It’s quiet, isn’t it? If you listen carefully to this picture, you can hear the frost thawing on the leaves. Think of it as the equivalent of the 1970’s BBC test card, but without the scary clown face. There are no broadcasts. There is writing going on. I’ll be back when normal services resume. Thank you for your patience.
At 11.30am on Saturday 31st August 2013, you will find me up Pogue’s Entry (no nonsense out of you Irish speakers) where I will be ensconced in the chimney corner in the birthplace of Alexander Irvine, reading from his much-loved book, My Lady of the Chimney Corner.
The reason for this is that Antrim Borough Council is currently celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of its most famous sons. I didn’t know much about Alexander Irvine, but I’ve been reading Alistair J. Smyth’s introduction to the book and I like what I hear about him. Born in Antrim town on 19th January 1863, Alexander was the ninth child of Anna and Jamie Irvine. His father was a shoe-maker, poor and illiterate. His mother had been educated, was destined before her marriage to become a teacher and was a sincere devotee of the Church, but her love for Jamie led her to leave her home in Crumlin and to set up house with him in Antrim to a life of severe poverty and hardship. Despite their difficulties, she is portrayed by Irvine as a beacon of wisdom and hope to her family always and as a profound inspiration to her youngest son.*
As a youngster Alexander worked as a barefoot paperboy and then as stableboy to the local landlord. He laboured as a miner’s mucker in the coalmines of Scotland before joining the Royal Marine Corp where he finally got the education he’d missed out on as a child. After spending some time at Oxford University, he emigrated to the United States where he began his ministry in the New York Bowery slums. In 1903 he took his doctorate in theology from the University of Yale. He was a YMCA padre in the trenches during the First World War; he was invited by Lloyd George to address the miners of Britain who refused to return to work after the General Strike; he was later elected to the National Executive of the American Socialist Party. Wherever he went and whoever he met, he never forgot where he came from. He had an abiding affinity with the working classes and he accredited his philosophy on life to the woman who taught him so well as a child. ‘Sunk in direst poverty all her life,’ he wrote, ‘my mother in her chimney corner was a minister of light. Her sayings came to me with fresh meaning: “There’s only one kind of poverty, and that’s to have no love in the heart.” … In the face of poverty, when food was poor and scanty and our clothes in rags, my mother, in every respect but the material one, was a lady…’ My Lady of the Chimney Corner is a fascinating social history of late nineteenth century Ireland and a heart-warming, often humorous, and moving tribute to the mother who had such a profound influence on the man.
Admission to the reading is free - you’ll find directions to the Irvine cottage here. I’ll be reading a chapter from Alexander Irvine’s book and an extract or two from The Butterfly Cabinet as well. The life that Anna Gilmore Irvine led in reality seems not that far removed from the life that Maddie McGlade’s mother would have lived in fiction. I wish I’d known about her before. The Irvine celebrations include a lecture by Alastair J. Smyth and continue into September of this year so come along if you get the chance. I guarantee that by the end of it, you'll be as transfixed as was Hughie Thornton in Irvine's book, with your blood frozen like the icicles hanging from the thatch and the hair standing on you like the bristles in O'Hara's bog.
There’s a bit of a giveaway starting next week over at Goodreads. It opens on August 13th and finishes on August 15th. If you live in the world and are awake during some of these hours and are a member of Goodreads (or happy to sign up) you have a fair chance of winning a signed print copy of Sleepwalkers. I say ‘the world’ but to be honest, when I was selecting all the eligible countries, I think I may have missed out Zimbabwe, what with that being the last country to be listed alphabetically and what with me not being able to make the mouse go past it and therefore (I suspect) not actually selecting it. (The problems of being an inept Mac user...) But if you do happen to live in Zimbabwe, do not despair. There will be other opportunities to win a signed print copy of Sleepwalkers and when I set up the next giveaway, I will be sure to start with Zimbabwe and work my way up the list, thus avoiding this problem. Of course, this may well mean that I miss out Afghanistan, since it’s the first country listed. I will attempt to hone my mousing skills between then and now, but if you live in Afghanistan, and you’d like a copy, it might be worth entering this time, just in case I don’t manage that. Zimbabwe – your time will come. You can enter at Goodreads here and if you win, a copy will be posted to you wherever you are. You can also read a sample story here FOR FREE. And if your nerves are not up to the suspense of competition entries, and you’re a digital kind of bod, and you've got some cash to spare, you can go ahead and buy a copy on Kobo or on Amazon or on iTunes. At the moment, you can buy print copies from the excellent No Alibis on Botanic Avenue in Belfast. We’re working on making these more readily available in the near future. That is all. Good luck.
