First Draft – Fourth Novel – Feeling Good

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Hello my people! Wow, I’ve really abandoned this blog of late. I could blame, you know, the global pandemic and stuff, but the real reason is that I’ve been saving all my writing for my new book (which I am SUPERDOOPER excited about!!) It’s a slightly different genre, no history or magic, but lots of humour and uplifting themes around relationships and finding your place in the world. Sometimes I wonder if it even matters what genre you write, as most writers tend to return to the same themes, no matter what the plot. And my theme is always that of self-discovery, which I think we’ve all done a lot of over the past few months.

When this all started, I did what I usually tend to do in a crisis – ignore it! I figured it wouldn’t affect my lifestyle because I work from home anyway, so what would be the difference? I tuned out the news and escaped into my book. But after a few weeks, I just hit a wall. It became clear that I wasn’t immune to everything that was going on and it was expecting waaay too much of myself to remain unaffected by it. Anyway, I won’t dwell on it, it’s been weird for everyone, but luckily I had these wonderful characters and their story to return to. But – I don’t know if anyone’s told you this – writing is hard! There’s always that doubt in the back of your mind, “Will I finish this? Will it be good enough?” So, when I typed the words ‘The End’ this week, I felt all the feels! It was emotional, joyous, hopeful and kind of surreal. It was really when I printed it out (I find it easier to run through the second draft on paper) that it hit home – I’ve made another book! My fourth!! It’s something like a little miracle.

La collectionneuse d'histoires

I don’t know where this story will take me – that’s the joy/uncertainty of being a writer. You just never know. My last book has just hit the shelves in France this summer – I never dreamed in a million years that The Story Collector would be translated into French! La Collectionneuse d’Histoires And now I have a French publisher and a translator! It still hasn’t really sunk in. I had a good feeling about that book when I was writing it and I have a good feeling about this one too. It’s got something special – even though it was (like all books) a challenge to capture the ideas in my head on paper, it sort of flowed too. I just had to be present and let the serendipity happen.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing and I can’t wait to get editing and get this story out there!! I want you all to enjoy this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it – giggling at the funny scenes and tearing up at the emotional bits. It’s a journey. And now my brain wants to outline ideas for book five, because if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that there will never be a better time to do things than right now. Plus, I feel kind of lonely without a work-in-progress, so when one cast of characters move out, another bunch move in! With more interesting stories to tell and challenges to face. I’m fortunate that I can create fictional worlds in order to better understand this one – giving myself and my readers somewhere to escape to. If we didn’t value storytelling before this, we certainly do now. The arts is what has kept us all going – distracting us, consoling us, entertaining us.¬† So if you’re thinking of writing a story – DO IT NOW! The world needs more stories.

Don’t forget, I have two FREE short stories that you can download now … Betwixt is consistantly in the Top 5 on Amazon and Girl in the Middle is a tongue-in-cheek look at loneliness in the modern world. And if you like those, please buy the other ones/leave a review! x

Twas The Mystery Before Christmas

 

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‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

How can so few words conjure up so much nostalgia and capture our imagination, year in, year out? This much-loved seasonal rhyme is the basis for so much of the folklore surrounding good old Santa Claus – what he looks like, his reindeer names and how he gets down the chimney! But what is especially intriguing is that it was first published anonymously in 1823 and ever since then, the authorship has been somewhat questionable.

Who would have the generosity of spirit to write such a magical poem and never claim the kudos? ¬†Well, in 1837 the poem was attributed to the American poet, Clement Clarke Moore (they just don’t name ’em like that these days!) and in 1844 he included the poem in an anthology, claiming his authorship of the poem.¬†¬†However, a professor of English in New York by the name of Donald Foster, challenged the authorship and believes that it was written by Henry Livingston Jr., a New York poet with Dutch and Scottish roots.

