Ugly Lovely Inspiration

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Over the last few days, I have been soaking up the writerly atmosphere of Swansea, that ‘ugly lovely town’ (which became a city in 1969).

I’m a regular now that my daughter lives here – she’s just getting to the end of her Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Swansea University – and I love it.

A country girl like me enjoying city life?  Well, yes, but only in short bursts. I wouldn’t want to live here myself (or any other built-up area come to that), but for the moment, the rush andSelfie in Swansea Bay -literally tear, the traffic, the crowds, the endless opportunities for retail therapy?  Bring it on!

There’s plenty of inspiration here – it is the seaside, after all. And there are loads of wonderful parks (dog mess underfoot notwithstanding). My favourite has to be Singleton Park – acres of grass, woodlands, a stream, ornamental and botanical gardens, squirrels and jays – even a handkerchief tree in full bloom. Plenty of quiet places to sit in the sunshineHandkerchief tree with a notebook and pen, too.

I’ve also discovered one of Dylan Thomas’s old haunts, Cwmdonkin Park, which is on the side of a hill overlooking the city with spectacular views of Swansea Bay. And it’s just around the corner from Dylan Thomas’s birthplace (also on a hill!), which in turn, is just around the corner from where my daughter lives in Uplands.

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It is difficult to go anywhere in Swansea and not be reminded that the great writer passed through here once, although he lived many other places once he was famous, and he died while on tour in America back in 1953.  It was the 100th anniversary of his birth last year; I’m not sure he’d recognise modern Swansea as the same place he played as a child; the trees would be smaller, the houses and shops different (and fewer of them), although the roads would be mostly in the same place…

I wonder what he’d make of modern-day Swansea – and if he’d find it as inspiring as he did back then? It’s certainly got my creative juices flowing 🙂

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Sex is good but have you ever been shortlisted in a writing competition?

squirrelI have been spending a lot of time recently wondering why on earth I write. Of course, it’s rejections that bring on that ‘what’s it all for?’ mood.

I seem to have had a good few negatives explode in my in-box recently, like badly placed mines ready to tear off my writing limbs. They are somehow counterbalanced by an unequal number of positives of course, which is what keeps me going.

I carry on because, as I’ve said before, ‘Sex is good but have you ever been shortlisted in a writing competition?’ (I need to get a fridge magnet made). That thrill of knowing my story or poem stood out as proficient and entertaining, that someone besides family and friends thought my work was good – well that’s what it’s all about.

Ultimately of course I write for myself, for my own amusement and to escape into a world where I have total control, where I can be anyone, anything I want to be. It’s almost a compulsion, my need to write (I’ve been doing it since I was old enough to hold a pen). But it still matters to me that other people enjoy my writing too.

Yet writing is like many aspects of the human experience – one size does NOT fit all. Music, painting, sculpture, dance, garden design, fashion, politics, food, drink – life would be very dull if we all liked the same things.

True, some things are generally well liked and popular – think Elvis and the Beatles, think JK Rowling and Stephen King, think Monet and Picasso, think Jamie Oliver and Delia Smith, think Coco Chanel and Stella McCartney, think chocolate and colcanon.

OK, such a list could go on for ever, but you get the idea? And culture in all its guises is subjective, so I shouldn’t get hung up about someone not liking my writing. My work should appeal to someone, but not necessarily everyone. Should I mind? Probably not, but I do…

So in order to prove to myself and other people that I CAN write, I put myself through the competition mangle time and time again. Last year I’d planned to get to one hundred submissions (which included competition entries, bursary applications, magazine contributions et al). I ran out of steam after no 74, although by then I’d garnered a few wins, with some published stories to add to my portfolio. Plus, the coffers were not unduly strained (I more than broke even, although I’m not booking the round-the-world cruise just yet).

I hit the ground running in January 2016 and promised myself again to try for a century. We’re not quite half way through the year and I’ve just fired my 51st submission off, ever hopeful of a ‘congratulations’ reply.

Meanwhile, one thing that has perked me up no end was looking through my records and discovering that some of my successes had been failures in a previous incarnation. Each one got dusted off and rewritten, then sent out again, including one story that was rejected by a very good writer (the lovely one I met in a bookshop in Cork last week!), which went on to get published in an anthology with a highly commended tag.  Which just goes to show…

And the picture? Er, squirrels?  Yes, well first off, I really miss them here in Ireland. They don’t live anywhere near me (nor do hedgehogs or rabbits, although we do have foxes, hares, badgers and polecats). This one lives in Swansea (Dylan Thomas country – see, there is a writing connection here). And this fella likes stale Cheerios, although some of his fellow tree rats don’t…

QED, eh?

 

Writers on Other Planets

book haulHere’s a nice story: Once upon a time there was this wannabe short story writer who was wandering around Waterstones in Cork when she found herself introduced to the lovely author of the book of short stories she was about to buy…

Yes, that was me in Cork.

I know, it’s a long (very long) way from County Roscommon, but I have to say, I LOVE Cork and wasn’t going to miss the chance of a visit when I was invited to the launch of the anthology of stories from the From the Well Short Story Competition.

So, up with the lark and many miles later I got to meet the writer who judged the competition, Billy O’Callaghan, whose stories I have much admired from afar. He did not disappoint and was kind enough to chat to me for a few minutes with some helpful tips on entering writing competitions. He is very encouraging to new writers and is now in place as Cork’s Writer in Residence.

I was thrilled to have my story in the anthology ‘Bunker and Other Short Stories’,  published by Cork County Library and Arts Service, particularly since it got a special mention in Billy’s introduction to the book.

Fast forward 24 hours and I’m still in Cork, soaking up the buzz of the city.

I mean, tuneful buskers, street artists, vegetarian cafes, bookshops, sunshine, friendly people with that fabulous (almost Welsh) accent, what is there not to like?

I still had some of my book token winnings to spend from the Irish Writers Centre Competition I won a few months ago, so I wandered into Waterstones. I intended buying Billy O’Callaghan’s book of stories ‘The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind’ which I’ve already read from the library, but I wanted my own copy. Same with Sara Baume’s stunning novel ‘Spill Simmer Falter Wither’.

Then I spotted Danielle McGlaughlin’s ‘Dinosaurs On Other Planets’ which I snatched up too. I have enjoyed many of Danielle’s short stories and have been looking forward to getting my hands on her new collection. All three authors are local to Cork.

So imagine my delight when the Waterstones man pointed out a blonde customer quietly browsing the books a few feet away and called her over to meet me.

Danielle McGlaughlin kindly signed my copy of her book and stayed to chat about writing groups and competitions and such, telling me what a vibrant literary scene there is in the city.  Well, I think that’s what we talked about. I was totally star struck – she probably wondered how such a jibbering eejit could put any words together to make sense, but she was very kind and went away promising to look out for my story in the From The Well anthology. And it turns out she’s had past success in that competition, too.

This week, I was still high on the news that I was one of the final ten in the Exeter Short Story Competition, but I crashed back down to earth with three separate rejections on the same day just before I headed for Cork.

I’m still not sure what to make of all this competitive creative writing, but I understand that being shortlisted and winning competitions offers some sort of third party validation as to my writing ability…

But what a pity I live such a long way from Cork!