Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Category: Books (page 1 of 2)

Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

A suitably blasted heath - or rainy cemetary

A suitably blasted heath – or rainy cemetary

I’ve always loved reading ghost stories at this time of year. Nothing else seems to hit quite the same spot the wind is roaring like a lost soul outside and the rain is battering against the windows in truly biblical fashion. As the nights draw in there’s always that primeval part of us that draws closer to the fire but is mindful of the fury outside. This is something that writers have always understood and those writing before homes were lit with the flick of a switch understood it by far the best. My favourite ghost stories always seem to date from the mid-19th to early 20th century, when the gothic imagination was at its height. I grew up reading M.R. James and E.F. Benson, first discovered in the volumes that made up part of my dad’s Everyman Library – hundreds of uniform cloth covered books with matching paper jackets that lived in special glass fronted bookcases in the dining room.

It was in those bookcases I discovered the Brontes and Dickens, Tacitus and Gidden’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The Everyman mission was always to provide a world class library of classics accessible to the ordinary men and women. The Everyman collection taught me about the gothic imagination and it was from there I first discovered the pleasure of reading to be scared. There were other horror compendiums around the house, one Welsh Tales of Terror compiled by the great Chetwynd Hayes left a particular impression with a story of man eating rats, but there was something about the heft of the Everyman books that was special.

Back then, happy in my reading nook, I never really noticed that all the stories I read were written by men. When I started to collect my own horror compilations I found a few female writers – Edith Nesbitt and Edith Wharton for example – but I suppose I just assumed it was a genre that women didn’t write – even though, as a little girl who would grow up into a writer, I devoured horror stories and tales with a twist in the tale more voraciously than almost any other genre. As I grew up I kept an eye out for female writers in this area, and particularly in my favourite period. It was only last year when I really started to make headway, largely thanks to my husband’s discovery that Wordsworth Editions’ Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural, included several volumes of stories by female writers. Some are well known names, others should be and I’m going to run through some of them, in case you have been on a similar quest.

Marjorie Bowen

For me, the stand out discovery. I’m only sorry that it’s taken me so long to discover her. I’d heard her name before as a novelist but had no idea about her ghost stories. She’s a fascinating character. A writer from necessity, she supported her family, including her absolute liability of a mother who was an aspiring writer herself. Bowen received no formal education but taught herself French, Italian and a little Latin. She wrote under a variety of pseudonyms – in fact Marjorie Bowen was one of them, her real name was Gabrielle Campbell – many of them male. Her writing style is fluid and lyrical and her stories should be among the best known in the genre. My favourite of her stories is the extraordinary Florence Flannery, a wonderfully dark Wandering Jew type story. The collection I have is The Bishop of Hell & Other Stories  and Florence is in that in all her glory.

Edith Nesbit

I grew up reading E. Nesbit’s children’s stories but it was only as an adult I discovered her ghost stories, again in the Wordsworth edition. It’s well worth reading the introduction to that edition actually. It gives a great insight into Edith’s unconventional life, her unusual home life and founding membership of the Fabian Society. The story that really stayed with me was From the Dead , a tragic story of love, betrayal and forgiveness, but I don’t want to say any more, I don’t want to spoil the story. Nesbit’s stories are good, old fashioned shockers. She uses physical horror particularly effectively, her stories are told more bluntly than Bowen’s, though that doesn’t limit their effectiveness. Track them down – the collection is called The Power of Darkness.

May Sinclair

Another formidable woman as well as an excellent writer. May Sinclair, or Mary Amelia St Clair, was an active member of the Women Writers’ Suffrage League (now there’s an organisation to resurrect). She also wrote a fine line in chillers with a distinctively Freudian edge. The Flaw in the Crystal  is more of a novella than a short story, telling the story of a female telepath who must live with the consequences of her benevolently meant actions, while Where Their Fire is not Quenched  is a deceptively simple tale of lovers locked in an endlessly repeating, ever unfulfilling affair. Sinclair is writing a bit later than Nesbit and Bowen so her stories inhabit a less obviously gothic world. She is firmly 20th Century in her writing and her subject matter. The collection I have is Uncanny Stories and you will find both stories I’ve mentioned in there.

