Why read a book? (Competition)

Fuel for the soul
Fuel for the soul

Several years ago I attended the wedding of a friend. At the table I was chatting to one of the guests and the topic of reading came up. I was flabbergasted when she asked ‘why would you read a book?’ She simply did not see the point. For someone for whom books have been central for most of my life it was like being transported to a foreign planet where I had to try to understand the aliens. Bookshelves, libraries, the comfort of being tucked up with a book, the feeling of never wanting a book to end, stories, lives, places, all these feelings a book engenders. At the time I stumbled over an answer to the woman’s question, I was so taken aback. So I want to ask you. What would YOU answer this woman? To make it interesting I will offer a signed copy of Housewife with a Half-Life and a Ten pound Amazon gift voucher to a winner I choose. Entries in by July 19th. Just add your thoughts to the comments.

Also interesting is this article on how reading helps with anxiety. I certainly find reading great for gathering together my overactive thoughts and it gives me a feeling of relaxation and comfort.

Update: Dear Readers Heather Walker has won the Amazon voucher (more reading!) and complimentary copy of the alternate worlds comedy Housewife with a Half-Life. Thanks for all your comments and congratulations to Heather!

Of Dublin and Other Fictions by Nuala Ni Chonchuir Review and Interview

Of Dublin coverBeing a flash fiction aficionado it was my pleasure to be able to review Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s chapbook of tiny fictions Of Dublin and other fictions. Published by Tower Press in the USA it consists of eleven flash fiction gems. What I particularly love about Ní Chonchúir’s writing in general and this collection in particular is the diverse mode of her writings. She explores both territory that is otherworldly and situations that are utterly real and feelings that are both tender and terrible. In stories such as Penny, Leo and Married Bliss and in the voice of Jesus of Dublin she evokes the colloquial and colourful. We feel a strong affection for the characters in these slices of life. Her stories are lusty, vibrant and irreverent, grabbing you right into the heat of the moment, and with her stories, it’s definitely heat.

In Room 313, From Ugly to Alice and Fish the undercurrent of sexual tension reveals the very human vulnerability of the characters. Throughout, and very much in the more fantastical and philosophical stories such as TreeDaughter, Vincent in the Yellow House and The Road that Mills and Boon ®Built the book is both sensuous and gorgeous in language and sentiment. Striking moments of connection leave the reader with an sense of humanity’s enduring journey throughout time – no mean feat for stories that are only a few hundred words long. Whether it is because of this brevity, the flash fiction stories in this chapbook had, for me a particular potency and resonance. It is a collection that will stay with you long after the read and I highly recommend it.

Nuala on flash fiction…

I had a chance to ask Nuala about the particular characteristics and strengths of flash fiction.I wanted to know what she felt the power of flash fiction is. “I love the way flash stories suit the surreal and the odd; they can be about anything and can be driven by language or mood or by the ‘what-happens’, so there’s a lot of scope for experimentation and/or fun within flash. Their power lies in their brevity coupled with the ability to set the mind ticking; they beg re-reading when they are done well. I like that.

As a reader I enjoy a range of flash: a quirky chunk of banter like Kevin Scott’s ‘Sheltered’ (http://www.fracturedwest.com/issue-4/sheltered/); or an emotion-driven short like Thisbe Nissen’s ‘Deer at Rest’ (http://www.obscurajournal.com/Nissen_Deer_at_rest.pdf). I also love short-shorts that delight in language, like ‘Funky Little Blaze Orange Pork Pie Hats’ by Michael Gillan Maxwell (http://www.metazen.ca/?p=13207)”

Since she works also as a poet and a novelist as well as producing this book of flash fictions, I wanted to know if Ni Chonchuir thought that the subject or sentiment dictated the form and what she thought made something fit into flash rather than poetry mode.

“I have really been neglecting poetry for the last year or so. It’s like that part of my brain has shut down while I get on with writing novels. But I can manage flash (maybe because I am in fiction mode?) The other thing, and it just occurs to me, is that my poetry tends to be confessional (not a dirty word, in my book) and I’m not going through any major upheavals lately, so maybe the poems are not there because life is good.

My flash tend to be language-  and narrative-driven – so the two things have to collide in my mind and offer me a first line that will take me somewhere interesting. So it’s subject coupled with language coupled with a forward impetus. I think the sentiment (the emotion) grows out of the rest.”

Given the great humour in several of these short fictions, particularly ‘Jesus of Dublin’ and ‘Penny and Leo and Married Bliss’ which comes out best in the voices of your characters. I wondered what Ní Chonchúir thought could be achieved with humour in a very short piece.

