In Praise Of. Punctuation!!!

wtf-1I’ve never been much taken with ‘experimental’ fiction, not least because all that stream-of-consciousness malarkey often eschews the rules of good grammar and punctuation.

It’s not that I don’t want to be challenged by what I’m reading (although sometimes I just want to read something that’s easy on the brain, in soothing, warm bath style), but frankly, reading some so-called experimental writing is just plain hard work.

And not worth the effort.

Sticking my head above the parapet here, but I’ve never got on with ‘Ulysses’ (or much else by James Joyce come to that). Gasp! Did I really own up to such heresy?

Of course there’s plenty more out there in the Ulysses mould. Endless tomes challenging the reader with stories that are inside out, back to front,  no beginning, middle or end, from multi or singular points of view (in the same sentence) and the like. Long pages of confusing metaphors, allusions, and vague references that could mean anything (and probably do).

But it’s the one long sentence trend that’s got me just lately. What’s. That. All. About? I mean, just what is wrong with proper punctuation?

eats-shoots-leavesI don’t know why punctuation matters so much to me, but it does. And I probably don’t always get it right, although I try. One of my most-thumbed reference books (beside my Roget’s Thesaurus) is ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss, enjoyable for me because I totally get it.

It’s not that I find poor grammar and punctuation unforgivable, just irritating when it’s from people who should know better. A whole novel in one sentence? Really? OK – but why?

I have a friend who is dyslexic and when she writes her annual Christmas letter to me, I don’t bat an eye-lid at the phonetic spelling and sprinkling of inappropriate apostrophes. I usually understand what she’s trying to say and I’m pleased to hear her news.

But if her efforts were to appear in print I’d be miffed. Not just because she’d beaten me to it (ha!), but because the pedant in me wants published material to follow certain rules of grammar and punctuation. And I fizz and grumble when it doesn’t.

And while I realise that not all experimental fiction is ungrammatical, why should novels written in one long, long sentence be held in such high esteem? I just don’t get it.

Of course, when I get around to reading Mike McCormack’s ‘Solar Bones’ (which so many people are raving about) I’ll probably change my mind. I might even have a bash at one terribly long sentence myself, instead of trying to put together so many of my usually short ones.

Meanwhile. Let’s eat Grandma! Or: Let’s eat, Grandma! Or even: lets eat grandma because nothing else here makes sense…

Or you could try reading January’s story in the Hennessy New Irish Writing section of the Irish Times – one long sentence by Manus Boyle Tobin: The Drizzle on the Windscreen. I’m not sure how to say this, but I grudgingly admit that it works. And I rather like it!

Arresting Stuff

Rhiannon Cole - recent winner of Swansea University's award for the highest overall mark for a dissertation in Criminology.
Rhiannon Cole – recent winner of Swansea University’s award for the highest overall mark for a dissertation in Criminology.

So my daughter’s a criminal. No, no, that’s not right …. she’s a Criminologist.

Not quite the same thing, although she did once appear on TV’s Crimecall.  That was a few years ago when she was in Ireland’s version of the UK’s Crimewatch programme as a TV extra in a cold case story about a blonde, very pregnant missing person. Seeing my girl on national TV with a prosthetic baby bump was a bit unnerving, and it was a very sad story that still hasn’t been resolved (the Fiona Pender case).

My daughter’s interest in the dark side of life led to her move to Swansea to study for a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Not that there are many more baddies in Wales than anywhere else (so I’m reliably informed), but there was an excellent opportunity to study the genre at Swansea University. She’s just graduated and is now on the look-out for post that will enable her to demonstrate her specialist skills.

In the meantime, she’s been visiting me in here in Ireland and we’ve been doing more work on our psychological thriller, although it’s taking a tad longer to pull together than I’d hoped. We’re writing together as ‘Luri’ Cole (a combo of Rhiannon and Louise which we’re rather taken with).

But progress is a bit slow – not least because of the distractions. Rhiannon (she’d have to be half Welsh with such a name, eh?) has taken up genealogy. It’s fascinating stuff, especially since she’s found that she has, on her father’s side, a Welsh-speaking harpist forefather who was born just around the corner from where she now lives in Swansea.

We haven’t yet been able to confirm that this was the same Welsh harpist caught poaching rabbits on M’Lord’s estate in the mid-1800s, but it does look likely that the convicted felon is on that side of the family (on mine, all our ancestors are squeaky clean and virtuous, of course).

It sounds rather like the start of an exciting historical bodice-ripper, although we really need to get and finish our original joint-writing effort first.

Watch this space!

 

The Noise of Celebratory Glasses (and something of mine for you to read)

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Some of my anthology haul from the last 12 months or so*

Well, actually this is all about link, link rather than clink, clink, but I couldn’t resist.

