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Creative conundrums

In the few short weeks since my last blog we seem to have journeyed into the plot of a dystopian novel which, unfortunately, has never been a favourite genre of mine … ‘Normal’ life has been put on hold – for now – across the world and books have become more important then ever to see a lot of us through the day! That being said, it can also be quite difficult to concentrate on reading sometimes, when there’s so much else vying for out attention right now and so many other things to sort out. My own reading has definitely been affected, which is why I’m now turning to books by authors that I know I love and whose writing I can safely get lost in.

Anyway, leaving aside all of the work and day-to-day shenanigans which have been affected by recent events, in terms of author stuff, there’s both good and not so good news.

Some good news: I mentioned in my last blog that I’d submitted a short story to a journal recently and I was happy to hear that it was accepted for publication. Of course, the launch for that is now off (I’m not sure if they’ll be doing an online/virtual launch) and I’m assuming the journal also won’t be published for the forseeable now either. I had also received word of some creative writing events which I was to deliver over the coming months, but again, these have now disappeared into the ether with all that’s going on.

However, an exciting project which myself and a good friend have been waiting to hear word on is still in the pipeline, so hopefully, we can share news about that soon. Of course, it too has been adversely affected by recent events, so we’re trying to iron out a few particulars. That being said, we’re hopeful it will still go ahead as planned over the coming months. More on that as I have it.

Lots of book launches have also been cancelled and one which I’d been looking forward to was Kelly Creighton’s event to release her latest crime novel, The Sleeping Season, into the world. It should have happened last Friday so if you enjoy crime fiction and would like to support her in buying the book, you can do so here: https://amzn.to/3bzujXw

GC Book ClubGC zoom pic

This month we enjoyed our first-ever online book club, taking to Zoom to discuss our classic March read – The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins. We had a smaller gathering than normal, but as the months go on I’m sure some more might join us again (online meet-ups can seem strange but they actually work pretty well) and if not, we still have a nice number for discussion regardless. Overall, everyone seemed to enjoy it. This is regarded as one of Collins’ best works, along with The Woman in White, which he wrote next, and it was definitely suspenseful and had a cast of engaging characters. We scored it 7/10, which I think is a pretty good rating!

Fun HomeOur April read is another new genre for our book-clubbers as it’s a graphic memoir and our chosen title for this is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I’ve read a few graphic novels and memoirs myself and I do enjoy them, so hopefully this will go down well. I’ve heard really good things about this book (which I believe was also performed on the stage) so I think it’s a good one to read as a way of introducing the book club to this genre.

NN3

And finally, NN3 has undergone a further edit and is nearing that time when it should be flitting out to agents. The plan remains to publish it independently later in the year (all being well…) but I still want to see about sending it out, so that will be done this week. I gave myself until the end of March to email some agents so I’m now giving myself to the end of this week, as of course, that too has been pushed aside in favour of sorting out work stuff relating to you-know-what.

Anyway, I think that’s about all for now. It’s a tricky time to be a creative and I don’t think we should be putting pressure on ourselves to create more than usual right now (if you want to great, but if you don’t, also great). I for one am just trying to do as much as I’ve always done and, if I end up doing a bit more or a bit less, then that’s OK. I’m not giving myself ridiculous goals, as I wouldn’t do that ordinarily and am not going to change things now! I’m looking forward to reading some good books and getting some writing done where I can and for me, that’s enough.

Keep well. More as I have it. 🙂

 

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Words with sparkle …

Chris Packham at the NI Science FestivalCPackham

Having ended my last post with a hopeful mention of meeting naturalist, environmental campaigner, author and award-winning photographer, Chris Packham, at the NI Science Festival, I’m very happy to report that this did indeed happen! I also got my copy of his memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, signed, so that is now an even more prized possession. It’s full of poetic and very visual writing and if you haven’t yet read it, then I recommend you give it a go.

The event itself was in two parts – the first saw Chris show examples of his photography and explain how he set up the shots, giving us an insight into how his mind works, which was fascinating. The second half then focused on the global climate and environmental crisis we’re all facing, with discussion on a range of issues and how we can help practically.   sparkle jar cover

All in all, it was a great event and definitely gave everyone much to consider and hopefully, to put into action afterwards.signed

Book three edits

I’ve now completed the latest edits of Novel Number Three (NN3), which essentially means I’ve transferred all the new pages of handwritten narrative onto the computer and jig-sawed everything together into what is now a more well-rounded story. I enjoyed this way of working, which is new to me in terms of novel-writing. With my previous two books I wrote in a pretty much linear style, in that I started at the beginning and wrote straight on until the end. Of course, I added in new bits here and there in later edits, but not as much as I have with this third novel.

