Fame, shame…and one-handed typing

Fame, shame…and one-handed typing

It’s funny what people are ashamed of. I’m a Northern Irish Catholic, educated by the Presentation Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy during the 1970s and 80s. I was a teenager during the SPUC anti-abortion craze, and I wore my badge of tiny foetal feet on my jumper every day. I was a teenager during the first horrific decade of the AIDS epidemic and sex was a dirty word. There were so many “sins” when I was a child, and yet now as an adult there is really only one “sin” that I try to avoid in daily life, which is food waste. Most of the rest I have come to think of as merely instructions intended to control the working classes. I don’t think about sin or shame very often in my busy life, unless I’m throwing out a bag of salad, so far over its eat by date that even I can’t stomach it, or soup it. Then, and only then, do I feel a pang of shame.

So when Alan Brereton and his team from Irish Television came to interview me last week for the Kildare County Matters programme, about my Eludia Prize winning collection The Accidental Wife I was surprised to find myself scouring the kitchen, hiding the detritus of family life and giving the glass surfaces a surreptitious wipe. Did this feel a bit like shame?  Why yes it did, how odd, and how utterly unlike me.

But that was nothing compared to my reaction when the cameraman focussed in on my typing, which is largely one-handed, extremely uncoordinated and incredibly inefficient. “Don’t put that in,” I ordered, “and for the love of God, don’t show the gibberish on the screen!” I was duly reassured.

The swine! Not one but two close-ups of my fingers, dancing like spiders on ketamine around my long suffering keyboard!

More shame. How utterly, utterly bizarre. What an insane thing to worry about, in what was otherwise a very enjoyable interview. While moaning about it, another writer online pointed something out to me: “Many people are able to type well, but very few of them write a book!” I could have hugged her.

I don’t know the lady in question, we’ve never met. What a shame.

You can watch the interview here  .I start at about 12 and a half minutes in, though the whole episode of Kildare county happenings is worth watching.

You can order The Accidental Wife  here.

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Love, love, love…The Accidental Wife

Love, love, love…The Accidental Wife

There are so many ways to show love. Maybe you brought flowers or a gift, maybe you bought five copies (as I know some of you did!), maybe you were on the platform, telling the world my virtues, or on the platform telling the world about The Accidental Wife and how it is the best thing since sliced toast.  Maybe like my family you braved atrocious driving conditions for 5 hour round journey to spend this special evening with me.

The launch of The Accidental Wife last night was a truly wonderful evening for me surrounded by friends and family, and a big contingent of writers and bloggers and book lovers. Thanks to each and every one of you.

A special thank you to Aoife at Designer Hair who made me look like the lady on the back of my book and wouldn’t accept payment, to Ana Dorado for the amazing photography, to Margaret Scott who acted as MC and to Martin Malone who officially launched The Accidental Wife. And to all who have read or reviewed the book and sent messages of support and affection.

Just to prove to that all forms of love were fully represented: Five minutes before the kick-off my husband burst through the doors of Barker and Jones bookshop, preceded by howling wind and wet through. As he stood and dripped a small puddle onto the floor from his soaked coat and slicked the raindrops off his face, he reached into his pocket and produced a shiny, gleaming, sparkling can of ice-cold Diet Coke. As Margaret said, it’s the closest thing to the iconic Milk Tray ads she’s ever seen in her life! (And my husband says, the book is “very good”, which is strong praise indeed!

Buy the accidental wife here

So busy…so, so busy. Launching The Accidental Wife

So busy…so, so busy. Launching The Accidental Wife

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The Accidental Wife launches 21st Sep

Why didn’t I write this book twenty years ago? Why on earth didn’t I take my first steps into publishing back when a writer wrote a book, got a contract, did some radio interviews and either had some success or gently faded away, depending on how good their publisher’s publicity department was?

I’m joking, I suppose, but my God, this self-publicity is tough work! Even the largest and most well-known publishing houses have slashed their publicity budgets and passed a lot of that work onto the already bowed shoulders of their writers. I’ve seen the hundreds of hours of  blogging, interviewing, radio and television features and thousands of words of self-promotion by some of my favourite, most successful Irish writers. I knew it would be difficult to be published by a small American publisher, with no reach or personal contacts into the Irish market, but no idea how difficult.

