The Next Big Thing

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I’m taking part in a blog hop. (A what?) A blog hop. It’s a sort of benign pyramid scheme for blogging writers. (How did that happen?) Well, Alrene Hughes kindly invited me to take part and tagged me in her blog on 16th January, along with a number of other writers. Alrene is author of Martha’s Girlsa family saga set in Belfast in World War II. This is her debut novel, it is published by Matador and is available as a paperback and an ebook.

(What now?) I answer the ten blog hop questions, and recruit a number of other writers (below) to do the same. Eventually, there will be no writers left to tag, since everyone will have done it and then it will stop. But until then, here we go…


What are you working on at the moment?

A short story collection, title to be decided.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, I wrote some stories and I read some of them in public and some people said, ‘Why don’t you publish a collection?’

What genre does your book fall under?

Tricky, but I’d say ‘Short Stories’ sums it up best.

Which actors would you choose to play in a film rendition of your book?

Oh, nice question. Let me see. A student at a talk I gave recently at Belfast Metropolitan College said she thought Tilda Swinton would make a great Harriet in The Butterfly Cabinet and I love that idea, but I don’t think she’d be right for any of the stories in this collection so sorry, Tilda, no through-casting. Anne-Marie Duff could play Kate in ‘Sleepwalkers’ and I think I’d have Brenda Blethyn for Rhonda in the story I’m working on at the moment. Oh, and the father in ‘No Angel’ could be played by Martin Sheen. I’m sure none of them would have any bother with a Northern Irish accent. Okay, I’ve lost the run of myself. Next question.

What is the one sentence synopsis for your book?

I hate this question because it’s really hard work to answer it, but if I’m pushed, what the stories have in common is a concern with language, with legacy, with memory and with identity, with what’s said and what’s not said: they’re about survivors and they’re about ghosts. (That was originally two sentences but I cheated with a colon.)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published in May/June 2013 by Whittrick Press, a new digital publisher based in Northern Ireland. (They’ll be accepting submissions very soon. Go like their Facebook page.)

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The stories have been written over the last five or six years and a number of them have already appeared in print. Some of them were written over a matter of weeks, some of them over the period of a year or more. Many of them were begun in writing workshops and were left to ‘ferment’ for months before I went back to them. I quite like to work like that, to always have a piece of writing to return to. (Which may be the reason that the second novel is taking so long…)

What other books would you compare this to within this genre?

That’s difficult to say. When I look at the Amazon placings for The Butterfly Cabinet, I see that ‘Customers who bought this item have also bought’ books by Zadie Smith, Iain Pears, Rose Tremain, Kate Morton, Agatha Christie, Alice Hoffman, Rachel Hore. I’m very happy to be on that shelf, thank you very much, but I’m not sure what shelf the short stories sit on. It’s possible that they’re not on a shelf. They might be under a table somewhere, at the back of the shop.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Different things. Some of the stories begin with a very specific place I’ve visited, ‘Sleepwalkers’, ‘Home’ and ‘The Language Thing’ are set in Spain, France and Italy respectively. Some of them, or parts of some of them, were prompted by writing exercises in workshops (‘The Recipe’ and ‘The Bells are Ringing Out’). Some of them are prompted by hearing people speak on that public confessional, the radio. (There’s something very evocative and intimate about a disembodied voice.) Some of them borrow from personal experience. Many of them come from thoughts that occur in the shower, water on the head being a great creative stimulant. Often it’s a voice that starts to speak, that has a story to tell. Over time, lots of other elements feed in as well and in the end, because you work it and work it and work it some more, hopefully it becomes impossible to see where one piece of the jigsaw begins and another ends. I’ve just read this, by Flannery O’Connor, one of my favourite short story writers: ‘I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’ Never a truer word was spoken.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Every copy comes with a free bar of chocolate. (That’s a lie.) Let me see. There’s one award-winning story in here, and a few that were short-listed for awards as well as a couple of stories that are previously unpublished. I don’t have any written endorsements for the short stories, but here’s what author Eugene McCabe said about The Butterfly Cabinet: ‘Bernie McGill’s rare, hypnotic gift for writing fills every page. [It] contains no end of apparently throwaway sentences you want to remember.' Nice! And Tom Paulin liked it too and Julian Fellowes and some other people said some other good things here (you’ll need to scroll down a bit). So, you know, you might like the writing, even without the chocolate.

Is that it? Hurrah! Homework done. Okay, fun bit. Here are the next round of blog-hopping writers who will be posting their Next Big Thing on Wednesday 30th January. They all live on the island of Ireland, and they write fiction, song lyrics, Young Adult books, poetry, as well as for film, theatre and screen. I’m delighted to be handing on the baton to Lesley Richardson, Deirdre Cartmill, Debbie (DJ) McCune, Elizabeth Rose Murray, Briana Corrigan and Anthony Toner who will all post on 30th January. Go and have a jook.

