Tag Archives: words

Exclusive story from Neil Gaiman in the Guardian

The Thames is a filthy beast: it winds through London like a snake, or a sea serpent. All the rivers flow into it, the Fleet and the Tyburn and the Neckinger, carrying all the filth and scum and waste, the bodies of cats and dogs and the bones of sheep and pigs down into the brown water of the Thames, which carries them east into the estuary and from there into the North Sea and oblivion.

It is raining in London. The rain washes the dirt into the gutters, and it swells streams into rivers, rivers into powerful things. The rain is a noisy thing, splashing and pattering and rattling the rooftops. If it is clean water as it falls from the skies it only needs to touch London to become dirt, to stir dust and make it mud.

Nobody drinks it, neither the rain water nor the river water. They make jokes about Thames water killing you instantly, and it is not true. There are mudlarks who will dive deep for thrown pennies then come up again, spout the river water, shiver and hold up their coins. They do not die, of course, or not of that, although there are no mudlarks over fifteen years of age.

The woman does not appear to care about the rain.

She walks the Rotherhithe docks, as she has done for years, for decades: nobody knows how many years, because nobody cares. She walks the docks, or she stares out to sea. She examines the ships, as they bob at anchor. She must do something, to keep body and soul from dissolving their partnership, but none of the folk of the dock have the foggiest idea what this could be.

You take refuge from the deluge beneath a canvas awning put up by a sailmaker. You believe yourself to be alone under there, at first, for she is statue-still and staring out across the water, even though there is nothing to be seen through the curtain of rain. The far side of the Thames has vanished.

And then she sees you. She sees you and she begins to talk, not to you, oh no, but to the grey water that falls from the grey sky into the grey river. She says, “My son wanted to be a sailor,” and you do not know what to reply, or how to reply. You would have to shout to make yourself heard over the roar of the rain, but she talks, and you listen. You discover yourself craning and straining to catch her words.

“My son wanted to be a sailor.

“I told him not to go to sea. I’m your mother, I said. The sea won’t love you like I love you, she’s cruel. But he said, Oh Mother, I need to see the world. I need to see the sun rise in the tropics, and watch the Northern Lights dance in the Arctic sky, and most of all I need to make my fortune and then, when it’s made I will come back to you, and build you a house, and you will have servants, and we will dance, mother, oh how we will dance…

“And what would I do in a fancy house? I told him. You’re a fool with your fine talk. I told him of his father, who never came back from the sea – some said he was dead and lost overboard, while some swore blind they’d seen him running a whore-house in Amsterdam.

“It’s all the same. The sea took him.

“When he was twelve years old, my boy ran away, down to the docks, and he shipped on the first ship he found, to Flores in the Azores, they told me.

“There’s ships of ill-omen. Bad ships. They give them a lick of paint after each disaster, and a new name, to fool the unwary.

“Sailors are superstitious. The word gets around. This ship was run aground by its captain, on orders of the owners, to defraud the insurers; and then, all mended and as good as new, it gets taken by pirates; and then it takes shipment of blankets and becomes a plague ship crewed by the dead, and only three men bring it into port in Harwich…

“My son had shipped on a stormcrow ship. It was on the homeward leg of the journey, with him bringing me his wages – for he was too young to have spent them on women and on grog, like his father – that the storm hit.

“He was the smallest one in the lifeboat.

“They said they drew lots fairly, but I do not believe it. He was smaller than them. After eight days adrift in the boat, they were so hungry. And if they did draw lots, they cheated.

“They gnawed his bones clean, one by one, and they gave them to his new mother, the sea. She shed no tears and took them without a word. She’s cruel.

“Some nights I wish he had not told me the truth. He could have lied.

“They gave my boy’s bones to the sea, but the ship’s mate – who had known my husband, and known me too, better than my husband thought he did, if truth were told – he kept a bone, as a keepsake.

“When they got back to land, all of them swearing my boy was lost in the storm that sank the ship, he came in the night, and he told me the truth of it, and he gave me the bone, for the love there had once been between us.

“I said, you’ve done a bad thing, Jack. That was your son that you’ve eaten.

“The sea took him too, that night. He walked into her, with his pockets filled with stones, and he kept walking. He’d never learned to swim.

“And I put the bone on a chain to remember them both by, late at night, when the wind crashes the ocean waves and tumbles them on to the sand, when the wind howls around the houses like a baby crying.”

The rain is easing, and you think she is done, but now, for the first time, she looks at you, and appears to be about to say something. She has pulled something from around her neck, and now she is reaching it out to you.

“Here,” she says. Her eyes, when they meet yours, are as brown as the Thames. “Would you like to touch it?”

You want to pull it from her neck, to toss it into the river for the mudlarks to find or to lose. But instead you stumble out from under the canvas awning, and the water of the rain runs down your face like someone else’s tears.

 

 

• Supported by the national lottery through Arts Council England

Reprinted in full from The Guardian

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“Finest Production”

Frank, Sharon, Shelley and Justin,

I just wanted to thank you all so sincerely for doing such a great job on Lonely Little God’s Acre.  At the launch before Christmas, everyone was telling me how fantastic the book looked.  Thank goodness, I also got good feedback after they had read it!

It did look great and of the few books I have done to date, it is the finest production. The hard-covers were so beautiful I was reluctant to sell them. I wanted to open the boxes occasionally and take a few out just to look at them

Many thanks for everything and all best for 2013.

I’ll definitely be recommending Lettertec and Shelley to anyone who asks.

Ed O’Riordan

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Irish Poetry with Sean O’Muimhneachan

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Sean O’Muimheachan, a primary teacher in Macroom, printed with Selfpublishbooks.ie a casebound book of his poetry. I had a quick chat with Sean and asked him where it all began.

“I was born and reared in a rural Gaeltacht area, Gaeltacht Mhúscraí,” said Sean, “and received my primary and secondary education in that area; I’ve
spent all my working life there. Very boring you might say! Not at all.
This is an area of natural beauty, steeped in history and culture and with
plenty of sporting and cultural activity throughout the year. We are within
easy reach of bus and train services and within an hour’s journey of two
international airports. But those things never bothered me growing up in
this area as there was always plenty to do.”

Sean was happy to relate how he first became interested in writing: “This locality has long been famous for its writers, poets and singers and
it was only natural that I would become acquainted with their work as I
grew up. Songs and poems were composed about many local happenings,
these being mostly humorous songs, but many more serious poets were
also at work, producing works that were to earn for them national fame.

“Seán Ó Ríordáin and Séamas Ó Céileachair are two who immediately
come to mind. Then there were the writers like An tÁth, Peadar Ó
Laoghaire and Dónall Bán Ó Céileachair, who preserved the richness of
the local dialect in their writings. Perhaps it was only natural that I would
begin to dabble in such pursuits as I grew to understand the importance of
such things in our society.”

How does work fit into all this? “Being a Primary Teacher, I often composed poems to fit in with topics in
the curriculum when suitable poems were not available or for use in stage
shows or drama competitions. Dámhscoil Mhúscraí provided the impetus
to practise my poetry skills and I have for many years participated in
this annual poetry session.

“I’ve been a regular attendant at Oireachtas na
Gaeilge and Fleadhanna Ceoil also, both of which hold competitions for
newly composed songs. This provided the incentive to write and compete,
which I have done for many years with limited success. Having heard
suggestions from many that I should publish some of my works, I decided
the time was right when I retired from teaching and so Gleanntán an
Aoibhnis began to take shape.”

I was curious to know what a reader can expect from Sean’s book. “The reader will find that the songs are predominantly humorous songs
and I must admit to enjoying writing such songs,” he admits with a smile, “When a good line comes
together it gives me a giggle of satisfaction and I hope it also brings a
smile to the face of the reader.

