May I?

Tubbercurry Writing May 2018sSo, what’s the best thing to do when you’re really, really busy? Yep, that’s it – find something else to do as well.

So here I am, just surfacing after the head-wrecking weekend that was Strokestown International Poetry Festival, participating in a social media training course. (Don’t laugh. And no, I probably shouldn’t have responded to my terror of Facebook by deleting my page recently, but that’s another story.)

While I’m at it, I could have a go at developing my memoir-writing skills with the legend that is Michael Harding, couldn’t I?  Roscommon Arts Centre’s Bealtaine course this year.

And what about running a series of creative writing classes for beginners in Tubbercurry? OK, I’ll do that too.

Strokestown International Poetry Festival was an absolute blast – a hectic five days in which I met some wonderful writers and got to launch my collection, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’ alongside poets Majella Cullinane (who was over from New Zealand for the occasion) and Erin Fornoff.

The sun shone, words flowed and good humour abounded, and I had a really great (if exhausting) time. I even got to sign a few copies of my new book and read at the launch of the 2018 Strokestown Anthology, and did a street performance with the Hermit Collective.

Strokestown 20th Logo jpeg2As a member of the organising committee, I hadn’t before appreciated how much time and effort goes into setting up a world-class poetry festival – and how much still has to be done after everyone goes home. This was the 20th Strokestown Poetry Festival, so everyone pulled out all the stops to make it a memorable occasion. It was certainly that (in a good way!). Check out what happened  here: 20th Festival Highlights

So now I’m hoping to have enough people to join me in doing some creative writing on Thursday evenings in Tubbercurry, County Sligo, just for ten weeks.

I’m hoping I can inspire a few new writers with some of the enthusiasm I still have for the craft – not just poetry, but short stories, flash fiction, memoir, journal keeping (one of my favourites), and other forms of the written word. I’ll be able to pass on some insider tips and information about publication opportunities and writing competitions, but will also encourage newbies to just have a go.

Anyone can be a writer if they want to be.

A good writer, though, that’s a bit trickier. Writing is like any form of culture, it is subjective. It takes practice of course. And luck. A thick skin. A support network.  And pink pyjamas and a ping-pong ball. Oops! Look at me, I’m giving everything away already.

If you want to know more, you’ll have to book a place on the course. At a fiver a session (because it is supported by the MSLETB Community Education Scheme) I think it’s a snip…

 

 

 

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Watching the Dust Settle

The sadly missed Ashley Cole, who could always be called upon to investigate things lurking under the sofa

I’ve been busy lately coaxing dust bunnies from under the sofa, not least because I’m mad for cleaning when I’m stressed or sad.  When I’m laid back and cheery, I can’t see dust, so my house is a mess. But right now, there are lots of things going on and I’m trying to fix them with a (faux) feather duster.

When I’m not waving a microfibre cloth at dirty skirtings, waiting for the phone to ring with more sad news (long story), I’m getting ready for my book launch at Strokestown International Poetry Festival. Less than two weeks to go (quick, fetch the mop, that floor needs attention). I wrote an article about the Festival and its background, which has appeared in the Irish Times – you can read it here. 

It even includes a picture of the late Seamus Heaney at the Festival in 2006, an image I share with you here. Just because I can 🙂

This year’s festival is certainly going to be an interesting few days – May 3rd to 7th –  when 70 poets, from schoolchildren to international celebrities, are going to descend on Strokestown in County Roscommon to do their thing. I’m particularly looking forward to the Poetry Divas on the first night – Kate Dempsey, Tríona Walsh and Barbara Smith, who will be ‘blurring the wobbly edge between page and stage’. They perform their own work at events around Ireland and have appeared at Electric Picnic. You can buy tickets here.

The official opening of the 20th Strokestown International Poetry Festival takes place on Friday evening (May 4th), but before that ceremony, Roscommon author Gerry Boland will be launching the new Strokestown Poetry Anthology in the Percy French Hotel at 7pm. I’m very honoured to have been asked to read out my poem ‘Watermarked’ from the anthology, thrilled to have been included in this year’s 20th anniversary book. And in a wonderful twist, because it’s all in alphabetical order, I share a two-page spread with Harry Clifton!

