Books Ireland

Delighted to have my short story The History Man shortlisted and published in this edition of Books Ireland Magazine. Click here to read. http://www.booksirelandmagazine.com/history-man-annette-sills/

 

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Performance of The Risen Word

Some photos of our performance of The Risen Word at The Irish World Heritage Centre on Thursday 10th March. Many thanks to all who came and made up the full house and to the other Manchester Irish Writers for their help and support. I loved being part of such a fascinating and involving project. Louise Twomey played the part of Kathleen in my piece,  with great humour and gusto and unbelievably there was a woman in the audience who knew Kathleen Talty when she was an old lady in County Clare!
We are chuffed that ‘Dev and Miss Talty’ has been invited over to Liverpool Irish Centre on April 26th for their evening of events commemorating Easter 1916.

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The Risen Word

My lovely writing group, Manchester Irish Writers, have been scribbling away for the last few months on pieces for an event to commemorate the centenary of The Easter Rising as part of Manchester Irish Festival. We’ve written a variety of pieces which cover different aspects of the period. There’s live drama as well as poetry that reminisces and stories about the women who played their part and the children that got caught up in one of Ireland’s most important historical events. There are also true stories about some of the writers’ friends and relatives who had links with people who were there at the time. We’d love you to come along.
My own piece, Dev and Miss Talty, takes the form a monologue set in Manchester in 1919 and it’s going to be performed on the night. I thoroughly enjoyed writing and researching it. It’s connected to the story of Eamonn De Valera, one of the leaders of The Rising and later President of Ireland, who spent a week hiding in the city after escaping from Lincoln jail with the help of Michael Collins and others. The monologue is told from the point of view of Kathleen Talty, a courageous County Clare woman and member of Cumann na mBan who lived in Fallowfield at the time and who helped in the  escape.
It is my first attempt at historical fiction and I have to say it was hard work but I loved it. My findings took me to County Clare and back and I had lots of help with my research from some great people over there. It’s going to  to post up a recording of the story here at some point.

TheRisenWord

My Lovely blog- hop

I’ve been asked my writer friend Laura Wilkinson to join My Lovely Blog Hop. Here are some thoughts on early memories, writing, and why Enid Blyton let me down.

My earliest memory.
I was about three of four, on holiday in the Irish village near Connemara where my mother was raised. I was in a shop standing next to my grandma. She was a very tall woman and I remember suddenly looking up at her, startled, as she started speaking Gaelic to someone. It was the first time I had heard another language, unless you count Wiganese, the vernacular of my hometown. I remember feeling afraid and alienated but fascinated by the babble of unfamiliar sounds. She later taught me to count and say a few greetings in Gaelic, words I recall almost fifty years on.

I developed an interest in foreign languages at school and went on to study five though I can by no means speak them all. I also became an English Language Teacher and studied linguistics as part of my teaching M.A.

images.jpg connemara

Libraries.
Visits to my local library as a child are also some of my early memories. Ours was in Pemberton, a surburb of Wigan. It was a beautiful building on an ugly main road and a short walk from our house. We were allowed to go there alone from an early age and my friend Liz lived directly opposite. She had rabbits and I used to hang over her garden wall on the way home from my weekly visit and check on the bunnies. There were two shelves by the door in the library in the children’s section that I visited again and again. Famous Five, Secret Seven, Mallory Towers, St Clares – I can’t remember reading anything else except Enid Blyton for years on end. I was devastated a few year ago when I saw her played by Helena Bonham Carter in the film Enid. I had no idea what a dreadful old cow she was and how horribly she treated her own children.

I wrote my novel, The Relative Harmony of Julie O Hagan in my lovely local library in Manchester. Local libraries are very different these days. They are community and drop- in centres  as well as being a hub for readers. You find a lot of society’s most vulnerable and damaged people there. My short story, Terry Taliban is set in my local library. It centres around a disturbed individual I used to observe when I was writing my novel in there.

enid blyton

Books and writing
My books fill the walls of two rooms in my house and I have a special shelf for signed copies that I’m very proud of. I still buy books but when I published my own novel I bought a Kindle and now I read mainly on that.

