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April 2019

Swither, Shoogle, Wheesht: Playing With Language in The Gloaming
19th April 2019 - Kirsty Logan

Swither, Shoogle, Wheesht: Playing With Language in The Gloaming

The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan


The GloamingKirsty Logan's second novel now in paperback, is a swirling tale threaded through with magic, heartbreak, love and mermaids. It is studded with evocative but perhaps unfamiliar words, adding atmosphere, mood and expression. Exclusively for Foyles, she has written about some of these Scottish words, that head up each chapter of the book. Read on, below.





Growing up in Cheshire with two Scottish parents, speaking and hearing these words on a daily basis, I didn't know that they weren't English. My parents used them; I used them. Kids at school didn't, but then kids at school said lots of things my parents didn't. When I was 12 we moved to Scotland, where these words were fairly commonplace – so it was only when I got published that I realised most English-speaking people didn't know Scots words.


I'm a massive language nerd – I like to taste it, play with it, get a bit inappropriate with it. Poetic prose is a joy to me, and I love to play with the sound and feel of language. This is partly why I decided to name each chapter of The Gloaming for a Scots word. Not only do the words look beautiful on the page, they feel great in the mouth, rolling the tongue and catching at the uvula. But they're not chosen just for prettiness: the words generally don't have direct English equivalents. The words are untranslatable, utterly themselves.


It was only when we got to final edits on the novel that I realised that my London publishing team (and, presumably, much of my non-Scots-speaking readership) didn't know what the words meant – meaning I'd need to add a glossary. It hadn't occurred to me that anyone wouldn't know these words, as they're such a regular part of my day. (A disclaimer: I'm not an academic and I've never studied Scots. All I speak from is my own use of Scots words. Any errors in usage are the way I use these words on a daily basis, correctly or not.)


Here the weather isn't bad; there's a smirr or a haar, it's baltic or dreich (and when it's dreich you get drookit) – or, more unusually, the sun is out and it's roastit. My friends don't get drunk; they get steaming, scunnered, blootered, jaked. Instead of knocking on a door you chap it, instead of a splinter you get a skelf, instead of your bum you sit on your bahookie, and instead of turnips and potatoes you have neeps and tatties – or tumshies and tatties, if you prefer. You know the feeling when you need to leave the house, and you can't find your keys, and you forgot make your lunch, and you're sure they're something you're forgetting, and you're really starting to panic? Congratulations: you are in a fankle. But dinnae fash (and definitely dinnae greet).


I could spend all day delighting in onomatopoeic Scots words, but I'll leave you to discover them yourself (you'll get about sixty of them in the glossary of The Gloaming). Here are my favourites, all of which I use regularly:


Swither (to hesitate)

I used this in several stories before I realised it wasn't an English word. If you've read my previous novel The Gracekeepers, you've already read this word: "Callanish swithered on the porch, not sure whether she should change back into her white dress." I think my editors must have assumed it was a word I had made up, like 'gracekeeper', because they didn't question it. I love this word and find it so much more evocative than 'hesitate'. I think of swithering as the wishy-washy swaying action my hands make when I can't make up my mind.

How to use it: "Stop swithering and decide what you want for dinner."


Shoogle (wobble)

My door key is stiff and needs coaxing to turn; every day when I open the door I think to myself, 'just give it a shoogle'. Shoogling is what a just-set jelly does. It's the feeling when you stand between two carriages on a moving train. It's when you're trying to back-and-forth an object into a space it doesn't quite fit, or you've got a bit of furniture that's cheap or past it's best: it's wobbly, unsteady; it's got a wee shoogle in it.

How to use it: "I'm not getting a sofa from Ikea again, they get really shoogly."


Wheesht (hush; telling someone to be quiet)

When I was growing up, I loved the way my mum said my name because she was the only person I knew who rolled the 'r' in Kirsty; I also loved the way she said wheesht, even though it meant she was telling me to be quiet. Wheesht can be said so emphatically, and 'hush' just can't compare.

How to use it: "Wheesht, I'm trying listen to this!"


Gloaming (twilight, dusk)

The gloaming is the space between day and night, when the light pales to blue and everything is outlined in gold. It's the most beautiful part of the day – the golden hour, the photographer's favourite. I named my novel for this word and I still didn't know it wasn't an English word (perhaps people who haven't heard it before think it's a made-up word to match The Gracekeepers). To me, 'dusk' just doesn't have the same evocative beauty.

