Tag Archives: writers

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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Myth and Memory

Namita Gokhale, Jan Carson and Vayu Naidu in conversation with Paul McVeigh at JLF Belfast 2019 at the Lyric Theatre

Myth, memory and culture were the ingredients for a lively panel discussion between writers Namita Gokhale, Jan Carson and Vayu Naidu, facilitated by novelist and playwright, Paul McVeigh at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival in Belfast.Myth and Memory

One of the JLF founders and co-directors, Gokhale has written 19 books and has worked a lot “on myth and the constant reinterpretation of myth in current India.”

Naidu, also born and raised in India, has been “very influenced by myths and mythologies” and said they’d helped her to write about history in her fiction. However, for East Belfast author, Carson, her interest in mythology was more about “making up my own myths – contemporary myths.”

Indeed, growing up, Carson was surrounded by stories from the King James Bible rather than Celtic myths, which she said made her feel a bit more disconnected from traditional mythology than her fellow panellists. She added that her reworking of myths was subsequently coloured by this particular storytelling language from her childhood.

Asked by McVeigh why she created modern myths and what they allowed her to do, Carson said her magical realism style allowed her to address topical issues in a more indirect way.

Jan

Jan Carson

“For me, Northern Ireland is a prime candidate for that,” she said. “It amazes me that we don’t have more writers here working in that field.”

She added that in a society where people have “become numbed to the status quo,” surrealist writing was a way to “stop people in their tracks” and help them take stock of things.

During the discussion, Gokhale described how India was steeped in mythology and said there were two epic myths – the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇ – which were originally told in oral form before being written. She herself has retold the Mahābhārata in Mahābhārata, The Book of Shiva.

“It’s a very vital and living topic in India,” she said. “Myths dominate and control every aspect of life [there]… There are many different levels of gods and goddesses in India – and a lot of goddesses who are goddesses in their own right.”

Naidu, meanwhile, who performs epic literature as well as being a writer, said Indians tended to “think in a kind of poetry.” She added that, living as she does now in England, she carried Indian mythology with her as a way of viewing the world.

lyric ceiling“For me, the myths are a memory for how I understand the Western world,” she said. “I won’t give up that way of thinking.”

Each of the writers shared some of their work with the audience, with extracts read by Carson and Gokhale and a special oral storytelling performance from Naidu.

Reflecting on the differences between oral storytelling and writing, she said: “The oral tradition is action-driven. When you’re writing, you’re in isolation – it’s more immersive.”

Going on to discuss memory, Carson, who also works with people who have dementia, said she’d learned that memory was something that wasn’t fixed. “As you grow and gain life experience, it changes your perspective of the past,” she said. “The memory [of things] begins to change.”

Collectively asked by McVeigh if holding onto memory too much could also prevent cultures from growing, Naidu said people could indeed get very fixed into the past. However, she added that, “collated memory can be a transformative thing.”

With Gokhale previously explaining how Hindu icon Radha is “the subject of every Bollywood film,” the event finished rather fittingly with an impromptu rendition of a Bollywood song from another festival participant.

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Foremothers: Women and Freedom

Bee Rowlatt, Lucy Caldwell and Namita Gokhale in conversation with Vayu Naidu at JLF Belfast 2019

The second event I attended at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Belfast back in June as official festival blogger involved an all-female group discussion about strong women – those foremothers who had inspired the assembled writers and also, the importance of remembering women, who are all too easily erased from history.

Foremothers

Facilitated by Vayu Naidu, she posed this initial question: “Foremothers appear in the domestic and the political. But what is this thing called a ‘foremother’?”

Namita Gokhale, who hails from the Himalayan Mountains, said she had recently been handed a matriarchal family tree going back nine generations, which is unusual, as patriarchal family trees are more common. She said that this had given her a distinct feeling of where her inner strength as a woman came from. She added later in the discussion that she had always been part of a family of four living generations and that being part of that had also helped hone her identity as a strong woman.

“We’re told Indian women are shy,” she said. “We’re not… I’m very religious and I always identified with the bad-tempered Indian goddess.” She added that she liked the mantra, ‘fear nothing’.

For Northern Irish writer, Lucy Caldwell, highlighting foremothers, particularly in the writing world, is incredibly important. Having been involved with two all-Irish female author anthologies in recent years – The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore – she said that she considered those part of her history. She added that her mum had always taken her to the library as a child and was another influential woman in her life. Becoming a mother herself had further helped to shape her writing.

