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…
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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!
Artist and designer Miriam Seidel created a cover I adore and took me painstakingly through the process of choosing, designing, tweaking, editing, formatting.
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!
Details of the launch will follow as soon as possible!
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.
Better start revising , in case there’s a test at the end !
I am so delighted to report that my friend, poet and now novelist Christine Whittemore, the 2013 Winner of the Eludia award from Hidden River Arts, Philadelphia PA, has been shortlisted for the Virginia Commonwealth University First Novel Award. Christine’s novel Inscription was selected by Debra Leigh Scott and her team at Hidden River for publication on their Sowilo Press imprint.
It’s a wonderful, intelligent, beautifully written and expertly researched thriller set in early Christian Era Rome, and you can read my five star review here.
I am so delighted for Christine, Debra, for Miriam Seidel (cover designer) and Doug Gordon (book designer) that their great taste in books has been vindicated! It’s extra exciting for me, as I have just received my beautifully formatted book, The Accidental Wife, from Doug, for its final proof read before going to the printers.
Well done everyone. I’ll keep you posted.
Better start revising , in case there’s a test at the end !
In the past 8 days, these are the things I have managed to fit into my life:
3 gaelic football matches
a hurling match
6 assorted training sessions
a ballet lesson, a singing lesson, 3 piano lessons, two choir practices and a partridge in a pear tree.
In addition, I have kept all four of my children alive, endured tin-whistle practice and refrained from hitting anyone. A few days ago, I even had a conversation with my husband. All in all it’s been a successful week. Except I haven’t written anything, not one word. Don’t talk to me about “the pram in the hall”. It’s the sports-gear on the washing line that’s stunting my development as a writer. And what am I going to do about it?
By lucky coincidence I happened to discover that a wonderful local writers’ group, Liffey Writers’ Circle, has swapped its meetings from Tuesday to Wednesdays, necessitating the afore-mentioned conversation with my husband (about the extreme inadvisability of his being late home from work on Wednesday evening!)
The group is hosted by Eileen Keane and she kindly invited me along. I printed a few pages of The Flight of the Wren, my famine novel which was selected for presentation at the Greenbean Novel Fair in February, and wondered whether it would be eviscerated. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Eileen and (recently signed to Poolbeg author) Olive Collins joined Pauline Clooney in careful listening and gently pointed out a few improvements and suggestions. It was a most welcoming experience, and I will definitely be back. Hopefully when I get my feet under me, I will have a few thoughts I can share with them.
Eileen is no stranger to the Newbridge literati, being well known and respected in both her fields of creative endeavour; writing and art. She’s a past winner of the James Plunkett literary award and has been short-listed for the Hennessy! Her art has been displayed and curated widely. I look forward to getting to know her better.
Olive’s first novel is listed for publication in October 2016, having just signed a contract last month with Poolbeg. I was treated to a snippet of her work-in-progress and I can’t wait to hear more. I look forward to raising a glass at the launch in the Autumn. Hopefully she’ll follow two other local Poolbeg authors Margaret Scott, and Maria Murphy, straight into the Irish Times best-sellers list.
Pauline is working on her first novel, having already had great success with her short fiction, short-listed for the Fish and Doolin short story competitions, and winning the RTE/Penguin short story comp in 2015. Drawing on her knowledge of the Bronte family from her M.Litt dissertation, her first novel deals with a motley crew of Irish amateur thespians staging a drama based on Wuthering Heights. She had brought along an extract from the twelfth chapter, and I was snorting with laughter at her skilful handling of some very awkward encounters during the drama group’s pilgrimage to Haworth. Humour is so difficult on the page, mine always falls flat and has to be deleted from the final draft. This will be a book to savour when it hits the shelves.
It’s so lovely to feel that I will no longer be a lone voice crying in the wilderness, and I look forward to meeting the other members of the circle in weeks to come.