I receive a lot of letters and emails from young fans who want to be writers, but a while ago I was sent the following by a somewhat older budding author:
I want to become a writer, but turning 31 in 21 days is freaking me out. I feel like I’m too old. Any advice for someone who’s starting off late in this game?
That email made me smile. I turned 40 this year, yet I’m still one of the younger authors on the circuit of book festivals. It reminded me how we view time differently depending on our age. As a teenager, days often dragged, and it felt like life was interminable. In my thirties I became very aware of time speeding up, and now it seems like I’m hurtling through life far too quickly, days disappearing behind me every time I blink.
In a fast-moving world, our dreams often out-pace us. At 31, if you have not played football in the Premiership, or been in a chart-topping band, your chance has almost surely passed you by. Want a stab at breaking the record for the 100 metre sprint? Too late. Want to become a brain surgeon? Sorry, you should have started 10 years ago.
Writing, thankfully, is a dream you can set out in pursuit of at almost any point in your life. It’s actually a pursuit better suited to the more mature, since it requires a lot of thought, patience and isolation. Writing involves stepping back from life and recording your observations about it, but when you’re young you should be too busy living to take a break from it. In your 20s you should be dashing around the place, having all sorts of wonderful or dreadful experiences, sampling the endless delights that the world has to offer. When you start to slow down in your 30s or 40s (or 50s or 60s or…) you’ll have plenty of time to settle back, put your feet up and ponder.
I’m one of those rare writers who did it the other way. I threw myself into writing at a very young age, and made the breakthrough in my mid-20s. But that’s because I was a shy, lonely young man, who found it easier to write than to live. If I could go back and do things differently, I’d tell my younger self to take a decade off, have fun, travel around the world, be brave and bite into the pie of life, taking the sour along with the sweet. Even if you’re not producing anything, you’re storing up material that will stand you in good stead further down the line.
I think every true writer knows when the time is right to write, because you feel irresistibly drawn to it. You get to a point where it’s not enough to dream idly of being a writer — you feel compelled to actually write. It’s not that it suddenly becomes easy, that you wake up one day eagerly rubbing your hands together and looking forward to cutting yourself off from the world for long stretches and dealing with all the self-doubt that is a writer’s lot. But you accept that writing involves sacrifice, and you reach a stage where you are prepared to make that sacrifice in order to realise your dream.
At 31, you’re not late starting in the game. In fact my advice would be to have a good long think about it, and wonder if you might not rather start at 41, or 61, or 81. Because life can be more fun if you have something to look forward to, and with writing, you can go on looking forward to it indefinitely. When the legs have packed up, and you can only croak when you try to sing, you can still cling to the dream of telling stories, because age is no barrier in the realm of the imagination. If you want to be a writer, you’re never too old to dream.
- Darren Shan
Comedian Maeve Higgins, author of We Have a Good Time – Don’t We?, writes exclusively for the Easons.com blog on her encounter with Irish literary legend Edna O’Brien at the Irish Book Awards.
They say never meet your heroes. Who’s they? I’ll tell you who they are. They are people who are jealous of me because, on Thursday night, I met Edna O’Brien. She is my hero because she is such an amazing writer. I love her writing. I’m not great at describing why I love something, so I won’t try. I will say that I’m in the middle of her memoir Country Girl at the moment, and everything goes quiet when I read it, which is no easy feat for my poor, jumpy brain.
I was starstruck when I saw her sitting at a table at the Irish Book Awards in a blue dress, looking incredible, looking like an icon. I was there because my book was nominated for best newcomer. I knew I wasn’t going to win it because when I came in, a PR lady who was organising photos took my name, checked her clipboard for it, then her little nose twitched and I knew I wasn’t on the list of people she needed pictures of before the wine. I watched John Banville getting his picture taken for a while, and I admired Katie Taylor’s dress. It was cheetah print with glittery straps, she looked gorgeous. Then I slunk into the venue and hung around the corridor with my friend Domini who was up for best cookery book. She didn’t win, but let me tell you, her macaroni and cheese wins, every time.
Domini and I got separated by a different PR woman. I walked into the hall alone, feeling like it was going to be a long night. That’s when I saw Edna O’Brien and my heart jumped.
I was seated at a table far from her and couldn’t concentrate on my starter. Who cares about chicken salad when Edna O’Brien is so close? Even if it does have those delicious little lardons hidden amongst the leaves.
I thought to myself, hysterically enough, it’s now or never! In fact, I worked myself into quite a state. Sometimes you have to do that, or else you won’t take action and then you’ll regret it.
