Irish Writers’ Centre Announces winners of Novel Fair 2014

The Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair will take place at the Irish Writers’ Centre, Parnell Sq.

THE IRISH WRITERS’ CENTRE has announced its shortlist of 12 winners for this year’s Novel Fair, which will take place on February 22nd at the Irish Writers’ Centre. Now in its third year, the Novel Fair aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents, giving novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of publishers and agents.

Kept under wraps during the selection process, the judging panel can now revealed as Rachel Pierce, owner/editor owner of Verba Editing House; Anthony Glavin, editor and writer; and Sarah Davis-Goff, publisher and founder of Tramp Press. Since the October 16th deadline, the judges have read through every page of the 306 synopses and opening chapters received and have had the unenviable task of whittling it down to a winning twelve.

Judge Anthony Glavin described their final selection as “A rich cornucopia of hugely promising premises, plots, characters, insights and outcomes for a dozen novels across all genres, all underpinned by original, engaging, well-executed writing.  Not to be missed!”

This year’s winners are Evan Cody, Simon Fay, Alan Gorevan, Geraldine Hogan, Rachael Kelly, Caitriona Lally, Bláthnaid Nolan, David O’Brien, Nathan O’Donnell, Lisa Parker, Grey Phelan and Áine Tierney. The work chosen includes literary fiction, children’s fiction, historical fiction, SciFi, thriller and crime. One of the winners will travel home to Kilkenny all the way from New Zealand to take part. For another, it’s her first win after making the long list in two previous years, with a different novel submitted each time!

The Novel Fair presents a unique opportunity to gain face time with some of the most influential people in Irish publishing, and could truly kick-start a literary career for this year’s winners. Attendees of last year’s Fair included representatives from Penguin Ireland, Hachette Ireland, Transworld Ireland, Picador, New Island, O’Brien Press, Lilliput Press, Liberties Press, Curtis Brown, The Book Bureau, Marianne Gunne O’Connor Literary Agency, Jonathan Williams Literary Agency and Lisa Richards Agency.

Launched in 2011, the Novel Fair has seen an ever-growing number of novels originally submitted to the competition hit the shelves of retailers. Last year, alone, saw previous Novel Fair winners enter in publication: Niamh Boyce (The Herbalist), Janet E. Cameron (Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World), Ian Flitcroft (The Reluctant Cannibals), Kevin Curran (Beatsploitation) and A.W. Timmons (Here In No Place). Daniel Seery’s A Model Partner is due to hit bookshelves in March.

Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair competition winners:

Colm by Evan Cody
Wolf by Simon Fay
Botox For Dancers by David Flitton
Out of Nowhere by Alan Gorevan
Stolen Sister by Geraldine Hogan
The Edge of Heaven
 by Rachael Kelly
Eggshells 
by Caitriona Lally
The Shadow of Darcy Anne 
by Blathnaid Nolan
Letters to Lucy 
by Nathan O’Donnell
Dawn in Temper 
by Lisa Parker
North to Midnight 
by Grey Phelan
The Silver Girl 
by Aine Tierney

Highly Commended:

Summer of Stan by Anthony Brophy
Railway Park by Erica Coughlan
Child of the Slums by Aisling Cronin
Rising by Brian Kirk
Essex Road by Guy Le Jeune
Jesus of the Lavatory by Donall Mac Lochlainn
Loyalties by Niall McCann
Happy-Cry with my Brilliant Life by Paul McCarrick
Tider by Sinead O’Hart
Statistical Anomalies in the Probability of Love by Tara Sparling

From Page to Screen / From Screen to Page: WritersWebTV Launches in Dublin, Today

WritersWebTV: A fresh, vibrant, Irish start- up that’s thinking outside the box.

LAUNCHING their website today, WritersWebTV is about to turn the creative writing industry on its head and offer a fresh challenge to those already working in the industry and, in a broader sense, those working in the arts in Ireland.

Established by Live Training Ltd., WritersWebTV is a new Irish start- up originating in Dublin, having developed what can only be described as a world- first innovation in online education and resources for writers. WritersWebTV will be live- streaming interactive creative writing workshops from a multi- camera broadcast studio in Dublin, from Saturday 28th September. The inaugural workshop will be Writing for Children and Young Adults.

