Life Behind The Scenes

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Oh dear, there are veritable cobwebs on my blog. I may have forgotten how to drive this thing, but let’s give it a go.

This year has been a lot of upheaval, personally and professionally. Yet, thankfully, in these final few weeks of 2019 I can look back and see that I’ve done the best thing for me, stayed true to myself and got through what I needed to get through. I imagine that for most of you, your year has been a similar journey of ups and downs and I sincerely hope that you’ve all come to trust yourselves more as a result.

January saw me get an email in response to a submission I’d sent out. They wanted to see more. So, in March I got the phone call I never thought I would get. An editor from Penguin Random House had read my writing and wanted to work with me. I tried to keep my expectations from going off the charts, but after a half hour on the phone to London, I allowed myself to believe that things were indeed, looking up.

I spent the next few months sketching out a story idea and eventually writing some sample chapters. The feedback was positive and I was asked to prepare a chapter breakdown and synopsis to present to ‘the team’, all with a view to putting a contract in place. A CONTRACT!!! The summer came and went and I waited to hear back. During this time, I gave myself permission to start dreaming about how this would all play out. I thought, ‘come on Evie, stop being so cautious all the time, it’s actually happening!’ Then in September I got the email I never could have anticipated. The editor was switching jobs and taking up a position with a different publisher. My story had, as a result, fallen between the cracks.

I was devastated. I had never been so close to signing with a major publisher. And I was angry at how precarious this industry can be for authors. Angry that the biggest break of my writing career was just, over and for everyone else, it was just another day in publishing. It was tough to take.

It was nobody’s fault and in time I even began to see the silver lining –¬† if my writing had impressed the editors at Penguin, I must be doing something right! And if I’m honest, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what it means to be a writer through this experience. I learned the difference between working with a multi-national publisher and an independent publisher. There are compromises you have to make, no matter which path you choose; creative freedom, royalties, etc. I also learned how some decisions are taken away from you entirely and all you can do is make peace with it and move on. I was reminded of what really mattered to me; telling a story I’m passionate about.

On a more personal level, I got a new kitchen!! Finally. This has been on my wish-list for ages, but I was dreading the inevitable chaos. Anyone out there who has revamped their kitchen will feel my pain and sense of achievement on this one ūüėÄ It seemed to go on forever, and I had to become the project manager of at least four different tradesmen, as well as qualifying in amateur kitchen design. What did I learn? NOTHING GOES TO PLAN, but most things will get sorted, more or less! Also, there’s something you don’t expect when doing work on your house – it’s like doing work on yourself. The cluttered old kitchen I had was, unbeknownst to me, making me really unhappy. But now, with my new streamlined kitchen, I just feel good about myself; like, investing in my home was investing in me.

Physically, it’s been hard to write (which is another reason the blog has taken a back seat). I have an old injury that’s been causing me pain, but this year, I found someone who is really helping to literally straighten me out! I won’t go into the gory details, but it’s been a challenge, mentally and physically. I know I’m not alone in this too – everyone is dealing with something and I really wish that you find the path to good health. I know so many writers and bloggers who keep on writing despite chronic conditions that may or may not be visible. Well, let me say that I see you and I am inspired by you!

A high point of my year was featuring in The Gloss Magazine . So many of my favourite authors have taken part in the ‘Writer’s Block’ series, so I was delighted to be asked. It was the most in-depth interview I’ve ever done and it was an amazing opportunity to delve into my past and the inspiration behind my writing career. I was a bit apprehensive about putting myself in the spotlight, but someone told me that they felt they got to know me better after reading it, so I’m glad I was able to show a more personal side. The cherry on top was Sophie Grenham’s introduction to the piece, which I’m still smiling about! I feel really fortunate, as an indie writer, to be featured in the mainstream media in Ireland. It just goes to show that, at the end of the day, the story is all that matters.

