Tag Archives: writing

Bookish wrap-up and review

This month I have an addition of a short book review, so I’ll try to keep the rest of the blog short!

Big Telly Theatre project

First up, May saw the first professional read-through of my story for Big Telly Theatre (see previous couple of posts for more details on that). Essentially, this means that some local actors gathered together with myself, the Big Telly team and the other writers involved with the project to read through our work ahead of the audio recordings which will follow later on this year. It was great to hear the other stories for the first time, as well as listening to people reading my own work aloud.

We brainstormed feedback on each piece of writing and discussed some other things relating to the overall project too. I’m really looking forward to seeing how everything comes together in the end, so more details as I have them!

Riverside Readings at Ulster UniversityMD

One of the writers involved with the Big Telly project is poet Moyra Donaldson, and she’s also just launched her latest poetry collection, Carnivorous, performing readings across NI with fellow Doire Press poet, Glen Wilson.

While Moyra was unable to make the reading at Ulster University in May, we were still able to enjoy hearing her poetry, which was kindly read by poets Stephanie Conn and Kathleen McCracken. We also heard Glen reading work from his debut collection, An Experience on the Tongue.GlenW

It’s always great getting out to meet and hear from other writers and especially good when it’s so close to home, so this was a lovely afternoon.

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

Our book clubbers met last night to discuss our May read, which was The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland. This medieval thriller scored a fairly respectable 6/10 – I think most of the group felt that it was missing ‘something’ but our discussion revolved around lots of things we liked about it, so I think it went down better than the scoring reflects! Personally, I found it a page-turner and I enjoyed the story and the multiple narratives, which allowed the reader to see from various viewpoints and gave an insight into each of the main characters.June FB cover

Our June reads are the play, Peter and Alice, by John Logan (performed in 2013 by Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw), along with Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Everyone was keen to read this after our April book choice of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit so we decided to read this as well. They’re short books, so will be easily read in a month!

Pan’s Labyrinth book review* (*contains spoilers)Pan

And so, to the book review! I’m a big fan of the film, Pan’s Labyrinth, by Guillermo del Toro so when I discovered there was a novel of this due out in the summer, I just had to ask for an ARC. Thankfully, the lovely publicity people at Bloomsbury Publishing sent me out a review copy and I subsequently devoured it over a couple of days…

First up, the book is being published on July 2 and you can pre-order a copy at the link below if you so wish (or click if you just want to find out more about it): https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/pans-labyrinth-9781526609557/

And so, to the review.

For those who, like myself, enjoyed the Pan’s Labyrinth film, no introduction is needed as to what the story is about. However, if you haven’t seen the film then, essentially, it’s a deliciously dark fairy tale (for adults) set in Spain after the civil war. The year is 1944 and the Resistance has fled to the forests. Our main character, a young girl called Ofelia, moves to an old mill beside one such forest, as her widowed mother has married an army captain who wants her with him when she gives birth to their son (and no, not because he loves her…) When they arrive, Ofelia quickly discovers there’s more to the place than meets the eye, including fairies, a faun and a whole hidden world to which she’s told she belongs and can return to – an underground kingdom where she’s a princess…

There’s more, but we’ll discuss that as we go. I really like the story and on the whole, I enjoyed the novel, which is written by both Guillermo del Toro and children’s author, Cornelia Funke (of Inkheart fame). Each section is preceded by a myth which weaves in the story of the underground princess, Moana, along with other tales which tie in with what’s happening with Ofelia in the present-day. The fairies lead her to a faun who explains that she must complete three tasks to prove she is truly Princess Moana and so return to the underground realm. This involves facing a giant toad who lives in the roots of a huge tree, as well as the terrifying child-eater, or Pale Man, and finally, sacrificing an innocent.

The myths fill in the background to these tasks, explaining their significance to the reader and I think they work well in the book. There are also beautiful illustrations at the beginning of each section, which are always nice to have!

Although I haven’t watched the film for a few years, I could easily picture the scenes from that as I read the book and to my mind, I didn’t come across any material which was truly ‘new’. I had understood that the book would contain a more fleshed-out narrative but in my opinion, it was all as expected. This is completely fine, of course, except that the promo says the book has ‘expansive original material’. On reflection, this may simply refer to the fact that as a novel and not a script, the material is freshly written, but for some reason I thought there might be added layers to the story which I just didn’t find.Pan2

I haven’t read many books by multiple authors and I think that on this occasion, it may have affected the flow of the writing. Personally (and of course, this entire review is made up of my own personal opinions, so make of them as you wish), I found the overuse of the words ‘for sure’ fairly irritating and in every instance (my inner editor says), they could have been cut. I found that they disrupted the flow of the writing and it may seem a minor thing, but for this reader, it irked.

