Mary Beth Keane, author of Fever – about an Irish immigrant battling her way through life in 1900s New York – explains why character detail trumps historical and cultural precision when writing historical fiction.
I never expected to write historical fiction, though some of my favourite novels of all time are in that category. Never great with names and dates, I figured historical fiction was for people whose minds work in a more straightforward fashion. Once, taking an American History exam when I was in high school, I couldn’t remember the exact dates of James Madison’s presidency but I remembered that Dolly Madison, his wife, was said to have a ritual of peeking from an upper floor window whenever his carriage departed their home for the Capitol. I offered up this titbit in exchange for hard facts. I did not get an A.
When it first occurred to me that Mary Mallon, who was better known to history as “Typhoid Mary,” would make a fascinating character, it wasn’t immediately clear to me that I should be the one to write her story. Everything about early 20th century New York was sepia-toned in my imagination. The clip-clop of horses on the avenues, the long skirts of the women brushing the sidewalks – it all seemed too distant, too quaint. I began by reading about the politics of the period, the manoeuvres of politicians and their staff, but how much did that tell me about what the average person thought and felt? Nothing. In order to get my arms around Mary’s story I had to walk alongside the people making their way in this world and not just observe them doing so. I had to understand their worries and their hopes. If they harboured secret ambitions, I had to discover them. Thinking back to high school, I knew that I remembered that detail about Dolly because it I found it moving that even a President’s wife peeks out of windows. I identified with Dolly, saw myself in her, and recognised her vulnerability. I had to get there with Mary Mallon.
Now that the book is written, many of the responses I’ve gotten have been about the research, how it must have been overwhelming, difficult to keep track of. It was those things at times, but research was also a crutch when I didn’t want to do the truly difficult work of writing fiction. I knew, when I was getting too focused on how many buttons a woman might have on her corset, or what route, precisely, the subway took when it first opened, that I was avoiding the task at hand, which was getting to the centre of Mary’s life – the confusion, fear, and frustration she must have felt, and later, a battle-worn sort of peace. The heart of a good novel must always be character, and where is the most important research for character done but inside the writer? Advice to those embarking on historical fiction? Close the books and face the blank page. Begin.
- Mary Beth Keane
With his debut book, Red Sky in Morning, Paul Lynch has made the transition from prolific film writer to novelist in spectacular fashion. Writing exclusively for the Easons.com Blog, he describes how he dreamed up his first novel.
Red Sky in Morning came to me in snatches of dreams: dreams in broad daylight; dreams on the edge of that cliff-fall into the dark of sleep. A book must be dreamed into being. The good stuff in writing comes from those liminal moments when you are held in that timeless space, that mind’s drift outside the present moment. Being a writer means learning to cultivate this. As children we are told by parents and teachers to stop daydreaming. This is nonsense. Tell children to keep dreaming. Some of them will become dreamers for a living.
Novel dreams rise into consciousness like effervescence in sparking water. You must always be receptive to these gifts. You must be willing to write every thought down. This is not without its problems. Often, during the writing of a book, ideas flash into my mind during conversation, a thought sparked by something somebody has said. They arrive during dinner in a restaurant. They arrive while reading a book. They come in the middle of the night when you are stumbling blindly to the loo. It doesn’t matter — you must always be catching those butterflies in your net. To forgo writing them down means you will lose most of them to the white sky of your mind. So I take notes wherever I go. I have walked into bins on the street while putting notes into my phone. I have been almost clipped by traffic. People say writing is not a dangerous occupation. It is.
Red Sky in Morning took just under three years to write. For the first two years I was gainfully employed, so my life then was about time management. I would write on holidays. Write on weekends. Write at night during bone-tiredness, hoping that what I put down would later make sense. I learned that it doesn’t matter what you put down, so long as you put down something. Once you have committed your consciousness to the page, it can always be rewritten. And the art of writing a book is less about that first draft, than it is about the rewriting of it — over and over and over again. And when you think you are finished, going at it again and again until it has found its perfect shape.
