All posts by louisegcolewriter

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

Beyond the January Scales

Hide the peanuts, empty the biscuit tin, lock up the chocolates – I’m on a diet.  Well, at least I’m thinking about it.

Personally, I blame elasticated waistbands for most of my problems.  Plus a toaster parked invitingly beside the kettle, Marmite just within reach.  And chocolate-covered Brazils aren’t entirely without blame, either.

Sitting at a computer screen pretending to be a writer is terribly hard on the waistline, even though my writing desk is right next to a freely available (and in good working order) treadmill (oops!).

It helps that I have a dog to walk and beautiful Irish countryside nearby, otherwise I’d  be probably several  unflattering sizes bigger.

I’m the one in the white dress

When I got breathless taking down the Christmas tinsel from a wedding photograph, I decided action was called for. Was that really us beaming into the camera as we floated off in a hot air balloon at the start of our honeymoon?

Young, fresh-faced and well…slim.  We’d need a larger balloon basket now, joked the bride.  We’d need a bigger balloon to lift the extra weight, said the bridegroom.  We calculated that between us we’d gained the equivalent in excess poundage of another (small but significant) human being.

Three decades, two children and countless boxes of Heroes have taken their toll.  Baggy jumpers  and floaty tops can hide only so much.  But what to do?  Counting calories is a nightmare, especially when you’ve used up your daily allowance by 10am. Well, I guess I can dust off the treadmill and hide the Heroes for a start.

I need to stop baking, too…

Of course, deep down, I know it doesn’t matter if we have enough elastic in our waistbands; there’s more to life than cottage cheese and sticks of celery.

How do I know this?  Because I recall a day more than 20 years ago, when I was feeling particularly fat and frumpy.  I was wearing my most unflattering clothes, and my most expansive waistband was suffering from stretch fatigue, when my then four-year-old put his skinny arms around me (figuratively speaking) and declared: “I love you Mummy, because you’re beautiful.”

He was always a canny lad. “Really, Darling?” I gushed, putting aside my Weight Watchers cookery book. “Shall we have another chocolate biscuit?”

He grew up to become a bit of a foodie. You can connect with him here although I’m not sure any of his recipes are suitable for slimmers.

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The Numbers Game

Bit of a tenuous link, but this kitty’s name was Seven…

I’ve been crunching numbers over the past few days, trying to figure (excuse the pun) if I should take up a new pastime. This writing lark has cost me a lot of money one way or another (residential poetry masterclasses don’t come cheap), and I’ve managed to crawl to my 100th submission this year.

That averages out at less than nine submissions a month, which doesn’t sound too excessive. And included in ‘submissions’ are applications for grants, pitches for freelance articles, and several other writing activities.

I enter a lot of free writing competitions (there are a lot about), and  journals and magazines are free to send to. But there are a good few competitions with a hefty entry fee which I’ve succumbed to. Like the Moth Poetry Prize – I wasn’t going to bother because it is €12 a pop, but the prize is a cool €10,000 (for ONE poem, yes you read right!). So I view it rather like buying a lottery ticket, you’ve got to be in it to win it, although the odds on me winning are slim – not because my poem is rubbish (well, I don’t think so), but because there’s so much (ahem) competition.

The kudos of winning, or being placed in competitions, is what drives most writers to enter – but the cash prizes can be significant, too. I’m writing this on a laptop I bought with the winnings from a short story competition 18 months ago.

I was helping to number the entries in the Strokestown International Poetry Competition at the beginning of December.  Poacher turned gamekeeper, I found the behind-the-scenes activities a real eye-opener. Until then, I’d never really thought much about what happens after I hit the ‘send’ button.

In the case of Strokestown, the original poems are kept on file and two copies of each are printed to be sent to the judges. Before the poems leave the office, they are made anonymous, save for a reference number. It makes for a level playing field, so it doesn’t matter who you are or who you know, it’s the poem that counts.

