Tag Archives: reading

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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GC Book Club & NN2…

There have been all sorts of bookish things happening over the past few months, which I can now share with you – although, if you follow me on social media then you’ll probably already know about them!


Giant’s Causeway Book Club

First up, the folks over at the Giant’s Causeway (which is a mere five minutes from my house), have launched a new book club, which I will be hosting on the last Thursday of each month. For a bookworm like myself, to have this on my doorstep is, you will agree, a dream come true! Our first book is ‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ by Ruth Hogan, which I have just finished, so I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts on this on June 28.

The idea is to read a variety of genres and encourage readers to pick up something they might not normally read, as well as those books they would more naturally gravitate towards. June’s meeting is now fully booked, which is great, and will take place in the lovely Drawing Room at the Causeway Hotel with, I am told, tea/coffee and buns, so what could be better?!

Thanks to everyone who shared the news on social media, and to the Coleraine Chronicle and Coleraine Times for covering the story both online and in their print publications. 🙂

Manuscript book2NN2

The second thing is that NN2 (Novel Number 2) is well and truly finished, edited/re-edited and awaiting – yes, you’ve guessed it – a wee bit more editing still. But it’s alive and kicking and gearing up for publication probably around autumn this year, with details TBC with regards to the book launch… I have hopes for where this will take place but am currently in the process of enquiring after my desired venue, so I will keep you posted!

What I can definitely say is that I plan to have the main launch on the North Coast, which is where it really should be at, given the huge inspiration the area has been for my books. Then we shall see if any other events can be arranged elsewhere…

Other things…

FullSizeRender (26)Other than all of that, I’ve been reading some great books recently and just uploaded my latest bookish video over on YouTube, chatting about the books I read in May. You can watch that here if you like: https://youtu.be/st-4OexbqFE (It’s a tad long what with all the reading I’ve been doing but you can always watch it in bits or fast-forward etc…)

There are other bits and pieces going on in the background, as there always are, but that’s the gist in the meantime! The cover designer for NN2 is also due to touch base with me soon, so we can get cracking on getting the new cover done. I have very specific ideas for this (as usual!) but I’m sure he will do as great a job as last time. 🙂


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It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the writing front, both with book things and poetry. In the past few days I enjoyed reading some of my own poems (in my first poetry slam!), along with a Seamus Heaney one, at an event in Bellaghy which celebrated 50 years of Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist collection, and also his work in general. Held at Bellaghy Bawn and organised by the Poetry House, the day-long event brought together poets and artists, musicians and chefs, with something for everyone to enjoy.

Bellaghy reading

Reading ‘Blackberry Picking’ by Seamus Heaney at Bellaghy Bawn .


Earlier in the week, I was also delighted to discover that one of my poems had been selected in the Fourth Annual Bangor Poetry Competition. It’s now hanging (handwritten and framed) in Blackberry Path Art Studios in Bangor, after I dropped it off yesterday morning, and will be exhibited there for two weeks following the official launch event this Friday evening. All of the poems will be subjected to a public vote to decide the winner, who will then read their work at the upcoming Aspects Festival.

As for the manuscript… my self-publishing journey has definitely begun, as I did yet more editing of the book over the past couple of weeks (I have no idea what number I’m on in edits at this stage… I just know it’s been enough that I’ve lost count!) and I found myself some beta readers, including a few ‘age-appropriate’ ones. (Gulp). So, we’ll see what the kids have to say about it all – and I know they’ll be honest (as kids always are!) and won’t spare my feelings, so fingers are firmly crossed…elf-478330_1280

I delayed emailing about copy-editing and cover design in the interim, as I wanted to get the beta readers sorted first, but did make contact with a few people before the weekend, as I know that most of these guys are unlikely to just be able to take you on as soon as you email them. You need to assume it could be a few months and indeed, the editor won’t be free until November and the cover designer October, so that’s why we plan ahead!

This is no rush job though… there’s still lots to be done and, all being well, I’m aiming for publication in spring 2017. However, we’ll see what happens. No-one knows how long the editing process will take and if it’s going to be done, then it’s going to be done right.

News as I have it… 🙂

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For the love of words…

On this St Valentine’s Day, when it’s traditional to make a concerted effort to show someone you love them, I thought my blog this week should pay homage to my love of words. In a more obvious way, that is, as one could say that it does this every week.

book-1169437_1280Whether it’s reading or writing; consuming fact, fiction, poetry or prose, there’s just something about words that presents the world in a new light – in a way that nothing else can. Words focus you in on the specifics – they reveal secrets you might otherwise never see or think to ask about. They draw you into other worlds – real and imagined – and introduce you to characters bizarre, ordinary and obscure. Words broaden the mind, create empathy, excite and enthral – they conjure up images that will never be the same from one mind to the next, and they teach us, inspire us and encourage us to ask questions.