That being said, there was lots of the writing that I liked, for example:

‘Her mother said fairy tales didn’t have anything to do with the world, but Ofelia knew better. They had taught her everything about it.’

I thing fairy tales help us to understand the world and our place in it and I like how fantasy is used here to reflect the world back at us and Ofelia.

‘But men don’t hear what the trees say. They have forgotten how to listen to the wild things…’

On occasion, there are pieces of writing which I felt could have been reworked to keep in with the old ‘show, don’t tell’ aspect of writing. For example, when Capitan Vidal is listening to playful music, do we need to be told in black and white that ‘It gave away that cruelty and death were a dance for him.’ ?? To me, it’s unnecessary, as the simple juxtaposition of the cruel Vidal shaving himself while listening to the light-hearted music shows us this without the need to spell it out. Sometimes, subtlety is lacking.

However, we always dwell on the negatives, don’t we, and while there are a few things which snagged me while reading, I did read the book very quickly (always a good sign!) and enjoyed doing so. It’s always difficult reading a book after having seen the film and in this rather unusual case, the film preceded the writing of the book. However, if you enjoyed the film then you’ll most certainly enjoy the novel and as I was reading a proof copy, who knows, perhaps those pesky ‘for sure’s will have vanished by the time of publication… 🙂

All in all, Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun does exactly what you would hope it to do, delivering a dark fairy tale which is packed full of myth, magic and murderous men… NB I definitely found it easier to read about the Capitan’s violence than I did watching these more gory aspects of the story on film (but that’s just me!) and I would point out, for those unfamiliar with the story, that this is not a book for kids.

If I was to give it a star rating out of five then I think for me, it’s a solid four. It has all the ingredients of a great fairy tale and is a compelling story which is always moving swiftly onwards, with everything from magical creatures to rebel fighters and of course, a young girl trying to find her way home.

 

 

 

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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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Bookish snippets…

The past couple of months have been filled with all sorts of bookish projects and shenanigans, hence the little blogging break… So, without further ado, here’s what’s been happening!

Big Telly Theatre project

Back in January I was one of various Northern Irish writers approached by Big Telly Theatre Company to submit a proposal for an exciting new project called Sea Gods, Shipwrecks and Sidhe Folk – Treasures of the Causeway. Fast-forward to February and I was delighted to hear that I’d been chosen as one of four NI writers to contribute to the project, those writers being myself, Jane Talbot, Moyra Donaldson and Dominic Montague.

Big telly

(L-R) Dominic, me, Jane, Zoe, Moyra, Linda and Wes

Essentially, we’ll be writing original stories about eight different sites along the Causeway Coast, using the archaeology and mythology of each for inspiration. The narratives will then be recorded by local actors, with an audio installation placed at the locations for visitors to enjoy. I’m working on a story linked to the Lissanduff earthworks/raths in Portballintrae, which is close to my home and a location I’m very familiar with. I’m looking forward to seeing all the stories come together soon!

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

Since my last blog we’ve enjoyed two further GC Book Club meetings. January saw us chatting about our December/January reads – The Explorer by Katherine Rundell and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by RL Stevenson. We scored the former 8.6/10 and the latter 6.9/10 (being very specific now by including the decimals!) We thought The Explorer was very well written, with strong, interesting characters and an original narrative, while Jekyll & Hyde was atmospheric and interesting, despite everyone obviously knowing the ending already.

For February, our selected book was a modern fantasy classic – Little, Big by John Crowley. Not everyone had finished this one as it’s very long, at over 500 pages, with very small font, but we went ahead and scored it anyway and it got a respectable 6/10. Personally, I loved this book and scored it 10/10 as I think the writing is rich and beautiful, the story infused with magic throughout and the narrative interesting and full of many threads which all kept me hooked. Anyway, for more on these books just click onto my Instagram account (linked to the right).

McGilloway

With Brian McGilloway

Our March read is a crime fiction novel by New York Times best-selling author, Brian McGilloway, who hails from Derry in Northern Ireland – Little Girl Lost. Details in the next few weeks on what we thought of it!