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Through all the ups and downs, my family have been an amazing support, as always. It’s funny, when I look at those author bio’s that say ‘Jenny lives in Wicklow with her husband and two kids and twelve labradors’, I worry that mine looks a bit empty.¬†Evie lives with herself and has grown ridiculously fond of her own space! But it’s true. I like my life and being single just makes me appreciate the relationships I do have even more. And if that isn’t success, I don’t know what is. Or as Maya Angelou put it,

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So, that’s my year, or some of it anyway. I don’t think you really need to hear about the time I got my hair chopped and dyed some AWFUL colour so now I’m wearing lots of hats!! Oh, and I wish I could tell you the exciting news my publisher just gave me about The Story Collector, which is nothing short of an early Christmas present, but alas, I’ve been sworn to secrecy (again). Either way, I feel like I should end this with a song. Music always gets me through – no matter the sitch, there’s a song for it. So I’ve been listening to this one a lot, which is all about having strong foundations and belief that you can get through all of life’s storms.

Do You Believe_

 

PS. Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway (my favourite indie book store!) has The Story Collector on special offer at the moment and FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY!! Get it here¬†

 

 

Book Of The Summer Book Review!

We interrupt your regular programming to bring you breaking news (or it would have been if I’d read this book when it was first published last summer!) of a book I have completely fallen in love with, The Map Of Us. It’s got a typewriter, a garden, sand art, washing machines, French estate cars, statistics, the colour blue, handbags, a sofa and a dog. Not sure what else a book needs, really.

 

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The Map Of Us 

This book is one of those rare treats that can surprise and delight and stretch the boundaries of genre. It’s got EVERYTHING; a little bit of history, a generous helping of clever, wry humour and tons of humanity. The characters manage to avoid the usual tropes and all bring their own very unique personalities to this quirky tale of family, love and finding your path in life.

Jules Preston is officially my new favourite author, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle because his new book isn’t out yet. So no pressure Jules, but get a wriggle on! Where did he come from? Why didn’t I hear of this book till now? And why isn’t it being made into a film? All questions I will fail to deal with here.

Anyhoo, I don’t like writing reviews that kind of dissect a good book, I feel it’s enough to keep shouting in big letters how much I love it, but I’ll do my best to give you a flavour of this wonderfully uplifting story.

The Map Of Us tells the story of the North family (although it doesn’t really read like a family saga at all) starting with Violet North – a tenacious young woman who is abandoned by her family in a very large house with a very large garden. Unfortunately, Violet cannot walk very far, having suffered from polio as a child, but she does not allow this to hold her back.

Her family had lately abandoned her in a  house with several staircases and a large garden in the hope that she would fall and die as quickly and conveniently as possible. They had told her as much when they left. She had been a burden to them for long enough. Violet could not walk far, but she was twenty-six and had her own house with a large garden and decided to be as inconvenient as possible. She did a grand job.

There’s a hint of fairytale (think Lemony Snicket) to Violet’s story and dare I say a whisper of magical realism throughout the book. Not necessarily in the plot, but simply in how the story is told. There is something of the ‘once upon a time’ to it; the repetition, the short chapters (with funny names), the triumph of good over evil. But we do not linger with Violet for long, as the book shifts gear into the present day with our first person narrator Matilda. I adore Matilda and her dry sense of humour. Her marriage is ending and as a statistician, she decides that in order to better understand where it went wrong, she should write a report on it.

Okay. Maybe writing a report on our marriage with footnotes and a summary and a series of conclusions was another spectacularly bad idea. But that is what I did.

You often hear of books being described as feel good, when really they leave you feeling like you’ve had to ingest unsafe amounts of sugary cringe. But this book really made me feel good – about myself, about life. Because life is (unfortunately) all about challenges and how we overcome them. Life changes us; it’s supposed to and if we’re really lucky, we will find exactly what we need to be happy here. This book even gave me goosebumps when the gardener…. well, I’ll let you find out for yourself.

There are so many laugh out loud (or giggle quietly) moments to enjoy. When Matilda describes her erstwhile husband Matt’s dedication to listening to experimental jazz.

He went to all this effort just so he could listen to music that sounded like an instrument salesman being pushed down a flight of concrete stairs wearing trousers made of trombones.

And another one of my favourite lines also comes at Matt’s expense. We’ve all been here!

Matt was waiting for something to happen. It was hard to tell what. He didn’t know. He liked to think about his future while he was asleep on a secondhand sofa. For all he knew his future may have already come and gone.

