End of an Era in Dublin

For those of us who grew up in 1980s suburban Dublin, “Local landmark nostalgia” isn’t something experienced too often. Aside from the odd ancient shooting lodge, most suburban buildings aren’t much older than our parents and are far less dilapidated. Anything that does need tearing down was no great shakes in the first place and is unlikely to be missed.

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You could say that the Blake’s Restaurant buildings in Stillorgan fell into the latter category. The building that in its hey-day housed three restaurants, Blake’s, Pappagallo’s and Pings could never have been called beautiful. High on an elevated site, it was surrounded by an ugly, tarmacked car-park and did little to enhance the already dubious vista that was/is Stillorgan village. Indeed, its very elevation served to block the only half-decent view in the area, that of the old Stillorgan hill road with its thatched pub and quaint terrace of cottages. It’s planned demolition was never going to rally a protest crowd.

In a previous incarnation, the building was the home of the Swiss Chalet restaurant which served any meat you desired, as long as it was chicken. Even with the sense of an eight-year-old, it seemed like a ridiculous idea to me, although I guess the balance sheet at Nando’s Corp has since proven me wrong.

But back in my day (the day being the mid-eighties), the place was known as Blake’s.

Now, in the mid-eighties, we didn’t have the profusion of restaurants that we currently do. In the mid-eighties, dining out was a Big Deal. Being served boiled, disc-shaped carrots in crescent-shaped, nuclear-hot-or-lukewarm dishes by strangers was something to be revered, and reserved for special occasions. Like the Good Room. And Blake’s, where they sprinkled sawdust on the floor on purpose and every dessert came with a classy cocktail umbrella, was THE place to go if you lived in south county Dublin and had something to celebrate.

My favourite memory of the place is celebrating my confirmation there, because it coincided with my birthday. No one could knock me off my pedestal with that double-whammy of celebratory potential, and where else could you mark such an auspicious occasion but Blake’s, with chicken and chips and a Banana Boat? Stay classy, Stillorgan.

Banana Split

And Blake’s was the restaurant that just kept on giving, because when you got too old for eating (or was it drinking?) the Coke Floats, you could be paid to serve them. My two sisters and I all found gainful employment there. Working in the main restaurant, my sisters had the dubious honour of having to wear straw boaters as part of their decidedly bizarre uniform. It was never decided whether this headgear was utterly cringe-worthy or ironically cool. Either way, it was unhygienic.

I, on the other hand, chose to work in Pappagallo’s, or Blake’s Pizzeria as it was previously known. This smaller restaurant (sixty covers, I still remember) was tucked in behind the main restaurant, up a steep staircase, hidden from view. But inside, it was a cavernous beauty of slightly-sticky, waxed, tablecloths, terracotta tiles and candle wax-encrusted chianti bottles. The pizza chef, who was of indeterminate ethnicity but was definitely not Italian, tossed dough for the pleasure of those lucky enough to sit in the front (non-smoking!) section, and loved to burst our eardrums with his call of PIZZ-AWAY! even if us wait staff were standing right next to him, eh, waiting. There were other items on the menu (chicken cacciatore, anyone?) but everyone knew you only came to Pappagallo’s for the pizza. And it was good.

I loved that job. I took it very seriously. Customers might have heard me ask “smoking or non-smoking” as I ushered them in, but a waitress worth half her salt can tell a smoker a mille off. I was stalling, deciding whether you were going to be a good tipper and should therefore sit in my section, or a first date (nice people: a booth; not nice people: a wobbly table with chairs with the young families in the back), or welcome regulars (Tables 9 or 10), or unwelcome regulars (Tiny Table 1, worst in the house. You’re welcome).

Working in Pappagallo’s as a teenager taught me so much. How to deal with rudeness and arrogance, how to deal with understanding and kindness, how to make money, how to make a knickerbocker glory. How to get candle wax off any known substance, how to stabilise a wine-glass-laden wobbly table in under ten seconds with spirit level accuracy, how to mop a floor.

How to anticipate what people want before they realise they want it. How to be a team player.

I learned how to toss pizza dough, how to eat garlic (in my defence it was still quite exotic in the 1980’s) and how to prank newbies by sending them into Blake’s to ask the manager for a long stand. In which case they were left there. Standing. A Blake’s family in-joke.

Random, inanimate objects like those sticky, gingham tablecloths, and blunt pizza cutters, and long-handled ice-cream spoons and ceiling fans are all indelibly seared onto my happiest, formative memories.

