Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A Conversation with Peter Cunningham

Peter Cunningham is from Waterford in the south east of Ireland. He is the author of the Monument series, widely acclaimed novels set in a fictional version of his home town. His novel, The Taoiseach was a controversial best seller. He is a member of Aosdána, the Irish academy of arts and letters.

‘Peter Cunningham’s superbly crafted psychological thriller echoes the terse battle of wits between a wily angler and a wilier trout who has mastered how to hide unseen in plain sight. It is a masterly study of a man whose life is turned upside-down by childhood secrets in an Ireland where evil could hide in plain sight because nobody had the courage to confront it. Now the consequences of his past must be confronted, no matter at what danger to himself and to those he loves. Packed with canny and uncanny insight, The Trout grows into a mesmerising read.’ Dermot Bolger

In a spellbinding story of one man’s search for the crucial secret locked in his memory since childhood, The Trout bursts up through the conventions and falsehoods of the past and hangs, beautiful and shimmering, in the clear and vital light of truth.

Alex and his wife Kay live in Bayport, near Toronto, on the shore of Lake Muskoka.  Alex is getting ready to publish his second novel when he receives a package from his publisher containing a curious insect: a fly for fishing. 

This discovery awakens in him painful memories from childhood of an overbearing father, priests who are troubled and in trouble and a betrayed friend in an Ireland in which everything is known but not talked about…

Alex and Kay had began their relationship many years ago in Ireland where Alex was destined to become a priest. His father, a well-respected doctor, is immensely proud of him until the day Alex meets Kay, a meeting which changes Alex’s life and his relationship with his father forever.

Rejected by his father and his friends, Alex and Kay eventually settle in Canada to lead a normal family life. Normal life, however, is only a thin veneer covering a world of childhood secrets and lies and when the mysterious letter arrives it triggers a long-buried guilt in Alex, leading him to risk all to track down its secrets. 

Tell us of your journey as a writer

When I was ten years old I began writing stories for the Christmas supplements of the local newspapers in Waterford. These were usually ghost stories that I had already tried out at bedtime on my sisters and they involved deserted mansions, creaking doors, and large, terrifying spiders. I remember how thrilling it was the first time I saw my name in print.

I have always written, even when I worked at other jobs. As a teenager in Paris, where I washed dishes in a restaurant in Montmartre, I wrote fiction that was very self-consciously Joycean. In London, I painted barges on the Thames by day and wrote stories at night. When I got a job on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange – relaying telephone orders to floor traders – I was also writing a short story that would, several years later, go on to be published in the well-known New Irish Writing pages of the Irish Press.

Nonetheless, I was almost forty before I attempted a novel. A thriller, called Noble Lord, it was begun on holiday, finished in six months and sold within three weeks to HarperCollins. Never has there been a moment when writing has not been central to my life. It is what I do, and I feel very fortunate to still be able to do it.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I am a storyteller, which in Irish is seanachaí, an ancient and honourable occupation.  Writing is my obsession, my addiction and my job. It is the only area of my life in which I am truly patient. W. H. Auden, when asked what he thought of something, answered, ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I write?’ That sums up my thought process.  Every morning, usually early, I sit down and resume whatever I was writing the day before; and when that book is finished, I begin another.
I’ve never thought much about my role, even though for years I have been chronicling many of the issues that have consumed modern Ireland. If I get my readers to see the world around them in a fresh, exciting and different way, then I will have achieved something.
I love the cocoon that envelops me when I’m writing, and in which time stands still. The process of creativity is so beguiling and mysterious. I feel that writing offers me redemption.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Some of my characters are very dark and devious – in The Trout, my new novel, several such characters are hiding in plain sight.
Sometimes a character emerges and takes over the story. When this happens, it’s very stimulating: as the writer, I know I’m on to something. How does this happen? I’m not completely sure. I just know when I hear that character’s voice – even if he or she is a rogue – that the voice is authentic.
My novel, The Taoiseach, based in part on the life and times of former Irish Prime Minister, Charlie Haughey, threw up a dark, central character whom I grew to admire and despise in equal measure. There are now plans to make The Taoiseach into a six-part mini-series for television.

Last year, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Writing diverse characters does not trouble me. Most of my novels are written in the first person, and in each case it can take me many months to get inside the head of my new protagonist. Nor does gender worry me, one way or another. My novel, The Sea and the Silence, is written in the first person, entirely from the point of view of a woman. I thoroughly enjoyed writing that novel and plan to repeat the experience before too long.
Much of The Trout is told from the point of view of a seven year-old boy. That was difficult and took me nearly five years to write.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I’m extremely lucky insofar as I often write overlooking the sea in County Waterford, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world. There are, admittedly, dark days in mid-winter when I dream of being in Sydney, where my maternal grandfather came from, but the truth is that entombed in the Irish winter I write best.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.  An elderly French lady who I met many years ago in Normandy, told me that she was going home to Paris to read Proust again before she died. What greater accolade could a writer seek?

