…

 

One young girl who came to the launch – Sarah Bennett – started reading it right away and had the whole thing finished by the time she got home to Enniskillen at 11.30pm that night!

This is what her mum, Trish, messaged me last Saturday night: ‘I was told by my critic that your book was absolutely brilliant with a well written plot.

‘This was us arriving home to Enniskillen tonight. She’s finished it. Sarah’s passed it on to me and ordered “read this”.’

I have more lovely reader comments to share with you but I’ll save those for another time!

Sarah Bennett reading

…and finishing MM!

 

With the excitement of the launch now over, I’m going to be looking at maybe visiting some schools and libraries in the year ahead, and seeing what other opportunities there are for readings etc. I’ve potentially got a couple of events upcoming on the north coast over the summer, so hopefully those will go ahead.

Meanwhile, I’ve got another interview ahead of me this week so I’ll share details of that soon too … and in amongst all of that there’s writing to be done!

More updates soon. 🙂

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Magical news and reviews…

It’s always a little scary releasing your work into the public domain for people to read – especially with fiction, I think, as it’s much more personal than other writing. So, I’m delighted to begin this week’s blog post with news of a lovely 5* review for Magical Masquerade which is just in this very morning from a very happy reader.

swirl and thread screenshot

You can read Emily Hearne’s take on the book over at her mum Mairead’s blog, Swirl and Thread, here: http://www.swirlandthread.com/magical-masquerade-claire-savage/

Mairead is an Irish book blogger who reviews adult fiction, but as her daughter Emily is the perfect age for Magical Masquerade and loves to read, she agreed to give an honest opinion of the book. Suffice it to say, I’m very glad she enjoyed it – and is now asking for the sequel!

I am working on the next book but in the meantime, there’s been a lot going on over the past couple of weeks which has kept me quite busy otherwise. I missed blogging last week, so we’ll begin with what I would have included in that post…

 

Guest blog postBook blogger logo

First up, London-based bookseller and book-lover, Joanne Frazer, who has a great bookish blog called In Case of Bookishness, invited me to write a guest blog post for the site, so you can read that at the link below.

‘In Case of Bookishness’ guest blog post link: https://incaseofbookishness.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/guest-post-why-writers-need-writers-by-claire-savage/

 

Waterstones reading with Women Aloud NIWA NI group in Waterstones

Last Saturday, I also enjoyed a wee trip to Waterstones Coleraine for an afternoon of readings with the Women Aloud NI crew.

Me reading MM in WaterstonesA group of us read extracts from our work – including poetry, prose, biography and more – and it was great hearing snippets from all sorts of genres on the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first reading from Magical Masquerade in bound book form, and it was a lovely event to be a part of.

 

BBC Radio Ulster interview – YPAM

Yesterday, meanwhile, I had the pleasure of meeting BBC Radio Ulster presenter, Anne-Marie McAleese from the Your Place and Mine show, to record an interview about MM. We met at one of my local (and favourite) beaches, Runkerry Beach, in Portballintrae, where Felicity’s adventures start in the book – a landscape which definitely inspired and influenced my writing.

With Anne-Marie McAleese

With Anne-Marie McAleese

 

The interview will be broadcast ahead of the Belfast Book Festival launch of MM, so I’ll share links etc. to that when it’s online and if you want live updates, then I’ll be sharing info on social media as well.

 

Belfast 89FM

This Thursday afternoon (sometime between 2pm – 4pm) I’ll also be appearing on Belfast 89FM with Colin and Heidi McAlpin, so you can listen in live to that, or again, I’ll share links afterwards. I’m not sure of the exact time that I’ll be on air as yet, but will post social media updates during the week.

There’s more in the way of interviews and so on coming up, but as the above events are happening more imminently, I’ll share details about other things as and when they come up!

biz cardsAside from all of that, I also got round at last to designing my author business cards this week. I’ve already got my bookmarks for the BBF launch, but these are just handier to carry around and they turned out really well. Although, I may have to tell people the fairies designed them, as I seem to have made the font just a smidgen too small on the back, lol. But still, they do the job – sure, as long as you can read the details… even if some of the finer print might require a magnifying glass!

Writing-wise, I’m finding it a little hard to settle myself to work on book number two, as there’s so much else going on at the moment with book one and with work in general. But I think this is a period to enjoy – I like the promo side of things and chatting about books and writing, and it’s exciting to see people find out about MM and to show an interest in it. Even better when they read it and like it!

Fellow NI author and friend, Jo Zebedee, whose latest book, a fantasy novel called Waters and the Wild, will be published in July, also got her hands on MM this week, so I’m awaiting feedback from her and her daughter Holly too. 🙂Jo and Holly

The first few months after a book release will always be busier as you try to spread the word and it certainly won’t last forever, so my mantra is to embrace all opportunities and just have fun with it.

Anyway, speaking of writing, it’s a bank holiday weekend, which means a bit of breathing space to get those words on pages. More as I have it… 🙂

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