Nearly seven years ago, and I really can’t believe it was that long, I began my degree at NUI Galway in Ireland. I chose Galway for one reason only: I could study creative writing there. As someone who had been interested in words, books and literature ever since I could remember, it seemed a natural choice.
A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
Now that I’ve graduated from my masters, I’ve had more time to focus on my creative work.
But how do you turn off that editorial side of your brain? As a journalist, I’ve become accustomed to writing and editing almost simultaneously.
Last week The British Library opened a major new exhibition on the Gothic imagination. Running until 20 January 2015, it marks 250 years of the supernatural in literature and film, starting with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764.
Today is a day for family, and to remember.
I don’t know any other way but to turn to words in sad times.
My grandmother holds a very special place in my heart, and she makes me realise that happy memories make all the difference.
“You can make anything by writing.”
– C.S. LEWIS
Does a cover really have that much influence on whether or not we choose to read a book?
The New York Times recently published an article about new book covers being created for ‘classic’ novels to attract young-adult readers. Continue reading “Do You Judge A Book By Its Cover?”
“I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’
So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.
The writer’s job is to tell the truth.”
– ERNEST HEMINGWAY
Bestselling author J.K. Rowling, 46, has revealed the cover of her first adult book, The Casual Vacancy, which will be published by Little, Brown and Company on 27th September 2012.
The striking but simple yellow, red and black cover with white titles indicates a huge departure from Rowling’s previous work. The Harry Potter series, with which she made her name, used colourful character drawings on the cover to attract a younger audience.
Her last novel – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in a series of seven – was published in 2007. Rowling has since earned an OBE for services to children’s literature, as well as having been awarded France’s Légion d’Honneur, the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award and the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord.
The Casual Vacancy will centre on a small English town, Pagford, and the “blackly comic” parish council election that happens there.
“When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Seemingly an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war,” say Rowling’s publishers, Little, Brown. “[The character’s passing is] the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen.”
The author is currently estimated to be worth more than £620 million from the Harry Potter brand.
What do you think of Rowling’s book cover? Will you be one of the first to buy her new novel? Comment below!
It’s been almost two weeks since I flew over from Ireland and set up camp here in the beautiful city of Avignon, south-east France, for my third year of university. Continue reading “La Vie En France”
I actually can’t believe it.
My dream of becoming a writer – a real, proper writer – is finally coming true.
I’m sitting here in 30 degrees of sunshine, hearing snippets of French drift in from the open windows. Clutching my notebook and a blue pen, I’m scribbling swirls of ideas for articles and thinking about the rough drafts of my book. My future book! (Cue several squeaks of excitement.)
Today I received an email from one Geraldine Mills, a widely-published novelist, short story writer and poet (Wow! Not short on talent). In conjunction with my university, she has become my editor/mentor for a wonderful, blissful year of incredibly challenging work. I will concentrate on the development of my novel during the course of the year, submitting a few thousand words in my weekly revision sessions with her, for my third year undergraduate studies. This is the year I’ve been waiting for since I started college: being able to focus entirely on just creative work.
Over the past two years that I’ve been studying Creative Writing at university (check out writing.ie for my article discussing it), I’ve discovered that it can be so much hard work; dedication and effort are needed in spades to succeed. Writing, though, is so utterly rewarding that every day, I just fall in love with it more.
My writer’s journey is just beginning.
Time has absolutely flown this summer. One month ago, I returned from the unbelievable city of London, and I already want to go back.
London has a way of never letting you forget it. When it calls you, you have to answer.
Trawling through the maze of the city’s streets is an experience unlike any other. It’s incredibly vast, and with only four days to explore…we spent thirty-eight hours camping out in Trafalgar Square.
From 5am on Wednesday morning to about 7pm Thursday evening, we took up residence in one of the most iconic squares in the capital. The final Harry Potter premiere was to take place, on Thursday the 7th of July, 2011, in this very spot. We not only wanted to visit the quintessential, historic London sights and spend more money than we had on shopping, but we wanted to be there when the epic film saga, based on the world-famous J.K. Rowling’s book series, came to a smashing close.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 shattered records all over the globe, not only to become the highest grossing film of 2011, but is now the third highest grossing film of all time, after Avatar and Titanic, taking in box office sales in excess of $1 billion.
We, however, still had over a week to wait before we could flock into the cinema for the finale, and time was ticking ever so slowly away to the start of the premiere. Seventeen hours down, fourteen hours to go: it was the middle of the night. We were frozen, lying on one solitary blanket with jackets wrapped around us, huddling together for warmth. The stage setup’s bright flashing lights were whirling and spinning in every direction. preventing us from getting any valuable sleep in our makeshift tent.
