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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Author Interview: Natasha Farrant

I loved Natasha Farrant’s book Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice and was delighted to get to ask some questions about her research, her writing and all things Austen.

farrant-interview

Who is your favourite Bennet sister, and why?

Lydia, always, because she has so much energy and is so much fun. I know she can be awful, but the way I see her, she is driven by her determination not to get left behind by her perfect older sisters, and I find that touching.  I also love Mary: there’s a lot of both Mary and Lydia in me, I think.  Lydia is the teenage rebel, and Mary is the book geek!

Which Jane Austen novel is your favourite?

Emma. I think it’s her most polished work. It has more fully rounded characters than earlier novels, and the decision to have such a thoroughly unreliable main character is clever, funny and thought-provoking.

What inspired you to write about Lydia Bennet?

Actually, I was invited to do it by my publishers, following a conversation about Pride and Prejudice.  The moment they suggested it, I just knew I had to.  Lydia’s story is so pivotal to Pride and Prejudice, and yet we know so little about her, or what happens to her. When Chicken House (my publishers) suggested it, it honestly felt like Lydia herself was inside my head, saying “At LAST! MY side of things!” From then on, she wouldn’t let me go.

What did the research process for Lydia involve?

Re-reading ALL of Austen. Re-reading Clare Tomalin’s amazing biography of Austen, as well as lots of learned and interested books about Austen’s times – the politics, the fashion, the mores.  Spending time in Brighton museums, reading up about the early history of Brighton as a resort.  Lying on Brighton beach, picturing to myself what it must have been like…

Do you have any fascinating facts about the Regency period that you could share with us?

They were crazy about fashion, and this fashion occasionally took strange forms.  For example, they (briefly) had a sort of corset which lifted the breasts, then divided them so that they pointed outwards! I still laugh every time I think of that..

How did you find the process of weaving your own characters and ideas into Austen’s original story?

Fascinating.  The first part of the book takes place entirely in “Austen time and place”, referring to events that happen in Pride and Prejudice.  The temptation to adapt Austen’s novel to my purposes was always there, but I wanted to be very respectful of the original, and so I had to adapt my story instead.  It felt easier once Lydia was away in Brighton.  Even though there was a timeline to respect, I could be freer with my own story. As to Lydia herself, there were a few difficult moments: she felt like she was my character from the beginning, and I loved her from the very start, but there are a couple of moments in Pride and Prejudice where she is really obnoxious, and I had to work quite hard to reconcile that with my Lydia.

What is your favourite Pride & Prejudice adaptation? (I am a BBC fan myself, but I also love more experimental adaptations like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries)

The BBC adaptation, every time.

You wrote diary entries for this book, and film scripts for After Iris. Do you enjoy writing in different formats, and is there a particular format you would like to explore?

I actually don’t want to write a diary again for a very long time… It’s a really interesting format, but it’s difficult too, because you are limited not only to one character’s viewpoint, but also to what they might say about themselves.  That said, I’m currently working on a third person narrative, and I’ve grown so used to the first person that I find myself longing for that narrower viewpoint!

Sibling dynamics are very important in your books, is this something that has always interested you? Do you have siblings yourself?

I have three siblings, two sisters and a brother. I’m fascinated by the dynamics of big families, how the position within the family affects personality development.  And I like feeling part of a tribe.  I have lots of cousins too.  We’re in touch all the time, even though we live across different countries and continents.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I write long-hand, in Moleskine notebooks. I’ve tried other notebooks, as part of cost-cutting exercises, but they’re a false economy because if it’s not Moleskine, I can’t write.  I tend to write best in cafes, in the mornings, and I always listen to the same music: Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no3 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

What are you working on at the moment?

A children’s adventure story I describe as Pippi Longstocking meets Enid Blyton’s Adventure series.

Many thanks to Natasha Farrant for her brilliant answers, and to Nina Douglas for arranging the interview.

Author Interview: Judi Curtin

Lovely author Judi Curtin kindly answered my questions about her new book Time After Time, her 80s favourites and writing.

Judi TAT

How did you find the experience of writing a standalone book after writing series like Friends Forever, Eva and Alice & Megan?

That’s an embarrassing question – all of my series started off as standalone books. While writing though, I become connected to my characters and am reluctant to let them go. (Story of my life!) Also, I’m a bit of a pushover, so when young readers ask to hear more about a character, I’m happy to oblige. So even though Time after Time began life as a standalone, that’s not going to last. (I suppose every oldest child in a family started off as an only child.)

Do you write longhand, or on the computer?

Always on the computer. I’m not sure how I’d manage without features like copy/paste and find/replace. (Very useful when I change a character’s name halfway through a book or when I realise that someone’s piercing blue eyes are too cliched.) Back in the day, I used to jot down notes on the back of envelopes, if the muse hit while I was away from home. Nowadays though, sudden inspirations are recorded on my phone.

Where is your favourite place to write?

In my dreams I’d be writing in a purpose-built studio in my imaginary garden, with a babbling brook outside, and the scent of sweet-peas wafting in on the warm air. In reality, I always write on my desktop computer, which sits in the corner of my kitchen/living/dining room. (Fortunately I’m usually the only one in my house during the day.)