How to use it: "I love being with you in the gloaming."


I've used all these words in conversation in the past week. If you, like me, love the sound and taste and texture of them – give them a go. A whole new language awaits.


Kirsty Logan is the author of the novel The Gracekeepers, the short story collections A Portable Shelter and The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales. Her books have won the Lambda Literary Award, the Polari First Book Prize, the Saboteur Award, the Scott Prize and the Gavin Wallace Fellowship, and been selected for the Radio 2 Book Club. She lives in Glasgow with her wife. Read more about Kirsty's work on her Author Page.


Cara Hunter on writing crime in the shadow of Morse
17th April 2019 - Cara Hunter

Cara Hunter on writing crime in the shadow of Morse

No Way Out by Cara Hunter

No Way Out is Cara Hunter's third book in her D.I. Fawley series. Set in Oxford and incorporating social media snippets, newspaper articles and crime reports, the books are full of suspense and twists that keep you guessing until the very end. Below, Cara talks to us about the pros and cons of writing crime novels set in the city so closely associated with Inspector Morse, and how her detective is a very different type of person. 


In Morse’s footsteps


In the very first draft of Close to Home Oxford doesn’t feature at all. Well, that’s not quite true. There’s a beautiful university city which is pretty easily recognisable as Oxford, but I deliberately didn’t call it that. I called it Kingstead, as a nod to the fact that it was the base for Charles I’s court during the Civil War (‘stead’ derives from the Old English stede, or place, so hence ‘King’s place’). And why did I invent another name? Because I was convinced that, after Morse and Lewis and Endeavour, people would simply have had enough of Oxford. Or at least that’s what I thought. Until I met my (now) editor Katy Loftus at Penguin and almost the first thing she said was, “This is Oxford, right? Then it has to be Oxford.”


And she’s been proved absolutely right. I’m sure that one of the reasons the book has sold around the world is because crime fans from China to Croatia know and love this city, and can picture it in their minds as they read. And because it’s where I live myself I can - I hope – bring to life some of the other parts of the city, which have their own distinctive characters, and are worlds away from the ivy-clad quads. Or, at least, appear to be.


So far, so good. But setting a crime series in Oxford is about a lot more than just setting. To paraphrase the song, ‘How do you solve a problem like E Morse?' Colin Dexter’s brilliant invention casts such a long shadow over this city that it was daunting to even presume to have someone else walk the same streets. And I am – like so many other people – an absolute devotee myself, so the challenge felt doubly difficult. Bizarre though it sounds, there was a sense of not wanting to ‘mess it up’ – of wanting to write something that would celebrate the legacy in my own small way, rather than contest with it. (And in case you haven’t spotted it already, my bright and sassy female police officer, Erica Somer, was named in homage to Morse, as her surname is an anagram of his).


One thing that was obvious right from the start, was that my detective had to be different from Morse. He had to be his own man. Not disappointed in love, not childless, not an old curmudgeon, not an intellectual. In fact, Adam Fawley himself has a bit of fun with all the ways he is ‘not Morse’. As he says in Close to Home: “While I’m at it, the car is a Ford. In case you’re wondering. And I don’t do bloody crosswords either.”


So Adam Fawley is not a bachelor but very much in love with his beautiful wife. He’s not childless, or at least he wasn’t until he lost his only son, Jake, in a tragedy that is only fully revealed towards the end of Close to Home. He’s not bad-tempered, or at least not most of the time, though he does have a short fuse on occasion and a very dry sense of humour. And he’s not an intellectual, though he is clever. Very clever...


Cara Hunter is a writer who lives in Oxford, in a street not unlike those featured in her series of crime books. Close to Home, the first D.I. Fawley novel, was a Sunday Times bestseller and a Richard and Judy book club choice.



Dean Burnett on Happiness
12th April 2019 - Dean Burnett

Dean Burnett on Happiness

The Happy Brain by Dean Burnett

In his latest book, The Happy Brain, neuroscientist Dean Burnett investigates the inner workings of the brain to try and fathom out the secrets of happiness - what is happiness, how can we become happier and can we stay that way? Below, Dean tells us how he came to write his second book (and indeed his first) and what he's learned along the way.


In pursuit of the happy brain


One of the most common questions I’m asked about my second book The Happy Brain is, why? Why happiness? Why did I want to write a book about the workings and neurology of what makes us happy?


