Cover Reveal: The Book of Revenge

So here it is, the cover for The Book of Revenge, out February 2018. It’s the final installment of the Nine Lives Trilogy and out of all my books so far, it was the hardest to write. But the good news is – the manuscript is completed and next time I see it (or anyone sees it for that matter), it’ll be an actual physical book. I’m absolutely thrilled with this design by Sarah O’Flaherty (Mercier Press). I hope you like it too!

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Festivals, manuscripts & embracing autumn

I’ve been home since September 1st and Iceland now feels like a lifetime ago. However, my Icelandic residency did exactly what I’d hoped; it gave me time to play around with some new ideas, get some samples of each to my agent, and decide on my next projects. My visit also gave me the chance to write a double spread for the Irish Times on visiting Reykjavik on a budget, which you can read here. 

FullSizeRender (81)I’ve been quiet since getting back as I’ve been working away on these new ideas – the residency has had such a really positive impact. I also spent a wonderful week at the Children’s Books Ireland Conference which is like an early Christmas party for lovers of children’s books; librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers and authors all come together to celebrate the wonderful world of children’s fiction. It’s such a happy, friendly event and gives a real boost as the seasons change and the nights draw in.

And yes, I did mean ‘projects’; I’m working on two new manuscripts as I find it more interesting and motivating when I’m working on several projects at a time, especially when they’re different. And these projects are extremely different. One novel is the first of a middle grade (potential) series and the other novel is an adult fiction standalone.

I don’t talk about my writing in progress because it kills it dead for me and I rarely know where I’m going in the early stages, so I don’t have anything to say about them except that I’m excited. I’m out of contract now so who knows where they will lead; it’s the beginning of a long journey, but watch this space.

IMG_2825As of Sunday, however, the new manuscripts are on pause until November 1st. There are two reasons behind this; the first is that the proofs for The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 have arrived, and I have to read through very carefully to make sure there are no mistakes because next time I’ll see it, it will be an actual book. This one was the most difficult book to write yet, so I’m feeling really relieved and really happy to see the proofs arrive.

The second reason is that Children’s Book Festival in libraries across the country of Ireland is about to begin. It’s an amazing initiative and I’m thrilled to be taking part again. It’s a real highlight. I’m booked out for the whole month for solo events, joint events with Alan Early and a brand new theatre event with Caroline Busher. I feel really lucky to have these two writers that I really respect as friends and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them, visiting hundreds of children to celebrate stories and creativity.

October is a tiring month and with my freelance commitments, there isn’t much time to write. But it’s such fun and so rewarding, I look forward to it every year. I’ve tried keeping up my writing in previous years and usually end up failing to keep up with my expectations and feeling miserable about it. I’ve decided it’s best to put all my energy into the events. No one wants to be booed off stage by hundreds of children!

timeleapAnother great piece of news is that the Arts Council of Ireland has awarded me a bursary to enable some concentrated writing time. That means I have three months where I can concentrate solely on my books, so I’m going to take some time out over winter – the idea was initially three consecutive months but I’m now thinking three separate months might be best – to really plough into those new books. It’s such an honour to be awarded the bursary, and it really means a lot.

And so, I’m embracing autumn and looking forward to all the fun things in store. There are things already in the pipeline for next year, but I’ll reveal more about those when I know more. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to festival shenanigans, then hunkering down in the West Cork winter, sharing my time between writing and walking (I recently wrote a piece for The Southern Star about the impact of walking on health and creativity you might enjoy), to bring new stories to life.

How’s your own writing/creative project going? And are you enjoying the change in season? What are you looking forward to this winter?

Week 2 in Iceland: Notebooks & flower crowns

This past week has been about exploring. I’ve been hiking the local hills, walking to dairy farms and tiny churches, testing out new flash fiction ideas and completing old stories that I thought I’d abandoned. I’ve also put into practice what I learned on a recent travel-writing workshop (with the incredible Phoebe Smith – if this is something you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend her) and finished my first travel article, a second one on its way. And yes, I’ve got past the fear of the unknown that was so prevalent last week and allotted time to figuring out which new novels I would like to work on. The week was a slow burner. Not my usual outpouring or word count, but it’s been necessary.

IMG_2156 (2)After being under deadline for so long, one of my hopes for this residency was to discover play again. To experiment. I recently realised that I’ve been using notebooks a lot less for capturing ideas, doodles, etc; everything I wrote down had a purpose and was linked to editing my books in some way. The novels combined with my workload left little time for short stories or flash fiction, so at some point, I somehow stopped collecting random ideas. I had intended to remind myself how to play with words and ideas, but when one of my fellow residents suggested weaving flowers, how could I resist? We spent a relaxing few hours in the wilds, and it was exactly what was needed. In fact, it unexpectedly triggered a story that may or may not work out, but that’s the beauty of it.

