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

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

The Librarian’s Cellar: At the Cinema – The Shape of Water

The story goes that at the 2014 Golden Globes awards, Guillermo Del Toro bumped into Sally Hawkins, sweeping her off her feet as he told her that he was writing a movie for her, “You fall in love with a fish man!” he added. Well, true or not, Sally’s character, Elisa, does indeed fall in love with a creature from the deep in this fantastical tale and thriller (of sorts!). With a stellar cast that also includes Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water is captivating, romantic and made wonderful by the remarkable performances from the cast. As you would expect from Del Toro, the production design is spectacular, and there are magical layers to the character ‘Elisa’  a young lady with no apparent family, who does not speak, yet can communicate with more articulation and humanity than any of the characters in her world. While it does not have the depth and darkness of Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone, this film is a delightful fairytale for adults, worthy of the Oscar accolades it has received, and one I will watch again and again.

The Librarian’s Cellar: At The Cinema: Maudie

I have seen this film twice now, the second time when I was lucky enough to view it at a screening attended by director Aisling Walsh and actor Ethan Hawke. Based on a true story, the film is a compelling portrait of Canadian folk artist, Maud Lewis, played by the wonderful Sally Hawkins, and focuses on her relationship and subsequent forty-year marriage with Everett, a fisherman, living hand to mouth. A cinematic treat for the senses, Maudie reflects the 1930’s small town mentality, particularly through the prevalent attitudes to her free spirit and her disability, rheumatoid arthritis, a painful condition that grew progressively worse as she aged. The film also charts her path to becoming an accomplished folk artist while never flinching from the hardships endured by Maudie as she shares her life with Everett in their tiny shack. No spoilers here, but there is also a particularly poignant element to Maudie’s story that I guarantee will bring on the tears! An Irish / Canadian co-production, Maudie is a study of the resilience and tenacity of a gifted artist in the face of adversity.

Maudie | 15A | 1 hour 55 mins | 2016

The Librarian’s Cellar: At the Cinema: The Lodgers

What a beautiful gothic horror film. Directed by Brian O’Malley and written by David Turpin, The Lodgers is set in rural Ireland in 1920, and filmed on location in Loftus Hall, Wexford. In a crumbling mansion filled with secrets, twins Edward and Rachel keep to themselves, cursed by the nightly visitors who keep a tight reign on the brother and sister with a set of rules that have dire consequences upon breaking. Until that is, Rachel encounters a young man from the local village, a wounded war veteran, and she begins to see another life outside of her prison home. The production design on this film is stunning, the story highly original, and the ending, just perfect!

The Lodgers | 1 hr 32 mins | Tailored Films | 2017