Thursday, June 19, 2014

Interview with Lia Mills

Lia Mills is the author of the novels Another Alice and Nothing Simple, the memoir In Your Face an account of Lia's experience with and recovery from oral cancer and most recently the historical novel Fallen which I reviewed last week Read my Review here 
Lia will be part of a panel on The Literature of War at The Dalkey Book Festival this Saturday at 2pm. Find out more about Lia and her writing on her blog

Lia was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for me.

1. Is historical fiction your preferred genre and do you think you will continue to write about the past?
I’d never written historical fiction before and I found it challenging. It can be tricky to balance the claims of history with the demands of fiction. But the question behind Fallen is a contemporary one: what’s it like if your city erupts in sudden violence you don’t understand? The week before Fallen’s official publication date, I heard a radio journalist reporting from Ukraine.  He said that there are extremists on both sides, but the vast majority of ordinary people are trying desperately hard to keep normal life going.  That’s what the characters in Fallen are trying to do, while the world they know falls apart.
It took a long time to write, and when I was in the throes of it I swore I’d never write another historical novel, but now I’m not so sure. There’s something very exciting and deeply satisfying about it.

2. Did you enjoy researching Dublin's history and WW1 for this novel?
I love research, I could spend forever reading my way around a subject, following trails, making connections.  I love the thrill of discovery.  It’s a bit like a legitimate form of gossip: you can hoover up information about people and speculate about connections without hurting anyone.
With the research for Fallen I got very involved with the story because the stakes were so high. I love Dublin, and it gets bad press about the Rising – which is ridiculous, since Dublin is where it happened and Dublin paid the price.  As for the WWI material – I didn’t intend to write about the war when I began to write Fallen, but I found I couldn’t leave it out. The more I learned about the Irishmen who fought in British forces (current estimates range from 200,000 to 300,000); about their reasons for fighting and what happened to them during and after the war, the angrier I got on their behalf. In some ways writing the novel felt like an act of restitution, to the city and to those forgotten soldiers.

3. What came first plot or character?
Interesting question. The historical events of the Rising suggested a template of sorts, but in the end I had to work against that so that Katie’s story could live.  Actually Dote, who is a minor character now, was the first character to emerge.  She and Katie’s mother were there from the very beginning. I knew Katie was there but I couldn’t feel her, I just knew her name.

4. Will you write more about Katie and Hubie?
I honestly don’t know.  Fallen was originally planned as the first in a trilogy of novels but the other two have slunk back into the shadows – for now, anyway.

5. what is the next project?
I’m working on short stories at the minute, and mulling over possibilities for the next novel.  All going well I’ll start work on that in October.  I find the autumn a great time of year for beginnings.

6. What is a typical writing day for you?
I love to start early, before anyone else is awake, and bring that sleep-befuddled consciousness straight to the desk, work my way out of it.  It’s exhilarating to know that I’ve done a substantial amount of work by the time everyone else gets up. I think this is crucial for people who struggle with finding time to write: try getting up earlier.  If you’ve broken the back of a scene or solved a plot problem before breakfast, you’ll be ready for whatever the day might throw at you by way of crisis or distraction, your best work is already done.
After the regular morning routine (breakfast, school run, walking the dog) I go back to the desk for several more hours. The range of work that goes into writing is more varied than most people realise. A lot depends on what stage I’m at, whether I’m writing or re-writing or researching – or recharging my batteries. I might spend days in a library, or reading, or visiting places where I want to set something.  Administrative and top-of-the-head work is for the afternoons. If I’m at the re-writing stage, I’ll often work all the way through from early morning to night, I could be at it for fifteen hours. On the other hand, sometimes I take whole days off between projects, just to read for pleasure.

7. Are you a planner or do your write without planning?
I usually have no idea what I’m at when I start.  I take breaks during the writing of a draft to summarise what I already have and try to make a plan, to get my bearings and give me at least the illusion of being in control. I make lists and chronologies and attempt outlines.  I make calendars and give myself deadlines. Then I go back into the draft and ignore all of those lists until I surface to attempt new ones.