Our lone voices began to sing. Our choruses of Disney classics and rounds of Abba songs sailed through the dark, amongst the mass of humans gathered in the Square, below the faraway shining stars.
The next day was spent clutching small umbrellas amidst the lashing rain, squashed against railings, and screaming our heads off with excitement. After waiting for endless hours and finally meeting the actors, hearing the heartfelt and tearful speeches by the cast and crew, and seeing Jo Rowling at the last HP premiere EVER…
…We were wrecked, emotional, deprived of sleep and food, and ready for our real London adventures to begin.
The following morning, being the literature enthusiasts that we are, off we trotted to Shakespeare’s Gl0be in Southwark for a tour of the reconstructed theatre. As we walked over the old cobblestones and spotted painted poetic quotes on walls, it felt very much straight out of the Elizabethan era. The theatre itself only opened its doors in 1997.
Since, I believe, there is no actual image of the Globe Theatre as Shakespeare would have known it, the faithful reproduction is based on authentic original drawings from Queen Elizabeth I’s time. Under the direction of American actor/director Sam Wanamaker, the atmosphere of the new Globe was created by the replication of techniques that would have been used to build theatres in the 1600s, such as a thatched roof, with no steel or use of amplification.
We treaded on famous names carved into stepping stones underfoot, were told about the walls made of goat hair (ew) and saw the stagehands setting up for the afternoon performance. There were a few costumes onstage for the ‘Anne Boleyn’ play later that evening, threaded with the utmost care and devotion; they were all handmade dresses, each worth a cool £10,000!
That night was spent with The Wizard of Oz cast at the famous London Palladium Theatre, Argyll Street, which has the most amazing location: just off Oxford Street. I hadn’t heard a live orchestra play probably since I was in school. The booming clashes of the ‘Over the Rainbow’ overture theme magnified a thousandfold throughout the massive theatre when we entered.
The spectacular visual effects, particularly the hurricane in Kansas, combined with the show’s powerful musical numbers and strong soloist performances to make it a truly fantastic production. The show’s cast even got a standing ovation from the audience at the end!
Our last day in London was spent by the River Thames in the beautiful Westminster (my favourite part of the capital), where we ran into Johnny Depp (“Cap’n Jack Sparrow”) and Charlie Chaplin beside the London Eye, as you do. I really wanted to experience the London Eye and see the whole of the city below me…
…except I did not really factor in my fear of heights. Hmph.
After a thorough security check, we hopped on the London Eye (and it doesn’t stop. AT ALL. You actually have to jump onto the pod, while the wheel is MOVING). Rising higher and higher into the air, the golden sun glistening over Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, the crowd below on the bridge became smaller and smaller, until all we could see were little human dots bobbing along beside the rumbling, bright red, double-decker buses.
By this point, I was obviously clinging to my seat in the middle of the pod, taking deep breaths and wishing for dear life that I was back on the ground.
Once the half-hour tour was up, my feet were firmly and delightedly back on English soil (knowing that I would be thousands of feet higher in the air later when I got on the plane home. Very reassuring as you can imagine). My first and, hopefully, last time on the London Eye had been terrifyingly fun.
On the flight back home to Ireland, we were already missing our favourite city: the fact that when we’d got (BRIEFLY) lost, we had ended up on a landmark (London Bridge), being proud that we knew what Lines to get on at the Tube stations, and just the real friendliness of the people.
London is such an easy place to love.
During a wonderful night out with my best friend of nine years, she came out with quite an unusual statement. Now, while our conversations are generally pretty mad anyway (spluttering with inside jokes, laughter and random digressions), this one contained a remarkably deep insight.
“When I read your writing, it sounds like it’s coming from a part of you that I don’t often see,” she said.
This is coming from someone who has grown up with me for almost a decade: from eleven-year-old kids in Irish College, to (cough, cough) agonising over our secondary school exams, to being vehicle-owning college students halfway through our undergraduate degrees. We have giggled together, we have supported each other, and, most of all, we have seen each other through the dark times, when it seemed like the world had stopped turning. She knows me better than almost anyone.
She’s well used to my book obsession, journalistic ambitions, and fondness for correct spelling and grammar, but for her to say that she doesn’t often hear my writing voice, I found a bit surprising.
Writing has always been my passion, and it was many years before I met Elaine. I can’t imagine my life without it. The love of literature is completely ingrained in me. Surely, if my best friend read my writing, she would hear my familiar tones, my stubborn opinions, and my innermost thoughts ringing out through my words?
