A Gloom of One’s Own

Annaghmakerrig rhododendrons are inspiring, right?

Inspiration is a funny old thing – one minute it is there slapping you in the face, insisting you write, write and then write some more, next it has disappeared into the ether without a trace and you are left wondering what on earth to write about. And whatever made you (me) think writing for publication was a good idea?

The secret is of course, to carry on regardless, ignoring the helpless feeling of being uninspired, and just empty your head onto paper. Messy, I know, but the muse often has a way of creeping back to take a look at what you’re up to – and then suddenly, you’re an item again, inspired.

There, I sound like I know what I’m talking about, yet recently I’ve been beset by doubts and have found it difficult to get anything much down on paper.

Rejections and disappointment will do that to you, but I know they’re part of a writer’s life. Social media has a lot to answer for – watching other writers blossom, while I seem to have disappeared under a stone. I shouldn’t compare myself to anyone else, but it can be difficult not to sometimes…

Success and failure are frequent bedfellows for a writer, everyone will tell you that. I’ve had quite a few writing knock-backs recently, plus some personal sadness to deal with, which has left me a bit gloomy and uncreative.  That’s despite having had a great year as a poet (which was unexpected – I didn’t know until fairly recently I could write poetry anyone else wanted to read).

Mind you, it is good that rejections for a writer can stay mostly private. I don’t need to tell you which magazines and journals have turned down my work, or which competitions I’ve failed to get shortlisted for.

But I can tell you about the ones who like my writing. And I’m very, very happy to report that a story of mine has surfaced as a success. It’s been a while since any of my short fiction was published, but a new short story is due for publication in a Cork Libraries anthology. It didn’t win but was shortlisted in the ‘From the Well’ competition judged by author Billy O’Callaghan, resulting in publication. I was in a similar anthology back in 2015.

Meanwhile, the journal The Ogham Stone is about to be published (in June) and this time includes a poem of mine, which I’m thrilled about.

And then there’s another anthology published this week in the UK, Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Laureate’s Choice’, featuring the 20 newcomers she chose to champion as Poet Laureate. I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks like an exciting project to be part of… yes, me, I’m in there!

And while all that’s going on, I’m hiding away in County Monaghan trying to be creative, without distractions, enjoying another writing retreat at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (and I’m grateful for the promised support of County Roscommon Arts Office which enables me to be here).

Now. Here, muse, muse, muse. Are you here? There? Anywhere?

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Filling in the Gaps

I was reading a story in this occasion. I am using poetic licence here…

Trying to find new ways to say old things can be a bit wearing. In my case, wearing on the old computer keyboard.

My laptop was bought with the winnings from a short story competition in…damn, was it really three years ago? Anyway, I’ve worn the face off some of the keys. A R E S T to be precise. I don’t touch-type, but I know my way around a keyboard, so it is no real bother for me.

I’m even trying to squeeze a poem out of the scenario, all about naked keys, worn to the bone. I think the concept needs a bit of work (because I could always re-label the keys if I wanted).

Some poems jump out of the ether and hit you between the eyes, they just have to take on a form. Others have to be coaxed from a vague idea, some can be prompted by workshop triggers. I’ve even dreamt some words of poetry before now. Mostly, it’s a single good idea seeping into my consciousness, which is then worked and worked at until it takes shape as a poem. Easy!

It is Poetry Day Ireland next week (May 2nd) when people far and wide are encouraged to dive into poetry, with the theme of ‘Truth or Dare’. I’m doing my bit by running a short poetry workshop: ‘Finding a grain of truth in the fiction of poetry’.

This will be taking a look at how you can bend the truth to suit the occasion and leave your readers guessing as to which bit of the poem is true.  I do this all the time, confident that if I’m challenged, I can just say writers don’t lie as such, they use their imagination and call it fiction. In particular, I’ll be pulling apart one of my own poems, ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’ to demonstrate my point, and also I’ll be looking at some other poets’ work.

Then there’ll be a brief reading (me gasping through a few of my recent ditties) followed by an open mic for anyone to come and share poetry, their own or someone else’s. There’ll even be tea and coffee and a few biscuits. Its free of charge, is from 10.30am to 12.30pm, in Charlestown Arts Centre in County Mayo, Ireland, (above the town library in Barrack Street) and there is no booking required – just turn up with a pen and paper.

