The Blog! Wed, 12 Dec 2018 20:58:46 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb 13 Canadian Books

Thirteen Canadian Booksimages

In June 2017 I was issued a challenge: can you read thirteen Canadian books in one year? But, of course, I scoffed. What kind of lame-ass challenge is this? Canadian-written books are available everywhere, and I usually read a lot more than thirteen books every 365 days. I was confident that I'd be finished in a couple of months.

Well, I was wrong. For the first time in my life. It was a lot more difficult to find Canadian books in Ireland than I'd realised. Even going through Kindle and Amazon didn't get me the results I wanted; if there was no American publishing deal for a Canadian book, generally, there was no book available for downloading. So I found most of these titles in Canada, and as a random group. ('Is this Canadian?' I'd ask. 'Great. I'm reading it.') The only thing that unites them are the postal codes of the authors involved, and the fact that all but two are by women. (Why? I have no idea.) Anyhoo, here they are, in the order that I read them:

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Mon, 18 Jun 2018 19:30:43 +0100
Not Exactly News

Not Exactly News!doublerainbow

Just because most of this happened months ago…

To start off with, I’m beyond happy to say that Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World has been picked as a top ten choice for the American Library Association’s 2015 Rainbow List. This is a “a bibliography of books with significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender content, and which are aimed at youth, birth through age 18” chosen by the Rainbow Books List Committee. I found out several weeks after the announcement had been made.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Sat, 09 May 2015 18:40:25 +0100
Gone Fishin'

Gone Fishin'19177 254425906046 269034 n

What have I done? What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE???

Okay, here's what I've done.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 24 Apr 2014 01:02:49 +0100
YA? Why?

YA? Why?

Last year my first novel hit the bookstores, a story about a boy in his final year of high school dealing with small town life, his crazy parents, and a painful crush on his homophobic best friend. I thought there might be a few wrinkles involved in marketing it, but I assumed it would be the gay content that would cause the confusion. I was so wrong. Nobody seemed to care if my main character was gay or straight. The problem was that he was young. 'Is this really general fiction?' people would ask me. 'Isn't it YA?'

'No way!' I'd answer, and my reasons for this were fairly simple.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 10 Apr 2014 03:00:39 +0100
Notes from the Procrastination Hell Swamp

{jcomments off}(Note: this article also appeared on the wonderful writing resource site Read on...)

Hey! Why aren't you writing?Faut-se-grouiller LG

The most common response to this question seems to be 'I have no time.' And often we don't. But suppose you do manage get hold of some free hours. You've cleared away the day-job obligations, said no to friends, cut yourself off from the chaos of home life, and now you've got your morning, your evening, your afternoon. It's blank and beautiful, and it belongs only to you. You might be visualising whole chapters taking shape under your hands, a major plotline cleared up, some badly-needed edits set in place. This is going to be fantastic.

Then four hours pass in a haze. What happened, exactly?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 27 Mar 2014 03:07:54 +0000
From Tokyo, with Love and Soccer

{jcomments off}I wrote this article last year hoping to place it as a feature in an Irish paper, went for it. res-asakusa paintingNo matter! On the occasion of my recent anniversary I decided to post it here. Read on!

I arrived in Dublin airport after a gruelling twelve-hour flight from Tokyo. As I stumbled through immigration, the clerk asked me my reason for visiting the country. 'I have an Irish boyfriend,' I said.

'Sure, we've all got our crosses to bear,' the guy answered, and stamped my passport.

It was August, 2002. I'd just flown halfway across the world to spend a good part of the summer with a man I'd known in person for less than a week. How had this happened?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 13 Mar 2014 03:02:02 +0000
One Year Later...

One Year Later... toast cnc 2

Something insanely wonderful happened around this time last year. A big box of books showed up on my doorstep, and all of them had my name and very goofy title on the cover. My first novel, published! In many respects this has been the best year of my life, and when I stop to consider the reality of all that's happened from March 1 2013 to now, I am amazed, grateful, punch drunk with joy. You know. Irritating. 

But say I was given the chance to do it all again. Would I change anything?

I thought about this, and here's what I came up with: advice I would have given myself a year ago when this was all beginning. If you're on the brink of publication yourself, either self-published or otherwise, please tell me if you agree. Or wait 365 days and then tell me.

Ahem. My brilliant advice:

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 27 Feb 2014 03:00:00 +0000
Oh, no! It's Kissy-Kissy Time!

Oh, no! It's kissy-kissy time!

Valentine 1
(This post is also running on the fine writing resource

Picture it. You're ten years old, and you and your friends have gotten hold of a cheap paperback romance. Right away you start to ransack those yellowing pages in search of the big payoff: the love scenes. The burning gazes. The chest-thumping declarations. The thundering hearts and racing pulses, bursting bodices, lips afire. Then, of course you'll read everything out loud in a high goofy voice – acting each role, adding rude sound effects, rolling your eyes as you fall about the place laughing.

Now fast forward several years. You're alone, in front of a computer or clutching a notebook. The moment you can't put off any longer has arrived: one of your characters has fallen in love, or at least deep into an attraction, and something has got to happen, something physical. Lips touching, promises made, clothes coming off. Yes, it's time to write that Big Love Scene.

