Author Interview: Claire Hennessy (Like Other Girls)

I reviewed Claire Hennessy’s powerful new YA novel Like Other Girls recently, and was delighted to get the chance to chat to Claire about the book, her writing process, being an editor, and the joy of musicals.

Photo by Aisling Finn

Could you tell me about your writing routine? When and where do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

I yearn for a proper writing routine but it really depends on what else I’m doing or working on at the time. For example, during the summer I teach on summer camps for teenagers, which means I might write in the evenings, whereas if I’m teaching a lot of evening classes then the writing tends to get done in the morning. It really depends on the stage the manuscript is at, too – when I’m in the middle of a first draft, getting new words down as often as possible (every weekday, hopefully) is really important, whereas when I’m revising I might think over things for weeks and then go and attack the manuscript again.

How do you find writing for teens as an adult, compared to writing for teens as a teen yourself?

I’m an adult? When did that happen?! I’m more wary of getting details wrong now, because I know that being a teenager today is different in certain ways – the endless encroaching presence of social media, for example – and I also try not to be preachy.

Do you think your work as an editor has changed how you approach your writing?

I am incredibly aware now of the importance of opening chapters, in a way that I wasn’t before – there are so many clichéd and tired ways to begin a story, and as an editor you really start to notice all the recurring and worn-out tropes. I actually overdid it slightly with Like Other Girls and had a scene that really belonged much later at the start, for dramatic purposes, but it didn’t quite work, so it got moved.

When in the process of writing Like Other Girls did you come up with the title?

It was when I was close to finishing the manuscript, and we already had a synopsis for the book before that, so it was quite late. But we agreed on it very quickly, which was brilliant.

Like Other Girls is a book that makes readers angry (to quote the wonderful Marian Keyes, it is a book that ‘all but quivers with righteous anger’), which books make you angry?

Oooh. Anything about feminism makes me angry at the world, for obvious reasons, and then I get angry at books for pulling cheap stunts or having twists that don’t quite work.

To my delight, musicals play a big role in Like Other Girls. What is your favourite musical, and your favourite song from a musical?

WICKED! And ‘For Good’. I just love the fact that it has two female leads, and that the love story isn’t everything, and that it’s basically set in a magical boarding school at the start. It’s very different from the book, of course, which is much darker and twistier.

I feel that the inclusion of newspaper articles and other media references really reflected what it is like being a young woman in Ireland at the moment, and also showed how Lauren’s story is one that happens every day, to many women. Was this aspect of the book there from the start?

I  didn’t necessarily know I was going to include newspaper articles but I was conscious that I’d probably be addressing what the narrative is around reproductive rights in Ireland, as well as how such issues are handled in popular culture. And then as it went on, it seemed to make sense to include actual articles (and sadly the media continues to offer up many examples to work with…)

Like Other Girls is a book that confronts and explores real experiences and problems without turning into the dreaded ‘issue novel.’ What do you think is the importance of books and other art forms in exploring issues we are facing today?

Thank you, that is very kind of you to say! I did worry hugely about this turning into a big rant, which a novel shouldn’t be, and I was aware in certain chapters that I needed to go back and make things about the characters rather than The Issues. What stories are wonderful for is creating empathy – seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and learning to understand each other a little bit better. So much cruelty and ugliness in the world comes from a capacity to dehumanise certain groups of people, and empathy is the cure for that.

As both an editor and a reader, what would you like to see more of in YA?

More funny books for teenagers that still manage to deal with serious issues. More books set outside of the UK and the USA. More books featuring protagonists with disabilities, chronic illness, etc. And, as ever, more boarding school novels.

What are your favourite YA reads of 2017 so far?

Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer completely blew me away. I absolutely adored Moira Fowley-Doyle’s The Spellbook of the Lost and Found. We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan was, predictably, brilliant. Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give lived up to the hype. And Sara Zarr’s Gem & Dixie is amazing.

Advertisements

Review: Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

32860070

Like Other Girls

Claire Hennessy

Hot Key Books (2017)

YA, Contemporary

Like Other Girls is the story of Lauren, a 16-year-old bisexual girl grappling with the sometimes harsh realities of being a young woman in contemporary Irish society. Lauren is struggling with her identity – with the expectations of perfect femininity espoused by her all girls school, with dismissive attitudes towards bisexuality she finds even within the LGBTQIA community, and with her relationships, particularly with her boyfriend and the best friend she is still somewhat in love with. Then, she finds out she is pregnant. Readers familiar with Irish law will know the implications of this for Lauren, as she journeys alone to England for an abortion.

