Wednesday 20 June 2012

A visit from Nuala Ni Chonchuir and 'Mother America'

Lucky me - a visit from Nuala Ni Choncuir, to celebrate the publication of Mother America - her newest collection of short stories. And we are  even more lucky - here is one of the stories, and just for us, a look behind the scenes at the writing of this piece.


 'Easter Snow', by Nuala Ni Chonchuir
 The cold in Manhattan is a cold I have never felt before. Wind shoots up the slits of the avenues and settles over everything like a shroud. Then it snows and the umbrella man on our corner changes his sing-song from ‘It’s a-raining a-cats and a-dogs’ to ‘It’s a-snowing like a-Christmas.’
‘You have single-handedly made this man rich,’ Thomas says, but buys me another umbrella anyway – a candystriper – and I promise not to lose it.
The umbrella man grins and says, ‘It’s a-snowing like a-Christmas, lady, hah?’‘It is,’ I say.Thomas looks like the Child of Prague. He has that same prissy superiority and baby-blond hair but, in a way, this is what I like best about him. His sweet looks make up for other things. Lacks.We battle down Eighth Avenue, tucked under the umbrella, and are assailed by a crowd that rush up from the subway, like people fleeing a war zone.‘Jesus H. Christ,’ Thomas says, stumbling to get out of a man’s way. ‘Watch it, buddy.’I cling to his arm and we push on. I watch my boots disappear into the snow with each step and listen to the chug-and-sump they make, audible even over car horns and sirens. The snow muffles the city’s usual clamour and I welcome that. I am from a quieter place – a country of villages, where the odd tractor makes the biggest noise, and the buildings do not try to suck the breath out of the sky.Thomas claims not to believe that my home place has seven pubs, but only one church and one shop. ‘I know you guys can drink but seven pubs. Why?’I answer this with a shrug; he requires nothing else.The snow dazzles my eyes though it makes the air dark; it drifts and squats. Snowploughs plod up and down the island, shoving snow along in small, ineffectual loads. I could stride easier if Thomas would let me go but he wants to keep me close so, wrapped together under the umbrella, we perform a shuffle and dodge down the avenue. His arm around me is stifling; I am like a nestling trapped under its mother’s wing. I pull away from him and walk a little ahead, letting snowflakes melt in my hair. Thomas shakes the snow-coating off the umbrella.I reach the corner of 35th Street and stop to watch an SUV skirl in a magnificent arc on the roadway. Passersby cry out, but I am mesmerised by the beauty of the skating car and I stand and gawp, even when its bumper is nearly upon me. Thomas leaps and pushes me into a snow bank; the car clips his leg. He winces and curses. There is a gash and blood but he says, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK.’The waiting room is warm and empty. Thomas parks me next to the radiator and I place my gloved hands on it and watch vapours rise. He checks the tear in his jeans and wads tissues against the cut. A nurse hands him a bandage; she stands over him and tut-tuts.‘Goddamn snow,’ she says. ‘What is this weather about? I got chocolate bunnies in my bag!’My name is called and we enter the room. I lie on the table and the doctor takes her wand from its cradle; she smiles at me and asks if I’m ready. Thomas holds my hand and we turn together to face the screen. Our child is there, a pulsing egg; he sends out his slow, sonic whirr to us through the blizzard that surrounds him. We hear it and catch it and take it home with us through the snow.