Having analysed the text, he was convinced that the phraseology and the optimistic approach was much more consistent with Livingston’s style than Moore’s. ¬†But the real argument (in my opinion) is Livingston’s Dutch heritage. ¬†The references to Saint Nicholas are very closely related to the Dutch ‘Sinteklaes’ tradition, with the reindeer names originally printed as ‘Dunder and Blixem’, Dutch for thunder and lightening.christmas-1876438_1920

Despite the fact that Livingston’s children also claimed that he had read them the poem before its publication, he never claimed authorship himself. Could it be the spirit of Christmas, to gift something so wonderful to the public without seeking recognition? There was even a mock trial held as recently as 2014 in New York, which reached the surprise verdict (hold on to your hats people) that Major Henry Livingston Jr is the true author of ‚ÄėTwas the night before Christmas‚Äô.¬† Read all about it here http://christmastrial.com/

Maybe it’s just the fact that I always root for the underdog, but for whatever reason, my money is on Livingston. Unless of course it is as Virginia Woolf once said – For most of history, anonymous was a woman. Maybe we’ll never know the true author, but either way, it is the most magical Christmas poem ever written and you can enjoy it in full here.

And if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in over the holidays, why not get a copy of The Story Collector – there is no authorship controversy and I take full responsibility for the magic that inks every page!

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Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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.

 

 

Shooting Stars

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You might think you need a degree in symbology or semantics to understand what the hell your book reviews reveal about your novels, but fear not lads and ladies, I’ve put a good half hour of research into some of my own books’ critical reviews and come up with practically no all the answers.
For starters, the star rating means different things to different people on different days. Do not attempt to find any correlation between high ratings and postive reviews (or vice versa). Sometimes the most critical reviews lie in ambush under a five star rating and likewise, a three star rating can often be accompanied by the most glowing review. Do not try to make sense of this – that way madness lies!
However, by using some examples from my own Amazon customer reviews (which I usually read with one eye through a tiny gap in my fingers) I’ve put together a highly scientific system of categorization to make things a little easier. Strap yourselves in!

 

1. The Back-handed Compliment Review
“If you are looking for literture for the ages, this isnt it. However, if you are looking to settle back in your favorite reading chair with a cup of hot tea and some lemon cookies for a delightful afternoon of light reading, this book is your ticket. I thoroughly enjoyed it!”
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I love you really

 

2. The Passive-Aggressive Review
“The story is readable. A good ‘waiting time’ read.”
“Easy & light summer read.”
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Ooh, did I say something wrong?

 

3. The Least Said, Soonest Mended Review
“Too slow”
“Boring”
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OUCH!

 

4. The Insult
“Fair warning.¬† I have better things to do with my time!”
“The cover art was the best part of this book in my opinion.”
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How dare you write this book!

 

5. The Have-They-Even-Read-The-Book Review
“Once you get past the fowl language and depravity”
(Fowl language? I don’t remember any poultry featuring in that book…)
Whaaat?

 

6. The Angry Review
“THIS ITEM HAS NOT ARRIVED ON MY KINDLE, ALTHOUGH THE MONEY HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM MY ACCOUNT !!!!”
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So, what I think what we’ve all learned here today is that reviews can be confusing, but let’s be honest, we wouldn’t have them any other way, right?! Short, long, cogent or rambling, we love to read them – so please keep writing them ūüėČ

Books Are For Everyone

It was a bit disappointing to hear about a bookstore chain getting a bashing this week.¬† Not least because I can’t wait to see my own book, The Story Collector, stocked there! I wrote a post last year about Book Snobs and how readers often feel judged for what they read as well as how they read, but with the recent WH Smith story, it seems there are those who will judge you for where you buy your books! A Which survey voted it the worst store on the UK high street (you can read The Bookseller article here) but authors such as Joanne Harris (or My Joanne as I call her!) have been quick to defend the retailer and its patrons, calling out an undercurrent of snobbery among those who have accused the store of being ‘a chocolate shop pretending to be a stationary shop’.

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I’m not sure we have the same kind of snobbery here when it comes to bookshops – at least not that I’m aware of.¬† In Galway city, Easons, Dubrays and Charlie Byrne’s all seem to rub along nicely together, it just depends what you’re looking for.¬† And if you’re still book-hungry, you can pop across the road to the library where, shock horror, you can get books for free!¬† I know that library services are being cut all across the UK, something which seems to be decided by people who have probably never used a library and fail to see the need for free access to books.¬† So there’s a bit of a trend emerging which divides the haves and have-nots and when that kind of elitism invades the realm of arts and culture, we need to speak out.

