The Heirloom – a treasured inheritance

heirloom twitterBooks, I am learning, have a life of their own. Long after the story has left my pen, I watch it dip and rise on the tides. It amazes me – the power of a book to go on its own journey, as if the author is but a distant spot on the horizon.

Such has been the experience with my debut novel, The Heirloom (which is conveniently 99p at the moment on Kindle!) When I first published this timeslip story, I just couldn’t get any traction with it. I was a first-time, self-publishing author and no-one knew I even existed. I hadn’t a clue how to reach readers or where to promote my book.

Fast forward a few years and The Heirloom has now become my most popular selling title! I cannot tell you how happy it makes me, to know that people are not only discovering this story, but really enjoying it!

I spent waaaaay too long researching this novel, but judging from the reviews, it seems to have paid off. It all started when two completely different ideas collided. I love history and was interested in the Spanish Armada ships that crashed into Irish shores during one of the worst storms in history. Miraculously, a letter from one of the knights who survived, has outlived its author and gives a harrowing account of his time in Ireland. In Galway (where the book is set) there is still a monument to the 300 Spanish sailors who were massacred by the English on Fort Hill cemetery. Through the kindness of strangers, Captain Francisco de Cuéllar was given shelter and managed to return home to Spain (after many adventures!) Here is a trailer for a short film based on his time here, which is kind of amazing because I like to pretend this is a trailer for my book!

Armada 1588 : Shipwreck & Survival (Film Trailer – English) from Omedia on Vimeo.

But of course, that’s not the end of my story. Given my love for timeslip novels (it began with Kate Mosse, blame her!) I wanted to write the story in a format that brought the reader into the present day. I feel so strong that our past is the answer to all of the mysteries we face in our lives and I love exploring those links in fiction. So, when I discovered a book called Many Lives, Many Masters written by the American psychotherapist, Dr. Brian Weiss, I knew I’d found my key.¬† It tells how one of his patients began recalling past-life traumas and through the use of therapy and hypnosis, they resolved to cure her recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks.

Well, I’ve always had an over-active imagination and the idea of remembering past lives really intrigued me. I wonder where I lived, or who I was, in previous lives? Books like Cloud Atlas ignite my passion for this idea and the beauty of it is, no-one can really say for sure whether or not it’s possible… In more recent times, there have been increasing studies into inherited trauma and whether transgenerational inheritance can really affect a person’s biology. But that’s for another story.

For now, I’m just delighted to see my story about past and present lives colliding on the wild shores of the west coast of Ireland finally charting a steady course to a whole new readership. These reader reviews have made my heart soar and reminded me that stories can go on forever and heirlooms are made to be passed on.

“I loved this book! Following the history of Miguel and Annora was fascinating.”

“It almost seemed like two books in one, which is great for avid readers. Skillfully the author links the life stories of four well-developed characters across centuries.”

“Once I started this book I found it difficult to put down. I like the way it slips easily from modern Ireland to the time of the Spanish Armada.”

“A beautiful story of love, loss and courage . This beautiful story wraps history and a great love into one. Good read!”

“Anyone who likes a mystery that takes you to another country plus searching for family tree i could not put this down. 3 o’clock in the morning is not a good time to go to sleep!! loved it.”

girl in the middle

the mattress (1)
A quirky short story about a woman who discovers that not all heroes wear capes… some of them don’t even have a pulse. But they do have a name. Gerald.

I wrote a short story! girl in the middle And you can download it, for free, on whatever device you use.

Nook  ~ Kobo ~ Kindle ~ Apple

Now, don’t labour under the misapprehension that I wrote this during lockdown. No siree. All I’ve done during lockdown is watch Poldark (because… I’m really interested in 18th century mining?!), curse my sinuses and basically fall apart, in an orderly fashion.

Writing during this time has been like everything else during this time – a mixture of extremes. Either I’m feeling really creative and motivated or I can’t even muster up the enthusiasm to switch on my laptop. I wrote this story last year with the full intention of submitting it for a short story award, but being the success-driven, laser-focused, ambitious writer that I am, I didn’t get around to it ūüôā But I’m so glad I didn’t, because finding it now feels like perfect timing. A gift from past-me to present-me. When I read it again, I found myself laughing out loud and enjoying the quirky characters I created. So I thought, what’s the best way to get this out into the world? Self-publish of course!

Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve released anything and the stuff I’m currently working on is more contemporary and more comedy. That’s the thing with novels – there is sooooooooooooooo much time in between, where your readers probably think you’re dead or off spending your royalties in Mauritius. When really, you’re writing TWO new novels, submitting, waiting, writing, reading, editing, deleting and repeating until another year has gone by and you’ve nothing to show for it. So releasing a little story is a great way to remind people that you’re alive and still writing stories.

And people do love a free book! It’s a great way to discover a new author. Betwixt – my first short story – which is consistently in the Amazon Top 5, is flying off the virtual shelves at the moment. So it’s a win-win, I get to share a bite-size piece of creativity and readers get a free story.

So please share, read, download, whatever it is you crazy kids do and help me to get this story out there. At a very short and sweet 15 pages, girl in the middle is fun, free and uplifting – and we could all do with a bit of that right now.

 

The Black Hole of Research

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Did you know that The Countess of Lovelace was the mathematician responsible for the very first algorithm? She’s the one we can all blame when our books are foundering in the choppy rankings on Amazon. How do I know this? Because I was researching SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNRELATED!

Many writerly souls have been lost on the road to research. Like pilgrims seeking truth (and hopefully a large chunk of data we can copy and paste into our WIP to boost our wordcount for the day, without actually having to write anything) we set out innocently hoping to find the right answers to our questions. Like, what did people eat in the sixteenth century? Is a hurricane worse than a cyclone? When did indoor plumbing, like, happen? What were the best hotels in Paris before WWI? (asking for a friend). Did Victorian women mountaineers wear skirts? The answer is yes, by the way, they did in the mid 1800s and despite appearances, they weren’t hampered one bit.¬† Check out the aptly named Lucy Walker.¬† How do I know this?¬† Again, I got A LOT distracted from my original quest, which was…. what was it again?

That’s the beauty and the beast that is the Internet. It’s a wonderful tool for research and even when you end up deep down a black hole of ‘Stuff That Will Never Make It To Your Novel,’ it’s still really interesting (albeit time-consuming).¬† I would love if Google could accumulate some of the most common searches for each writing genre.¬† I’m guessing crime writers would have the most gruesome results – like how many times and in what location you can stab someone before killing them? So much of a writer’s search history has been conveniently explained away as “research”.

Writing historical fiction doesn’t help.¬† When people ask why it takes so long to write a book, they don’t mean how long you spent researching it (like spending half the day reading about how Joan of Arc was captured in a small town in Northern France, called Compiegne, only to vaguely refer to it in one sentence).¬† They mean how long you spent putting words together.¬† But if you’ve ever written a story, you learn pretty quick that everything needs to be researched – location, professions, dialect, clothing, customs and anything else that has a question mark over it, because as we all know, fiction needs to be factually correct or else it doesn’t work. Unless you plan on writing an autobiography, or a story that never mentions anything outside of your field of knowledge (which isn’t a bad idea, actually!)

But then there are those wonderful moments when the black hole of research leads you to your next story idea.¬† Such was the case with The Story Collector; I was looking up information on a local hill, where it is said that the King of the Connacht fairies (that’s Finvarra to you) is buried.¬† I found myself being swept slightly off course and in a couple of clicks, came face to face with a dapper-looking anthropologist who wrote a book about The Good People in Celtic countries.¬† I made a note of it – lost the note – but never forgot his story and in a few years began researching in earnest for what would become my third novel, inspired by that man.¬† So you never know!¬† Books are certainly much more contained when it comes to research, and once I know what I’m looking for, I tend to use books more than the internet, but it’s the ‘lucky dip’ of searching online that makes it so exciting. Research can be a fun and interesting part of the writing journey, just don’t forget to book a return ticket.