And when I hung up my apron for the last time and got a real, adult job, I reverted to being a paying customer (good tipper, table 10). Later, when I was pregnant and had unexplainable cravings for Pappagallo’s mayonnaise, my long-suffering husband would drive all the way to Stillorgan for a take-out for his cranky wife.

The Pappagallo’s pizza ovens have been cold for over a decade now, the ceiling fans stilled, the chianti caskets quenched. For a time, Blake’s morphed into some awful beach-themed nightclub, the sawdust on the floor being replaced by sand. But now, this week, the sand and the pizza ovens and those terracotta tiles are finally no more. They’ve disappeared along with the rest of the building and its contents, torn down to make way for a shiny new development of student accommodation. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not like the suburbs are short of restaurants.

Pappagallos

But then it’s not just rubble those diggers are loading into endless skips on that elevated site. Mingled in with the rebar and dust are some of the happiest memories of a generation of young Dublin suburbanites. It’s hard to imagine our kids getting nostalgic and weepy over a Nando’s closure. Blake’s was more than a restaurant. It was a landmark. An institution.

It really is the end of an era.

Dalkey Creates Writing Festival October 2016

I am super excited to be helping out at the 3rd annual Dalkey Creates writing festival this coming October!

There are workshops and classes planned for every level of writer, from beginners to those ready for publication, and all priced really reasonably. One exciting new event this year is a Meet-the-Editor event with Ciara Doorley of Hachette on Saturday 15th October – an incredible opportunity to meet a real editor in person, and ask the questions you’ve always wanted answered about submitting your writing work!

And no writer should miss out on the Open Mic event being held on Thursday evening, the 13th October in Finnegans pub. It’s free to register, and you will have the ears of the locals (some of whom are famous writers themselves) as you share 5 minutes of your own writing with them. The winner of the Dalkey Creates short story competition will also be announced that evening. With a prize of €1,000 up for grabs, I’m thinking the first round will be on them! LOL.

Some classes are already booked out, and as many of them are limited to 10 places, you have no time to waste in booking yours.

So get creative! Click here for easy online booking or for more info on how to reserve your place at one of the many exciting writing workshops.

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Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my very own place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

Jax Miller hit the headlines with her debut thriller Freedom’s Child in the summer of 2015. This American girl now has both feet firmly in Ireland, so I was very keen to catch up with her and find out all the stuff her readers want to know.

jax

So, Jax Miller.

Freedom’s Child was a super thrilling read. We’re waiting with baited breath to hear when your next book will be out. So while we wait, you need to tell us, what is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

Well, my current hometown is in County Meath, Ireland (I was raised on Long Island, New York), where a night out could be pretty boring, as it’s a farming community. But if I had to entertain guests, I’d take a short train ride to Dublin and do some karaoke and sushi…. This reminds me, I really need to get out more! (I write nights.)

sushi

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

Hmmm… I’m old fashioned and don’t use anything fancy. I do have a skin secret though, and that’s coffee grinds. Tightens things up!

(I KNEW there was a reason writers drink so much coffee!- Ed.)

coffee grounds

Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

screwtape letters

Favourite clothes shop?

I enjoy the shops off the beaten path, especially vintage and retro. In Dublin, where I’d shop, there’s a few good places in Temple Bar. To be honest, I couldn’t even say the name of any of the places!

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

Oy, that’s a tough one. Popei’s in Coram New York. It’s a seafood place out on Long Island, food to die for.

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

I don’t really do bars anymore. I worked at many (before I was a writer I bartended a lot). I’d say The Church in Dublin. It’s an old church turned restaurant/bar that has a great history, with a congregation that once saw some great attendees, the likes of Arthur Guinness and Jonathan Swift. Some historical figures are even buried there! Yikes!

The Church

Favourite movie?

The hardest question in the world, as I’m a MASSIVE film buff (as blasphemous at it is, I love film more than books). If you had a gun to my head, I’d say The Shawshank Redemption.

shawshank

Favourite band/musician?

Another hard one! Again, gun to the head, I’d say Johnny Cash because it’s a classic that can do no wrong by me. But I can go on for hours, from classical to metal, you name it.

Favourite meal?

New York pizza. Doesn’t matter from where, any hole in the wall will do. Just a large pie of NY pizza with extra cheese and with a tall glass of milk.

 

Good call, Ms. Miller. And a fresh-ground coffee. Just to undo the damage.

If you haven’t read Freedom’s Child yet, you are in for a treat, and we can look forward to Jax Miller’s second novel, which is due out next year.

freedom's child

Until next time on Hey, Author!

Sheena x

Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my very own place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

It’s the turn of the wonderful Irish novelist Kathleen MacMahon whose second novel The Long, Hot Summer has just been published in the US of A.