Where did the idea for  come from?

It started with watching my own children as young teenagers, and realising that they had no concept of what my life was like when I was their age. That moved me to thinking about girls going back to meet their young parents. The story really took off when I thought what that encounter would mean to a girl who had never known her mother at all.

Your Friends Forever series also feature time travel. So, of all your books, which time travel adventure would you go on?

It’s hard to feel a personal connection with events like the Titanic sinking, or the volcano in Pompeii, so I’d love to emulate Molly and Beth and go back to a time when my parents or grandparents were young. I’ve seen fleeting glimpses in old photographs, but I’d love to really be there, to live their lives for a brief time, to ask them about stuff.

Quickfire 80s questions:

I’m going to cheat a bit here, and give double answers to some of the questions.

  • Favourite 80s movie – two extremes – Airplane and Jean de Florette.
  • favourite 80s song –  Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen (But I have to give a special mention to Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper)
  • favourite 80s fashion – Nothing specific, but I loved the bright colours. Today’s fashions can be a bit too monochromatic for me. (Good taste is highly over-rated.)
  • what you would miss most if you travelled back in time to the 80s – My smartphone. I was not an early adopter, but now I get edgy if the battery drops below 50%
  • something from the 80s you wish was still around – I struggled with this question, so have to give the vain answer – I’d love to have the skin I had in the 1980’s – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Little Women is mentioned in Time After Time – which March sister is your favourite?

Jo – no question about it. But I guess that’s the answer all authors give?

There are some very moving scenes in Time After Time, did you find them difficult to write?

Yes. I try to put a lot of humour into my books, but most of them have a serious theme buried underneath. The story of Beth and her mum is probably the saddest I’ve ever written, and there may be a few tearstains on my dusty old keyboard. By the time I came to write the saddest scenes, I was emotionally connected to Beth, and I could almost feel her pain.

Which of your characters are you most like?

The books definitely aren’t autobiographical, but Megan and I would have a lot in common. I was a quiet, timid child, and often chose louder, braver girls like Alice as my friends. (But if you ask my children this question, they would say I’m most like Megan’s crazy mum.)

What are you writing now?

I’m already destroying Time After Time’s only-child status – I’m heading for the last edit of Fast Forward, a special World Book Day book featuring Molly and Beth on another time-travelling adventure.

Thanks to Judi Curtin for her great answers, I look forward to reading Molly and Beth’s next adventure. If you’re in Dublin tomorrow, be sure to check out the Time After Time launch:

TAT Launch

Interview: Alice Oseman (Solitaire, Radio Silence)

I was delighted to interview Alice Oseman, author of Solitaire and Radio Silence. Her two YA novels have been praised for their authentic teenage characters, she was a teenager herself when Solitaire was published. I loved Radio Silence (review here) and was particularly impressed by the diversity of the cast, the focus on friendship, and the way the podcast was integrated into the novel.
We chatted about fandoms, the internet, Alice’s writing process and more…
Alice Oseman
When writing, do you begin with a character, a scene or a plot idea?
Definitely with character! My plots change all the time but as soon as I have an idea for a character, they stay with me the whole way through.
Do you plan a lot, or dive straight into the story?
I plan in extreme detail! I need to know precisely what I’m doing and where I’m going before I start to write.
What was the main thing you learned from writing Solitaire?
That’s such a difficult question – I learnt so much! One of the main things was probably how to use subtext.
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Cover image from Goodreads

You have written a couple of Solitaire novellas. Who would you revisit from Radio Silence?
I would LOVE to write some Radio Silence novellas. I’d most like to write one about Daniel.
The internet plays a big role in both of your books and you also use a lot of pop culture references. Often writers are warned off putting in too many contemporary references as it ages the book, however it can make a book very much of its time. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t try to hide from the idea that my books are very much ‘of their time’. I aim for as much realism as I can in my writing – I love trying to completely represent the world that I live in right now. And I very much enjoy reading books that are ‘of their time’ – books written in the eighties and nineties and early 2000s. Hopefully, in the future, people will enjoy reading what the world was like in 2016!
There is a huge YA community on the internet now. Was has been your experience of this?
I’ve been a big part of the YA community on Twitter for quite a while! I find it a little stressful and intense, but ultimately, it’s amazing to see such a huge community of people all coming together in their love of books. That can only be a good thing.
Radio Silence has a really diverse cast of characters. When did you become aware of a need for diversity in YA at the moment?
Some time between Solitaire’s publication and starting to write Radio Silence. I read loads about it online and started to understand how important it was that I use my privileged position to do some good for others. Nowadays, it’s very very important to me, and although I’m nowhere near perfect and still learning so much more, I will always want to have diverse casts in my books.
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Cover image from Goodreads