NOIReland Crime Fiction Festival

In keeping with our crime-themed book club read for March, myself and fellow book-clubber Julie went along to the launch event of the NOIReland Crime Fiction Festival at the Europa Hotel in Belfast at the beginning of March. I haven’t really read much crime since I was a teenager, but I’ve interviewed a fair few crime authors from NI over the years and I know lots of local writers, so we had a great time looking for (and photographing) authors at the launch.noireland

We were also gifted a free book (there were a few left over at the end, so we nabbed a second!) and the weekend itself seemed to have gone very well. On the way out, we bumped into none other than Brian McGilloway himself, so we had to get a wee snap with him too. 🙂

Phantom Phantasia at the Causeway Visitors’ Centre

On the day of the NOIReland launch, I also delivered a few boxes of my second middle grade novel Phantom Phantasia, to the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, along with several more boxes of book one (Magical Masquerade).

It’s great that both books are now stocked in the shop, so if you’re visiting and want to pick up a copy of either, please do!Causeway shop

World Book Day dress-up!

Keeping with the books… I was delighted when a young local reader decided to dress up for World Book Day as the main character in MM and PP (Felicity Stone). I haven’t included her pic here but it’s over on my author FB page if you want to take a look. 🙂

Coffee shop writing…

Aside from all of that, I’ve also been writing odds and ends of poetry recently and also working on my next middle grade novel. In fact, I even decided to try a spot of writing in a local coffee shop back in February (not normally what I do at all, as it’s too noisy – and it was), and I discovered it had become fully dog-friendly. Ergo, my next few visits to Koko Coffee Shop in Portrush were with my pup and no more coffee shop writing was done!reuben

Coleraine library reopened

Unfortunately, lots of libraries are being forced to close or operate with reduced opening hours in the UK these days, but fortunately for us on the North Coast, Coleraine Library just recently reopened after what I believe was a £2.5m refurb. I haven’t used the library in years, as I do like to keep my books, but I’ve already been along twice now to borrow books and it’s been great! I’m very glad to see our local library being looked after.

Anyway, more as I have it. 🙂

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Writing reflections…

At this time of year, most people like to take stock of where they’ve been and where they intend to go in the next 12 months. I think it’s good practice to reflect on what you’ve achieved in the past year as, generally, it’s a heck of a lot more than what you thought.

In 2018, I managed to get book two out into the world, finishing the writing and editing of it earlier in the year and then launching it in October with a lovely book launch party at the Portrush Coastal Zone. img_2762

With regards to other bookish things, I was delighted to get Magical Masquerade stocked (and restocked a few times!) at the Giant’s Causeway Visitors’ Centre, after being accepted as a supplier by their buyers back in December 2017. I also took part in a Meet the Makers day at the centre in October. Meanwhile, MM was also stocked in Belfast bookshop, Books Paper Scissors.

Staying with the National Trust, I was very happy to be asked to host the new Giant’s Causeway Book Club around this time last year, which launched in June 2018 and is still going strong. (Our next meeting is Thursday, January 31st if you’re local and interested in coming along!). I also started my own BookTube channel, though this fell by the wayside a bit later in the year due to technical glitches… I’m not sure if I want to pour too much energy into this going forward, but with a new phone finally on its way to me (!) I might give it another go in the near future and see how it pans out. Watch this space. 🙂GC BOOK CLUB 2

Speaking of BookTube, I took part in an online magical realism writing workshop with the very talented Jen Campbell.  She’s a very skilled writer and editor and I do write a lot of magical realism, so it was great to get her feedback and advice on a new short story which I wrote for this. I don’t always make solid goals to achieve in the year but perhaps one that I would like to jot down for 2019 is to reinvest more in my writing over the next 12 months and do more things like this. I found this particular workshop well suited to me as feedback was provided over Skype and via email so there was no travel involved and it was more flexible. I took part in a group workshop so I also benefitted from seeing the feedback given to the other writers too. I fully believe, of course, that it’s important to get out to events and whatnot in person, but a mix of digital and in-person is good, I think!

I myself was invited to run a creative writing workshop in Crumlin for eight weeks, which I enjoyed doing during October/November last year. I also did some writing exercises with two classes of a local primary school as part of an author visit, which is always fun!