The Story Behind The Story

What started out as a hypnotherapy session with the ‘dreadlocks guy’ from the local five-a-side football team, quickly turned into so much more…

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It’s not your typical ‘meet cute’, but this is how my debut novel, The Heirloom, starts out.¬† Set in my hometown of Galway, it follows the story of Amanda, a young woman whose cynical outlook on life has her stuck in a job she is neither qualified for nor interested in and in a relationship which is entirely conducted in hotel rooms.¬† With a married man.¬† With two kids.

Xavier, an unemployed philologist (yes, philologist), finds himself literally drifting on the ocean as an impromptu member of a global yacht race.  Destiny brings him ashore on the West Coast of Ireland and straight into the path of Amanda, whose dreams of drowning are becoming unnervingly real.

What ensues is a story of contemporary love, historical mysteries and the struggle to find one’s true path in life.

The Heirloom opens with lines from a poem by Lucian Blaga:-

They say that ancestors, dead before their time,
with young blood still in their veins,
with great passion in their blood,
with the sun still burning in their blood
come,
come to continue to live
within us
their unfinished lives.

These lines hold the seed of the entire novel… is it possible that we carry within us, a soul from another time?¬† I’ve often wondered why I have such an affinity with things or places, even languages I’ve never spoken.¬† Where does that desire come from?¬† Or that feeling of arriving home when you visit a place you’ve never been?¬† Are we holding onto fears and maybe even love, from another life?¬† And what if those memories could be accessed through a talisman, or an heirloom…

I loved telling this story.  Juxtaposing the historical aspects alongside a contemporary narrative was a challenge I relished and I loved exploring the idea of finding tangible connections with the past.  If you like authors like Kate Mosse, Rachel Hore, Diana Gabaldon or Kate Morton, with a healthy portion of Irish wit thrown in, this book is for you!

I feel so fortunate that this book is having something of a second wind in the Amazon charts and just goes to show, people can discover your book at any time.  The Heirloom might just achieve immortality yet!

Click below for a free preview…

 

heirloom reviews

Women’s Fiction: The Big Cover Up

custom-wrapped-rose-and-pinks-31Following a recent discussion with an online book-club (which I am now ripping off for this blog!) the subject of covers reared its’ pretty head. ¬†Pretty being the operative word, and a pejorative one in this case. ¬†A male reader asked the question, why do publishers insist of giving female authors the kind of covers that men wouldn’t be caught dead with? ¬†Of course, there was also the argument that some men wouldn’t be caught dead reading a female author, period; regardless of the cover. ¬†In this day and age, I find that a bit sad to be honest. ¬†It just perpetuates this idea that women can only write about things that concern women – as if men wouldn’t find anything of interest in ‘women’s things’. ¬†¬† Furthermore, what does it say about a man’s sense of identity, that he can’t ‘be seen’ in public with a woman’s book? ¬†All big questions, which I will now neatly side-step in order to get to the side of the argument that best serves my agenda. ¬†Girlie covers – what’s it all about?

Just to be sure I wasn’t being a complete hypocrite, I made a quick scan of the books I’ve read over the past few years and there is an approximate 60/40 split in female to male authors on my list. ¬†I think it’s only natural that we will veer towards our own gender, but I was quite pleased to see that my reading has been fairly balanced. ¬†I never really think about the author’s gender when choosing a book. ¬†My decision is based solely on whether or not the story piques my interest. ¬†That… and the cover. ¬†It was at this point I realised that the guy in the book club had a point.

One of the most important jobs of a book cover is to let the reader know, as clearly and succinctly as possible, what they are getting with this book. ¬†If I see a dark and moody cover with blood stains, I’ll probably keep moving. ¬†Crime fiction isn’t really my thing, but how many good books have I missed because of these preconceptions? ¬†Readers make their minds up in a matter of seconds, based on the cover of a book. ¬†So it follows that the publishing industry, rightly or wrongly, create covers that they believe will sell; even if this is at odds with what lies between the covers. ¬†However, there is an even greater divide when it comes to books by female authors. ¬†Regardless of their literary merit, many publishers seemed determined to shoe-horn women’s books into the kind of covers that female readers themselves feel may be undervaluing the author’s work. ¬†It has long been argued that the Chick Lit genre has become something of a double-edged sword; on the one hand, it has introduced readers to a lot of very talented female authors, but it has been marketed in so much pink fluffiness, that many of these writers are doomed to spend eternity on a dusty shelf, trapped in pastel coloured covers and not taken seriously.

