Tag Archives: Claire Hennessy

Celebrating Ireland

Yesterday, among other things, it was St Patrick’s Day. I’m proud of my nation’s day, even though, truth be told, my nation itself causes me more problems than pride most of the time. I spent yesterday huddled indoors hoping it would stop raining for long enough to get to our local parade (spoiler: it didn’t), and so it passed mostly unremarked; this was a pity, as I love St Patrick’s Day parades with all their mismatched, homemade, amateur whimsy. They’re a true celebration of what living in a rural town in Ireland looks and feels like, and though some of it doesn’t deserve to be romanticised, some of it is pure fun. If you celebrated it, I hope you enjoyed yourself.

In honour of the national day, I wanted to spend a bit of time bigging up my fellow Irish writers, just because. There are a lot of them, so I’m beginning this post by apologising (which is, of course, the most Irish thing of all); I’m bound to forget someone, and I mean no disrespect. I put it down to my being old and grey(ish) and not having enough space in my brain-pan for everything that needs to fit into it. So, if you don’t see yourself here and you feel, all told, that you should be, do let me know. Also, I’m going to focus on kidlit/YA types, mostly because I’m lazy and this is the age-group I know best – but also because the best writing happens there, and because if I opened my focus to literary fiction I’d literally be writing this blogpost for the rest of my life. We Irish, we know our words.

Irish Books

With apologies to Mr Walliams, who isn’t included in my Irish roundup! Photo: SJ O’Hart

Right. To begin at the beginning.

If you haven’t already made the acquaintance of the one-man wonder show that is Dave Rudden, I heartily recommend you do. His second novel, The Forever Court, is imminent, and as his first – Knights of the Borrowed Dark – was one of the best books I have ever read (and I have read many books, so this is A Good Thing), I fully expect the second book in this series to be stupendous. As well as that he’s one of the nicest people around, full of excellent writing advice and general nerdery/geekery on Twitter, and he sports a beard of wonder which deserves to be more widely admired.

I also kneel before the throne of Claire Hennessy, who has been around so long in Irish writing circles (despite still being a very young lady) that she practically functions as its fulcrum. She has a publishing record as long as your arm, having released her first book into the world while she was still in her teens, and her novel Like Other Girls is forthcoming from Hot Key Books in May. This is only the latest in a body of work which is noteworthy for its feminism, intelligence and social awareness, and Claire is one of the most interesting writers, speakers and  human beings I know. She’s also an awesome creative writing teacher with Big Smoke Writing Factory, as I can personally attest.

I am a Celine Kiernan completist, and I wait with bated breath whenever she mentions she has another book coming. Her Moorehawke Trilogy is world-class fantasy, and her novel Into the Grey is a stunning piece of work. My favourite of her works is Resonance, her most recent, which is an incredible piece of writing, storytelling, world-building and imagination, and I can’t recommend it more highly. She can’t write her next book fast enough for me.

Then there’s the one-woman powerhouse that is E.R. Murray, who manages – it seems – to constantly be writing four books at once, and all of them to an excellent standard. Her Nine Lives series about Ebony Smart, a young girl with the power to reincarnate, is published by Mercier Press. As if that wasn’t enough, her YA story about a young girl struggling to cope with the challenges of her family life with the help of her mother’s recipe book is called Caramel Hearts, published by Alma Press. E.R. is widely regarded as an in-demand speaker, creative writing teacher, and author, and she is a warm and welcoming presence on the Irish literary scene.

Kieran Fanning (who daylights as a teacher) is the author of The Black Lotus, published by Chicken House Books in the UK and Scholastic in the US, which is one of the best books for kids I’ve read in years. It encompasses adventure, martial arts, time travel, history, superpowers and an epic battle – and I loved it. He’s a supportive and helpful voice on social media, a source of huge encouragement for newbies like me, and an authority on making books and literature accessible and interesting to children. Anyone who writes for children in Ireland should be following his every word.

Nigel Quinlan’s The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox stands, in my humble onion, shoulder-to-shoulder with Pat O’Shea, a legend of Irish children’s literature. When I read Weatherbox I was reminded of nothing more than O’Shea’s The Hounds of the Morrigana book which was a gigantic part of my childhood. In its zany humour, utterly Irish turns of phrase, and completely bonkers family, it’s a book which made me laugh while keeping me glued to the plot. I enjoyed it so much, and I can’t wait to see what Quinlan does next. Also, if you’re looking for bonkers zany humour on Twitter, Nigel‘s your man.

I can’t write a post like this without mentioning Louise O’Neill, who has – deservedly – enjoyed worldwide success with her novels Only Ever Yours and Asking For It, which tackle some of the most complex aspects of modern life as experienced, primarily, by young women. They are books which can be searingly painful to read, simply because they are so true, and so important. Her work has drawn comparison with that of Margaret Atwood, and the clarity O’Neill brings to her dissection of what it is to be female in a world which seems to hate women is utterly compelling.