The following day, Saturday May 5th, is going to be a busy one. I’ll be in Bawn Street at 12 noon, making an appearance with my friends from the Hermit Collective – eclectic words and music in the open air (free of charge!). Then I’ll be hot-footing it back to Strokestown Park House for 2pm to see the indomitable Rita Ann Higgins, ahead of the 4.30pm launch (also in Strokestown Park House) of my first book, a limited-edition collection of 60 poems, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’. (Hopefully, the stickers proclaiming my Hennessy win will be ready by then. Not that they’re taking ages to materialise or anything.) Anyway, I’m lucky to be squeezed into a launch slot alongside Majella Cullinane and Erin Fornoff – the weekend’s programme is packed to the gills with readings and book launches.

Saturday evening is one to look forward to as well – Jane Clarke is doing a reading alongside Lemn Sissay, with music by Danny Diamond,  buy tickets here, and then James Harpur leads everyone into an evening of nostalgia, looking back at the highlights of 20 years of festivals.

There are two more frantic days of poetry themed events after that, but I’m not thinking that far ahead just yet because I’ve other stuff going on this week. Like the launch of ROPES 2018 in Galway on Tuesday (April 24th). I’ve a story in it (yes, I know, I’m claiming to be a poet lately, but I scribble other stuff too). ‘Sparks’ will be launched in the Town Hall Theatre Galway as part of the Cuirt International Festival of Literature.

And Poetry Day Ireland on Thursday, April 26th is not to be missed, either. Lots going on that day. If you’re even remotely interested in poetry there’ll be something for you, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Here’s all you need to know.

Now. Where did I put that can of Pledge? And another thing, why are dusters no longer yellow?

Creative Thinking?

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I’m being creative here. Just be glad I’m not ranting about the awful weather…

I’m riding a particularly delicious literary wave after winning the Hennessy Award two weeks ago – my feet have hardly touched the ground, but in a nice way.

I shouldn’t really have had any time for thinking, let alone writing, should I? What with radio interviews, trips to Dublin, and all those Facebook and Twitter messages to respond to (and I was the reluctant social media participant a while back. Ha!).

But here’s a surprise, I’ve been as busy writing as ever, scribbling away, plucking poems from the ether and wondering where such creativity comes from.

I like to think I’ve always been a creative person, someone who makes their own greetings cards (too mean to give Hallmark my business), and I’ve made some very inspired birthday cakes in my time (penguin, cat, dinosaur anyone?). And of course, I’ve written reams of journalism, poetry and short stories over the years.

But I still don’t know where creativity comes from, how a random idea suddenly becomes a poem which someone else understands and likes. I wish I could bottle this recent rush of inspiration for the times when I’m staring at a blank notebook wondering what to write.

Strokestown 20th Logo jpeg2Meanwhile, I’m still part of the organising committee of the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, getting excited as May Bank Holiday gets nearer.

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This is what a bunch of poetry enthusiasts on a a mountain treasure hunt looks like…

We launched the festival on the side of a mountain on Easter Monday (as you do), with a poetry-themed treasure hunt. Now, we’re spreading the word about everything going on during the festival – including readings by no less than 70 poets, from well-known international names to first timers and local schoolchildren.

There will be pub poetry, and a recitation competition where visitors can read a much-loved poem, perhaps one from their schooldays. There’s a cracking line-up for the weekend, starting on May 3rd – check out the Strokestown Poetry website for more info here.

If you missed me on the radio, gabbling like a mad woman, talking to Mary Claire Grealy on Shannonside FM, and reading my poem ‘Dirty Little Dresses’, I’ll be reading it again this coming weekend (but not on the radio).

