Landing Author: Caitriona Lally on Writers, Rituals and Routines

Caitriona Launch Reading

The launch of ‘Eggshells’

Here as promised on Thursday, is Caitriona Lally’s guest post for The Landing Book Shelves, marking my 200th blog post:

I tend to get obsessive about writers and read everything they’ve ever written as quickly as I can. I love writers who see things with fresh eyes, who write with ferocity and are fearless about telling fictional truths. I don’t need to like the characters, but I need to not completely hate them. In recent years, I’ve glutted myself on the works of Henry Miller, Anne Enright, Kevin Barry, Aleksandar Hemon, Lorrie Moore, W. G. Sebald, Mary Costello, Alice Munro, Rachel Cusk, James Salter, and Lydia Davis. When I read such writers, I soak up their gorgeous sentences, but to motivate me to actually write, I read books about writers’ routines. I have yet to figure out a routine of my own, and tend to stuff my writing into whatever time-gaps appear in my day, so I find the notion of a habit or ritual encouraging. When I’m asked about my writing routine, it’s very tempting to describe a rigid regime that makes me look highly disciplined and hugely prolific, interspersed with a few quirks to make me seem eccentric and interesting (I can only write on vellum from month-old Friesian calves using yellow pencils sharpened with a miniature cleaver.)

I love the book Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey, which gives details of the precise preferences of various writers, artists, and composers. Their eating habits in particular fascinate me: so many writers seem to focus on their brains at the expense of their bellies, which is beyond my comprehension. My stomach clenches in knots at the idea of such foodlessness – I can’t have a cup of coffee without cake or chocolate, and I drink a lot of coffee when I’m writing. According to Currey, Proust ate croissants, but far too few for my liking. Patricia Highsmith worked from bed with a doughnut “and an accompanying saucer of sugar” which makes me think she and I would be kindred spirits.

I like knowing that W. H. Auden and Graham Greene took amphetamines to help them to write; it makes me feel smug if I can get words onto a page with only caffeine and sugar for a buzz. It’s also nice to know that Proust needed caffeine tablets and barbital sedatives to keep writing his masterpiece, that Balzac may have drunk up to fifty cups of coffee a day, and that Truman Capote preferred to work from bed or horizontally at least. Reading about writers’ habits instead of forming your own ones can be a kind of procrastination, however, and it gets addictive.

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life are books I return to when I feel low on motivation. Both are meditations on why we write, and how to live and write. They’re full of wit and compassion and sheer bewilderment at why we do this to ourselves, this endless torment of trying to write the perfect sentence, when we could be doing sensible jobs with normal hours. I find Dillard’s almost monastic approach to food fascinating – she describes writing for a whole day with nothing in her belly but coffee and reheated soup. Lamott’s title refers to a family story: when her brother was ten and had left a school report on birds until the last minute, he sat at the kitchen table surrounded by unread books, overwhelmed by the task ahead. Lamott’s father put his arm around the boy and said “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” It’s a quote I love – any writer could substitute word or sentence for bird, and it’s the perfect advice. When I read these books, I feel like I’m not alone in my efforts to battle procrastination, to will myself to stick with it. Keep going, I tell myself, just another few hundred words; come on, bird by bird.

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I hope that Caitriona’s post has both given you some reading inspiration (there are writers mentioned that I haven’t got around to yet) and the impetus to keep on writing….word, by word….

Eggshells

 

Thanks very much to Caitriona Lally for taking the time from her Eggshells publicity round, to contribute to The Landing. If you want to hear about Caitriona’s readings and events, follow @CaitrionaLally. You can find out more about the process of writing Eggshells in Caitriona’s article for Writing.ie and also purchase a copy direct from Liberties Press.

Picture Credits: Liberties Press & Liberties Upstairs.

 

Introducing Landing Author Caitriona Lally and ‘Eggshells’

Eggshells

Published by Liberties Press, 2015. Cover design by Karen Vaughan.

After quite a long gap, I am pleased to be hosting another Landing Author guest post. Over the last couple of years, I have had guest posts from some lovely writers, beginning with Andrés Neuman in April 2012 and most recently, Juliet Greenwood last August. As you can see, it has been quite a while… In looking back, I note that I have said the very same thing before so perhaps I need a better ‘Author Routine’ to keep me regular.

My impetus for (trying) to get into gear again with guest posts, was Caitriona Lally giving a talk at our Liberties Upstairs Culture Club event recently. In parallel, we read Eggshells for the Upstairs book club. I mentioned in my last post that I would like to ask her to contribute a Landing post, and she very kindly agreed. I will post up Caitriona’s piece on Friday 17 July and leave you with a taster for now.  As I have now declared my Liberties Press interest[i], I am not going to offer a review of Eggshells. What I will do however is to give you part of Sarah Gilmartin’s review in the Irish Times (6 June) to introduce you to Eggshells, and its unusual protagonist Vivian Lawlor:

 

Vivian is a self-professed changeling, left by fairies to compete with her parents’ human child, also called Vivian. With the parents dead, the two adult Vivians are all that remain. Human Vivian is married with children and uninterested in her sister’s strange ways. The narrator lives alone in her great-aunt’s house, filling her days with sugary treats, dressing up and a variety of bizarre pastimes as she seeks a way out of this world and back to her own.