One of my few regrets in life is that I started to write fiction in my forties and not my twenties. I try to write most days and I’m steadily getting through my second novel.

My Passion
My lifelong passion has been reading and now writing but I also have a bit of a thing for northern soul music. I grew up in Wigan, home of the Casino and northern soul was everywhere when I was in my early teens. My friend taught me a few dance moves in her bedroom but the Casino burned down before I ever got the chance to go. I only really got into the music again recently and I can be found dancing around my kitchen with my ten year old daughter or at soul nights in ex working men’s clubs with other oldies. The story of northern soul is a fascinating one and it remains for me one of the few genuine underground music scenes. I find it hard to keep my feet still when I hear it. The tunes lift and transport me like no other music ever has.

WiganCasino

I’d now like to tag Alrene Hughes and Carol Mckee Jones to be the next victims of My Lovely Blog Hop.

My divorce and my new baby.

The journey to publish my novel has been eventful to say the least. After a rejection filled December and January last year I was ecstatic to receive an offer from a publisher. A week later my novel I was shortlisted down to the last five in Rethink Press New Novels Competition 2014. The prize was a publishing deal but I had to bow out as I had already signed up with my publisher. The Relative Harmony of Julie O’Hagan was published on Kindle for one month in September and I was delighted with the reviews. I was less happy with my publisher and we parted company in October. Then Rethink Press came to my rescue and my novel is due to be published by them in January. It’s all been a very steep learning curve and I’ve found out a lot about the publishing industry. But that’s for another blog. Putting your novel in the hands of others is like sending your child to nursery for the first time and I’m very relieved that my baby is finally in professional and caring hands.

While all this has been going on I’ve been trying to get crack on with my second book. I naively thought that if I’d written one, the next would leap from my head onto the screen with ease. Not so. There are definitely techniques and tricks I’ve learned while writing book one but I’m discovering there’s a whole set of new challenges when it comes to writing book two.

You have less time. Any self published or traditionally published author spends a chunk of their  allocated writing time promoting their work on social media. There’s also a search for reviewers, communicating with other writers on forums, a blog to write, reading events and a book launch to organise and all of this distracts from the real goal of writing. It’s like having a newborn and a toddler. You feel guilty that you’re not nurturing the little one because the toddler is demanding all your attention. My own kids were born fourteen months apart so I’m speaking from experience.

stressed mum with kids 2
Then there’s the quality of the writing. I cringe when I think how I foisted the first badly written drafts of book one on my long suffering husband and friends. I’m not saying my writing is wonderful now by any means but my standards are higher so I find myself working harder to get the words right the first time.

Initially I thought I’d try something different with novel number two. I was going for something dark with a rip roaring plot that had twists and turns at every corner. A Mancunian Gone Girl. There was going to be hoodies, Bez type characters and violent scenes set in the underground car park of the Arndale.

bez

I ditched it after ten thousand words. The voice didn’t ring true and the lack of laughs made me miserable. It felt strained, like I was writing it in a straight jacket. So I started again, wearing my own clothes this time.

Then other doubts crept in. What if it’s too similar to Relative Harmony? My main character is a sassy female who is having a mid life crisis. Is she the same as Julie O’Hagan but with night sweats? Should I have set it in Chorlton again? I’ve already taken a swipe at the hummus eating classes. Can I take another and get away with it? I just had to block out all of these thoughts and get on with the act of writing.

Some writers wrote wonderful first novels but didn’t bother with a second. After Catcher in the Rye was published J.D Salenger went on to write a novella Franny and Zoe and some short stories but nothing else. He became a recluse instead.

Margaret Mitchell of Gone with the Wind fame hated the limelight too and Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird found it hard to cope. Shortly after  becoming an overnight celebrity she said this to a friend,

“I’ve found I can’t write… I have about 300 personal friends who keep dropping in for a cup of coffee. I’ve tried getting up at six, but then all the six o’clock risers congregate.”
To_Kill_a_Mockingbird

Others writers died before they had their second chance. Sylvia Plath committed suicide only a month after The Bell Jar was published and Emily Bronte contracted tuberculosis a year after Wuthering Heights was released.