and now....Nuala tells us a little about the genesis of this story...
The Making of a Story – ‘Easter Snow’
I tell myself that I can’t work off prompts. And that is probably true in a broad sense – I can’t force myself to be inspired by something just because it is sitting in front of me. But sometimes a deliberate prompt hoves into view and it clicks. So it was for the story ‘Easter Snow’ in Mother America. I read about a short short story competition (flash, if you prefer) with the theme ‘Take a Leap’. It was in honour of 2012 being a leap year but entrants were encouraged to interpret the theme.
I already had a first line banging around in my head: ‘The cold in Manhattan is a cold I have never felt before.’ This is the way my stories often begin: a sentence or phrase rattles in my brain until I write it down and see if it will lead anywhere. I’ve been in Manhattan in winter – the wind would peel the lids off your eyes. I haven’t been there during snow, so I looked up some YouTube videos of a snow-clad New York. Then I remembered an umbrella seller’s call I had heard on 5th Avenue: ‘It’s a-raining a-cats and a-dogs.’
There’s a lovely song by Christy Moore, ‘Easter Snow’, inspired by a slow air of that name by Seamus Ennis (‘Oh, the Easter was so rare and so beautiful’) and that gave me my title. And what is Easter symbolised by but eggs? And what are eggs a symbol of but birth and new life? So all this becomes a thought process and a binding together, and the story emerges above, around and with all these disparate thoughts and memories. They eventually blend into something coherent. One hopes.
I’ve had six pregnancies, three of which I lost, so I have a lot of experience with ultrasound tests. When things go right, it can be the most uplifting experience in the world to see an ultrasound scan with a beating heart. I wanted to end the story on that high note.
As for the prompt, ‘Take a Leap’, it is small within the story but also crucial: by taking a leap and a blow for her, Thomas proves to the narrator that he is worth being with. She decides to take the leap into parenthood with him. So, ultimately, it’s a story of faith and fate. With a little bit of Ireland, and a little bit of Manhattan, and some Easter snow too.
‘Easter Snow’ won the Take a Leap 2012 flash competition and was first published in the Take a Leap e-anthology

Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a short story writer, novelist and poet, born in Dublin in 1970 and living in Galway. Her third poetry collection The Juno Charm was published by Salmon Poetry in 2011. Her fourth short story collection Mother America is out June 4th from New Island. Nuala’s story ‘Peach’, in the Winter 2011 issue of Prairie Schooner, won the Jane Geske Award and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Visit from Alison Wells - self published author of 'Housewife with a Half-Life'.

Welcome to Alison Wells, and many congratulations on the successful self-publishing of her debut novel, 'Housewife with a Half Life', which has to be the most original and intriguing title I've heard in a long time! I am delighted to have a guest post from Alison, in which she talks honestly about her decision to self-publish. Would that all writers who took this decision went into it in the professional way Alison has! 

