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A Modern Irish Cook Book

Selfpublishbooks.ie have published Goodall’s latest compilation of Irish cooking by (and for) Irish cooks.

As outlined on Goodall’s website,  this book contains a great variety of recipes — from light bites such as Spiced Beef Blinis to heartier meals like Tagliatelle & Smoked Trout — not to mention delicious desserts like Trifle Cake. The recipes are chosen by the Goodall’s team from a selection submitted by Ireland’s Food Blogging Community, about whom you will find out more in the book.

I spoke to editor, contributor and foodie blogger, Margaret Smith, about the book. I asked her first where the idea came from. “It came out of a conversation I was having with Roisin, the marketing manager for Goodall’s, on how would you describe modern Irish food or cuisine to someone from outside of Ireland?”

What did they come up with? “We had a healthy debate,” Margaret says, “and from that sprung the idea that maybe we should include other people in the conversation.  We decided to put it out to the food bloggers of Ireland to see what their take on it would be.  We also thought it would be a lovely idea to capture these recipes and some lovely photos and put it into a book.  We thought of it as being a snapshot of what people are cooking in their homes all over Ireland.”

Judging by the product, they certainly achieved their ends! Margaret was delighted to contribute two of her own recipes to the book: “My own fail safe way of cooking a roast chicken with lemon, herbs and white wine and a canapé dish of blinis with spiced beef and a horseradish cream.” Delicious!

Margaret is a regular food blogger and cooking class leader herself — just take a look at her website: Umnumnum is an apt name!

She’s been a regular aficionado of the kitchen since she was in her twenties: “I have to say I became a little obsessed with it.  I love to eat and entertain and experiment and have been happy do that for twenty years or more  now.”

I ask Margaret what meal she enjoys cooking the most: “My favourite meal to cook changes quite often as I like to try new things.  At the moment a Thai green chicken curry is top of the list for flavour and it’s so easy and can be put together in 15 mins.  A beef stew is my ultimate comfort food though for days when I feel I have been put through the mill!”

What caught her interest in self-publishing? “We wanted to self-publish the book as a way to control the content and we also wanted to do it in a very tight time frame. The finished product was great and I think everyone was very proud of the book.”

The other positive about this new publication is that all profits from it go to Cork Penny Dinners and Dublin Food Bank. Please donate here or here if you can.

So what’s next for Margaret & Goodall’s? Her answer is tempting. “There are a few more exciting projects in the pipeline for Goodall’s but they are a bit hush hush at the moment so watch this space!!”

 (Click here for a brief preview inside the book!)

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J.K. Rowling’s unpublished new novel gets a parody

J.K. Rowling’s new 500-page adult fiction novel The Casual Vacancy is due to be released on the 27th September this year.

The only information any Rowling fans have about the book is what Little, Brown have published on their website:

When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

The Bookseller today announced that, despite the fact that J.K. Rowling’s book is yet unpublished and the plot in full yet unknown, a parody of The Casual Vacancy, titled The Vacant Casualty, has already been released as an eBook by Boxtree, available for £3.99. It will be published in hardback on the 13th September this year for £8.99.

The Bookseller also said: “The book is set in the English town of Mumford, where all is quiet, apart from the man with the axe in his back who is staggering down the street, leaving a vacancy on the Parish Council. It features Detective Inspector Bradley, a “plodding buffoon, incapable of detecting his own backside”, who teams up with a writer researching a detective novel, and together they blunder towards the identity of the “vacant casualty”, hoping to get to the truth before everyone in the town is murdered.”

The Vacant Casualty‘s publisher described it in more vivid terms: “In this potty-mouthed, depraved parody, strewn with casual violence and sexual deviancy, you’ll discover granny mafia, farting tea-ladies, car chases, serial killers and lashings of tortoise milk. But no immigrants. This is the countryside, after all.”

World rights in The Vacant Casualty by Patty O’Furniture (pseudonym of Bruno Vincent) were acquired direct from the author by non-fiction publishing director Jon Butler, after the idea was prompted in-house.

What do we think?

Jumping on the bandwagon a little too early?

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Four self-published books on the NY Times eBook Bestseller List!

As Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, has said, “We knew this day was coming.”

An article in the Guardian on Thursday announced that four self-published authors had made it to the New York Times eBook Bestseller list.

The highest-ranking self-published author on the 5 August NYT chart is Colleen Hoover, whose ebook Slammed comes in in eighth place, ahead of by established bestsellers I, Michael Bennett by James Patterson (#11) and Criminal by Karin Slaughter (#21). Hoover, who self-published Slammed seven months ago and has just signed a traditional book deal with Simon & Schuster, also has her second novel, Point of Retreat, in 18th place on the NYT chart.

