Monday, November 21, 2016

From the cutting room floor ... of Lilac BOOK TWO!

I know it's been quiet around here, but I'm busy working on the second book. It's called Lilac in Scarlet, and I'm really quite excited about getting it ready to print as soon as I can. (Probably not in time for Christmas, though.)

In the meantime, here's a little teaser fresh from the cutting room floor. Margery is still in Canada, sometimes Lilac thinks that feels like so far away that it might as well not be a real place...


I am reading Anne of Green Gables. I know you read it last year and you said I should but I never do anything people tell me to. But now I am, and did you know she lives in Canada? It’s not where I am in Canada, in Ontario, but she lives in Prince Edward Island which is off the coast. On one side or the other, I’m not sure exactly. Isn’t that amazing? I love it. If I was Anne you could be Diana.

 Love from your kindred spirit, Margery

Lilac read this and thought there were so many things wrong about it that she wanted to get a red pen and correct it, the way Miss Grey would correct mistakes in her Irish homework, with lots of big circles and explaining notes. For one thing, of course Margery should have read it ages ago like Lilac told her to. For another, Anne didn’t live in Canada. She lived on Prince Edward Island which was part of . . . part of . . . England, somewhere. It was an imaginary place, probably, Lilac thought. Not Canada, anyway. Nobody spoke French in it, for one thing, and Margery said all the signs in Canada are in English and French. And most importantly, Lilac couldn’t be Diana. If anyone’s going to be Diana around here, Lilac said to herself, it’s Margery. Or maybe Agatha. But she herself, Lilac, would definitely, positively, always, be Anne-with-an-e. Anyone could see that. 

She went to commune with Guzzler for a while. Guzzler never implied that other people had no imagination. (Diana had no imagination.) Imagination was one of Lilac’s special things. That’s how she was most like Anne. That and the freckles.

A little while later, she started a letter back to Margery. 

I’m glad you are finally reading Anne of Green Gables. I don’t think it’s really in Canada. It doesn’t sound anything like where you are. They have farms and the sea and they drive buggies with horses. It’s in the olden days. I don’t think it’s in a real place at all, just Olden Days.
Do people in books even live in real places? Nobody in books I read ever lives in Dublin, or even Cork, or anywhere I’ve been to. And I know you said Anne of Green Gables lived in Canada, but she was pretend, so how could she have lived anywhere? 

Friday, August 19, 2016

A real book

The print version of the book is NOW AVAILABLE from Amazon in the US and the UK and every other Amazon there is, I think. It costs $7.99 in the US and the same in euros (I think), and 6.15 in sterling.

While the ebook is very handy for your holiday reading, and costs less, I know that most 9-12-year-old readers would probably be better off with a real book. Besides which, it's nice to hold in your hands. The cover is a lovely smooth, matte, dark purple, and it has fun things like different fonts for Lilac and her friend Margery's letters to each other, which I just couldn't make show up the same way in the electronic version.

And don't forget, if you've read it and enjoyed it, it would make the author very happy if you'd take a moment to leave a review on Amazon (any Amazon will do; except the river, I suppose).

Buy Lilac in Black and White on
Buy Lilac in Black and White on

My very own box of books

Friday, July 29, 2016

From the cutting-room floor, episode 3: The Phone Book

I promise, the print version of the book will be available REALLY SOON. In the meantime, here's another excerpt that sadly had to be left out of the finished book when things changed in the story. Lilac was trying to find someone's address, so she wanted to look it up in the phone book. Her dad was helping. Or maybe he was just "helping".


‘Now don’t interrupt, I’m coming to it … would you run in and put on the kettle for a second, I’d kill for a cuppa; where’s your mother anyway?’
‘Dad-dy! She’s upstairs. Go on.’
Lilac knew this was what she got for interrupting. If she’d just kept quiet he’d have finished the story by now. She moved towards the door to the kitchen to show willing, but didn’t actually leave the room.
‘So then they went through some other papers in case the form she’d filled in right at the start was still there. And they didn’t find it in his file and they decided that it must have gone out with the bins already.’
He stopped.
‘I know there’s more, you’re trying not to smile. Come on, Dad.’
‘Where’s that tea?’
Lilac went to the kitchen and plugged in the kettle without even looking to see if there was any water in it, and ran back through the door in about three seconds flat.
‘Now!’ she demanded.
‘So then they happened to look in the file right beside Guzzler’s, because of course you have to keep all your paperwork, and sometimes things do get pushed into the wrong place, and there it was, and there was the name we were looking for.’
‘And her address?’
‘Well, no, but we should be able to find it in the phone book. Her name’s O’Connor. Eileen O’Connor, though of course it’ll be under the husband’s name in the book.’
‘But Dad! There are probably a million O’Connors in the phone book. It’s a really common name.’
‘You can look at the addresses. We know she lives nearby. That should narrow it down.’