Alongside all of this I also took part in events at Waterstones in Coleraine, the Belfast Book Festival and Eastside Arts Festival, and became an Irish Writers’ Centre member and writing mentor. I received the final instalment of my Arts Council National Lottery grant towards the end of the year and I also saw my poem, written for a collection (Be Not Afraid) in memory of Seamus Heaney and accepted for publication back in about 2014/15, finally published in book form by Lapwing Publications. The project took a few years to get off the ground, but it was great to see everyone’s poems in the collection at last – and well worth the wait!Claire Savage, Bernie McGill and Margot McCuaig at Waterstones.

2018 ended with a nice surprise when MM was included on a KS2 map of middle-grade books across the UK, and the only NI-based book on the map. (See a few blogs back for that). And PP was also included in Books Ireland’s First Flush section of newly published Irish books.

So, all in all it was a good writing/bookish year (I also read 92 books and that doesn’t include my many rereads of Phantom Phantasia during the editing process!!). I won’t go into work-related achievements in terms of my copywriting business, as I think this post is quite long enough, but reading all this back I realise I achieved a lot more than I thought. Indeed, the intention of this post was to reflect on my author-related achievements last year as a means of realising that yes, I did actually achieve things (!) and also, with a view to thinking about what I’d like to achieve this year.

At Christmas, I decided in the end to take a break from writing and simply indulged in a lot more reading… e.g. I finally read the complete Harry Potter series (I only read the first few books over 20 years ago so it was long overdue that I read all seven!). heaney anthology

Although I wasn’t sure what I wanted to focus on writing-wise this year, I did have an idea for a story back in October/November, and had made some notes re that. However, nothing progressed with it until a couple of weeks ago, when I just took out my notebook one night and started scribbling. (This was around 11pm of course, and I ended up writing on into the night a bit… Always the night owl!)

I do still want to look at writing some short stories and poetry again this year, but for the meantime, this story is now underway and yes, it is novel-shaped. 🙂 Whether or not anything becomes of it is another thing – I like the story that I’m writing so that’s really all I need to write it. However, despite having enjoyed the independent publishing process with MM and PP, if I decide I want to pursue publication, this time around I may look into pursuing the traditional route. We shall see. Early stages…

Other than that, last year I started another bookish project which unfortunately I can’t tell you about, but which is still being worked on as we speak, so my hope is that at some point in the near future I can share details about that… It’s quite a beast of a project, so again, we shall see, but if all goes well, it promises to be very exciting.

I think that’s all for now. Nothing like a bit of an essay to start off the blogging for 2019… More as I have it. 🙂

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Festive writing wrap-up …

Christmas is drawing ever closer and for me, that means one thing (in terms of my writing life) – time to get stuck into the scribbling of stories… But first, a catch-up, as I realise I haven’t blogged since just after the launch of Phantom Phantasia back in October!Port PS 1

Portstewart PS visit

As I think I mentioned previously, I was invited along to Portstewart Primary School on November 8, when I spent time with the two P6 classes, reading from my books and doing writing exercises with the pupils.

We created characters and wrote stories and I was impressed with what they came up with – and just how much they read. Port PS 2
The school also has its own lovely library, as well as its very own radio station, so the pupils also get experience in interviewing guests and being mini journalists, which I think is just great!

Crumlin creative writers Crumlin

November 20, meanwhile, saw the final creative writing workshop with the writers in Crumlin, who also produced some good writing over the eight weeks of the course.

They very kindly showered me with gifts at the end, and I gave my own parting presents – a book each (from the local second-hand book shop) – to inspire them in their reading and future writing.

Giant’s Causeway Book ClubExplorer

The last Thursday of November saw our final meeting of the Giant’s Causeway Book Club until after Christmas and we ended on a high, as our November read managed to score highest out of all the books we’ve read since June.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is a great book – and one I think everyone should pick up – so I’m glad it went down so well and that it ranked highest out of our book choices this year.Jekyll

For December/January we’re reading the multi-award-winning middle-grade novel, The Explorer, by Katherine Rundell as well as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by RL Stevenson (which we picked from a ‘hat’ out of various classics). Jekyll and Hyde is a very short read, but that’s maybe a good thing, with two books to discuss at our January meeting!

Books Ireland listingBooks Ireland

Back to my own books… and it was great to see that Books Ireland magazine included Phantom Phantasia in its ‘First Flush’ section of new Irish books published in the November/December issue.

I love the cover of this edition and am very pleased to see PP inside. 🙂

KS2 book map!