I went to Rathlin, I got rained on. I was saved from the downpour by a friend in a car in which the windscreen wipers did not work and the doors needed a little encouragement to close - and I’m very thankful for it. I had toasties, I had soup, I had fish and chips in a wooden hut. I had great chats with islanders. I wrote down a recipe for barley bread, I photographed some thistle. There was a very insistent greenfinch outside my bedroom window and a thrush on the patio beating the bejasus out of a morning slug. In the west, there were kittiwakes and razorbills, fulmars and puffins. In the east there were beams of light from Altacorry and from the Maidens and from Kintyre. There was fog, there was sunshine, there were rabbits, there were seals. There was a book in the Visitors’ Centre that turned out to be a treasure. There were stories and now, there are some words. If I’m quiet for a little while, that may mean that more words have come, or it may just mean that I’ve fallen asleep.
If you’re in or around the north coast the weekend of 5th-7th July, you may want to check out the Castlerock/Mussenden Festival which has everything from music to arts to crafts to sports to food to books to segwaying. I’ll be reading along with poet Frank Sewell at the Visitors’ Centre, Castlerock on Sunday 7th July at 2pm and again at 3.30pm that day. Frank is a poet, translator, editor, songwriter and singer. Formerly a co-editor of literary journal The Honest Ulsterman, he has collaborated with many artists, including poet Cathal O Searcaigh, visual artist Roger Robinson and poet Mutsuo Takahashi. His first book of poems (Outside the Walls) was published in 1997, a joint collection with poet Francis O'Hare; and his next book (a solo project) will be published by Lagan Press in 2014. I’ll be reading from The Butterfly Cabinet and from Sleepwalkers. Admission to the reading is free. For more information on Festival events for the weekend email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great summer. See you when the rain stops.
If I had a hat (I don’t suit them), I’d take it off to the man who walked across the bed of the Bann from the strand in Portstewart to Castlerock in the mid 1800’s, at a time of severe drought in the country and before the river was dredged. (The things you discover when you’re researching a book…) Needless to say, I haven’t done that, but you could be fooled into thinking that I had, if you watched the new video from Whittrick Press, made to celebrate the publication of Sleepwalkers. The strand is to the east of the river, Mussenden Temple to the west, the Bar Mouth between the two. Check out the video. It’s spooky!
It’s been all about the digital lately. We launched Whittrick and Sleepwalkers on the Belfast Barge in early May – a memorable night of friends, family, fellow writers, flowers and fizzy things. I can’t sum it up better than did D J McCune who said this about it and made me laugh a lot: ‘[We] made it our mission to eat our own body weight in complimentary gherkins. I know more about the savage whittrick and its anal glands than I ever thought possible. And the whole thing happened on a boat. 11 out of 10!’ There’s a video of the whole affair (minus the glands and gherkins) here. Sleepwalkers is available on Kindle, on Kobo and on iTunes and in traditional print format, I’m delighted to say, from No Alibis Bookstore on Botanic Avenue, Belfast. It was longlisted for the 2013 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. It didn't make the shortlist of six, but given that these are the writers that did - well! Let's just say it was very good to be in their company, even if it was just for a little while.
Undigitally, I’ve been busy for the last couple of months, facilitating workshops and readings in Moyle, Limavady and Ballymoney for Creative Causeway in collaboration with the University of Ulster. And just last weekend Flowerfield hosted a group of writers from Belfast Metropolitan College for a writing residential which included a sparkling night of readings and song. We were joined by writers from a number of local groups including the Jane Ross Writers from Limavady, Ballycastle writers and Queen’s Writers’ Group in Belfast. (There are some pictures of the revelries on my Facebook Page.)
