Tick Boxing for Beginners

Feather20Pen20ClipArtAs a compulsive list maker, I’ve decided it’s time to reveal my interest in Bullet Journaling.

I first stumbled across the concept of BoJo (Really? Really?) when I was researching journaling for an upcoming writing course I’m running (more of that later);  God Bless the internet and all who sail in her!

(One of the reasons I often work on an old laptop that doesn’t have Wi-Fi capability is that I’d be forever ‘researching’ rather than writing. But I digress.)

Bullet Journaling is an organisational tool for people who like lists (me, me, ME!). It’s a system of cross-referencing information in your daily life and keeping track of it in one place –  a Bullet Journal.

In a nutshell, it’s a fancy book of lists. And I’ve been doing it for years without realising that  the technique  has now been developed commercially, spiked with jargon and given a trendy name.

There are hundreds of examples to look at on the internet – along with videos of well-manicured hands turning a simple, monochrome copy book (Irish for exercise book) into a colourful kick-ass tome of lists-with-pictures.

The joy of bullet journaling is that it can be as simple as a combination of lists of things to do and then ticked as done, or as complex as a  fancy year planner dotted with coloured  lines, pictures and cross-references. The pages in your book can be as plain and functional as a shopping list.  Or they can be as colourful and arty as something you’d like to display in a frame on the wall. You choose.

For a writer, lists can be a useful creative tool –  great for prompting and recording ideas. And, of course, they are very necessary for recording activity and progress. I keep lists of writing competitions and submission opportunities , and I cross reference them with details of past  writing successes (and failures) and looming deadlines.

I combine the Bullet Journal  techniques with a ‘Dear Diary’ sort of journal which helps me dump onto paper all the confusing stuff that’s going on in my head at 2am. It’s a (private!) sanity-saving trick that’s well documented by professionals as being a good thing to do.

Which is how come I’m going to be sharing my knowledge over the course of four afternoons in September, hopefully encouraging newbies to dip their toes into the world of journaling.

My ‘Keeping a Journal’ course will be  in Charlestown Arts Centre, County Mayo, every Wednesday from 2pm until 4pm, starting on September 7th. I’ll be kick-starting  the journaling process with some scrapbooking materials  and creative writing prompts – and digging deep to find something personal we can all write about for posterity.

There. That’s another box ticked. Now where did I put my shopping list? I know I wrote one, but where on earth did I leave it?



The Big Day

Chess in a boxThere’s something about birthdays that can be quite depressing. But your one who said: “Growing old isn’t so bad if you consider the alternative,” was quite right. So I’m trying to be upbeat about celebrating the passing of another year.

I just can’t quite get my head around being the age I am. How did that happen? My life has just whizzed along in a blur to this point.

Two children, one husband, lots of cats, one dog, three houses, two hot air balloons, nine alpacas, three polytunnels, 200 poems, five novels, 70 short stories and a partridge in a pear tree later, and here I am. Still barely 30 in my head, although my recent penchant for Skechers and Lyric FM probably say otherwise.

Some famous creative types share my July 26th birthday – there’s a long list: Mick Jagger, Helen Mirren, Sandra Bullock, Carl Yung, George Bernard Shaw, Paul Galico, Stanley Kubrick, Blake Edwards, Kate Beckinsale, Roger Taylor, Nicholas Evans, Aldous Huxley, Kevin Spacey, Jason Stratham. And these are just the ones I’ve heard of. Trawl the internet and you’ll find dozens of others breaking open the jelly and ice-cream for the day that’s in it.

I’m exactly one hundred years younger than one of them. I’ll leave you to do the research. It’ll take you about as long as the first verse of ‘Happy Birthday’.

Now. Did someone mention cake?

PS The picture isn’t me on my birthday (you’d never guess, would you?). Instead, this is me trying to redress the feline/canine imbalance here. Meet Chess, the tail-less moggy who HATES cardboard boxes so much he has to rip them apart with his bare teeth. It could be his birthday too, who knows?


Howya and other Gems

lgc with Dermot BolgerListening to author Dermot Bolger talking-the-talk at a hundred miles an hour and in Dublin-speak – what’s there not to like about that for an otherwise dull and rainy Saturday?

I attended Dermot Bolger’s ‘Finding a Voice’ writing workshop at the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar yesterday (July 23rd 2016).  Eleven of us (all female) spent the morning listening to tips and anecdotes from an entertaining man who certainly knows his stuff.

He started with stories of his first mentor Sheila Fitzgerald from back in the 1970s,  and continued with plenty of snippets about stars of the current Irish literary world. Dermot Bolger rubs shoulders with the literati (heck, he IS the literati!) and he has tales to tell about them all.

He revealed his own preference for writing that has texture and quality, and he highlighted the necessity for dramatic opening paragraphs that make you want to read on.  He also reminded us that you need to make time to write – and be as adamant about keeping to that special time as his late wife was about keeping silence in the house while she watched Coronation Street!

His general advice to would-be novelists was to get the first draft down with ‘passion in your heart’ and then start editing the second draft with ‘ice in your veins’. He also insisted that while it’s great to be able to disappear (as he has done) to a lighthouse to do your writing, it’s not absolutely necessary. Wherever and whenever seems to be the key – in other words: just get on with it!

We did some writing prompted by photographs he brought along – and then he went around the table critiquing us, along with the original piece of writing we’d submitted in order to get a place on the workshop.