Bella Andre has three self-published romance novels in the chart: If You Were Mine in 22nd place, Can’t Help Falling in Love in 23rd, and I Only Have Eyes For You in 24th. The 25-title chart is dominated, as it has been for much of the summer, by EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy – itself originally published as fan fiction.

Smashwords has worked with all four authors to publish or distribute their eBooks, and its founder Mark Coker has outlined what all this success means:

It’s a big deal to see a single Smashwords author on the New York Times Bestseller list, let alone four in one week. A year ago, it was unheard of. A year from now, it’ll be more commonplace.
These worlds [of independent and traditional publishing] are complementary to each other.  Success in one world feeds success in the other.  Authors who participate in both worlds will become more valuable to publishers, but also more expensive to sign.  That’s good for authors.
If you think these successful romance authors are random flukes, or the beneficiaries of a passing fad, you’re underestimating them.  These authors are the future.  Learn from them.
The indie movement has gone mainstream with romance authors, and it’s transforming the lives of writers for the better. […] The future of book publishing is brighter than ever for those authors who place themselves on the right side of history.  Authors who delay their embrace of indie publishing will find themselves sidelined by those who have already seen the light.

It’s up and up for self-publishing!

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What We’re Reading This Week… Mother America

On June 7th, Nuala Ní Chonchúir launched her fourth short story collection, Mother America, in the Winding Stair Bookshop in Dublin. As soon as I got the book, I avidly read all 19 stories — which jump between historical fiction and contemporary realism with ease — and had a very informative interview with the lovely Nuala herself, posted in full here.

The first story in the collection, ‘Peach’, was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize and won the Jane Geske Award, and rightly so. The precision of detail in this story is wonderful. Ní Chonchúir has a penchant for description, and her opening lines are always perfect introductions to the story itself: “There was a pregnant woman getting drunk in the back lounge; I could see her through the hatch, from where I sat at the bar.” The narrator, Dominic, soon becomes involved with the frail woman, Maud, whom the reader learns has recently had a miscarriage. What astounded me about this story was the way in which the descriptions of the characters’ actions and surroundings so precisely outlined their own personalities:

At Maud’s front door a smoke-coloured cat with white feet brushed around my legs and pushed its torso into my shins. I half-kicked it away, being careful not to hurt it.
‘Your cat?’ I asked, while Maud unlocked the door.
‘No, that’s Chicago; he belongs to the neighbour.’ She shook her foot at him. ‘Psst, Chicago, psst. Get lost.’ Chicago ran through Maud’s legs into the hall; he looked up at us.
There was a Kahlo-bright oilcloth on her table: it was yellow with cerise hibiscus flowers. An orchid, propped in a milk bottle, spilled orange dust from its stamen onto the tablecloth; the orchid seemed to spray its hot smell into the room. A birdcage on a stand was parked in one corner. I looked in at a budgie; he was a startling, fake-looking blue.
Maud’s house had a stillness that I found almost unbearable, a sense of time being immoveable; I needed noise.

The themes of loneliness and consolation reemerge in many of the stories in the collection, none more so than “When the Hearse Goes By”, a powerful examination of grief and succour. Another male narrator, Fergus, goes to Paris after the funeral of his brother, and meets his sister-in-law, Ivy, “a stumpy woman with a man’s haircut.” The two attempt to downplay the loss of their mutual friend, but inevitably find it’s the only thing that can connect them. At a restaurant in the eighth arrondissement, Fergus says, “You miss him, I suppose.” “Like air,” Ivy answered. The two discuss the odd dreams they have had recently — Fergus dreaming about insects and waking up to a loud chorus of birds, Ivy dreaming that her husband is still sitting in the chair in their bedroom. The conclusion of their relationship is both understandable and shocking, and all the while I couldn’t help but feel that the ominous end was hinted at from the beginning: “it was safely in the past that Ivy most wanted to be.”

Complex familial relations are a regular concern in Mother America and in the final story, “Queen of Tattoo”, a mother, Lydia, is confronted by her son, Clyde, who does not realise that raping another woman in the town is any cause for concern. After spending time in jail for his crime, he returns to Cherry Street to ask his mother to tattoo him in order to hide from any jailmates who might be looking for him.

‘Clyde’, she says, ‘the first thing we need to give you is a heart.’

