Last weekend I had a ticket for the amazing sounding Wexford Readers and Writers Day. However as I’m still not driving, and couldn’t get public transport directly there, I had to giveaway my ticket. I offered it up on my Facebook Page and Madeline Breen was the lucky recipient. And she very kindly wrote an article about the day for us all. Huge thanks Madeline.
Jam-Packed Day at Wexford Readers and Writers Day 2018 by Madeline Breen
Wexford Literary Festival is now in its fifth year and has grown from strength to strength. This year’s Readers and Writers Day was full of wonderful new talent and accomplished panelists to suit a variety of tastes.
Panel Discussion – The Short Story
Among the new voices interspersed throughout was Sheila Forsey reading from her short story collection, Tina Callaghan, author of Dark Wood Dark Water, Stephanie Hanley Baird, reading her beautiful story of House Martins, mentored by Caroline Busher, Mary Cotter, a former schoolteacher with two of her short stories, Karen McDonnell with two gorgeous poems and finally Derek Flynn with the opening pages of his book This Little World.
Panel Discussions and Writing Tips
The panel discussions mediated by South East Radio’s Karen Tompkins covered a variety of topics. Sinead Gleeson from RTÉ Radio 1 and short story writer June Caldwell both have a journalistic background, but stressed he difference between this discipline and fiction writing. While Sinead credited journalism with giving her a discipline regarding deadlines, June described herself as preferring to write at the very last-minute. She would push herself to write by going to internet cafes and so charging herself per hour to write submissions to various competitions.
Tips included avoiding thinking about readers’ reactions, entering the many competitions around the country to give confidence and going for the authentic, or unsayable. In the case of June Caldwell her collection The Room A Little Darker does just that, featuring a tale of sex slaves chained up in a house in Leitrim of all places!
Author Talk with international bestseller Adele Parks
After a coffee break was Adele Parks, a real coup for Wexford; this was her first ever event in Ireland. Parks has written 18 novels, one a year, debuting with her best seller, Playing Away. In discussing her career as a writer, Adele Parks was candid, funny and utterly delightful.
She described how a number of personal losses lead her to take writing more seriously, that she always kept a notebook with her to scribble in and how when asked to write a synopsis for her book, she instead gave a much more punchy 10 word pitch. On receiving a rejection letter from her agent for her first novel, she took on board the criticism and after re-writing and editing, she sent in her manuscript a second time.
Only two people including Parks had ever resubmitted, her agent told her, despite clearly requesting in his standard letter that rejected authors could do so. Amongst her advice to new writers, she didn’t believe that you should have to stick with one single genre. Her own work has evolved from Romantic Drama through to taut Thriller, as found in her latest novel I Invited Her In. She gladly signed copies of her book, supplied by Byrnes Bookstores in Enniscorthy, Wexford Town and Gorey, for all her fans.
Panel Discussion – Cracking Crime with Ireland’s crime writers Paul Williams, Jane Casey and Shane Dunphy
Many at the event were also surely looking forward to the Crime panel, featuring acclaimed journalist Paul Williams, together with novelist Jane Casey and Wexford’s own Shane Dunphy. Casey described the advantage of having a barrister for a husband when describing procedure in her crime fiction. Jane can’t seem to pull herself away from crime; when asked how she relaxes she responded that she and her husband are avid fans of crime documentaries!
Shane Dunphy has previously written from his experiences as a social worker. His detailed and compelling case studies became the basis for what he described as ‘misery-lit’, a genre that was in vogue a number of years ago. Shane has now moved to crime drama with his David Donegan trilogy, the concluding book coming out in February 2019.
Paul Williams proved to be a self-depreciating, highly enjoyable speaker, describing himself as a ‘scrote pretending to be a journalist’. When asked why he didn’t ever think of writing fiction, he replied that though he dealt with gangsters who often threatened his life, writing fiction was far more terrifying! Williams grew up in the border region, the ‘bogeyman’ of an IRA recruiter and active bomber living just down the road.
His most recent True Crime book, An Almost Perfect Murder, covers the murder of Elaine O’Hara and subsequent arrest and prosecution of Graham Dwyer. Despite attempts on his life by characters such as ‘The Viper’, it was a ‘Mr Nobody’ like Dwyer that ‘scared the sh*t’ out of him. Before Dwyer was prosecuted, Paul imagined a monster based on the depraved text messages sent to Dwyer’s victim.