Over-arching themes like the futility of building an empire versus the nobility of building a garden; the impermanence of life and sandcastles set against the durability of love and family. It is written with such poetry and honesty and I think this line encapsulates the entire story.

We were a family. We were strange and resilient, too.

I think I’m going to make that my family motto – strange and resilient! Perhaps with a fire panda as my crest. Or a sloth! I digress. The point is, I am utterly beguiled by this book, which seems to have been written just for me. I love that feeling when reading a book – the sense that the author secretly mined your imagination and produced the exact kind of book you wanted to read. And I also like the fact that I’ve found it a year after its publication, because it reminds me that readers will find my books long after the initial hype is over.

So if you like books that take a kindly look at the human condition and find redemption in our foibles, or a story about a man who walks the great moors, even if he is just the figment of a young woman’s imagination who is too afraid to visit the garden, then please give yourself the gift of this novel. It’s just beautiful.

 

 

Over-Exposed

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As we slide sun-burned and ice-creamed into August, I think it’s safe to assume we all just want to switch off from life for a while. But is it really possible to switch off when we carry our phones with us like some kind of external pace-maker? As though we might cease to exist if we do not maintain an online presence. But do we really need to share so much of our lives and what does it mean if external validation is all that keeps us ticking?

Every interaction has an exchange and we have to gauge the value of what we are receiving in return for the cost to us. This is where I am right now with social media and I know I’m not alone. I keep coming across more and more people wondering if social media is actually the benign distraction we once thought it was, or perhaps something a little more insidious.

Facebook never held any allure for me – I failed to see the benefits of curating my life for an audience who really couldn’t give a shit. Twitter, however, slowly became an intrinsic part of my daily life. I have learned so much on Twitter about feminism, gender bias, publishing, writing and (no surprises here) that dogs are the true comedians of the world. I’ve had some right laughs and connected with brilliant people.

BUT …

I find my mood is increasingly affected by what I see on there – whether it be political propaganda, bad news stories, argumentative and angry people who just want to pick a fight or on the other end of the scale, people being really successful and happy. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground – ordinary people having ordinary ups and downs. It’s all¬†somebody who fears their own irrelevance says something controversial¬†and you find yourself drawn into a pointless discussion from which you gain nothing. In fact you’re losing something really important; your time.

This is my real issue with social media. It has taken away our golden opportunities to be bored. Scrolling is the new navel gazing, except that navel gazing might lead to some kind of interesting insight into the psyche, or make you so bored that you decide to paint the bedroom. But at least you’d be connecting with yourself and your feelings. There’s nothing wrong with a little distraction, but it’s starting to feel like social media is stealing our down time and we’re complicit in the crime. I’m just not sure I’m willing to pay the cost anymore.

It’s the ‘always on’ aspect that seems to be causing this collective burn out. And why wouldn’t it? We were all hooked under the guise of connecting with people, but is it meaningful connection? We are all providing free content for a platform which uses our shared pics to attract more users. We are all essentially working for Instagram, for free!¬† Like, how many times have you stopped in the middle of a nice walk, meal or holiday trip to take a photo for Insta? If you think it through, you are interrupting your personal, private experience to do something for your social media accounts that will gain likes or follows. You are promoting your page. That is work and you’re not getting paid for it.

And even regardless of remuneration, you are thinking about your free time differently when viewing it through the lens of social media. You wonder, will this look good? Will people be impressed? Because I saw X and Y put up pictures of that place they went to and it looked great. And I want people to think I do interesting things too. So we are all being ensnared by each other with representations of our lives that only offer the merest of glimpses into reality. We all know this on a rational level, but we don’t often stop to think about the thought processes this sparks off and how it affects our everyday lives. I see a photo of someone on a beach on their holidays looking serene and free and I just assume their entire holiday was like that. I don’t see the mundane bits, the bits where everything went wrong or God forbid, the boring bits. The arguments. The seething resentment. So this creates an impossible fantasy of what our lives should be like, but will never be, because it’s not real.