I found my best moments writing Red Sky in Morning were often writing in the dawn. To write in that deep quiet is like breathing mountain air. An uncluttered mind is the writer’s best tool. Some say they find it late at night, but most writers agree it is best to write in the morning, to hit the desk with coffee and dream shadow still snaking about you. You must step into that shadow and make it your friend, be guided by its whisperings, before it shrinks from the light of day.
- Paul Lynch
Guest Article: Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World – How the Book Came to Be, by Janet E. Cameron
Last summer I got the news: Hachette Ireland wanted to publish my first novel. I was overjoyed, but dazed – part of me couldn’t quite believe that this was happening. Then gradually everything started to make sense. Of course! The Mayans! The book was scheduled to appear in 2013, and that date would never arrive, in fact my contract with a publisher was probably one of the signs of the End of Days. But January came and went safely and by March I was holding a printed copy of Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World in my hands.
I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember, but life kept getting in the way. I was a confident child who wrote and told stories because it was easy and fun. (I still have one, a science-fiction saga that was really just Star Trek with cats.) Then I was a miserable teenager who didn’t write at all because I was sure that it would be lousy. Later I became a confused twenty-something who wrote plays as a ‘hobby’ while training to be a teacher, specialising in English as a second language. In my early thirties I moved to Japan, where I taught at a girls’ high school and churned out educational material and adaptations for the school drama club. ‘We need a cast of forty, and everyone must have at least one line and wear a pretty dress.’ That kind of thing.
Everything changed when I met an Irish journalist who was in Tokyo for the 2002 Soccer World Cup. I never could have predicted that I’d one day be living in Ireland, but three years later there I was: married, semi-employed, and looking out the window at a lot of rain. But rainy days and a relaxed schedule are very good for writing, and Ireland turned out to be the perfect place for me. I switched to prose, took part in writing groups and classes, taught English to Chinese students at Dublin Business School. In the first few weeks of 2010 I got up the nerve to apply to Trinity’s creative writing programme. By the time the first semester started I had 70,000 words of a novel finished.
Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World came about through a homework assignment from a class I’d taken in 2006. I started with an image – two teenage boys having a violent argument on a cliff by a river, and the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. I wrote it as a flash fiction piece. I wrote it as a novella. A virus erased it from my computer. Four years later I was at it again, reconstructing the story from memory. Soon it became clear that this was going to be bigger than a novella, in fact it was going to be a book.
I worked on the story obsessively. I’d been a person who enjoyed spending hours in the kitchen, someone who dusted the curtain rods. When the novel took over I left the cooking to my husband, or the microwave. I let the apartment get filthy around me and barely noticed. I carried notebooks and scribbled in them like a maniac, no matter where I was. If I thought of something in the middle of the night, I’d write in the dark. It was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me.
The characters were what kept me hooked. First of all, there’s my hero, seventeen-year-old Stephen Shulevitz – bright, funny, impulsive, sarcastic, vulnerable, and in love with his straight best friend Mark, who grows up dyslexic and abused and learns quickly to be the toughest kid on the playground. Stephen also has to deal with his mother Maryna, who is dreamy, disorganised, and stuck in a dead end job in a small town – the one bright spot in her life seems to be her son. Stephen’s father Stanley is a self-absorbed academic who remains irritatingly calm in a crisis, especially if it’s one he’s created himself. Then there’s Stephen’s big-hearted, Goth-punk friend Lana, with an unfortunate crush of her own. I had to keep going to find out what would happen to them all.
I worked on the novel through the year at Trinity, and when I was sure I’d gotten the manuscript into shape, I entered it in a competition sponsored by the Irish Writers’ Centre and eventually was chosen as one of twenty winners.