She tattoos a heart on his chest with two daggers in it, then a wolf on his back, then serpents from his wrists to his armpits. Clyde complains that she’s hurting him, that he never meant that girl Rosary any harm, that they have an understanding. He produces a bundle of letters signed ‘Rosarie’ that profess her undying love for him, but,

Lydia knows the child’s way Clyde uses language; she recognises the particular slant of his vowels, the back and forth mess of all his words. She also knows how Rosary spells her name.

The tensions built up in this story between love and delusion made me wish it was a novel, and not a short story, just so I could keep reading. On a less selfish note, the skill with which Ní Chonchúir writes attests to her proficiency as a storyteller and her talent as a poet.

I have been trying to focus on a less fanatical point of critique for Mother America, but everything that I could find to criticise is merely my own subjective pet peeves, which are neither constructive or important. This has led me to question if I would rate this book as highly as classics such as Katherine Mansfield’s Bliss and Other Stories or Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Other Stories, and I have to admit, I would. This collection is a neat and rigorous examination of character, and while it may not be as overwhelmingly groundbreaking as Mansfield or O’Connor, the detail and skill evident in each story merits as much acclaim.

If I have convinced you that this collection is worth a read, then pop over to Nuala’s blog here, read her story ‘Poisson d’Avril’ here or buy it in any good bookshop!

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Independent Author makes Top Ten Bestsellers on Amazon UK


Smashwords author Nick Spalding is selling his novel Love…from Both Sides for £1.59 on Kindle, the description for which reads: “Based on real-life tales of dating disaster and relationship blunders, Love… From Both Sides is a warts-and-all romantic comedy for everyone who knows how tricky (and occasionally ridiculous) the quest for love can be. ”

The book is currently #22 in the Amazon UK Top 100 Bestsellers, where it has featured for four months. According to an article in the Bookseller, Spalding has sold over 245,000 units on Kindle.

On his website, one of Spalding’s fans asked, “Considering some of the rubbish that has made it onto the book shelves, I dont understand why an agent/publisher hasn’t snapped you up yet. It can only be a matter of time. Presumably, given your success, you would suggest this aspiring author takes the self-publish route to get started too?”

Spalding’s reply is revealing: “I’d honestly say do both: self publish and go for the traditional route as well. The two are no longer mutually exclusive, thanks to how the self-pubbing route is starting to mature and become more credible. I have had some interest from agencies, so the stigma is thankfully disappearing. Do everything you can to get your name and your work out there.”

This stigma is something that Smashwords founder Mark Coker has also spoken about — click here for more information.

Things are looking up for independent authors!


(If you’re interested, these are the links to Nick Spalding’s Twitter and Blog.)

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Changing Times: Penguin’s profits drop, The Writer is on hiatus & Classics are rewritten

After 125 years, The Writer magazine will cease printing.

Editor Jeff Reich sent an email to his subscribers on Thursday to break the news:“I’m sorry to announce that The Writer magazine will go on hiatus after the October 2012 issue, which is in production now. Kalmbach Publishing Co., which owns The Writer, is currently looking for a buyer for the magazine, and our hope is that The Writer will re-emerge under the careful stewardship of a new owner.”

The Writer magazine was founded in 1887 by Boston Globe reporters Robert Luce and William H. Hills who outlined nine goals for the magazine, including, notably: “To collect and publish the experiences, experiments and observations of literary people, for the benefit of all writers.”

The magazine’s website is still up and running with its huge resources of writing aids, such as writing prompts, tips on getting published,  advice for the many common stumbling blocks of bad writing, and support in not losing hope.

More financial difficulties were met by Penguin in the first half of this year, as reported by the Bookseller. The company is down 4% compared to its sales from the same period last year; however, its e-book revenues are up 33% and now represent almost 20% of its total revenues.

The online magazine GalleyCat maintains that this drop in sales is due to the overwhelming success of Vintage Books’ Fifty Shades of Grey and Scholastic Press’ The Hunger Games.

Looking to the next six months, Pearson, the new parent of Penguin Books, said: “We expect Penguin’s publishing and its competitive performance to be stronger in the second half of the year, and we expect the structural change to continue.” It also said that over the next six months, Penguin will “continue to take action to adapt to the rapidly-changing industry environment”, and will over that period be expensing integration costs associated with its acquisition of Author Solutions. (For more information on that controversial business move, click here).

(Illustration by Dale Stephanos)

It may be a sign of the times, and needless to say, the influence of E.L. James, that even the Classics are getting rewritten for commercial benefit. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (both with gay themes) and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey inaugurate the series, titled “Clandestine Classics.” For more, see here.