As a writer, I couldn’t care less how people get their hands on my books (as long as it’s legal!).¬† And I hate the thought of someone feeling intimidated by a bookshop, because that is not what the authors want.¬† It reminds me of a gallery I went to years ago – it was very trendy and full of people with, as my mother would say, more money than sense.¬† They were talking utter shite, like someone who’s taken a crash course in wine tasting just to sound knowledgeable and I kept thinking, the artist would HATE this!¬† Art is created on kitchen tables, in cramped spare rooms, by people wearing crappy clothes and eight-day-old hair.¬† They don’t want their audience to feel intimidated.¬† Art should be inclusive and I love when places like cafes exhibit art or fill their shelves with books.¬† Art needs to be out in the community where people can access it.

Because there is a knock-on effect when we judge people for how, what, when, why they read (or don’t read at all).¬† It makes people feel excluded – like they’re locked out of a world that thinks they’re not good enough to be a part of.¬† I read a great article recently by Kit de Waal in The Guardian in which she revealed that she read her first novel (voluntarily) at the age of 22.¬† Not all authors grow up steeped in books or houses doubling as libraries.¬† I think there is a perception there that most authors were complete bookworms, working their way through the classics before hitting puberty!¬† She even admits that buying hardbacks is a treat she cannot always afford – same Kit, same.¬† So when you hear people being snobby about books, as a writer, it makes no sense.¬† Writing is an equal opportunities affliction – it’s just that you might not hear as much about the working classes in fiction.¬† This is something Kit De Waal is trying to address and in fact, just this morning it was announced that newcomer¬†Stephen Morrison-Burke is the first recipient of the¬†Kit de Waal Scholarship¬†that funds a place on the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, London.

We need to hear all kinds of voices if we are to keep books relevant and relatable.  We want to engage readers, not alienate them.   1 in 6 adults has literacy difficulties in Ireland (www.nala.ie) so we need to focus on improving access to books and reading.  Books and the possibilities that lie within them, are for everyone.

 

3 Gorgeous Books For Historical Fiction Lovers

So it turns out that other people have also written books over the last couple of years – imagine that!¬† So instead of dropping not-so-subtle hints about my own book, I thought I’d take a breather and recommend some lovely books I’ve read so far this year.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was always going to be top of the list!¬† If you know me at all, you can see why…. Historical fiction, a long-winded title and MERMAIDS!!!¬† Nuff said.¬† But was this book all fur coat and no knickers?

Poldark meets Moulin Rouge!

I wasn’t one bit surprised to learn, while reading this book, that it had been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, because it has everything you want in a book – originality, personality and mermaids!

I hardly even read the blurb – I was already hooked by THAT cover and the intriguing title, so it was a pleasure to find that what lies within does not disappoint. Wonderfully written with characters that stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is like historical fiction with a generous sprinkling of Baz Luhrmann theatrics!

A truly wondrous book, full of excess and greed, grace and humanity. The author does a fantastic job of representing women who, born into a patriarchal society where property and wealth are always something to be attained through trickery but never to be owned, are forced to live by their wits. Yet there is no moral judgement here, which allows the reader to completely immerse themselves in the lives of these characters and feel forever changed by them.

I loved spending time in Imogen Hermes Gowar’s world, as she deftly weaves myth and magic into the harsh realities of 18th century life, and I would highly recommend a visit.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Okay so I arrived a little late to this party, but The Essex Serpent was so much more than I expected.  Again, I was caught by the lush cover, the hint of something otherworldly afoot, and yet again, I was not disappointed.

‚ÄúThey sharpen themselves on each other; each by turn is blade and whetstone”

Seriously, do yourself a favour and read this book. Masterful, elegant, authentic, quite funny and keenly observed – a study of feminism, religion and society in the 1800’s – this book is the epitome of soul-satisfying literature. There. If you don’t read it now, there’s no hope for you.

