Tag Archives: storytelling

Celebrating women writers

International Women’s Day events

This time last week I was in the midst of celebrating International Women’s Day with a collection of women writers from the North Coast, so this week, I thought I’d reflect on how it all went.

Claire Savage, Bernie McGill and Margot McCuaig at Waterstones.

With Bernie McGill and Margot McCuaig.


All of the writers taking part were members of Women Aloud NI, which you will know all about if you read this blog regularly but if not, just click the linked text above. Basically, it aims to raise the profile of women writers from Northern Ireland and last week’s events are one example of how this is done.

Anyway, we gathered at Waterstones Coleraine, where the staff once again kindly hosted us for the afternoon, talking about our work and sharing it with members of the public by reading short extracts. First up was a panel discussion entitled A Sense of Place which saw myself and Portstewart author Bernie McGill discuss how the local landscape has influenced our work with Glasgow-based filmmaker and novelist, Margot McCuaig. Margot splits her time between Scotland and Rathlin Island on the North Coast, where she has her roots, and is also heavily inspired by the rugged landscape on this northerly part of Ireland.

Back (L-R) Claire Savage, Elaine Donnelly, Antoinette Bradley, Hilary McCollum, Anne McMaster, Bernie McGill, Yvonne Boyle. Front (L-R) Julie Agnew, Mandy Taggart and Jane Talbot.

Some of the read-a-thon crew.


It was great to have the opportunity to chat about this and to hear from Margot and Bernie about their writing processes, but of course, all too soon, our time was up and it was on to the next event – a read-a-thon filled with everything from poetry and prose, to memoir and travel writing.

If you’ve never been to a read-a-thon before then you really should give it a go as it provides a flavour of a wide variety of writing and introduces you to lots of great new work. We each read from our work for up to five minutes, with timing carefully controlled by Women Aloud NI director, Jane Talbot. It was lovely to see a healthy crowd assembled for each of the events and hopefully, some of them will have been inspired to look up one or more of the writers in attendance and check out their work.

Magical Masquerade in the library

Claire reading

Reading from MM.

Women Aloud is a great support for women writers and, as well as our public Facebook page, we also have a private members group, where we can chat about all sorts of writing-related things. And so it was that, during a chat last week about getting books stocked in our local libraries, I was reminded that my own book is available in branches throughout Northern Ireland and I’ve never really told anyone about it!

You may recall that I took part in a Dublin Book Festival event last November, which was held at Portstewart Library. Libraries NI very kindly bought in 35 copies of Magical Masquerade, which were given to a class to read before the event. Those copies were subsequently dispersed throughout the Libraries NI branches so, if you’d like to have a read, then please do call in and pick up a copy! And … if your branch doesn’t have any, then feel free to request that they get some in. 🙂

The sequel…

Which brings me onto the next instalment of Felicity’s adventures. Writing is continuing to progress with NN2 (Novel Number 2) and I’m on the downward slope to completion of the first draft. My aim is to be typing up the completed handwritten manuscript in April, which will see the first cycle of editing, as I find that once you start typing it up, you make little changes along the way. Once typed, it will then rest a while, before the serious editing, re-editing and, well, editing again commences.

The story has taken another turn recently into an area that I just hadn’t predicted and to me, this is all part of the joy of writing. I know my destination, but my pen continues to present me with fabulous new ways of getting there. (Well, I hope they’re fabulous – at the minute, I certainly think so anyway, but we will see what future editing Claire says!)

Bits and pieces

Other than that, I’m very busy reading and yes, I managed to upload a couple of BookTube videos recently, so you can watch those here if you feel so inclined: http://bit.ly/2HBVYbv 

I may also be getting involved in another exciting bookish project, but more on that if it comes to fruition… Apologies for being cryptic but I’ll let you know when I know more myself!Culture NI pic

And … if you missed it, or are interested, I interviewed NI Children’s Writing Fellow, Myra Zepf, and also wrote a little about my own path to becoming a published author for Culture NI recently, as part of its creative careers initiative for Creativity Month this March, so you can read that here: http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/features/literature/why-theres-no-right-way-becoming-writer

Think that’s all for now! 🙂




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A very bookish winter…

As the year finally begins to wind down, I’m looking forward to lots of things this holiday season – and most of them involve books; both the reading and the writing of. Also, however, the gifting of, as I’m taking part in a little Secret Santa with a few fellow writers from the Women Aloud NI group, and am of course giving some books to a few family members too.