There are so many more incredible Irish writers I could mention, including Sarah Webb, Sheena Wilkinson, Siobhan Parkinson, Deirdre Sullivan, Eoin Colfer, Oisin McGann, Derek Landy, Sarah Crossan, P.J. Lynch, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, Shane Hegarty (who has enjoyed recent film success with his trilogy of Darkmouth books), Alan Early (whose Arthur Quinn novels about resurrected Vikings and Norse Gods taking over Dublin city are fantastic), Oliver Jeffers, Máire Zepf, Tarsila Kruse (who I’m claiming as Irish!), and more who I’m sure I’m forgetting that I really would be here all day, so I’ll have to leave it at that. Ireland is producing some top-notch writing for children, teens and young readers, as well as its already enviable record in relation to literary fiction, and it’s a great time to be part of it.

So, Beannachtaí lá le Phádraig oraibh go leor, and take my word for it: the best way to celebrate St Patrick is to check out a book by an Irish writer. Maith thú, beir bua, is bain taitneamh as na leabhair!


A Slightly Feminist-y Rant

Recently, a woman I hugely admire posted the following Tweet.

Also recently, another woman – not known to me personally – announced that she was taking a break from Twitter because she had received a barrage of death threats, from men, simply due to a rumour that she was slated to take over presenting a TV show.

A TV show.

I don’t normally get too deeply into my feelings about feminism, and things like that, on this blog (I tend to keep that sort of stuff for Tumblr), but there are times you just have to say: enough. This is enough. In fact, it’s more than enough.

A year ago yesterday, the girls of Chibok were taken from their families and loved ones by a group claiming religion as a valid reason for their abduction. Nobody really knows what has happened to the majority of these girls and young women, but one can guess that they have suffered some sort of sexual violence, or been married off against their will. They may have even been sold into slavery. Nobody seems to care.

Image: change.org

Image: change.org

Earlier this week, a woman in my own country waived her right to anonymity in order to name the abuser who destroyed her childhood – a man who was her mother’s partner, but who made her suffer unspeakably for a very long time.

Another woman, again in Ireland, who took a high-profile case against her own father for years of abuse suffered at his hands (and who went back to court to argue for a more severe sentence when the original one handed down was decried nationally as a disgrace) had a pipe bomb placed beneath her car. Luckily she, her husband and her family survived without injury.

I could go on.

Why is this happening? Why do things like GamerGate happen, where women who have the temerity to work in a male-oriented environment become objects of vitriol by certain men, who feel entitled to threaten their personal safety and sexual autonomy to the point where these women have to leave their homes and uproot their families? Why is sexual violence bandied about online as a threat whenever a woman dares to have an opinion? Why don’t the people responsible for this sort of hate speech (because it is ‘hate’ speech, not ‘free’ speech) understand, or care, that their words cause fear and pain and disruption? I sometimes wonder whether the people responsible for this sort of threatening language genuinely don’t see it as ‘serious’; perhaps they view it as being no more realistic than threatening to smash someone’s head in during a pub brawl, where both parties know it’s simply ‘big talk’. Well, it’s not just harmless blather. It’s causing real pain, and real fear, and achieving nothing.

I don’t know. I just know I’m sick of it.

Deeply misogynistic, troublingly sexual threats are made against women in the public eye every day. Men might suffer people disagreeing with their point of view, or being called an idiot or all manner of offensive or upsetting names (and I’m not saying this is right, either) if they put forth an unpopular viewpoint online, but it is overwhelmingly women who suffer death threats, and whose personal safety is jeopardised, and whose privacy is violated. This is not right. It shouldn’t be acceptable. People are fighting back, and spending five minutes on the Everyday Sexism Twitter feed will illustrate that more than handsomely.

But sometimes I wonder whether any of it is working. Sometimes I wonder whether the men and women who stand up for equality between the sexes are actually being listened to. Does anyone remember the threats made against the actor Emma Watson last year when she launched the UN’s equality campaign, HeForShe? I do. Threats were made to ‘doxx’ her (post her personal information, like her address and telephone number, online, a common tactic against women in the public eye) and leak naked photographs of her. This sort of violation has happened to other famous women, for no reason besides – apparently – the fact that they are women, who are deemed attractive, and hence seen as ‘public property’.

I just don’t know how to wrap my head around a world like this.

I hope we do, one day, see an end to a way of thinking which assesses a woman’s beauty before her ability to do a job. I hope we see a world wherein a woman can declare her intention to run for President of her country without anyone feeling the need to comment on her unsuitability because she is a grandmother. I hope we live to see a world where women are seen as people, and not just pretty objects to be looked at. I hope I, personally, live to see a world where women are neither deified as ‘perfect goddesses’ by virtue of their roles as mothers or potential mothers nor reduced to the level of an animal if they dare to express their sexuality, or own their power, or live up to their potential. I want a world where women can sit, in equal numbers to men, in boardrooms and houses of Parliament and courts of justice in every country, and where their words will be listened to and considered with the same respect that would be offered to a man. I don’t want any more women to be able to share anecdotes of oppression from the workplace, of being ignored at meetings or having men take credit for their ideas or having implications made that their jobs are dependent on them staying single, or not having children. I want to see a world where women, all women, have choices, and where those choices are respected – and where, when criticism is levelled at them, it is levelled because of something they have said, or done, or stood for, not simply because they’re female, and where that criticism is respectful and refrains from sexual threat.