Not so funny now, is it?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 13 Feb 2014 03:27:27 +0000
Cover Story

Cover Storygeneric-book-cover

I was recently asked how much control authors have over the covers and back-blurbs of their books. I suspect the answer is 'very little'. And this is probably a good thing. There is an enormous amount of pressure to get that cover exactly right. It's got to function as an advertisement, a logo, an introduction, a sample of the book's personality – all this without giving too much away or emphasising the wrong element. It's the cover's job to get that book out of the store and home with the right reader. Any time you see a novel for sale, you can be sure that someone has worked very hard to make sure that you really do judge it by its cover.

What if I had to design a cover for my own book?

My head would explode.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Wed, 29 Jan 2014 23:18:12 +0000
First Love

hhgttg-original-recordsFirst Love

What's your favourite book?


Hmm. Not really an appropriate reaction, is it? But this is such a scary question. I was recently asked this at a reading in a small town in Ontario along with three other authors. We were all on a stage and had to answer in turn, so the audience would get to hear and compare everyone's witty responses. I was first.

'Um!' I declared, 'Good question! Um! Well! Hey! Indeed. Yeah.'

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 16 Jan 2014 04:57:40 +0000
No Excuses!

{jcomments off}C-Horse1-2014ANo Excuses!

Okay, folks. The holidays were great, but now it's time to get serious. This is the year you're actually going to do it!

Do what? Well, that's up to you. Begin your novel, or finish it. Get that poetry or short story collection off the ground. Or just start writing regularly and keep up the habit. The important thing is, when 2015 rolls around, you'll be looking back on a year well spent, the time you actually kept those resolutions and achieved your goals.

Stop laughing. You'll hurt yourself.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 31 Dec 2013 17:02:09 +0000
Why Not a Book?

I wrote this article on request for the fine website, and I'm very glad that I did, although in many ways it's a complete about-face from my last post. Read on!xmas book tree

Okay, this advice is for me as much as anyone else. Buy books this Christmas. Put a great novel on your shopping list. It makes sense, doesn't it? If you're a writer, you're a reader, and you no doubt have memories of being transported by books in a way that nothing else can equal. So why wouldn't you want to share that feeling with someone else?

I don't know. But the truth is, I can't remember buying books for my friends and family that often at Christmas. I mean real books now, not joke books or internet spin-offs. A book of a hundred pictures of cats in moustaches or babies wearing bacon may be a worthwhile project, but it's not the kind of book I'm talking about. I mean a story.

Why is this so difficult?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 12 Dec 2013 04:15:39 +0000
Let's Not This Year

christmas-decorations25Let's Not This Year

Okay, let's get this straight. I like Christmas. I love mulled wine and eggnog, candy canes, crackling fires and the smell of evergreen boughs. If I find the perfect gift for someone, I can't wipe the goofy grin off my face. And I've always agreed that covering everything with glittery lights during the darkest time of the year, or any time of year, is a very, very good idea.

But sometimes I wish I had a choice.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 28 Nov 2013 05:24:58 +0000
Tales from the IFOA

{jcomments off}IFOA nametagOver two hundred writers participated in the International Festival of Authors in Toronto this year, and I was one of them. I'm still a bit dazed. Just to put this in context, I have one book published. One. There is nothing else on my CV except some very long short lists and a couple of ESL adaptations. I felt like Cinderella showing up at this thing, only instead of being the star of the ball, she mainly gets to hang out in a corner with the coats, giggling incredulously. But I loved it.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 14 Nov 2013 04:11:20 +0000
Life at the Dome

Life at the Domedome fall

This is the last of the National Post blog articles from May. It's also kind of a prequel to this article about taking a cross country train to Vancouver. Read on, and if you remember the area, please leave a comment!

In 1991 I graduated from college and felt like I was free for the first time in my life. So when September rolled around I got myself off to a cabin on the bay side of the North Mountain in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. It was the only place I wanted to be.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 31 Oct 2013 03:28:48 +0000
Judy Cameron

JudyJudy Lulu

Again, this one is mostly for family and friends, although the interested and the mystified are welcome to read.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 15 Oct 2013 22:44:15 +0100
Fifty Shades of Failure, Part 3

Fifty Shades of Failure, Part III23f75d4bcae4c60c fifty

I tried and failed to read Fifty Shades of Grey in fifty page instalments and report on it objectively. And now I've decided to comb through the wreckage of my disastrous experiment, in the small hope of sparing someone else a similar fate. Let's get right to it.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 03 Oct 2013 03:53:04 +0100
You Can't Have Both...right?

You Can't Have Both! Or can you?rosie the riveter personalized posters-r7eaefcb4079c4cc5b54933ec0b1bf495 ishs 400

Note: This post is also running, in a more tightly edited version, on the fine website If you'd like to leave a comment, please do so here. I might write a follow-up piece, so any wise words would be greatly appreciated.

The year I turned 40, I realised that I'd have to resolve a few long-term dilemmas in my life, if only to keep from getting too depressed when that birthday rolled around. One area I needed to deal with was my writing – I finally got the nerve to treat it as more than a hobby, started applying to graduate level programmes in creative writing and settled down to work on my first novel.