With workshops led by Vanessa O’Loughlin (founder of writing.ie), an in- studio panel will consider key elements of fiction writing and furnish viewers with tips, advice and actionable insights to help them improve their writing and get it on the path to publication.

Vanessa O’Loughlin: WritersWebTV workshop facilitator and founder of writing.ie.

Mrs O’Loughlin will lead the workshops in front of a limited in- studio audience of aspiring writers, as well as online viewers who can ask questions, participate in workshop exercises and comment online through Twitter, Facebook and email, with aspiring writers receiving on- screen feedback from in- studio writers and tutors.

Viewers can watch full, one- day workshops free of charge on WritersWebTV, when viewed live; to watch or revisit the course at a later date, viewers will be charged for a video workshop / tutorial / course, which viewers can keep and re-watch indefinitely.

Personally, I predict that the model that WritersWebTV have developed may very well set the precedent for existing MA Creative Writing programs, which already offer off- campus online programs for international students, though without the level of slick, sophisticated, broadcast quality offered by WritersWebTV.

I also believe that Moodle courses will soon be considered outmoded and obsolete if writers’ centres, universities, publishing houses and self- employed creative writing tutors follow the WritersWebTV model, which they may very well do in the years ahead.

If WritersWebTV achieves only one thing, though, it may be that it puts paid to the excuses that aspiring writers often contrive for their lack of creative output: “I have young children and they take up all my time. I can never make workshops in town.” / “I don’t have the time to write.” / “I can’t find a workshop that works for me”. Yep, I’ve heard ’em all, too.

So is WritersWebTV another gimmick from the creative writing / publishing / arts industries, or is it the model that will define the future of the creative writing / publishing / arts industries?

Would you, as an aspiring writer, use WritersWebTV?

Comment is free.

Fiction Review: Time Present And Time Past by Deirdre Madden

Originally featured in the print edition editions of The Irish Post on Tuesday  June 18th, 2013.

Timeless talent: Antrim novelist Deirdre Madden

Faber and Faber, 224pp, £12.99, ISBN-13: 978-0571290864

FOR some time now, Dublin- based Antrim novelist Deirdre Madden has established herself as one of Ireland’s most consistent and skilled living writers. She first broke through in earnest with One By One in the Darkness (Faber, 1996), an unforgettable account of a week in the lives of three sisters during the IRA ceasefire in 1994.

Madden’s ninth and latest effort, Time Present and Time Past, is mostly set in the leafy, middle- class Dublin suburb of Howth during 2006. Fintan Terrence Buckley, a 47-year-old lawyer based in south Dublin, seems to live the comfortable life of the average Dubliner in the affluent days of the Celtic Tiger. After developing an interest in old auto chrome photographs, Fintan begins to experience strange states of altered consciousness and auditory hallucinations, which affect his sense of time and his interest in photography ultimately lends itself to an interest in how he remembers or imagines the past.

Through Buckley’s family- his fashionista sister Martina, daughter Lucy, his macho son, his judgmental brother Niall, mother Joan, his cousin Edward and a cast of many others- we get sense of the hidden histories that some or all of these characters harbor. Madden’s brilliance is in her ability to contrast the surface impressions of her characters with that which is really beneath their skin. This is most memorably executed in the back story of Buckley’s single sister, Martina, and that an indescribably violent act during her days living in London accounts for why she is single; Madden’s gift is in reconciling the past with the present, producing three- dimensional characters.

A central theme that ties the middle- aged, middle- class characters together is the theme of progress and analyzing what accounts for progress: is it better to move forward or move backwards into the past? Through small strokes, Madden sustains this rhetorical question over many pages; one such example being the friendship that Fintan strikes up with Conor, a wounded, desperate bachelor who is a father of one of Lucy’s friends who makes Fintan realize that he has, thankfully, none of the insecurities of Conor.

The most telling example of Madden’s central theme, however, is the episode set in the North of Ireland, where Fintan and Martina discover that their grandparent’s home has been destroyed by their cousin Edward in favor of  a more modern dwelling, which becomes an metaphor for the relationship that Irish people had with their past, their traditions during the Celtic Years and whether pouring concrete everywhere smeared over the cracks of our past.

At 224 pages, Time Present and Time Past- like it’s excellent predecessor, Molly Fox’s Birthday, and One By One in the Darkness- can, like Philip Roth’s later novels, be read in one sitting; in this sense, Madden both remembers and achieves that old adage applied to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; that it takes two hours to read and twenty years to forget.