With this particular manuscript I first wrote a rough narrative, which I knew I wanted to return to and add bulk, so the initial draft came in at around 30,000-35,000 words. It’s now around 45,000 words, so is more novel-shaped and still has a little more wiggle room if I feel I need to expand on any further plot points. For those who don’t know, middle-grade fiction (for 8-12 year-olds) can vary from anything between 30,000 – 50,000+ words. Modern MG books tend to be a bit chunkier than when I was growing up but I always believe that your story should be as long as it needs to be, so I don’t worry too much about word count, especially at the outset when I’m just starting a new novel.

Anyway, I’ve enjoyed having a basic book structure drafted and then being able to jump back in and add new sections and characters, working them into what’s already there and bringing more flavour to the overall narrative. (Well, I hope!) It’s a little like how William Boyd writes his novels – he’s told interviewers before that he too handwrites his initial drafts, but that he doesn’t write in a linear fashion – he writes different scenes at different times and then knits them all together later.

It’s fun to experiment with different writing styles and this way has worked well for me with NN3. It may or may not be what I do for the next book (whatever that is), but for now, it’s certainly been a method I’ve enjoyed.

Anyway, the next stage is going back to edit the manuscript again, now that all the new material has been added to the typed version, and make sure it reads seamlessly and does what I want it to do…

I haven’t written very many short stories recently, but I did do a light edit of a story I wrote a few years ago and submitted that to a journal in February, so we’ll see if anything comes of that. I’ve been a bit lax on sending work out to publications these past couple of years, but it’s something I would like to do more of again.

GC Book Club March book

Onto reading, then, and I’ve read lots of great books so far this year, one of which was our February book choice for the Giant’s Causeway Book Club – the first in the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden, entitled The Bear and the Nightingale. This is an historical novel set in Russia and is rich with Russian folklore, mystery and adventure. It offers a fascinating insight into medieval life and conjures up lots of great imagery with its vast, snow-filled landscapes, although it certainly doesn’t shy away from the hardships of living through a Russian winter. Beauty sits right alongside brutality in this novel and for me, it was just a really great read.

Our March selection is also historical and is a gothic classic by Wilkie Collins – The Dead Secret. He wrote this novel just before his perhaps more widely known title, The Woman in White, and I believe it contains similar themes to this, so it promises to be packed full of intrigue and seems like perfect reading for the tail-end of winter…

The Sleeping Season book launchkelly

In other bookish news, my friend and fellow author, Kelly Creighton, is launching her latest novel – and her first police procedural – on Friday, March, 27 at No Alibis Bookstore in Belfast, so if you’re a crime fiction fan, then do come along! It will also feature discussion from crime writers Simon Maltman and Sharon Dempsey, so you can look forward to an evening packed full of all things crime-related.

Kelly’s book is called The Sleeping Season and is the first in her new DI Sloane Series, featuring Belfast Detective Inspector Harriet (Harry) Sloane. You can pre-order your copy here:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Season-Sloane-Book-ebook/dp/B081K8QQSR/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+sleeping+season&qid=1583256779&sr=8-1

Bookish surprise from Savidge Reads …

My last bit of bookish news relates to an unexpected windfall from Simon over at Savidge Reads (you can find his brilliant book-related YouTube channel here).

compSimon ran a giveaway competition over on his Instagram account a little while back and I’m delighted to say that I was randomly selected as the winner of that, so I’m eagerly awaiting the postman delivering my copies of two Stacey Halls novels. The giveaway included a signed copy of her first book, The Familiars (which I’ve already read, but I borrowed it from the library, so I’m excited about having my own copy as I really enjoyed this book), along with a proof copy of her latest novel, The Foundling, complete with Simon’s annotations (he interviewed Stacey at a recent event in England).

Suffice it to say that this bookworm loves getting free books, so thanks again to Simon for organising the competition!

Anyway, that’s all for now. More as I have it. 🙂

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Dreaming in words …

Books, books, books

In my last blog post (way back in early December!) I mentioned that I might list my top reads of 2019. However, we’re a little beyond the ‘end of year list period’ at this stage, so if you’d like to see what some of my favourite books from last year were, you can hop over to my Instagram account (linked in the sidebar to your right) as I did a wee post about it there. I read 115.5 books in 2019 and most of them I really enjoyed, so it was a good reading year! Here’s to another one.

