And the winner is…

And the winner is…

junefest logo

 

Actually… you’ll have to wait, I don’t know who the winner is. I’m having a fabulous time reading the entries for the 2017 Junefest Short Story competition run by Newbridge Junefest. This brilliant festival of arts, music, theatre, song and literature is now in its fifth year. Highlights for me this year: Mundy, Wallis Bird, the One Act play festival and of course the ever-popular street festival. Find all the details here

When I attended the inaugural Junefest literary event in Newbridge Library I could never have imagined that five years later I’d be a published prize-winning author, and even further from my mind was the idea of judging other people’s work.

I have still a lovely, rustling sheaf of entries to grade and mark. To the delight of Junefest, and (I hope) to the eventual delight of the entrants, I’ve adopted the spirit of the late great Dr John Yeoman of Writers’ Village who provided every entrant in his competitions with a paragraph or two of feedback and a marking scheme. So often my own work has made a longlist only to miss the shortlist, or a shortlist only to miss the prize and have thought to myself “if only I knew where I went wrong (and right) in that story.

So apologies to Junefest entrants who are wondering what the hold-up is… the shortlist is coming soon. And I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at the Junefest literary event   on Wednesday 7th June in the new town hall. It’ll be a wonderful evening. Just look at that talented bunch below…

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Meanwhile spare a thought for me as I am also running the first-ever Irish language event in Junefest, Cór Gael Scoil Chill Dara who, for their sins, have me as their musical director. We’ll be singing in White Water at 1pm on Friday 2nd June, songs from our CD “Ding Dong Dedero” which raised €3,000 for the Jack and Jill Foundation at Christmas, and I’m proud also to be producing, sponsoring and facilitating the first ever Newbridge Big Sing community sing-along on Saturday 17th at 3 pm in the Riverbank Arts Centre.

Right, lets get back to these manuscripts!!!

So terrifying…The Armagh Big Read

So terrifying…The Armagh Big Read

The Accidental Wife was the first Armagh Big Read

 

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Lord Mayor of Armagh Garath Keating and Helen Osborn of Libraries NI and I grinning like Cheshire cats

 

What a simply terrifying and exhilarating experience it was to turn the county of my birth into a giant reading club for the months of February and March 2017.  To know that the library shelves were groaning under the weight of hundreds of copies of my debut collection, The Accidental Wife , and to know that my family and all my old friends had only to pop into town and pick up a copy before settling down to see if they could find themselves between the covers (relax everybody, you’re all far too nice/normal/sane to be written into that particular book!)

 

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We also had some schools take part, which was great fun. Here is Lismore Comprehensive from Craigavon

 

The Armagh Big Read public meetings part of the project started off calmly in the beautiful village of Bessbrook with an all-female audience with a significant proportion of teachers and librarians in the mix.  Interviewer Anthony Quinn and I could barely get to the end of a sentence before the next intelligent, thought provoking question came along. It was also lovely to meet Liz Weir, Libraries NI’s resident story-teller (what a great job!) I know Liz through her involvement with Women Aloud NI, a group which seeks to raise awareness of women writing in, about or from Northern Ireland. It was great to meet her in person at last.

The three other sessions went well… all had their own distinct personality and vibe…particularly Portadown, where I could hardly get a word in edgeways and had to keep explaining to my mother that my use of “bad language” doesn’t reflect badly on her refined character and vocabulary!

 

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Just before the Portadown event. Note the rictus of horror on my face!

 

Rather than bore you with any more details, I thought I’d share this little piece of doggerel I scribbled after the Portadown meeting, about the experience of inviting hundreds of people to read and critique your work, set in their homeplace, whilst you yourself have scarpered off to live elsewhere!  I wouldn’t call it a poem ( I wouldn’t insult the poets among you.) I’ll just call it a heartfelt reflection on a fascinating experience…

 

The artist’s fear of the home-town crowd

 

“And there is my sister, my mother close behind.

And have they seen the nude?

Oh Jesus, have they seen the nude?

I should have hung a hat and hid his magnificent erection

A fedora to cover the fuzz,

So lovingly festooned about the base of the proud member.

Well…

I mean, come on,

They both are married women

But, oh my god,

I should have thought of my mother when I planned the retrospective.

 

“And here is Auntie Josephine,

And little cousin Seamie

And they have seen the nude.

 

“And have they seen the dancers carved from Connemara marble?

And have they seen the bronzes?

