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!