Well, not exactly. Despite its huge importance and prominence in my life, writing is still only a part of me. Elaine knows I am a writer, but she doesn’t know my creative voice, because it’s not the one I use aloud. It drives me, but it doesn’t define me. It’s a small but essential piece of me, hiding shyly at the back of my mind, waiting for the moment it can let loose on a blank page. It’s always within me, whether it’s heard or not; like she said, it’s the part of me that others don’t really see.
The sight of me roaring with laughter over a book is a rare one. The joys of being an English Literature undergraduate mean that most of the books I read have a serious literary undertone to them; even the non-academic ones that I enjoy reading often don’t have many parts that make me giggle.
I like subtle comedy: the glimmer of the odd funny line, the quick banter of dialogue, or the comical clash of personalities. Believe it or not, the book that makes me laugh out loud the most is not by a comedian or television personality, but by a quiet author who spent her early writing days planning the development of her book series in small Edinburgh cafés, with her baby daughter by her side.
J. K. Rowling is known for her creation of epic battles, flawed characters and complex plots, but little is spoken about her use of humour in the world renowned Harry Potter series (1997-2007). She employs her clever, sharp wit regularly throughout the seven novels for comic relief (usually from redheaded Ron), but the increasingly dark tone towards the end of the saga tends to conceal the interwoven flickers of comedy. The first two Harry Potter novels – Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets – in my opinion, are the most lighthearted of the series; while both deal with heavy subject matters, such as death and evil, the young age of the protagonists (eleven in Book One and twelve in Book Two) gives that little bit of extra freedom to Rowling to include more humour, as the kids establish themselves in their wizard school, Hogwarts.
Having successfully completed the first step of Harry’s journey in Philosopher’s Stone, Rowling flies off the mark from the get-go in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, showcasing her comedic skills.
“‘Do I look stupid?’ snarled Uncle Vernon, a bit of fried egg dangling from his bushy mustache.”
These sly and funny comments, the ones you’d hardly notice dotted here and there on the page, are the ones that make me laugh the most, not some big anecdote from a comedian’s autobiography that I will remember and be bored by the next time I read it. Rowling integrates her humour with particular aspects of her characters’ personalities, to make it all the more entertaining. Dudley, for instance, is Harry’s greedy, selfish cousin, whose interaction with Harry always gives me a few laughs:
“Dudley hitched up his trousers, which were slipping down his fat bottom.
‘Why’re you staring at the hedge?’ he said suspiciously.
‘I’m trying to decide what would be the best spell to set it on fire,’ said Harry.
Dudley stumbled backwards at once, a look of panic on his fat face.
‘You c-can’t – Dad told you you’re not to do m-magic – he said he’ll chuck you out of the house – and you haven’t got anywhere else to go – you haven’t got any friends to take you -‘
‘Jiggery pokery!‘ said Harry in a fierce voice. ‘Hocus pocus… squiggly wiggly…’
‘MUUUUUUM!’ howled Dudley, tripping over his feet as he dashed back towards the house.”
Rowling’s comedic value is hidden amongst her more prominent talents of character description and plot development, which is a shame, but it’s these golden moments of humour in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that make me laugh ridiculously loud.
London is one of the greatest cities in the world. The blend of the ancient and modern alluringly combine in England’s capital to make it one of the most diverse and wonderful landscapes to explore: from beholding the might of King Henry VIII’s five-hundred-year-old Hampton Court Palace to going for a spin on the tallest Ferris Wheel in Europe, the ‘London Eye’.
London’s ability to grab and captivate the imagination of artists and writers extends back almost two millennia, inspiring countless works of outstanding creative merit – from Shakespeare to Dickens to Rowling, to name a few – and it’s no wonder. Majestic landmarks are dotted around almost every corner of the city centre. Even the Queen calls London her home (the iconic Buckingham Palace, of course, being her residence). The rich and diverse history and heritage of the United Kingdom’s capital city beckons generations of people all over the world to be enchanted by it.
It’s so easy to wander around the hubbub of the British city; the mixture of cultures, personalities and lifestyles give an eclectic yet fun feel to London. As the sun comes up, traditional jet-black cabs zoom past iconic motion picture locations and very familiar settings and sights from classic British films, such as ‘James Bond’, ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Children of Men’. The buzz and bustle of the capital merges to become one continuous low rumble: the locals frantically rush to work, the wide-eyed tourists clutch video cameras as they pass on the top deck of the scarlet-red bus tour and lighthearted buskers strum along on their guitar. Fragments of music notes and scattered chords echo along the market streets, accompanied by vocals in the crisp English accents that I adore.
