Thursday, 5 March 2015

Wednesday March 18th, 3.30pm The History Detectives dlr LexIcon, The Studio 



 What’s the worst part of writing historical fiction?  That’s easy - facing the blank page each morning.  (Just like it’s the worst part of writing any kind of fiction.)  And what’s the best part?  That’s easy too – the sheer fun of stepping into a time machine every working day, and going back to a point in history that you find fascinating.


How many jobs are there where you get paid to imagine that you’re present as dramatic events from the past unfold?  Not many, I suspect.  But that’s what a writer of historical fiction does.  Which isn’t to say that it’s an easy job – far from it – but it is an interesting one, where no two days are the same.  And few things beat the thrill of sitting down to plan a new book and wondering what exciting period from the past you’re going to pick..

Readers often ask me was I good at history at school, and - shocking admission – I hated history at school.  Looking back now I can see that it  wasn’t actually history that I disliked, but rather the boring way that it was taught back then.  It seemed to be all about learning off lists of dates, whereas now I love history, but regard it as being about people, great and small, and what they did, and why.  And people, unlike lists of dates, are fascinating.

So when I sit down to write a new book the first thing I do is pick an exciting, action- packed period in which to set my story.  But my next priority is to populate the story with interesting, credible characters that the reader can care about.  So when writing about the past I want to know what people really cared about, but also what songs they were singing then, what kind of food they were eating, what were the hit films and books of the day.  I want to immerse myself in that world so that the reader too can travel back in time, and see things through the eyes of my fictional characters.

Writers have always used libraries to do this sort of research in the past, and today we have the internet to check up on all those tricky little facts and figures that can trip up an author.  For me though, the best research source is always people.  If I can find someone who has lived through the era I’m writing about, I know I’m likely to get the kind of telling detail that really brings a story to life.  And so, having done my research, created my characters, and worked out my plot, all that remains is to travel back in time - and start writing the book…

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Why do I love history so much?
by Nicola Pierce
Nicola Pierce will be appearing at Mountains to Sea for the History Detectives, with Marita Conlon-McKenna and Brian Gallagher. Find out how real stories from history inspire Marita, Nicola and Brian’s award winning books. 

Well, I think it is that when I research subjects and events from the past, like the sinking of the Titanic or the most important battle of World War II, or the fearlessness of a walled city stubbornly locking out a king’s army I’m on the lookout for the story within the story. Perhaps I’m actually looking for my story within the story, the history.
For example:
What would I have done on the sinking ship, would I have tried to save anyone or would I have jumped into the first lifeboat available? Why do I think Titanic sank?
Would I have stood up to Nazi soldiers? I believe in peace but Hitler and his followers had to be stopped and there was no other way – was there? Would I have joined the army or would I have simply done my best to exist as quietly as possible?
How important is my religion? Would I have fought for it back in 1689/90? Would it have occurred to me that others should be free to practice the religion of their choice? If I had shut the gates of Derry against King James’ army, would I have continued to stand by my decision when children began to starve to death? Would I have gone for the soft option, anything for a quiet life? What is religion worth to me?
Ultimately, as I read my history books, I am constantly asking myself what I would have done had I been there.
As a subject history has always been my favourite, along with English, because it is crammed with great stories, great characters and lots and lots of gossip.
And I don’t care what year it is, people are people.
For instance when I read about King James, who fought King William at the Battle of the Boyne, I can empathise with the fact that, when he was sixteen, his father, King Charles I, was murdered by an angry mob. That must have been terrifying for a boy who was following in his footsteps to be both his father’s son and a king.
Then, in his later years, James converts to Catholicism, his mother’s religion, and thereby loses the love and respect of his two daughters. In fact William of Orange was his son-in-law so his family was ripped apart when James was obliged to leave England after William was invited by Protestant noblemen to invade. Now, that has got to mess with your head. As far as I’m concerned it explains why James’ heart wasn’t in the fight at the Boyne, he decided to retreat almost as soon as the battle was begun.
The story goes that King William didn’t put up a great chase when James took off back to Dublin. It would appear that William did not want to capture his wife’s father which probably would have proved mortifying for all involved.

And so on and so on. Really – I could go on!

