Enter the Dragon – Interview with Samantha Shannon

Priory of the Orange Tree might just be the most magically anticipated fantasy novel of this year. And we can say with absolute certainty that it is worth the hype. Magical women, brave warriors, powerful queens and, of course, dragons – what more could you want. We were lucky enough to chat to author, Samantha Shannon about the experience of writing Priory and her favourite fictional dragons!

1. Priory of the Orange Tree is home to epic queens, dragons and magic – there is so much to unpack with all of the glorious detail that flows through it – can you tell us where you got your first inspiration for the novel?

There was never a single eureka moment for this book, as there was with The Bone Season – it was a few different ideas coming together over twenty years. I can trace the thread of inspiration right the way back to my fifth birthday, when I first saw Dragonheart. That film sparked a lifelong love of all things fire-breathing and scaly, and once I knew I wanted to be an author, I also knew I wanted to write my own dragon book one day. In 2014, I decided to do that by contesting and re-imagining the legends surrounding Saint George and the Dragon from a modern feminist perspective. I also wanted to write a novel that explored the different ways in which dragons are imagined across the world, had religious (mis)interpretation as a prominent theme, and intertwined mythology with some fascinating periods of history.Priory hatched out of all of this and more.

2. How did you feel about writing Priory while also writing the Bone Season series – was it refreshing to work in a different genre of fantasy? 

It was, yes. I thought it was going to be impossible to divide my time between the two, as they’re so different – one set in Paris in the year 2060, the other a standalone in a fictional world inspired by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – but both projects ended up benefiting so much from my multi-tasking. Moving between them kept my inspiration for both alive. If I started to lose steam in one manuscript, I could switch to the other and recharge my creative batteries. I plan to always have at least two projects on the go from now on, as I find it so helpful to have that breathing space. 

3. Ead and Sabran and Tané are wonderful characters, made more wonderful by their differences, can you say which character’s story you felt you knew first? 

I’m so glad you like them! Tané was the first Priory character to walk into my head, and she’s also the character who’s most like me – an anxious workaholic – so she has a special place in my heart. Ead was probably my favourite to write out of the four narrators, though. Most of her story takes place in an Elizabethan-style court, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed writing about the intrigue, opulence and pressure of life in the entourage of a queen. 

4. Was it exciting to be able to tell a story using dragons – one of the most loved fantasy tropes?

It really was! I loved being able to write my own take on the most beloved of mythical beasts and create a taxonomy of creatures related to them, from cockatrices to wyverns to dragons born of fire and starlight. I sense that dragons are about to make a huge resurgence in fiction, and I can’t wait to see new takes on them. 

5. What was it like to take the story of the dragon rider who revered dragons and contrast it with the characters who fear dragons more than anything? 

I knew from the beginning that I wanted dragons to form the basis of the main religions of the book, with some people viewing them as gods and others as purely evil. There are benevolent and unpleasant dragons in Priory– the former connected to one branch of magic, the latter to another – and that divergence is the source of an age-old misunderstanding between the two sides of the world. Writing creation myths for my dragons and turning them into opposing faith systems was such an enjoyable challenge. 

6. One of the most satisfying aspects of Priory of the Orange Tree is the wideness of the world and the richness of the detail of the court and its magic. How long did you spend building the world before you began writing? 

I don’t clearly remember this, as I started the book more than four years ago, but I think I spent a few weeks sketching the basics before I jumped in. I believe in worldbuilding on the go, allowing your character to guide you as they go about their life. You never know if a paracosm is going to hang together, what details you need to add, or what gaps there are to caulk, until you throw a character in there and let them start telling you. I essentially built a skeletal world and added flesh as I went along. 

7. Was it important to you to tell the stories of these diverse women? 

Epic fantasy has historically been a male domain. Fortunately, many authors have been working hard for many years to change that, and I hope Priory does its small part in pushing that change forward. There are two male narrators, and I loved writing their stories – but the women are the ones whose actions have the greatest impact on the narrative. I wanted to write a feminist tale that allowed women from many backgrounds to control the fate of nations, eviscerated the damsel in distress trope, and wasn’t set in a violently misogynistic world. 

8. Priory reads like an homage to the wonderful epic fantasy of the 70s and 80s but with a thoroughly contemporary head on its shoulders – was it fun bringing this type of fantasy right up to date? 

It was great fun, and very liberating. I always meant for it to be a story that utilised many of the tropes of classic epic fantasy – an enemy returning from the dead, a hero with a magic sword, a hidden society of magic users – but left some of its more negative features behind. 

