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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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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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Bookish wrap-up and review

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

Big Telly Theatre project

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

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

Riverside Readings at Ulster UniversityMD

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

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

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

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

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

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

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

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

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

And so, to the review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Balancing the books…

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

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

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

David Mitchell at Heaney HomeplaceDavid Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant’s Causeway Book Cluboranges

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Phantom Phantasia …

Usually [well, ok, the one other time I published a book 🙂 ] – I reveal my book cover on this blog, but a few days ago I decided to share it on my Facebook page and the response has been wonderful. So, without further ado, if you don’t follow me on social media and haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

dfw-cs-pp-cover-large

The title, as you can see, is Phantom Phantasia and again, this time around I did things a little differently. Last time, I announced the title before the book cover reveal but this time I thought I’d do it all together. 🙂

Design for Writers created the cover for Magical Masquerade and did a great job on that, so of course, I went to them again for Phantom Phantasia. I do tend to have a very specific idea of what I want the covers to look like and for this novel I was keen to continue the silhouette style, to ensure continuity with book one. Also, because I think it looks really good. I also wanted to split the cover to reflect the story – portraying the underwater element (yes, spoilers, but secretive though I like to be, I realise we have to give some things away to entice readers, lol!) and the starry sky.

Andrew at Design for Writers is great, as I knew down to the exact creature what I wanted on the cover, and he conjured up a fantastic design based on our chats. I absolutely love it – the style, colours and how it all comes together. I hope you do too!

One of the things I love about publishing independently is the complete control you have over every element of the process (sales aside). As I knew exactly what I wanted for the cover I’ve ended up with something that I’m delighted with and while I took advice from Andrew on various aspects, the overall design is what I’d envisioned (only much better of course!). It does take time to perfect, though it was quicker this time as the title font was the same as book one, but you still have to consider the colour scheme, general design and layout, write the tagline, source any cover quotes (I have one pending), write the blurb (see below) and also, any other taglines.
dfw-cs-pp-cover-wrap

I’m a copywriter and journalist and I still found myself musing for days over the tagline on the front of the book and the tiered one on the back. It’s easy to glance at a book and think it’s straightforward to come up with a one-liner that draws the reader in and makes them want to read the story. It’s a tricky old business and takes time to craft, with multiple revisions – even for creative people used to doing it! It’s all that behind-the-scenes stuff that no one else sees which makes up a lot more work in creating your book cover. Personally, I find mulling over it all on my evening dog walks very beneficial. Anyway, I hope it all works, but I, at least, am happy with the content!

In terms of where PP is at now in the publication process, well, it’s been edited, edited and edited some more…

It’s been sent to a reviewer for a cover quote.

I’ve formatted it for my paperback so I can send off for my proof copies as soon as I get the cover quote through (this will be checked, however, before publication by a professional formatter, as those pesky words always end up creating chaos and don’t fit the corners of the page where they should!).

Once the proofs are with me, it will be proofread by a few pairs of eyes before I approve it for publication and then…

I hope to publish it in October, with a book launch at the start of October. I’m planning this out as we speak as well, so it’s all go! Although I did all this just over a year ago, it’s surprising the things you forget, particularly with timings. I probably booked my cover designer a little early again but he had certain slots available and I knew the next one would be too late. I also have to consider delivery times from the US for my proofs and final print copies, so I have them for the launch in time, and I need to ensure that the main sales channels are live before I go announcing that it’s published.

It’s a long process – enjoyable (for me) but also a bit stressful!

It might seems like a fairly fast turnaround for book two, but part of this is because I’ve done it before. I was keen to publish my sequel to MM about a year or so after book one and by October it will be a year-and-a-half since MM came out. Once I started writing Phantom Phantasia, however, the story came to me quite quickly and I was writing more concisely as I subconsciously knew how many pages I needed per chapter. Which isn’t to say I wrote analytically at all – each chapter is the length it needs to be and some are shorter or longer than others – but I got into a rhythm and it seemed to work well for me.

The other thing is that, as I said before, I’m a copywriter and journalist by trade – I write a lot of words/stories every day so I’m used to writing quickly and writing well (which I think I’m ok to say without sounding precocious because I wouldn’t be earning a living from writing if I wasn’t good at it!). So, there’s that. 🙂

Anyway, this has turned into a really long post, which I didn’t intend at all! If you’re still with me, then thanks. Stay tuned for more bookish news soon! I have the inaugural meeting of the new Giant’s Causeway Book Club tomorrow evening, which I will be hosting for the Causeway. (If you’re interested, the book we were reading for this is The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan:)). I’m also planning to record a few more BookTube videos soon and there are some other things in the pipeline too.WA Lit Crawl

I also forgot to share details of a recent event I did with Women Aloud NI members at the Belfast Book Festival, as I haven’t blogged here for a few weeks… We read at Belfast’s very first Lit Crawl and it was lovely to hear new work from other writers and soak up the atmosphere. 🙂

More as I have it!

 

 

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Whittling away …

Women Aloud NI Community Day

Women writers everywhere – and lots of bookish talk. 🙂

WAagm

WANI board members

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

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

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

NN2

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

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

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

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

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

Reading notesportrait

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

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

 

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