And so, the notebook is once again in use. I’ve been collecting sounds, scenery, conversations, people’s faces and habits, random thoughts, possible titles. The notebook has travelled to little churches, up hillsides, and to the thermal spa. It has collected facts and whimsies and everything in between. I’ve allowed myself a slower pace to pick up the missing threads again – and it feels really good. Some of my notes are, of course, linked to my new WIPs, but not all – and that for me is the magic ingredient. Allowing myself room to let ideas grow or fail.

IMG_2047Because writing is an odd beast in that unless you have a finished product, or you create goals like daily word count, it’s difficult to see progress. We’re used to progress being measurable – in daily life, in education, in business, in language – and when it isn’t, it can sometimes feel like we’re flailing. Or, indeed, failing. And sometimes we need to remind ourselves that failing is OK, especially if it means shedding an idea that doesn’t work or a voice you can’t get quite right, so you can move on to something better.

It’s difficult to allow the play side to come to the fore, yet it’s a necessary part of the process. Ideas are everywhere and in abundance, but capturing a really great idea and then forging the links and pathways that lead to great characters and story is not a linear journey. There needs to be blips and sidesteps and ravines to fall into. And this comes through play. Even though the progress may not be felt, it’s there.

So although I was struggling at times with the slowness of last week, I’ve come out of it in a positive space. I know what my next definite projects are and the bonus of discovering new flash fiction and completing old stories I’d given up on is a pleasant surprise. And the notebook becoming a habit again has made things soar. Now, it’s time to continue to play while getting deep into the novels. For my children’s manuscript, I want to get some decent word count down, and for the adult manuscript, I want some serious world building in place – deep breath, I’m going in.

Movement & calm, earth & water: a residency in Iceland

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Home for the month

I’ve been in Iceland for one week, and I’m five days into the retreat. My place here was booked last year, when I realised that I would be coming out of contract with publishers and probably panicking about what’s next. A change of surroundings is, for me, the best way to calm a racing mind, so I thought it would be useful.

Many people think that as an author, you continue to write for the same publisher over and over, with an unending supply of work. While this may happen, it probably means you are continuing to work within a certain genre or you’ve made it as an international bestseller. Usually, you work to a contract and once that contract is up, it’s up.

And so, this is where I’m at… The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is officially completed. I cannot tell you what a relief this is. The slog was tough but I got there and I’m feeling really proud of that as the challenge was unreal. There’s just the proofing to go and that will be in October. So… what happens next? Basically, it’s back to square one.

Write a book. Edit the book without killing it. Try and sell the book.

Now, this is a daunting time for any author. The reality is, you may never sell a book again. Or even be able to come up with a strong enough idea in the first place. And whatever you do choose to work on, you had better be passionate about it, because it’s about to take up a minimum of one year of your life, before you even try and convince a publisher that they like it enough to buy it.
IMG_1889And so, Iceland has come at the perfect time. I have The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 coming out in February 2018, the freedom to work on what I want, and a fantastic agent to support and guide me. But my brain is restless, my ideas are too plentiful, and although I’m excited, my nerves are frayed.

Is there anyone else out there feeling the same right now? I bet there is. Whether you make stories through words, art, music, dance, theatre, film, animation … I think it’s a cyclical feeling that will never go away. All we can do is embrace it and ride it through. See where it leads.

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Natural hot spring

Thankfully, I have a new landscape to discover, new foods to eat, a language to try and understand (it’s not intuitive to hear/see written down), some cool new housemates to get to know, and lots of time to write. Even though I’m not 100% certain what it is I’m working on next. That’s part of my mission; to make sure the passion for the projects I *think* I want to work on is real. 

Somehow, I’ve found my idea for a commissioned piece of flash fiction; also, a short story I was stuck on is edited & submitted. So it’s a start. And it’s productive. But is it avoiding the question of which novels (I always work on two project simultaneously) to work on next?

I’m also enjoying hiking the hills and relaxing in the natural hot springs every day, and spending lots of time near the lake, appreciating its stillness. Movement and calm, earth and water: the perfect combination for settling a restless mind. Today, a new week begins and I’m determined to break into the novel. If there’s one thing I need, it’s to know what my next focus is – let’s see if Iceland can help coax it out.

What stage are you at right now? And how does it feel? I’d love to hear about your journey too. 

 

 

Ten Classic Books to Read & Reread

Writers write, but writers also read. And we read lots. We’re talking piles of books, no, mountains of books! If you tell me you’re writing a book, don’t tell me that you don’t have time to read. It’s an essential part of the job – and it’s delicious!