Book gifting…

On the subject of book gifting, forgive me if I just add in here that, if you have a young reader (9-12) who loves magical adventure stories, then my own book, Magical Masquerade, will still arrive with you before Christmas if you order it on Amazon this week or next! The link to purchase is here if you’re interested: http://amzn.to/2AriG3s  🙂

Reading chapter one…MM chapt 1

Also, if you’d like to get a little taster of what MM is like, then I recorded myself reading chapter one last week over on my YouTube channel, which you can view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN3YK_JFl4U&t=170s

Memento gift shop

A few copies of MM are also now available at Memento gift shop in Portrush, which is just lovely, and Maggie who runs the shop has displayed it very nicely in the window and in the kids’ section.

Memento shelf

Arts Council NI Christmas Gift Guide for 2017

I was also delighted to see that Damian Smyth, head of literature at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, included Magical Masquerade on his bookish gift guide for 2017. There are a wealth of talented authors on this list, so I was very chuffed to see myself alongside them! More ideas for gifting if you’re that way inclined…

You can read the full list/article here: http://artscouncil-ni.org/blog/christmas-gift-guide-books

Writing update

Other than that, there isn’t very much else to update you on this month. I’ve been finishing up some work projects and writing bits and pieces of book two, but I’m really going to get my teeth into that next week, when I take my Christmas holidays at last (I work pretty much throughout the year so my main holiday is at Christmas… when I end up writing anyway, though it is fiction rather than copywriting 🙂 ).

I’m pleased with the way the story is going, although I have to just keep on with it and resist the temptation to refine it as I go along. At this stage, it’s just all about getting that first draft on the page, and then the fun of editing and rewriting can begin. Notebook one is almost filled!Memento window


I’ve had some great reviews from young and older readers alike about MM throughout the year, but I thought I’d just share the most recent one from Amazon with you below, as it’s a lovely example of how the story can resonate with a child even if they don’t read it themselves. 🙂

‘An exciting, stimulating read’

‘I just finished reading this book to my seven-year-old and I have never seen her so carried away by a story.

‘The novel has a strong and simple structure, where each chapter is a new episode in Felicity’s journey, usually involving meeting a new character. The different settings and characters are richly imagined and provide constant contrast and fresh challenges for Felicity. I liked the little touches of Irish folklore. Felicity also makes friendships along the way, which gets the child reader even more emotionally invested.

‘My daughter was wowed by the revelation at the end of the story. All in all, an exciting, stimulating read for the younger age group.’

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I’m delighted to be able to share my book trailer for Magical Masquerade this week, which has been created by my talented cousin, Laura Crossett, over at Blurbox Media and Design.

Book trailers are a relatively new thing, I think, and can be done in all sorts of ways. Some authors like them, some don’t. It’s like everything I guess – each to their own. Personally, I think they’re another fun way to create awareness about your book – especially for children’s books – and I prefer trailers which are kept short and simple, and without any spoilers of course.

Anyway, I asked Laura to help me out with a trailer for Magical Masquerade and after we’d discussed our ideas, sourced the music and she put it all together in an animation, this is the final result! I love it – and I hope you do too.

Newspaper coverage

I was also very pleased to have last week’s school visit to Kilross Primary featured in the Mid Ulster Mail newspaper. You can read the story here if you wish. I’ve also been interviewed for another publication this week, with pics taken of both me and the pup, so stay tuned for more details on that!

Radio interview

I’m also looking forward to chatting with Denis McNeill about Magical Masquerade over on Q Radio this Thursday (February 23), which will be airing at about 11.25am to be precise and will last for about four minutes. Wish me luck!