A recent article by Emily Harnett in The Atlantic reveals the thinking behind these covers:

Like any form of advertising, book covers tell women what they want by surmising who they want to be.

Image result for typical chick lit book covers

I’m guessing the assumption is that we all want to be white, thin goofballs with a hidden intelligence, all wrapped up in designer clothes! ¬†Please don’t get me wrong – I am not criticizing this book or its readers, but I am questioning how the author’s work is marketed and whether or not this is a hindrance to women’s writing as a whole. ¬†If you are a woman and you happen to write about anything involving relationships or family life, chances are that this will be your marketing strategy.

The following graphics from an article on Flavorwire¬†show some examples of how male authored books are marketed completely differently. ¬†The jumbo writing is a classic of the genre, which almost screams ‘This is important!’ ¬†It demands to be taken seriously, and as such, lends an air of gravitas to its reader.

The female authors have markedly different covers. ¬†They are warm, decorative and while they’re not as garish as the Chick Lit cover, we immediately assume that what lies inside is somehow more feminine in nature. ¬†Would a man pick up any of these books? ¬†I would like to think that in this day and age, yes, he would. ¬†But why are the publishers trying to divide us at all? ¬†As an author, I would hope that both male and female readers can enjoy my stories, but have I subconsciously placed a barely perceptible ‘Men Keep Out’ sticker on my book just by the covers I’ve chosen?

And it’s not just a male/female divide. ¬†There is also the question of what makes a book commercial fiction as opposed to the more highbrow literary fiction? ¬†Who decides this and what are the criteria? ¬†If you’re confused, take a look at these covers for the same book and tell me the publishers aren’t playing some sort of minds games!

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The first has a quote from literary heavyweight John Banville (a man!) comparing the author to Edna O’Brien, another literary biggie, and features a monochrome image of a child and an old man. ¬†The second, features a young woman with a tagline from one of Ireland’s most successful commercial fiction authors, Cecelia Ahern of PS I Love You fame. ¬†This is the same book, people!! ¬†How could a single story be marketed so differently? ¬†Well, on closer inspection, it turns out that the black and white cover is the hardback and the carefree young woman is the paperback version. ¬†According to author Jennifer Weiner, who treads the fine line between commercial and literary fiction,¬†‚ÄúHardcover is when you get the reviews and the profiles, paperback is when you get the readers.‚ÄĚ

So what they’re saying is, they don’t want to challenge us too much, but give us something wrapped in a package we are already familiar with. ¬†Are we such predictable repeat shoppers? ¬†I’m not so sure. ¬†One of my favourite novels this year was The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. ¬†It’s a mystery art caper, that takes us from the auction houses of London to Nazi Germany, and questions the true value of art and man’s desire to acquire beautiful things in search of salvation. ¬†AND YET. ¬†One of the male readers in the book club said he would never have picked it up, but his girlfriend had it and so he started reading it (and loved it). ¬†A woman in the group said she wouldn’t touch a book with such a cover with a barge-pole (the cover in question was the red paperback). ¬†The hardback features original artworks, while the Kindle version on the end features a palette and dispenses with the swirly writing altogether. ¬†In this case, I imagine that the publishers are trying to cast their net wide and get as many potential readers as possible, so why not do that in the first place? ¬†I really feel for the authors who have absolutely no say in how their work is packaged or marketed. ¬†Perhaps self-publishing will change the face of cover discrimination, or will we, for lack of any better ideas, just perpetuate it? ¬†The question we are all trying to answer is, what do readers want? ¬†Perhaps a little less clich√© and a little more originality.