My plan now is to get some words down so I’ve scheduled a short trip to Rathlin for a bit of island inspiration. If I appear back here in a month or so with no words to show for it, I hope you’ll have something to say about it. One last gig before school’s out for summer - I’ll be appearing (undigitised) at the Linen Hall Library on Thursday 13th June, on a panel of short story writers hosted by Sinead Gleeson, talking about the future of the short story form. The event follows the launch of the Faber and Faber New Irish Short Stories, edited by the spectacular Kevin Barry and is part of the excellent Belfast Book Festival. Featured in this year’s festival are a host of international stars from travel writer Paul Theroux, to John Boyne, author of the internationally acclaimed The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas; world renowned food critic Jay Rayner and the Scottish National Poet, Liz Lochhead. One other event of note - PR for Writers with Sara Sheridan at the Crescent Arts Centre at 4.30pm on Thursday 13th June, organised in collaboration with LitNetNI. The full programme is available to download here. See you back here again when it's all quietened down a bit.
As promised, I have returned with news of upcoming Spring/Summer events (and somewhat randomly, a clump of wild Rathlin fuchsia - because you’re worth it).
On Tuesday 23rd April I’ll be reading at Waterstone’s, Fountain Street, Belfast along with author Tony Macaulay (Paperboy and Breadboy) to celebrate World Book Night. Proceedings kick off at 6.30pm and wind up about 8.30pm. You’re very welcome to join us there. I’m told that there will be giveaways, refreshments and a quiz! Further details from: Waterstones, 44-46 Fountain St. Belfast, BT1 5EE. Telephone: 028 90 240159; E-mail: email@example.com.
As part of a project funded by the Garfield Weston Trust and the University of Ulster with additional support from Causeway Coast Arts, I’ll be leading a number of workshops and readings in the Causeway area in April and May. ‘The workshops will focus on how to approach the blank page. Using practical exercises and writing techniques to help generate creative ideas, participants will be guided to write something from scratch and will learn something about the approaches they can use to develop their own writing.’ So if you’ve always fancied giving writing a go, this could be the time to try it, and if you already give it a go on a regular basis, come and give it a go some more. (The workshops are open to anyone over 16. Under 18s must be accompanied by an adult.) Details of venues and times as follows.
On Saturday 27th April the first Writing from Scratch workshop takes place at Sheskburn House, 7 Mary Street, Ballycastle (10am-12.30pm), followed by a reading and Q&A at 1pm. If you’d like to book a place on the workshop and stay for the reading, you’re advised to bring a packed lunch. To book (workshop fee is £5; admission to the reading is free) contact Sheskburn House, Ballycastle – Tel: (028) 2076 3300. To download full details of this and other events from Moyle District Council go here and search for Creative Causeway.
On Saturday 4th May there’ll be a second Writing from Scratch workshop, this time at Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre, Limavady from 10am-1pm, again followed by a reading and Q&A from 1.30pm (so bring a sandwich). To book contact 028777 60650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The fee for the workshop is £5; admission to the reading is free. For full event timetable for Limavady 400 go here.
The third Writing from Scratch workshop takes place on Tuesday 7th May, 7pm-9.30pm, at Ballymoney Town Hall, cost £5 and the reading (admission free) is on Tuesday 14th May, 7pm – 9.30pm, also at Ballymoney Town Hall. This final evening will also include readings from some of the creative writers who take part in the Ballymoney workshop. For further information and to book a place please contact Ballymoney Town Hall – Tel: 028 2766 0230.
Thursday 9th May is the launch date for my new short story collection, Sleepwalkers & Other Stories, published by Whittrick Press and launched during the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. You’re very welcome to join us at the Belfast Barge, 1 Lanyon Quay, Belfast at 7pm (admission free), to smash a bottle of champers against its side and send it on its way. Full details here. For great events throughout May 2013, including comedy, music, theatre, visual arts, sound and vision and words and ideas see the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival brochure.