The other worry that had been hanging over me was fertility.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Wed, 25 Sep 2013 21:20:00 +0100
Fifty Shades of Failure, Part 2

Fifty Shades of Failure: Part 21206572119215038269johnny automatic NPS map pictographs part 68 svg med

I tried and failed to read Fifty Shades of Grey in 50-page chunks and report on it faithfully – dragging Lady Chatterley's Lover and a lesbian biker novel called Satan's Best along for the ride. Here's the wreckage.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Sun, 22 Sep 2013 23:34:49 +0100
Fifty Shades of Failure

Fifty Shades of Failure  fifty-shades-of-grey-300-400

Okay, I've been threatening to post this for the better part of a year. Time to share the magic. And just to be clear, it's not the novel that's the failure here. It's me. Back in the dark days of starting this blog, I had an idea for what I thought would be an interesting series of articles: I would read Fifty Shades of Grey in instalments of 50 pages, and report objectively on what I'd found. Why? Well, the book kept coming up in conversation, especially with writers, but nobody involved ever seemed to have read a word. To make the proposition more interesting, I decided to throw in 50 pages of Lady Chatterley's Lover as well, and just for fun, I'd add a lesbian biker novel called Satan's Best by Red Jordan Arobateau (generously donated to my personal library by Mr Fintan O'Higgans of Brussels). So you'd get pure trash, great literature and middle-brow trash, all concerning sex. Sounds like fun, right?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 19 Sep 2013 02:54:00 +0100
Begrudgery, on a Summer's Day

{jcomments on}Begrudgery, on a Summer's Day

This post originally appeared on, with a slightly more upbeat ending. For the original, grouchier version, read on.three bananas

Picture it: you're at a gathering packed with writerly types, all doing the usual drinking and complaining, when someone arrives bursting with good news – an award, a publishing deal, sales in excess of E.L. James and the Bible put together. Now look around the room. What's the reaction? Smiles and congratulations, of course. But while some of these smiles are genuine, others may seem a bit forced –  maybe closer to grimaces of pain. 'Oh,' they all say, 'I'm so happy for you!' Then everyone runs for the bathroom to have a good cry.

I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea. 'Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little,' said Gore Vidal, and you'll note that it wasn't a plumber or a skiing instructor who came up with this. Literary begrudgery is something all writers have to deal with if they're going to be happy, especially in this age of social media where you spend so much of your time online 'liking' and congratulating others.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 05 Sep 2013 03:11:00 +0100
It's the Anti-Launch!

It's the Anti-Launch!

Hey! My birthday was last week! And my fella's was the week before. All this celebrating has put me in mind of gal fireworks-258parties past and present, and so I decided to recycle this article, which ran on the Canadian National Post Blog in May. It's about my Dublin 'anti-launch' for Cinnamon Toast one rainy March night. No names have been changed. Here it is:

As soon as I announced that Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World was getting published, friends started talking about a book launch, and so did I. In fact, I dreamed about it as if it were my wedding.

But as I got closer to publication, I realised that this really was just daydreaming.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 22 Aug 2013 03:38:18 +0100
Letting Go - or Daruma's Other Eye

{jcomments off}Letting Go  -  or Daruma's Other Eyedaruma

I wrote this article on St Patrick's Day, when Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World had just been released. The post briefly ran on, then a few weeks later writer and blogger Louise Gibney was kind enough to feature it on her website (check out her travel blog as well). Then it hit the Canadian National Post blog in May. That's a lot of travelling! Now it's retiring here. Read on:

If you go to any Buddhist temple in Japan at New Year's, you'll find Daruma dolls for sale. These are round figurines, usually made of papier-maché, depicting a grumpy-looking bearded man cloaked in red and gold with no arms or legs. The reference is to a monk called Bodhidharma who, according to legend, sat facing a wall in meditation for nine years. 'And then his legs fell off!' is the gleeful note the story ends on.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 08 Aug 2013 04:01:22 +0100
J.K. Alias and the Pseudonym of Cuckoos

J.K. Alias and the Pseudonym of Cuckoos

I was recently asked to write about The Cuckoo's Calling by...ahem...Robert Galbraith, and what it imagesmeans for new writers. Here's what I came up with. This article is also running this week on Normally I'd wait to post it, but I figured that in two weeks this story will be time capsule material, so... Read on.

Okay, time to come clean. I've been involved in an elaborate hoax for years. You see, I don't actually exist. Any of you who believe you've met me were the victims of a complicated set-up involving actors, wigs, mirrors, and hallucinations brought on by large quantities of bad Roquefort. My name is on a book, but it's a pen name, a pseudonym. The real author of my novel is, of course, J.K. Rowling.

So, should run out and buy it. Now.

No, just kidding.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 25 Jul 2013 03:31:54 +0100
The Shy Years

The Shy Yearsstock-footage-high-school-hallway-slow-zoom-slow-zoom-down-a-long-empty-high-school-hallway-lockers-lining

This article originally appeared in the 'Mothers and Babies' section of the Irish Independent back in April, in a special issue focusing on teenagers and parents. (You can find the original, virtually unscannable version in my scrapbook.) I went looking for a picture of me in the 'crayon' outfit, but could only find one vaguely mopey picture from 1986, below.  Read on...