It is an interesting set-up, with a clever ambiguity surrounding the narrator. The book is rooted in the natural world of contemporary Dublin, but to Vivian’s eyes this is a fairytale world, full of rules of threes and sixes, and potential gateways to supernatural lands. How much of her changeling status is fictional, the delusions of a severely disturbed character, is left for the reader to puzzle over. This question gives momentum to Vivian’s escapades. It also, somewhat unexpectedly, provides plenty of laughs in a book full of one-liners.

Much of the humour comes from the author’s preoccupation with language and wordplay. Vivian tells a social worker enquiring about her job prospects: “I am open-minded. Sometimes I wear my slippers on the opposite feet to change my worldview.” As she searches for portals across the city – St Stephen’s Green, Glasnevin cemetery, the canals, the Liffey bridges – her literal take on language brings about many absurd situations. The need for precision in language is a major theme, with Vivian constantly drawing attention to the gap between speech and meaning. “I wake on a damp pillow,” she tells us. “My dreams must have leaked.”

A loose plot develops out of this affinity with language when Vivian pins a notice to a tree: “I want a friend called Penelope. When I know her well enough, I’ll ask her why she doesn’t rhyme with Antelope.” The new friend, actually called Elaine, is another oddball character. Struggling herself with mother issues and an obsession with painting cats, Elaine/Penelope doesn’t judge. More importantly, she promises she’ll organise a vertical burial for Vivian, which is all Vivian has ever wanted in a friend.

The black comedy gives the book a jaunty quality that complements the dazzling trip around Dublin. From the “soot-streaked backs of the buildings at the junction of George’s Street and Dame Street” to the “fierce bang of hops from the Guinness factory, a smell somewhere between meat and toffee”, Lally uses Vivian’s otherworldly perspective to bring the city to life.

 

Caitriona, a lover of words who confesses to having no proper writing routine, has written a post for us about her obsession with other writers and their routines. I won’t spoil the blog post by telling you about any writerly habits that you may or may not wish to emulate (on Friday you can judge the wisdom of those mentioned).

I was delighted to realise that Caitriona’s post will be the 200th post on The Landing! See you on Friday…

Caitriona Lally

Caitriona Lally

About the author:

Caitriona Lally studied English Literature in Trinity College Dublin. She has had a colourful employment history, working as an abstract writer and a copywriter alongside working as a home help in New York and an English teacher in Japan. She has travelled extensively around Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Her essay about Grangegorman appeared in a recent issue of We Are Dublin. Eggshells was selected as one of twelve finalists in the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair 2014.

[i] Since I have been associated with Liberties Press, I have similarly featured the books of Bethany Dawson (guest blog post) and Daniel Seery (Q and A).

Picture credits: Liberties Press and the Irish Times.

Culture Club at Liberties Upstairs

I have borrowed my post from the Members’ Blog on Writing.ie, in which I talk about a new venture that I am involved in organising for Liberties Press In Dublin. The main reason I want to mention the Culture Club venture here is that the first session features a previous #LandingAuthor, Daniel Seery (author of A Model Partner). Sometime soon I hope to include a guest post from Caitriona Lally (Eggshells) as well so that’s a another reason for borrowing my blog post. Of course, I’m also not averse to spreading the word about the Liberties Upstairs Bookshop’s Culture Club either!

A Model PartnerThis post sees me wearing my Liberties Press (Liberties Upstairs) hat, as I want to spread the word about a new venture that I’ve been involved in organising for the Liberties shop. Inspired by the positive experiences of organising the Liberties Upstairs Saturday morning book club (running since November 2014), I have decided to try setting up a monthly Culture Club. My aim is to have a varied programme, drawing on the resources of Liberties Press authors, publishing insiders and the arts and crafts contributors at Liberties Upstairs. The pattern of the sessions will be a talk and or reading followed by the opportunity for questions and discussion over wine or coffee. We might even rustle up a few biscuits to keep up our strength for the Q and A (well, what’s sauce for the book club….)

