All posts by louisegcolewriter

I am a reader and writer of poetry, short stories and novels, living in the West of Ireland.

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!

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Always Take The Weather With You

The late Elmore Leonard, American novelist and screenwriter, famously advised would-be writers they should never start a book with descriptions of the weather.

It is one of the good ol’ writing tips that gets churned out at workshops and writing classes.  But what if your book is about meteorologists? Or a life-changing hurricane? Or Storm Louise (I kid you not)? Or perhaps you are writing about happy bunnies enjoying a picnic in the sun? Yes, well….

The weather is something we have plenty of here in Ireland. It is unlikely you’ll ever pass a day without talking about it. In the queue in the bank, garage, supermarket, chipper*, someone will strike up a conversation about rain/sunshine/rain/wind/rain/floods/rain/hurricanes/rain (well, I am in the Emerald Isle, and we don’t have our green status through being dry, dusty and drought-stricken).

Often, I think the weather is an easy small-talk opener: mention the unseasonal goings-on outside, and you might strike up a deeper conversation with a stranger, which could lead to, well, who knows where?

And of course, extreme weather is always newsworthy and a topic for us mere mortals to ponder. Of all the wonderful achievements of mankind, successful control of the weather isn’t one of them. Not even close.

I think there may even be a poem in there – along with something about Louise, the storm that never was.

When last year, Met Éireann and the UK Met Office revealed their storm names (for severe weather systems this side of the Atlantic), I was thrilled to discover there was a potential Storm Louise nestled between Kamil and Malcolm. The names are chosen annually, A-Z by popular choice, but missing some of the trickier letters. In 2017, we got as far as Storm Ewan in February, which followed Storm Doris when winds of 94mph were recorded. It is unlikely we’ll get as far as the ‘Ls’ before a new list of names takes effect. But I still feel some sort of attachment to the idea –  my grandmother’s name was Doris. And next year’s list includes Larry, which is what some people call my son Laurence.

If you’re still reading and you’d like a cheery three-minute interlude, click here for the song my title alludes to: Crowded House first released ‘Weather With You’ in 1992. And no brollies in sight!

*Chipper? I’m told this is Irish for fish and chip shop. Of course, I’m using poetic licence with reference to same – do I look like someone who’d know what went on inside such a place? No, please don’t answer!

The Luck of the Draw

Ashley Cole

Touch wood, I don’t have to worry about being superstitious.

I mean, most of that stuff is just common sense isn’t it? You wouldn’t walk under a ladder if there’s someone up it with a bucket of something sloshable, would you? And why would you need an umbrella open in the house unless you had a very leaky roof? As for putting shoes – new or otherwise – on the table, who would do that?

We have a black cat in our house; I’m not sure if she is lucky or not. Depending on which side of the Atlantic you live, you might have different ideas about omens attached to black cats in your path. When ours get under my feet (she has a thing about cheese and can stir from a sound slumber three rooms away at the sound of the grater), I’m not sure which one of us is the luckiest. Me for not quite breaking my neck as I trip over her, or her for not quite getting trampled underfoot?

Incidentally, I have long been a cat ‘owner’ and thereby have got through many cat names, although I have a file on my laptop with more than 50 kitty names for future use. This black cat is called Ashley because, back when she was a kitten 12 years ago, she liked to chase balls. Football, black, Cole, Ashley – get it? Cheryl’s ex, back in the day.

Anyway, as I’ve already said, I’m not superstitious. Except that perhaps I’d like to be this week.

Some people think things come in threes and I’ve had two strokes of good luck in the past couple of days, so I’d quite like to believe there might be another, just around the corner. My good news is that I’ve (finally!) had a poem accepted for publication in the next Skylight 47 magazine – and I’ve been selected for a place on the Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke and Maura Dooley in the Welsh Writers’ Centre at Tŷ Newydd. I had such a good time there in the Spring that I gushed all over this blog with the news. I may yet get to go the same way.

Meanwhile, I’m out looking for magpies. Two for joy, of course. The rest can keep away, thank you.

Snap, Crackle and Pop

Shhh…I think I can hear someone coming

You’ve heard of brothel creepers? Silent shoes, so no-one can hear you coming (or going)? Great idea, but why has no-one invented silent waterproof jackets? Perhaps if there was a catchier name…

Walking the dog requires me to wear a waterproof jacket (come on, it is August and I am in Ireland), but the amount of noise it makes is doing my head in. Rustle, crinkle, snap. Like popped rice cereal, but without the milk or flavour.

I walk along trying to keep up with my girl Tully, making sure to swing my arms (so my wristband records maximum steps – don’t ask), but the noise is deafening. No doubt the wildlife hears me from 500 metres away and hides. No wonder I rarely see any of the hares, badgers and foxes that live close to the lane where we walk.