And that’s the crux of it. It’s not real and I don’t think I can be a part of that. Maybe I should become a crusader for authenticity, like the wonderfully hilarious Celeste Barber, who gives a real-life makeover to some truly ridiculous IG posts. But fucking hell, that’s more work, more of my precious time and what do I get out of it? It’s one thing if you are actually promoting something, then social media is a fantastic marketing tool. But if not, then you are simply promoting yourself and your life becomes a commodity. Yep, sounds dystopian to me too.

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This is my fav!

So I’ve returned to the good old blog – a place where I can really take my time to talk about how I feel about things without having to upload some filtered selfie of me not being me. When I blog, I sit down to write, it’s a choice I make. But scrolling on Twitter and trying to find interesting pics for Instagram is just a mindless addiction and feels, at best, shallow and superficial. At worst, I’m handing my free time over to large corporations who profit from our need to feel seen, to matter. Well, I see you, all of you out there who are just doing your best and trying to find meaning and purpose in this unpredictable world. And my God you matter – more than a silly photo or a witty tweet. You already matter – you don’t need likes to prove that. x

 

 

To Kondo Or To Kondon’t

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Image by Jonny Lindner from Pixabay

It’s been so long since my last confession, I mean blogpost, that I managed to log myself out and forget my password. Naturally I feel ghastly for having set you all adrift and I imagine you are also suffering varying degrees of separation anxiety. But in my defense, life has been all-consuming. Which is probably a good thing, because it made me stop and over-analyse how defining yourself as one thing can be a bit, well, limiting.

Even looking at my blog posts – they’re all about writing, writing, writing. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s probably why I needed a break. Every post had to¬†mean¬†something. Convey some sort of message or explore yet another dark and dusty corner of the writer’s psyche. Well, I’m over it! And none too soon, if you ask me. Because when I think about it, people are interested in people, not moralising or weekly how to’s.

So, here’s to my first blog that isn’t really about anything (except of course it will be about something because I can’t go completely cold turkey). I’ve been doing work on my house – by which I mean I’ve been watching other people do work on my house and coming up with ever more creative ways to look as though I’m helping. I find wandering through rooms carrying things works. If you’re carrying something somewhere, you’re obvs busy.

I finally succumbed to the phenomenon that is Marie Kondo. Now, when I say succumbed, what I really mean is I watched one, excruciatingly long episode on Netflix with an excruciating couple in America. To my chagrin, the program lavished most of it’s focus on the couple and their relationship (did I mention how excruciating they were?) so I may have zoned out a few times. But I enjoyed Kondo’s enthusiasm for decluttering the mountain of ‘stuff’ we accumulate, especially in Western societies, thanks to unfettered capitalism and conspicuous consumerism. Seeing the couple pile all of their clothes on the bed was actually kind of sickening. It made me realise what an addiction it is, and reminded me of those weight loss shows where they would pile up all the food you’d eaten in a week – forcing you to confront your uncomfortable reality. But I guess acknowledging the problem is the first step towards doing something to free yourself of it. See? I knew I’d get a teachable moment in here somewhere!

So what does all this have to do with me? Well, reader, it turns out I have, um, a bit of clutter myself. I’m not intentionally untidy (ahem) but I suppose I have more of a laid back attitude to doing housework. Like, when I think about doing housework, I just lay back and wait till the thought passes. I think I suffer from Not-Putting-Things-Away-itis. And so I suddenly realised, everything had to go. All this crap I’ve been holding onto. Bits and bobs. What the fuck are they and why do we have to house these non-rent-paying, useless objects? Is it because we don’t want to offend Aunt Bridget who bought that weird ornament as a moving in gift? She hasn’t been since, but it stands ready, lest she takes a funny turn and rings the doorbell. Loose change – Christ! They really need to stop loading us down with this coppery shit. Cushions. My name is Evie and I have a serious cushion problem. In fact, I don’t even think it’s my fault. They’ve been multiplying – literally shagging each other and having baby cushions – behind my back. Ditto for the gym balls. I somehow have three of the buggers and last time I checked, I only have one bum.

So a skip arrived (the first of many, hopefully) and I began the process of getting this crap the hell out of my life. But I’ve only just started – I won’t stop until my entire house resembles a Buddhist monk’s cell. Not that I’ve really been to one of those, but I imagine they’re not crammed with bills dating back to 2008. Do they even pay bills? It seems we could learn a lot from Eastern culture. Although they’re hardly immune to the shopping bug either, but there is something very alluring about their traditions around rituals and living simply.