The Novel Fair was nerve-wracking, exhilarating and a lot of fun. The twenty of us sat at tables with our stacks of sample chapters and prepared to pitch our stories to a selection of publishers and agents. I can’t remember much of what I said – by the end of the day I’d repeated the same information so many times that I felt like a bit of a dingbat. But I must have been at least partially coherent, because a few months later I got the news that Hachette Ireland were interested in seeing the rest of the book. Now it’s in bookstores all over Ireland.
This still feels like a miracle, and for me at least, a lot more impressive than anything the Mayans could have predicted.
Writing exclusively for the Easons.com Blog, Melissa Hill (Please Forgive Me, The Charm Bracelet and, most recently, The Guest List) catalogues the most common species of traveller that can be found in the concrete wilderness of airport terminals.
I have a confession to make. Well more of a declaration really – I love airports. Not in a nerdy, sit at the end of the runway with a flask of tea and a copy of Aviation Weekly ogling incoming aircraft and thinking hmm, the AA123 approaching the south runway has an unusually low trajectory kind of way.
What I love is the sense of the impending journey, the promise of adventure.
As a writer, I need to travel a lot for work and over the years, the airport has become one of my favourite places to spend time. There is plenty to do, shopping for one, people watching for another. I always liken it to being on safari, there are so many different species of traveller roaming around the terminals.
One such species is the Solo Business Traveller with their determined ‘I just want to get going, let me through’ expressions and demeanour. I suspect they must hate waiting in line behind those once-a-year flyers that arrive slack-jawed at security as if they have just walked into an operating theatre in the middle of a delicate procedure. The Once-a-Years usually have metal in every pocket and enough liquid, gels and pastes (none of which have been placed in the mandatory plastic bag) to bring down an Airbus A380.
But, using their keen eye for spotting the shortest queue and the line with the least potential delays, once the Solo Business Traveller gets past the Once-a-Years, they sail though security with a military precision that goes hand in hand with frequent flying. Belt, watch, bag coins into tray one. Laptop, mobile phone and jacket into tray two, before breezing unfazed through the metal detector.
Another member of the airport ‘Big Five’ are The Lads on Tour. They are especially easy to spot from the broad rictus grins they sport on their faces. It’s the kind of unsustainable smile that starts to hurt after a couple of minutes and suggests: ‘I can’t believe I have no responsibilities for the next few days only to drink/watch sports/play sports/eat/score’ in any combination or order. You will always hear them in the bar drinking and laughing loudly, slagging each other off.
A very different species of traveller is the Shiny Ringed Honeymooners – most common throughout the summer months. Alone as a couple for the first time since they said ‘I do’, they only have eyes for one another, don’t seem bothered by anything or anybody and are easily identified by their bright, shiny wedding rings.
Then, you have The Hen Nighters, a rowdy crew who all sport identical bright pink T-shirts displaying a photo of one of their group as a child. You can always pick out the ‘Hen’ by looking for the one displaying ‘L’ plates, mini wedding veil and fake male genitalia.
I’m certain the BBC will do a ‘wildlife’ style documentary on it all at some stage. In fact, I can already imagine David Attenborough’s seasoned, knowledgeable tones doing the voice over: ‘Here we find the common Irish Snowy White Sun-worshipper. Once a year these magnificent creatures migrate south in search of sunshine and cheap booze. Within a few hours of reaching their destination they will try to absorb a years’ worth of vitamin D by basking in the sun, eventually turning an angry shade of red. Yet, these amazing creatures have even found a naturally occurring and readily available source of painkiller for such an injury – cheap lager.’
We all react differently to airports, some are relaxed as the trip has just begun and the airport is actually part of the holiday. Others are anxious and nervous perhaps because of a simple fear of flying, or a fear of the friendly little customs dog walking over, sitting down and barking his head off or nuzzling the groin area – cueing a cavity search.
Inevitably once you find yourself amongst your flightmates at the boarding gate, you often start to recognise certain characters: the loud bickering couple that sat on the car-park bus in front of you, the laden-down family with the seat-kicking screaming toddler at the next table in the terminal restaurant.