If you're a parent of a teenager, you may have seen this happen: overnight a sunny, confident child becomes a withdrawn, self-conscious teenager - someone who will do anything to avoid calling attention to themselves, a shy person. What causes it and how can you bring that confidence back? I went through this myself as a kid and I don't have an answer. At the time, I was just as confused as anyone.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 11 Jul 2013 04:20:16 +0100

Smile!smile wallpaper 2-t2

This article originally appeared on, and now I'm putting it out to pasture here. It's me trying to be amusing on the subject of publicity and writers. During the process of composition, I'm pleased to say that I discovered the proper word for 'bat poo'. Read on:

Okay, let's suppose for a minute that you're not great with people. At school you were on your own a lot of the time, daydreaming, a step behind the others, stuck in a book. The other children laughed and pointed. You wiped your tearstained cheeks and ignored them. As an adult you're not one to work the room at a party. You're more frequently found in the corner pretending to be having a conversation on a kids' toy mobile, or with a houseplant. You neglect your social life, your housework, and basic hygiene. Lichen grows thickly on your back and shoulders. You answer the door to charity collectors in your long underwear, wielding a shotgun, and your best friend is a banana peel.

Perfect! Success in writing will soon be yours!

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 27 Jun 2013 02:42:58 +0100
Throw Yourself at the Ground and Miss

{jcomments off}Throw Yourself at the Ground and Miss

This article first appeared on the Canadian National Post blog a few weeks ago. Now I'm 4186249-toasted-bread-with-toaster-on-white-backgroundretiring it here. Read on:

"Why?" people ask me. Intrigued, baffled, smiling and shaking their heads. "A gay main character? A teenage boy? And for your first novel?"

Well, it's a good question. Why would a forty-ish straight woman choose to write a novel from the first-person point of view of a teenage boy in love with his best friend? Coming out novels are a whole genre in themselves, in fact there are probably thousands of them – the distinction here would be that this one's been written by someone who has no idea what she's talking about. So, yes, I asked myself the same thing many, many times. And I wish I could come up with an answer.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 13 Jun 2013 04:19:26 +0100
Notes from the Cinnamon Canada Tour

{jcomments off}For this week's post I was planning on writing a nice long summary of my recent Canadian tour promoting Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World - with lots of advice, 'do's and 'don't's, and wise lessons for us all. But do you know what? After five cities and enough time zone switching to bewilder Dr. Who, I am a babbling wreck and can barely remember my own name. (Janis or something. Close enough.) So instead I'm going to present the final post from my time in Canada, also available on my short-term blog 'What Goes on Tour'. If you'd like to see the other tour posts, they are:

Here Goes         Edmonton         Calgary         Vancouver         Toronto

And of course, the last one, written on a plane and first posted, tearfully, at Pearson airport:

Nova Scotia - the End

Whew! Wednesday, May 22, was quite a day. At six am I was waking up in Toronto and halifax nsby 1 pm I was at the Chicken Burger in Bedford having lunch with my mother and my Aunt Judy. It was wonderful to be back in the Maritimes, even if all I could think about was grabbing a nap before the launch at the Company House in Halifax that night. But before I knew it, it was time to zip up the gold boots again and get moving. The launch was scheduled for 6 pm.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 28 May 2013 06:07:20 +0100
Rejected and Selected

Rejected and Selectedyes-no

I was recently asked to write a blurb about the road to getting published – setbacks, discouragement, the happy ending, and a nugget of advice for anyone out there trying themselves. As you can imagine, there was more than a blurb's worth involved. Here's the long version.

Last April I was milling around outside one of Trinity College Dublin's many impressive-looking stone buildings when my phone started to ring. 'Janet!' the voice at the other end greeted me, 'Bad news, I'm afraid...' I closed my eyes and waited. There'd been a number of these calls lately.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 16 May 2013 04:30:41 +0100
Role Models

Role Modelsdon music

'Write what you know.' We've all heard that, and most of us would agree that it makes good sense. It also might explain why so many fictional characters are writers – what kind of life do we know better? But it doesn't account for why such a percentage of these writer-characters are rich and successful, popular, gorgeous. I've seen fictional writers who are irresistible love magnets, writers who fight crime in their spare time, writers with super powers, writers with an active social life. None of this rings true to me, and after a while I feel inadequate, watching or reading about these superstars. No one's asked me to solve a local murder in years.

I suppose I can understand.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 02 May 2013 04:59:04 +0100
Run! Girl Germs!

Run! Girl Germs!2600114-child-s-drawing-of-herself

This post originally appeared on the fine writing and resource site,, and now I'm retiring it here. Read on...

Ten years ago I was teaching English at a private girls' high school in Tokyo. On a slow morning, I decided to try an experiment. 'Draw a person,' I said to my class of forty sixteen-year-olds, 'a human being.' I gave them two minutes, then walked around the class looking at the drawings. Now, this was a girls' high school with a girls' primary school joined to it. The principal was a woman and so were most of the staff. In fact, other than a handful of teachers, the janitor, and a few guys working in administration, there wasn't a man to be seen in a mile's radius.