You’ve spoken about the We Need Diverse Books campaign in interviews, and I was wondering which diverse YA books you would recommend?
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is one of my personal all-time favourites.
Fan culture is also important in your work. What fandoms are you part of? What has it been like seeing fanart/fanfiction for Solitaire and Radio Silence?
I’m very aware of fandoms, though I’m not sure how many I can really say I’m a part of! I know a huge amount about fandom simply from being on the internet for so long and being immersed in fandom spaces, but despite being a huge lurker online, I’m not a very active participant in many fandom spaces. I will say that I’m very knowledgable about the YouTube fandom, and lived through the huge uprising of the Glee fandom and the Sherlock fandom. And seeing fanart/fanfic for my books is one of the most exciting things I see as an author! It’s an honour that someone enjoyed my works so much that they were inspired to create something of their own.
You’re an artist, and I was wondering if you draw/use a lot of visuals when you write?
I do! I draw my characters a lot – it really helps me to visualise them and understand them better.
One of my favourite things about Radio Silence was that it had friendship at its core. Do you feel there is too much ‘insta love’ in YA at the moment (particularly heterosexual insta love)?
Absolutely, and I find it very frustrating, undoubtedly because it’s quite unrealistic. I understand why people enjoy reading insta-love – people want to believe in true love, after all! – but I’m tired of it, and I enjoy writing something different. I think friendships and other types of relationships are just as important as romances.
The characters in Radio Silence are about to go to university. I feel that characters approaching/in university are underrepresented in YA (Fangirl is a brilliant book and an exception to this). Why did you choose to have older protagonists in this Radio Silence?
I specifically wanted to write about the process of leaving school and going to university in Radio Silence, and I felt the best way to do this would be through characters about to make that change. It’s a time of great emotional upheaval, and I wish it was written about more!
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
My next book is about boyband fandoms, fame, obsession, and, as usual, the existential pain of being alive.
A big thank you to Alice Oseman for her wonderful answers, and I am looking forward to her next book!

Poetry Interview: Alicia Byrne Keane

Alicia

How did you first come across spoken word poetry? Was there a particular poem/poet that made you want to join the scene yourself?
I guess I would have first been exposed to spoken word poetry, or to people giving public readings in which there was a performance element, at the ‘Speakeasies’ held by the Trinity College Literary Society, maybe about four or five years ago at this stage. They’re basically open mic nights where people can read either original work or a poem or short story they like. Then, a few years later, one of my friends introduced me to the Monday Echo, a weekly spoken word and music night in Dublin, and I instantly became a regular there because they have a lovely atmosphere and they’re very welcoming to new poets. The poets performing around that time would have been for instance Stephen Clare, Ailish Kerr, and John Cummins, among many others. And I think I was trying to write like them a bit.
Could you discuss some of the poets who’ve influenced you? With your spoken word work rhythm is so important that music and rap must have an impact too.
I know really embarrassingly little about music aside from literally the most famous bands, so maybe I got the idea of having really rhymey poems from listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers when I was eleven or something like that. (LOL) I would say poetry-wise, Patti Smith and John Cooper Clarke would be influences, the former because of her dreamlike imagery, and the latter for his funny rhymes and insults.
Who are your favourite poets at the moment?
I know she’s sort of the go-to famous spoken word poet, but I’d really have to say Kate Tempest for performance poetry. Her stuff is so original that even though she’s been around for years but I’ve never really seen anyone successfully emulate her style. And in terms of page-poetry, I’ve got really into Paul Muldoon in the last few years. I have a bunch of his books but I saw him do a reading in a church in Oxford recently which was really great. He does such odd things with words.
You have lived and studied in both Dublin and Oxford, what are the respective poetry scenes like?
The Dublin poetry scene continues to amaze me, there’s so much on. This year was particularly packed I think because there were so many 1916 centenary-themed events. The publicity around 1916 stuff was so everpresent in Ireland, but what I noticed was that loads of poetry events found really original takes on the centenary celebrations so it never really seemed overdone, and I think that’s a good indicator of the huge creative diversity the city is currently experiencing. Oxford was different and in part I still feel unqualified to comment on its scene because I lived there for so short a time. When you think about it, in comparison I’ve been living in Dublin pretty much my entire life! But my sense was that since it’s a smaller place, there are fewer events on, which is inevitable. But I saw – and participated in – some really interesting nights where the standard was very high, particularly a night called Gin & Phonics that’s run by the Oxford Poetry Society. They have a huge interdisciplinary range of performers – DJ’s, poets, comedians, acoustic musicians – and this sounds like a cliché but no two acts are the same, it’s really varied.