Of genre, writer’s identity and self-publishing 'Housewife with a Half-Life'
A.B. Wells.
When I set out to interest publishers in Housewife with a Half-Life one of the sticking points was genre. Was Housewife with a Half-Life science fiction or was it women’s fiction, who would it appeal to? These are reasonable questions for a publisher for whom publishing has to be, first or foremost a business, how will this book sell, how does it relate to previous books that have sold, where physically do we put it on the shelf?
In some ways the decision to go ahead and self-publish Housewife with a Half-Life  as A.B. Wells was, in a way, a desire to remain true to the book as it was and to the writer I wanted to be. (Having said that, I am pursuing traditional publication for my more literary fiction as Alison Wells.)
Dan Holloway’s article Writer, Who are you? has really crystallized my thoughts on the writer’s identity, what may be called voice. As a writer I am preoccupied with certain themes, certain ways of looking at and exploring the world that will permeate all my works. So, while Housewife with a Half-Life is a comic read, my literary novel The Book of Remembered Possibilities explores some of the same themes (a mother’s identity, the tyranny of our choices & our ways of living with or escaping them) in a much more serious tone. 
In genre writing and what is known as literary writing is it true to say then that we explore the same themes but within different conventions and using a different range of conventional objects eg in crime; police procedure, in sci-fi; speculated future technologies, alien species, in literary work; an intense and self-referencing language and story? 
As someone with a Postgraduate qualification in Psychology, I understand that people require schema or models with which they process information, trying to make it fit in order to operate in chaotic reality. But it is also true to say that it is that same tendency that makes humans form biases, make mistakes in their attributions (their explanations for why others do what they do), and why eye witness testimony can be misled by a casual word. (People who hear a reference to a crash rather than a bump will be more likely to say they recall seeing glass at the scene.)  
There is also the question of invention and innovation. Advances are often made, for instance, in the sciences by combining elements and understanding from many fields. As the speed of impressive technological advances quickens, the novel stands still in its 19th century format. Could there possibly be other ways of packaging writing or advertising it? When Amazon, Itunes and Google understand your purchasing profile on a very intimate level, does genre still matter? Will the death of the physical bookshelf be the death of genre?
But as a self-publisher I still need to attract readers. So I ask questions like, is Housewife with a Half-Life  like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy but with a housewife in it, Susan Strong instead of Arthur Dent? Or is it Eat, Pray, Love in space as Housewife and mother Susan Strong travels around the universe to ‘find herself’ , re-integrate in time for that troublesome 40th birthday and save the universe. 
Housewife with a Half-Life is about being a human, making choices in life, being a woman, a mother, being a spaceman, lonely and confused in the universe but with a pretty good sense of humour. It’s about good and evil, lies and truth, being there and feeling elsewhere.  
Tania Hershman said:
AB Wells is not only a supremely talented writer but also something of an alchemist. Housewife With a Half Life is wondrously original and imaginative, combining the travails of domesticity with glorious scientific allusions and illusions in a fast-paced and sparkling tale of a wife and mother who discovers she is losing herself, and the stranger from another dimension who turns up as she's cleaning the bathroom to make sure it doesn't happen. A wild ride, this nuclear fusion of a novel is, underneath it all, the story of relationships, of family, of what it means to be a mother, a wife, a woman, and, ultimately, a human being. Move over H.G., A B Wells has written the time-travelling tale for the 21st century! 
Much of the first draft of Housewife was written during the writing challenge NaNoWri Mo and the ideas came quickly as I wrote. It felt almost as if the book was already there and looking back on it I can see that it shares many similarities in style with the television I grew up with, the Goodies, Monty Python and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy on the BBC. It shares the same surreal asides and undoing of expectation. Indeed this is all the more possible when you introduce a character for whom this world is alien, except that this comedy of manners occurs with a spaceman rather than a foreign visitor. My book is also influenced by the greatly influenced by surreal literature such as Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. There’s a poem in my book about a Woebegone that reminds me a little bit of the Jabberwocky.
So what of the genre of Housewife with a Half-Life?  It is listed as sci-fi, it has literary passages, it is comic and will appeal to women and geek adventurers. Who’s it for? Everyone who cares about the universe. But perhaps it says more about the writer, about how I see the world, that words are there to be played with and turned on their heads, that in joy there can be a flint of sadness and in disaster there is always a glint of hope, that there are many decent people in the world out of the limelight doing extraordinarily good things, that family and choices are not straightforward but that it’s always good to turn outwards to laughter and fun. If that’s the kind of thing you think about, forget genre, perhaps you’ll enjoy reading Housewife with a Half-Life.
More on the author
Alison Wells is a Psychology and Communication Studies graduate, former HR Manager and Technical Writer. London born, she was raised in Kerry, Ireland, is married and living in Bray, near Dublin and has four children. Her short stories have been published in many anthologies including the Higgs Boson, Eighty Nine, and Voices of Angels and in Crannóg, The View From Here and Metazen among others and she has been shortlisted in the Hennessy Prize for New Irish Writing and for the Bridport and Fish awards. She’s finished a book of short stories and a literary novel and blogs for the Irish website and on her own blog Head above Water .  She has released Housewife with a Half-Life as A.B. Wells and the book will be launched by Colette Caddle in Hughes & Hughes bookstore in Dundrum, Dublin on June 22nd.
More on Housewife with a Half-Life
Susan Strong is a suburban housewife who is literally disintegrating. When Fairly Dave, a kilt-sporting spaceman arrives through the shower head to warn her, she knows things are serious. When she and her precocious four year old twins, Pluto and Rufus, get sucked through Chilled Foods into another universe it gets even messier. Where household appliances are alive and dangerous, Geezers have Entropy Hoovers and the Spinner's Cataclysmic convertor could rip reality apart, Susan Strong is all that’s holding the world together.
In this madcap, feel-good adventure, Susan and Fairly Dave travel alternate universes to find Susan's many selves, dodge the Geezers and defeat evil memory bankers. From dystopian landscapes and chicken dinners, to Las Vegas and bubble universes, can Susan Strong reintegrate her identity and will it be enough to save us all? The sequel The Meaning of Life is Monday is already underway.

The paperback is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US. 
The ebook is also available on Kindle  at  and  

Many congrats again, Alison, and loads of good luck with 'Housewife with a half-Life'.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

The Coward's Tale travels to Stockholm and New Jersey

Have book, book travels - not the writer, but at least her words...

