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!

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Kind words

Kind words

I don’t know how many Irish writers publish their debut novel or story collection each year, but I do know that a weekly newspaper column only happens at most 52 times per year! So that’s fifty-odd chances to break-through all the white-noise and static on social media and get noticed… even more difficult without an Irish publishing house or an agent at the helm.

I was really delighted when Sue Leonard who reviews debuts for the Beginner’s Pluck column in the Irish Examiner each Saturday got in touch out of the blue. I’d have loved to have headed into Dublin and met Sue, one of Ireland’s best-loved ghost-writers and reviewers, but Dublin Bus strike intervened and by the magical power of telephony (and how many of us actually understand how it works?) here is my Beginner’s Pluck article.

Many thanks to Sue

Find out more about The Accidental Wife here.

 

 

Talented friends…

Talented friends…

Let’s see how many of you can recognise yourselves in this wonderful photo video by my good friend and ace photographer Ana Dorado of ABD Photography.  She was sneaking around at the launch of my award-winning debut The Accidental Wife and I bet you didn’t even notice her! Go on have a look at yourselves and see how lovely you all are. (PS…I don’t have any idea why there is a chocolate and a can of Diet Coke on that table! Must belong to someone else!)

 

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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.”

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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

 

A picture tells a thousand words

A picture tells a thousand words

Aaargh, my eyes, my eyes!

My mother always warned me that too much television would make my eyes go square. These days we know that myopia is basically genetic and there’s not much you can do to prevent it, but I was convinced when diagnosed short-sighted at 8 years old, that I had brought it upon myself, not through excessive TV, but from reading under the blankets (sometimes even actually under the bed) by torchlight.

Well, last August I had my eyes laser corrected and it’s been plain sailing for the last few months until today. My eyes burn and ache. I’ve been sitting up night after night, staring fixedly into a screen scrolling through thousands of images of Northern Ireland during the Troubles and through thousands and thousands of stock images of weeping women, crying children, war scenes and fields of barley. It looks like my mother may have been right all along about the eye-damaging dangers of too much screen time.

I have been looking for the perfect image to send to Philadelphia to start constructing the cover of my debut collection of short stories, The Accidental Wife. It’s easier said than done, finding the image, painstakingly tracking down the copyright owner and then falling off the chair in shock upon finally finding out the fee for using these important historical documents. Leaving aside the thorny issue of the fiscal space, the act of searching through these images has brought a lot of emotion up to the surface and has also created a deeper horror and loathing of the events currently taking place in Aleppo and elsewhere. It’s a bit of a moral quagmire to be scrolling along through these stunning images until the voice in your heads shouts That’s perfect, that’d be perfect, and you pause for a moment and look again and realise that you are looking at the shattering of someone else’s life.

I am deservedly excited about the book, but the act of reviewing the images has made me wonder, how many authors, musicians, ballerinas, sculptors, woodcarvers and mathematicians are currently growing up without an education in the Jungle in Calais or in the colossal refugee camps just inside the Lebanese border.

I will go back in a day or two and try to find my perfect picture. But in the meantime, if you want to sleep at night, don’t type ” black and white image children playing war conflict” into your search engines.

 

Wonderful work by Kildare Library Services at Kildare Readers’ Festival

I would hesitate to call myself a writer.  I know a lot of people who would disagree with this philosophy, but I am old enough, and possibly square enough, to feel that I won’t call myself a writer until I have an established catalogue of books to my name.  I am awaiting my first collection of short stories from Sowilo Press, and I have sent my first completed novel out into the world looking for representation…. until these birds come home to roost, I just don’t feel comfortable calling myself a writer yet.

So what would I call myself?  Among the many, many words I could choose, one springs to the tip of my tongue.  READER!!!  I have been reading since before I started school.  Apart from sleeping, no activity takes up more of my week than reading.  Four, five, six novels a week wouldn’t be unusual.  I read while stirring the pots, and while brushing my teeth!  It’s a sickness really.

How wonderful, therefore, to find a festival just for readers, a stone’s throw from my own front door, at Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge, hosted by Lucina Russell and a team from Kildare County Council Arts Service.  A huge range of free events was available, some events sold out, others appealed to a smaller audience, but each one was of high calibre, featuring established writers, academics and critics from Kildare and nationwide.

I was delighted to meet Nuala Ni Chonchuir, who, as Nuala O’Connnor, is set for international stardom with her newest novel, Miss Emily, a fictionalised account of the relationship of Emily Dickinson with her Irish maid, Ada Concannon.

Also, it was thrilling to meet Anthony Quinn, author of Disappeared, one of the best detective novels I have ever read, set in and around Lough Neagh, featuring ghosts and memories of Northern Ireland’s darkest days, which, I assure you, lurk still beneath the thinnest veneer of “normality”.  Anthony has written several novels since, and I went home clutching one of them, The Blood Dimmed Tide and it was fascinating to hear him speak of how the spirit of WB Yeats informed the writing of this novel, exploring Yeats’ spiritualism and mysticism in this, the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Maybe, one day, I will feel comfortable and wholly in place at a “writers’ festival”, but for now, from this grateful reader, well done and thanks to Kildare Arts Service.

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