He gave everyone positive and encouraging feedback, which was nice.  Interestingly, he thought my story could have been  more specific location-wise (I’d been deliberately vague about naming a battlefield site) but I didn’t own up that (thankfully) a few other editors haven’t taken the same view. That particular 600-word story has so far won me the Hanna Greally Award and €200, it’s been published in two anthologies, and it is about to go into a third. Which just goes to show how subjective views on writing can be.

The afternoon session was to a bigger audience when Dermot talked and answered questions about his long and successful career writing poems, plays, novels, short stories and journalism. His inspiration takes different forms – he can knockout a story whenever he gets a call say, from the BBC!

I took away a few gems from both the morning and afternoon sessions – it is lovely that a writer of Dermot Bolger’s calibre can be so enthusiastic and encouraging towards new writers and that he is so willing to give advice and insider tips and information.

And his rapid-fire, heavily accented delivery made for a hugely entertaining day.

But in all the excitement I forgot to thank him for choosing my piece as one of the winners in the I am Dublin Competition earlier this year. Mind you, he might have been peeved to hear that he awarded a blow-in the prize, and one who can’t do the Dub accent unless she’s a (Christmas) drink taken. Which may be a story for another day.

Hello Tully!

DSCF1289If you’ve ever wondered what a cat-lover’s dog looks like, here she is. Meet Tully, my lovely dog (now who would have thought I’d put those five words together in a sentence?).

She’s a bit of a mixed breed – I think her mum got around a bit. Several vets have asked if she has some Corgi in her. Well. Royal connections? Hmm…

Tully has taught me that not all dogs bite (I once nearly lost a leg to an Alsatian with big teeth), and that some dogs can be cute. Plus, they’re awful handy to have in the kitchen when you’re cooking dinner. There’s no sweeping up of crumbs or binning leftovers when there’s a dog around (you won’t catch a cat eating scraps off the floor in a vegetarian kitchen). In this picture Tully is getting stuck into a corn-on-the-cob.

The best bit is that Tully takes me for a walk even when I’m not really in the mood. Me: It looks like rain. Tully: You have a waterproof jacket, let’s go! And I invariably feel better after a walk, even on rainy days.

The second best bit of being a dog owner appeals to the mad cat woman in me – in our house, Top Dog is feline. Three moggies lord it over one medium sized dog, who could easily eat them for breakfast (lunch and dinner too, there are three of them). And she never seems to mind.

Rescued dog Tully has inspired a good few poems over the years, and she’s very patient when I have to stop mid-amble to jot down a flash of inspiration.  The only time her patience expires seems to be when I pick up a camera. There are dozens of photos of her just disappearing out of shot.

And just for the record, I still have the leg that the Alsatian got at. He seized my calf as I ran away after finding him still on guard duty in the pub I worked in as a student. The landlord had forgotten to lock him up at the start of my shift and only remembered when he heard my shrieks.

Rather oddly perhaps, I still quite like Alsatians. I admire their loyalty, intelligence and physique.

And all those big teeth.

Strawberry Yields Forever

wild strawberriesWhenever I forget to take a pen and paper for a walk (not the dog, I usually remember her…), that’s when I can be sure the cleverest, most ingenious, potentially life-changing revelations will come to me.

But it’s a bit like waking up in the night with a flash of inspiration, if I don’t write it down it has gone, drifting off into the ether for someone else to find. And for some reason, recording on the phone won’t do – I find that just sucks every scrap of creativity from an idea, so I don’t bother.

It happened today, all because I was a bit distracted by wild strawberries and bilberries. My head was full of the most intriguing, brilliantly compiled words which would become fabulous poems the minute I got home to write them down. But the words were gone in an instant when I spotted the little strawberries.

We grow cultivated strawberries in our polytunnels, but no matter how delicious they are (and they can be sometimes), they can’t beat wild ones. The rough little red berries half hidden on the grassy banks below the blackthorn and ash are tiny, sparse and sharp – but delicious. And they always call to mind childhood foraging trips to collect edibles from the hedgerow.

Where I used to live in England we were able to collect lots of food for free, including wild mushrooms, hazelnuts and damsons, and I certainly miss them. But now I live in rural Ireland where the pickings are thinner and brambles reign supreme. We’re usually up for a good harvest of blackberries though.

One of my first trips to this part of the world was in early autumn in 1995 and I couldn’t understand why the locals left the blackberries to rot.  It was explained to me that only poor people had to forage for food and it was a sign of affluence to buy your jam from the supermarket!

Needless to say, I ended up making blackberry jam while I was on holiday (we were self-catering) because I couldn’t bear to see all that luscious fruit going to waste. I still don’t get much competition from other pickers at blackberry harvest time, and I still make my own preserves.

And for whatever reason, this looks like being a good year for elderflowerselderberries. I make a winter cure-all from elderberries, a purple concoction which staves off coughs and colds. We’ve already had a good harvest of elderflowers (for cordial – delicious!) but we’ve been careful to make sure there’s plenty left to grow into berries.

Meanwhile, you might have noticed mention of bilberries? They’re probably called something else around here, I’m not sure what. They’re like tiny wild blueberries, only not quite as nice. I’ve been walking past the same bush all week waiting for the wildlife to eat the berries (same goes for the strawberries, I only take a few). But it seems there’s nothing after them and they look like they might get left to rot. So I picked a handful and ate them fresh as I walked, marvelling at how the plant has survived after that particular hedgerow was raped and pillaged by a mechanical digger and men with chain saws and barbed wire.

I’m sure there’s a poem in there, regardless of whether I’m walking past, pen and paperless.