2017 Year in Review

If you follow my blog, you’ll know I haven’t posted for some while [the last post was in May]. 2017 has been some year and I’ve barely had time to catch my breath. Now, as the year draws to a close, it’s lovely to look back at some of the highlights.

April – June 2017 Big Telly Theatre Company’s stage version of The Faerie Thorn completed a 27-date tour, playing the UK, Ireland and Dresden. It was a joy to be part of the creative team and to collaborate with so many talented people. I loved every minute of the development process and I learned a huge amount. The resulting show really honoured the spirit of my stories and brought a vibrant energy to them too. If I ever have grandchildren, the story of how granny went hunting for faeries [and how those faeries put stories into her dreams and how those stories came to life on the stage] will be told over and over again 😉 .

May 2017 You may remember that I founded Women Aloud NI, an organisation to raise the profile of the women’s writing scene in Northern Ireland, back in December 2015. In May 2017, the organisation won two prestigious Saboteur Awards: Best Wildcard [for Women Aloud NI 2017]; and Best Collaborative Work [for Women X Borders, a collaboration with the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin]. With a solid constitution now in place, and a robust organisational structure supported by a committed team of volunteers, Women Aloud NI is set to go from strength to strength. The programme for Women Aloud NI 2018 has already been launched and the buzz is … well … buzzing.

August 2017 For three weeks in August, I was the artist-in-residence at Bressay lighthouse, Shetland. I can’t tell you how lovely it was to be able to ‘get away from it all’ and focus on writing and collecting ideas for new stories. My daily routine was: walk, write, walk, cook, read, sleep. Once a week I took the day off and visited places on mainland Shetland: beaches with not a soul on them, archaeological sites, museums and places from Anne Cleeves’ Shetland book series [I read the first book while I was on Bressay]. It was the trip of a lifetime, I’d say. I’d also say that I brought a little bit of Shetland back with me somehow. That place has worked its way into my bones.

September 2017 Not only did I get to perform my one-woman storytelling show at Aspects Festival this September, but I also started Tinderbox Theatre Company’s Play Machine, an intensive 7-month-long theatre-training programme for performers, writers and theatre-makers. Expertly facilitated by actor, theatre-maker and artistic director Patrick O’Reilly, the sessions have been playful, challenging and productive. It’s been brilliant to put myself in the shoes of actors – and I’ve even begun to see myself as an actor and theatre-maker too! It’s also been great to get into the habit of making new things quickly, of trying things out, of not getting too hung up on perfection, of doing things – rather than just talking about things, and of getting out of my head and into my body.

The energy of the group is amazing and I’m learning a huge amount from the other participants too. Collaborating with artists who have a genuine commitment to improving their craft, and to creating new work, is both satisfying and inspiring. Oh, and I must mention that a) I’ve done actual cartwheels on this programme b) my bird landings and bird take-offs are really quite something to see [I’d be tempted to use the word ‘legendary’] c) this programme has changed the way I think about writing and storytelling in profound ways. [Image credit: Carrie Davenport]

October 2017 In October 2017, I signed a contract with the Australian publisher, Serenity Press. I’ve been commissioned to write a collection of feminist faerie tales for a series of YA books. I’m thrilled to be in the company of authors Kate Forsyth and Sharon Blackie, and I’m so excited to be working with such forward-thinking and committed publishing professionals as Monique Mulligan and Karen McDermott. The icing on the cake is that Lorena Carrington will be illustrating my work!

November 2017 I was thrilled to be the recipient of an ACES award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The award will be used to support a collaboration with sound designer and composer, Garth McConaghie [he wrote the score for the stage production on The Faerie Thorn and we collaborated on the songs for the show]. Garth and I are going to co-write an album of songs to go with my next short-story collection: I’m writing the lyrics and he’s writing the music!

December 2017 December’s been a lovely month for two reasons. Firstly, I got to perform in Belfast’s Grand Opera House [in the Baby Grand] with actor, storyteller and theatre-maker, Noel Harron. I met Noel on Tinderbox’s Play Machine programme and I’m looking forward to performing with him in The Wonder Tales next summer.