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

Just finished The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, a dual-timeline novel (my fav!) that has all the charm of 50’s England and the unbreakable bond of sisters.

I already have one amazing sister, but this novel made me greedy for more!  Eve Chase has captured the nature of sibling relationships perfectly in this gorgeous novel about one hot summer that leaves an indelible mark on the Wildling sisters.  If you like old country houses with hidden secrets, set against a modern family coming to terms with their own problems, then this book is for you.  Absorbing and charming, a perfect summer read.

Highly recommend these books and if you’re thinking, ‘hey, these are totally my cup of tea and if these are the books Evie enjoys, I wonder if her new book would appeal to me too?’ I couldn’t possibly be so brash as to answer that question.¬† But probably, yes.

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So I’ll just leave this here…

Early reviews for THE STORY COLLECTOR say¬†‘Simply magical’, ‘Captivating’¬†and‘Heartily recommended’.

Pre-order your eBook or Paperback on Amazon

eBooks – The Illegal Download

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Fame costs, as the 80’s TV show Fame once claimed, in all its leg-warmer glory. ¬†You know what else costs? ¬†Illegal downloading of books. ¬†They might not cost the person downloading them, or the scumbags who stole the content in the first place, but it costs the one person who should really be rewarded for their work, the author.

Rowan Coleman is the most recent author to raise the issue, with this tweet:

 

There can hardly be a more disheartening moment for an author, than seeing years of hard work made available for free on the Internet.  But what, if anything, can be done about it?

I was scrolling through Rick O’Shea’s Bookclub on Facebook when I came across a post where someone had just bought their first Kindle and was asking how it all worked. ¬†People were responding with useful information like how much eBooks cost on average, where to get good deals, bundles and even how to borrow from the library. ¬†However, to my absolute horror, someone recommend an illegal downloading site where they get all their books for free. ¬†How could anyone who values books, reading and consequently the people who write them, support a system that steals their work?

This followed on from another Facebook post, where the author Louise Jensen revealed how she came across her book on an illegal website (you can read her post on eBook piracy¬†here). ¬†I felt her pain. ¬†I’ve also discovered my books available via torrent sites and let me tell you, the feeling is absolutely gutting. ¬†My overriding sense was one of powerlessness – what could I do to stop this piracy on my own? ¬†I shut down the page and just tried to pretend I hadn’t seen it.

In this digital age, there is no escaping the reality that file sharing has become a part of the landscape. ¬†But does that mean we shouldn’t try to change the culture and prevent it becoming even more mainstream?

It’s not just about the potential loss of earnings (which is bad enough in itself) but what people don’t realise is that years of work have gone into making that book. ¬†The chances of getting published are similar to those of winning the lottery, so most authors spend years writing, submitting, editing, honing, resubmitting, receiving rejection letters, giving up, starting again, writing, writing, writing. ¬†If you are lucky enough to get published, or choose the independent route and publish the book yourself, there is still more work (and expense) involved in promoting and getting the finished product to the reader, but all of those long hours are worth it to see your book on the shelf. ¬†Even a digital one. ¬†So to see someone take all of that hard work, without your permission and make it freely available online… it’s indescribable. ¬†It’s theft. ¬†Yet, people don’t seem to care, as long as they’re getting a free book.

But there’s always a cost. ¬†Most writers are already struggling to make a living out of writing and many have full time jobs outside of writing. ¬†We don’t earn a wage; we work for free and hope that someone (many someones!) will buy our book once its published.

If people aren’t prepared to pay for books anymore, what will that mean for the future of writing?

An author’s career depends on sales and if the figures don’t add up, they get dropped. ¬†Becoming an author will be relegated to the hobbies and other interests section of your CV. ¬†And without fresh new writing voices coming through, our shelves will be dominated by celebrity autobiographies and cookbooks! ¬†Of course some people assume that writers are making lots of money already and a couple of free downloads won’t hurt, but nothing could be further from the truth. ¬†The average income for authors in Ireland is about ‚ā¨1,000 per year. ¬†I can see the logic in thinking that big name authors won’t be affected by a few lost sales. ¬†I can see the logic, but I don’t agree with it, because it’s still theft.