Did you write much poetry as a teenager? I really hope you wrote bad angsty poetry too, although in your case it was probably good angsty poetry!
I actually didn’t write poetry at all during that time! I wish I had though, for the cringe value. I was really uncool and terrified of having unusual hobbies that would surely further confirm the depths of my uncoolness. That was the logic. But when I was a kid I did the thing of trying to write fantasy novels about people who lived in forests and horses who could talk and stuff.
How did your poetry develop in college, through studying English Literature and through involvement with literary journals or events such as Cave Writings?
That’s a really interesting question, English Literature-wise I think I got influenced at first by Romanticism, which we had a module in in First Year, and with my sort of oversimplified understanding as an eighteen-year-old I thought ‘great! I can write all this poetry that is really aesthetically pretty and completely irrational and illogical’, and I tried to write these big eloquent rants that make no sense in retrospect. But that was still a good grounding, I think. Also getting a knowledge of things like postcolonial and feminist theory has given me a good background in social justice issues which would obviously help the poetry. College poetry events played a huge role because I basically didn’t write poetry at all before, and I started writing because a certain journal was looking for submissions, or a certain open mic night was on. So that was a big creative motivator. Cave Writings are brilliant, they started around my final year of college when I had got very set in my poetry ways, and they were doing all this mad stuff like pairing poetry with visual art or with factual talks about rugby and zoology and things. So that was a very refreshing perspective, I think what they do is really original.
Your poetry is very honest, and I think you tackle a lot of relatable topics from bad relationships/dating woes (‘Hey Hey Hi Hey Hi How Are You’), to anxiety (‘Plastic Cups’), and loneliness (‘Sometimes I Am Sad Here’). Do you find poetry therapeutic, and how do you feel about being so open in your work?
That is a really scary bit actually. There’s a level of distance when something’s written on a page because you can’t immediately picture the author and you sort of view the piece of writing in isolation. But the thing that’s quite bizarre about performance poetry, when you think about it, is that you are being seen and judged and there’s an implicit consensus that the poem is autobiographical, because you’re up there saying it. But it is really therapeutic, especially if a load of poets are performing together, because there’s a sense you’re all in the same boat. It does get a bit like a support group at times, which is sort of funny.


I’ve noticed a lot of your poems have ghosts, or creepy houses that seem alive. Would you say this is an interest in the supernatural, a sense of unease, or is it more a connection to the past?
I went through a phase when I was living in Oxford that definitely translated into there being a lot of spooky ghosts in the poetry. I was living in an old creaky attic room with a weird ancient wardrobe, and I was very isolated at times just studying up there so I’d be thinking over my whole past basically, so I guess there were both kinds of unease. I think I’m partially messing about the supernatural stuff (only partially) but not so much about the past stuff.
What role does place play in your poetry? You often write about rooms or houses and I love this image of Dublin: ‘could we count the lights in the office blocks still lit and watch the Liffey black and slow moving and thick like a void that reflects in a technicolour yawn all the neon and the litter and the lights left on and the tarmac glitter in the bruising dawn and the stuff that’s bitter and the stuff that’s gone.’
Place has such a role, and it’s generally Dublin, and it’s generally either Dublin in the early hours of the morning when everything’s a bit horrible and you’ve had an argument with someone, or the sort of mystical view of Dublin that arises when you’re walking around at night on wet streets remembering all the places where various things happened. But I do also write about other places I’ve temporarily lived, both in Ireland and abroad, so there is a definite recurrence of weird apartment rooms, and I think that signifies a different thing, a sort of alienation.
When you’re starting a poem, do you work it out on the page or verbally? And what do you think makes a poem more suited to the page, or to performance?
It usually starts because I get an idea for a pair of lines or something, going around in my head, but I’d do most of the actual composing of the poem on paper because my memory is terrible. I would say that performance poetry is generally more colloquial, sort of messier and more stream-of-consciousness or something, and that page poetry is more condensed and implicit. I know I write either long rhymey poems for spoken word, or very short minimal poems for the page, but that’s perhaps a needlessly black-and-white distinction. I think a lot of the poets I see performing, Niamh Beirne for instance or Lewis Kenny, write stuff that would be equally striking whether it’s performed or written down. I was at a Poetry Ireland talk recently where a bunch of these really good poets like Doireann Ní Ghríofa were all debating about spoken word, and they were saying that any poem that’s performed aloud should also be equally readable on the page. I agree there, now I’m not so sure my poems achieve that, but I definitely know some people whose spoken word poetry is really succinct and rhythmically precise, and you get the sense that it would be equally suited to the page and to performance.
How do you develop poems for spoken word? How do you learn them off, how have you grown as a performer?
I think the only poems I ever successfully finish are the ones that I write fully formed, all in the one go, like a sort of rant. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a poem and I’ll be trying to make it work for ages, adding little bits here and there, but that’s usually a sign that it’ll eventually get abandoned. So I think maybe the most solid poems happen when I feel strongly about something on a particular moment. I honestly think my poems are easier to learn off than most because they rhyme like a song. I find non-rhyming poems almost impossible to memorise. I think I’ve grown since doing spoken word stuff because I think, as a performer, you have to view the entire night as a cohesive show that you’re participating in with all the other performers. I think you have to adapt and tailor your poems to what other people have done. That doesn’t necessarily mean pandering to a certain atmosphere or aesthetic, like going, ‘oh everyone’s been doing comedy stuff so I can’t do my serious poems, I’ll be a buzz kill’, or thinking ‘everything so far’s been really serious, will my poems seem too silly?’ But I DO think it teaches you to view yourself in relation to other performers, and calibrate your work to theirs. Like to refrain from doing a set that’s too similar to someone else’s if they’re on right before you, or to provide variety by dramatically changing the mood from that established by the previous poet.
Recently you have been writing poemlets ( I love ‘You’re Really Something’ and ‘Hypochondria’). What draws you to shorter poems, and how has your style developed?
My friend Saul Philbin-Bowman writes the shortest poems imaginable and I guess that’s where I got the idea, that and from things like the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan’s ‘One Word Poems.’ I just think there’s something really cheeky about poemlets. I had previously only written very long poems and I think I got very anxious that maybe I was incapable of being minimal, but I think now I’ve gone to the opposite extreme. I think I was studying loads of Beckett when I started writing poemlets, and I found his idea of trying to write less and less really attractive.

