Writers In Ireland: Catherine Kullmann

This week, the featured author on my Writers In Ireland series is Catherine Kullmann. Born and educated in Dublin, following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. She has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector. She is married and has three adult sons and two grandchildren.

Catherine has always been interested in the extended Regency period, a time when the foundations of our modern world were laid. She loves writing and is particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on for the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them. Her books are set against a background of the offstage, Napoleonic wars and consider in particular the situation of women trapped in a patriarchal society.

Catherine’s debut novel, The Murmur of Masks, was short-listed for the 2017 CAP Awards (Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors). Her latest novel, A Suggestion of Scandal, was released on 1 August 2018.

Welcome, Catherine, and congratulations on the publication of A Suggestion of Scandal. Can you give us a snapshot of what it is about?

When governess Rosa Fancourt surprises two lovers in flagrante delicto, her life and future are suddenly at risk. Even if she escapes captivity, the mere suggestion of scandal is enough to ruin a lady in her situation. In Sir Julian Loring she finds an unexpected champion but will he stand by her to the end?

What inspired you to write this story?

The initial impulse came from a notorious Regency divorce case that was triggered when a governess surprised her employer with her lover, her hand inside his military pantaloons. The lovers made no attempt to hide their guilt but I began to wonder what if they had tried to do so. What would have happened to the inconvenient witness?

Tell me more about your interest in the Regency genre?

It is the period rather than the genre that attracts me. The first quarter of the nineteenth century was one of the most significant periods of European and American history; an era whose events still resonate two hundred years later. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 all still shape our modern world. But the aristocracy-led society that drove these events was already under attack from those who saw the need for social and political reform, while the industrial revolution saw the beginning of the transfer of wealth and ultimately power to those who knew how to exploit the new technologies. It was still a patriarchal world where women had few or no rights but they lived and loved and died, making the best lives they could for themselves and their families, often with their husbands away for years with the army or at sea. And they began to raise their voices, demanding equality and emancipation. It interests me to explore women’s lives in particular against this background. It is not so long since many of these restrictions, whether legal or social, still applied in Ireland. It is important to realise how far we have come, and also to be aware that that which was gained can also be lost.

Do you think that authors should stick to writing in one genre only? 

Authors should follow their muse wherever she leads them. They should not shy away from challenges and be willing to accept commissions if they are prepared to put the time and effort into them. Good writing is as much craft as art. Although I only started writing fiction after I retired, in my professional life I wrote a lot and rarely had a choice of subject. I learnt to express myself as clearly and as elegantly as possible. I don’t see why an author should not write in one genre for their bread and butter and in another for their jam, for example, or write in various genres as the stories come to them. It may make it less easy to build a brand and, if they are writing in two conflicting genres, it might be advisable to use a pen-name for one of them, but if they feel the urge to try a new genre, they should go do so.

Did anyone – famous or not – inspire you to write?

I was introduced to the extended Regency period not only by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, but also by the great essayists such as Hazlitt and Charles Lamb, and the romantic poets—Keats, Wordsworth and Shelley. All of them have inspired and influenced my writing, as have the great military diarists and auto-biographers of the day such as Harry Smith and Kincaid of the Rifles. Print was the only mass medium then and there is a wealth of contemporary writing from that time. The print shops also thrived; thousands of hand-coloured engravings – fashion prints, caricatures, illustrations, portraits—have survived and are tangible reminders of the period. I now have a considerable research library to which I add constantly and any free space between the bookcases is hung with prints from the time.

How long does it take you to complete a book?

About a year, excluding breaks. I like to set an almost completed work aside for several months and then look at it with a fresh eye. Apart from A Suggestion of Scandal, I have a novella, The Duke’s Regrets, and another novel, The Potential for Love, more or less ready for publication and plan to release them next year. In the meantime I shall start on a new book to be published in 2020.

Do you write every day, Catherine? If so, how is your writing day structured?

I write almost every day. I started writing after I took early retirement and I am usually at my desk by eleven a.m. at the latest. I work until lunch-time and, again in the afternoon for three to four hours. Work includes writing, research and marketing. The amount of time spent on any one of these activities depends on where I am in a new book. As I write this, I have a new release due next week so marketing and promotion is a priority at the moment.

And your thoughts on social media for authors and marketing?