And it isn’t just one coat or jacket that is noisy – I’ve a whole wardrobe of them.

It puts me in mind of an evening I spent last year at the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, County Mayo. I was there to hear what turned out to be a very entertaining double act of novelist and short story writer Donal Ryan, and poet Martin Dyar, reading their own and each other’s work.

I’m normally a bit of a fidget and have trouble sitting still. But on this occasion, I was forced into stillness and wrote the following little ditty after:

At the Reading
My new green coat rustles, look-at-me loud
inappropriately waterproof and warming
in the pin-drop quiet of an auditorium
draped in many yards of funereal black.
Microphone snaking ear to cheek, eyes
raised in solemn deference to the gods,
shirt sleeves rolled neatly to the elbow,
the prize-winning poet means business.
In staccato Mayo he enunciates carefully
his lauded verse, pleased at its new status
on the national English curriculum.
I manage not to crinkle, marvelling instead
that from now on, thousands of Leaving Cert
teenagers will wring unexpected meaning
from ‘Death and the Post Office’.

So, silent waterproofs, where are you? I want to listen to poems and watch wildlife, unheard.

Although the reason the animals aren’t around when I’m out walking could be just because they are crepuscular and I’m not. Honest. (Three cheers for punctuation!)

PS I love Martin Dyar’s book of poetry, ‘Maiden Names’, and Donal Ryan is one of my favourites, too, even though I blush at all the sweary words he uses.

The Writer is ‘In’

Well, you wouldn’t expect anything less messy for my work space, would you? And flowers, of course.

You can tell when I’m ‘writing’.  The kitchen floor’s immaculate (yes, really), there are freshly baked scones in the tin, I have washed the car (yes, really), weeded the borders, walked the dog, groomed the cats, spent an hour on Twitter, done four loads of washing, and ironed my way to the bottom of the basket (yes, really).

In other words, I’ve put off the dreaded deed until I’ve completed one hundred zillion important chores which simply HAVE to be done before I can park my bum on the chair in front of my computer, and get down the actual job of writing.

When I get there, open up a file, and begin to flex those creative muscles, I usually wonder, what it is that’s made me so hesitant to get going?

Because I actually enjoy the process of writing.  I do a lot of it, one way or another. I write articles, poems, short stories, flash fiction (and dare I own up to having three adult novels and one children’s book on the go?), and most nights I write in my journal. I also write weekly letters to my sister and mother, usually longhand with a fountain pen (on water-marked Basildon Bond writing paper – how anachronistic is that?).

Of course, it is the fear of failure that holds me back. Which is why I don’t do sky-diving or ski-jumping, I guess. Which is daft, really, I know. After all, it is not the actual writing that can fail me – it is the publication, or rather, failure to achieve publication, which spoils it all. Back to that strange need for third party validation, which I’ll never quite get over.

In the past, I have aimed at getting a hundred submissions out over 12 months. That was a tall order, and I haven’t quite managed it yet. But my logic is that the more material out there being considered for competitions, or by magazines, newspapers and publishers, the better my chance of success. So, on days when I get one or two rejections, news of a competition shortlisting or publication in a magazine, is all the more sweet.

I have taken some annual leave this week with the intention of putting nose to the writing grindstone. My daughter and I (we are Luri Cole writing a thriller together) are so close to the finish line, we just need a final push. No distractions from visitors, or the garden (it hasn’t stopped raining for days – perfect writing weather), we have the space, the time, the equipment all in place.

So, what am I doing writing a blog post? Oops!

Word Juicing For Scribes

It can be quite difficult to keep coming up with new writing ideas and ways of making those creative juices flow (yes, I agree, that sounds borderline disgusting), but if you are looking for some writing inspiration, read on.

I run a lovely fortnightly creative writing group in the far reaches of County Mayo, Ireland, where we’re often looking for something to write about while we’re waiting for the kettle to boil (again). I thought I’d share some of our prompts and writing exercises, should you find yourself in a similar predicament.

In our group, we have writers of all abilities, from people who haven’t written anything more than a shopping list or a Facebook message since the Leaving Cert, to published writers who regularly win competitions and are working on grabbing the Man Booker Prize. We have a range of ages, backgrounds and (gasp!) we have men as well as women.

So, keeping everyone engaged can be a bit of a problem, not least because I never know who is going to turn up. We often have a feast or famine situation –  too many chairs around the table or not enough chocolate biscuits to go around.  A writing exercise will take twice as long to get through if there are twice as many participants as expected. And in the same way, we’ll get through twice as many prompts if there are only a few of us there.

We have great fun sometimes (well, I do and some of the members come back for more, so I’m guessing they do too).