Mountains to Sea to Little Island

It’s time to set sail for the Mountains to Sea Festival again! We’re very excited to be hosting another children’s book event this year with three of the best and brightest writers and illustrators of children’s books and teen novels in the business! The Let’s Create Event in Association with Little Island Books is a morning chock-full of writing, drawing, poems and stories. Our crack team of poets, writers and illustrators are all geared up to host fun and interactive workshops and entertain all the budding young creative folk in the audience – you’ll even have a chance to take to the stage to present your own work! It’s not every day you get the chance to do that!
So, from the world of children’s books we present to you, storyteller and poet Lucinda Jacob, master illustrator Oisín McGann and wordsmith Dave Rudden!
Lucinda is really three amazing things rolled into one; not only does she compose poems, she writes children’s books and books for teens too – and she illustrates them as well!
Oisín McGann is a wizard of the illustrating world. He’s been writing and illustrating his own stories since he was six or seven – and even though he spent most of his school life utterly convinced he was going to be a zoologist, he ended up decided to fund his dreams of being an author by working as an illustrator.
And the third member of our dream team, Dave Rudden, is a raconteur of the highest order. His work has been featured in magazines, journals and anthologies galore in Ireland, England and the U.S and we’re eagerly awaiting the publication of his amazing new children’s fantasy series – The Borrowed Dark – which will hit the shelves in spring 2016. He’s also our next Nightmare Clubber, with his title Brain Drain Baby coming in September this year!
We’ll be dropping anchor in the Pavilion Theatre on Thursday 19th to get creative with our intrepid bunch of creative story gurus – and they’re all crazy about children’s books! So, we’ll see you guys in the dlr LexIcon Studio and Workshop Rooms. Don’t forget to come along for 10am so you can get yourselves comfortable!
And you’ll never guess what our very own publishing manager Gráinne Clear is up to on Wednesday 18th! The History Detectives Event is a panel conversation with Marita Conlon-McKenna, Brian Gallagher and Nicola Pierce that promises to bring history alive through some of the best kidlit books for history-mad children! You’ll find out how real-life stories from the history archives inspires Marita, Brian and Nicola’s award-winning children’s books.
Marita Conlon-McKenna’s contribution to Irish children’s books cannot be underestimated. She has always been fascinated by the Famine Period in Irish history and her Famine Trilogy, chronicling the story of Eily, Michael and Peggy’s struggle for survival in Ireland and America has become a Irish and international classic in the world of children’s books.
Brian Gallagher has made a very significant contribution to the Irish children’s books genre in recent years. He has written five historical children’s books for young readers and teens, covering a tumultuous period in the story of the Irish nation, from the 1913 Lockout to the beginning of the Troubles in 1960s Belfast and everything in-between; threatened friendships and loyalties in the 1916 Rising, familial conflict and trauma in the Civil War, and the horror of the Luftwaffe bombings in Dublin in 1941. His latest historical children’s book is Friend or Foe, set during the 1916 Rising in Dublin.
Nicola Pierce is a writer of children’s books from Tallaght, living in Drogheda. She’s written numerous children’s books – for younger readers and for teens – and she never fails to bring history to life. She’s taken her readers to Derry in 1689 as the Protestant inhabitants of the city are resisting the attempts of King James’ men to story their gates. Another of her children’s books is set in battlefield city of Stalingrad during the Second World War. She’s even written about the most famous ship in the world, the Titanic, and its ill-fated voyage across the Atlantic ocean. Behind the Walls is her latest historical children’s book.
For those lucky school-goers who were canny enough to nab tickets, don’t forget to arrive at 10.00am to be seated! The event kicks off at 10.30am for two fabulous hours of historical brilliance in children’s books. This interactive show is a must for young history fans. And they’ll be doing it all again later in the afternoon from 3-30-5.00pm – that’s how much Little Island’s Gréinne Clear loves children’s books about history!
And if that’s not enough, on Friday the 20th, Ms Clear will be donning her storyteller’s cap and in the company of the endless inventive Mr Dave Rudden will be regaling a lucky gang of pirates – whoops, we mean children! – withTales of the Sea, a storytime session with more than a flavour of the seaside! As you know, Gráinne is our publishing manager, so she certainly knows her stories. Dave Rudden is a writer of top-class children’s books and a super storyteller too – watch out for his first book with Puffin Random House in Spring 2016! So, 11am means story time in the LexIcon – drop in and join the story-telling fun!
Check out for more on all these events and to book your tickets.