“Having said this, I am well aware that a
serious song or poem is usually of a far better quality than a frivolous
one. I have also written a few of those, both in Irish and in English. It’s
easy to draw a laugh but the song that draws a tear strikes closer to the
heart.”

So once he put all the words together, it was only a matter of finding where to put them between a book cover. Sean has already given a wonderful testimonial, but I was curious as to how he found self-publishing: “This was my first experience of publishing and, having approached Bard
na nGleann in Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh, I was put in touch with Lettertec
in Carrigtwohill. I was facing the unknown.

“However, I was given every
assistance and advice and Elaine Barry, who was in charge of design, was
most efficient, helpful and patient. Anything that needed to be changed or
corrected was attended to without fuss and her advice on layout, font, etc.,
was invaluable. The finished product more than I could have wished for,
a most professional package, and deadlines were met promptly.”

What’s in store for Mr O’Muimhneachan now? “At the moment I don’t have any other plans for publishing,” he says, “but who
knows what the future may hold!”

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Week Round-Up

A lot has been happening in the literary world this week, so here’s a Top 10 Hot Spot list of all the latest news & views.

cassettetape

# 10

Most overlooked books of 2012 – a literary mixtape 

# 9

Jamie Oliver and JK Rowling battle it out for Christmas top spot

# 8

Overwhelming response to Foyle’s revamp plans

# 7

The Casual Vacancy as BBC show 

# 6

Self-publishing case studies

# 5

Angela Carter named best writer of a century

# 4

What writers can learn from Literary Death Match

# 3

Mo Yan delivers Nobel Prize Speech (with some controversial notes on censorship)

# 2

NaNoWriMo churned out 3 billion words this year

# 1

Book-scanning robot coming to a library near you?

 

~Bonus~

Book Christmas Trees 

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Kilclooney Woods by Micheal O’h-Aonghusa

Kilclooney Woods Cover Final

Last week, Selfpublishbooks.ie printed Micheal O’hAonghusa’s new book, Kilclooney Woods,  a brief history of Fenianism and the events of 1867 in East Cork. I had a quick chat with Micheal and asked him if he had always wanted to write.

“I have never been into writing,” says Micheal, “but I have always been into history, and especially local history. I was involved for years in Republican politics, and at the age of 23 (I am now 76) I was organising commemorations of Peter O’Neill-Crowley at Kilclooney Wood. That wasn’t surprising, as I was born just a stones throw from there, and in a little corner of Ireland that always had more than its own share of rebels.”

I asked Micheal who he counts amoung his influences. “In history books, Anthony Beevor is the master. In travel books, I have read everything by our own Dervla Murphy from Lismore.”

How did the book come about? “In 1967 (the 100th anniversary) it was suggested to me that I should write a book on the subject, and I commenced collecting stuff, doing interviews etc. But marriage, five children, and trying to put food on the table was more than sufficient challenge at that time. My interest of course never waned, and I continued to collect anything at all that would be relevant.”

So it is safe to say then, that Micheal has always been an amateur historian. “Oh, yes, I devour books on history,” he says, “At this time, it would only be second to my interest in travel, and travel writing. Last autumn I was rooting about the attic and came across a huge box of paper clippings and other memorabilia about Kilclooney Wood and Peter O’Neill-Crowley that I had collected over the years. Thinking about my age, it dawned on me that if I died that day, the whole thing  would be in the refuse container the following week. So there and then I decided that if I was spared for another year, I would spend 2012 writing the book, and that is what I did.”

I asked Micheal what parts he enjoyed writing the most. “I can’t say that I “enjoyed” any of it! But I was surprised at how easy it came to me once I had laid out the framework. It is my first printed book, but as manager of Mitchelstown Credit Union, I had published a high quality Annual Report every year, for 26 years.”

How did Micheal hear about self-publishing? “From my son, Sean, who lives in Midleton, where
presumably he had heard about Lettertec. Early on, I visited the Lettertec website, and of course it was exactly what I was looking for. It was that, more than anything else, that encouraged me to proceed. It had all the elements that I was looking for, high quality, small print runs and a bit of hand holding.”