The answer is not one many expect to hear, because the truth is it was never my plan to write a second book about happiness. I didn’t plan to write a second book about anything. I’d never planned to write a first book. I’d never planned to write books at all. And yet, here we are. What happened?


My own entry into the writing world is an odd one, stemming as it does from my passions for neuroscience, but also my keen interest in comedy and humour. I started performing stand up back in 2004, as I was studying for my neuroscience PhD. Largely as a churlish reaction to people who said it couldn’t be done (or it was foolish to do so), I started writing jokes and material about my research and science in general. Weirdly enough, it proved quite popular, so I started doing it more and more. And the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. The challenge of conveying accurate scientific information in amusing and engaging ways, I found that very stimulating. It made me happy.


Trouble is, I live in Cardiff, a very small city by anyone’s standards, with a correspondingly miniscule comedy scene. You perform at the five or six comedy gigs available, you have to wait several weeks for another turn while every other act has their go. Our of impatience and boredom, I turned to the internet, and started a blog to put my efforts on there. It turns out, the writing was the part I always preferred, and the 20 minutes of stage time a month were just a means of getting it out there.


My blog developed a decent following and eventually joined the Guardian’s science blog network, where it remains one of the most popular pages to this day. But then, out of the blue, I got contacted by a literary agent who said he liked my work and had I ever thought about writing a book?


At this point, I sort of had, but only in the same way that I’d thought about going to Mars, or being a movie star; something that would probably be cool but not actually something that’s ever going to happen. So, I said sure, why not. Thinking my first book would be my only book, I splurged all my stored up knowledge into it, thinking it would be good to get it all out there while I can. I assumed a few blog readers would pick it up, maybe a few libraries and schools, and then we’d all forget about it and moved on with our lives.


It didn’t happen that way. My first book, The Idiot Brain, is still going strong two years later, with bestseller status, many international versions, and endorsements from Hollywood (and Bollywood) superstars. That surprised me more than anyone, I won’t deny it.


Here’s the thing; when you have a book that sells really well, your publishers quickly start asking what the next one’s going to be about. And that’s when I hit a wall; I had no idea what the next one would be about.


As a result, I asked many friends, colleagues and co-workers what they thought I should write about. They all gave me ideas, but none of them felt ‘right’. But after every rejection from me, they’d all eventually say the same thing: “At the end of the day, you’ve just got to write about what makes you happy”.


Turns out I’m a very literal person. A moment of idle curiosity where I searched online ‘What makes you happy’ sent me tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole of self-help gurus, positive psychologists, mindfulness, and thousands of ‘secrets’, ‘keys’ and ‘simple tips’ for happiness.


These things were all presented with such utter conviction, but yet none of them matched up? None said the same thing as the other equally-certain wannabe sages of happiness were saying. This suggests that a lot of the claims are made up.


So, what does the science say? What are the things that really do tickle our brains fancy and make us happy? And why these things, and not others? That was the task I set myself, to find out. It took over a year and involved millionaires, pop stars, ghost hunters and sex gurus, but I got there in the end.


I found something to write about in the end, and that’s what’s covered in my second book, The Happy Brain. I hope you’re happy with it. I know I am.


Dean Burnett Author Photograph

Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist, blogger, sometimes-comedian and author. He is 35 and lives in Cardiff. He is currently a lecturer/tutor at the Cardiff University Centre for Medical Education. His first book, The Idiot Brain, was an international bestseller published in over 20 countries. His 'Brain Flapping' blog is the most read on the Guardian science network, with over 15 million views since 2012.



Candice Carty-Williams on writing her smart and funny debut, Queenie
11th April 2019 - Candice Carty-Williams

Candice Carty-Williams on writing her smart and funny debut, Queenie

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Candice Carty-Williams' debut is smart, funny, and incredibly timely. Queenie (the book) tackles life, love, race and family through Queenie (the character), a young woman with a talent for self-sabotage that readers will take to their hearts. Full of warmth, heart and bite, Queenie is a stunnng and unforgettable read.

Candice Carty-Williams tells us why she wrote Queenie and how she feels now it's written.


I know that everyone is probably bored of hearing me say that I wrote Queenie with representation and nothing else in mind, but it really is true. I wasn’t thinking about money or Twitter followers, what I was thinking about was how not seeing yourself reflected in the culture around you can make you feel invisible. When I was growing up, I devoured books; I don’t even think the term devoured does service to how much I read. I’d read books twice, three times over, and was hugely grateful to YA authors Malorie Blackman for Noughts and Crosses and masses more, and immensely thankful to Yinka Adebayo for writing the Drummond Hill Crew series, a set of books following the japes of young black schoolkids. There was love, heartbreak, rejection, there was turmoil, the drama was high, and I loved it because I could see myself in that world.