9. Would you say there were particular stories or myths that lent inspiration to Priory? 

Yes. The main one was the legend of Saint George and the Dragon – which isn’t a single legend, but a mythos. The one I most wanted to retell was a 1596 version of the story by Richard Johnson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, who turned Saint George into an Englishman from Coventry. I took several elements from that story and re-imagined them in a way that I hope challenges Johnson and his frankly disturbing ideas about what makes a hero. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser and the Japanese tale of Hohodemi, which involves a magical fishhook and two jewels that control the tides, also had a significant impact on the story and worldbuilding. 

10. Can you name your favourite fictional dragons? 

Draco from Dragonheart was the first dragon I ever loved. I also love Rollo from Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, Saphira from Eragon by Christopher Paolini, and Firedrake from Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, which was my favourite childhood book. 

11. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? 

Neil Gaiman once told me to enjoy myself. Not exactly writing advice, but excellent life advice. Sometimes I can get so anxious about my work as I strive to make it perfect, so this was a reminder to sometimes sit back and enjoy the ride. 

Priory of the Orange Tree will be released on February 26 and you won’t be able to put it down!

Finding Friendship – An Interview with Chloe Seager

Friendship can be tough to navigate, especially online! That’s certainly something that Emma Nash can relate to. Emma is the main character in Chloe Seager’s new series. The second book in the series, Friendship Fails of Emma Nash is out soon and we got speaking to Chloe about friendship, the internet and empowering girls online!

 

1.Friendship Fails of Emma Nash is your second novel, was writing it a very different experience from the first? 

Totally different. With my first novel I was so unselfconscious. I wrote it giggling away in my room, not seriously thinking anyone would read it. With the second one you know people are going to read it, so you stop writing it just for you. As soon as you start thinking too much about what other people are going to think, it kills the creative process (or at least, it did for me). The first draft of book 2 was a longer, more painful process than for book 1. I then realised it was rubbish and rewrote most of the book in two months, trying to have fun again as I went. (Which was, obviously, the whole reason I started writing!) I’m so much happier with it now.

2.Where do you feel Emma is emotionally in this novel? Has she learned a lot since Editing Emma?

Emma made a lot of mistakes in the first novel, mainly to do with relationships. So she starts Friendship Fails in a much wiser and more secure place in terms of her romantic life… But then inadvertently starts making mistakes in her friendships! This is often how I felt as a teenager – as soon as I felt better about one thing, I’d start feeling insecure about something else.

 

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3.The internet and social media have a huge influence on how Emma lives her life- do you think that the pressures of social media can be a difficult path to navigate for young women?

Definitely. Emma’s a light book, so it barely scrapes the surface of some of the difficulties and mainly talks about them in a ‘funny’ way. (Subjects like revenge porn, not so much with the lolz!) But I did want to talk about some of the things I found difficult as a teenager. 

In book 1, Emma’s problem is very much about obsessing over her ex-boyfriend’s profiles, and the fact she can still see everything he’s doing makes her break up more difficult to move on from. In book 2 she starts obsessing over her own profiles and constantly comparing herself to other people. Worrying about how I was coming off, or whether other people were having better lives than me, was a big part of my growing up experience and 100% linked to social media. It must be a million times worse now. (Although, at least teenagers now don’t have to deal with the peril of Top Friends!)

4.How do you think the internet has changed our approach to friendships and relationships? Do you think it’s something that is important to be mindful of?

It’s opened up a whole new world of possibilities, hasn’t it? New relationships and friendships are so much more accessible, now. For friendships I think that’s great, for relationships it probably has encouraged more of a ‘disposable’ culture, but then again, depending how you use it it’s still a pretty incredible gift. Especially for teenagers, when you’re going through what’s quite an isolating period. Pre-internet, if you didn’t happen to make friends at your school that was it. Now instead of being stuck with it, you’re actually able to talk to other people all over the world!

There’s so much to say about this topic, but one thing that’s not been healthy for me is always seeing the best bits of everyone’s lives; sometimes it’s lovely but sometimes it’s quite damaging for my state of mind. I have to remind myself there’s a lot of people’s lives that you don’t see. I also find it makes me forget to actually talk to people, because I’ve already seen their updates… But just because I already know my friend just got married, or got a new job, doesn’t mean I don’t need to interact with them!

5. Do you get as annoyed as we do with phrases like ‘oh, she’s not like other girls’ or ‘well, I just find it hard to be friends with other girls, I’m just too competitive/nerdy’ or our personal favourite: ‘I just find boys easier to get along with, there isn’t as much drama.’? Why do you think girls are conditioned to believe that female friendship is not a desirable friendship to have?

I think there’s a lot of focus on romance, as if it’s more important than friendship. Even if in certain books there have been great friendships the whole way through, the end is often about a romance coming together. (Which is why I wanted to be sure that both Emma book 1 and 2 ended on a note about friendship.) This emphasis on romance is general, but I think it’s targeted more at girls. 

