Gruff Rhys in Whelans

Saturday was the first day of the festival and a gloriously, sunny first day at that. Despite the sunshine, there was an eager queue waiting outside Whelans, all happy to leave the balmy evening and go into the dark bar for Gruff Rhys’ talk about his new project American Interior.

The evening began with Tony Clayton-Lea interviewing Rhys about his new multi-platform project; American Interior spans an album, a book, a documentary and an app. It follows the footsteps of famous Welsh man John Evans, a distant relative of Rhys, who went to America in 1790 to find a rumoured tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians. The Welsh Indians were said to be descendants of Prince Madoc who, according to Welsh legend, discovered America in the 12th century, three hundred years before Columbus. Rhys, who was aware of John Evans from his childhood, was asked to write the music for a play marking the 200 years since Evans’ death in 1999. While his music wasn’t used in the play, due to touring commitments and the death of the director, it made him more interested in John Evans’ story. Fifteen years later, on tour across America, he realised he was very close to the journey that Evans had taken but didn’t have time to visit the places and explore the story properly. When he returned to the UK, he asked his record company if his next tour could follow John Evans’ journey and give him time to visit and explore his destinations. Rhys wanted to verify the tall tales that he was told about John Evans as a child, stories that sounded far-fetched but that you accept when you’re young. He wanted to find out what was true and what was myth. The record company granted his request and the tour evolved into a series of musical lectures about Evans’ journey, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation and a three-foot model of Evans, rebuilt in felt. The story of this tour, and Evans’ original quest, are told in the American Interior book and documentary. The songs, however are less didactic and instead try to create the emotion of John Evans’ journey or concentrate on one small detail. Rhys didn’t want the song to just consist of facts.

Rhys also talked the early days of Super Furry Animals; how he met band-mate Bunford for the first time on the roof of a train and how getting signed to Creation Records was like winning the pools. He also talked about a new Super Furry Animals release – a beer called Fuzzy created by the Celt Brewery.

The second half of the evening was a performance of songs and stories from America Interior, complete with projected slides and a special appearance from the felt John Evans. It was a treat to see these songs performed in such an intimate venue and the crowd were captivated. The story of John Evans’ adventures in America was interspersed with songs played on an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a few electronic gadgets. It was a very special way to spend a Saturday night and a great way to get a history lesson!

Interview with children’s author Erika McGann

There are lots of events for children in this year’s Dublin Writers Festival. There’s Chris Judge’s Storybird for the 6+ age group, Derek Landy talking about Skulduggery Pleasant and Laura Dockrill’s Darcy Burdock event for the over 8s.

Irish children’s author, Erika McGann was recently announced as this year’s winner of the Waverton Good Read Children’s Award. The winner of this award is chosen by young readers from local schools in Waverton, Cheshire and is awarded to a debut British or Irish author each year.

Erika’s winning novel, The Demon Notebook tells the story of Grace and her four best friends who are failed witches but one night stumble upon real magical powers. The book has a great mix of magic and suspense, with a few scary moments thrown in.

I interviewed Erika and asked her about her books, about writing and about other aspects of the writer’s life.

Why witches? What attracted you to the realm of the supernatural and what do you think attracts your readers?

Witchcraft was the big thing when I was in school, and I still love the mix of fun and darkness about it. I think young readers always have a love for the supernatural because of all the possibilities. The rules are dictated by the author – they can differ from book to book – but there’s so much scope. Characters that feel timid or weak can become powerful with the introduction of magic, and that’s something that appealed to me as a kid.

There are two books in the series already published (The Demon Notebook and The Broken Spell) and a third, The Watching Wood, on it’s way. Are there many more in the series? Do you know yet what will happen to the girls or where the series will end?

I haven’t started a fourth yet, I’ll see how number three goes! But there is a complete story in each book so, wherever I finish, there won’t be any cliff-hangers left hanging.

What’s the hardest thing about writing? And the most enjoyable thing?

The hardest thing is the discipline. I admire those writers that can maintain a very strict routine, writing for hours a day. It’s something I try to emulate, but keeping too rigidly to a schedule makes me rebel a bit. Finding the right balance between a steady workflow and giving yourself time to think through ideas is a frustrating thing that I’m nowhere near mastering. Give me five or ten years. Or twenty.