As an indie author, marketing is part of my job description and I find social media invaluable. But they are not only useful marketing tools. Writing is a lonely business and it is wonderful to have access to the various online communities of writers who are, in general, very supportive.

Which leads me to my next question – your opinion of the current business of publishing?

I am indie published—my books do not fit comfortably in current genres, falling, I am told, between the stools of historical fiction and historical romance. I call them historical women’s fiction. The protagonists are fictional but they live in an authentic historical world and their behaviour, attitudes, morals etc. reflect this. The stories are relationship-driven—I like to consider what happens when life gets in the way of love—and I feel a happy end has to be earned. To come back to your question, I think that the decisions of many of today’s publishers are both genre- and formula-driven. For example, at a recent workshop on pitching to agents, participants were advised to compare their books with recent debut authors in the genre, as publishers tended to want more of the same. Indie writers have more freedom when it comes to genres and topics.

And finally, Catherine, would you like to share with us what you are working on now?

I am at the very beginning of a new book, still at that stage where wisps of ideas are coming together. It is the story of a woman who deliberately breaks society’s rules and the consequences for her and her family.

Check out Catherine’s Website HERE | Facebook | Twitter | Catherine’s Books HERE

Writers In Ireland: Derek Flynn

This week, I’m chatting to Derek Flynn, an Irish writer and musician with a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. THE DEAD GIRLS is his second novel. Readers called his debut novel BROKEN FALLS “a gem of a book”, and “a perfect crime drama”.

Derek’s short story “The Healer” was featured in “Surge”, an anthology of the best new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press. His non-fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including the Irish Times. He is also a regular contributor to Writing.ie, where he writes his “Songbook” column. Like most writers, he is fuelled solely by caffeine and self-doubt…

Welcome to the series, Derek, and I’ll start with a question we writers are often asked – when you first began to write?

When I was twelve/thirteen, I was obsessed with comics. I would write comic scripts and either draw them myself or give them to more talented artistic friends who would draw them for me. Eventually, I moved on to writing stories. But that took a back seat from about the age of 16, when I joined a band. Music became my main passion for the next few years. I moved to New York in the late 90s and played music there for five years. It was while I was living there that I got an idea for a novel.

And how did you get your first publishing break?

After I moved back from New York, I started to write the book that I’d gotten the idea for over there. This was around 2004. But it was another 10 years before I published anything! I wrote a couple of novels in that time and submitted them to agents, often coming tantalisingly close. My first publishing break came in 2014, when one of my short stories was published in an anthology of the “Best New Irish Writing” by O’ Brien Press. Then, in 2016, I was offered a bursary from my local arts office to self-publish one of my novels. So I decided to take the plunge!

As a self-published author then, you must contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

I have to – there’s no one else to do it for me! Being an independent author brings with it a lot of work when it comes to marketing and so on. But, at the same time, I love being in control of that side of things and trying to come up with new and innovative ways of getting my books in front of readers.

Do you find social media useful for marketing?

I can only speak as an independent author, but from my point of view, it’s essential. There are so many books and authors out there, that it takes a lot to cut through the noise. And social media is a great way of speaking directly to readers. I published my first novel, Broken Falls, during the Waterford Writer’s Weekend 2017 which was curated by Rick O’ Shea. There were some members of The Rick O’ Shea Book Club there and they happened to pick up a copy of Broken Falls. They went on to post some very lovely comments about it on the ROSBC Facebook page and word of mouth spread from there.

Is there anyone you would credit with inspiring you to write?

As I said, I was a huge comic’s nerd, and the one comic that made me want to be a writer was the science fiction comic 2000AD. And the 2000AD writer who inspired me the most was Alan Moore, who would later go on to write Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell, amongst others. For me, Moore was – and is – a genius. And he’s a magician! What’s not to love?

Do you write every day, and if so, how is your writing day structured?

What is structure!? I aim for structure but it usually descends into farce! Having said that, when I’m working on a book, I do try to write every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. Every little helps, as they say!

Tell me a little about the genre of your work?

I think of my novels as occupying the territory somewhere between crime and thriller. And the great thing about those genres is that it gives you the opportunity to explore issues that might not necessarily be associated with them. So, in my first novel, Broken Falls, I looked at the legacy of the Magdalene laundries and the “Mother and Baby” homes in Ireland through the lens of a crime story set in Newfoundland. Likewise, my second novel, The Dead Girls, looks at the horrifying story that has recently come to light in the US of hundreds of women who were murdered, their bodies dumped by the side of the highway. Forgotten women who slipped through the cracks. Being able to explore those kinds of issues while telling a good story is what attracts me to these genres.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, Derek?

