“Guts and Heart and Soul” – Review of Lucia’s War in Books Ireland

Reviews are like buses, I declared on twitter yesterday, none for ages and then they all come at once! I’m delighted to link to this wonderful review of Lucia’s War by Catherine Murphy in Books Ireland Magazine. It is official – “review” is no longer a dirty word on this blog 🙂 I’ve been truly blessed with the critiques I’ve received for Lucia’s War and I’m really grateful for the in depth appreciation of the work and of Lucia’s character.

When a novel is in first person, it is inevitable that most or all the attention will fall on the protagonist. I would imagine if Lucia had corporeal existence and was reading this herself, she would be most happy with this, having a natural soprano’s desire to be centre stage! What I enjoyed most about writing her is that she eschews false modesty – when she’s good at something like singing, chess, or, um [insert spoilertastic thing here] she knows she’s good, and furthermore, there are enough damn people around to knock her without her joining in. But one thing I do love about this review is how it mentions other characters:

The secondary characters are great, Eva and Arthur in particular. Eva is all kinds of messed up. I loved Arthur’s advice, which to me almost encapsulates the book.

“YOU CANNOT LET FUTURE JEWELS BE STOLEN FROM YOU BY PAST SADNESS.”

A perfect summary of poor Eva, and I’m so glad Arthur gets a mention. I have a soft spot for Arthur, he’s not a bad guy, he’s just trying his best to achieve excellence in an utterly hostile society and stuck with impossibly high standards. Unlike Robin, who says what he likes when he likes (pretty much) Arthur has to calculate every comment and action he makes, and it must be utterly bloody exhausting for him.

I also love this whole paragraph:

The book moves with a very clear sense of place. The settings are powerfully drawn and the details deftly bring the plot through London, Jamaica, France, Glasgow, each one holding their own with some wonderful background descriptions. Music is another consistent strand but the root is really motherhood, a thread of barbed wire running through the story. 

I’m really pleased about this, because I sometimes wondered if compared to White Feathers, a lot of Lucia’s War was in London, but I did find that the locations had a bit of variety and it’s great that came through. I think that’s important as otherwise a sense of claustrophobia can set in. (That said, Room by Emma Donoghue did fine!) And motherhood being barbed wire…oh yes, particularly when Lilian sticks her beak in.

And a final quote – as people know, Lucia’s War is a self-published book and the cover design was managed and planned by me in conjunction with Richie Cumberlidge, a designer with More Visual Ltd. That the cover draws in the reader is a wonderful vindication of high-end independent publishing, and I passed the kind words on to Richie, who did such a good job.

It’s a wonderful thing when the cover art for a book leads the reader so perfectly into the story as this design for Lucia’s War. Before even opening the book there is music, war, and Lucia herself. I love when a character beams from the pages. Lucia is strong, independent, difficult, stubborn, brave and gifted, and she has had to be all those things to get through her life. 

“Lucia is L’Autre Personified” – Review of Lucia’s War in the Yorkshire Times

I’ve been lucky and blessed in the reviews I’ve received for Lucia’s War but this one is just a bit special. It was written by Paul Spalding-Mulcock and want to say here up front that I will treasure it for the rest of my days.

Here is a link to the review.

Some jewels amid the gold:

Lanigan sprinkles her magic upon the novel’s themes, embedding them with dextrous elan. Following Beckett’s advice to ensure that the artist remains invisible in their art, themes themselves are revealed by dint of creative deliquescence operating upon the printed words. Lanigan transforms her themes into a wide river which flows through Lucia’s turbulent life and as such their promulgation is profound yet felt en masse rather than tediously expostulated and thereby shattering the novel’s realism.

My editor Liz Hudson was delighted by this. Another one:

Lucia slips into the idiolect of her oppressed ancestors, these colourful colloquialisms acting as atonal sharp notes counterpointing the flat register of the stilted conventional English vernacular of the period. This Schoenberg-like device simultaneously expresses Lucia’s repressed, authentic persona, whilst also jarringly reminding us that she is an outsider and ‘…there is nothing lonelier than living amongst the English when you are not of their race’. We are never able to forget that Lucia is L’Autre personified, however polished her conversation, erudition and conspicuous intelligence.

