A Story Within A Story

sandra ireland author 6It goes without saying that writers always have a swarm of story ideas buzzing around in their heads, and a notebook beside the bed, just in case one of the little blighters escapes! I often feel like a ghoulish beachcomber, picking through the bones of real-life situations in search of meat. A tiny piece of flotsam can lead me into a new novel, short story or poem.

So why, when anyone asks about my own story, do I want to scuttle away like a hermit crab?

Because it’s personal, and as any writer will tell you- we don’t do personal, unless it’s neatly wrapped in fiction and we can hide behind it. In the modern, media-savvy world, getting up close and personal with the author is all part of the publishing deal.

This, I have to admit, is something I struggle with. I lurked on Twitter for ages before I was brave enough to compose that first Tweet. I blanched at the thought of the ‘professional head shots’ required for publicity purposes, and giving interviews? Why would anyone come to an event to hear me speak?

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Dawn Geddes

If all this sounds disturbingly familiar, never fear! There is now professional help available for us weak-at-the knees newbies. I have just completed Week One of a startlingly helpful course devised by Dawn Geddes, a freelance journalist, with a background in public relations and media work. Dawn, a fiction writer herself, knows only too well what it takes to make that leap from behind the keyboard to star in your own show.

In Week One of her four-week online course, I was faced with an Author Story Questionnaire. What? Authors have stories too? They do, and they’re not made up. At first it was difficult, but the more involved I became, the more I began to recall the interesting aspects of my life, the bits that I never think to talk about, because I hate talking about myself! It was a real voyage of discovery, and to return to my beachcombing analogy- soon I began to unearth buried treasure. Suddenly, this writer has a backstory!

Using Dawn’s tailor-made tools, I have now re-vamped my website. Take a look. Tell me what you think. I wanted it to reflect the noirish tone of my writing, and if readers are interested in ME, it stands to reason they’ll give my books a whirl.

So, a whopping five stars for Week One of the ‘Be your own publicist’ course. I will report back on Week Two, but in the meantime, check out Dawn’s course HERE

True North

Last week, I took an exciting trip back to my roots!

Vic Watson and Jacky Collins, organisers of  Newcastle Noir kindly invited me along to Noir @ the Bar, in the Town Wall, Newcastle. Newcastle Noir is a literary festival celebrating the best in contemporary crime writing, bringing together writers from the North East, across Britain, as well as from further afield. By all accounts, the 2017 festival was a huge success, and it’s already on my calendar for next year! Noir@the Bar (there are quite a few versions of this across the country) is a fun, informal evening of readings…in a pub. Writers’ paradise, pretty much!

When I last visited Newcastle, I was too young to drink, but unfortunately, on this occasion, the bar staff saw no need to I.D. me. We had a fabulous night in a great venue, and I really enjoyed listening to chilling extracts from some must-read novels and short stories.

I chose to read the opening pages from my novel Beneath the Skin, and I was very conscious that my central character, Walt, was  coming home too. As a nod to my own upbringing, Walt grew up in rural Northumberland, but I could just imagine him meeting his mates for a few pints in a place like the Town Wall, having a laugh and a bit of banter. Beneath the Skin is about what happens when the laughter stops. When you come home but your best mate doesn’t. It’s about how trauma changes people.

 

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Beneath the Skin (Polygon)

My trip ‘down south’ was much too brief, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out a few Gothic locations for my next project….!

 

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Granite Noir

According  to my friend and fellow writer Claire Macleary, granite has a peculiar quality which makes it sparkle, whilst underneath lurks the toughest of dark materials (gratuitous literary reference).

Similarly, Granite Noir, launching last weekend with a glittering array of writing talent, did not shy away from asking the troubling questions exposed by our dark love affair with crime fiction. Moral dilemmas, blurred lines, social issues and the existence of evil were just some of the gripping panel discussions on offer at Scotland’s newest literary festival.

In addition to our favourite native authors, such as Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, and Stuart Macbride, to name but a few, we enjoyed an invasion of ‘hot Scandi talent’, courtesy of Orenda Books. The names may still be a little unfamiliar to us (and hard to pronounce!) but our appetite for their compelling thrillers is voracious and my ‘to be read’ pile is growing so fast I may have to move into the shed! From Finland we had Antti Tuomainan and Kati Hiekkapelto; from Denmark, Thomas Rydahl; Norway’s Thomas Enger, and Gunnar Staalesen (one of the fathers of Nordic Noir). Last but not least, Sweden’s ‘Queen of Crime’, Kristina Ohlsson.

