Category Archives: Reading

Read All About It

Way too tidy  (and small) to be my book collection…

My kitchen floor’s a mess again.

What with books to read, poems to write, creative writing groups to facilitate and sick cats to pet, I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s no time to mop the floor. Or clean the windows (you have to do that more than once a year? Really?).

That’s the trouble with household chores like cleaning. You get it  all done, and then in an instant,  it needs doing again. And time can be so much better spent reading.

I mean, good books don’t read themselves, do they?

It was probably a bit of a coincidence, but the day I heard that Helen Dunmore had died, her novel ‘Burning Bright’ fell of the shelf in front of me. I took it as a sign to re-read it, which I did (lovely lyrical writing). It happened to be among a pile of books that all needed revisiting. I had a go at Leon Garfield’s children’s novel ’Smith’ about a Victorian street urchin with a conscience (my copy bears a bookplate showing that I gave it originally to my sister for Christmas in 1973). Then I read PG Wodehouse’s ‘Heavy Weather’, which was everything a ridiculous farce about uppercrust Brits in yesteryear should be.

After that, Emma Donoghue’s short stories ‘Touchy Subjects’ kept me quiet for a while, then I read ‘The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine’, an enjoyable No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency story from Alexander McCall Smith, followed by a re-read of Anne Enright’s dark look at Irish family life, ‘The Gathering’ (which won the Man Booker in 2007).

I’ve managed to fit in a few more-recently published books, ‘One Bad Turn’, a well-written, fast-paced thriller by Sinead Crawley; ‘Lie With Me’ by Sabine Durrant, a page turner with an unexpected twist at the end; and Anthony Horowitz’s ‘Magpie Murders’. This last one was a Book Club choice and I’ll hear how other members found it later this week.

For me, it felt like I was in the middle of a Cluedo game, with a whodunit within a whodunit which was surprisingly compulsive.  Even after I cheated and read the ending when I was only about a quarter way through (I’m often guilty of this), I had to go back and read the whole thing properly so as not to miss any of the clever twists and turns. It was all rather Midsomer Murders, but then, why wouldn’t it be? – the same prolific author created both. And the book is full of unashamed name-dropping and amusing digs at the publishing industry.

I’ve missed a few Book Club meetings recently, but I try to keep up with the titles under scrutiny, which is how I came to read the beautifully written but incredibly sad semi-auto biographical story about life with a profoundly disabled child, ‘The Mouse-proof Kitchen’ by Saira Shah. One of the things I like about being in a Book Club is reading and discussing titles I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to read.

You’d wonder with all this reading how I ever manage to have any kind of a life?

Well, I don’t.

Leastways, not one that includes mopping kitchen floors.

The Plot Thickens

Luri Cole
One of us might need a haircut before we get too deep into this writing lark

Did I mention I’m writing a novel – a joint effort with my criminologist daughter? It’s a kind of grip-lit character-led thriller.

Standing in the supermarket queue, that’s the sort of thing to drop into a conversation beginning with Irish weather/Brexit/refugees/the price of petrol/Leo-at-the-helm (delete as appropriate). Or is it?

Since we went public with our plans to write a novel together – we’re ‘Luri Cole’ (a mix of Louise and Rhiannon), we seem to have ground to a halt. The more people we tell, the slower moving the project, or so it seems. Not sure why.

Originally, we thought we might write the book in chapters, each one finishing on a cliff hanger. I’d write the story into a corner and Rhiannon would write it out again, and then into another problem for me to solve. Like a game of consequences. Simples. Ha!

Instead, we plotted it quite carefully and drew up a set of characters we believe in. Now we’ve the story and the first 50,000 words. But.

And then today, while Rhiannon was slaving over a hot stove (which is another story which might turn into a rant about decent job opportunities for criminologists in mid-west Ireland, so I’ll keep it to myself), I took myself off to an editing workshop for writers.

Another workshop? Well, yes.

Trust me, there’s no end to the number of tips and insights you can get from meeting working authors. And I really enjoyed this one.

Elizabeth Reapy’s workshop was in the Linenhall, Castlebar, County Mayo. I recommend her novel ‘Red Dirt’, which some might find surprising given my stance on cursing and swearing. red dirt ‘Red Dirt’ is a cracking (very sweary!) story of young Irish ones in Australia. But in the same way that Donal Ryan and Kevin Barry churn out the hair-curling vernacular, the language is pivotal to the characters’ story and it races along in a way that made me want to keep turning the pages (or swiping, I read it as an e-book).

At the workshop, Elizabeth recommended we write down what we find difficult in our writing, and later suggested we might ask one of our characters to tackle a part of the story that isn’t working.

Ah, ha! There followed a light bulb moment, and I rushed home to pick up Luri Cole’s story where we’d last left off. We’ve already changed tense, points of view, and ditched a main character, but there was something else wrong, and it has only now occurred to me what that is and how we can fix it.