How was the finished product? “Even better that I had visualised it. The historian (John J. Hassett) that did the launch described it as a work of art.”

What’s next? More writing? “Six months ago, I would have said “never again”. The one thing that could precipitate
another is how easy the actual production was. With Lettertec, I’m also including Shelley O’Reilly and Joanne Buckley.”

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Radio Blaa Blaa by Brian Kennedy

Brian Kennedy’s first book, Confessions of an Exeter City Nut, was self-published before being taken up by a small publisher in England. His 2011 book, Just Follow the Floodlights was published by Liffey Press and went to No.1 on Amazon’s English Football League Bestseller List on 4 different occasions. I caught up with Brian to talk about his new memoir, Radio Blaa Blaa.

Brian was a man born with a pen in his hand: “I’ve always been writing one thing or another from an early age. I used to do a football magazine called ‘Blow It Up Ref!’ for my Waterford Junior League Division 4 Club, Kilbarry Rangers. It always gave the lads a laugh, which helped after the beatings we used to get!”

So how long has Radio Blaa Blaa been in the works? How did it begin? “I wrote it in about six months,” Brian says, “When I put my mind to something, I keep at it until the project is finished. ‘Radio Blaa Blaa’ was no different to any other publication of mine in that respect. I started the project, set a date to finish and worked within those boundaries.

“It was a disc jockey who had inspired me to write the book. Colin Kennedy is a family friend and happened to have been part of the whole pirate radio scenario in the early eighties. I was a bit iffy about whether it could be done, let alone successful, but to date it’s my fastest selling book ever!”

I asked Brian what he enjoyed writing the most in his memoir and why: “Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. It’s the file that takes the rough edges off of yesteryear. It’s something everyone goes back to time and time again. Sometimes all we have is the past when the future looks bleak. It was for this reason I really enjoyed writing the book, going back to a time that’s brought many, many wonderful memories.”

Brian is no stranger to self-publishing, but I was curious as to why he chose it again. “For Just Follow the Floodlights, I had a publicist, graphic designer and a book distributed all over Ireland by Gill & McMillian, but I actually enjoy the self-publish route just as much. That way you’re judge, jury & executioner on everything.

“To be honest I knew the chances of getting published at first where Bob Hope and No Hope! I just wanted to get my books on the shelf of my local bookstore. I think self-publishing is a lot of fun. You’re dealing with the front cover on your own terms , the content on your own terms, without an editor to say ‘Take this, that, and the other out’. Nobody knows better than the author themselves I feel. Yes sometimes they need a guiding hand but I never liked anyone telling me the way to go. I had a good publisher in Liffey Press who listened to me about the front page, the content and the price. I didn’t budge on a single thing! And it worked as I got my way, which has proven a success.”

So why self-publishing in the first place? “To be honest at first it was a step into the unknown. I’d either had my books published or had used my local printer and that had been a happy union. However, money became an issue which brought me to the lads at Selfpublishbooks.ie. I’ve got an astounding piece of work made, more so for the price which is simply the best in Ireland and trust me I’ve checked. The quality is fantastic.”

Was a writing career always on the cards for you? “I’ve never been to a writing class, barely passed English in my Leaving Cert and hardly ever go to book launches. I don’t run in those circles. It’s just never interested me. I laugh sometimes at the grants handed out to some writers – I remember three Irish writers getting a combined grant of €30,000 euro between them for Irish language books a couple of years ago and selling exactly 64 books between them. There a lot of pompousness involved. There is this need of acceptance. That getting a publishing contract means they have ‘made it’. Did I make it when I got my publishing contract? Yes I did….for 2 euro a copy! That’s the reality.”

I asked Brian what’s next – or has he had enough of writing? “Well if I finish a book before 2014 it will have been 10 books in 10 years. Mind you I’m running out of subject matters! Yes I get tired of writing, and I can’t see myself doing it forever, but when I see the joy it brings to people, who tell me so, then it makes it all worth while.”

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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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