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!

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The Accidental wife in the Belly Telly

The Accidental wife in the Belly Telly

When I was a child, my family bought The Irish News. It wasn’t a decision one had to think hard about. “We” bought The Irish News, “They” bought the Belfast Telegraph, and never the twain did mix.

It has given me great joy to hear from readers who are participating in The Armagh Big Read, that The Accidental Wife is resonating with readers from both traditions in Northern Ireland. Readers of both nationalist and unionist backgrounds are enjoying the vibrant dialect of their homeplace and the warts-and-all fond representation of the home that they recognise.

“As I was writing it down I thought ‘this is disappearing really fast – I wonder how many people are writing this down?’ And I started thinking I really wanted to write in this dialect so people would know it had existed,” she says.

I’m thrilled that The Armagh Big Read has helped me really accept the magnitude of the changes that have occurred since my childhood and the real tangible progress in coming together as a civic society since the slow, painful birth of the peace process.

Twenty years ago, I never could have imagined this lovely, and generous article appearing in the Belfast Telegraph, never mind a photo of me in my First Communion dress, and I’m so grateful and happy for the change. Read the full article here, if you are not already utterly sick of hearing me talk about myself!!

 

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Here I am on the front page of the Telly!

And don’t forget, if you have read The Accidental Wife, before or during The Armagh Big Read, pop up a review somewhere… I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Then there are the expletives…

Then there are the expletives…

I don’t usually share reviews of The Accidental Wife, I feel they are for readers to browse at their leisure, and not for me to gloat over…and then this one comes along!

Oh Happy Day!

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first review that has been generated by the Libraries NI public massed-reading project The Armagh Big Read. And it’s the first review which I know for a fact has been written by a Northern Irish reader from the “other” tradition.

What a relief! I can’t help sharing it. My first Armagh Big Read review, written by Angeline King, author of Snugville Street, and she “gets it”, she really, really gets it!

There’s the language of farming and it’s sharp and metaphorical in a way that only one familiar with the metal spike on a velvet-soft muzzle could imagine, “The bull’s nostrils slammed open on the instant and he sucked in a huge, shuddering breath, rasping like a stone caught under a tight-fitting door.” There’s Irish mixed with Scots mixed with Middle English, all churning into buttery swirls of Ulster dialect on the page.

And then there are the expletives…

Then there are the expletives. Orla McAlinden excels at expletives and she sprays them like a deadly weapon charged with poetry, rhythm, pathos and comedy. Jesus! The bastard. Jesus! Insufferable bollocks. Jesus! Useless bollocks! Christ! Pillock. Jesus. Shut up to fuck. For Christ’s sake! Jesus. Thon wee bastard. Fuck it to hell and back. Jesus. Fuck and shit and crap and damn.

I had to write in the authentic language of my childhood, but I know it wasn’t the soundtrack to a lot of Northern Irish lives; in the homes of those often referred to as “good livers” one never took the name of the Lord in vain. I will admit to a few pangs of concern about the language of my characters as The Armagh Big Read draws closer…

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Thank God, at least one reader in The Big Armagh Read recognises the poetry and the vigour and the authenticity of “the expletives”. Read the full review here

I can’t emphasise enough, how much I would love to see more reviews from those who have read The Accidental Wife (as part of the Armagh Big Read, or not.) On Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon or on your own personal blogs…sooner or later, I’ll find them. Or post them to The Armagh Big Read. I can’t expect them all to be glowing…but I’d like to read your thoughts before I head up to Armagh in March to speak with the members of Libraries NI!!!

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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.

 

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!

 

 

Bord Gais Energy Book Awards…fingers crossed

Bord Gais Energy Book Awards…fingers crossed

Is it indecent to have a tiny gloat in public? I’m heading off to Dublin tomorrow (on a school-day, shock, horror) to have a diet coke and a bun at the announcement of the shortlist for the annual writing.ie  Short Story of the Year competition. It’s one hell of a longlist and I’m kind of stunned to be on it, to be honest! There are thirteen stories, some from writers I know and a few that I’ve not heard of yet, and that’ll soon be remedied.

Last year there were six men on the shortlist, all superb writers, but this year’s longlist has a great diversity of voices, and maybe I’ll make it through to the shortlist, to be announced around 11.30 tomorrow morning.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, and for my story The Visit, starring my favourite character Alo O’Donovan from my debut collection The Accidental Wife. Several people have already asked me to write Alo’s novel, and if he pulls this out of the hat for me, maybe I will!

The bad news if that if I make it on to the shortlist tomorrow, I might well be back here in a few days time, asking you to consider voting for The Visit. The good news is, that one way or another, I’ll be directing you to the voting platform where you’ll be able to read half-a-dozen of the year’s best short stories. What’s not to like?