I’m looking forward to this event, not least because it is exclusively poetry. At the writing groups I run, there’s often a collective groan at the prospect of poetry. Anyway, we like to chop and change genres to keep things interesting as a lot of the members like to write memoir, prose and short stories. I’d love to inspire them to enjoy writing poetry though, and I’m working on it…

Meanwhile, my big break is a few days after this workshop when I’ll have a reading in Strokestown Park House at 3pm on Sunday, May 5th when I’ll share the stage with Iggy McGovern. Its part of Strokestown Poetry Festival, which takes place in County Roscommon over the Bank Holiday weekend. More details here. There’s an anthology out, too – with a new poem of mine. Last year’s anthology poem was about my father, so I thought for balance I’d better have one about my mother. It’s called ‘Learning to Sew’. You can buy the book here.

Better still, come along to Strokestown Poetry Festival and head for the pop-up book shop where my books (and a goodly number of others) will be on sale.

Comfort Zones (and a Free Read)

tyrone robin
Yes its a robin. Cute-looking but aggressive and with attitude…

I’m going out on a limb here, but is everyone on social media reading and writing awkward, difficult, challenging stuff? Does no-one read or write for pleasure or entertainment unless it is something dire, straight out of a dark, foul-mouthed dystopian world view?

And does ‘literary’ fiction always need to be so intellectually challenging or eye-wateringly ‘experimental’?

I have to ask because well, I’m wondering if that is all publishers want just now? And if it is, do they not know there are readers out there like me who want to dive into a book or a story purely for entertainment, without having their eyes gouged out or their soul tormented into insomnia? Can we not be allowed to enjoy whatever goes on in our so-called comfort zones?

It’s not that I don’t have issues to write about (who doesn’t?) and it’s not that I don’t know what goes on in the big bad world out there. I have opinions, experiences, relationships.

But I write mostly for escapism, not for any desire to wallow in misery and despair (well, not all of the time), and I certainly don’t want to give you warped, graphic accounts of the seedy side of my life. And cursing and swearing? I know all those words, I expect my readers do too, so I’ll let them (mostly) go figure.  Same with the sex and violence. It’s to do with having a vivid IMAGINATION.

I know, it’s a gift.

I can guess what you’re thinking. White, straight, middle class, privileged.

daffs
I’m married to a Welshman. That gives me some hubris in the write-about-life stakes, surely?

Does that mean I have nothing to say? Or just that you don’t like what I’m saying because I’m somehow not entitled?

Actually, FYI, I was born into a working-class family living in a council house, but my father (a second-generation Italian immigrant) had ambition and a late-in-life thirst for education which took him places. These days, I’m an immigrant myself, living in a country not of my birth. And I might not be from an ethnic minority, but hell, I was a ginger child in a family of red-heads. Do you have any idea?

Anyway, just so you know I can play dirty when I want to (and have double standards) here’s a free read. Crushed Velvet a story by Louise G Cole is a piece of happy-go-lucky (not!) fiction about motherhood, despair and… well, read it and see what you think. It could be described as a challenging subject, but I’d like to think the story is well written. No bad language or graphic sex. No fluffy bunnies or beautiful sunsets either, but hey, that’s entertainment for you. Enjoy!

A Bolthole for Writers

Retreat. The word conjures images of battle-bashed battalions backing off, or of a cowed religious heading for the caves of a hermit life. Or even tea-and-dry-toast navel-gazing and prayer on an island for a weekend.

But a writer’s retreat? Well, that’s different. Think stylish, distraction-free space and time to write.

So, in need of just that, some creative headspace away from home, I headed for County Down in Northern Ireland last week. I could have chosen a remote seaside cottage from Booking.com, but it is unlikely I’d have enjoyed it as much as my stay in the River Mill Reading and Writing Retreat, Downpatrick.

I’ve had my eye on the place since it opened last year, and I’ve read the reviews, which are rightly of the glowing persuasion.