As well as this, I was delighted to discover that Magical Masquerade has been included on a KS2 literary location map alongside various other middle-grade titles – including books from a few authors who are just a BIT better known that me…like Philip Pullman, for example!

I’m listed on this currently as being Belfast-based, but the story takes place a little further up the country – on the Causeway Coast. However, the main thing is that MM is on the map, so big thanks to the guys for including it.

KS2 mapThe map has kindly been compiled by Mr A, Mr C and Mr D – three primary school TES-recommended authors who create educational songs and resources for this age-group. If you’d like to download it for free for your classroom/school, then you can access it here: https://bit.ly/2BdJ4yv

Christmas scribbling…

If you’ve read either Magical Masquerade or Phantom Phantasia then it would be lovely if you left a wee review of the book/s over on Amazon. You don’t need to have purchased them online (I know various local readers bought theirs at the book launches) and a few words is more than adequate – you don’t need to write loads (unless you want to!). I just thought I’d mention that, as it all helps! Also, if you want to gift one to a young (or older) reader for Christmas, that’d be great also. 🙂dfw-cs-group-nologo

I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to write after PP came out, but inspiration strikes when you least expect it and a few weeks ago I had a bit of an idea for a new story… So, I’ve been scribbling down some notes and plotting a bit, which I hope to build on over Christmas, with a view to getting some writing done. That’s the plan anyway!

I’ve sort of let my earlier tradition of writing a festive short story at Christmas slide a little the past year or two, but who knows – perhaps the mood will take me to write one this year. We will see.

More as I have it. 🙂

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Writerly reflections…

I think this month I’ll begin with the most recent bookish happenings and work my way back to when I last blogged. We’ll see how that goes, anyway…

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

First up, we enjoyed another Giant’s Causeway Book Club meeting last night at the Causeway Hotel. It was dark, rainy and a little bit windy – with some unexplained noises floating along the hallways – so the perfect place to discuss our October read, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson!

Although, for me and most of the group, I’m afraid Ms Jackson just didn’t spook us quite enough, as we gave this book an overall rating of 6/10 and really would have liked a few more scares. General consensus, bar one, was that it had an interesting premise but didn’t deliver on the frightening front – and a few would have liked a clearer ending with all loose ends tied up. I personally found it very funny and a bit of light relief after reading Josh Malerman’s Bird Box before I turned to this. (PS If you do want a spooky read, then Bird Box is my recommendation).Nov book front

Anyway, our November book choice is a non-fiction title: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by London-based journalist, Reni Eddo-Lodge. I’ve heard this spoken about a lot on Book Tube and I know many people recommend it, so we’ll see what our book club thinks in a few weeks’ time! We have five weeks until then, however, so we’re also going to have a quick chat about Anna Burns’ Milkman, which just won the Man Booker Prize, as I know a lot of people in Northern Ireland especially are reading this right now and I don’t think we can skip over it. I’m really looking forward to reading both of these books myself. 🙂

Crumlin creative writing course

CW classSince we last spoke, I’ve enjoyed delivering four of my eight creative writing workshops in Crumlin, to a great group of scribblers.

We’ve been looking at various techniques to help improve your writing, and doing all sorts of exercises and whatnot, so it’s going well and will hopefully help them craft those words the way they want them when it comes to writing their stories and novels.

National Trust ‘Meet the Makers’ DayKids pic with MM

I also enjoyed taking part in the National Trust’s ‘Meet the Makers’ Day on October 6. The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre invited a variety of local crafters/makers who have their products stocked in the centre to come along and show customers what they do and have a chat with them.

I had a table full of Magical Masquerade and had a great time meeting visitors  (mostly from the US!) and signing books for them. It was lovely to see who was buying the book and to have a conversation with them, as normally, you don’t know who’s picking it up. Hopefully all recipients enjoy the story!

Phantom Phantasia book launch party

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And finally… October began with the launch of book number two, Phantom Phantasia, at the Portrush Coastal Zone and I’m delighted to say that it went swimmingly! There was a wonderful turnout, including lots of younger readers, which was lovely to see, and I think they all enjoyed searching for the little gossamer party bags the fairies had hidden around the centre for them to find…

We enjoyed refreshments in the form of elderflower cordial and other fizzy delights, as well as some homemade star-shaped shortbread and top hats and, of course, a celebratory cake, which was brought out after the bookish chat. For that, Denis McNeill kindly interviewed me and then I gave a short reading before signing lots of books. IMG_2774

It was great to meet everyone who came along, and to chat to the kids about their writing and the books they like to read. It was a bit of a whirlwind really, but a very good evening. (PS I have almost 200 photos of the launch so if you want a nosy then pop on over to my FB page, which is linked to the right of this post!)