I think the one thing we are all searching for is joy and there are companies clambering over themselves to try and give it to you. At a price. And I’m starting to wonder if the price isn’t just what you pay at the till. In fact, I think ‘stuff’ might be really harmful – it’s definitely harming the environment, when you think of all the plastic crap we jettison into our oceans. We are suffocating our marine life with our endless consumption and desire for more and more stuff. I’m reading a book at the moment called The Growth Delusion and it’s the first time I’ve really heard anyone ask the question, why is growth always considered a good thing? We hear so much about economic growth, as if it is the holy grail, but how much growth can one planet sustain?

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. Ditching all the superfluous crap in my life, physical and metaphorical. And just like the show on Netflix, it’s been both painful and cathartic.¬† It also became clear that my home is an extension of me because I felt really exposed watching all my junk fill the skip, but also wildly liberated. Of course, this will probably all be forgotten in a few months and I’ll be back to tripping over the entirely necessary eight pairs of ballet pumps in varying shades of nude, while trying to do a dance of the seven veils with the seventy million scarves I own (AND DID NOT CULL! HAHAHAHA!! Take that Kondo). But for now, it feels important and it feels good.

So how about you, my long suffering friends…. Any craic?

 

 

#WriterProblems ¬Į\_(„ÉĄ)_/¬Į

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Well, I didn’t win the Costa Book Award, which is the first of today’s problems, but at least one of my favourite novels of last year – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – did, so that’s some consolation.

Now before I delve into the dark and murky waters of #WriterProblems, I have to preface it with a caveat, of sorts. A prologue, if you will. A prolo-blem. And it is this: nobody gives a shit if you have writer problems. You’re the one who kept banging on about writing a book and now you’re published, you should be full of the joys of spring and stop moaning to everyone about how hard it is. Right? *whispers* So when we talk about writer problems amongst ourselves, we need to do it in the softest voice that only bees can hear, lest we come across as ungreatful whingers.

There is nothing like finding yourself waist-deep in the tundra of a first draft to start questioning all the rose-tinted crap you once spouted about the charmed life of being a writer. That’s the stuff you say¬†after¬†the book is written and published and safely out of your hands. But writing is like a game of snakes and ladders – when it’s time to start writing your new book you are unceremoniously shoved down a snake and sent back to square one, having learned (apparently) nothing. In fact it’s even worse the second time around because you know you did this before, but you have no recollection of how you did it. Was it this hard?¬†Was I this ill-prepared? It’s like like people telling you that you climbed Everest as a toddler, yet now, as a grown-up, you’re suddenly terrified of heights.

So what are the main problems we writers face on a daily basis? What are the shared agonies that can make us feel, if nothing else, less alone? Well, strap yourself in, literally, for number 1.

Problem Number One:

How to stay in the chair –

This might sound basic, but Jesus Herbert Christ, it is probably the most challenging part of writing a book. Your house suddenly becomes a wonderland of endless activities – everything from doing housework to making tea to ‘getting some air in the garden’ are all colluding against you finishing your novel. With the help of some fellow authors on Twitter, I’m currently working on a prototype¬†for a writer’s chair‚ĄĘ featuring a seatbelt, tea-making facilities and a timelock. Kind of like an electric chair, only with cushions and a shelf for your biscuits.

Problem Number Two:

Nobody takes your job seriously

If you manage to avoid the distractions of giving your oven a deep clean or attacking the grout with a toothbrush, people drop by because you’re ‘not doing anything’. It’s hard to convince people that staring into space wearing your pyjamas is work, but IT IS! ‘Sure you can do that later,’ is the battle-cry of well-meaning muggles who have NO CLUE that ‘later’ you’ll be putting together a soundtrack for the film adaptation of your book, so no, that’s not convenient either. When you have a book out, people actually start to take you seriously – they see your book on the shelves and think ‘Wow, you really are a writer.’ But no sooner have the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price’ stickers faded than you resume your lowly position as a work-shy chancer, dealing in ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ rather than real work.