Kathleen’s first novel, This Is How It Ends won her fans all over the planet, and was short-listed for Kerry Group Irish Novel of 2013 amongst other prestigious accolades.

KMacM

 

So, Kathleen. We like the look of your book. We might even buy ourselves a copy. But first you need to tell us, what is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

There’s nothing like live music. My local pub is The Vintage Inn in Irishtown, and they do a parlour night on the first Thursday of every month. They get a great assortment of performers, from singer-songwriters to covers, and you can enjoy it all in a comfortable seat, with a pint in front of you. It doesn’t get much better than that. (AND it looks like they have their own Book Club! I’m sold – Ed.)

 

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

Shiseido tinted moisturiser, which has been discontinued. They keep telling me BB cream is the same, but it’s not. My perfume has been discontinued as well, so I’m developing a wartime mentality and stockpiling the products I like.

10-beauty-products-Id-stock-up-1

Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. The first time I read it was on a five day trek in Colombia, when a fellow trekker tore his copy in half so I could start it before he finished. A great American epic, it’s the most wonderful read.
Lonesome Dove

Favourite clothes shop?

I’m getting to an age where clothes shopping is a chore, so the internet has increasing appeal. My twenty year old self wouldn’t believe it.

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

Has to be my brother’s restaurant, The Wild Goose Grill in Ranelagh. I always have the best time there, and the best food and wine. Plus, it feels very mafioso to have a restaurant in the family. (I have to interject, I’ve been there. It’s fantastic – Ed.)

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

Sweeney’s Bar, overlooking Omey island in Claddaghduff. Sweeney’s makes an appearance in my first novel, This Is How It Ends, when Addie choses it for her Death Row meal of Guinness and Tayto crisps.

Favourite movie?

The Big Blue, by Luc Besson. Beautiful, whimsical, sad. It has everything in it that I like.

 

Favourite band/musician?

Leonard Cohen – in another life, I would be one of Leonard’s  famously sublime backing singers.

Leonard Cohen

 Favourite meal?

Fresh fish, preferable eaten outdoors on a warm evening.
fish dinner

Favourite tipple?

Wine of any colour. I have managed to avoid acquiring an appreciation of fine wines, which means I can enjoy even the cheapest plonk.

 

 

Cheers to that, Kathleen. I think some things are about the quantity, and not the quality. Developing expensive tastes is a dangerous habit for sure.

If you haven’t already bought Kathleen’s new book, well, what are you waiting for? It’s the perfect summer’s evening, post-prandial accompaniment to a glass of whatever you’re serving yourself.

You can also stay in touch and follow Kathleen’s literary success here on Twitter.

LongHotSummerFINAL

 

Until next time on Hey, Author!

Sheena x

Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my new place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

This latest installment is dedicated to Hazel Gaynor, author of some of the prettiest books on the planet, award-winning novels of historical fiction that bring long-gone era to life for the reader.

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Before Hazel celebrated the launch of her newest novel, The Girl from the Savoy, at a 1920s themed party at The Liquor Rooms at U2’s Clarence hotel in Dublin city, I managed to track her down, and got her to answer my Hey, Author! questions – the important stuff that you need to know. There may have been gin involved, but it was drunk from china cups, so that’s ok.

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So, Hazel Gaynor. We like the look of your book. We might even buy ourselves a copy. But first you need to tell us, what is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

What is this ‘night out’ you speak of? It sounds wonderful. If I was to enjoy such a thing it would probably be chicken wings and a pint of Guinness in Bardon’s in Kilcullen. Best chicken wings in Ireland. Possibly, the world. (That sounds like a challenge to me – Ed.)

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

I love Liz Earle skincare. The hot cloth cleanser is fabulous. Pestle & Mortar serum is also lovely and promises to make me look eternally youthful – so that’s good! I don’t possess any posh haircare products at home. Aussie does me just fine. My hairdresser uses Redken products which always smell amazing.

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Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

Jane Eyre. Weep.

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Favourite clothes shop?

Boden – everything is amazing and the shoes are divine. I also love Warehouse at the moment. I follow both on Instagram. Dangerous.

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

For special occasions you can’t beat Chapter One in Dublin. We’ve always had a fantastic meal there. I’m also very fond of Doyle’s Seafood Restaurant in Watson’s Bay, Sydney. I spent many lazy Sunday afternoons there when I lived in Sydney during ‘97/’98, and (although I didn’t know him at the time) so did my husband! We went back there on our honeymoon. Ahh.