Like safari animals, our destinies seem to merge as we all migrate towards our mutual journey.
And you just know where that seat kicking toddler is going to be sitting…
- Melissa Hill
The Guest List by Melissa Hill, published by Hodder Books, is out now.
Emma Hannigan, bestselling author of Perfect Wives, gives her take on the role of a wife in the modern household.
When I think of the word wife what springs to mind? Even though I wasn’t even born then, I always seem to picture a 1950’s lay-dee dressed in a shirt-waister with a frilly floral pinny, putty-coloured stockings and court shoes. Like one of those old style caption postcards this ‘wife’ should be holding a saucepan in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other. I imagine her skipping to the cooker to make a nutritious meal for her suit-clad husband who will appear at exactly the same time each evening brandishing his leather satchel-style briefcase and calling out, ‘Honey I’m home!’
I envisage her day would be broken up into carefully worked out sessions of cleaning, ironing, tending to the beautifully behaved children and awaiting with baited breath for the arrival of her beloved husband.
I don’t know about you, but none of that goes on in my house. I’ve been married for fifteen years in June and Cian would probably duck if he came into the house to find me brandishing a frying pan with a fixed plastic smile and my head tilted to one side blinking.
Now don’t get me wrong, I cook. In fact I trained as a chef and love my food. But the day-to-day chore of churning out dinners is quite a different thing to being part of a paid team and producing gourmet delights.
The fact I work full time puts a kybosh on the cleaning and ironing routine too. Instead of drafting a housework schedule that takes me from breakfast to bedtime where I gleefully rejoice as each wrinkle leaves the clothes or each speck of dirt and stray cat hair is vacuumed away, I selfishly sit at a desk and write.
My children are not of the ‘being seen and not heard’ variety. They are opinionated and able to think outside the box. I know if I’m on a deadline or up to my tonsils that they won’t starve. They’re capable of putting on a pot of pasta or sticking a pizza in the oven.
All this leads me to the belief that we have a much better scenario than our 1950s counterparts right? Do you know what? I’m not convinced.
Although many women are no longer chained to the kitchen sink and have the potential to earn as much as men, on the whole we’re still the glue that holds most homes together. Our moods are contagious. If we portray that things are tickety-boo the remainder of the household believes it too. If I am stressed and cranky not only will my children start fighting but the two cats even start spitting at one another. Honestly.
Sometimes I threaten to go on strike. I say I’m so fed up of being taken for granted and treated like an unpaid slave. I vow that I’ll up sticks and move into a five star hotel for a week. But I think we all know I’d never do that. Firstly I can’t afford it and secondly I’d be totally miserable. Who would I argue with? Underneath it all I wouldn’t change my family for anything. I’d miss clearing away the breakfast stuff before I cook the dinner at night. Imagine if I was denied the fun of changing the bed linen or scrubbing the bathrooms? I reckon if enough time passed I’d miss the lilting drone of the Hoover…
The stressful times are always outweighed by the sunny. The fights are overshadowed by the fun. The slagging, bantering and belly-laughing between me my hubby and our children could never be replicated elsewhere.
Above all I’ve learned that owning an un-ironed pile of washing isn’t life-threatening. Nobody will die if we have Nutella toasted sandwiches for dinner every once in a while. As long as we’re happy, healthy and able to enjoy the important things in life then I think we’ve achieved a lot. What makes a perfect wife? In my humble opinion, it’s a happy wife!