Secondly, I got to work with the fabulous folk at Big Telly Theatre company AGAIN! This time I was a writer for one of their famous interactive adventures. A Quirky Tale of Quality Streets, set in Coleraine, sent players/audience members on a high-octane quest to save Kitty of Coleraine. There was an Ice Queen, a real horse, a myopic psychic, a boat-ride on the Bann and a whole lot more [yeah, and there were trolls, obviously 😉 ]. You know what? Writing it was so much fun, I’m doing it again! I’ll be working with the unstoppable Zoe Seaton, Big Telly’s artistic director, to create a new adventure for next summer. [I’ll keep you posted about that 🙂 ].

2017 has been packed with fun, new adventures and enriching experiences. I’m all set for 2018. BRING IT ON 🙂 🙂 🙂

Big Telly’s Zoe Seaton Talks About The Faerie Thorn

The Faerie Thorn, the stage adaptation of my book, is now a month into its UK/Ireland tour. With ten performances still to go, Zoe Seaton [Big Telly Theatre Company’s artistic director] talks about the show to Mary O’Neill of Waterford’s WLRFM. It’s a really great interview and includes insights into the way the show was developed.

You can find details of the UK/Ireland tour schedule, along with book links, here. I really hope you can make it along to the show. If you enjoyed the book, you’ll love the stage production!

And We’re Off!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Faerie thorn and Other Stories has been helped along by the Fair Folk themselves. Within two weeks of publication Zoe Seaton, Artistic Director at Big Telly Theatre Company, had read the book and expressed an interest in adapting some of the stories for the stage.

The first development workshop took place in December 2015 and 16 months later, on Friday 21 April 2017, The Faerie Thorn opened at The Riverside Theatre in Coleraine – the first show in a 32-performance tour.

Over the course of several development workshops between December 2015 and July 2016, ideas were ‘auditioned’. There was then a preview at the Open House Festival in August 2016 which let the development team know what worked [and what didn’t]. In November 2016 I set about writing a new story for the production to add to the two that had been selected for the show, and in February 2017 the pace really started to pick up.

March 2017 was pretty full on: the cast [Nicky Harley, Shelley Atkinson, Seamus O’Hara, Rory Corcoran and Colette Lennon] were in rehearsals for 6 days a week; the set got built; costumes and props were made and bought; dances and set pieces were choreographed; music got composed, and lighting and sound were layered in to the performance.

During this final period of preparation, I was still very much involved with the whole process. I wrote lyrics for songs and new material for the the scripts and I learned a great deal about how theatre works. It was great to watch the composer and sound designer, Garth McConaghie, at work: I was astonished at how he could evoke the spirit of the stories with the underscore and the songs. Kevin Smith, lighting and special effects, knew exactly what to do to create a dark faerie tale atmosphere; and Maree Kearns , set and costume designer, built a set that, although simple, offers the perfect vessel for the cast’s colourful performances. Sarah Johnston, choreographer, skilfully echoed many of the conventions associated with the oral tradition and came up with some astonishing movement sequences.

I watched how Zoe Seaton shaped and perfected the piece, and how she left enough space for each performance to develop its own energy and for the actors to take the piece and make it their own.

I was there on the opening night in Coleraine and I’ve seen the performance a second time in Coleraine and once in Belfast. It’s wonderful to get caught up in the performance. It’s wonderful to see the actors enjoying themselves on stage. And it’s really wonderful to share the experience with different audiences.

There are still another 27 performances to go, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the piece matures over time. If you enjoyed reading The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories, I’m convinced you’ll love this show as much as I do. Please go and be magicked by it 🙂 .

You can read theatre reviews and audience feedback here. You can find the tour schedule and booking links here.


Tour Dates for the Stage Production of The Faerie Thorn

Tour dates for Big Telly Theatre Company’s  production of The Faerie Thorn are as follows. For those theatres with tickets already on sale, booking links are provided [in aqua]. You can read theatre reviews and audience feedback here.