8. Do you think fiction offers a good medium to better understand the complexities of the past, especially issues like Irish soldiers serving in the British army and the confusion and bemusement of most Dubliners when the Rising occurred? The official versions of history, as taught in schools often seems so black and white (us and them).
That’s exactly why I wanted to write the novel.  I was really interested in what it might have been like to experience the Rising as a mass of violent confusion, not knowing what’s going on or who’s behind it or where it will end.  Fiction is all about perspective – I suppose history is too, but history shines a big bright light over events, causes and outcomes and so on, while fiction burrows in under the skin to imagine the experience, how it might feel.  Obviously fiction is partial and imperfect, it has its own limitations and bias, but those are clear. In Fallen, we know all along that the Rising is being experienced by Katie; we know what her confusions, biases and prejudices are.
When I was doing the research for the novel, I began to seriously question the official gloss on the events of the Rising.  The casualties were so much higher than I knew. 440 people were killed – more than rebels and British army put together – and more than a thousand were seriously injured. The damage to the city was so extensive it ran to millions of pounds even then and 100,000 people had to go on relief in the aftermath.
When my generation were being taught about the Rising, the story was heavily edited. The emphasis was all on the rights and wrongs of the thing.  You were on one side or the other, for or against, right or wrong.  I never heard about the body count, or a single word about the many people who went out under fire to bring the wounded to hospital or to fight the fires, or those who opened their homes as temporary casualty stations to strangers, no matter what side they were on. That’s a hell of a silence, when it comes to teaching young people about the choices we make in life, the kinds of people we want to be.
The story of the Rising is our foundation myth, and we love it.  I love it. I admire the vision and courage that brought those people out to fight. We owe them a lot, even if subsequent generations have mangled their ideal.  I get a lump in my throat every time I stand in the Stonebreaker’s Yard, or think about how they had to tie the wounded Connolly to a chair so they could shoot him; or the O’Rahilly, writing a note to his wife while he died in a doorway. The stories ­– of the Asgard, or of Grace Gifford marrying Joe Plunkett in the chapel at Kilmainham hours before his execution – will always be thrilling.  But I do wonder why people still insist on referring to the sixteen men who were executed as if theirs were the only lives lost, when the truth is rather different.

Thank you Lia for those great answers. Fallen is published by Penguin Ireland and is available now.

The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull

This is my second post this week about Rebecca Mascull as I featured an interview on Monday Read the interview here. I hope to see a lot more from this author in future as I firmly believe she is one to watch. The Visitors is a wonderful and unique historical novel as it transports the reader not only to a different time and place but to an entirely new sensory experience, this is because the heroine is a deaf-blind girl born in the late Victorian era. Adeliza grows up on her father's hop farm and although she is born with some sight and hearing by the time she is three she is blind deaf and mute. She is locked inside her own head, feeling her way in the world, her only defender is her dear father, her mother has taken to her bed heartbroken after many miscarriages and the tragedy of Adeliza's disability. The servants find her hard work and are often rough. Adeliza is driven by basic needs hunger, thirst, tiredness. But she is not alone in her head she has the visitors; spirits who talk to her, trapped by their frustrations and unfinished business. When Adeliza is six she finds Lottie who teaches her to finger spell, finally allowing Liza to discover language and to interact with the world. From this moment on Liza learns everything she can like a sponge and so begin her adventures in love, war, learning, friendship and the truth about the visitors. I don't want to give away the whole story, this is not a long book but it is an utterly absorbing one and Rebecca's writing style is poetic and enchanting. If you enjoy top notch historical fiction like Lori Baker's The Glass Ocean and Elizabeth Gifford's Secrets of the Sea House then you will love this book.

Thanks to Francine Toon of Hodder who sent me a copy of this book. The Visitors is available in paperback from July 17th 

The Long Fall by Julia Crouch

I have been a fan of Julia Crouch's work since I devoured her amazing debut Cuckoo a few years ago. Julia specializes in twisty, turny plots and characters that surprize until the last page.  The Long Fall is set in two time periods; 1980 and the present day. In 1980 we follow adventurous young traveler Emma as she sets off alone across Europe having just completed her A levels. In the present day we meet Kate a wealthy London banker's wife running a charity for African girls founded after the tragic death of her daughter Martha. When Kate is contacted by someone from her past it seems her secure world is about the collapse around her. Back in 1980 Emma's adventure has turned suddenly very dark and she heads to Greece escaping in a haze of drugs and alcohol. For Kate the return of her old friend and her daughter Tilly's plan to go travelling alone set her life off in an out control downward spiral of self destructive behaviour. So what is the connection between Emma and Kate and what does old friend Beattie want? This is a hard book to review as I don't want to reveal too much of the plot. However I can say that I sat down to start this book on a Friday evening thinking I'll read a few chapters and finish it tomorrow. Hah that did not happen I sat down started reading and I was immediately hooked. I didn't put the book down until I was finished. It is seriously addictive. When it comes to "domestic noir" which Julia defined in the previous post as "the things people do to each other in the name of love" then probably one of the most talked about books in this genre in recent years was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, all I can say is that Julia writes Gillian under the table or perhaps off the page is a better analogy. Whether you loved Gone Girl and are looking for something even better or it irritated the hell out of you and you are looking for something even better than read this you won't be disappointed. Perfect for fans of Barbara Vine, Erin Kelly, Sophie Hannah and Claire McGowan. 

