Just say yes

May 22nd. One of those rare occasions where the people have an opportunity to make their country kinder, safer and better. Vote yes.

(it’s not the end of the world…)

Book-review post!

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This is one of those ‘sometimes I read grownup books’ posts. Mix of fiction and non-fiction.

Amy Poehler – Yes Please
This was recommended to me often, and I loved Tina Fey’s book so very much, so I was hoping for a similar hilarity-fest, but Poehler’s book is much more on the fuzzy-lovely side of things. It’s the story of a life in comedy, and has some interesting insights and advice, which I liked, but wouldn’t necessarily be pressing into everyone’s hands insisting that they read straight away. It did make me feel as though I absolutely-positively needed to heed that other bit of advice that everyone keeps giving me about pop culture, which is to watch Parks & Rec. (I know. I have never seen it. I mean to! I swear! Stop looking at me like that!)

Matt Haig – Reasons To Stay Alive
Matt Haig first came to many people’s attention when he blogged for Booktrust, and I am mainly aware of him from Twitterland, and conscious of some wise things he’s said on writing and on mental health. I’d been looking forward to this book – part memoir of depression and recovery, part observations – for ages, and while it’s good, and has some smart things to say, it’s not a radically different offering for anyone who is a compulsive reader of memoirs-of-depression (e.g. Shoot the Damn Dog, Sunbathing in the Rain, The Devil Within, Prozac Nation, etc.) But it has lists and quotable bits and although the ‘meds are not for me’ bit kind of bugs me, it is worth a read.

Jenny Offill – Dept. of Speculation
This is an interesting book about relationships and things breaking down and it is beautifully written, but also weird, and I was underwhelmed. I’m sorry, universe. Please don’t judge me.

Liane Moriarty – The Husband’s Secret
A decades-old murder comes to the fore again, shaking up the lives of three very different women. This is a page-turner and an easy read, and I liked it, but I didn’t love it enough to want to race out and buy more of the author’s books.

Susan Stairs – The Story of Before
This debut novel looks at suburban Dublin in the 1970s (I think?) and the secrets and cruelty of children, focusing on what happens when a family moves into a new house and encounters a charismatic but ultimately dangerous neighbour. Interested to see what Stairs does next.

Eimear McBride – A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
This is clearly the ‘I am underwhelmed by these grown-up reads’ book post. I saw the stage adaptation of this a few months back and really liked it, which uses text straight from the book but has the benefit of being a) only eighty minutes long and b) performed. On the page the playing-around-with-language does become tiresome – it’s just not my thing – and the subject matter (illness and religion and sexual abuse in pre-Boom Ireland, oh my) has been covered an awful lot elsewhere.

Clearly I need to stop having thoughts on these books for adults and just go back to kidlit and YA, yes?

Ways of reading

  1. Editor-hat: is this exciting, gorgeous, well-written, well-plotted, featuring characters I adore and also commercially viable and also something I kind of want to press into the hands of everyone I know?
  2. Teacher-hat: what are the strengths and weaknesses of this student’s writing and what advice can I offer to help them develop this piece and as a writer in general?
  3. Writer-friend-hat: inserting comments filled with squee and too many exclamation points and also noting bits that are maybe not needed or are confusing or feel like they need to be developed more.
  4. Reviewer-hat: how does this book compare with other published work and what did I like about it and what, if anything, did I feel let down by, and who else might enjoy reading this?
  5. Reader-hat: I am having ALL THE FEELS.

Book-review post!

Here are some books you must read. They are YA or YAish, really – Sarah Bannan’s book is being marketed as a crossover, while the other two are pitched as YA but get marvellously dark and adult along the way and are the sort I think should be pressed into everyone’s hands. They are all gorgeous.

Sarah Bannan – Weightless
Pitched as The Virgin Suicides meets Prep, so, y’know, you can’t lose with this one. Told from the point of view of a group of girls looking back at the year beautiful Carolyn Lessing moved to their small town, this book explores bullying and rumour and jealousy and responsibility in a way that is compelling and unsettling. The subject matter is familiar but the first-person-plural is absolutely the strength of this novel, letting us get sucked into this world and watch the manipulations and power struggles of adolescent (and small-town) life. Sarah Bannan has worked in the arts and literary world for a while – I mention this only because we need some reason or justification for why this debut novel is so damn good.

Moira Fowley-Doyle – The Accident Season
Every year, it happens – accidents befall Cara and her family, ranging from minor scrapes to serious tragedy. This year is no different. Meanwhile, there’s a girl at school who shows up in every single one of her photos, regardless of where they’ve been taken – a girl who’s disappeared and no one seems to remember except for very vaguely.
This is a dark, twisty story grounded in the real world but with an unsettling supernatural threat hovering over everything; it manages to brilliantly convey both the everyday school and family life and the chilling spookiness. There are friendships and love stories and secrets and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a very pleasing book and I can’t wait until it’s out in the world (coming this summer).