Alicia poemlet
Your first collection We Could Be in the Sky is being launched next week. Congratulations! How did you decide which poems to include and where did the title come from?
Thank you! I’m actually launching it with the help of the same friend, Saul, and we sort of came up with a structure where we’d include three poemlets, three medium poems, three long poems, and a short fiction piece. So it’s very structured, it’s all about the threes. Saul actually suggested the title since it’s the final line of one of my poems. It’s a reference to being on an aircoach bus on the way back from Cork when it’s completely dark outside, and you feel like you could be anywhere, like in the sky. I think it’s a nice sentence anyway.

We Could Be in the Sky will be launched in The Workman’s Club, Wellington Quay, Dublin at 8pm on Thursday June 23rd.

For more of Alicia’s poetry check out her website: https://aliciabyrnekeane.wordpress.com/

 

 

Review and Author Interview: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Dumplin

I really enjoyed Julie Murphy’s YA novel Dumplin’, and was delighted to get the chance to take part in the blog tour. Read on for my review, and a Q&A with Julie Murphy.

My review:

Willowdean is a self-proclaimed fat girl, confident in her own skin.  Dumplin’ is a nickname given to her by her mother, a former beauty queen who still runs the Clover City beauty pageant. Will’s relationship with her mother has always been rocky, her recently Aunt Lucy was the real nurturing figure in her life. She has a deep connection with her best friend Ellen founded on shared memories and Dolly Parton songs. Will is generally happy with her life and with herself, but when she discovers Bo, the guy at work she has a crush on, likes her back; things begin to change. Being with Bo doesn’t give her more self-assurance, it makes her self-confidence crumble. She is growing apart from Ellen, her relationship with her mother is getting more strained and she misses her Aunt Lucy terribly. To try and regain her confidence, Will decides to take drastic action. She will enter the Clover City beauty pageant, and shock the narrow minded people at school and in her town. But she’s not alone. Will unwittingly becomes the leader of a group of misfits who are determined to show Clover City that there is more than one version of beauty.

Dumplin' 8

The reader goes on a real journey with Willowdean and her motley crew of unlikely pageant contestants in this book. There are many great quotes from the book about self-confidence, and it has been promoted for its body positive attitude. However, Murphy also shows us Will’s insecurities and anxieties. Her self doubt is so powerfully written that it can be quite painful to read, as is her longing for the comforting presence of her Aunt Lucy. I am not a fan of love triangles, so I wasn’t very interested in that aspect of the book, but I enjoyed the focus on friendship. There are some very touching scenes with Willowdean’s fellow beauty pageant contestants, and Murphy also examines how friendships must shift and change as we grow. Most of all, I enjoyed seeing Will’s journey of self discovery. She matures a lot throughout the book, seeing how she had judged other girls in school, making new friends, and finding her inner strength.

The main reason I wanted to review Dumplin’ was that I am a big fan of Dolly Parton, and has heard that her songs were an important part of the book. I loved the quotes from Dolly and the references to her songs. The Dolly Parson impersonator night was one of my favourite scenes in the book. Thus, I thought it would be fitting to end the review with a quote from the woman herself which I feel sums up the spirit of the book:

The magic is in you. There ain’t no crystal ball. – Dolly Parton

Q&A with Julie Murphy

Julie Murphy

1) What is your favourite Dolly Parton song?

I will always love Jolene, but I think Little Sparrow might be my all time favorite.

2) What would your pageant show talent be?

I grew up doing lots of local theater or ballet. Unfortunately my body isn’t nearly as graceful as it used to be, so I think I would go with a dramatic monologue. Or online shopping–is that a talent?

3) Willowdean is a beautiful name – where did it come from?

It’s actually a very traditional Southern name here in the US, but the first time I saw it was on the nametag of an older grocery store clerk. She was grouchy and rude, but her name was so cheerful and unique. Soon after Dumplin’ was published in the US, I learned that Dolly Parton has a sister named Willadeene. If that’s not fate, I don’t know what is!

4) Which scene in Dumplin’ is your favourite, and which was most difficult to write?

I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a mini roadtrip where the girls believe they’re headed to a Dolly Parton impersonator competition, and what that scene evolved into was definitely my favorite thing to write. I had the most trouble with Aunt Lucy scenes, because I definitely had a figure like Aunt Lucy in my life growing, so it was hard not to feel like I was constantly rehashing my own grief. Also, all the moments when Willowdean was really doubting herself.

