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For The Day That’s In It

That headline is an often used Irish colloquialism that means, roughly translated, “because today is an important anniversary”. And what anniversary could be more important as we face the growing threat of rising Fascism across Europe once again.

Apparently the UK government is preparing for the possibility of riots by extreme right wing factions in the event of a second referendum that might result in a reversal of the ill-informed June 2016 decision by 37% of the electorate to take Britain out of the only international organisation that has held the peace between the forces of communism and Fascism for most of my lifetime.

Meanwhile similar movements are on the march in Poland, Italy, Germany, Austria and France. And all are fueled by fear of “the other”, just as was Hitler’s rise to power and the acceptance of the “final solution” – elimination of “the other”.

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Saturday Sound Off – #METO and the difficulty of creating believable characters.

Several things recently got me thinking about the difficulty of creating solid, flesh and blood and sympathetic characters, even when those characters do things that you can never imagine yourself doing.

The first was an interview with John Boyne who has done it time and again in his novels. The next was starting to read Milkman, this year’s Man Booker prize winning book. I have so far only read the first 50 pages, but already it is teaching me things about our recent history and about the craft of writing from deep inside the head of a character. Set in Northern Ireland during the 1970s it appears to be an indictment of the stifling masculinity and the paranoia that drove the violence on both sides of the sectarian divide.

The second thing was this article by a woman film maker about the way men portray women and her admiration for two movies in which women have, in her opinion, successfully portrayed men.

When I think about my own writing I can’t escape the conclusion that too many of my characters are merely poor reflections of aspects of myself. But I also think that the problem of men portraying women, and vice-versa, is just one facet of a much more complex problem: can a heterosexual accurately portray a homosexual? A white middle class person a poor immigrant? Any of us any other person’s deep inner personality and thought processes?

It is important because the narrative arts – theatre, film and literature – are the windows through which the rest of us are enabled to experience the lives of others. If those lives are miss-represented then it creates the cultural attitudes that drive some men to behave inappropriately toward women or certain politicians to spread fear of migrants seeking a better life. And, conversely, it is the way that better life is portrayed in the media that attracts those migrants in the first place.

I’ll say  no more, but hand you over to Joey at:

https://honeythatsok.com/2018/11/08/masculinity-written-and-directed-by-women-the-rider-leave-no-trace/comment-page-1/#comment-7687

A Date With . . . Cathy M Donnelly

My ‘date’ this time is with a Scottish writer who has lived for more than a quarter century in Australia. Cathy Donnelly lives in Frankston on the Mornington Peninsula in the State of Victoria. Here is her description:

“It is a coastal city about an hour from Melbourne and is a great place to live. I am fortunate to be able to walk on the beach almost every day. When I was in Scotland I bought all the waterproof gear so I can walk even when the waves are thrashing against the rocks and the sea wall. Everything I need is no more than 15 minutes’ drive away – the bay, the library, the shops, where I attend the local writing group and lovely botanical gardens.

I love working in my garden and feeding the many species of birds that come to visit. They used to come for dinner in the evening but now it is breakfast and a snack during the day as well. It always makes me smile to see them lined up on the decking rail, singing their hearts out, or just waiting patiently until I notice them. The kookaburras take the food from my hand and the magpies bring their babies and leave them while they go off and do what they do. They obviously trust us not to harm them as they are known to attack anyone who gets near their young.

We get the different seasons here, which I love. It can reach 40 degrees sometimes in the summer but not usually for weeks on end. You know relief from the humidity will eventually come. The area also has a reputation of having all four seasons on the same day.

Nevil Shute, the author of A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, used to live here. Some of the scenes in the movie version of On the Beach were filmed around here and there is an old photo of Gregory Peck standing on the same station I caught the train from every day for the 15 years I worked in Melbourne.”

Despite her long sojourn in Australia, it is Scotland and its history that inspires Cathy’s writing.