Lauren is a complex protagonist, and one in an incredibly difficult situation. She makes some bad choices, and Hennessy doesn’t shy away from showing Lauren’s darker and more ‘problematic’ (to use a much discussed word) thoughts. At times this can make for uncomfortable reading, particularly when Lauren is dealing with a close friend (whom she still has feelings for) coming out as transgender, or considering the degree of privilege you have as a cisgender woman in a country that denies women bodily autonomy. I do wish some of Lauren’s attitudes had been challenged a bit more, the transphobia in the book did make me uncomfortable, however her friend Ellie does call her out and at the end of the book there is a sense of Lauren growing as a person. Besides, in other ways Lauren’s flaws are a strength of the book and part of the way it pushes back against the pressure on girls to always be perfect.

Hennessy’s book is incredibly timely and will make readers angry. She uses articles very similar to those Irish readers will have encountered over the last few years, and a chilling scene in which her protagonist is given misleading and false information at a ‘counselling’ service. It evokes a very true-to-life sense of what it is like to be female in a country in which you don’t have bodily autonomy, in which abortion is illegal, and in which girls and women like Lauren must travel to the UK every single day for a medical procedure that should be available safely and legally in their home country. The trauma Lauren goes through makes the book painful to read, and shows how damaging the lack of access to abortion in Ireland is. Acclaimed Irish writer Marian Keyes has said that this book ‘all but quivers with righteous anger’, and I think its readers will too.

Like Other Girls tackles a number of very sensitive topics without falling into that dangerous trap of becoming an issue novel, without moralising or preaching, and without demonising its protagonist or giving her an unrealistic ‘happily-ever-after’ type ending. It is also a funny book, filled with pop culture and musical references, and with a strong, snarky voice at its centre. It also has a fantastic cover – it’s a label! for a book about labels! – designed by Leo Nickolls.

To sum up – Like Other Girls is a fierce, feminist book that while not an easy read, is an important one. We need stories like Lauren’s, and we need to repeal the eighth amendment.

Like Other Girls will be launched tonight, May 25th, in Dept 51 at Eason O’Connell Street at 6pm.

Review: The Space Between by Meg Grehan

9781910411599

The Space Between

Meg Grehan

Little Island (March 2017)

YA

Beth has decided to take a year of solitude. Hidden away in her house, she lives according to a schedule, it makes her feel safe and secure. She has her own little world, and everything is under control there. Then, one day a dog called Mouse arrives at her window. Mouse brings Beth a rare and unexpected burst of joy, but it is his owner Alice who really changes Beth’s world. But Beth’s anxieties are still there, her year of seclusion rolls out, and letting someone else into her life is strange and scary.

This is a beautiful book in so many ways. The cover (designed by Paula McGloin) is gorgeous, and sets the tone for the book. The Space Between is a tender love story; quiet, emotional and moving. Grehan really conveys Beth’s anxiety and the ways in which her phobias trap and restrict her. At times the book can be difficult to read, and I felt panic setting  in myself reading some of the poems.

Just do the same thing

at the same time

just do it again and

again and again and

again and again and

again and again and

again until it sinks in

until your brain accepts it

until you can pretend

until you can pass as a person

Beth’s connection with Alice, the progression from friendship to something more, is handled tenderly. This relationship was built up slowly, in a manner that felt very realistic. Grehan explores the complexity for Beth of having a connection to the outside world once more. Beth has cut herself off from the rest of the world, and Alice’s ability to navigate it and to do things Beth isn’t able to do anymore is a source of tension. It is always good to see more LGBTQ love stories out there, particularly one portrayed in such a positive light. At times it did feel a bit too rosy, but of course I was glad Alice and Beth got their happy ending. I also would have liked the book to have been a bit longer,  I was enjoying it so much!

I also loved the fact that Alice, while playing a major role in Beth’s recovery, was not a knight in shining armour and Beth has to rely on her own inner strength to get better. Alice says to Beth at one point ‘I can’t be your reason.’ The Space Between shows how love and friendship can enrich your life and bring healing, but in the end Beth is the one who must take the steps, who must save herself. The ending is hopeful, but it is clear that Beth still has a long way to go and there is a sense that her recovery will be an ongoing process, with ups and downs. In this way, Grehan portrays mental illness in a very realistic way. Beth’s anxieties are by no means romanticised or beautified, and we really see how difficult coping with her agoraphobia, anxiety and depression is.

Above all, this is a beautifully written work. Even in the third person, we get right inside Beth’s head. The poems bring us right into her consciousness, and they flow beautifully. The formatting and typesetting are clever, and Grehan plays with the forms of the poems. I loved the part in which Beth is focusing on her breathing. In verse novels, words carry so much weight, and Grehan deftly weaves a moving tale of anguish, love and redemption. It is a short book, yet it has impact. Verse novels are much more prevalent in the US than in Ireland or the UK. Sarah Crossan is the most popular and prolific verse novelist in these parts, and it is great to see a new talent like Meg Grehan working in this format. Here’s to more Irish verse novels in the future!