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Get into a routine. Don’t be afraid to let it all pour out. Forget rules.  Be patient. Remember that all writing is rewriting. Read your work aloud – it’s amazing how infelicities emerge when spoken. When you are re-reading what you have written, beware of the passages you are tempted to skip. If you feel like skipping them, imagine how your readers will feel. Try and get your finished work into the hands of a professional – an agent, or editor, or someone who reviews books.  My dear friend, the late Maeve Binchy, and her writer husband, Gordon Snell, wrote side by side every morning, and then handed over their work to each other for criticism. Maeve told me that this exercise was usually followed by a twenty minute period given over to sulking.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

A novel, The Secrets, which is scheduled for publication by Sandstone Press in late 2017.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Hercule Poirot, followed closely by Sherlock Holmes. I devoured those books as a child – it’s no coincidence that Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle write very well. I had read everything both of them wrote before I went away to school.

The Trout is published by Sandstone Press

You can follow Peter on Twitter: @PCTheAuthor

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Conversation with Maggie Wadey

Maggie Wadey is a playwright, novelist and screenwriter. Her childhood was spent in England, Egypt, Cyprus and a Sussex boarding school. After a brief time as a model, she read Philosophy at University College London. Maggie is married to actor John Castle and has one daughter and two grandchildren. She divides her time between London and Devon.

As an established screenwriter, Maggie Wadey is known for bringing stories to life on screen – her credits include Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, The Yellow Wallpaper, and Stig of the Dump. But it was only later in life that she discovered an equally compelling story closer to home – that of her own mother. 

‘Maggie Wadey has created a portrait that is both a rich and touching tribute to the heroism of daily survival, and a remarkable, nuanced and powerful work of social history about rural Ireland and wartime England, about precariousness and stability’. - Marina Warner

As a child, Maggie was aware that her mother, Agnes, was different from her father and his family, who were very English. But she knew little of her mother’s Irish background, her family’s experience of famine and civil war – nor the secrets her mother never told her. In The English DaughterMaggie Wadey tells the enthralling story of her search to find the truth. 

Maggie knew Agnes was from Ireland, but beyond that information was sketchy: ‘I know my mother had come from Ireland, alone, on a ferry boat with only a hat-box (though it contained no hats), having left home in a hurry after poisoning her mother’s geese.’

Then, before she died, her mother finally started talking about her past, and Maggie could begin to piece together details of her early life in Ireland. The first part of the book is based on these memories, of family gatherings, the family home and flower garden, and of growing up and playing in the fields.

Grieving after her mother’s death, with whom she had a close but sometimes difficult relationship, Maggie then travelled to Ireland to find out more. There she gradually began to uncover much more about the truth behind the stories, and discovered an explosive secret known only to the women of the family. 
The English Daughter is a powerful family story told in an original way, through layers of discovery which invite discussion around the power of memory and the nature of truth. Lost worlds, events, and people, 'fallen women', adoption, all come to life through the extraordinary vividness of the writing, ultimately bringing a sense of closure that helps the author come to terms with her mother’s death - and with a troubling incident in her own youth.

Here is a 7-year detective story and an enthralling unput-downable saga of an ordinary family living through extraordinary and tumultuous times. We'd like to thank Maggie for taking part in A Conversation... 

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I began writing as a child, stories in which I tried to imitate my literary hero, Enid Blyton, and complicated ballet scenarios I fancied would fit the few pieces of classical music I knew. As a young adult living in a rented basement room in Earls Court I wrote many stories in imitation of Nathalie Sarraute and Doris Lessing. I collected enough rejection notes to paper the walls of my room. As a young mother I finally made time to concentrate on a novel and I was lucky enough to have it quickly accepted and published. But this wasn’t the way to make a living, let alone a fortune. My husband was an actor. Reading the TV scripts he was working on made me think: I could do that. After a few failed attempts I began to have my work accepted and, though no fortune came my way, I continued in television, writing original dramas and adaptations, for thirty years. In between times I wrote several novels, only to abandon them at first draft: laziness, lack of focus, the need to earn my living. But TV changed, and so did I.