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

Bear andOn the subject of reading, we’ve had two GC Book Club meetings since my last blog, including our first-ever December one, which was suitably festive with our book choice of Christmas at Miss Moonshine’s Emporium. Overall, everyone enjoyed the book – it was a nice cosy one to read at Christmas-time and the cynics in us forgave all those happy endings because of the season!! Our January read was a wildcard book as we all put a book title into a hat (because it was Christmas) and selected one randomly from that. As a result, we read Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and I have to say, it went down a treat with the book clubbers, even those who weren’t very familiar with The Handmaid’s Tale (book or TV series). It’s not a book I was personally planning to read but I did enjoy it, though for me, it won’t be a top book of the year.

Our February read is an historical fantasy novel called The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – inspired by a Russian fairy-tale. It sounds great, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into this one soon.

Dreamer’s Space

Dreamers space1

Inspired by Lissanduff

You might recall a project I mentioned last year that I was involved in with Big Telly Theatre Company and three other writers called Sea Gods, Shipwrecks and Sidhe Folk – Treasures of the Causeway, for which I wrote a prose poem inspired by the legends of a local historical site called Lissanduff earthworks, near my home. The poem has been recorded by local actors and will be installed at the site for people to hear, which is pretty cool. The project was slightly delayed but is set to launch this spring.

Anyway, in the meantime, Flowerfield Arts Centre’s first Springhall Artist in Residence – Corrina Askin – was inspired by my description of the site and went to visit it. She then incorporated the essence of Lissanduff into her own artistic project, entitled Dreamer’s Space, which is currently being exhibited at Flowerfield in Portstewart, with a permanent installation of her work also now in place. Dreamers space 2I enjoyed meeting up with Corrina in January to view her beautiful work and to hear about how my own work inspired a little of hers, which was lovely. It’s really nice to hear how creatives can influence each other’s work and the exhibition is something definitely worth seeing.

I’m currently working on another exciting project with Big Telly, but more on that to come …

Novel number three (NN3)

And so, to The Novel. Since my last blog I’ve edited a couple of short stories but writing-wise, I’ve really been focusing on editing my third novel – and adding more material into it. I’d left myself space to do this as the initial draft was much shorter than those of my previous books and inspiration has come at the usual odd moments and resulted in some very interesting ideas … As per usual, this work is done in the wee hours and on Sunday afternoons where it can be done, but it is still progressing and I’m happy with its shifting shape.

dreamer's space3

Wilbur!

My plan is still to send it out to some agents – the original goal was to do this in January but January has been stuffed full of copywriting projects and whatnot so I’m now gearing up to do this in February. However, it’s very possible I may publish the book later in the year (unless an agent snaps me up!), so watch this space.

There may also be another exciting bookish project in the pipeline, but more on that soon if it takes off as planned …

Music and Packham 

As writers, we always have to make time to work on our creative projects in and around our day jobs and whatnot, but if you really want to do something then you’ll prioritise that thing and just get on with it. Something I’ve let slide over the past *few* years has been my violin playing, so in December, I started practising again and have been taking lessons since then. It’s tricky, I’ll admit, fitting in lessons and practice on top of trying to fit in writing and reading, but guess what – most of the time I manage it and I love playing the violin, so this time around, I want to make sure I stick at it, so I don’t get out of practice again.

For me, music is just another creative pursuit which I enjoy and you can’t have too many of those, can you?!

Anyway, that’s about it for now… At the end of this month, I’m really looking forward to attending an event as part of the NI Science Festival in Belfast: Chris Packham – Pictures from the Edge of the World. I’ve been a fan of Chris since his Really Wild Show days and watch him and the team on Springwatch etc. throughout the year, so this will be a great event. I think his work as an environmental activist and wildlife supporter is fantastic and I really enjoyed reading his memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, a few years ago. So, this particular event is both a bookish and an environmentally-related treat for me, as we’ll be seeing some of Chris’ great wildlife photography as well as hearing him chat about all sorts of related (and possibly unrelated!) things.

Hopefully my next blog post will include a photo of my signed book and me and the man himself…

More as I have it. 🙂

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Autumn editing etc.