Blog Tour for The Long Fall by Julia Crouch

Today I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Julia Crouch's latest novel which is published today in TPB and e-book. Get you hands on a copy now. Julia writes thrilling creepy stories about trust and relationships that are simply unputdownable. Follow her on twitter @thatjuliacrouch. Thanks so much to Elizabeth Masters at Headline and Bookbridgr for the chance to take part. I will be reviewing this book later today so stay tuned.

I asked Julia about her favourite "domestic noir" novels and she sent the most amazing reply (see below), so get ready to add oddles of books to your wish list.

My Top Five Domestic Noir Novels
Julia Crouch

This task has been both completely enjoyable and utterly impossible. Just five? Give me a break.

Looking back over my crammed bookshelves – like most writers, I have more books than available walls – I realised that almost every single book I have loved, whatever the publisher’s classification, could fit into my definition of Domestic Noir.

Domestic Noir is about the things people do to each other in the name of love. It’s about the levels at which we can deceive ourselves and others, and how we manage to live with our secrets. It can include police and murders, but that’s certainly not essential. The mystery lies in the why- rather than the whodunnit.

So, for example, I could include Wuthering Heights, one of my all time favourite novels. But I’m not going to, because a) there are another five that I’d put in front of that now and b) I may have read it about ten times, but that was in my teens and twenties, so it’s not so terribly fresh in my mind.

Also missing from this list are any Barbara Vine books, simply because to choose one favourite is like choosing your favourite child. It’s simply not on. However, flicking through my well-thumbed copies, I realise how formative her writing has been for me – subconsciously I have picked up some very similar themes in my own work.

Another more controversial contender was Ian McEwan. I love his work, particularly his early novels such as The Comfort of Strangers, A Child in Time and The Cement Garden – they are dark, about the outer limits of relationships and sexuality, and explore love and loss. I often wonder, if he were to start writing today, how a publisher would sell him – would he be on the New Blood panel at Harrogate, for example?

Anyway. Enough about what isn’t on the list. Here’s what is, in no particular order.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I love the first person narration, the fact that we only see events through the eyes of the nameless second Mrs de Winter, so, although we learn early on not to completely trust her world view, we are still surprised at how events unfold. There are great set pieces too – the drama of the burning house, the mystery and the placing of the action set up by the first line: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again... and the sea salted, foggy atmosphere that permeates the book.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
I adapted this for the stage many years ago, so it is really quite intimately in my blood. Again, we’re dealing with an unreliable narrator, and again with a famous, scene setting first line: This is the saddest story I have ever heard. If you haven’t
read it, do. It’s like a quadrille: four people dancing around each other, changing partners, looking for happiness and love, and failing catastrophically.

Something might Happen by Julie Myerson
I love Julie Myerson’s work. It was reading this particular book that made me want to write. I particularly admire the sparseness of her writing, and the way in which she manages even so to capture so much domestic detail. This is the story of the brutal murder of a woman in a Suffolk seaside town, and the effect it has on her closest friends. As Alfred Hickling put it in The Guardian: ‘while we are offered the paraphernalia of detective inspectors, sniffer dogs and bereavement counsellors, the reassuring certainty of conventional crime fiction is disturbingly absent.’ It is cruel, unflinching, yet also compassionate.

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
Erin is such a fantastic writer and I love all of her books. I had to choose just one, and it was really hard, but The Poison Tree is so dark and mysterious, so witty and so lusciously written, that it had to be the one. Also, it came out about the same time as my own first novel, Cuckoo. I didn’t know Erin at the time, but we are now good friends and have often remarked how close the worlds of our books are. Erin’s Biba and my Polly could even be sisters under the skin. It’s often why we love particular books, isn’t it? Because we just get what the writer is doing.

