Gee, Louise – Still on About the Name?

The following article appeared in the Roscommon Herald earlier this year. I reproduce it here after discovering there are at least 100 (yes, you read right!) people called Louise Cole on Facebook.  And I’m not really one of them – although I do have a Facebook presence. So you might understand why I’m so touchy about the middle letter in my moniker. And I checked: the underwear model is still there, doing her thing…

No, you can’t see my underwear…

When I had the opportunity to read some of my poetry at Listowel Writers’ Week in Kerry recently, I was thrilled. But then the compere got my name wrong – instead of Louise he called me Denise!

Luckily, I was able to set the record straight before I began – and related the story of how I write under the name Louise G Cole, the middle letter being key because if you Google ‘Louise Cole’ you get a raven-haired skimpy underwear model. Clearly, she isn’t me (I’m blonde, see), but if you add the ‘G’ to my moniker, Google finds me.

It set me thinking about names and their glorious possibilities.

I once I edited a little health magazine which was pitifully short of contributors, so I used to write most of the content myself. I became Persephone Braithwaite, Felicity Burton Latimer and Veronica Whitcliffe for some of the articles, just to make it look like we had lots of writers on our books. I can’t remember how I chose the names, except to say Burton Latimer is a village in Northamptonshire where they make Weetabix!

Many writers use pen names; JK Rowling famously started publishing crime novels as Robert Galbraith which not surprisingly, became way more popular when word got out. You have to wonder why she still continues with that name now that everyone knows. When she penned the Harry Potter books (I can’t believe the first one was out 20 years ago), Rowling chose to use initials in her name, to hint the books were written by a man, so that boys might be inclined to read them. She’s really Joanne Rowling – and had to acquire an extra letter because she doesn’t have a middle name; she chose K for her grandmother, Kathleen.

Some writers changed their name because of the times they were in: George Elliot was really Mary Anne Evans writing in a man’s world in the 1800s, and the Bronte sisters had a go at writing under male names as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.

In the 1970s, comic actor Ronnie Barker wrote scripts as Gerald Wiley for fear of saturating the market with his own name, which is something prolific author Stephen King was aware of when he published as Richard Bachman. In 1984 ‘Thinner’ by Bachman sold 28,000 copies for its first print run, then ten times that number when the author’s true identity was revealed.

Plenty of celebrities, as well as writers, were born with names they changed in order to make it big: John Wayne was really Marion Morrison, Judy Garland was Frances Ethel Gumm, Elton John started out as Reginald Kenneth Dwight.

Joseph Conrad is certainly less of a mouthful than Teodor JK Korzeniowski, then there’s Dr Seuss who was really Theodor Geisel, and Lewis Carroll who began life as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Me? I’m just happy to get the ‘G’ included. And it’s for Gillian, if you’d really like to know.

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Iechyd da!

I say you chaps! I’ve found some splendid new words to play with since coming to Tŷ Newydd. Welsh ones, as well as some half-forgotten English ones.

Apparently, the Welsh language has been around for 1,500 years, despite various attempts to kill it off; it is now spoken by more than half a million people in Wales, plus another 160,000 around the world.

Being married to a Welshman, I should have known this already. In my defence, I might not speak the language, but I can bake passable Welsh cakes when tasked. But not this week, this has been all about (my) use of the English language.

The Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke (who wrote ‘Storm’,  today’s Friday poem from Picador) and the lovely Maura Dooley has been a challenging but very rewarding experience. I have discovered lots of unknown (to me) brilliant poets, made some new friends, and stand in awe of the talent of my fellow participants. We’ve had some fun, too. What is there not to like about the surrealism game as a rich source of writing prompts?

Our guest poet this week was Jonathan Edwards (‘My Family and Other Superheroes’), whose dead pan humour reminded me why I love this country and its people so much. He’s from Newport, which is in South Wales, and bears a particular brand of Welshness that I’m partial to. I defy anyone to read Jonathan’s collection without a smile on their face.

We’ve been blessed with fine weather this week, rain only stopping me from going out to play (a dated concept which probably gives my age away) on our last afternoon. And I should have been writing anyway, so I did. Lots. Not sure if quality and quantity are evenly distributed, but we’ll see.

