2014: It’s Hard Out Here For a…Female Debut Novelist

2014 was a good year for me. On a personal level, my family added a generation when O arrived. Born in April 2014, he was the youngest guest at my launch. I had just referred to him in my launch speech and he’d disappeared and suddenly just materialised again, right on cue, along with his parents. Show immediately stolen 🙂

(I have not included the photo but just imagine everyone spontaneously going “Awwwww” when he entered the room.)

On a writing level – well, what can I say? There were two highlights of the year. The first was getting a book edited, I mean really edited, by a dedicated professional. It’s one of the reasons why I would always say, try to get traditionally published no matter what. Working with Liz Hudson was an absolute pleasure, in the way walking up a steep hill and then looking at the fabulous view at the top is, high on the rarefied air and the exertion after a good climb 🙂

The second and biggest highlight was birthing the book! I suspect I will never experience a high like it again. I have always wanted to have a book written and published and now that lifelong need has been met. That changes my internal reality quite dramatically. For having the faith and belief in White Feathers, I am of course indebted to my publishers O’Brien Press, who put so much into the creation of a beautifully produced first edition, and who have been battling a drastic Arts Council cut for 2015.

I would like for O’Brien Press to thrive, and from a selfish point of view publish more of my books, and I believe there are readers out there who would like more of my work too, so hopefully a more equitable solution will be found. (Not to mention that they publish other stuff too, and really good quality, just looking for great stories that readers will care about.) That this deduction appears to be solely aimed at O’Brien Press seems to be very pointed, and that’s all I’ll say…  Continue reading “2014: It’s Hard Out Here For a…Female Debut Novelist”

Bist Du Bei Mir

A lot of my recent posts have been all about the book, the book, the book…I’ve barely had time to stop and reflect. I’ve managed to flee Christmas, a season I’ve never particularly liked, by signing books here, posting advertisements there. I’ve been in full on battle mode. But today is a change of pace, because ten years ago to the day, something very important and significant happened and I’d be remiss not to recall it.

I was working a low-end job, earning little, writing less, adrift. I didn’t understand people. I didn’t understand how to be around them. I thought being myself was insufficient, and people picked up on that sense of insufficiency and drifted off. I had no sense of direction and little purpose. I knew I wanted to write, was told I had talent, but was so easily distracted. I felt as if I occupied space rather than anything more positive. As a person, I was lost and unhappy.

Then, on a rainy night in Galway not unlike this one, waiting for a party somewhere else, I wandered into the pub everyone wanders into and someone was sitting at a table reading a book called Thirty-Three Moments of Happiness and I fell into conversation with them – and just like that, without my knowing it, my life changed forever.

That I found my place in my society, that I stood up and no longer apologised for the space I inhabit, that I was essentially redeemed and loved – able to cash it all and start again – I owe to this fateful meeting and the time afterwards. I will never forget that. So, as a note of joyous gratitude, and a nod to the season that’s in it – and to the oul’ truce – here’s a beautiful song from one of my favourite First World War films, Joyeux Noel. Have a good one, everyone.

 

 

Essay – On “Restrained, Elegant Prose”

There’s an old tale often retold in self-help books with Christian roots a la Norman Vincent Peale: an orator recites Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd”, to an audience who listens rapturously to his words and then breaks out into applause when he is finished. After a moment, an old man steps hesitantly up to read the same psalm. The orator is surprised but allows him to continue. Thereupon the old man bends his head and recites the psalm in a quiet, unmarked fashion, but with tears on his cheeks. When he finishes, nobody applauds. This is because the audience are weeping with him.

The orator is naturally confused. Why has this old man moved these people in a way that he cannot? Then he gets it. “The difference between us,” he says to the old man, “is that I know the Psalm, but you – you know the Shepherd.”

