Monthly Archives: October 2014

Flash Friday – ‘The Believer’

Caution Radiation Controlled Area. Creative Commons 2.0 photo by Oleg. Image sourced:

Caution Radiation Controlled Area. Creative Commons 2.0 photo by Oleg.
Image sourced:

The Believer

‘You will not.’ Does he thinks he sounds like God himself? ‘You will not open that door, Brother Benedict.’

‘My lord, the people –‘

Apostates! Serving their just punishment! Do not interfere in Heaven’s work.’

‘Heaven’s work? Condemned to an agonising death?’

‘They made their choice.’ The Prior sniffs, folding his arms across his belly – a belly the people whose screams we can barely hear had a role in filling.

‘My lord, forcing them to sacrifice their last crumbs to the Church at this time of famine? Surely they had no choice?’

‘All must play their part.’ He licks his fat, wet lips.

Murmurs rise from my gathered brothers as I step out of my allotted place. Their prayers rumble to a halt.

I ignore them.

Five strides see me to the door. I rip down the nailed Proclamation and wrench the chamber open. Heat and horror fill me, but one last step, and I am home.


This week’s Flash! Friday prompt was the image above – a rickety-looking door bearing a radiation warning, for those o’ you who can’t make out its teeny-tiny details – a mention of Hallowe’en and Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg, and the necessity to include a monk. So, rather a lot to try to include in a story which has to be sub-160 words! I hope I got the monk bit, the ‘document nailed to a door’ bit, the rebellion bit, and the horror bit, and after that, well. I can do no more.

It’s Hallowe’en, and that means I’ve spent many hours decorating a load of paper bags with seasonal drawings, which I’m about to start filling with sweeties. I do this every year because where I live, there are lots of children, and they descend upon us like a flock of locusts. We have to start planning our tactics for Hallowe’en night some time in August to make sure we’re stocked and as ready as we can get. Every year we buy more stuff, but every year we run out, and I can tell you there’s nothing worse than a kid, all dressed up and full of the joys, coming to your door looking for their treat only for you to say you’ve run out. I really hope it won’t happen again this year! It’s not much fun to have to hide in the dark until they go away – they don’t tend to take offers of sandwiches very well, either.

Anyway. Happy Hallowe’en – feast well, my friends! See you back here tomorrow for a suitably spooky book review, and until then, Blessed Be…

One of my designs for my Hallowe'en goodie bags! OoooOOoooooOOO...

One of my designs for my Hallowe’en goodie bags! OoooOOoooooOOO…

NaNo’s a-comin’…

Some of you may remember that, last year, I took part in (and ‘won’) NaNoWriMo. First time out, too. (Not that I’m bragging, or anything). I wrote about it in this fancy little article here, and this exhilarated post is the one in which I announced that I’d managed to bring the dang thing in on time, and under budget.

Image: Sourced via Google Images

Sourced via Google Images

I did promise y’all that NaNo 2013 wouldn’t be the last you’d hear of Emmeline, and I’ve made good on that. The book I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year turned out to be the one I’ve spent much of the last few months polishing, drafting, redrafting, editing, and tweaking, and it’s the one which made a splash in the world of querying, and it’s the one which convinced my agent to sign on the dotted line. And all this was done with an idea which I hadn’t even had this time last year. That blows my mind. When I think about Emmeline and Thing (the characters in my NaNoWriMo novel, which now has a much fancier title), I think about them in terms of always having been in my life. I can’t believe there was ever a time when I didn’t know and love them, and when their story hadn’t been told.

But there was, and it wasn’t all that long ago.

Today – hopefully, if my nerve holds – I’ll be sending back my book to my lovely, kind agent. It will be the fourteenth draft of Emmeline and Thing’s story. Overall,  it’s largely similar to the draft I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year – structurally, for instance, it has remained the same. One character has been removed by dint of blending him into another, and turning the two into one person (this was ridiculously easy, which shows very clearly that they should never have been two people to begin with). The opening three or four pages, which I wrote in a fit of furious scribbling, longhand, with a pen, have remained largely the same after fourteen edits as they appeared in the first draft. Thing’s voice and sense of humour have survived intact, and much of his dialogue appears now just as it did the first time I wrote it. Emmeline has been nuanced a bit more; for some reason, her logical, analytical and seemingly cold little persona didn’t come across as well as I wanted it to on the page, and so I’ve worked a bit harder on bringing her out a bit more, polishing her gently and making her shine, and now I think she’s fit to stand beside her fellow adventurer. I love them both.

However, I harbour a very deep fear that this book is the best one I will ever write, and that after this there is no more in the tank. This is despite the fact that I have drafts of three other books already written, and ideas for about six more, saved in my Scribblings file – but Emmeline’s tale is different. It has absorbed me like nothing else. It is the book I would tell people to read if they didn’t know me, and they wanted to find out what sort of person I am. It has everything I’ve ever loved in it, up to and including dogsleds. (Dogsleds!) It has given me more imaginative freedom than anything else I’ve ever done.

And it all came out of one spark of inspiration, one cold and dark October morning, nearly exactly a year ago.

If I hadn’t done NaNoWriMo last year, I may have written Emmeline’s story anyway, sometime. But who’s to say it would have turned out like this? NaNoWriMo made me write it, and write it fast, and get it out without over-thinking things, and I firmly believe that’s the reason it worked the way it did. I can’t say it would be like this for everyone who tries it – I suppose you’d need a particular spark of inspiration first – but all I can say is, NaNoWriMo worked wonders for me.