As the Liberties book group runs in a morning, we‘ve opted for an evening culture club, which we hope will be similarly supported by the local community. Indeed, some book club members have already expressed an interest in the new Liberties venture. The club will run on the last Wednesday of the month, with the inaugural event on 24 June at 7.30 pm. For this session, I am delighted to have debut authors Daniel Seery (A Model Partner) and Caitriona Lally (Eggshells), both alumni of the Novel Fair to talk about writing, pitching and getting a publishing contract. Both writers will speak and give a short reading, so it will be a packed evening to start our series of events. It should be a lovely beginning to our new programme; Daniel and Caitriona are looking forward to appearing, so I hope that a good time will be had by all.

Events and launches are an important part of any bookshop’s strategy in the ceaseless quest to increase footfall, that dread word. The Liberties Upstairs bookshop has hosted several events since setting up Liberties Upstairs in November 2013. However, this is the first time for embarking on organising a series of events. Initially I have planned a programme of six sessions with a further six in the pipeline for next year if all goes well. We plan to announce the first part of the programme at the June meeting. I hope that some people will be keen enough to sign up for the whole six sessions. My technology skills (!) have enabled a booking facility through our online shop (€5 euro per event) so I felt quite a sense of achievement when receiving the first confirmation.Eggshells

I’m looking forward to next week’s event; perhaps our author talks will inspire at least one would be writer to give it a go and aim for the Novel Fair. You never know what might happen…

Look out for a future post on The Landing from Caitriona Lally, and if you’re Dublin based, look out for future Culture Club events in Liberties Upstairs!

 

A new book from Landing Author Louise Phillips: Last Kiss

Regular readers of The Landing Book Shelves will know that Louise Phillips was a guest here after the publication of her last book The Doll’s House in 2013. She’s back with her latest novel which has been very well reviewed, with the Independent critic saying that “Louise Phillips goes from strength to strength…. Last Kiss is superior and takes her writing to another, more intense level.”  This all means that I’ve become distracted from whatever I was supposed to be reading from the Landing TBR Pile to get stuck into Louise’s novel. Many thanks to Louise and her publishers Hachette for my copy of Last Kiss; it’s always nice to answer the door to a postman bearing a parcel that looks as though it contains a book.

I admit that I did put this aside for a while before reading it as I was involved in school holiday activities and travel plans. Unfortunately I missed the launch of Last Kiss as I was away visiting my family. When I finally settled down to read my book, I became totally caught up in it to the extent of a couple of late nights when I didn’t want to stop reading. The only reason that it was over two late nights and not one, was that I didn’t want to do what I have done so many times before and crashed on reading, only to spoil the book by reading it too fast.

Last Kiss

Darkness awaits you…

Louise Phillips’ thriller Last Kiss is Dr Kate Pearson’s third outing as a criminal profiler with the Dublin police. When we meet Kate again, she is in the process of deciding (or more accurately delaying deciding) whether she and her husband Declan have a future together. They are separated and juggling childcare for their son Charlie, who misses his dad. Kate’s emotional struggle is complicated by the return to the force of DI Adam O’Connor to help in the hunt for the perpetrator of the ritualised knife murder of an art dealer in a Dublin hotel room.

The story begins with an eerie flashback to 1982 when a young girl called Ellen hides away in woodland to give birth to her child. The girl doesn’t feel as if she is quite alone as she labours in the chill of early morning but she sees nobody. The episode raises intriguing questions about what relevance Ellen and her baby will have to the events that will follow and it gives a chilling tone to the novel:

“The child wailed, scrunching its face like a piece of shrivelled rotten fruit, a primal instinct kicking in, telling it that something wasn’t right.”

The elements and motives of the murder case prove to be difficult to unravel and Kate’s work on the criminal’s profile suggests that the murder probably wasn’t the first one to be committed by this person. Will some research into cold cases reveal a similar crime that could provide a lead? Kate is intrigued by the ritual elements of the crime that indicate that the killer is using Tarot cards. But for what purpose? Revenge perhaps? I was fascinated by the details about the Tarot card readings as it’s not something I know anything about.

In her structuring of the novel, Louise Phillips takes the risk of presenting the murderers’ point of view, in alternating chapters:

“I have reasons for doing what I do. You may not know them yet, because I haven’t told you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s too early for judgement calls, far too early for that… I kill people. I could dress it up, say all kinds of stuff about it, but for now, all you need to know is that I do.”

I said risk, because for an author to try to create a murderer with whom a reader might feel some sympathy/empathy is a tricky manoeuvre to pull off. I think however, that Louise Phillips does so. I wanted to learn more about the killer and to understand the whys and wherefores of the elaborate crime. Why did the murderer feel driven to kill? Is the killer evil or perhaps terribly damaged? This plot device also successfully adds to the twists and tension of the action while building up the history of the murderer and a set of motives.

At the same time as Kate Pearson and Adam are working to solve this case, Sandra Regan becomes increasingly disturbed by a strange presence in her life. She has become convinced that her husband Edgar is having an affair and that the other woman is stalking her and moving objects around in her home, though her friends don’t believe her. The reader must figure out what connects Sandra Regan to the murder under investigation. Is this mysterious ‘other woman’ the Tarot killer?

