The Unknowns

I’m so pleased to finally get my hands on a copy of The Unknowns! It’s out on 7th December and you can pre-order from Amazon and Waterstones if you wish. I put a lot of my feelings about community and cultural potential in Belfast into this book. I am lucky to know so many people who work to bring joy to the city, sometimes in the face of extreme adversity. They are the best thing about NI and I hope that this story is a wee tribute to them. Here’s the cover, and you can read a bit more about the book here.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 10.08.47.png


Whatever you say….

This is the dedication at the start of A Good Hiding. The words are nicked from what are reportedly Heaney’s last, written in a text message to his wife. I knew when I was writing the dedication that some people might think I was being a pretentious knob. Then again, I think that about everything, so these days I just tend to go with whatever seems right. Here’s why it seemed right.Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 18.08.16.png

A Good Hiding is, I hope, a book about courage. The entire time I was writing it I had a phrase from one of Heaney’s poems stuck in my head like a mantra: ‘Whatever you say, say nothing’. It’s a phrase I heard a lot as a kid growing up during the Troubles. It was just common sense at the time. But it is a sentiment which has had a lasting impact on Northern Ireland’s collective psyche, and I had it in mind as I wrote Nollaig, Stephen and Brian: whatever you say, say nothing. Here’s the Heaney poem.

I was on the way home from a writing retreat in the North of England, having just completed A Good Hiding, when I heard the news of Heaney’s death over the radio. Just days before, as I left the country, I had found out that I was pregnant. Much of the writing retreat had been spent feeling very ill and not being able to tell my friends why, and worrying about all the millions of things which could go wrong (as well as what life might be like if everything went right). Noli timere: do not be afraid. The biblical words spoken by the angel to Mary when she is told of her pregnancy- the same angel which also appears to Nollaig as she contemplates her pregnancy in A Good Hiding. This is what writing a novel is like to me- following a collection of things which won’t leave you alone to find out where they go and how they’re all connected, because they always are. I’ve always admired the ones who aren’t afraid, or who are afraid and do it anyway. The best I can do is to write about people like that in the hope that one day it’ll rub off on me.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 18.39.07.png







A Good Hiding in Braille

In Maghaberry prison there’s a braille unit, and the people who work there spend their days turning lots of different texts into braille. Everything from study texts to leaflets to novels. Last Friday I had the honour of seeing my book, A Good Hiding, in braille, when it was presented to Lisburn City library. It has been printed in four A4 volumes  as braille takes up a bit of space.

A GOOD HIDING 1 (3).jpg

It was a really interesting afternoon. The braille users who I met spoke so enthusiastically about the skill of reading braille – the joy of being able to feel stories and read in the dark, and the practical applications of braille, enabling people to browse a menu at their leisure or simply find the toilets without help.

Mark Mooney, who runs the unit at Maghaberry, spoke about the skills involved in producing braille and how dedicated the prisoners needto be to produce quality  publications. The braille copy of my book also contains the printed words in large type so that it can be read alongside a reader with sight or used by someone who requires larger text.


From left: Gordon Flanaghan, Mark Mooney, Hazel Flanaghan, Me!, Margaret Mann, John Milburne, Susan Milburne, Davy Johnston, and, not pictured (because she was taking the pic), Diane McCready from the Library (thank you, Diane!)

Many thanks to everyone who made this happen, especially Susan Milburne, Margaret Mann, Mark Mooney and everyone who worked on the book itself. I am chuffed to bits to have my story made more accessible. Library users in NI can get it from the Lisburn City library, or your local library will be able to order it from them. The braille copy is not yet available to the rest of the UK but please let me know if you have trouble getting it and I will pass on any queries to Mark at the braille unit.





Little Reviews of A Good Hiding

Wanted to post some screengrabbed mini-reviews here as not everyone’s comments end up on Goodreads and Amazon. These are some of my favourites. Thanks so much to everyone who has taken the time to pass on a kind comment. It means the world.