However – and I hate myself for saying it – I won’t be doing it this year.

Mainly, this is because of the rules of NaNoWriMo; you’re not permitted to work on an idea which you’ve worked on before, because the point of the exercise is to start from scratch and write a first draft, and I totally respect that. There’s nothing brewing in my ideas-tank that I feel strongly enough about to set off into a first draft with – what I want to do once Emmeline has gone back to my agent is work on one of my already-drafted ideas, and I won’t use NaNo for that. Having said that, I had no intention of writing Emmeline’s story until NaNo was upon me, so maybe an idea will explode into being that I simply have to write between now and Saturday – but I’m not expecting lightning to strike twice. I would strongly recommend you give it a go, though, if you’ve ever even considered taking part – it was challenging, and it was tough, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, writing-related or not.

Here’s the link. Go sign up. Do it! And let me know how you get on…



This morning, as I lay approximately one-eighth awake wishing I didn’t have to get up and face a cold, dark day, I found myself thinking about a picture book idea. It involved a witch with an itch and a crooked wand, and it was (at least, to me) very funny. I created the story as I went, imagining the illustrations and enjoying how my witchy character grew more and more exasperated as things went on – and it was huge fun, even if I had to get up before I finished it.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

I’m not a person who wants to write picture books, particularly. Besides the classics, I haven’t even read very many picture books, and it’s something I keep meaning to remedy (the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen, in case you’re interested, is Journey by Aaron Becker, which should be checked out immediately by everyone). I think a good picture book is a thing so difficult to pull off that it’s practically impossible, and I feel it’s beyond the scope of my skills – but my mind still decided to explore an idea for one while in a hypnopompic state.

The reason for this? I love stories for children. I love them so much that I think about them even when, all told, my brain would rather be unconscious. I think about them even when I’m supposed to be grown-up and thinking about other things like bills and taxes and the economy and politics and other stuff I know nothing about. Yesterday, I was unwell – sore throat, fuzzy head, sniffles, and a serious case of the ‘OhPoorMes’ – and as well as taking plenty of fluids and as much rest as I’d let myself away with, I self-medicated with stories. I read Howl’s Moving Castle, just because there’s a scene in it where Howl the wizard has a cold and makes everyone suffer because he’s a crybaby. I feel better today, and I’m sure the paracetamol in the medicine I took made a big difference to the state of my health, but I know that reading did the rest.

Once, I met a lady who had written a book for children. She wasn’t sure what age range, particularly; she thought perhaps children from twelve and up, because there were things like war and slavery and family breakdown in her story (it was historical fiction). However, its word count was way too low for this age range, being more suited to children between five and eight. She was shocked to learn that twenty thousand words wouldn’t create a book long enough for her target audience, and even more shocked when I asked her what her favourite children’s book was. ‘I don’t read children’s books’, she told me, half-laughing at the very idea. ‘I’m more of a romance fan, myself.’ She paused, frowning slightly as she thought about it. ‘In fact, I really wanted to write this story as a romance about one of the older characters, and I’m not really sure why I wrote it this way,’ she said, looking confused.

And I thought: Why don’t you write romances, then? If that’s your heartsong, why aren’t you singing it?

I wouldn’t tackle a picture book not because I don’t enjoy them, but because I’m not immersed in that world. I’m not obsessed with picture books, with the making and creating of them; I’m not expert in the field (and if you think there’s ‘nothing to making a picture book’, then I invite you to try to make one). I love books for older children – they are what I read, what I love, what I admire. I haven’t read everything, because there is only so much money and time in the world, but I’d like to think I have a fairly broad exposure. Stories about adventure, and friendship, and challenging the odds, and fighting evil, and finding parents, and learning to live without parents, and learning what it is to be an individual, and how to trust yourself, are what my heart sings. That’s why those are the stories I write, too.

Writing involves a lot of different skills, all interconnected, but one of the most important is this: knowing what your heartsong is. Knowing how to be still and listen to yourself, and hear the whisper of the story that lies curled up inside you waiting to unfurl. It doesn’t sing with a very loud voice, sometimes, particularly if you’ve never tried to listen to it before, but it is there. If you can gently encourage it – and not drown it with thoughts like ‘I can’t write a story like this, it’s stupid/silly/inappropriate/unreadable/wrong‘ – perhaps you’ll be lucky and it will grow stronger, and clearer. Let it grow whatever way it wants – don’t try to force it to go one way, or another. Give it space and time and freedom, and allow yourself to astound yourself.

Read widely – particularly within the genre in which you’re writing, but not exclusively. Learn how stories work by reading how other people do them. Don’t write something in a particular way because you feel you ‘should’; write it whatever way it wants to be written. Become a reader before you become a writer. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t write to markets. Learn to listen carefully, particularly to yourself.

Write what you love.

Love what you write.

And let your heartsong burst forth, loud and clear.




Book Review Saturday – ‘A Crack in Everything’

Ruth Frances Long’s A Crack in Everything, published by O’Brien Press, is wonderfully, authentically, full-bloodedly Irish, and I really liked that aspect of it. Set in Dublin, and its faerie equivalent of Dubh Linn (pronounced ‘Dove Lin’, and literally meaning ‘Black Pool’, this is the Irish word which became the name ‘Dublin’; however, the Irish for Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath, which means ‘Town of the Fording Place’, as far as I remember – Ireland’s a complicated place, all right?), A Crack in Everything is the kind of book you can taste and smell as well as read, if you’re at all familiar with the city.