One of the things I am always trying to do is get writers to try something different.  I will encourage poets to have a go at flash fiction, short story writers to have ago at memoir, and so on. Also, I try to shake up things by suggesting different points of view, time-frames and tenses, just to see what happens.

A quick starting point is my word box, the random words and phrases cut out of magazines and brochures which I’ve been collecting for years. (I’m aware you might think I write ransom notes, but I’m not that desperate. Yet.)

We might pick six words from the box and try to make them into a sentence or paragraph.  Better still if they make a story, or the start of one. If we all start with the same words, it is fascinating to see how each person uses them.

Then I throw in some challenges to move those ideas on and do that messy thing with creative juices and all, suggesting we take what we’ve already written and re-write it in another style. The styles are printed on scraps of paper and are drawn from a little bucket in the middle of the table.   You don’t see what you’ve chosen until you unfold the paper.  Like a Summer Fete raffle but without the prizes.

There will always be someone who complains they can’t possibly turn their newly scripted masterpiece into a breaking news story, or a women’s magazine confession, but it is always interesting when I force them to try.

So why not give it a go? Here are six snippets from my word box just to start you off:

BRIDGE;   FOLDING PAPER;  STIFLED;  GREEN GINGER;  COMMANDO;  WASH DAY

Make a very short, short story with them. Then accept the challenge to re-write it in one of these styles:

·         adult fairy story

·         Jamie Oliver recipe

·         breaking news story

·         school report entry

·         prayer to a patron saint

·         instruction manual

·         heartfelt love letter

·         paperback thriller blurb

·         Leaving Cert exam question

·         radio advert

·         women’s magazine confession

·         email to the boss

·         resignation letter

·         Hollywood film trailer

·         newspaper agony aunt reply

·         dinner party anecdote

·         politician’s acceptance speech

·         court room drama report

·         message to a house-sitter

·         Wild West bar room brawl

 

There.  I did warn you creative juices were messy, didn’t I?

Pet Shop Noise

Lenny, the nearest we got to having a pet alpaca

I can’t remember how I ever came to think that keeping alpacas was a good idea. We imported a small herd of them into Ireland in 2003, convinced they would make us a fortune and they’d become pets, alongside the laying hens and lying cats.

Trust me, alpacas don’t make friends with humans.  They like other alpacas, of course. But they only ever tolerate humans, no matter how nice you are to them. Ours had a very cushy billet in the west of Ireland, and thankfully, they rarely spat at us.  The spitting thing is a way of keeping order amongst themselves and it’s nasty if you get in the way – half-digested grass which is green, slimy and very smelly. And if it gets on your clothes, it is practically impossible to remove the stain.

We brought our alpacas over from Worcestershire via Scotland and Northern Ireland on a night when the skies were lit up with the Aurora Borealis.  A memorable evening, which of course, I turned into a poem.

I have read the poem at a few functions recently, recalling that amazing evening when the sky was green and red and we thought that was the norm (we got that wrong as well, never seen the Northern Lights since).

We eventually found the alpacas new homes, but not before we’d collected a goodly amount of fleece from them over several years. I learnt to spin and discovered alpaca makes a lovely soft, hard-wearing yarn for knitting and crochet.

And to think, I used to be frightened of dogs…

I’ve been thinking a lot about pets, and how humans enjoy keeping companion animals. And I was considering what some people think of as pets, exotic creatures such as monkeys, or snakes, or iguanas.  Even alpacas.

My mate, Tully

My first choice of pet will always be a tabby cat (like my third birthday present), but any cat will do really (rescued, not bred to be sold), plus now my dog, who is a surprising friend to me, given that I spent many years being terrified of her kind.

And if nothing else, pets can serve as inspiration for poems.  Just for the craic, here’s a ditty I wrote ages ago about our white hamster, sadly a pet I never photographed.

Snowball, a Hamster
The cat has a mouse again
and it makes me consider
how many more fortunate,
furry creatures we have kept,
pets to nurture and cherish.
There have been many:
cats, rabbits, a dog,
more cats,
and Snowball, a white hamster
carefully named by a six-year-old
who instantly lost interest.
He used to live in my study
(the hamster, not the child),
well away from feline temptation.
I’d let him skip along my desk
as I tried to write my memoirs
(the child, as well as the hamster).
When the time came
and poor Snowball ailed,
we took him in a shoe box
to the vet’s evening surgery,
humane dispatch for a fiver,
ahead of a State funeral,
with flowers and speeches,
even a few tears.
The shovel, or a brick,
would have been cheaper
to put him out of his misery,
but none of us could do it
(even the six-year-old,
who was really seven by now).
I remember how in his prime
Snowball would run across
my keyboard leaving a trail,
black pellets of rodent incontinence,
which I would eventually scoop up
and turn into a poem.