The sheer volume of poems –  sadly, I didn’t have time to read any of them – was mind-blowing. The competition attracts entries from all over the world, including India, Japan, Canada, USA, the UK, and of course, Ireland.

And get this, there were 1,261 poems vying for the top prize of €2,000, a writer’s retreat at Anam Cara, and publication in the Strokestown Poetry Anthology. That’s five reams of paper…

If you missed the annual Strokestown competitions (there was the Percy French competition for comic verse and an Irish language poetry competition, too), there’s another just opened to mark the Festival’s 20th anniversary. That’s in addition to the Roscommon Poet’s Prize and the School Poetry Prizes. Phew, that’s a lot of poems!

Count the petals? Or be inspired to write a poem – this is one of the prompts.

This new on-line only competition offers 20 picture prompts, and suitably inspired writers are invited to create up to 20 lines of poetry. There will be 20 prizes – a first of €100 and 19 of €20. And all 20 poems will be displayed alongside the images during Strokestown Poetry Festival, May 3rd – 7th 2018.

The judge is poet Noelle Lynskey, and details are on the website here.

Now, what’s there not to like about those numbers?

Oh, and for the day that’s in it (as they say around here): “Happy Christmas!”

Age Restrictions Apply

Back in the days when I thought I was really grown up, aged five.

Although I am the mother of two children who are now in their twenties, I don’t feel very grown up myself. They might be adults, but I’m not there yet.

OK, so I have a share in a mortgage, a bulging credit card, and bank cashiers (when I can find them) call me ‘madam’ (grrr!). I’m legally old enough for most things (except a state pension), and I’m tall enough (just) for terrifying fairground rides (as if), but I really don’t feel grown up, even though I can drive and use WhatsApp.

I seem to have spent my entire life expecting adulthood to sneak up from behind and tap me on the shoulder, but I’m still waiting – and still trying to put the sentiment into words that make sense. I’ve tasked myself with writing a series of poems about refusing to age gracefully, but so far, I’m stuck on the first one.

I still like breaking the ice on winter puddles, and wading through fallen leaves in autumn.  There are soft toys on the shelf (but no elf), I throw a tantrum if I don’t win at Scrabble, and I get excited at the prospect of birthday cake, Christmas tinsel and chocolate Easter eggs. I don’t do bins, bills or change light bulbs, and I scream blue murder and demand to be rescued if one of the cats brings home something twitching and bloody.

True, I had to step up to the mark when my minder fell off a ladder and ended up helpless and wheelchair-bound for several months, but I didn’t enjoy the experience. Thankfully, neither did he, and eventually, his bones mended enough for him to take charge again. That was four years ago, and the details are now hazy as we’ve both blanked out such an awful experience.

I am fortunate in (mostly) not looking my age, still with my own hair colour, the right number of teeth and limbs, and a vague hope that Santa Claus will turn out to be real.

And I’m guessing I’m not alone here. The Famous Five re-writes have been created with people just like me in mind: Five On Brexit Island; Five Forget Mother’s Day; Five Go Gluten Free and the rest. Bruno Vincent has taken the Enid Blyton classics and given them a twist for ‘grown ups’ – hilarious.

If you’re looking for amusing stocking fillers, there are also the Ladybird ‘how it works’ books, using original artwork but with an up to date explanation of mothers, husbands,  grandparents, cats and a long list of others – great fun.

When I picked up The Ladybird Book of Dating in a bookshop in the summer, I laughed so much I had to be escorted from the premises.

No, not very grown up. But I’m working on it.

Thank You, Snowflakes

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Snowgirl Tully. Photo by Rhiannon Cole

Look what happens when you get snowed in – the blog gets a revamp.

A bit of spring cleaning, which could be me being ahead of myself for next year – or desperately late for this.

Anyway, here it is, a new-look blog, where you can also see me on Twitter and Facebook.

Because of the weather, I have a houseful of snow-bound snowflakes (sorry kids, couldn’t resist that one), encouraging me to update widgets and stuff (no, I don’t know either).

So now, I’m even considering opening an Instagram account.  But that could just be a social media step too far.

