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Archive for the ‘Micka’ Category


Blog Hop: What Do I Write And Why?

June 2014

Kristin Gleeson has invited me to join her blog hop. I’m now a link in a chain of great minds, connected by our passion for writing  – and, even more important, reading.

Kristin is a writer of intensely felt, meticulously researched, wonderfully evoked historical literary fiction novels, spanning her own territories of Ireland, North America and Canada. I recommend Selkie Dreams  She’s also the world expert on the Canadian First Nation woman Anahareo, wrote the first biography of this extraordinary and troubled woman, Anahareo – a Wilderness Spirit, and this summer will be a keynote speaker at a conference on herself and her husband, known to thousands as ‘Grey Owl’, in fact an Englishman from Sussex called Archie.

We first met on an advanced novel writing course at the West Cork Literary Festival, run by the amazing Carlo Gébler, and we have remained friends ever since, beta-reading each other’s unpublished work, mutually being encouraging, and cheering on our publishing successes.  As well as writing, Kristin is also a gifted musician, singer and painter; if you are lucky enough to attend one of her book launches, you may see her playing the Irish harp.


What Do I write?

I write plays and novels. Drama is in my blood, on both sides of the family – my Dad was the best theatre carpenter in the business, my mother acted straight out of RADA with Laurence  Olivier – she was one of his daughters in ‘Oedipus’,. My father’s parents and grandparents ran ‘fit-up’ travelling companies; musical theatre was my grandmother’s field and she was one of the original ‘Tiller Girls’. So writing plays started early [I was five when my brother and I performed ‘Clever Fox’, a two hander, to an audience of kind parents and neighbours].

I write plays for children, mostly in Ireland, but have written puppet shows and TV dramas in the UK as well. Adult novels are where I let my shadow side out to play. Children deserve optimism and hope, but my novels pull no punches. I write with passion and from a perspective of people in our society many would rather not know about, about events and feelings we’d like to pretend don’t exist. My latest novel, Dollywagglers, published by Tenebrisbooks,is a dystopia set in England, after a flu pandemic has decimated the world’s population. I love reading dystopias, from ‘1984’  and ‘The Road’ to ‘The Hunger Games’, but I didn’t want an atmosphere of despair and gloom, so I made my central character a puppeteer with a wonky sense of humour.

My first novel, Micka, published by Picador in 2010, was a sad and brutal story, told in the voices of two ten year old boys. Neither of these books pleased a mass audience, but I feel joyful and privileged to be speaking to adults and children in a way that, I hope and trust, enters their heads and hearts in a truly reflective and gripping way.

What am I writing now?
I’m at work now on the sequel to ‘Dollywagglers’, a story with utopian threads mixed in with the darkness. Quite a challenge to write with the same black humour and not be too predictably liberal and socially aware as I construct a new society from the remnants of the old.

I’m also working on the second draft of a memoir, I suppose, it’s about fifty percent true and fifty percent made up, about a nine year old girl at boarding school in the 1950s. It’s far from being Hogwarts; it’s a place that tries to break her spirit and crush her imagination.

Two children’s plays I wrote last year had a great run in Ireland. Feast of Bones is set in 1918 Dublin, and loosely follows the fairy story of Henny Penny going to see the King. The sky fell on many heads during that war; it makes a powerful metaphor, and in some ways you can only tell the tales of war in metaphor, unless you were actually there.

The second play, which ran for three months earlier this year, was about an old man, alone with his radio and his memories, talking to an audience of 6 year olds and up. My challenge was to make his life, so removed from their experiences, into a story that they could connect with. A spider and a jackdaw helped, plus his tragic love of Gretel, a circus bareback rider. Mr. Foley – Radio Operator played all over Ireland this year., and will be at the Babaró Children’s Festival in Galway this September.