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

So many bars. So little time. I have great memories of a little bar called The Four in Hand on Elizabeth Street in Sydney. A schooner of New never tasted better. Closer to home, I’d have to say Doheny & Nesbitts. We drank pints there after getting married in the registry office.

Favourite movie?

Really? Just one? Okay then: Cinema Paradiso.

cinema p

Favourite band/musician?

Florence and the Machine, or Foo Fighters, depending on what mood I’m in. Both are amazing live. London Grammar are really good to chill out to, and I’m loving James Bay at the moment. I like his hat.

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Favourite meal?

Fish and chips, eaten straight from the wrappings while sitting on a harbour wall.

fish_and_chips

Favourite tipple?

Now you’re talking! This is an easy answer. Very good gin and very good tonic. Preferably Hendricks, served with a slice of cucumber (of course). I’d like to think I played some part in the current gin revolution. I’ve been talking/writing about it since 2009 and that’s a LOT of gin, let me tell you.

 

I think the proof was in the launch of The Girl from the Savoy…gin tea for all!

Thank you for sharing your innermost secrets, Hazel Gaynor. Anyone who loved Downton Abbey will love The Girl from the Savoy – indeed if you don’t read it, just buy it to hang on the wall….sooo pretty.

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Until next time on Hey, Author!

Bottoms up!

Sheena x

 

Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my new place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

The next author in my Hey, Author! roll call is Aimee Alexander from Dublin in Ireland, whose book The Accidental Life of Greg Millar is out today from Lake Union Publishing.

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So, Aimee Alexander! We like the look of your book. We might even buy it and read it. But first, there are some things we need to know. What is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

A walk on Dun Laoghaire pier or along the seafront in Sandycove followed by dinner at Fallon and Byrne, People’s Park.

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

Anything at all by Aveda – shampoo or skincare.

Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

I can only do this by asking myself what book I’d love to have written: The Book Thief.

bookthiefposter

Favourite clothes shop?

Anything tiny that has little choice but everything I want. I’ll go for Toil & Glitter, Glasthule for now. But it changes.

toil and Glitter

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

Restaurant Jules Verne. The restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower. If any man proposed to me up there I’d accept – though I’m technically married! I’d have to disappoint him when we got back down to ground!

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

The Champagne Bar in the Plazas Hotel, NYC – or maybe it’s their coasters I like! They have butterflies.

champagne

Favourite movie?

I’ve watched Forrest Gump over 14 times but I’m going for Untouchable. It’s French with subtitles but you stop noticing that almost immediately. I love it so much.

Extra Untouchable

Favourite band/musician?

It changes. I get obsessed with a band and over-listen, then have to move on to recover. I’m going for Coldplay because I don’t just love their music but the themes of their songs: stars, magic etc.

coldplay

 Favourite meal?

Anything I don’t have to cook myself. Literally. (The pic below has nothing whatsoever to do with this comment – Ed.)

chef

Favourite tipple?

Peroni.

 

Well, we hope you won’t order a Peroni the next time you are in the New York Plaza, Aimee! You look like a champagne girl to us!

So now you know all the important details about Aimee, but if you want to know more, you can find her on Twitter here @aimeealexbooks

Thanks for sharing Aimee, and best of luck with The Accidental Life of Greg Millar!

greg millar cover

Be sure to follow me here to read more Hey, Author! posts. Then you can go stalk your fav authors in swanky places like the Champagne Bar in the NYC Plaza.

You’re welcome.

Sheena x

Hey, Author!

Hey, Author! is my new place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

The next writer on my Hey, Author! list is the lovely Ava McCarthy from Dublin in Ireland, whose new thriller Dead Secret is out now. When Ava isn’t writing crime fiction, she’s busy doing whatever it is nuclear physicists do, so I’m going to take her beauty products tips very seriously.

Ava-McCarthy

So, Ava McCarthy! We like the look of your book. We might even buy it and read it. But first, there are some things we need to know. What is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

Drinks in a cosy Dublin pub, followed by a good dinner. Favourite restaurant of the moment is Toscana in Dame Street.

 

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

John Frieda Frizz Ease – stops the hair turning into a chrysanthemum on the walk from the pub to the restaurant.john_frieda-656x478.png

Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It started a world of story-telling for me and my children, and the shared memories are a huge part of their childhood.

Favourite clothes shop?

Oasis on Stephen’s Green. Miraculously, there’s always something that fits!

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

My local pub, The Wishing Well in Blackrock, Dublin. Perfect for family outings: nice food, good value; always sport on the TV for husband and son, while myself and daughter talk books & film.