I had work and life scores to settle with myself: I needed to get back to writing for the page. Which is how, after many years of research - and several drafts – I came to write ‘The English Daughter’, a memoir of my mother and Ireland.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

Hunting something down – a mood, a landscape, a person – catching and arranging to make a shape, a story. What I like most about it is: freedom, solitude, words.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

The closest I’ve come to disliking a character is creating a woman who kills her child - but she’s seen only through the eyes of her own mother, so fear, anger and guilt are mixed with pity.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Some of my adaptations involved characters living in earlier times and that offers its own challenges. In my own work, I’ve written about people of different sexuality and very different backgrounds. My memoir of Ireland starts in 1845, at the height of the potato famine, and follows a poor, rural Catholic family (my own) through poverty, the War with England, the Civil War, and emigration. Very different from my own experience.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

That’s easy. I spent seven winters writing in a barn in Devon, at a big table in a bedroom overlooking the lovely gentle hillside that slopes down to a pond and then to the river estuary. Perfect mix of diversion without distraction.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Difficult, but I’ve settled on ‘The Beginning of Spring’ by Penelope Fitzgerald for its intensity, economy and strangeness, like a spontaneous leap of powerful, unmediated imagination.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Just keep doing it. Read lots, be alive to experience, keep a notebook. Write and re-write.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m working on a collection of connected short stories – they move in a roughly chronological order through the lives of two very different women and of those associated with them. They’re about sex, death and infanticide. And I’m not entirely joking.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Now we’re going back a bit. I was born in 1942 so my childhood was the forties and fifties. I adored Rupert Bear, for his familiarity and innocence, I suppose, but also for the wild imagination of those stories. But a good part of my childhood was spent in the Middle East. One of my favourite books was the ‘Tanglewood Tales’ versions of Greek myths, and it was Theseus on his search for the golden fleece that most fired up my sun-soaked imagination. 

The English Daughter is published by Sandstone Press

Thank you to Sandstone for the review copy

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie

The new book from Betty Trask Award Winner 2016


Speak Gigantular is a startling short story collection from one of Britain’s rising literary stars. The stories are captivating, erotic, enigmatic and disturbing. Irenosen Okojie’s gift is in her understated humour, her light touch, her razor-sharp assessment of the best and worst of humankind, and her unflinching gaze into the darkest corners of the human experience.

In this collection Okojie creates worlds where lovelorn aliens abduct innocent coffee shop waitresses, where the London Underground is inhabited by the ghosts of errant Londoners caught between here and the hereafter, where insensitive men cheat on their mistresses and where brave young women attempt to be erotically empowered at their own peril.

Sexy, serious and at times downright disturbing, this brilliant collection sizzles with originality. 

"Okojie has a sharp eye for the twisting stories of the city, and a turn of phrase that switches from elegance to brutality in a single line. Lovely stuff."
Stella Duffy, author of Calendar Girl & The Room of Lost Things

"An original and highly unpredictable imagination...Prepare to be startled." 
Rupert Thomson, author of The Insult

Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian-British writer and Arts Project Manager. Her debut novel Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask Award in 2016 and she was selected by Ben Okri as an emerging writer to watch during the London Short Story Festival 2015. Her writing has been featured in the Guardian and the Observer and her short stories have been published internationally, including Kwani 07 and Phatitude.

Irenosen has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Southbank Centre and the Caine Prize. She was a selected writer by Theatre Royal Stratford East and Writer in Residence for TEDx East End. She is the Prize Advocate for the SI Leeds Literary Prize and was a mentor for the Pen to Print project supported by publisher Constable & Robinson. She lives in east London.

Published by: Jacaranda Books | September 2016 

Follow Irenosen on Twitter: @irenosenokojie

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Finchley Remembered, Edited by Lindsay Bamfield

Congratulations to Lindsay Bamfield, who, as well as working on her own novel 'Do Not Exceed Sixty'has spent quite a lot of her time editing other people's memories for the second book of local recollections Finchley Remembered Part II.

This book, like its predecessor Finchley Remembered (Ed. Lynn Bresler), brims over with memories from people living and working in Finchley. Contributors recall Finchley life during the war, their schooldays and leisure-time.  They remember the shops that lined the high streets, the items they bought and the transport they used. 

They reminisce about friends, teachers and neighbours as well as residents who the entire nation remembers. Some of the stories will have been echoed across Britain while others are unique to Finchley.

Finchley Remembered II comprises personal accounts evoking a rich social history during the middle decades of the twentieth century.

Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @lindsaybamfield

Lindsay Bamfield was a founding member of the Greenacre Writers and is an organiser of the Finchley Literary Festival. She has written several non fiction pieces for an on-line magazine and articles for a local community magazine. Lindsay has written one novel 'Do Not Exceed Sixty' which she is reworking and part way through a second: 'The Place Between'. Several of her short stories and flash fiction pieces have won prizes and she has been published in magazines, anthologies and on-line. Lindsay lives in Finchley.

