Monthly Archives: October 2017

An evening with Claire Keegan, author of ‘Foster’

Last night, I attended a reading and Q&A with Irish author Claire Keegan. This event was part of the Well Festival of Arts and Wellbeing, which is in its fifth year here in Waterford city and county.

Claire Keegan

Author Claire Keegan

Claire is the author of two books of short stories and a novella called ‘Foster’. All her books have received prestigious awards, too numerous to mention, and ‘Foster’ is on the syllabus for Leaving Certificate English.

With only three books, she has become a giant in the world of literature in English, and deservedly so.

I last saw Claire at a seminar in Cork city in 2010. That was an event I have remembered ever since. She spoke then for hours, almost without a break, weaving a spell with her words, both spoken and read. I couldn’t help but take lots of notes as everything she said rang so true with me. I refer back to those notes to this day.

Last night, we were treated to a reading from ‘Foster’ – an extract in which the central character, a child, describes her first day with her new, ‘foster’ parents. The author’s musical voice and expressive face enhanced the reading. I didn’t want her to stop.

Then for the audience Q&A. Unmoderated Q&A sessions can veer dangerously into time-wasting territory. By that I mean both the other audience members’ and the author’s time. Claire handled questions on all stages of the spectrum with grace and calm. She is (in?)famous for not taking any shit and it is a deserved reputation. For this we, the audience, have to thank her because an author who can deal respectfully with time-wasters and move on quickly is creating time for useful discussion, which benefits us all.

Remarks by Claire that have stuck with me are as follows (this is based on memory – if there are inaccuracies or omissions, please post a comment below):

  • Claire writes slowly, going back to the start of the previous day’s work, dredging out extraneous material until she has a work she is happy with.
  • Characters are defined by how they spend their time. Claire reminded us that we  have limited, precious time on earth. What each of us does with that time says everything about who we are.
  • “A good middle” is the hardest and most crucial part of a work. Once you have a good middle, your ending will emerge.
  • Desire is another key driving force behind each character. What does he or she desire? Find out.
  • Echoing Tolstoy’s remark that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, Claire pointed out that happiness does not usually make for great fiction (this is my interpretation – Claire did not use this quote). She highlighted loss as a driving force in fiction.

The event ran to just over an hour, which gave the audience a short and very sweet distillation of Claire’s writing wisdom and a beautiful reading.

My thanks go to the organisers of the Well Festival of Arts and Wellbeing, and the staff of Tramore Library for the welcoming, professional manner in which they hosted the event.


‘Mental’ shortlisted for CAP Award 2017; shortlist

Some weeks just get off to a good start, don’t they?

I was going to bed last night and decided to check my email (bad habit – on this occasion, yielding good results). There was a message telling me that ‘Mental’ has been shortlisted for the Carousel Aware Prize (CAP) 2017!

carousel aware prize logo 2017

See the end of this post for the full shortlist.

The judges for the category in which ‘Mental’ is shortlisted (Best Anthology) were Tanya Farrelly and David Butler. I recently discovered Tanya Farrelly’s work after hearing her read at the Cork International Short Story Festival 2017 (see my previous post about that festival). Her reading and comments were hugely enjoyable and interesting, so I’m pretty chuffed that my book was one of those chosen by her, along with David Butler. He is a writer I’m not familiar with – I’ll have to check out his work.

Congratulations to all the other shortlisted authors! The only one I’m familiar with is Lorna Sixsmith, who is shortlisted for her book ‘An Ideal Farm Husband’. Her previous books about life as the wife of an Irish farmer have done really well. I’m looking forward to hunting down seeking out (!) the other authors and getting to know them on social media – and who knows, maybe in real life too.

The CAP award is run in association with Aware, a non-profit organisation that provides education, support and information on mental health, particularly depression, bipolar disorder, and positive mental health. All proceeds from the competition go to Aware.

The CAP website describes the awards thus: “The [CAP] Awards are committed to acknowledging and promoting excellence in Irish independent book publishing.” The awards are the brainchild of indie author Carolann Copland. Big kudos are due to her, her team of volunteers, and the judges – all of whom who give their time to the awards free of charge.

Full list of shortlistees and judges for the CAP Award 2017

Best Junior Book
Judge: Benji Bennett

  • Alma Jordan & Martin Beckett: Tales from Riverside Farm
  • Emma-Jane Leeson & Kim Shaw: The Adventures of Johnny Magory
  • Kevin Doyle: The Worms That Saved The World
  • Helen C Burke: Billy’s Search for the Healing Well
  • Alan Murphy: Psychosilly
  • Dolores Keaveney & the Keaveney & Lennon children: Dilly the Camper & The Magic Fairy Garden

Best Young Adult Book
Judge: Claire Hennessy

  • Jaq Hazell: My Life As A Bench
  • J.S. Comiskey: Solstice… The Goddess Awakens

Best Anthologies
Judges: Tanya Farrelly and David Butler

  • Orla Shanaghy: Mental
  • Adrienne Vaughan: Fur Coat & No Knickers
  • Kathryn Crowley: Room for One More
  • Compiled by Helen Mc Mahon: Selfies and Portraits
  • Compiled by Eileen Casey: Circle & Square

Best Non Fiction
Judge: Tony Canavan

  • Linda Allen: See You in Two Minutes, Ma
  • John Kenny & Dolores Keaveny Kenny: The Hills Speak; History & Mystery
  • Lorna Sixsmith: An Ideal Farm Husband
  • Elizabeth Egan: Notes from Higher Grounds
  • Breifne Early: Pedal the Planet

Best Novel
Judge: Louise Phillips

  • Simon Bourke: And The Birds Kept on Singing
  • Caroline E Farrell: Lady Beth
  • Catherine Kullmann: The Murmur of Masks
  • Caimh McDonnell: A Man With One of Those Faces

Ooh and I’ll be posting more about this on a future date but for now: please remember independent authors when you do your Christmas book-buying!

I love my blockbusters and big-name authors as much as anyone (I’m currently in the middle of Marian Keyes’ latest). Those authors have the spending power and marketing departments of big publishers behind them – and good luck to them. Independent authors have none of that; we rely on ourselves, our friends and families, and the kindness of strangers, to get our works out there.

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