No matter what your passions in life are, you will find something to fuel them during your London experience. Nightlife throbs, bright lights flash and flicker, and wellies squelch at summer festivals. There are many chaotic and fun sides to the city, but there is also a deeply serene atmosphere about London, even in the midst of the hype and intensity: there is a unique vibe of coolness intermingled with true beauty, found in very few places on Earth.
My favourite aspect of London, though? The more you see of the vast city, you still haven’t seen it all. All its wonders will still be there for you to treasure upon your return…which means you have another reason to come back.
I am writing this post in an angered response to the “writer’s advice” that I read online this morning. The author in question, Ray Bradbury, claims that “you can’t learn to write in college”. This ridiculous statement was provided by a man who turns ninety-one this year, and is out of touch with the brilliant learning experience and outstanding platform that writing at university today can give you.
Au contraire to Bradbury’s opinion, you can certainly learn to write well in college. Writing courses at university are there to encourage and develop creative ability. Bradbury paints writing tutors as disgusting, repugnant people for daring to have the nerve to be renowned experts in the creative fields. “The teachers always think they know more than you, and they don’t.” Excuse me, Mr. Bradbury, isn’t that the purpose of having a writing mentor? Someone to guide and shape your work, offering criticism and positive feedback, not only helping you to improve it for publication, but also increasing your belief in your capabilities? Surely you can only strengthen your chances at establishing yourself as a writer by pushing your writing limits, as well as attending seminars and lectures on your chosen art form, and by talking to those in the profession who you would otherwise not have access to? Creative writing at university is undoubtedly a marvellous opportunity for this.
Bradbury defends his assessment by stating, “They [creative writing lecturers] have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time.”
The writers that we study in college are successful for a reason. Their techniques are there, for the taking, to emulate. You don’t have to like what they have to say, you don’t have to agree with their philosophies or opinions, but you can learn something from them. Just because my mentor happens to have a soft spot for John McGahern (looking at you Dr. John Kenny) does not mean that he forces said writer’s short stories down my throat. In fact, in my experience, creative writing teachers are always open to discovering and discussing new authors. College writing courses are shaped to bring out the best in you as an author, whether your specialism be in poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, fiction, non-fiction, or even all of the above. Having a working and professional writer as a mentor is really important, because they have been in the same position as you – with the bonus that they’ve experienced the publishing game and know how to enforce the word ‘EDIT’.
I am currently undertaking Creative Writing as an undergraduate at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and having a bloody fantastic time doing so, which is why I find Bradbury’s criticism of this so infuriating. I have learned more about writing over the last two years in my course than I have in the total of fifteen years that I have been pursuing this passion, and I’ve gained a lot more confidence in my writing than if I’d dismissed it as a mere hobby and not continued it to third level. I’ve met people who thankfully are just as enthusiastic about writing as I am. Writing in a group has made me less coy about focusing on my writing future, comfortable in the knowledge that I will be spending next year working solely on my writing portfolio. Studying it at university has made me realise that writing, for me, is far more than a pastime. I want to make it my career, and thanks to college, I have mentors who are not only flourishing in terms of their own creative abilities but who are determined to help me do the same.
Link to Ray Bradbury article in ‘Advice to Writers’: http://www.advicetowriters.com/
For the next year, I will be crashing a country where they are renowned for chomping on snails, where they have multiple forms of saying “you” and where they invented the guillotine.
While I certainly will be adjusting to a lifestyle quite unlike the Irish one I am so accustomed to, France will be a welcome change. It is undoubtedly a country with a past. Centuries of bloodstained history define my future home: tales of beheaded Kings and battles to the death, tested rivalries and colossal challenges to the defence of the country’s borders from seemingly unconquerable foreign armies echo throughout the ages.
France would not be the country it is today without the horrors it has witnessed and the wounds it has attained from bygone eras. The French have a strength, a distinctive toughness, that is evident in their everyday life.
We all feel that our past has marked us somehow – maybe not in an obvious way – but the scars are there, unseen to the human eye. The French, as a people, are a remarkable embodiment of the struggles and pain that their country has endured. Their solemn pride in the rich and magnificent landscape of France, the graceful beauty of the countryside and the shining brilliance of the cities transcends any language or cultural barrier.