And since we’re plugging arts festivals, The John Hewitt Spring Festival takes place this year at the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough, Co. Antrim on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th May. It includes workshops by poet Cherry Smyth, the Great Northern Novel Debate (always a good set-to) with Kim Lenaghan, Anita Robinson and Kenneth Irvine, and talks and readings from the likes of Sarfraz Manzoor, Louise Doughty and Ronan Bennett. Cherry Smyth will read on the Saturday with local poets Heather Newcombe, Elaine Gaston and Michael McKimm. This is a great festival that supports local writers as well as attracting international names. You can attend individual events, book in for a half or a full day, or for the whole weekend. The hospitality is fantastic, the food is delicious and the craic is mighty so support it if you can. (I always come away with my brain worn out from thinking.) The novels under discussion this year for the ‘Great Northern Novel’ accolade are: Bernard McLaverty’s Grace Notes, David Park’s The Light of Amsterdam and Maggie OFarrell’s The Hand that First Held Mine. I am, of course, keeping an open mind until the debate is aired, but I LOVE Maggie O’Farrell's writing, plus we share a publisher and an editor so I may be just a little bit biased. Full programme details here.
On Saturday 1st June at 7.30pm, we'll be hosting our annual Say the Word event at Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart. Say the Word is a reading extravaganza to which the Flowerfield Writers’ Group invites writers from groups from across the country to join us for an evening of readings, music and song. We will be joined this year by students from Belfast Metropolitan College who are attending a writing residential at Flowerfield for the weekend, but we would like, as ever, to extend the invitation to anyone of a writing disposition who’d care to join us. We ask that you come prepared to read something of your own (up to three pages of poetry or five hundred words of prose) and to listen to the other writers. We also ask for a small donation to cover the cost of light refreshments. Our in-house band will be back in residence (one ukelele, one guitar – additional instruments welcomed). To secure a reading slot, get in touch at email@example.com.
That's your lot. Come out and let your brain dance and in the meantime, enjoy the fuchsia.
I’m back! Did you miss me? Don’t answer that. If you’re wondering where I’ve been, I’ve been at Libraries NI, blogging away like a crazy woman. If you don’t believe me, you can read what I’ve been up to here. See? Told you I’ve been busy.
I’ve just been named a Versatile Blogger – not once, if you don’t mind, but twice, so I must be extremely versatile indeed. (You would believe this if you saw me reach in to the back of the cupboard for the last remnant of the Easter egg which I hid from myself, but not all that well.) The Versatile Blogger is a kind of virtual tag-game in which you name seven interesting things about yourself, and then tag someone else. ‘Sure thing,’ I said to fellow-blogger Lesley Richardson when she mentioned it, ‘count me in,’ and then had a panic attack about the seven interesting things I was supposed to come up with, so didn’t do a thing about it. Then another blogger-friend, Ashley McCook invited me too and I reckon that’s the kind of serendipity you can’t ignore so here are seven interesting(ish) things about me. (It started off innocently enough, then took something of a romantic turn – Spring in the air?)
• I have seven brothers. This would be a more interesting fact if the seventh of them had seven sons. He does not.
• I love mushrooms. I once had a boyfriend who brought me a bouquet of mushrooms as a present. Both my daughters hate mushrooms with a passion. (I didn’t marry the mushroom man.)
• I love avocado too. The first time I bought one, I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought, because it was called an avocado pear, that it was something you made into a dessert. I was cooking for my then boyfriend for the first time and I ended up using it as a table decoration. I burnt the mouth off him with a peppercorn sauce but he still married me anyway. (He does quite a lot of the cooking.)
• As a student in Italy, I spent one memorable night, along with my friend Rachael, four floors up on the balcony of a hotel in Rome with the shutter between us and the Italian police who were searching the bedroom on the other side of the window. They weren’t looking for us, but had it occurred to them to raise the shutter, we’d have had quite a bit of explaining to do. This is a very long story involving shopping trolleys, car number plates, passports (or rather, the lack thereof) architects (doesn’t it always) and the inhospitality of nuns. (The man whose bedroom it was, is the man I later burnt the mouth off with the peppercorn sauce, in an unrelated incident.)
• Not long after we got married, my husband and I were staying with my Mum and Dad. When I got up in the morning, my husband’s wedding ring was on my finger, over my own wedding ring. I can’t work out how that happened. It’s not an easy thing to put a ring on a person’s finger, even with their full cooperation, never mind when both parties are asleep. I still don’t know what it means. (He says he was trying to make his escape, but he’s still here, eighteen years later.)
• My pet hate? When my husband leaves the floor sweepings in the corner of the kitchen beside the dustpan and brush. I mean, how much more effort does it take to actually sweep the freaking sweepings up and into the bin? (Should have married the mushroom man.)