The Space Between is an honest, delicate love story in verse, a book that warmed my heart and made me cry.

The Space Between will be launched in The Gutter Bookshop on Thursday March 30th by Deirdre Sullivan (author of Needlework and the Primrose Leary trilogy).

Space Between Launch

Author Interview: Ruth Frances Long (Dubh Linn trilogy)

I interviewed the fabulous Ruth Frances Long when A Hollow in the Hills, the second book in her Dubh Linn trilogy, was released last year. Now that the final volume, A Darkness at the End, is out in the world I caught up with Ruth to chat fantasy, trilogies, mythology, YA and more…

Image result for ruth frances long

1)   A Darkness at the End, the finale of the Dubh Linn trilogy, was published this autumn. What was it like to finish the series?

A bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest. I had a difficult time with the second book, A Hollow in the Hills, so I thought book three, A Darkness at the End might kill me. But as it happened, the story came together quite easily and the characters behaved themselves for once. Even the ones who did not want to die. It is actually incredibly fulfilling to know the complete story is out there now and I’m really pleased with the way it worked out.

31282409

2)    There were some fantastic locations in the third book – was there one that stood out for you? I loved the scene in the National Gallery.

So difficult to choose just one so I’ll cheat a little. There’s a sequence where three characters go through the tunnels carrying the River Poddle until they reach St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then go to Marsh’s Library which is one of my favourite parts of A Darkness at the End. There’s a lot going on with the characters at this point, especially with Clodagh and there’s a certain symbolism tied in with this underground journey. Usually when researching a location I would go there, but with the Poddle, being a subterranean river, I couldn’t do that. Luckily I was able to find some documentary footage and photos online of the route and used that for reference.

 

3)      Which of your characters are you most like?

If I say Brí will it frighten everyone?

In reality, there is probably a bit of me in all of them, and a bit of all of them in me.

 

4)    Did you have a favourite character to write, or one whose head you found difficult to get into?

The Magpies became my favourites to write over the course of the three books. They were minor characters to begin with, hired thugs who didn’t have that much to do, but they grew into something much more and I was so sorry to say goodbye to them at the end. Not that I’d want to hang out with them or anything!

As for difficult to pin down, I was very worried about including the Morrigan in the final book because she’s such a huge and important character in so much literature and I wanted to do her justice.

 

5)    Do you prefer the first draft stage, or the editing stage?

A mixture of both. There are moments in the first draft when the story is flowing and it all just feels like magic. However, the editing stage often feels more solid and rewarding to me.

 

6)    Could you tell me a bit about the Morrigan in the third book – when did she come into your mind, and what did the research process for this character involve?

I always wondered if she would show up in the books. She’s a very difficult character to pin down and I didn’t want to make mistakes. I read a lot, of course and winnowed through various legends where she appears. I also spoke to a friend dedicated to the Morrigan, and we discussed her various aspects at length which was really eye opening and fulfilling. She’s often portrayed as a goddess of death, but she’s more like a goddess of life lived to the full on the edge of death. She’s a war goddess, and there’s a tremendous amount of energy in that. I see her and Brigid (who I portrayed as Brí) as being two sides of a coin, intricately linked together and immensely powerful for that.

 

7)    You have really strong female characters in the trilogy, particularly with the matriarchs. Was creating a female power structure in the books something you did consciously?

When you look at Irish legends there are incredibly strong and determined women running all the way through them. Because of the Christianisation of these stories when they were written down they are often given a very bad ending. But we still remember the likes of Maeve and Gráinne as the key character in the tale.  I really wanted hierarchy in Dubh Linn to reflect that, so the matriarchs came about quite naturally. They’re also very strong characters so it’s hard to imagine them being told to sit down and be quiet and putting up with that.

 

8)    There are some dramatic (and devastating!) moments in A Darkness at the End. What have reader reactions been like?

Throughout the series I’ve tried to confront dark moments head on. The biggest reactions I had from readers were from the end of A Hollow in the Hills and a certain death in A Darkness at the End. My husband is still only tentatively speaking to me about it.

 

9)    I love how you bring figures and creatures from Irish mythology into the Dubh Linn books. Are there other legends or mythologies you would like to explore in your writing?

I’ve always been fascinated with legends and folklore so there are many. I’m currently thinking quite a bit about Arthurian legends so I’d love to explore them some more.

 

10)  What are your favourite YA books you have read this year?