Half an hour later, Gerry had made his own cup of tea and Lilac was sitting on the floor with her index finger halfway down a very long list of O’Connors, trying to slow down her eyes so she wouldn’t miss what she was looking for. She’d started at Abel O’Connor who lived in Swords, Co. Dublin, and now she was at Jeremy M. O’Connor, B. Arch., of Eglinton Road, Donnybrook. There were five pages of O’Connors in the 01 area code, at three columns to a page.
‘Here’s one!’ she shouted.
Gerry leaned over to see the address she was pointing at.
‘No, that’s not going to be it. Too far outside the town. She definitely told me she lived right around here. One of those little roads off the main street further down, you know?’
‘You could stop for a while, take a break. It’s hard on the eyes looking at all that tiny print. Have you finished your homework?’
‘Yes. Practically. No, I’m going to keep going. I want to find it.’

The silence resumed, broken only by the wet slobbery noise of Guzzler chomping on his toy. There were more John O’Connors than you would think possible, but finally she was on to the Leonards, Liams, Lorcans, and one Lorenzo. (No Lilacs.)
Lilac started to wonder what Lorenzo O’Connor did in his spare time, and whether he had the soulful brown eyes and sweeping mane of hair his name demanded. What a disappointment it must have been for his mother if he had turned out shrimpy and pale. She hoped he was of foreign extraction, so that he’d fit his name, and that he was an actor or a concert pianist and not just an electrician. Though it would be fun to have an electrician called Lorenzo, too. ‘I have to ring Lorenzo’, you would say, ‘because the extractor fan in the bathroom is on the blink. He’ll have to come right over.’
Her eyes were starting to glaze over a bit and she was wondering if she’d have to go back and do this column again all the way from Matthew O’Connor (SC) at the top, when another address seemed to spring off the page at her.
‘Dad! Was it Elm Terrace?’
‘Yes, I’d say it probably was.’
Gerry fumbled in his pocket for a piece of paper and held it a certain distance from his eyes to focus on it. ‘Read out the number in the book there.’
‘What? OK…’ She read it out.
‘That’s the one.’
‘Dad. You had the phone number the whole time?’
‘Yes, it was on the page with her name. She couldn’t just run off without leaving them any contact information at all.’
‘But we could have just rung her and asked her where she lives!’
‘And have you miss all this fun looking it up? Not at all.’ Her dad grinned at her.
‘I can’t believe you did that to me.’
She was so annoyed with him that she went back upstairs and wrote her essay all about how fathers shouldn’t play mean tricks on their daughters just because they didn’t like making phone calls to strangers.

Friday, July 8, 2016

From the cutting-room floor, episode two: Jeannie the babysitter

Time for another deleted scene from the book. This happened after Lilac had met Jeannie, her new babysitter, for the first time.


Once Lilac had met Jeannie, she started to see her everywhere. She supposed she had probably been there all along, but before Jeannie had just been another of the big girls in the navy uniform, who generally seemed to move in giggling clusters of no fewer than six at a time, at least three of whom would be pushing bikes on the footpath and blocking the way past for anyone else.

On Wednesday after late choir practice, Lilac saw Jeannie coming up the hill in a group just like that, though Jeannie seemed to be a little left out of whatever the subject of the giggling was at that particular moment, and was pushing her bike up the steep slope with her head low down, practically on the handlebars, as if school had been so tiring that she’d like to fall asleep before she even got home. Lilac went red and didn’t say hi because she thought Jeannie’s friends might be giggling about her, even though really that was very unlikely.

On Thursday, Lilac went down to the shops after school because her mother was baking a cake – of all things – and needed more eggs. There was Jeannie coming out of the library in the middle of the main street with another girl, still in her school uniform. Jeannie was looking oddly animated and chatting happily and waving her arms as she spoke. This was a new Jeannie, one Lilac hadn’t imagined existed. Lilac tried to say hi, but Jeannie didn’t see her, so Lilac had to pretend she’d just been talking to herself.

