Books, Journalism, Writing

Aspiring authors flock to Dublin’s International Literature Festival

Thousands of writers are heading to Dublin city in Ireland this week in the hope of gleaning advice, encouragement and inspiration at the International Literature Festival.

I spoke to festival director Martin Colthorpe about what keeps drawing people back nearly 20 years on, as well as authors Vanessa O’Loughlin, Catherine Ryan Howard and literary agent Sallyanne Sweeney on their advice to get your book on the shelves.

Have a watch of my 3News report for TV3 Ireland:

 

Theatre, Writing

Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Globe in London is going all out this year in honour of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Film adaptation screenings along the South Bank, a world tour of Hamlet, and a season by a new artistic director: it’s certainly going to be a year to remember.

Continue reading “Celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare”

Writing

Review: One-day Urban Writing Retreat, London

It’s quickly clear that Charlie Haynes has hit on an entrepreneurial concept that works: writers will pay good money to sit in a room without the distractions of the phone or the Internet.

Continue reading “Review: One-day Urban Writing Retreat, London”

Books, Writing

Do You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

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?”

Books, Writing

Novel News: J.K. Rowling’s New Book Cover Revealed!

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 Casual Vacancy’ by J.K. Rowling – Image courtesy of The Telegraph

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.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling’s last release

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.

J.K. Rowling. Image from Little, Brown

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!

Books, Writing

Writing Tip of the Day: Sebastian Faulks

“I prefer books, ultimately, which are prepared to risk being idealistic than ones which prefer to stay on the safe ground of being critical. It seems a more daring and more interesting thing to do.

Image courtesy of Deborah Feingold/The Guardian

Of course it’s a high-tariff dive, and you risk falling flat on your face and indeed opening yourself up to the sort of people who haven’t taken a step off the safe island,

but there it is, these seem to be more worthwhile books to write.”

– SEBASTIAN FAULKS

Books

Favourite Book: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

As I type this on my clattering keyboard, my wooden bookshelf sits opposite me, groaning under the weight of literature and film it has accumulated since it happily took up residence in my bedroom at the beginning of the year. (Only five shelves to contain the majority of books I own, plus my entire DVD collection. I mean, really?!) Crammed ledges are starting to feel the burden, as they are crushed slowly under the pressure of The Shelf.

The Bookshelf… a lot more full now than when I first got it!

Every bibliophile can spot The Shelf from a mile away – the scent of freshly bought written word, the sight of devoured, eagerly-page-turned novels, or the delicate and deliberate order in which the books are allocated a place. The Shelf exists for the sole reason of stocking the selection of your favourite worldwide literature, perused over your lifetime, each chosen carefully to permanently reside on this ledge. They have proudly retired here after earning their badge of honour: your thorough enjoyment. The Shelf is the very persona of your book passion. It is the essence of flowing words, effortless communication and graceful composition by gifted authors, celebrating their creative skill side by side. It is your Holy Grail of Prose. It is the victorious army of successful published authors, who have bravely risen from the grey smoke drifting across the battlefield of wounded writers who didn’t make the cut. It is…well, you get my drift.

Flanked by bestselling novelists, dramatic titles, French translations and histories of Modern Ireland, my most preferred book to date nestles quietly on The Shelf between its younger siblings, Human Traces (2005) and A Week in December (2009), both fleshed out by the same author, Mr. Sebastian Faulks, of whose wondrous talent I have developed a ridiculous amount of respect, not just because he hails from possibly the best city in the world.

‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks

I have to be honest. I did not stumble upon this masterpiece of a novel merely by chance. Birdsong (1993) was recommended to me by some well-read old friends: remarkably, they couldn’t explain exactly why they loved it, but just urged me to read it. Curious, I began my foray into the world of Stephen and Isabelle, never to look back. I was immediately hooked on the immortal and poignant tale of love and war, set amongst the roaring French trenches of World War One. Its simple cover – a black outline of a soldier and a crucifix – barely alludes to the captivating tale between its pages, but perhaps the magic of this story is its sweet integrity and the passion with which Faulks tells it.

The wonderful characters jump out from the pages, each with their own distinctive personality, traits and feelings. The author vividly describes his journey with them in the introduction of the novel. His well-honed voice speaks clearly and directly to the reader, as he recounts his exploration into their world. This personal glimpse of Faulks’ literary experience offers a unique and rare view of his writing career: from the perspective of the author himself. He reveals snippets of his reasons for Birdsong‘s creation – “in the opening section, I wanted the texture of the prose to increase the sense of social and sexual claustrophia” – and simultaneously evokes an honest and moving portrayal of a writer hard at work. “Sometimes I felt choked by rage and indignation; […] at other times, in the spring sunshine, among the headstones, I felt oddly tranquil and at ease, as though among friends. […] Could I really do this thing?”

The introduction is only the beginning. The story of Birdsong is one that has truly captured my imagination and set it on fire. I am always inspired when I read Faulks’ elegant narrative, see his three-dimensional characters stroll about in my head, and witness the flashes of genius present in his writing.

Out of all the books I have read over the last fifteen years, this novel has had the most profound effect on me, as a writer and as a human being. Faulks’ tale is sheer magnificence, which is why Birdsong has received the title of my Favourite Book. I may not always be so in love with the exquisite literature that pours from its pages, but it will always be there, waiting on The Shelf, for the day when its words will once again see light.

Books

Book Challenge

This, my friends, is a book challenge. I discovered it on a writing blog (of which I trawl through many, eager for some creative wisdom), and while my fingers ache to tap all the answers out on the keyboard, I’m trying to stop myself spilling all the answers at once. So here is the list, of which I’ll choose a few to write about:

Favourite book
Least favourite book
Book that makes you laugh out loud
Book that makes you cry
Book you wish you could live in
Favorite young adult book
Book that you can quote/recite
Book that scares you
Book that makes you sick
Book that changed your life
Book from your favorite author
Book that is most like your life
Book whose main character is most like you
Book whose main character you want to marry
First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child
Longest book you’ve read
Shortest book you’ve read
Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like
Book that you felt a lot of emotion over
Book you’ve read the most number of times
Favorite picture book from childhood
Book you plan to read next
Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)
Book that contains your favorite scene
Favorite book you read in school
Favorite nonfiction book
Favorite fiction book
DLast book you read
Book you’re currently reading
Favorite coffee table book

‘My favourite book’ to follow. How on earth can I choose?!

Books

My Top Five Reads of All Time

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.

Marése O’Sullivan