If you’ve ever heard of me, you’ll know I write (mostly) poetry, flash fiction and short stories. So I thought I’d pull a few of my recent best bits together in one place.  Took me long enough – how could I expect anyone else to bother? So I wouldn’t blame you for never having sight of these pieces before…

So here are the links to a few samples of my writing (and you’re not allowed to comment that it’s all a bit so-so. So there.) So:

  • The one that started it all, my nomination for the Hennessy Literary Awards, a short story published in the Irish Independent: ‘Flying Lessons’
  • Third placed poem in Strokestown Poetry Festival’s Roscommon Poets’ Prize 2015: ‘Yellowbrick Road’, alongside (if you scroll down far enough on the same page) shortlisted poem ‘Softly, Softly’: Strokestown 2015

*Apologies for the awful photo quality; I’ve asked Santa for another camera. Not sure if he reads this blog. Watch this space…

Stockings, and the Filling Thereof…

cat-tales-anthologyIf you know someone who likes cats and short stories (always a good combo in my opinion) this anthology might be a good Christmas stocking filler. A paperback with illustrations and 21 stories (including one of mine, ‘Waifs and Strays’), the proceeds go to two charities – Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. ‘Cat Tales; An Anthology of Short Stories’ is available at Amazon:  Cat Tales

Or there’s ‘The 2016 Exeter Story Prize Collection: 21 New Stories’ which also includes a short, short story of mine, ‘Fitting In’ (which has nothing to do with cats!). These are stories and flash fiction from this year’s CreativeWritingMatters competitions, available on Amazon: 2016 Exeter Story Prize Collection

BTW – I’m not in it for the money on this occasion; I receive nothing from the sale of these books (I even had to PAY (gasp!) for my own copies). It’s all about me trying to raise my writing profile. Although I did get paid £50 for coming second in the Exeter Flash Fiction Competition with ‘Fitting In’  🙂

 

 

Making A Show of Myself

 

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On stage with the Hermits…

It’s kind of weird, but the older I get, the more ‘look at me’ I’m game for. Where on earth did that come from? Aren’t I the shy, retiring type? Well apparently, no I’m not!

When one of my poems was shortlisted for the Boyle Arts Festival Poetry Competition back in July 2013, I was too cowardly to read it to an audience and the judge, poet Geraldine Mills, did the deed.  It was an ambitious pantoum, ‘Blackout’, which needed careful delivery. Geraldine did a wonderful job, but I was left kicking myself for not getting up there to read it myself; poets have a hard enough time finding an audience, and right there had been a large one on a plate.

Fast forward to the New Roscommon Writing Awards in November 2014 when poet Jane Clarke (bless her!) chose two of my poems for the shortlist, and I was expected to read them out loud. I remember thinking that I just had to keep reading to the end and then sit down, which is exactly what I did. No-one died and no-one jeered, and I rather liked the rousing applause which followed.

My late father was a college lecturer, well used to an audience, and in his later life he used to give talks about beekeeping, Austin 7s and other wondrous things.  He advised me to speak up and then shut up, which was sound advice for when I used to give talks myself. (Healing crystals and their uses was one of my specialities, just in case you’re wondering.)

But talking about something you know about is a million miles away from sharing something you’ve written, something personal and intimate like a poem.

So I set about curing myself of the nerves involved in reciting self-penned poetry.

I turned up to the Word Corner Café  in the Dock Arts Centre in Carrick-on-Shannon and mumbled my way through a poem about my mother, and again, no-one died or jeered.  So I did it again, and then again. Eighteen months later, I’m now one of the stalwarts, attending every second Tuesday of the month to regale whoever turns up with some of my words, and often those of other writers, too.

We get through an eclectic mix of opinion, poetry, stories and songs and I’ve found it to be wonderfully liberating.  Sometimes the gathering is quite small, but no matter. We’re there again on December 13th 2016, from 6pm until 7.30pm, when anyone interested in words can come along and listen or take part. I intend airing another poem about my mother and paying tribute to Leonard Cohen.

hermits-dec-16The Hermit Collective, a band of writers, artists and musicians who put on pop-up shows in the west of Ireland, gave me a break too. They’re well used to my poems about my mother (‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’, which is now in the latest Crannóg Magazine, got its first public airing with the Hermits).

We’re out again next week, on Thursday, December 8th at 7pm in Tricky McGarrigles, O’Connel Street, Sligo. Its free – and a great evening’s entertainment is more than likely, both for the performers and the audience.

And I might even read a poem that’s not about my mother.

 

Of Mice and Then…

 

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And what article about mice shouldn’t have a picture of a cat…?  This is Ashley.

 

I wrote this article a good ten years ago. And now, after catching another NINE mice in our garage (not all at once I have to say), I thought it might be a good time to publish it…

If you happen to be driving through the quiet lanes of north Roscommon and you spot a mouse trying to hitch a lift, please ignore him.  Even if he’s in smart shorts and t-shirt and looks like Stuart Little, harden your heart and look the other way.  It’ll be one of ours trying to get back home after I’ve evicted him for unreasonable behaviour at four in the morning and I really don’t want him back.

When we first moved into our house, we discovered that mice had eaten their way into a sofa stored for a few months in the garage. We’re of the ‘live and let live’ persuasion (although I draw the line at fleas, nits and tapeworms), so we weren’t worried about the tell-tale evidence of rodent incontinence.

