Category Archives: Creative writing

May I?

Tubbercurry Writing May 2018sSo, what’s the best thing to do when you’re really, really busy? Yep, that’s it – find something else to do as well.

So here I am, just surfacing after the head-wrecking weekend that was Strokestown International Poetry Festival, participating in a social media training course. (Don’t laugh. And no, I probably shouldn’t have responded to my terror of Facebook by deleting my page recently, but that’s another story.)

While I’m at it, I could have a go at developing my memoir-writing skills with the legend that is Michael Harding, couldn’t I?  Roscommon Arts Centre’s Bealtaine course this year.

And what about running a series of creative writing classes for beginners in Tubbercurry? OK, I’ll do that too.

Strokestown International Poetry Festival was an absolute blast – a hectic five days in which I met some wonderful writers and got to launch my collection, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’ alongside poets Majella Cullinane (who was over from New Zealand for the occasion) and Erin Fornoff.

The sun shone, words flowed and good humour abounded, and I had a really great (if exhausting) time. I even got to sign a few copies of my new book and read at the launch of the 2018 Strokestown Anthology, and did a street performance with the Hermit Collective.

Strokestown 20th Logo jpeg2As a member of the organising committee, I hadn’t before appreciated how much time and effort goes into setting up a world-class poetry festival – and how much still has to be done after everyone goes home. This was the 20th Strokestown Poetry Festival, so everyone pulled out all the stops to make it a memorable occasion. It was certainly that (in a good way!). Check out what happened  here: 20th Festival Highlights

So now I’m hoping to have enough people to join me in doing some creative writing on Thursday evenings in Tubbercurry, County Sligo, just for ten weeks.

I’m hoping I can inspire a few new writers with some of the enthusiasm I still have for the craft – not just poetry, but short stories, flash fiction, memoir, journal keeping (one of my favourites), and other forms of the written word. I’ll be able to pass on some insider tips and information about publication opportunities and writing competitions, but will also encourage newbies to just have a go.

Anyone can be a writer if they want to be.

A good writer, though, that’s a bit trickier. Writing is like any form of culture, it is subjective. It takes practice of course. And luck. A thick skin. A support network.  And pink pyjamas and a ping-pong ball. Oops! Look at me, I’m giving everything away already.

If you want to know more, you’ll have to book a place on the course. At a fiver a session (because it is supported by the MSLETB Community Education Scheme) I think it’s a snip…

 

 

 

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Watching the Dust Settle

The sadly missed Ashley Cole, who could always be called upon to investigate things lurking under the sofa

I’ve been busy lately coaxing dust bunnies from under the sofa, not least because I’m mad for cleaning when I’m stressed or sad.  When I’m laid back and cheery, I can’t see dust, so my house is a mess. But right now, there are lots of things going on and I’m trying to fix them with a (faux) feather duster.

When I’m not waving a microfibre cloth at dirty skirtings, waiting for the phone to ring with more sad news (long story), I’m getting ready for my book launch at Strokestown International Poetry Festival. Less than two weeks to go (quick, fetch the mop, that floor needs attention). I wrote an article about the Festival and its background, which has appeared in the Irish Times – you can read it here. 

It even includes a picture of the late Seamus Heaney at the Festival in 2006, an image I share with you here. Just because I can 🙂

This year’s festival is certainly going to be an interesting few days – May 3rd to 7th –  when 70 poets, from schoolchildren to international celebrities, are going to descend on Strokestown in County Roscommon to do their thing. I’m particularly looking forward to the Poetry Divas on the first night – Kate Dempsey, Tríona Walsh and Barbara Smith, who will be ‘blurring the wobbly edge between page and stage’. They perform their own work at events around Ireland and have appeared at Electric Picnic. You can buy tickets here.

The official opening of the 20th Strokestown International Poetry Festival takes place on Friday evening (May 4th), but before that ceremony, Roscommon author Gerry Boland will be launching the new Strokestown Poetry Anthology in the Percy French Hotel at 7pm. I’m very honoured to have been asked to read out my poem ‘Watermarked’ from the anthology, thrilled to have been included in this year’s 20th anniversary book. And in a wonderful twist, because it’s all in alphabetical order, I share a two-page spread with Harry Clifton!

The following day, Saturday May 5th, is going to be a busy one. I’ll be in Bawn Street at 12 noon, making an appearance with my friends from the Hermit Collective – eclectic words and music in the open air (free of charge!). Then I’ll be hot-footing it back to Strokestown Park House for 2pm to see the indomitable Rita Ann Higgins, ahead of the 4.30pm launch (also in Strokestown Park House) of my first book, a limited-edition collection of 60 poems, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’. (Hopefully, the stickers proclaiming my Hennessy win will be ready by then. Not that they’re taking ages to materialise or anything.) Anyway, I’m lucky to be squeezed into a launch slot alongside Majella Cullinane and Erin Fornoff – the weekend’s programme is packed to the gills with readings and book launches.