I think humour is unexpected in literary fiction – people expect lit fic to be dour and worthy. And I think we are all guilty of feeling this and acting on it – very few writers enter funny stories into lit comps, I find (having judged many of them). I love funny. To me Anne Enright is funny because she uses the self-deprecating, rueful, dark humour that Irish people are good at – we love to laugh, to slag each other, to poke fun. Ulysses is funny, but it’s not the first thing that springs to mind when people think about it. ‘Penny and Leo and Married Bliss’ is a rewriting of the Penelope episode in that novel and I had great fun transposing Molly Bloom’s bawdy humour to the 21st century.

I guess humour works best when it is wedded to something more profound (in Molly’s case, infidelity), so that it achieves more than a mere gag or extended joke – it makes you feel for the character(s). So, while the reader is laughing, she is also being made to think.”

Nuala Ní Chonchúir 2013

Nuala ni Chonchúir lives in Galway. Nuala’s awards for her writing include RTÉ Radio’s Frances McManus Award and the Dublin Review of Books flash fiction prize. Mother America her fourth short story collection was published by New Island in 2012, her second novel will be published in spring 2014.

Of Dublin and Other Fictions will be available shortly on Amazon and from Tower Press direct.

More about Nuala here www.nualanichonchuir.com

Housewife with a Half-Life summer read winners

Thanks to those who entered the giveaway for a signed copy of Housewife with a Half-Life and those who shared and tweeted on social media. I can’t believe the book is a year old already. I’ve drawn for the paperback copies and the winners are Lisa Damian and Natalia Widdrington, please email alison at brierwell dot com or DM me on twitter your postal addresses so I can send on the book. Congratulations and I hope you enjoy the read!

Housewife with a Half-Life summer read giveaway

Housewife with a Half-Life is a year old and I’m celebrating by giving away two signed paperback copies. Housewife is the lively adventure of mother of twins Susan Strong and travelling spaceman Fairly Dave through other dimensions to find Susan’s other lost selves and save the universe. With a light sprinkling of science, a lot of comedy, domestic appliances that are out to get you and plenty of heart, it’s a fun read for the summer. Here are some of the things that readers have said about the book.

Housewife with a Half-Life paperback
Housewife with a Half-Life paperback

“wasn’t able to put it down, fantastic, funny and pure comedy from start to finish 10/10”

“a witty and acerbic satire on 21st Century womanhood. Think Bridget Jones on acid.”

“A unique and delightful novel.”

“Charming and enchanting with a dash of science”

“A brilliantly humorous book which had me laughing from the start!”

“an unforgettable world that will make you laugh, cry, whoop with joy and encourage you to re-evaluate the pathways of your own existence.”

To enter, please leave a comment below but if you just want to grab the book. It’s available on Itunes,  for Kindle US tiny.cc/r1zqsw for 2.99 UK tiny.cc/a5zqsw for 1.94 and for all formats on Smashwords, on Barnes and Noble.

I’ll draw for the paperback on Monday. Enjoy your summer reading!

Great news from author Hazel Gaynor

I am just thrilled to hear this wonderful news. Fellow Irish mother writer has just announced a two book deal, the first book to be released is the fantastic The Girl Who Came Home, a Titanic story that Hazel previously self-published. An excellent  writer and lovely person, Hazel Gaynor deserves this so much. I interviewed Hazel back in 2011 on how she juggled writing and motherhood. It’s lovely to look back and see now that she has arrived at this wonderful breakthrough in her writing career.

Niamh Boyce’s Debut Novel The Herbalist

D47R5524Niamh Boyce is from Athy, Co Kildare. She won Hennessy XO Writer of the Year 2012 for her poem Kitty. She’s currently editing her short story collection Wild Cat’s Buffet and writing her next novel. I met Niamh first at the Hennessy Awards 2009, where we were both finalists and again at a book launch where I was thrilled to hear about her forthcoming release. A talented and versatile writer and a lovely person, I couldn’t be more pleased to have her here on the blog to talk to us about her debut novel The Herbalist which has just been published by Penguin and launched in Athy just yesterday. First my thoughts on the book…   

updated jacket - WIP (2)

The Herbalist is a vivid and compelling tale told about a town in 1930s Ireland which witnesses the arrival of an exotic stranger – the Herbalist who sets up his stall and begins to enthral, influence and unsettle the women of the town, beginning with teenage Emily. Mindful of the social constraints of the times and the real difficulties that women found themselves in, this novel conjures up a cast of strong female characters (a great strength of the book) with various desires and hopes which they bring to the Herbalist’s door. Without giving the plot away, the Herbalist’s activities become more sinister and the final outcome depends upon the action of the women in the story, particularly Emily. This is a finely told tale, with lovely details of the times that will keep you turning the pages until the satisfying conclusion.