Friday, 2 September 2016

The Jane Austen Writers' Club by Rebecca Smith

The Jane Austen Writers' Club

Inspiration and Advice from the World’s Best-Loved Novelist 

By Rebecca Smith 

Published by Bloomsbury,
8th September 2016 Hardback £16.99,
eBook £14.99
Also available as an audiobook from Audible

A delightful and informative guide to writing the Jane Austen way, by the five-times-great niece of Austen herself. 

Whether you’re a creative writing enthusiast looking to publish your first novel, a teacher searching for further inspiration for students, or fan seeking insight into Austen’s daily rituals, this is an essential companion, guaranteed to satisfy, inform and delight.

Jane Austen is one of the most beloved writers in the English literary canon. Her novels changed the landscape of fiction forever, and her writing remains as fresh, entertaining and witty as the day her books were first published.

Bursting with useful exercises, beautiful illustrations and enlightening quotations from the classic author’s novels and letters – and written by none other than Austen’s five-times-great-niece – this book will teach you her methods, tips and tricks, from techniques of plotting and characterisation through to dialogue and suspense. Pre-order here for £13.99.

“Winning and beguiling ... Smith shares Jane Austen’s clarity and gentle irony” 
Independent, on ‘Bluebird Café’ 

Rebecca Smith teaches creative writing at the University of Southampton, and is the author of three novels: The Bluebird Café, Happy Birthday and All That and A Bit of Earth as well as a work of nonfiction, Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas. Her first novel for children, Shadow Eyes, was shortlisted for the 2012 Kelpies Prize. From 2009–2010 she was the Writer in Residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. She lives in Southampton.

Stop Press:
Rebecca had her book launch at the Jane Austen House Museum, Saturday 10th September. Rebecca's links with the museum go back to when she was Writer in Residence and she continues to work closely with the Museum. You can read the lovely speech from the launch here.

Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @RMSmithAuthor

Friday, 26 August 2016

A Conversation with Susan Beale

Susan Beale was raised on Cape Cod, lived in Belgium and France, and now lives in the Wells, Somerset. Susan has worked as a journalist and editor in the US and Europe. She is a former competitive figure skater. She is a recent graduate of the Bath Spa MA in Creative Writing.

The Good Guy is her first novel.

'Extremely well-written, intelligent and perceptive, this also happens to be a novel that slips down like ice-cream on a hot day. I absolutely loved it' — Shiny New Books

Ted, a car-tyre salesman in 1960s suburban New England, is a dreamer who craves admiration. His wife Abigail longs for a life of the mind. Single-girl Penny just wants to be loved. After a chance encounter, Ted becomes enamoured with Penny and begins inventing a whole new life with her at its centre. But when this fantasy collides with reality, the fallout threatens everything, and everyone, he holds dear. The Good Guy is a deeply compelling debut about love, marriage, the pressure to conform, and what happens when good intentions and self-deception are taken to extremes.

The Good Guy is inspired by Susan’s life. Susan was adopted as a baby and only reconnected with her birth mother several years ago. The inspiration for the book came from her adoption files. The papers include interviews with her mother, grandmother and one with her birth father. As well as helping Susan understand why she was adopted, the papers paint a portrait of America on the cusp of the sexual revolution. It’s a time of unprecedented prosperity and conformity. Young people enjoy new freedoms, but gender roles remain clearly defined and expectations of morality and purity are strictly, and sometimes cruelly, enforced. It’s a world about to be shaken to its core.

This is an extremely evocate, powerful and well-written novel that has truly captured the essence of 1960s suburban, New England. It's been an absolute joy to feature Susan's debut novel and we'd like to thank her for taking part in A Conversation...

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I always wanted to write fiction but I didn’t think I was smart enough, or talented enough. I became a journalist after university because it was a trade not an art. I wrote fiction on the side. Terrible fiction, that further convinced me I lacked the necessary goods. Journalism was a good fit for me and I probably would have continued with it forever, but when my kids were young, the combined demands of work and family pushed me to the breaking point. My son’s sock got misplaced at day care, one day, and my life unravelled. I simply didn’t have the spare five minutes it took for them to find it. I took a work break that ended up lasting fifteen years. When it was time to think about returning to work, the industry was severely disrupted by market forces and any contacts I’d had were long gone. There was no reason not to go for the moonshot of writing fiction. I’d kept at it over the years, and noticed glimmers of improvement. I took some courses and got better still. Four years ago, my family and I moved from Brussels to Somerset and I got the chance to do the Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa. That’s where I wrote the first draft of my novel, The Good Guy.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I see the role of any writer as being a truth teller, not necessarily about facts and events, but about human nature and what it feels like to be alive. What fiction offers, that nothing else can, is a chance to step into another person’s skin, to see their thoughts, unfiltered. We get to understand their emotional baggage, their prejudices, beliefs, and misconceptions. As writers, we get to dream up whole people and decide their fates. It’s like playing God. What’s not to like?