Lesley Richardson is a writer from Bangor, Co. Down, who is currently writing her second novel, The Possibilities of Elizabeth. Her first novel, Biddy Weirdo, is yet to be published, but Lesley and her agent, Susan Feldstein, are hopeful that that will soon change. Represented by the Feldstein Agency, Lesley has received a grant from The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and a writing bursary from North Down Borough Council. She launched her blog, Standing Naked at a Bus Stop last year and she tweets

Deirdre Cartmill is a poet, writer and creative writing tutor. Her debut poetry collection Midnight Solo is published by Lagan Press and her second collection The Return of the Buffalo will be published in 2013. She has written for film, television and radio as Deirdre Alexander and her short film Two Little Boys was produced in 2012. She won the Claddagh Films Script Award and the BBC Writersroom Undercover competition and has been shortlisted for several awards including the Hennessy Literary Award, the Scottish International Poetry Competition and the Red Planet Prize.

Debbie (DJ) McCune  is the author of Young Adult novel Death & Co soon to be published by Hot Key Books. She was born in Belfast and grew up in Carrickfergus, a seaside town just north of the city. As a child she liked making up stories and even wrote some down, including a thriller about a stolen wallaby. At school she hated doing homework, except writing stories for English - which were long enough to make her teachers weep. Debbie read Theology at Trinity College, Cambridge but mostly just read lots of books. She has enjoyed a varied career, but she is currently Head of Religious Studies in an Integrated Secondary School. She lives in Northern Ireland with her husband, daughter and two cats - with seven legs between them. Debbie’s on Twitter and her Author Facebook Page is here.

Elizabeth Rose Murray lives in rural West Cork. Represented by Sallyanne Sweeney, she writes mainly for children/YA, but has adult poetry and fiction published in journals across the UK/Ireland. In 2012, Elizabeth performed in Ciudades Paralelas: Station at the Cork Midsummer Festival. Elizabeth also provides social media training for writers/artists and blogs professionally for major literary festivals including Listowel Writers’ Week, Cork International Short Story Festival and Dublin Writers Festival. Read her poem Book of Us in Southword Journal, visit her Green Fingered Writer blog or chat to her on Twitter. For inspiration, try her Wordspark writing prompts and Pinterest boards.

Briana Corrigan is a singer, songwriter, poet and playwright. Before turning her hand to writing she enjoyed success with the band ‘The Beautiful South. Last year her first play, The Scarlet Web-Martha’s Story toured Ireland and Scotland. Irish Theatre magazine described her writing as 'skillful' and 'an achievement'. She has also written and released two self-penned solo albums, When My Arms Wrap You Round which reached no 48 in the UK album charts, and in 2012 Redbird, for which Hotpress magazine described her as a 'songwriter of wit, elegance and style'. Briana holds an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing from Queens University, Belfast. You can catch her on Facebook and on Twitter.

Belfast-based singer songwriter Anthony Toner is poised to release his new album, Sing Under the Bridges, in mid-February, before embarking on a series of live concerts throughout Northern Ireland. The collection, his fifth, follows a string of radio successes - his composition ‘Sailortown’ has become one of Northern Ireland radio’s most requested songs. Other recent radio hits have included ‘Marion, That’s All Right’, ‘The Duke of Oklahoma’, ‘Walking Down the Line’ and ‘Well Well Well’, which was featured on Ulster Television’s weather bulletins, sponsored by Progressive Building Society, for an extended period last year. He has played shows in Nashville on many occasions, and has shared the stage with Nanci Griffith and Guy Clark, as well as showcasing at Austin’s South by South West festival. He’s also developing a following in Canada and recently performed live at Grand Central Station in New York City as part of a Northern Ireland showcase event organized by Tourism Ireland. Always a popular and accomplished live performer, Anthony’s shows include superb guitar playing, background information on the inspiration behind the material, and some entertaining stories from the road. In addition to his musical work, Anthony was a journalist for seventeen years and has also had short stories published in The Black Mountain Review and Breaking the Skin: New Irish Writing anthology. He maintains a popular blog on his own website, which also contains videos, songs and details of his various activities. 



She's great, Elizabeth. Thanks for taking part. See you soon, I hope. Maybe we could meet about Athlone. That's about half way isn't it?
Fri, 01/02/2013 - 6:46pm

Brenda Blethyn – what a great choice! One of my favourite actresses of all time. And well done with the colon cheat! After reading this, I can’t wait to meet the survivors and ghosts.

Fri, 01/02/2013 - 2:19pm
Ah yes, Lesley, just waiting for the call... I can't wait to read your blog hop. And I like your choice of choccie bar very much indeed. B
Wed, 23/01/2013 - 11:23pm
Oh, thank you, Nuala. I'd love to do that. B
Wed, 23/01/2013 - 11:21pm

Brilliant stuff Bernie! Tilda Swinton would indeed make the perfect Harriet when the film of Butterfly Cabinet is made (a sure thing now that Mr Fellows is your no.1 fan)!

Can't wait to read your stories - I'm going to stash a bar of chocolate (Galaxy Caramel) in a secret hidey-hole and keep it for that very special occasion.

Thank you for tagging me - I'm honoured and humbled! I might get my answers translated into Ancient Greek though, so no one will know what I'm saying. At least they will look impressive! ;) xx

Wed, 23/01/2013 - 1:34pm

Hi Bernie, this sounds exciting. As a short story nut, I can't wait to read your collection. I'd love to interview you on my blog when the book is coming out. Keep me posted. Very best wishes,

Wed, 23/01/2013 - 12:04pm

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