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.

Fiction at the Friary – Live Reading from White Feathers

If anyone fancies listening to a great range of Irish writers, look no further than the Fiction at the Friary podcast, which Danielle McLaughlin and Madeleine d’Arcy have compiled, with thanks also to JP and Kieran for production work.

I’m on Episode 9, which also features Eimear Ryan (whose debut novel is out next year!) and Andrea Carter. I have been a featured FATF author before and do you know what, I’m not a pub person but if there’s one thing I miss from pre-corona days, it’s the monthly gathering with the marshmallows and Hula Hoops and the glass of white served by Mike at the bar. It’s been a wonderful little space in the heart of Cork.

To listen to my extract, the link is below and I’m about halfway through. The extract I chose was in the middle of the book where Sybil is sent with Roma to the front line and they surrender to their attraction to each other in the front seat of a pigeon van with shells exploding all around them…

(I confess I was rushing a bit, because of the strict time limit, and might have muffled a few words, apologies!)

Lucia’s War – Coffee Pot Book of the Year Award Honourable Mention

Delighted to announce that Lucia’s War has been awarded an Honourable Mention in the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year, in the Modern Historical Fiction category. A medal to be worn with great pride, thank you Mary Anne Yarde! Congratulations to all the winners, and a special haddock around the chops to the troll with 0 followers who told me to “grow up, love, and get a grip” yesterday 😀

Read the Coffee Pot Book Club review of Lucia’s War here.

To All The Trolls Trolling Me On One Specific Topic

Moved from Twitter thread because taking up too much space. (Edit – this after several accounts with 0 followers and nearly 0 tweets were created solely to shame me about my refusal to take the high road re the Irish literary establishment. I suspect these are ppl who are on the scene and have been watching my account for some time. I think it’s pathetic beyond believe that grown women – as I suspect – consider it worth their time to troll a stranger, or hide their identities. I have no intention of changing anything I do in response to this.)

I really really REALLY could not give a tuppenny damn if speaking my truth makes me appear bitter, unattractive, ungracious or uncouth to a certain clique of literary ppl and their hangers-on. I cannot underscore enough how little these…people’s opinions mean to me.

I have seen people, good decent people, whose work was torn apart by spiteful folk with worthless opinions. And how they never published another novel since. And their dignified silence did not help them. Their better nature did not make things better for them, so I would rather be a roaring, ungrateful, undignified,resentful thorn in the side of a literary establishment than just conspire in my own erasure and meekly lie down. I don’t owe these people my respectful silence. I don’t owe them a damn thing. And I’m writing PURE FIRE right now.

Truth is, there’s a lot more going on with me than just Fight The Power, but I don’t put all my business out there, you’ll be surprised to know.

And when I do finally break through… and I can taste it, I feel closer to it than I have in a long time… I don’t want the narrative to be obscured or made nice. Because everything I’ve achieved this year, I’ve had to fight for. And fighting implies adversaries.

Irish society dislikes anger and discourages dissent. That’s the root of it. We say “women should be angry”, but then, “no, not like THAT”.

Anyway what will remain of me, God permitting, will be the work. “I may be a vulgar man, but my music is not.”


Giveaway is still open!

Well it looks as if Biden is pulling ahead now, so some cause for cautious optimisim. Though how that other creature got as many votes as he did, even giving the shenanigans the Republicans were up to with voting, is a sad mystery. Racism, spite, a morbid fear of any kind of state compassion for anyone being “socialism”? Christ knows.

Anyway, the giveaway of Lucia’s War mentioned in the previous entry is still open – go to my facebook or twitter and drop a comment and you’re in to win. Like Joe 🙂

Lucia’s War: Paperback now available on Amazon

I’m pleased to say that Lucia’s War is now available to purchase on Amazon as a paperback. To be honest if in Ireland it’s not much of a difference in cost if you order from the booksellers mentioned on the dedicated page for Lucia’s War. This is because they do great deals with postage and they are vibrant local businesses. But if not in Ireland, Amazon might be an option you could consider instead 🙂

“Im a Did Go Twis’ Up ina Im Head” – thoughts on #WorldMentalHealthDay

During the writing of Lucia’s War, I have a scene where Lucia, reunited with her brother, Reginald, is attempting to dissuade him from taking part in a mutiny at his barracks. Reginald, furiously resenting his English commanding officer, longs to withhold a salute from him. This alarms Lucia, who knows all too well what the consequences will be if he does that. She tells him of what happened when a salute was withheld (a series of events readers of White Feathers will recognise.)