I stormed across the room, busted into her conversation and told her, clumsily enough, what she meant to me. She was very gracious. She asked me questions and rested her hands on mine as we talked and they were cool and calming. She was funny and astute. She was reserving her energy. Somebody took a photograph. She looks beautiful and cool, my eyes are shining like a three year old who’s finally met Dora the Explorer.
- Maeve Higgins
Since we all want a romantic hero, and they are in short supply, Eileen Gormley (one half of erotic fiction writing duo Evie Hunter) has provided us with a handy “Build Your Own Hero Kit” (BYOHK) so that you can custom-design your own Romance Hero:
It goes without saying that a Romantic Hero (let’s call him RH for short) should be handsome. RH can be recognized by his height – he’s always tall, dark and handsome. He has a chiselled jaw, cheekbones that could be used to slice onions and a noble nose.
While RH’s eyes are always intense and penetrating, the BYOHK comes with a number of options when it comes to eye colour. You can choose from
- Midnight black
If your desired RH is a werewolf or shape-shifter, the BYOHK comes equipped with a ring of amber, silver or gold which fit around the pupils to provide the correct eerie appearance.
RH’s mouth is a clue to his general heroism. It is firmly set, but with an unexpectedly sensual twist. And most important – RH has great teeth and healthy gums. Occasionally, you may come across a bad guy with sharp cheekbones and tumbling locks, but the dental hygiene is always a giveaway. Baddies believe that flossing is for wimps. Vampire RH is extremely particular about mouthwash. Nothing kills a romantic moment like blood breath.
Brian Finnegan, author of The Forced Redundancy Film Club, picks his top five book-to-movie adaptations of all time.
I always approach the film adaptation of a book I love with trepidation. There’s nothing quite as disappointing when the screen version gets it badly wrong, and no matter how you might love a director or certain actors, you can never be guaranteed what you’re going to get. Peter Jackson may have blown us away with his Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but then he went and took the heart out of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones with directorial overkill. Rachael McAdams might have sparkled in the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, but she stank in the shockingly bad movie version of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife.
With good viewing for the avid reader in mind, I’ve picked what I think are the five best book-to-film adaptations of all time. I’d love to hear your suggestions too!
I think Maggie Smith’s performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a thing of genius and beauty. Her portrayal of the tragically and mistakenly idealistic teacher, whose girls are the crème de la crème, not only deliciously brings Muriel Spark’s original character to life, but also adds another layer of loneliness and desperation to her. It’s one of those rare adaptations where the film eclipses the book.
Perhaps The Cider House Rules is a perfect adaptation because the book’s author was allowed to pen the screenplay (whereas he didn’t get the chance to write the mediocre film adaptations of The World According To Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire). Michael Caine’s supporting performance is a big pull, but the greatest thing about The Cider House Rules is that it translates Irving’s narrative voice perfectly into the film medium. The experience of seeing it is exactly the same as reading the book. There are lots of characters and storylines taken out, of course, but instead of missing them, you understand why their omission makes the film even better. It is a modern Dickensian adaptation of a modern Dickensian book.
Long before Downton Abbey thrilled us with stories of upstairs downstairs shenanigans, the Merchant Ivory adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker-winning The Remains Of The Day, scooped up multiple Oscars for its telling of the story of star-crossed love between Stevens, a repressed butler, and Miss Kenton, a hopelessly romantic housekeeper in a Big House – played by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson respectively. Hopkins’ performance invested the upright, traditional Stevens with great humanity, leading to a tear-jerking final scene that failed to move to the same extent in the book.
When L. Frank Baum published The Wizard of Oz in 1900, he didn’t have an inkling how the symbolism he was creating would play out into the popular imagination via the film nearly forty years later. I loved both the book and the film as a child, but for different reasons. The book was pure story, it immersed me in a fantastical world, but the film was more about its parts, rather than the sum of its parts. Judy Garland’s “Over The Rainbow” rendition in sepia close-up; the twister moving over the fields; the ruby slippers appearing on Dorothy’s feet; snow falling on the poppy field; the Wicked Witch of the West writing ‘Surrender Dorothy’ in the sky; the trip from black and white to Technicolor at the beginning and back again at the end; the repeated line: ‘There’s no place like home’ – all of these things make us respond on a deep level to the story, showing us how film can enhance literature, not through a literal adaptation but one that fully understands the author’s intention.