The question is – now that it’s all over, just what will I write next..?!

In the meantime, I have a school visit pending after Hallowe’en, which I’m looking forward to, along with the remainder of my creative writing sessions. There’s also another secret bookish project in the pipeline so we’ll see how that progresses in the next few months too!

More as I have it. 🙂

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Autumnal events

Book launch

dfw-cs-pp-cover-smallAs I write this it’s just a few days until the official launch of Phantom Phantasia, so hopefully in my next blog post I’ll have some lovely pics from that to show you!

There’s been a lot more to organise for this book launch as I was keen to make it into a more social event/book party than previously, and that means sorting out refreshments and lots of other bits and bobs. It’s all the little details that you might not really notice, or that you take for granted on the night, which actually, take a bit of time to create!

Anyway, if you’re coming along, then you can expect a Q&A as I chat with Denis McNeill (formerly of Q Radio) and then I’ll do a reading from the book and the audience can ask me questions and whatnot. coastal zine

After that, it’ll be book signing and mingling  as with any party – with some little treats thrown into the mix… If you’d like to come along and celebrate launching PP into the world, then please do!

PP scrollsEntry is of course free and the more the merrier. The kids will also enjoy exploring the Coastal Zone itself, as it’s full of interesting aquatic objects and displays.

As well as my online invites to the launch, I sent out some written invitations to family members and then got creative with some messages in bottles, which I hide along the North Coast at the weekend. Girls PP

One woman posted this lovely pic (right) on Facebook after finding a bottle, so I’m very happy that it worked! 🙂 And the Coleraine Chronicle also printed an article about the launch, which is always much appreciated (see below).

Free Magical Masquerade e-book

dfw-cs-mm-cover-ebookTo celebrate the pending launch for Phantom Phantasia, book one – Magical Masquerade – is currently free to download as an e-book for Kindle, so if you want to grab a copy of that, please do! You can download it here: https://amzn.to/2DGhjmO

The offer is running until Wednesday noon (UK time), so there’s still a few days left to get your hands on this. If you read it, let me know what you think!

Love is Blind ARC

Speaking of books, I was excited to receive an ARC of William Boyd’s latest novel, Love is Blind, earlier in the month from Viking Books UK. The book was published on September 20, so you can get a copy of that now if you’re interested. I’m a big Boyd fan, after being introduced to his work by a friend a few years ago. I particularly enjoy the novels where he tracks a character’s entire life (e.g. Any Human Heart, The New Confessions, Sweet Caress) and, while this one didn’t quite do that, it did follow a sizeable chunk of Brodie, the protagonist’s life. WB book

This was a bit of a slow-burner of a book and centred on Brodie’s obsessive love for a singer called Lika Blum, taking us around the world as Brodie worked as a piano tuner, first for a company and then exclusively for an Irish pianist. I enjoy Boyd’s richness of writing, as he spends two years before writing his books just researching everything. Personally, I always learn something from his work – this time around it was mostly to do with pianos – and as a reader, you trust that what he is telling you about places is how it was at that time. I enjoyed this book and am glad to add it to my Boyd collection. 🙂

GC Book Club

hill houseOnto last month’s Giant’s Causeway Book Club then! In September we read Yoko Ogawa’s collection of short stories – Revenge – and I’m happy to say that it went down very well with the group! Only one reader didn’t like it (and didn’t finish it) – saying that it was a bit too dark for her, while one other also thought it was fairly dark and creepy… Quite a few of the rest of us, however, thought it wasn’t as dark as we’d expected, but we all agreed that it was well-written, engaging in its style of linking the stories together, and yes, was a bit weird. But then, aren’t most good short stories ‘a bit weird’? 🙂

Our overall book club rating was a healthy 7/10, which is the highest score yet! For October, we’ve decided to read a spooky book for Hallowe’en and have opted for The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson…

Creative writing workshopscreative writing

From books to the writing of! I’m looking forward to delivering a series of creative writing workshops for Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council, beginning October 2 at Crumlin Leisure Centre. These will run for eight weeks and will hopefully inspire those who come along and get their creative juices flowing! You can book via council – Tel: 028 9445 2733.