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Such a chilling story, so brilliantly told. Because of the structure, where Eva is trying to work out things for herself, the reader is constantly asking questions – What happened? What’s going to happen? Who did it? Why? Like all the books on my list, Kevin offers no easy answers. It’s up to the reader to do a bit of work as well.

So, that’s the five.

But hold on. What about Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson? Or Room by Emma Donoghue? Or Tideline by Penny Hancock? Or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn? or…

Oh no. Have I got to start all over again?


So what you think of Julia's selection? Which have you read? Which are you hoping to get your hands on? I have only read two on this list The Poison Tree and Rebecca both of which are fantastic dark and thrilling reads. I will be looking out for the other three as soon as possible.

Thanks so much Julia for coming up with this great list.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Interview with Rebecca Mascull

1. Which came first the discovery of your great great aunt or the idea for the book?

Ah well, that is a good question and needs a roundabout answer. The idea for ‘The Visitors’ definitely came first, as I had wanted to write about a deaf-blind girl for years. I worked with deaf students when I was teacher training and also I saw a film about Helen Keller when I was a kid. I thought it’d be a great challenge to write from the girl’s point of view, to try to imagine that darkness and silence, and how it would be to have no proper form of communication. And how fascinating it would be to chart how she moves from that nowhere land of no words to a world of ‘talking’. As a teenager, I also read the autobiography of Sheila Hocken, called ‘Emma and I’, about a blind woman who has an operation to restore her sight. The moment when she first opens her new eyes was astounding and stayed with me. So the seeds for this novel were mostly sewn years ago.
However, whilst I was researching the late Victorian/Edwardian period, I wanted a profession for my main character’s family and I came across hop farming in a social history book. It ticked all the boxes for me as it was a risky business and very picturesque, with lovely language, such as ‘scuppets’. When talking to my mum about it, she told me that we had a hop farming link in our past, as my mother’s grandmother was a Golding, and there was such a thing as a Golding hop, and the family legend was that we were connected to that. I was amazed! I started researching through family tree websites and found the Goldings; I managed to get back to James Golding, born 1810, and found he had farmed on hop land, but sadly didn’t find any evidence at all that we had anything to do with the famous Golding hop! However, amongst the Goldings was an Adeliza Golding, who was present in one census, then disappeared by the next, and I realised she must have died very young. I know nothing about her at all, but the name was so beautiful and it felt tragic that she died so young; I couldn’t resist using her name and making that link to my family past.
So, that’s how it all came about. ! But I wonder now if I had heard something about the Golding hop as a young girl and maybe stored it in my subconscious, and perhaps that’s what attracted me to hops. I also lived in Kent from the age of 10 and visited a hop farm on a school trip, and never forgot the overwhelming smell of drying hops. It is curious how a writer’s influences come together to create a novel. As we know, there are only so many story types in the world, yet what makes each book unique is that every person is so, and all of their memories and allusions are unique, and thus everyone tells a story in their own inimitable style.

2. Was the writing easier or harder because you based the story on an ancestor?

As you can see from my first answer, the story wasn’t actually based on my ancestor. So it didn’t guide me or restrict me in any particular way. Funnily enough, when I was researching the Goldings, I found that it was possible that they were once called Golden and had changed their name to Golding, though I’m not sure why. It may have been a mistake by the census taker, who knows! At this point I started jotting down ideas for a story around the Goldings and the
Goldens and how one part of the family were rich and one were poor and they met up and there was a scandal – and then I realised I was rewriting ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’!! So I soon dumped that idea and decided to just carry on with my original plan of the little deaf-blind girl, and not worry about family history and just let the story develop in its own way. That’s one reason why I would find it hard to write a novel centred on a real historical figure; my caveat is that I do like the idea of my characters bumping into real historical figures, as that’s quite fun, to have those real-life references to make the novel feel as if it really happened once. But if I had my main character as a real figure – especially one whose life has been well-documented - I think I would find that very restrictive, and would want to take that character off in new directions. I’m not ruling that out as a future project, but I think I’d have to find creative ways around it. I do like my characters to decide their own fate, and not be restricted by pesky things like the truth!