There’s also a lot of other stuff that discourages them from prioritising their female friendships, such as portrayals of – as you say – girls who are ‘cool’ because they ‘just find boys easier to get along with.’

To say I don’t see competition in certain friendships would be a lie – there are all kinds of different friendships out there. But there are so many healthy, supportive female friendships, and it does aggravate me not to see them being sufficiently represented and valued. Why this is I’m not sure… just more of the same sexism that’s there throughout all of society, I guess?! Why is it that we assume boys won’t want to read books with girl protagonists? Why is it that a girl having lots of sexual partners means she’s a slag but it’s ok for a boy? I wish I knew…

6. Can you tell us about some of your favourite female friendships throughout history? 

SO MANY. I want to be part of Taylor Swift and her crew, obvs. I adore Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox.

Two of my personal faves are the Edies – Edith ‘Big Edie’ Bouvier Beale and Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale. It’s an unconventional one as they were mother and daughter, totally codependent and totally bizarre, but I’m not sure anyone who’s watched Grey Gardens could deny their deep, unbreakable connection to one another…or that, despite their differences, they gave each other a hell of a lot of support and had tons of fun.

Recently, I was surprised to read about Ella Fitzgerald thanking Marilyn Monroe for her big break. Ella was turned away from playing in a club because of the colour of her skin, which Marilyn protested, and said if they gave Ella the gig she’d sit in the front seat every night to make sure the press and the crowds turned up. 

I’ve also always found Jane Austen and her governess Anne Sharp’s relationship really touching. It was frowned upon as her governess wasn’t deemed Jane’s equal, but Jane trusted Anne to read her stories to give critiques and was apparently the last person Jane wrote to on her deathbed.

7.What have been some of the best things you have learned from your own friends? 

Be yourself. ‘Not everyone’s going to like you, but we do.’ (Haha!) They let me know when I step too far, when I’m being unreasonable, or when I need to stand up for myself; I need them for their sound advice. Also important life skills like how to make jelly shots and skittles vodka.

8.What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?

Finish the book (simple but true!) Take advice – editorial input from others is crucial – but make sure the book doesn’t lose your own voice. At the end of the day it’s got to be your book – the book that only you could write.

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Unquiet Giant – interview with Emma Langford

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Limerick based singer-songwriter, Emma Langford is sweeping through the Irish music scene. With almost non-stop touring, she is one of the most uplifting artists gracing our stages right now. We spoke to Emma about her musical background, the pressures and joys of touring, anxiety and inspiration.

How did you get into music initially? Did you take music classes? 

No, I had none of the discipline to do music outside of school. My parents tried to put me into violin lessons when I was very young and I have really distinct memories of being put at the back of the group at the Christmas performance and being just told to mime! I had no discipline at all as a child. I was always going to be an artist, I was going to draw. I grew up with that as my ambition, with my parents both as artists. I was drawing all of the time in school. I only started into music in a serious way in my teens. I started song writing and a sort of vague attempt at playing guitar. But I still didn’t start pursuing lessons seriously until about three years ago. 

So you were mostly self-taught? 

Yes, I was, entirely. I actually developed vocal nodules when I was twelve because of poor technique, singing. 

I was singing all of the time, I was like a Disney princess, you couldn’t stop me! But I had really poor technique and I was a teenager and I thought I was doing everything right! But because of that I had to quit singing for about two years. 

I wasn’t allowed to sing around the house, around my friends. In my teens I started going to vocal therapy, just to bring back my speaking voice. It was around then that I started to consider the idea of singing as a career. 

Your sound is incredibly unique, you have a wonderful blend of influences and genres – was that a conscious decision? 

I grew up listening to The Beatles, the house was full of a lot of different sounds. So I was never drawn to anything in particular. 

I just filtered elements of different sounds that were around me at the time. I think being a singer songwriter, you have the freedom to do that, which is great. 

With your album, The Quiet Giant, what was the process that went into creating that? 

The Quiet Giant is kind of a culmination of the work of five or six years. When I started working on it, I hadn’t been expecting to be producing an album! I had been writing for years and I had produced an EP in 2016, which was a crowdfunded project. And then 2017 rolled around and I was offered a tour in Germany but it was contingent on my producing an album and a music video. So I had about six months to do that. So the songs that are on the album span from when I started writing to the year I produced the album. The backing and the arrangements all kept them on the same page in terms of tone, but A Quiet Giant is actually one of the first songs I ever wrote, so it’s kind of nostalgic for me. 

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It was nice to allow the album to celebrate that process of just starting songwriting to being a songwriter. 

You’re currently touring at the moment? 