5) There are so many great quotes from Dumplin’ about self confidence and following your dreams. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

My favorite piece of advice has always been that no one is going to treat you like you’re worthy of anything until you start treating yourself that way. So no matter what it is–whether you want to fall in love or pursue the career of your dreams or just have people treat you better in general, you’ve got to make that first move and decide you are worthy and present yourself that way.

6) What YA books would you recommend to fans of Dumplin‘?

I think Beauty Queens by Libba Bray would be an excellent book to pick up after!

7) Can you tell us any more about the companion novel to Dumplin‘? Will you use multiple POVs? Which characters will you focus on?

I can’t say much, but it will be two points of view and readers should already be familiar with both characters. Unfortunately, I can’t divulge just who those two characters are at the moment.

8) What is your writing routine? Do you plan a lot before you write, do you use a notebook or a laptop etc.?

I’m a creature of the night, so all my best work happens long after everyone has gone to sleep. I most often write on my laptop, but if I’m feeling especially stuck I’ll turn to pen and paper. I rely heavily on music and my Pinterest boards, too.

Thank you so much to Julie Murphy for her excellent answers, and to HarperCollins 360 for arranging the blog tour. Check out the poster for details of the blog tour, there are plenty of great posts about Dumplin’!

Dumplin Blog tour poster

 

 

 

 

Interview with author/illustrator Nicola Colton

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Nicola Colton has recently released her first book, A Dublin Fairytale, a picturebook retelling of Little Red Riding Hood featuring familiar landmarks such as The Spire and the Ha’penny Bridge. The book has had a great reception, and has been shortlisted for an Irish Book Award. I was delighted to talk to Nicola about the process of writing and illustrating the book, her influences, her future projects and more!

ADF Invite

A Dublin Fairytale is such a clever book, where did the idea come from?

I’ve always loved fairytales and was avid reader of them as a child. The idea for the book began as a daydream on the bus in which I began to imagine fairytale characters inhabiting Dublin and pondering who they might be and where they might live. I chose to use archetypal fairytale characters such a troll, a witch and a dragon to work with initially. The idea’s first application was in the form of a ‘promotional pack’ to send out to potential clients and comprised of a set of postcards with a fairytale character and a Dublin landmark on each one and accompanied by an illustrated map of ‘Fairytale Dublin’. As an illustrator finding new ways to promote yourself and get your work seen is essential. I sent one to The O’Brien Press and Emma the Art Director saw the potential in the idea for a picture book. I had no story in mind as such, just some character ideas but with encouragement from Emma and Helen the editor I wrote a draft story. I wanted the book to allow the reader to explore Dublin through the narrative and pictures but with a fairytale twist. Creating the book was a chance to combine my love of Dublin, which was my home for 11 years, with my love of fairytales.

What is your favourite spread in A Dublin Fairytale?  

My favourite spread is probably the one with the Ha’penny Bridge in which you are first introduced to the character of the Troll. The Ha’penny Bridge is wonderful and it was great to get the opportunity to draw it. I also loved drawing and painting the troll as designing and conjuring up creatures is one of my favourite things. I discovered through the process of making this book that I really like drawing buildings and scenery. I realised that backgrounds are very important to me, especially when I was depicting a city that I know very well and love.

Hapenny Bridge.jpg

There are a lot of fun details in the illustrations, is there one you particularly enjoyed working on?

I really enjoyed working on the spread which featured Trinity College as it is such an iconic and impressive building. It was really fun to add my own fairytale twists on the college by changing the name to ‘Trinity College of Sorcery’ and turning the statues of Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith into a wizard and witch to reflect the sorcery theme. I also liked adding lots of things happening in the background like a ‘spell cloud’ billowing from one of the chimneys, a witch on a broomstick in the sky and some sorcery students chatting. I like illustrations that I can spend a lot of time on and get lost in the detail  and drawing Trinity afforded me that opportunity. It was also important to me that while I added my own fairytale tweaks that the building was still very much recognizable as Trinity College; as it is such a beloved landmark.

Trinity

What are the influences on your illustrative style?

I love folk art with it’s use of motifs and patterns, clean lines and it’s naïve yet often elegant quality. I also love muted and limited colour palettes, so vintage picture books like ‘Rosies Walk’ by Pat Hutchins and ‘Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats appeal to me and I love Miroslav’s Sasek’s series of picture books that explore different cities like London,New york and Paris. Sasek’s style is restrained and elegant and he captures the spirit and enchantments of each city beautifully. I also love Michel Delacroix paintings of buildings, shops and street scenes; they are so charming and full of life.

I also have a 1960’s edition of ‘Uncle Remus stories’ featuring some of the ‘Brer Rabbit’ tales that I love and it is illustrated beautifully by William Backhouse.

Influences 1

Influences 2

Can you tell me about your technique and what media you work in?

I always start with pencil and paper sketches initially and then colour using a combination of acrylic painting and digital techniques.

What is your least favourite thing to draw?

My least favourite things to draw are horses and bicycles, both of which I had to draw this year. It’s all the components to a bike that throws me off and the anatomy and proportions of a horse that I find difficult. To draw the for projects this year I drew them over and over again until I reached a rendering that I was happy with. I usually start with detailed drawings and then pare then back more and more until the end result is in my more simplified style.