In the original dialogue, I had her tell Reginald that this other person “went mad”. Lyeanne Beckford-Jones, who was sensitivity-reading the dialogue with particular focus because it was informal, between the two siblings, suggested replacing it with “im a did twis’ up ina im head”. I was immediately struck by how vivid, violent and cruel that imagery was, and how transitive compared to the anodyne phrase I had started off with. He twisted up in his head. *They* twisted him up in his head. It’s such an accurate description of what, according to my research, PTSD after war does to you. Permanently. Physiologically.

I was chatting to my dad the other day and he told me in his opinion the real strength of White Feathers was how accurately and horribly it portrayed mental breakdown and disintegration after the greater madness of war. As Ellen, a colleague and reader of White Feathers, once said to me. “He had changed too much” 💔

It’s my belief, based on a storyteller’s hunch rather than a historian’s data, that mental illness stigma ramped up seriously during the recruitment process for WWI, where accusations of malingering and emotional weakness got thrown around when men broke down after weeks and months of battle strain. It was in the interests of the top brass to stigmatise, pour encourager les autres, that was for sure. Spirits and souls were being broken and the unpalatable truth that repair would not be easy was an inconvenient one.

Today I want to hold some space for everyone who has twisted up in their heads because of externally imposed injustice, whether through war, social inequity, racism or calamity. Mental ill-health has always been a topic of interest to me and I don’t believe in shying away from reality.

I promise that I will continue to write about these injustices. And it will take more than the Irish Times clutching their pearls and saying with a sniff that I’m being MEANNN to British High Command to stop me.

Wishing you peace of mind and health today.

#BlackHistoryMonth – Kindle Promotion

From Thursday and throughout October, it is Black History Month in Europe. As well as being a tale of war, passion and motherhood, Lucia’s War refers to a lot of events and personalities who form part of Black British (and Caribbean) history during the WWI period. The book refers to the Coterie of Friends, an exclusive club for Black intellectuals and musicians founded by the composer Edmund Thornton Jenkins, whose symphony Charlestonia, mentioned briefly in the book, can be heard on YouTube. Such society also featured the decorated physician John Alcindor, who worked tirelessly to treat war wounded at rail stations in London. (On a personal note, he married an Englishwoman, whose family sadly disowned her for her choice.)

On a grimmer note, through the travails of Lucia’s brother Reginald with the British West Indies Regiment, the novel also touches on the mutiny at Taranto after the Caribbean infantry were kept in camp, and some even killed by British (white) officers.

It’s clear there was plenty going on and no shortage of interesting stories. War novels are in need of that. We can’t just have (a) boy goes off to the trenches or (b) woman gets to be spy with the French Resistance any more. I’m excited to see if writers like Mike Gayle and Lola Jaye are going to be in this space a bit more. I’ve already enjoyed the contributions of Kamila Shamsie, Isabella Hammad and Ruqaya Izzidien, though these writers are concerning themselves with different communities.

ANYWAY – In honour of Black History month UK/Europe, the Kindle edition of Lucia’s War is discounted to 99 pence sterling, or 1.08 euro. This discount will start from Friday and run through the whole weekend. Get it while it’s hot!

Lucia’s War – A Statement of Intent

Hello everyone! The paperback edition of Lucia’s War continues to pop up in bookshops around Ireland, slowly but steadily. It’s showing its face in my local gift shop in Cobh, Tertulia Books in Westport, and it will be popping up in Gutter Dalkey tomorrow. I’m confining it to bookshops at present to make it easier for them to sell there, so there won’t be a direct ordering online link just yet (though the e-book is of course always available on Amazon)

If this all sounds very strategic and calculating I can assure you it is anything but in practice! I have requisitioned bird feeder boxes from Lidl hanging about the house, and covered them in paper to conceal their original purpose and make them suitable for posting packages of book. Furthermore That Blasted Virus requires me to sign them wearing the same green gloves you saw me wear in the unboxing video, as well as masking up.

I will start updating the Lucia’s War landing page with paperback information as I order more and send more books out. It’s going to be quite dynamic as bookshops get added. Hopefully as word spreads and the book travels about the country I will be in a position to approach a nationwide distributor and ask them if they’d be interested in taking part. There is a reason for all of this.

I intend to submit Lucia’s War to the An Post Irish Book Awards, in the Popular Fiction category.

To me this is a waymark to help me focus on getting the paperback out. The rules require that shortlisted books be generally available around the country in October. That is what I am aiming for. There is no rule against self-published books, though I don’t know of any which have been shortlisted. That’s fine; for me the pleasure is in the challenge of being the first. I have no doubt in my mind from the feedback I have received, publicly and privately, that Lucia’s War more than meets any standard required, in production and in content. It deserves to be at least submitted, no matter what internal currents and ructions might be against it. And I have a mischievous spirit – I like to give things a go 🙂

There is also a bittersweet reason why I want to submit it. Simply this: White Feathers should have been there. It was not, and that’s ok, but I want to honour both books.

Wish me luck, folks!