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The Buoys that Keep Us Up

When I first decided to start blogging, I thought I’d write about things that tick me off (and they are numerous). I also thought that blogging would allow me say what I wanted to say in more characters than twitter, but I can’t be arsed, in truth. The world is already a grey place at the moment so I’ve been concentrating on family and losing myself in fiction. And anyway, as an impulsive person, social media has been great for teaching me how and when to bite my tongue, so far.

The last time I blogged I was about to head to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (thanks Ards and North Down Borough Council!) where I met some amazing artists and plotted a police procedural novel. I don’t care what anyone, including Stephen King, says about not plotting, this beast needed it! I’ll let it stew and come back to it later.

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(Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Newbliss.)

There have been library visits, which are always great for feedback on The Bones of It, and yes, it’s still proving to be literary Marmite – as a book of its kind should be. (Proud mamma!)

I was asked to interview Winnie M Li about her novel Dark Chapter for Belfast Book Festival. The novel mirrors the author’s experience of a brutal sexual assault in Belfast, 2008. Dark Chapter is not an easy book to read and nor should it be, but it is an important read and I urge everyone to buy a copy.

Belfast Book Festival was incredible this year. My good friend Claire Savage launched her wonderful debut novel Magical Masquerade in the Crescent Arts Centre with an interview chaired by Jane Talbot, founder of Women Aloud NI. It was a fab morning, and that afternoon forty of us shared our work in a readathon; I came home even more excited by local women writers, and about 8 books heavier! I’m thrilled to see the Women Aloud team go from strength to strength, and delighted (most over-used author word ever?) to be the group’s secretary. I feel like I need to get a sexier pair of glasses however…

The world of a writer is peppered so strongly with rejection, but of course you would never know this when you just see the good news. I go through stages when I feel dismayed with the whole scene, we probably all do if we’re being honest, and maybe it makes the good all the more sweeter.

Thank god for Women Aloud and for lovely friends (both in and out of the writing scene), and can I just say that I heart the Square Circle Writers! I’m very lucky to have this group of smart, warm, funny ladies to be able to sound off to and share ideas with. Isn’t community what it’s all about? I think so! We are working on an exciting group project and I am dying to tell you more, but at this stage it’s hush-hush!

Thank you to Brian McGilloway for including The Bones of It in his top 10 Northern Irish Crime Novels article that was published by Strand Magazine. Another lovely thing in ‘the sea of indifference’, as our cherished poet Michael Longley put it when talking about launching a new collection.

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(A paper boat sailing on the sea of indifference?)

And what else…the cherry on the cake maybe, that I’ve been selected to be one of the seven writers in residence at Cill Rialaig in November, alongside Anna Heussaff, Sue Leonard, Fiona O’Rourke, Breda Wall Ryan, Moyra Donaldson and Aiden O’Reilly.

Huge thanks to Irish Writers Centre and Arts Council NI for all their support!!

Ten days on a cliff in Co. Kerry come November, where I’ll be working on my second short story collection; I won’t tell you the title yet but I think it’s a good one. I’m loving writing these stories, they are mostly about women who do things that aren’t all that well thought out, which is so much nicer on the page than IRL.

On Saturday, I’m giving a workshop in Ards Arts on crafting the short story. Looking forward to meeting more writerly folk. Should be fun! We all need more of that.

K x

 

 

 

It’s Been a While…

It’s been a busy couple of months for me and a while since I’ve blogged!

(Promise I haven’t been ignoring you 😉 )

Since February I’ve had an absolute blast working on identity-themed creative writing workshops with a lovely group of people at Sally Gardens Community Centre in Poleglass, as part of the John Hewitt Society’s Once Alien Here programme.

In March, Women Aloud 2017 was such a highlight; a great day to listen to everyone’s work, thoughts, experiences and ideas. Travelling on the Enterprise to the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin for the WomenXBorders events was some craic too.

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A toast before we head home. Image by Tara West.

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Around the same time I wrote an article for the Belfast Telegraph on tribalism and the latest election results here in NI. (See above.)

This month, I finished putting issue 12 (!) of The Incubator together and finally Skyped with the Political Science students of Oxford College, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. They had read The Bones of It and had some fantastic, thoughtful questions for me.

Thanks a million to Prof. Donald Beaudette for using the text in his seminars!

Today I’m delighted to be the featured writer in Writer’s Block over at The Gloss, where I’m talking to Sophie Grenham about Newtownards, No Alibis bookstore and family. You can read the feature here.

Now I’m going to pour myself a rum and coke – it’s the holidays! Hopefully the cogs will start turning on the next project.

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Happy creating!