D.K. Broster

Dorothy Broster was a best-selling historical novelist, like Marjorie Bowen. She was a nurse during the First World War and afterwards worked as secretary for the Regius Professor of History at Oxford, where she had studied herself. Her stories are also somewhat later than the first two examples but Couching at the Door which gives the collection I have it’s name, is as good a creeping menace story as any devised by M.R. James. I can’t help but note that it says a lot that Broster, despite her literary success, was a mere secretary, while James was famously a career academic. Would more doors be open to her these days? It’s hard to know if she would have ventured through though, since she was a very private individual and little is known about her – although I’d be happy to be corrected on that, if you know of anything, let me know in the comments.

Lucy M. Boston

Another favourite author from childhood, I only discovered that Lucy M. Boston wrote ghost stories in the last couple of years. I loved the Green Knowe books, and you can see a lot of the same author in her stories Curfew and The Tiger Skinned Rug, possibly because both these stories feature young protagonists and indeed, both appeared in children’s anthologies. While I’ll let you track down copies of the other collections yourself, Wordsworth editions are relatively easy to track down in bricks and mortar bookshops as well as online, I’ll link to the stunning edition of Curfew and Other Eerie Stories  from Dublin based Swan River Press, as it might be more difficult to track down. Boston is the latest of the writers I’m writing about today, and one of the things I love about her story is that she was a late starter. Her first book was published in her 60s which gives hope to anyone out there still trying to make it as a writer. She wrote ghost stories throughout her life and it’s obvious from reading those published that like me, she was someone who had always loved the genre and had grown up reading M.R. James and the rest. You can see echoes of these in her stories but they more than stand up on their own.

One thing that’s struck me, reading all these female writers take on the ghost story is that there is a difference from the stories I read growing up. I hesitate to say there’s a male type of writer and a female type as we all know where that kind of thinking can lead (pink covers anyone) but on a very personal level I’ve noticed that these writers tend to give their characters more depth. Maybe it’s because I’m reading them as an adult, and as a writer myself, whereas I would have read all the others from childhood but I don’t remember feeling that before. The stories I remember tend to have very few female characters. Protagonists are invariably male and women only appear as wives, sisters or mothers. Now a lot of that could be because I’m thinking particularly of M.R. James who wrote the world he knew and consequently writes a lot about solitary, male academics. In the stories written by women the protagonists are often female, or children, but even when the story revolves around a man they tend to be less secure, more aware of the world and the relationships around them.

Most of male protagonists I remember reading about growing up were academics, or ex army or naval men. They work in the city or meet someone on a journey. I suppose that’s because that is the male experience. Just as female writers are sometimes criticised for focusing too much on the domestic, so male writers take their protagonists out into the impersonal world. Since so many of these uncanny stories focus on something that disrupts the ordinary, that disruption is going to occur in vary different places depending on the life experience of the writer. Personally I can’t help feeling that the stereotypical male life in this context, with it’s day to day work in an office of some kind, the home, a distant beacon rather than a natural focus, can put the horror at a remove. It doesn’t make me love these stories any less but when you read stories that bring that horror right into the home, into the safest of safe harbours, then that gives the story a totally different impact. I wonder if the female experience actually opens up the world more. Maybe we should be looking at all those male writers as the limited ones…

But that’s just an idea I’ve been playing with, not one I’ve any major thesis about. I hope these suggestions give you some ideas if you’re on the lookout for something spooky this Halloween. I’m planning another round coming up to Christmas, because that to my mind is an even better time for ghost stories. Do let me know what you think in the comments.

Is there a future for Irish publishing?

As I’ve written already this week this week saw the second annual Dublin Book Festival at the City Hall.  It’s organised by Cle, the Irish Book Publishers Association and will hopefully become a fixture of the Dublin cultural scene over the next few years.

Yesterday I went to a seminar on the future of Irish publishing.  Obviously, as a writer with a book published by an Irish publisher it’s something I have a vested interest in but, as a reader, it’s something I’ve always had a keen interest in as well.

Ireland is a country where it’s quite hard to avoid bumping into an aspiring writer. I’ve lost count of the times friends and acquaintances and in some cases total strangers within a few minutes of meeting have brought up the subject of the book they’ve either always wanted to write or that has been sitting in a box under the bed for years.

Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with being an aspiring writer – I’ve been one for years – but I’m not talking about the serious obsessives.  The saying that “everyone has a book in them” has been taken to heart in Ireland and there are a lot of very peculiar people out there.  I’ve read a lot of publishing blogs over the years and I know every agent or editor has their horror stories about slush pile rejects but we do seem to have more per head of population than average.

