Plaza Literary First Chapter Prizegiving

I was recently fortunate to travel to Malta to the first Plaza prizes ceremony. I met many wonderful writers, received my second place prize for my novel, The Recipe Of You, and also had the privilege to read out the opening chapter. Wonderful celebration of everything that my writing is about. I will definitely be throwing work into these competitions from now on.

Recent successes

A number of very exciting recent successes. First of all a real win for me with my novel A Recipe of You getting an honorary mention in the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair competition. Some very positive words from the judges:

“The voice and tone of this story make for a highly engaging read. The underlying humour allows for a fresh, yet compassionate take on tragedy. THE RECIPE OF YOU is also a vivid depiction of family life, and maintains colour despite the circumstances – this is one of the strengths of the story: that it injects the sombre with lightness. The apparition of Orla, sometimes bloody, sometimes funny, is an excellent device for showing Claire’s state of mind, and her development through the story. Their conversations are both funny and sad, and these work very well.
            Claire is a nuanced character – she’s tough but broken-hearted and frazzled. The secondary characters are well-drawn too and there is an underlying warmth to this story. It’s good to see development like Declan buying the olives for Claire when they were younger contrasted to his reaction to the omelette. Claire and Orla then joking about pickling olives is a lovely touch. A lot of information is revealed through a few simple moments.”

The same novel also short listed in the Flash 500 novel competition, and as an extra bonus my short story The Parting Glass is currently on the long list for the Flash 500 short story competition, fingers crossed!

Keep Your Eyes On Me by Sam Blake

Sam is well known in crime reading circles for her trilogy of books featuring young Garda Cat Connolly. This book represents a new departure as we find out right from the first chapter: no murder to be solved, instead young jewellery designer Lily Power answers her door to find her brother near to suicide having been cheated out of the family business by the ignominious Edward Croxley.
Vittoria Devine has problems of a different kind. Her philandering husband has got his latest mistress pregnant and she fears he will leave her. Before marriage, she foolishly signed a prenup that will leave her with almost nothing.
The two women meet by chance on a flight, and, by the time they land, their lives have become intrinsically twined. By working together, they seek to deal with their man problems in ways they could not on their own.
This is Sam Blake, so this is not a simple domestic narrative. The plot thickens, then thickens again. The danger grows intense and it becomes clear that one of the women does not have the full story on what is going on.
I loved the way the action becomes intense and the relationship between these two women, distant and secretive as it must be, nevertheless grows intense, almost intimate, as the strands of the plan come into effect. There’s a very satisfying resolution to the story, and excitingly there’s a tag at the end which suggests we have not seen the last of these strong heroines.
Go buy it, you won’t regret it. Exciting, cleverly plotted with larger than life characters. Great.

Finding the balance

The apartment she had rented was in an old coast guard station, a long stone building with a square lookout tower at one end. It was damp, and she couldn’t get any of her clothes properly dry after her long sea walks. A fug of cold followed her everywhere. The photography was frustrating; creativity eluded her. 

She had fought for this opportunity, that was the thing. ‘You have such a great eye for faces,’ her mother had said. She meant well, the poor woman, could not grasp why somebody would want to take a picture of a stone or an upturned boat when a lucrative career taking tedious family snapshots in a Clontarf studio awaited her. All she had to do was admit her failure. 

She walked down the steps to the rocky beach and started yet again along the foreshore.

‘I’m going home today.’

‘You’re so close, Jenna, you need to stay.’ This was Oliver, or rather his voice. Oliver had been a brilliant photography lecturer, an enthusiastic lover and, as it turned out, a lousy motorcyclist. 

‘Its no good, Ols. I’ve tried. I’ve given it everything.’

‘That’s just it. You’ve been trying too hard. You need to simply let go and it will happen.’

‘That’s bollox. Just because you’re dead doesn’t make you wise.’

‘Just because I’m a made up voice in your head doesn’t make me wrong.’

There was a sandy beach along the walk with a top beach of pebbles. Each day, as she had passed, sometimes several times a day, she had stopped to pick up stones of varying sizes. Today, she took a tiny pebble. It was sea-stone smooth, worn down by generations of waves. She put it in her pocket. 

Her camera stayed in the bag. She had snapped every inch of the beaches, the rocks, the fields, the craggy islands, the distant hills with their foggy cloud tops. She was after that essential moment that transformed everything, that point at which the wrist became the hand, the neck became the head. All she had to show for it was a computer disk full of tedious landscapes and close-ups of seaweed. 

She came to the ruin of the boat house, a concrete structure faced with stone, a concrete slip rolling down from it but making it nowhere near the sea before it decayed into nothingness. Here she had been building her pile, stone on stone on stone. It seemed almost done. She pulled out the pebble and balanced it on top. It was perfect, as if all of creation had been there purely for this moment, for this topping out. 

She took out her camera to capture the pile, the boat house and those elements of her life that she was letting go.

‘I love you, Ols, but I need to leave you here.’

‘You don’t, Jenna. I know I’m dead, but you’ll always regret shutting me out, letting go of your art. You are beautiful, you need to express that.’

‘I can’t do it, it’s too hard.’

’Take the pebble, Jenna. Take the pebble from the top and take me with you.’

She reached out, her hand shivering. 

Overhead, a gull circled slowly. In the field, cattle grazed. Crabs scuttled under the rocks. Fish swam. Jenna’s hand hovered…