As Alice says at a film club meeting in my novel, The Forced Redundancy Film Club, when they watch To Kill a Mockingbird, the film brings out the bits in between the lines of the book, particularly the children’s sorrow over the loss of their mother. The scene between Gregory Peck and Mary Badham, as Atticus tells Scout that she will get her mother’s jewelry when she grows up, is one I’ve replayed over and over again. It’s as near perfect a scene in a film as I’ve seen, in terms of writing, directing, acting and cinematography. Harper Lee was on set for much of the filming and her presence is almost palpable.
Follow Brian Finnegan on Twitter @finneganba or Facebook: brianfinneganauthor
TV chef Clodagh McKenna shared three fantastic recipes from her latest book, Clodagh’s Kitchen Diaries.
Lemon Roasted Chicken with Olive, Basil & Tomato Sauce and pan-fried Gnocchi
I love Baltazar in NYC – the food and atmosphere are great. This is my version of a delicious dish that I had the last time I was there.
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 supreme chicken fillets, skin on
300g ripe plum tomatoes, halved
1 onion, finely chopped
20 black olives, halved
20 basil leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the marinade. Put 2 crushed garlic cloves in a large bowl with the lemon juice and zest, 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper. Stir well, add the chicken and turn to coat completely. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Put the tomatoes, cut side up, in a roasting tin and sprinkle over the onion, remaining garlic, black olives, basil and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook in the oven for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes have roasted.
Remove the chicken from the fridge and place, skin side down, in a hot frying pan for 3 minutes, turn and cook for a further 2 minutes. Transfer to a roasting tin and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.
Transfer the roasted tomatoes to a blender and whizz until you have a smooth sauce.
Put a frying pan over a medium heat, add the butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil and melt. Tip in the gnocchi, season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing every minute, for 5 minutes until the gnocchi are golden brown.
Spoon a bed of the tomato sauce on a plate, lay the chicken on top and arrange the gnocchi around the chicken.
Crab Cakes with Lime and Tomato Guacamole Continue reading
Bord na Mona has released a book of short stories from the #ShortStoryLongNight Twitter campaign they ran last year. It’s now available in-store and online at Easons.com for €9.99, with a minimum of €4 from each purchase being donated to Focus Ireland. Here, Aisling Cahill from Bord na Mona explains the conception of the book.
Before the book, there was the story.
In a tradition handed down for thousands of years, storytelling has been a way to share information, to teach histories, to instil a sense of right and wrong. Entire communities and tribes have shared stories, each generation adding its own soul to the tale.
Another important tradition is that of gathering by the fire. A source of warmth, comfort and a reason to come together at the end of the day.
And when you put stories and the fireside together? Well, that’s when the magic really happens.
This time last year we in Bord na Móna asked our Twitter followers and Facebook fans to share their own fireside stories with us. Using the hashtag #ShortStoryLongNight, they shared their loves, their laughter and their tears with us.
We had no way of knowing that the spirit of the seanchaí, the tradition of storytelling was still so strong. We were overwhelmed by over 800 stories, and thrilled to be given the opportunity to compile them.
The stories were gathered together, mused over, laughed over and finally curated into the book that has become Short Stories for a Long Night. Beautiful illustrations were added, photographs included and finally the book was made real.
So many of the stories in this book evoke happy memories of nights spent safe and warm at the hearth of the family. It’s something we can all relate to, that feeling of a safe haven, a place to call home.
Sadly, there are many people in Ireland who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless. Men, women and children who rely on the help of Focus Ireland to provide assistance, hot meals, education and support services.
For every copy of Short Stories of a Long Night purchased, a minimum of €4 will be donated to Focus Ireland, helping them to help single men, women and families across Ireland in 2013 and beyond
In Mary McCarthy’s latest novel, After the Rain, the main character discovers she has terminal cancer. Mary wrote it to help her deal with her brother’s death in 2001. Just months before the book’s release in August, Mary herself was diagnosed with the same illness – a tragic case of life imitating art. Here she discusses her experiences writing about a difficult, yet universal, subject.
Certain themes in literature are sexy — dealing with terminal illlness isn’t! So why did I choose this topic to write about in my latest novel? I was coming to grips with my brother’s death in 2001. I couldn’t concentrate on reading or writing — just on my teaching job. Niall had been such a lively energetic person — I couldn’t believe he was struck down so quickly and suddenly from cancer in his mid 50s. Everyone tried to console me or tell me God was good, things happen for a reason etc. Some people didn’t know what to say and even avoided me. So, I realised, this was a subject people tried to shy away from. By nature I am very direct so this frustrated me.