Yes! Sometimes it feels like it never stops! I am touring in Germany and Switzerland in July and in August I’m touring for a week in Denmark! In October I’m hoping to take a break for a little while, hopefully work on some new music, learn some new instruments and go to songwriting seminars hopefully! At the moment I’m really enjoying touring, it’s really good fun, but you do need a break from it sometimes, I’ve learned. 

It must be a lot of pressure constantly going from place to place? 

It can be, but I’m really lucky, I’m living with my parents in Limerick, that’s where I’m based, so I’ve got a really nice place to come back to, to reset and de-compress. But at the same time, when you’re touring so consistently, you are always on and just keeping your energy up all of the time both for the gigs and for promoting them can be draining. It’s probably more mentally draining than physically draining. When your brain is always ‘on’ that takes a lot out of you. 

It was nice to allow the album to celebrate that process of just starting songwriting to being a songwriter. 

I suppose the upside is getting to perform in front of different crowds and getting to meet all kinds of people at your shows? 

You never know who’s going to be in the audience, and you never know what opportunities are going to occur as a result of a particular gig. You might do a gig that you don’t think went great, but someone will be in the audience and they will have heard something that they really like and they might invite you to go somewhere else. Those kind of knock-on opportunities are great. For the last few months I’ve been touring with Sara Ryan (who was also featured in Cinders) the two of us have been hanging out and learning from each other and learning from each other’s sounds. There is so much opportunity for growth and learning when you’re working with another musician. I think I’ve learned a lot from Sara about kindness and patience and giving of yourself which is great. With touring itself its really special to be able to share your songs and your stories with totally new people. That’s really special.

What would you say your process is when you’re writing a new song? 

Most often I don’t really know that I’m dealing with something until I write a song about it. Like a good Irish person I have a tendency to push all of my worries and concerns into a little ball and not deal with it. I just let them condense until it becomes unbearable.

Most often I don’t really know that I’m dealing with something until I write a song about it.

 Until it becomes a song. in terms of a writing process, it’s different every time, depending on what I’m working on. I could wake up in the morning with a melody in my head that I dreamt up and then I start working on that. I could be walking down the street, and see a person stopped at a traffic light and that becomes a melody. The nice thing about song writing is that you get to channel the world around you and show people life through your eyes. Once you’re telling your personal story in a way that only you can do, it’s very important. 

With that in mind, songs of yours like Tug O’ War are very powerful with its message of anxiety and how that can affect you? 

Most of my songs take a bit of time to write, but when I wrote Tug o’ War, it just poured out of me. It had all really compounded, that anxiety, that stress and that panic. I had allowed it to build up that when it came to writing the song, it just flowed out. A lot of the time when you’re songwriting you have a tendency to second guess every word, every sentence, but sometimes you have to just let it happen and the most obvious way of saying something, can be the best way of saying it. You’re just saying exactly how you feel about something and I think that’s what made Tug o’ War such a relatable song for lots of people. The last thing that someone with anxiety needs is a song they have to deconstruct to understand. I just wanted to get the message out there, that I was feeling this and a lot of people feel this and that people aren’t alone with it. 

There’s a lovely gospel flavour to Tug o’ War, was that intentional when you were writing it? 

It was a combination of things really. One of my tutors in college was Kathleen Turner, who is a gorgeous songwriter, and she is incredible. She would have thought me Gospel in college (I did the BA in Voice and Dance in UL) and we had the opportunity to take gospel lessons, which was really cool. She always has been a real role model for me in music and she writes a lot of gospel music. On top of that I had just been supporting Ben Caplan who is a  brilliant Canadian musician and he also has a very gospel flavour to his music. So between listening to the two of them I think it really evoked something in me that I wanted to communicate. I felt that that gospel vibe was the best way to express what I was feeling and that it would be ‘healing’ for the listener. I feel like gospel music as a really healing element to it. It just seemed like the perfect genre to tell that story through. 

And alternatively some of your other songs have a strong trad influence, like Closed Book? 

That was totally accidental in a way! I didn’t grow up with trad at all, although I love it. I didn’t grow up with it so it didn’t have too much of an influence on my writing but somehow it sort of permeated through! Maybe it’s in my bones or something!

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 I adore the sounds and I’ve let it take over a lot of my songs, and the next album is actually headed even further in that direction. It’s really nice to be able to represent in the Irish tradition in some way when I travel with my music! 

What is the best advice you’ve gotten in your career as a musician?