Akin to the Irish, when young and old French soldiers alike were heading into battle, ready to lay down their lives in wars that extended far beyond themselves as individuals, they had to fight to the bitter end for a cause they believed in. They fought for their families, they fought for their freedom, and most of all they fought for their wonderful country that they called their home.
I have realised that the similarities between Ireland and France are more important than their differences. Going to a new country does not mean rejecting the established ways, accepted practices and traditional approaches there. It is about respect: an endeavor to embrace the diversity of a culture more alike your own than not.
That does not mean, however, that I will be trying any snails.
I’m quite enjoying this blog-writing escapade. So I have decided to embark on another. 🙂
My Top Five Reads of All Time:
1) The ‘Harry Potter’ Series by J.K. Rowling
Anyone that knows me is painfully aware of how much I worship the Harry Potters. It is not enough to say that the series encompasses a variety of fully-formed, well-rounded characters with strong opinions, fight-to-the-death battle sequences and the trials of true love. What I love most about Harry Potter is both the sheer integrity and respect with which the author treats the characters and their friendships, and also her beautiful, poignant tone that is clearly woven throughout the narrative. The characters have grown up with me, from a little girl of ten years old to a stubborn bibliophile of twenty. Jo Rowling’s words have seen me through the worst and best of times – the death of my grandfather, new starts in life (college in a different part of the country, meeting new friends and keeping old ones) – and helped me through perhaps one of the toughest times of them all, dealing with my grandmother’s onset of Alzheimer’s. Nothing can ever change the impact that the Harry Potter books had on my growing up and development through the years of my adolescence, and I suppose that’s why I have such a special connection with them.
2) ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks
I attribute part of my recent re-appreciation of history to the wonderful novel that is ‘Birdsong’. Faulks combines the horrific descriptions of trench warfare in World War One with a beautiful and eloquent captivation of true love in the early twentieth century. His story is so vivid and rich that I really felt as if it was real. I loved his mixture of powerful English and scatterings of French, which appealed to the linguist in me and revealed his gift with language. Some day I hope to emulate his fantastic writing ability and career, and I really can’t give him much more praise than that.
3) ‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan
I think I saw the film before I read the book, but my mind was blown by both. It was a really original story for a rather short novel. Of course, McEwan is renowned for his writing prowess and this book is a tribute to his fantastic ability with the craft. I loved the choice of name for his main character, Briony, and the fact that she too is an author. The plot is touching and enduring for the reader and relentlessly challenging for the characters.
4) ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by C. S. Lewis / ‘The Hobbit’ by J. R. R. Tolkien
I am obviously enthralled by fantasy, which is why I adore both the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ series and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and have given them equal pride of place on this blog (I just couldn’t choose!). I am ashamed to admit that I have not yet tackled the immense volumes of the latter, but I have read their predecessor ‘The Hobbit’, which I thoroughly enjoyed and I look forward to seeing the two-part films of it. The screen versions of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, I thought, were pretty fantastic and I wanted to see how the books compared, particularly as I am usually an advocate of book over film. Both of these authors are world-famous. Their stories appeal to many generations of people and I am really glad that these writers are so appreciated as they are.
C. S. Lewis seems to be more concerned with character (especially with regard to the gentle yet strong-willed Lucy) while with Tolkien, the focus is plot. They both manage to contain many in-depth and fascinating characters in their work and, vitally, they never lose focus of where the story is going. I am completely in awe of the complex landscapes and unbelievable creativity that they exhibit in their novels. They appeal to the fundamental humanity within us, and there is always a sense of the authors just recounting a story of a journey.
5) ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen
For people that haven’t read her, perhaps the hype surrounding Jane Austen’s writing seems a little over-the-top, even unnecessary. I myself was not particularly a fan before I read her work. I knew that it was just remarkable what she achieved in the restrictive times that she lived in. Being a female and an author was almost unheard of in those days – she did both and she did it so well that her name is now eternally remembered. I was never fully convinced that she would live up to my expectations and her famous name. But she did.
Having read her classics such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and most of the others she wrote, my focus then turned to one of her lesser-known novels, ‘Persuasion’. I knew I would get a cracking story and fantastically vivid characters. But Anne Elliott was refreshingly different to Austen’s other heroines. Communication, as always, is central to the Austen story, but there was something rather unique about this tale. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Perhaps because I hadn’t seen a film or other adaptation of ‘Persuasion’, I went in to it pretty blind, and came out awestruck by the captivating prowess of the renowned mistress of English literature.
I believe rereading Austen is essential to realising the full extent of her capability. She sets up plot twists early on and evokes real characteristics of human beings, and these resound with her readership even centuries after she walked the earth.