Pride of place.

Pride of place.

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

martina's bookshop

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

A different route to publication…

A different route to publication…

A different route to publication.

 

I’m delighted that my first collection of short stories “The Accidental Wife” has just been published in the USA by boutique publisher Sowilo Press, and I’m counting down the days until it’s available in Ireland too. It does feel very weird not to have an Irish publisher, and to know that some of my American friends have seen the book before my Irish friends and my own family! Here’s the story of a slightly unusual route to publication.

accidental wife final cover

I started writing four years ago and I had a flurry of early success, with publication in the Fish Anthology, the Chattahoochee Review, placing and short-listing in a few prizes, including the Penguin/RTE Short Story prize, Fish Short Memoir, Valhalla Press and others. I had a story nominated for a Pushcart Prize (which you can read here  https://ilanot.wordpress.com/the-visit/ ) and that’s when I completely lost the run of myself. Despite all the dozens of articles I had read warning me not to do this, I went right ahead anyway, and submitted my partially-gestated baby to every Irish publisher I could find.   Cringe!

fish anthology-2014

Irish writers are so lucky that we have open-submission policies here — that anyone with an internet connection and a brass-neck can submit their work directly for the consideration of the editorial teams of our indigenous book publishers — but I surely can’t be the first fool to send in raw, unpolished work. The publishers who responded, all rejected the book kindly: it didn’t suit their needs.

Then I had an extraordinary piece of luck. Following a disastrous technology issue, I lost all my files (I know, don’t bother telling me how stupid that was!) Frantically, I begged one of the Irish publishers to send me back my paper submission, and they were kind enough to do so. What a horrible shock. What an immensely valuable lesson. The editors had annotated my stories in pencil, probably slightly more honestly than they might have, had they had any idea that I would one day read their notes. Glancing through the brief, acerbic notes was awful, truly horrible, but the real kick came when I realised they had stopped reading at story number five. The book didn’t “not suit their needs”. The book sucked, and it sucked badly enough that they hadn’t come close to finishing it.  I think I learned more in that half hour of horror in my living room than I might have learned in an MA classroom.

I spent a full year rewriting, and then rewriting, the book which has now become “The Accidental Wife”. Everything remained the same; the characters, the stories, the plots – everything except all the actual words!  I kept my annotated manuscript, and it sits beside my writing desk, as a little reminder to make haste as slowly as possible.

proofreading

Embarrassment at my rookie mistake prevented me from resubmitting the collection in Ireland. Was that another mistake? Who knows? Life’s a process of learning.

I researched other avenues to publication and chose a route that I thought seemed appealing. I entered the book into three worldwide competitions for debut novels and story collections. I was particularly keen on the Eludia Award, a contest run by a small press in Philadelphia PA, and after a long wait, the director of Sowilo Press, the publishing arm of the Hidden River Arts Centre in Philadelphia, sent me the email I had hardly dared hope for! My manuscript was selected from hundreds of entrants, as winner of the Eludia Award 2014. The prize? $1,000 and the holy grail, a publishing contract.

If I had thought things were slow before…

Eighteen months later, the book is finally ready. I’ve learned so much. Being with a tiny press like Sowilo has allowed me to be involved in every aspect of the publication process. From re-writes (yes, again!) to copy-edit, font-selection, galley-design, cover-design, I have had final say in every aspect of the book. I’ve worked with great professionals to craft a beautiful-looking book. Every comma, every em-dash, I take full responsibility for them, mistakes and all.

 

My book exists out there in the world, I have photos of friends and family in the US clutching my book from www.amazon.com/author/orlamcalinden, while I sit here in Ireland, wondering if they like it, and counting the days until my Irish community gets the chance to flick through my pages too.  In a few short weeks, the book will go live on https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01J24D31W  will be available from this website, www.orlamcalinden.com  and from my two wonderful local bookshops, Farrell and Nephew in Newbridge and Barker and Jones in Naas, Co Kildare. (Not to mention one heck of a launch party, sometime in the Autumn.)

Will anybody buy it? If they do, will they read it? When they do, will they like it? All those matters are out of my hands now. I, and a whole lot of time and effort, have created the best book I could, at the time that I did. Onwards and upwards, and here’s hoping that when I submit my second book, “The Flight of the Wren”, the Irish publishers won’t remember how silly I was the last time!

https://amazon.com/author/orlamcalinden/

 

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The happy author

 

 

 

 

The Accidental Wife.

Described by Martina Devlin as “authentic and visceral” and by Anthony J Quinn as “lyrical and intelligent…resonating with universal truths…”

Set against the tense background of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, The Accidental Wife follows the twists and turns of the McCann family over seven decades.
How many generations will these secrets destroy? Marion Smith has a secret. So does Colette McCann. Why did Matthew Jordan slip his passport into his pocket before he kissed his wife goodbye and drove to work? In a land riddled with suspicion and fear, secrets are not easy to keep. How long can Marion Smith hide what happened in Derry at the height of the Second World War? How many generations will her secret destroy? Lies, half-truths and omissions litter the stories of the McCann family, spanning seventy years of Northern Ireland’s turbulent history. Who will come through unscathed and who will pay for the sins of the fathers?

It takes a village… to make a book.