How did you get into illustration?

I studied Graphic Design in IADT Dun Laoghaire and I worked in design for a couple of years after college. Even though we didn’t do much drawing in our course it gave me a really solid foundation for illustration as I learned a lot about composition, typography, colour and very practical skills like scanning and using design software which has proved invaluable in my everyday work as an illustrator. I was always interested in illustration but back when I was choosing a college course the two choices that I had were either Fine Art or Graphic Design and I had no idea how to begin pursuing a career as an illustrator. I enjoyed college but I didn’t feel creatively fulfilled when it came to  working as a graphic designer. I was lucky enough to come across a poster for Adrienne Geoghegan’s ‘Illustration Boot Camp’ in a coffee shop and I got in touch with her straight away and booked a place on her course. During her first class I felt very nervous as I was completely out of practice with drawing but as I went through the warm up creative exercises she set for us, I felt as though a light had been turned on inside of me and I knew that I wanted to be an illustrator and I’ve been drawing ever since.

Who are the illustrators you admire most at the moment?

I love Yasmeen Ismail’s work as it has a lovely spontaneous feel to it and it’s so full of energy, colour and happiness. I also recently purchased Briony May Smith’s book ‘The Goblin King’ which is beautifully illustrated and a fantastic story. I also love Chris Judge’s work, he comes up with brilliant characters and there’s great humour to his illustrations; his new book ‘The Snow Beast’ looks like his best work yet.

What books did you enjoy as a child?

I vividly remember my very first trip to the library with my ‘Ma’ when I was five and checking out  Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl. I read and re-read it for an afternoon and then asked if I could go back to the library for more books. That was the beginning of my love of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, other favourites include George’s Magic Medicine (and I remember spending a day trying to concoct my own ‘medicine’ by mixing things together that I found in the house) The Twits and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I also went through a big Enid Blyton phase and I loved The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S Lewis. I  had an edition of The Brothers Grimm Fairytales which I continually returned to as well.

What are your favourite fairytales and fairytale retellings?

Revolting Rhymes contains some amazing fairytale retellings and Roald’s version of Red Riding Hood is absolutely hilarious. Red Riding Hood has always been a favourite of mine as my granny gave me a Red Riding Hood storytelling doll shortly before she died when I was 6. I was very close to her so reading that fairytale always made me feel a connection with her, which was why I included a Red Riding Hood type character in A Dublin Fairytale.

Storytelling doll

You have illustrated a number of projects before – such as the Alice and Megan covers and Castaways – but A Dublin Fairytale was the first book you have written. How did you find the writing process? Do you plan to write more books?

To be honest writing was something that I loved in school and in college but I felt rusty and out of practice with it when I came to writing this book. I had written a couple of picture book story drafts previously, one was even shortlisted for the ‘AM Heath Children’s Prize’ last year but was still in need of further development and another one that I never quite finished as I had lost interest in the idea is gathering dust in a drawer. As writing a picture book was a pretty new venture for me I was intimidated by the thoughts of  writing the first draft and also getting the pictures to work with the story. In the end I knew the best way to overcome my fear was to just write it and do the work. I had overcome a similar block with drawing using the same process. There were a few years where I held myself back from drawing and creativity in general by overthinking things. I would draw something and if it didn’t look like what I had imagined or came out ‘wrong’ I would get frustrated and give up easily. The breakthrough for me came in realising that drawing is a process and it may take lots of drawings before you get it ‘right’ and you just need to be patient and keep practicing and I think writing is a similar. Whenever I have the opportunity to do a workshop with children I always encourage them to get stuck in and not to be afraid to make ‘mistakes’. I tell them that there is no right or wrong way and that everyone has a different style of drawing and that is what is so great about illustration. I don’t want children to get ‘stuck’ in the process like I did for so many years because I was aiming for perfection each time. Writing seems to be the same process, you just have to be patient and keep working on it and I would love to write and illustrate more picture books.

Could you tell us about any projects you are working on at the moment? 

I just finished working on a poetry picture book that will be released next year. It was really fun to work on as each spread offered a chance to work a new theme.The poems included were about everything from rockets and monsters to farm animals and pirates. I got to illustrate a wide range of characters and backgrounds which was a very enjoyable and at times challenging experience. I’m also working on a new idea for a picture book and I am at the writing and thumbnailing stage. It’s a story that I started last year and want to develop now that I have some time.

Hodges Figgis 1

Nicola Colton painting in the window of Hodges Figgis bookshop, Dublin

A big thank you to Nicola Colton for her wonderful answers, and for the images I have used with this interview. A Dublin Fairytale was published this year by the O’Brien Press – check it out!

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

Author Interview: Katy Cannon

If you like cake and YA, I’m sure that you will be a fan of Love, Lies and Lemon Pies by Katy Cannon. The book is about a bake club, and there is a delicious recipe before each chapter. With the Great British Bake Off in full swing, I was delighted to chat to this author about cake…and writing of course!