The story introduces us to Izzy (Isabel) Gregory, who lives with her parents in a Dublin suburb. She has friends, she is into music, she has a part-time job in a coffee shop and she loves ‘town’ – as most people who live in the Dublin area refer to the city centre. One afternoon as she strolls through the streets, she is captivated by a beautiful piece of graffiti, an angel painted on a wall (which did actually exist in reality; I often saw it myself!), but as she is sucked into the power of the image, she finds herself being assaulted. She had noticed herself being followed by someone whom she took to be a homeless man, and it is he who shoves her against the wall and steals her phone – but then, before Izzy’s eyes, he vanishes into thin air. As Izzy struggles to get her phone back, she finds herself drawn into a different world, one which exists side-by-side with the human one, but peopled with entirely different Dubliners. The ‘homeless man’ is no such thing – he is a member of the Sídhe (pronounced ‘Shee’), the fairy-folk of Irish lore and legend, and another member of the Sídhe, Jinx, comes to Izzy’s aid. Thus begins a fast-paced, emotional story which takes in the Sídhe, angels and demons, magic and myth and the fate of the universe itself – all of which hangs on Izzy’s being brave enough to face up to her true identity, her role as more than a mere teenage girl, and her ability to deal with her complicated feelings for Jinx who – as a newly-acquired voice in her head keeps telling her – cannot be trusted.

But when he keeps saving her life, and she keeps saving his, it starts to get harder and harder to believe that. And who, or what, is the voice in her head – and why is it trying to control Izzy’s body?

Dublin – and Dubh Linn – as a setting for this novel adds so much to the story. It really couldn’t have been set anywhere else. Landmarks take on new significance, and the particular streetscape of Dublin city comes alive. Alleyways and rat-runs which are familiar to me become, in this novel, doorways to the Otherworld (I always suspected as much anyway, to be honest), and it was so much fun to imagine yourself in the world of the book as you read. Even if you don’t know Dublin well, or at all, though, you can still read and enjoy this book. It’s very much set in a particular place, but the power behind it is one which anyone can relate to – the loss of loved ones, the uncovering of deeply buried family secrets, the realisation that you are not what you thought you were and that your family is not what you’ve been raised to think it is, and the shouldering of new and onerous burdens – and the twisty, complex and satisfyingly interconnected plot should satisfy any reader.

I’m not big on books with grand passions in them, so I wasn’t too bothered with Izzy and Jinx’s love story (it’s not a spoiler to say so, because it’s telegraphed from the first moment she sees him), and I did tire a bit of Jinx being described as ‘lean’ or ‘lithe’ or ‘hard-bodied’ or ‘muscular’ or whatever every three pages, but he’s an interesting and complex character, and the tattoos and piercings which are so much a part of his ‘look’ are interestingly woven into his identity, and I did like that. There were places when I felt the book could have been tightened up a little (but perhaps that’s because I primarily read children’s books, which move at a breakneck pace!) and where I felt description was overdone, but in general I enjoyed A Crack in Everything. I liked the fact that so many of the central characters are women – and powerful, kick-ass women at that – and the seamless, intelligent use of Irish myths, brought cleverly into the twenty-first century (I particularly enjoyed the use of an electric guitar as a modern-day harp). It builds well to a frenetic conclusion, and even though it is the first volume in a series its story is perfectly wrapped up and brought to a solid conclusion, while still laying the foundation for the next book.

If you’re into emotionally wrenching YA love stories, and/or mythology and folklore, and/or Ireland and its history, and/or kickass heroines, then give this book a whirl.

Flash Friday – ‘The Travelling Show’

Mr. Hydrick, county supervisor, and Mr. Melody Tillery examining mouth and teeth of his mare, which has mule colt. Pike County, near Tray, Alabama. Public domain photo by Marion Post Walcott. Image sourced:

Mr. Hydrick, county supervisor, and Mr. Melody Tillery examining mouth and teeth of his mare, which has mule colt. Pike County, near Tray, Alabama. Public domain photo by Marion Post Walcott.
Image sourced:

The Travelling Show

‘All right, Peggy girl. Sssh, now. Jus’ let the nice man examine ya.’

‘Is she normally this restive, Mr Appletree?’

‘Nah, Mr Kleeman, sir. She jus’ gets nervous around strangers, y’know?’

‘She looks in pretty poor condition, sir.’

‘Bin doin’ my best, Mr Kleeman. It’s hard, these days. Audiences are down. I’m on my knees.’

‘It’s difficult for everyone, Mr Appletree. But if this beast is suffering, I will have her destroyed, asset or no.’

‘Aw, come on –’

‘Look, let’s not drag this out. Wedge her jaws, please.’

‘Her teeth are fine, man.’

‘They’ll pass. She’s not as shiny as she could be.’

‘Who is, these days?’

‘Tail and mane a little lacklustre, too. Now – the wings. A bit tattered, maybe?’

‘She’s bin workin’, Mr Kleeman. It takes a toll.’

‘Right. Well, look. I’ll recommend she stays with the show, for now, but I’ll be back next month. And tell me, for the paperwork, is she ‘Peggy’ or ‘Pegasus’?’