Words make magic with language, are as colourful as any paint, and can be clear, abstract or laced with hidden meaning. book-1012275_1280

It’s a conundrum to ask if I prefer reading or writing, but I’d have to say, if made to choose, that reading would win out. Reading inspires me in my own writing and there’s so much more of value out there to read than I’m sure to ever produce. My bookcases at home are spilling over with books, their numbers being added to often from impulse buys at second-hand bookstores, high street book shops and anywhere else that books can be found.

If you have a love of words, then I believe your life will always be  enriched by it…


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Winter writing

With winter comes a closeting of oneself from the cold. For me, it’s a time to bury under layers and write and read by lamplight; feet warming by the steady flickering of fire after a freezing walk with my dog in snow, rain or hail… At this time of year, the evenings have drawn in and it’s dark by four in the afternoon, so it’s hard to resist the temptation to knock off early and indulge in more literary pursuits. There’s just something about the dark, I find, and the squirreling oneself away that sparks the imagination.evening-959028_1280

I find this kind of wintery environment very conducive to writing and while some writers may dismiss the ‘romantic notion’ of writing late at night, I simply write when I can and with my work schedule, that just happens to be in the darker hours. If you can write well, then the time of day makes no difference. If you have time in the morning, then great, but time is like fairy dust and is difficult to catch, so wherever you can find a few minutes, do so.

At the moment, I’m allowing ideas to flow freely, in the hope that once the festive period comes round and it’s finally time to have a holiday, I’ll be more than ready to spin some tales. As work ebbs and flows, it keeps more lengthy scribbling at bay, but it’s enough for now to have thoughts unravelling and for snippets of prose to be jotted down for future use. I’m also enjoying some short story collections, and am writing snatches of poetry – keeping an eye on the calendar all the while…

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Notebooks and novellas

photo (2)On a day when the wind is gusting round the house and the rain is making the coals sizzle in the hearth, there’s nothing better than seeking refuge on the sofa with a stack of books. It is November now after all, and up here on the north coast of Ireland it does get rather blustery! Knowing I have time on a Sunday to do my own writing and read for more than a few snatched minutes makes up for all the missed moments during the week, when work and other commitments consume, although every week is different of course.

Today, I edited and re-wrote elements of two of my recent childhood-inspired poems, as well as writing a new one, so I have my selection for submitting to the CAP poetry anthology judges later this month. More refining may follow, but the skeletons are now in place.

I also immersed myself in John Connolly’s Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2 – a wonderfully creepy tome filled with bookish novellas and short stories, which is just perfect to read on a day like today. Unlike some other supposedly chilling stories which I’ve read over the years without so much as a shiver down the spine, Connolly’s haunting tales always deliver, so I’m savouring this book while I can. Hopefully some of his skill will rub off in my own writing… There’s no harm in hoping. 🙂books-20167_1280

Speaking of my own stories, I’m very pleased to say that one of these will be published in the next edition of a magazine which champions new writing over here in Northern Ireland – SHIFT Lit – Derry – so I’ll be picking up my copy of that this weekend. It’s one I wrote a few years ago, when I began writing again in earnest. My short stories are usually a minimum of 2,000 words and the requirement for the magazine was around the 1,300 word mark, so to me it’s not quite flash fiction, but somewhere thereabouts. The story was one I’d always quite liked but never done anything with, and it was also around 1,500 words, so I edited it and tightened it up and was therefore very happy to hear it had found a suitable home.

I’ll also be dropping into a double book launch next weekend, as Sam Burnside reveals his latest poetry collection and children’s book, so more will follow on that!

Anyway, that’s my writing story this week… 🙂

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Meandering on…

Following on from last week’s flurry of poetic activity, I’ll admit, I haven’t been quite as proactive this week, although I did manage to pen four more poems and did a little bit of prose writing. I also managed to find Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters in my local second-hand bookstore on Saturday (along with a few great books from some Irish writers, including Edna O’Brien and Colum McCann!).

photo (3)I really need another bookcase…

There are so many great books, stories and poems out there already that it seems sometimes futile to be attempting to add to their number, but then, this is why it’s so important to mix contemporary writing with what has gone before when reading. The oldies are great, but new writers shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored, as they’re the next link on the literary chain. However, on the other hand, modern writers shouldn’t, I think, be consumed without any enjoyment of their predecessors as well. It’s a balancing act, as I really believe the best reading experience is to have a blend of both. You can’t read everything in your lifetime but, well, you can try!