I’m also doing a workshop at the Irish Writers’ Centre on marketing for self-published authors on Saturday, October 13. You can sign up for that here: https://bit.ly/2Oph9UV

Craft Day at the Causeway

Meanwhile, on October 6, the Giant’s Causeway Visitor’s Centre is hosting a craft day, where members of the public can come along and meet some of the crafters and creators whose work is sold at the centre. I’ll be heading to this for a short while in the morning to sign copies of Magical Masquerade, so if you’re in the area, call in!Chronicle PP

And finally…

Once the busyness of the PP launch is over, I intend to start thinking about my next writing project – though as yet, I’m not quite sure what form this will take. MM and PP is being left as a duology, so Felicity and her friends are being set aside for now. I do have a previously half-written manuscript which was abandoned when I decided to publish MM a few years ago, so perhaps I’ll finish that. Or maybe I’ll start something completely new… We will see!

More as I have it. 🙂

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Book launch and more…

Phantom Phantasia update

IMG-4159Following on from my last post, I can now confirm that the official book launch event for Phantom Phantasia will take place at Portrush Coastal Zone on Thursday, October 4 from 7.30pm-8.30pm (or thereabouts)! Entry is free and there will be some short readings from the book, a Q&A with host Denis McNeill (and the audience), nibbles and more. Books will, of course, be on sale and I will sign those for anyone who wants one!

As I hinted at previously, I think this is the perfect venue for the launch, as PP takes us on an underwater adventure for part of the story, and Felicity and her companions meet a fair few marine creatures down there. The Portrush Coastal Zone has lots of great displays of marine and coastal wildlife, as well as its own indoor rockpool and fish tank, so it will create a very atmospheric setting. Thanks very much to Gary Burrows and the rest of the Coastal Zone team for letting me use this space! Gary will also be on hand at the event, should anyone have any questions about marine wildlife and the like.

Since my last post I have now also received my front cover quote – from Kerry McLean, who is, as Northern Irelanders will know, a broadcaster on BBC Radio Ulster. She also hosts a book club on her show every week, so it’s great that she agreed to read a proof of PP, and that she enjoyed it. (In case you can’t read it from the pic, it says: ‘A heart-warming, heroic page-turner, this beautifully written adventure will hold you spellbound’) 

So, all things are go on the book front and hopefully, the launch will go well!

Giant’s Causeway Book Club Yoko1

Our August read for the GCBC was Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir – I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death. This was a book which once again seemed to divide opinion, with most of the women in the group having enjoyed it and the men, not so much. The main issue seemed to be with the ‘brushes with death’, as the group mostly felt that quite a few of these weren’t quite as death-defying as they had perhaps expected.

Personally, I enjoyed the book and I went into it expecting the stories to range in intensity, as the title does say that they are ‘brushes’ with death. I love Maggie’s writing and am not usually a memoir reader, but I did enjoy this one and for me, a few of the experiences that she shared were actually quite harrowing to read. But reading is subjective and not everyone will like the same thing!

Our September read is a collection of short stories by the award-winning Japanese writer, Yoko Ogawa, and they sound dark and intriguing, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into this one! The book is called Revenge so we will see what the book clubbers make of it at the end of the month!

John Boyne event

One of my new favourite authors is John Boyne – I’ve only read his last two books but have loved them both, so I think I need to go through his back catalogue. The Heart’s Invisible Furies was the first book I read, followed by his latest, A Ladder to the Sky, which I read ahead of an event with Boyne at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace last weekend.

This book is set in the literary world, which immediately grabbed my attention, as I love reading about writers, and it’s fantastically gripping. I actually found it quite difficult to read at times (but it was still a page-turner in that) and I really disliked the main character, Maurice Swift, about as intensely as I liked the protagonist from The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Cyril Avery.

Sunday’s event saw Boyne in conversation with another of my favourite authors – Carlo Gébler – and I really enjoyed hearing them chat about the book, and other writing-related things. The event was, of course, sold-out. Gebler

Anyway, that’s it for now. If there’s more to share, it’s gone from my mind at the moment, but I’ll check back in soon! 🙂

 

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Phantom Phantasia …

Usually [well, ok, the one other time I published a book 🙂 ] – I reveal my book cover on this blog, but a few days ago I decided to share it on my Facebook page and the response has been wonderful. So, without further ado, if you don’t follow me on social media and haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

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The title, as you can see, is Phantom Phantasia and again, this time around I did things a little differently. Last time, I announced the title before the book cover reveal but this time I thought I’d do it all together. 🙂

Design for Writers created the cover for Magical Masquerade and did a great job on that, so of course, I went to them again for Phantom Phantasia. I do tend to have a very specific idea of what I want the covers to look like and for this novel I was keen to continue the silhouette style, to ensure continuity with book one. Also, because I think it looks really good. I also wanted to split the cover to reflect the story – portraying the underwater element (yes, spoilers, but secretive though I like to be, I realise we have to give some things away to entice readers, lol!) and the starry sky.

