Tuesday, June 25, 2024
GeneralSHIRLEY ANNE LAUNCHES NEW BOOK

SHIRLEY ANNE LAUNCHES NEW BOOK

A NEW book by a local author has hit bookshelves this month. Author Shirley-Anne McMillan, who lives in the Castlewellan area, has written ‘Grapefruit Moon’, her fifth book. This novel tells the fictional story of a group of teenagers at an elite secondary school and how their lives intertwine. “It’s about two sixth year students at a very posh school,” Shirley-Anne said. “Charlotte is popular, well-off and clever. Drew is from a council estate and has just started at the school so he doesn’t know anyone. “‘Grapefruit Moon’ is the story of what happens when Charlotte and Drew meet and start thinking about how to take control of their lives.”

The book, which was published by Little Island Books, was released on 3 August and a book launch event was held at No Alibis bookstore in Belfast on Thursday evening. Shirley-Anne writes books in the YA genre, also known as Young Adult. This means that her books are geared towards people aged 14 and older. YA books are popular with both teenagers and adults, as evidenced by the success of YA authors such as John Green. “I do get a number of adult readers as well so I’d say if the story sounds interesting to you, give it a go,” ShirleyAnne said. The title of her new book comes from the poem ‘In the Garden of Lunar Grapefruits’ by Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet who lived during the early 20th century. She explained her husband Ian, who is working on his PhD, translated the poem for her and the poem is referenced in the book. Shirley-Anne said she began writing stories and poetry while she was growing up in the Lisburn area. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English from Queen’s University and a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University.

Like her other books, ‘Grapefruit Moon’ is set in Northern Ireland. “This one is set between Lisburn and Belfast, but for the first time I’ve also ventured outside NI as well and part of the story takes place in Granada in Spain,” she said Her first book, ‘Widows’ Row’, was set in Newcastle and came out in 2012. Her other books are ‘A Good Hiding’, ‘The Unknowns’ and ‘Every Sparrow Falling’, which were published by Atom Books. ‘Grapefruit Moon’ is available from local bookstores, as well as Waterstones and Amazon. “If you can buy my books from a Northern Irish independent bookshop, then that’s best because it helps keep places like that going,” Shirley-Anne said. However, she also hopes some people will read her books through their local library. “Something people might not know is that writers also get paid when people borrow their books from the library, so please pop down to Newcastle Library to see if they have it,” she said. “If they don’t have it, they should be able to order it for you. We also need to keep our libraries going so the more people who use them the better.” Shirley-Anne said she did a lot of her research for ‘Grapefruit Moon’ in 2018 and 2019 when she received an Artists Career Enhancement Scheme award from the Arts Council. This enabled her to visit the United States and Spain to research and write the novel. “2019 was a really special year and I am very privileged to have had such a busy and rewarding time right before the pandemic hit. The lockdowns were a much quieter period, but I finished writing ‘Grapefruit Moon’ during this time, plus another novel, and I also wrote a short play for Radio 4 about a woman from Lisburn who sings in a Fat Abba tribute band,” she said, adding that she has also been writing for local publications, such as ‘Dig With It’. Shirley-Anne also teaches creative writing courses, many through the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast, and some workshops in schools. She had previously worked at Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle for 23 years. During the year prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, she was also the Online Writer in Residence for the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. “It was a fantastic year where I got to attend all sorts of arts events and write about them for the Headstuff website.”

As for the future, Shirley-Anne has already started on her next book. “I’m currently writing a new YA novel about the punk scene in Belfast in the late ‘80s and that has been great fun so far,” she said. “I also have an idea for a novel aimed at adults and I will start writing that later in the year. I’d also like to explore essay writing, which is something I’ve enjoyed reading lately. Too many plans and not enough time!” She said it takes her about 12 months to write each book. “It takes me around a year to complete a novel if I include all the research and planning time,” she said. Shirley-Anne said the most enjoyable aspect of writing novels for her is the beginning where she is coming up with the ideas for the characters and story. “The most fun part for me is the initial ‘dreaming’ stage where I’m just making notes and exploring possible characters and plots. I let myself make up really weird things that might never make it into the final story, and I have learned that the longer I allow myself to do this kind of thing the easier the writing part will be,” Shirley-Anne said. “I also enjoy the writing part enormously. I think you have to, otherwise writing 60,000 to 70,000 words would be a real chore. “I like it when writing is a challenge though. I hate being bored and I couldn’t write a whole novel if I wasn’t excited by every single chapter.”

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