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‘Valentia’ by Catherine Conlon — Christmas Bestseller!

Set in contemporary Ireland, this novel follows the lives of the various members of the O’Sullivan family during a pivotal five-month period which marks a number of important transitions in all of their lives. The main backdrop for the action is the remote and magically beautiful island of Valentia in County Kerry, one of the most westerly points of the country.

The author, Catherine Conlon, is a medical doctor and lecturer in Public Health and Epidemiology in UCC Public Health Department. Married with 4 children, living in Blackrock in Cork, this is her second book and first venture into self-publishing. I had a quick word with her about her new book.

What is this all about? Catherine sends me on a moving synopsis: “Valentia is a readable, absorbing story with engaging, well-drawn characters in situations many of us, and women in particular, will be able to relate to. While the author explores, with a light and often entertaining touch, some of the traditional territory and themes of romance, female friendships and family dynamics, the narrative also offers a deeper, more profound reflection on what is truly valuable in modern life. In this era of widespread economic downturn and material hardship for so many people – which has hit Ireland particularly badly after so many years riding high on the Celtic Tiger – Valentia brings the reader back, time and again, to the core values of family, a sense of community and the need to belong.”

I asked Catherine which authors inspired her to write. “Those who inspired me to write on similar themes,” she says, “include Adriana  Trigiani, Victoria Hislop, Rosemunde Pilcher and Joanne Harris. In non-fiction, it would have to be Mind Body Spirit, John O’Donoghue, Neale Donald Walsch, Sister Stan, Mark Patrick Hederman and Robin Sharma.”

What did Catherine enjoy the most to write? “I enjoyed writing the dramatic bits and also the descriptive pieces, particularly in creating the magical quality of the island.” And according to the readers, those are the bits that stand out most.

As we know, this isn’t her first book. I asked Catherine what she’s written before. “I previously published ‘Sonas; Celtic Thoughts on Happiness’ with Hachette.”

So what brought her to self-publishing? “I liked self publishing because I had more control over the product and because it was so much simpler and quicker.
 I shopped around first but the message coming back was that no matter how good the book, publishing fiction first time at the moment was difficult in a publishing industry under siege.”

How did she find it? “The self publishing process was remarkably straightforward and the team at Lettertec were professional, approachable and flexible with every aspect of the book.
I would be delighted to self-publish again although I will wait and see how well the book does first!”

Where is the eye-catching cover from? Catherine is happy to tell us. “It is by a local photographer in Ballinskelligs, Michael Herrmann, and I am delighted with it. It is exactly right for the book.”

Where to go from here? Is she finished with writing? “Not at all,” she says, “I’m starting a sequel so watch this space!”

Valentia will be available in all Eason’s branches this Christmas.


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Waterstones Autumn Book Club titles

The Waterstone’s Book Club has four lists per year — one for each season — where the retailer picks 12 new “eclectic, intelligent and readable” titles to be promoted in stores with discounts, and gives customers the promise that if they don’t like any of the books, they can have their money back. It launches in stores today.

According to the Bookseller, Hachette has four titles in the club over autumnThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline); The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Orion); Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton (Orion); and Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell (Orion). Random House Group has three titles in the ‘club’, The Man Who Forgot his Wife by John O’Farrell (Transworld); The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore (Cornerstone); and The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen (Vintage).

Also in the line-up are Boomerang by Michael Lewis and Is that a Fish in Your Ear? by Alex Bellos (both Penguin); When She Woke by Hilary Jordan and Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles (both HarperCollins); The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd (Simon & Schuster).

Keep track of the book club here.


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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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