Along with other members of our creative writing group, I’ll be reading some poems at the launch of a new pop-up art exhibition by local artists in Charlestown Arts Centre (County Mayo) on Sunday next (April 8th), between 2pm and 4pm. Its free admission and everyone is welcome – call in and say ‘hello’ if you’re in the neighbourhood.

We can spend some time marveling at the wonderful creativity on display!

How Did That Happen?

I had to go see for myself that this was real!

In a bizarre but vivid dream, I’m sitting in front of a blank notebook thinking of writing a poem about how my elderly mother never listens to me, how one of us is above our station (all fur coat and no knickers), and how sad I am that she doesn’t really act like my mother any more.

The poem materialises like magic in the way some poems do, and after several drafts (not my usual zillion, billion, lots), gets a public airing. Several readings in front of appreciative audiences later, I change the ending, moving the punchline to where it really belongs.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the poem helps to win me a literary award and  €1,500 – and for 48 hours, a pub in Dublin is renamed in my honour. The story is all over social media ( just as everyone is talking about leaving Facebook, I embrace it), and people I haven’t heard from for years are making contact again.

And then I wake up.

Or not. This has actually been happening to me!

Someone remarked on how  I’m not being very cool about my Hennessy Literary Award. Cool? Of course I’m not – I’m f*****g blown away by it! And I’m gushing because although I wanted to win, I didn’t expect to win, so my delight is genuine.

As someone who has rather more candles than I’d like on my birthday cake, I really thought I’d left it too late to  expect much in the way of success in creative writing. I’ve been a commercial wordsmith (whatever that is) for a long time (hell, I even  used to edit a 166,000 circulation weekly newspaper, which is a lot of readers),  but I never expected to get so much new enjoyment out of writing, and so much pleasure from connecting with the readers of my poems and fiction.

And I had a pub named after me. Watch the video here.

I. Had. A. Pub. Named. After. Me.

Thank you Hennessy Awards!

OMG, OMG, OMG!

What can I say? Thrilled doesn’t even come close! I have an ear-to-ear grin and I haven’t stopped shaking with excitement yet.

I don’t quite know how I managed to drive all the way home from Dublin last night and arrive in one piece. Or how I manage to be at my desk, business as usual, this morning (and my lovely colleagues were leaning out of the upstairs office window giving me a round of applause as I arrived for work).

In case you don’t know what I’m on about, let me explain:

I WON A HENNESSY LITERARY AWARD FOR MY POETRY LAST NIGHT!

Definitely something to shout about…

Congratulations to short story writers Aaron Finnegan who won the First Fiction award and Manus Boyle Tobin who won the Emerging Fiction prize and  was crowned overall Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year. And it was lovely to meet author Bernard MacLaverty who was inducted into the Hennessy Hall of Fame. What a memorable evening!

Read all about (my bit) of it here, along with the winning poems!

Twenty Years and Counting

Strokestown Park House

Here’s news of something close to my heart (right now, serving as a distraction for me, #HennessyLitAwards): Strokestown International Poetry Festival, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The programme has been announced and tickets are on sale (hurry, they’re going fast!), with an eclectic mix of all things poetry-related taking place over the May Bank Holiday weekend, May 3rd– 7th.

As a member of the organising committee, I have a vested interest in spreading the word about the festival, so here goes: Strokestown is one of only a handful of POETRY festivals in the country, and well worth a visit for both writers and readers, trust me!

There’s a must-see line up of international and Irish poets, with around 70 readings over the weekend, from newbies to old-hands. There’ll be the results of six competitions, readings, exhibitions, film screenings, book launches*, workshops, plus street entertainment and music – you won’t want to miss any of it!

If you don’t know, Strokestown is a quiet little Georgian town in rural County Roscommon, on the N5 Dublin to Westport road. Its main tourist attraction is the lovely Strokestown Park House (home of the harrowing but important National Famine Museum). The house is the venue for many of the Poetry Festival’s events.

Poets Moya Cannon and Harry Clifton have sifted through more than 1,200 entries to Strokestown’s International Poetry Competition, and the shortlisted poets have been invited to read their work at the festival, and their poems will be included in this year’s anthology**.