But there were no female figures on my students' papers set out on their desks in front of them.

What does this mean? That I'm not very good at giving instructions? That I had a bunch of lazy students who didn't want to try drawing boobs or dresses or their figures? Or could it be possible that we tend to think of 'people' as gender-neutral or male and 'women' as something separate, a sub-group?

Well, why not? There's 'fiction' and 'women's fiction', isn't there?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 18 Apr 2013 06:27:29 +0100
Days in Motion

Days in Motioninto the mountains

This is an article I wrote for the Irish Daily Mail (March 23, 2013). I thought it would make a good blog post, especially as I've been thinking about Canada so much lately - because of the cross-country publicity tour I'm planning for May and of course the Canadian 80s song countdown, started today! If you'd like to see how the original article looked, just click here and scroll down. The picture to the right was taken by me, on the upper floor of the observation car on the train, over twenty years ago. (Yeep!) The photo to the lower left is just some filthy hippies. I don't know where it came from. Anyway, here's the article:

I'm Canadian, and the first thing you should know about my country is that it's big – in fact, you could get on a train in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the east coast and be travelling for five days before you'd reach Vancouver on the west. I know this because I've done it myself.

It was back in 1992.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 04 Apr 2013 03:51:48 +0100
Cinnamon Toast, the End of the World and Me

{jcomments off}Cinnamon Toast, the End of the World and Meres-012

(This post originally appeared on the wonderful website and was written about a week before the book arrived in stores. I thought it would make a pretty good blog post, though finding writing-related pictures was a challenge. Luckily I stumbled across a candid snap of me working away at my desk (left, below.)

Last summer I got the news: Hachette Ireland wanted to publish my first novel. I was overjoyed, but dazed – part of me couldn't quite believe that this was happening. Then gradually everything started to make sense. Of course! The Mayans!

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 21 Mar 2013 03:53:42 +0000
It Lives!

It Lives!res-021

The books arrived in my apartment five days ago. Copies of my book. For several minutes I just stared at the box in awe. I couldn't bring myself to open it.

Something flashed through my mind then, a scene from that old childhood favourite, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (1964). Harriet, who reveres writers, happens to be visiting her best friend Sport, just as his dad receives the news that his novel has been accepted for publication. As you can imagine, the guy's dancing around the place like a maniac. Here's what happens:

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 07 Mar 2013 05:32:20 +0000
The Rules!

The Rules!10commandments 2425344b

This article appeared last week in (which is quickly becoming my favourite website) under the title The Rules of Writing and got quite a response! Now it's enjoying retirement here. Read on.

Long hours, endless rejections, that perfect word that just keeps slipping away...this writing thing is hard, isn't it? But it doesn't have to be! All you need are The Rules! Stick with me and you'll be zooming up the charts in no time! And here they are:

1) Go into bookstores now – see what's on the bestseller lists, look at the busiest sections, follow customers around the store and hang over their shoulders breathing heavily and asking intrusive questions until someone calls security. Then, once you've figured out what's popular (Vampire squirrels! Of course!) go home and write something exactly like it.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Wed, 20 Feb 2013 18:48:00 +0000
The 80s

The 80s80s-rockstar-costume-zoom

So who's this forgotten cheeseball rocker to the right? Was he backup to Dee Snyder in Twisted Sister? Briefly part of Def Leppard? A member of Ratt? No, of course not. This is a Halloween costume. You can see a girls' version below. Should I laugh or cry?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 05 Feb 2013 18:42:00 +0000
Friendship Beads

Friendship Beadspin1

Does anyone remember this? You'd take a safety pin, string it with tiny beads, and loop it around the top lace of your sneaker – or really, you'd give it to someone else and she'd put it on her own sneaker – the idea was that each pin was a gift from a friend. It meant you could look at a girl's feet and be able to tell at a glance how popular she was.

I %&@$ing hated those pins. I think there was exactly one on my shoe, probably a pity gift. But I realise now that this wasn't because I was a social pariah - I just didn't know how to work the currency. If I wanted symbolic friend-counters on my feet (and who doesn't) I needed to hand some out myself first. Then my 'friends' would feel obligated to do the same. At the time I'd felt too shy and icked-out by the idea to do this, but that's how you accumulate such tokens. Still, it turned out that all I had to do was wait - a few months later the trend had moved on and we all had new ways to measure our social status.

Anyway, so I joined Twitter in September, and my 'followers' list is really coming along...

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 22 Jan 2013 18:15:02 +0000
%#@$ this Kindle!

{jcomments off}%&#$ This Kindle!Trinity Library

This post originally appeared in, under the slightly more grown-up title of On the Kindle Crossroads (probably should have been At the Crossroads, but, oh well...). Now I'm retiring it here. Read on, if you dare!

So here we are at a historical crossroads that will affect the way we relate to the printed word forever, and it's largely been brought about because people are so lazy at choosing gifts for Christmas.

