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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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🙂

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Finally,

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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Making a Youtube Zine Like I’m John Green

I’m so clearly not John Green.

But anyway, this is a video I made earlier today which demonstrates how to make a mini zine/ mini book.

When I think about ‘being a writer’ and having a career in writing and how it basically depends on people reading and liking and buying my books I can panic a little. It has been known. I can freak out, just a tiny bit. Because I’m not John Green. I’m me, and what if nobody likes me? And what if they hate my stories or don’t get them or think that I’m being a knob when I’m trying to be funny? And what if…

You get it- I’m as anxious as anyone who tries to write things.

When that happens I know that I need to listen to Patti Smith and remember who I am- a person who writes- who will most probably always write, no matter what. And what I love about zines is that they are for all writers. All you need is to want to do it, and then you do it and it’s done, and you can do it again. Blogs are great, the internet is great, self-publishing has been a revelation to me and, in between the periods of self-doubt, I am really happy to have a book coming out

But zines are special.

Zines are personally-made. You can leave them places. You can put them into people’s hands. You can write them anonymously and you can be pretty untraceable. You could go out at night and ninja-flyer all the cars in Tesco’s car park with your zines telling people to try the Polish chocolate*. You could take all the stuff you really, really want to say- all the secret things you’re afraid to say out loud…and you could say them…

Or you could just do a random cartoon imagining that you’re Nick Cave’s best friend and chatting on a park bench.

Thank you to the brillaint poet and educationalist, Mandy Coe, who passed this on to me. It makes me so happy to pass it on to other people.

*Really. Try the Polish chocolate. It’s amazing.

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Children’s/Young Adult Books For Christmas!

One of the nicest things about getting involved in the book world from the point of view of an emerging writer is that you get to hear about and read some really great new books, sometimes even before they’re published. Here are some of my recommendations for books to buy for children and young adults this Christmas. I’ve linked to Amazon just because it’s good for seeing reviews but another lovely thing you can do at Christmas is to support your local independent book store, so here’s a link to No Alibis in Belfast too, because they’re so great, and they do have a lovely wee children’s section which you should go in and browse any time you’re in Belfast. You’ll find local books there that you won’t find anywhere else.

First es2up is the first two books in Ruth Fitzgerald’s ‘Emily Sparkes’ series. Ruth’s writing is hilarious. My ten year old daughter loved these books and I’d imagine most 7-11yr olds who enjoy a good laugh will as well. They do deal with serious issues too (the arrival of a new baby in the house/ friendship issues/ bullying), and in my view the balance between these issues and the humour is absolutely spot on. I personally like them more than the Wimpy Kid series (which my girl also loved) because they have a little more grit but no less humour. There are more in the series to come which is a good thing because Emily Sparkes is so readable that kids who enjoy reading will fly through them really quickly.

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The next book I want to mention is The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox by Nigel Quinlan. I was lucky enough to attend the Children’s Books Ireland conference this year in Dublin and Nigel was one of a number of Irish writers who had been invited to speak about their new books which came out this year. I loved the idea behind this book- a telephone box which changes the weather- and I liked that it was set in Ireland. When I heard Nigel read a section from the story I knew it was going to be great. Again, very funny and really nicely written. It reminded me a wee bit of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again- funny and charming and a treat for adults to read to their younger children.

Sheena Wilkinson’s Name Upon Name is a great wee story about a mixswed-religion family in Belfast set in 1916 during World War II and the Easter Rising. A brilliant one for helping young people (and adults!) understand some of the issues around these historical events, but also just a great read. A good read to prepare for the Easter Rising centenary next year.

Lastly I’ll mention a book for young adults: Nothing by Janne Teller. This was my personal favourite read of the year. It didn’t come out this year but I read it a couple of months ago and it blew me away. I had to mention it because it is different to any book I’ve ever read. If you have a young adult reader who likes to think about deep and difficult issues around religion, philosophy, meaning-of-life type stuff…. this is the one. It is the story of what happens to a group of friends when a single idea becomes more important to them than anything else. Highly disturbing, really clever, and just one of the best books I’ve ever read. Not in the slightest bit Christmassy. I would have completely loved this at age fifteen. A good one for adults too. Those of you who liked what we did at Ikon will find it interesting.

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That’s all I have time to write! I have left out so many but here’s what I’ll do: if you want to write a blog post about your three or four book recommendations for Christmas then write it and send me the link and I’ll collate them all here in a new post and we’ll all have millions of things to read and give over the holidays! Hooray!

P.S. I should probably give a shout out to my own book. I am terrible at this self-publicity lark. Anyway- it is my self published book, Widows’ Row, and it’s still selling and I’m still getting some lovely feedback about it. Good for young adults and old adults🙂,  set in Northern Ireland, themes around religion/atheism, homophobia, and it’s a bit ghostly. Enjoy!