Digital publishing has democratised the industry in such a way that the majority of authors now are lower to middle class, ordinary people who one day hope to making a living from selling their books.  It can take years to start seeing any kind of income from writing, so to see someone swoop in and profit from your hard earned success, is infuriating.  I know money is tight, but as a society, I think we really need to consider the long-term implications of expecting something for nothing.  To add insult to injury, eBooks are often priced cheaper than a cup of coffee and yet they still wind up on these sites.

I understand that new releases can be expensive, but there are so many other ways to read cheaply. ¬†Join NetGalley. ¬†Get free books and in return, leave a review (another way of paying an author for their work). ¬†Borrow from the library. ¬†Use a subscription service like Amazon Prime. ¬†Pick up some second-hand books in a charity shop. ¬†Use the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon to get a free preview of the book, if you don’t want to waste your money on a book you won’t like. ¬†Just please don’t support these pirate sites and their illegal content.

Don’t make free books the norm.

I have read articles where some authors say they don’t get upset about illegal downloads anymore, because it means people are reading their books. ¬†They also argue that it’s not a lost sale because these people would never have paid for their book anyway. ¬†Neil Gaiman sees it as the modern equivalent of people lending books and that it’s a good way for readers to discover authors; a kind of reverse marketing strategy. ¬†Perhaps they have achieved some kind of quasi-religious detachment that I’ve yet to master, but I can’t see how anyone can be okay with having their work pirated. ¬†Maybe it’s more to do with the fact that there doesn’t seem to be anything that can be done to stop it and so they’ve just resigned themselves to the inevitability of it all. ¬†I have even see people argue that, if you’re being pirated, you must be doing well. ¬†So an author should be flattered at having their work stolen?

So what can be done about it?  There are websites and apps out there, similar to Google Alerts, that will let you know if your book has been pirated.  But, as an author, do you really want to spend a big chunk of your time and energy chasing down these sites, trying to get your book removed, only to have it reappear a few hours later?  Should publishers be doing more or the industry as a whole?  Could the removal of DRM (digital rights management) have an impact, freeing up readers from being locked into one format?  Or is education the key to preventing readers from downloading books illegally?    Whatever your position, it is copyright infringement; it is illegal and it is a crime.

 

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The Perfect Book

Making art isn’t an exact science. ¬†So much is down to happenstance and luck, and I always admire authors who attribute their success to a strange marriage of dull slog and serendipity.

I recently read what was, in my eyes, a near perfect novel, but during a conversation with another reader, she pointed out some parts of the story that just didn’t ring true; things that, for her, made the rest of the story difficult to believe. ¬†I was surprised, because I had noticed those minor loop-holes too, but chose to ignore them for the sake of the story. ¬†The story just worked better if I chose to believe the author rather than question her. ¬†Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies is a cliche for a reason! ¬†I suppose we all read books differently, but for me, I am saying yes to an unspoken contract as soon as I open the cover: tell me a good story and I will believe.

Even though the reader had a completely valid point, it niggled at me. ¬†As a fiction writer, there are many times when you ask your reader to suspend their belief, in order to make the story work. ¬†But, are readers willing to do this? ¬†It goes without saying we have to ground our stories in reality and make our characters believable, but don’t we also have a bit of artistic license? ¬†As readers, are we expecting a perfection that doesn’t exist?

Just to be clear, I’m talking about minor infractions here, not great big bloody plot holes that push the entire story beyond credibility. ¬†Such questions are valid, but in this case, it caused merely a moment’s wondering. ¬†FYI, the novel was Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and the issue was her supposed ignorance of most modern cultural references. ¬†I also questioned if this was possible, but chose to believe that it was. ¬†Either way, this is a story. ¬†It’s not meant to be real. ¬†The writer is trying to create an atmosphere, not a documentary. ¬†You’ve got to allow for some artistic license when it comes to the business of show, or else, what are we all doing here? ¬†Do writers¬†really set out to write the perfect book, or is the pursuit of creating something greater than we can ever deliver, the art in itself? ¬†Critics might expect perfection, but we, as storytellers are more focused on telling a good story.