I was reminded of this the other week when I read yet another review lavishly praising a novel for its “elegant” and “restrained” prose style. Continue reading “Essay – On “Restrained, Elegant Prose””

To Return to That Daily Mail Article

I’ve had a few responses on twitter and interest about my article in last week’s Daily Mail about being offered a job in 2009 and then abruptly having the offer withdrawn because I failed a psychometric test and was judged too “emotionally unstable” to work there. Something else kept it in my head too – the recent launch of a campaign by the Health Service Executive and Taoiseach Enda Kenny called #littlethings. This campaign encourages people to talk about the “little things” they do to safeguard their mental health and bring themselves joy. A thoughtful idea with some great advertising by Una-Minh Caomhanach whose work I respect (my computer has lost fadas, sorry!) and I’d love to join in, but as Matthew Mulligan has noted in Trinity News, such campaigns are once again placing the responsibility for a collective failure of empathy right back onto individuals, without making sure the helping mechanisms are working. The implication from our Head of State is that we primarily are responsible for our own mental wellbeing when our mental health is under threat.

I was not responsible for having a job offered to me, and then the offer taken away after three interviews, in the middle of the deepest recession in history. I was not responsible for being told the following:

But when I returned to the terraced office for a follow-up meeting, the director’s attitude towards me had done a 180. This time he snarled at me with open contempt, drawing a line on a piece of paper and jabbing at it with his finger. “See the middle of that line? You should be here. Instead,” and he put an asterisk on the far right, “you are there. Now I can get you back in the middle, but you have to do the work. It’s up to you.”

I am not responsible for maintaining my mental health in an environment that is prejudiced against my existence. How can I be? I am not responsible for failing to measure up to a culture which thinks I am not in the middle enough. I am not responsible for other people’s stigma. I am only responsible for myself, for keeping a roof over my head, and fulfilling my artistic goals. Going by the reviews, I don’t think I’ve done too badly. But it was not all smooth sailing, personally.

So what is the #littlething that sustains me when my soundness of mind is threatened? It’s to remember that none of this was my fault and that I’m not obliged to do anything differently as a result of these people. They’re, frankly, wrong. My only fear is that when I had my brush with discrimination, I was no spring chicken, and had a very marketable skill. I knew my own worth. When I think of vulnerable young people being taken advantage of in similar manner – oh here’s that WWI thing again – and then told to think about the #littlethings rather than the #bigthings like stigma which hurts them – my blood starts simmering.

Here’s the full article below the cut: Continue reading “To Return to That Daily Mail Article”

Speaking out about Stigma – My Article in This Life in the Irish Daily Mail

I have just had a wonderful time at the Author at My Table event, more about which later. But there’s one thing I need to mention really quickly. I wrote an article that got published this weekend in the Daily Mail. The article isn’t important because I wrote it. It’s important because it talks about the time I took – and failed – a psychometric test to measure my mental health aptitude for a job in 2009 and the offer was rescinded. So when I get angry about stigma, in life and in fiction, I have good reason.

 

DM snippet

The article is in the Daily Mail this weekend. This supplement is not available online, but I would strongly encourage anyone who is feeling isolated, ashamed or small about their mental health because someone shamed them, to get the paper and read it – and take all that for the nonsense rigmarole it truly is. I’ve seen stigma and come out the other side. Thank God, I’ve been lucky with my workplaces. My colleagues have been so supporting and encouraging about the book, they’ve renewed my fate in humankind.

We work. We thrive. And we kick stigma, and its perpetrators, right up their snotty, mediocre, shaming, unimaginative, clenched, bony, little arses.

A Visit to the War Memorial Gardens

A few days back, when the weather was still exceptionally fine, I took a bus to the Phoenix Park and made a day out of walking along the War Memorial Gardens and the Museum of Modern Art further up the bank of the Liffey River.

The War Memorial Gardens in Dublin were designed with perfect symmetry by Edwin Lutyens to commemorate the fallen in both World Wars – but sadly due to our complicated relationship with England and the resulting ambivalence about commemorating wars in which she fought, the grounds were let fall into neglect. Thankfully, with the political climate changed, the grounds have been restored to their full glory, and I have included some pictures I took below the cut.

Continue reading “A Visit to the War Memorial Gardens”