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Sometimes I think we should just go back to the days when book covers were cloth bound and the title embossed in gold leaf. ¬†These days, we have grown accustomed to the kind of aspirational lifestyle marketing that bombards us for clothing, make-up, interiors and cars, but isn’t there something about books that should be held sacred? ¬†In reading, do we not seek to move beyond the shallow and superficial? ¬†I love book covers, just as I love design and art, but matching an image with a story is a tricky business and can often be misleading. ¬†I suppose the same can be said for blurbs, which are more often than not a bunch of sound-bytes to reel you in. ¬†The Blind Date Book Company¬†is a fantastic response to the publishing world’s attempts to manipulate our reading habits. ¬†Their tagline, rather predictably asks us to ‘Never Judge A Book By It’s Cover’, but rather choose ‘blindly’, based only on a four word description. ¬†I think it’s a really lovely idea and an innovative way to broaden your bookshelf and find some new books to love. ¬†It is, after all, blind ūüėČ

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Whether you like my covers or not, you can get my books here:

new heirloom1+1Amazon (Paperback) ~ Kindle 

 

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - CopyAmazon (Paperback) ~Kindle ~ Nook ~ iTunes ~ Kobo 

 

 

 

 

Can Reading Make You Happier? Probably!

book_of_rose_flower_pink_soft_nature_hd-wallpaper-1562660¬†Read a book for what ails you…

We’ve all had that experience – when the exact book we need just happens to come along at the right time. ¬†Maybe it’s a break-up, or a health issue, or just feeling ‘stuck’ in ¬†your life, when a book that seems to speak to you and your life situation directly, magically finds its way to your lap. ¬†Perhaps it was a friend who insisted, ‘Oh you have to read this book, it really helped me through x, y or z’, or it could have been a chance discovery in a library or a review you read in a magazine. ¬†But for all this glorious happenstance, what if there was someone who could prescribe the perfect book for you? ¬†Say hello to the bibliotherapist! ¬†For some time now, bibliotherapy has been used by the health service to recommend various self-help books as a means of providing psychological therapy for people experiencing emotional difficulties. ¬†However, is it possible that fiction can hold similarly helpful insights, while telling a story and reaching our subconscious in a more subtle and entertaining way?

Ceridwen Dovey’s article in The New Yorker, is written around her experience¬†with a bibliotherapist at the London headquarters of the School of Life, which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. ¬†Following her session with the bibliotherapist, she was ‘prescribed’ certain books that were relevant to her life situation. ¬†After a year of working her way through the reading list, she commented:

‘In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence…’

What’s more, reading has been shown to be very good for our health and well-being. ¬†According to the article, studies have shown that readers of fiction tend to be better at empathising with others and that reading can ‘improve social abilities and move us emotionally – prompting changes of self-hood’. ¬†¬†Ceridwen concludes:

‘Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm’.

So, if you ever needed a reason to read more and carefully consider your reading choices, bibliotherapy is it!  Reading fiction offers us the greatest escape; where we can literally lose ourselves (or our ego at least) in another world of possibility and untold futures.  Characters who lodge in our hearts with their feisty attitudes, or their ability to turn a terrible situation into something beauty, can in turn help us to re-frame our own attitudes to a particular situation.  Just the very act of taking time out of life to drift away on the prose of a well-crafted book, is a gift to ourselves and an oasis from the demands of modern life.

For those of us who can’t make it to a bibliotherapist, there are plenty of resources online where you can find reading lists and recommendations for every kind of challenge life can throw at ¬†you. ¬†Here is a list of bibliotherapy books on Goodreads¬†and a mood-boosting list from the Reading Agency¬†and if you have any recommendations of fiction books that helped you through a challenging time, please add them in the comments below.

***COVER REVEAL***

Here it is everyone Рthe cover design for my debut novel The Cross of Santiago.

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I am seriously psyched about the cover!  It really encapsulates the essence of the story:-

¬†“A young woman’s journey to find the truth about her ancestry and the mysterious cross that will unlock the secrets of an ancient love story.”

Big thanks to my designer Deborah at Tugboat who interpreted the story so well and¬†persevered¬†through many e-mails until we got it just right! ¬†Let me know what you think and if you like it – spread the word ūüôā

Stay tuned for details of the launch (September 16th) and subsequent book tour.