In no particular order… Caramel Hearts by Elizabeth Rose Murray, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín and Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy.

rfl-ya-picks

Thanks to Ruth for her fascinating answers, I can’t wait to read more of her books! If you are a fan of fantasy, romance or mythology (or all three!) be sure to check out the Dubh Linn trilogy (A Crack in Everything, A Hollow in the Hills, A Darkness at the End)

Ruth Frances Long’s website

Review: A Darkness at the End (Dubh Linn #3) by Ruth Frances Long

31282409
A Darkness at the End
Ruth Frances Long
O’Brien Press, 2016 (YA)
The final installment of Ruth Frances Long’s Dubh Linn trilogy is gripping and dramatic. It opens with Izzy reeling from the loss of Jinx, and struggling with the gaps in her memory left by the storyteller’s book.  But with Holly more powerful and more ruthless than ever, and angels, fae and demons on the brink of all out war, Izzy must act now. The darkness is coming, and there is no escape…

I loved the third Dubh Linn book, I couldn’t put it down. For me, it was the most powerful of the books emotionally. Long does not pull her punches when describing Izzy and Jinx’s pain (yet, Izzy’s grief and trauma is handled very sensitively) and the body count is high in this book (one loss was particularly painful. If you’ve read the book you’ll know who I mean. Gulp.) I loved the development of characters like Dylan and Clodagh in this book, both are given greater roles in the plot and we get more of an insight into their minds.  I am impressed by how rounded all the characters are considering the vastness of the cast. There is a complexity to all of the characters, to how they handle magic and power, and to their histories. Izzy is a strong protagonist, but this is a series with many strong women. In Long’s magic system it is women, the matriarchs, who hold power. Brí and Silver are fantastic and memorable characters, and I was delighted to see the Morrigan make an appearance in the book (I loved all the hints about her earlier in the book too).

As always, Long makes excellent use of locations in Dublin – Marsh’s Library, the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, the National Gallery of Ireland and Glasnevin Cemetery all feature in this volume. She skillfully melds real Dublin and magical Dubh Linn, making excellent use of the history surrounding the locations. She writes about Dublin as a place of magic and story, making the (Irish) reader see their place in a new way. The final showdown, on Dalkey Island, was very dramatic and provided a suitably spectacular climax for the trilogy.

A Darkness at the End is a brilliant read, both heart-pounding and heartbreaking, and I look forward to re-reading the trilogy as a whole in the future.

Ruth Frances Long will be appearing at Octocon this weekend.

My interview with Ruth Frances Long following the publication of A Hollow in the Hills (Dubh Linn #2)

Review: Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy

Nothing Tastes As Good

Cover image from Goodreads

 

 

Claire Hennessy’s latest novel gets off to a strong start with the introduction of her snarky ghost narrator. Annabel is a recently deceased anorexic teen who has been assigned against her will as a helper (NOT guardian angel) to Julia, who also has a difficult relationship with food. Annabel’s voice is distinctive and fresh, and Hennessy gets in some great quips about her lack of corporality.  The other characters are, like Annabel, well drawn and believable. Annabel’s ability to push into the thoughts of different characters gives the reader greater knowledge than Julia, and adds depth. However, as Annabel becomes closer to Julia she finds that her task may be more complicated than she had expected…

I loved the subplot about the school newspaper, seeing its workings and Julia’s passion for journalism. (I LOVE books with school clubs in them, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda with the school musical, Love, Lies and Lemon Pies with the baking club to name but a couple). In some ways writing is an escape for Julia ‘It’s easier to focus on the words on the page than the stories in her own life.’ However, we also see it as something she strives to be good at and to make a difference in.  There are a real mix of characters on the newspaper staff, and a budding romance for Julia. The romance element is sweet, and I was glad it didn’t completely take over, that it wasn’t a case of a guy swooping in to save Julia. ‘She is not a damsel in distress waiting for some knight on horseback.’

This is a book that will move and engage readers.  There is a strong feminist element to this book, in terms of relationships, careers, self worth and, of course, body image. There’s a line Julia writes: ‘but we don’t talk about the silly things that teenage girls do to themselves.’ It perfectly sums up the misconceptions around eating disorders (and other mental illnesses) that are explored in the book. Julia also wonders at one point ‘Why do they all end up treating you like a silly girl in the end?’ and this book really does tackle how frustrating it can be to not be taken seriously because you are female or to know you will have to work harder to have success in your chosen field. There is also a strong sense of female friendship or sisterhood that develops as the book progresses. This is not present at the start, but as Annabel begins to care for Julia, as Julia’s friendship with Maria develops and as we see Annabel’s friend and sister dealing with the aftermath of her death. ‘There are certain things we owe our little sisters.’ Hennessy exposes some of the most difficult things about being a woman today, while also offering empowering narratives of female friendship.