Saturday evening is one to look forward to as well – Jane Clarke is doing a reading alongside Lemn Sissay, with music by Danny Diamond,  buy tickets here, and then James Harpur leads everyone into an evening of nostalgia, looking back at the highlights of 20 years of festivals.

There are two more frantic days of poetry themed events after that, but I’m not thinking that far ahead just yet because I’ve other stuff going on this week. Like the launch of ROPES 2018 in Galway on Tuesday (April 24th). I’ve a story in it (yes, I know, I’m claiming to be a poet lately, but I scribble other stuff too). ‘Sparks’ will be launched in the Town Hall Theatre Galway as part of the Cuirt International Festival of Literature.

And Poetry Day Ireland on Thursday, April 26th is not to be missed, either. Lots going on that day. If you’re even remotely interested in poetry there’ll be something for you, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Here’s all you need to know.

Now. Where did I put that can of Pledge? And another thing, why are dusters no longer yellow?

Creative Thinking?

brollies s
I’m being creative here. Just be glad I’m not ranting about the awful weather…

I’m riding a particularly delicious literary wave after winning the Hennessy Award two weeks ago – my feet have hardly touched the ground, but in a nice way.

I shouldn’t really have had any time for thinking, let alone writing, should I? What with radio interviews, trips to Dublin, and all those Facebook and Twitter messages to respond to (and I was the reluctant social media participant a while back. Ha!).

But here’s a surprise, I’ve been as busy writing as ever, scribbling away, plucking poems from the ether and wondering where such creativity comes from.

I like to think I’ve always been a creative person, someone who makes their own greetings cards (too mean to give Hallmark my business), and I’ve made some very inspired birthday cakes in my time (penguin, cat, dinosaur anyone?). And of course, I’ve written reams of journalism, poetry and short stories over the years.

But I still don’t know where creativity comes from, how a random idea suddenly becomes a poem which someone else understands and likes. I wish I could bottle this recent rush of inspiration for the times when I’m staring at a blank notebook wondering what to write.

Strokestown 20th Logo jpeg2Meanwhile, I’m still part of the organising committee of the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, getting excited as May Bank Holiday gets nearer.

sliabh bawn 2s
This is what a bunch of poetry enthusiasts on a a mountain treasure hunt looks like…

We launched the festival on the side of a mountain on Easter Monday (as you do), with a poetry-themed treasure hunt. Now, we’re spreading the word about everything going on during the festival – including readings by no less than 70 poets, from well-known international names to first timers and local schoolchildren.

There will be pub poetry, and a recitation competition where visitors can read a much-loved poem, perhaps one from their schooldays. There’s a cracking line-up for the weekend, starting on May 3rd – check out the Strokestown Poetry website for more info here.

If you missed me on the radio, gabbling like a mad woman, talking to Mary Claire Grealy on Shannonside FM, and reading my poem ‘Dirty Little Dresses’, I’ll be reading it again this coming weekend (but not on the radio).

Along with other members of our creative writing group, I’ll be reading some poems at the launch of a new pop-up art exhibition by local artists in Charlestown Arts Centre (County Mayo) on Sunday next (April 8th), between 2pm and 4pm. Its free admission and everyone is welcome – call in and say ‘hello’ if you’re in the neighbourhood.

We can spend some time marveling at the wonderful creativity on display!

On the Winning Side

hennesseyCompetitive creative writing. Now, who would have thought I’d buy into such a thing?

I swear I’m not a competitive person, although I’ll have a tantrum if someone beats me at Scrabble. But creative writing competitions? What’s that all about? I don’t hold with that, do I?

Um, well, yes, I do…

I’m involved in running a little creative writing group in Charlestown, County Mayo, and I’m often to be heard urging members to submit their writing to competitions. It’s that third party validation thing that I’m always on about. Winning, or being shortlisted, in a writing competition offers proof that someone besides your granny or your best friend enjoys what you’ve written.

I tell my writers – most of whom are new at this game –  to look out for free-to-enter competitions, those with good prizes and plenty of kudos for the winners and runners up.  Also, literary magazines and journals are usually free to submit to, and the process is much like a contest.

And there’s the key – lots of writing for publication can be considered competitive; there are so many writers out there, you are bound to be pitting your efforts against theirs in an attempt to get published. And isn’t that why we write? For publication, to connect with other people because we’ve something to say? And we think we’re saying whatever it is that has to be said in the best possible way. Right?