- Emma Hannigan
When I was growing up there was a young woman who lived on our road who had a disability. I remember that she used to stand outside her house and search the pockets of younger children returning from the shop, looking for sweets. I remember peering down the street to see if she was waiting on me and if so, crossing the road to avoid her. I can still see myself holding my breath as I quickened my pace, anxious to avoid eye contact with her until I turned the corner to my home. The adult writing this feels deeply ashamed by my actions. However, given that I was very young and had not been exposed to people with disabilities, my reaction was understandable. I simply did not know how to be her friend. Many adults, too, do not know how to react around people with special needs and this is also understandable, especially for those whose lives have not been touched by disability. Today, many children with special needs quite rightly attend their local school, enriching the school experience for both them and their peers. These are the lucky generation because exposure to difference creates acceptance and understanding in the general population.
When I wrote my first novel, The Butterfly State, I wanted to bring the world of the autistic child to a wider population but not in a “rain man” sense. Most people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder do not have special gifts or abilities, or at least no more than the general population does. I wanted to give the cold hard facts of autism but to envelop it in a story that would warm people to the plight of those living with this often crippling social disability. I realised that I achieved my goal when I received comments from people who said they found the story fascinating and that they inadvertently learnt a lot about autism in the process. Most people have neither the time nor perhaps the interest to read a text book on disability and they certainly don’t want to read a book filled with specialised terminology that requires the reader to put down the book every five minutes and reach for the dictionary!
Writing about disability through fiction has given me an opportunity to bring my knowledge to a wider audience. I have worked in the field of disability for almost thirty years. I began my career as a teenager working in a psychiatric hospital with young adults who had mental health difficulties and learning disabilities. After five interesting years, I left this job for Australia where I completed my degree while working in institutions for people with challenging behaviour. The work there was harrowing – each morning when you set out to work you didn’t know if you were going to be hurt that day … but it was always very fulfilling.
Later, I taught children with a variety of disabilities, including children who had severe behavioural problems. I also worked in nursing homes where I was lucky enough to meet interesting characters who had led full and eventful lives. I used some of those experiences in Australia to write my second book, The Penance Room whose main character was a young deaf boy, Christopher, who lived in the outback nursing home run by his parents. I wanted to portray the isolation deaf people endure. People often ignore deaf people or shout at them but this is because they don’t know how to communicate with them. In this novel, Christopher, ignored by his parents and isolated from his peers, becomes obsessed with the memories of the nursing home’s residents and sets about helping them come to terms with their pasts. The book has an unexpected twist at the end which I won’t give away here!
I then used my experience working with children from dysfunctional backgrounds and the knowledge I gained while completing my master’s degree in emotional disturbance to write Winter Flowers. This novel, which is set in Dublin, focuses on the lives of two young brothers whose mother, Hazel’s, difficult upbringing results in the boys being raised in a less than perfect environment. The story does have a happy ending though as Hazel tries to put her past behind her in order to ensure her sons have a future.
My fourth novel, which is out now, is to some degree also about emotional disturbance. The Incredible Life of Jonathan Doe is set in America and is about a homeless man trying to get home to a place where he once belonged but can no longer find.
I hope to continue writing about people who are different and that my novels continue to be an enjoyable and interesting experience for readers.
- Carol Coffey
I have always loved bringing the words from my head to life on paper. I was a huge reader as a child and have memories of writing books by tearing sheets of paper out of copybooks and stapling them all together. I recently found a diary I had kept when I was eleven, describing my first time on a plane. It had riveting entries such as this:
“We got a snack of peanuts and a can of Pepsi. Then we got our own meal, which consists of green beans, meat, small potatoes, carrots. Two half crackers, 1 cheese spread, 1 butter spread, a roll, a salad cream spread, orange juice, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, a bun, apple tart and another can of Pepsi.”
And it pretty much continues to describe the holiday in the same excruciating detail. I hope my writing has improved since then…
Unlike a lot of writers who study English in college, I went on to study biotechnology. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I considered writing a novel. I attended a creative writing course by night in a local secondary school, which gave me the encouragement to keep going. After a few false starts, I wrote half a story and sent off a synopsis and three chapters to agents and publishers. Deep down I knew it wasn’t ready so it wasn’t really a surprise when the rejections came piling through the post-box. I learnt that if I knew my book wasn’t good enough, a publisher certainly wasn’t going to think it was.