Well one, it’s a little clichéd and cheesy but my mum always says that old quote, ‘To thine own self be true’. In any moment of doubt in secondary school, I’d come home mimicking something that someone else said, and my Mum would always say, ‘that’s not you, to thine own self be true. To hold on to that sense of yourself, and that’s found its way into my music as well. That’s really helped. And I don’t remember where I heard it, but just make work happen. Just do it. Whether it’s successful, or whether you’re going to continue with it, just write the song, learn the scales. Come up with guitar riffs, just keep working, keep constantly creating and eventually something will come of it. I think most musicians will tell each other that. Just keep creating work. That’s always been very good advice that I often for get to follow for myself but will always give to someone else, you know the way!

Hear me Roar! Or, how I learned to deal with my anger at the world

This week we released a new issue of Cinders Magazine, our tenth publication if you can believe it! And in it I had some very strong opinions about today’s society and how I deal with my anger at it.

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‘I am woman hear me roar’ is an anthem, both literally and metaphorically. It originally comes from the song ‘I am woman’ by singer-songwriter Helen Reddy, released in 1971. Since then it has become the calling card of the feminist movement. And given the events of the last year; the revelations, the horrible crimes that have come to light; the general attitude of the world towards women and their bodies: I’d say we need it now more than ever.

THE GLASS ceiling, #Me Too, gender quotas, sexual assault, microagressions. All of these issues affect different women in different ways. All of them make me want to roar at the sky on a daily basis. And among the world’s women, I’m one of the lucky ones. Those of us who were born cis-gendered, heterosexual and white need to accept and acknowledge that among women as a whole, we haxve privilege, and a lot of it. And this doesn’t mean that terrible things can’t happen to us, or that when they do, the trauma of those actions are diminished. But it does mean that we get given a start that is a couple of rungs up the ladder from other women.

We have to work a little less hard to get to the top. And that’s important to be mindful of when we are looking at our lives. Privilege is just that – a gift. It’s not something that other people want to take away from you – it’s something that they wish that they could share in. So it’s our job to constantly ask questions and learn from other women about their truth, about how we can help make a better world for each other. And then we can go on roaring for ourselves and for each other.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have a lot of things that I want to be roaring about, all of the time. Every time I read a story about a girl who has been attacked; when I see hard working women abused for their jobs online; when I see the lengths some women have to go to be taken seriously in the workplace. And that’s just the macro scale. The big things that make my blood boil. There’s the small scale stuff too. The fact that if I pass a bunch of drunken men on a night out, they will make a comment. The fact that I get nervous every time I see a man walking near me when I’m walking back to my car at night.

The fact that if a sexist joke is told in my presence, people think it’s okay because they have prefaced it by saying ‘Now I’m not a sexist but .. .’ The fact that when I mention that I run a feminist pop culture magazine there are so many people that say: ‘Feminism? Isn’t that a bit extreme?’ Or ‘Are you just jumping on the bandwagon?’ Or ‘Oh, well I wouldn’t know anything about that, I don’t think I’d be interested in it.’ Sigh. I get angry and frustrated by the world around me all of the time. It boils up into a white hot ball, burns up inside and ends up hurting precisely one person: me.

Creativity is the best thing I’ve ever found for dealing with my own anger with the world.

Because those of you out there who are introverts know: inside anger doesn’t do us any good. And unfortunately for us, we’re not great at expressing outside anger all that well. I’ve tried all of the big things. I’ve tried breaking things. I’ve tried meditating at things. I’ve tried to ignore things. None of it works. None of it makes the white boiling ball go away. The only thing that I’ve ever found to be in any way effective is not breaking things, but making them instead. Creativity is the best thing I’ve ever found for dealing with my own anger with the world. I write a poem about my anger. I play my piano as hard as I can, hitting all of the keys too forcefully. I draw a picture with heavy black lines to emphasise what I’m feeling course through me.

I write a story about a girl who is stronger than the world around her. I make a short film about the pressures and anxieties that I deal with. I create a feminist pop culture magazine. In short, I roar. I roar with music and with art and with writing. I roar in a way that my brain will allow me to, in a way that I never regret, feel guilty or embarrassed about. I think it’s because making things doesn’t mean you have to stop being angry. You have to stay angry. The anger is in the thing I’ve created. And if it’s something permanent, then my anger is permanent too. And that’s the biggest relief there is. Because I’m able to put my anger into something constructive, into something new, I can walk away from it. I’ve thrown the big white boiling ball out of me and into something new. And it might not be great, it might not even be good. But it’s no longer in me, and that’s the important thing. I plan on staying angry, and I’ll keep on roaring for as long as I keep on creating. Because I am woman, and they will hear me roar.

Photograph of the author by Martin McDonnell.