“I moved to Australia when I was forty and although I have lived here for 26 years now, Scotland is still home. I visit my family every two or three years and its beauty still takes my breath away. My sister, Linda, and her family live in the house I was brought up in.

It is so special to still be able to sleep in my parents’ old room and visit the village where I went to school and grew up in. I love the familiarity and the memories.

I was checking with my other sister, Wilma, on Skype the other night about the time it would take for one the characters in my new novel to travel by car from one of the tourist hotspots near her, to Edinburgh. The route is mostly two-way roads through villages. She said it depended on the ain’t thats. You could be driving along the road doing the speed limit when suddenly the car in front of you slows right down, causing all the cars behind it to put on their brakes. The locals call these drivers aint thats because they know at least one person in that car is pointing out of the window and saying “ain’t that beautiful”. It happens all the time. I am sure everyone knows that the Scots are well known for their calm demeanour.”

Like Kate Mosse, Cathy uses the idea of reincarnation and other time-shifting devices to take her protagonists to different historical periods.

580537_5fe0cf215a794d9ea9b6fc45fd4eb76c“I have always been fascinated by the concepts of past lives and time travel. They open up such possibilities from a personal point of view, and more so when it comes to telling a story. With my first novel Distant Whispers, I was able to combine quite a few of my interests – reincarnation, the Knights Templar, Alexander the Great, religions – using these concepts. I thoroughly enjoy the scope it gives me in my writing.”

I asked Cathy about the lessons that could be – and perhaps have not been – learned from the many conflicts that feature in Scottish history.

“History was one of my favourite subjects at school so I knew even as a child that the English and the Scots had always fought amongst themselves, and against each other, throughout their ancient history.

The kings and queens, nobles and gentry, could do what they wanted in those days. It could be that they were just bored with their daily lives or easily offended, but no matter what the reason, one side would do the wrong thing and it would be “round up the peasants” and off they went to pillage and destroy.

I used to think all this history was just that – something in the past, but for some reason the Scots, as with the Irish, do not forget easily. They can carry a grudge for a very long time. I listened to some of the debates and discussions about Scotland independence. I am a very patriotic Scot but I had to ask myself – why do we need it?

We may share the same island and have the same royal family, but the Scots, the English, and also the Irish, all have their separate identities.

I have never considered myself anything but Scottish.

I have noticed that Scots do not seem to mind if their accent is mistaken for Irish when they are overseas, but God forbid if someone asks if they are English. I do not think there would be many Scots who do not have English relatives.

In the lead up to the vote for independence, I asked a friend, who is a fierce, obsessive, Scottish Nationalist, how would it work regarding pensions, health care, borders etc. Her answer was “just let’s get independence and we can worry about all that later.’

On the English side, I do not think they care one way or the other. They recognise we are Scottish and they are English and we both have pride in our heritage.

So, the answer to your question. There are still many people who have repeatedly failed to learn any lessons from the past, but I do understand that it is an emotional issue and you cannot knock being proud of who you are and where you come from.”

Cathy has only recently begun using a computer for writing:

“I have an office area set up at home with my computer and files, but I find I get more inspiration from writing by hand. I wrote my first novel, the majority of my second one, and most of my short stories by hand on the train journey to work, or in bed at night. It was quite an adjustment for me to try to put it straight onto the computer, but when the house is quiet and all I can hear are the words going around in my head, I am getting used to it. I still look forward to taking my notebook to bed and just letting my thoughts wander.”

I usually ask my subjects to tell me which writers they most admire but I already know from a previous interview she did with Millie Slavidou that she is a fan of David Mitchell and his book Cloud Atlas. What was it about that book and its author that so affected her?

Cloud Atlas took the theme of reincarnation to a completely new level. It was a complex story in so many ways and I was blown away by the writing, the characters, the locations, the timelines. I read it a second time immediately after the first reading, and have watched the movie three times. I can say without hesitation that this will always be my favourite story. You ask what I would hope to learn from David Mitchell if I spent time with him? I am really not sure if it is possible to learn genius.”