I don’t want to say too  much more for fear of giving away vital clues. I’ll leave you to read the book and work it out for yourselves. I often feel a sense of dissatisfaction after reading thrillers, a sense of ‘so that’s it then’ when all the twists are over. However, I didn’t get that familiar feeling from the denouement of Last Kiss. The ending was a satisfying conclusion to the case and I have to say that I didn’t guess the killer’s identity before the plot revealed it to me.

As I mentioned above, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Last Kiss from the publishers, so thanks again for that. If anyone out there would like to have my copy (I’m not a heavy handed reader so it’s still as good as new) then drop me a line in the comment box. Deadline is midnight Sunday and then I’ll put names in a hat on Monday morning and pick  out a winner. Good luck!

Finally, if you want to read more on Louise Phillips, here’s a link to a re-blog from Rebecca Bradley on the question of first drafts that I posted recently

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Louise Phillips

I’m re-blogging this piece from Rebecca Bradley’s crime blog since I’ve recently finished Louise Phillips’ Last Kiss. You might remember that Louise was a guest on The Landing last year after the publication of The Dolls’ House. Last Kiss is another griping read featuring Dr Kate Pearson, who is helping the police to find a killer before she (Kate is convinced that the killer is female) strikes again. Lots of unease, darkness and twists and turns, but also compassion and empathy in the story. More on this book to follow…

Rebecca Bradley

lou_p (2)Today’s First Draft Guest is crime writer Louise Phillips.

Red Ribbons, the bestselling debut novel by Dublin-born crime author Louise Phillips, was nominated for the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Book of the Year award at the BGE Irish Book Awards in 2012. Louise won the award in 2013 for her second novel The Doll’s House. Louise returned to writing in 2006, after raising her family. In addition to her three published novels, Louise’s work has been published as part of various anthologies and literary journals. She has won the Jonathan Swift Award, was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform, and her writing has been shortlisted for prizes such as the Molly Keane Memorial Award and Bridport UK.Last Kiss is her third novel and she is currently working on her fourth.

 

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing…

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Landing Author: Juliet Greenwood on WWI Food

As I promised here is Juliet Greenwood’s guest post. Picking up on my interest in the theme of growing and preparing nutritious food during the war, I asked Juliet to talk about this aspect of  We That Are Left (Honno Press) and her background research. At the end of the post I’ve added the recipes that Juliet sent me. If you buy a copy of the book you will find a few more authentic recipes to try for yourselves.

The Role of Food in World War I

When I was first thinking of writing about the First World War, I knew I wanted to write about the lives of civilians, and especially the women, who moved out from being simply wives and mothers to take over the roles of the missing men at home, as well as working on the front line as ambulance drivers and nurses.

Among the many roles of women at home was ensuring that there was enough food at home for the population to both survive and be strong enough to continue, as well as sending supplies to the soldiers at the front. Like today, much of Britain’s food was imported, and fashionable and convenient new foods, like tinned fruit, had begun to replace the traditional ways of cooking.

There was no rationing in WWI until the very end of the war, but many staples immediately became expensive as there was panic buying, and there were shortages too. This was a new kind of war, not fought in countries far away, like South Africa, but one into which the civilians were drawn as well (it was also the first time bombing was experienced from both Zeppelins and bi-planes). This war on home soil was something that hadn’t happened In Britain since the Civil War in the 17th Century, and the response seems to have been quite chaotic at first, but it was the lessons learnt that led to the efficient rationing systems of the Second World War.

I did much of my research in the online British Newspaper Archive, looking at newspapers of the time. It’s noticeable that from 1916 onwards there is a real obsession with food. Articles appear about allotments, along with means of preserving with the little sugar available – and there are arguments too about where allotments should be allowed by disgruntled residents who clearly think it lowers the tone of the neighbourhood!

It wasn’t just food, but medicines too. So women, especially those in the countryside returned to the old ways of their grandmothers. They grew and preserved as much as they could and foraged for things like blackberries and rosehips, which are an excellent source of vitamin C and wonderful home remedies for coughs and colds. As well as women working the land, schoolchildren were drafted in to help, growing food wherever there was space.

Rosehip Syrup

Full of vitamin C…

The upper classes and the rich didn’t escape, either. The army of servants needed to run a Downton-style house were gone. Meals became simpler. Even restaurants limited the number of courses as part of the war effort. Before the war vegetarianism was a sign of being a Fabian and a serious crank, like the playwright George Bernard Shaw. It’s a sign of how things changed that the recipes in the newspapers begin focusing on meatless meals and how to make delicious things from vegetables. As a vegetarian I loved trying out the Cornish Lady’s Meatless Meal, which was delicious!