A thousand hours apiece have crafted those twelve-inch bronzes.

And have they seen the studies?

My notebooks crammed with pencil, charcoal, light and shade,

Before ever scalpel was raised to clay

Or chisel to rough-hewn block of marble, seeking the imprisoned arabesque?

 

“Of course they fucking haven’t.

But they have seen the nude.

 

“Oh Shit!

Grey A-line skirt, white blouse and simple crucifix at throat.

Here comes Mother Benignus.

And she has seen the nude.”

 

And that is what the Armagh Big Read 2017 felt like…wonderful, terrifying and fun.

With much thanks to Peter Hughes, stock controller of Armagh Libraries, who was the driving force behind the whole crazy wild project!

Armagh big read 4

The Armagh Big Read 2017

The Armagh Big Read 2017

Book the dates! The Accidental Wife is going on tour!!!

I love the public library system, it’s one of the greatest achievements of the 20th Century and we have to fight against the insidious weakening of our cash-strapped libraries. Go out and use your library! And no better time than March 2017 to do so…

Here are the details of The Accidental Wife’s library tour as the inaugural title of the Libraries Northern Ireland  public mass reading initiative The Armagh Big Read:

Bessbrook Library: 6.30pm 21st March

Portadown Library: 6pm 22nd March

Lurgan Library: 11am 28th March

Armagh City Library: 6.30 pm 28th March

I’ll be there in all my glory, and I’m thrilled that the interviewer at all these events will be NI Crime writer extraordinaire, Anthony J Quinn the international best seller of Disappeared, Silence and Trespass, and the creator of Detective Celsius Daly. I’ll be having a brief fan-girl moment, but I’m sure we’ll soon be sick of the sight of each other.

Since The Visit won the BGEIBA Short Story of the Year award and the  Portadown Times published this article about the Big Read, so many of my old friends have reached out on Facebook and Twitter and reconnected. That’s been one of the most joyful aspects of the whole writing journey so far. I hope that my old friends and new readers will take the chance to come along and meet me at one of the events above.

The nine public library branches in Co Armagh have 300 copies of The Accidental Wife…get in there and start reading! See you soon.

 

Good news just keeps coming…

Good news just keeps coming…

This is the first time I have ever attempted to write a full post on a phone, so excuse the brevity!

I’m thrilled that Libraries Northern Ireland have chosen my first book, The Accidental Wife, as the Armagh Big Read for 2017. There will be hundreds of copies throughout the nine branches of public libraries in Armagh, and I’m hoping for large turnouts at four author events I’ll be participating in during March 2017.

I know every reader won’t fall in love with my characters but I hope they’ll come along and I’ll try to explain myself

And here’s a lovely article from the Portadown Times, who are helping to spread the word!

proofreading
Better start revising , in case there’s a test at the end !

Woo hoo!!!!!! BGEIBA short story of the year.

Woo hoo!!!!!! BGEIBA short story of the year.
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Me! And Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin of http://www.writing.ie the sponsor of the BGEIBA Short story of the Year

Well, I did it! Thanks so much to the judges of the BGEIBA short story award and all the people who took time to read six fantastic short stories  and to vote for my story, The Visit! It was hugely appreciated.

I had the best night! But next year I’m going to go back as a guest instead of a nominee and I’m really going to soak up the atmosphere and the company of hundreds of people who love books as much as I do. The time before my category was enjoyable but tense, after my win, I was literally numb! (Now that I think about it…I suppose I would cope if I was a nominee next year… I better start writing!)

I’m so grateful for the crazy roller-coaster journey that my debut collection The Accidental Wife has taken me on.

And thanks to the award, The Accidental Wife is now available in one of Dublin’s iconic bookshops, Dubray Books on Grafton Street… Feel free to rush out and buy half a dozen copies for your Christmas stockings!

 

Why I’m afraid to read Donal Ryan.

Why I’m afraid to read Donal Ryan.

It’s been a strange and incredibly busy two weeks, since the announcement of the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book awards shortlist, and my inclusion on it! Thanks so much to the judges for choosing The Visit out of hundreds of eligible stories.  Last year over 50,000 members of the public voted on the various titles in the 15 categories, and what a reflection that is upon the literary engagement of the Irish nation.

 

 

I have a lot of friends! I have a LOT of friends, and it takes effort and time and willingness to drive round the country with four kids in the car to keep up with them all, and I’m grateful to all those who voted for me. I’m grateful to the countless virtual friends who did so also.