Our grand finale has been the production of ‘Y Dryw’ an anthology of some of our work from the week. It means ‘wren’ – there are lots of them in the grounds here, and they have a particular affinity with writers, so Gillian tells us.

The last evening included another fabulous feast from chef Tony (delicious chocolate brownies for afters), followed by a poetry reading in the wonderful Tŷ Newydd library, which during daylight, has a beautiful view of the sea. Tonight it was echoing to the voices of some lovely new poets…

And just in case you’re wondering, Iechyd da! means Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Purple Poetry? Pretentious? Moi?

Do you think I’m finally getting the hang of selfies?

I’m here at Tŷ Newydd, at the Welsh Literature Centre, enjoying an excellent Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Maura Dooley, but trying hard to ignore some of the literary pretentions of some of my fellow participants, aka the Dead Read Poets’ Society.

In the company of such well-versed writers, I could be intimidated. But I’m wearing my bullet-proof knickers and choosing not to give-a-damn about what anyone else here is doing/has done/will do any minute now. Anyway, I’m writing poems in purple ink – isn’t that pretentious enough? Perhaps not.

No, I haven’t read Homer and can’t quote from Joyce, Beckett or *Yeats. I’ve never heard of Bolshie Wiseman McEverybody whose spoken word performances are to die for. I haven’t just spent three years mastering the nuances of Heaney/McNeice/Whitman. I’m just a fairly ordinary wordsmith (albeit with third level education from too many decades ago), who finally realises she has something to say, and poetry is the way she wants to say it.

And now I’m talking about myself in the third person.

Gillian Clarke (left) and Maura Dooley

Meanwhile, Gillian Clarke is encouraging us to hear the music of words, but to attend to the shape of the poem on the page. Maura Dooley is helping us look through windows to find the right words, but to remember why we write, suggesting a poem is a temporal art making an incision in time. I like that analogy, since I do a lot of cutting and (imaginary) knife-wielding as I’m writing.

This is the second residential writing course I have ever done, the first being the Spring Poetry Masterclass earlier this year with Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy (I waxed lyrical about that experience on this blog in three parts: here 1, here 2 and here 3).

More gushing is unnecessary; the place is lovely, the tutors are experienced, generous and patient, the food is delicious, the sun has shone (for some of the time, anyway), and Magi the cat is as friendly as ever. And my fellow participants are an interesting, eclectic bunch, and while some of them seem to be trying too hard, there is some serious talent here, and I am in awe.

Criccieth

We have plenty of writing/thinking time between workshops, so I’ve managed to walk into nearby Criccieth, a lovely little seaside town with a castle.  But of course, I don’t go anywhere without my (purple) pen and a notebook to capture sudden flashes of inspiration. There seems to be a lot of them about just now.

*OK, so I can quote Yeats, really. I mean, I live in Ireland, it would be a scandal if I couldn’t, wouldn’t it? Heaney, too.  But I draw the line at Joyce.

Travelling Light

Let’s cut to the chase: I don’t. Travel light, that is. Ever. Not even for a week in Wales (Hello Tŷ Newydd!).

On the other hand, I am ace at packing (think Russian dolls), so space is rarely an issue.

It’s the weightlifting that’s a problem when I travel. Which is probably why I don’t do much of it. I’m a rubbish sailor, and not much better in aeroplanes, but I’ll do my best if I can take EVERYTHING I need. But then there’s the full-body workout required to cart stuff around.

Like my suitcase, rucksack and handbag, stuffed to overflowing with essentials. I mean, who doesn’t go on a Poetry Masterclass without four different notebooks (A4, A5, mini and micro), two blue biros, a black one and a pencil? And purple, red and green biros and a highlighter pen, just in case. Scissors, Sellotape and a glue stick, again just in case. Paperclips (because I forgot the mini-stapler – what was I thinking?). A sewing kit (because you never know), snacks in case they forget to feed me (as if – the food here is legendary), and enough shampoo and conditioner for three weeks (I might get stranded here and will need to wash my hair).

Then there’s the footwear situation. I packed my walking boots this time because Tŷ Newydd is in set in beautiful (but muddy) walking country, but there are other shoes and boots required, too.