I kept writing bits and pieces. I had a short story published in an anthology and I was short-listed for the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland short story competition. Then I had the idea to write In a Moment. It was 2009 and I had just had my first child and it came out of nowhere one day while I was driving my car. Before you have a baby everyone tells you how it is the most amazing feeling but I didn’t really understand it until she was born. I was blown away by the strength of the feelings that I had for her but also a bit frightened by how much I wanted to protect her and that planted the seed.
In a Moment is the story of Adam and Emma, a couple who are being torn apart by their past. They are on the brink of splitting-up and their relationship is only held together by a thread. But what has brought them to this point? And why is Adam having recurring nightmares? Meanwhile Jean McParland is a single mother living in terror in her own home. But in just one moment Adam, Emma and Jean’s lives become inextricably linked and are changed forever…
I started to write it while I was still on maternity leave and then I went back to work and it took me over a year to write half of it between working full time, being a mum and that thing called ‘life’ that gets in the way sometimes. Then I heard about the Poolbeg/TV3 ‘Write a Bestseller’ competition and I thought what a brilliant opportunity for anyone like me, who dreamed of seeing his or her book on the shelves. So I finished the other half in three months by writing it after work in the evenings or at the weekends. I sent it off and crossed everything (fingers, toes, hair plaited etc…)
The following February the brilliant The Lingerie Designer by Siobhan McKenna was announced as the winner and that was the end of that or so I thought. You can imagine my shock when Paula Campbell from Poolbeg called me to say that she had liked In a Moment and that they would like to offer me a three-book deal! I’ll never forget the day I got that call – I was 34 weeks pregnant with my twins and I had promised my then two-year old daughter that we’d take a trip on a train and then a bus. In the middle of all that I had a voicemail from Paula asking me to call her. Anyway I’m sure it was one of Paula’s most bizarre phone-calls involving me standing at a bus-stop in the howling wind, trying to stop my two-year old from running into the traffic. After that conversation I was sure that I wouldn’t hear from her again but sure enough she sent the contract through and here I am.
My writing process is chaotic at the moment with a three-year old and one-year old twins. I write whenever I have five minutes free but I do the bulk of my writing when they’ve gone to bed in the evenings or at weekends, when my husband will take the three of them off for a couple of hours.
When I have an idea for a story, I’m usually like a horse chomping at the bit, dying to get out of the stalls and into the story. However, I’m currently doing the edits for my second book A Small Hand in Mine, which will be released this summer and I’m learning that if I plotted more to begin with, I could save myself a lot of heartache down the line. So my resolution with my third book is to make myself plot it in the same minute detail as my diary above before I even put pen to paper.
This time last year I was gearing up for publication of my first book and even then I had no idea what a brilliant feeling it would be. I have to pinch myself when I go into a store and see my book there on the shelves. I also owe a big thank you to some of the lovely booksellers who I’ve met along the way who are so enthusiastic about the work that they do.
I hope that anyone reading this who also dreams of being published just takes the plunge and puts the words on the page. Don’t get disheartened by your first drafts and don’t compare your work to other authors that you admire. Just keep at it, edit it until you feel it’s the best you can possibly make it. But self-belief is probably the most important thing an aspiring writer could have. I really believe if you want it badly enough and work hard, you will achieve it.
Helen Moorhouse, bestselling author of The Dark Water, details her favourite books that go bump in the night, exclusively for the Easons.com Blog!
As a child, I was rarely without my head in a book filled with tales of good and evil, witches and goblins and little children left to their own devices. As a grown-up, not much has changed. My transition to real, grown-up horror, however, began in my early teens when I was handed a copy of Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I had arrived.