April 21st – 22nd         Riverside Theatre, Coleraine 

April 25th – 29th         The MAC, Belfast 

May 4th – 6th               Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

May 9th                         Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, Newry

May 10th                       Cushendall Golf Club

May 11th                        Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen 

May 12th                       The Playhouse, Derry 

May 13th                       The Old Courthouse, Antrim 

May 16th                       Garage Theatre, Monaghan 

May 17th                       The Market Place Theatre, Armagh 

May 18th                       Island Arts Centre, Lisburn 

May 19th                       The Web Theatre, Newtownards

May 23rd                      Seamus Heaney Homeplace, Bellaghy

May 25th                      Theatre Royal, Waterford 

May 26th                      An Tain Theatre, Dundalk

May 27th                      Strule Arts Centre, Omagh

June 6th – 7th             Blackwells, Oxford

June 8th – 10th           Omnibus Theatre, Clapham

June 12th                     Societätstheater, Dresden

New Work for the Stage Production of The Faerie Thorn

With less than four months to go until opening night, and with rehearsals starting in March, the excitement about Big Telly Theatre Company’s stage production of The Faerie Thorn is building. The cast is in place. The script is well on its way. There’s music. There are songs. There’s a set and lighting design team. The tour schedule is ready to be confirmed.

And there’s something else: there’s a piece of new work being adapted for the production! The original idea was to adapt two stories from my collection of short stories (The Faerie Thorn and The Merrow of Murlough Bay). However, an interesting question arose about one of the key ideas in The Faerie Thorn (sorry – no spoilers here!) and Zoe Seaton, the Artistic Director, asked me to write a third story to explore that particular idea in more depth.

Writing the new story has been an interesting experience for two reasons. Firstly, I wrote most of the story whilst I was on the Hebridean island of Iona. My main reason for being in the Hebrides was to do the research for my next book and so it was quite a challenge to switch between ‘being in’ the new story for Big Telly and being present to my surroundings and all the ingredients for my next book.

I have a good understanding of my own writing process and I know that, for me, a connection with the settings for my stories is all-important. It seemed ironic that I was holed up in a tiny bothy a short boat-ride away from Staffa (an island that sits at one end of The Giant’s Causeway), writing a story set on Plaiskin Head (a place which overlooks the other end of The Giant’s Causeway).

When I sat down to write every morning, I imagined myself rowing over to Staffa and then stepping onto the basalt causeway, using it as a magic short-cut home. At the end of my writing sessions, I imagined myself scrambling down to the shoreline at the Antrim end of the causeway and making the return trip to Staffa, rowing back to Iona in time for lunch.

I thought my cunning plan had worked – and, to the untrained eye, it has: the new story is drenched in northcoastness 😉 . However, what I hadn’t accounted for were the stowaways I took with me every time I made the ‘psychic journey’ across to Staffa and over to the Antrim coast. Stitched into every seam of the new story is something of Iona’s mysteriousness, something of the strange feeling that comes off the places I was drawn to: the faerie mound (Sithean Mor), the White Strand of the Monks, the well on Dun-I, the inside of Saint Odhran’s chapel, the screaming face carved into one of the pillars in the abbey, and the graves that looked like whoever they were holding were not all-the-way-dead. And in the very fabric of the new story is a ghost from Reilig Odhrain (the graveyard surrounding Saint Odhran’s chapel).

Iona’s impact on this third piece reminded me how powerful ‘place’ is and how stories are held by places – and how a story that’s held by a powerful place has an instinct to survive and make itself  heard (even if that means cuckooing its way into another story).

The second reason that writing the new story has been interesting is because something has changed as a result of working with the theatre company: what goes on in my head while I’m writing.

Normally stories come to me in a voice. It’s a very distinctive voice, a voice from Here-There-And-Everywhere. The owner of the voice has a disregard for standard grammar and a penchant for making words up. I listen to the voice and if his (and it is a he) opening gambit grabs my attention, I start to transcribe his words. He’ll stay with me until the story is done. He might allow a character to sit next to me and offer suggestions now and again, but, in the main, he just talks and I listen. I don’t really see anything in my mind’s eye. Even if I write a description of something, it’s not something I see first and then describe. It’s something I hear.

When I started to write the new story, the voice was still there, but this time I saw everything being played out. This time the voice offered alternative scenarios for audition (this is in keeping with the devising process I mentioned in an earlier post) and the associated images came as rapidly as you’d see them generated in a devising session with actors. This time I noticed how the characters held the story in their bodies and not just in their words (this is in keeping with physical theatre) and how mesmerising it was to watch them move – or stay still. This time I noticed where the opportunity for play was to be found in the story because I could see it staring me in the face.