As for me – I’m currently in somewhat of a ‘what’s gone before’ phase, reading the likes of Hughes and Edna O’Brien and also just now, a book from the 80s by Polly Devlin, although I’m also reading the latest short story collection from Tramp Press and have got a few other new novels waiting on the sidelines. With books, as you can see, I have no issue with simultaneous reading!

Meanwhile, my own writing tootles along somewhere in between all of this, being both inspired and frightened off after reading all of these literary greats… 🙂

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Writerly styles…

imageI may be 30 years late to this book, but The Magician by Raymond E. Feist is one that has always caught my eye over the years and finally, I picked it up in a pile of secondhand books a month or so ago. I’m now reading it, alongside Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, and wondering why I didn’t do this sooner…

The books are poles apart in their content and style, one also being a rather lengthy novel, the other a collection of short stories. With the first, I slipped into the story immediately and am keen to keep reading, but with the latter, I’m finding it harder to love. Which isn’t to say I don’t like it, but the style is terrifically different – a rambling type of prose that I thought I’d really like, given I’m a fan of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.image

It’s good to read writing that challenges you though, as well as the writing that fits like an old shoe, so I think I’ve got a good mix of that here! I’m still pushing on with my own writing, and managed to pin down a story this morning that I’d made notes on a while back – a story unlike the ones in my recently submitted collection.

I read on with gusto and I continue to be inspired! 🙂


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Nothing stranger than fiction…

STRANGEHaving today rewritten a few chapters of my hitherto shelved children’s fantasy novel (set aside the past year to focus on my short stories and poetry), and being on the final leg of re-reading a magical classic (in my opinion), I’ve allowed my head to be filled with all sorts of strange ideas and fantastical ‘facts’ recently. And it’s been brilliant.

There’s nothing so strange as fiction, I believe, and it’s great fun to both read and write. The possibilities are endless and you can always bet on something unexpected lurking around the next corner. Nowhere is this more the truth than in Susanna Clarke’s novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is the book I’ve been re-reading this week. Let’s just say, it’s a bit of a door-stopper, and as it’s been 10 years since I read it last, it’s been like entering Clarke’s world for the first time again. You can imagine how great that is, when it’s a book you know you love – you just can’t remember the particulars of why…

Anyway, for those Strange and Norrell fans out there, you’ll know that tonight was the BBC’s airing of the first episode of the book, which has seemingly taken those past 10 years to bring to the screen. Peter Jackson managed to get Lord of the Rings condensed to film, but he struggled with Norrell & Strange, so it fell to the creator of Sherlock to do the deed. Library

I’m always hesitant when books are brought to life for film or TV, in case they meddle too much and, well, you know, change how you see the characters etc etc. I am, however, pleased to see that Strange, Norrell, Childermass and the gentleman with the thistle-down hair have stepped off the page and onto the TV in fine form and I can’t wait to see how the next bit of the story is shown.

I’m not often one to re-read books, especially long ones like Clarke’s, but when the writing’s this good, it’s worth it. It’s helped to re-inspire my own writing and has served as a timely reminder of those limitless possibilities in creating fiction. Well worth a read if you haven’t yet enjoyed it!


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Reading feeds writing

library-425730_1280Well, I didn’t give in to speed reading but I have to say – I fairly flew through my book list over the end of the Christmas holidays and into the New Year and am now on the final novel – The House Where It Happened, by Martina Devlin.

It just goes to show how much reading you can get done at your leisure when you have a little time to spare, but as always at this time of year, it makes me more mindful of the need to set that time aside throughout the year. Holidays allow for more reading, but let’s not leave the bulk of it til then!

I had also intended to write a story or two over the break and lo and behold, my creative juices were in full flow and I put this down to all that reading. As writers, we know you need to read to write… it’s how we learn the way of stories and develop our own style, but sometimes, it’s good to be reminded of just how important this is.incubator

After reading my festive book list, I managed to commit three new stories to paper and, while I’m happier with two of them than the one in between, the point is – I have three new stories to work with and they came all the more easily because I was reading constantly. My stories aren’t related to what I read, in that the subject matter is different – the point is, reading feeds writing.

I don’t know if anyone else has been similarly inspired over their holidays, but it’s been a fruitful time for me and I’m planning to keep this up!

PS In other happy writing news, on New Year’s Day the editor of The Incubator journal in NI (link in my blog sidebar) asked me to become their features editor, so I am delighted to say I’ll be interviewing a few Irish authors over the course of the year for this 🙂

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