I am indebted to Lyeanne Beckford-Jones for her help with Lucia’s language and dialect. Much credit is due to her for the power of those passages.

Finally:

E.M. Forster’s Howards End has us witness the squalid collateral damage when the prose and poetry of life clash rather than ‘connect’. An illegitimate child conceived in the hopeless wastes of a forbidden, desperate coupling allows Forster to move his reader nearly to tears. For this jaded reviewer, Lanigan did much the same, for the final line of her wondrous novel has no less force than Forster’s gem. Lanigan may not be E. M. Forster, but she is Susan Lanigan and for that we should all be grateful.

Brb, think I’m going to cry 🙂

Unfortunate Stars: The Making of an Audiobook

Just a few weeks ago, I self-published an audiobook of my kindle novella, Unfortunate Stars. I have been asked once or twice how I went about it, so I thought I’d walk through the process in case it is of use to anyone.

I created an account with Findaway Voices as recommended by The Creative Penn blog. I did not want to go with ACX as the process of finding and auditioning narrators seemed messy and I did not want to be tied to Audible and its weird and controversial returns system. That said, a lot of people do use it and it’s very handy when Whispersyncing on the Amazon kindle. I was very aware of discrepancies between the text and the narration and sought to make them as similar as possible because of this.

(I have made the Kindle edition free all this week in the hope of steering people towards the audiobook, btw.)

Setup

On the Findaway Voices panel, I created my project and uploaded an ePub file (a PDF suits as well, any format the actor can read basically!) At that point there is an option for you to upload your own narration. There was no way in holy hell I was going to try that, plus Unfortunate Stars needs a male narrator – it’s quite possibly the blokiest book I have ever written! There is only one line of dialogue by a female character in the entire book. So it was time to find a narrator. I filled in the questionnaire provided and waited.

Narrator

This was where Findaway Voices appeared to lose my application down the back of a figurative radiator and I had to prompt them. Shortly after that, they presented me with a list of narrators. I was listening out for dialogue and pitch variation. Given the existence of an m/m relationship and the overwhelmingly male cast, I needed a narrator who could embody that in his repertoire. Versatility with accents was also important. I listened several times to each person on the list, but Greg Patmore stood out for me as someone who could voice the characters in a distinguishable way and do this emotional, evocative story the justice it deserved. He was the sole actor I auditioned. Findaway requires you paste a 500 word excerpt of your work and send it on. The moment I heard the audition Greg sent back, I knew my search was complete and moved on to the next stage of the project, where the contract is set up between you, the actor and Findaway. This all went smoothly.

Production

In early January, Greg started recording his narration. This is done in sections organised by Findaway – front matter, each chapter, back matter and retail clip (that is the extract heard when you click on the sample, though Apple just tends to start from chapter 1 in any case) Communication between author/publisher and narrator is done via adding comments to each section. Through feedback, some small changes were made to the text and to the narration. I had to say the standard was high and listening back was pure pleasure. Because of this, and because it’s relatively short, this was all done very quickly. I should note here that in order to get the updated manuscript uploaded, I needed to contact Findaway support, who were very helpful. It’s not possible to do it yourself as far as I can see.

Publication

Once this is all done, it’s time to hit the “publish” button and set your publication date. Also now is the time to select distribution options. I selected Findaway Voices Plus which allows you to have a load of giveaway codes you can use to drive audience towards your book. I gave the first copy to Greg and claimed the second. The rest are being used for review and giveaway purposes.