I asked Niamh three questions to delve more into the novel and its characters.

Alison: I found I had great sympathy for the female characters, Carmel,Aggie, Sarah, Emily, Mai etc who all displayed various character flaws but who were strong and vivid women. What did you hope to achieve with your female characters and by including such a range of these.

Niamh: I initially planned for just two main characters but the book had different ideas! I think the strong female characters that eventually emerged reflect the very nature of story itself; that of a man who was known by many women, but who was essentially a different man to each of them.

I began the first draft writing from the point of view of both Emily and Sarah, but very quickly other voices began to clamour to be heard, and as they became more distinct, they became more recognisable as Carmel and Aggie. Rose’s voice was very faint, but I knew instinctively that she was important.  So in the end I threw out any ideas I had about who should tell the tale. Actually I stopped trying to tell the tale at all; and just let them tell it to me.

Alison: I also admired how you weaved detail of the times including the fashion, music, film etc into the book to make it a rich tapestry. Did do your research up front or alongside as the story developed?

Niamh: I left most of the research till the final draft. I used the films from the era as a touchstone as I wrote the initial draft, movies like It Happened One Night, Wuthering Heights, Flash Gordon, Tarzan and all the Betty Davis and Greta Garbo pictures.  I also read the local newspapers from the late thirties on microfiche in the library. That’s as much research as I allowed myself at that stage.  I trusted the story to reveal itself, and left the more serious research till the final draft stage when I used the internet, the national archives,  old newspapers and of course good old fashioned history books.

Alison: How did you come up with the character of The Herbalist?

Niamh: He was inspired by a real person that I came across years ago when I was archiving local newspapers. I read an article that referred to an Indian Herbalist who had been arrested for offenses against girls and was curious as to what the truth behind the article might be. I recall thinking, even back then, who were you the scapegoat for? That was in 1990, and I didn’t start writing till 2008 but when I did begin writing I remembered that man, and became curious again about him.  I decided to base my first novel around the idea of him.  So though The Herbalist was inspired by a real man, the herbalist of my book is a completely fictionalised character.

Niamh blogs at niamhboyce.blogspot.com where you can find out more about the Herbalist, her blog tour and other literary matters.

I highly recommend The Hebalist as a really great read, it’s available in all good book shops and here.

Thanks once again and huge congratulations to Niamh Boyce!

Review of Bloodmining by Laura Wilkinson

BloodMining 600 With the emotional resonance of a Maggie O’ Farrell and hints of Ishiguro’s Never let me go, Bloodmining is a vivid and believable rendering of a familiar but crucially altered near future.  A compelling debut novel from Laura Wilkinson that I read in one sitting, this is well worth the read.

Over the course of the novel we develop great sympathy and affinity with the characters: Megan who must chart her past to save her child’s future, Elizabeth, whose story is both shocking and profoundly moving as well as Megan’s colleague Jack North who introduces resourcefulness and humour to a difficult quest. I enjoyed Megan’s tough exterior which is paired with a fierce love for her son Cerdic who develops a life threatening hereditary illness.

What Megan learns as she tries to find a suitable donor for her son’s treatment is central to the plot and there will be no spoilers from this quarter. We visit two eras, near future and a future right on our doorstep, although one I hope we do not witness. But that’s as far as I’m telling. I strongly urge you to find out for yourselves, Wilkinson’s prose is light, clever and accomplished, the story structure elegant and effective and her descriptions utterly evocative and riveting. She explores  ethical dilemmas and decisions that are close at hand.  If you want a book to grip, shock, surprise and satisfy you, with plenty of discussion for reading groups this will not disappoint. Bloodmining deserves a wide readership and recognition and I look forward to more from this author.

***** 5 stars

Bloodmining is published by independent small press Bridge House.

You can buy it here on Amazon or Barnes and Noble  or for the Kindle

Are you looking for something in our Fiction store? (YES! YES I AM!)

Are you looking for something in our Fiction store? the email asks. Actually I’m doing everything I can to stop looking in your fiction store because there are so many books I want to read that I’ll soon own enough books to build a house of books and the walls will hold me up and sustain me for many lives to come.

I want to read everything my favorite authors ever wrote and then, accidentally I hear about another author who sounds just my thing and then I’m standing in the bookshop and there the book is right in front of me on a special table and even though I spent far too much on books last week I can’t help picking it up. And if you want to know why I’m in the bookshop at all then it’s because I’m helping out with my daughter’s class while they’re attending a reading from a ‘real author’.