Time Present And Time Past is out now.

Author Interview: Novelist Helen Seymour, author of Beautiful Noise, interviewed by Philip Cummins

Making a noise: My interview with novelist Helen Seymour was published Rí-Rá: The entertainment supplement of The Irish Post.

Originally published in the print edition of The Irish Post on Wednesday April 27th, 2013

“I can tell you now that that cover is printed on 320 gsm and that the inside cover is 80 gsm Munken; I can tell you that the printer tried to pull the wool over my eyes and print it on 270 gsm and I had a fight with him; I can tell you that this is a single press: you can actually have a double press where you get like a little flat spine going along it; I can tell you it’s silk coated on both sides so that the photograph on the inside of the back is just a little bit shiny. I can tell you a lot about that and for a lot of people that would be scary, but for me it’s just advertising. So printing the book and publishing it didn’t scare me.”

Helen Seymour is a pro. Though she rejects the perception of herself as a ‘Celtic Tiger High Flyer’ (“That expression in itself is kind of bizarre”), when I meet the former advertiser, marketer and now first time novelist , she exudes the sort of confidence synonymous with those atop the crest of Ireland’s wave a decade ago.

Striding impressively across the upstairs foyer of Dublin’s Westbury hotel, the 44 year old arches her pink tinted Chanel sunglasses atop her head as she gestures towards me and greets me with a confident display of cordial pleasantries. She’s clearly used to meeting business professionals following 17 years at the coalface of marketing and advertising.

She leads the way as we find a table at which to seat ourselves. “Hmm…,” she says. ‘Too near the ailse. What about the window…that sun is strong…”

Seymour, a self- described “control freak” who used to run her own company, eventually settles on a table, seating herself on a couch and strategically placing herself within clear view of the outside clock of a pub down on the street, before ordering a double espresso.

For the next two hours she’ll prove engaging company as she discusses her bold move to follow her dream and jack- in her highly successful (and lucrative) day job in order to write her debut novel. Along the route she’ll touch on her friendship with Bono, the influence Ireland’s pirate radio stations of the 80’s had on her, and turning down an offer from renowned publisher, Harper Collins.

Beautiful Noise

Seymour’s novel, Beautiful Noise, a story of three young Dubliners who set up Studio One, a pirate radio station that takes on RTÉ, has been lauded by everyone from Roddy Doyle to Bono. The U2 frontman even launched the work in the full glare of the national media last February; unheard of, for a self- published writer.

Writing about a pirate radio in 1980’s Dublin, she says, came by default rather than design.

“I grew up in an era of no mobile phones, no internet,” Seymour says. “You had two television stations, five if you were lucky.” Wide- eyed with wonder, she recalls how she first discovered pirate radio stations such as Big D and Radio Dublin, a breeding ground for future RTÉ talent such as Dave Fanning and the late Gerry Ryan. She was struck, she claims, by the alternative ways of thinking and non- mainstream culture that pirate radio fed on.

“I was always going to be a writer, I think, though I didn’t know that back then. But writing was always what I wanted to do; it was at the heart of who I was. So worlds interested me and there were all these fascinating little worlds. And I used to just sit there, night after night, going up and down the dial.”

In fact, Seymour’s years listening to pirate radio partly influenced her move into advertising at age 21 and, from the off, she begun working within the medium.

“I remember on my first day [in advertising] my boss said ‘“Get your coat, we’re going to 2FM; we’ve won the 2FM PR account.”’, she recalls. “So by no great plan of my own, I went from a position- and I never married the two in my head at the time, but it’s only in hindsight when I look back- that I married the obsession with pirate radio as a teenager to suddenly, properly working for professional radio. And we had the Coca Cola account and they spent so much money in 2FM. 98FM and FM104 had just been launched…I was constantly in and out of those stations doing promotions, sponsorships, radio events.” All of which to say, that Seymour’s didn’t choose to write about radio- it simply chose her.

Seymour’s other childhood obsession was of course the written word. An avid reader as a child, she talks glowing of Enid Blyton’s novels before spending time in the company of Jilly Cooper and Joan Collins. She reserves her highest praise, however, for John Irving’s The World According to Garp, which chronicles the life of writer T.S. Garp and his feminist mother, Jenny.