This week’s Flash! Friday challenge was tough (hence the late blog post!) I had another story all ready to go, and then at the last moment I decided it sucked (it really did), so I decided I’d go and have breakfast and see if that helped the thinking process. Who knew? It did. The idea for this story came to me as I stirred my pot of porridge, and I had to come right back to my computer and get it down before I forgot it. (Don’t worry – I took the porridge off the heat first). I didn’t intend to write it all in dialogue, but that’s just the way it came out. Maybe I’ll try to rework the other story, too, and pull a twofer this week again – watch this space…

It’s been a long week. I’m tired. There’s a Bank Holiday coming up on Monday, which I fully intend to enjoy, and after that it’ll be time to get ‘Emmeline’ back where she belongs, i.e. in the hands of my agent. I’ve also got three stories in the publication pipeline (technically, four, but one’s on semi-permanent hiatus), and lots of other stuff to keep me busy, so there won’t be much time for gallivanting over the next few weeks. And then there’s Halloween to prepare for! Gadzooks, but it never ends.

Have a happy Friday, and I hope to see you throw your name in the hat over on Flash! Friday this week. Go on – give the judge something to chew on. Tune in tomorrow for a book review, and I’ll see you back here next week. But, for now, it’s goodbye from me, and it’s goodbye from this guy…


Hullo! I mean… Goodbye!

Write on, my lovelies. Write on.

Travels with a Gargoyle

Hullo, everybody. I’m Cuthbert.

How d'you do!

How d’you do!

No – don’t run away! Wait. I’m quite nice, really, even though I am a gargoyle. The truth cannot be hid in the matter of my appearance, sadly, but the soul within the body is what’s important. Right? Anyway, I’ve lived with the human who writes this blog for years and years now, and I’m very important.

How important, I hear you ask?

This important.



Yes. That’s me – hello again! – and my buddy Buddha (geddit?) in our roles as guardians of our human’s Terry Pratchett collection. I’m not sure if you know how much our human loves Terry Pratchett, but let me just tell you it’s a lot. A whole lot. Probably more than she loves anything, except maybe that other tall human who we sometimes see lumbering about the place talking about server arrays and bandwidth and static ISPs (no, I don’t understand any of it, either). They seem to be fairly fond of one another, though.

Not that we’re jealous. Are we, Buddha?


Anyway, I’m taking over the blog today because my human has ‘run out of brain space’ – or, at least, that’s what she tells me. Lots to do, she says, and no time to do it, and so she asked me if I’d take her lovely readers on a quick tour of her bookshelves. She and the tall human got some new ones at the weekend, y’see, and they’re ever so proud of them. There used to be piles of books all over the place – reminded me rather a lot of that dusty old tower I used to live in back in the day, lots of bells ringing if I remember – nope, it’s gone. Clean forgot the name! I’m sure it’ll come back to me. Anyhow, the piles of books lying around looked rather pretty, but my human and her human got a bit down in the mouth about all the mess, so they moved some stuff around and now they have more space for books! And that’s wonderful, of course.

(I just hope they don’t adopt any more gargoyles. One gargoyle per household is plenty, don’t you think?)

Here’s the first wonderful thing about the new bookshelves.



My human loves this lady, Frances Hardinge, nearly as much as she loves Terry Pratchett. But before – you remember, when all the books were piled around the floor – her Frances Hardinge books were all over the place. She could never find them when she wanted them. But now, look! They all live together happily on one shelf, and whenever my human sees them snuggling up together like this, she actually claps.

It’s embarrassing, really. But we put up with it, Buddha and me, because we’re loyal guardians. Also, we’re very patient.

Here’s a bigger view of two of the new sets of shelves. Can you imagine that, once upon a time, all these books were on the floor? It was very hazardous for little people creatures, like Buddha. Not me, though – I’m far too tough to be squished by books.

Still, though. It’s nice to have them neatly placed. High up. Where they won’t fall over.

I included myself for scale. D'you see me? Helloo!

I included myself for scale. D’you see me? Helloo!

But my human’s favourite new thing is this:

Me with some silly book. I don't know. Humans are weird.

Me with some silly book. I don’t know. Humans are weird.

This book (the one facing out, I mean, which I’m taking extra care to guard because that’s how I roll, okay) was a present, she says, from someone very lovely and important, and now that there’s loads of space, she can put it in pride of place.

I don’t know. It’s a book about some island called Tasmania, right? But it’s not a book about gargoyles. I don’t see how it could possibly be interesting, but then my human is a pretty weird creature, so we have to make allowances for that.

Well, that’s about it from me. I hope you enjoyed this little tour of my human’s bookshelves! It was great to meet you all, and remember – no home is complete without a gargoyle. Just sayin’.

(You can’t have me, of course. I’m taken. Just so you know. But there are loads of others who are just waiting to be loved… I mean, employed. As book-guardians and confidantes. And things.We’re multi-functional, you know? Definitely not just pretty faces. If you like the sound of bells, even better…)




Wednesday Writing – ‘The Discovery’

Photo by Drew Geraets Sourced at:

Photo by Drew Geraets
Sourced at:

The Discovery

‘Are you all right there?’ The Garda’s large hand catches me, tight as a clamp, just as I stumble on a loose rock.