Paul Magrs is one of my favourite writers so it was obviously a giant thrill to have him read and enjoy A Good Hiding.


Anne is (I hope she won’t mind me saying) an older reader and she is an activist and supporter of Integrated Education. She has always been a big encouragement to me and she thinks everyone should read AGH and not just young people 🙂


This is a friend of mine, in disguise as his Twitter account is locked. Nobody will ever know it’s Daíthí.


Órlaith is a young person and I am really delighted to have her review. There is another young-person-named-Orlaith who has written a review on Goodreads and Amazon but this is a different one. Safe to say, if you are a young person named Orlaith you will definitely enjoy A Good Hiding.

I’ve also included a photo of the recent interview in Culturehub magazine because it’s just so pretty. The whole magazine is like that. It’s free and you can pick it up at arts venues around Belfast.


A Good Hiding- Acknowledgements

This is long overdue, for all sorts of reasons. I’ve been putting it off because it seems so much more difficult to me than writing a story. There are so many people who helped in various ways when I was writing A Good Hiding. SO MANY. I am scared of leaving someone out. And I’m also not sure where I should stop. I could go back really, really far when I consider all the people who helped me become a writer. I could also name everyone who is a good friend or relative. I am exceptionally fortunate to have such people in my life, and I do feel it very regularly. As Maria in the Sound of Music sang ‘Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.’ I’ll spare you the entire musical but please believe that I mean the whole thing, right from the dancing on the mountain to the escape-from-the-Nazis.

It won’t be a perfect list, and if you read it and feel a bit miffed that you’re not on it then chances are that it’s simply that I’m an idiot and I should have added you. Forgive me in advance please…

My heartfelt thanks to…

Ian, Ana and Eoin: my family.  Eoin is only two but he gets a thank you as well because being pregnant when I was editing Nollaig’s pregnancy was really helpful. I’m not sure I would recommend method writing for a pregnant character, though. It’s quite a commitment.

Mum, Dad, Mags: my family. You bought me books and let me read Virginia Andrews at an inappropriate age, and, Mags, you will never let me forget about ‘Johnny in the Cafe’ but I know you’re secretly proud that I wrote that innovative song.

Dorothy, David and Alan: my family. Thanks for your kindness and help!

Ruth, Cat, Jen, Helen, Emma, Chelsea, Denise, Jade: my writing group pals. You have been such an enormous help and encouragement and I love and miss you all. ‘Look for the bra!’

Peterson Toscano. If you were wearing a cheerleading outfit you couldn’t be more cheerleady, and this has been so helpful, but you also know how to give helpful criticism when necessary. And you let me rip off the vicar prayer device from your play. When I am rich I will get you the BEST cheerleading outfit.

Glen Retief. I do wish we lived closer. Your encouragement has meant so much and one day I hope I can write with as much wisdom and skill as you.

Damian Gorman. Thank you for the help in de-sermonising and visualising the action and for teaching me about the balance of dark and light in writing. And also for the encouragement and the opportunity to read from A Good Hiding in the early stages at the Mac. And also for a writing exercise at Corrymeela absolutely ages ago where my vicar was born. I could go on…

Shimna Integrated College staff and students. Particularly Kevin, Ellen and the GSA. Thank you so much for your amazing support and kindness.

My tutors at Manchester Metropolitan University. Thank you for helping me to begin and continue and complete. Sherry Ashworth- I really needed your encouragement at the start- it was so important. Nicky Matthews Browne- the thing you taught me about balancing dialogue and action and description was probably the main thing that shifted my writing forward during the MA. It’s in my mind all the time now.

The Arts Council NI. Thanks so much for your support during the editing of A Good Hiding and the writing of the next novel.

SCWBI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), particularly Benjamin Scott and Sara Grant. Undiscovered Voices changed my life, and you have been amazing. Thank you.