Courtney Summers – All The Rage
There are echoes of the pilot of Veronica Mars in Courtney Summers’s latest book, and I mean that in the best possible way. Like Veronica, we meet Romy a year after her life’s been shaken up, after a rape, after her family circumstances have shifted and after the small town she lives in has decided she’s not to be trusted. But Romy doesn’t get to be a quippy girl detective. She’s still hurting. In some ways her life is better – her mom’s back with her old high school boyfriend, and her alcoholic father’s out of the picture – but she’s perpetually branded a liar for saying that one of the town’s golden boys – his father’s the sheriff, his mother runs their business empire – raped her. Her former best friend Penny won’t talk to her, and the boy at work she likes, Leon, seems nice, but Romy knows you can’t trust nice, can’t trust anything. When Penny shows up at Romy’s workplace and then disappears that night, and Romy wakes up in the middle of the road with no memory of what’s happened and ‘rape me’ scrawled on her stomach in her trademark red lipstick, it’s the beginning of a town search that can only end badly.
I wanted to read this book and I also didn’t. Because it is a tough read, an upsetting read; it’s about the prejudice in small towns and the powerlessness of people, and the insidious nature of rape culture and how dangerous it is to be a girl in this world. The line I’ve seen quoted over and over again is when Romy thinks about her boyfriend’s newborn niece: “She doesn’t even know how hard it’s going to be yet, but she will, because all girls find out.” There is some hope, some redemption, but there is also a lot of pain and anger that refuses to be solved by the end of the book – and rightfully so, because this is a struggle against culture and society, not against particular individuals. I am glad this book exists. I wish it wasn’t so real.

Book-review post!

Catching up on book reviews of those books that are written for the grown-up variety of human…

Rosita Sweetman – Fathers Come First
A novel from 1974 republished by Lilliput last year, and (fun fact) featuring cover photography from a former Trinity classmate of mine. This is the story of a middle-class girl’s coming-of-age in a society that values women mainly for their relationship to men, and hovers between being very much of its time and very pertinent to today’s world. I think I preferred it thematically more than aesthetically, but it is a book well worth checking out.

Emma Healey – Elizabeth Is Missing
This is a heartbreaking book with a decades-old mystery at its centre but is more memorable for its wonderful portrayal of an unreliable narrator – Maud, who is slowly losing her mind, who can’t remember huge parts of her day, who clings only to this one thing she is sure of: Elizabeth is missing. Her well-meaning family and neighbours try to reassure her, but are also frustrated with her; the blanks we see in Maud’s memory leave us feeling confused and upset in the same way she is. This is a gripping read – but an intense one, too.

Anne Enright – The Green Road
(review copy from NetGalley)
I have a lot of feelings. Oh, a lot of feelings. I love this book, first and foremost. It’s gorgeous, it’s compelling, it’s a family-reunion-story that swoops around the world and across time while also having amazing short-story-levels-of-intensity moments about each of the characters. It does not have as much of the Enrightish things that I love – namely, difficult Irish women in the first person (the more typical Enrightish telling of this tale would be all about Hanna, and I would read the hell out of that book) – but it also has many pleasing things (I keep describing this book as having ‘a pleasing amount of gay sex’, which I probably need to stop doing, but yeah). I wanted it to be twice as long, not because there is anything missing from it but because there is so much in it and I wanted more; I could have easily read about these characters for another 400 pages or so. I don’t know if I love it as much as, say, The Forgotten Waltz, but I think it is probably in scope and ambition and story her best book yet. Out in May. Read read read.

Meg Cabot – Royal Wedding
(review copy from Edelweiss)
I am not as crazy about this book as I’d like to be, even though I love Meg Cabot’s adult fiction. I think taking a character from a YA series into adulthood is always tricky, and one of my main problems with this was that all the old characters are still around, even though Mia’s in her mid-twenties, so it does feel rather contrived. I liked the pop culture commentary and the challenges of being an adult royal and public figure, but other aspects – like Mia having lost her stepfather – didn’t quite ring true. It’s basically seeing more of the characters we already know, rather than exploring the realistic changes that might take place as someone grows up. A fun read but not necessarily one to rush out to get. (Also out this summer: the first in the spinoff MG series, about Mia’s newly-discovered half-sister.)

Miranda July – The First Bad Man
Reviewed for Arena (RTE).

Upcoming teaching

Just a little heads-up about some upcoming teaching of creative writing I’ll be doing in Dublin over the next while, at the lovely Big Smoke Writing Factory:

  • a Beginning To Write Fiction class, for absolute beginners or for people who’ve written a bit but want some idea about the basics (how to develop characters, think about plot, consider viewpoint, approach dialogue, etc) [6 weeks, Tuesday evenings from April 14th]
  • a Novel In Progress workshop, which is for people who’ve taken classes previously, are familiar with getting and giving constructive criticism, and are working on novels of all genres [6 weeks, Thursday evenings from April 23rd]
  • a half-day seminar on Cover Letters and Synopses, for anyone getting ready to send work out to publishers or agents [Saturday April 25th]
  • a one-day Introduction to Children’s Fiction, for anyone who’s ever thought about writing for kids or teens but doesn’t know where to start [Saturday May 2nd]
  • a one-day Children’s Fiction Workshop, for people who know they’re writing for kids or teens, have a project on the go, and want to get feedback on that work [Saturday May 23rd]
  • a session on our Inverse writing workshop for LGBTQ+ youth (17-20), which I’m really excited about [course begins Saturday April 11th]
  • I’ll be teaching on our summer Dublin Young Authors programme along with the legendary Dave Lordan – for talented and ambitious teens aged 14-17(ish) [Monday July 29th – Friday July 3rd]