Jane Austen once wrote: “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”. Grand, I thought, I’ll take it on, I’ll deal with death by writing about it and making it the central focus of my new novel. Challenging for me, the reader and for any potential publisher. [Thank you Poolbeg Press!]
Before you all take to the valium, After the Rain is not at all depressing or miserable or pessimistic. Quite the opposite. It’s about a woman faced with her own mortality. Emer Dorgan is traumatised when she’s told she has terminal cancer. So are her family and friends. The novel deals with her journey from shock, anger and denial to acceptance, serenity and grace — and how her loved ones gradually come to terms with her approaching death. It is, unquestionably, the favourite of my five novels and I am proud of it. It has plenty of humour — one-liners abound — wisdom [I hope!] but, above all, it is an affectionate account of a family and a group of friends faced with the reality of the human condition. Grandiose? Not at all.
It is an easy-to-read novel which I hope will keep readers turning the pages. It is peopled with some lovely and lively characters — and some not so lovely. It has other themes: a family rift, a troubled past, social bigotry, love, romance, birth. Many of the characters are comic and most are very likeable. It is set in Dublin, America and Connemara. It could be set anywhere because the themes are universal.
It wasn’t an easy book to write but it was worthwhile and I’m so glad I did. I wrote it to help those who may have to face terminal illness themselves or who love and care for those who are diagnosed. It will help — I know this because it surely has helped me. I was diagnosed this March with terminal cancer myself — secondary cancers cells in the lining of my lung. No primary cancer was found and no tumour. Apparently, by being healthy, I cured myself of the primary and there is no cure for secondary — just containment! So here I am six months later still being contained — my firiends would argue I’ll never be contained! I should live for two years or longer if the treatment continues to work for me. Chemotherapy isn’t easy but it’s keeping me ticking over. Emer, my character succumbed quicker because she was further along in her illness and refused chemotherapy on those grounds. My last scan was good so the oncology team are giving me three months off — hoorah! I can’t believe it. I hope to get more energy back now although I’ll probably never be my “old self” again. However, my attitude is healthy, I’m told. My sense of humour is, thankfully, intact. While I am totally realistic about my situation, I still enjoy life, my friends, my family and my gorgeous dog. I love my life and I wouldn’t change anything — anything.
“Write about what you know” is common advice. I always imagined what I wrote and now what I imagined has become what I know!! You couldn’t make it up — but I did! Fifty Shades of Grey it isn’t but maybe it’s multicoloured? Read After the Rain. It is a genuinely heart-warming, humorous, uplifting novel and all those who have read it say the same. Happy reading and keep smiling.
Life is good!
- Mary McCarthy
Mary McCarthy’s latest novel, After the Rain, is out now, available in Eason stores nationwide and online at Easons.com! If you’d like to hear more about Mary, she will be on The Last Word with Matt Cooper tomorrow evening, Tuesday October 2nd.
Lorraine Pascale shot to fame after showcasing her no-fuss cooking in BBC 2’s prime-time cookery series, ‘Baking Made Easy’. In her latest book – Fast, Fresh and Easy Food – she continues with the theme of simple, yet delicious, recipes. Here, she explains the inspiration for the book.
I’m always being asked about the best way to handle the mid-week meal dilemma – who hasn’t come home at the end of a busy day to a hungry family all wanting to know what’s for supper?
With this in mind, I wanted to create a cookbook that families could turn to when it’s 6pm and there’s nothing on the dinner table – that’s where the inspiration for Fast, Fresh and Easy Food came from.
One of the trickiest things about preparing a meal in a hurry is thinking about accompaniments, so each main dish in the book has a suggested side dish within the recipe. And none of the recipes require chopping and prepping beforehand, just follow the steps and you can prepare it all as you go.
It was important to me that these recipes be perfect for the busy family, easily made by everyone and, most importantly, bursting with flavour. To whet your appetite, here’s a taste of what you can expect: Sticky Asian BBQ Chicken Wings with Sweetcorn Rice and Red Cabbage Slaw, Blackened Cajun Cod Burger with Aioli and Paprika Baked Wedges, followed by delicious Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries.
These recipes were created in my kitchen at home, with the help of my daughter Ella and her friends, so I can confidently say they have been tried, tested and approved!
- Lorraine Pascale
Fast, Fresh and Easy Food is now available in-store or online at Easons.com.
Today’s release of The Mystery of Mercy Close marks the welcome return of two of Irish fiction’s most beloved women: Marian Keyes and her feared and revered heroine Helen Walsh. Earlier this year, Marian followed her 2009 novel The Brightest Star in the Sky with the bestselling cookbook Saved by Cake, in which she wrote frankly about how baking helped her battle clinical depression.