A lot of the poems and short stories I have had published have been because I’ve won or been shortlisted in competitions. The latest is my poetry which has been shortlisted for a Hennessy Literary Award – the presentation is on Wednesday next (March 21st) when three writers will win prizes, and one will be crowned ‘Hennessy New Writer of the Year’. There’s a considerable amount of dosh involved (€1,500 each for the category winners, plus an extra €2,500 for the overall winner), but regardless of the outcome, I’m thrilled to have got this far.

When the shortlisting news arrived in an email, I was beside myself. Giddy doesn’t even come close to the feeling, especially when I discovered there were 17 poets for the judges to choose from, and here I am, in the final six.

My first nomination for a Hennessy Award was in 2015 when my first ever published short story was shortlisted in the ‘First Fiction’ category.  The story, ‘Flying Lessons’, was published in the Irish Independent, and you can still read it on-line here.

That validation started me off on an exciting creative writing journey which I feel is still only just beginning. In my head, I’m serving an apprenticeship, and the more writing I do, the more I learn, and the better I become, which makes it more likely other people will appreciate my work. So, I keep entering competitions to prove to myself, as well as to others, that I can write something people want to read.

If you missed them, my October 2017 poems in the Irish Times, ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’ and ‘Dirty Little Dresses’ are here,  plus there’s an extra poem,’Ways with Rotten Cabbage’. I hope you enjoy them 🙂

more scrabble
Who needs real Scrabble when you’ve got fridge magnets (and witty house guests)?

Now. Anyone fancy a game of Scrabble?

Getting to Grips with Scrivener

My Christmas Cactus didn’t get the memo, either. It’s flowering in February…

I’m not that keen on New Year’s Resolutions – I know it’s nearly the end of February, but please don’t judge me  – they are usually a good idea, but untenable. So, I rarely put much effort into making them – or keeping them.

But when 2018 arrived, I had the nagging feeling that I should be getting to grips with certain aspects of my writing career, so I resolved to fix a few things. I tried not to call them resolutions…

Top of the list was my need to master Scrivener. But it is SO difficult! I’ve talked to people who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread (or whatever the writing equivalent of that is), and I’ve talked to people who wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole (whatever one of those is). And there are even more people who have probably never even heard of it. Scrivener? What?

It’s one of those all singing, all dancing word processing software thingies that will (almost) write your novel for you. Or not.

One of the reasons I gave Scrivener a try a couple of years back is because an author I respect raved about it – and it came with a free trial. And canny are the Scrivener software people because they give you a 30-day free trial – not consecutive days, but cumulative ones. In my case, it took me almost a year to get through half of my free days, then I went mad and actually paid for it (thankfully, it’s not expensive).

The software then sat on my computer for several months before I thought about using it again. I’m tuned into Microsoft Word, which is usually sufficient for most of my writerly needs.

But it’s been niggling me that I haven’t got to grips with Scrivener. Spoiler alert – I still haven’t, but I’m working on it.

There are plenty of on-line tutorials, of course. (Need to know how to boil an egg/do open heart surgery/make playdough/unblock a sink/write a best-seller? Try YouTube.)

But nothing beats getting stuck in and trying to use the software yourself. It has great templates to help you set out a novel, or a script, or short stories. And there are corkboards for notes and research where you can pin videos, pictures or other virtual bits and pieces. You can keep all your research, timelines and character sketches together, and switch effortlessly between scenes and chapters, so what is there not to like about that? You can even get it to monitor your daily output and set word-count goals.

I just can’t quite get it to write the damn book for me. Where am I going wrong?

Just kidding – I’m at about 40,000 words of a new novel (written entirely on Scrivener),  which I have high hopes of a) completing and b) getting published. Oh, and it’s going to win me at least a Booker nomination. And a Costa one. Richard and Judy will love it, so will Oprah, I’ll even get on the Late, Late with it.

Ha, ha! Ever heard of ‘famous last words’?

And you can check out Scrivener for yourself here.

Do not disturb!

Remember when you were small and you were lying awake waiting for Santa to deliver that bike, or the doll’s house, or the boxed set of Enid Blytons? You just knew the next day was going to be absolutely fabulous.

Well, that’s how I’m feeling right now ahead of my trip to (deep breath) Annaghmakerrig next week.

As someone who is always bemoaning the fact that I’ve no room of my own, no regular writing time, 101 (valid) excuses why I can’t finish my work, well I’ve been called out with the chance of a whole week’s writing retreat. Seven days and nights to do nothing but…write.

So many people have told me how wonderful the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Monaghan is, and how conducive to serious, head-down-and-get-on-with-it writing. My place was hard won, too – I had to jump through lots of hoops to get there, and I’m self-funded.