And all my friends are sick, sore and tired of listening to me talking about Donal Ryan.

They’re bored hearing about how after I read Donal’s second book The Thing about December (which I fortuitously read first, as it’s actually the first book he wrote) I was completely blocked. I didn’t write a single word for 8 weeks afterwards. What, I reasoned, was the point of me continuing to write short stories based in rural Ireland in a rural voice, when the King of rural Irish writing had just descended from Parnassus? I might as well just quit.

However, eventually I sat down again, refining and revising the book that would eventually become The Accidental Wife and the story, The Visit, which would eventually find me at the Book Awards with Donal Ryan. And if I meet him next Wednesday, I’m going to have to confess that although I have long-since read The Spinning Heart and A Slanting of the Sun, I’m afraid to read his Award-nominated new book All We Shall Know, in case I get writers’ block again, in the middle of my new novel, The Flight of the Wren.

That might be an interesting conversation, I might just smile inanely instead and pretend to have lost my voice.

And all that is leading up to this:

I’m not the kind of person who feels comfortable begging readers and friends to go on to Amazon or Goodreads to review The Accidental Wife. Is it beneath us, as writers to beg for reviews? No, it’s not – go for it – but I don’t feel comfortable asking, so I don’t. I also haven’t shared any of the many lovely things people have said or written about the collection before, but today’s the day…

In the two months since I launched The Accidental Wife, about half a dozen readers have sought me out and told me how much they enjoyed it, and how it “really reminds me of Donal Ryan” (swoon!!!!)  and every time, 12 years of 1970-80s Irish Convent education has prevented me from grabbing them by the shoulders and shrieking “Oh My GOD! You need to write that down and sign it”. Instead I have mustered every ounce of Northern Irish reticence and said, “Oh, don’t be silly, you’re too kind!”

So I’m breaking my habit of not sharing reviews to say thanks to Lorna Sixsmith for this Amazon review posted a few days ago:   Loved it. If you enjoyed Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, I think you’ll love this. It’s not plot driven but delves into people’s thoughts and feelings so deeply, it’s very powerful writing. I thought this was wonderful.

Now I’m going off to speak to my spiritual adviser (well, I have to find one first, but it can’t be that hard) to find out what the current Convent school guidelines would be about grabbing and kissing someone the second time you ever meet them, in case Lorna and I happen to be at the Ploughing Championships on the same day again.

(That’s where I met Lorna; even at the Ploughing, you can trust me to sniff out a book launch. The third in her series “An Ideal farm husband” is a fab stocking-filler for farming friends by the way. And I see from th’internet that her second book has just won a CAP independent publishing award. )

If any other satisfied readers wish to write a review comparing The Accidental Wife to Donal Ryan, Charles Dickens, Chaucer or Shakespeare, I’ll be happy to share it!!

 

 

BGEIBA shortlist!

BGEIBA shortlist!

I’m insanely late posting this update. There just aren’t enough hours in a week anymore. How did I manage before? How did I ever get the actual book written, when I can no longer find the time to even update a blog page? And how on earth do more established writers cope with their time management, writing book after book, while caught up in the madness of trying to promote the first ones?

This is not a complaint! It is DEFINITELY not a complaint! It’s a longwinded way of saying I’ve been busy; talking to the media, visiting bookshops, writing press-releases and being interviewed by the local Library services here, because my story The Visit made it onto the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards shortlist! I can’t tell you how exciting that is for a debut author with a very short publication record.

I’m not expecting to win the award, because I feel as though I have already won. At the shortlist announcement I managed to press my book into the hands of Donal Ryan (swoon, my current literary hero!) and a few other pairs of hands too. And what a thrill to walk into a local bookshop, Woodbine Books in Kilcullen, and find my book on the BGEIBA award table beside one of my favourite local writers, NYT bestseller Hazel Gaynor’s third novel, The Girl from the Savoy (shortlisted in the popular fiction category.) That’s nearly enough.

However, if you feel like it’s not quite enough… the six shortlisted stories are available to read here, and then you vote for your favourite. Voting is open to readers worldwide, so please do think about reading and voting. (Naturally, if you vote for The Visit, that’s even better, and I’d love you to share my news.) At the absolute worst, you get to read six excellent and very diverse stories.

Now I need a dress and a pair of shoes for the gala dinner and award announcement on Wednesday 16th November!