Magical Masquerade book trailer



Animation: Laura Crossett from Blurbox Media & Design

Book cover design: Andrew Brown from Design for Writers

Book trailer soundtrack: Music from 3KTrack-Exclusive, purchased from Envato Market


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Author visit…

So, this week’s blog post is coming to you a little later on a rather blustery Sunday evening as I’ve just finished going over the final copy-edited manuscript of Magical Masquerade! (I say final, but we’ll not speak too soon…)

Anyway, it feels good to have that done as it’s getting closer to the time when I discover the joys of formatting and get to send off for my proof copies!


With Principal Anne Crossett and the P5-P7 pupils of Kilross Primary


In the meantime, book proof or no book proof, I’ve already enjoyed my very first school visit as an author and I do say enjoy, because I found it really fun. On Friday I visited Kilross Primary School just outside the village of Tobermore, where I spent the afternoon with pupils in the P5 – P7 classes. They had prepared lots of questions for me and also came up with a good few on-the-spot ones as well, which was great.

img_0954I explained about the writing process and even got to act as teacher for a while, using the whiteboard to explain basic story structure and character profiles.

The kids then had a go at creating their own character and the beginning of a story, and I gave out a couple of notebooks and pens to the top two. Hopefully it will inspire them to keep writing! My attempts at homemade bookmarks for Magical Masquerade also seemed to go down well and each pupil got one of those to take away. The blow-up cover I’d printed off for them to see also seemed to go down well… Oh, and I read a couple of extracts from MM as well.

Next time, they’ll get a copy of the book for their school library. 🙂img_0964

This week I’ve also been working on another promo element for the book, which I’ll be sharing with you soon, so that’s something else to look forward too…

Meanwhile, aside from working on my own book, I’ve also acquired a fair few new books for my TBR, thanks to getting some vouchers for birthday and discovering a great book-tuber called Piera Forde, whose recommended reads are now (mostly) piled up in my living room.

I’ve also ordered my very first FairyLoot YA fantasy-fiction-themed subscription box, which will arrive in March and will contain a new release HB book along with a lot of bookish goodies. It also happens to be their one-year anniversary box, so is going to be that little bit extra-special. Can’t wait for this to arrive!img_0925

Going back to MM, I’m really very happy about all the lovely comments I’ve had since last week, when I shared the cover for Magical Masquerade, so thank you everyone for that. Although the countdown to actually getting my hands on a physical book is now closer than ever, I still won’t actually believe it until I see it. On that, however, I’ll definitely keep you posted. 🙂

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Today’s post is all about one thing really – revealing the book cover for Magical Masquerade!

Having been quite organised in this regard, the cover was actually completed before Christmas, but I was keen to get a couple of quotes for it, so decided it was best to (a) see if my chosen reviewers would agree to read the book and (b) see if they would say anything nice about it….

Why was this so important? Well, to me, it’s very important, as cover quotes often entice me to pick up a book by a new author, if I know of the writer who has reviewed the book, and like his or her work. I trust their judgement and take a chance on an unknown.

As a writer who is going down the self-publishing route and isn’t exactly a household name, I find that having cover quotes on my own books also gives me added confidence in my work. Authors I admire have read the book and agreed to associate their own names with it, which, let’s face it, they wouldn’t do if it was sub-standard.

Anyway, I was delighted that the two authors I asked to contribute a cover quote both agreed to do so and were both incredibly kind in what they said. I’ve just lifted an excerpt from their reviews for the front, but you’ll be able to read what they said in full when Magical Masquerade is published, as I’ll be including these within the book.

Cover contributors

Carlo Gébler is a multi-talented writer whose bio (like my other reviewer), you’ll just have to read online (if you click on his name, I’ve linked to one), as he’s done rather a lot when it comes to writing…. He was actually one of the first authors I ever interviewed, when I started my job as a reporter at the Coleraine Chronicle, and from the very start, I liked his forthrightness when it came to talking about writing as a career. He tells it like it is and doesn’t sugar-coat the realities of being a working writer. I liked that honesty.