Recently, I was at Listowel Writers’ Week, at another excellent workshop, this time with short story writer Danielle McLaughlin. And over several days, I got to listen to some successful new(ish) authors talking about their novels – and I found the whole thing very inspirational.

lying in wait   my nameis leon  himselfMy favourites were Liz Nugent (‘Lying in Wait’), Kit de Waal (‘My Name is Leon’) and Jess Kidd (‘Himself’). All come highly recommended by me (as well as by just about everyone else).

 

If Luri Cole’s forthcoming novel can be anywhere near as entertaining as these, I think we might be onto a winner.

Time to superglue bums to seats in front of the laptop and finish the damn thing!

 

Stockings, and the Filling Thereof…

cat-tales-anthologyIf you know someone who likes cats and short stories (always a good combo in my opinion) this anthology might be a good Christmas stocking filler. A paperback with illustrations and 21 stories (including one of mine, ‘Waifs and Strays’), the proceeds go to two charities – Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. ‘Cat Tales; An Anthology of Short Stories’ is available at Amazon:  Cat Tales

Or there’s ‘The 2016 Exeter Story Prize Collection: 21 New Stories’ which also includes a short, short story of mine, ‘Fitting In’ (which has nothing to do with cats!). These are stories and flash fiction from this year’s CreativeWritingMatters competitions, available on Amazon: 2016 Exeter Story Prize Collection

BTW – I’m not in it for the money on this occasion; I receive nothing from the sale of these books (I even had to PAY (gasp!) for my own copies). It’s all about me trying to raise my writing profile. Although I did get paid £50 for coming second in the Exeter Flash Fiction Competition with ‘Fitting In’  🙂

 

 

Working Titles and The Sound of Time Passing

img_8664
Just because…

Why has no-one ever before told me about the joys of audio books?

Faced with the prospect of a boring, solo four-and-a-half-hour car journey last week, I asked around about the best way to pass the time.  Obscure local radio stations and over-used MP3 playlists notwithstanding, the consensus seemed to suggest listening to stories.

So I ventured into a dusty corner of my local library and discovered a small but significant collection of audio books.

I chose ‘The Hills of Kilimanjaro’, a collection of Ernest Hemingway short stories. (Him again. I’m re-living my teenage years somehow).  Good enough, as they say around here.

But I also picked up a box of ten CDs (which represented nearly 12 hours of listening) ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ by Kate Atkinson, read by Steven Crossley (who was really good with all the accents and the male and female voices). The time then passed easily enough as I drove from one side of Ireland to the other, and then down some (Rosslare Port is a long way from where I live).

But I hadn’t expected to be at the end of my journey and so gripped by the story that I would have to transfer the CDs to my laptop and sit listening well into the small hours because I wanted to know what happened. And a laptop and earphones are way more awkward to fall asleep with than a good old paperback.

I like Kate Atkinson’s style – literary crime fiction stuffed with strong characters given to sarcastic exchanges, albeit in absurdly twisting stories of unlikely coincidences and happenstance. I’d not read this one before, not least because of the title.  It sounds like some religious self-help tome – or perhaps some frothy rom-com. Not that there’s anything wrong with either things, they were just not what I wanted to read at the time.

Which goes to show that titles can be incredibly important. To me anyway.

Before I even read the blurb on the back cover, the title has to appeal.  But then, that’s only if I’m trawling the bookshop looking for something interesting, without any particular guidance. Although I often end up reading recommended novels  that wouldn’t have otherwise caught my attention. Like ‘Burial Rights’ by Hannah Kent (I loved it), ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara (I hated it), and ‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss (I’m still reading it).  All were Book Club suggestions that wouldn’t have otherwise caught my attention because of iffy titles.

I did go through a phase of trying to avoid any books with ‘girl’ on the cover (which was quite difficult at one time recently), although I stumbled across ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ by Kate Hamer and enjoyed it. Gillian Flynn’s excellent ‘Gone Girl’ has a lot to answer for (and that was one clever title in my humble opinion).

Then there have been Rachel Joyce’s books ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ and ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy,’ which weren’t in the usual style of titles (I loved them both, too).

And I read (and mostly enjoyed) ‘The World Hums in B Flat,’ by Mari Strachan which I picked up just because of the intriguing title.

Kate Atkinson’s other works all have clever titles, among them: ’A God in Ruins’, ‘Life after Life’, and ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ (what’s there not to like about using Emily Dickinson in a book title?).  So I’m probably missing something from why she chose the title: ‘When Will There Be Good News?’

No matter – I enjoyed the audio version very much.

Trouble is, I have my long journey in reverse tomorrow and only Hemingway’s stories for company. And as everyone knows, there’s rarely any Good News in those tales.

Howya and other Gems

lgc with Dermot BolgerListening to author Dermot Bolger talking-the-talk at a hundred miles an hour and in Dublin-speak – what’s there not to like about that for an otherwise dull and rainy Saturday?

I attended Dermot Bolger’s ‘Finding a Voice’ writing workshop at the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar yesterday (July 23rd 2016).  Eleven of us (all female) spent the morning listening to tips and anecdotes from an entertaining man who certainly knows his stuff.

He started with stories of his first mentor Sheila Fitzgerald from back in the 1970s,  and continued with plenty of snippets about stars of the current Irish literary world. Dermot Bolger rubs shoulders with the literati (heck, he IS the literati!) and he has tales to tell about them all.