I want to see a world where a baby girl is welcomed with as much joy as a baby boy. I want to see a world where a pregnant woman does not weep with disappointment if her unborn baby is female, and I want to see a world where women are not pressured by their families and society to abort their female babies because they are seen as ‘a burden’ or ‘less honourable’. I want a world where girls are not forced into marriage while they are still children. I want to see a world where no woman is killed or oppressed for doing something which would not cause an eyelid to flicker if she were a man. I want men to stand with women, and to resist misogyny and sexual violence wherever they encounter it, and I want women to stand with men, resisting attempts to belittle them because of their gender – because that happens, too.

I want women to stand with other women, and not tear one another down in an attempt to gain traction with, or acceptance by, a man – or, indeed, for any reason.

I want a lot, I know. What I want more than anything is the courage to make a stand in my own life to bring these things about, in tiny increments, in everything I do. Perhaps that, I can achieve.

Starting Early

Did you see this wonderful news story yesterday?

For those who don’t do clicking, or who can’t click on links, I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. Yesterday on Twitter someone linked to a story about a novelist who has just published his second book, and who is writing the final part in his trilogy about a pair of magician brothers. The books explore dark magic and the twisty intrigue of secret magical societies, as well as the complicated relationship between the brothers. The stories sounded amazing enough as they were, but when it emerged that the author is nine years of age (yes – nine), well. You could’ve knocked me down with a feather.

Joe Prendergast, for it is he, is far from being the only author who has been published at a tender age. Irish author Claire Hennessy, for instance, was first published while she was still at school, and Catherine Webb had written five books by the time she turned twenty – and all of them were brilliant.

Both Claire Hennessy and Catherine Webb are still writing, and have carved out successful careers for themselves in the literary world. Hopefully, then, if young Mr. Prendergast wants a career as a writer when he grows older, he should have no problem achieving that aim.

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself! Image: independent.ie

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself!
Image: independent.ie

It’s wonderful to see this young author meeting with the support and encouragement he needed to finish his series of books, and not only that, but to see them through to publication too. It goes to show the brilliant things that can happen when a person with talent, determination and a great idea for a book meets the technology to get it out into the world; Joe was first spotted by an online publisher, who championed him and made his books available through their website. There are also fantastic sites like Wattpad, used by millions of young people all over the world, allowing them to write for the sheer joy of it and share stories with one another with ease. Sometimes I wish these things had been available when I was young and at school. I’m not saying that anything I was writing at that stage was worth reading (not by a long shot!) but it would have been such a thrill to be able to publish work to a website, to see your words somewhere outside your own head, and to imagine what it might be like to be a published author.

Then again, I was a terribly shy and awkward teenager. I’m not sure that I’d have availed of a service like Wattpad, or even WordPress, as a young person; the very idea that other people might be able to read what I’d written might have thrown me into a fit of nerves so serious as to be life-threatening. I was certainly writing – prolifically – as a nine-year-old and all the way through my teens, but it’s probably a good thing that nobody ever saw a word that fell out of my fevered brain. Then, on the other hand, if I’d had the chance to share my words with the world via the internet as a younger person, perhaps I’d be winning literary prizes right now and be working on my thirty-fifth book – the earlier you start to get feedback, the stronger your work will become, of course. It’s a bit of a pain to be only beginning the whole process now, as a person in her *cough* thirties. I can only imagine how much stronger my writing would be if I’d been doing it seriously for twenty years or more at this stage.

Then, I guess it’s better late than never. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make up for lost time in the years that I have left to me. And if you’re a person who wants to write (no matter what age you are), then let this story be a lesson. You’re never too young, or too old, to get your ideas out there and share your words with the story of the world. There’s no excuse these days!

Today, April 23rd, is also an important day in the world of books, in case you didn’t know already. As well as being the birth (and death) day of Shakespeare, and the birthday of Cervantes, it’s also World Book Night tonight.

Image: mediabistro.com

Image: mediabistro.com

Designed to encourage and foster a love of reading among people who may not otherwise take up an opportunity to pick up a book, World Book Night is a fantastic endeavour. For, of course, if we’re going to encourage people to write, we’ll need to recruit a whole new batch of readers, too. I don’t think there’s anything more valuable that we can give to our children than a love of reading and a desire to create, share and consume stories. I’d love to see a world where reading, and a love of reading, came to people as naturally as breathing. I have a suspicion the world would be a happier place if this could be a reality.

So – start early, whether you’re reading or writing; ideally, do both. It’s never too late to start, and it’s always worth giving it a go.

Happy World Book Night! May your words flow.