With this in mind it’s always surprised me how little there is for the aspiring writer in Ireland.  Once you’re published it’s grand, there’s the Artist’s Tax Exemption, Aosdana and the Arts Council for starters, but in terms of places where you can rub shoulders with the publishing elite we’re a bit under stocked.  The Book Festival aims at setting this right.

I’ve already posted here about the Forum on Copyright issues that was held on Friday.  As a journalist I’d always been aware of copyright but it’s such a huge subject and when you can publish your words online in seconds these days it’s a massive issue for anyone who wants to make a living from writing.

There’s been a lot of discussion online about the future of publishing in the current economic climate.  Like any other business it’s been hit hard but there are also plenty of new opportunities as technology changes on an almost daily basis.

Yesterday, the Seamus Brennan Memorial Seminar on Irish Publishing tackled the issue from an Irish perspective.  I’d gone along expecting to find it depressing listening but the four speakers all shared a bullish attitude to the rocky seas.

I tweeted the talk live as much as I could, although using a mobile phone isn’t the most efficient way of using Twitter in Ireland.  Apart from anything else I kept getting distracted by the points being thrown up.  For example, there are around 100 publishers in Ireland at the moment.  For such a small country that’s a massive amount.  A lot of them would be virtual cottage industries dealing with a very niche market but it still represents a bewildering amount of choice for the writer with a manuscript to pitch.

Author and publisher Steve McDonogh of Brandon press spoke passionately in favour of amalgamation which would allow Irish publishers to pool their resources to better confront the international scene.  He also spoke at some length about the challenges introduced by the new technologies.  The fact that digital rights are now such a hot issue is a fascinating subject and it’s one that Irish publishers are just as concerned about as their counterparts elsewhere.

Ireland has it’s own issues to deal with as well though.  Even though the majority of books taken out of the library here might be by Irish authors, the vast majority of books on the shelves of bookshops have been published elsewhere.  Irish publishers can’t compete with the UK houses if they decide to come and throw money at Irish authors.

As a writer myself I don’t think I’d refuse if someone offered me shed loads of money, any opportunity to spend all your time writing without having to worry about how the bills are paid.  But Ireland has such a rich literary heritage it would be a shame if Irish publishing couldn’t withstand the pressures.

The Arts Council came in for a lot of criticism.  Growing up in a theatre household I’m familiar with their work but I had never realised that there was such a major disparity when it came to funding for drama and funding for literature.  Theatre receives a third of the funding…Literature gets a mere 8%.

How is publishing ever supposed to move into the 21st Century if they can’t apply for state support for R&D, not to mention supporting us poor starving writers.  We might not have to pay tax on our earnings but to qualify for that you actually have to earn something.  Writing is not a very well paid profession (unless you are one of the golden few).  Advances don’t come along very often and when they do they arrive piecemeal.  Research takes time and funds and usually isn’t paid for at all.  It’s no wonder so many writers have a day job as well.

All in all though the mood yesterday was upbeat.  Jean Harrington, the MD of my own publishers, Maverick House, told us to “read our way through the recession” and to support Irish publishing by buying Irish.  It’s easy to be drawn to the latest blockbuster release but as the Book Festival showed there is a phenomenal choice of Irish writing out there.

Patsy Horton from Northern Irish imprint Blackstaff Press spoke about the possibilities for niche markets, especially in an environment as small as the one in the North.

Finally Michael O’Brien, the man behind O’Brien Press gave us the A-Z of Irish publishing.  There are a lot of strengths out there but the problems of negotiating the international markets kept rising again and again.

It’s was great to see the crowds of people wandering around the bookshelves arranged around the entrance hall of the City Hall.  Apart from the publishing bods, out in force, there were plenty of writers not to mention a gratifying number of members of the public.

It would be nice to see the festival grow in the years to come.  We do great arts festivals but there is very little in terms of a proper literary festival.  Yes, every so often there are opportunities for successful writers to give readings to their adoring fans but we have very little in terms of the kind of festival that offers master classes and seminars.  The Dublin Book Festival is definitely going in the right direction but it’s getting there and with luck it will only get better.

An Interesting Day…copyright, muffins and free pens!

The Dublin Book Festival kicked off today in the City Hall in Dublin city centre.  It’s the second year of the event and, since I had the day free I dragged the husband along.

DBF Leabhair Power!

When we arrived at the City Hall there was a pleasant buzz.  Hoards of school children trooped in and out to meet various authors and people were sitting around reading books they had picked up from the well stocked publishers’ shelves dotted around the main hall.

There’s a coffee shop and loads of stalls around the hall…I would highly recommend the free pen but to be frank, any opportunity to feed my stationary habit gives me a warm glow inside (yes, I know I probably need to get out more).

Sitting over a coffee and a muffin it was great to the hall buzzing with people, even without the festival getting as much publicity as it could have got.  As a country renowned for our writers, we are sometimes not very good at celebrating the fact and I’ve often grouched about the lack of festivals where a writer or wannabe writer could pitch up and learn something.

Today I had my eye on a seminar on copyright issues.  It might not be the sexiest topic under the sun but if you’re a writer of any kind it’s kind of a big one.  The last time I had actually sat down and listened to a talk on the subject I was in college and we were being told about the tendency of certain nefarious editors who would use our copy willie nillie especially on this new fangled Internet thing (it was quite a while ago).  The issue had got considerably more complex since then!

As I said it’s been a while since I’ve actually sat down and listened to anything about copyright.  It’s a day to day part of life nowadays but it’s only when listening to the information in one go that you realise how many assumptions you make and how many gaps there are in your knowledge.  It’s an important issue but one that it’s easy to gloss over and assume you know everything there is to know.

So the talk from the Irish Copyright Licencing Agency was fascinating.  It covered the basics of copyright law as well as Creative Commons, PLR and the Google Book Settlement.   It’s great to get a basic overview of stuff like that.

I’ve had copyright drummed into me from the very first steps I took into journalism.  It’s a complex topic but one any writer needs to know their way around.

I’ll be heading back in tomorrow – there’s a discussion at 1.30 on the future of Irish publishing (again rather pertinent).  I’d highly recommend a trip in to see what’s on offer.  Events like this deserve to get all the support they can get.


Remembering why you do it…

Back in January I wrote about the overturning of the life sentence for child rapist Philip Sullivan.  I discussed the sentencing in rape cases in the Irish courts.  Working down in the Four Courts you get to see a lot of things that you wouldn’t necessarily agree with.

I’m used to writing nice, clean, impartial copy on the facts of the case for work but here I don’t have to be quite so impartial.  This blog contains my own views and while, even here, I might hold back on occasion if there’s something I feel strongly on it will eventually be written about.

Writing a blog can feel a bit like shouting into the darkness.  You sit at your computer and type away and chances are the vast majority of readers will drop by without leaving a comment.  That’s why when someone does comment on something I’ve written it is always much appreciated.

I got a comment for the Philip Sullivan piece a couple of days ago that quite simply made this thing I do worthwhile.  I’ve had comments on court related posts before but usually from people who disagree with my point of view.  This comment on the other hand was from someone who has good reason to feel passionately about the subject of rape sentencing because she has been through the ordeal of facing her rapist in court.  You can read the comments at the bottom of the Sullivan post.

Way back when I first considered journalism as a career I had visions of being the kind of crusading hack that you see in the movies.  After a total of five years in college I was happy to get whatever shift work came my way and any crusading tendencies got quickly swamped by the necessity to pay the bills and a general news room cynicism.  The problem with being on a general news beat, especially in broadcast journalism, is that stories rush past so quickly during a day that you don’t really have time to have an emotional reaction to any of them.

When you’re stuck finding enough stories to fill five minute hourly bulletins there’s no time to save the world.  Even as a freelance I find myself writing about stuff I know will sell rather than anything that will make a difference.

Down in the courts it’s easy to get blind to it all.  There’s such a never ending stream of human misery down there that a certain gallows humour tends to develop and stocks of sympathy run dangerously low.

But I suppose deep down inside, what I’m really looking for is appreciation, in a rather puppy like way.  I know that the dream has always been for someone to come up to me and say, spontaneously without me fishing for it, that they love what I write.  I’m not talking about editors and agents here but about the end readers.  I became a writer because I had an emotional response to what I was reading and I suppose that’s what I want to give to someone else.

This has ended up a rather advanced navel gazing exercise so please excuse me.  I was proud to receive the comment on the Sullivan post and it made me think about why I became a journalist in the first place.  That bleeds into why I became a writer and this is the result.

Public Lending Rights come to Ireland…

OK I’m a bit slow on the uptake since PLR was actually set up in January but it’s taken until now for me to fill out the necessary form and sign up. I had known it was a big issue for the Irish Writers’ Union but had thought up until today it was still in the Governments “To Do” pile – along with legislating on fertility treatment or dealing with the implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Well this afternoon I got an email from my publishers directing me to the PLR website.  I’m very excited by this news.  So far today it’s been greeted with looks of blank incomprehension from anyone I’ve bounced about it to.  You see PLR isn’t exactly the most glamorous of income sources an author can look forward to.  If the Irish rates (which aren’t mentioned on the website as far as I can see) are anything like the ones that have been operating in the UK for years the amounts we are talking about can be in cents rather than in Euros.  But that’s not why I’m looking forward to getting statements in the future.

PLR, you see, is paid on your book every time someone borrows it from the library.  It’s the only way you can really get an idea of how popular the book is for library users and it’s just another way of getting an idea of your readership.

Devil hasn’t been published in the UK yet, it’s due to go on sale there in May, but when it does I’ll be able to sign up for PLR there as well.  I might struggle to earn a fiver per quarter between the two but at least I’ll be able to do the maths and work out how often my book has been borrowed.

In this day and age it’s a comforting thing to know.  As the global economy continues it’s freefall and the headlines are full of financial doom and gloom it can be a dispiriting time to start out as a writer.  I’ve been told several times that people intend to borrow Devil from the library rather than buy a copy but up until now I had no way of knowing whether they actually had.

I’m still new enough at this that I get a kick out of seeing someone pick up Devil from the shelves and flick through it.  I’m always on the lookout for it in second hand and charity shops because that means someone bought it, even if they didn’t keep it (haven’t found one yet though – I’m hoping that’s an indication of my brilliance as a writer…)

Anyway, PLR is up and running in Ireland and online as well.  I’ll keep  you posted but it’ll be a while before I get my first statement…

Now that’s what I call a signing!

I went to see Neil Gaiman read from the upcoming book he’s written in collaboration with musician Amanda Palmer today in Chapters bookshop on Parnell Street.  I love going to readings and signings.  I’m a total groupie when it comes to watching and listen to writers I respect and especially ones who’ve inspired me as a writer myself.  There aren’t half enough of these kind of events in Dublin so it was a real occasion.

Today’s event was absolutely packed.  Around 500 people had shown up.  Even when I arrived at around 3.30, an hour and a half before the reading was due to start, there were droves of people clustered around the display of Gaiman books stacked in enticing view of the door.  Wandering around the shop there were people ensconced in every cranny, taking up their positions and preparing for a long wait.

By around 4 o’clock there was an almost carnival atmosphere.  Around the black swagged corner where the reading was due to take place there were drifts of people, mainly young, all clutching their books for signing.

As I’ve written here before I’ve signed books myself for Devil.  Not for 500 people of course.  In fact not even for people.  My form of signing involves the Customer Service desk and some usually stressed staff.  I’d love to do the other kind of signing …if I’m very lucky maybe one day I’ll get the chance.

Writing is something I do, something I’ve always done, but now I want something more.  I want to be an author.  OK technically I already am, I have a card saying I’m one and I can walk into book shops and see a book with my name on the cover but what I want one day is different.

What I write at the moment is True Crime.  It’s an extension of the day job, a longer form of journalism.  But when I’m writing for pleasure, the kind of writing I spent hours at when I was growing up, it’s another thing entirely.  Left to my own devices I write fantasy.  Not full blown fantasy, in fact several friends who are more avid readers of the genre than me have informed me that what I write isn’t even really fantasy.  When I’m talking to them I tend to refer to it as satirical fantasy.

When I write that it flows unlike anything that hangs on the facts.  I can write passionately about the stories I see unfolding in court but it’s always going to be a case of setting down the facts in order.  You can’t change dialogue that didn’t quite flow in real life, however much it may jar.  People look the way they look and the facts are totally immovable.

When the fiction’s flowing it can feel as if you are simply rreplaying scenesthat are taking place somewhere but at the back of it all there’s the knowledge that what you are creating something rather than simply recounting it.  But even then there’s more to it than that.

When I write journalism I expect the reader to be interested, diverted, maybe even moved if the subject’s strong enough but fiction can be loved.  Over the years I’ve met many writers as a journalist.  A lot of them were people I respected and I would have had more than a little bit of hero worship but it’s the novelists I was always most eager to meet.