Problem Number Three:

Other writers –

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Yay! Look at us and our brilliant award for being brilliant!! Damn them and their¬† daily wordcount updates, their new contracts, their constant doing stuff! It puts you forever on the back foot, feeling you’re not doing enough. You think, great, I’ve written a page that wasn’t totally awful today and then you see somebody is doing a writing retreat to kickstart the 10 book deal they’ve just signed and all before breakfast All of a sudden, your accomplishment pales in comparison – but it’s a trap. Don’t let other peoples’ success diminish yours. We’re all moving forward, we’re just at different points along the way and as Teddy Roosevelt once said,¬†‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Bloody joy thieves!!

Problem Number Four:

Quality Control

This is a two-part problem – not knowing if what you’re writing is any good, but also having to persevere with your ‘not any good’ writing because that’s what a first draft is. I almost have to write with my eyes closed! And the perspective keeps changing, like those mirrors at the fun-fair – one minute you think what you’ve written looks great – then it looks like one of Frankenstein’s nightmares. What seemed pithy and clever yesterday is tired a cliched today. But you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day (badum-tish!) and you just have to fake it until you make it. (I’ll stop now.)

Problem Number Five:

Having/Not having a contract.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

This is where those 10-book-deal-joy-thieves are smiling on the other side of their faces!! While the security of having a book deal is nice, being creative on purpose is a lot of pressure. In one sense I feel lucky because I’ve never really had to write to a deadline. Ideas have come organically and I’ve had the space to let them germinate into something approaching a plot. But the flip side of that is the sense of futility that creeps in. ‘Is anyone ever going to read this? Will it ever get published?’ It takes a lot of grit and determination to keep going when you don’t know the answers to those questions. And I think most authors, regardless of what stage they are at in their careers are very aware of the shifting sands in publishing, so nothing is certain. The best solution is to write for yourself and worry about the rest later.

Problem Number Six:

Refusing to give up

Well-meaning Muggles: So if it’s that tough, maybe you should pack it in?

Me: I’m sorry, what now? What gave you the impression that I don’t want to do this? I’ll be a writer if I wanna be, dammit!!

So you see, despite all of the problems with writing, it’s still the one thing you get a kick out of doing, even if it insists on kicking you back. We all have romantic notions of what it is to own a bookshop or be a musician or a circus performer. But all of these exotic-sounding jobs have very mundane daily rituals. The gloss is just the tip of the iceberg that everyone sees and many envy, but the hulk that lies in solitary darkness is the part you have to make friends with if you want to get to the end of the story. And I will get to the end of this story, just as soon as I finish this cup of tea….

Pink For Girls And Blue For Boys

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Don’t get me wrong, I like pink. ¬†And I’m sure there are many men out there who like the colour blue. ¬†The problem is what these two colours have come to represent in terms of gender specific marketing, both for adults and more worryingly, children.

 

 

Buster Books, publisher of colouring books for ‚ÄėBrilliant Boys‚Äô and ‚ÄėGorgeous Girls‚Äô are the latest publishing house to succumb to pressure from the Let Books Be Books¬†campaign to switch to ‚Äėgender neutral‚Äô titles in future. ¬†As a follow on from Let Toys Be Toys, this campaign asks ‘Why can’t a story just be a story?’ ¬†Why do stories have to be aimed at a certain market, when they can just be enjoyed for what they are?

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It’s clear from these covers that boys and girls are being very limited in what they are supposed to find interesting and enjoyable.¬† Boys are brilliant, and get to colour spaceships and dinosaurs, while girls are beautiful and get to colour hearts and cupcakes. ¬†With backing from such prominent authors as Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman and Joanne Harris, the campaign has already persuaded nine other publishers (including Ladybird) not to release any new boy/girl labelled titles.

Speaking about the campaign, author Joanne Harris commented that¬†gendered packaging of books gives ‚Äúthe false message to a new generation that boys must be clever, brave and strong, while girls should aspire to be decorative‚ÄĚ.

And the funny thing is, this gender packaging is still a relatively recent phenomenon. ¬†I remember my first bike was yellow and blue, as was my brother’s. ¬†Primary colours were more popular in the 80’s, but somewhere along the way, pink became associated with femininity and blue with masculinity. ¬†Which wouldn’t be such an issue if the colour pink wasn’t used to reinforce the negative stereotype¬†of what a girl should be. ¬†Another organisation working to change this is¬†Pinkstinks, whose tagline reads¬†‘There’s more than one way to be a girl.’