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Wed, 09 Jan 2013 22:50:00 +0000
Holiday Horror! Holiday Happiness!

 Holiday Horror! Holiday Happiness!RudolphtheRed-NosedReindeerLife-SizeCardboardStand-Up

Christmas music is tricky. How do you sing about something pleasant and cosy without sounding smug? How do you make the same old songs interesting, year after year? How do you disguise the fact that you're just providing commercial background noise that will be used as a prompt for consumers to eat more, drink more, spend what they don't have?

Simple. In most cases, you don't. Popular Christmas music is usually awful. Legend has it that Spike Milligan, disgusted by the low standards of British pop, once recorded an intentionally half-assed tune called I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas and watched in misery as it climbed to number four on the charts – and his was one of the better offerings. But this year, instead of grousing about it, I decided to make a list. In fact, as it's a season of generosity, I made two! Comments are welcome – they are also mandatory. I want to hear your own top five favourites and unfavourites and I want to hear them now. Merry seasonal joy!

Holiday Horror – Christmas songs I just can't stand

5. The Twelve Days of Christmas

So I'm in a shopping mall, loaded down with gifts that I'm not sure anyone will want, sweating, dehydrated, colliding with strangers, my winter coat dragging off my arm, and somewhere above it all a chorus always seems to be shrieking, 'Fiiiiive! Gold-en! Riiings!'

Yarg! Go away! It's a fun carol to sing when you're a kid, but listening to this endless countdown of seasonal loot is just a slog – the singers themselves usually seem exhausted by the end of it. And what is the narrator going to do with it all that stuff? What is this 'true love' trying to prove or compensate for with such a display? There's something very odd about this couple.


 4. Walking in a Winter Wonderland

A lazy tune about a nauseating pair and their swell day together: strolling through the snowy fields, building an effigy of a religious leader in order to perform a bizarre imaginary marriage ritual, and ending their evening in front of a fire, 'conspiring'. Even the fact that a snarky Montreal columnist (was it Josh Bezonsky?) once recast it as 'Walking 'Round in Women's Underwear' can't save this song for me. It used to pop into my head whenever I'd be struggling down unploughed sidewalks in Halifax, with ice in my boots, usually still soaked from a splash of grey slush spewed by a passing car. Winter wonderland. Hooray.


3. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Another disturbing Christmas couple. It's really the husband dressed as Santa, right? And I assume he's doing this in order to fool his child, who he knows is watching. In that case, why snog the wife and ruin the illusion? Or does this man actually want the kid to grow up traumatised? (No, sweetie, Santa isn't interested in milk and cookies. He wants sexual favours. From your mom. Merry Christmas!) The probable truth is that our child-narrator has stumbled onto a kinky role-playing scenario his parents are enacting 'underneath the mistletoe'. Unless the wife is actually boinking Santa Claus for real. I can't believe I had to sing this filth in kindergarten.

2. Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney

Let's just say that this is a song that doesn't bear repeated listening. In fact it's hardly a song at all, more of a chant. A very, very, very annoying chant. Subject yourself to it for too long and it begins to sound sarcastic. Then mocking. Then borderline cruel. Paul's a smart guy – did he do this on purpose? I'm wondering if the one-legged model might have had some foundation for accusing him of all sorts of foulness a few years ago in divorce court, though I don't recall if this song was specifically mentioned. (Oddly, this is also the only song on my list that doesn't involve a couple doing something weird.)

1. Fairy Tale of New York – the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl

Fairytale of New York is a great song, with perfect vocal performances and lyrics that manage to tell a novel's worth of story in four minutes. Yet I have paid carollers not to sing it. It's all a matter of context. I live in Ireland, where for at least 45 days of the year this song is inescapable. (I sat in a pub one December and timed it: Fairytale was played at least once every hour. Don't ask me how many hours I stayed in that pub to prove this – let's just say that I take my research very seriously.) It's painful to see a good song turned into so much background bla-bla through unthinking repetition. And there are personal reasons why I can't stand hearing it. Fairytale was a big favourite of my sister Judy when it was released in the mid 80s – we even sang it around the house as a duet, thinking it was so funny (of course I was Shane). My sister's been dead for twenty three years, but the first time I hear this song each November I can't help getting teary-eyed, and crying in a shopping centre is pretty much a giant pain in the arse.

Holiday Happiness - Christmas songs that I will actually seek out

5. Little Girl Blue by Nine Simone/ River by Joni Mitchell

Not exactly Christmas songs, these two ballads start with sad piano renditions of well-known carols and then go on to their respective tales of heartbreak and regret. I love them both (and they go very well with my mopey Christmas story from 2006, which you will also find on this site).

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Bob and Doug Mackenzie

I'm not over-fond of this song, but our heroes don't get to the end of it anyway. And as a homesick Canadian girl, I like thinking about that four pounds of back-bacon, three French toasts, two turtle-necks and a beer, in a tree.

3. Throw the Yule Log On, Uncle John by P.D.Q. Bach

P.D.Q. Bach's intentional awfulness lends itself very well to Christmas carols. I can never suppress a smile at this story, narrated with crisp choral enthusiasm, of a worthless drunk passed out on the floor after eating all the food in the house as the guests arrive for a party. I also know of no other song that better illustrates the importance of commas. Throw that Yule log on Uncle John!