Turns out baking wasn’t the only path she travelled in search of therapeutic pastimes, as she explains in this essay, written exclusively for Easons.com.
Savasanas, Padmasanas and Pranayamas… Oh My!
Did I ever tell you about the time I decided to become a yoga instructor? Only a couple of years ago, it was.
Well, like all women of my age, I’d ‘dabbled’ over the years, I’d done my fair share of ‘experimenting.’ Yoga used to be a thing that only hippies did, but about 15 years ago a new mutated version of yoga started doing the rounds. This yoga wasn’t an adjunct to meditation but a new way to get hard-bodied. It was cripplingly difficult. So difficult that it was okay for even rugby and GAA players to do it. (Although I believe they’ve stopped now.)
This new yoga pretended to be ‘spiritual’ like the old yoga and every class would begin with a wafty speech from the instructor about how you should listen to your body and how you shouldn’t be in competition with anyone around you and it was ‘your practice’ and no-one else’s and everyone would nod in agreement. But in reality I found it horribly competitive and there were times when I’d be holding a pose and the sweat would be pouring off me and I’d feel like I was going to die but I was damned if I was going to give my screaming muscles a break and topple onto the floor and let the girl beside me with the fake-serene look on her face snicker up her sleeve.
People – oh, they can deny it all they like but it’s true – were even competitive about their mats: every now and again someone would show up with a springy new mat in a beautiful colour that you couldn’t get in Ireland and they’d be swanking around, acting all “Oh this old thing?” about it and everyone would be sickened with jealousy and stare at their curly-edged old blue mat with hatred but then they had to get all spiritual and ‘rise above it.’
In a world where vampires, werewolves and dystopian societies reign supreme, authors writing about real problems and relationships in the real world seem few and far between. However, all is not lost! With John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up selling in their thousands, has 2012 heralded the return of the ‘real-lifers’!? We certainly hope so. To celebrate, we asked Ireland’s own Denise Deegan, author of the highly-acclaimed Butterfly Novels, to tell us why she sticks to reality…
Why am I not writing fantasy, like everyone else? Well, I’m a rebel. I like the real world. I like writing about it. I like reading about it. I enjoy my monsters as real life people. Writing stories that happen in the real world, I get to explore things that interest me – like why people do what they do. In the second Butterfly Novel (And For Your Information…), the main character, Sarah, has to go to a psychologist to avoid a criminal record. I loved writing those scenes. There is psychology all the way through the series, just not in such an obvious way.
I love writing about the complexities of friendships. I’m a sucker for romance. I like my leading men. I also like my bad boys. And I love that these are the things that drive my plots. Michelangelo once said that every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I feel the same about my stories. They already exist. I just have to dig them out.
I didn’t plan to write for teenagers. One day, the voice of an angry, sarcastic, but also vulnerable teenager, Alex, came into my head. It wouldn’t leave. I had to find her story, see why she was angry, see what was going to happen next. So I started writing.
That one voice has led to a series of teen books, The Butterfly Novels. They follow the stories of three friends, Alex, Sarah and Rachel. I spend half my life in their world. Sometimes, I get so lost in that world, I forget do things like collect my own kids from school. I’ve been known to answer the front door in tears.
I love my characters. Not just Alex, Sarah and Rachel, but side characters, like Alex’s rock star father, his stylist, Marsha, and bad-boy Louis. Sometimes I like characters more than others – because they develop. In the first book, I didn’t like Sarah so much. She had some growing up to do. She does that in the second novel and I fell in love with her completely.
Each book is from a different point of view. And By The Way… is Alex’s story. And For Your Information… belongs to Sarah. And Actually… is from Rachel’s point of view. What I love about this is that it shows just how different the world is in someone else’s shoes. I want people to read my books and think, “good to know I’m not the only one with friends who let me down” or “I’m not the only one who feels this way” or “OK, so I’m not a freak”.
My books are like my babies. When I send them out into the world, it is like my baby emigrating. When I wrote for adults it was a bit like that, very few people contacted me. Teenagers are different. They contact me on Facebook and Twitter to tell me that they want the series to be made into a movie. Or that they’ve dreamt about the characters. One girl when asked on a date chose to walk on the beach with her dog like Alex and David did in the first novel. Another girl told a driver to move his car from where he’d parked it – in a disabled space. You have no idea how much these mean to me. Writing for teenagers has changed my life.
- Denise Deegan
And Actually… the latest instalment in the Butterfly Novels series is now available in-store and online at Easons.com.