3. What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working through the line edit to my next novel, ‘Song of the Sea Maid’, which will come out in June 2015. It’s about an orphan girl who is educated and becomes a scientist. She travels abroad and makes a remarkable discovery. I see from your blog profile that you say you’re a history geek and a feminist – well, I do think you might like this novel, in that case! It does cover those themes for sure. It’s the third draft and is taking quite a bit of work and time! It’s set in the C18th and was a huge challenge in terms of researching the era, as I knew very little about that period, and particularly the history of science at that time. I also needed to find out about the Seven Years’ War and various other historical events of the time – I won’t say what they all are, as it would spoil the story! – so it was a lot of work in the making. Recently an historian has very kindly read it for me and given me some wonderful notes, so I’ve been addressing those and my Hodder editor’s suggestions. When that’s done in a month or so, I’ll be getting on with the research for the next novel, which is set in the early C20th. I’ve already started a box of books for this one!

4. Is historical fiction your genre or will you/have you tried other things?

I wrote 3 novels before ‘The Visitors’. I’d imagine that’s reasonably common for quite a few published novelists, though some do strike it lucky first time. My first 2 weren’t historical fiction, but my 3rd was, set in WWII in England and Poland. It got an agent who loved it but not a publisher, so I started writing the next one, which was ‘The Visitors’ and did get a deal in the end, thankfully! Writing that WWII novel taught me the hard way about how to research and write an historical novel – how to find sources, how to decide what’s necessary and what isn’t, how to weave history into a story – and as a novel I guess it had its flaws, but it was a marvellous and necessary learning curve. I may well rework that book into something better one day; I still think about it and it haunts me rather. Anyone who knows me will tell you I do kind of live in the past – in my head, at least – though I watch/listen to the news every day and I’m interested in current events and politics. But I love old language, old books, old things and so writing historical novels is just pure joy for me, to inhabit those other worlds, lost forever in
time. So, I’m very happy where I am in historical fiction and confess I read very little contemporary fiction that is set in the present, and would usually want to read about the past – but not always. So, I don’t know as yet if I’ll ever write about the present day. We shall see!

5. What is your writing method - meticulous planning or seat of the pants? Do you write while listening to music or in silence can you work with noise, kids, housework in background or do you have to go out?

I’d say meticulous planning just about sums me up. I do write a detailed synopsis for each novel and then an even more detailed chapter plan, from which I work as I write each chapter or section. I find that writing about the past – with its store of facts and dates – does necessitate that kind of organised approach, though I know all writers have their own ways; it works for me. My ideal writing conditions are in an empty, silent house. But needs must, and life goes on, so I do find myself writing with other stuff going on around me; but I try to leave the research and editing for such times, and keep the precious peace of the school day - whilst my daughter Poppy is at school, and so is my partner Simon, a deputy head at a school! - for the actual writing of the draft, to preserve that special quiet time for the most creative part of the process.

6. Have you always wanted to write?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve been writing stories since I was a child. I think in stories. I observe people and places as if they are part of stories. I love movies and TV/Radio drama and documentaries, and again I look at them all in terms of what makes a good story. I have studied and taught narrative theory too – which I find absolutely fascinating – and so I guess you could say I am utterly addicted to stories. I can’t help myself. But then, there are worst things to be addicted to!

7. Who are your literary heroes and heroines?

Quite a few are from the past – my historical bias evident there – such as Dickens, Austen, the Brontes, Shakespeare, Hardy – yet I also have hugely enjoyed some more contemporary novelists such as Amy Tan, Isabel Allende, Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood – all of whom present other worlds to me, such as China, South & North America and Canada, and are also simply brilliant writers. I feel very attached to writers I discovered in my teens and twenties, as they are nostalgic for me – such as Salinger, Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, Ian McEwan. But I’m open to reading just about any novel if it’s beautifully written – though I must admit my bias is towards historical fiction presently. I’m also influenced and attracted to the work of certain playwrights and poets, such as Arthur Miller, Peter Schaffer, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Philip Larkin. I find stories and ideas in them just as compelling as any novel. And I’m tremendously influenced by film narratives too, and how they handle plot development and the visual side of writing.

8. What were your favourite books/authors in childhood?

Doctor Dolittle (talking to animals – just the best idea!), Enid Blyton (especially the Faraway Tree and anything involving pixies, brownies and toys coming to life), Winnie the Pooh (particularly the poems), Rosemary Manning Saunders on magic animals and sorcery, Ursula Moray Williams (cats on desert islands), Barbara Sleigh (cats on broomsticks) and Roald Dahl. One of my most important influences was seeing Star Wars in the cinema, aged 7 or thereabouts. It changed my life! As you can see, all of these inhabit the world of the imagination – very little realism here! I just wanted to escape.

9. Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one?