I also really enjoy his writing, which varies from journalism and plays, to adult fiction and yes – children’s fiction (he’s a former Bisto Children’s Book Award-winner no less). I wasn’t sure if he’d agree to review MM or indeed, like it, but amazingly, he did and he did.

Felicity McCall is another writer who has an extensive portfolio, including journalism, YA (young adult) fiction and plays. Coincidentally, she also shares the same first name as my protagonist, which is in itself quite random, as Felicity isn’t a name I would say is very common! Felicity read the first chapter of Magical Masquerade a few years ago, when I attended one of her writing workshops at the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry. She gave very positive feedback then as well, and I was very happy when she agreed to contribute a few words for the cover.

So, my thanks to both Carlo and Felicity – and also to Andrew Brown from Design for Writers, who probably didn’t realise what he was letting himself in for when he agreed to do the design work! (I am nothing if not a perfectionist…)

Anyway, here it is – the cover. I hope you like it. 🙂


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Bookish bits and bobs….

Well, it’s almost the end of the month and I’m looking forward to seeing The Ghastling journal in the flesh pretty soon, especially as they’ve had my story very beautifully illustrated by this issue’s featured artist, Anouk van der Meer. Here’s a little teaser of what that looks like!


Aside from this, I’ve been working with my book cover designer to get things wrapped up that end, as I’m hoping to reveal what Magical Masquerade will actually look like in my next post…. Quotes are being added onto that as we speak (from professional authors that I am very excited about), so next time we meet, I fully intend to be able to show this to you at last!

I’m also working on some more promo content for MM – nothing too flashy as I’m on a very tight budget – but hopefully there’ll be a little extra something to help with the online promotion of that in the run-up to publication day. I’ll keep you updated on that one but enough for now because – spoilers. 🙂

Women Aloud NI

Things are also progressing nicely with the Women Aloud NI events in March and while full details of these will be announced in February, I can share this lovely image below, which the Irish Writers’ Centre has created to promote the Dublin event. (The link to that is here: http://irishwriterscentre.ie/collections/frontpage/products/international-womens-day-women-aloud-ni )


I’m really looking forward to this – not least because I’ve never actually visited the Irish Writers’ Centre before (geography does tend to get in the way….) and it’s doing lots of great things for Irish writers north and south of the border.

Literary Salon


Some of the literary salon writers.

This week I also attended the inaugural Literary Salon at the Thinking Cup Café in Belfast.

The idea of this is to connect local writers and run regular monthly events – I’m not quite sure how it’s going to proceed, as the original organiser has since moved on to pastures new, but the group seems willing to connect and create a community, so we’ll see what happens.

It was a great evening of writing chat anyway and I got to meet some new faces, which is always nice, as well as catching up with some I already know.


With fellow writer, Erin Burnett.


Anyway, I think that’s my lot for now. Things are definitely progressing with the book (which is still with the copyeditor and expected back soon!), so I need to go back and reassess my list of things to do, as things ticked off are generally quickly replaced by new things hitherto forgotten or unthought of…


Lovely artwork at the Thinking Cup Café.

Yesterday morning, for example, was spent on the chilly north coast getting some new author photos taken, so I can have them ready for marketing and promo purposes as needs be (she says hopefully!). For things like this, I’m very grateful to friends and family for pitching in and assisting. It does come in handy when you have a professional photographer in the family….

More as I have it!


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Mrs NettleBed’s Year

Nettlebed coverNow, we all know I love a good children’s story, and that I’m a big fan of Enid Blyton and fantastical tales…

Well, I recently read a brilliant little book, published by Derry writer, Sam Burnside, on December 1. Entitled Mrs NettleBed’s Year, the book is a collection of 20 short stories, which take us through the year with the magical and mysterious Mrs NettleBed of the title.

Where did she come from?