Well, what’s not to like about a former 18th century flour mill now a five-bedroomed country bolthole for writers looking for peace and quiet? Small, but perfectly formed, the River Mill is run by Paul Maddern, who is an accomplished poet himself, so he understands what a writer needs: comfort, good food, space, tranquillity – and a library stuffed to the gills with an eclectic selection of books and literary journals. Paul has a long list of writing accolades and is a former creative writing tutor for the Seamus Heaney Centre, so he’s a good person to have running a retreat.

I realise my homeplace distractions are of the trivial kind, precious, pampered, privileged person that I am, but it is still a marvellous creative boost to be able to get away from the daily grind with the sole intention of writing. I had a lovely time and would highly recommend the River Mill. I even did a good bit of writing (maybe even a bit of good writing?).

Check out the River Mill  here.  And if you go, tell Paul I sent you. But don’t blame me if you gain a pound or two because the food he cooks is delicious and plentiful. Just saying.

Writers’ Groups? What’s the Point?

Writing essentials

I’ll cut to the chase here and tell you I attend four different writers’ groups. I also turn up at workshops, seminars, lectures, readings, any event with writing as the theme.

Some are fun, some aren’t, but I invariably learn something – or more pertinently, I write something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

You might wonder how I have time, but two of the groups are fortnightly, and only one of the others meets weekly.

For me, this is all about mixing with ‘my people’, the ones who get it, the ones I don’t have to explain the writing compulsion to. I love to talk the talk and share writing-related news and information with people as keen as I am to write.

Here’s me looking a bit worried at response to my new poetry book during a reading at Books Upstairs, Dublin

I’ve recently dipped my toe into the business of getting my work critiqued by fellow writers’ group members.

Deep breath, thick skin activated, biro at the ready.

It wasn’t quite as painful as I expected – a 250-word piece of flash fiction I intend entering into a competition, deadline months away. Flash fiction? The week I had a poetry book published? Yes, I know.

I will often re-draft stories or poems dozens of times and this little tale had been tweaked, re-written, reimagined countless times before I sent it off for scrutiny. But in the latest version I have taken into consideration some (but not all) of my readers’ comments.

After all, the point of most writing is to share (with the exception of private, vitriolic journal entries of course) with other people, ideas, opinions and stories isn’t it? So it’s a useful exercise to get out an early draft to people who will (hopefully) give an honest opinion, let you know if you are going in the right direction, point out the bits that don’t work. Sometimes, the writer is just too close to their words to see mistakes, so Beta readers are invaluable.

I’m probably not going to get sick of this image 🙂

I help to run two writing groups in County Mayo (Ireland) . But they are creative writing groups rather than writers’ groups. And there’s a whole can of semantic worms opened. Writing? Writers?

In my groups, I try to encourage new writers, people who may not have written anything more than a shopping list or message in a greetings card since they left school. Everyone has a story to tell, their own or someone else’s, and it is usually a revelation that almost anyone who can read can write. Good or bad, the results are subjective. And it often turns out amongst these beginners are some very talented scribes. Then we’ve got a writers’ group, not just a writing group.

Our meetings include prompts (pictures, words, phrases, objects) to start us off, with writing time to get our ideas down on paper, and we drink lots of tea and coffee, discuss publication opportunities and competition deadlines. Sometimes we will share these first drafts, read out loud, but there’s no obligation. My first attempts are usually rubbish, so I often pass.

If you are near the Mayo/Sligo/Roscommon border (we’re not far from Knock Airport) consider joining us. No booking required, just come if you can. Meetings are held fortnightly Monday morning 10.30am to 12.30pm – February 4th and 18th and March 4th . Or in the same week on Wednesday evenings, 7pm to 9pm. The venue is Charlestown Arts Centre above the town library in Barrack Street.

Or if you’d rather just read the book, here it is: ‘Soft Touch’

Trumpets (Own, and the Blowing Of)

screenshot (74)So here’s some cracking news for  what would otherwise be a miserable day (rain, and the first of my mother’s birthdays without her): ‘Soft Touch’ is now available to buy (well, to order before its proper publication date of February 1st). Ta da!

Soft Touch is my book of 20 poems chosen by the UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in her Laureate’s Choice series for 2019.