Writing this new story, which I’ve called Hauflin, has been a rewarding experience. It’s shown me how searching for stories isn’t always necessary because, if you’re in the right place, stories will search for you – and find you in the end. It’s shown me how working with Big Telly has had an impact on my own creative process – and I think the impact has been a positive one. There’s something really visceral about Hauflin. I like that about it.

Find out more about the devising process on The Guardian’s website.
Find out more about physical theatre on the BBC’s website.
Keep an eye on Big Telly’s website for details of the UK/Ireland tour schedule (to be issued shortly).

My Trip to Colonsay and Iona

I’m just back from my trip to the Hebridean islands of  Colonsay and Iona! I blogged about my residency on Iona over on the Iona Art Residencies website here. The blog post explains a bit more about my next book project.

Here’s a short video I made about my residency on Iona:

Here are just a few of my favourite images from the trip:

Saint Odhran’s Well, Colonsay House, Colonsay

Looking Over to Oransay From Colonsay

Looking Over to Oransay From Colonsay

Heading to Colonsay

Heading to Colonsay

Quiet Roads on Colonsay

Quiet Roads on Colonsay

Bay at the Back of the Ocean, Iona

Bay at the Back of the Ocean, Iona


Inside Saint Odhran’s Chapel, Iona


Boundary Strand, North End, Iona


Strand of the Seat, North End, Iona


Inside Iona Abbey


An Reilig Odhrain


Sithean Mor [Big Faerie Mound], Iona


Columba’s Bay, Iona


Inside Saint Odhran’s Chapel, Iona


The Bothy, Iona Hostel, Iona




My Next Big Adventure!

arts-council-logo-blue-smallIf you’ve read The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories, you’ll know this collection of short stories grew out of my 365 Days of Adventure project. When I’m adventuring, magic seems to happen 🙂 .

Last week I found out that I will be receiving an award from The Arts Council of Northern Ireland to help with my next book project. This is brilliant news and I’m really grateful my work is being supported in this way.

stenaThe research for the book will take me to the Scottish islands of Colonsay and Iona. The trip to the islands will involve eight ferry journeys and, when I get there, I’ll be doing everything I can to connect with the local landscape. (If you think this sounds like a big adventure, you’re right! And if you think this means some kind of magic is going to happen, I think you’d be right about that too.)

I’ll keep you posted about my research trip (internet access permitting), and share more details about the new project, here on my blog.

I am just going outside and may be some time 🙂 .

From Page To Stage

Faerie Thorn Jane TalbotThose in the know warn that if you get too close to a faerie thorn, you risk being caught in some kind of enchantment. Before my faerie-hunting adventure, I wouldn’t have paid heed to such a warning, but now I suspect I might be caught in such an enchantment myself.

At the launch of The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories in September 2015, I spoke about how I had fallen asleep near a faerie thorn on our farm and woken up with a story in my head. I spoke about how I had written down the story in seven days and how I had sent it off to Blackstaff Press just for the adventure of it.

Getting the publishing deal with Blackstaff was the perfect faerie-tale ending. I was completely thrilled – and if the magic had stopped there, I would have been happy enough. But it didn’t stop there.

Within a month of publication, I was approached by Zoe Seaton, Big Telly Theatre Company’s artistic director, about the possibility of adapting some of the stories for the stage. I went to see Big Telly’s production of Gulliver to get a feel for what their brand of physical theatre was like. What I saw was witty, energetic and anarchic – and I loved it!

In November I met with Patsy Horton, managing editor at Blackstaff Press, and Zoe to talk about Big Telly’s vision for the production. Patsy felt that Big Telly were a good fit for the book, and I felt like Big Telly were a good fit for me because they were keen for me to be actively involved throughout the development process.

Big Telly Development Faerie ThornThe first development session took place in December. Over the course of three days, seven actors stretched and pulled and prodded two of my stories. First they read The Faerie Thorn aloud in seven-voice choric chaos. They played with the tone. They played with the volume. They messed with the gaps between the words. They looked under the words and behind the words. They hurled the story and they hammered it hard – and the more they hurled and hammered it, the more ‘story’ there seemed to be.

Zoe explained that testing a story like this gives an indication of the kind of theatrical ‘treatment’ a piece might suit best. It turns out that The Faerie Thorn is pretty robust: a seam of steel runs through it. It can take pretty much anything.