Ooh, great question. My truthful answer is I really don’t know. I lived in an old cottage for a few months once and I swear there was something odd there, some kind of presence. My cat Lilly knew it – she was very freaked out by that house and used to jump a lot and stare wildly into the corners of the ceiling. But I have never actually seen a ghost – though I would LOVE to (I think…) I certainly love ghost stories, and alien stories too – like that movie ‘Signs’ – I just love the idea of the other, coming into our world – like the scariest movie, ‘Poltergeist’. And us visiting their worlds too, like one of my favourite ever films, ‘Contact’. I loved Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ growing up too. Ghosts and aliens and the past and travel – it’s all about other worlds and the imagination. That’s where I’m most comfortable.

10. Will you write about ghosts again?

Well, I do have an idea for a sequel to ‘The Visitors’ which might materialise one day. And I do love ghosts – especially the fun you can have in determining the rules your ghosts will follow i.e. how much influence they have, who they can talk to etc. So I might do…But when I travel, I tend to always go somewhere new each time, to discover more about the world – and at the moment, that’s how I am with my writing. But never say never…

Thanks so much for such great questions, Lisa. It was great fun to answer them.

Thank you Rebecca for those great answers.
The Visitors is published by Hodder and is currently available in Hardback but the paperback will be published 17th July 2014. Keep an eye out for my review of The Visitors asap.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Author Interview with Niamh Boyce

Niamh Boyce kindly agreed to take part in the #mywritingprocess meme when I tagged her and this wonderful insight into her writing world is the result. Thank you Niamh.

Picture courtesy of The Irish Examiner

What are you currently working on? Is it historical fiction?

I’m terribly superstitious with regards talking about a novel before it’s finished! I’ve done it before - chatted about a work in progress - and it seemed to disperse the energy I needed for the book, and the whole thing went flat on me. Though it’s really hard for me NOT to tell you, (I love talking about my work) I’ll have to stay silent and keep it secret till the novel is complete. But, it is historical...

What is it about your work and your writing process that differs from others? (what works for you?)
Probably the above! I like to work on the early drafts of a novel alone, without any feedback from anyone else. I need to convince myself of the world of my book, so I’m my only reader. Obviously there comes a stage where I feel it’s done, and I will submit to publishers and probably do nothing else but talk about it. On the other hand, I enjoy getting feedback on poetry. For some reason I feel differently about my novels and short stories. Also, I write that first draft in longhand. I love notebooks, and I enjoy the physically action of the pen on the page.

Why do you write what you do? and why do you write?
I don’t know. I try not to over think why I write what I do. I write what comes, what fascinates me ... hidden lives, folktales, superstitions, secrets, myths, power, revenge, murder, sex, death, art... I like the territory covered by writers like Emma Donahue, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Pat Mc Cabe and John Connolly. As for why I write – it’s a compulsion. I have a love of language, but it’s more than that, when I try to pinpoint the truth of something or other that bothers me, I always fall back on writing about it – I guess it’s how I make sense of the world.

What is a typical writing day?
Though I’d really love the luxury of being able to write full time, I don’t actually have a writing day - I teach writing workshops, and have a job, and children - so I grab a few hours most weekday mornings, at around 5.30 am before anyone else gets up, and do my writing then. It’s a nice time, the house is quiet and there’s something special about the light, but it means I get tired (ie cross as a bag of cats) very early in the evening, and often go to bed before my kids do!

Any advice you would offer to aspiring authors?
Don’t give up, keep writing, and keep enjoying it.
Set your own goals and deadlines – short term and long term.
Don’t compare your writing journey to anyone else’s.
Write what you love, and don’t be afraid to go wild in your writing.
Don’t decide on one form and stick to it, try lots of different forms - plays, monologues, poems, slam poetry, novellas, novels, radio stories, flash fiction, haikus, rants... or a mixture of all the above.
Your writing is yours. Never let anyone take the pleasure out of creating from you.
Don’t talk about writing. Don’t read about writing. Write.

Your favourite authors/books?
I love Cormack Mc McCarthy’s The Road, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Marion Keyes’s Watermelon, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, Emma Donahue’s Astray, Sarah Water’s Affinity, Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture, Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber... I also like Jeannette Winterson, Alice Munroe, Emily Bronte, Milan Kundera, and The Grimm Brothers. And biographies and autobiographies of artists, writers and actors- especially actors from the early days of Hollywood - Bette Davis, Mae West, and Louise Brooks are my favourites.

