Thursday, 9 May 2019

John Connolly: what's in your head?

There’s a fabulous independent bookshop in Taunton called Brendon Books which always has a programme of author talks. A couple of days ago I went along to listen to John Connolly, author of the Charlie Parker detective series among others. 

Confession: I haven’t read any of the Charlie Parker books. In fact, until last week, I hadn’t read John Connolly at all. I was going to the talk with a friend who’s a huge fan and the blurb about the author was interesting.

That said, I don’t like to turn up knowing nothing, so I bought his books of short stories, Nocturnes, to get a flavour of his style. These stories are scary as hell!! And there is quite a variety of beasts and devilry going on. I couldn’t help the question that formed in my mind…what on earth is going on in his?? I was even slightly apprehensive of meeting him.

The question led me to consider a few things about the reader’s psyche, and the writer’s psyche. Back in my schooldays, in English Literature, we were taught to analyse texts. ‘Why do you think the poet used that word? What do you think the author is trying to say?’

These days, as a reader, I read primarily for pleasure, entertainment, to be taken away by a great story or immersed in fascinating characters. Although I read closely, too often with my writer head on, I don’t ask those questions anymore. Maybe it’s just more obvious to me now what an author’s message is.

As a writer, though, these questions make me nervous. Imagine a reader asking about my message, my intentions? I think on one level, that’s okay. But imagine them analysing my mind !! From this current work in progress, the reader will no doubt question me on father/daughter relationships…probably wrongly. And I was certainly asked some very odd questions about my research for my previous novel 😉

I understand that my writing is influenced by my life experiences, relationships and belief systems, but just remember another key factor- we writers make things up!

Monday, 19 March 2018

Beloved Aspie and Cats

The cat obsession probably starts with me. I had my first kitten when I was five years old. I loved it but when it went bananas and started running up and down the curtains and all those naughty things that kittens do (which was called fleeping in our house) I was terrified. So the little kitten didn’t stay long.
I didn’t have cats again until I was pregnant and poorly and was going to have to give up work earlier than I planned. So I was given two kittens to keep me company and perhaps to prepare me for the responsibility of having a child! As the pregnancy progressed the kittens used to love to jump on my bed in the morning and as the baby woke up and started moving they would jump on the quilt and try to catch him.

Sadly although I lived in the country I was near a main road and those kittens didn’t last long either.
The next came along when Beloved Aspie was nearly 4. He was a bit lively, too lively for the little cat, who moved next door with an elderly lady and a quieter home. He minded very much that the cat wouldn’t come home. It was around this time that the first traits of Asperger's syndrome appeared. Now some people will tell you that people with Asperger’s have no empathy and struggle with emotional connection with other people. They don’t find it easy to read facial cues or emotional cues. And this can lead to frustration and anger which in turn is misunderstood. But let me say this, just because Aspies struggle to show their emotions doesn’t mean they don’t have them.

I guess this was when I realised that I could use his obsession with cats to our advantage. I say obsession I think mean more of a fascination. My son loves everything about them, how they look, hi they behave, their cultural representation, their mythological status, their deity status in ancient Egyptian culture. While I did say everything.

So when we moved to Somerset, and lived in the country with a big garden, it was time to renew our relationship with cats. We got two sisters and one of them adopted Beloved Aspie from the outset. She followed him everywhere. She loved nothing better than to stand at the foot of the stairs and listen to where she might find him. He loved that cat. He would spend hours in the garden playing with her. And he loved nothing better than to regale anyone with stories of latest antics. To our shock and sadness, she was run over. He was traumatised. But I used all of these experiences to help him explore his emotions. We talked about how much he loved his little animal and how much joy and happiness she brought to his daily life. In turn we were able to talk about loss and pain. And we took that topic into the wider world of losing friends, relations and people we love.

Over these last few years our cat family has become three. And these days Beloved Aspie knows that they are his responsibility. He feeds them, he checks where they are to make sure they are getting outside exercise, he gives them all loads of lap time and loads of love. And I still use them as strategies in life. When I collect him from work in Bridgwater, if he looks a bit tired or grumpy, I start cat stories. I tell him what each of them have been doing during the day, what bed they slept on, who they tried to scratch, whether they tried to chase the ducks. It never fails to get him smiling and engaged in a conversation. And that’s a big hint actually, if you do have an Aspie in your world and you see them struggling to have a conversation or to start a conversation, use their obsession. Anyone can start a conversation with my son if they start with cats.

The only problem is this cat obsession is a bit infectious. When my husband and I are out on our own, we have been known to spot a random cat in the street and say ‘oh look it’s a cat’. Then we shake our heads at one another. And if we spot anything in a shop window that has a cat on it it’s always ‘ I know who’d like that.’

One day my son asked my husband what is the ideal number of cats? We reckon he was angling for another one, you know, maybe bring it up to even numbers. So my husband said one. That should keep him quiet… for now.

Friday, 12 January 2018

I'm a Derry Girl

I was majorly over-excited when I saw the trailer for Derry Girls, an upcoming comedy set in my home town. But why?

I think the first thing is definitely the accent. I left Derry when I was 18 and I have lived in a few places in the South East of England, and now the South West, yet everywhere I go I seem to be ‘the only Irish in the village’, and definitely the only Derry girl (which statistically can’t be true). I’m still referred to as the Irish one and I think it is largely due to my fairly undiminished accent – as they say, ‘you can take the girl out of Derry but you can’t take the Derry out of the girl’. So for me, it’s lovely to sit listening to others who sound like me, even if it is only for half an hour.

Then of course, there are the Derryisms. I follow the local paper on social media (The Derry Journal) and I’ve been enjoying their associated articles – especially the vocabulary list. I read it out to my (English) husband in laughter at all the things we used to say and how weird it was to never use them again because no-one at university understood me. For goodness sake, they had enough trouble with my name!

The most relatable things have to be the Convent school and the backdrop of the Troubles. In fact, I’m quite convinced that the school scenes may actually be filmed at my old school, sitting disused as it is, across the road from it’s massive successor. I wore a similar dark green uniform and travelled on the cream and yellow bus (though, cleverly for the writer, this also applies to other girls’ schools in town). I even sat outside the Head Nun’s office (Mother Superior, as she was known to us) with three other girls and was threatened with expulsion -not for hitting anyone, mind, but for refusing to play our brass instruments from another band in the school orchestra.

I love that the Troubles are a ‘backdrop’ to everyday life. I’ve spent years trying to explain to people that I lived a very ordinary life just in less than ordinary circumstances. It’s something I’ve been drawn to write about many times, but something that a lot of people still don’t want to hear. My current novel is set between Derry and Cape Town and one agent’s rejection said that it wouldn’t matter how brilliant the plot or how fabulous the characters, she wouldn’t touch anything set in Northern Ireland. I’m sure she has her reasons.

So I think it is wonderful that Lisa McGee has got her voice and our voices onto mainstream TV. Here’s to us Derry Girls! 

PS Where’s my trust fund??