Tag Archives: reading

Stories, stories, stories…

Submissions open for Christmas anthology

It’s been a few months in the planning but at last I can share the exciting news with you all that myself and fellow author, Kelly Creighton, are editing and publishing a new anthology of writing later this year. And … submissions are now open!

Sesheta logoYou can find all details about the project – and our new organisation, Sesheta – over on our website here: https://seshetawords.wordpress.com/

Essentially, when Kelly and I met for a catch-up last Christmas, we got to talking about writing (of course) and publishing, and from there we had the idea of creating what we believe just might be the first-ever Christmas anthology of short stories in Northern Ireland. It’s open for submissions from writers living in NI only, so if you’re from here and are interested, then head on over to the website!

GC Book ClubJunot Diaz

We’re still Zooming it with the GC Book Club and last month enjoyed discussing the graphic memoir, Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, which went down rather well – and a lot better than I was anticipating for a group who have mostly never read graphic books.

Our May read is a book by an author outside of the UK and Ireland – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz from the Dominican Republic. Our next meet-up is Thursday, May 28, so there isn’t long to go until I find out what everyone thought of it!

Bookworm pursuits

For those who are interested, I’m still going strong with my audiobook journey and am continuing to enjoy some great books in this format, alongside reading paperbacks and so on. I just finished the wonderful 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak and also recently listened to A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French and Here We Are by Graham Swift.

Anyway, that’s all for now. NI writers, get writing and submitting those festive stories, and everyone keep on reading! More as I have it. 🙂

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Words with sparkle …

Chris Packham at the NI Science FestivalCPackham

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

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

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

Book three edits

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

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

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

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

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

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

GC Book Club March book

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

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

The Sleeping Season book launchkelly

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

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

Bookish surprise from Savidge Reads …

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

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

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

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

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Dreaming in words …

Books, books, books

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

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

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

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

Dreamer’s Space

Dreamers space1

Inspired by Lissanduff

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

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

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

Novel number three (NN3)

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

dreamer's space3

Wilbur!

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

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

Music and Packham 

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

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

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

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

More as I have it. 🙂

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Winter writing

The festive season is upon us and, normally at this time of year, I’m blogging about the joys of curling up with a good book (or a notebook and pen to write) beside the fire … All of this is still relevant as we speak, but the real wintry weather isn’t yet upon us, despite it now being December, so the season feels a little out of kilter to me.christmas-tree

That being said, the fire is crackling in the evenings and today, the wind has picked up again here on the north coast so, although it might be reading 12 degrees (in December!!), I’m sure ‘winter proper’ is right around the corner…

Editing, editing, editing…

Since my last post in October (I somehow missed blogging in November!), I’ve been busy finishing off writing and editing the biography I was doing for a client and have also completed a structural edit on a fiction manuscript for another client. Now, that’s no excuse for not working on my own novel, as there’s always work on the go, but I haven’t done as much editing on that as I had planned. However, the edits are ongoing and I’m still happy with my progress on this – my Christmas ‘break’ will allow me more time to work on the book and get the first three chapters into shape for sending out next year to agents.

However… Having already published two novels independently, part of me is leaning back towards that option again, as I do like to be in control of my work! We’ll see how it goes, but at the minute, I still intend to send it out to a few people, anyway.

GC Book Club 

Since October, we’ve had both our October and November book clubs, reading The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley and One by Sarah Crossan. Of the two, One was much preferred by the group, as we felt The Loney promised more than it delivered and wasn’t really creepy enough for our Hallowe’en read! It had lots of atmosphere but the group was also dissatisfied by the ending and the various things left unanswered in the story. One, meanwhile, is a YA novel written in a poetic form and tells the story of conjoined twins, Tippi and Grace. The group was very surprised to find that they loved a YA book and, not only that, but one written in poetry, which I was very happy about!

Miss MoonshineI dislike labelling books as I do think it puts people off reading some of them. Children’s and Young Adult novels are just as suited to adult readers as those specifically labelled ‘adult fiction’ and you miss out on a lot if you don’t consider other genres. Also, lots of people don’t even consider reading poetry because of bad experiences at school, but there’s so much accessible poetry out there by modern writers and, again, you miss out on a lot by ignoring the genre. So, the lesson is… read widely and leave those preconceptions behind! 🙂

This year, we’re also meeting in December and our Christmas read is a collection of festive short stories by a group of UK authors (Authors on the Edge). The book is called Christmas at Miss Moonshine’s Emporium and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in! It’s also nice to be supporting the writers more directly, as they’ve published the book independently and, as a fellow indie author, I know that’s no mean feat!

More bookish stuff

Aside from all of that, I’ve been reading a lot of good books recently outside of book club and, I know I’m reading more when I might be writing, but the book bug has still got me at the moment and I’m sticking with it. I keep a book journal throughout the year, where I basically just note down each book read and score it out of five (I tried Goodreads but I’m a pen and paper girl and I prefer to keep my hard copy journal!), so I must tot those up and see how many I’ve read this year. I do this just for fun – I don’t set myself a reading goal, as that seems too much like giving yourself homework, even if it is nice reading homework!Santa

Maybe I’ll share my top ten reads of 2019 here on the blog. I’ll try to remember to do that amid the Christmas busyness but if I don’t, then you can keep up with all my bookish activities over on Instagram (link in the right sidebar). Re my own books (Magical Masquerade and the sequel, Phantom Phantasia), I’ve had some nice messages recently from people whose young readers have been loving these, so if you’re looking for some festive books to gift this Christmas, you can get these on Amazon/Book Depository etc. as both e-books and paperbacks. 🙂

Anyway, if I don’t blog between now and Christmas, have a great Yuletide and a happy New Year. Keep reading and writing (if writing you do) and enjoy the holidays! 🙂

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Autumn editing etc.

Novel update

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

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

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

LemnLemn Sissay book event

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

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

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

Giant’s Causeway Book ClubKelly Creighton GC BookClub

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

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

mindful-movement.jpgMindful movement 

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

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

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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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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!

GC BOOK CLUB 2

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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Snippets…

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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