• I like the words ‘escutcheon’, ‘architrave’ and ‘fenestration’. They’re all good words, I think, and they’re all words my husband uses. He speaks a whole other language. (A mention of this may mean he will forgive me, for the sweepings outburst.)
At this point, I’m supposed to tag a few other people, but to be honest with you, I’m all tagged out so I’m just going to send you back to Lesley’s and to Ashley’s excellent blogs which are well worth a look. I’ll be back again soon with some interesting(ish) upcoming events but here’s a little taster until then. See ya!
On Saturday 13th April I’ll be facilitating a day-long Short Story Writing Workshop at An Creagán (between Cookstown and Omagh) in a gorgeous room with a wall of glass that overlooks a miniature lake. We’ll be there from 10am till 6pm, writing like mad things, after which there’ll be a group reading by the fireside. Doesn’t that sound like a great way to spend a day? It looks like the workshop is all booked up but if you fancy joining us for the reading, it kicks off at 6pm. There are more details here.
I’m going to be missing from here for a while. From around the end of February, I’ll be doing a bit of moonlight blogging over at Libraries NI (come on over and say hello). This is because during Creativity Month in March 2013, I’m going to be the Writer in Residence there. (Yeehaa!) This is just about the best job I can think of doing. I get to hang out in libraries, do a bit of writing, and talk writing to other people who want to talk about writing. I can’t actually think of anything I’d rather do. I may invest in a kaftan, I don’t know. Too much? A cape, maybe? Anyway, I’ll be out and about leading workshops, giving talks, the odd reading, and facilitating one-to-one writing clinics (that’s writing clinics – don’t be bringing me your bunions or your boils please, unless they’re of a literary nature) and generally having a time of it. The full programme will be available soon from Libraries NI, but in the meantime, here are the details of where I’ll be and when I’ll be there and what I’ll be doing while I’m there. All the events are free but numbers are limited so to book a place, please contact the individual libraries directly. And please note: you need to secure a place for the writing clinic(s) before submitting your work. Here goes.
Saturday 2nd March 2pm-4pm at Bangor Carnegie Library
e: firstname.lastname@example.org; t: 028 9127 0591
A creative writing seminar on The Butterfly Cabinet: a short talk on the novel and a discussion on different approaches to writing and structuring longer fiction.
Tuesday 5th March 6pm-8pm at Banbridge Library
e: email@example.com; t: 028 4062 3973
Creative writing workshop: a practical writing session for those getting started as well as for those who have been writing for a while. Bring pen and paper and prepare to get writing!
Thursday 7th March 3pm-7pm at Belfast Central Library
e: Belfastlending@librariesni.org.uk; t: 028 9050 9162
Creative writing clinic providing one-to-one advice and feedback. Participants should in the first instance book a place and then submit up to 2000 words of their work (short story or novel extract) by Thursday 21st February to firstname.lastname@example.org. Meetings will be arranged for Thursday 7th March between the times indicated in 30 minute slots.
Sunday 10th March 1.30pm-4.30pm at Coleraine Library
e: email@example.com; t: 028 7034 2561
Creative writing clinic : providing one-to-one advice and feedback. Participants should in the first instance book a place and then submit up to 2000 words of their work (short story or novel extract) by Thursday 21st February to firstname.lastname@example.org. Meetings will be arranged for Sunday 10th March between the times indicated in 30 minute slots.
Monday 11th March 7pm-9pm at Derry Central Library
e: email@example.com; t: 028 7127 2310
Seminar: How to get Published. A short talk on the publication process for The Butterfly Cabinet and an invitation to participants to share their own experiences of traditional, digital and self-publishing.
Tuesday 12th March 6pm-8pm at Omagh Library
e: firstname.lastname@example.org; t: 028 8224 4821
A creative writing workshop: a practical writing session for those getting started as well as for those who have been writing for a while. Bring pen and paper and prepare to get writing!
Thursday 14th March 1.15pm at Belfast Central Library
e: Belfastlending@librariesni.org.uk t: 028 9050 9162
I’ll be giving a lunchtime reading followed by a question and answer session.