The following Saturday morning, Lilac encountered Jeannie with her mother, as she and her Dad went to pick Lilac’s mum up at the tennis club. Lilac’s mum had locked her keys in the car again, and it was lucky that Daddy was home, she said, because otherwise she’d have to get a lift home from someone else and nobody lived in their direction. Lilac liked going into the tennis clubhouse, with its plush surrounds in the bar (where under 12s were not allowed, but she could peer through the narrow panes of glass in the door) and its clangy lockers in the changing room, and its special smell everywhere of metal and shoes and maybe cigars. Jeannie’s mum said Jeannie was joining the club as a junior, and wasn’t that lovely, but Jeannie didn’t really look as if she thought it was lovely, much.

Lilac wondered why on earth any reasonable teenager would want to join a club their mum was in, and – more - why anyone’s mum would think they’d like to do that. Jeannie’s mum was probably all talking about how handy it would be that they could both go to the club together and how much fun it would be to have George the Pro give Jeannie some lessons and how there’d be doubles in the summer and she’d make lots of friends. Those was just the sorts of thing Lilac’s mum would say, and mothers were mothers, after all, even if maybe they didn’t all lock the keys in the car or fake lunches with publishers to get out of school things.

More cover art - and not just an ebook!

It's been a while, I know. These things take time. You can't rush genius.

More to the point, I knew it would be a bad thing to just grab a cover that was pretty good, that would "do", if I wasn't completely happy with it - no matter how impatient I was to get this book out into the world. I had to take my time and wait until I had a cover that felt just right.

Everyone knows you shouldn't judge a book by its cover - but I think almost everyone does just that.

A book's cover tells you so much about it - who it's for, what it's like, whether it's funny or serious or scary or fantastical. And that's before you've even read the title or noticed the name of the author. A detail as subtle as the style of the lettering communicates so much more than you'd think - until you pick the wrong one and nobody buys your book because the cover art isn't attracting them and the outside doesn't match up with the inside.

So I worked with some friends who are as talented as they are patient, and together we suggested and opined and discussed and tried different things and brought our various abilities together and now, almost now, any day now, I will have the final final cover ready to upload with the text files and make my ebook. I'm also going to try to make a physical book as well, because hey, why not? You'll be able to order it from Amazon in Ireland/UK or the US. All the formats, all the ways to read about Lilac.

So here's the new cover art. I think - and I hope you'll agree - that it's eye-catching and fun, that it looks right for the age group and that it's quirky and modern. I'd want to read it - wouldn't you?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Evolution of an ebook cover

The cover art isn't ready yet, but I'm dying to get on with publicising - and publishing - the book! So here's a little teaser - some of the preliminary sketches for the cover...

These were the first two ideas I sent to the designer. (NB: I am not an artist, and in spite of Oliver Jeffers I've no idea how to draw a penguin. That's why I'm employing someone else to do this part for me.)

I thought a little penguin and lots of white space might be cute. 

But I also thought maybe a picture of two girls with a penguin could work.

 My illustrator sent back these, going with the penguin theme. I loved the penguin, but then I thought maybe the script-y writing might be a little hard to read. And I suggested a lilac background colour.

This was the first colour version. Isn't it gorgeous? I loved the rainbow title with the strong, straight letters. But then I thought - what if people think it's a book about a penguin? It's certainly starting to look that way. We needed to get the girls back in there somewhere.

So the girls went back in, but trying not to take focus off the cute penguin. I loved this at first glance - I thought we were done. But my kids took a look and said that it didn't look like a book for the right age group, and I realised that the shadows look like younger children. So it's once more back to the drawing board for my long-suffering artist. I hope I pay her well.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

From the cutting-room floor - episode one

When they make a movie, the movie editor decides which bits to keep and which bits to chop out. In the olden days, before everything happened on a computer, the bits of film that were chopped out were literally dropped onto the floor - at least, that's where the saying comes from.

When I was writing Lilac in Black and White, the story quite often went off at tangents, in directions I hadn't really intended or ones that didn't necessarily make sense as part of the final tale. I couldn't bear to just delete all those hard-won words, though, so I kept them in another document where they could be little scenes from Lilac's life that had still happened. And now they can have their own moment in the sunshine, here on the blog.