Granite Noir also saw the launch of Cross Purpose, a gritty Aberdeen-based crime debut by my fellow ‘Mlitter’ Claire Macleary. Claire completed the Dundee Creative Writing programme a couple of years before me, but the literary scene in Dundee is very close-knit and supportive, so we’ve always kept up to date with our various successes and rejections. I was delighted to hear she’d secured a two-book deal with Saraband Books and most of our recent conversations have been about publication – the stresses and pitfalls as well as the pleasures!

The entire weekend was topped off with a highly entertaining Noir at the Bar in the Belmont Filmhouse, ably hosted by Russel D. Mclean.

Here are a few images from the weekend.

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Other People’s Books

Happy New Year, dear Readers! Thanks so much for all your support in 2016. Everyone really got behind (or beneath?) Beneath the Skin from the very start, and, of course, I had a great team on board with Jenny Brown Associates, and Polygon. 2016 was a year for making connections. So many people have helped me in ways too numerous to mention, but I must just say how surprised and delighted I have been with the enthusiasm and professionalism of the blogging community. A big shout out too for Bookish PR Scotland, also making a debut in 2016 and definitely by my side in 2017!

“When will we be able to read your next book?” has been a frequent (and rather heartening!) question since BTS was published, and thanks to the generous support of  Creative Scotland, I have been able to devote my time to the daunting mission of producing a second  manuscript, The Bone Harp. My creative journey can be followed at https://barrymillblog.com,  although like all the best journeys there are frequent random diversions!

Speaking of distractions, don’t begin your January de-cluttering with the bookshelf. It’s fatal! I’ve done zero cleaning today, but I have  re-discovered some old books which mean a lot to me. That’s the thing with treasured books- sometimes the most important story is not the one between the covers. I’d like to share a few of my ‘finds’ with you:

 

 

Postman Pat. My boys are now young men, so this family favourite  is showing its age. Note the yellowing Sellotape, the broken spine and the dog-eared pages. Much love for this book! Grandad worked on Royal Mail vans in the Yorkshire Dales, so that makes it extra special.

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Mister Men. Another favourite. Look at those titles- definitely a map of my kids’ childhood. One for every mood! And the price sticker- all jumble sale finds, no doubt!

The family Bible. I seem to have inherited quite a few, but this one is interesting. Although it bears the initials A.L., it belonged to a great, great aunt, Mary Ann Watson. This lady’s death certificate reveals that she was a spinster and a jute spinner, and she took her own life at the age of 52 by walking into the sea. A tragic story, made more poignant by the hand-written notes she left in this bible.

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Scottish Tartans. On a cheerier note, these are dated 1942 and were gifts for my grandmother and her sister. The illustrations are classic Outlander, but this lone female golfer made the cut!

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Oor Wullie and Dandy annuals from the 1970s.  Who doesn’t love a comic? Christmas classics from my childhood, passed down to the next generation. Shows how enduring and well-loved these characters are- thanks D.C.Thomson!

 

Hope I’ve inspired you to begin the year by reconnecting with the hidden stories of your own treasured books! I’d love to hear them.

Talking Books

Every so often I have to check my events page, not to find out where I’m going next, but to remember where I’ve been!

The last few months have been a whirlwind of new experiences, but Pamela Butchart,  a writer I admire enormously, once said to me, ‘After publication, everything will happen so fast- make sure you enjoy every moment’. Thanks, Pamela. I’m taking your advice!

This week, I’ve been wined and dined (okay, no wine for me- driving and all that) by the lovely gentlemen of Carnoustie’s 41 Club, attended a magical evening of Murder and Mystery in Arbroath and appeared before an audience of keen readers at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh! I think the Angus Writers’ Circle Murder Mystery is worthy of a post on its own, so let me take you to the Station Hotel, Carnoustie, and a very special bunch of guys.