Coping with the future – an interview with Stefanie Preissner

Stefanie Preissner is not a new name to the Irish writing scene, but is one that’s getting called all the more frequently. Through her work in theatre, her critcally acclaimed series, Can’t Cope Won’t Cope and her new book, Stefanie Preissner has gone from ‘one to watch’ to someone we’re all watching closely. We sat down with Stefanie to discuss writing, advice and the new season of Can’t Cope Won’t Cope. 

1. Can you remember the first time you thought ‘I want to be a writer’? 

No. I don’t think I have, even to this day, thought that sentence. I still feel like ‘writers’ are very serious, intellectual people and I’m just here in a café on my laptop. I wanted to be the first female Garda Commissioner, then I wanted to act, and now… while I still see myself as a performer I feel like I have too much to say to speak someone else’s words. The world is chaotic and the only way I can process it is to write. I’m just fortunate that I get the luxury of being able to combine what feels like a contribution to society and my passion.

2. Did you feel more pressure approaching season two of Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, given it’s success in Season One? If so, how did you combat this? 

Of course. I think that Season One hit a nerve and while it was good, I think it was received as ‘great’ because people hadn’t seen young Irish women represented on screen in that way. In season one, I was free to sort of write whatever I wanted but in Season Two I had to respond to the reaction to Season One. I think it’s inelegant and a sign of hubris to rebut every single criticism of your work, so I take criticism seriously. I don’t always react but I always consider it. And I had issues with Season One too. So I looked at what worked, and looked at how Ireland of 2018 is markedly different to that of 2015 and I went into the scripts with the intention of writing a show that was relevant and provocative.

3. Who do you identify with more, Aisling or Danielle? 

I identify strongly with different parts of each of them. I identify with Aisling’s impulsiveness and her impatience. I identify with Danielle’s wishes to be a good friend, to be a good student, to put other people’s plans and needs ahead of her own.

4. What advice would you give them if you could speak to them?

I wouldn’t bother trying to give advice to Aisling, I’d be wasting my breath. I’d probably encourage Danielle to be a bit gentler on herself which would inevitably make her see the world and other people with more sympathetic eyes.

The world is chaotic and the only way I can process it is to write. I’m just fortunate that I get the luxury of being able to combine what feels like a contribution to society and my passion.

5. What was it like unveiling your innermost thoughts in ‘Why Can’t everything just Stay the Same?’

It was a beautiful luxury. Writing for TV, the scripts have to be so lean and the writing so sparse. It was a luxury, and –  let’s be clear – an exercise in indulgence. I have always been paralytically indecisive. I ask my friends to confirm my opinions and to guide my tastes so it felt strange to commit opinions, feelings and thoughts to print but that’s why I have the caveat in there that I reserve the right to change my mind. And in one of the chapters “GENDERALISATIONS” I actually change my opinion half way through the chapter but I didn’t delete the first half because I think it’s crucial, if society is to progress in a meaningful, functional and empathetic way, that people are not held to things they have said in the past and they are allowed to change their views and grow if they choose.

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6. Do you find you have to get into a different mindset when writing fictional series like Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope versus writing about your own experiences, like you did for your book? 

Not really. They both come out of my head, my experiences and my imagination. Its more fun being able to construct a false narrative but it’s important in this day and age that we have books and art and theatre that use extreme truth. There’s too much fake news and lies out there. You don’t have to look further than Instagram filters to see it.

Its more fun being able to construct a false narrative but it’s important in this day and age that we have books and art and theatre that use extreme truth. There’s too much fake news and lies out there. You don’t have to look further than Instagram filters to see it.

7.You’ve spoken frequently about mental health and bullying, do you think creative outlets like writing have helped you deal with these experiences?

I mean, they help as much as a nice hot bath helps. But I think it undermines the experience of being bullied or depressed to think that creative outlets can solve the problem. It helps of course, to talk and process but the psychological weight of those things shouldn’t be undermined or underestimated.

8. What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given? 

What other people think of you is none of your business.

 9. What would you like to be working on next?

I have loads lined up for 2018 so I’m going to be working hard on taking breaks. I love my work. But I love not working too.

What other people think of you is none of your business.

 Why Can’t Everything just Stay the Same is available in a bookshop near you now.

Double Exposure – An Interview with Adrianne Finlay

People have dreams of reaching the moon, defeating death, achieving perfection. Those are the dreams that fuelled the community of Adrianne Finlay’s Your One & Only and led to the society of clones that now populates it. We spoke to Adrianne about her writing process, her clone society and her favourite science fiction.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? 

I spent a good deal of time not knowing what I wanted to be, but I was always a big reader, and even as a child I entertained myself by writing stories. I became a professor of writing and literature, and certainly the fact that I enjoyed reading and writing had an impact on that path, but it took a while to imagine that I could actually do those things as a career.