Thanks to Little Island Press for this article;

Monday, 23 February 2015

For International Women's Day; Join the debate; #Readwomen, on 8th March, with Anne Enright, Joanna Walsh, Sarah David-Goff and Sinead Gleeson

 I write a nasty book. And they want a girly cover on it

Lionel Shriver

The latest literary dust-up in the United States concerns the outsize critical admiration of Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom, the follow-up to his 2001 National Book Award winner The Corrections. Freedom secured two worshipful reviews from the New York Times in one week, the Book Review's lengthy cover essay drooling with such jaw-dropped awe that it was hard to read for the saliva stains. Franzen himself appears on the cover of Time, and Freedom sits in President Obama's stack of holiday reading.
Fellow novelist Jodi Picoult ignited online fireworks last week by claiming that female writers never attract the same reverence as "white male literary darlings" like Franzen. Naturally Picoult risks the appearance of plain old envy. Though a skilful craftsman, Picoult may also lack the literary standing to make such a charge. Myself, I've yet to read Freedom, embargoed until this Wednesday, but it does sound like an excellent book, one I'm looking forward to.
Nevertheless, Picoult has a point. A female novelist would never enjoy a Franzen-scale frenzy of adulation in America, which maintains two distinct tiers in fiction. The heavy hitters – cultural icons who often produce great doorstop novels that no one ever argues are under-edited – are exclusively male. Rising literati like Rick Moody and Jonathan Franzen efficiently assume the spots left unoccupied by John Updike and Norman Mailer, like a rigged game of musical chairs. Then there's everybody else – including a raft of female writers who keep the publishing industry afloat by selling to its primary consumers: women.
Elaine Showalter did a bang-up job in the Guardian Review last spring explaining why American women are never credited with writing the Great American Novel while identifying female writers who deserve more acclaim. So in preference to singing yet more praises of the gifted Annie Proulx, I'll share an inside glimpse of how publishers are complicit in ghettoising not only women writers but women readers into this implicitly lesser cultural tier.
With merciful exceptions, my publishers constantly send prospective covers for my books that play to what "women readers" supposedly want. Take the American reissue of my fourth novel Game Control – a wicked, nasty novel about a plot to kill two billion people overnight. The main character is a man, the focal subject demography. Yet what cover do I first get sent? A winsome young lass in a floppy hat, gazing soulfully to the horizon in a windblown field – soft focus, in pastels. Dismayed, I emailed back: "Did your designers read any of this book?" When I proposed a cover photo by Peter Beard of sagging elephant carcasses – perfectly apt – the sales department was horrified. Women would be repelled by dead animals. We settled on live elephants, but it was pulling teeth to get girls off that paperback.
Or take the amicable difference of opinion I am having with my German publisher, since apparently this problem is also European. My latest novel, So Much for That, is told from two male points of view. Its subject matter – illness, mortality, and the fiscal depredations of American healthcare – is unisex, its tone furious. Yet what's on the cover? A woman, looking stricken. Male readers wouldn't be caught dead reading a book with that cover on the Strassenbahn.
The titling of that novel also came up against stereotypes of my ostensibly all-female audience. The US sales department vetoed the original title, Time is Money, for "sounding like nonfiction", though fiction appropriating and subverting nonfiction titles is commonplace (nobody mistook Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs for an international policy journal). It took me a while to discern the real problem: Time is Money was too direct, too aggressive, too in your face; it would frighten the girls away. This suspicion was confirmed when I suggested the Germans, with no equivalent of "so much for that", simply use my original title. Uh-uh. Zeit ist Geld is "too male and harsh". I admired my publisher's candour, if not his neutral substitute: The Better Part of Life.
Publishing's notion of what "women want" is dated and condescending. In the era of Venus Williams, girliness and goo isn't the way to every woman's heart. Yet publishers presume that women only buy a book that looks soft and that appears to be all about women, even if it isn't. Yet women, unlike men, buy books by and about both sexes.
Granted, the marketing logic seems unassailable: in the US, Britain and Germany, 80% of fiction readers are women. (Which mysteriously makes women look bad: those layabout ladies have nothing better to do than loll around and read. Yet if 80% of fiction readers were men, we'd assume that men are still far more cultured and better informed, while women squander their free time on mopping the floor.) Why appeal to the meagre male 20%?
Simple: smart female authors who twig that their careers depend on writing solely for their own gender will instinctively narrow their subject matter. Meanwhile, gauzy covers with shy titles signal that the literary establishment needn't take this work seriously. Little wonder, then, that the language of extravagant regard in that New York Times Book Review write-up of Jonathan Franzen – "Like all great novels," Freedom "illuminates, through the steady radiance of its author's profound moral intelligence" – is rarely lavished on female novelists. Little wonder that admiration of Franzen's focus on "family as microcosm or micro-history" would invert to disdain should a woman choose the same subject: look, just another bint stuck in her tiny domestic world.
When my novels are packaged as exclusively for women, I'm not only cut off from a vital portion of my audience but clearly labelled as an author the literary establishment is free to dismiss. By stereotyping my work's audience as self-involved and prissy, women-only packaging also insults my readers, who could all testify that trussing up my novels as sweet, girly and soft is like stuffing a rottweiler in a dress.
Lionel Shriver won the 2005 Orange prize for fiction with We Need to Talk About Kevin