‘Thanks,’ I say, steadying myself. I glance up at him, but he’s looking at my feet, frowning. ‘Should’ve worn better shoes!’ I wince at my own words. Now he’ll think you’re a mindless flake, I tell myself. Typical woman, only concerned about her bloody footwear.

‘Ah, sure it’s hard to know what to be wearing, up here,’ he mutters, blinking at the sky. ‘It’s different every day. Hiking boots mightn’t be enough some days, and others you could trot up here barefoot.’ He looks back at me. ‘You’re all right, now?’

‘Thanks,’ I nod, and he lets go of my arm. He wasn’t using force, but my flesh throbs anyway, like I’m bruised.

I take in a deep breath, trying to swallow.

‘We’ll ring your mother, now, as soon as there’s anything to report. All right?’ He’s keeping a respectful distance, hands in the pockets of his luminous jacket. ‘Mightn’t be signal for the mobiles up here on the bog, but we’ll do our best.’

‘Right,’ I tell him, hoping that it’s the police who’ll be talking to Mam, if and when there’s anything to say. They’ll hardly expect me to, will they?

‘Is she keeping well, anyway?’ He pauses. ‘Your mam, I mean,’ as if I wouldn’t have known who he meant.

‘Ah, well. You know. As good as can be expected.’ I’ve always hated that phrase. My mother’s doing fairly well, all things considered. Better than me, maybe. It should be her up here, walking this rough-cut path, other than she said she wouldn’t be able for it. She insisted I go, instead, and made the Gardaí change their normal procedures, just for her. They complied, because everyone says ‘yes’ to Mam.

‘It’d be great, now, if we could find a few answers for her,’ the Garda mutters. ‘Let her spend the rest of her days with a bit of peace.’

‘She’s hardly on her deathbed,’ I tell him, a bit more sharply than I mean to.

‘God, no,’ he says, quickly, turning to me with his eyes wide. ‘I only -‘

‘It’s my poor father needed the peace. He could never accept that Gillian was -‘ I still can’t bring myself to say dead. Murdered. I clear my throat and carry on. ‘He always thought she’d be found, you know. Without her memory, maybe. Kept in captivity, or something. It destroyed him. But Mam? It’s like she knew, from the beginning.’

‘Mothers have that sort of instinct, though, don’t they.’ He kicks a sharp-edged rock out of my path.

‘Shame her mothering instinct wasn’t as strong,’ I say, mostly to myself. The Garda lets on he hasn’t heard me, but I see a twitch around his mouth as he clenches his jaw.

‘Here we are, now,’ he says, his voice soft, as we crest the hill. The peaty, rocky path we’ve been walking on turns into churned-up muck, tyre tracks and footprints everywhere. He leads me off to one side where temporary flooring’s been laid down across the boggy surface. A hundred yards away, yellow, flapping security tape is tied in a rough triangle around a patch of ground. It flicks at my vision like a hook dangling in front of a fish, but I refuse to look.

So many people. All these cars. Lots of high-vis overcoats and muttered conversations, and nobody – no matter how much they want to, and how badly the air crackles with their need to – not one person looks over at me. I float through them like a ghost, the Garda at my side.

There’s a folding table at the end of the plywood walkway covered with large plastic boxes, white, with tight-fitting lids. He leads me towards them and my knees start to soften. His vice-hand is around my arm again.

‘If you’re not able,’ he says, ‘nobody is going to mind. All right, Gráinne? You just say, now, and we can go back down. We can just wait for the DNA tests to come back, and you can put all this behind you.’

I shake my head. It’s too late. I’m here.

‘No,’ I manage to say. ‘I have to find out. For Mam.’ She’ll be less than pleased, otherwise.

He nods. ‘Take your time, so. You give me the nod, when you’re ready. All right?’ I close my eyes. They’re swimming in a thick layer of hot tears, which overflow and run down my cheeks. They start to sting in the cold breeze.

‘Right,’ I say, half-whispering. ‘Now, before I talk myself out of it.’

The Garda gestures at a colleague and she unseals the nearest box. I blink and look into it, and sitting there in a neat plastic bag are a pair of tiny T-bar sandals, still mostly red. One of them even has the plastic flower attached. I remember the day they were bought for her, and how hard I cried.

‘Good Christ,’ I hear, vaguely, and the Garda catches me, lowering me gently to the ground. He shouts for help, and someone brings over a blanket and a flask. They get me sitting up and I stay there, staring at the forest across the way, watching the trees dance, until the cup of steaming tea in my hand turns cold.

‘Gráinne,’ I hear, and I turn to see the Garda crouched beside me, a mobile phone in his hand. ‘We’ve been trying to get your Mam for ages, now, but she’s not answering. Will you give it a go, instead? Maybe she’ll talk to you?’

My mother knew, all along, that this day would come, I want to tell him. She won’t be answering the phone to me, or anyone, ever again.

But I take the phone and dial her number anyway, and he holds my hand as gently as a child.




Say What?

It’s no surprise to most of you that I am an Irishwoman, married to an Irishman. You’d think – Ireland being such a small place – that we would, therefore, speak the same language.

Not so.

Often, in conversation, I will say something which will cause my husband to stare at me, confused, and I’ll have to pick my way back through my words until I find the stitch I dropped – the phrase or saying that I carelessly flung into my chatter which he has never heard before and doesn’t understand. We grew up in opposite ends of the country and so some of the things I say as second nature are (or, I suppose, were, as we’ve been together quite some time now!) alien to his ears. The other evening we were talking about some of these phrases and I had so much fun remembering them that I thought ‘there’s a blog post in this.’