Novel update

Autumn is upon us at last and with it, my novel editing has begun and is indeed, ongoing. I’ve already completed round one of this on my hard copy printout but have yet to transfer the changes onto the computer. Best get on that!

In my defence, I’ve been hard at work ghost-writing a biography, which has been very interesting and a project I’ve much enjoyed, alongside all my copywriting work, but this also gives my manuscript space to breathe and allows me to approach it with fresh(ish) eyes once I get back to it. All the better for the editing.

I have, however, scribbled out a poem since my last blog and some bits of a new short story (abandoned at the moment but there to return to at some point), so the creative juices are still flowing.

LemnLemn Sissay book event

I did mean to post about this before now (!) but I very much enjoyed attending a reading and discussion event with Lemn Sissay at the Black Box in Belfast on Friday the 13th (lucky for some!), to mark the publication of his memoir, My Name is Why. Always the performer, Lemn kept the audience (it was a sell-out event, might I add) entertained with his witty asides, but also reined in the focus as necessary when discussing the harrowing accounts in his book, which explain how he grew up in care in England, despite his mother wanting him back when he was a baby …

My advice? Go read it, as it’s a powerful book and is peppered with Lemn’s beautiful poetry, which appears at the beginning of each chapter.

I got my copy of the book signed, of course, afterwards and was surprised but pleased when Lemn immediately remembered where we’d met before (at the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry) before I could even open my mouth. 🙂

Giant’s Causeway Book ClubKelly Creighton GC BookClub

I attended Lemn’s event with my friend and fellow author, Kelly Creighton, who was also our guest at the GC Book Club in September, where we discussed her novel, The Bones of It. We had a very interesting evening, with a reading from Kelly and then a Q&A session and chat. The book clubbers scored the novel afterwards, giving it a very respectable 8/10. Again, this is another one I recommend reading, if you haven’t already.

Our October book choice is The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley and we’ll be meeting a week earlier this month, as our regular spot clashes with Hallowe’en night itself and, well, the ghouls among us have things to be up to that evening! So, come along to the Causeway Hotel on Thursday, October 24 if you want to discuss this one… I haven’t started it yet myself, but plan to get stuck in this weekend after I finish my reread of the His Dark Materials trilogy (which I’m rereading ahead of the BBC 1 TV series and am very much enjoying again).

mindful-movement.jpgMindful movement 

Aside from all of that, I managed to skip away for an hour on International Mental Health Day on October 10 as the National Trust was hosting a ‘mindful movement’ session at the Causeway Hotel, led by one of our talented book clubbers, no less, Ettaline Hill. Ettaline is a Shiatsu Therapist and Qigong Teacher and she taught us some moves which I have to say definitely left me feeling more relaxed but also energised afterwards. It was a very busy week for me that week, but it was well worth taking time out, especially on that particular day.

Anyway, I think that’s my lot for now. More as I have it. 🙂

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Novel news and book club visit!

I’ve had a really good summer of reading this year and with one thing and another (read: life) blog-writing decided to take a break in the latter half! However, Autumn is starting to show her face and I for one am looking forward to the new season of fresh, cooling days, darker evenings and furtive scribblings before a crackling fire.

Novel number three updatebible-2989427_1920

Writing-wise, I’ve been busy typing up the first draft of my manuscript for novel number three (in dribs and drabs) but I actually hope to have that completed sometime later today. Then, the fun can really begin, with rewrites, new writing and editing, editing, editing… I do a light edit as I type it up, but really, the typing mostly helps with refreshing my mind about what the story looks like currently as a whole and where the gaps are. I’ve got loads of ideas for extra material that I want to add in and ways in which I can flesh out some of the characters, and this time around, I’ve left myself breathing space to do that, as the manuscript is shorter than it usually is at this stage in terms of word count. So, I’ve got a healthy amount of words to play around with and can add in new chapters and scenes without it becoming a massive tome!dfw-cs-group-nologo

With this being my third middle-grade novel I find that my writing style has definitely evolved since writing Magical Masquerade way back in early 2011. With MM I wrote a sprawling first draft which totalled around 140,000-ish words (yes, really) and which required a heck of a lot of cutting down before the proper editing even began. With Phantom Phantasia, the sequel, I wrote it a lot more swiftly and the initial draft came in much shorter than MM’s first draft simply because I had a clearer idea of where the story was going and I knew better how to approach writing a novel, having already spent years creating the first one…

As a result, PP took less time to write and although the final book ended up being a bit shorter than MM, this was just because I was wrapping up a story and it was as long as it needed to be. This third book will likely be longer than PP – maybe around the final length of MM or somewhere in-between the two. I won’t know until it’s finished but again, it’ll be as long as the story needs to be. (Note: Longer doesn’t mean less concise editing; regardless of length, editing should always be tight for every piece of writing you do).