Malock from The Merrow of Murlough BayThe Merrow of Murlough Bay, the second story to be adapted, responded to this stretching and pulling and prodding in a completely different way, though – and I responded to the stretching and pulling and prodding in a completely different way, too. The emotional seam of the story was ripped open by this process and the seam was far too tender, far too vulnerable, for such treatment. The more the actors stretched and prodded and pulled, the greater my emotional response: I felt bruised and lonely and sad. I felt like Bright Blue – in that burning willow cage up by Lough Doo.

I was more than relieved when Zoe and the actors said they had experienced the process in the same way as I had. It was clear to everyone that The Merrow was not the same as The Faerie Thorn and would need to be treated in a very different way.

Now if you’re a writer, and reading about this process makes you want to delete ‘Have my book turned into a piece of theatre’ from your top-things-I- would-like-to-happen-to-my-book list, just hold on! What I have just described may sound brutal, but what I am about to describe is nothing short of magic.

For me, the stretching and pulling and prodding process was an effective way of helping Zoe and the actors locate, and connect with, the same emotional seams from which I had mined the stories. Once that connection was made, everything changed: from thereon in, Zoe and the actors showed me the seam. Okay, the showing the seam thing might take a bit of explaining, but I’ll give it a go …

The stage adaptation is being developed using a process called ‘devising’, a collaborative approach involving the whole creative team: artistic director, actors, writer, composer, technicians – the lot. It’s an exciting process and often looks, and feels, like play. During the first development session, Zoe suggested that the actors wear half-masks (the lower half of the actor’s face remains uncovered) and do some devising work with the trolls from The Faerie Thorn.

Half-Mask Big Telly Theatre CompanyNow where there’s a half-mask, there’s always anarchy, and as I watched the actors at play, all I was experiencing was a whirl of chaos – until that chaos turned into something that took my breath away. There, right in in front of me, were my trolls. I recognised them and they seemed to recognise me – and I was shocked. It wasn’t just the look of them that I recognised, either.  It was the response they elicited in me that convinced me these creatures had come straight from the seam. They made me laugh but horrified me at the same time, just as they had when I had written them. And more than that, when I watched them, I could feel the seam in my own body resonating with what was being played out in front of me.

For me, that was the turning point. That was the point at which I started to trust the artistic director. That was the point at which I started to trust the process. That was the point at which I started to realise how clever and brilliant actors can be. That was the point at which I understood my stories were ready to leave me – and I was more than ready to let go of them. That was the point at which I started to I acknowledge that these people could work some kind of magic with my stories that I never could on my own.

And so here I am, nearly a year on. Since that first session, an astonishing amount of progress has been made – not only in terms of the production, but also in terms of my understanding of how theatre works, how writing works and how collaboration works. Throw some once-in-a-lifetime experiences into the mix (like working with a composer, spending time with a mask-work expert and having a cameo role in a scratch performance), and it all adds up to something that I’ll be talking about for a long while yet.

Wednesday 12 October marks the next stage in The Faerie Thorn’s life: the auditions. And you know what? That feels big – big enough to acknowledge that those stories have come this far thanks in no small part to the talent, hard work and support of both the Blackstaff Press team and the Big Telly Theatre Company team. Even though I’m sure I got caught in an enchantment when I slept near the faerie thorn, these past twelve months have taught me that it’s not just the faeries who know how to work powerful magic.

The stage production is set to tour the UK and Ireland in April/May 2017. Opening night will be Friday 21 April in the Riverside Theatre, Coleraine. For details of the tour schedule, keep an eye on Big Telly’s website.


Follow The Faerie Thorn Book Trail!

If you enjoyed reading The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories, you might enjoy following the book trail too. The North Coast of Northern Ireland is a magical place – and there are plenty of great coffee shops, restaurants and pubs.

Just click on the map to get started!

Coming Soon ….

Beavering awayActually, ‘Coming At Some Stage’ is probably a more accurate title for this post! It’s been nearly a year since The Faerie Thorn & Other Stories was published, and I’ve been so busy beavering away at all sorts of brilliant things that I haven’t had time to start the Pooka project.

And there’s more beavering ahead because I’ve got a new book to write. [I’m a bit excited about the upcoming beavering involved in that, of course.]

I will get to the Pooka project at some stage, though 🙂 .