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Balancing the books…

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

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

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

David Mitchell at Heaney HomeplaceDavid Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant’s Causeway Book Cluboranges

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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All about books

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

Giant’s Causeway Book ClubGC book club 1

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

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

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

Tishani Doshi reading

Tishani

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

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

Magical realism workshop

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

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

Irish Writers’ Centre self-publishing workshopScreenshot (6)

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

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

Magical Masquerade at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre

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

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

Visitor centre

Visitor Centre

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

Eastside Arts Festival reading

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

Phantom Phantasia update

dfw-cs-pp-cover-large

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

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

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

Heaney poetry anthologyheaney anthology

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

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

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

More as I have it. ūüôā

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WomenXborders

Last week was crammed full of bookish events and the like so, while I didn’t have time to blog at the weekend, I didn’t want to miss a week, as there’s lots to catch up on!

International Women’s Day 2017derry crowd

Rewinding back to Wednesday, which was International Women’s Day, I joined a group of¬†my fellow women writers to mark the occasion with an evening of readings in Derry. Organised by Women Aloud NI 2017 and The Literary Ladies, there was a great turnout for this and we heard samples of all kinds of great work, including extracts from novels and poetry readings. I also gave my first public reading from Magical Masquerade (outside of the Kilross PS visit), which I think went down well!

Waterstone picWaterstones Coleraine poetry prize

Thursday saw me hotfoot it to Waterstones in Coleraine for the official photographs of the 12 prize-winning poets in their Women Aloud NI 2017 poetry competition, and I caught up with a few poets I hadn’t seen in a while, as well as meeting some new ones!

We also received gifts of three poetry books each, which was quite unexpected and a lovely surprise, as well as the one year’s free subscription to Carcanet Press’s PN review magazine.

Northern Woman magazine interviewNORTHERN WOMAN

In between all of this, Northern Woman magazine came out and this month, it includes a feature on me and Magical Masquerade, so that was great to see!

Local media support for the book has been wonderful so far, which is all very much appreciated!

International Women’s Day Readathon in Dublin

train crowdThe week’s main event however, took place on Saturday, when 50 of the Women Aloud NI crew travelled en masse to Dublin to take part in a whole host of events with women writers from the ROI. With the tireless Jane Talbot (author of The Faeire Thorn and Other Stories)¬†at the helm, this was a day packed full of literary goodness.

Poet Anne McMaster organised the first part of the journey, which included a very well choreographed readathon on the Enterprise train from Belfast to Dublin (with breaks at the three scheduled stops along the way). Translink NI had very kindly reserved us seats in G carriage, so we were all seated together and almost everyone had volunteered to read some of their work in three-minute slots, so there was a great range of material shared.IWC

Once we arrived in Dublin, we then made our way to the Irish Writers’ Centre at Parnell Square – our hosts for the rest of the day. With everything running like a well-oiled machine, introductions were made, formalities (and health and safety stuff!) were completed and at 11.15am, as planned, the main readathon began…

… and continued without pause until 3.15pm.

Once the first writer read their three-minute’s worth of work, the next one followed and so on, until all 80 or so female writers had had their time at the podium and introduced their talents to a whole new audience. There was everything from poetry and crime writing, to romance stories, memoir, fantasy and yes, children’s fiction…¬†It was a¬†great example of the diversity of talent across Northern Ireland and the ROI. Writers were also invited to¬†donate one of their books to the IWC library, so I believe we’ve now filled a good part of a shelf!SP panel¬†(I will have to return with my own book when it’s published!)

In between all of this, myself and the other writers who were taking part in the three panel discussions, darted in and out to discuss everything from writing communities, to self-publishing and how to juggle a busy work/home life with a writing career.

I was on the self-publishing panel with Jo Zebedee, Angeline King and chair, Catherine Ryan Howard (who, yes, wrote the book on self-publishing which has helped me greatly with MM!). I really enjoyed chatting about my SP experiences to date and finding out more about Jo and Angeline’s experiences in this. We also¬†had a few good questions at the end from audience members as well.parnell sq

The day didn’t end there however, as once the readathon and the panels were over, we had a mass reading to do in Parnell Square itself. So, we exited the IWC en masse and assembled ourselves on the steps in the square, just in front of a rather impressive statue of the Children of Lir. After a test run, we then filled the¬†public space¬†with¬†the sound of more than¬†80 female voices – a wonderful¬†demonstration of¬†solidarity for women writers if ever I saw one.

Jane Talbot conducted us in this of course – first the playwrights began to read, followed by poets, literary fiction writers, children’s writers, crime writers and so on – the volume rising as each¬†batch of writers joined in and read their work. RTE very kindly came down to cover the event, along with various other photographers, which was great. It was certainly a very moving and inspiring thing to be part of.mass reading

The official part of our Women Aloud NI Dublin day out officially ended there … but much more chat and storytelling was had at Connolly Station and en route to Belfast in the Enterprise. That, however, is possibly a tale for another day …

Magical Masquerade news!dfw-cs-mm-cover-3d-nologo

Meanwhile, as if that wasn’t enough excitement to be coping with in the week, I was finally able to upload Magical Masquerade to CreateSpace on Sunday and today … I got the go-ahead to order my proofs! So, they’ll be winging their way towards me soon and I hope to have them in my hands in a couple of weeks.

For that, I really¬†cannot wait, but wait I must…

More as I have it. ūüôā

 

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Storybook timeline…

So, since my last post I’ve now got a much more definite timeline for my children’s novel, which is making everything seem just that little¬†bit more real now… Thanks to NI editor, Averill Buchanan, I now have a very good copy-editor in Dublin¬†booked for November 1, with a timeline in place for each part of the editing process for the book. The first stage will definitely be completed before Christmas and then I’ll likely spend the Christmas holidays revising the manuscript one last time before the final copy-edit in the New Year.

blackberry-reading

Reading my poem at the Blackberry Path Art Studios recently

Once I get the manuscript back from that edit, I’ll then revise it again, get the proofreading done and hey presto – CreateSpace here I come! (Gulp).

 

Aside from this, I’ve also got my cover designer booked, so work on that will kick off later this month, and is set to be completed in October. At the moment I have vague notions of what I want this to look like but honestly, nothing concrete, so I’m very interested to see what they come up with. Of course, I really want to love it and I have to feel it represents the story the way I want it to, so I’m feeling both excited and a little nervous about this! The great thing is, from next month I’ll be able to start sharing the cover design, which is almost as good as having the book itself (but not quite…)

Long story, short – the aim is still to have a springtime publication date (once everything’s done I still have formatting to contend with…), so all is on track! My beta readers are still reading away, so hopefully I’ll get some feedback from them soon but in the meantime, all systems are in place as much as they can be. (I feel too organised and I suspect this probably won’t last…)book-1169437_1280

Next weekend, I’ll be attending a day-long sci-fi/fantasy writing event at Ballyeamon Barn, near Cushendall, when author Jo Zebedee will be¬†sharing her self-publishing experience and also her traditional publishing experience, as well as chatting about all things¬†writing. I’m looking forward to this, and to meeting some other writers who so far, I only know through social media. Also hoping to pick up some advice on the¬†SP front, so¬†I’ll let you know¬†how it goes.

Short stories and poetry are¬†a little on hold at the moment, but I’m editing away at a few stories and ideas are bubbling for more, so I’m planning to get started on¬†something new there soon. Lots to get on with! I’ll keep you posted!

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