We were philosophical.  Sure, it was only a field mouse come in from the cold, who could blame him?  It was an old sofa anyway.  And what mouse couldn’t resist my son’s collection of crisp packets and sweet wrappers stuffed down the sides of the cushions? The poor little mouse would surely be gone by the time we moved into the house. Ha!

Attempts to buy a humane mouse trap (bet you didn’t know there was such a thing) were met with snorts of derision from local shopkeepers.  So we devised home-made contraptions that anyone of a certain age and Blue Peter inclination would have been proud of. They captured the creature, but they weren’t escape-proof.  Mr. Mouse would eat his bait of raisins and biscuits, sit and wash his whiskers appreciatively, then proceed to wriggle free.

I know what you’re thinking: get a cat. Actually we have three cats, but each of them was a tad too full of Felix meaty chunks to be useful here.  Worse, they saw an invitation to go house mousing as an opportunity to sleep on a comfortable bed for the night, stretched out in the lap of luxury, oblivious to nocturnal rustlings in the cupboards.

Then, just as I was considering grisly deeds involving spikes or poison, we discovered probably the only humane mouse trap in the county, and we snapped it up (to coin a phrase). A lure of peanut butter proved successful and the trap snapped shut with Mr Mouse inside, whole and un-spiked, if a little loose-bowelled. But what to do with him?  I couldn’t bring myself to throw him to the cats, what with him being such a soft target and covered in peanut butter.

So we chose to relocate him in a distant derelict cottage, at least a week’s hike away.  If the stoat or the owl had him for breakfast, well that’s part of the great scheme of things – the circle of life (yes, I’ve seen that film.  No mice in it).  But at least he’d have a sporting chance.

I’m happy to report that it took only four nocturnal car trips down the road to rid our house of mice, but mouseless we now are.  And I’d like to keep it that way, so as I said, please don’t go listening to any sob story from Mr Mouse and whatever you do, don’t offer him a lift home!

 

Poking the Bad Tooth Side of Writing – Trying to Make Money

words-irelandWhat do you call a group of writers squashed into a hot room in County Leitrim’s Ballinamore Library on a Saturday afternoon?

It’s a trick question. Everyone knows there’s no collective noun to describe a gathering of writers tripping over each others’ egos as they describe their life and times as scribes.

But a few words sprang to mind as I drove home through the beautiful Leitrim countryside (Google Maps was right – Ballinamore is exactly one hour away).

Just in case you’re wondering where this is going, let me say from the start that all the words I thought of are positive: inspiring, entertaining, interesting, intriguing, thought-provoking.

I was not sure what to expect when I signed up for the first Words Ireland Writers’ Series. If I’d have known it was going to be so interesting – and relevant – I would have rounded up a few more of my local writer friends, but as it was I flew solo, not really expecting anything of worth to happen so far away from Dublin. Wrong!

Words Ireland turns out to be ‘a group of seven national literature resource organisations who work collaboratively to provide co-ordinated professional development and services to the literature sector’ (phew!). The Irish Writer’s Centre and the Stinging Fly are in there, of course.

On Saturday October 22nd 2016, local writers Michael Harding, Brian Leyden, Gerry Boland and Monica Corish were lined up for the first of a series of question and answer sessions, this one in Leitrim. I’m familiar with their work so I was keen to hear their views on what drives them to write, how they became writers and how they find (and keep) an audience. They didn’t disappoint.

Most writers are keen to hear how others do it – and make money from their work. But the panel were at pains to point out that hardly anyone can make a living from just the writing part of writing these days. It seems you have to agree to writing commercial children’s books when you’d rather be writing poetry, or have a partner with a ‘proper’ job bringing in a regular income, or rely on sometimes meagre bursaries and grants, or run creative writing classes…

The thorny issue of self-publishing was raised, and as expected created the start of a debate for and against (I’m still on the fence on that one. For me, third party validation in the form of a mainstream publisher is my goal. That is, until such time I admit defeat and head for Lulu.)

We heard about the MA route to publication (which I’ve considered myself recently). And we scratched the surface of the need for writers’ work to be better valued (what other profession gives away so much of its hard work for free? Which is what I’m doing right now, in a way.)

Then there was mention of the intriguing Creative Frame professional development network in County Leitrim which was lauded for its encouragement of the arts not just in Leitrim, but in its neighbouring counties as well (music to my Roscommon ears).

There was an impressive number of writers in the room who clearly take themselves seriously – highlighting the need for more regional networking opportunities like this (move over Dublin!).

As a result, I’ve now booked my ticket to the Allingham Festival in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, on November 5th. I’m looking forward to an Afric McGlinchey Poetry Workshop, and Irish Fiction Laurate Anne Enright in conversation with Sinéad Gleeson.

But I’m especially looking forward to another session with Bernadette Greenan of the Irish Writer’s Centre as she brings together more writers and poets from across the north west for a talk on professional development (she was the one who held the Saturday session in Ballinamore together so admirably). Wild Atlantic Writers is a free event on November 5th as part of the Allingham Festival

Meanwhile, you can read an interesting article about Words Ireland and writing for money, published in Friday’s Irish Times  here.