Just go for it. I was asked in an interview recently what my biggest fear was. My answer? Not having tried. You’ll hear a lot of naysayers telling you you can’t do things. I say ignore them. I’ve recorded albums; I’ve written books; I’ve just staged my first play. And it’s all gone pretty well. I’m not buying a house in the South of France, but I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. People think the worst thing is to fail – I think the worst thing is to never have tried.

I couldn’t agree more! Now, a fun question – is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

The Sandman comic series by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is mostly known now as a novelist (and the husband of Amanda Palmer) but he got his start in comics and The Sandman is his magnum opus. Incorporating fantasy, horror, historical fiction, and just damn good storytelling, it is stunning.

Final question, Derek, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’m about to start work on my third novel in my Detective John Ryan series. I’m also working on a Young Adult novel which I’m very excited about.

 

Check out Derek’s Facebook Page HERE

THE DEAD GIRLS is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US Or from the author’s Website HERE

Writers In Ireland: Sharon Thompson

This week on my Writers In Ireland series, I am delighted to welcome Sharon Thompson, author and co-founder of #WritersWise tweet-chat on Twitter. Sharon has also recently set-up an exclusive, online writing group (indulgeinwriting.com). Her short stories, articles and other writings have been published in literary magazines, newspapers and online resources such as writing.ie. She writes a regular column, Woman’s Words on donegalwoman.ie, as well as recommending new book releases on indulgeme.ie (#indulgeinbooks).

Sharon’s debut crime novel, ‘The Abandoned’ was published by Bloodhound Books UK in January, 2018, launching at #1 Bestseller in Kindle Irish Crime Fiction. She has signed for two more crime novels, and has a further two manuscripts on submission through her agent.

Welcome to the series, Sharon, and congratulations on co-creating #writerswise, such a valuable resource. It is so nice to see writers encourage others on their journey, and with that in mind, how long were you writing before you were published for the first time?

I was writing in a sustained way, for five years, before my debut crime novel ‘The Abandoned’ was released. I entered writing competitions and joined online writing groups. I practiced. My short stories were accepted into literary magazines and this helped me go on to try novel-length pieces and to have them read and subsequently submitted to agents and publishers. It was a long road with lots of words and many stumbling blocks along the way. It feels like it was a longer process.

Did anyone inspire or encourage you? 

Carmel Harrington, the Irish Times bestselling Harper Collins author is my writing, fairy god-mother. She is called @HappymrsH on twitter and she is my leading light in the writing world. We found each other many years ago now and she lead me to start taking writing seriously and she has helped me every step of the way. I cannot thank her enough for all of her support. Carmel changed my life.

I see from your bio that you have an agent. Do you think it necessary for writers to have one?

Tracy Brennan from Trace Literary agency, is my agent. It also feels like I fought long and hard to get my great agent. For me, an agent is necessary. It is a lonely enough road sometimes. I like having someone in my corner, who works in my best interests. I don’t annoy Tracy (I hope I don’t) but we communicate regularly and I would be lost without her.

From my experience in talking to authors, marketing is often the most daunting aspect of the work. Do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your writing?

My life is full of social media and what I consider marketing. Outside of actually writing the manuscripts, all of my work is connected to writing and being immersed in the industry. All of the platforms I contribute to, hopefully extend my readership and support other writers.

Last question, Sharon. What are your thoughts on writing in multiple genres?

I hope that we can write anything that takes our fancy? I love to write across genres. I am drawn to dark crime or historical fiction, but I also write fun pieces. I try to write contemporary romance or ‘lighter’ fiction. I tend not to worry about the genre or the box I fit in, but merely write. I love what I do and write whatever I enjoy. I need to explore and read across even more genres and see if I could write in them as well. I am thinking on a project a fellow writer asked me to collaborate on – a script for a play. This is all very exciting!

That is lovely to hear, Sharon. I wish you the very best of luck with all of your projects!