K x

Loud Women

Remember this? You were at school and the majority of the writers on the English Lit syllabus were old (or, most probably, deceased) males. The only women were…I don’t know, Harper Lee? Elizabeth Barrett Browning?

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If you were a young girl who aspired to write you were hardly convinced that it could really happen. Not for you, anyway. There were women writing here but they were hidden away in towers, or something. Probably Scrabo.

Smart, funny women – think Carla Lane and Kay Mellor – did write for TV; they weren’t from NI but they would have to do. Then Colin Bateman, someone else living in Bangor, found success as a writer, and a few years later another local writer: Sharon Owens published The Tea House on Mulberry Street and things suddenly seemed possible.

So you wrote, but you saw that Northern Irish authors, and in particular female ones, were more or less routinely left out of Irish writing anthologies. And even on your doorstep, and in some local literary circles, local writing was overlooked. You didn’t quite get why, though you didn’t think any of this was intentional. Maybe we can’t all get away from what we are taught in class. A woman writer from the North? I mean, what would that even look like? (Click here for ALL the answers.)

Yet, great news: in 2015 you publish your debut novel, The Bones of It, with Liberties Press: a Dublin-based publisher that could never be accused of overlooking female writers from the north. It’s not all doom and gloom.

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But last year a we’re-sick-of-this-exclusion-shit feeling emerged. The marvellous and tireless author Jane Talbot decided to do something about it. Jane formed Women Aloud which last year hosted events all over the province, and abroad, to tie in with International Women’s Day. (Check out the website and get involved!)

In 2016 there were approximately 100 writers taking part. This year there are 200!

Aspiring writers of all ages take heart!

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On Wednesday 8 March at 2.30pm I’ll be reading at Bangor Library with Liz Weir, Stephanie Conn, Moyra Donaldson, Lesley Allen, Jane Coyle, Rebecca Reid and E V Greig.

And on Saturday 11 March at the Irish Writers Centre, Dublin, I’ll be  chairing a panel about balancing caring responsibilities and writing, and chatting with Kerry Buchanan, Réaltán Ní Leannáin and Catherine Tinley. THEN we’ll be taking part in a readathon with…wait for it…:

Yvonne Boyle, Anne McMaster, Julie Comiskey, Ellie Rose McKee, Maura Johnston, Paula Matthews, Claire Savage, Alex Catherwood, Tara West, Anne Doughty, Hilary McCollum, Lara Sunday, Emma Heatherington, Wilma Kenny, D.J. McCune, R.B. Kelly, Clodagh Brennan Harvey, Eimear O’Callaghan, Angeline King, Emma Mckervey, Trish Bennett, Sheena Wilkinson, Belinda Bennetts, Martelle McPartland, Freya McClements, Elizabeth McGeown, Lesley Allen, Orla McAlinden, Vicky McFarland, Annemarie Mullan, Csilla Toldy, Dianne Ascroft, Felicity Mccall, Helen Hastings, Louise Kennedy and Olive Broderick.

Yep, I think this means the women are finally getting loud!

#IWD2017 #WomenAloudNI #ReadWomen #WomenXBorders #readlocal

Where is the Truth in True Crime Documentaries?

Twenty years on from the death of 6 year-old JonBenét Ramsey in her Colorado home on Christmas night, no one has been brought to justice.

Watching the recent two-part documentary The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, you could believe you know who the culprit is. Unlike previous documentaries, The Case of leans toward the insider (family member) theory rather than the intruder theory. Countering this is Killing of JonBenét: Her Father Speaks, and naturally in this recent documentary you could doubt the insider theory.

But both documentaries leave glaring omissions while including questionable details, leading me to trust neither completely.

John Ramsey believes people will think what they want to about his daughter’s death, and that it says a lot about society that people view murder cases as a source of entertainment. And as a writer who leans to the dark side, I’m thinking about this comment.

It is certainly true – and observed by former Scotland Yard criminal behaviour analyst Laura Richards in The Case of – that JonBenét became a footnote in her own murder. In the years that came after, the media had a field day with misconstrued pathology results, leaning far too heavily on the child’s beauty pageant hobby, turning the tragedy into a series of seedy and attention-grabbing headlines, and making John Ramsey’s comments entirely valid.

In The Case of, before the end credits roll, we are told to come to our own conclusions, but we are still told. I mean, what else can we conclude when faced with a table of esteemed professionals who have all reached the same theory?

But since watching The Jinx last year, and Making a Murder at the start of 2016, and a few more documentaries highlighting historic criminal injustices, can we really take what the professionals say at face value anymore?

And that is part of what is terrifying about these shows.

They kind of leave you faithless in everyone, including yourself.