“Nothing was ever quite the same after ‘…Garp’. No book was ever the same. I kept reading the girls books and they were just like ‘blah’. Like the books in school- Pride and Predjudice, Henry James…you know, they were good, but nothing excited me the way ‘Garp’ excited me; that was somebody with a real voice: a voice that spoke to me.”

She would later read two more books that leave a similar impression on her: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which she read as a 30 year old, and Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, a novel involving the music scene in Dublin which, like Seymour’s Beautiful Noise was Doyle’s first book and which he initially self- published.

Reflecting on her 17 years, in marketing and advertising, Seymour has, seemingly, no regrets. If anything, she seems to have enjoyed it.

“What I didn’t realize was that advertising was satisfying my creative needs, because it was “write a radio ad, design it next week”, “design a press ad…”, you’re constantly creating and it’s very instantaneous; it’s not “oh, I’ll sit in my room for five years and write a novel and hope that someone will buy it and put it out.” You see your work driving past you on trucks, you see it on TV., so it satisfied my creative needs for a long time. But somewhere along the line, something began knocking at the door about writing. It was just like “I’d love to write, I’d love to write and I just didn’t believe that I could leave my job and become a writer. I mean, how would I earn money? How would I live how would I survive?”

Eventually, at age 38, cynicism towards the notoriously cut throat, shark-infested waters of advertising began to seep in. After a gruelling three month interview process for a high- powered role with a British charity,  she was offered the role only for the job to fall through before contracts were signed. By this stage, however, she had relinquished control of her company and found herself ‘standing on the tarmac with my suitcase packed but with nowhere to go. She her mind up there and then to get out of advertising.

“I was gutted. That three month process ended my relationship with advertising. I had no idea where I was going, where I was going to go. A friend of mine lived in Martha’s Vineyward. I had some savings and I’d never taken any extended leave; it was always just the two week holiday. After 6 weeks, I did a four day writing course. I turned each one of my stories into a comedy. On the last day, I felt the electricity that I first felt when I started writing. My arm was on fire.”

After returning from the states in January 2007, refreshed and energised  she moved back in with her mum at her house in Howth and took a job as waitress in The Oar House restaurant in Howth, where her new co- workers had once recognised her as a regular customer. She describes it as a job that doesn’t drain her brain power as advertising did, leaving her with plenty of energy to focus on her prose writing.

On the Path to Publication

Soonafter, Seymour approached Marrianne Gunn O’Conner, the Irish based literary super- agent, who took her on under the condition of a title change from Studio One and that Seymour cut 30,000 words.

A deal with Harper Collins soon followed and Seymour’s path to literary glory seemed assured. It all came to sudden halt, however.

“After signing with Harper, they came back and suggested a title change: I’d already done one title change and didn’t fancy doing another at that stage. It was originally titled Studio One. So I started working with Harper. Then Harper gave me the first set of edits. Let’s say they gave me ten notes. And they way they give it to you is over the phone and through bullet points. I didn’t agree with any of their ten bullet points. None of them.

“And my agent, Marianne, said to me; “Look, I want you to take these and sit with them and think about them and come back.” So I took a month off work. A friend of mine was selling her house; the house was empty. I went in with a portable table and chair and did nothing for a month but sat and look and digest their edits. And I did about 50% of them. I knew, deep down, however, that I had to make my own book; it wouldn’t be my book if I took all their editorial suggestions. Edits are very important and it’s an art in itself. But it’s also so objective. I couldn’t let the book out there unless I was 100% happy with the overall product.”

Eventually, Seymour self published and her mix of DIY punk ethics and her expertise in design came to the fore. Within months, she had printed the book in Sweden at almost half the price that eight printers in Ireland had offered her. Gill & MacMillan took care of VAT, invoicing, distribution to bookshops.

Bono 

But Seymour’s success in publishing the book became more visible when she pulled in heavy hitters from her address book. Launching in 37 Dawson Street to the national media and a guestlist of 500 friends, family, writers and former advertising colleagues, Bono launched the book. The question on everyone’s lips, then, was how does a self published writer- without the publicity machine of Harper Collins- pull in such a name?

The connection is through the U2 singer’s wife. Seymour has been close friends with the U2 singer and wife Ali for 14 years, coming into contact with Ali after working with Gavin Friday on Muc, flying pig / money box aimed at raising funds and awareness for Kosovo. Seymour had designed Friday’s marketing campaign. Impressed with Seymour’s savvy marketing and advertising skills, he put her in contact with Hewson, who was similarly trying to raise awareness for Sellafield. It was through Ali that she became friends with the U2 singer.

