Psychopaths, wha? You couldn’t be up to them. To be honest, I love the darker side of popular culture. Thankfully for sickos like me, the past few years have produced a bumper crop of psychopathic characters that can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with Hannibal Lecter and his fava beans. RTÉ’s Arena recently did a feature on psychopaths in fiction, which I contributed to. Narrowing down my list of ‘favourite’ psychopaths was tricky but I got there. It included Frank Underwood (House of Cards) Vee Parker (series two, Orange is the New Black) and Amy Dunne from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl*. From an Irish perspective, I highly recommend Liz Nugent’s brilliant Unravelling Oliver as the Oliver in question is a rotter as Roald Dahl would say. You can listen back to the chat here.
*Every time I see a new still etc. from the Gone Girl film I pray to Gods I don’t believe in that they will do the book justice. I’m probably asking too much but I live in hope.
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.
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:
When not casting a long eye over the internets for work, I’ve been reading for Arena, RTÉ Radio One’s flagship arts programme, so if you’re heading for the sun (we had it here in Ireland, once) and are wondering what to read as you chill, these might help.
Lisa Jewell’s The House We Grew Up In has a very pretty cover but the actual story – an interweaving tale of a family with a hoarder matriarch and a host of dark secrets – was much more than the cover image suggested. Fans of Jewell (and she has many, this is her 11th novel, a sure-fire bestseller like the rest) will find a lot to love between these pages. Click below to listen.
I read Alison Jameson’s debut This Man and Me many moons ago and it really stayed with me so I was thrilled to be asked to read her latest, the gorgeous and heartbreaking Little Beauty, which tells the tale of Laura Quinn, an eccentric native of the Atlantic-bruised Whale Island. Laura’s struggles with love, motherhood and small-minded society are beautifully evoked by Jameson, making for a great read and leaky eyes. You can listen to my full review with the lovely Seán Rocks below:
If you are a fiction fan and like your short stories, the kind folk at Dublin online literary journal The Bohemyth published a story of mine ( Pandora453 ) recently, which you can read here. While you’re there be sure to check out the rest of the site. Lots of great writing and photography, all for free, so what’s not to love, am I right? I’m also very happy to have a story featured in the latest edition of Wordlegs, which should be out soon.
Apparently the summer is fast approaching although you wouldn’t know it on the Western seaboard of the Emerald Isle – plus ca change and all that. As I type the sky is a moody grey, threatening rain or worse. I know there are downsides to a heatwave but right now a dash of one would be most welcome, which brings us to Ms. O’Farrell’s rather wonderful book.
Firstly, I must confess that Instructions for a Heatwave is – to my shame – the first Maggie O’Farrell book I have ever read. I say ‘shame’ because O’Farrell is one helluva novelist. If you love Anne Tyler – and really, how could you not? – you must check out O’Farrell’s work post haste. Her writing is spare but perfectly stitched together, the portraits she paints of individuals, families and places are flawless. They live and breath on the page. Did I mention how gifted she is?
We meet in the Riordan family in July 1976, as a tremendous heatwave grips London. Recent retiree Robert leaves the family home to ‘get the paper’ but when he doesn’t return matriarch Gretta rallies her children, drawing her fractured family together: Monica the eldest, an unhappy divorcee, Michael Francis the middle child, a frustrated history teacher, and Aoife, the youngest and the wild child. What follows is a masterful exploration of family dynamics and the consequences of secrets that are on the verge of boiling point.
If commercial fiction leaves you underwhelmed Instructions for a Heatwave matches fine writing with an equally finely woven story, making perfect beach reading material. Now, all we need is some sun. Any ideas? For your listening pleasure, here I am reviewing Instructions for a Heatwave with Sean Rocks on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena: