Writer and Author

Tag: About Me (Page 4 of 5)

Signing on the Dotted Line…

Today I officially signed with an agent.  One of the most exciting things about writing Devil in the Red Dress has been the opportunities it has opened up.  It was impossible to guess when I went into Court 1 in the Four Courts a little over a year ago that the trial I was about to cover would actually change my life.

We knew when Sharon Collins and Essam Eid first came into court that it was going to be an interesting trial.  Not many trials pass through the Four Courts that have quite that combination of sex and scandal.  There was money, there was an internet plot and Eid himself looked like the quintessential mafiosa…he even had a Las Vegas connection.  Even though nobody had died, or maybe because of it, it had all the elements of a first class thriller.  It was hardly surprising that one of the main topics of conversation during those long weeks the trial was running, revolved around who would play what in any eventual movie.

Even the accused chipped in to that one.  Eid was quite happy to offer the suggestion of Al Pacino to play himself. Sharon wasn’t quite so forthcoming – I think she had her sights set on writing the script herself!

As far as I was concerned it was a book waiting to be written.  I had been wanting to write a book for some time and had been looking around for the right plot.  I’ve wanted to be an author since I was little…I used to look at the books on the shelves in the library and dream of my name being on the spine of one of them.  Ever since I can remember I’ve made up stories.  I became a journalist so that I could earn my living from writing and telling stories – even if they weren’t ones I had made up myself.

I might have got waylaid for several years in radio but I’m finally where I set out to be…writing for my living.  Devil was something that was an extension of that living, a true crime book like those written by many of my colleagues.  I’m proud of it and still get a kick out of seeing it in book shops but I didn’t really expect it to lead anywhere beyond that.  A local story for the local market.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do and Devil won’t be my last foray into the non fiction market but true crime books written about high profile trials don’t always have a very long shelf life.

What’s been remarkable about Devil is that is has opened more doors than I thought it would.  For the last few years I’ve been working on a novel.  It’s very, very different from what I do on a day to day basis but it’s something I love doing and I have always believed in the story.  In case you’re curious it’s a satirical fantasy, not the swords and sandals variety but more rooted in reality, a little like the work of  Jasper Fforde or Malcolm Pryce although it sounds so cheesy to compare myself to two successful authors when I’m only starting out.

Being totally subjective I’m not even sure it’s as funny as either of them or if I’m even making a fair comparison.  I’ve spent so long pitching the book to various agents around the place that pat comparisons like that have a habit of tripping off my tongue whenever I describe the book to anyone – something I’m going to have to work on if (when?) it finds a publisher.  Basically the plot, without going into much detail here and trying not to be overly cryptic, has journalists, a referendum, dodgy politicians and a sociopathic, womanising mythical beast as one of the main characters.  As I said, it’s a little different to the stuff I write on a daily basis…I don’t do the politics beat.

Before Devil came along the novel had been sitting in a yellow folder in the top drawer of the filling cabinet and, to be honest, I was thinking of passing it over and started on something else.  But last summer changed all that and that is how I came to start this post with the sentence “Today I officially signed with an agent”.  She will be handling the novel, and it’s two sequels and, as anyone reading the last couple of days posts will have realised, this summer I will be working on fiction rather than fact (except when I have to pay the bills).

I still feel slightly awkward writing about fiction in anything other than a purely theoretical basis.  I normally write this blog as a journalist and changing key in this way feels like baring a private part of myself that I’m not used to sharing.  But this is getting serious now and with any luck I’ll be writing the blurb by this time next year.  Today was the first step towards that and I’m looking forward to the work ahead.

The Lure of Celluloid

I’ve always loved going to the cinema.  Since I was a kid and the expedition to the two screener in Wimbledon a treat for high days and summer days and whenever we had the money to go.  They still had a commissioner in those days (Ashes to Ashes territory), a short man with a lot of gold on his uniform and a hatred of kids.  I can remember my mum getting into a row with him because she was bringing me to see a 15 certificate and I was only 12 or 13.  He called her bluff but my mum was never a person to cross and he ended up backing down.  The film, if I remember right, was The Assam Garden, hardly a riot of violence and torture porn.

When I was in school in Sligo the trip to the flicks was the once monthly treat for boarders.  I went on my first proper date to the cinema.  It was hardly the most obvious date movie…a film called Skindeep most famous for the scene where you see light sabre-like duelling condoms.

Once I’d left school and moved away from home, cinema became a refuge from long days and a strange city.  The cinemas along Abbey Street here in Dublin were my favourites – the Adelphi for the Hollywood blockbusters and the tiny Lighthouse for foreign films and arthouse.  I can remember a friend and I going to see Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves dozens of times during the summer of 1991.  Both of us can still quote most of Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham dialogue by heart.

The Lighthouse was a different experience.  Tiny and red carpeted the screens had an intimate atmosphere I’ve never encountered before or since.  Screen two in particular only sat around around 30 people.  I remember once, during a showing of Tous Les Matins du Monde staring the Depardieu father and son, someone started handing round Maltesers to the whole audience – there were only about six of us.

The Adelphi and the old Lighthouse are long gone, as is the Adelphi’s sister hotel the Carlton which used to be at the top of O’Connell Street opposite the Savoy.  By then the Irish Film Centre had opened up in Temple Bar, showing art house and independent films, retrospectives, foreign films but also providing a hub for a certain section of the cinema going public.  There was a restaurant there, a bar and a shop.  The big airy space in an old glassed over courtyard seemed fresh and modern.  I was working for a community radio station at the time, while I was in college.  I’d got involved with the movie show and used to love going to the IFC in the morning clutching paper cup of coffee and balancing a notebook on my knee in the dark.

I saw so many films in those morning showings, too many to detail here.  I’d always wanted to review movies and was finally living the dream.  I used to sit in the dark listening to the scratching of pens from all the other reviewers around me.  I enjoyed every film I saw, partially because they were free, even if I would sometimes find fault – just for the show of it!

I loved the IFC, now the IFI, but I always missed the Lighthouse.  Even in the early morning press screenings, no one ever handed round Maltesers and there was never the same sense of camaraderie, that you knew you were in the company of like-minded people, or at least, one or two like minded people and quite a few homeless people and pensioners.

So I was delighted, ecstatic even, when I heard that, not only were we getting a local cinema in Smithfield but it was going to be the resurrected Lighthouse.  This time last year it opened and we’ve been going ever since.  In it’s new incarnation it’s a far cry from the tatty seats and cigarette stained red carpet of the old Abbey Street venue.  The new Lighthouse is quite simply the nicest cinema in Dublin and in the top three of cinemas I’ve ever been to.

I love the multicoloured seating in the largest screen and the fact that every screen is different.  I love the fact that it’s designed with lots of interesting spaces and places to sit when you’re not watching films…it cries out to be used for seminars and conferences and talks, and I gather it’s been pulled into service for that very purpose more than once.  But probably the thing I like most about it is that it’s so far underground, deep under Smithfield Square, that mobile phones just don’t work – and anyone who’s had a pivotal cinematic moment ruined by some gimps novelty ring tone will agree that no signal is a good thing in a cinema.

I’ve become positively evangelical about the Lighthouse.  It really is a world class place and worthy successor to it’s Abbey Street predecessor.  It deserves to do well and I really don’t think I could deal with losing the Lighthouse for a second time!

I’ve nothing against the multiplex experience.  There’s nothing wrong with a decent blockbuster when you’re in the mood and multiscreens are great for those.  My favourite in Dublin is Cineworld on Parnell Street…a good selection of films and it’s actually a big enough place that even marauding packs of kids don’t get underfoot while they’re waiting for the latest pre teen sensation to start.  But a small local cinema like the Lighthouse that shows interesting films and champions the titles that would never get a multiplex showing…that wins every time.

I love films and I will always love going to the cinema.  Being able to get lost in another world for a couple of hours knowing that around you there are other people lost in exactly the same world is like nothing else.  It’s a totally different form of storytelling than books, communal rather than solitary and there are times when that simply can’t be best.  Theatre is a local experience.  A play is done performed by a specific group of people in a specific venue and will only be that way with those people and that venue.  Cinema is universal, one vision suits all, the whole world can see the same thing.

The Lighthouse is a cinema for people who love film, run by people who love film.  That can’t be bettered!

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…

On Whether or Not to Join the Union…

I got my membership card for the Society of Authors on Friday.  OK I know, as an Irish writer I should join the Irish Writers Union but that can wait a little.  I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember and, growing up in a family where it was considered a matter of considerable importance to be a paid up member of the appropriate professional body, I had sussed out that the Society of Authors was the one I wanted to be a member of before my family had even moved to Ireland.

As I’ve mentioned before I grew up in an acting family.  I was always aware of the actors union Equity being an organisation that a young actor had to join before being able to get proper professional work.  Back in my late teens when I was considering acting as a career path (well, back then I hadn’t worked out how to make writing pay and even writers need to eat) I was anxious to find out how I could get the five contracts necessary to qualify for full membership of the union.

When I began to study journalism one of the first things we were given on our first day as students was the form for student membership of the NUJ.  I was just as excited to get that blue card as I was to get this new one the other day.

When I finished college I was so proud to see the blue card changed for the orange one that now lives in my wallet.  It never occurred to me not to join the union.  In a career as precarious as acting or freelance journalism it seemed like a complete no brainer.  All my lecturers in college were die hard union men and we learnt journalism according to union rules when it came to ethics and even the money we could expect to be paid.

It was only when I went out into the real world I discovered how little respect unions can have in the modern media workplace.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard my peers in various newsrooms (generally in the independent broadcast sector) query the point of joining a union at all.  Several were even vocally against union membership.

It’s easy to see how these attitudes can grow up though when you look at the treatment of staff in the independent broadcast sector in Ireland.  TV3 for example has never recognised the union and even where a chapter exists they are frequently seen as having no teeth.  The freelance chapter is one of the more vocal sections of the NUJ and yet the Competition Authority has ruled that freelance journalists in Ireland should be viewed under competition regulations and not be able to set standard rates.  The union was therefore unable to advise freelancers on a ballpark figure to charge leaving new comers to the field at a major disadvantage.

Under the recent partnership talks there was a promise that this rule would be reversed but since the Celtic Tiger keeled over and died it looks like all bets are off.

I can remember talking to French classmates when I was on exchange there in college who couldn’t understand why the Irish were so slow to strike (we seem to be getting over our aversion at the moment but I’m talking about the days of the “Blue Flu” when the French journos couldn’t understand why the gardai didn’t just down tools).  Certainly compared to their British counterparts the Irish branches of the NUJ and Equity do seem to whisper their demands and lack a little organisation (compare the web presence of the Irish NUJ compared to the resources offered by the London Freelance Branch).  I can’t help worrying every time I talk to another young journo who can’t see the point of membership that the Irish unions are in danger of becoming toothless social clubs that offer little or nothing for their members.

But I didn’t want this post to be a rant against unions.  I do believe in joining professional organisations even if I would be slightly quicker to join the British branch if I wanted support and action.  I’m seriously cutting a stick for my own back here but I do believe it’s a problem.  Unions won’t survive without a constant supply of new members and since Ireland is a naturally conservative country we do have a tendency to lean towards the thatcherite when it comes to business practices.  There are strong unions in Ireland but they seem to be overwhelmingly in the public sector and that’s a topic I don’t intend to get involved with just at the moment.

The problem is that it’s frequently the private sector that really needs someone gunning for them and often, through the apathy of those who could join and the weakness of the voices who could persuade them to, an environment grows up where staff are treated as expendable and worthless.

I’m not saying that unions are dead in the media and arts in Ireland.  Far from it.  They just have less weight than their counterparts in other countries.  I still see my membership card for the professional organisations that I’m a member of as something to be proud of and I would always advise anyone entering the media in Ireland to join up as soon as possible.  As a writer I think membership of your professional body is even more important as it’s such a solitary profession.  I will be joining the Irish Writers Union as soon as possible since they’re the union that can fight more directly for my corner but I’m still thoroughly enjoying the SoA magazine and the fact that I now qualify for a readers ticket for the British Library (it’s an old thing).

I know that union membership is a contentious issue here and I’d be glad to hear anyone’s differing take on the subject.  I’m not a rabid union head but as I mentioned journalism, writing and acting are all professions that particularly need the support.  Let me know what you think.

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.

Deciding Whether to Follow the Dream…

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do with myself regarding the writing since the book was published.  Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to tell stories.  I used to recount fairy tales to my classmates when I was still in primary school and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing down scenarios on any scrap of paper I could lay my hands on.

I trained as a journalist because it was the only way I could think of to earn my keep while doing what I loved.  Somewhere along the road I started to love the chase and the feeling of being there as the news happened.  But writing is still my first love.

I took the decision over Christmas to concentrate on freelance work to allow me more time to write (it might seem like a contradiction but journalism isn’t the best profession if you want to write, fiction at any rate, it’s too time consuming).

I’ll still be covering major trials – like the Brian McBarron sentence on Monday – but the rest of time the idea is that I’ll be working on the novel.  The problem with that is that, for the moment anyway, working on the novel doesn’t exactly pay the rent.

In the current economic climate I’m probably totally crazy to be taking this route now and if things don’t work out financially I’ll be back taking every shift I can.  So far though, things are ticking over but even so I’ve suddenly started thinking thrifty as if my life depended on it.

When I was younger and broke I was pretty good at making my weekly money stretch to a pretty good standard of living. I’m remembering a lot of those old tricks now – it’s amazing how self enforced privation sharpens the mind!

The scary thing is how much money I’m used to spending in just day to day living.  It’s a habit I think a lot of us have fallen into over the last few years; the take away coffees, lunches out, spending money on convenience rather than value.  Dublin’s not exactly the cheapest of cities but we haven’t exactly made it difficult for the various vultures out there to fleece us rotten.

Well, in my new spirit of frugality I’ve decided enough is enough.  I don’t intend to cut back too much, after all things haven’t got that bad yet, but there are some things that are simply no brainers.  My plan is to save money but not to feel deprived and from my initial investigative forays that shouldn’t be too difficult.

I’m thinking about running a series of posts detailing some of the savings I have.  It’s a bit of departure from what I usually write here but since my plan has always been to use this blog to detail my professional life  and, as a freelance in this scary world we now find ourselves in, money becomes part and parcel of that life.

That’s the plan anyway.  The first post in the series should be ready in a week or so.  Watch this space.

Hard Not to Feel Just a Little Excited…

I wasn’t going to post about Obama’s inauguration today but it’s a bit hard to ignore.  I’ve watched a couple of inaugurations over the years but none of them quite like today’s.

I remember watching Bill Clinton being sworn, on an old 1960s black & white telly that was all I could afford at the time.  The Rainbow Coalition had just been voted in here, a combination of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left elected after Labour walked away from previous partners in government, Fianna Fail after a string of scandals, most notably the mishandling of prosecutions against paedophile priests.

Back then I was skint and on the dole but it all seemed so optimistic, finally walking away from conservatism, cronyism and corruption into a bright new future.  I remember watching Clinton’s inauguration from the big old iron bed I’d bought in a junk shop and, with the help of my boyfriend at the time sanded down and painted with Hammerite.

It was a particularly cold January that year and bed was usually the warmest place to sit to watch anything longer than half an hour.  It was a lovely flat, a big basement one bedroom with sole access to a rambling over grown garden but I remember it being very cold!

Fast forward eight years and it was all change; Democratic Left merged with Labour and Fine Gael seemed to have lost the knack of getting elected.  Over the course of Clinton’s two terms I had completed two college courses in journalism, split with both the boyfriend and the iron bed (I regret the loss of the bed) and met and married the Husband.

I remember arriving into work to write Internet news updates in the weeks after George W Bush had been elected to yet another story about hanging chads.  The whole election process in the States seemed murky and sordid.  Mind you things here had changed considerably as well.  The Celtic Tiger had been spawned and the centre right dream team of Fianna Fail and the PDs were slaves to Mammon.

Financially I could afford to put the fire on by the time Dubya came to power but the policies on either side of the Atlantic didn’t sit easily with me.  These were the days of the Teflon Taoiseach (Bertie Ahern) whose grinning face we seemed doomed to put up with for many years to come.  In a post 9/11 world the bogeyman seemed to lurk under every bed and dark shadows lurked behind all the glitz.

But today it’s all change again. After 8 years of wars and suspicion in the US and scandal and corruption in Ireland something really had to give.  Bertie jumped just before anyone could push and before the failing economy totally scuppered what little reputation he had left and Barack Hussein Obama has been sworn in today as the first black president of the United States.

Life is a little more scary these days with more responsibilities and less money.  After eight years I’m back at the freelancing, even if there have been a few steps up the ladder.  I don’t work in commercial radio anymore for a start!

Watching the ceremony it was hard not to be moved by the sense of optimism and hope that was being welcomed in.  Back when Clinton got the job I was in my twenties and optimism came so easily. These days I’m a lot more cynical. It’ll take more than a single day to right the harm done over the past eight years.

But today’s not the day for talking about that.  I’ll join with the general consensus today in wishing President Obama well and hoping he can live up to the task he has before him…listening to his inauguration speech it sounds like he’s going to have a pretty good stab at it.

Here in Ireland we’ve a way to go yet but today it feels like a return to more caring, socially responsible way of life may, just may be possible. I’m not belittling the economic mess we find ourselves in but we couldn’t go on the way we were.  Ireland was in danger of losing any soul or sense of self it had for a crazy chase after crass commercialism and greed.

Today I’m just very glad to have witnessed a piece of history and remembered the past.  Quite frankly I’d much rather live in a world where America is a benevolent patrician force rather than a hulking bully wielding a big stick.  Now we seem to have got that one sorted maybe we can get Ireland to cop on as well.

By the way, if you missed the inauguration you can find the text of Obama’s speech here.  I’m off to make dinner now safe in the knowledge that tonight the world seems like a nicer, warmer place for once.  Long may it continue.

On the Lack of Flea Markets in Dublin…

I was wandering around town yesterday, past the Cornucopia Restaurant (which reminds me, I haven’t been there in years, I wonder why) when a poster on the wall caught my eye.


I stopped in my tracks…could it be?  Was it possible that at long last there was a flea market in Dublin again?  Stopping in my tracks I wandered over to take a close look at the poster and saw that, yes indeed, there was a flea market in Dublin again and, even better than that, it will be on next Sunday.

When I got home I checked the website given on the poster and discovered that this was not to be an isolated event but will be happening every month – and I’d already missed the first two.

I should probably explain at this point why I get so excited about the prospect of rooting around other people’s discarded junk.  Actually maybe this isn’t quite the time for that, I’m not going into my squirelling tendencies in a public forum like this!  But seriously, I’ve often lamented the lack of flea markets in modern Dublin.

When I first moved here, in the early 90s there were several, scattered around the city centre.  Mother Redcaps, The Dandelion, The Blackberry Fair were all favourite haunts and the source of most of my interior design in those impoverished days.

The Blackberry Fair in particular was where I found the 60s kitch cream cube of a tv that might have only been a black and white but for the 20 old Irish pounds I paid for it was all I could afford.  It still works a treat by the way and with it’s rounded corners and polarising clip on screen is a little design classic that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a set from the Avengers or The Prisoner.

You could get anything there, from beanbags to 8-tracks to strange twisted bits of metal that could have been used for just about anything.   I remember buying a massive ppine chest of drawers with a serious list to one side that I always meant to sand down and renovate but never got round to it.

Most people I knew in those days would have been advocates of what’s now known as shabby chic.  It wasn’t because it was trendy back then, it was because it was cheap and quirky and there was always treasure to be found amongst the junk.

Going to a market at the weekend was a foraging mission like no other.  You might have an idea what you were looking for but in the end you could literally come home with anything.  Even looking around my living room now I can see a couple of vases and a 70s wooden lamp that were market finds.

I used to come home with bizarre finds – an antelope horn mounted in silver, oil lamps, a replacement lid for an old slow cooker.  Not to mention the fantastic vintage clothes finds…

The problem was that when Dublin got rich the markets closed down one by one.  The Dandelion was the first to go, followed a couple of years later by Mother Redcaps, there so long it was a Dublin institution.  They closed because people had stopped coming and people were so busy with the bright shiny things they could now afford that they didn’t even mark their passing.

By the time the Blackberry Fair closed down nobody even murmured.

We had become too grand to root around in bric a brac.  We didn’t want it if it wasn’t new and preferably designer.  We’d go to markets if they sold organic vegetables or expensive crafts but the true flea market was just too messy and cheap to satisfy us anymore.

True, in recent years, websites like Freecycle and Jumbletown have sprung up to allow unwanted items to find a home but it’s not really the same.

There’s nothing quite like wandering around a collection of stalls with a steaming cup of tea in a polystyrene cup searching for overlooked treasure. Maybe it’s my seventies upbringing showing through but I’ve always loved renovating and customising and making do.  I’m the kind of person that can’t walk past a skip without having a look.

But the markets that Dublin used to have suited the city.  To be honest I think I prefer the somewhat grimier Dublin from those days.  You could always get the designer stuff if you wanted it, Brown Thomas is hardly a new addition, but you had the rest as well.

Now as we head back into economic blackness the penny is beginning to drop that maybe we threw out the baby with the bathwater.  It’s all very well having the luxury but if you don’t have the money you need to be able to get hold of the junk and get creative.  These days there doesn’t seem to be much choice, it’s luxury or nothing in most places.

I’ll be going to the Dublin Flea Market next Sunday and I urge you to as well.  Maybe if this one really takes off Dublin can see it’s markets flourish again and we can be skint with a bit more grace, after all these days, thanks to shows like Bargain Hunt on the BBC, everyone know you never know what you’re going to find among the jumble.

A Frustrating Day…

I’ve always found working from home a challenge.  On the one hand I love being able to work at my desk with all my stuff near at hand.  I’ve worked at the same desk since I started secondary school (it has fuchsias on it that my mum painted on using nail varnish for the petals).  It’s not the biggest desk in the world but plenty big enough for me and my laptop and it’s always been my little oasis in every place I’ve lived since home.  Someday I may post a photograph but at the moment it’s full of the detritus of the day and not fit to go out in public.

That’s the drawback with working from home, the day’s detritus.  When you’re out in the field you’re focused on the matter at hand and aware that the day won’t be finished until you’ve done what you came there to do.  As a journalist I’m used to working with multiple distractions, be it TVs blaring, people having minor nervous breakdowns, constant questions and random jokes, but you learn to focus through it to get the job done within the deadline.

It’s the same at home if there’s a deadline.  You sit staring at the computer screen until the page in front of you is filled coherently to the right length.  Working at home when there’s no deadline however, is a totally different experience.

I had decided to take the time off until New Year after what had turned out to be a particularly hectic year.  It’s now well into the second year of 2009 and I’m craving structure.  The problem is that it just keeps slipping away from me.

I’ve been at this game long enough to know that I work best with a routine – most of us do.  The difficulty I’ve always had has been making a routine when there’s nothing to hang it on.  Now that I know that I am actually capable of writing a book within an allotted time by working 25 hours a day I say to myself that if I’m going to be doing this more often then structure is vital, there has to be balance.

Well let me tell you, the house is looking lovely.  I’ve been baking, there are fresh flowers sitting on my desk (really should put up that photo) and the husband has had a good square meal every day.  The problem is that the manuscript of the novel is sitting where I left it almost a week ago and the notebook page I headed Pitch ideas is accusatorily empty.

In fairness, today I did get up and settle straight down at my desk to do some work.  I was planning on uploaded a radio interview I gave on Clare FM about the book back in December.  That’s when things went arry.  While I’m loving the shiny new look of WordPress 2.7 I’m still having one or two problems uploading files to display on this blog.  Well one problem really.  It’s not working.

The problem with stuff going wrong technically speaking is that I’m not particularly technically minded.  I’m not completely useless.  I’ve grappled with the various programmes and gadgets that are bread and butter for todays journos for long enough and if the printer has a paper jam, I’m your man.  I would count myself as reasonably web literate but unfortunately that doesn’t yet extend to coding of any kind and I’ve only been dealing with the more nuts and bolts end of online communication for a few months so sometimes I can’t see the wood for the trees.

This means I turn to Google in search of the people who do know what I’m talking about and the hours tick away.  So it’s now 8 o’clock and all I’ve managed today is a blog post.  The printer has now stopped it’s annoying habit of refusing to print from the web and I’ve gone from WordPress 2.5 to 2.7 but I still haven’t been able to upload the interview.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get up and shoot the book trailer.  I know how to use a camera!

The January Blues…

The last of the Christmas decorations have been boxed up and put away and the rapidly moulting tree was dragged off down to the recycling centre this morning.  The house now looks twice the size and impossibly, depressingly bare.

I was ready to scream if the tinsel and the baubles had stayed up one more night but predicably now they’re gone for another year I’m in the dumps.  It’s probably got a lot to do with the rather uncertain forcast for 2009 and the fact that I’m actually going to have to settle on one project to start on and just pray it earns some money.

Its a weird thing to be moaning about I know.  I might be temporarily lacking in steady employment but I’m not exactly short of avenues to explore.  The January cold and gloom though makes it feel like those times in the dim and distant past when the heating kept going off because you’d forgotten to pay the bill and you didn’t answer knocks at the door in case it was someone looking for money (yes I’m old enough to remember the days before Ireland became the land of milk and honey).

Rationally I know times have changed beyond recognition and I’m no longer an eighteen year old calling herself a writer when she got into conversations with other people in the queue for the Dole.  Now I actually am a writer and the book’s available in all good bookshops.  But sitting in the newly denuded living room with nothing much to do in the middle of the afternoon and no one to talk to but the cat, it really doesn’t feel any different.

I know there’s stuff I should be doing, emails I should be sending, phonecalls I should be making, but today January just got on top of me and optimism just seemed a stretch too far.  Tomorrow I’ll go round the bookshops, maybe sign some more copies (honestly it was my publisher’s idea, I’m not just a desperate meglomaniac) and rev myself myself up to the relentlessly cheerful state of mind that I usually manage to keep up until the leaves come back on the trees and I don’t have to fake it any more.

But some days were just meant to be bad and the cold, grey empty ones lend themselves to it easier than others.  The decorations are away and it’s time to start the new year for real…tomorrow.

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