To date Cathy has not used a professional editor:

“My background is proofreading of Cabinet and Ministerial briefings so I assumed I would be okay with the grammar and spelling components of writing. Obviously, that is not all that is needed in writing a novel. I was fortunate that a couple of people offered to read my first novel before publication and a friend who is a Scottish history expert read the second one. Thankfully they all picked up things I had missed and made very useful suggestions for which I was very grateful. It is all a learning curve and I hope to get some beta readers, and also a professional editor, for my new novel.

I think a first novel is very precious and there is always the fear that if you get someone else to read it they might come back and say it is awful. I am over that now and realise the benefit of having the opinion of others.”

Many independent authors find marketing the hardest part of the business of writing. Cathy has succeeded in getting her books stocked in the heritage sites that feature in them, something I’ve tried myself. I wondered what other marketing techniques she has found useful.

580537_4760a055a4b741a6a288c4e3cc78185cmv2_d_1832_2772_s_2“For me, marketing is definitely the hardest part of the business. I am learning as I go. I am fortunate that Wilma, pushes me along. She took my Scottish novel There is a Place to the VisitScotland tourist shop in Aberfoyle, which is near the main location in the book, and asked them if they would consider stocking it because of the local interest.

As a result, they invited me to do a book signing when I was there last year. It was not as scary as I thought it would be. I am going home again next year and they said to let them know and they would arrange a signing for the new one.

I would also say that being part of the Indie Author Support & Discussion Facebook group has given me more confidence to put myself out there. The members share what they think works and what does not, and their support has helped me move outside my comfort zone. When I release my new novel, I will make sure I have a clear plan on how to market it.”

Cathy is currently working on her third novel and she revealed a little about it.

580537_6be0f02323b74413a32fa8e53d9fe17emv2Memories of the Night Sky is the story of Catriona, an author who begins to dream stories she feels compelled to write. It is set in Scotland in the present day, the 9th century and in 1307 and involves Druids, Knights Templar and forbidden love. I enjoyed being able to incorporate my interest in different spiritual traditions and pagan rituals.

I am working on the first edit at the moment and hope to have it ready to publish by the end of the year.”

I like to conclude my ‘dates’ by asking my subject to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their readers. Here’s Cathy:

“For decades I thought of joining a coven and training to become a witch – a white witch, of course. I have lived and worked in various places around Australia so I kept putting it off until I settled. When I did settle in Frankston I thought the time was right, but do you know how hard it is to find a coven? I thought they would be everywhere but alas, no. I am now in my sixties. I wonder if it is too late? Perhaps not.”

So if there is anyone out there who knows of a coven not too far from Melbourne, please get in touch with Cathy. You can find her here and on Facebook and Goodreads.

A Date With . . . Ceri Bladen

My date this time describes herself as “a Welsh girl who now lives in Turkey with her family.” When she is not writing or drawing, she loves to cook with fresh produce from the market, and look after her “thirty-odd street cats and one street dog”.

51o7dbtbawl-_uy250_I was curious about her choice of Turkey, given it’s poor human rights reputation, as a suitable place to bring up a family. Her experience gives the lie to that reputation:

“I enjoyed many years teaching primary-aged children in beautiful Swansea. Although I never dreamed of giving up my chosen career, my life shifted focus when I had a set of twins and another child just seventeen months later. My husband and I had waited seven years to have children so when we were blessed with them, they became our main priority. I decided to take time away from my profession to enjoy time with them.

While they were toddlers we spent a couple of weeks a year in Turkey on holiday. After a while we decided to move there for a couple of years.

Turkey is a friendly, family-orientated place, as anyone who has visited will know.