Yes, I know.  I should be writing.

Snow Joke

Tonight, we’re waiting for snow to fall here in the west of Ireland. It’s still a bit early for a White Christmas, but you never know – once it gets here, it might decide to stay. Snow that is, not Christmas (although the shops have been flogging all things festive since the end of the summer holidays, or so it seems).

I thought I’d get ahead of the posse with my snowman picture taken several winters ago. I couldn’t remember if we gave him a name, then discovered the photograph was labelled ‘Baldy the Snowman’.  There’s no end to my family’s creativity. I mean, we called the seventh cat to join our household … Seven. Ingenious, eh?

Is is any wonder then, that I find titles for poems and stories difficult? REALLY difficult.  I have a poem about my late father that people who have heard it like – except for the title. So far, the poor little poem has had nine (yes, really) titles. And I’m still not sure I’ve arrived at the definitive one. The poem is awaiting some judge’s decision in a competition, so I won’t say any more about that one, but I’ve heard it said that titles can make or break a piece.

In an article about writing short stories published by the Bath Short Story Award organisers, writer Tessa Hadley said, back in 2013: ‘A title clinches something, it crisps the story up and seals it like a top on a bottle.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Meanwhile, I am steeling myself (and sharpening the calculator) to do the end of year sums. For each of the past three years I have tried to send out 100 submissions – that’s competition entries, magazine and publishing submissions, grants and bursary applications. It’s a lot of words posted (ah sure, doesn’t An Post need the business?) or fired off into cyberspace. I didn’t get anywhere near the century in 2015 or 2016, but so far this year I’m at 96 and counting.

The acid test is to punch numbers into the calculator and work out how much this writing lark has cost me, and if I got enough back (my Arts Council award will help bump up the figures).  This year’s statistics might just be the tipping point to make me take up knitting again. Or bird watching. Or deep-sea diving. Or moon walking. Or kitchen floor cleaning.

Heck no, what a daft idea – I’m going to have to stick with the writing!

Reinventing the Wheel (or not)

Nope, doesn’t need work- the basic design is sound…

I have kept my head down lately, trying to complete some half-finished writing projects, not least because there seems to have been an unusually high number of competitions and submission opportunities this month.

I’m still out there, trying my luck with poetry, flash fiction and stories (and wondering if I’ll ever find time to finish my ‘prize-winning’ novel!).

At the Skylight 47 launch, me and Jessamine. I am the short one.

Proof that persistence pays off has been publication this month of my poem in literary magazine Skylight 47.   I went down to Galway for the launch with my friend *Jessamine O Connor,  who was representing the Hermit Collective, featured in this edition. We both got to read our poems, with a warm reception from a good sized audience, which was a nice way to spend a Thursday evening. The magazine was launched by lovely poet and novelist Penelope Shuttle.

Meanwhile,  although I’m rarely short of new ideas, I have recently  found myself recommending all writers have a go at revisiting some of their own old work from time to time –  after all, why reinvent the wheel? Now that’s not  suggesting you go off with someone else’s material, that’s plagiarism and is not what I’m on about here.

I’m talking about how a sideways look at something you wrote ages ago might just present a new opportunity. Often, old work can benefit from a refit.

Just because a story or poem has been rejected by a publisher, magazine or competition, doesn’t mean to say you can’t do something else with it. It may not have been what the publisher or judge was looking for at the time, but if you thought it was good enough once, why not again? And why should one really good idea be confined to a single form?

In my case, I’m often flirting with old flames (literary ones, of course) – I’ve even won a short story competition with a piece that started out as a poem, and I’ve recycled (upcycled?) poems into flash fiction and been subsequently competition shortlisted.

As I said, why reinvent the wheel?

*Jessamine O Connor launches her latest book of poetry ‘Pact’ on Friday, December 8th at King House, in Boyle, County Roscommon (ROI). She’s invited a few other poets to read some of their work too – and I’m one of them. A 5pm start – all welcome!

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.