A night out, a glass of wine or two and suddenly the conversation turns into animated laughter where everyone – but me – has a Bog story they’re dying to tell.
As a city dweller, my childhood included nightmares from one of the many scary books I’d just read or maybe even a paper cut or two. My country friends, it appears, experienced a different kind of horror – the bog. But their retelling of those, not so long ago days, were so hilarious that I made them each promise to write a flash fiction piece for my Blog – an opportunity for us city folk to get an insight into what we were missing!
First up, is Nikki Whelan, with The Slog of the Bog:
The Bog: A place in Ireland where childhood labour is real, where midges kill, backs ache and summers are forever lost.
Every Sunday my dad would bring us on a mystery tour. In those days, there was no such thing as buckling up – there were no seat belts – so the five of us would pile into the back of his Ford Sierra Sapphire full of anticipation.
“Watch out for the Guards,” my dad would say, “two of you be ready to duck for cover.”
We rarely saw the Guards, but we would nod and laugh, bickering over which of us had to be ready to duck this week. These tours could bring us anywhere – from point-to-point race meetings in the backarse of nowhere, to horse sales in Goffs, the lakes of Blessington, Glendalough or even to view a dog trailer in Thurles. But each summer, one such trip would invariably bring us to the Clongory bog to pick a plot of turf.
When we’d arrive, Dad would get out of the car, make a big show of inhaling, then he’d turn to us with a big smile. “Doesn’t it look great?”
We’d all look at him confused and eventually reply that it looked the same as the plot from last year and the year before that. All our friends were excited about a summer in Spain, Cork, at their Granny’s or the Gaeltacht, while for us, our summer began at the bog …
After the turf was cut, it was time for our work to begin. First, we’d foot the turf. This involved stacking about 10 pieces of turf on top of each other, in different directions, to allow it to dry. A quicker alternative for drier turf was to clamp it (stacking in tepee fashion). That was too easy – we were hard core – we never clamped it. It was back breaking work. My siblings and I would compete to see who would get their line of turf footed first. I learned quickly that this was a futile exercise. Once you were finished your line, you would be directed to help the others.
After a few days of footing, with the summer sun beating off our backs, we’d all shuffle off the bog bent over like 90 year-olds. But this wasn’t the biggest evil of the bog – no, the biggest evil was getting eaten alive by midges. Swarms of them would come out, mostly in the evenings; it was an incentive to get our work finished early. They’d eat every unclothed part of us, leaving red itchy lumps the size of large grapes protruding out of us. We’d wear our socks pulled up high to save our shins. The only midge deterrent we knew of back then was smoking. Oh God, how we envied the adults who puffed away to midge freedom. My mom smoked tip cigars on the bog – but only on the bog – it was acceptable there. One day, I’ll be old enough to puff my way to midge freedom, I thought, totally unaware, back then, that I’d have gas central heating in Dublin and never have to spend another day on the bog!!!
When it was time to leave, if the turf still wasn’t fully dry, then we returned a few days later and we’d stack it then. I remember the days we’d wake to hear the rain pelting on the roof. How we loved rain, it was our saviour – the only thing that would spare us from the bog. Next was the bagging phase. The car and trailer were driven onto the bog so that we could throw the turf straight into the trailer. But, if the ground was too soft to drive on, then we’d load it into bags. These bags were then carried – or dragged, in my case – to the road and lifted into the trailer. Sometimes my Dad, after inspecting the ground and declaring it driveable, would get the car and trailer stuck in the bog. Amid laughs and shouts, all bodies on our plot and neighbouring plots would come together to push the car back out of the bog. Then we’d be back to square one, filling bags and dragging them out to the road.
We lived for our break, we’d eat ham, lettuce and salad cream sandwiches and buns. We’d drink as much Cadet orange as we wanted. We needed the sugar for energy. Our limbs would stiffen as we sat on the bog and we’d struggle to get up and back to our line.
Finally, when the trailer was loaded and secured, the proud journey home with the turf would begin. We’d sit in the back of the trailer on top of our loot, our bums bruised as they hit sharp pieces of turf as we chugged along. But we didn’t care. We’d make one stop on the way home at the local shop for orange Rocket ice-pops. This was our prize for a good day’s work on the bog. Nobody batted an eyelid at our black dirty faces and hands as each of us traipsed into the shop to claim our prize. But our day’s work wasn’t quite done. Once we arrived home, we’d have to unload the bags of turf into the shed. We’d stack them high, leaving the shed with a sense of pride, knowing that it would be a warm winter.
I hated and loved those long summer days on the bog. The smell of peat was lovely, an awful lot nicer than the smell from some of our other summer activities like mucking out stables. And the comradery on the bog was fantastic; we survived it together. We always left with sore backs but a great sense of achievement. You’d sleep like a baby after the slog of the bog – that is if the midge bites didn’t keep you itching all night!
Fiery Arrow invites you to the launch of
The Lea-Green Down
A collection of responses to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh edited by Eileen Casey and including work from many poets, including:
David Butler, Gavan Duffy, Geraldine Mills, Joan Power, Tanya Farrelly, Brian Kirk, Doreen Duffy, Mae Newman, Paula Meehan, Brigid Flynn, Trish Nugent, Eileen Casey, Enda Coyle-Greene, Grace Wells, Marie Gahan, Maria Wallace, Orla Grant-Donoghue and Susan Condon.
Time: 6.30pm – 8.30pm
Date: Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Venue: The Irish Writers Centre. (Refreshments will be served.)
“The poet Patrick Kavanagh 1904-1967 would take enormous pleasure in having a standing army of poets and writers pay tribute to his work in this handsome and original publication. Eileen Casey has grasped the initiative, outcome of personal talent and imaginative enterprise, to honour one of our greatest national poets in this magnificent collection on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.”
– Dr Una Agnew
In a flash, life changes …
I’m delighted to have my flash fiction, Reunion, published in the July edition of Live Encounters.
Around her, commuters beam in the after-glow of a sunny weekend, while the train swishes along the rails bringing her closer.
Soon, after all this time, they’ll be reunited.
The train groans to a stop. Her stomach lurches: only two more stations.
“Breathe,” she mutters.
She shakes her head at the woman beside her.
In through the nose, out through the mouth, her internal voice commands. Obeying, she feels a slow calm creep through her body. She watches the canal ripple gently. Two swans grace the water while a blackbird soars overhead. Only days before she too was flying through the air, from Boston to Dublin, on a one way ticket. Today would determine her return.
The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, written by Joël Dicker and starring Patrick Dempsey (of Grey’s Anatomy fame) will soon, courtesy of MGM, hit our screens.
Under Jean-Jacques Annaud’s direction, Dicker’s entire novel will be brought to life over ten episodes. This is a similar approach taken to The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwood and starring Elizabeth Moss, which won a host of Emmy awards.
Back in the summer of 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dicker in Dublin for writing.ie:
Having finished The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair only days before the interview, I was intrigued to meet Geneva born Joël Dicker, a writer with a novel which belies his mere 28 years. He is hailed as Switzerland’s coolest export since Roger Federer, with rights sold to 45 countries in 32 languages and over 2 million copies sold in less than a year. For me, minus the supernatural element, it was reminiscent of a great Stephen King novel. Dicker laughs when I mention it – apparently, I’m not the first to make the comparison although he has not, yet, read any of King’s novels. I suggest that with his busy schedule he could try Joyland, far shorter than King’s regular books but, in my opinion, up there with some of his very best. Dicker, like King, has a way of bringing his books to life by producing such fully formed characters that you feel as if you already know them personally and you never want to let them go.
The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair is set in New Hampshire. Here’s the blurb:
In the summer of 1975, struggling author Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Thirty-three years later, her body is dug up from his yard, along with a manuscript copy of the novel that secured his lasting fame. Quebert is the only suspect.
Marcus Goldman – Quebert’s most gifted protégé – throws off his writer’s block to clear his mentor’s name. Solving the case and penning a new bestseller soon merge into one. As his book begins to take on a life of its own, the nation is gripped by the mystery of “The Girl Who Touched the Heart of America.”
But with Nola, in death as in life, nothing is ever as it seems.
Not just a book about an unsolved murder case, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair explores the price of fame and the seduction of success, the ferocity of the publishing industry and the power of the media, love in all its forms and what it means to be a truly great writer.
Dicker is currently on a roller-coaster ride, jetting in and out of countries so fast, while promoting his book, that his feet have barely touched the ground. Yet, relaxing over a coffee in the Ballsbridge hotel, he is charming and humble, excusing himself for a moment while he finds a socket to re-charge his iPhone.
This is a guy who has worked hard for what appears to be overnight success. His writing career began at age ten, when he was Editor-in-Chief of a monthly wildlife magazine, and wrote factual articles about animals. Until then he had not considered short stories. “I wanted to feel free to tell the story I wanted, because with the magazine I was only able to write true facts, so I tried short stories.” Dicker admits he finds it difficult to be able to condense a story enough to produce a short story, yet he managed it successfully with The Tiger which won an award in 2005. Some accomplishment for him, he laughs, as he nods towards his current novel, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, which is over 600 pages long. Perhaps another similarity between himself and Stephen King …
At age 24, he wrote The Final Days of our Fathers which won the Prix des Ecrivains Genevois (Geneva Writers’ Prize) for unpublished manuscripts. The novel was subsequently published in 2012. His passion may always have been for writing, but he may well have taken another road when he headed off to an acting school in Paris. “I’ve always really enjoyed writing and playing music and doing some artistical creative stuff.” But Dicker explains, “I always felt the need to have a back-up plan. After six months, I realised I was not made for that. I really felt I should have a degree in something.” I ask if that’s how he ended up studying law. He laughs easily and nods, “I was not very good at literature and horrible at mathematics, so, I chose the only faculty at the University of Geneva that has no literature and no maths!”
We chat about his book and I ask whether his publishers might have requested him to shorten the title. Apparently that was never the case, but they were a little concerned about the pronunciation of Harry Quebert for his English-speaking audience. Dicker came up with a novel way to get over this problem. The waitresses, at the local coffee shop where the great Quebert frequents, are given a lesson by the owner, Tamara, on how to bring his order and on the correct pronunciation of his name:
“The chorus of waitresses croaked like frogs: “Kuh-bear, Kuh-bear, Kuh-bear.”
It does the trick!
With his first novel, Dicker had tried to imagine what it would be like to have his book in the shops, expecting the bookseller to have it displayed in the front window. But unfortunately, back then, that wasn’t the case. Today it is a different story. Wherever he travels he comes across huge posters of The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair displayed in bookshop windows; most recently earlier today in Dublin. “I feel very, very lucky with this one. Each time I see a window I think of the first book and how disappointed I was.” When I ask where he was when he came across his first novel, he tells me it was “at a book chain in Switzerland called Payot. It’s a terrible memory actually,” he grins, “because the book was supposed to be out on 10 January and I told my friends, ‘go, try to find the book,’ just to make the bookseller think it’s a must-read. But there was a delay in the delivery of the book in France and Switzerland and no-one told me. So I was very disappointed. But then it came out a week after and I finally saw it and I was very happy.”
His love of books was fuelled by his mother who works in a bookshop called, La Librerit. Dicker tells me “it sounds like bookshop but it’s a play on words – to be free and to love.” Directly translated to For The Love of Books, this is a Geneva bookstore with an immense stock of children’s books which no doubt whet Dicker’s appetite from an early age.
Dicker chose America as the setting for his novel, mainly because of the amount of time he spent there as a child. His cousins lived in Washington DC and had a summer house in Maine; an ideal location for them to spend their summer holidays and a feeding ground for Dicker’s imagination.
I ask about Nola, a character loved, it seems, by all who come into contact with her. Dicker tells me that in the beginning, Nola was not in the novel at all. “The very first idea, the first layer, was just a house by the ocean. Then came Harry and then came Marcus and the relationship between them.” Joel goes on to explain his thought processes and how they developed. “I should give Marcus a girlfriend and so that was Nola.” Then he got the idea to change the dynamics, “I tried again, but Nola should be going out with Harry, that’s much more interesting. And then – she could be dead! She could have been murdered, which is even better, so always going one step further and one step further. I’m very bad with plans, I much prefer just to write and let the story unfold.”
Dicker had four novels rejected before he was finally able to find his first publisher, yet when I ask him for the best advice he could offer new writers he appears uncomfortable. “It’s to keep working. I feel out of place giving advice, or anything, maybe in thirty years . . .” he shrugs. “I’m just a very lucky guy.” At book signings, he regularly has writers asking him for advice; he says the only thing he can tell them is to “keep trying. It’s very hard at times, but maybe there’s nothing more than that. Keep trying and try again and again.”
While currently travelling and promoting his novel, Dicker is still “working hard, trying to keep the machine going. Even though I don’t have much time to write a lot, I’ll read some pages – write down some ideas and plot ideas.”
As the interview draws to a close he tells me that ultimately, ”you write to please yourself. You write for an audience, of course. You write because you want to be read; because you want to share your story. But if you tell a story that you don’t enjoy yourself, how can you expect people to read it and enjoy it?”
“The cleverest, creepiest book you’ll read all year. Twin Peaks meets Atonement meets In Cold Blood.”
Gaby Wood, Daily Telegraph.
He saved my life. That’s why I’m here, waiting patiently to see him, before finally returning home to my wife and child.
Doctors and nurses rush by, shouting to each other as they attend to yet another bloodied soldier. I count my blessings that we got out of there alive. Many remain; their bodies returning home while their ghosts roam the countryside searching for lost comrades. I still see them; piled high, adding to the putrid stench of the trenches while feeding the clamouring rodents. But it’s not just those of us who sign up for battle; with war it never is. We’ve all lost friends and family.
I remember those first days. We were young, naïve, our heads full of hopes and dreams. Kitted out for war, we marched in our smart uniforms, buttons gleaming, boots polished as we set off for a few months to right the wrongs of the world, vowing we’d be home for Christmas.
I shift on the bench, looking at the worn, muck-smeared uniform which has clothed me for the last four years. My darned socks peep from boots that appear to talk as I walk; the sole opening and closing with every footstep. My life now is full of terror. Nightmares have migrated to days where any loud sound can drop me to my knees. I’ll find myself rocking in place with my eyes squeezed tight, hands laced over the back of my head and a cold sweat running down the back of my neck.
Historian, Michael J Whelan, remembers Francis Ledwidge:
Today Monday 31th July 2017 is the centenary of the death of Irish poet Francis Lewidge who died in Flanders during the First World War 1917, it is also the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the 3rd Battle of Ypres in which he was killed or ‘Passchendaele’ as it was known. Yesterday I attended in uniform the ‘Poetry Reading and Wreath Laying Ceremony with Gerald Dawe – Professor of English and Fellow of Trinity College Dublin in the National War Memorial Park, Islandbridge, Dublin.’ It was a special event organised by the Inchicore Ledwidge Society to honour the Irish soldier-poet Francis Ledwidge.
Being a poet and member of the Irish Defence Forces (a soldier poet) it was important for me to attend and remember Francis Ledwidge
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On 24 June, I attended the third Dublin Writers’ Conference. I left it feeling inspired, invigorated and with lots of new like-minded writers to connect with on social media. Having already attended the first conference I knew what to expect but, in my absence last year due to family commitments, the conference has grown substantially – word of mouth is a wonderful thing!
In attendance, were writers from all over Ireland as well as further afield with many from England, Scotland and America. The mix was electric. To give you a flavour of the day, I’ve included snippets from some of the speakers:
Tara Sparling gave a presentation on what you should do and, perhaps even more importantly, what you should not do to promote your book. Readers, she told us, are firstly enticed by a professional cover, then a great blurb and finally your book. They hate to be told what to do – so it appears that if you tell them to “buy my book” or “check out my book” – more often than not, they’ll rebel and do the opposite!
Laurence O’Bryan told us that the most important thing was to believe in your book. In this ever-changing world, he recommends you should research your chosen genre: the latest books, authors, blogs etc. By the time your book is ready to reach its readership you will have worked hard to prepare it for delivery – writing, researching and editing until it’s perfect. The reader expects nothing less and it is their Amazon reviews that will sell your novel. Laurence suggests sending out advance review copies, aiming to receive at least 10 reviews a month, with the ultimate goal of receiving more than 100 positive reviews.
Patricia Gibney brought us on her writing journey. When life dealt a number of harsh blows, she told us, it was creativity that helped her through the dark times. She shared a few tips: Don’t procrastinate. Writing is hard work, but just sit and write. Push past the self-doubt, keep negativity at bay and overcome rejections which are the bane of all writers. Patricia advised that passion should appear in all of your writing and the key to success was to persevere, be patient and while you’re waiting use the time to perfect your craft.
Jane Thornley began by telling us that what sells is a great story, a great cover and that
box sets are a gold mine – three books to be precise. Similar to Laurence, Jane felt it was very important to be aware of what is going on in the wider world. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse so that you know your audience. This information is vital from a marketing perspective where even something as simple as the connotations your book title might conjure up, at any given time, could have a positive or negative impact on your sales.
Paul Feldstein from The Feldstein Agency told the audience that you should write for self fulfillment. When you’re novel is ready, he advised reading agents submission guidelines and following them to the letter. He also recommended reading the latest copies of the Writers and Artists Year Book and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents.
Conor Kostick gave us a crash course from the Finishing Your Novel course that he runs in the Irish Writers Centre and that many of us have already attended. There were many nuggets of information he imparted including how important it is to nail your point of view to ensure your reader has a seamless, immersive experience. He recommends grinding your research into dust to sprinkle through your novel. And when setting your scene, don’t be cinematic – instead use psychological adjectives, i.e. the mountain soars or the mountain looms – depending on the mood …
Louise Phillips, who also teaches at the Irish Writers Centre, opened by telling us:
To just turn up every day. To commit. To write. Writing 500 words each day will soon produce a novel. We were brought through various writing techniques she has used including Road Maps, Organic Writing and Mind Maps which are all useful at the three different stages of the novel. Part 1: where you set-up, establish and create your world. Part 2: the murky middle – full of self doubts – where she suggests you build a bridge to the next part if you’re stuck. And finally, Part 3: the resolution where, by now, your characters should have evolved. One of the most important things to remember, in order to engage your reader, is to make your characters real – as real as your family and friends.
Ken Athcity arrived on stage and we, the audience, watched first-hand as writers pitched their stories to the Los Angeles based movie producer who has created 30 major movie and TV productions and is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures (the Oscars). Ken’s feedback gave us all food for thought as we watched to see what worked, what didn’t work and what may have a chance to make it on the big screen.
The Dublin Writers’ Conference has become the annual must attend event, offering writers at all stages an opportunity to engage with some of the best in the industry. What better way to hone your craft while also having an opportunity to network with like-minded individuals from all over the globe.
You could ask for nothing more …
Dublin is the UNESCO City of Literature:
The city of Swift, Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Wilde, Synge & Shaw as well as the modern masters: Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann and a dozen others.
Full conference details available here
Take A Step Towards Your Dreams!
23 – 25 June 2017
This conference will help you to improve your writing craft, self-publish successfully, and plan the marketing necessary for any author to achieve success whether traditionally published or self-published.
Three Ticket Options Available: €58 | €99 | €149
Choose which works best for you!
This year, the line-up of conference speakers include:
American movie producer, author, columnist, book reviewer and professor of comparative literature.
Multi New York Times best selling author. Romance Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award winner and the Thriller Writers’ Silver Bullet.
Founder of BooksGoSocial.com, published mystery author, also self published, who provides self publishing support services for authors.
Bestselling & Award Winning Irish Crime Writer & Writing Craft Instructor at the Irish Writers Centre.
Award winning children’s author, Irish Writers Centre lecturer on Finishing Your Novel & prize winning historian.
Leading European self-publishing expert, award winning author and social media consultant.
the Irish crime novelist who sold over 100,000 ebooks for her debut novel in one month in 2017, topping charts in the United States and the United Kingdom.
literary agent with many years of experience in the U.S. publishing world, now operating a Northern Ireland based literary agency.
Author, leading Scottish crime writer, and author of Power Packed Book Marketing.
is an Irish author and the founder of the Alliance for Independent Authors, named one of the top 100 most influential people in publishing by The Bookseller.
Director, the Irish Writers Centre, Ireland’s leading writing centre, consultant in strategic & vision planning.
Dublin is the UNESCO City of Literature:
The city of Swift, Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Wilde, Synge & Shaw as well as the modern masters: Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann and a dozen others.
Full conference details available here
It is said, that to write well, you must read well. So, whether to improve your writing or for the pure enjoyment of a great tale, well-told, place Billy O’Callaghan’s, The Dead House, at the top of your list.
It was while scrolling through www.writing.ie recently that I came across an article about his debut novel that piqued my interest, the title alone creating goose bumps. It was apparent that, at the very least, I’d read a story written by a master short story writer who has honed his craft. He has close to a hundred stories published in literary journals and magazines around the world while still others have won awards including the 2013 Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award for Short Story of the Year. That’s no mean feat!
So I went in search of The Dead House, published in early May, and on my third attempt managed to secure a copy. It all helped to heighten my anticipation. But finding this beautifully bound novel with its haunting image on any book shelf, I would have been instantly drawn to it. I felt as I had as a child when I came across a book I hadn’t read by one of my favourite authors and settled down to read, with a fervent hope that I wouldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.
O’Callaghan delivers a well constructed story which gradually builds to a heart-stopping crescendo. I read this book in two sittings. After the first ninety-five pages I took a breather, sending O’Callaghan a Tweet to tell him how much I enjoyed his book but that I’d probably be too scared to sleep if I read any more. He advised that another fifty pages in and I’d definitely be awake. I should have listened! Except – after another fifty pages – I no longer had the power to close the book. I had to read on. Unfortunately for me, it was close to midnight when I read the final page …
You can read the full review over on writing.ie by clicking here.
About The Dead House:
Attempting to rebuild her life after a violent relationship, Maggie Turner, a successful young artist, moves from London to Allihies and buys an ancient abandoned cottage. Keen to concentrate on her art, she is captivated by the wild beauty of her surroundings.
After renovations, she hosts a house-warming weekend for friends. A drunken game with a Ouija board briefly descends into something more sinister, as Maggie apparently channels a spirit who refers to himself simply as ‘The Master’. The others are visibly shaken, but the day after the whole thing is easily dismissed as the combination of suggestion and alcohol.
Maggie immerses herself in her painting, but the work devolves, day by day, until her style is no longer recognisable. She glimpses things, hears voices, finds herself drawn to certain areas: a stone circle in the nearby hills, the reefs at the west end of the beach behind her home … A compelling modern ghost story from a supremely talented writer.
If you’ve always wanted to write but didn’t know where to start, or if you’re returning to writing after some time away then this on-line course is perfect for you!
Course: Beginners Creative Writing with Doreen Duffy
Starts: Tuesday, 11 July 2017
Duration: Six weeks
This course will explore the wonderful world of creative writing. With steady encouragement and guidance you will complete manageable weekly assignments with one to one feedback from your tutor Doreen Duffy. This could be the start of your first short story, or the collection of short stories that will become your first book.
Click here for more information.
Limited to 10 participants, so early sign up recommended.
The International Literature Festival Dublin, founded in 1998, is Ireland’s premier literary event and gathers the finest writers in the world to debate, provoke, delight and enthral. Described by the press as ‘boasting a stunning array of top international literary talent’ and ‘the country’s most successful and easily the best annual literary event’, International Literature Festival Dublin line-up is sure to impress.
Writer and editor Eileen Casey will present an evening of live readings from Circle and Square, an anthology of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, all inspired by experiences at The Square, Tallaght.
Date: Monday, 22 May 2017
Venue: Tallaght Library
Admission: Free (Book Here)
Confirmed contributors to the collection reading on the night include:
Check out the full list of events which run from 20 – 29 May.
Our festival box office is now open at The Gutter Bookshop on Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar (recently voted the best independent bookseller in the UK & Ireland!)
Pop in to book tickets or pick up a brochure, or contact us by phone on +353 1 969 5259. Opening hours are Monday – Saturday: 11am – 6pm and Sunday: 12pm – 5pm.
A short story – in a flash – one to keep you guessing to the end …
I’m delighted to have my flash fiction piece, Reflection, published in the US on Flash Fiction Magazine.
No partner. No kids. And the Christmas party only hours away.
The antique dressing table, rescued from my grandmother’s house, beckons. As an only child, I spent much of my childhood in the guest bedroom where it lived. Over the years, it has come to know all of my secrets.
I run my fingers along the redwood admiring the shiny brass trimmings. The oval mirror, set centre-stage, tilts backwards and forwards while the smaller ovals each side allow a full reflection. Sitting, I fit the ornate key into the lock and turn, removing the pots and potions from the drawers to begin my transformation.
Tonight is a special night.
A poignant short story about love and life
Awarded 1st Prize – Sports & Cultural Council City of Dublin VEC Short Story Competition, 2010
I’m delighted to have my short story, The Visit, published in the March edition of Live Encounters along with Irish writers Geraldine Mills, Doreen Duffy and Brian Kirk.
Bridie looked out the window of her terraced house. She smiled as she watched Sam pottering around in the garden, stopping to sniff the carnations.
He may not be very talkative but he never moaned at her for the occasional cigarette she enjoyed with her cup of tea. Opening the back door she called out to him. He didn’t even turn his head. It was hard to know whether he was ignoring her or going deaf. She called again and as he walked past her she looked at the sky tutting.
“It would have to rain today, Sam. I’ll be drenched by the time I get to the hospital – like a drowned rat.”
Sam just looked at her.
“Well I won’t be long,” she said, bending to kiss him on the head. She finished fastening the buttons on her shabby coat, tucked her scarf around her collar and pulled on her faded leather gloves. She gave herself a final look in the hall mirror, patted her grey hair into place, glided the end of her pink lipstick across her lips and frowned at the dark circles beneath her brown eyes. Taking an umbrella from the stand, she draped her handbag across her thin frame and pulled the front door closed, giving it a final tug.
Although it was raining she was glad to be outside. A soft day, her parents would have said, back in her native Donegal. The sky was blue, the sun was fighting to appear and there was even a hint of a rainbow.
Bridie opened the door into Cunningham’s Newsagent and queued at the counter. While everyone was talking excitedly about the millions to be won on the lotto this week, her mind wandered, thinking about what she’d cook for dinner later. Maybe as a treat she’d pick up sausages and white pudding and maybe a turnover that she could slice, toast and smother in Kerrygold butter finished off with a steaming mug of tea – something to look forward to. There were three more people in the queue in front of her.
A flash of green caught her eye, as something fell to the floor in front of her.
A touch of romance and a little humour in preparation for Valentine’s Day.
Serialised and published in InTallaght Magazine, 2011/2012
The warm glow emanating from the window of the Luas was far brighter than the January midday sun outside. Four beaming teenagers chatted and giggled as they headed towards The Square for their weekly shopping fix. Fellow passengers found their eyes drawn towards their perfectly coiffed hair and their sparkling Hollywood smiles which matched the whites of their eyes beneath the false eyelashes and layers of black eyeliner.
The Luas stopped and more commuters boarded. As the doors slid closed, the crowd pushed their way towards the few remaining seats.
“Jesus, Johnnie, come over here,” shouted a spotty, long-haired rocker.
The four teenagers; Lauren, Sarah, Kate and Debbie nudged each other, while they pretended to look out the window at the blustery day.
Bored commuters watched as a handsome guy, with dark, expertly spiked hair and striking brown eyes muttered “sorry”, “excuse me,” numerous times before eventually appearing beside his friend.
“What’s up, Luke?” he said, looking around.
“Put your shades on and take a look at who’s on board – none other than – The Tan-Tastic Four!” Luke said loudly.
Johnnie’s eyes scanned the nearby seats, eventually resting on the four cringing girls. He did his best to keep a straight face, his eyes crinkling up, while he coughed into his hand. All around commuters smiled and sniggered.
The Tan-Tastic Four cringed in their seats, staring out the window. Their blushes appeared to fan the flames of their tans to make them even brighter.
Two stops later and the four girls were the first to exit the Luas and head towards the haven of The Square. They didn’t say a word as their tanned bodies stomped beneath the bright fluorescent lights. They arrived at their favourite store and rummaged through the rails of clothes. For once, not even noticing the Saturday bargains on offer.
“The cheek of that Luke Connors!” said Lauren, “how dare he! He goes around with his long, lanky hair and thinks he can make a show of us, and of course John just had to be with him when—“
“What does he know about tans or looking good?” said Kate, putting an arm around her friend. “Although, maybe we were a little heavy-handed,” she sighed, looking down and grimacing at the dark brown patches around her right elbow and blobs of darker tan on her knuckles. The Tan-Tastic Four looked at each other and they all began to laugh hysterically.
“I think this calls for a strawberry milkshake and a new beauty regime,” said Sarah. Three orange faces nodded up and down in agreement.
* * *
Lauren slammed the front door and ran up the stairs.
“I’m home gran,” she shouted down, hoping that the old lady might be dozing in front of the TV.
“Come on in and tell me about your day,” called her gran from the bottom of the stairs.
Lauren sighed, “just give me a minute, I’ll be down now . . .” Taking a last look in the mirror she cringed, forget about getting browner – I’m just getting oranger by the minute, she thought.
“It just had to be today,” Lauren muttered, kicking the waste basket. “That’s all I need, a lecture on ‘the old days’ and how ‘back in the day’ we had to make do with . . .”
Her brother Ben, burst into her room, “mam says you’ve to make gran a cup of tea when you . . .” Ben started to cough, “who’s been tango’d then?” he staggered from the room, bent over, eyes streaming with laughter.
She could hear the sounds of her grandmother filling the kettle.
“I’ll be down now gran,” she shouted, pushing past Ben and walking slowly down the stairs.
She braced herself for the comments as she took two mugs from the cupboard.
“Why don’t you get the chocolate biscuits from the secret stash and I’ll make us both a nice cup of coffee, the way my mother used to make it,” said her gran, taking the mugs from her and filling one of them with full-fat milk.
Lauren, needing no further encouragement, rummaged inside the slow cooker, pulling out a packet of chocolate biscuits. She didn’t know why her mother had a ‘secret stash’ because everyone knew where it was. She watched as her grandmother poured two mugs of milk into a saucepan and turned the heat up high. Hot milk, she thought, I don’t think I’m going to like this!
“Kids aren’t really supposed to drink coffee I suppose, but a little of what you fancy, once-in-a-while, isn’t going to kill you,” said her gran, smiling. Lauren had never noticed before how blue her eyes were, nearly the same blue as the Sunday-best china she used every week when they went to visit.
“The tip is to pour a little of the milk back into the mug, mix in the coffee and sugar and pour it back into the saucepan. Then bring it to the boil, stirring all the time.” She whisked the saucepan from the hob just as it looked ready to boil over and poured the steaming coffee into the two mugs.
Lauren bent her head, sniffing the wonderful aroma.
“Right, let’s go Lauren, you bring the coffee and I’ll bring the biscuits. I have a brilliant movie just about to start, The Big Sleep starring your namesake Lauren Bacall, – I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.”
“Please say it’s not one of those old black and white movies that you and Mam love.”
“But Lauren, you don’t even notice that they’re black and white after the first ten minutes. Try it, even just long enough to have your coffee, and see what you think.”
Lauren blew on her coffee as she watched the old movie – she had to admit Lauren Bacall had something; the husky voice, the mannerisms and even the clothes were quite cool too – for ‘back-in-the-day!’ She dipped a chocolate biscuit into the hot mocha liquid and let it melt on her tongue. It tasted really good.
Her gran dabbed her eyes with a tissue, “what do you think?” she sniffed. “She married her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, you know.”
“I don’t know about the music gran, but it’s not a bad movie, and you’re right, you do kinda forget about it being black and white after the first few minutes.”
“I’m home!” The door opened and her Mum stuck her head around the door. “Ah, great movie, Raymond Chandler’s first novel, did I ever tell you we named you after Lauren Bacall?”
Lauren nodded, smiling, “only just about every time you watch an old black and white movie, but I hadn’t realised how cool she was.”
“Like I said, your namesake,” smiled her mam, as she sat on the arm of her chair and kissed her on the head. “I used to copy her make-up, a real case of ‘less-is-more’, but she had that look off to a tee. Look at her perfect complexion, the matt lipstick making the perfect pout and those eyebrows.”
Lauren looked up to see if her mother was inadvertently making a reference to her latest tan fiasco, but she was sitting forward staring intently at the TV.
“And I can’t believe you’re crying, Mam. Thank God it’s not that old Bette Davis movie you loved,” she clicked her fingers, “remind me to get a bucket for your gran and waterproof mascara for us, when we watch that one. What was it called, Bette Davis was a governess and there was a French guy, Charles Boyer, I think . . .”
“All This and Heaven Too. They don’t make them like that any more,” her gran sniffed.
* * *
February rolled in and another Saturday morning found Lauren, Sarah, Kate and Debbie aboard the Luas. They noticed a few admiring glances from other commuters as they sat and chatted animatedly.
“Typical, we’re all looking good and no-one worthwhile to see us,” sniffed Debbie, flicking her glossy mane back from her shoulders.
Kate pouted, “and who, exactly, do you mean?” she asked.
Debbie ignored the question, instead pulling a DVD from her bag and staring intently at the cover. “You know, your gran is alright Lauren. Great idea for make-up tips with these old movies, and the movies actually aren’t too bad either,” she said, as she glanced down at Deborah Kerr on the cover of From Here to Eternity.
The Luas stopped and they headed towards Tallaght Library.
Lauren scanned through the DVD’s. She could see Debbie in the distance, as she tried unsuccessfully, to return her DVD on the self-service scanner. She groaned inwardly as she saw Luke heading towards her. Debbie would be in foul humour later – she hated to look anything but cool. It had been hard enough to talk the girls’ into going to the library in the first place! Not that they minded now, she thought, after they’d seen it wasn’t just books and that they also had a huge selection of DVD’s and CD’s at the end of their perfectly manicured fingertips.
“Not very gadget-friendly, Debs?”
Debbie turned to see Luke heading towards her. He did a double-take, “em, here, I’ll, eh, I’ll do that for you,” he stuttered, shooting bright red. x
Lauren reached towards The African Queen, but an arm brushed against her shoulder and snatched the DVD from the shelf. She turned to see John smiling at her.
“Didn’t think that would be your kinda movie,” he drawled, handing it to her.
“For my gran. I didn’t think that would be yours,” she laughed, as she noticed the copy of True Grit in his other hand.
“For my dad. When I’m borrowing books for college I usually pick him up one of his favourite movies. He’s a John Wayne fan,” he said, waving the DVD in the air. “It could have been worse I suppose, it could have been Bogart!” he said, nodding towards The African Queen with a grin.
Lauren laughed, “I don’t think you quite have the look of a Humphrey,” she said, tilting her head seductively, while arching a perfect eyebrow.
Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing Louise Doughty for writing.ie. Having thoroughly enjoyed reading Apple Tree Yard, I was delighted to hear that the TV rights had been sold.
Kudos Productions are, “the people who made Broadchurch which was a really, really big drama here last year,” Doughty told me, “they’ve got a top script writer on board who’s done a first episode and now we’re just in conversation with broadcasters so, with any luck, it’s going to make it to the screen.”
And tonight at 9pm on BBC1 – with Emily Watson in the lead – it finally arrives!
As you wait, in anticipation, for the first of four episodes, you can learn a little more about Louise Doughty and her writing world. Read on …
Apple Tree Yard is English novelist, Louise Doughty’s, seventh novel. It has sold more copies than Gillian Flynn’s, Gone Girl, (hardback) and rights have sold in twenty-one territories worldwide. It has been shortlisted for the Specsavers Crime & Thriller of the Year Official Mumsnet Book Club selection for January 2014 and has also been selected as a 2014 Richard & Judy Book Club choice.
Understandably, my expectations were high as I read the first line and I’m delighted to reveal that Apple Tree Yard didn’t disappoint. It’s a slightly different thriller than the norm, with plenty of twists and turns, but that’s what makes it so utterly compelling . . .
Piqued your interest?
Whether you’re a reader or a writer, I know you’ll enjoy, hopefully as much as I did, hearing how and where Louise writes, why her characters are so engaging and what she considers to be the best piece of advice she could offer to writers struggling with their first novel.
I was a little surprised with the answer!
And remember to heed Doughty’s advice.
About Apple Tree Yard
Yvonne Carmichael has worked hard to achieve the life she always wanted: a high-flying career in genetics, a beautiful home, a good relationship with her husband and their two grown-up children.
Then one day she meets a stranger at the Houses of Parliament and, on impulse, begins a passionate affair with him – a decision that will put everything she values at risk.
At first she believes she can keep the relationship separate from the rest of her life, but she can’t control what happens next. All of her careful plans spiral into greater deceit and, eventually, a life-changing
act of violence.
Apple Tree Yard is a psychological thriller about one woman’s adultery and an insightful examination of the values we live by and the choices we make, from an acclaimed writer at the height of her powers.