Every time my hand hovers over “publish” or “post” I hesitate and think…oh God, they’re all going to run away, or unfriend me, or unfollow me, or whatever you do to social media mosquitoes when they buzz around whispering “…did I tell you I’ve published a book? let me tell you a-a-a-a-ll about it…” They roll up a virtual newspaper and they look round for a bottle of DEET.

So, for absolutely, categorically the last time…I’m launching The Accidental Wife at Barker and Jones Bookshop, Naas, Co Kildare at 7pm on Wednesday 21st September. My friends and writing mentors Margaret Scott and Martin Malone are launching it with me. There will be wine, and chocolate and an opportunity to tell me I’m great. There’ll be a gathering next door in Lawlor’s Hotel at 8pm, where there will be wine, and cocktail sausages and more opportunities to tell me I’m great (or to distract my children, for which I will be even more grateful!)

And in the interim, to the dozen hardy souls who have braved the soulless wastes of amazon.com or amazon.co.uk or Goodreads to spontaneously tell the world about The Accidental Wife…many thanks! Readers don’t always realise how much those reviews mean to writers…every review increases the visibility of the book to the all-powerful Amazon search engines…get enough reviews and Amazon starts to prick up it ears and whisper to itself…I wonder should I tell people about this book…so thank you. (And remember, computers can’t read, and they don’t care what the review says, two lines is enough!)

The Accidental Wife is available at Barker and Jones, Naas, at Farrell and Nephew, Newbridge, to order from most independent bookshops, and here.

 

The Accidental Wife on the telly!

The Accidental Wife on the telly!

I’m gonna be on the telly! My children think I’m famous. Unfortunately, they are so young that they think famous automatically means “rich”. Boy, are they in for a shock.

I spent last Friday morning with Alan Brereton and a crew from the Kildare County Matters magazine show from Irish TV. It was fascinating… two hours later we had enough material to edit into a six/eight minute article. And I thought writing was slow!

We had a great time chatting about the book, and the process and all things writing related, before we got into the meat of the interview. When I finally stopped talking, Alan looked slightly shell-shocked. “Wow,” he said, “I wasn’t really expecting that.”

He’s not the first person in the last few weeks to tell me they weren’t really expecting to be so moved by my depiction of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. And I, on my part, have been surprised by how little many of my friends in the Republic of Ireland actually know about Northern Ireland’s conflict, which was only a few years ago, and just a few miles away.

Finally Alan said “I think it because there’s no big spectacular in your book. I wasn’t expecting the sensitivity….I was expecting a big bomb.”

accidental wife final cover

There’s no “spectacular” in The Accidental Wife.  It’s the story of very ordinary people trying to survive in an extraordinary time and place. I hope you enjoy it as much as Alan di, and I look forward to posting a link to the show.  Or you can watch it from the cache at Irish TV Kildare Matters in a few weeks.

 

Buy The Accidental Wife here  or contact me through the comments section

 

Pride of place.

Pride of place.

This won’t take long, but I simply have to share this exciting photo.

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That is Martina Devlin’s bookcase!!!!! And that is my book!!!! That is all.

 

And if you don’t understand how excited I am, here is my five star review that I wrote last year about Martina Devlin’s novel About Sisterland.  She’s the author of 20 books and one of Ireland’s most respected journalists. When she was revealed as the anonymous judge who had selected my anonymous work in progress, The Flight of the Wren, from the slush pile for the Greenbean Novel Fair, I took the plunge and asked her to read The Accidental Wife too. Not only did she read it, but she gave me a gorgeous review and quote for the cover. And now the actual book is on her bookcase!  Happy happy day.

 

My father’s parting gift…

My father’s parting gift…

Burial to book launch…

I never intended to write a book (or three) it just kind of happened. Now that the launch for my first published book, entitled The Accidental Wife  is organised and confirmed for Wednesday 21st September, in Barker and Jones Bookshop Naas, I thought I’d share an essay I wrote a few years ago about how the floodgates opened and the words poured out. I should of course have shared this two weeks ago, on my dad’s birthday, but that’s me…the genius idea always comes a bit too late.