These are the people who’ve actually created the worlds that lived in my imagination.  That’s something completely different from being someone who uncovers truths.  I’m not explaining myself particularly well here but there is a difference.

My first love is writing fiction.  I’m not saying I’m up there with Mr Gaiman, I’m still learning and I’ve got a long way to go but one day if just one person comes up to me and says that a world I’ve created caught their imagination that’s what I want as a writer.  My words, my stories, firing imaginations and maybe even making people want to write.  That would be the achievement.

Maybe one day…and in the meantime Devil has it’s own path to wander for a while yet.  In that regard I may have some news soon.  But tonight I’m finished for now, and off to read my newly signed copy of Coraline!

When Hollywood Loses the Plot – Literally

I’ve been sorely vexed on the last couple of visits to the cinema.  The posters for The Secret of Moonacre are everywhere and they make me decidedly cross.  Now it’s followed me home and the trailers are showing on television as they announce themselves as the latest blockbuster fantasy.  But they are wrong, so, so wrong.  Every time the ad comes on I find myself shouting at the TV or clutching wildly for the remote control and eventually decided that this was something that merited a blog post.

Now before I continue I should probably state a couple of things.  Firstly, this is not crime related (well not legally speaking anyway) so if you’re looking for discussion of the latest murder to pass through the Irish courts the links to the crime stuff are to the right of this piece.

Secondly The Little White Horse was my favourite book as a child.  Yes, I know it was also J.K. Rowling’s favourite book but that’s not coming into this.  This is post is not going to a model of journalistic balance and objectivity.  Again if you want something more along those lines the links are to your right.

So The Little White Horse has always been a special book to me.  I’ve always grown salmon pink geraniums because of a description in the book about a particularly idyllic kitchen; lions were always known as Wrolf after the large mysterious “dog” belonging to Sir Benjamin Merryweather; I used to have a toy cat called Zacariah…I could go on but risk sounding somewhat obsessed.  Let’s suffice to say that that book was one of the first books I ever loved and has a special place because of it.

Not only that but it’s embedded itself so deeply that echoes of it have found their way into my writing.  Maybe not the journalism (that would be a little odd) but when I’m writing fiction those echoes are there, in descriptions of food or clothes mainly I think.  Those echoes have been a source of fascination as I edit the novel.  I’m not talking about derivation here just the literary landscape your brain inhabits after a lifetime of reading.

Anyway, back to the film.  I was delighted when I heard, a couple of years ago, that a film was being made of The Little White Horse.  But wondered at the time how Hollywood was going to deal with a simple little story about not making knee jerk reactions and bothering to find out the truth.  It’s quite an old fashioned book, written in the 1940s, with everyone pairing off at the end leading to a trilogy of weddings.  The fantasy elements are actually quite subtle.  I’d be the first to agree that it could probably do with a bit of delicate pruning for a modern audience but the film company has definitely thrown the baby out with the bath water.

Hollywood in it’s infinite wisdom has decided that this

Little White Horse Book Cover

Little White Horse Book Cover

doesn’t quite cut it.  They’ve gone for this…

Secret of Moonacre Movie Poster

Secret of Moonacre Movie Poster

In the new version there is magic and mystery and major mutilations of the original plot.  No character is safe.  The hero has changed from a constant companion and childhood friend to a slightly dodgy bit of rough who’s had a full family transplant and is now the son of the villain of the piece.  His mother, one half of the next generation of lovers, has become a weird priestess type who is no longer Robin’s mother.  Wrolf is black for god’s sake!  Lions just aren’t black!  The changes are so blatant that even looking at the trailer or the poster shows up dozens of points that have been butchered.  Rather than bothering to make a film of a much loved book the idiots have decided to make a generic sub-Harry Potter fantasy extravaganza that bears little or no relation to the original.

Now I will freely admit that I have not seen The Secret of Moonacre.  I don’t intend to – I don’t like going to films that make me want to throw things at the screen and any that take such an ad hoc approach to a story I know so well are going to fall into that category.  It might work as a stand alone film (or even a franchise apparently) but it’s not what it says on the tin.