And the feeling I get when I pick up a book is all ‘ooh’ and ‘what is it going to be like’ and ‘this could be amazing’ and ‘I think this just might tally with how I see the world’ and then I’m going to have to read all this guy’s books too and ‘look, oh no, there’s another one he’s written that looks brilliant and the cover is lovely’,

In the postbox, packages from a literary journal I’ve re-subscribed to and another book I ordered from the online fiction store, Beside my bed the two books I had to buy from the real bookshop when I brought my 5 year old to use his voucher for which he paid for a book from one of his favourite author/illustrator team who brought him the Gruffalo and now he wants to read everything they’ve done.

On the way home from the book shop my daughter’s friend said ‘and they didn’t know you were a real author too’ (I gave a talk in her class) and my own book was in the bookshop from which I can’t help picking up books and either buying them or putting them down again and feeling like I’ve abandoned something very important and precious, left a piece of myself behind.

Beside my bed is one of the books I couldn’t help picking up and it IS amazing and it DOES speak in a way that makes sense to me, reflects how I see the world not just on the surface but underneath in a very heartfelt almost ‘in love’ way. And I’m only a little way through and I’ll be sad when this brand new experience, this new lovely connection with the first reading of this book ends.

‘Oh I never knew you felt this way too’.

‘Why would someone read a book?’ I was once asked at a wedding years ago.  The seismic shock of this question on my psyche is still reverberating today…

Possible answers: Entertainment, Fun, To pass the time.

Other possible answers: There are other worlds in there, weird, lovely and true.

YES! The answer is YES! It’s the same reason that I must now dash off and write. I want to live in many possible worlds, to be moved, entertained, to love (and wring my hands at) the world and the way people are in it.

YES! I am ALWAYS looking for something in your fiction store!

Crannóg 32 – a new story in this great independent publisher’s new anthology

Crannóg is a well regarded and renowned literary magazine in Ireland that recently celebrated its 10th year. Established by writers Tony O’ Dwyer and Geraldine Burkes’ publishing house Words on the Street, Crannóg provides publication opportunities to International authors of short fiction and poetry.

Crannóg 32 launches tomorrow night March 1st upstairs at the Crane Bar in Galway at 6.30pm. There will be readings and quite probably music and if you are a writer or enjoy the written word you will be made very welcome at this enjoyable evening. I’m delighted to be included in Crannóg for the second time with a story ‘Letter’. The story tells the story of a lost relationship from the Letter’s point of view. I’m not able to go along to the launch this time but have enjoyed meeting Tony and Geraldine and the other writers included in their publications at these events. Many of the writers have gone on to great further success including A.J. Ashworth who later won Salt publishing’s Scott prize with her book ‘SOMEWHERE ELSE OR EVEN HERE’ and Niamh Boyce (I met Niamh at the WOW awards from the same publisher) who’s debut novel THE HERBALIST will be published by Penguin later this year.


A publication credit from Crannóg is well recognised internationally. Crannóg have three submission periods. Submissions are open in the month of November for Feb issuem March for the June issue and July for October issue, so you can get ready now for the March submission opening and all the details are here.


It’s a great idea before you submit to get a flavour for the anthology. Crannóg’s rates for their anthology are very reasonable – just six euros plus postage. As they put it themselves – just about 9 cent for each piece of writing. So if you’d like to read my story ‘Letter’ for 9 cent and also support the work of a fine independent press that is all about finding and giving opportunity to new talent, you can order a copy of Crannóg 32 here or make a subscription for a longer time. Crannóg is also available for the Kindle here.

Housewife saves the universe for free


I’m delighted to have received a mention on the RTE Tubridy radio show this morning by Vanessa O’ Loughlin of Writing.ie. As she explained my book HOUSEWIFE WITH A HALF-LIFE will be free for just today and tomorrow Feb 19th – 20th

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Eat Pray Love meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! Susan Strong discovers she is literally disintegrating and has to find herself to save the universe. In this feel-good comedy adventure, Susan, her precocious four year old twins Pluto and Rufus and Fairly Dave, (a kilt- wearing spaceman with luminescent emotions) travel alternate universes to find Susan’s many selves. Along the way they must dodge the Geezers with their Entropy Hoovers, and defeat the evil memory bankers. Where the Spinner’s Cataclysmic convertor could rip reality apart, Susan Strong is all that’s holding the world together. From dystopian landscapes to chicken dinners, can Susan Strong reintegrate her bits and will it be enough to save us all?

Amazon reviews:

‘Fantastic, funny and just pure genius’ 5*

‘an unforgettable world that will make you laugh, cry, whoop with joy and encourage you to re-evaluate the pathways of your own existence.’ 5*

Charming and enchanting with a dash of science 4*

Paperback available online or in Dubray Books Bray or Hughes and Hughes, Dundrum