So here’s the essay, written three years ago when I hardly knew how to switch on a laptop!

My father’s parting gift

365 days ago, I had no idea that one year later I would have written a memoir. I have always known that I can make words leap and soar and bounce around, but I never felt I had anything about which to write. “How many books about Teenage Mutant Ninja Vampires does the world actually need?” I wondered.

My father and I, 1970s Armagh, clip-clopping along. We shared many interests: a passion for horses, history, old books, peace and quiet. These shared hobbies drove us out into the highways and by-ways of rural Armagh. He taught me to ride. He walked beside me, holding a long rope, for years, until I was judged safe, and released. During these long, self-indulgent trips a relationship grew that transcended the hero-worship small girls have for their fathers. We were friends.

My father died a year ago today, after an accident from which he was recovering slowly but satisfactorily. We re-arranged the furniture, on Friday, to facilitate his return from hospital on Monday. He died on Sunday morning.

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The early, numb weeks passed in a straightforward fashion. I had four very young children, and a husband to organise. Women whispered at the school gates. “Isn’t she doing well? Isn’t she coping great?” I wondered what all the fuss was about. Friendly people commiserated and I would reply, “Yes indeed, he was a very elderly man. Yes, it was for the best. Yes, things could be a lot worse.” I really thought I meant it!

Afterwards? What I’d call ‘the lost weeks’. I would spend a morning full of murderous rage and frustration; tearing the house apart looking for my wallet, only to find it in the salad drawer of the fridge. I would return from Tesco to feed my family of six for a week, with a half-dozen unripe, unwanted mangoes, and no milk. I leapt to my feet, cursing, late for the school run, having sat down for five minutes, two hours previously.

As always, in times of crisis, I turned to the written word. I ploughed through heavy tomes by eminent psychologists and sociologists. Eventually I landed, by chance, upon ‘You’ll get over it’ by Virginia Ironside. She was full of wise advice and sympathy. I was not going mad; I was grieving!

A little secret tribute

On 27th July 2012, I opened my rarely used laptop. I would write a story, a family history. It would be a secret tribute to my father. I would show nobody. Three hours later, I looked at the work. It was a dusty, half-remembered family legend, passed on to me, probably accidentally, while he re-told and embellished it for his own friends. The piece was finished. It was whole and complete. I did not think, or pause for breath. I submitted it everywhere, I didn’t know any better, didn’t know that you shouldn’t submit your first story, didn’t know it’s supposed to be rubbish and live in a drawer forever.

It was published in January 2013, by The Chatahoochee Review in Georgia, USA.

Then I couldn’t stop

The writing continues. I sit down alone. Two hours later I read my new story. It spills out, fizzing, on to the screen, while I type, five or six disorganised fingers flailing, struggling to keep up with the words. Fiction, scripts, memoir, family tales.

A precious child-free hour, snatched here and there, equals a thousand words vomited into the open maw of a blank screen. During the other 160 hours per week the stories jostle and fight for position, shrieking to be released next from their incarceration. “Write me!” they plead. “Tell me.”
I edit in the kitchen, lunch-boxing a thousand ham sandwiches or stirring bolognese. Insomnia is my constant companion. I lie unquiet in the small hours; stories flash and streak across my mind until I long to clamp my hands over my brain’s ears, and scream “Enough! Let me be!”

My stories and memoirs whirl across the internet; a prize here, a shortlist there, hundreds of rejections. A short story which has arrived in a blur of busy fingers, unprovoked, uninvited, lurks in my hard drive. Each time I log on, that story- a young woman deceived by an American GI during the war- screams its rage and its indignation. “I am not a story!” it yells; “I am a PROLOGUE, get me out of here!”

And the tears have come too. I cry constantly. I cry, listening to the news. I sob at adverts for cheese, and at Tom and Jerry. I weep when my children laugh. Thank God for Virginia Ironside!

How long can this exquisite torture last? If the beehive of buzzing words sinks back into hibernation, leaving me sane again, I will be ever grateful that I, briefly, wrote. My hope is that I have been permanently blessed; my father’s parting gift.