Every book is a personal journey and sometimes we want to travel a new route, while other times we want to revisit the familiar. I love rereading books because you always notice new things; and I find this is especially true when it’s a book I read as a youngster.

Here are a few classic children’s fiction books that I highly recommend. I consider them old friends; stories and characters that I read as a child and revisit time and again. They always remind me of where my love for stories came from and why I want to write.

Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines: This is the only book that ever made me cry. The setting was similar to where I grew up, and as I’ve always loved nature, I was completely engrossed in Billy’s journey. I spent many days searching for my own kestrel to nurture! Set in a single day, the range of emotions you’re pulled through is truly intense. I could read this book over and over for the rest of my life.

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The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett: I could never quite understand how I could love a book with such a despicable main character – the opening lines say it all! But this is a beautiful book about discovery; of gardens, of self, of how to trust and how to make friendships. A remarkable coming of age tale with all the necessary ingredients for a tug at the heartstrings – and don’t worry, you’ll like Mary by the end.

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit: travel is one of my favourite things and when I was a child I always dreamed of taking long journeys. We had an old, abandoned rail track called ‘The Black Path’ near my home and I used to love rambling under its bridges, past the banks of briars, conjuring up images of this book. The ending is so satisfying that when you finish, you just want to start over again.

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian: Set during World War II, this historical fiction novel is a real page turner. I love the dual settings of city and countryside, the steadfastness of Mr Tom (I kept him in mind when I created Grandpa Tobias in The Book of Learning), and how the book deals with an abusive home life. The way each of the characters grow is just wonderful.

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White: this story of Fern Arable, a pig called Wilbur and his spider pal Charlotte is just so beautiful and yet so sad; and it is still completely unique. I grew up in a council estate so the farm setting really appealed to my love of nature. There’s just enough tension and a sprinkling of hope – perfect!

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: I adore the characters that Dickens creates – especially the mean ones, they’re so vile! And the way he uses the environment to depict mood is stunning. I read my first Dickens book aged ten (Hard Times), and I was hooked – but this is the one I return to time and again. A dark yet heartwarming tale of rags to riches.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodges Burnett: a riches to rags tale, I was attracted to this book as a child because I loved the way it showed how delicate our fortunes are, and the impact this has on the people around us. I admired the way that Sara kept her resilience and good nature, even though her fortunes had changed so much. The fact that she makes friends with a monkey was a real draw also, and the ending is sublime. I love a story where people get their comeuppance!

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery: Anne is such a vibrant, bubbly, and enigmatic character, I was drawn to her right away. I remember feeling like I had lots in common with her, and I think she’s still one of the best female characters in children’s fiction today. Her antics always make me smile – she’s a ray of sunshine.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson: buccaneers, buried gold, mutinies, kidnappings and a one legged pirate – what’s not to love? I remember my heart pumping when I was reading this epic book as a child, and it still has the same effect today. The ending makes me want to jump on a boat and go searching for the buried treasure.

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme: although the language is a little old-fashioned now, I still adore this tale and would recommend it to any young reader that loves animals and nature The characters are wonderfully colourful; wise yet grumpy badger, naive mole, clever ratty and barmy toad – they’re unforgettable. The setting is also incredible. Reading this always makes me want to go off on long countryside treks, foraging.

What are your favourite classic books that you revisit time and again? What is it about them that you love?

Finding Your Special Place: Writing in Nature

I believe that when you write, if it’s something you love and feel passionate about, you’ll make time for writing, no matter how busy your schedule. But I also know that sometimes we need a special place to kick start our energy levels, think about our process, or to help us rediscover the joy.

Nature and animals play a big part of my everyday life; I live in rural West Cork on a farm next to the sea, and I also grow my own vegetables and catch my own fish. This is a dream come true for me and it helps me get lots of exercise and fresh air in between my writing sessions. It provides balance.

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One of the views from the Blue Mountains National Park during my Varuna Residency

Even though I grew up in a council estate with very little greenery, I was always fascinated by nature and managed to find it in the unlikeliest of places: weeds growing in pavement cracks, ladybirds on the fence, caterpillars hiding under dock leaves, moths behind the curtains, the robin that came to steal the milk by pecking its way through the bottle top. Wherever you are, nature can be found.

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My dog & a newt that I rescued from his water bowl

Nature makes me feel settled and calm, and even though I love city life too, I find the countryside provides more headspace and also less distractions, so I get lots of writing and lots of reading done. I work from home so I don’t have a commute, which means that breaks can be used for weeding, or walking the dog on the hills or the nearest beach.

The beauty of books is that they transport you to other worlds, and no matter where you are, you can travel to anywhere you want. This is how I feel about being in nature also – I find it freeing. It allows a release. Sometimes it can be difficult to tune in, but walk somewhere wild and soon your surroundings will mesmerize you; whatever worries or concerns you have will melt away.