Why Do I Write?
It’s an addiction. If I don’t have a piece of work on the go, the sparkle goes out of my world. Three years studying English Literature at university dried up the flow of ink, partly because I was constantly deconstructing great writers and literature, and partly because that critical approach helped sharpen the teeth of my inner critic, so that I was too intimidated to create anything for about three years after I left. Maybe you share that experience? Sometimes, our formal education can be a serious handicap. Happily, the flow of thoughts came back and has never dried up since. I live an extremely eventful life, high with joy, elation and adrenalin, and low with massive bereavement at a young age, lack of money, and near despair at the awful start in life some children have. I worked on projects in Newcastle and Scotland with kids whom society forgot, and their resilience and cheerfulness was an inspiration to me when I started writing plays for them.

Tagging the next three:
Here are three more writers.  You can follow the chain onward or backward to see all the other writers in this blog hop. Happy Hopping!

Nichola Hunter,  blogging at http://nicholahunter.blogspot.ie

Nichola’s evocative novella, ‘Ramadan Sky’ about an Australian tourist having an uneasy, passionate romance with an Indonesian man, was one of the very first books to be talent-spotted and published on Kindle by Harper Collins after their editors  read her work uploaded to their ‘Authonomy’ site. Find herbook on Amazon UK at: Ramadan Sky

Anyone who writes is welcome to join ‘Authonomy’, and if your novel gets voted to the top five by the reading community, it will be professionally read, and may lead to publication. You also have the benefit of other writers’ good critiques of your work, which, in my case, led to beneficial rewrites.

Neil Randall, blogging at http://narandall.blogspot.ie is a writer of dark and disturbing fiction, often with a Russian flavour. His most recently published work is The Holy Drinker; another novel set in Stalinist times is satirical, compelling and highly recommended by me; find it at: Amazon uk ‘The Butterfly and the Wheel’  – it will be published later this year.

Third in my list, but the most celebrated and consistently selling of all of us here, is Cathi Unsworth, the Queen of London Noir, as she was recently described by David Peace. Her novels expose the seedy underbelly of human desires and vices. Check out her website: http://www.cathiunsworth.co.uk and find her most recent book on Amazon UK at : Weirdo

Hope you’ve enjoyed my section of this hop. I welcome any comments! Thanks for reading.

 

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Listening to the McCarthy women on the Irish news today: I don’t know where they will be tonight, and in spite of their cheerful talk, neither do they –  but that is how  life is for travellers.

People have asked me if the traveller scenes in ‘Micka’ are realistic. They are drawn from my experiences, starting in Birmingham in 1971, where we would be told on the grapevine about early morning evictions from unauthorised sites [they had no choice because their traditional sites had been built on]. It was the job of the support group to photograph the strong arm men as they hauled the trailers off the site, whether there were children inside or not. As we couldn’t afford film, we clicked away with empty cameras, trying to look official. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. At one of the evictions I met Grattan Puxon, still an activist, who is at Dale Farm today.

Later, I worked with travellers in Perthshire and the West Midlands. I’ve drunk gallons of tea and eaten heaps of sandwiches in many types of trailer, from the ‘flash’ ones with mirrors and Capo di Monte china to the less luxurious version with no running water or toilets. Traveller society is complex and the hierarchy is partly based on nationality, ancestry and wealth, or lack of it. There are probably other, more subtle factors at play. I never knew half of what was going on around me, and that was not because they were talking in Romany, it was because their everyday lives were as full of cataclysmic events as a three act Greek tragedy.

I can’t get inside the head of a bailiff who has been told to break up a community of families. I guess he will have to see these beings as somehow less than human, therefore not entitled to the same considerations we normally give to our friends and family. In ‘Micka’ I may have created an idealised picture of travellers, but the tolerance of children towards each other, the moments of generosity and hospitality, and the amazing organisation of the women, particularly for weddings and funerals, are real and lasting memories for me.

I wish the Dale Farm community could be guaranteed their safety and security, under a less tyrannical local authority and with the support of a less judgemental settled society.

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