Their success was phenomenal. I’ll be lucky if my novel sells a few hundred copies but I’m determined to write another simply because I can’t imagine not doing. It is getting easier though, I know where my story is going even though it’ll probably take me a couple of years to get there. And if I do get too constipated for words along the way there’s always Write or Die by Dr Wicked. Write or Die is a lovely piece of software aimed at writers who are blocked. You put in a time and word limit and start writing but if you stop at any point everything you’ve written is deleted. That’ll teach me.

writeordie

 

 

Captain Underpants and Lady Chatterley. Partners in crime.

A few weeks ago was Banned Books week in the U.S., an annual campaign that celebrates the freedom to write.

Book are rarely banned by governments in the UK these days compared with the past. We’re pretty liberal about sex and swearing in the printed word though it’s more complex when it comes to religion and politics.

I wonder what exactly a writer would have to do to be censored? Create a sympathetic paedophile character who wears shell suits and presents a children’s TV shows? Or write a moving love story between an elderly member of U.K.I.P. and the female editor of a best selling tabloid?

Fifty years ago my own novel might have faced the axe. There are sex scenes, a large dollop of swearing and a couple of reviews have called it “gritty” and ‘dark.’ If a review described it as

‘A shocking piece of filth”

or wrote on Amazon

“I thought I’d seen it all in Fifty Shades but this really takes it to another level.”

there’d probably be a sharp rise in sales rather than a rush to get it banned.

obscenity poster
But there are courageous writers who have written stories they probably knew would get them into trouble and others that may have doubted they’d ever see their work in print. Yet they went ahead and wrote them because they had the strength of their convictions. Here are a few of my favourites:

D H Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s lover.

As an English undergraduate at Goldmiths, London University, I was taught by the academic Richard Hoggart. Hoggart was an expert witness defending Lawrence’s novel at the famous obscenity trial in 1960. In one of our classes he talked about his involvement in the trial and I read and loved the book immediately. For me Lawrence has always been the bravest of writers. He actually wrote Lady Chatterley in 1930, it was privately published  in Italy and the unexpurgated version was only printed in the UK thirty years later. Its explicit sex scenes contained number of cunts and fucks which was outrageous for the time really. But his use of language wasn’t really what riled the establishment in 1960. As Hoggart explained to us students back then, it was an issue of class. Lawrence had produced a book about a member of the aristocracy shagging her gardener and loving it. One of the most memorable lines during the trial was when the prosecuting lawyer in his opening statement, turned to the jury in his opening statement and asked if Lady Chatterley was a book,

“you would even wish your wife or servants to read”

lady chatterley

The book’s acquittal became a landmark in terms of censorship. Without it I am sure many other worthy but slightly risqué novels would never have reached our bookshelves. So thanks for that Dirty Herbert, as he was once affectionately known.

George Orwell – Animal Farm

Orwell wrote his novella Animal Farm in 1943 but couldn’t  find a publisher in the UK until 1945 as the USSR was an ally of Britain in the war and, a satire on communism, the novella was seen as a political hot potato. When it was published it was immediately banned in the USSR and other communist countries. In 2002 it was also banned in schools the United Arab Emirates for content that was anti Islamic. In particular the authorities objected to the inclusion of a talking pig.
Animal Farm is still banned in North Korea and Cuba.

Lewis Caroll – Alice in Wonderland

Yes, really. It was once banned in a Chinese Province in 1931 because the characters took on human qualities and the governor at the time thought that children would start to perceive humans and animals on a similar level which he thought might end in disaster. Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty suffered a similar fate. Although it sold over 50 million copies, it was banned by the South African Government during apartheid because it had the word ‘Black’ in the title.

Dav Pilkey – Captain Underpants

Apparently Captain Underpants is the book most people want banned in the U.S.  Yes. Captain Underpants. That immoral tale of a superhero and two young boys that we love so much in our house got the number one spot in 2012 and 2013 in the American Library Association’s Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books List. (Naughty books that have received lots of complaints). It actually beat Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve read them both and if you ask me Captain Underpants is by far the better book. Click here to see author Dav Pilkey talking about it.

captain underpants