I subsequently worked my way thoroughly through King’s back catalogue – the apocalyptic brilliance of The Stand; the wealth of diversity in short story collections such as Different Seasons and Skeleton Crew; the originality of It. King’s work is sheer escapism with his horrific creations – vengeful automobiles; murderous St Bernards; and creepy classics like The Shining and Pet Sematary. Yet underneath all of the mayhem and peril and madness, King keeps a sense of realism to every tale by holding it together with characters that are hard to forget. This is the man who created Andy Dufresne, after all.
When it comes to characters, it’s difficult to not feel for Charlie Parker, John Connolly’s damaged cop, solving crime with a supernatural edge under the shadow of his wife and daughter’s brutal murder. One of my favourite reads of the past few years, however, has been Connolly’s 2004 collection of short stories entitled Encore, in particular The New Daughter which takes the concept of being ‘away with the fairies’ and turns it on its head. Moving with his two young children to a house near a fairy fort, exposes the narrator to tiny, hideous winged creatures; straw dolls; tappings at the window in the night – and the terrible transformation of his own little girl:
“Some night you’ll fall asleep with a window open”, says Louisa, the titular daughter. “or a door unlocked”, she whispers. “Some night you’ll be careless, and then you’ll have a new son, and I will have a new brother”.
And while we all know that clowns are scary, if you want to be absolutely terrified by something in a wig, then check out Connolly’s terrifying yet tragic Some Children Wander By Mistake from the same collection. You will never go to the circus again.
So that’s clowns and fairies – far creepier in my opinion that vampires and zombies. But I like ghosts best – the nasty ones, the sad ones, the vengeful ones.
Like The Woman In Black. That forced the lighting bill sky high for a while. Also well worth checking out by Susan Hill is The Small Hand. Moderately less terrifying than the tale of Mr Kipps, it tells the unsettling story of a middle-aged man who begins to experience the sensation of a child’s hand slip into his. But is it innocent?
“I slammed the door behind me in panic and, as I slammed it, I heard a howl. It was a howl of pain and rage and anguish combined, and without question the howl of a furious child”.
It’s to the pen of James Herbert that I turn, however, to my absolute favourite, The Secret of Crickley Hall. This tale of a broken family is a classic ghost story which vividly describes the haunting of the Caleighs in their new home, along with the story of how the ghosts of little children came to haunt it in the first place. It’s perfectly paced, satisfying, chilling and heart breaking. Crickley Hall was a huge influence on my decision to write the ghost story that became The Dead Summer, and its sequel, The Dark Water, in the first place.
There are many more ghost stories out there to be discovered, not least among them a wealth of word of mouth tales, so-called real experiences and strange happenings. Because those are the scariest tales of all, aren’t they? The ones that might just be true. That could happen to anyone…
Bestselling children’s author Judi Curtin tells us about Ask Eva, which she wrote for this year’s World Book Day (Thursday, March 7th).
This week, every child in every school in the country, will get the present of a book voucher. With this scrap of coloured paper in their hands, they can enter the wonderful world of their local bookshop and select any one of nine specially produced World Book Day books.
Some cynics may suggest that this is all a subtle marketing ploy, but I don’t agree. Leaving aside the simple joy of reading, research shows that having books in the home brings all sorts of advantages for children – let’s hope that this year’s World Book Day titles may lead to a lifelong connection with books and reading.
On a more selfish note, I’m particularly looking forward to this year’s event, as I was asked to write one of the 2013 World Book Day titles. That puts me in the company of Jacqueline Wilson, Shirley Hughes, A.A. Milne and many more of my heroes (so no pressure really!). Luckily, in writing, as in life, friends can be a great help when you’re in trouble. When I decided to write about my old book friend Eva Gordon, the story practically wrote itself. Now the work is done, the book is published, and Ask Eva is available in all good book stores – and if you’ve got a World Book Day voucher, it’s free. What’s not to like about that?
Happy World Book Day Everyone!