Tuesday 26th March 6pm-8pm at Newry City Library
e: email@example.com; t: 028 3026 4683
Creative Writing Workshop: Writing Short Stories. A practical writing session focussing on short story writing which looks at the form and how to get started. Hopefully participants will leave with, at the very least, an idea for a story and a sense of how to develop it.
Thursday 28th March 6pm-8pm at Ballyhackamore Library
e: firstname.lastname@example.org; t: 028 9050 9204
Creative writing workshop: a practical writing session for those getting started as well as for those who have been writing for a while. Bring pen and paper and (yes, you guessed it) prepare to get writing!
I’m taking part in a blog hop. (A what?) A blog hop. It’s a sort of benign pyramid scheme for blogging writers. (How did that happen?) Well, Alrene Hughes kindly invited me to take part and tagged me in her blog on 16th January, along with a number of other writers. Alrene is author of Martha’s Girls, a family saga set in Belfast in World War II. This is her debut novel, it is published by Matador and is available as a paperback and an ebook.
(What now?) I answer the ten blog hop questions, and recruit a number of other writers (below) to do the same. Eventually, there will be no writers left to tag, since everyone will have done it and then it will stop. But until then, here we go…
What are you working on at the moment?
A short story collection, title to be decided.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Well, I wrote some stories and I read some of them in public and some people said, ‘Why don’t you publish a collection?’
What genre does your book fall under?
Tricky, but I’d say ‘Short Stories’ sums it up best.
Which actors would you choose to play in a film rendition of your book?
Oh, nice question. Let me see. A student at a talk I gave recently at Belfast Metropolitan College said she thought Tilda Swinton would make a great Harriet in The Butterfly Cabinet and I love that idea, but I don’t think she’d be right for any of the stories in this collection so sorry, Tilda, no through-casting. Anne-Marie Duff could play Kate in ‘Sleepwalkers’ and I think I’d have Brenda Blethyn for Rhonda in the story I’m working on at the moment. Oh, and the father in ‘No Angel’ could be played by Martin Sheen. I’m sure none of them would have any bother with a Northern Irish accent. Okay, I’ve lost the run of myself. Next question.
What is the one sentence synopsis for your book?
I hate this question because it’s really hard work to answer it, but if I’m pushed, what the stories have in common is a concern with language, with legacy, with memory and with identity, with what’s said and what’s not said: they’re about survivors and they’re about ghosts. (That was originally two sentences but I cheated with a colon.)
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be published in May/June 2013 by Whittrick Press, a new digital publisher based in Northern Ireland. (They’ll be accepting submissions very soon. Go like their Facebook page.)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The stories have been written over the last five or six years and a number of them have already appeared in print. Some of them were written over a matter of weeks, some of them over the period of a year or more. Many of them were begun in writing workshops and were left to ‘ferment’ for months before I went back to them. I quite like to work like that, to always have a piece of writing to return to. (Which may be the reason that the second novel is taking so long…)
What other books would you compare this to within this genre?
That’s difficult to say. When I look at the Amazon placings for The Butterfly Cabinet, I see that ‘Customers who bought this item have also bought’ books by Zadie Smith, Iain Pears, Rose Tremain, Kate Morton, Agatha Christie, Alice Hoffman, Rachel Hore. I’m very happy to be on that shelf, thank you very much, but I’m not sure what shelf the short stories sit on. It’s possible that they’re not on a shelf. They might be under a table somewhere, at the back of the shop.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Different things. Some of the stories begin with a very specific place I’ve visited, ‘Sleepwalkers’, ‘Home’ and ‘The Language Thing’ are set in Spain, France and Italy respectively. Some of them, or parts of some of them, were prompted by writing exercises in workshops (‘The Recipe’ and ‘The Bells are Ringing Out’). Some of them are prompted by hearing people speak on that public confessional, the radio. (There’s something very evocative and intimate about a disembodied voice.) Some of them borrow from personal experience. Many of them come from thoughts that occur in the shower, water on the head being a great creative stimulant. Often it’s a voice that starts to speak, that has a story to tell. Over time, lots of other elements feed in as well and in the end, because you work it and work it and work it some more, hopefully it becomes impossible to see where one piece of the jigsaw begins and another ends. I’ve just read this, by Flannery O’Connor, one of my favourite short story writers: ‘I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’ Never a truer word was spoken.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Every copy comes with a free bar of chocolate. (That’s a lie.) Let me see. There’s one award-winning story in here, and a few that were short-listed for awards as well as a couple of stories that are previously unpublished. I don’t have any written endorsements for the short stories, but here’s what author Eugene McCabe said about The Butterfly Cabinet: ‘Bernie McGill’s rare, hypnotic gift for writing fills every page. [It] contains no end of apparently throwaway sentences you want to remember.' Nice! And Tom Paulin liked it too and Julian Fellowes and some other people said some other good things here (you’ll need to scroll down a bit). So, you know, you might like the writing, even without the chocolate.