I know stories get changed for films.  I’ve had to think rather seriously about that over the past couple of months in relation to my own book and decided that it’s a necessary part of building a narrative.  When I write something I’m writing a book.  It doesn’t necessarily run along the same narrative tracks that a film would need to.  I can take pages to describe something that can be shown in a second on screen but on the other hand I can go places films can’t, not having to worry about budgets and technology, just the limits of my imagination.  The problem with a film like Moonacre though is that they’ve abandoned the original source material.

In a 2008 interview with Empire Magazine, director Gabor Csupo, whose previous credits include the Bridge to Terabitha, that he had decided to ramp up the adventure and magic end of things.  He is quoted as saying “We didn’t want it to be like your typical costume movie…I told each department to just go for it, follow it to your wildest dreams so it looks just a little out of the ordinary.”  Quite why they didn’t just write a completely separate story, change all the character names and go with that is beyond me.

But Little White Horse isn’t the only book that’s ended up this way.  Even books as well known as Peter Pan have suffered from over zealous script writers.  Despite the fact that J.M Barrie himself wrote a script of the story there has never been a film that simply stuck to the story, keeping the darkness of the original, not to mention the fact that it’s actually addressed to the parents rather than the children.  The 2003 version directed by P.J. Hogan felt it necessary to add a snotty aunt to the Darling family entourage with the principal purpose of making Mr Darling a weak, bumbling character at odds with the traditional alter ego of Captain Hook (in theatre tradition the same actor invariably plays both parts).  This spoilt an otherwise faithful translation of the book and the play and added an extra layer of fluff that simply wasn’t necessary.  It’s a story that has never managed to make it onto the big screen without unnecessary changes.  At this stage the film probably closest to the spirit of the book is a biopic of it’s author, Finding Neverland. I’m not even touching last years sorry attempt at Philip Pullman’s The Northern Lights.

I know that writing fiction and writing scripts are two entirely different disciplines but the basic narrative rules still apply.   Hollywood has a habit of assuming their audience are popcorn munching imbeciles and, maybe some of them are, but that doesn’t mean you get to insult the rest.  As Hollywood searches for the next blockbuster it’s always going to get a great deal of it’s stories from books.  There will always be cases of sexing up, contracting and simplifying plots and amalgamating characters but it can either be done skilfully, such as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or the recent film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book Stardust.  These are films that have taken a book and trimmed it enough to keep the story flowing on screen but not sacrificed the original author’s voice.

I would be delighted if one day a major movie studio came looking for something I had written and I’m not big headed enough to think I would have any control whatsoever over what would happen once the contracts had been signed but I hope nothing I’ve written ever gets mutilated the way The Little White Horse has been.

A Brand New Year with New Possibilities!

I’ve been very bad about posting here for most of the festive period…I’ve been enjoying a bit of communications black out and focusing on the much neglected home and husband.  Anyway, it’s a new year with new resolutions and one of them is to stop slacking and rejoin the world!

2008 was an incredible year for me.  Last January I had steady work in the Four Courts and no solid plans to write a book (other than the novel that spent most of 2008 sitting in the top drawer of my filing cabinet.)  As 2009 dawns Devil in the Red Dress is on the shelves (thankfully in ever dwindling numbers) and I’m officially freelance and sitting here trying to decide what to do next.  Do I focus on fiction or push ahead at building on what I’ve already achieved…and am I completely insane to be even asking that question in the first place?

The novel, about more another time, is sitting awaiting further editing and thanks to developments towards the end of 2008 might actually see the light of day some day soon (as long as the on the future of publishing worldwide don’t come to pass.) It’s been a bizarre rollercoaster of a year but I think on balance it ended on a hell of an up!)

I’m very conscious of the fact that when I write here I hold an awful lot back.  I’m going to try and rectify that this year but the problem is that there’s been an awful lot going on the past few months that I simply can’t announce to the world in general just yet – hopefully all that will change before 2009 gets too much older.

A blog like this is an odd beast.  On the one hand I call it my personal blog, and certainly it’s completely separate from my publishers’ website, but it’s still very much a public persona.  I’ve spent too long writing for publication not to have a very strong internal editor screaming at me to tow the line when it comes to defamation and contempt of court.  But there’s a second consideration at play as well – just how personal do I want this blog to be?

I started the blog to write about the writing of and publication of Devil.  Now that Devil’s in print I have to decide where I want to go from here, not just with my writing but with the blogging as well.  So far the blog has been mainly focused on true crime (which is what Devil is and which is the bulk of the journalism I write) but if my options are expanding then surely the scope here should do likewise.