Find Sharon on Twitter at @sharontwriter and on her website HERE

Link to The Abandoned HERE

On Music: Kate Bush and other muses…

Kate Bush turns 60 today, and I am reminded now of her extensive catalogue of creativity, and the impact her music had on me as a young one. The debut of Kate, and many other female artists who emerged in the mid 70’s and 80’s, gifted to me some powerful, creative role models to admire and each of them were inspirational to me in believing that there was nothing wrong with having dreams and creative visions, whatever your gender and background.

I will always be influenced by music in general, and there are women from past and present that I love to listen to, from Judy Garland to Pink to Florence Welch and many, many others. However, this is my tribute to Kate and to these incredible women in music that I was listening to in my formative years; the soundtracks that accompanied my coming of age and beyond.

This list evokes not just an era of development and discovery, but also a rich and sensuous collection of talent, strength and individuality, more powerful because every one of them have endured and are still creating. It also reminds me that no matter the light or shade of the day, I was, and am, in the best of company. When the voices in your head get too loud, turn that music up!

Note: While I would love to include favourite songs and images, being mindful of copyright infringements, I am linking to official websites only. 

 

KATE BUSH

Mesmerized from the first time I saw her ethereal performance of Wuthering Heights. Website HERE

 

SUZI QUATRO

Guitars, leather and catchy rock songs sung with a voice that could shatter glass, what’s not to love! Website HERE

 

STEVIE NICKS

Still singing to my soul, a goddess! Website HERE

 

BLONDIE (Debbie Harry) 

Show me a woman of my generation who didn’t worship Blondie! Seriously! Website HERE

 

CHRISSIE HYNDE

A bad girl with good intentions, Chrissie keeps rocking! Website HERE

 

GRACE JONES

Fierce. That is all. Facebook Page HERE

 

ANNIE LENNOX

From The Tourists to the present day, Annie is spectacular! Website HERE

 

SHIRLEY MANSON

I played the debut album Garbage to the death! Website HERE

 

SINEAD O’CONNOR

In awe of her talent from Mandika to present day. Website HERE

 

Writers in Ireland: Niamh Boyce

Today, I am delighted to welcome Niamh Boyce to the ‘Writers In Ireland’ series. Niamh’s first novel, The Herbalist, won Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2013, and was long listed for the IMPAC Award. Her stories have been adapted for stage, broadcast, published in literary magazines and anthologized, most recently in ‘The Long Gaze Back- Irish Women Writers’ and ‘The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction. ‘ Niamh has just published Inside The Wolf, her first collection of poems.

Niamh, congratulations on the publication of Inside The Wolf, a collection I am thoroughly enjoying at the moment. The poems feel interconnected, exploring issues such as death, memory and transformation. Did you plan to write this collection, or have they been gathered over the years?

Yes, that’s true Caroline, those themes – especially transformation – reoccur throughout the collection. I was always interested in reclaiming forgotten voices, and in subverting fairy tales, especially the wolf and Red Riding Hood. But there was no plan to concentrate on certain themes in any way. The poems were just written over the years, reflecting my interests, or my life – some go way back. Night Feed is sixteen years old, written during a wakeful night with my baby. Poems from that time are short, echoing the conditions under which they were written, baby in one arm, pen in the other. I felt very close to the elements then, very primal. It was a creative time, despite the exhaustion!

The rest of the poems were written over the years since then, and I wasn’t aware of the themes until I had laid them all out on the floor in front of me last year. That’s when I saw that there were art poems, ghost poems, fairy-tale poems, transformation poems and so on. The interconnectedness was not immediately obvious to me, it took a while to figure out how to shape the book; in which order to place the poems – some fitted together naturally – the ones about The Beast, Bluebeards Wife, Sleeping Beauty and so on – but seeing exactly how the others spoke to each other, took some time. At that stage, I sought out Grace Wells, as I needed a fresh perspective, someone who could see what I was too close to the work to see. That was very fruitful, as Grace has a very clear eye and was very honest. Its only now, looking back that I realise that what I thought of as the end stage, was actually the beginning of a potent process of transformation itself – any number of editorial decisions about placement and inclusion, could have led to many different types of book.

You also write novels, but what is your first love, poetry or prose?

Poetry is my first love, and I find poems most satisfying as a writer, closest to the bone. Sometimes they come in an organic way, unbidden – poets often refer to poems that come that way as gifts, and they are. They are pure joy. Others require a lot of redrafting, I was Swallowed by a Harry Clarke Window, a pretty short poem from the collection, was originally four pages long. But I enjoy working like that too – whittling away at the words, trying to find the poem within the poem.