Anyway, book three is blossoming slowly. I really like the idea of it still, which is always good, as once you immerse yourself in a story for months and more, there’s always the risk of getting tired of it! I’m not giving myself such stringent deadlines with this one, but you’ve gotta have some end goal in sight, otherwise things can just drag on indefinitely. And I do like a deadline. So, once I’ve typed the rest up today it’ll be straight into writing my extra scenes and fleshing it out a bit more, then typing those up and integrating them into the novel.

As this is currently a standalone novel and not part of an existing series my current plan is to submit it to agents when I’m finally satisfied with it. All being well, that will happen next Spring, but we’ll see how it goes. One step at a time.Causeway shop

In the meantime, I recently delivered a few more boxes of Magical Masquerade and Phantom Phantasia to the Visitors’ Centre at the Giant’s Causeway, so it’s great that those books are still hopping off the shelves there and getting read by readers around the world. If you can’t get to the North Coast, however, you can always find them at Amazon/The Book Depository etc. as both e-books and paperbacks. 🙂

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

We had a mixed bag of reviews from the GC Book Clubbers over the summer, with our July and August reads – Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell, which scored 8/10 and Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, which scored a more middling 5/10 (I gave it an eight myself!!). I enjoyed them both in different ways and found both books delivered fascinating insights into their characters. O’Farrell is one of my favourite authors and I think she excels at writing wonderfully rounded characters. This wasn’t my favourite book of hers (I’ve now read them all!) but I still really enjoyed it.

Levy’s book had a rather shocking ending which I for one didn’t see coming (in terms of who it concerned) and I liked how she achieved that shock without giving anything away in the lead-up to it. I thought she created tension well throughout the book, threading it through with dark humour and, for me, who enjoys delving into people’s minds, I enjoyed seeing things from the different characters’ POVs. They were all pretty unlikeable but getting into their minds gave you some understanding as to why they acted as they did.

September book club author visit!

Our September book choice is The Bones of It by NI author, Kelly Creighton, who is a very talented writer of short stories, novels and poetry. She is also a friend of mine and I read the book a few years ago when it was published, but regardless of that, I am a genuine fan of her work! I’m looking forward to reading this again as there’s been a nice gap since my first read and, what’s more, Kelly will be joining us at our next book club meeting, so everyone can quiz her on the book and her writing. 🙂 

The Bones of ItThe Bones of It is a psychological/crime thriller set in Northern Ireland which deals with the legacy of the Troubles in terms of how it has affected people’s mindsets and how they cope with living in its aftermath. It follows the story of a father and son and if you want to read the blurb in full and/or gift yourself a copy, you can do so here: https://amzn.to/2jYL9d8

If you wish to attend book club, it’s completely free, so just come along to the Causeway Hotel on the last Thursday of the month (in September that’ll be Thursday, 26th) and you’ll find us in the drawing room downstairs. As well as chatting with the group about that month’s read, the National Trust also provides free tea/coffee and sweet treats and of course, in September, you’ll have the added bonus of meeting the author. 🙂

Anyway, that’s all for now… I myself am looking forward to an event with Lemn Sissay next week in Belfast, having just read his memoir – My Name is Why. I met Lemn about six years ago when he was doing a poetry event in Derry (you can read my blog post on that here: https://clairesavagewriting.wordpress.com/tag/lemn-sissay/ ) so it’ll be great to hear from him again in what is sure to be a very interesting evening.

More as I have it. 🙂

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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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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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Writerly reflections…

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

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

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

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

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

Crumlin creative writing course

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

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

National Trust ‘Meet the Makers’ DayKids pic with MM

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

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

Phantom Phantasia book launch party

IMG_2784

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

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

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

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

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

More as I have it. 🙂

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Autumnal events

Book launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Magical Masquerade e-book

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

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

Love is Blind ARC

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

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

GC Book Club

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

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

Creative writing workshopscreative writing

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

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

Craft Day at the Causeway

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

And finally…

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

More as I have it. 🙂

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