Busy busy…IWD2017 and the importance of community

Busy busy…IWD2017 and the importance of community

Lately, I’ve been too busy to write. Well, that happens sometimes.

Lately, I’ve been too busy to do housework. Well, that happens more often than one might care to admit.

Lately, I’ve been too busy to read. Well…Sorry? What? That NEVER happens.

Yes, February and March 2017 have been non-stop madness and the total of books read in that whole period is about 6 in total. There have been some crackers though: 1847 by Turtle Bunbury, The Faerie Thorn by Jane Talbot, Once we sang like other men, John MacKenna and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale which, I assure you, is far scarier this time round than when I read it 20 years ago and the internet was for university researchers and no-one I knew had their own mobile phone.

And what has had me so busy? I’m delighted to say I was assisting as PRO for an amazing celebration of International Women’s Day at the Irish Writers Centre, showcasing the talents of some of Ireland’s hundreds of women writers, and the brainchild of Women Aloud NI.

 

I honestly don’t have time to describe the day itself, a four hour readathon, readings on public transport, communications with Ireland’s main literary organisations and panel discussions, so I’m going to refer you here and here for eloquent descriptions of the day and here to some footage I took of the culmination of the day…a public massed reading in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance.

What I want to talk about instead is community…finding a community and plunging right in. I don’t think I have ever joined a community online. Every one of the groups I belong to, I’ve been invited into or signed up without my knowledge. Margaret Scott, author, brought me into Facebook right at the start, Margaret Bonass Madden, book blogger extraordinaire, enrolled me in the Rick O’Shea book club, Ana Dorado, photographer, brought me into Bite the Biscuit and really crucially Kerry Buchanan, writer, introduced me to Women Aloud NI. And there are a dozen more.

At first I was bemused…why should I spend time online when I should be reading? Or writing? Surely everyone’s just faking anyway? These aren’t real relationships? What do they want from me? And the answer is: they want as much or as little as you are prepared to give. And these relationships are real, and vibrant and rewarding as any other. As the women of Women Aloud NI spilled into the reception of the Irish Writers Centre, to meet forty women writers from the Republic of Ireland, I greeted friend after friend, hugged, laughed, exchanged views on their books, asked about their parents and children and knew that these women, most of whom I had never met before, are as real to me as some of the neighbours that I smile and wave at every day (or more so.)

Writing is a lonely occupation, especially so, I’d imagine, for those who write full-time. Find yourself a community. and plunge in.  Here I am reading from The Accidental Wife at the four hour readathon.

orla at IWC

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

Plusses and minuses

Plusses and minuses

The conversation went something like this:

“Mummy…?”

“Erm?”

“Mummy?”

“Give me a minute…”

“Mummy! Mum! MUM!”

“Can’t you see I am reading an important letter? What is so urgent?”

“Sinéad is cutting her own hair with the Arts and Crafts scissors!”

AAAAARGH!”

So on the minus side, my five year old has lopped a huge whack off her beautiful, golden tresses.

On the plus side, I wasn’t paying attention because I was reading a letter from Kildare County Council Arts Service informing me that I have won the 2016 Cecil Day Lewis Emerging Writer Award. Woo hoo!

The bursary will help me finish the research and writing of my novel-in-progress, which was a finalist in the Greenbean Novel Fair 2016 at the Irish Writer’s Centre (and which I, rather amusingly, thought was finished six months ago!) It’s a huge vote of confidence in the novel and I hope I go on to experience one fiftieth of the success of previous winners such as Hazel Gaynor, Martin Malone, Laura Jane Cassidy, Eileen Keane and dozens of others over the years.

So well done to me, and well done to the lovely people at Kildare County Council Arts Service for all their support to local established and emerging artists. Over €50,000 was allocated this year in a plethora of artistic fields. I am proud to be among them. The award will be presented at The Kildare Readers Festival in October; how great to be on stage instead of in the audience as usual!

Now, I gotta ring the hairdresser… (just in case Daniel Day Lewis turns up to congratulate me – not to mention the arts and crafts scissors catastrophe!)

 

 

 

A voice cries out in the wilderness…

A voice cries out in the wilderness…

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.