This one is a conversation Lilac and her friend Agatha had at school one day:


“What are you going to be for Halloween?” asked Agatha one day at breaktime. Katie Byrne, overhearing, piped up.
“I’m going to be a cowboy! I have red cowboy boots and a jacket with a fringe and a ten-gallon hat like J.R. on Dallas.”
“It’s a secret,” said Lilac.
It wasn’t really, but that didn’t mean she wanted Katie to know all about it. Katie was nice enough, but she always brought egg sandwiches for lunch and they were stinky. Lilac pulled Agatha away, around the other side of the grotto with the statue of Mary that they crowned with a tinsel crown every May. May must be the month of Mary because it was named after her, Lilac presumed. There was only one letter in the difference, so it must be.
“I haven’t decided,” she admitted. “I might be Mary, actually. I’d just need a blue dress and a white teatowel for my head.”
“Are you allowed be Mary?”
“Why not? People always dress up as Mary for the nativity play at Christmas. I’d need a baby too; that’s easy. You could be Joseph, if you like, with a hammer and nails and a fake beard. Or you could be a sheep.”
“I’d rather be an angel,” said Agatha, still not quite sure if it was an OK thing to be for Halloween. “But I was going to be a Japanese lady. Mum has this bright red dressing gown with patterns on it and she said we could put my hair up and make my face white with powder and my lips red.”
“That sounds nice,” agreed Lilac. “I couldn’t wear makeup if I was Mary, I suppose. She’d be like a nun and not allowed to wear any. Maybe I’ll be Cleopatra instead. But my mum always makes me wear a coat. I need to be something that still looks right with my coat on.”
“How about being a snowman? Then you could wear five coats and a hat and that would be your costume.”
“I have to think about it some more. There’s the bell. Don’t tell Katie, okay?”
“Of course not. She’d make us be Sue Ellen and Bobby.”
They went inside humming the theme tune to Dallas.

(Lilac had never actually watched Dallas, because it came on after the nine o’clock news when little girls should be in bed, her parents said. The news was boring anyway, so she usually went upstairs then and read a book until someone noticed her light still on and shouted at her to turn it off. But she knew the theme tune and the names of the characters, because it was just one of those things everyone knew unless they had no telly at all, like poor Angela Delaney whose parents thought it was bad for children’s brains. Angela couldn’t join in on any conversations unless they were about books.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My favourite books

I have a lot of favourite books, but nothing I've read as an adult has stayed with me and become a part of me the way the books I read as a child and a teenager did. And I'm still discovering new, and new-to-me, favourites in the children's section of the library, in second-hand book sales, and on other people's bookshelves.

When I moved to America I took just a few books with me. Over the years, I've slowly been migrating my childhood bookshelf here, a few volumes at a time, stuffed into an overfull suitcase. In theory, it's for my kids to profit from, but mostly it's because I like having my books around me, and I still read them.

Bookshelf containing books listed below
Bonus recorder-storage space

So, what's on my bookshelf? This is how it looks, in rough order of age suitability:

Winnie the Pooh (two volumes of stories, plus three of poetry)
Charlotte's Web
Narnia (seven books)
Antonia Forrest - Autumn Term, End of Term, Attic Term, Cricket Term 
LM Montgomery (the Emily books, which I only discovered recently; all my Anne books are in Ireland still but will definitely be next)
Noel Streatfield - Ballet Shoes, White Boots, The Painted Garden
Tolkien - The Hobbit

Young Adults
Alan Garner - Elidor, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Owl Service, Red Shift
KM Peyton - the Flambards series and the Pennington books (four books each)
Rumer Godden - The Greengage Summer and The Peacock Spring (which are not a series, though they sound as if they should be) and The Doll's House, a really perfect story for younger readers

And these are some of the children's/YA fiction I've discovered and loved as an adult:

JK Rowling - Harry Potter (seven books, as everyone knows)
Susan Cooper - Over Sea Under Stone (four books)
Rick Riordan - the two Percy Jackson series; I haven't read the Egyptian ones yet
Phillip Pullman - His Dark Materials (three books)
Ursula LeGuin - the Earthsea quartet

You'll notice, if you know some of those titles, that in reading I often lean towards the fantasy side of things. I love time travel, different worlds, realistic magic. The Lilac books, I'll tell you straight up, are not fantasy (though the next books I'm planning will have something of that element going on). Lilac owes more to my love of detailed realism and fiction that's strongly rooted in its moment in time, like Montgomery, Streatfield, Godden, and Forrest - though I hesitate to list myself in the company of such exalted names.