Now I have to confess to not knowing what a 41 club is, but apparently it’s the ‘more mature’ division of the Round Table! So after a wonderful fish tea I regaled the lads with anecdotes from the exciting life of a writer, winding up just before the glazed expressions and tears of boredom became too visible. Yes, it really is that exciting! Joking aside, they did seem genuinely interested in ‘Beneath the Skin’ and the books were soon flying off the shelf/table, so a big thank you to Carnoustie’s  41 Club for inviting me. It was great to meet you all.

Now what can I say about the National Library of Scotland? One of my favourite places ever, I never dreamed I would one day be there, onstage, in front of an invited audience, with a microphone and everything! I was privileged to be sharing that stage not only with my lovely agent, Jenny Brown, who was chairing the event, but also with my fellow ‘future voices’, Les Wood (Dark Side of the Moon) and William McIntyre  (Present Tense). It was my pleasure to meet them both. Les  was actually one of my fellow  Bloody Scotland ‘Spotlighters’, although we’d never actually bumped into each other. We all had a wonderful chat about the writing process and all things bookish, and some great questions from the audience. The chat may have continued in a bar afterwards, but that would be telling!

So, lots more to come! I’ll leave you with a few photos, and next time I’ll tell you all about Angus Writer’s Circle and our Silver Anniversary bash. Suffice to say, there was a murrrder….

Images L TO R : With Richard Jennings, President of the 41 Club

                               ‘Voices of the Future’: WHS McIntyre, Les Wood, Sandra Ireland

And I’d Just Like To Thank…

This is going to be a bit of an Oscar speech, so if you can’t deal with the tears and tantrums that occur when writers get tired and emotional, look away now!

Still on board? Well, here goes. There hasn’t been much time for thinking in the last crazy few weeks since the publication of Beneath the Skin, but in the wee small hours I’ve been contemplating how many people it takes to make a book. And how many it takes to SELL a book. Sell is an ugly word. I prefer the term SHARE. I’ve written the words, I want to share them with the world, but the task of getting your debut novel noticed in a giant mountain of freshly-published books seems almost impossible.

So, the more people you have in your camp the better! Now, I’ve always considered my base camp to be the University of Dundee. From terrified mature undergraduate to terrified author, my alma mater has seen me through some tough times. My fellow climbers have kept me company and supported me on the long lonely route to the…I was about to say summit, but let’s not get carried away here. I have reached a small peak, and this year I was delighted to be included in the Dundee Literary Festival (‘First Writes, with Shelley Day and Zoe Venditozzi). This is home turf for me, and the good will and support I’ve received from Dundee and from my own local areas has been phenomenal. It’s made me realise just how much books mean to a  community, and how valuable that community is when it comes to getting behind its  local authors.

I’m discovering more and more that book lovin’ communities don’t even have to be physical ones! Last week I took part in my first ever blog tour, and it was humbling to experience such a warm welcome from the virtual world of book blogging. (Not totally virtual, of course, because these dedicated readers and reviewers do love to get their hands on a real tome!). So – Oscar speech warning- I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of those who hosted my blog posts, reviewed Beneath the Skin and  tweeted and retweeted for all they were worth. Thank you! Major gratitude to Dawn Geddes, Journalist and Bookish PR person for pulling it all together (and knocking me into some kind of  social media shape) – major achievement!

Big shout-out to  Life of a Nerdish Mum, Eclectic Ramblings of Author Heather Osborne, Swirl and Thread, Portobello Book Blog and Culture for Kicks. And in the ‘real’ world, back at base camp, Peggy Hughes and her super-heroes at the Dundee Literary Festival!

 

Have book, will travel…

This week I’ve had my sales hat on….books don’t sell themselves! This seems to be the least favourite part of the whole publishing process for most writers. I suppose we are by nature a solitary bunch, happiest hunched over a keyboard, glass in hand (I still type with one finger) wrestling with words long into the dark night…Any gathering of writers usually includes one or two who are still mentally wrestling. You can see it in their general twitchiness.

Now I’m not given to a lot of twitchiness (mainly because dark nights for me usually mean settling down with Bake Off) but I did try and keep the weirdness

in check when I visited the very lovely Waterstones Kirkcaldy for an author visit and book signing this week. They call Kirkcaldy the ‘Lang Toun’, and Waterstones is placed a lang, lang way doon the toun, depending on where you park (and your sense of direction).