For Elin, the heroine of We That Are Left, learning to run the family estate in Cornwall and particularly the kitchen garden, leads to her developing her passion for baking and creating recipes from the ingredients available. It’s something that takes her to places she could never have imagined – and that includes racing through France in a beaten up ambulance, braving bombs and enemy soldiers to save the lives of both strangers and those she loves.

In researching the recipes of The Great War I found that, as for Elin, the changing role of food reflected a deeper change in a society that would never be the same again. On the one hand, the opulence of the Edwardian upper classes had gone. On the other, recruiters for the army were shocked at facing the reality of the appalling state of health of the poor in such a prosperous country. And women could never be quite seen again as the fragile little woman standing in the shadow of her husband and incapable of being a citizen in her own right.

And here are the recipes…

WWI Seed Cake  WWI Seed Cake

Original version:

2½lb Flour

2lb Refined Sugar

12ozs Caraway Seeds

2lbs Butter or Margarine

4 teaspoons Orange Flower Water

10 Eggs

½lb Candied Peel

 

Modern (scaled down!) version

8oz     230g   Butter or Margarine

8oz     230g   Sugar

2oz   60g     Caraway or Poppy Seeds

8oz     230g   SR Flour

2oz      60g     Candied Peel

Rind and juice of 1 Orange

Rind and juice of 1 Lemon

3 Eggs

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with flour alternately, then add juice of one orange, caraway/poppy seeds, candied peel. Spoon into a greased 7inch/ 18cm tin and bake in oven at 180 degrees (160 for fan assisted)/ Gas Mark 4 for one hour or until a knife comes out clean. When cool cover with butter icing (Vanilla or lemon both worth well).

This is one that sounds really tasty (and we are growing leeks in the garden!)

A ‘Meatless Meal’

Based on a 1918 newspaper recipe but on more manageable lines and with the addition of cheese to improve tastiness. Serves 2 or 4 depending on how hungry you are (but be warned, it is delicious!). Adjust the amounts (especially the cheese) to your own taste.

 Chop three leeks. Fry gently in butter until soft. Add a clove of garlic and ten chopped mushrooms (add more if you like mushrooms).

In a saucepan melt two tablespoons of butter, slowly add one tablespoon of floor and stir for one minute. Then add approximately ½ pint (284 ml) milk slowly until you reach a consistency of double cream. Add approximately 4oz (113) grated cheese. Stir in leek and mushroom mix. Pour over 2 – 4 large pieces of toast. Place in a fireproof dish, scatter grated cheese on top and place under a hot grill until golden brown. Serve hot.

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Many thanks to Juliet for kindly contributing to The Landing Authors posts. If you want to know more about her work and inspirations, then here are all of the links you need:

Website:     http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/We that are left

Blog:            http://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook:    https://www.facebook.com/juliet.greenwood

Twitter:      https://twitter.com/julietgreenwood

If you want to check out other books published by Honno Press:

 http://www.honno.co.uk/index.php

I’d love to know about what World War I fiction you’ve read and would recommend. Do drop me a line… 

 

 

 

Introducing Landing Author Juliet Greenwood

As there are still plenty of summer days left for reading (albeit that you might be reading in mac and wellingtons) I thought I would feature one of my recent library reads which I flew through recently. We That are Left by Juliet Greenwood (Honno Press 2014) is set  during the First World War, which is a very topical subject just at the moment. The action moves between Cornwall, Anglesey and France as the war unfolds and opens at Elin Helstone’s  Cornish home Hiram Hall just before the outbreak of hostilities:We that are left

 

Elin lives a luxurious but lonely life at Hiram Hall. Her husband Hugo loves her but he has never recovered from the Boer War. Now another war threatens to destroy everything she knows.

With Hugo at the front, and her cousin Alice and friend Mouse working for the war effort, Elin has to learn to run the estate in Cornwall, growing much-needed food, sharing her mother’s recipes and making new friends – and enemies. But when Mouse is in danger, Elin must face up to the horrors in France herself.
 And when the Great War is finally over, Elin’s battles prove to have only just begun.

 

I have read many novels from this period, but ever since reading Not So Quiet by Helen Zennor Smith some years ago, I’ve tried to  read more about women’s role during the great conflict. Juliet Greenwood’s novel combines love (as opposed to romance) with the hard realities of war for both soldiers and civilians, against a background of women’s wartime activity. Whether it’s growing food, driving ambulances or running a hospital and foraging for medical supplies, Greenwood’s women step up and are counted. It was a time when women were challenging social roles and agitating for the vote, and it was ironic that it took a war for women to have the opportunity prove what they could do. It is also worth pointing out that after the war many women who served in the war effort would have had just the same difficulties as the men in returning to peace time after all that they had seen and endured.