2. December Will Be Magic Again by Kate Bush

I'll admit, it's all a matter of taste and mine is frequently awful. (Though I prefer the recorded version as there's less suspense as to where the next note is going to land.) Look at Kate: a wailing spindly goofball with saucer eyes and a voice like a kitten in a thermos. She's embarrassing, but so sincere - I might as well be looking at the personification of my own sad teenage years here. And I embrace them. Merry Christmas, you weirdo!

1.  Merry Xmas, Everybody by Slade

Okay, it's a stupid, trashy song. But again, this is all about context. As a North American, I never grew up with this slop pouring out of the radio every December, in fact I don't remember hearing it at all until 2002. At that point, I was visiting Ireland for the second time, on vacation from my exhausting job teaching at a Japanese high school, and counting down the days and hours until I saw my beloved Irish boyfriend again (since demoted to husband). So picture it: I'm in a new country, no homework or exams to mark, with my true love by my side and a pint of Guinness in my hand. What's not to love?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Sun, 23 Dec 2012 20:30:00 +0000
The Future?

The Future?DoeringerFreeBooks

This is actually a slightly used post, having spent a week as a guest article on Dereck Flynn's blog Songbook at, which was pretty neat. (Thanks, guys!) Now I've found a home for it here. And here it is!

On a miserable wet morning in June, I was leaving the DART station on my way to work when somebody gave me a book. An honest-to-God novel, printed, bound and professional: Too Far by Rich Shapero. There were boxes of these books, and bored girls in luminous jackets were pressing them into the hands of strangers as they passed. Some took a copy. Some didn't. Most of us looked at this thing with the fear and mistrust you'd give any free gift – the unspoken question being, 'What do you want?'

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Wed, 12 Dec 2012 22:00:57 +0000
The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing -  my link in the chain lettersmiley toast iStock 000017595805XSmall

Last week I was tagged by the lovely and talented Bernice Barrington to answer these questions about my book, and in return I'll be tagging four rising literary stars for the next round. What a great idea!

So here we go: in case you're linking from off the site, I'm Janet E. Cameron and the novel is called Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World. Yay!

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Hmm. Long story. Basically I started with two of the main characters getting horribly killed and went on from there.  But let me explain. 

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 27 Nov 2012 18:30:00 +0000
Seven Types of Amazon Reviews

Seven Types of Amazon ReviewsSeven Dwarfs

(This piece appeared on my blog in November, and after a rewrite I ran it as an article in New and improved!)

I'll admit it. I love scanning through those capsule reviews on Amazon. I'll read ones for books I've already bought, or books I have no intention of buying. Part of it is simple inertia – before the internet I used to waste time in similar ways flipping through the quickie movie review books people would consult before deciding if, say, Redneck Zombies (1989) was worth a rental. There is something satisfying about seeing a three-hour film or a 700-page volume summed up in eighty words and a handful of stars.

And then there are times I'll find myself on Amazon or Goodreads seeking forgiveness and understanding: say I've just finished a critical or popular success and hated it – does this make me a heartless jerk, a complete doofus? I'm never thrilled with the answers that I get (by and large: yes!) which usually leads to more clicking, reading, sifting, and skimming as I search for the answer that I do want. Meanwhile the clock hands turn, the light in the window fades, and the blood slowly leaves my extremities.

I think this was how I began to realise the truth about Amazon and similar reviews. You learn next to nothing about the book being discussed, in fact a lot of the time you're only looking to have your own opinion confirmed. However, you do find out an awful lot about readers. There are several recurring types I've noticed during my time lost on the Amazon. Meet seven of them: Doc, Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, and Bashful.

Doc-snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-6604793-300-232Doc - the book report

Often the first reviews you see on a page, and certainly the longest, these pieces take everything into account: plot and sub-plot, setting, word choice, motivation, name of the author's dentist, the whole crayon box. Of course these reviews are very well-written and insightful. I think. The sad truth is, I don't think I've ever managed to read one all the way through. Sorry, Doc. If something similiar had appeared as a feature article on a blog or a website, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. But if there are ten reviews on a screen, and nine of them are in one-paragraph servings while the tenth is as long as my arm, guess which one I'm going to skip? Plus I'm always worried you're going to give away the plot. You know you want to.

Happy - friend of the authorHappy-snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-6604790-300-233

You get the feeling this is not a review so much as an act of pure goodwill. Happy will award five stars, always, and leave comments that are close to hysterical with praise. Does the poor little guy get this excited every time he reads something? (Up ALL NIGHT with the new revised commuter timetable from Athlone to Galway. SUPER!!! FANTASTIC read!!!!) It just might be dangerous.