‘One day she was not there; the next day she was there. Brother Owl was the first to see her. He said she was tall and thin. Her dress was, he said, “decorated with nettle leaves.”‘

Deep in The Woods, Mrs NettleBed lives in her ‘tall and wobbly looking’ house, where she does her best to help her neighbours – be it rabbit, fox or otherwise – and tries not to lose her temper when things don’t always go quite right.

She may break her leg in Spring and have a Spoiled Summer Day, but then again, Mrs NettleBed also bags a bargain in Summer, enjoys a birthday party in the Autumn and tells a story about The Making of the Stars and the Moon in Winter.

What I love about this collection is that the chapters are snappy – usually no more than two pages long – so are perfect for reading to children of any age as a bedtime story. Inspired by the Brer Rabbit-style of stories from the past (which I also remember reading and loving!), they’re timeless, they tell a story and they also carry with them, little snippets of wisdom.

Sam Burnside

Sam Burnside

As Sam himself says: “These stories are meant to be read by children, but also to children. Sharing with an audience, especially across the generations, has always been important in the realm of storytelling. So has the sense of theatre – of being there in the moment, together with others, communing and growing and exploring in the world of the imagination.”

Mrs NettleBed’s Year is a delightful book written by an acclaimed poet and long-time renowned writer from Northern Ireland. A writer who, incidentally, founded the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry-Londonderry because he wanted everyone to have the chance to engage with literature and enjoy the magic of words…

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Sense of Place

When you write, how do you choose your location – and I don’t just mean the choice between the background chatter of a coffee shop or the secluded quietness of a study – I mean, how do you decide on where to set your story and find a sense of place?800px-Balloonreflection

With the deadline looming for my short story competition, I scratched a few pages out in the week past, but time, may I say, just keeps on getting the better of me. To be fair, my ‘free’ time has been caught up with journalism, but there has been little time for the more creative. However, for me, scribbling a few lines just as I’ve decided it really is time to hit the sack, often turns into a spurt of inspiration, which almost makes up for the lack of dedication throughout the week…

I was chatting this week to a young poet (El Gruer – no stranger to this blog!) who is taking part in the 4 Corners Festival in Belfast this Saturday. This year’s festival is focusing on the importance of storytelling, particularly in Belfast, given the troubled background the city has and the myriad stories people have to tell as a result. The brief for El’s event is as follows:

‘Where there are people there are stories, where there are stories there are songs, where there are songs there are people searching – for where they belong’.

El, being Scottish, will speak of how a sense of place influences her poetry and how her perspective on storytelling differs because she is, in effect, an outsider living inside somewhere else. Place affects our writing.Eljpg

With this in mind, the question is – what influences where you place yourself in a story and how you settle on a place from which to tell it? How much do we draw on our own experiences and how much do we try to distance ourselves from them in our storytelling? Can we really distance ourselves from them?

One of my new followers on Twitter has published three very successful novels and has travelled the world researching the sense of place for his tales. I heard an interview on the radio last week with a crime writer who also said he would categorically never write about anywhere in his books which he hasn’t visited in person. Readers can tell right away if you’re being authentic, he said – they know if you have truly created somewhere the way it really is.

I would agree that it adds authenticity to writing if you can describe in great detail, or simply describe in a realistic way, places which feature in your stories. It also, dare I say it, makes writing a little easier, because you don’t have to conjure up a whole new location – you simply draw on your own memory of a place and your experiences of it.

This is good and it is what I have drawn on for my short story entry. It is inspired, but is not completely true to, events I myself have experienced, and in a place that I know very well. In my children’s novel, too, I set my character in a place close to where I live – her home is akin to my home. However, being a fantasy adventure story, the tale soon takes her out of the ‘real world’ and into a world which I had to create myself – which was both freeing and fun.