I haven’t hosted a Landing Author for a while, so I thought I would ask Juliet Greenwood if she would be kind enough to write a guest post for The Landing. After seeing a cookery demonstration recently at TCD’ s World War I day of talks and events, I decided that it would be interesting to focus on food as a post topic. At the cookery demonstration, Domini Kemp and Catherine Cleary from RTE’s History on a Plate recreated some recipes from the Ireland of that period. In Juliet’s novel, Elin has her Welsh mother’s collection of tried and tested recipes which she puts to good to good use when ingredients are scarce. A nice feature of We that are left is that Juliet has included some of the recipes that she mentions in the story. I’m planning to try out some of them myself and will be posting the results on Curiously Creatively in due course.

I’ll be posting up Juliet’s guest post, complete with recipes to tempt you into the kitchen, in a couple of days so do look out for it. Juliet Greenwood is the second Honno Press author that I’ve hosted here, the first being Jacqueline Jacques so check out her guest posts too if you have the time.

In the meantime, here’s a little information about Juliet Greenwood if you haven’t read her books before:

Juliet Greenwood

At Blist’s Hill Victorian Town

 

Juliet lives in a traditional quarryman’s cottage between the mountains of Snowdonia and the island of Anglesey. She has a large garden and attempts to grow as much as she is able and experiment with the results. When not writing Juliet works collecting oral history, before such stories are lost forever.

‘We That are Left’ is her second Book for Honno Press. Her first, ‘Eden’s Garden’ was a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’ 2014. Both books were Kindle top 5 best sellers in June and July 2014.

Juliet also writes serials and stories for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’.

 

Juliet’s Media Links:

We That Are Left Honno Press, 2014

The Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month, March 2014

The National Museum of Wales Book of the Month, March 2014

Waterstones Wales Book of the Month March, 2014 http://www.amazon.co.uk/That-Are-Left-Juliet-Greenwood/dp/190678499X

Eden’s Garden Honno Press, 2012

Finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’, May 2014

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edens-Garden-Juliet-Greenwood/dp/1906784353

 

Website:     http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/

Blog:            http://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook:    https://www.facebook.com/juliet.greenwood

Twitter:      https://twitter.com/julietgreenwood

I hope all of that has whetted your appetite before Juliet Greenwood’s guest post on writing about women and food in the First World War!

 

 

Books and Grief: Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman

A recent addition to the Landing Bookshelves has been Andrés Neuman’s Talking to Ourselves (courtesy of the publishers, Pushkin Press). It has, I admit jumped the queue over longer residents of the TBR Pile but I hope you’ll let that pass. I became acquainted with Neuman’s work a couple of years ago when I read Traveller of the Century. This was Neuman’s first novel to be translated into English and I was delighted to discover that it has been voted onto this year’s IMPAC short list. If you haven’t come across it yet then skim back to last year’s post on Neuman’s book. He also did a brilliant Q and A for The Landing.

Talking to Ourselves

An emotional landscape…

Talking to Ourselves is a spare and compact novel; quite a contrast to the previous book’s Enlightenment wanderings, but it describes a journey nonetheless. Or rather, it describes the emotional and spiritual journeys of the protagonists as well as a physical one. Three people alternately narrate Talking to Ourselves: Mario, his wife Elena and their ten-year-old son Lito. Mario is terminally ill and his wife has agreed that he can take Lito on a road trip in a truck (called Pedro) to create a special father-son memory. Lito is thrilled to be going on the trip and does not realise that his father is so ill. He thinks that Mario has just had a virus infection, as Mario has been careful to keep his illness hidden from his son. Whether that was the right thing to do or not is a question that Mario cannot answer.

Neuman’s powerful book tackles the difficult topics of loss, grief, loneliness and aging. This sounds depressing, but it’s not; moving and thought provoking are nearer the mark. Communication, sex and books are the weapons that the adults try to use to reclaim life and self from sadness and loss. Lito’s joyful thoughts at being on the road trip provide a sharp contrast to his parents’ concerns. Watching as someone you love suffers and changes is hard for the carer to deal with, and Elena struggles with her feelings. She has always been able to find solace and answers in reading. The book is peppered with quotations from the eclectic range of writers that she explores and Neuman has included a list of the authors cited at the end of the novel. This could feel very forced and clunky, a self-help manual for grief, but in Neuman’s skilled hands this technique works well.

At times, I had to stop reading Ourselves because of the intensity of the plot, so even though it’s only a short novel (156 pages) it took longer to read than I expected. Life can throw harrowing things at us that simply we don’t want to or feel able to face. This novel describes a couple trying to find ways of facing the one thing that any parent of a young child dreads. How do you deal with grief and the way illness affects everyone? How does this affect the moral compass of the healthy person? And is there a viable future? I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot so I’m just going to give a snippet from each of the protagonists to give a flavour of the novel.

