Mary McGill

RTÉ Radio One: Francis MacManus Award

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Ask most writers why they write and they’ll tell you they have little choice in the matter. It is an urge, a compulsion, to filter life through words, finding new ways to express things that often feel beyond language. If, along the way, you pick up a notice or two for your literary endeavors, all to the good. I always need reminding my writing may not be the worst in the world and to that end, I’m delighted to have been shortlisted for the 2014 Francis MacManus Award. The full short list and dates of broadcast (oh yes, broadcast) are listed on RTÉ Radio One’s website. My thanks to this year’s judges Christine Dwyer Hickey, Julie Parsons and Eoin Purcell, and big congrats to my fellow nominees. Well feckin’ done.

The Bohemyth, May 2014

Amsterdam Books

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I snapped this outdoor bookshop near Mueseumplein. Ain’t it grand? I could spend hours pottering about an Irish equivalent. Keep a few bin bags to throw over the shelves in case of rain and sure, you’d be away for road. Speaking of things that are grand, the kind folk at The Bohemyth included a story of mine in their May edition. If you like photography and writing, there is much to enjoy.

The South Circular Issue 9

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The South Circular is a Dublin-based literary e-journal. Beautifully produced by a team who know their design as well as their writing (really, really well in both respects), I was delighted to be one of the authors featured in their ninth issue, which you can purchase here. Special mention has to go to Dave Comiskey who designed the cover. It’s great to see Irish publishers like The South Circular team developing new formats and new ways of reaching readers while also creating fresh spaces for writers to share their work. Bravo to all and thanks for having me.

Crannóg 34 Launch

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Creative writing is a curious thing. Locking yourself away, squinting at a page or a screen, scribbling down sentences that are ninety percent awful, seven percent passable and three percent vaguely satisfying, is hardly the foundation for a healthy social life or any type of functional life, full stop. It’s hard and lonely and if people think you’re a little bit mad because you feel you simply have to write, then hell’s bells, they are probably correct. 

Having written non-fiction for the bulk of my life and having it come relatively easily to me did not prepare me for the realities of fiction writing. Creating opinions as opposed to creating entire worlds are two very different crafts. Last week, for the first time ever, I read something I had written to a room of almost complete strangers ( a group of friends came along from my MA course to surprise me, which they did. They also made me very happy, bless ‘em.) Now, I’ve been on stage, radio, TV etc. and reading things to an audience is generally not a problem for me. That is, of course, because the ‘thing’ is at a quite a nice remove. A script, a running order, notes – all written by someone else you see or by me in a professional capacity, all concerning topics I can talk about but still remain, on a personal level, a safe distance from.

There is no hiding place when it comes to reading your fiction in public. If people hate it, you’ll see it in their faces, you’ll feel it in the air. No wonder so many writers eschew reading their work for audiences altogether. Even if the story is entirely fictional, it is still you, on a page, laid bare for people to draw all kinds of conclusions from, not safely tucked away at home where you can’t see them but right there, in front of your eyes, as you quiver on stage.

But I did it and it wasn’t bad. I survived, without gagging, crying or making a hasty beeline for the loo mid-performance. The generosity of the other writers was what really blew me away though. As a novice, I will never, ever forget it. People don’t have to be nice or kind or encouraging, especially those far more established than you, but when they are, what a gift it is. The piece I read is called Two Eyes, Watching from the latest edition of Galway’s brilliant (if I do say so myself) Crannóg magazine, issue 34, whose launch we were celebrating. The cover is by local artist Harriet Leander. As you can see from above, it is just gorgeous. Thanks to team Crannóg for having me and to all the authors and poets who lit up the Crane Bar last Friday night. You can pick up Crannóg here or from (the best bookshop in Ireland, folks!) the always outstanding Charlie Byrnes in Galway City.

P.S. Here’s a nice collection via Flavorwire.com of brilliant author’s reading their work in public. Hope it inspires you.  Truman Capote is probably my favourite out of the lot. To Tiffany’s!

Book Review: ‘The Shining Girls’, plus a ‘thank you’ to Penguin Ireland & the RTÉ Guide

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Last Friday (September 13th, but far from unlucky) I was delighted to be able to attend a writing workshop by Penguin Ireland and the RTÉ Guide in Pearse Street Library for the winner and runners up of their annual short story competition. I was shortlisted for this year’s award – hooray! – but getting invited along to meet other writers and hearing from the best in the business was an extra special treat. 

So did we all walk away with a handful of magic beans to liberally sprinkle over our scribbles, turning them into surefire best sellers? Not exactly. If there is one thing to keep in mind when it comes to writing, it is that there are no short cuts. You write to rewrite and then rewrite again. A first draft is just that, a first draft, not a finished book. Faith O’Grady from the Lisa Richards Agency stressed the importance of language, plot and character. Writers can get so absorbed by one or two of these, they can forget to balance all three. And publishers always like hearing about ‘books with hooks’.

So, you’ve submitted your story or manuscript and lo, it’s been over three months and you haven’t heard anything. Is it okay to check in with the editor you submitted to? Yes, provided you’re polite and not overbearing, as Penguin’s Patricia Deevy pointed out. No one likes feeling harassed or dealing with difficult people.

The writers panel of Sinead Moriarty, Mary Grehan and Niamh Boyce was excellent; honest, funny and full of  insight to the highs, lows and sheer hard work that goes into writing. One thing that I’ll always keep with me is Sinead’s approach to being an author. In the face of all the slaving and the rejection, she pointed out the importance of writing because you love it as opposed to writing to get published. One is about passion, the other is a business plan. One will sustain you, the other will probably always stand you up.

Thank you Penguin Ireland and the RTÉ Guide for a fantastic day out. The sandwiches were delicious and the company was lovely.

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I’m a big crime/thriller fan but every so often even I have to take a break from devouring Slaughter and Nesbo. Why? Well,  I’m so used to the conventions and the pacing of crime fiction that sometimes I get bored, which is probably my own fault for overdoing it. Reviewing The Shining Girls by South Africa’s Lauren Beukes was refreshing because although it fits neatly into the  crime / thriller genre, it takes one of the usual tropes – serial killer on the rampage – and gives it a terrifying new edge: the ability to time travel.

How do you catch a killer who can bounce through time? Beuke’s Harper Curtis is a despicable creation. He bleeds evil. His obsession with finding and brutally murdering ‘shining’ girls (that is, girls on the cusp of doing great things with their lives) continues unchecked from the 1930s until the 1990s, when he picks on the wrong shining girl, Kirby, a brilliantly sparky, tough heroine. Kirby survives, setting out to find her attacker but Harper will not be easily defeated.

If you’re looking for a new twist on crime fiction, The Shining Girls will not disappoint. Like almost every crime / thriller this year, it has been compared to Gone Girl but it is a very different beast. You can listen to my review for RTÉ Radio One’s Arena below:

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