So, for your delectation, here are a few of the phrases I grew up saying, and their definitions. Unfortunately most of the funnier phrases I learned as a youngster can’t be included here as they contain incredible, eye-watering levels of obscenity – but I hope these will do, instead.

Photo Credit: anadelmann via Compfight cc  A typical sight in Ireland - a number plate (license plate) from the county of Clare (as evidenced by the CE in the middle) attached to the back of a tractor with a pair of clamps. This, of course, is wildly illegal. That doesn't mean you won't see it everywhere you go in the country.

Photo Credit: anadelmann via Compfight cc
A typical sight in Ireland – a number plate (license plate) from the county of Clare (as evidenced by the CE in the middle) attached to the back of a tractor with a pair of clamps. This, of course, is wildly illegal. That doesn’t mean you won’t see it everywhere you go in the country.

Blackguard, n. Pronounced ‘blaggard’, this word has its origins in the earliest days of Hiberno-English, and like a lot of words which are still used in Ireland it probably came from the days of colonial rule by Britain originally. Once upon a time it would have been the vilest insult imaginable, commensurate with ‘outlaw’, ‘scoundrel’ or ‘ruffian’, but now it’s basically the name my parents spent most of my childhood shouting after my brother and me. ‘Come here you little blackguards till I redden yiz!’ was a typical phrase around our house, c. 1987-1997. It can also mean you have a weakness for something – i.e. ‘I’m an awful blackguard for the drink.’

Cat-melodeon,adj. I’m not actually sure of the spelling of this word as I’ve only really heard it, rather than seen it written. It’s the word my grandfather used to use when my brother and cousins and I, as children, were making a mess of his house or running around screaming our heads off, as kids are wont. It’s a word which means ‘noise’, ‘uproar’ or ‘chaos’, but I always associate it with my granddad, all six feet four of him, standing in the back door screaming that if we didn’t stop this cat-melodeon, there’d be trouble. That was usually enough to shut us up for a while.

Come here to me, phr. This is one of those Irish sayings that you don’t take literally. If someone says ‘Come here to me,’ what they’re really saying is ‘listen.’ You can use this phrase while on the phone with someone, so all it’s really saying is ‘I am talking to you.’ If you obeyed literally, and came over to the person who said it to you, they’d look at you like you were a gobshite (see below).

Fizzog,  n. I am from a part of Ireland which was heavily influenced by the Norman, as well as the Viking, invasions. A lot of words and family names in my part of Ireland are therefore taken from French, and fizzog (along with its related term vizzard, see below) is one of those. Clearly a derivative of the French visagefizzog basically means ‘face’, but used mainly in a pejorative sense. So, if you were in a bad mood, someone might say to you ‘What’s the fizzog on you for?’, which means ‘Why the long face?’ or ‘You’ve some fizzog on you,’ which means, in a roundabout backhanded way, ‘cheer up.’

Gobshite, n. Probably the Hiberno-English word most non-Irish people are familiar with, ‘gobshite’ means ‘idiot’. It can also be used affectionately – ‘Ah, you’re only an old gobshite,’ – and it’s not a terribly hurtful or serious term of abuse. One hears it a hundred times a day here. Literally, it means ‘mouthful of excrement,’ but we won’t dwell on that.

I’ll give you who-ate-the-biscuits, phr. Basically, this means ‘That’ll be the end of it, now!’ If you’re fighting with someone, or having a heated discussion, and your opponent feels they have the better of you, this phrase is one they’d use to alert you to the fact that they are about to lay a smackdown upon you from which you have no chance of recovery. See also that’ll put the tin hat on it, below.

I will, yeah, phr. In my part of the country, ‘I will, yeah,’ most definitely means ‘no’. It’s a bit confusing, I’ll grant, but it’s all about intonation. You need to sneer it, rather than say it, leaning heavily on the word ‘will’. ‘You wouldn’t go to the shop for me, would you?’ ‘I will, yeah.’ ‘Right, you little gobshite. I’ll go myself, so!’

Latchiko, n. A thoroughly unpleasant person, or a delinquent child. Possibly derived from ‘latch’, as in a ‘latchkey-kid’, or a child who lets themselves into the house after school because nobody is there to welcome them home (due, probably, to the fact that their parents are in the pub). My dad used this of me a lot as a youngster, which is why I’m such an upstanding member of the community today.

Quare/Quare’n, adj., adv. This is a term you’ll hear at least a hundred times an hour when you spend any time in the South-East of Ireland, where I grew up. ‘Quare’ and ‘Quare’n’ basically mean ‘very’, and are used as an intensifier. ‘It’s quare warm.’ ‘Yer man over there is a quare’n eejit.’ ‘I’m quare’n hungry.’ It can also be used, roughly, to mean ‘strange’: ‘He’s a quare card’ means ‘he’s a unusual fellow.’ When I was a teenager, it also functioned as a one-word answer to most questions. ‘Do you want to go to the beach?’ ‘Quare’n!’ I love this word. It’s in my DNA.

Slob/Sloblands, n. Basically, ‘slob’ means ‘muck.’ The Sloblands is a part of my home county in which a bird sanctuary has been established; essentially, it’s a marsh, hence the name. I love the fact that words in Ireland look like they mean one thing and end up meaning something totally different – we’re a tricksy folk, that way.