Agent Jenny Savill from Andrew Nurnberg Associates. It has been such a privilege to work with you. Thank you for guiding me through this tilting-train journey!

Editor Sarah Castleton and everyone else at Atom books. It has been amazing working with you and I’m so pleased at how A Good Hiding has turned out. Thank you believing in angels.


Nick Cave. I know you’re not reading my blog, Nick, but it would be wrong not to thank you as if you weren’t also a person who helped.


‘Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could…’












A Good Hiding- the launch party!

The launch party for A Good Hiding happened on Tuesday 2nd August in the Black Box, Belfast. The event was included in the Belfast Pride programme and the Deputy Lord Mayor was there and a friend of mine from Texas sent flowers and we had pizza and wine and ALL THE CRAIC. I was incredibly nervous beforehand but as the room filled up with friendly faces I felt much more at ease and I really enjoyed it. My sister’s band, Mags and the Beards, kicked off the evening with There Is A Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths, one of the songs which they had learnt especially for the evening to tie in with the themes in A Good Hiding. Need a band who can cover Bronski Beat AND Bob Marley? They’re the one. My good friend Rozi read out a speech from my agent who couldn’t attend. Another friend, Mark Walsh, took the photos below. The brilliant No Alibis bookstore came along to sell books. And I did a reading with a bra on my head.

A massive thank you to everyone involved! It was a wonderful evening. xxxx



Let’s Cut the Strings Tonight

On Saturday I took part in Belfast Book Festival. I was on a panel along with the lovely Andrew Moore and Sarah Mussi, and the three of us were there to answer questions about Children’s and Young Adult writing. The host was Caroline Healy and she was so friendly and her questions were wonderful, and everyone’s kindness helped me relax and enjoy the discussion at hand. The plan was that I would come home the next day and I would write the experience up for my publisher’s blog. But the next day this happened.


And now, if I am writing about A Good Hiding, I need to write something else.

A Good Hiding is a dual narrative. It is told by two characters- a straight girl and a gay boy. Part of the story explores what I would describe as the logical conclusion of the religious exclusion and demonisation of LGBT people. That conclusion being violence.

I know, and am glad to know, that some religious leaders have spoken out, and regularly speak out, against homophobia and transphobia. But I live in a country where religion and homophobia have terrible and frightening associations. There are people in NI whose religious convictions move them to take a firm stand against those associations. And there are those who are at the forefront of securing and expanding those associations. And there are many in between who are too frightened to say or do anything, and they may well have a reason to be fearful.

In A Good Hiding, Nollaig’s story is bound up with Stephen’s in a way which is to my mind completely inextricable to this novel. They are separate people, but their stories are intertwined. Stephen’s experience of homophobia as a young man touches Nollaig’s story. Nollaig’s experience of marginalisation as a young woman touches Stephen’s story. Because they are friends. It’s one story, told by both of them as separate people.

That is how I feel about my loved ones who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer. We have our own stories but we also share a story. Violence against them is  violence to my world because they are in my world. Words used against them which hurt them, hurt my story, because they are part of it. Laws against them which cause them to feel that our government hates them, make me feel angry and sad. I can’t take their place and, even worse, the people causing the pain are the ones who look like me in terms of sexual orientation and gender conformity. Sometimes it makes me wonder where on earth I belong. But as long as they will let me, I will stand beside them.


I wanted to be in Belfast tonight, physically standing beside them, as they think about what has happened and share their grief. But I can’t be there, so this is all I have. It feels dark here sometimes. Dark churches. Dark politics. Dark secrets. The LGBT people in my life know about that. And they know about resistance and solidarity. I have learnt, and continue to learn, so much from them about what it is to be human. I love them, and, different though we may be, it doesn’t make any sense to me to see myself in a separate story.

I will write about the Book Festival panel in time, because the discussion was good, and some of it was not unrelated to what I have said here. Apologies for the delay.

Here’s a song about love and freedom.