It takes a village… to make a book.

Well, I’ve been writing lately about all the Irish writers who, for no particular reason, have gone out of their way to help me and to champion my book. Their help is hugely appreciated, but they’re not alone.

So, The Accidental Wife is making its way to a shelf near you (near me, anyway!) So many people involved, so much thanks to express. Where to start? Well we could start with Paul McVeigh, a writer from Belfast, whose debut novel The Good Son  has swept the boards with numerous nominations and awards in the year since its publications. You can read my 5 star review here, but don’t take my word for it, tap it into your search engine and see the accolades. Paul runs an amazing website, full of submission and competition opportunities for writers. He trawls the web, searching out the good, reputable contests…

That brings us nicely to Debra Leigh Scott, writer, singer, activist, educator and founder of the Hidden River Arts Centre in Philadelphia. Debra set up the centre with her own prize-winnings from a competition she won twenty years ago, and the centre has gone from strength to strength. You’ve got to commend Debra’s impeccable taste for choosing The Accidental Wife from hundreds of anonymous entries in the Eludia Prize 2014! We’ve never met, but I feel I know Debra now, after months of Facebook interaction and back and forth regarding the forthcoming publication. Next time I make it to the USA, I’m going to try to make it my business to shake this woman’s hand!

Debra sent my scrappy, half-formatted Microsoft Word document to Doug Gordon of P M Gordon Associates, Philadelphia and he chose a beautiful font, formatted the book to perfection and then went through it with a fine-tooth comb, finding dozens of mistakes, anachronisms and typos that I had overlooked  forty times each. Any errors remaining are definitely my own!

proofreading

Artist and designer Miriam Seidel created a cover I adore and took me painstakingly through the process of choosing, designing, tweaking, editing, formatting.

accidental wife final cover

And finally, many thanks are also due to the management of my two wonderful local bookshops: Barker and Jones, Naas; Farrell and Nephew, Newbridge and to Mario Corrigan, executive librarian of the Kildare County Library service. The books will be available on the shelves at these stores and in all the branches of the Kildare Library network, for those who can’t make it to the launch, and don’t know which door to knock on to meet me face to face. The Accidental Wife will be available on Amazon, of course, and by contacting this website, but nothing beats a bookshop or library!

kildare arts logo

Details of the launch will follow as soon as possible!

 

Wonderful World of Irish Writers Part 2…

Wonderful World of  Irish Writers Part 2…

A few days ago I posted about the kindness of Anthony J Quinn, helping a total stranger by reading and reviewing The Accidental Wife.

This is far from the first act of generosity I have encountered in the world of Irish writing. Last Autumn I sent the synopsis of my upcoming novel The Flight of the Wren over to Liz Nugent, author of the massive  best-seller Unravelling Oliver, at her insistence. And how many times had I met Liz, I hear you ask, and the answer of course is: never! However, she insisted on seeing it, and then took a red pen to it, slashing my 1000 words to 300 and shaping it into a lean, mean synopsising machine.

I took my new, sharp-as-a-razor synopsis and entered it and the first 5,000 words of the novel into the anonymously-judged Greenbean Novel Fair contest, where the judges didn’t know the entrants’ names, and more unusually, the entrants didn’t know who the judges were either. The Flight of the Wren was picked up and championed by the incomparable Martina Devlin. I had loved Martina’s recent book The House Where it Happened, so much so, that I had bought several copies of it for lucky punters as Christmas presents.

And how many times had I met Martina?  Yip, that’s right: never. But… as soon as we met at the preparation day for the Novel Fair finalists, she insisted on my sending her a copy of The Accidental Wife, and wrote back to me describing it as

“thought-provoking, visceral…authentic”.

And that’s where the second of my cover quotes come from.

I’ve been on the receiving end of so many kindnesses from strangers, brought together by nothing more than our love of the written word. In the years to come, I hope I might, one day, be able to pay-it-forward.

 

Welcome to The Accidental Wife, from the wonderful world of Irish writers

Welcome to The Accidental Wife, from the wonderful world of Irish writers

Well, time is flying on, and the reality of publication is gathering speed. Respected names in the world of Irish writing have heard about my debut collection of short stories, The Accidental Wife ,  which will be published in a few weeks’ time, by Hidden River Arts in Philadelphia.  To my delight and astonishment, some of the kindest acts of generosity are coming from writers I barely know.

Take Anthony J Quinn, author of the fabulous Celcius Daly detective series, set on the dark banks of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. I met him once, last year, for five minutes, at Kildare Readers Festival. We discovered we had attended St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon at roughly the same time (an invisible, uncrossable line beside the music room separated the boys’ school from the girls’ school, so we never met. Welcome to Northern Ireland education, circa 1986!)

Anthony learned a few months ago that my first book was coming out. He contacted me, insisted on reading the manuscript, gave me a few tips, and then out of blue, wrote the following review and allowed me to use it on the back cover:

“…remarkably mature … lyrical and intelligent…  an accomplished collection of stories resonating with universal truths on family bonds and misplaced loyalties.” 

Stunned doesn’t begin to cover my reaction but I was to discover that this act of generosity isn’t unusual in the world of Irish books. I’ll tell you more over the next few weeks.