Sure lookit, phr. This one is used a lot in the southern part of my home county. It basically means ‘what can you do?’ and is used to end discussions and conversations on a fairly neutral tone. If you were talking about the atrocious weather and it had gone on a bit too long, someone would drop ‘Sure lookit’ or ‘Ah, sure lookit’ into the conversation, and that’s a clear indicator that no more can be said on the topic. Usually muttered with a laboured, painful tone and martyred-looking eyes.

That’ll put the tin hat on it, phr. Basically, this means ‘that’ll be the end of that’, or ‘I can’t see how anything further could possibly be said/done to improve this situation.’ For example, whenever another tax is levied by the government, people mutter: ‘That’ll put the tin hat on it, now. People won’t stand for much more of this!’ But then we give up mumbling and just get on with it. Sure lookit.

Tundish, n. My father uses this word when most other people would use ‘funnel.’ I never knew that it was an unusual word until one day I tried to use it at school and people looked at me like I was an alien, so it’s clearly a word that is used mainly within my family. Apparently, it’s a word which was used in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and it originally comes from Middle English. So there.

Vizzard, n. See ‘fizzog’, above. ‘Vizzard’ has the same etymology, but it means something slightly different. A vizzard is a mask, and when we were young it meant a Halloween mask, specifically. Essentially, it’s something that covers the face or which purports to be a face. Sometimes, rarely, it can be used in place of ‘fizzog’, but this isn’t a normal usage.

You’ve a head on you like Pontius Pilate’s horse/ a face on you like a full moon in a fog, phr. I’m not sure if these are local colloquialisms so much as sayings that are unique to my family, but in either case, nobody is really sure what they mean and they are among the worst insults you can pay to another living human. I have no idea why Pontius Pilate’s horse had such a disagreeable head (perhaps because Pilate wasn’t the most popular of fellows), or what, exactly, a full moon in a fog looks like, but you want to be sure your face doesn’t resemble one. One can pretty much use the construction ‘You’ve a head on you like…’ or ‘You’ve a face on you like…’ with anything, e.g. ‘You’ve a head on you like a sprouting potato’. Try it!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-dictionary. Let me know if any of these phrases sound familiar to you, or if there are things you say in your part of the world which are meaningful to you, for whatever reason. I love words, me!















Just Another Boring Old Week in Writer-Ville…

So, wow.

Did the world spin a little off its axis last week, or what? I’m sure nobody missed the rather unusual goings-on in the world of letters over the past few days, but just in case: we had one hugely influential, massively popular and extremely famous writer making some ill-advised and (to my mind) criminally stupid comments on child pornography, and another who described, without remorse, how she had systematically tracked and stalked a blogger who gave her book a poor review. I can’t comment on the first story for fear I lose my reason completely – anyone who was in my company when I first read about it will testify to my spitting rage – but I watched the latter story unfold with growing incredulity; as a blogger who regularly writes book reviews, and a writer with aspirations to a career in words, the issues raised go to the heart of everything I love.

Photo Credit: isayx3 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: isayx3 via Compfight cc

I have written many book reviews. Some of them have been gushing, and some of them have not. Some have barely found so much as an errant piece of punctuation to criticise, and some have dissected a book’s shortcomings in detail. However, I always try to find something good about every book I review, and if a book is truly terrible I have one simple rule: don’t review it. Whether a review is good or bad, I don’t tend to draw the author’s attention to it – if they happen to see it, then that’s fair enough, but the chances of it happening are small. I don’t think it’s fair or kind to Tweet a link to an author, particularly if the review is less than stellar, or find their (publicly available, I should point out!) email address and copy it to them; it’s like playground taunting. Even if I have loved a book with every shred of my soul and my review makes that perfectly clear, I still won’t directly contact an author to say ‘Look! Look! Here’s how much I loved your work!’ – it’s not professional, or respectful of an author’s time or personal space. They don’t exist merely to write books and talk about them to fans – they are people with lives and families, and it’s important not to forget that.

I don’t know the blogger with whom this particular author had her falling-out; to be quite honest, I had never heard of the author before last Saturday, either, despite the fact that she writes YA books. Her book (to date, she has published one novel, with a follow-up due out in early 2015) has, I’ve since seen, received polarised reviews on Goodreads, with some people absolutely loving it and others most assuredly not. Since this story broke, some people have taken an ideological standpoint and given her poor star-ratings simply because of her behaviour, though, which I also believe is misguided. A star rating should reflect the quality of the book, not the reviewer’s feelings about its author. An author’s work stands apart from the author themselves; disapproval or dislike of one doesn’t mean disapproval or dislike of the other, necessarily. The good reviews for this book are intriguing, but it doesn’t sound like the kind of story I’d enjoy, and so chances are I won’t read it. But I know from some of this author’s journalistic work that she can write with power and fluency, and that she can craft a compelling argument, and it’s beyond doubt that she is a talented and intelligent woman.

So why, I found myself asking, did she feel she had the right to take her dissatisfaction with this particular reviewer to such extremes? Without rehashing the linked article, above, the author – no matter what the blogger is alleged to have done – trampled all over the lines of acceptable behaviour in her quest to find out the ‘truth’ about the person who had disliked her book.  And for what? Acres of headlines, sure, and plenty of traffic in the gossip columns of the internet. But what does it say about the relationship between authors and bloggers, most of whom blog about books and book reviews purely for the love of it and the desire to drive enthusiasm for reading? Nothing good, I’d wager.