Distribution and selling

Findaway has its own platform called Authors Direct which you need to set up yourself on the day your audiobook is published. To do this, go to the Marketing – Authors Direct option and click on Manage Storefront. You accrue more royalties if you sell through this platform and this is where the giveaway codes are redeemed. Other platforms take a little while to ingest the content – in the Marketing section there is also a heading called Retailer Links where you can view which outlets have the audiobook available. It takes a good while for this list to fill up. I learned that google play is cheaper than audible (unless you’re using Whispersync) and doesn’t need a subscription!

Finally, the bill

Findaway will have already requested your credit card details when you set up your account, and once you have signed off on the contract, the money is deducted. I won’t lie; it isn’t cheap. The actor rates on the casting list will give you an idea. That’s why I haven’t done one for Lucia’s War yet! But as a massive gift to myself and to listeners in the midst of a pandemic, it is worth it.

So – that’s it. Hope that helps anyone planning on doing similar! Click below if you fancy having a listen to the results!

Massive Valentine’s Day Goodies!

Getty Images

I have several promotions on right now, so if you like intense, romantic, historical sagas – either for your beloved or for yourself. (And self-love attends us first and leaves us last. So said Jonathan Swift.)

Unfortunate Stars: as already mentioned, on Valentine’s Day this Sunday, the audiobook for Unfortunate Stars will be released. Once it’s live I will have a link to the Authors Direct site. But it can also be pre-ordered on Google Play, Bingebooks and Libro.fm. It’s just over an hour long, and only 3.55 euro, so cheaper than most audiobooks. And so wonderfully narrated by Greg Patmore, who brought such life to the characters.

Recommended if you like: gay romance, age-gap, male friendship, battlefield confessions

White Feathers: In one of life’s pleasing coincidences, my publishers independently of me have White Feathers paperback on a 10 per cent discount if ordered from their website. And in another pleasing coincidence, over on Jeff’s naughty place, the Kindle price has dropped down to £1.99 sterling.

Recommended if you like: straight romance, lesbian romance, age-gap, slow-burning chemistry, resistance to government-sponsored hysteria, wartime, literature

Lucia’s War: And finally, mindful of the fact that it is Black History Month in the US, the Kindle edition of Lucia’s War will be available for free all day Saturday and Sunday!

Recommended if you like: Opera, drama, hero(ine)’s journey, WWI and Bridgerton 🙂

And Save Me From Bloody Terfs…

Quickly, because while I would like to discuss in greater depth, I have an actual real life job I need to attend to:

The Trans Writers Union have requested that people join them in complaining about a review Emily Hourican posted in yesterday’s independent of a book called Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier. Details can be read on the thread, but after reading the review I would (relatively gently) suggest that Emily Hourican has taken an insufficiently critical approach on what is widely known to be a deeply incendiary argument, based on many theories now discounted – and which also has, since 2019, been stoked by the rage of radicalised online TERFS (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists.) Given that trans people are very frightened and unsupported these days, I’d really love for an opportunity to revisit this topic to take their very valid concerns into account. This is not a denunciation by any means. Good people can make mistakes.

I’ve locked my account because I detected the beginnings of a TERF swarm against me, and I honestly don’t have time for that today. It’s why I don’t plan to make my complaint/request right away either, since both Emily and her senior editor at the Independent will probably now be swarmed with TERF “support”. (They have my sincere sympathies!) Critic Barry Pierce is already having to deal with them.

I would ask all Irish authors and critics of good spirit to find a way to express solidarity with the Trans Writers Union and their genuine concerns. Trans people have had a bit of a rough time recently and the depth of the sentiment raised against them has been alarming. If mentioning is not a comfortable option, I know a like, follow, or DM would mean a lot. They are under siege, and truly don’t deserve it.

Ending the mailing list

I have a surprise coming for readers in the next few weeks and I’m very much looking forward to sharing it with you all 🙂 to that end I’d like to announce that I won’t be continuing with the mailing list freebies any more and won’t be promoting the list either. The truth is, while all the DIY book selling gurus swear by it as a marketing tool, it didn’t really work for me when it comes to building a community of readers. I apologise to those who kindly did sign up and enjoyed my infrequent missives – I might still do some from time to time – but for now I think it’s time to move on for the time being.