So far I’ve been slow to write completely unguardedly about my professional life.  As long as the book is in need of pushing then being one hundred per cent frank about certain things that happen day to day.  However, if I’m going to be branching out then maybe I should be more open. I’m not talking kiss and tell here just talking more about the frustrations and obstacles we all encounter in economic times like these.

My writing goal for this year is to write more books.  I enjoy the process of research and the freedom of writing at length.  I’d like to get somewhere with the fiction but the rent still has to be paid so I’ll not be hanging up my notebook and pen anytime soon.

In terms of this blog I’m just going to have to sit down and think hard about where it’s going…

Happy New Year!

The Book Marketing Continues…

I’m really tired this evening so this won’t be a long post.  Today I went out to East Coast FM in Bray, Co Wicklow, to do an interview about Devil in the Red Dress.  It went well I think.  Tomorrow afternoon it’ll be Phantom FM…I’m doing quite a tour!

This weekend we’ll find out what the first week’s sales have been like…nerve wracking stuff!  It’s so frustrating to have to just sit back and wait…

I’ve been playing around with Twitter all day, the people following me must have been driven mad.  The new possibilities in book marketing offered by the Internet have always fascinated me and now I have a book to market I want to try some of them out.

So there’s this blog for a start…as I’ve said before I had been running an anonymous blog until I started writing Devil.  That’s when it seemed like a good idea to register my own domain and start blogging officially so to speak.

I also use Twitter.  It’s an interesting idea to be able to tweet about interviews I’m doing or news about the book.  Stephen Fry has used Twitter like this brilliantly.  I’ve got a long way to go before I reach his numbers of followers – have to become a national treasure so!

Finally there’s the idea of a book trailer…that I’m busy scripting but it should be appearing on a Youtube channel near you sometime soon.

I remember when I was a teenager being sent out to drop around flyers for shows I was working on.  I suppose this is simply the modern equivalent….

The Reality of Being a Published Writer!

So Devil has been on the shelves a grand total of two days.  Most of those two days I’ve spent signing copies of it.  We are not talking about the glamorous author signings you hear the stars of the literary world talking about.  What I am referring to is standing in a crowded bookshop scrawling my signature in dozens of copies of my book while the bemused public work around me.

Now before I go any further let me make it one hundred per cent clear that I am not complaining.  I’ve been signing my copies of my first book today.  I’ve actually fantasised about the sheer mundanity of that kind of signing (the kind that doesn’t involve the general public but results in those “signed by the author” stickers you see in bookshops.

I might have writers cramp tonight, after signing several hundred copies but I honestly couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

Anyway, now that’s clear, back to my day.  Today I did the M50 circuit of Dublin shopping centres.  My brother-in-law was kind enough to ferry me around The Square in Tallaght, Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown shopping centres.  After a while, I couldn’t tell what shopping centre I was in.

The drill was simple.  We’d park.  Go into the centre and find the local branch of Easons.  I would then go and find a member of staff and explain the situation (this is something they don’t tell you when you’re an aspirant writer – that at some stage you would have to walk up to a complete stranger and ask if you can give them your autograph…lots of times).

Actually it turned out not to be as awkward as I had thought.  This is completely normal writerly behaviour apparently.  I suppose I should have worked that out after seeing all those “signed by the author” stickers over the years.

At one point, after the second or third centre, the brother-in-law commented that we should really have had a reality tv crew following us around.  Personally I’m really glad we didn’t.  Apart from wandering around several almost identical shopping centres looking for the obligatory Easons, the signing itself is a bizarre experience to say the least.  I must have looked like a kamikaze vandal going up to a pile of books in the middle of a display with my pen brandished at the ready.

One thing that surprised me about today was the warm reception I received in all of the shops.  Even though it was a Saturday afternoon a few weeks before Christmas people made time to accommodate me and put the little green stickers on my books. At this stage there must be barely a book in Dublin that doesn’t have my signature on the front piece.

It was particularly surreal today because Sharon had made the front page of the Herald (again).  So I was walking past her picture every time I past the newspapers on my way to the copies of Devil.  The news was rather unsurprising…she’s lodged her appeal.  So the story will have yet another chapter.

All in all today I’ve been to five shopping centres.  Tallaght, Liffy Valley, Blanchardstown, Dundrum and Stephens Green.  Finally I’m beginning to feel like a bona fide writer.  I could get used to this!

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