My aim in writing, first and foremost, has always been to create a world that the reader feels drawn into, and a story that flows naturally. Reading a good book should never be a slog - it should be a trip into another time and place, so that you can feel the rough walls and the rain and see the glimmer of the sun on the waves. If I can make you forget that you're reading, then I think I'm doing something right.

Bookshelf containing further titles listed above
Rowling, LeGuin, Cooper, Pullman

Sunday, May 15, 2016

An interview with the author

Back in January, Irish blogger Nicola Cassidy of interviewed me for her post series, "How I Write". Click over to her blog and check it out!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Impatient? This is how the book starts...

Chapter 1

January 1986 

Once upon a time, a little girl grew up in a tall, narrow house by the sea, with a father who painted pictures and a mother who wrote books, and a big dog who jumped up and down all day. The girl had fat yellow curls that tangled into a thicket every night in bed, and pink cheeks, and big solemn eyes that looked out at the world. Her name was Lilac.
From her bedroom window, Lilac would look down towards the small grey waves bumping up against the pebbles, or the giant white breakers crashing down on the pebbles, and decide what sort of day it was going to be. Then she would choose her stripy tights and her polka-dot dress, or her worn-soft jeans and the orange woolly jumper Granny had knitted her, and go down for breakfast. Today was a jeans morning, though not too wild.
‘Let the dog in, would you, darling?’ asked her mother.
‘Put the kettle on there, Lilac,’ said her father.
Lilac stood on tiptoe to reach the bread-bin, and put two slices in the toaster. She flicked the switch on the kettle and opened the door where Guzzler was whining and scratching in the blustery autumn morning. The sun considered coming out, but thought better of it and set up camp behind a solid bank of cloud. Guzzler the hound bounded inside, leapt his muddy front paws onto everyone’s laps, and then buried his nose decidedly in his breakfast.
‘Damn dog,’ said Lilac’s father through a mouthful of muesli. ‘Should be trained.’
‘And I just washed this’, said her mother calmly, brushing off her knees with one hand and readjusting the newspaper with the other.
Lilac buttered and jammed her toast, and made the two slices into a sandwich. With her free hand, she pulled on a fuzzy pink-and-red hat askance, and then shrugged herself into her warm jacket with the duffel buttons. Guzzler made a beeline for his lead, Lilac snapped it onto his collar, and, munching a goodbye in the general direction of the kitchen behind her, she left the house, in tow of dog.
The wind was brisk but not icy, as an Irish late-January wind should be, and left-over autumn leaves were muddy underfoot as she tromped towards the sea path and off up the hill that curved an encircling arm around one side of the long stony beach. There were dangerous cliffs farther up, but so long as you stayed well back from the fence, you couldn’t be blown over.

Lilac was small for her nine years, but she knew where she was going, and looked it. You wouldn’t have called her defenceless, even without the large dog loping at her side. (One of Guzzler’s grandparents had been a Great Dane, and though the others had clearly been smaller and maybe cleverer – dogs, he had what Lilac’s father described as an overly generous paw-size to brain-size ratio.)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Where does Lilac live, then?

Lilac lives in a fictional small town somewhere on the coast south of Dublin city in Ireland. It's not Dalkey or Bray (two real places there) but it might be a bit like either of them.

And the view might be a bit like this.

And the walls might look like this. When it's not raining.

So, is it really fiction?

It's really fiction.

I - Christine - grew up outside Dublin in Ireland. (A little like Lilac.) I attended an all-girls' school where some nuns were teachers. (Again, like Lilac. But not the same.) I read a lot of books, because I had no brothers or sisters. (What? But that's just like Lilac.)

Yes, Lilac's story is rooted in my childhood, but mostly that's just about places and memory sensations. Lilac and all the other characters - even Guzzler the dog, I'm sad to say - are completely fictional. Anything can happen - and quite possibly will - in Lilac's world.


Hi everyone!

This is the website and blog associated with my new book, Lilac in Black and White, which will be available in all the e-book formats you can shake a stick at pretty soon. On the blog you'll find snippets and offshoots, bits and pieces that ended up on the cutting-room floor, and further insights into Lilac's world. I hope you like it.


PS The website, just like the ebook, is a work-in-progress just now. Illustrations to come!