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Twitter Book Clubs?

The Bookseller this week blogged about a new online phenomenon — Twitter book clubs.

It all began with Sian Meades and ‘Domestic Sluttery’, the “lifestyle website, covering mainly design and food (with our tongues firmly in our cheeks). Whenever we mentioned books—be it a gorgeous collection like White’s Fine Editions, or a scheme like Mr B’s Reading Year—people got really excited. After a little bit of logistics and planning behind the scenes (let’s be honest, book clubs can be a bit of a nightmare), the Domestic Sluttery Book Club began. And then the #SlutteryBookClub hashtag started trending across the world on Twitter.

The advantages to this are such that it beggars belief there have not been social media-based book clubs, on a global scale, prior to this. Not only do you open up discussion to people across the world, occasionally you will also be able to discuss the chosen book with its author, as Sian Meades did with the author of Sister, Rosamund Lupton.

As Sian herself said, “The whole point of the book club is to discuss and chat—you don’t have to be sat around a table to do that. You don’t even have to be in the same country as us. And you can definitely type with one hand while drinking a glass of wine.”

The next book Sian has planned for the Twittersphere is not E.L. James’ bestseller as everyone seems to expect of her — “Twitter is a fickle beast and I was awake until 1am explaining to people that we hadn’t read Fifty Shades of Grey (that’s what you get for choosing a deliberately contentious hashtag)” — but Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, after which “we might switch to a classic or get our readers to choose.”

Keep an eye out on Sian’s Twitter and blog for the next post — you can pitch in for a worldwide discussion!

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Irish Writers Centre Publishing Seminar, July 7th 2012











Last weekend, the Irish Writers Centre held a full-day Publishing Seminar. The event featured talks from industry experts such as the Editorial Director with Hachette Ireland, Ciara Doorley; the Publicity Director of Penguin Ireland, Cliona Lewis; Literary Agent with Walsh Communications, Emma Walsh; the CEO of ePub Direct, Gareth Cuddy; and novelist Arlene Hunt.

The Writers’ Centre run a very good blog right here, and posted about the Seminar’s events for anyone, like me, who was unfortunately unable to attend.

According to Mary Russell, one of the attendees, the many topics of the seminar included the impact of the current  recession — in layman’s terms, it means, “less advertising revenue for newsapapers and therefore fewer pages, therefore fewer book/writer features and fewer reviews.” The arts are usually hardest hit in an economic downturn, but with news like this from the Irish Times, it is not time yet for dismay — and this recession is not the first. Even Ezra Pound maintained that, “If a nation’s literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays.” Literature and the arts are integral to a nation’s independence and security. I cannot imagine the Irish writers, groups, festivals and readers allowing their culture to atrophy. We’re too proud of it, and rightly so: four Nobel Laureates in Literature,  three Man Booker Prize-winners and more than ten shortlisted, and writers like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and W.B. Yeats who each shaped the course of literary history and continue to influence contemporary writers — why wouldn’t we be proud?

Gareth Cuddy, CEO of ePub Direct, gave a PPP (purchasing power parity) at the seminar by announcing that eBooks sell at around £5.59 per copy. Compare that to a typical £7.99-£12.99 (usually €13.99+ in Ireland) for a paperback, and the boost in Kindle sales is surprising only in considering that it hasn’t already taken over the market. However, the debate between readers of eBooks vs paperbacks is still ongoing, as can be seen in this article from the New York Times. What is striking about eBooks is the open opportunity they give to authors who want to self-publish. Discussions surrounding eBooks inevitably include a discussion about the virtues of self-publishing,  an issue already raised by the Alliance of Independent Authors on Facebook this week, which prompted some interesting feedback.

Emma Walsh, Literary Agent with Walsh Communications, explained at the seminar that it takes about four months to hear from a publisher after sample three chapters have been submitted. She only has four people on her books.

Conversely, Arlene Hunt, after she got her first book published, decided to set up small publishing company in order to self-publish her work, plus two books by other writers every year. The result was Portnoy Publishing, and the venture got a boost when Arlene and her husband got an order for 170,000 football-related books.

While I did not have the chance to attend the Seminar myself, the various blog posts and reports, especially from the wonderful resource that is the Writers’ Centre blog, emphasised the significance placed on having regular updates and insights into this industry that is so rapidly changing. Self-publishing is one of the new developments of the change, but as the Centre’s blog outlines so well, the important thing is to ‘Just. Keep. Going.’

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