Is that it? Hurrah! Homework done. Okay, fun bit. Here are the next round of blog-hopping writers who will be posting their Next Big Thing on Wednesday 30th January. They all live on the island of Ireland, and they write fiction, song lyrics, Young Adult books, poetry, as well as for film, theatre and screen. I’m delighted to be handing on the baton to Lesley Richardson, Deirdre Cartmill, Debbie (DJ) McCune, Elizabeth Rose Murray, Briana Corrigan and Anthony Toner who will all post on 30th January. Go and have a jook.
Lesley Richardson is a writer from Bangor, Co. Down, who is currently writing her second novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth. Her first novel, Biddy Weirdo, is yet to be published, but Lesley and her agent, Susan Feldstein, are hopeful that that will soon change. Represented by the Feldstein Agency, Lesley has received a grant from The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and a writing bursary from North Down Borough Council. She launched her blog, Standing Naked at a Bus Stop last year and she tweets.
Deirdre Cartmill is a poet, writer and creative writing tutor. Her debut poetry collection Midnight Solo is published by Lagan Press and her second collection The Return of the Buffalo will be published in 2013. She has written for film, television and radio as Deirdre Alexander and her short film Two Little Boys was produced in 2012. She won the Claddagh Films Script Award and the BBC Writersroom Undercover competition and has been shortlisted for several awards including the Hennessy Literary Award, the Scottish International Poetry Competition and the Red Planet Prize.
Debbie (DJ) McCune is the author of Young Adult novel Death & Co soon to be published by Hot Key Books. She was born in Belfast and grew up in Carrickfergus, a seaside town just north of the city. As a child she liked making up stories and even wrote some down, including a thriller about a stolen wallaby. At school she hated doing homework, except writing stories for English - which were long enough to make her teachers weep. Debbie read Theology at Trinity College, Cambridge but mostly just read lots of books. She has enjoyed a varied career, but she is currently Head of Religious Studies in an Integrated Secondary School. She lives in Northern Ireland with her husband, daughter and two cats - with seven legs between them. Debbie’s on Twitter and her Author Facebook Page is here.
Elizabeth Rose Murray lives in rural West Cork. Represented by Sallyanne Sweeney, she writes mainly for children/YA, but has adult poetry and fiction published in journals across the UK/Ireland. In 2012, Elizabeth performed in Ciudades Paralelas: Station at the Cork Midsummer Festival. Elizabeth also provides social media training for writers/artists and blogs professionally for major literary festivals including Listowel Writers’ Week, Cork International Short Story Festival and Dublin Writers Festival. Read her poem Book of Us in Southword Journal, visit her Green Fingered Writer blog or chat to her on Twitter. For inspiration, try her Wordspark writing prompts and Pinterest boards.
Briana Corrigan is a singer, songwriter, poet and playwright. Before turning her hand to writing she enjoyed success with the band ‘The Beautiful South’. Last year her first play, The Scarlet Web-Martha’s Story toured Ireland and Scotland. Irish Theatre magazine described her writing as 'skillful' and 'an achievement'. She has also written and released two self-penned solo albums, When My Arms Wrap You Round which reached no 48 in the UK album charts, and in 2012 Redbird, for which Hotpress magazine described her as a 'songwriter of wit, elegance and style'. Briana holds an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from Queens University, Belfast. You can catch her on Facebook and on Twitter.