PS I’ve just realised that even though it is a lovely opportunity for communities to publicly share the joy of reading, I, like most writers, am too busy with book events on World Book Day to have time to actually sit down and read a book. That’s why I’m declaring my own Private Book Day. This year I’m celebrating on March 8th. I plan to switch off my computer, cut off my phone and spend the whole day reading. I can’t wait!
Nerve-racking time in this house, as my new book, Me and You is published this very day in Ireland and when I tell you I’m down on my hands here praying you’ll all like it, ‘tis really no exaggeration.
Anyway, one of the questions I get asked a lot is, where do get all your ideas from? Well for this particular book, the apple on the head moment came from…of all things…an interview I just happened to be reading with the head of the Missing Person’s Bureau here in Ireland. You know how it seems not a week goes by without posters appearing on lampposts with heartbreaking photos and messages saying, ‘missing. Last seen leaving the xxx pub…etc.’ T’would break your heart, it really would. Anyway, in this interview, the guy from missing persons said that well over 90% of people who go missing do so voluntarily, often because of depression or alcoholism or maybe financial worries. But in a frightening amount of cases, it’s because they just want to check out of their whole life…
Which got me thinking… What is it that could possibly make someone just walk out on everyone and everything they ever loved?
Just to tell you a little bit more about the story, it starts with our heroine Angie being stood up on her birthday. No hang on, keep reading, it gets worse. By her best friend, Kitty. So of course Angie does what any of us would do…does a ring-around of just about every mutual pal they know, but it’s nothing but dead ends everywhere. No matter who she talks to, everyone says, ‘oh, I thought she was with you!’
Now she’s a bit of a flake-head, Kitty; you know, the type of character who could fall in with a load of strangers in a pub, then wake up the next morning on a sofa in Holyhead, not having the first clue how she got there. Which means, initially no one panics, everyone just keeps telling Angie, ‘Ah, Kitty’ll turn up when she’s good and ready to…you know what that one is like!’
But she doesn’t. So Angie and Kitty’s lovely boyfriend really start to get panicky, as you would, so they go to the cops and file this as a missing person case. And of course, the search gets wider and wider with absolutely nothing turning up…until one night the police come calling to report a major breakthrough. So just how well, they ask Angie, did you really know this girl Kitty anyway?
Part two is Kitty’s story. It’s two years on now and we learn why she did what she had to do, why she had to walk out on the best pal she ever had and the only man she really ever loved. She’s abroad now, but suddenly her circumstances change dramatically and she finds herself having to come home for a funeral.
What she doesn’t know though, is that in the intervening two years, Angie and Kitty’s old boyfriend have grown closer and closer, almost bonded by the shock they went through…and are now…wait for it…a couple.
Sorry…not telling you any more! But I’m hoping this might just have whetted your appetite and that maybe you’d all like to read on. So, as you see, it’s essentially a love triangle story with a missing girl at the back of it and I’m hoping against hope you’ll all like it now!
On another note, can I just take a minute to say a huge and heartfelt thanks to everyone at Eason’s, not only for letting me write this blog for them, but for all the incredible support and encouragement they unfailingly give to Irish authors everywhere? The staff are all unanimously lovely and make shopping in there only a pleasure. And I know we keep reading about the death knell of paperbacks and the unstoppable rise of ebooks, but I for one ain’t buying it. I think it was Stephen Fry who said physical books are no more threatened by ebooks, than stairs are by escalators. And you only have to go into any branch of Eason’s nationwide to see the proof of it. The stores are always busy thank God and long, long, long may that continue.
Writing can be a solitary and sometimes a lonely gig, but when we get the chance to drop into Eason’s to meet readers and to sign books, it’s just incredible for us. So thank you, very sincerely, from this very grateful author and I’m dying to see you all in my local branch very soon!
With fondest wishes,
Claudia Carroll Competition
We have three copies of Claudia’s new novel Me and You to give away. To enter, simply answer the following question by 7th April:
This competition has ended.
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