I always wonder at stories of people who go back-packing across God-knows-where with little more than a toothbrush and a microfibre flannel. How do they do it? Don’t they need at least two changes of clothes per day, plus some spares? And what about technology? Phone and lap top are essential, although I had to concede that bringing the tablet as well was overkill, and I had to leave behind my ‘proper’ camera (my trusty Canon DSLR) because I’m here to write, not take photos (ahem, the phone did it).  Then there’s the hairdryer, hot brush, ten types of hair clips, two types of hand cream, bottled water, and a partridge in a pear tree.

But I did ditch the coat, on promise of good weather, settling instead for layers under a mac-in-a-bag cagoule (and then the clouds rolled in).

I also ceded the dictionary (they’re available on-line when the internet works), but suggesting I leave behind my 40-year-old Thesaurus was a step to far.

I’ve heard some folk say that using a Thesaurus is akin to cheating. NO! It’s just a tool, that’s all. A book of words that won’t write for you your poem/story/novel/begging letter/blog post (delete as appropriate).  But when you get to a certain age (so I’m told), all the words in your head swim around out of reach, and the thesaurus can just prompt the right ones to surface.

Now, I need to find a competition that gets you to use weightlifting, Roget and poetry all in the same sentence. Any ideas? (Answers in poetic parentheses, please!)

 

Shameless Self Publicity!

I’ve been waiting for this **day since my birthday in July! Why? Because two of my poems are in the Irish Times today (October 28th 2017). Whoop, whoop!

Actually, the birthday connection is just a coincidence. I’d been bombarding the editor of the Hennessy New Irish Writing Ciaran Carty with poems for a while, ever hopeful he’d like one or more enough to publish. Back when I started getting serious about this creative writing lark, he published my first piece of fiction in the Irish Independent, and I was subsequently nominated for a Hennessy Award in February 2015.

Its the kind of third party validation that is important to the likes of me.

Fast forward to July 2017,  amid birthday celebrations, I got an email confirming that some of my poetry had been chosen for future publication. So, two of my poems  are in print today, on Page 29 of the new-look Irish Times ‘Ticket’ section. I’m vaguely disappointed not to have a **picture included, but thrilled none-the-less to get into the prestigious Hennessy New Irish Writing  pages with poetry.  Any minute now a publisher is going snap up my collection (ha!).

It’s an exciting weekend – this, and then on Bank Holiday Monday I’m off to Wales to start my Arts Council of Ireland-funded  (yay!) Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Maura Dooley…

I feel a celebratory poem coming on 🙂

Update:  **There’s a pic of me and three poems online at the Irish Times website: click here to view!

 

Titanic News (in a literal sense)

Here I am in Belfast (trying out my new Ab-Fab Patsy hair-do) on the Titanic tender, SS Nomadic, with the iceberg-shaped Titanic Experience in the background. And look, I’m smiling, even before my good news.

I was in Belfast when the post arrived last Friday. My daughter sent a WhatsApp message telling me there was an envelope from the Arts Council, asking should she open it on my behalf?

But just then, Belfast Titanic was taking most of my attention. We’d been meaning to visit the museum for ages, having something of a family fascination for RMS Titanic stories. Family legend even has one of my distant relatives as a survivor (though as a lowly servant working in the kitchens, that story is a bit far-fetched, and I’ve never investigated). We’ve been to Cobh and Southampton museums, this was Belfast.

Any road up (as they say where I come from), I was admiring the extraordinary feat of engineering that Harland and Wolff undertook in building the three sister ships, Olympia, Titanic and Britannic, not paying much heed to random telephone messages from home. The sheer size and opulence of the ships, the number of people who worked on the site, the whole remarkable world of early Twentieth Century luxury cruise liners, was mind-boggling. Building the Titanic, a Belfast workman could expect at least a 50-hour week with only Sundays off, one week’s holiday in the summer, and two days each at Easter and Christmas.

I was contemplating the extraordinary gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and how 1,490 people lost their lives on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912, when another text message arrived, revealing news that the letter awaiting my attention was rather fat and A5 sized – not your usual thin rejection letter.

I had applied to the Arts Council for a Travel and Training Award to help with the cost of attending another Poetry Masterclass in Tŷ Newydd in Wales at the end of October (next week – yay!) and an email said I should have a decision within four weeks.