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Where both The Jinx and Making a Murderer succeed is in their lengthier, more detailed unravelling. There are always going to be two sides of every story, but to me MaM feels like the best balanced crime biopic yet. The producer/directors say they have not set out to prove Steve Avery’s innocence, keeping us trusting what we are being told. Though my one criticism is that even though we are watching Avery’s story, the viewer is told very little about the woman who lost her life.

The counter documentary was Steven Avery: Innocent Or Guilty, which promised to tell the real story in a mere fraction of the time. But the style felt like an episode of Cheaters and its tone implied that we’d be stupid to think that the murderer of 25 year-old photographer, Teresa Halbach, could still be walking free.

Then Amanda Knox aired: a documentary about the young American who was twice convicted and acquitted of the 2007 murder of 21 year-old student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy. Again the murder victim has become a footnote, and the style too light to begin. Plus I get the feeling that I’m supposed to be angriest at the oily journalist who talks about the murder like it’s a paper-selling magic formula. Then the Knox media circus takes on the same sleazy angle that once dominated JonBenét’s murder coverage.

And like the Ramsey case, in Italy there are massive disruptions to the crime scene that have me – who can only boast a short online course in forensic science – shouting at my screen, WTF are those police doing! By now my faith in anyone doing what they should be is just about shattered.

And there is something else: an appropriate way people on the periphery of crime scenes are supposed to act, and if you don’t…well, then you’re screwed.

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But these documentaries are not macabre entertainment as far as I’m concerned. We have learnt. We have seen how Knox is maligned and slut-shamed by the media for being female.

We may not have all the important answers by the end but we do have an understanding we maybe didn’t have before.

In Amanda Knox we are told we should like Knox, but if someone else had made the documentary you can be assured it would be entirely different. And we need counter documentaries so that we don’t just accept.

It seems the only thing you can trust is that true crime documentaries can’t be trusted.

Again, the only one I have much confidence in is Making a Murderer. I’ll never forget Brendan Dassey’s false confession, and the evolution of a you-couldn’t-make-this-shit-up miniseries, into the most depressingly heart-wrenching piece of TV.

I do believe that most people watch true crime documentaries with empathy, and they see that brutal crimes leave many, many victims in their wake. Viewers think, there for the grace of god go I!

It’s only human to want to hear the end of the story; hoping that one day soon there will be a just result for the victim.

 

Does this Count as Procrastination?

Something big happened today, I woke at three a.m. but instead of trying to get back to sleep I decided to look at my phone. Of course, this was not the only thing. I refreshed the news page but nothing had changed. My youngest daughter woke from a nightmare (a sign?), and it took us all a while to get back to sleep. (So far, so not big.) At seven a.m. the alarm on my phone sounded and it turned out we had all woke to a nightmare (I say all because I can’t find anyone who was not with her, and yet…).

The next POTUS is Donald Trump.

How absolutely mad is that!

But I have to stop here. Oul’ Gingerface isn’t having my first blog post too.

Late morning, after the school run, I was at a meeting about the arts when I was asked why I don’t blog. Why don’t I? Hmm… My extra-to-actual-writing thing is the incubator journal, surely. But maybe I don’t blog because I spend so long editing what I write that it always seemed like a chore; maybe my writing is my least spontaneous part, and maybe I have made some pact with myself that I will conceal my opinions/anger/preoccupations inside my fiction.

Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work. ― Gustave Flaubert

And besides, what if people don’t like what I have to say?

If you start thinking about being likeable you are not going to tell your story honestly, because you are going to be so concerned with not offending, and that’s going to ruin your story, so forget about likeability. ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

And yet I have already been trolled here and the world did not end. (Not every family is a good one and not everyone can have an open comments section, damn it! Now that is annoying!) Then a few weeks ago I read this cracker:

Blogging about yourself is the digital equivalent of public masturbation. ― Original source unknown

At first I thought, yes! I agreed. Maybe. Then I didn’t. I thought, so what! Some people quite like watching others masturbate in public (I’m pretty sure Pornhub has an entire category dedicated to the subject; please approach with caution). But yes, writing is a reciprocal career, you have to support other writers, and I do.

So this is my first blog post, nine days into #NaNoWriMo, when I’m supposed to be writing a book set in the States, on the theme of entitlement, but it’s all got painfully real. So here is where I find myself – blogging like a big blogging blogger. Who knows where this journey us will take us, no doubt deep into the mind of a tightly wound, mild-to-moderately inappropriate, but ultimately very decent, mum-of-four with a penchant for leopard print, PMT-induced ranting and quoting writers, when I quite like the cut of their jib.

Today has reinforced for me that we should not compromise ourselves, our art, what we believe in, nor who we are. I’m aiming to blog once a month, which means that next time I do I will have the first draft of my new novel, and be suitably rattled about something new.

K x