Pinkstinks confronts the damaging messages that bombard girls though toys, clothes and media. Girls’ products overwhelmingly focus on being pretty, passive and obsessed with shopping, fashion and make up Рthis promotes a dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl.

It concerns me that, in this day and age, girls are still being told that their appearance matters most, while boys are still being told that they are somehow cleverer than girls. ¬†Not only that, boys face ‘gender shaming’ if they do somehow drift into the girl’s section at the toy store and vice versa. ¬†Why can’t we just let our kids be kids?

In one of the most provocative ad campaigns of 2016, Lidl addressed the whole ‘pink is for girls’ issue to launch the ‘Ladyball’. ¬†Twitter went into a frenzy over the pink #Ladyball campaign that encouraged women to ‘Play like the lady you are’.


The real motive behind the campaign was to start a debate on women in sport, cleverly using all of the typical stereotypes we hear like ‘women may find contact sports intimidating’, to really drive the point home. ¬† Highlighting the challenges that women experience in getting the same recognition as men in sport, this campaign also proves how truly limiting and derogatory these kinds of gender specific messages can be.

As a writer, I would like to think that my books will be enjoyed by both male and female readers. ¬†I think it’s important to teach our younger readers to see beyond these gender boundaries and encourage them to find out what they like for themselves, rather than being told that in order to fit in, you have to like puppies or football. ¬†However, we can see the same thing with adult books, where ‘Chick Lit’ books are packaged in sickly pink covers, essentially devaluing the content and the readers who enjoy the genre. ¬†Would a man feel comfortable reading a book with a pink cover? ¬†Or reading a female author for that matter? ¬†I would certainly hope so, but if we insist on dividing the genders at such a young age, I fear that this might not be the case.

Boys AND girls are welcome to buy my novels on Amazon – just click on the cover!
       

#ShareTheWisdom

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photo credit: Best Friends During Autumn via photopin (license)

To mark European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week (24th -30th January) and¬†World Cancer Day (4th February), I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my cervical screening story as part of the #ShareTheWisdom and #WeCanICan campaigns. ¬†It’s all about what we can each do as individuals to inform and empower ourselves, as well as others, on¬†cancer prevention and the importance ‚Ä®of early detection.

Nothing says ‘leave your dignity at the door’ like a cervical smear, or so I used to think. ¬†Like most women, I procrastinated and avoided this unpleasant task with feeble arguments like, “Didn’t I just have that done?” or “I’ll make an appointment as soon as I get a chance” and my favourite, “I’m sure the last one will tide me over for another while”. ¬†Between one thing and another, I dodged my cervical smear for over 5 years. ¬†It was only when Cervical Check – The National Screening Program in Ireland ran an ad campaign asking that all women register online for an appointment, that I finally did something about it. ¬†I signed up myself and my sister because, hey, we do everything else together and I figured we could give each other a little moral support and more importantly, stop each other from backing out.

The appointment finally came and yes, the ‘procedure’ was just as I remembered. ¬†Slightly mortifying and uncomfortable, but relatively quick and painless. ¬†Why had I been putting it off for so long? ¬†So I didn’t think anymore about it and assumed my results would come back normal. ¬†However, one sunny afternoon in May, I received a call from the clinic and they informed me my results were abnormal. ¬†She told me I’d be receiving another appointment for the Colposcopy Clinic and they would explain further. ¬† I couldn’t get my head around it and pressed the nurse for more details on the ‘cell changes’ the letter referred to. ¬†When she said the words ‘pre-cancerous cells’ I heard little else. ¬†I was completely gripped by fear and panic and suddenly felt icy cold. ¬†When I hung up the phone, I jumped into a scalding hot shower and stayed there until I felt warm again. ¬†I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed, called my family and cried a lot.