First, an interview - some excellent, searching questions on the processes behind the writing of The Coward's Tale, from Dr Adnan Mahmutovic of Stockholm University,  for their anthology Two Thirds North, reproduced on Roses and Thorns. 
And a lovely message came through from a Professor of Literature and Writing in the US - having read the novel,  'The Coward's Tale' is to be on his curriculum at a college in New Jersey. I couldn't be more delighted!

And now, off teaching in Ireland. Back soon to host some author visits, from Alison Wells and Nuala Ni Chonchuir.

Monday 4 June 2012


Puffins on Handa Island, by me with little camera
 I reached another milestone birthday last week - and decided a year ago that I was going to celebrate it by seeing the funniest bird in the British Isles, the puffin. Puffins are the clowns of the bird world -  I think they were invented on God's day off, when a naughty but very creative angel on acid broke into the creating lab.
Puffins on Handa, by Chris with bigger camera - love this one.

Tanglewood House - pic from their website
We stayed at Tanglewood House a little slice of paradise dropped to earth on the edge of Loch Broom, to continue the heavenly analogies. Just on the outskirts of Ullapool, this place is in a class of its own - we have loved this place for some ten years, and the lovely people who run it.

The view from our room at Tanglewood House
Check out the Tanglewood House website - only a few rooms, all very comfortable, with unforgettable views, beds better than the ones at home, bathrooms with fluffy white towels, bathrobes, sigh. I want to go back.

The view was too good to only take one pic
Tanglewood House is a family concern - founded by Anne Holloway who has now been joined by her son Julian and his wife Corinna  - both Anne and Julian are superb cooks. See end of this post for some menus.... what we actually ate - I often wonder with websites whether some places advertise wonderful food and you don't really get that when you stay. At Tanglewood, you do!  See end of this post for some menus.  It is in a seriously stunning location and the house is beautiful.
And another - taken from my window very early on my birthday!
 So, puffins on a glorious birthday on Handa Island, right up in the north west of Scotland. A nature reserve, it is uninhabited, and you cross over in a rib that bounces over the waves. Great fun.
A good book, sunshine, Achmelvich beach.
The next day, a pie each from the pie shop at Lochinver, and a picnic lunch at Achmelvich.
Love this beach near Achkiltibuie
Some wonderful walks, and drives, lots of photo-stops.

Achmelvich again - gorgeous, and empty.
Birthday menus - (just what happened to be on - but we were asked if we minded having scallops twice - and said No! Love them.) Ya takes your own wine, no corkage. (Apols to Julian for the terminology - I know nowt about the titles of foodstuffs, but it was stunningly good.)

Day 1.
  • Scallops ceviche served on a bed of fresh salad leaves, with warm local crusty bread.
  • Breast of duck, and wilted greens, served in a light jus made with a rather special sweet sherry
  • Apricot tart and cream
  • cheeses (always a selection of three).
Day 2.
  • King prawns on a bed of salad leaves in a delicious dressing
  • Rich lamb 'stew' served with potato salad (a genius choice) and broad beans
  • Strawberry hazelnut meringue (with candles!)
  • cheeses
Day 3.
  • Scallop risotto
  • Scottish lamb chops served with breaded sweetbreads, artichoke hearts and new potatoes
  • Brandysnap tuiles with cream and berries
  • cheeses

Bird cliffs, Handa.

Rib from Tarbet to Handa Island

Friday 1 June 2012


‘How much blood must we pay before the world helps?’ - Abu Suhaib, a Syrian hospitalised in Jordan
#TippingPoint There is a dreadful feeling of helplessness, seeing the increasing atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime reported in the press, culminating in the indescribable news last Friday that young children had been the target - toddlers bound and killed in front of their parents before the parents were massacred in their turn. 
Of course, they wanted world publicity for this - to act as a deterrent, one supposes, against further insurrection.  But enough is surely enough? 
Today, on blogs and on Twitter,  people using the internet to express their horror at these events, and calling for the killing to stop - spreading the word in a small way.  This is my contribution to #tippingpoint
What can you do? You can leave a post on Twitter, or facebook, in support of #tippingpoint. You can do a blog post. You can sign a petition to demand action against those who attack  civilians, and children in particular - such as that organised by Save the Children.