In case you didn't know Niamh Boyce is a Irish writer, winner of The Novel Fair in 2012 and a winner of the Hennessy XO New Irish Writer of the Year Award. Niamh's debut novel The Herbalist is available in paperback from Penguin Ireland and I reviewed it here

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson

This is the type of historical fiction you will want to read in one sitting, breathlessly gasping as the plot twists and turns. This was my first taste of Imogen Robertson's writing and I will certainly be back for more. Set in the biting winter of 1909 Maud Heighton has come to Paris to the famous Lafond's Académie to improve her painting but as her fellow students especially the wealthy Russian Tanya enjoy the delights of Paris life, Maud is hungry and poor. Tanya intuits that her friend is approaching destitution and suggests a visit to Miss Harris who finds work for poor ex pats. While Maud is typically English in her reserve she accepts her friend's advice and Miss Harris arranges work for Maud as a companion and drawing teacher to young and beautiful Sylvie Morel. Maud feels such relief at her new position never having to worry about going hungry or cold again that she accepts Sylvie's strange behaviour, even her secret opium addiction. However deception is never far away and as Maud is seduced by the Morel's life of luxury she has no idea of the fate in store for her. Thrilling and exciting this is a wonderful read which the author has carefully researched. I loved it. Thanks so much to Headline Books for a review copy.

Hidden Among Us by Katy Moran

A beautifully written and richly detailed urban fantasy for teens. This is the first in a trilogy, the second book The Hidden Princess has just been released. Katy Moran is already a dab hand at creating intriguing storylines and teenage characters, she is the author of three historical adventure stories Spirit Hunter, Bloodline and Bloodline Rising and a contemporary romance Dangerous to Know. In Hidden Among Us the story is told through through multiple viewpoints as a family who have a fatal connection to a beautiful centuries old house in the English countryside are drawn back there to fulfill a bargain made fourteen years before. This a tale for those who like their fairy tales dark and brooding. This is a great page turner full of old English folk tales and yet edgy and modern at the same time. Perfect for fans Liz de Jager.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Half Bad by Sally Green

Half Bad is an astounding read; tough, gritty and incredibly violent it is nonetheless a compelling and breathtaking read. A YA Fantasy set in contemporary Britain but revealing a hidden world where White and Black Witches battle for control. Nathan is an unknown quantity as he is the only known half white- half black witch. The book is presented in an intriguing style as the main character Nathan switches between between first person narrative in which he tells us his back story and second person narrative in which his current brutal imprisonment is recounted. The book opens with Nathan in a cage and the jarring second person narrative which gives us an insight into Nathan's head as he tries to distance himself from the violence he is subjected to. This book is not for the faint heated but the scenes in which we see Nathan with his brother and the girl he loves allow room for some character development and hint at what might be to come in the next two instalments of the trilogy. Action packed and full of drama this will be perfect for fans of Patrick Ness, Kit Berry and Moira Young.

Fallen by Lia Mills

Lia Mills has produced in Fallen an outstanding historical novel which gives a wonderful insight into the lives of ordinary Dublin people during the Easter Rising. Fallen is the story of Katie Crilly an educated and restless young woman who is grieving for her twin brother Liam who has been killed at the Western Front. Katie finds an intellectual outlet as a researcher for an elderly "bluestocking" Miss Colclough (Dote) who is compiling a history of Dublin's monuments. Miss Cloclough lives with another lady Miss Wilson and Katie takes refuge in their home when she is unable to cross the city during the turbulent days of The Rising. Here she meets Miss Wilson's nephew Hubie who has returned from war after losing his hand. Both of these young people have been damaged by war and they are trying to make sense of the chaos in the city and the feelings which are running high as the British army begin shelling and the poorer people begin looting. Katie and Hubie watch the certainties of the old ways crumble and a new life seems possible. I adored this book. The characters are so real I was loathe to leave them and the sense of place so vivid I could almost smell the smoke and hear the shelling. This story offers a fresh perspective on a familiar story. The 1916 Rising is a tale we think we all know already but Lia Mills has proved that as we approach the one hundred year anniversary there is so much more to learn. Just like with Nuala Ní Chonchúir I cannot believe I am only discovering this author now, but I hope to discover the rest of Lia's works as soon as I can. Thanks to Cliona Lewis at Penguin Ireland for a review copy of this book.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dubliners 100 Edited by Thomas Morris