In our twelve years living there, we found the Turkish people welcoming and have never once thought it a ‘far from ideal’ place to raise a family; in fact, quite the opposite. They have been able to experience an idyllic outdoor childhood; they have acquired another language; learned about a different religion, and culture; and have had the opportunity to travel. Our focus in life has always been the children, and we are proud that our Turkish lifestyle has enabled them to grow into socially adaptable, polite teenagers.”

51ljsm2bzabl-_uy250_Next I wondered about the temperature in Turkey, especially as the British Isles is currently experiencing one of the longest, hottest summers for a long time and some people are finding it difficult to cope with. In addition, the small coastal village she calls home sees a huge increase in population every summer.

“Turkey’s dry atmosphere is entirely different to the UK’s more humid environment, which makes the equivalent heat in Turkey feel much cooler. Having said that, I am not a fan of searing heat or hordes of tourists. To avoid both we leave Turkey from mid-June until the beginning of September (while the schools are closed.) This allows us to pack our trusty car with a tent (or book an airline ticket) and travel for three months a year. We have been fortunate to visit many places, from the more traditional USA, Australia and European destinations, to the more obscure countries such as Syria, Moldova, and Transnistria. Each country we visit gives me inspiration for another story!”

51arltw0sll-_uy250_She recently published the fourth book in her series about Vikings. I wanted to know what drew her to that period in our history as the setting for her stories.

“I’ve always loved history and most of my books contain snippets in some form. I grew up in the old Roman town of Isca (the modern village of Caerleon, not to be confused with Exeter, fp), surrounded by history.

My father’s enthusiasm for the ruins, museums, and castles firmly cemented history into my heart.

I am particularly interested in the ‘rise-in-power and fall-from-grace’ of groups of people—the Huns, Egyptians, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Ottomans, to name a few. Hopefully, in the future, I will write stories about them all!”

51xcwhpxgkl-_uy250_Each book in the series has taken about a year to produce:

“Due to their historical genre, research takes most of my time, but this is the part I love. I take roughly six months to compose and write the story, and a couple more months to edit. This timescale is not set in stone as I am not an author who has the whole story in their mind before they start. I have a rough idea of its path, and as I write, the characters develop the rest of the story for me. (Unfortunately, this method keeps me awake many a night! Lol)”

She does not invest in professional editing for her books:

“As an emerging indie author, paying a professional editor has been out of the question so far, due to the cost. I have trusted beta readers who help me, and as I gain more fans, finding people willing to help is becoming easier.”

415v6p-6nyl-_uy250_Ceri does not yet regard herself as a full time writer, nor does she regret leaving her profession as a teacher

“I am not a full-time writer—I write if, and when, the opportunity arises. Most of the time, this works for me, although it can be frustrating when I have a story in my head and haven’t had the opportunity to get near my computer. I have no regrets about leaving teaching because I have spent the last sixteen years dedicating my time to educating and travelling the world with my children.”

My next question was posed before I realised how long it is since she left teaching. I wondered if recent cuts in all public service budgets in the UK, including education, had influenced her decision.612b2bmgkskl-_uy250_

“It saddens me to see cuts in the UK public services. Education is close to my heart, and one day I hope the ‘powers’ realise that they need to invest in the future generation.”

She offers a long list in response to my question about authors she admires – and has a cheeky question she would love to ask the Brontë sisters.

“There are so many! My tastes vary greatly from the Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, and Mario Puzo to the modern Nora Roberts, JK Rowling, Cassandra Clare, and Janet Dailey.

What would I ask them? That’s difficult…

I would ask them all what gave them the determination to continue to write when they were knocked back by publishers and critics many times? I wouldn’t ask them about their writing processes as I am sure they are as diverse as the authors themselves. (ps I would ask the Brontë sisters why they burned Emily’s unpublished book after she died? I’m sure it would have been another amazing story…)”

51qs1ss1z7l-_uy250_51gwgtlwjil-_uy250_Her preferred time for writing is in the afternoons:

“when my children are in school.