While Stereotype will always have a special place in my heart, I think Nothing Tastes As Good may well be Hennessy’s best book yet.  She deals with difficult issues in a relatable and honest manner, and avoids being preachy or moralising.This is the kind of book teenage girls (and boys) need, a book that challenges the stigma around ‘the silly things that teenage girls do to themselves.’

Review: Plain Jane by Kim Hood

28768597

Cover image from Goodreads

Plain Jane

Kim Hood

O’Brien Press, 2016

YA – Contemporary

Jane is used to living in her sister Emma’s shadow, first with Emma’s successful dance career, then with her cancer diagnosis. Ever since Emma was diagnosed three years ago, their family’s life has revolved around the hospital. Jane has never resented the attention her sister receives, but her life has become monotonous and apathetic. She skips class, feels stuck in her small hometown and her relationships with her friends and her boyfriend have stalled. No-one notices that Jane is struggling, and she doesn’t have the energy to break out of the cycle she has become trapped in.

‘How do you rebel when nobody cares? How do you rebel when you no longer care yourself?’

There are a number of important relationships in this book. We see how Jane is distancing herself from her boyfriend and her best friend. Also, the impact her new friend Farley, a musician who’s world is so different from hers, has on her. One thing this book is really strong on is sisterhood, and it is interesting to see how the dynamic changes between Jane and Emma throughout the book. Hood really shows how complex this relationship can be, especially given their circumstances.

‘There was just this numb sort of hole where there used to be a confusion of love and resentment and pride and all those sorts of sister-emotions. Now, when that hole filled up with anything, it was always with pure toxic feelings – like dread, or fear.’

As with her debut novel Finding a Voice, Kim Hood tackles difficult issues in a very sensitive manner. She shows the impact Emma’s illness has had on the whole family, and by focusing on Jane rather than Emma she offers a different perspective. She shows how difficult it is to see someone you love suffer, and to take a back seat in the family. The sections of the book are named after different musical terms (although Jane has a greater interest in art) which fit the changing pace of the story, and Jane’s changing moods. Without giving away too much, the book also gives a real insight into what it is like to struggle with a mental illness. Plain Jane is a very moving read, with an incredibly well-written protagonist who is flawed, nuanced and stronger than she knows.

Kim Hood is an exciting new voice on the Irish YA scene, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

 

17 Great New(ish) Irish Books for St Patrick’s Day

Happy St Patrick’s Day/Lá Fheile Pádraig! Seeing as it is the 17th of March, here is a parade of 17 excellent books by Irish authors or illustrators published in the last year. The list is mainly children’s/YA, and this is only a sample of the wonderful books being produced by Irish writers, illustrators and publishers.

Once upon a Place edited by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by PJ Lynch

A collection of poems and stories by Irish writers, all on the theme of place. With a mix of magical, spooky and moving tales this is the perfect introduction to Irish children’s literature, and PJ Lynch’s charcoal illustrations are stunning.

Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan

Needlework

Cover image from Goodreads

A powerful story about survival, lyrically written. Sullivan tackles difficult material head on and creates a book that is painful yet poetic. Steve McCarthy’s cover illustration is just perfect for the book.

One by Sarah Crossan

One Crossan

Cover image from Goodreads

Don’t just take my word for it, this moving verse novel about sisterhood was recently shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Awards, the YA Book Prize AND the Carnegie Medal.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

25613853

Cover image from Goodreads

Exciting, witty and spooky this is a brilliant fantasy adventure that fans of Derek Landy, Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling will love.

Name upon Name by Sheena Wilkinson

9781910411360

A well-researched read that offers a different perspective on the 1916 Rising, and is also a very enjoyable read. The cover design is perfect – not only does it evoke the time, but it shows how Helen is caught between two different identities, two different struggles.

Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes

27710299

Cover image from Goodreads

This blog mainly covers children’s and YA books, but I enjoyed Marian Keyes’ latest collection of essays and articles so much that I couldn’t not include it. Warm, funny and entertaining, it’s a great read.

 

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Asking For It

Cover image from Goodreads

Winner of an Irish Book Award and recently shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland awards and the YA Book Prize, this book has been starting vital conversations about rape culture and consent. It is a very difficult read, but also a very important one.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower by PJ Lynch

24727078

Cover image from Goodreads

I have been a fan of PJ Lynch’s illustrations for years, and this is the first book he has written as well as illustrated. The artwork is extraordinary and shows his talent for capturing emotions and panoramic landscapes.