And what is art for anyway? ¬†Why do writers want to express themselves through stories and why do readers love hearing them? ¬†I think Matthew Arnold, Professor of Poetry at Oxford (Culture and Anarchy) expressed it perfectly when he said that all great artists possess ‘the noble aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it‘. ¬†I love this quote, because I think everyone who picks up a pen/brush/instrument wants to make something good, something true. ¬†We want to add our voice to the collective narrative, our unique take on life, our desires, our hopes and our fears. ¬†It might not be perfect, but it’s ours and no-one else can tell our story in quite the same way. ¬†If a book speaks to you, makes you think and makes you feel, then that is the perfect book. ¬†For you. ¬†Regardless of what the critics say.

 

The Power

Missy Elliot may have been the first woman to rap about flipping and reversing, but in her book, The Power, Naomi Alderman takes this to a whole new level, writing a story of gender role reversal for a new generation, that has won her The Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction.

This is such a thought-provoking, insightful, clever, satirical book, (akin to 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale) and The Power has left its mark. ¬†This novel has brought up so much for me, with all roads leading back to gender inequality. ¬†A work of speculative fiction, this story seeks to redress the balance of power between men and women, and it is fitting that it harks back to biblical references for the founding of this new world order. ¬†In Alderman’s book, young girls have developed a unique physical power, an electrical current, that can harm and even kill. ¬†It has drastic consequences for our historically patriarchal society and asks the question –

What if the balance of power shifted from men to women?

This book has come at a very important time and feels like the culmination of a ground swell, that has found an international, border-free voice on the Internet. ¬†I have learned more about gender equality and feminism from the last couple of years on Twitter than I ever did at school or in society. ¬†Women are sharing their stories with hashtags like #EverydaySexism, they are uniting in their shared experiences and turning the tables. ¬†If you don’t follow @manwhohasitall start now. ¬†This twitter account expertly flips and reverses the entire gender issue with maximum effect.

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A whole new language of ‘mansplaining’ has sprung up, as women find a new vocabulary to express their experience of this man’s world. ¬†But not everyone is a fan.

As the gender pay gap was yet again highlighted by a recent report into the BBC payroll, ‘journo’ Kevin Myers took it upon himself to blame women for the fact that they are paid less for doing the same work as men. ¬†According to Myers, men are paid more than women because they ¬†“work harder, get sick less frequently and seldom get pregnant”. ¬† As ¬†columnist Fintan O’Toole pointed out, a woman can’t win with this kind of misogynistic mindset. ¬†Myers claimed women weren’t as eager as men, but when they are, they are called cold-hearted bitches. ¬†Putting career before family. ¬†Power hungry ice queens. ¬†It’s heartening to see sexist drivel like this being called out, but let’s not kid ourselves. ¬†Myers lost his job because of his anti-Semitic remarks, not because of his misogyny.

When women protest for equal rights and equal pay, we are too often dismissed as ‘whining women’, ‘feminazis’, ‘men-haters’, when really, we just want to be treated equally. ¬†Yet, for some reason, we just aren’t being listened to, or taken seriously. ¬†Incredulously, we are being blamed for that too. ¬†This is a recent tweet by correspondent Will Saletan, in which he referred to a video of a female politician, who was repeatedly ignored/talked over/disregarded by a male colleague .

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It’s this kind of ‘advice’ and twisted logic that, yet again, puts the blame on women for men’s behaviour. ¬†Unsurprisingly, ¬†women responded to his tweet in their hundreds and thousands, pointing this out.

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Ironically, he proved their point by completely disregarding their opinion, because after all, what would women know about it?! ¬†He wanted women to be more assertive, only, not against him. ¬†He could not see that using language like ‘women’s willingness to yield’ is dangerous and just plain wrong. ¬†Putting the onus on the woman for a man’s inability to listen and accept that, no means no. ¬†Classic. ¬†But he was completely blind to the flaw in his argument, despite the fact that hundreds of women were ‘firmly’ pointing it out to him. ¬†Instead, he referred to their response as ‘twitter rage’. ¬†I guess it was easier for him to label their opinion as hysterical, rather than review his position, learn through listening to women or admit he was wrong. ¬†So you see, sometimes you just can’t win for losing.