Belfast-based singer songwriter Anthony Toner is poised to release his new album, Sing Under the Bridges, in mid-February, before embarking on a series of live concerts throughout Northern Ireland. The collection, his fifth, follows a string of radio successes - his composition ‘Sailortown’ has become one of Northern Ireland radio’s most requested songs. Other recent radio hits have included ‘Marion, That’s All Right’, ‘The Duke of Oklahoma’, ‘Walking Down the Line’ and ‘Well Well Well’, which was featured on Ulster Television’s weather bulletins, sponsored by Progressive Building Society, for an extended period last year. He has played shows in Nashville on many occasions, and has shared the stage with Nanci Griffith and Guy Clark, as well as showcasing at Austin’s South by South West festival. He’s also developing a following in Canada and recently performed live at Grand Central Station in New York City as part of a Northern Ireland showcase event organized by Tourism Ireland. Always a popular and accomplished live performer, Anthony’s shows include superb guitar playing, background information on the inspiration behind the material, and some entertaining stories from the road. In addition to his musical work, Anthony was a journalist for seventeen years and has also had short stories published in The Black Mountain Review and Breaking the Skin: New Irish Writing anthology. He maintains a popular blog on his own website, which also contains videos, songs and details of his various activities.
I’m a bit slow off the mark with the New Year greetings, what with the wise men having been and gone and all but what the heck, Happy New Year to you. It’s going to be a good one. New Year’s resolutions? Well, I thought about giving up caffeine and I thought about giving up alcohol and I thought about giving up chocolate and I thought about giving up bread (that was absolutely the shortest thought) and then I thought, why would I do that? So instead of giving up I’m giving in (again): to writing and to reading and to listening and to talking and to walking and to sitting and to being fully immersed in a creative life. There are a number of exciting projects coming up this year but I’ll tell you about those later. (Settle yourself, it’s only January, too much excitement early on could wear you out entirely.) But here’s a thing or two to keep you going over the next couple of weeks.
The 8th Annual Out to Lunch Arts Festival is now well underway in Belfast with music, talks, readings, comedy, performances and exhibitions continuing until January 27th. I am thrilled to get the chance to hear poets Paul Durcan and Tom Paulin read at lunchtime events in The Black Box in the next few days. A lunchtime reading is one of my absolute favourite things to do. You get to sit in the dark with a bunch of strangers in the middle of the day with a fork in one hand and a glass in the other, all of you pointed in the same direction, at a voice that wants to move you or tickle you or provoke you or soothe you, and no-one stabs anyone else with a prong or complains that their bowl is smaller than their neighbour’s. And afterwards, you can go outside feeling thoroughly decadent because it’s still light (or grey, at least) and you can be home in time for your tea and lie in front of the telly all evening if you want, having fully discharged your cultural duty for the day. It may in fact be one of the foremost activities of the civilised world. If you have a free lunchtime and you’re in Belfast I’d urge you to come along to something. Tickets are reasonably priced and often include food. (Athough I do feel it behoves me to point out here that, controversially, some of the events don’t even happen at lunchtime at all...) If we didn’t have the Out to Lunch Festival we’d be moaning about how this city doesn’t have something like an Out to Lunch Festival. Support it if you can.
I have made one resolution. I’m conducting a little internet experiment. For the most part, I’ve switched off the Comments facility on this blog. There’s a good reason for this. Actually, there’s about two hundred and fifty reasons for this a day and they’re all called (what’s the polite word?) ‘spam’. I’ve been trawling through them daily, bombarded with exhortations to look at this replica Prada, to love these Louis Vuitton handbags, to not take another breath until I get my hands on a cheap North Face jacket, and those are the most savoury of them. And oh, how I’ve learnt. In the beginning my heart would beat a little faster when my eye fell on, ‘Wow, I really love your blog!’ Now those are the first to go in the junk pile since every single last one of them is trying to sell me something.
There are of course a few genuine comments from time to time and I’m very, very grateful for those. What I have found, is that those tend to appear within a day or two of the blog first being posted so I’m leaving a little comment window open for a few days and then, if the spam begins to build up again (and I reckon it will, unless I’ve somehow cunningly managed to slip under the radar by switching it off intermittently) I’m gonna slam that window shut! You can of course get in touch quietly via the Contact form here if you wish. The message will come straight to me and it won’t be made public. And of course, you have the right to remain silent. Most of the time, that’s what I like to do too. The world needs listeners as well as talkers. Happy 2013 to you one and all.