The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde

The Wordsmith Cover copy smaller

Cover image from Little Island

This dystopian novel is set in a future in which arts and culture are outlawed and language is restricted. The world building is brilliant, and it is particularly relevant when thinking about the Irish language. Also, it has a beautiful cover designed by Steve Simpson.

A Hollow in the Hills by Ruth Frances Long

25648435

Cover image from Goodreads

The sequel to A Crack in Everything, this is a cracking urban fantasy read set in Dublin. There are some brilliant strong female characters, and the plot is absolutely gripping. I love how Long makes familiar monuments magical, and I cannot wait for book 3 in the trilogy.

 

Dublin Fairytale by Nicola Colton

ADF Invite

I loved this version of Little Red Riding Hood set in Dublin, particularly the spread featuring Trinity College of Sorcery! I love Colton’s style of illustration, and all the funny details included in the background of the images.

 

The Book of Learning by ER Murray

25848683

Cover image from Goodreads

The first in the Nine Lives trilogy, this is a great fantasy adventure set between Dublin and West Cork. It was the Dublin Citywide Read this year.

The Butterfly Shell by Maureen White

Butterfly

A quiet and understated read about a young girl coping with the transition to secondary school and the lingering memory of a lost sister. Very beautifully written.

Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson

LittleIsland-StillFalling-Coverideas.indd

Cover image from Little Island

I am a big fan of Sheena Wilkinson’s work and I thought this was a very powerful read about love, self-worth and dealing with your past.

Demon Road by Derek Landy

Cover image from Goodreads

Cover image from Goodreads

A supernatural roadtrip packed with vampires and demons, this is an exciting read that fans of Landy’s Skulduggery series will enjoy.

I’m a Girl! by Yasmeen Ismail

24794492

Cover image from Goodreads

A fun picturebook about being yourself with bright and exuberant illustration. A great new talent in the vibrant world of Irish picturebooks!

Irelandopedia by John and Fatti Burke

26515205

Cover image from Goodreads

A beautifully illustrated book featuring a double-page spread about each county in Ireland. Great for anyone aged 6+ who wants more fun facts about our Emerald Isle!

Happy St Patrick’s Day, and happy reading!

Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Cover image from Goodreads

Cover image from Goodreads

Asking For It

Louise O’Neill

Quercus, 2015

“They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.”

Emma O’Donovan is beautiful, popular and more than a bit arrogant. One night Emma is at a party. She is the centre of attention. She drinks too much, she takes some drugs. The next morning she wakes up half naked on her front porch, bruised and sunburnt. She has no recollection of how she got there. Slowly, through Facebook posts and whispers in school, she pieces together the awful truth.

O’Neill’s second novel has been topping bestseller lists and has received a lot of hype in the media. It is a powerful read, O’Neill does not pull any punches. Unrelentingly bleak, this is not an easy read but it is certainly a very important one. O’Neill explores the complexities of rape cases and how they are treated in the media, and looks at questions surrounding consent and culpability. One of the strengths of the novel is that Emma is no “perfect” victim. She isn’t likeable, she undercuts the self-esteem of even her closest friends and flirts with their boyfriends. When her friend Jamie is raped at a party, Emma’s reaction is far from ideal:

“You didn’t say no […] You told me you didn’t say no.”

” But […] I didn’t say yes either.”

The reluctance of both girls to use the word rape is explained by the reaction of their community to the attack on Emma. The boys who assaulted her are local sporting stars, and she is blamed for ruining their lives. There is much to commend in O’Neill’s novel. None of the characters come out well, except perhaps Emma’s brother. O’Neill shows how Emma is destroyed by the rape, and the impact it has on her community. She also reveals the damaging impact of how the discussions of these cases in the media can be. The fact O’Neill’s book has drawn on true cases makes this all the more chilling. She shows how hurtful social media can be, the images from that horrific night are spread around the whole school, and further, and the comments further Emma’s spiral into despair. The ending is as bleak as the ending of Only Ever Yours, but without the distance provided by the dystopian setting it is all the more horrific. For Irish readers, O’Neill’s fictionalised Irish village is very familiar. The repetition of certain phrases and images are very striking, this is a book that will haunt readers.

This is another hard-hitting triumph for Louise O’Neill, and it is certainly deserving of all the hype it has received. O’Neill has been involved with consent campaigns run by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and UCD and written a number of powerful articles. Asking For It and O’Neill’s outspokenness about the issues in the book will start a lot of important conversations and raise awareness about consent. O’Neill has signed a new deal for two adult books with Quercus, and I am really looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

Louise O’Neill will be speaking at DeptCon, a YA convention in Dublin later this month. Check out the full programme here.