You are traditionally published, with a great deal of success. Why self-publish Inside The Wolf?

Yes, my novel The Herbalist was published by Penguin, and I was very happy with that. When it came to the poetry collection, a poetry press that I greatly admire, told me it would take two years; if they were to decide to publish my work. That was one of the main reasons I went ahead and set up Red Dress Press. My collection was ready, and I didn’t want to have to wait till 2020 – not if I didn’t really have to – before publishing it. I wanted to go to print this summer, and without being flippant, why not self-publish? I enjoy all aspects of creating and love a challenge – plus it gave me full control over the timing, the cover, the contents. So, I found it a relatively easy process, and will probably publish my next collection under that same imprint.

It is a beautiful publication, and the cover is very evocative, and eye-catching. How much input did you have on how it would look?

Thankyou! I am so happy with the cover. I commissioned Jessica Bell to design it. She asked me to fill in a detailed questionnaire about the book and read some of the work. She responded to the information with three different cover ideas, one of which I loved immediately. We exchanged ideas back and forth, and she tweaked the image until it became the one on the cover. It was a very smooth process as Jessica really ‘got’ what the book was about.

Well congratulations, Niamh, I wish you every success with it. Also, you have a second novel in the works, I believe. Can you tell us anything about it?

I can yes – the novel is called Her Kind and was inspired the Kilkenny witchcraft trial – an event which occurred after a bishop called Ledrede accused a local moneylender, Dame Alice Kytler of sorcery. It was a 14th century case which required all sorts of fascinating research. It will be published in April 2019 by Penguin Random House.

 

You can check out Niamh’s Blog HERE. Inside The Wolf is available to purchase HERE

On Film: FRAMED begins the festival journey…

I am delighted to announce that FRAMED has been selected to screen at two wonderful film festivals. The 9th Underground Cinema Film Festival and Spook Screen, both happening this September.

Dates and screening times to follow. Although I have written and produced short films, this is my directorial debut, so I am very excited that it will soon be seen on the big screen!

FRAMED tells a spooky tale about a gothic artist, Joe, who’s fantasy is to paint his beautiful wife into one of his rather grotesque works of art. Happenstance will give him his wish – though not in the way that he could ever have expected – when Cathy arranges for his debut exhibition of paintings to be held in a creepy old house… you can check out FRAMED Facebook Page HERE

Dressing His Former Self…

A couple of times a year, usually in summer and in the lead up to Christmas, I replenish my father’s wardrobe with the essentials – vests, jumpers, shirts, trousers and socks. I won’t, and don’t expect to get any thanks for it. He doesn’t know me anymore. He will talk to me as he would a stranger, if he’s in the mood. Pleasant and vacant – the ‘spick and span’ Da in his suit and tie that I grew up fearing cocooned now in mysterious, cruel layers that are painstakingly consuming his former self.

I have this ritual of ironing his name onto everything, an important task as otherwise, it will all get lost in the wash of the care home laundry process. Even his socks will be labelled before I place all of it in his wardrobe, in the bright and clean en suite room that the independent rebel still fighting inside him propels him to spend as little time in as he can possibly get away with. He paces the corridors most of the time. Going somewhere inside his head. Going nowhere outside it.

This ritual, I’ll put off for days, even weeks, the new clothes, still bagged and tagged in the corner as each time I find it harder to psych myself up for it. And even when his name is carefully placed securely on each item, I know full sure that the next time I venture in to visit him, another ritual that grows more difficult with time, some of the clothes will still be hanging, unworn in the wardrobe, and I’ll be frustrated when I see him wearing someone else’s jumper, or track suit bottoms – the latter an item of clothing his former self would, I know for sure, prefer not to be caught dead in.

Such is the experience of living with Alzheimer’s, my father’s personality, his style, his essence, his basic autonomy, slowly devoured by this cruel disease.

I didn’t always see eye to eye with his former self – anyone who has watched my film IN RIBBONS may begin to understand why – but the man I knew then is not the man I know now. The process of watching him disappear to a state of mind that only he will experience but will never be able to communicate to another human being is a dismal, morbid process to witness.

And the rituals hurt like fuck.