As I moved into the horrific teenage years, full of hormones, unwanted change and bad skin, I looked for books that reflected my experience so that I could at least read some version of what I was going through. Instead, the only books I could find were about pretty blonde girls being asked to prom by the best looking boy in school and being horrified by an unplanned pimple when the day came. Thank god she could find a cover up stick in time! I realised pretty quickly that books weren’t going to get me through secondary school, and as I got older, they definitely weren’t going to get me through sixth form and beyond.


It might seem odd to turn to books to tell me how to get through the tumultuous journey that’s young womanhood, but given that I was in a mainly white, middle class school (and then university) where there were a handful of girls like me, how else was I going to get through it? I also understood, as I was getting older, that I didn’t have much in common with nice, perfect characters whom everything goes right for. They’re not realistic, and I also have no interest in “nice” characters. I’ve always been attracted to flawed characters, so Queenie’s personality wasn’t hard to write. Like when we watch a horror film, I wanted readers to turn the page and shout ‘DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE!’ -- but instead of the woman being met by some sort of ghost or monster, instead she’d have to face some idiot guy calling her skin chocolate and telling her that he was excited to finally have sex with a black girl.


I wanted to create a character that looked like me -- and girls like me -- who had so lost sight of her own value through not seeing her worth that she didn’t know who she was anymore. I wanted her to have to find her way out of the nightmare that our early twenties can be, and by making her go through the most extreme assault course of events, wanted to show that if she can get through that, we can get through anything.


Queenie’s already out in the USA, and the response from readers over there has been overwhelming. Black women have messaged me in their hundreds to tell me that even though Queenie frustrated them, they could see themselves in her, white women have told me that they too could see themselves in Queenie’s decisions and circumstances but have also learnt that racism—even well intentioned—is still racism. I’ve even had a couple of white dude bros tell me that they were grateful to the depiction of mental health in the book, and how it made them feel less alone in their own struggles.


In writing Queenie, I wanted to cover so many things; sex, relationships, dating, interracial dating, friendship, therapy and more, but I had to do it through my lens so that everyone could read it and understand that black women contain multitudes; I was tired of the sassy, loud tropes in TV and film (not so much in books, because not enough books by or about black women exist, as the funny friend or otherwise). In life, I never saw myself in the role of the funny best friend, and felt this burning need to correct the idea that it’s fine for our bodies to be consumed for sexual excitement and exploration, and discarded afterwards. It was important for me to give black women the humour, humanity and heart that we deserve in literature and in the world.


When people ask if I’m excited about Queenie being out, I always feel really boring when I answer that I just feel like a job has been completed. But that’s exactly what it’s felt like; completing a task that needed to be done. The work to represent will never be over, not in my lifetime anyway, but I’m glad that Queenie could be a part of that. I’m not excited, but I’m content that I’ve created a Jamaican British leading character who isn’t loud, who isn’t sassy, but who also doesn’t have to be perfect in order to exist.


Candice Carty-Williams author photograph

Candice Carty-Williams is a marketer, author and journalist based in London. Born in 1989, the result of an affair between a Jamaican cab driver and a Jamaican-Indian dyslexic receptionist, Candice worked in the media before moving into publishing.





Read an Extract from Constellations: Reflections from Life
9th April 2019

Read an Extract from Constellations: Reflections from Life

Constellations by Sinead Gleeson

"I have come to think of all the metal in my body as artificial stars, glistening beneath the skin, a constellation of old and new metal."

Sinéad Gleeson


Constellations is a powerful and intimate collection of essays from the writer and broadcaster Sinéad Gleeson. Concerned with bodily experience and what it means to be female, and female in Ireland, these essays tackle the whole of life, from birth to death and everything in between. It’s a movingly personal memoir that will resonate deeply with its readers due to Gleeson’s ability to look outward and well as inward. Full of compassion and humanity, this is a fiercely feminist read. We've an extract from this stunning collection, below.  


Hips and Makers 


During my second pregnancy, my hip finally deteriorated irreparably but a surgeon tried to explain the pain away as ‘just baby blues’. Eventually I convinced a doctor that the only solution to twenty-four-hour pain was a total hip replacement (THR). This was granted as if it was a privilege, rather than something essential. The familiar need to plead and convince, to prove myself worthy of medical intervention. My body is not a question mark, and pain is not a negotiation. 