Author Interview: Ruth Frances Long

Ruth Frances Long writes fantasy books. Her latest release is A Hollow in the Hills, second in the Dubh Linn series. I am a big fan of Ruth’s books and was delighted when she agreed to answer some questions about her writing.

Author Pic

Ruth Frances Long (image from rflong.com)

When and where do you write?

Whenever and wherever I can. I have always written but I really got serious about it when my children were small and I had to take every opportunity that presented itself. I often write longhand, so I can write in bed, and take my notebook with me everywhere so I’ve been known to write while waiting outside schools or waiting for people, or having a coffee. If I’m working on the laptop I’m usually on the sofa surrounded by cushions, cat and dog. Or, in the morning I like to sit in the sunroom at the back of our house and write over breakfast.

A Crack in Everything and A Hollow in the Hills both have a large cast of characters and an action-packed plot. How do you plan your novels?

I don’t really plan my novels at all. Not when I start. They grow from the characters first – I think about them a lot until they are very real in my head. When I start writing, I tend to have the beginning and the end in my mind, and perhaps some scenes in between but no real idea of what path the story is going to take. Having the characters first makes it something of an adventure, and they usually take off and leave me trying to keep up. As a writer, if I’m getting bored I know the reader is going to be too, so I try to avoid that. If something seems predictable and there isn’t a reason for that, I’ll try to do something different. And if I don’t the characters will. They always surprise me. It is always very difficult to talk about the way I write without sounding slightly strange. But that’s writers for you.

Dubh Linn

You have also written a stand-alone novel, The Treachery of Beautiful Things. How does this experience compare to writing a series? Which do you prefer?

I don’t really set out to write a stand-alone or a series. The story is the thing, and I try to make sure each book tells a complete story. In the case of A Crack in Everything, when I reached the end of the book, I had thought it would be a stand-alone, but the characters and the world just wasn’t finished. There was so much more to explore. So A Hollow in the Hills began. And now I’m working on the third book in the series. I don’t prefer stand-alones or a series. It’s a case of being true to whatever you’re writing. Similarly I wouldn’t want to drag out a series for too long just for the sake of making it another volume.

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

At the launch of A Hollow in the Hills you mentioned writing groups and book club, how important do you think it is for writers to have a community?

I think it’s vitally important. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and as writers we spend so much of our time inside our own heads, so having friends with similar interests is really important. I love the book world and the writing/reading community in Ireland. I find it incredibly supportive and I always know I have friends to turn to if I am finding things difficult, whether in writing or just generally.

You have incorporated a lot of Irish mythology into your books. How did your interest in myth and legend develop?

I remember having copies of Roger Lancelyn-Green’s books on mythology as a child and I loved them. They were mainly Greek, Egyptian and Roman legends, and tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Later, but not much later, I started to hear Irish legends like the Children of Lir or the Salmon of Knowledge. In time, I came across local folklore and stories that weren’t famous, or part of some grand mythological saga, but were small and local and just incredible. That’s when I was well and truly hooked. I love when stories are linked to the land around them, when they seem to grow out of the land itself, rather than being captured in a book. I love stories from an oral tradition, which change with each retelling. When I went to university I took a course in Celtic Civilisation and on the first day our lecturer arrived in to tell us that King Arthur wasn’t real. I almost quit the course there and then. I stayed of course, and to me King Arthur is always going to be real, regardless of whether a historical Arthur or proto-Arthur actually existed, because the stories made him real.

Place is very important in A Crack in Everything and A Hollow in the Hills with many of the scenes set in recognisable Irish settings. Could you tell us about how you researched the locations for the book? Was there any scene you found hard to place?

Because the idea for the world of Dubh Linn came out of Irish Folklore, which is intimately connected with place, the settings were hugely important. Dublin is an amazing place to explore. I sometimes think it changes while we aren’t looking. There always seems to be something different, something I haven’t noticed before. When researching I always try to visit the places, I take a ton of photos, I read up on the history and folklore as much as possible. Sometimes I already have an idea of a place where I want to have a scene take place, but sometimes I need to find it. I talk to people, get their Dublin stories too. Sometimes I just have to make something up as I did with the Liberty – based on the idea of the area known as the Liberties in Dublin, but here a combination of the tiny house on Dame Street, the Botanical Gardens, the Long Stone and the Thingmote where St. Andrews Church now stands, all mashed together by Sídhe Magic. More often the settings are places where I grew up, or ones that made a particular impact on me at various times in my life.

Where did the idea of melding familiar and fantastical Dublin come from?