After a lovely welcome from manager James, we talked books and writing long into the dark night (well, for at least an hour). Well done to the hardy souls who made it through the cold and rain- it was great to meet you. It wasn’t a very nice evening, weather-wise, but you can always be sure of a warm welcome in your local bookshop. Where would we be without them?!

‘Stockbridge Gothic’

When The Scotsman dubbed Beneath the SkinStockbridge Gothic’ I was highly delighted. Gothic is definitely my go-to zone when I’m dreaming up the mad, the bad and the dangerous!

Those of you who have already read the book  may have noted a few nods to my all time favourite Frankenstein. I won’t give any games away, but if you have spotted the clues, then feel free to start a conversation! This has made me think about my own relationship with the Gothic, and how it has influenced my writing. For me, I suppose the defining element of the genre is setting, and the development of architecture and landscape as characters within that context. I’m thinking about the labyrinthine Castle of Otranto, the windswept bleakness of Wuthering Heights, and the haunted attic of Charlotte Bronte’s lesser-known Villette.

In Alys’s Stockbridge villa, the damp basement, the creaking staircase, the cramped attic all take on a life of their own. There is a sense that the house is less than welcoming, resistant to the notion of being a family ‘home’. We might call such an atmosphere ‘uncanny’, a concept which, interestingly, stems from  the German Unheimlich, best translated as ‘un-homely’.

In his treatise on the Uncanny, Freud quotes the philosopher Schelling: ’Unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained hidden and secret, and has become visible.’cobweb-handle

All that stuff we carry ‘beneath the skin’ perhaps…

I’ll leave you with an appropriate quote. Walt, just out of bed, makes his way to the kitchen…

‘…the hall felt somehow odd. It took him right back to being a kid again, when you come back from holidays and the house feels cold and damp…has a distance about it. He remembered how his mam used to stand in the porch, sniffing, in case she’d forgotten to chuck out the milk, or the cloths had rebelled in her absence and gone sour. And here he was, sniffing,like his mam used to do. A house with a kid in it shouldn’t feel this way.’

From Beneath the Skin (Polygon) 2016

 

 

 

 

Beneath the Skin…finally!

So the book is out there! Duly launched with appropriate amounts of wine and fanfare at the gorgeous Saint Stephens Stockbridge, Beneath the Skin is now winging its way (with the help of its gorgeous feathery jacket!) to various homes and bedside tables throughout the land.

This is the scary bit!

What will readers think of my imaginative ramblings? It feels a long, long way from my first excursions into creative writing; often random scribbles (phrases, odd words) in notebooks, on the backs of envelopes. And Professor Kirsty Gunn’s timed exercises in our four-hour workshops. No pressure!

Over time, the scribbles took shape- poems, short stories. ‘Novels’ no one will ever read. Very slowly, my writing began to say what I wanted it to say. It came of age.

My great aunt Mary had a tiny oak dresser. A beautifully- carved, miniature piece of furniture, lovingly finished with all the craft and hallmarks of the standard article. It was a ‘prentice piece’, she told me. A showcase of skill; a small-scale beginning to the career of an apprentice carpenter.

So this is my ‘prentice piece’…I hope it will hold its own on the shelves alongside so many masters of the craft.

A few images from Launch Night. Thanks so much to Golden Hare Books for gracious hosting; Polygon for terrific organising. Thank you to each and every one of you who rocked up to buy a copy and listen to me blethering- my heroes!

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What’s in a name?

bts smallBeneath the Skin….the scars of the past are more than skin deep.

Love the title of my new novel, but it didn’t start off like that! The original title was An Arrangement of Skin, which is the OE definition of taxidermy.Early 19th century: from Greek taxis ‘arrangement’ + derma ‘skin’.

Taxidermy is a strange thing- people are either intrigued by it or repelled by it. For me, as a writer,taxidermy represents those areas of the past which should have been laid to rest but are being artificially kept alive. In the novel, the main protagonist Walt finds work in a taxidermist’s studio, but facing the ‘undead’ on a daily basis has a disastrous effect on a this former soldier’s psyche.

 

On an interesting note, I have discovered an amazing Icelandic band whose current album is called…Beneath the Skin! Have a listen here:

Of Monsters and Men.

Fantastic- good luck with it, guys!

MY Beneath the Skin is out on Sept 22nd….click on the link of the front page, and keep up to date with my events page. I believe there are some advance copies to be had….!