A sense of place is key to any story, but I think that as long as it is evoked richly and takes readers to where you want them to be, does it really matter if the actual place exists? You can draw on real experiences and apply them to a made-up place. You can create an entirely new place and make up how you think someone would live there. You can write about somewhere you’ve visited or where you live.sky

As for how you place yourself within the tale, well – I’ve touched on this before in an earlier blog – but placing yourself on the periphery and looking in, is a good approach. Distance yourself enough from the story to see it as a reader might. Don’t become so immersed that you lose yourself in the writing and therefore lose your own sense of place within it.

Ultimately, in any book we read, we are all searching for a sense of place – whether it is a place we wish to explore, somewhere we want to escape to, or somewhere we really don’t want to be but are curious enough to visit it because we know that it is not real – as real as it may seem on the page…

So, how do you find your sense of place in writing? I think that often, it might just find you.


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Musical storytelling

Every once in a while you meet someone whose work impacts upon you so much, you just have to spread the word.

At the turn of the New Year, a post from the writer, Damian Gorman, caught my attention on Facebook. He gave a glowing review of a Belfast-based singer/songwriter who had just produced her third album, inspired by real-life stories. I decided to investigate.

What I discovered, after listening to some of her music online, and subsequently meeting the artist – Fionnuala Fagan – for a chat, was some of the most heartfelt and emotive music I have ever heard… and also some of the best storytelling.

FionnualaFionnuala’s novel style in the three albums she has produced in this format – Homebird; Stories of the City: Sailortown; and Dreaming Protected Me – involves interviewing people about certain aspects of their lives and then taking these transcripts and composing beautiful folk music around them. The result is impressive.

It also offers a different way of storytelling, which not only preserves the tales told for generations to come, but adds an extra intensity with the haunting melodies which carry the lyrics along. Yes, many artists tell stories in their songs, or base them on real life, but Fionnuala uses verbatim – that is, more or less, word for word – what her interviewees have told her, which creates greater authenticity and tells the audience about something important which actually happened in the past – in that person’s own dialect and language.

For me, it is a reminder that short stories aren’t confined to the page, but can be given another vibrant life in music, subsequently reaching new audiences in the process. The essential art form is the same though in many ways. How best should this story be told? How to arrange the music around it? How to highlight the key elements and how to make sure the tale has its beginning, middle and end? In less than five minutes.

The first CD I listened to was Homebird. Having spoken with Fionnuala over coffee in the MAC one afternoon (Belfast’s Metropolitan Arts Centre), I had already been irrevocably drawn into the story by her telling of it. Her grandmother was just 19 years old when her mother and father and nine siblings sailed to America to begin a new life, as times were hard after the Second World War. She was left alone in the south of Ireland, in Cork, her heart breaking – her mother’s scream of anguish at having to leave her eldest child as the train pulled away, still ringing in her ears as she stepped back inside the family home afterwards – for the first time, hearing her footsteps echo in what had once been a busy, noisy house.

She was a homebird you see – and she didn’t want to leave.

The rest of the story is brought to life beautifully in Fionnuala’s music, as are the stories of the people of Sailortown – a dispersed Belfast community who lost their dock-side homes to industrial development and never got the rebuilds they had been promised. It is a place I had never heard of, but which I know feel I know intimately, having heard the stories of those who once lived there, their memories of it and how life unfolded in this formerly bustling part of the city. It is a part of history preserved and which I would probably never have known about, but for the genius idea of a local musician.Dreaming Protected Me

Meanwhile, her most recent work – Dreaming Protected Me – portrays the stories of men and women affected by war – in Bosnia, and in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Again, the same sentiments prevail – the music brings a shiver to the spine, the words ring true and you come away having learned something – even if that is only that war affects us all and that, in the end, what type of war it is rarely matters. War is war.

My point in all of this is that storytelling – that ancient tradition which used to be passed on orally, then in words, music and so on – is powerful, and it is always a delight to discover someone doing it a little differently and bringing new life to old tales almost forgotten. Of course, I recommend having a listen to Fionnuala’s work and, for Northern Ireland residents, there will be a little piece in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper about her in the next few weeks.

As Damian told my writing group the other year – speaking fluent human is what writing is all about.

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