Of course, that didn’t happen. So, into the sixth week, getting very close to the time I needed to book my travel, I stuck my neck out and sent an enquiring email, which received a ‘you should hear soon’ type of reply.

I’m generally of the glass half-full persuasion (assuming I’ve got a glass, that is). But my experience of grants and such like has left me quite crushed, so I figured this was another put-down.

But if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably guessed the punch line –  yes, I have been awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Travel and Training Award! And while the cash is obviously of vital importance – the validation is almost as thrilling, as my proposal was based on my creative and professional development as a poet.

My debut poetry collection ‘On the Green Bridge’ is out there trying to find a publisher, after some seriously impressive advice from my Mentor, poet Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons. Janice has been assigned to me through the mentoring scheme of the Creative Frame Professional Development Network, based in Leitrim.

So – titanic news indeed, in the sense of why the ill-fated White Star luxury liner was so-called.  Titanic’s original meaning was ‘of exceptional strength, size, or power’. (There’s a heap of interesting facts about the ship here –  prepare to waste an hour or two!)

Just don’t mention sinking ships to me just now, please. Especially since I will be on a ferry to Wales very soon…

And the Winner Is…

I saw the light…

When I first dipped my toe into the Irish writing market, I admit I didn’t have a clue as to where I should start sending my creative endeavours. What to do with all those words? The shoebox under the bed was stuffed to overflowing.

Perhaps a writing group would help? But I soon discovered the people around me were equally clueless, or worse, secretive. I guess they thought sharing information about publishing opportunities was likely to do them out of success.

A few years down the line and I have now garnered a good bit of useful information about where to place stories and poems, and I’m happy to share the information here (no charge!).  We’ll save my constant angst about a writer’s need for publication and third-party validation for another day.

I’m reliably informed that competition placings and publication in anthologies and journals is good for raising your writerly profile, and it is attractive to publishers as proof that you can write.

But be aware that entering competitions or submitting to magazines can be quite a harrowing experience if you are of a delicate disposition.  You need to develop a thick skin as your freshly-minted masterpiece gets sent off into the ether for some stranger to ponder, and you’re left behind wondering what happened. For months sometimes, and then one day you find out by accident that you weren’t successful (God bless Twitter and all who boast in her!).

Competitions can be costly – and very (…ahem) competitive, with some of them receiving thousands of entries.  But the prizes are often well worth the effort, and of course, there’s the winner’s kudos. Nothing beats that giddy feeling you get when you’re the winner!

So, the following information I offer as a gift, based on my experiences as an amateur writer based in Ireland. Good luck!

  • First online stop for anyone in Ireland who is interested in writing should be writing.ie – a valuable resource with lots of helpful tips and information. It is updated regularly, so you need to keep dipping into this one.
  • If poetry is your thing, then a visit to Poetry Ireland is essential for competition listings and events.
  • The Irish Writers Centre is a valuable resource for anyone interested in literary endeavours, with info about competitions and bursaries. Sign up to their newsletter for regular updates.
  • Belfast writer Paul McVeigh has loads of interesting items up on his blog, including short stories from around the world, new and old, plus information about competitions here.
  • Ireland is home to a number of heavyweight literary magazines. Some of them accept submissions from newbies and run competitions, so check in regularly to keep up to date: The Moth, The Stinging Fly, Southword Journal, Crannóg Magazine, Skylight 47, Banshee.
  • Ireland has its own selection of popular magazines, although the market is pretty well saturated with UK-based publications. Woman’s Way publishes 800 word short stories (but doesn’t pay), Ireland’s Own  has annual writing competitions and opportunities for articles as well as fiction, although their guidelines admit they favour their regular contributors.
  • At the other end of the writing spectrum is the UK womag (women’s magazine) market, a paying market for short stories and features. They each have their own writers’ guidelines (and some don’t accept on-spec submissions). Patsy Collins pulls a lot of magazine info together for general reference and has an entertaining blog going  here.
  • Finally, another great resource for writers interested in competitions is Michael Shenton’s amusing offerings at Prize Magic.

Did I wish you good luck? Of course I did!