Celebrating Joyce's homage to his home city one hundred years after publication and just in time for Bloomsday is an ambitious and brilliant achievement for newcomers Tramp Press in this their second outing. It is a beautifully produced book and it is certain to put Tramp firmly on the literary map. The calibre of the writers who have contributed work to this anthology is top notch, ranging from Patrick McCabe who opens the book with his interpretation of The Sisters to Peter Murphy who closes with The Dead. The quality of the work is in many cases outstanding. The stories share a name and a similarity of theme with the originals. The Dublin landscape features strongly and the realities of modern Dublin living are presented in all their hideous glory often turning the original setting on its head. Thus Donal Ryan's "Eveline" gives us aslylum seekers and welcome parties instead of the exile of the original. Similarly Oona Frawley's "The Boarding House" features a couple through financial difficulty forced to "board" with her mother. Some of the stories are outstanding "A Mother" by Elske Rahill. "Clay" by Michele Forbes and "A Painful Case" by Paul Murray deserve particular mention for their vivid rendering of the Dublin of today and their fantastic characterisation, some I felt were less successful Patrick Mc Cabe's and Andrew Fox's stories did nothing for me. Nonetheless there will no doubt be something for everyone in this wonderful collection which features striking cover artwork and is available in both paperback and hardcover. Thanks so much to Lisa at Tramp Press who sent me a review copy. Officially launched last night (5th June) Dubliners 100 is available now in all good bookshops.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Headline Publishing have re-issued  a number of titles from the powerful and hugely influential science fiction author Octavia E. Butler with titles available in both print and e-book format. I was delighted to be sent a print copy of this classic American book first published in 1979. While there is an element of science fiction in this novel it is also a politically charged tale of pre-civil war slavery. Dana a young black writer just moving into her new home with her husband feels dizzy and wakes up to find herself in early 19th century Maryland. She sees a young boy thrashing about in a river and pulls him out and revives him saving his life just as a hard faced man points a rifle into her face she is suddenly back home in her new apartment and soaked through. A series of trips back into the past then commences, some lasting for weeks and months at a time. Dana experiences first hand the cruelty of slavery and of being considered something to be traded as she struggles to stay alive and to keep her ancestors from harm. This book raises huge questions about equality, identity, race and gender. It is powerful, compelling and disturbing. Recommended even if you aren't a fan of time travel (as I am) or of science fiction generally. Thanks to Headline and Bookbridgr for a review copy of this book.

Black Lake by Johanna Lane

More new Irish Fiction and Johanna Lane's debut novel is an assured and lyrically written work. It tells the story of family weighed down by inherited responsibility and the financial issues that drive a wedge into family life, finally resulting in a shocking tragedy. John and Marianne are the couple struggling to keep Dulough their beautiful Irish country estate going. Kate and Philip are the children who have to cope with being taken from this wonderful sprawling home to live in a dark small cottage on the grounds so that the house can be opened up to the public. We watch through the family's eyes as the house is filled with furniture that isn't theirs and people walk across rooms that were once kept private. It all becomes too much for young Philip when his train set becomes a focus of frustration as a tour guide shows some other children around his old bedrooom and for his mother Marianne too as she locks herself and Kate into the ballroom. This is a well crafted piece of storytelling alive with intense and interesting characters and aware of the truth of Irish history and its legacy. Johanna Lane will be an author to watch. thanks to Tinder press for a review copy of this book. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Closet of Savage Mementoes by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

I love to read new Irish fiction especially from women writers. I had been aware of Nuala for a while, had read interviews with her but hadn't read any of her work so I was intrigued when I learned this novel (her second) was on the way. The premise sounded very interesting a young Dublin woman Lillis escapes her grief at the death of her boyfriend and the difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother by taking a job as a waitress in the Scottish highlands. She falls for her much older boss and feels that her future is secure until a terrible betrayal brings her to crisis and she has to make a momentous decision. I was intrigued too to learn that this story was based on Nuala's personal experiences. To say that I loved this book would be a huge understatement. I felt the characters breathe out of the page, the writing is stark, sensual and intense, Nuala is a force to be reckoned with, her writing is poetic, sharp, spare and utterly beautiful. The character of Lillis is a brave and raw portrait of womanhood in all its states; daughter, wife, mother and lover and the portrait of her relationship with her mother Verity is a study in claustrophobia. In just under 200 pages I discovered a story and a group of characters so real and haunting I would not be surprised to meet them in the street. This book is so good I wish I had written it myself.