In offering advice to writers, Williams warned of the difference in living with a fictional character in your head compared to a real life person, such as he had to do with Dwyer. He felt ‘embarrassed to be a man’ when he finished the book having lived inside Dwyer’s head and Dwyer living in his, as he put it. Jane Casey advised that readers should remember characters more than the author, a particular advantage for serial novels. Shane Dunphy described how Crime genre can mix with others, such as Character Drama, Action and Horror.
Panel Discussion – Let your imagination fly
This brings us nicely to the post-lunch panel. Caroline Busher, Dr Sarah Cleary and Doctor Who writer, Andrew Cartmel discussed Horror fiction and Sci-Fi. Caroline has written two beautiful children’s novels, The Girl Who Ate The Stars and The Lives of Magnificent Children. Both contain elements of magic realism and the horrors of real life, but to look at this petite lady in her canary yellow dress and purple tights, you would never imagine she had any interest in Horror! Dr Cleary is a PhD in Horror, tutor at Trinity College and her latest book, The Myth of Harm, comes out next year.
As a children’s writer, Caroline Busher advocated the need to give kids more credit when it came to dealing with horror. There was a delicate balance when considering how much a child can handle, but she spoke if how it is through books that children deal with dark events in their lives. In a sheer coincidence, Caroline’s book, The Girl Who Ate The Stars, is about the Campile bombing, and Dr Cleary’s great grandmother was a survivor of that event! Cleary spoke about how Horror is a cultural product which throws light of the dark corners.
Naturally when discussing Horror, many think this must affect us psychologically, or influences behaviour. Cleary gave the example of the Jamie Bolger murder by two young boys. Police looked through the parents’ video rental history and found a Child’s Play 3 on the list, immediately attributing watching it to the actions of the boys due to a disturbingly similar scene in the film. According to Cleary’s research, the police completely overlooked the abusive environment these boys lived in.
Andrew Cartmel’s time in the 80s as a writer with Sci-Fi sensation Doctor Who brought the character of the Doctor back to the enigmatic central role of the show’s early years. He discussed how the Doctor had been part of ‘the wallpaper of my life,’ even though he was not an avid fan of the series when he came on board.
Naturally, he was asked for his thoughts of the Doctor’s latest incarnation as Jodi Whittaker. He declared it was a great idea and that they had ‘pulled it off’. This is surely the best advice when doing something different with such a beloved character. He recommended several works for Horror fans, including Ray Bradbury’s work, Angela Carter and even The Bible! Currently, Andrew writes Detective Fiction, with his latest coming out early next year. The common theme in both Horror and Crime, according to Andrew, is suspense, and in the case of his work, comedy runs through both.
Panel Discussion – How to write a bestselling novel with international bestsellers and co-founders of the Inspiration Project Carmel Harrington, Catherine Ryan Howard and Hazel Gaynor
The final discussion of the day was with The Inspiration Project founders, Carmel Harrington, Hazel Gaynor and Catherine Ryan Howard. As a way of generating ideas, they couldn’t recommend the shower enough!
Their writing styles
Each had very different styles; Carmel is a very disciplined writer, preferring solitude and quiet in order to write, giving herself a 9 to 5 Monday to Friday work schedule. Catherine describes herself as the opposite, preferring to work more last-minute with the deadline looming over her. Hazel Gaynor advised the happy medium of finding what works for you.
It isn’t necessary to have the right laptop or your own office or even to light an expensive Jo Malone candle, especially when Aldi have great knock-offs, according to Catherine. All three ladies advocated the benefits of a Nespresso machine, but I think everyone could tell that plenty of Nescafe would do just as well.
One of the best questions the panel dealt with was how do you know when a book is ready.
According to Hazel, this is probably when you cannot look at your manuscript any more or find anything in need of improvement. She advised getting feedback from others and how important it is to have a circle of like-minded people to get feedback from. Carmel agreed that you need to get a ‘reader’s eyes’ to look at your work and advocated investing in getting your work edited by a professional before sending off. While Catherine disagreed on this point, she put it to the audience to gauge their reaction to a rejection letter; based on the response, a writer should know if they did their best or to take the feedback on board.
The audience was then invited to attend the next Inspiration Project event on 29th January 2019 in Cork. We were also treated with a little souvenir; a ‘do not disturb’ door sign with a cheeky message to potential disturbances!
I could go on and on about this day as I learned so much from all the great writers who spoke. This year happens to be Carmel Harrington’s last year as chair of Wexford Literary Festival. If this year’s event has been anything to go by, her successor will have big shoes to fill.