You can always follow my blog or get me on social media 🙂

Many thanks all and am looking forward to unveiling the surprise soon.

“You’re Finished” – Allison Pearson’s Threatening Behaviour

Telegraph journalist and chair of the Lucy Cavendish Novel Competition Allison Pearson has engaged in appalling behaviour on Twitter today. Another tweeter made an angry, hasty tweet about her attitude to the NHS and she launched a barrage upon him, finding out and looping in his employer, threatening to sue him for defamation and telling him “You’re finished”.

He swiftly deleted the tweet and apologised, but she did not let up. Showing no remorse, mercy or compassion, even after he begged her to stop, offered to donate money to charity and said he was battling suicidal thoughts and was caring for his young son who had special needs, she continued to shout and roar at him, haranguing and taunting. I’m sure she thought she was a great warrior altogether. It was utterly shocking to read. I hope that gentleman is doing ok and wish him all the best. I doubt he’s finished. I’ve worked for large companies including pharma and I strongly doubt this would be considered a HR matter.

What Pearson did this morning, on the other hand, was vile and unconscionable. No writer of integrity should have anything to do with such behaviour. It is incumbent on everyone who has had any association with the Lucy Cavendish novel competition to publicly disavow Allison Pearson’s obnoxious and cruel behaviour, especially as she has shown no remorse.

Contact information to make one’s concerns known to the Lucy Cavendish competition is here: https://www.fictionprize.co.uk/our-judges.html

Please show the civility Pearson failed to, if writing a complaint.

2020 Was The Year…

2020 was the year I –

  • Published Lucia’s War in the midst of a strict lockdown and launched on Zoom with a bottle of champagne from Betty O’Gorman’s cellar
  • Decided to no longer eat the shit sandwich grudgingly provided to me by Irish literary society with the expectation that I would smile and say thank you for it.
  • Got Lucia’s War featured on the ChickLit4Life podcast!
  • Entered the An Post Awards, got precisely nowhere, but it motivated me to get the book into some bookshops, which is fantastic 🙂
  • Started formally attending a welcoming church after realising two years ago that atheism wasn’t for me. (When I say “formally attending”, thanks to Madam Coronavirus that means in practice logging into a facebook livestream in the couch in my jammies with a cup of coffee. She made a lot of things hard, but some things very easy. The Rev Mike is sound – he’ll understand.)
  • Did all this while employed in a real job, and with ongoing commitments
  • There’s another accomplishment, but that spills over into 2021…stay tuned 🙂
  • Reinforced my political commitments after a hiatus

2020, although positive in many ways, was an arduous year all around, with some personal things too that were sad and difficult for our family to carry. The US election hopefully marks a turning point where things slowly, painfully and partially improve. That’s my prayer, and to do what I can do make it happen.

In the Bleak Midwinter

A few days ago, just after Solstice Eve, my onetime choir director, musician Elizabeth Hilliard, responded to the reintroduction of stern Covid-related restrictions with a lovely renditioning of “In the Bleak Midwinter”. I remembered singing that same version (Darke, 1911, though the Holst version is better known) but in the alto line, so I sang it along her Youtube clip, and promptly ran out of breath!

This carol is mentioned in Lucia’s War. Close to Christmas 1918 Lucia is in a café on the Strand, London, with Lilian when she hears a tenor she knows giving a recital on the street outside, surrounded by a gaggle of schoolboys. He is singing – I think, haven’t got the book to hand to check – the third verse of Christina Rosetti’s lyrics, which refers to the little baby Jesus being content with “a breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay”. This is very emotional for Lucia to hear and she goes into a trance.

This winter has not been an easy one, for me personally or for the country and world at large. The unrelenting cold and rain, and the endless restrictions, are telling on our spirits – just as wartime London in all its grimness tell on Lucia’s at the beginning of the book. It’s hard to see any joy or miracle. All I can say is – it’s not over till the last line.