I received a THR in 2010, when my children were tiny. After, I could cross my legs and cycle a bike for the first time in over twenty years. It beeps at airport security checks. I have come to think of all the metal in my body as artificial stars, glistening beneath the skin, a constellation of old and new metal. After years of medical procedures my scars are in double figures, but they too form a familiar landscape. Joints can be replaced, organs transplanted, blood transfused, but the story of our lives is still the story of one body. From ill health to heartbreak, we live inside the same skin, aware of its fragility, grappling with our mortality. Surgery leaves scars; physical markers of a lived experience encountering pain. I think of my children, hoping their lives are free from such moments. That atavism will spare them, and their bodies will fare better than mine. 


Sometimes I imagine myself in Lourdes, walking the hills with my ceramic and titanium joint. Looking at all that stone and religiosity, the grand grotto that frightened me, viewed through the eyes of my lapsed faith and non-belief. 


Although I do believe. Not in gods and grottos and relics. But in words and people and music. Our bodies propel us through life, with their own holiness. 


Relic and bone.

Chalice and socket.

Grotto and womb. 


In moments of distraction, there’s a Kristin Hersh song that often floats up from the floor of my mind. I’ve rolled the words back and forth like oars; sung my children to sleep with it. 


We have hips and makers 

We have a good time 

They keep me dancing 

Finally it’s all right


And it is all right. When there is a day that is pain free, or the sun shines, or my curious children ask about the lines on my skin. I explain my good luck, grateful that things were not worse. I am an accumulation of all of those sleep- less nights and hospital days; of waiting for appointments and wishing I didn’t have to keep them; of the raw keel of boredom and self-consciousness illness is. Without those experiences, I would not be a person who picks up those shards and attempts to reshape them on the page. If I had been spared the complicated bones, I would be someone else entirely. Another self, a different map. 


Sinead Gleeson Author Photo

Sinéad Gleeson is a writer of essays, criticism and fiction. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Winter Papers and Gorse, and a story of hers is in the forthcoming collection, Being Various: New Irish Short Stories. She is the editor of three short story anthologies, including The Long Gaze Back: an Anthology of Irish Women Writers and The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland, both of which won Best Irish Published Book at the Irish Book Awards. Sinéad has worked as an arts critic and broadcaster and has presented The Book Show on RTÉ Radio 1. She lives in Dublin.



Mira Jacob on her Graphic Memoir, Good Talk
8th April 2019 - Mira Jacob

Mira Jacob on her Graphic Memoir, Good Talk

Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Inspired by her viral BuzzFeed piece '37 Difficult Questions from My Mixed-Raced Son', Mira Jacob's Good Talk documents her life and experience in contemporary America. Jacob relates awakward questions from her son, uncomfortable relationship advice from her parents, and unpleasant conversations with her Trump-supporting in-laws with humour as well as exasperation. Good Talk is a moving and personal memoir that will resonate with many.

Mira Jacob talks exclusively to Foyles about creating Good Talk below, and we have some extracts from the book.




Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for Good Talk and the subjects you discuss?

Good Talk is a series of conversations from my own life that I drew —the ones that rumble around in my head for years afterward—never quite finished, but always telling me some bit of who I am. It’s also about my young son realizing he was brown in the same moment that his paternal grandparents became avid Trump supporters.

Good Talk spread


Did you always conceive it as a graphic memoir, and did this present any particular challenges?

My son Z’s questions as he realized his colour were sometimes hilarious (“Is Michael Jackson’s skin like mine?”) and sometimes devastating (“Are white people afraid of brown people?”) and when I tried to write them in essay form, the disparity set me up to not be believed. When I drew the conversations, however, they just made sense. Or as much sense as any conversation makes, at any rate.

Good Talk spread

Has writing Good Talk been a cathartic experience for you?

More than cathartic, I would say it was a protective experience for me. It allowed me to breathe through my first years in Trump’s America and write with real urgency, to question how and why things had come to pass, and look for a future in which my son and I could be safe, and valued, and loved by our country.

Good Talk spread

Mira Jacob author photograph

Mira Jacob is the author of the novel The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, the co-founder of the Brooklyn literary night Pete's Reading Series and has contributed writings and drawings to the New York TimesVogue, the Daily Telegraph and Shondaland. She teaches at NYU and the New School and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.



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