It was a mix of things. In 2009, on my birthday, I was in Dublin and as I walked down South Andrews Street I came across a piece of graffiti. It was an angel, just as described in A Crack in Everything. She stuck with me and I started to wonder about her, imagining how she came to be there other than the obvious. She seemed so real, like she was just waiting to take off. I remembered the Irish legend that the Sídhe were once angels who refused to take a side in the war in heaven, who tried to sit on the fence and were exiled. They were, so the legend said, not good enough for Heaven, or wicked enough for Hell. With nowhere else to go, they were sent to Earth and chose Ireland as their home because they found it beautiful. They became the Tuatha de Dannan. When the Milesians arrived the magician Amergin promised to divide the island evenly between them but he tricked the Sídhe, dividing into above and below, splitting it along dimensional lines and once more they were exiled. They have envied us and plotted revenge ever since. I always loved this idea and so it was only a short leap to imagine how they would have changed and evolved over the many centuries. The links were all there waiting for me.

GA

You have said that A Crack in Everything was inspired by a piece of street art in Dublin. Do you use a lot of visual references when you write?

Definitely. I am a fiend when it comes to taking photos, so much so that my family refer to me as “picture Lady”. I find art very inspirational as well and keep a Pinterest account with ideas for different projects.

You have made a playlist for A Hollow in the Hills, and music plays an important role in the book, as well as in The Treachery of Beautiful Things. Do you listen to music when you write?

I listen to music when I think about writing, rather than when I am actually writing. That said, I do need noise when I’m writing. I find it hard to concentrate when it’s too quiet – I have that mother’s instinct that something is definitely up. But I make playlists for my books, and I listen to particular songs which I associate with characters, settings and scenes while driving, or doing other jobs. It helps the ideas to percolate while I’m not writing so that when I sit down to do it the ideas are there. I make CDs of my playlists and listen to them especially in the car while driving, or doing another automatic sort of action. I have so many ideas when I’m halfway along the motorway, which can be a problem. But I always think that if the idea is good enough it’ll either stay with me or come back when I have the opportunity to write it down.

Playlist

Playlist for A Hollow in the Hills (image from rflong.com)

A Hollow in the Hills has a large cast of characters, all complex and nuanced. Do you prefer writing the heroes or villains? Do you have a favourite character in the book?

It would be a bit like picking a favourite friend. They’re all so different and distinct to me, and they all have their parts to play. I will admit, however, to having an enormous affection for the Matriarchs. They’re not so much evil as amoral – they look out for themselves. But sometimes they take sides.

You baked a very impressive book cake for the launch. What are your other hidden talents?

I really enjoy making things – all sorts of things. I’ve made jewellery and decorated cakes, I occasionally paint, or make costumes. But I don’t do them regularly enough to really call them a hobby. I use them as a way to procrastinate mainly.

20150909_184123

Ruth’s fantastic book cake!

What do you plan to write about in future? Can you tell us anything about the next Dubh Linn book?

I’m currently working on the third Dubh Linn book. It’s somewhat darker in tones, following events in A Hollow in the Hills but I’m heading to a pretty spectacular showdown at the end. I’m still picking settings but I have a number of places in mind. Any suggestions are always welcome. Because of the way I write, I’m pretty much making it up as I go along.

I also have a timeslip which I’m editing at the moment, and a Space Opera (because who doesn’t love Space Opera) which started off life because I read a book about medieval Queen Consorts. I am also working on some ideas for new books but I’m not quite at the writing stage yet. More on the mulling over stage, getting to know my characters and worlds.

You are very involved with the Irish Sci Fi community – would you write a sci fi book?

Definitely. I’ve always written fantasy, and have recently written a Space Opera (think Star Wars). I’m also very into Steampunk. I’m not particularly interested in hard Sci-Fi, but if the right story presented itself I would definitely give it a go. The Sci-Fi community is very broad and incorporates all sorts of things so it’s very welcoming.

The tagline on your website is ‘where fantasy meets romance.’ How do you balance these two genres in your writing?

The main thing is to maintain the balance. Both fantasy and romance go very well together – there are a lot of links between the two. I try not to let one outweigh the other in the course of the story but to maintain the importance of both. A good level of realism also helps and make both the fantasy and the romance more believable.

What books would you recommend to fans of A Hollow in the Hills?

Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising Series

Alan Garner – The Owl Service

Pat O’Shea – The Hounds of the Morrigan

Gillian Philips – Firebrand (and the rest of the Rebel Angels series)

Liz de Jager – Vowed (and the rest of the Blackheart series)

My sister Amy, Ruth Long and myself at the launch of A Hollow in the Hills.

My sister Amy, Ruth Frances Long and myself at the launch of A Hollow in the Hills.

A big thank you to Ruth for answering my questions, I really enjoyed learning more about her writing and research. I can’t wait to read the third Dubh Linn book!