Jane Clarke

It’s unlikely you’ll get many opportunities to see poets Jane Clarke and Lemn Sissay on the same stage, but that’s what’s planned for Saturday evening, May 5th, in the Percy French Hotel, Strokestown. Jane Clarke’s award-winning first collection, ‘The River’, is full of bucolic images of rural Roscommon where she grew up; Lemn Sissay is known

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Lemn Sissay

for writing about his life as a black teenager growing up in a white foster home in northern England. Irish fiddle player Danny Diamond will be on hand to provide the evening’s music.

Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh, best known as a community activist and slam poet from Manchester, will be performing to local schools in Strokestown on Friday, May 4th. His poem, ‘This Is the Place’, captured

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Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh

the response of Mancunians after the terror attack last year in which 22 people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert. He will read at the official opening of the Festival at the Percy French Hotel on May 4th.

There’s lots more going on, most of it free of charge; doubtless I’ll mention the festival again before the day! Meanwhile, check out the website here.

*I’m launching my first poetry collection, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’, during the festival – on Saturday, May 5th, 4.30pm, in Strokestown House.

**Yay! I also have work included in this year’s anthology…

On the Winning Side

hennesseyCompetitive creative writing. Now, who would have thought I’d buy into such a thing?

I swear I’m not a competitive person, although I’ll have a tantrum if someone beats me at Scrabble. But creative writing competitions? What’s that all about? I don’t hold with that, do I?

Um, well, yes, I do…

I’m involved in running a little creative writing group in Charlestown, County Mayo, and I’m often to be heard urging members to submit their writing to competitions. It’s that third party validation thing that I’m always on about. Winning, or being shortlisted, in a writing competition offers proof that someone besides your granny or your best friend enjoys what you’ve written.

I tell my writers – most of whom are new at this game –  to look out for free-to-enter competitions, those with good prizes and plenty of kudos for the winners and runners up.  Also, literary magazines and journals are usually free to submit to, and the process is much like a contest.

And there’s the key – lots of writing for publication can be considered competitive; there are so many writers out there, you are bound to be pitting your efforts against theirs in an attempt to get published. And isn’t that why we write? For publication, to connect with other people because we’ve something to say? And we think we’re saying whatever it is that has to be said in the best possible way. Right?

A lot of the poems and short stories I have had published have been because I’ve won or been shortlisted in competitions. The latest is my poetry which has been shortlisted for a Hennessy Literary Award – the presentation is on Wednesday next (March 21st) when three writers will win prizes, and one will be crowned ‘Hennessy New Writer of the Year’. There’s a considerable amount of dosh involved (€1,500 each for the category winners, plus an extra €2,500 for the overall winner), but regardless of the outcome, I’m thrilled to have got this far.

When the shortlisting news arrived in an email, I was beside myself. Giddy doesn’t even come close to the feeling, especially when I discovered there were 17 poets for the judges to choose from, and here I am, in the final six.

My first nomination for a Hennessy Award was in 2015 when my first ever published short story was shortlisted in the ‘First Fiction’ category.  The story, ‘Flying Lessons’, was published in the Irish Independent, and you can still read it on-line here.

That validation started me off on an exciting creative writing journey which I feel is still only just beginning. In my head, I’m serving an apprenticeship, and the more writing I do, the more I learn, and the better I become, which makes it more likely other people will appreciate my work. So, I keep entering competitions to prove to myself, as well as to others, that I can write something people want to read.

If you missed them, my October 2017 poems in the Irish Times, ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’ and ‘Dirty Little Dresses’ are here,  plus there’s an extra poem,’Ways with Rotten Cabbage’. I hope you enjoy them 🙂

more scrabble
Who needs real Scrabble when you’ve got fridge magnets (and witty house guests)?

Now. Anyone fancy a game of Scrabble?

Reading, writing and other stuff from Louise G Cole, winner of Hennessy Literary Award for Emerging Poetry 2018