Bernie McGill, author of The Butterfly Cabinet, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Bernie McGill

author of The Butterfly Cabinet

Ten Terrifying Questions


 1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in the parish of Lavey in County Derry, Northern Ireland, the youngest of ten children. I went to Primary School there, Secondary in the nearby town of Maghera and to Queen’s University in Belfast to study English and Italian. As part of my studies, I spent a year working in a school in Italy from 1987-88. When I’d finished my undergraduate studies, I completed an Continue reading

Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Paula McLain

author of The Paris Wife

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Fresno, California in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents in 1970, my two sisters and I were sent off into a series of foster home placements. This was an incredibly transient way to grow up, and we switched schools a lot, though always stayed in public schools. At eighteen, when I aged out of the system, I went to a community college and embarked on a highly inefficient course of study. Nothing really inspired me until, at age 24, I stumbled into a creative writing class. Voila, I had found my passion.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve, I thought being a secretary was pretty appealing. I liked the reassuring clicking of typewriter keys, and liked what I imagined was a keen sense of order. At eighteen, I began working in a convalescent hospital, and thought I might be a nurse. I had watched a lot of soap operas featuring hospitals as glamorous places where one might meet a doctor husband. My convalescent hospital was decidedly unglamorous. When I was thirty, I was in graduate school studying poetry, and trying like crazy to be a poet—have a career and publish a book. I did accomplish that, though I ultimately stopped writing poetry along the way.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That the world is a terrifying place. I was afraid of everything at eighteen—and though because of my childhood trauma, I had good reason to be, it was also terribly limiting. It wasn’t until I left California in my Continue reading

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn is Colm Tóibín’s most beautifully executed novel to date. Like The Heather Blazing (1992) it is an intimate portrait of a sad life, built up steadily from simple descriptive sentences, laid down with precision at a controlled pace. Reading Tóibín is like watching an artist paint one small stroke after another until suddenly the finished picture emerges to shattering effect. The Times Literary Supplement.

Brooklyn: It is Ireland in the early 1950s and for Eilis Lacey, as for so many young Irish girls, opportunities are scarce. So when her sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York, Eilis knows she must go, leaving behind her family and her home for the first time. Arriving in a crowded lodging house in Brooklyn, Eilis can only be reminded of what she has sacrificed.

She is far from home – and homesick. And just as she takes tentative steps towards friendship, and perhaps something more, Eilis receives news which sends her back to Ireland. There she will be confronted by a terrible dilemma – a devastating choice between duty and one great love.


Irish novelist and journalist Colm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in Ireland in 1955 and was educated at University College Dublin where he read History and English. After graduating, he lived and taught in Barcelona, a city that he later wrote about in Homage to Barcelona (1990). He returned to Ireland and worked as a journalist before travelling through South America and Argentina. He is the author of a number of works of fiction and non-fiction and is a regular contributor to various newspapers and magazines. He was awarded the E. M. Forster Award in 1995 by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He is a member of Aosdána, an Irish organisation founded to promote the arts.His first novel, The South (1990), set in Spain and rural Ireland in the 1950s, is the story of an Irish woman who leaves her husband and starts a relationship with a Spanish painter. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and won the Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for First Book. Eamon Redmond, the central character in The Heather Blazing (1992), is a judge in the Irish High Court, haunted by his own past and the history of modern Ireland. The book won the Encore Award for the best second novel of the year. His third novel, The Story of the Night (1996), is set in Argentina during the Falklands War.

His novel, The Blackwater Lightship (1999), describes the uneasy relationship between a grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter, brought together by a family tragedy. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.

His non-fiction includes The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe (1994) and The Irish FamineThe Penguin Book of Irish Fiction (1999) (with Diarmaid Ferriter). He is editor of (1999). His new book, Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar (2002), consists of a number of essays some of which had previously been published in the London Review of Books. In 2002 he became a Fellow at the Centre for Scholars and Writers at New York Public Library, enabling him to research the life of Irish dramatist Lady Augusta Gregory for his book Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush (2002).  The Master (2004), is a portrait of the novelist Henry James. It was shortlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and in 2006, won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Colm Tóibín lives in Ireland. Mothers and Sons (2006), is a collection of short stories. His latest novel is Brooklyn (2009), winner of the 2009 Costa Novel Award.