It seems to be sensitive topic for Seymour; though she’s willing to openly talk about her friendship with the power couple, she’s quick to quash the idea that she simply pulled in celebrity pals to push her book.

“When it came to launching the book, it wasn’t about badging on a celebrity. Now, look, of course, from a publicity point of view: you get the frontman of the biggest band in the world, it’s not gonna hurt, but it actually made sense: he’d read the book, twice, you know? He’d been with me on the journey. So it wasn’t like “you’re my pal and you’re famous will you launch my book?” He also gave me a blurb for the back cover of the book. So it would have been stupid not to ask him to launch the book.

“Bono asked about this story from day one. He loved the story- the pirate radio story, because U2 got a lot of their early singles played on pirate radio; it was a big part of how they got started here. And he asked what the story was about. He was always very interested, y’know, he’s amazing and she is amazing and he asked me a lot about the story and so did she. And I was coming to the end of the story, we were out one day- I can’t even remember where we were- and he asked “how’s it going?” and I said “I’m nearly there.” And he said to me “Would you like me to read it?” And he just offered. “Would you like me to read it?” They had been friends for years- I had never asked for any favours; I wouldn’t because they get so many people swinging out of them for things and they do so much for their friends…I just love their company their great people. I admire them- I admire their work ethic, they’re two of the hardest working people I know, they’re so good to all their friends, not just to me, and to the wider world, and they’re inspiring- both of them. I look up to them- apart from being my friends, they’re people that I look up to, that I admire as people.”

From Page to Screen

Bono’s tip of the hat to Beautiful Noise has given Seymour a launch- pad from which to get her novel out. Also showing a strong work ethic, she has two other novels on the go as well as a screenplay for the film adaptation of Beautiful Noise.

Optioned by Dundalk- born director John Moore (who recently helmed A Good Day to Die Hard), the proposed feature has received development funding from the Irish Film Board and has Damien O’Donnell (East is East, Heartlands, Inside I’m Dancing) attached to direct.

Soon, though, the clock that Seymour had first position herself towards at 10 am is nearing 12pm. Though I’m sure the self described “yapper” would probably continue talking, we part amid excited chatter as to the film adaptation and with a firm sense that Seymour’s world- beating drive and Hollywood glamour may soon find her a million miles away from Studio One.

In This Week’s @theirishpost: Helen Seymour Interview. A Front Page Feature in This Week’s Rí- Rá

Beautiful Noise: My interview with Howth novelist Helen Seymour published in this week’s Rí-Rá: The entertainment supplement of The Irish Post.

In this week’s Irish Post…my interview with Howth native, and first- time novelist, Helen Seymour

Hello one and all.

As I previously mentioned some weeks ago, I sat down with Helen Seymour and talked to her about her remarkable story as well as her novel ‘Beautiful Noise’, a coming of age story about three youths in early- 80’s Dublin brought together by a bus  crash and who set up their own pirate station, Studio One. The book has since been optioned by Dundalk director John Moore, who recently helmed the latest Die Hard sequel, ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’, starring Bruce Willis. Dubliner Damien O’Donnell, director of ‘East is East’, ‘Heartlands’ and ‘Inside I’m Dancing’, is attached to the project. Seymour, meanwhile, is currently hard at work on a screen adaptation of her debut novel.

A former Celtic Tiger High Flyer (a term she dismisses as “bizarre”), she entered into marketing and advertising at age 21 and, over the course of the next 17 years, built up a glittering reputation in the industry through her own company, which she ran herself.

At 38, the life- long ambition to write a novel showed no signs of dissipating and Seymour left advertising and marketing, moved back in with her mum and took a job waiting tables, part- time, at the local restaurant- where she still works to this day- to focus on writing writing ‘Beautiful Noise’.

Represented by literary super- agent Marianne Gunn- O’Connor and signed by Harper Collins, she left the publishing power house over disagreements about edits and decided to self- publish through Pencil.

Lauded by everyone from Roddy Doyle and Eoin Colfer to Bono (pictured, above), Seymour’s extraordinary rise is covered in this week’s Rí- Rá: the entertainment supplement of The Irish Post.