Here is Lito just before his adventure with his father and Pedro begins,

I ask Dad when we’re leaving. Right now, he says. Right now! I can’t believe it. I run up to my room. I open and close drawers. I drop my clothes on the floor. Mum helps me pack my backpack. This is going to be awesome.’ Lito sees the trip as a huge excitement and relishes the chance to miss out eating salads in favour of junk food.

Elena is anxious about the trip but has no choice about it, knowing how important it is to Mario,

If Mario accepted the limits of his strength, we would have told all our friends the truth. He prefers us to be secretive. Discreet, he calls it. A patient’s rights go unquestioned. No one talks about the rights of the carer. Another person’s illness makes us ill. And I’m in that truck with them, even though I’ve stayed at home.’

As I said above Mario has refused to publicly acknowledge his illness which has ramifications for both Elena and Lito:

‘I’ll explain, bah, can I explain this?, you’re at your grandparents’ and you don’t know why, we’ve sent you there until the end of the holidays, I’m meant to be travelling, we talk every day, I try to sound cheerful, am I deceiving you, son? yes, I’m deceiving you, am I doing the right thing?, I’ve no idea, so let’s assume I am’.

I hope that I’ve managed to convey at least a small sense of the power and scope of this beautifully written and challenging novel. The translators have played no small part in this achievement: Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia who also translated Traveller of the Century have again done an excellent job. As someone whose ‘O’ level Spanish is very rusty indeed I’m constantly amazed at the skill translators apply to original texts, making the resulting words flow as if they were in the author’s native language.

Fingers crossed for Traveller of the Century in the IMPAC contest (one of five translated novels on the shortlist). I’ll be back with another Landing Bookshelves selection soon but meanwhile, drop me a line if you have any IMPAC recommendations.

Credits: Thanks again to Pushkin Press for a copy of the novel.

Daniel Seery: A Model Landing Author

As promised yesterday, and just in time to liven up a chilly Monday morning in Dublin are a few questions that I put to Daniel Seery, author of A Model Partner (Liberties Press). I was surprised to realise just how long it’s been since I had a guest post (my last was Louise Phillips in August) so I’m pleased to welcome Daniel to the #LandingAuthors club. I do feel compelled to mention that as I  now work for Liberties Press, any praise I give Daniel’s book might seem biased. Therefore, I will more or less let him speak for himself other than to say that I think Daniel has created a very engaging and sympathetic character in his main protagonist Tom Stacey.

CM: I was reading in your piece on Writing.ie that you have written and directed a play and been shortlisted in an RTE drama competition. Can I start by asking you how difficult you found it to direct your own piece?

DS: When I write a piece I tend to visualise the whole scene, the pace of the drama, the way a character will deliver a line, the tone they use, even their movement. Initially, it was difficult to let go of this and allow the actor to move forward with their interpretation of the play. And in this respect I had to stop myself from over-directing and trying to control every aspect. But I knew the actor very well. I’d seen him in plenty of plays and I trusted his judgement and his skill. In the end, a lot of the directing came down to the physical arrangement and other technical details.

A Model Partner

CM: Moving on to novel writing, how different do you find the creative process to be from writing for the stage? 

DS: I had a good idea of the themes that I wanted to have in the play so I approached it in the same way I’d approach a novel, in that I usually try to get a rough draft down as quickly as possible in an effort to capture the tone of the piece. The editing stage was very different though, imagining how everything was going to look from an audience perspective and adapting it for the stage. But it’s nice to take on a new challenge with your writing. I’ve a couple of ideas for screenplays and I hope to get the time to write them someday.

CM: In A Model Partner, you have thrown a lot of misfortune Tom’s way during his formative years. Did you plan this from the start or did events take shape as you worked?

DS: The first time I imagined Tom he was leaning against a wall, listening in on his neighbours. I pictured this character on the fringes of society and I wanted to delve into how he ended up in this situation. Because I wanted the character to have a lot of heart, it would make more sense that he was a victim of circumstance and the actions of other people. It also offers the notion that often the bad events in our lives can impact us greater than the good.  

CD: Assuming that Tom finds ‘the one’ do you think that she would be able to cope with Tom’s obsessive need to place his chair exactly so, or do you feel that he would no longer have a need to control his environment so closely?

DS: I think a large part of relationships is about understanding and allowing for a partner’s natural or emotional flaws, so Tom would need to meet someone who is patient and will give him time to change. I think there are some signs in the book that his behaviour is altering. Perhaps he just needs someone to have faith in him and to love him, just like everybody else, I guess.

CD: Following on from the last question, I wondered how much research you did in order to flesh out Tom’s psychological profile in a convincing way.