He revealed his own preference for writing that has texture and quality, and he highlighted the necessity for dramatic opening paragraphs that make you want to read on.  He also reminded us that you need to make time to write – and be as adamant about keeping to that special time as his late wife was about keeping silence in the house while she watched Coronation Street!

His general advice to would-be novelists was to get the first draft down with ‘passion in your heart’ and then start editing the second draft with ‘ice in your veins’. He also insisted that while it’s great to be able to disappear (as he has done) to a lighthouse to do your writing, it’s not absolutely necessary. Wherever and whenever seems to be the key – in other words: just get on with it!

We did some writing prompted by photographs he brought along – and then he went around the table critiquing us, along with the original piece of writing we’d submitted in order to get a place on the workshop.

He gave everyone positive and encouraging feedback, which was nice.  Interestingly, he thought my story could have been  more specific location-wise (I’d been deliberately vague about naming a battlefield site) but I didn’t own up that (thankfully) a few other editors haven’t taken the same view. That particular 600-word story has so far won me the Hanna Greally Award and €200, it’s been published in two anthologies, and it is about to go into a third. Which just goes to show how subjective views on writing can be.

The afternoon session was to a bigger audience when Dermot talked and answered questions about his long and successful career writing poems, plays, novels, short stories and journalism. His inspiration takes different forms – he can knockout a story whenever he gets a call say, from the BBC!

I took away a few gems from both the morning and afternoon sessions – it is lovely that a writer of Dermot Bolger’s calibre can be so enthusiastic and encouraging towards new writers and that he is so willing to give advice and insider tips and information.

And his rapid-fire, heavily accented delivery made for a hugely entertaining day.

But in all the excitement I forgot to thank him for choosing my piece as one of the winners in the I am Dublin Competition earlier this year. Mind you, he might have been peeved to hear that he awarded a blow-in the prize, and one who can’t do the Dub accent unless she’s a (Christmas) drink taken. Which may be a story for another day.

The reason my house is a mess

bookpile

I have good intentions when it comes to housework – I don’t like living in a tip. But really,when there’s a choice, what to do?  Read a book or mop the kitchen floor? It really is a no-brainer for me.

Only the thought of visitors copping a sight of my unwashed floors/windows/dishes (delete as appropriate) will spur me into action, and then only if its people who have never been to my house before.

Joan Rivers had it right when she said: “I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again”.

On some level, I must mind what people think of my housekeeping skills (or lack of them), although most of my friends know that I live in a kind of eclectic chaos, surrounded by unfinished writing projects, cats, a dog and a jungle of potted plants, so they don’t expect anything other than dust bunnies and tea stains everywhere. And books, of course. Lotsabooks. Step through the front door and there are two big bookcases in the hall stuffed to overflowing. And that’s just the entrance.

Of course, some of the books I love, some I’ve never read, some I never will, and some of them I wish I hadn’t bothered (and still more, I’m likely to read again).  But that’s the point really, they are there for me to dip into if I have the inclination. And for me, it has to be paper, it’s just not the same as firing up an e-reader (although I have one, surprisingly).

The book pile in the picture is some of my recent reading. I haven’t read the Anthony Doer yet (‘All the Light We Cannot See’), I’m saving it for next week and a book club discussion the week after. Today,  I’m reading the Anne Tyler (‘A Spool of Blue Thread’), which is another of her intricate Baltimore family observations, with some clever writing (of course) and a good story line. Very enjoyable. And so much more fun than floor cleaning.

 

I am (a fan of) Dublin

I hi_am_dublin_1024x1024ad the thrill of reading at the Irish Writers’ Centre last night (March 15th 2016), as one of the flash fiction winners in the  Five Lamps Arts Festival’s ‘I am Dublin’ competition.

Wall to wall books and original art, and very welcoming people all around –  I had a lovely evening. I got to read my piece ‘Liffey. If he. Dares.’ which was 400 flashy words somewhere between poetry and prose, which won me €60 worth of book vouchers.

The competition was judged by Dermot Bolger & Doireann Ní Ghríofa, who apparently had a hard time choosing the four winners!

The competition encouraged writers to channel their inner Anna Livia Plurabelle and to seek inspiration in the charm of the fair city of Dublin – cracks and all.   The four winners took part in the showcase event at the Irish Writers’ Centre alongside four well-known names on the Dublin literary scene:  Gavin Corbett, Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, Colm Keegan and Paula McGrath.

I am very grateful that they allowed a blow-in to come from County Roscommon to read! I really do love Dublin, the pace, the buzz,  the old and new buildings, the charm of real Dubliners, and the cosmopolitan 21st century mix going on.   I lied to the boy in the coffee shop who asked me if  I was on holiday – he then told me loads of places to visit – an excellent ambassador for Dublin!  It’s a very lively, exciting place to visit – but I’m always glad to come home to the relative peace and space of the west.

Meanwhile, the winning stories are due to be published on www.dublin.ie over the next few weeks – a busy time for the website given the proximity to St Patrick’s Day.