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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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All about books

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

Giant’s Causeway Book ClubGC book club 1

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

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

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

Tishani Doshi reading

Tishani

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

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

Magical realism workshop

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

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

Irish Writers’ Centre self-publishing workshopScreenshot (6)

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

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

Magical Masquerade at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre

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

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

Visitor centre

Visitor Centre

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

Eastside Arts Festival reading

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

Phantom Phantasia update

dfw-cs-pp-cover-large

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

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

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

Heaney poetry anthologyheaney anthology

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

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

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

More as I have it. 🙂

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