 

 

Exhaustion and exhilaration at the Novel Fair

Exhaustion and exhilaration at the Novel Fair

Greenbean Novel Fair, 2016

Well, that was as much fun as you can have in public, I think  – sitting down in the gorgeous Georgian surroundings of the Irish Writers’ Centre, in Parnell Square, Dublin, with fifteen movers and shakers from the Irish/UK/US publishing industry, knowing that they were not allowed to run away, shrieking!

A huge vote of thanks is due to Amy and the other staff of the IWC, for organising a complicated event which ran like clockwork. More than one of the agents/publishers noted how incredibly well prepared all the novelists were, and that is entirely due to the hard work of the Centre, the judges, Martina Devlin, Anthony Glavin, Margaret Hayes  and also to Kevin Curran winner of the 2014 competition, whose novel Beatsploitation was picked up at the Fair. Two weeks ago, Martina, Amy, Margaret, Anthony and Kevin took twelve novices and drilled us in the arcane arts of the “elevator pitch”. Much appreciated.

The noise levels in the room had to be experienced to be believed, twenty four people in animated conversation, gabbling at breakneck speed before the dreaded bell sounded to wails of “…but, I haven’t told you the most important bit yet…”

To the delight of the debut novelists, our shyly proferred synopsises, samples and manuscripts were snapped up and borne away by some of the leading agents and publishers in Ireland, London and New York…allowing us a few seconds fantasising about stepping out of a yellow or black cab, surrounded by flashing cameras at the launch of our million-selling block-busters, before coming back to reality with the next “Hello, how are you?”

And there was time for the odd snippet of non-novel related chat… how do vets in practice really feel about “Supervet”; the price of apartments and how best to get rid of them, and the truly bizarre decision of the Arts Council to withdraw every penny of funding from Ireland’s leading children’s publisher, O’Brien Press. (I remember signing and sharing a petition in relation to this, and I genuinely believed that a portion of funding had been returned.)

As the event drew to a close at 4pm, I couldn’t believe how vibrant and energised I felt after six solid hours of high-octane chat. What a lovely bunch of people, and what a wide-ranging and interesting set of novels we presented to them. I will be following the progress of the novels closely; I have a good feeling about several of them!

So here’s to the future, and whatever it may bring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editing like crazy

Editing like crazy

“Hello, this is Amy. From the Irish Writers’ Centre…”  Well, that’s exactly the kind of phone call I want to get on a dreary Tuesday afternoon. I held my breath. Yes! The Flight of the Wren, my debut novel has been selected for presentation to 16 leading literary agents and Irish Publishing houses at the Greenbean Novel Fair on February 20th.

I wasn’t really listening as Amy explained the rest of the details.  Writing is such a solitary affair, a bizarre mixture of the compulsion to tell the story, and the crippling self-doubt that appears to dog writers; the false certainty that anyone else in the world could tell it better. With so many days of wrestling with the keyboard behind, Amy was finally telling me that the anonymous panel of judges believed that actually, no-one can tell my story better than I can.

  1849, Ireland.  Twelve year old orphan Sally Mahon has two choices; starve to death with the children she has rescued from a life of crime, or entrust their safety to a Curragh wren, a prostitute living wild on the Curragh of Kildare. Inspired by true events, the stories of 200 real Irish women weave through this fictionalised account of life on board the prison ship Australasia, heading for van Diemens Land.

What a joy it was to attend the preparation day for the novel fair and discover that the person who championed my book was multifabulous novelist and journalist, Martina Devlin, whose books I have so enjoyed recommending to family and friends in the past.  (Check out The House where it happened here and About Sisterland here for two stunning examples of her work.)

Now, I have two weeks to follow the advice given to me at the Irish Writers Centre by Martina, and edit, polish, and practice.  When the book is as good as it can be, then it’ll all come down to me, and my powers of persuasion, on Feb 20th.  I can’t wait. And I’ve had the champagne already, just to be on the safe side.

Check out the full list of winners and the longlisted novels here I am particularly intrigued by three that I heard about: Canticle by Elizabeth McSkeane, Laura one by Julianne Knowles and Helpmeet by Alex Reece Abbott… I’d be happy to spend a day or two with any of those stories!

 

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