Bernie McGill was born in Lavey in County Derry in Northern Ireland. She studied English and Italian at Queen’s University, Belfast and graduated with a Masters degree in Irish Writing. She has written for the theatre (The Weather Watchers, The Haunting of Helena Blunden), the novel, The Butterfly Cabinet and a short story collection, Sleepwalkers. Her new novel The Tailor's House will be published by Tinder Press in 2017. Her short fiction has been nominated for numerous awards and in 2008 she won the Zoetrope:All-Story Short Fiction Award in the US. She is a recipient of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's inaugural ACES (Artists' Career Enhancement Scheme) Award in association with the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University, Belfast. She lives in Portstewart in Northern Ireland with her family and works as a Creative Writing facilitator. She offers One-to-One Mentoring via the Irish Writers' Centre.
Here it is: the redesigned cover for the new edition of The Butterfly Cabinet which comes out in the autumn of this year from Tinder Press. This is, incredibly, the eighth cover that the book has had: the third in the UK as well as two in the US, one in Netherlands and two in Italy. I love it. It feels very strong - and very contemporary. It’s exciting to see this new incarnation.
It’s been good to revisit The Butterfly Cabinet this summer. I’ve written a new article on the origins of the story, and the re-publication will include the first chapter of the new book, The Tailor’s House, which will be published by Tinder Press in 2017. I'm looking forward to seeing that cover too.
This may be the most boring photograph you’ll see this year but bear with me, it's kind of exciting for me. It’s an image of the shelf in my writing room that holds the drafts of the current project. I can count ten – and this isn’t all of them. The good news is – there won’t be any more drafts taking up space. I haven’t burned the manuscript and I can’t say it’s finished – it’s never finished - I’ve learned my lesson about saying that it is. There’s editing to be done and all manner of decisions still to be made, about cover design, and about, rather importantly, the title, but I’m delighted to say that The Book (let’s just call it that for now) has been accepted for publication. Hooray!
The Book will be published in 2017 by Tinder Press, under the same editor – Mary-Anne Harrington – who edited The Butterfly Cabinet for Headline Review. Tinder Press was launched in 2013 as Headline’s literary imprint, ‘a place where classy, intelligent writing could thrive.’ Their launch title, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award, and went on to be a Top Ten bestseller. Highlights since then include The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, an Oprah Book Club pick and international bestseller, and The Lemon Grove, an e-book phenomenon which established Helen Walsh as a major talent to watch. In 2015 they welcomed bestselling, critically acclaimed author Patrick Gale to the list with A Place Called Winter, and Sarah Winman’s hugely anticipated second novel, A Year of Marvellous Ways. ‘What these books have in common,’ say Tinder Press, ‘is a commitment to quality, and a passion for storytelling.’ I am more than a little bit delighted to have The Book placed there. Tinder Press will also republish The Butterfly Cabinet in Autumn 2016.
And here are some more reasons to be cheerful. On International Women’s Day, Tuesday 8th March, about 130 women writers from all across Northern Ireland will be coming together to take part in Women Aloud NI: a collective raising of women’s voices to celebrate the written and spoken word. There are events in every county throughout the day and into the evening: from flash fictioners in Fermanagh to balladeers in Belfast; from literati in Lisburn to dramatists in Dungannon; from prosers in Portstewart to orators in Omagh, there will be something to suit every taste. I will be at Waterstone’s in Coleraine where events kick off at 10am and continue through till 4pm in the day. I’ll be in conversation at lunchtime with the indefatigable Jane Talbot, author of The Faerie Thorn, co-ordinator and mastermind of the project, whose idea it was to do the whole thing in the first place. The day winds up at No Alibis on Botanic Avenue in Belfast in the evening where nearly 30 women writers will come together to close the day’s readings. There is a full listing of events as well as names and information on all the participating writers on the Women Aloud NI page. Come along to an event and raise your own voice, the noisier the better. And if you can't make it there in person, look out for us on Facebook or on Twitter using hashtags #WomenAloudNI #IWD2016 #ReadWomen and at our Twitter feed @WomenAloudNI. See you then.
Praise for The Butterfly Cabinet
Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, writing in The Guardian: 'McGill has the ability to enter into the brain and heart of her characters and so to make us sympathise with people who commit acts we abhor.'