I’m not hiding my light under a bushel here (although I might be found hiding under the table after the book is launched). Here are some of the endorsements it has garnered so far:

From Jane Clarke, poet: “Louise G. Cole captures the world around her with humour, tenderness and lyrical panache. Her poems fizz with vibrant detail. She uses language assuredly to create a resonant soundscape that is as moving as it is playful, as compassionate as it is exacting, as fresh as it is wise.” 

From Dermot Bolger, author, poet and playwright: “Sharp-edged and sharp-witted; richly humane and darkly humorous, Louise G. Cole’s voice does not just demand our attention but hijacks it with rich vignettes of human life, shot through with wry, cleared-sighted insights which weave the everyday into striking poems. These poems manage the deft feat of being both crystalline and subtle, remaining utterly true to the original experiences that shaped them, reshaping those experiences into deeply original poems which often make the reader catch their breath, seeing the familiar transposed in a fresh light.” 

From Rita Ann Higgins, poet: “Louise G Cole has a strong sense of place, an even stronger sense of mischief. She meanders into her poems quietly, but always finds some intricate detail to keep us hooked.  She is an accomplished observer of ordinary people and the little things they let slip. She weaves them into unforgettable poems.”

So, if you’d like to hear me read some of the poems from Soft Touch there are two upcoming events in Dublin, open invitation, free to attend (and there’s probably a complimentary glass of something included by way of encouragement):

Poetry Ireland event, January 17th 2019, 7pm

Books Upstairs event, January 27th 2019,  3pm

Meanwhile, Carol Ann Duffy’s tenure as Poet Laureate ends this year, and to mark the occasion there’s an anthology coming out in May, featuring me as one of 24 ‘promising’ poets she’s showcased over the past four years.

Phew! Now I think I need to go and practice lying down under tables…

In The Mood*

I’ve barely written a word for nearly three weeks, which must be something of a record for me. I’ve even stopped writing in my journal.

My mother, less than two months short of her 95th birthday,  has died, and while I wasn’t surprised by her passing, I was shocked (they’re different). Despite my best intentions, I discovered I wasn’t a bit prepared for the loss.

Me and my sister (her only children) were in agreement for some time that our widowed mother’s life as a bed-ridden cripple in a Care Home could not have given her much pleasure lately, despite being a deep well of poetic inspiration for me.

We were waiting. And waiting. But, true to form, my mother wasn’t going anywhere until she was good and ready. She’d even hinted once that she might hang on for a 100th birthday message from the Queen. Then suddenly, she was gone.

I’ve lived in Ireland for more than 15 years now and one of the things I think the Irish do well is death (they do loads of other good stuff, of course, but please cut me some slack here).

In Ireland, you are usually buried within a day or two of dying, instead of the two or three-week wait for a funeral in the UK. I was just starting to get used to the idea of finally being an orphan, thinking I’d come to terms with what had happened, when more than two weeks after the event (Black Friday indeed), we had to fly across the Irish Sea to face a harrowing funeral.

And then there were the boxes and boxes of photographs and letters that I’ve never, ever seen in my entire life, little family secrets revealed. Nothing too steamy, just pictures of my father as a goofy teenager (he was once in his teens?). And a letter revealing my sister was named for my father’s step-mother, whose first name I’d never heard before. A diary entry marking my parents’ engagement on my father’s 22nd birthday was another revelation.

My parents were of a generation who didn’t share personal information or feelings with their offspring. In contrast, my own children want to know every cough and splutter of my life (in a nice way) and will have no surprises hidden in diaries and celluloid when I slip this mortal coil (I don’t think they read this blog though – ha!).

For the record, Elsie Corti (Ginger to some of her friends and family), was a bit of a looker in her day, stylish and well-dressed, a woman ahead of her time with strong views on feminism and female capabilities. She taught me the skills that made me the domestic goddess I sometimes pretend to be (cooking, sewing, how to read a book instead of dusting, that kind of thing) – and she gave me the nerve to try my hand in a man’s world, many times.

But before I go all mushy, I have to remember she often said I had a face that only a mother could love – I got brains, my sister the looks. Hey ho.  

There’s still a sad poem or two to be wrung out of that thought.

* Meanwhile, here’s one of her favourite songs, ‘In the Mood’ by Glenn Miller 

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