But long story short, my time is coming and I can’t wait. Will it be worth it? Who knows?

No interruptions. Check. Beautiful surroundings. Check. Exclusive writing time. Check.

No-one asking where are the car keys? Would I like a cup of tea? Come and see this funny You Tube video. What’s for dinner? Isn’t it your turn to clean up the cat sick?

A whole week of me minding myself (I’m self-catering) and no-one else.  I can please myself what I eat and when I eat it, when I go to bed and when I get up again, what music to listen to, how to fill my time. Bliss (although the prospect of such aloneness long term doesn’t appeal).

I’m allowing myself to take just three books – I’m supposed to be writing, not reading, after all. Tom Hanks’s book of short stories was a Christmas present that I still haven’t opened; Orwell’s 1984 is a Book Club choice which I’ve recently re-visited, and need to finish. And Mary Norton’s Borrowers books are my go-to if I need cheering up, or if I’m lonely – an escape back to childhood.

I’ve chosen two of my own projects to focus on, both long standing half-finished books that I hope are going to be worth me putting some effort into. One is a children’s story that I first started 20 years ago, which I keep picking up and putting down again.  I’ve decided to give it one last try because I really like the premise and think it will work, given a concentrated push.

Then there’s another novel that I really should get back into. I’m 67,000 words in, and I need to decide if it is worth finishing. And of course, I might even wax lyrical with a poem or two.  I might even get the hang of Scrivener while I’m at it.

The danger, of course, is having too many things on the go at once and becoming distracted. The gardens and countryside around Annaghmakerrig are gorgeous by all accounts, so I’m taking my camera. And my walking boots.

But I’m going to be sure to take my writing head. Wish me luck!

Hopelessly Devoted

Purrrfect writing companions, Daisy and Milo

Every writer should have a dog – and cats, lots of them. Although, as someone who used to be terrified of dogs (after being savaged by an Alsatian), that’s a pretty radical statement coming from me.

The benefit of having pets in your life is well documented, and a quick trawl of the internet will show you that cats and dogs seem to feature in the lives of many famous writers.

This story is mostly about my dog, Tully, although I’ve been the mad cat woman since I was three years old and was introduced to an energetic tabby kitten intent on running up the curtains at every opportunity. He grew into a soppy, easy-going family pet who was my confidante and playmate until the day I sat my second ‘A’ level English paper (sad story).

Selfies with this girl are almost impossible. She keeps moving!

A dog wasn’t ever going to feature in my life. Even after I grew out of being afraid, I was never keen to get to know one better. After all, cats are all you ever need, aren’t they? Wonderful writing (and life) companions, they’re drop dead gorgeous to look at, have an admirable attitude (‘worship me, be my slave, don’t expect much back in return’), and can lie around being companionable but silent for hours at a time.

Plus, cats are non-judgemental, never commenting about my grammar or punctuation, they don’t complain about what I’ve cooked for dinner, what I’m wearing, or my hair style, and they never make remarks about the size of my bum. They don’t shout when I’ve burnt the toast, and they don’t know any toe-curling swear words, nor do they notice if the kitchen floor needs mopping.

So, what’s there not to like about cats then?  Well, they can be distracting sometimes, but in a nice way. Check out Simon’s Cat for a humorous take on what it is like living with felines (you’ll need a few hours to waste, beware!).

I managed for years without knowing dogs. Then, in a moment of weakness nearly ten years ago, I caved in when my children whined in unison (a rare thing) about us giving a neglected puppy a good home. The dog needed rescuing from an unhappy, caged-in existence, and I’m a sucker for a hard-luck story.

My girl Tully

My girl Tully arrived in the Cole House, and now I can’t remember what life was like without her.

Sadly, she’s gone a bit lame recently, unable to keep up with me on our walks up the lane.

I like to walk. And walk. And walk some more. It frees my headspace, and I’ve created some of my best poetry covering the miles of countryside around our home. It also helps me to stay reasonably fit, a busy dog being the perfect walking companion so I never feel lonely.

But I started to realise that in dog years, Tully is now getting on and has overtaken me in age, so no wonder she’s slowing down a bit.  I’ve threatened to trade her in for a newer model (as if!), although I know there are a good few years left in her yet.

It’s just that lately, I’m seeing less of her in the great outdoors racing up the lane, and more of her in super-relaxed mode, draped across the armchair as I sit at the laptop pounding away at what may become a best seller (another, as if!).

I need some new poems, so I’m hoping the imminent arrival of Spring will encourage us both outside a bit more and Tully will regain her long-distance walking capabilities.

Either that, or I try training one of the cats to go walkies with me (yes, I know: as if!).