Eugene McCabe, author of Death and Nightingales: 'Bernie McGill's rare, hypnotic gift for writing fills every page of The Butterfly Cabinet. [It] contains no end of apparently throwaway sentences you want to remember'
Rachel Hore, author of A Place of Secrets and The Glass Painter's Daughter: 'A haunting, often lyrical tale of quiet, mesmerising power about the dangerous borders of maternal love'
USA Today: 'This is a fantastic novel. It drenches us in gothic sensibilities as it haunts us with uncomfortable reminders of recent sensational events.'
Marie Claire: ‘An utterly compelling tale of hidden secrets and culture clashes played out against the backdrop of a large country house in Northern Ireland... it's a haunted tale, eerie with recrimination, illicit passion and frustrated motherhood. Pitch-perfect in tone, McGill captures, in counterpoint, the voices of two women as they declaim a melancholy murder ballad.’
Financial Times: 'Bernie McGill's assured debut is an intense exploration of maternal love and guilt. What also distinguishes it is its delicate portrait of a society that, within one lifetime, would face unimaginable change.'
Kirkus Reviews: ‘An emotionally bracing, refreshingly intelligent and ultimately heartbreaking story.’
Daily Mail: ‘Beautifully done and thoroughly absorbing.’
Publishers Weekly: ‘An exquisite series of painful revelations… McGill easily recreates the lives of the Castle's owners and servants and the intricate connections between them. As both Harriet and Maddie's stories emerge, the tale becomes a powder keg of domestic suspense that threatens to explode as long-kept secrets surrounding Charlotte's death are teased out.’
The Guardian: 'Defining moments of Irish history form the backdrop to each woman's narrative...The decades of complicity that follow Charlotte’s death unfold with forceful drama...'
Minneapolis Star Tribune: 'McGill employs an ingenious counterpoint technique to give her convincing fictional version of the tragedy. The interplay of the voices of two exceptionally different personalities is perhaps the book's major achievement.'
Woman & Home: ‘An absorbing story of marriage, motherhood and murder.’
New Zealand Herald: 'McGill's real triumph with this novel is how successfully she manipulates the way we feel aout her two main characters... the prose is elegant and assured.'
Good Housekeeping: ‘A dramatic and haunting novel... this is an enthralling and beautifully written debut.’
Huffington Post: 'Where McGill succeeds so well is in her language, beautiful and languorous and wild.'
Sydney Morning Herald: 'McGill's complex portrait of an unmotherly mother is as skilful and unusual as Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin.'
Verbal: ‘A gripping novel... Disturbing and thought-provoking... an examination of how to deal with the past in the midst of hope for the future... a truly absorbing and cleverly written tale that will send a shiver down your spine.’
Irish World: ‘The Butterfly Cabinet deserves to be celebrated for its ability to alter the reader’s perspective of the world... its characters leap from the page with profound and contemporary truth... Bernie McGill has achieved an incredible feat.’
Ulster Tatler: ‘The Butterfly Cabinet is an exceptionally accomplished novel... [McGill’s] prose is lyrical and beautifully composed, her characters are crafted and honed with an inherent talent and skill... writing of this calibre does not come along often.’
Sunday Tribune: ‘This is a truly convincing retelling of a true story, richly realised on every level from a writer to watch out for.’
Watch the book trailer
You had a story for me... I wasn't ready to hear it before but I'll hear it now.
When Maddie McGlade, a former nanny, receives a letter from Anna, the last of her charges and now a married woman, she realises that the time has come to unburden herself of a secret that has gnawed at her for over seventy years. It is the story of the last day in the life of Charlotte Ormond, the four-year-old only daughter of the big house where Maddie was employed as a young girl. The Butterfly Cabinet also reveals the private thoughts of Charlotte's mother, Harriet. A proud, uncompromising woman, Harriet's great passion is collecting butterflies and pinning them into her cabinet; motherhood comes no more easily to her than does her role as mistress of a far-flung Irish estate. When her daughter dies, her community is quick to condemn her. At last Maddie, and Harriet’s prison diaries that Maddie has kept hidden under lock and key in the cabinet she has inherited, will reveal a more complex truth.