Continue reading Double Exposure – An Interview with Adrianne Finlay

Faerie Queen – An Interview with Holly Black

Over the last ten years, bestselling author Holly Black has rightly earned the title of ‘Faerie Queen’. She weaves a Faerie world that is dangerous and bloodthirsty, far from being a dream come true, these worlds are more like your darkest nightmares brought to life. Méabh McDonnell spoke to Holly about her experience writing her new novel The Cruel Prince and her writing life.

 

A veteran of urban fantasy, Holly Black has delighted readers with her previous ventures into a dark and twisted Faerie world overlapping modern day America.  Her stories are gritty, compelling, and surprisingly realistic for stories about faeries.  Her previous ventures into this Faerie world, have unearthed a collection of brave and strong characters, in Tithe, Valiant, Ironside and The Darkest Part of the Forest.

I started with the idea of this girl being raised by the her parents murderer

The Cruel Prince is a fresh journey into this, cruel world of Faerie. It tells the story of Jude Duarte, kidnapped into Faerie as a child with her twin Taryn, and sister Vivi. If that wasn’t bad enough, they were kidnapped and raised by their parent’s murderer, redcap general Madoc. Jude grows up in their faerie world of Elfhame, and is forced to make this place her home. It isn’t a particularly welcoming place for a human girl to grow up. Even less welcoming because of her enemies in the court, none worse than prince of the realm, Cardan. Prince Cardan takes vicious delight in tormenting Jude, making her life hell. Despite all of this, Jude is determined to make a life for herself within the Faerie kingdom. And she is willing to do almost anything to make it a reality…

Speaking to Holly Black, we found out what she enjoyed about revisiting her world of fairy.

Continue reading Faerie Queen – An Interview with Holly Black

Bell, book and candle – interview with Moïra Fowley Doyle

Magic, mysticism and mystery are at the core of Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s novels, The Accident Season and this year’s The Spellbook of the Lost and Found. Set in rural Ireland they take normal girls and unravel the secrets of their past and defeat the demons of their present with spells, enchantment and dreams. We chatted to Moira about the inspiration behind her books and weaving magic into modern Ireland.

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Did you always want to write novels?

Always. When I was a child I wanted to be a ballet dancer so I took four two-hour ballet classes a week for ten years – and I wrote constantly: stories and poems and every day in my diary. When I was a teenager I wanted to be an artist so I drew and painted and sketched – and I wrote constantly: poetry and short novels and every day in my diary. When I was in university I realised that my only constant was my real passion, so I started calling myself a writer.

Where did you develop an interest in magical realism?

When I was a teenager I discovered the Weetzie Bat books by Francesca Lia Block.They’re a series of five cult YA books written in the 80s and I’d never read anything like them. They’re glitzy and grim and sparkly and serious, they’re lyrical and strange and poetic.

There’s this sense that threads through them that even the darkest moments can be beautiful, that reality and fantasy are blurred, that everybody has a story to tell.

I took this like an arrow to the heart because I’d always had the same sense myself, but couldn’t quite put it into words.

Once I realised that this interlacing of truth and fiction had a genre and a name I started reading all the magic realism I could find.

It’s the closest type of fiction that I feel reflects real life.

“The real and the maybe-not-so-real have always been a bit blurry for me, and that means that when things are good they’re dreamy and magical, and when they aren’t they’re eerie and haunting.”

What books and authors have influenced your writing style?

Francesca Lia Block, for starters, but also non-YA like Kate Atkinson and Jeanette Winterson on the adult fiction side, and David Almond and Philip Pullman on the children’s fiction side. These are the authors I read the most as a teenager, which was when my writing style developed, and are also some of the authors I read the most today.

Both The Accident Season and The Spellbook of the Lost and Found are dreamy, haunting stories, do you have to get in a particular mindset for that style of writing?

To be honest, that mindset is kind of my default. I’ve never been someone who is particularly anchored in the real world. The real and the maybe-not-so-real have always been a bit blurry for me, and that means that when things are good they’re dreamy and magical, and when they aren’t they’re eerie and haunting. I lived my entire adolescence like this, so I suppose it made sense to me to write about teenagers who lived the same way.

In The Spellbook of the Lost and Found you mix religious traditions, superstitions and wiccan ritual, did you do a lot of research to bring your story to life?

I read a lot about folk magic and patron saints, but these are things I’m very interested in anyway, so I had a good bit of that research done already. I learnt a lot of the superstitions and religious traditions just by having been brought up atheist in Ireland. There’s this fascinating and beautiful almost-paganism to Irish Catholicism when you look at it from the outside: the patron saints, the holy wells, how people bury Child of Prague statues before weddings and keep St Christopher medals in their babies’ prams. I also read a lot about trees. Native Irish trees and the superstitions and legends and folk magic associated with each. Each of the characters’ names were carefully chosen so that their personalities – and relationships with each other – aligned with the meanings of the trees they’re named after. I think I read more about trees than I did any other research.