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

The Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Someone once handed me an engagement ring there… (Awwww…..! Ed.)

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Favourite movie?

The Bourne Identity. Great thriller, and Matt Damon can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.

Favourite band/musician?

Adele. Very talented lady. Singers are one thing, but singer-songwriters are artists that create something special.

Favourite meal?

Scampi and chips. It’s been my official birthday meal ever since I was seven years old.

scampi

Favourite tipple?

That’s easy: a big warm glass of fruity Merlot. Oh, and leave the bottle…

wine

A lady after my own heart, Ava! And thanks for some great ideas for places to eat in Dublin!

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Ava’s new novel Dead Secret is out now, and if you enjoy that (which I know you will) don’t forget to check out her other books including her Harry Martinez series of thrillers.

You can follow Ava on twitter and on her website too.

Keep watching out for more Hey, Author! posts right here, very soon!

 

Hey, Author! – Bernice Barrington

Hey, Author! is my new place to find out things about my favourite authors that other blogs just don’t ask. The nitty-gritty. The dirt. The skinny.

Not stuff about their forthcoming books, or their writing process, none of that high-brow shenanigans thank you – no – Hey, Author! is about getting to know the person behind the bestseller.

So let’s get to it.

The honour of being the first author in my Hey, Author! roll call falls to the gorgeous Bernice Barrington from Longford in Ireland, whose debut thriller Sisters and Lies is out 24th March 2016.

Bernice Barrington photo

 

So, Bernice! We like the look of your book. We might even buy it and read it. But first, there are some things we need to know. What is your:

Favourite night out in your hometown?

I want to say something fabulous like dinner in L’Ecrivain, then dancing in Lillies in Dublin’s city centre. But, really, my favourite thing is a casual bite in Dalkey (see pics below – Ed.), followed by a trip to the cinema in Dun Laoghaire.

Favourite skincare/haircare product?

I adore IMAGE skincare, but I’m pretty agnostic about haircare products (basically because I have such a huge mop myself I’d bankrupt myself if I bought the really expensive stuff.) I love the smell of the Aussie range though!

Favourite book of all time? (Just one!)

Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

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Marian Keyes

 

Favourite clothes shop?

I’m very fond of House of Fraser in Dundrum Town Centre – loads of choice plus it’s close to the Laura Ashley concession, which is an added boon!

Favourite restaurant anywhere in the world?

The most amazing restaurant I’ve ever eaten in was Indego by Vineet in Dubai (the meal included edible gold!) but if we’re talking the place I go most often and where I feel most comfortable, it would be Harry’s Café Bar in Dun Laoghaire. It’s just a little café/diner place but the food is lovely, the service always excellent and I just associate it with happiness and relaxation.

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Harry’s Dun Laoghaire

Favourite bar anywhere in the world?

I’m not really a bar person – I much prefer coffee/tea shops. Having said that, I do love Dunphy’s in Dun Laoghaire. It’s an utterly unreconstructed, old-school pub with lovely staff and entirely free of pretension.

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Favourite movie?

Oh Lord, so many to choose from, but I have a DEEP affection for Four Weddings and a Funeral.  fwaf9

Favourite band/musician?

I love Nina Simone – her music is so raw and energetic but also so accomplished.

 Favourite meal?

I’m obsessed with Asian food – so it would probably be a Japanese Teriyaki dish followed by Italian ice-cream.

 Favourite tipple?

I do love a good gin and tonic.

original_gin-and-tonic-tea-set

 

Don’t we all, Bernice? Don’t we all?

So now you know all the important details about Bernice, but if you want to know more, you can find her on Twitter @beebarrington

Thanks for sharing Bernice, and best of luck with Sisters and Lies!

Sisters&Liesjkthighres

Be sure to follow me here to read more Hey, Author! posts. Where else will you get this kind of insider information? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to invest in some Aussie shampoo. Seriously, have you SEEN that girl’s hair?!

Sheena x

The Lake in The Gutter

For a while there, you had a choice of almost 20 places to buy coffee in my local village of Dalkey, and no place to buy books from. Then along came The Gutter, and following a successful pop-up stint at the infamous Dalkey Book Fair, Bob and his team decided to stay. (Well, Dalkey really is a lovely place. You should visit sometime.)

Gutter

And from Thursday, the 7th May, my new novel, The Lake, will be gracing The Gutter’s shelves. So as if you needed an excuse, get yourself on the Dart, hop off at Dalkey station, and walk down the hill to The Gutter to acquire your very own copy. Then off with you to read it in one of the village’s lovely coffee shops. You’ll have plenty of choice.