Like everyone else, I have been raised in a patriarchal society and have learned that this is just the way things are. ¬†But that is the genius of The Power; by simply reversing roles, we can see that just because this is the way things are, doesn’t mean that’s the way they should be. ¬†Tradition, culture and religion have played their part in forming our roles as men and women, the burden of which has been heavier to carry for one half of the population.

I believed them in catholic school when they said we were all equal in God’s eyes. ¬†I believed them in university when they said we were all entitled to equal opportunities. ¬†They were wrong. ¬†In Christianity, God only speaks to the men. ¬†God is seen as a man (say otherwise and wait for the sniggers). ¬†Jesus was a man. ¬†I grew up believing Mary Magdalene was the worst thing a woman can be; a whore and a prostitute. ¬†More baseless lies. ¬†Before her, there was Eve, that sinful woman who corrupted Adam and tempted him away from Eden. ¬†The only other woman who features, Mary, got to be a virgin AND a mother. ¬†Who could ever live up to that? ¬†I have grown up in the aftermath of Magdalene laundries (a fitting name for ‘fallen women’), where unmarried mothers were banished to bear the fruit of their sin. ¬†Not the fathers mind you, they didn’t get punished. ¬†As we speak, there is still an investigation into the bodies of babies who were found buried in a septic tank on a site that was once a mother and baby home, run by the church and funded by the state. ¬†In my city. ¬†And this unforgiving, patriarchal union of church and state is also responsible for the 8th amendment, a part of the Irish constitution that takes a woman’s bodily autonomy away the moment she becomes pregnant.

My first summer job after college was in an office as a receptionist. ¬†After a few weeks, a new guy began working there and thought that as well as a company car, he had also acquired a teas-maid in me. ¬†It was minor really, I introduced him to the kitchen, the kettle and a thing called gender stereotype. ¬†I say it was minor, because a couple of weeks before I was due to finish my contract, the boss phoned me and asked me to meet him in a hotel. ¬†He’d booked a room. ¬†I was nineteen years old, he was in his forties and married with children. ¬†I was shocked, probably apologised for the fact that no, I wouldn’t be meeting him and wondered if I would get the sack. ¬†He never spoke of it again. ¬†I told a female colleague (who didn’t seem surprised) and we made sure that I was never left on my own in the office with him.

While living in Canada, I was walking down the street one afternoon to meet my boyfriend after work. ¬†A guy on a bike came from behind and grabbed my breasts. ¬†I tried to fight him off (my heart is beating fast now, just thinking about it), kept shouting ‘No, no, STOP‘ and after what seemed like a long time, he cycled off, leaving me stunned and powerless. ¬†He did turn around though and laughed at me. ¬†I’ll never forget that grin on his face. ¬†It said, I’ll take what I want, when I want.

There have been other incidents. ¬†Every girl has had her fair share of it. ¬†I feel like I’ve gotten off quite lightly, to be honest, but even that way of thinking doesn’t seem right. ¬†It changes your behaviour. ¬†You become acutely aware of your vulnerability, so you always act with that fear in the back of your mind. ¬†Threatened. ¬†But like I said, I feel lucky. ¬†Just a quick glance at the statistics for sex trafficking, rape and domestic violence on the Womens Aid website¬†makes for sobering viewing.

1 in 5 women in Ireland who have been in a relationship have been abused by a current or former partner.

In Britain, one incidence of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.

There were 695 disclosures of sexual abuse made to the Women’s Aid services in 2016, including 316 disclosures of rape.

1 in 7 women in Ireland compared to 1 in 17 men experience severe domestic violence. Women are over twice as likely as men to have experienced severe physical abuse, seven times more likely to have experienced sexual abuse, and are more likely to experience serious injuries than men.

90% of domestic abuse offenders in 2003 were male, whilst 93% of complainants were female. Of the 1,418 arrests made in relation to domestic abuse, 1,203 were charged and 650 were convicted.

Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders. Approximately 80% of these people are women and girls and up to 50% are minors. The majority of these women and girls are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation.

