New story!

Illustration by Elizabeth Burgess

Illustration by Elizabeth Burgess

I’ve a new short story over at HeadStuff for their Fortnightly Fiction section, which comes with a nifty illustration. It’s called ‘What it Says in the Papers’ and is set during the Irish presidential election campaign in 2011 (four years ago – does that count as historical fiction these days?).

Glad it’s found such a lovely home!

Book-review post!

Some recent YA…

James Dawson – All of the Above
Toria moves to a new town, a new school, and befriends the cool-misfit crowd – a group that hang out on an almost-abandoned mini-golf course and have all kinds of issues of their own, ranging from unrequited love to eating disorders. She quickly finds herself smitten with local rock-god Nico, but then there’s also Polly – filthy-mouthed, flirty, and utterly compelling. Toria’s definitely not gay, even though a fair proportion of her new friends seem to be, but as time goes on she starts to wonder where exactly the line is between friendship and love. This is a terrific read that touches on a lot of heavy and important issues but never feels too weighed down or solemn; Toria’s voice is brilliantly modern-teen-girl. Do read.

Lynn Weingarten – Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls
You know that friend that you have who knows you better than anyone, who fascinates you more than anyone else, and who ultimately ends up being too much trouble? That’s Delia for June – and she’s just turned up dead. Everyone insists it’s suicide, but June refuses to believe it. Delia wouldn’t have done that. But is June just in denial, or is there more to Delia’s death than meets the eye? For anyone who likes their YA dark and twisty – this is for you.

Cat Clarke – The Lost and the Found
Laurel disappeared thirteen years ago, when she was six. There’s no way she’s coming home. Faith knows this, but Laurel’s disappearance still haunts her family, and filters into every aspect of her life. Then one day, out of the blue, Laurel returns – the happy ending they’ve all been waiting for – or is it? What’s it like when the sister whose shadow you’ve always lived in comes home, and isn’t quite as perfect as everyone seems to think she is? This is a thought-provoking read about missing children and how the media handle the cases – one of the journalists the family refuse to speak to has written a scathing book about how many missing-child cases there are, and how sickening it is that such attention was paid to pretty, white, blonde Laurel – and has a kick in the end that will leave you feeling as though… well, as though you’ve read a Cat Clarke novel. Terrific read.

Sarra Manning – The Worst Girlfriend in the World
I do so love Sarra Manning’s YA, and this one focuses on a pair of best friends – Alice, the titular ‘worst girlfriend in the world’ (an epithet stolen proudly from bathroom-stall graffiti), and Franny, the narrator, who’s just started a fashion course rather than pursuing A-levels along with most of her classmates. She’s living outside of Alice’s shadow for the first time in a long while, and making new friends – but Alice is not happy, and decides to pursue the local rock god (the same one Franny’s been lusting after for the past four years). And what Alice wants, Alice gets. This is a great look at studying fashion and design, at complicated friendships, at girls and how they’re judged by others, and at life in a small town where nothing much seems to happen. There’s also a heartbreaking subplot involving family and mental illness, and the strains put on the children of sufferers. Suffice it to say I had a lot of feelings while reading this.

Book review: Asking For It

This is another one where I had a lot of thoughts, so just this YA/crossover title for this post.

Louise O’Neill – Asking For It
(Thanks muchly to Quercus, via Hachette Ireland, for the review copy.)

Louise O’Neill’s debut was a dark dystopian novel in which women were valued for how they look. Her second novel is set in the modern world, where – well, the same applies. In a small town in Cork, Emma O’Donovan has just turned eighteen. She’s beautiful and she knows it. She has her bitchy moments; she’s jealous of her friends; she’s slept with a number of different guys and made them promise not to tell. She has sex because it’s there – because the guys want it – because it’s what you do after a few drinks. She’s a teenage girl caught in a world that gives her mixed messages about her sexuality, and she understands this instinctively without ever articulating it. One of her closest friends comes to her once, after having sex without consenting. You didn’t say no, Emma says, and tells her not to make a fuss. And as heartless as this may seem, it’s also savvy advice.