Still, Happy's got my sympathies. Let's face it: if you're a writer, you have writer friends and contacts who depend on your support. And with the current culture of crazed hype, it seems like anything less than a raving mad 5-star review would be taken as a slight. But neutral readers tend to see through this. What's the answer?

grumpy-dwarfAll you people are idiots – Grumpy

This is a review written in reaction to other reviews. If posts on a page are mostly negative, Grumpy will kick down the door and deliver five stars and a stirring defence. And, more commonly, if reviews are overwhelmingly positive, this angry little bollix will arrive to serve up a steaming plate of scorn. I have to confess that I probably like Grumpy the best of the seven. In a sea of smiles, I assume that the lone disgruntled reader is the one to trust. It's a bit mad, but this is what group dynamics does to reviews.

Over-sensitive – SneezySneezy

Ali Smith uses too many ampersands! The title of this book is all in lower case letters! This author has initials instead of a full name! Why, in the name of God, why??? Poor Sneezy. Just about anything can get up this little guy's nose and cause him to throw a verbal fit. Look, calm down. Talk to a friend about why ampersands and initials upset you so.  Eat a sandwich, go for a pleasant walk, breathe. If you can, stop reading books for a while, or at least please stop writing reviews.

 Didn't finish – Sleepy

Sleepy OK 214572K2aOkay, no sympathy here. I can understand quitting on a book if you aren't enjoying it. We all have a limited time on earth. But in that case, why write a review? Writing reviews for books you haven't finished is arrogant and lazy. Go stand in the corner. With a lizard on your head.

Missed the point – Dopeydopey

'Four stars. Package arrived promptly in the expected condition. I am very satisfied, only it's too bad I have been too busy and haven't read the book yet.'

Oh, Dopey! You big silly. These are book reviews. Customer feedback is a whole other...never mind.

Then there are the other Dopey reviews, like the girl who panned Stuart Little because it was unrealistic. ('A mouse that wears clothes and talks like a human? The author, and I won't name names, should have thought this through.') Or what about the one-star review of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, posted by an irate young man stuck writing a book report for his girlfriend's little sister? 'It really makes me wonder when it comes a time when kids don't do hwk and the parents demand their big sisters to do it. KIDS WILL YOU EVER GROW UP AND DO SOMETHING FOR ONCE?' Okay. Thanks for the insight into mental illness and female institutionalisation in the 1950s, Dopey.

And there are some Dopey reviews which...well, let's just say they can be a bit over-enthusiastic, and a tad embarrassing. Okay, dear. It's nice that you were moved by The Fault in Our Stars. But think about it. Is posting a video of a pink unicorn crying really the best way to convey this? (Check out the book's page on Goodreads. I am so not kidding.)

And finally...

BashfulImaginary review – Bashful

This is me. I've composed dozens of Amazon and Goodreads reviews which have never left the confines of my head. Why? Well, first of all, by day I'm a teacher. And one of the aspects of the job that I've never warmed to is marking and grading. Stamping an arbitrary number on someone's work, scrawling a few harried and condescending phrases on the last page. It makes me feel tired, dishonest, vaguely slimy. So why would I do this for free? Also I can't help thinking that no matter how I feel about a book now, there's a good chance I'll change my mind later. Meanwhile my review will live on to embarrass me forever. 

But! All this is does not mean that I don't want people to review my book. I hope there will be loads of reviews. I hope there'll be truckloads of them. And I really hope I'll have the sense to stay away. 

Hope is great, isn't it?

So, what do you think? Did I leave anyone out? Am I full of it?

Which one are you?

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 13 Nov 2012 18:30:00 +0000
Great books that can't be said to exist

Great books that can't be said to existRussias Lost Literature book

When I was younger and had mental energy to burn, I developed a passion for Russian literature.  What can I say?  The sight of a page littered with four-syllable names calmed me.  I started with The Brothers Karamazov in college and went on to anything else I could lay hands on, almost at random, which is how I discovered a book in the library of Vanier College in Montreal called Russia's Lost Literature of the Absurd. The book, translated and edited by George Gibian, is mainly made up of very short, bizarre stories by a Soviet-era writer called Daniil Kharms.

Here is a typical example:

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 30 Oct 2012 17:00:00 +0000

JudyJudy and Flossy

I think this one's mostly for family and friends, although interested (and no doubt somewhat mystified) bystanders are welcome to read.
It's that time of year again. 

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Mon, 15 Oct 2012 20:12:43 +0100
Enter the Novel Fair Contest!

lovely nametagEnter the Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair Contest!

Seriously.  If you've got a book, do it.  I participated last year and I'd recommend the holy living %#@& out of it.  Here's what happened:

First of all I had a novel finished and drafted by September of 2011 (title: Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World ), and I'd edited the book for long enough that I felt fairly confident showing it to people.  I heard about the contest through a friend

]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Tue, 02 Oct 2012 18:17:50 +0100
Hey! Everybody!

Hey!  Everybody!Amsterdam 2010

Welcome to the blog. I'll be using it to promote the holy living cupcakes out of my novel, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, as well as presenting action-packed tales from my adventures in writing and publishing.

But to tell the truth, I'm more interested in your reactions than in anything I'll be setting out myself, and if I have an unsolvable question for the universe, I will most likely be posting it here.

Here's my first unsolvable question:  Why am I doing this?]]> (Super User) A Simple Jan Thu, 13 Sep 2012 02:09:47 +0100