Man Booker Longlist

Amid all the packing and unpacking this week, we had barely time to scratch ourselves, but we have just got to mention the Man Booker Prize longlist. A baker’s dozen, two past winners, four past listed authors and two new writers.

Click on the titles to order.

Hilary Mantel is longlisted for Wolf Hall, a piece of historical fiction centring on Thomas Cromwell, who was the successor to Cardinal Wolsey as Henry VIII’s most trusted adviser as the king tries to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. “This is a beautiful and profoundly humane book, a dark mirror held up to our own world,” wrote Olivia Laing in the Observer. “Hilary Mantel is one of our bravest as well as most brilliant writers”.

The first author to win the Booker prize twice (and now claimed by Australia),  JM Coetzee is in with a third chance with Summertime, which is a September release. This latest novel from Coetzee completes his trilogy of fictionalised memoir begun with Boyhood and Youth, detailing the story of a young English biographer who is writing a book about the late author John Coetzee. Coetzee won the Nobel prize for literature in 2003.

It’s probably safe to say that the ‘autobiography’ of the chimpanzee who co-starred with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films, Me Cheeta by James Lever, is the first animal memoir to make it onto the Booker longlist. Me Cheeta, longlisted for the Guardian first book award last year, was called “the most audacious, funny and even moving novel that I have come across in years” by Nicholas Lezard.

James Scudamore is on the Booker longlist for his second novel, Heliopolis. A first person narrative, the book is told from the perspective of a 27-year-old who was born in a Sao Paolo shantytown but now lives on the other side of the city’s social divide. Scudamore’s first novel, The Amnesia Clinic, won the 2007 Somerset Maugham award and was shortlisted for the Costa first novel award and the Commonwealth writers’ prize.

Samantha Harvey’s debut The Wilderness, which was shortlisted for this year’s Orange prize, is the story of a man in his early 60s who is struggling with the onset of Alzheimers and trying to keep his memories and identity as the debilitating disease takes hold.

Sarah Waters, twice shortlisted for the Booker and the Orange prize, is in the running again with her fifth novel, The Little Stranger, a ghost story set in post-war Warwickshire.

Simon Mawer makes the cut with The Glass Room, a historical novel set in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s. As war looms, newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer, a Jew married to a gentile, move to a house on a hill with a unique glass room.

Love and Summer by William Trevor, which is yet to be published, is set in a small Irish town over the course of one long summer, when a stranger arrives on his bicycle and falls for a young married girl. Trevor, knighted for his services to literature in 2002, has won the Whitbread book of the year and the prestigious David Cohen literature award which recognises a lifetime’s achievement.

AS Byatt, who won the Booker in 1990 for Possession, is up this time for The Children’s Book. It deals with intertwined lives of four families at the turn of the 20th century as they experiment with bohemian living, each with their own secrets. The Sunday Times said it was easily the best book Byatt had written since Possession; the Guardian called it “staggeringly detailed and charged”.

Poet-novelist Adam Foulds is longlisted for The Quickening Maze, a historical reconstruction of the meeting of the poets John Clare and Alfred Tennyson at a lunatic asylum in Epping Forest. Foulds has already won the Costa poetry prize for his verse history of the Mau Mau uprisings, The Broken Word, and was named Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 2008.

Twice before shortlisted for the Booker, Colm Toibin has another chance to take the prize for his latest novel, Brooklyn, in which a young Irish woman leaves 1950s Ireland for a life in Brooklyn.

Ed O’Loughlin is the second debut novelist to make the Booker longlist, joining Samantha Harvey with his first novel Not Untrue & Not Unkind. The book follows the story of journalist Owen Simmons who finds a dossier on the desk of his dead newspaper editor which leads him to Africa and a woman he once loved. The Guardian called it “a worthy successor to The Quiet American”.

Sarah Hall is in the running for her fourth novel, How to Paint a Dead Man, which weaves together four stories spanning half a century, from an elderly Italian painter to the young blind girl he teaches. Hall, who won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 2007 for The Carhullan Army, was shortlisted for the Booker for her first novel, The Electric Michelangelo.

Ed O’Loughlin is the second debut novelist to make the Booker longlist, joining Samantha Harvey with his first novel Not Untrue & Not Unkind. The book follows the story of journalist Owen Simmons who finds a dossier on the desk of his dead newspaper editor which leads him to Africa and a woman he once loved. The Guardian called it “a worthy successor to The Quiet American”

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