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Katy Cannon

Which Bake Club character were you most like as a teenager?

Probably Lottie, but without so much angst! The opening scene of the book, where she gets called into the head of year’s office because the school is worried about her, is actually based on something that happened to me – although for very different reasons. I remember very well that feeling of giving the teachers what they want to hear or see, just to stop them calling my parents!

Do you have a favourite scene from Love, Lies and Lemon Pies?

Actually, I have two! One is the scene with Mac and Lottie hiding under the stairs at Grace’s house, eavesdropping shamelessly on Jasper and Ella. I love the part where their conversation turns to things Mac remembers about Lottie through the years, and she realises she isn’t as forgettable and invisible as she always thought.

The other is a scene that actually got added in very late in the process – possibly only in the final draft. It’s the bit at Grace’s party where Mac and Lottie slope off to hang out on the trampoline together. Apparently all the good stuff happens at Grace’s house!

Did you plan the recipes ahead of writing, or see what recipe each chapter called for as you wrote? Did you always plan to intersperse recipes throughout the book?

The idea for including recipes in the book came seconds after the idea to write about a Bake Club. I was talking the idea through with my agent (over cake and coffee) and when the idea of the recipes came up we both got really excited about it.

Some recipes were just a natural fit. I brainstormed a few of my favourite sweet treats and savory bakes while I was plotting out the book, but after that I just picked the most appropriate bake for the chapter I was writing. It came together surprisingly easily!

Which was your favourite recipe from the book? And which took the longest to perfect? Did you have any baking disasters?

The Pecan Loaf was almost a disaster of the plotting kind. All along I’d had it in my head that this was what Mac would bake – a savory pecan bread. But then I realised that he wouldn’t have time to let the dough rise during the competition, so I had to come up with a whole new recipe at the last minute!

Mac's Pecan and Maple Syrup Loaf

Mac’s Pecan and Maple Syrup Loaf

The chocolate chip cookies, and Mac’s chocolate brownies are two of my favourites – mostly because I love chocolate! But Mac’s Grandma’s Gingerbread recipe is actually my Grandma’s recipe – discovered in an old notebook a few years after she died. So I have a soft spot for that one too.

Mac's Double Chocolate Chip Brownies

Mac’s Double Chocolate Chip Brownies

What is your favourite kind of cake?

Strangely, one that never made it into the book! I adore lemon drizzle cake – my brother makes a particularly good one.

Could you tell us about your new book, Secret, Schemes and Sewing Machines?

Secrets, Schemes & Sewing Machines is Grace’s story, told from her point of view as she lives through her most difficult school year yet. She has big plans for the year – she wants to star in the school play – but family dramas mean she misses the audition. She throws a suitably Grace-like hissy fit, convincing the gorgeous new boy, Connor, that she’s a high maintenance diva, and then somehow ends up volunteering to organise and make the costumes for the play to show him he’s wrong.

It was so much fun to revisit the Bake Club group, but see them from another point of view, and follow a different trajectory. The book is very much about Grace learning the sort of person she wants to be, and that was really interesting to write. I also loved coming up with all the sewing projects!

Baking or sewing?

It depends how hungry I am… No, really I love both, but in different ways. Baking tends to give more immediate satisfaction, but I also really enjoy taking time to choose or develop a pattern, pick fabrics and supplies, and have some time just me and my sewing machine.

Do you watch any baking shows? Who are your favourite bakers?

Obviously, the Great British Bake Off. But I like a lot of cookery programmes generally. I used writing Love, Lies and Lemon Pies as a bit of an excuse to stock up on recipe books too – lots by Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and anything with cake in the title! I also love the Primrose Bakery books.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Describe the showstopper cake you would make to introduce yourself on the Great British Bake Off.

Oh, that’s a great question! Let me see… I think I’d like to bake a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party cake – a whole table, topped with tiny individual cakes and treats of all sorts, icing hats and a dormouse in a teapot!

What books would you recommend for fans of Love, Lies and Lemon Pies?

The Geek Girl series, for definite. My Secret Rock Star Boyfriend by Eleanor Wood. Anything by Sarah Dessen. And maybe Jenny Han as a next step…

Could you tell us about your writing process? Are you a planner?

It tends to vary from book to book, to be honest. But I am definitely a planner – both plotwise and timewise. I need to have a very firm idea of what or how much I need to write when, or I start  worrying about deadlines.

Usually I start by just thinking about the story I want to tell, scribbling down notes as they occur to me about characters, scenes, themes or images. Then eventually, when it feel right, I start piecing it all together until I have a firm grasp of the characters and at least an outline of the plot. Then it’s just filling in the gaps by writing the story – and accepting that it will all change as I get into the book!

What are you writing now?

Right now I’m working on a new YA novel that I’m really, really excited about – but unfortunately I can’t say anything more just yet! Keep an eye on my website (www.katycannon.com) for news as soon as I’m allowed to share.

Katy Cannon's YA novels

Katy Cannon’s YA novels

A huge thank you to the lovely Katy Cannon for her wonderful answers, and for the images I have used in this post.

Happy reading, baking and sewing!