Your books have such a sense of place – did the area that you grew up in have a big influence on that? 

Not the place I grew up in, so much: I grew up in Clontarf, which is a seaside suburb on the north side of Dublin, and it’s very lovely, but not at all like where I set my first two books.

But a couple of years before I wrote The Accident Season my parents bought a house in County Mayo, beside a forest, on the shores of a lake.

It’s in the middle of nowhere, a fifteen minute drive from the nearest small town which has a beautiful river running through the middle of it and not a few ghost estates sitting empty and overgrown. B

oth The Accident Season and Spellbook are set in fictional small towns that are heavily based on that real town.

“I don’t tend to write people I know in real life into my books, but I put a lot of the feel of my family – the closeness, the teasing, the minor chaos, the dad jokes – into Olive’s family in Spellbook”

The characters in both of your novels are loyal and have strong connections of family and friendship – is that drawn from your own life?

I’m very lucky because I have a very close-knit, loving family and a group of friends I’ve had since I was a teenager. Some I met when I started secondary school, the others when I started university, and we’ve been through a lot together and grown up together and stayed strong and a lot of us were each other’s bridesmaids and now our children play together.

I don’t tend to write people I know in real life into my books, but I put a lot of the feel of my family – the closeness, the teasing, the minor chaos, the dad jokes – into Olive’s family in Spellbook.

That’s probably why the chapters we spend in Olive’s house are some of my favourites in the whole book.

Do you have a favourite of any of your characters?

I feel a great kinship with Bea in The Accident Season – she is probably the closest to teenage-me that any of my characters have turned out so far.

But I also love Rose in Spellbook – I think it would be very difficult not to fall in love with somebody like Rose in real life.

The romances and emotions in both of your books are incredibly intense and vibrant – do you enjoy writing that side of your characters or do you find it challenging?

I love the emotions!

Emotions and relationships and family dynamics are the things I prefer to write – in fact, they’re always the things I write first.

My first drafts are a mess of dreaminess and creepiness and characters having emotions and relationships and the rest of what makes a story – the plot, the pacing, having at least half of the book make some semblance of sense – happens in the edits.

“Write the kind of book you want to read but can’t quite find, the one that ticks all your boxes, the one that you’d buy instantly if you saw it on the shelves.”

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

I know this is kind of a cliché, but write what you love. Fall in love with what you write.

Write the kind of book you want to read but can’t quite find, the one that ticks all your boxes, the one that you’d buy instantly if you saw it on the shelves. If you don’t love your book fiercely, you’re less likely to finish it.

And if you love it that much, chances are very high that other people will too.

Do you have plans for your next novel? 

I’m currently about halfway through the first draft of my next novel, so because it’s at such an early stage I can’t talk much about it. I like that it’s kind of a secret as I build it, though – this tangle of family history and stormy seas – that will one day soon become a book.

The Accident Season and The Spellbook of the Lost and Found are published by Penguin and available from all good bookshops.

New year, new volume of Cinders

Welcome to volume two! This last year has been one of the best experiences all of us who work on Cinders have ever had. It has been so wonderful to watch this magazine become a reality, moving on from a dream that many of us have shared for many years. It gives us so much pleasure to take our little magazine that could from its first issues into our second year.

We’ve had some incredible highlights from issue one, from interviews with the likes of Ashely Clements, Mary Kate Wiles, Deirdre Sullivan, Meg Grehan, Karen Vaughan and Diana Mirza to looking at feminist influences in pop culture. We’ve looked at some of our favorite tv shows, brilliant movies and incredible historical figures with all around feminist and entertaining writer, Grainne Coyne! We also were lucky enough to be finalists in the V by Very Blog awards Ireland in the books and literature category and shortlisted in the Politics category!

Continue reading New year, new volume of Cinders

Feminism Forwards – An interview with Rosita Sweetman

First published in Cinders issue three

We had the pleasure of speaking with author, writer and feminist Rosita Sweetman. Author of Father’s Come First – which we reviewed in issue two of Cinders – Rosita gave us her impression of feminism today, how it has changed since Ireland of the 70s.

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What with the strides that the feminist movement has taken in recent years for privileged women of the developed world, it can be easy to forget how much more change is needed – but also how recently in Ireland that women’s power was os much less and so reliant on the men in their lives. But that is the world that Rosita Sweetman’s Father’s Come First is set in. Rosita wrote the small but powerful novel when she was living in East Africa and thinking of home.

Continue reading Feminism Forwards – An interview with Rosita Sweetman