Andrew at Design for Writers is great, as I knew down to the exact creature what I wanted on the cover, and he conjured up a fantastic design based on our chats. I absolutely love it – the style, colours and how it all comes together. I hope you do too!

One of the things I love about publishing independently is the complete control you have over every element of the process (sales aside). As I knew exactly what I wanted for the cover I’ve ended up with something that I’m delighted with and while I took advice from Andrew on various aspects, the overall design is what I’d envisioned (only much better of course!). It does take time to perfect, though it was quicker this time as the title font was the same as book one, but you still have to consider the colour scheme, general design and layout, write the tagline, source any cover quotes (I have one pending), write the blurb (see below) and also, any other taglines.
dfw-cs-pp-cover-wrap

I’m a copywriter and journalist and I still found myself musing for days over the tagline on the front of the book and the tiered one on the back. It’s easy to glance at a book and think it’s straightforward to come up with a one-liner that draws the reader in and makes them want to read the story. It’s a tricky old business and takes time to craft, with multiple revisions – even for creative people used to doing it! It’s all that behind-the-scenes stuff that no one else sees which makes up a lot more work in creating your book cover. Personally, I find mulling over it all on my evening dog walks very beneficial. Anyway, I hope it all works, but I, at least, am happy with the content!

In terms of where PP is at now in the publication process, well, it’s been edited, edited and edited some more…

It’s been sent to a reviewer for a cover quote.

I’ve formatted it for my paperback so I can send off for my proof copies as soon as I get the cover quote through (this will be checked, however, before publication by a professional formatter, as those pesky words always end up creating chaos and don’t fit the corners of the page where they should!).

Once the proofs are with me, it will be proofread by a few pairs of eyes before I approve it for publication and then…

I hope to publish it in October, with a book launch at the start of October. I’m planning this out as we speak as well, so it’s all go! Although I did all this just over a year ago, it’s surprising the things you forget, particularly with timings. I probably booked my cover designer a little early again but he had certain slots available and I knew the next one would be too late. I also have to consider delivery times from the US for my proofs and final print copies, so I have them for the launch in time, and I need to ensure that the main sales channels are live before I go announcing that it’s published.

It’s a long process – enjoyable (for me) but also a bit stressful!

It might seems like a fairly fast turnaround for book two, but part of this is because I’ve done it before. I was keen to publish my sequel to MM about a year or so after book one and by October it will be a year-and-a-half since MM came out. Once I started writing Phantom Phantasia, however, the story came to me quite quickly and I was writing more concisely as I subconsciously knew how many pages I needed per chapter. Which isn’t to say I wrote analytically at all – each chapter is the length it needs to be and some are shorter or longer than others – but I got into a rhythm and it seemed to work well for me.

The other thing is that, as I said before, I’m a copywriter and journalist by trade – I write a lot of words/stories every day so I’m used to writing quickly and writing well (which I think I’m ok to say without sounding precocious because I wouldn’t be earning a living from writing if I wasn’t good at it!). So, there’s that. 🙂

Anyway, this has turned into a really long post, which I didn’t intend at all! If you’re still with me, then thanks. Stay tuned for more bookish news soon! I have the inaugural meeting of the new Giant’s Causeway Book Club tomorrow evening, which I will be hosting for the Causeway. (If you’re interested, the book we were reading for this is The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan:)). I’m also planning to record a few more BookTube videos soon and there are some other things in the pipeline too.WA Lit Crawl

I also forgot to share details of a recent event I did with Women Aloud NI members at the Belfast Book Festival, as I haven’t blogged here for a few weeks… We read at Belfast’s very first Lit Crawl and it was lovely to hear new work from other writers and soak up the atmosphere. 🙂

More as I have it!

 

 

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GC Book Club & NN2…

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

GC BOOK CLUB 2

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

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

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

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

Manuscript book2NN2

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

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

Other things…

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

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

 

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