As for the most enjoyable part of writing; it’s the writing. When you’re in the zone, and typing away without much effort, it’s brilliant. And you get all smug and self-satisfied when you finish a big chunk of pages you’re really happy with.

You do a lot of readings in schools and events like the Dublin Book Festival and World Book Day. How does it feel meeting your readers?

I love doing book events. I think I say it every time I’m asked but, when my first book came out, the thought of speaking to a big group of kids for an hour sounded like a particular kind of hell. I was terrified I’d be heckled and laughed out of libraries with tears in my eyes. In reality, kids make a fantastic audience. Keeping their attention is not difficult when it comes to talking about books and writing; they’re dying to hear (and talk) about developing characters, building a story and designing book covers. And hearing kids talk about your characters like they know them is pure joy.

What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer? What do you wish someone had told you starting out?

The best advice I could give would be to write what you enjoy. It’s like any job that way; the more you enjoy it, the better you’ll do it.

My brother’s an author, so there wasn’t much I didn’t know about the business before I started. But it would have helped if someone had advised me loosen up when writing. Before I took it up a few years ago, I hadn’t written any kind of story since school. Being new to the idea of a novel, I think I was a bit too careful and didn’t let go when I felt like it. You can always fix things after the first draft, so I’d tell any budding writer now not to hold back. Go mad, if you want to, and sort the mess out later.

Who are your favourite writers? YA or otherwise.

Still loving The Hunger Games, so Suzanne Collins is a favourite. Each film makes the series feel brand new…sigh. And I’ll always love Roald Dahl. I think his books are imprinted on the DNA of several generations, and that’s how things should be.

And most importantly, when’s the new book out?

September! It seems like it’s ages away, but I’ve got the U.S. edition of my first book coming out next month to tide me over.

The Demon Notebook and The Broken Spell are both available from O’Brien Press.

Dawn O’Porter at the Twisted Pepper

I really enjoyed Dawn O’Porter session at last year’s Dublin Writers Festival. She was in conversation with Roisin Ingle and here to talk about her first book Paper Aeroplanes. She is a very engaging speaker and I was delighted to see her back again, this time interviewed by Anna Carey in the Twisted Pepper as part of Banter. O’Porter is a wonderful interviewee – very open, very funny and very passionate about her books and characters. The crowd at the Twisted Pepper was almost entirely female, lots of well-dressed women in the late twenties and early thirties, queuing politely for the sold out session and many buying the newly released Goose on their way in.

The two books follow the lives of teenage girls Renee and Flo, growing up on the island of Guernsey. O’Porter also grew up in Guernsey which she describes as being trapped on an Continue reading

Say hello to another two new bloggers

Blog PhotoWe are thrilled that G.J. Schear and Grainne Lynch have joined our merry little band of bloggers.

G.J. Schear’s first job was in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre selling ice cream. She also worked for the Dublin Theatre Festival and once, memorably, was chased around the office by the late and much-missed actor Donal Donnelly. Born in Dublin Ms Schear has at one time or another lived in London, Jerusalem, and the US before returning to Ireland in 2003. She currently lives in Kells.

First published at the age of 16 she has since had several short stories and non-fiction articles appear in print. Her short story writing credits include ‘Resurrection Charlie’ – Hayden’s Ferry Review, ‘home Truth’ – Broadkill Review and ‘Daffodils in an Irish Garden’ – River Poets Journal Anthology. In 2012 her first novel Shakespeare’s Tree was a winner at the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair. She has just completed her second novel, a thriller called A Biased Judgement. You can find G.J. Schear online at her blog: http://rycardus.wordpress.com/ or on twitter.

Gráinne is an avid reader and an eternal student. She studied Computer Programming before doing a BA in Modern Drama Studies and went back to college again to do an MA in Drama and Theatre Studies in NUIG. She likes to tell people she has a Masters in reading plays and pretending to be a tree. Her favourite writers tend to be female – Caitlin Moran, Mary Welsey, Ali Smith, Marian Keyes, Kate Atkinson – but she also devours anything by Terry Prachett and still misses Douglas Adams. She blogs about theatre at gronya.com

If you are interested in contributing to our blog please email Ciaran at ciaran@dublinwritersfestival.com.