Of course I was worried, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have had a much more positive outlook instead of going straight to the worst case scenario. ¬†The professional team in the Colposcopy Unit were amazing and following a biopsy, they performed a simple procedure and removed the abnormal cells. ¬†It was actually similar to getting a smear, so not the big production I had been fearing. ¬†Now I have a smear once a year (for 10 years) and all my old excuses seem so trivial now. ¬†I know how lucky I am – 300 women in Ireland are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and in 2014, 95 women died from the disease. ¬†This is one form of cancer that we have the power to prevent and believe me, when you get a scare like that, you suddenly realise how important it is to make that appointment. ¬†It can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, awkward and all of those things, but it’s quick and once it’s done, you have the peace of mind that you’ve looked after yourself and your health. ¬†A good tip I received at the clinic is to make the appointment at a time of year you will remember, like Halloween or some other date that’s significant for you. ¬†Our lives are so busy, it’s easy to lose track and forget when your next test is due.

So my message is, make the appointment. ¬†And if it’s been a while, please don’t worry; if the results come back with an abnormality, there are steps in place to prevent things from progressing further. ¬†If you’re a man reading this, please tell the ladies in your life and if you’re a woman, why not rope you’re female pals into joining you! #sharetheawkward

 

7 New Years Resolutions – Nailed!

As we near the end of the first month of 2016, I think it’s a good time to review my New Year’s resolutions and see what progress I’ve made. ¬†Not one to toot my own horn, but I have to say readers, I’m nailing it!!

  1. Go on more dates

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The conversation was a bit one-sided, but I think he’s just a little rusty. ¬†(Ahem)

 

2. Read more books

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Woah! Maybe not that many – might just stick to the ground floor.

 

3.  Put my feet up

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Wow things look different from down here!

 

4. Stop buying random things in Lidl

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Note To Self: ¬†You don’t live in Summer Bay!

 

5. Paint something lilac

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Pretty ūüôā ¬†Now how do you work this thing?!

 

6. Love Berlin more

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C’mon, who doesn’t love Berlin? ‘Take my breath away…’

 

7.  Stop accumulating handbags

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Oh well, there’s always next year..

 

Why not start your New Year with one of my novels?

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

new heirloom1+1  Amazon (Paperback) ~ Kindle

 

 

Triskaidekaphobia – why are we afraid of a number?

26134055200_0830785237If you are of a superstitious nature and feeling a little bit silly for having a nagging fear of the number thirteen, then be consoled my friends!  You are not alone.  Ireland, the land of superstition as it is otherwise known, is one of the leading Western countries happy to carry on this unfounded belief and protect its citizens from ever having to use this ominous number.

There are a couple of ‘makey-uppy’ reasons in history to support the theory, including the one that Judas was the 13th guest at the Last Supper (was he even invited?) ¬†And we all know how that one ended, hence the number thirteen is not only bad luck but could result in you becoming – as they say in Cockney rhyming slang – brown bread (dead). ¬†Norse mythology also has a thing about thirteen being the harbinger of doom, so between religion and mythology, the fear of this number kind of stuck in our subconscious.
Would you believe that the housing estate in which I live has no number thirteen? ¬†Apparently it’s a very common occurrence, with many estates being numbered only in even numbers, or simply skipping that number altogether. ¬†However, the most obvious sign that this country would rather play it safe than sorry when it comes to dodgy numbers was the introduction of new vehicle registration plates. ¬†The new plates had the year as the first two digits, which was all fine and dandy until 2013 loomed on the horizon and the officials panicked. ¬†Who would buy a car with the number 13 on the reg?? ¬†Terrified that the motor industry would implode, the government decided to randomly add the number 1 on to the end and hey presto! ¬†Everybody’s happy. ¬†Apparently 131 is much less scary that the alternative. ¬†Although it never did Brian O’Driscoll any harm…
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not judging. ¬†I’m just wondering why this number should strike terror in our hearts above all others. ¬†Maybe in a few years we won’t even be using it anymore. ¬†‘Hey, what’s that number that used to come between 12 and 14 again?’ school children will wonder. ¬†But remember next time your toes curl at the number thirteen, in China it’s the number four that gives people the heebeejeebees!

You know what else is happening today? My book The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris is on sale at the ridiculously good price of £0.99/$0.99.  So why not turn this into the luckiest of days and get your copy now!

Amazon UK   Amazon US The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - Copy