Deep breath, everyone

Wow! I really wrote that. The extravagance of the words and the melodrama makes me cringe. Reviewing that piece makes me realise how far I’ve come, in a fairly short space of time. Endless, hypercritical revision has cut thousands of adjectives, adverbs and exclamations out of The Accidental Wife.

If I wrote that essay today it would be half as long, and a lot less hysterical. But the American GI has sneaked into The Accidental Wife,  and the world can breathe more easily, because the long-form memoir is safely where it belongs, on a hard-drive, never to see the light of day. accidental wife final cover

 


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Mslexia, dyslexia, hommes-de-plume and the Eludia award

Mslexia, dyslexia, hommes-de-plume and the Eludia award

 

The Accidental Wife goes live on Amazon

Well, the great news is that my first book, The Accidental Wife has finally gone live on amazon.co.uk as well as on the amazon.com site which has already been delivering the book to a trickle of American friends and family over the last two weeks! The book has even got its first reviews, which I’m thrilled about. As interest in the book grows, people keep asking me about the Eludia Award  (The Accidental Wife won the 2014 Eludia Award). When I explain the award, sometimes people think I’m joking…”A prize just for women? And for women of a certain age? Isn’t that kind of cheating?” So, I struggle to explain…Today I’m going to let Debra Leigh Scott, the founder of Sowilo Press and the Eludia Award explain in her own words:

Founding Director, Debra Leigh Scott, says, “The Eludia Award is dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandmother, Eludia Marie Orgoglioso, born at the turn of the last century in Abruzzi, Italy.  She lived her life at a time when women had little opportunity to follow their dreams; and although she loved the arts all her life, she was never able to pursue them beyond her wide-ranging reading of literature and volunteer singing in her church choir.  This award has been created to support the many women who, while living in a different and more “modern” time, still meet with delays and obstacles in discovering their creative selves. It is a tribute to my grandmother, and a tribute to all women artists.”

“For goodness sake,” my listeners sometimes reply, “it’s not the turn of the last century, and we’re not living in rural Italy. The shelves are full of women writers. Stop whining!” And the shelves are indeed full of women writers, and would you like to know a little secret… they get smaller advances (if any) than male writers, sometimes they get poorer contracts than male writers and their books definitely get a fraction of the column inches and a fraction of the prizes they deserve. So much so that a gorgeous new word has been coined to describe this crappy state of affairs:

Mslexia

According to the official Mslexia Magazine website[1]: Mslexia means women’s writing (ms = woman lexia = words). Its association with dyslexia is intentional. Dyslexia is a difficulty, more prevalent in men, with reading and spelling. Mslexia is a difficulty, more prevalent in women, with getting into print. Mslexia is the complex set of conditions and expectations that prevents women, who as girls so outshine boys in verbal skills, from becoming successful authors. The magazine Mslexia aims to define, explore and help overcome the condition of mslexia and provide a platform and playground for women writers. Its intention is to provide information, guidance and inspiration for published and unpublished authors, and improve the quality and standing of women’s literature.

Yip, mslexia is real and it’s out there. Would you like to hazard a guess as to why Joanne Rowling published her books under her initials?  Would you like to guess why A. O’Connor, one of the few hugely successfully men writing in the genre of “Women’s Fiction” uses his initials and has no author photo on his Amazon author page? It’s because of subconscious bias…a deep-seated, rarely vocalised belief that a person’s worth and a person’s innate talents and interests depend on the distribution of their x and Y chromosomes. For a discussion of sub-conscious bias, you will not read a more articulate or more enraging description than the following experiment carried out by Catherine Nichols, who submitted her novel 50 times under a man’s name, as a last ditch attempt to find out why it kept getting rejected. Please take five minutes to read it, from the “Writing while Female” section of Jezebel magazine. My blood is still boiling, and it prompted this whole blog.

So,thanks for The Accidental Wife, from this accidental writer…

So yes, I am hugely proud to have won a prize just for women. And so grateful to Hidden River Arts and Sowilo Press in Philadelphia for running the Eludia Award. If you are kind enough to read The Accidental Wife, I hope you’ll spare a thought for the great team of women who helped me bring the book to life.

accidental wife final cover