Over the years, I’ve learned that every author has their own method of getting their story written. It took a long time for me not to feel that my method of a more ‘free’ story structure wasn’t incorrect; it was my more random way! Some authors have dedicated times for writing, and have strict story arcs and structures; I do not. I jump around my story, filling in the gaps when I get inspiration. I also have a computer filled with half-finished stories and will leave them there until they invade my mind and I have to finish them. I am sure my method would send most authors into a tizzy! lol

The only thing I always do is keep a notebook by my side. It contains vital research, dates, and names in it. I use it when my memory fails me! Lol”

41bqskxp3el-_uy250_Like most independently and self-published authors she feels uncomfortable with self-promotion, and marketing is not her favourite part of the process.

“But I realise it is an important part of the journey. Luckily, my four Viking books are in the top 100 bestsellers in Amazon’s Viking romances and because they are visible to potential readers, I no longer have to ‘push’ my books so hard, which is a great relief.”

I learned quite a lot from my conversation with Ceri – that Turkey is not as bad a place to live as I had supposed; that there are at least two Iscas; and the location and political status of Transnistria, among other things. I hope you now feel equally well informed!

I suggest you check out her Facebook page and her Goodreads page where you will find links to all her books.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

That’s what makes a great writer, according to Rebecca Bryn and she should know, being one of the greatest. Her work deserves much wider recognition. “For Their Country’s Good” would make a TV series to rival “Poldark” and “The Dandelion Clock”, which I had the privilege of reading pre-publication, has echoes of Michael Morpurgo’s “War Horse”.

Writing that comes from the heart, with deep emotional overtones and well developed characters, will always captivate me as a reader. Ms. Bryn does that brilliantly.

via It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

Sharing Book Reviews

My thanks to Sally Cronin for featuring Strongbow’s Wife on her blog, along with an excellent review.

For anyone that’s interested, there are two ways in which the Strongbow story connects with Archbishop Becket. Both he and Henry II were close friends with the Bristol merchant Aoife’s father first turned to for help in regaining his kingdom. And, once Beckett had been murdered in Canterbury Henry felt the need to atone. His mission to Ireland, suggested by the Pope some years earlier probably seemed like a good way of doing so.

 

via Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – Author Update – Frank Parker, Gigi Sedlmayer, Sally Cronin and Andrew Joyce.

Irish History Quiz – Part 1

2018-05-10 (1)I’m planning a live launch of A Purgatory of Misery next month. I created a Facebook event and have been putting up daily posts about Irish history.

I was going to repeat them here but I hit on a better idea. A quiz!

If you know the answers it won’t take you long. If you don’t, you will find them over on the event’s FB page.

Unfortunately it’s not interactive. I’ve researched several quiz widgets but WP requires me to upgrade to the business version in order to install them.

Here are your questions. You can enter your answers in the comments if you want to show off.

  1. Workhouses were introduced into Ireland by the 1838 Poor Law (Ireland) Act. How many were built in this  first phase?
  2. The book launch is to be held in a former workhouse. It is one of how many additional workhouses that were authorised for construction during the famine?
  3. The book’s title is taken from a speech by whom?
  4. 1848 saw rebellions across Europe. What was the name of the Irish man who led the Chartist rebellion in England?
  5. My co-author’s ancestor was one of how many orphan girls shipped from the workhouses to Australia?
  6. One of those girls is an ancestor of which former Australian Prime Minister?
  7. Name the Island off the coast of England where St. Patrick founded a religious community.
  8. What is the title of my historical novel based on the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century.
  9. In which century did the brother of a Scottish king invade Ireland during an earlier  famine?
  10. Name the English poet who took part in the bloody siege of Smerwick.

All the answers can also be found, along with many more shocking facts, in the book. If you can’t get along to the launch – and I know most of you are too far away – you can download the e-book here for Kindle and here for all other e-readers.