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

All the time. I think having empathy is a key requirement for a writer. Society has a tendency to assume that people who do terrible things are unfeeling monsters, but very few actually meet that definition. Even Hitler loved children, and doted on his dog. Besides, a purely evil person makes for a one-dimensional character, the answer to every probing question being: ‘because he/she is evil.’ Human beings are an incredibly complex species, full of passions, desires, and contradictions that must be balanced against the wants and needs of those we love. We try to choose our own paths, but circumstances bump us in directions we don’t necessarily want to go in. Life demands that we make choices, some of which we’re bound to regret, so we have to find a way to manage that, too. The individual struggle is what makes a story.

Last year, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

For me, that’s every character because every person on the planet faces his/her own unique challenges and struggles, with his/her own sets of gifts and curses. We’re all striving to fulfil a goal, deliver on a promise.

I do see part of my mission as a writer as giving voice to groups that have been historically marginalised by society. In The Good Guy, that’s unwed mothers in 1960s America. These young women were forced into hiding, shamed into silence, and then airbrushed from the picture. When they were mentioned at all, they were generally characterised as uncaring, unfit and deviant.

As is probably true of all stories about America, The Good Guy has race issues woven into its fabric. It opens in 1964, when congress was passing of the Civil Rights Acts. It’s set in New England, which thinks of itself as superior to the south on issues regarding race. Relatively speaking, I guess, it was, but only because the south set the bar so damn low. One of the main characters, Abigail, causes a stir at a cocktail party when she says blacks ought to be able to live in their tract housing community. For her, it’s basic principle. She loves American history and takes the Declaration of Independence literally: ALL men are created equal. In her mind, only an ignoramus could think differently. At the end of the book, racial tensions are on the rise as Boston begins court-ordered busing to end de-facto segregation of schools and whites are fleeing to the suburbs.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why? 

My idea of paradise is a small place, close enough to the shore to see, hear, and walk to the ocean, but far enough away so that I don’t have to worry about getting washed out to sea in a hurricane. If I’m actually going to get some writing done, the place ought not to have wifi or internet access. I can scan news websites until my eyeballs melt. Every time one of my favourite newspapers or magazines puts up a paywall, I feel a little bit relieved – one less distraction – and yet I always manage to find more sites.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Anne Tyler’s Digging to America. Its themes of adoption and culture shock resonate with me, since I’m both an adoptee and an American who’s lived much of my adult life in Europe (the UK, France and Belgium). The multiple points of view – almost every one of the main characters gets a turn as narrator – are a testament to her skills as a writer. Each voice is authentic and unique and each character looks different depending on whether they’re being viewed from the outside or the inside. Events look different depending on who’s speaking about them and, remarkably, every version seems equally valid. The book’s structure helps drive home the over-arching theme of foreignness – of being on the outside looking in. Tyler understands what it is to be human, and can describe it with awe-inspiring understatement. In one scene, a recently widowed man tries to organise a spare room, only to end up making more of a mess. He sits on the floor saying, ‘What’s the point? What’s the point? What’s the point?’: it’s a perfect distillation of grief.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

To read and write relentlessly and to embrace failure. Fail big, fail often, fail audaciously until, one day, you fail at failing.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m exploring the themes of loss and a sudden change of circumstance.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Lizzy Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I love her wit, her pert comments, as Caroline Bingley would say, her joy at the absurdity of human nature; most of all, I love that she isn’t perfect and that by the end of the novel she is a big enough person to recognise and acknowledge her own faults.

The Good Guy is published by John Murray.

Thank you to John Murray for the review copy.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Book Reviewer Wanted

Greenacre Writers are looking for a book reviewer. 

GW run various writing workshops, retreats and a festival throughout the year and launched the first Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition in 2011.

We held the first Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival in May 2012. The following year we held a 2 day event with an Open Mic as well as invited guests. In 2014 we changed the name to the Finchley Literary Festival reflecting involvement of more people in the local writing community, and a larger festival was organised courtesy of additional funding.

On our blogspot you will find announcements of our latest events, writerly posts and the very popular, A Conversation with.... And now we'd like to add more book reviews. If you love reading and can write a decent book review, get in touch.