And these figures are from the developed world.

Obviously, it is not just women who suffer from inequality and gender stereotyping.  I feel a lot of men are restricted by the idea of what it means to be a man.  People the world over are constantly discriminated against for their race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.  How liberating it would be to be free from these limiting stereotypes and learn to see each other as people, first and foremost.  We all have different strengths and vulnerabilities, but these are not necessarily dictated by our gender.

So, this is why The Power is so powerful.  It makes you think, what if things were different?  What if men were made to feel how we feel?  What if women held the balance of power?  Would the world change for the better, or as the British politician Lord Acton once said,

Would absolute power corrupt absolutely?  

A recurring thought that I had whilst reading it was how women, with this new power, wouldn’t have to be ‘nice’ anymore. ¬†Implicitly, I think young girls are brought up to be ‘nice’ as some kind of defense mechanism, so on the rare and wonderful occasions when a woman isn’t nice, especially in the public eye, it almost challenges the status quo. ¬†We may not develop an electrifying touch at the tips of our fingers, but books like this can impart a different kind of power… the power to see things differently. ¬†Imagine, for a moment, a world where God is a woman, church and state are governed by women and men are the ‘weaker sex’. ¬†Is it a little bit frightening? ¬†A little bit exhilarating? ¬†However it makes you feel, it’s simply a reversal (albeit a science fiction one with super powers) of what is reality today for 50% of the population.

I don’t think women want to take over the world (who’s got time for that?!). ¬†But I do think we want to share it. ¬†And what’s more, I think there are men who want to share it with us. ¬†More and more I see men calling other men out on issues ranging from sexist comments to gender balance and through campaigns like White Ribbon, a male-led initiative to end violence against women. ¬†This is the future that our sons and daughters deserve, a world that they can shape and enjoy, equally.

Thank you Naomi for writing such an ‘electrifying’ book that has sparked my imagination and asked some very interesting questions. ¬†And to the Bailey’s Prize, for championing female authors. ¬†One woman who definitely doesn’t try to be nice and always seeks to challenge society’s view of what is acceptable behaviour for a woman, is Madonna (a coincidence or a sign?!) and I couldn’t help but be reminded of this song and video while reading this book.

Recommended Reads

Too soon? ¬†Never! ¬†I’ve stumbled across so many spectacular reads this year, that I thought I’d do an end of summer review of my favourites. ¬†So if you’re looking for ideas for your next read, this one is for you.

Historical Fiction

Golden Hill

GOLDEN HILL

Set in 18th century New York, this is a novel that will turn your idea of historical fiction on its’ head. ¬†Part caper, part mystery, this novel is beautifully written in a unique style. ¬†Small wonder that Spufford won the Desmond Elliot, Costa and Ondaatje prizes for his debut novel. ¬†As I said in my Goodreads review, ‘Some books are just perfection to read. ¬†This is one of them.’

 

 

 

Contemporary Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE

Does this book even need an introduction?  Believe the hype people!  This is such a refreshingly original novel, written with a perfect balance of wit, intelligence and sincerity.  I defy you not to fall in love with this book and Eleanor.  An uplifting story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.  Check out my full review here.

 

 

 

Classic

Rebecca

REBECCA

It’s always good to read something timeless, and so, Rebecca. ¬†The best way to describe this book is if Downton Abbey was written by Edgar Allen Poe! ¬†I absolutely adored this book, the lush descriptions, the opulent setting, the dashing widower, the innocent ingenue, the creepy maid… it’s all there!! ¬†It’s grip lit meets gothic romance, all in a lovely English mansion. ¬†What’s not to love?!

 

 

 

Novella

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT

If you’re looking for a shorter read, this novella is certainly a quirky one. ¬†Falling somewhere between dystopian and science fiction, this is a curious story that is strangely unnerving and compelling. ¬†It’s about a very average couple who find jobs in a very unusual place. ¬†There is a lot of ambiguity and it’s probably best to read it with no expectations. ¬†Think Kafka-esque, without the cockroach!

 

 

 

 

Of course, you could always read MY novels!