“The thing that changed my writing life was having children,” she said. “It gave me a new fearlessness. I didn’t care what anyone thought about my writing anymore.”

For Bee Rowlatt, Mary Wollstonecraft – described as ‘the first celebrity feminist’ – has been an incredibly influential foremother and she spoke passionately about her during the discussion. Discovering Wollstonecraft’s story as a literature student, Rowlatt subsequently travelled the world with her baby son, mirroring Wollstonecraft’s own voyage back in the day and writing about the experience in her travel book, In Search of Mary.

“Mary Wollstonecraft went on a voyage – a treasure hunt – with her 11-month-old baby,” she said. “She wrote a bestseller along the way. I decided I would try this too…

“Everywhere I look in history it’s the women’s voices, the women who are vectors of information. They know what’s going on and you ignore that at your peril.”

The event closed with a Q&A from the audience, which saw some further discussion on the importance of recording women in history.

Gokhale had earlier urged everyone to “reach out to the older people in your lives and record.” She added: “It’s the lack of records in women’s lives which makes it more important to research them.”

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Patrick Gale and David Park

A few of my blogs from this year’s inaugural Jaipur Literature Festival in Belfast and Bellagy have now been published on the JLF website (see my previous blog post here for more details on this), but there’s a few from the Saturday which haven’t appeared, so I’ve decided to post them on my own blog in the meantime, starting with the first event I attended below. 🙂

Places Called Home

Patrick Gale and David Park in conversation with Elaine CanningDaviv Park1

Family is at the heart of the most recent novels by British writer, Patrick Gale (Take Nothing with You) and Belfast author, David Park (Travelling in a Strange Land). It was subsequently very much at the core of this event, facilitated by Elaine Canning at the Lyric Theatre.

With both writers brought up in very religious households, they agreed that this was something which had seeped into their work.

Park, whose upbringing was in the Baptist faith, said the first stories he ever heard were from the Bible. “The language of the Bible became cloaked around my brain,” he said.

Gale also had a “very religious upbringing.” Indeed, his father was the son and grandson of a priest and may have become one himself, said Gale, had he not married Patrick’s mother…

The event was interspersed with readings from both authors, including both their non-fiction and fiction.

David Park Me

With David Park

“When you write about yourself and your family, as Patrick has revealed, there are pain moments,” said Park. One of those ‘pain moments’ for Park was in writing about an instance at Primary School, when he told the class his father was a bread server, as he felt shame in saying ‘labourer’.

Both Park’s and Gale’s novels ultimately focus on the dynamics of family relationships and belonging. “What you’re doing is writing about interesting failures,” said Gale.

In Gale’s novel, his protagonist, Eustace, reflects on his youth while receiving treatment in hospital. His parents are going through a rocky patch and Eustace, who is dealing with the business of growing up and discovering who he is, subsequently finds solace in music. “It brings him into contact with people who become substitute family,” said Gale.

A cellist himself, Gale added that the discipline of learning to play music has helped him as a writer. Park agreed that music was a big part of his own life. “Music, for me, is a constant all day long,” he said. “It calms and motivates me.”

As Canning pointed out, place also plays a huge role in both Park and Gale’s novels and not just place, but enclosed spaces. Indeed, Park’s story plays out in a car while Gale’s sees Eustace reflecting in a confined room during his treatment.

“There’s no such thing as the perfect family,” said Park. “My book is from the father’s perspective and about how to be a father, which is a difficult thing to know. It’s about a journey from Belfast to Sunderland.”

P Gale me

With Patrick Gale

“Both books illustrate the way we carry our families in our heads,” added Gale.

The novels also explore the idea of self-love and self-protection, said Canning, who also touched upon the function of music in both narratives. The cello and classical music is integral to Eustace, said Gale, while for Park’s story, pop music takes precedence.

The event itself finished on a musical note, with Gale reading an extract about music from his novel, followed by an audience Q&A. During this, Gale was asked what book of his own he would recommend a young person to read with regards to understanding their sexuality, as he speaks a lot in schools and is often asked the same. He said Friendly Fire was what he would advise and added that it was loosely based on his own upbringing.

The final word of the day went to Park, who was asked if things had to happen in real life to be able to write about them, or of imagination was enough.Patrick Gale book

“Everything you need is in the world of the imagination,” he said. “It’s the richest gift humans have.”

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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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Balancing the books…

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

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

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

David Mitchell at Heaney HomeplaceDavid Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant’s Causeway Book Cluboranges

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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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. 🙂

 

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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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