I have been contacted on a few occasions by authors after I reviewed one of their books. A lot of the time, these contacts take the form of a mention on Twitter or a quick message of thanks. Once, an author took the time to send me an email (and this was after I reviewed her work in not entirely favourable terms) to thank me for the thoughtful way I had handled her book, not only the bits I enjoyed but also the bits I didn’t. I was charmed, and moved, that such a highly-regarded and talented person had taken the time to write to me personally in such a generous way. I would hate to see that sort of two-way exchange broken, the mutual respect that exists (or should exist) between writers and reviewers, but to keep it healthy, work is needed on both sides of the equation. Reviews shouldn’t be personal, or spiteful, or focused on the author. They should focus solely on the work, on how it can be made better, on what was (objectively) ‘good’ and ‘bad’ about it, highlighting – if possible – the good. They shouldn’t luxuriate in snide remarks or be written in such a way as to make the author feel bad about themselves – and I’ve seen reviews just like that. If you wouldn’t say it to the author’s face, why say it online? At the same time, if an author comes across a bad review, they really should take the advice of everyone and just not engage with the reviewer. Not at all. Not even to say ‘thanks for reading’. If there’s anything constructive in the review, take it; leave the rest, and walk away. Not everyone is going to like your book, particularly if (as seems to be the case with this author’s work) it’s a little on the unusual side. Embrace the fact that you’re writing for a select audience, and hold your head high.

Let’s all try to remember to be nice, right? Let’s put compassion front and centre. Meet hostility with kindness – or, if you can’t manage kindness, then try respectful silence. And let’s not use the great power of the web to stalk and harass one another. Above all, let writers keep writing, and readers keep reading, and maybe we’ll realise eventually that we’re all on the same team, here.

Happy new week, my loves.



Book Review Saturday – ‘Beyond the Stars’

Beyond the Stars is a unique book, insofar as it’s a collection of short stories from eleven of Ireland’s most celebrated authors for children (plus one from an extremely talented young lady named Emma Brade, of which more later), sold in aid of Fighting Words, a creative writing centre in Dublin. Each story is illustrated, with one particularly industrious chap, Oisin McGann, not only writing but illustrating his own story, and they are all (stories and illustrations alike) awesome.

L-R: Sarah Webb, Niamh Sharkey and Roddy Doyle, launching 'Beyond the Stars' Image copyright: Brown Bag Films Image sourced:

L-R: Sarah Webb, Niamh Sharkey and Roddy Doyle, launching ‘Beyond the Stars’
Image copyright: Brown Bag Films
Image sourced:

The book is the brainchild of Sarah Webb, who conceived of it and contacted the authors involved, asking them to donate their time and work. She writes about her experience here, taking us through the conception and construction of the book, and her experience of conducting the authors and illustrators from bare outline to fully-finished product. Fighting Words is a cause she is passionately involved with, and many authors – particularly those in Ireland – would be familiar with it and the great work it does in encouraging people who might not have a chance to take part in creative writing classes to do just that. It works with people of all ages, but much of its effort is focused on schoolchildren, which makes Beyond the Stars a particularly appropriate way to raise funds and awareness for the cause.

There are twelve stories here – twelve tales of Adventure, Magic and Wonder, as the cover illustration makes clear – and each of them have a wintry theme, taking place at that time of year or somehow involving snow, or cold weather. It couldn’t be better pitched, then, to go on sale in October, when the year is beginning to get slow and creaky, and the nights are getting long, and the breeze has a bit of a bite in it. The first tale is Roddy Doyle’s The Star Dogs, which – once the intrigued reader has a handle on what’s happening – unfolds into the most wonderful imaginative landscape, at once completely separate and (because it involves dogs, and is written in such a humane and emotional way) intimately involved with a modern child’s experience. It’s touching, and exciting, and it will open the reader up to learning more about the real events surrounding the story.

I loved Judi Curtin’s How to Help Your Grandda, written entirely in letters between a small boy with a cold grandfather and the rich, if inflexible, owner of a home heating business, and the gradual relationship which grows between them. I really loved Celine Kiernan’s beautiful, if heartbreaking, story of a wintry battlefield, The Last Cat, and I read the last few pages of this story over and over because it grabbed me right in the heart and wouldn’t let go. The aforementioned Oisin McGann’s tale Across the Cold Ground is a touching tale of cameraderie and courage in the trenches of World War One, and the lengths to which a soldier will go to keep a tiny piece of home with him in the midst of an icy war zone. But my favourite story by far was Discovering Bravery by Emma Brade, the last story in the collection. Emma is a teen writer, who won a competition to be included in Beyond the Stars. Her story is beautifully written and deeply touching, telling of a young girl named Ruka who must learn, through the example of her older brother Rowan, what the meaning of courage truly is, and I loved it. I was amazed to learn the author’s age; her work easily holds its own among the other stories, and her voice is as engaging as any of her more seasoned co-authors.

Beyond the Stars is published by Harper Collins, who are donating all proceeds from its sales to Fighting Words, and it is available in all good bookshops and/or in your usual online retailers. If you have, or know, a child who likes stories (or even a big child who likes stories!) this book would make a beautiful Christmas present, and the fact that every sale is helping to fund a fantastic project like Fighting Words makes it all the better. Highly recommended.