Because one night, one party, it’s Emma who’s out of it, Emma who’s determined to prove that she’s cool, Emma who accepts the offer of drugs, Emma who’s been drinking. And it’s Emma who wakes up the next day with no memory of what’s happened, having been dumped on her front porch half-naked.

Whatever happened to her, she must’ve had it coming to her. This is the logic she applies to her own situation, and the logic most others do too. And what happened doesn’t remain a secret in the era of the smartphone. It’s not too long before the photos emerge – four guys and an unresponsive Emma in a variety of positions, both intimate and degrading. Being barely legal means there’s no issue around pornography involving a minor, but it does mean that when these photos become known to the teachers in her school, they need to be reported to the police. And so begins a year of hell for Emma, which we see snapshots of as the narrative jumps ahead to the anniversary and the days when everyone’s talking about ‘the Ballinatoom case’ and ‘the Ballinatoom girl’ – not just in Ireland but all over the internet. Emma doesn’t want to be brave. She doesn’t want to be the girl who’s viewed in her small town as ruining the lives of the defendants, of their families – she just wants all of it to never have happened.

This is not an easy read, but it’s an important one. It is achingly honest – much as it would be lovely to see Emma view herself as a brave, unconflicted victim of a horrific crime, she can’t. And much as my own angry-feminist voice says that of course that’s what she is, her inability to see things that way is incredibly relatable and true-to-life – as well as echoing what so many of her community and the world at large thinks. Even if the boys were maybe a bit in the wrong, didn’t she have it coming… wasn’t she responsible in some way? Shouldn’t she have taken action to prevent…? No one made her drink or take drugs or wear that outfit… Not only that, but this is part of a broader culture where drunken, dubious-consent sexual experience is normalised. Emma is not the ideal rape victim – these are guys she knows! Guys she’s flirted with! Even guys she wouldn’t mind sleeping with! But that doesn’t make what happens any less of a sexual assault.

This is a book that empathises, rather than imagines. Because there is too much in here that is painfully familiar – priests shaking the hands of rapists to offer support, photos of teenage girls going viral and having her blamed for it, the ongoing slut-shaming. This is not some distant future or some hypothetical situation. This is a story that has been lived by many young women in our digital age, and what O’Neill’s novel does is give the survivor a voice and makes us listen. We mightn’t like Emma, or want her to be our BFF. But we can step into her shoes for a bit and feel how unfair it is. How powerless it makes her feel. How guilty, how ashamed.

How scary it is to live in a world, our world, as a girl people would rather use than respect, rather shame than believe.

Asking For It is published by Quercus Books on September 3rd, and is launching in Dublin in Eason’s O’Connell St on Wednesday September 2nd.

Bits and pieces from around the internet

The latest ‘what I’ve been reading online’ for your perusal:

Banshee!

banshee1

Once upon a time there were three writers. They had often discussed the possibility of collaborating on something wordish in the future. Someday. Someday down the road.

Then one day they decided, helped by Twitter and pizza, that it was time to make that someday happen. They wanted to see a new literary journal in Ireland – partly because some great journals were closing, partly because there were some exciting new ones emerging, partly because there were some longstanding ones still doing great work, and partly because they had opinions and thoughts and things they wanted to see more of in lit journals.

We opened up submissions to Banshee this March, and were overwhelmed with both the quality and quantity of material we received. Issue 1 is just about to go to print, featuring an amazing collection of fiction, poetry and essays from Irish and international writers. If you’d like to buy a subscription, you can do so now – and get a few other extras. And do join us for launches in Cork and Dublin this September. So. Excited.

Bits and pieces from around the internet

What I’ve been reading lately, a mix of rage-inducing pieces, writerly insights and other bits of interest:

I feel like this is an eerily accurate snapshot of my brain most weeks, actually.