Although I love it, I can’t always be outdoors – it’s not practical. I’d never get a book finished! I have a room where I write – it’s a tiny room in a mobile home, but it’s mine. Undisturbed, organised, filled with small inspiring trinkets like pebbles collected from beaches and paintings by friends. When I walk in this room I switch my brain to writing – I can leave my other duties and responsibilities outside. My desk faces a (sky blue) wall and, unsurprisingly, there are four framed flower pictures at eye level, so whenever I look up, I still see nature.

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Deadlines looming – a long walk always helps, whatever the weather

I type my novels directly onto my computer, but one of my biggest pleasures is getting away from the desk, and taking long walks with a notebook. Sometimes it is to unravel a plot problem, but usually, it’s to find new ideas or start new projects. Sitting on a grass bank, with rushes whispering behind me, the words flow. And they’re different words to those I would find at my desk. There’s a freedom in going where your feet take you, letting your mind wander too.

Not everyone will be inspired by nature, but I do believe that everyone needs a special place where they can retreat to – to reenergize, to concentrate, to think freely. It could be a busy café, an art gallery, a train; whatever works for you. Understanding your own process and what inspires you and your writing is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. I’d love to know – what is your special creative space?

A Very Special School Project

Today I have something very special to share.

A lovely young lady contacted me recently to see if I would do an interview for her school project: People Who Inspire Us. Of course, I said yes – what an honour!

I was sent a fantastic list of interview questions (see below) and then she put together a gorgeous display based on my Nine Lives Trilogy.

With her mum’s permission (please note: I have kept anonymity for online security), here are some photos. I regularly get asked why I write. People – THIS is what it’s all about.

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And here’s the thoughtful interview…

  1. What inspired you to write especially in your genre and who were your influences?

I think we take our influences from the world around us, so we’re always digesting stuff that adds to our creativity, without even realising. Art, film, music, people, the natural world; they all have stories to tell and these become part of our self and our understanding. I love travel and this inspires me greatly – the physicality of the journey helps free up the mind and creative thinking, and then the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes – it’s all soakage. In terms of books, Roald Dahl made me think about writing stories differently when I was a kid (they became much more gruesome) and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials really inspired me. I like fiction that’s dark, real, and emotional. But every book I read makes me think about my own work – what I like, what I don’t like, pacing, tone, etc. It’s wonderful.

  1. How do you hope your books will inspire young people and influence them?

I hope my books provide some entertainment and some escapism; but if they make young people think about different viewpoints or ask questions, then that’s also good. I don’t think stories should have a moral or a message, but if they engage readers in a way they hadn’t thought about before, then I think that’s positive. For instance, you might not agree with a character’s behaviour but you can understand why they’re acting that way – and that empathy and understanding is really special.

  1. Growing up did you always want to be a writer?

I always said I wanted to be a teacher or a poet, but in truth, I didn’t think it was possible. It was before the Internet existed, so communication with authors was much more difficult. In fact, I never heard fro or met an author despite writing a few letters, so it felt very far away from my world. I came from a very poor background and so I thought you had to be rich to be an author! But I always loved books and reading and I always wrote. Thankfully, writing feels much more accessible now.

  1. What was the best present you have ever received?

A book is my favourite gift – whether it’s fiction, non-fiction or a notebook to write in. Though my friend did give me a stuffed two-headed duckling as a leaving present and that blew me away!

  1. Could you describe a typical workday when you are teaching a workshop and what do you hope to achieve?

I do a lot of preparation for my workshops – handouts, exercises, ideas, extra reading etc so for every hour workshop, there’s at least 4 hours preparation gone into it. I think it’s really important because every writer and their work should be given the respect they deserve. I believe workshops should encourage you to be brave enough to write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. They should make writing feel accessible, they should make you feel energised and excited about your work, and they should make you want to go away and write more. I don’t subscribe to a finished piece, as often a lot of thought needs to come in between before a piece can improve, but I like to cover lots of nuts and bolts that can help start a piece, improve a piece, and polish a piece. Basically, I aim at what I want out of any workshops I attend.

  1. How do you hope a young reader will relate to Ebony Smart.

Ooh, a tough question, as we all have our own experiences and bring them with us – no two people reading the same book have the same experience, and once it’s out there, you have to let your readers own it – and that means the characters too! I think Ebony’s a brave and feisty character, so I hope that young readers respect her for that. I hope they like her, that they’re in her corner. But I also hope they see that she’s flawed like anyone we meet, because to me, that’s what makes a character real.

Isn’t this project wonderful? (Why not leave her a comment below for encouragement?!)