DS: I wanted Tom to have rigid mannerisms but I wasn’t sure as to what extent I could push this character. So I researched a lot of psychology and medical journals in order to find similar cases and articles relating to trauma and OCD and the unwavering need to control an environment. Once I had some understanding of similar conditions and that I wasn’t merely going on any engrained stereotypical ideas, I felt free to move forward with Tom and the book. Luckily, I work in a library so I have plenty of access to this type of material.

CD: Deciding to use a wax dummy as a model for a partner could have been tricky to pull off as a plot device for all sorts of reasons that it might be best not to go into here. Were you at all wary of introducing her/she/it into the story?

DS: I think writers can often have doubts about the avenues they are taking with their plot. There is certainly a risk when introducing a waxwork model as a character, the fact that it could turn out farcical or that it might weaken some of the themes you are building. But the positive outweighed the negative, like the humour it could add to balance out the book or as a tool to show that beauty runs much deeper than a culmination of perfect traits. It needed a lot of work to fit seamlessly into the book but I think it was a risk worth taking.

CD: This final question is out of simple curiosity: Tom’s friend J.P. carries On the Road around with him and of course, Tom and his grandfather have their own road trip. Were you inspired by a road trip of your own and are/were you a Kerouac devotee?

DS: I wasn’t inspired by a road trip but the back story was in some ways influenced by the fact that my father is a truck driver. As a kid I’d love getting the chance to sit beside him in the cab and go for a drive. If I’ve a natural talent at anything in life it is definitely the talent of being a good passenger. Although Iggy Pop’s The Passenger was released on the Lust for Life album the year I was born, I still think he must have written the song about me!

‘All of it was made for you and me…so let’s take a ride and see what’s mine’

With On the Road, I loved the novel but I wouldn’t say I was a devotee like J.P. Instead, I wanted to use Kerouac’s book as a symbol of a future that JP naively presumes he is entitled to. But with the likes of JP, their aspirations are only a mimic of someone else’s aspirations and they are reluctant to chase or work for their vision of the future. And in some ways they are forever waiting on an adventure that is never going to happen.

Many thanks to Daniel Seery for taking the time to answer a few questions about Tom Stacey and A Model Partner. I hope that you will now be intrigued enough to want to read the book for yourselves. If so, just follow the links to the Liberties Press site where you can order a copy.

Now, I’ll try not to leave it too long before my next #LandingAuthor…

Introducing Landing Author Daniel Seery

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week, I am due to host debut author Daniel Seery  (A Model Partner, Liberties Press) on The Landing. Daniel’s novel had a successful  launch last week at The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin by fellow Stinging Fly contributor Colin Barrett. As you will know from one of my previous posts, Daniel generously gave a guest spot on his blog in the form of a Q & A to his cover designer Karen Vaughan. This time it’s Daniel’s turn to go under the spotlight with a few questions based on A Model Partner. I’m going to post up the email interview on Monday but meanwhile here is a short introduction to Tom Stacey, whose methodical search for his perfect partner will lead him into some surreal situations…. But will he find ‘the one’?

A Model Partner

The bees are a buzzing…

Tom Stacey has moved into his neighbour’s bedsit. He wasn’t asked. It was just that the door was open and his neighbours have gone on holiday. And it is so much bigger than his own bedsit. Plus, he has a lot to think about these days. The bees for one. He hasn’t seen any but he keeps hearing them, buzzing in the fridge at work, in the overhead lights, in the test equipment in the factory where he has spent the last fifteen years of his working life. They seem to be getting louder and more insistent, and they are beginning to affect the way he goes about his business.

Then there is his search for Sarah McCarthy to worry about. Sarah was his first love when, as a teenager, he travelled around the country in the back of a horsebox with his grieving grandfather. But perhaps it is not the bees or the past which is the problem. Perhaps it is his on going loneliness. Twenty-two dates with Happy Couples dating agency and nothing to show – bar a dent in his bank balance and several complaints about ‘eccentric behaviour’. Relationships are all about the details and there are just not enough boxes to tick in the Agency’s personal profile form.

Armed with a wax model and a list of criteria, Tom sets out on a quest to create a personal profile to find his ideal match. On his journey, he meets people just like him, warm but unable to show it, lonely and unable to remedy it, the lost, the misplaced and the damaged.

Daniel Seery

Daniel Seery

About the author:

Daniel Seery is a writer from Dublin. His work has appeared in local and national publications including The Stinging Fly and REA Journal and he has worked on a number of public arts commissions. In 2012 he was the resident writer in the Axis Centre, Ballymun. He has also been shortlisted for an RTÉ drama competition, has recently been one of the winners of the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair and he has written and directed a play The One We Left Behind which ran in the Irish Writers’ Centre in May 2012 and in the Helix in August 2012. A Model Partner is his first novel.

Credits: Book blurb and cover taken from Liberties Press website.
Author photograph taken from Daniel Seery’s blog.