Category Archives: Louise G. Cole

Pay, Pals and Poetry

poetry dosh
I was so excited to get my first poetry reading fee, I took a picture.

Did you ever hear about writer’s block? I heard it’s when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you.

In my case, it’s when I’ve too many things going on and not enough time to write. I’m lying, of course. I have time to write EVERY day (I keep a personal journal). Oops, that’s not right. I don’t lie, I write fiction. Even in my journal sometimes.

Truth versus fiction, writer’s block, where to find inspiration, getting paid to write* – we’ve had some interesting discussions at the weekly creative writing sessions I’m running in Tubbercurry in County Sligo. We’re over half way through now, and we’ve covered a lot of interesting creative writing themes, including mining memories for memoir, point of view in short fiction, journal keeping, and writing for local newspapers. This week we’re going to be looking at poetry, a prospect which caused a few people to blanch.

king house june 2018
I’m not reading poetry here, but the opening page of a short story. This was at King House, in Boyle, for the New Roscommon Writing Awards 2018.

Poetry is something frequently seen as a form of torture for schoolchildren, and a good or bad English teacher can make all the difference in how you take to it.  I’ve asked everyone on the course to bring a favourite poem to share, and I’m looking forward to hearing their choices; mine changes by the hour. It could be something from Seamus Heaney, Roger McGough, Wendy Cope, Maya Angelou, Simon Armitage, Gillian Clarke, Ted Hughes, Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Muldoon, Billy Collins…

Or I might choose something from Pascale Petit, Simon Lewis, Jessamine O Connor, Eleanor Hooker, Kevin Higgins, Jacqueline Saphra, Maura Dooley, Moya Cannon, Jonathan Edwards, Jane Clarke, Geraldine Mitchell, Peggy Gallagher. These are just the few names to spring to mind as I’m writing. There are hundreds of wonderful poems and poets out there, it is hard to pick favourites. Lots and lots of talented people who can put words together in such a moving, entertaining way.

The creative writing course I’m running is aimed at beginners, but a good few of the participants are old hands, and have already been published. Like me, they probably attend workshops (even ones aimed at newbies) to pick up tips and tricks, and for ideas – I don’t think there’s a use-by date on learning. Not for me anyway.

thelma and louises
One of us isn’t Thelma, but one is Louise. That’s Jessamine O Connor on the right.

And I love to mix with like-minded people. Writing can be a solitary pastime, but there’s fun to be had in sharing with people who get it, which is why I belong to two writing groups. One of them, run by my friend Jessamine O Connor, is publishing an anthology this year, which I’m helping to edit.

There’s great craic to be had with these friends – and the creative juices certainly run. I have just heard that a poem started in that group has been chosen by Nessa O’Mahony for this year’s Stony Thursday Book published by Limerick Arts Office. That news came less than 24 hours after I won a certificate and €100 as one of the runners up in the New Roscommon Writing Award, this time for a short story. Happy days!

* I picked up my first payment for poetry the other day (I’m not counting competition prize money). My first ever payment for a reading, €25, was my share of the Hermit Collective’s fee for performing at Strokestown International Poetry Festival in May. All the many, many public readings I’ve done have been by invitation or at open mics, and I’ve done them for free.  I really have hit the big time now, eh?!

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Flower Power

Flower Girl Tully
Flower Girl Tully

I’ve written before about how some of my best ideas for poetry and short stories come to me as I walk the lanes of County Roscommon. These days, an inspiring  walk usually involves me taking an arthritic dog, a pen and paper, and my phone (of course).

But while walking, I’m often distracted by having to name wildflowers. And then I have to stop and take photos. Because one or two thousand is never quite enough is it?

violets
Violets

The naming thing is a bit strange. I have no recollection of learning the names of so many plants, but somehow, plenty of common wildflower names are still lodged in my otherwise empty head. And it is important I tell my canine walking companion Tully what the flowers are called. Yes, I know.

We are both delighted to see so many wild flowers flourishing in the hedgerows which were ripped out last year and replaced by mud banks and barbed wire  😦

gorse
Gorse fights back

The Orchids seem to have been swamped by long grass, but it may be early for them yet. There were a good few butterflies and bees, which is a good sign. Some of the farmers hereabouts are quite enthusiastic users of pesticides and weed killer, so I like it when nature triumphs with a come-back, even if the butterflies  are mostly Cabbage Whites and Orange Tips

I can’t now remember much else of what I learnt as a schoolgirl all those years ago, but I

may blossom
For the month that’s in it…May blossom

can still identify Herb Robert, Lesser Celandines and Germander Speedwell. I counted 15 different flowers on our walk yesterday, including the usual Dandelion, Daisy and Field Buttercup. There were also Wild Strawberries, Red Clover, Gorse, Cow Parsley, Lady’s Smock, Plantain, Violets, Primroses, Vetch and Shepherd’s Purse. Yes, I know that’s 16. I was never very good at maths, and Tully’s hopeless at keeping count.

Hmm, I think there may be a poem in there somewhere…

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…

 

 

 

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!

How Did That Happen?

I had to go see for myself that this was real!

In a bizarre but vivid dream, I’m sitting in front of a blank notebook thinking of writing a poem about how my elderly mother never listens to me, how one of us is above our station (all fur coat and no knickers), and how sad I am that she doesn’t really act like my mother any more.

The poem materialises like magic in the way some poems do, and after several drafts (not my usual zillion, billion, lots), gets a public airing. Several readings in front of appreciative audiences later, I change the ending, moving the punchline to where it really belongs.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the poem helps to win me a literary award and  €1,500 – and for 48 hours, a pub in Dublin is renamed in my honour. The story is all over social media ( just as everyone is talking about leaving Facebook, I embrace it), and people I haven’t heard from for years are making contact again.

And then I wake up.

Or not. This has actually been happening to me!

Someone remarked on how  I’m not being very cool about my Hennessy Literary Award. Cool? Of course I’m not – I’m f*****g blown away by it! And I’m gushing because although I wanted to win, I didn’t expect to win, so my delight is genuine.

As someone who has rather more candles than I’d like on my birthday cake, I really thought I’d left it too late to  expect much in the way of success in creative writing. I’ve been a commercial wordsmith (whatever that is) for a long time (hell, I even  used to edit a 166,000 circulation weekly newspaper, which is a lot of readers),  but I never expected to get so much new enjoyment out of writing, and so much pleasure from connecting with the readers of my poems and fiction.

And I had a pub named after me. Watch the video here.

I. Had. A. Pub. Named. After. Me.

Thank you Hennessy Awards!

OMG, OMG, OMG!

What can I say? Thrilled doesn’t even come close! I have an ear-to-ear grin and I haven’t stopped shaking with excitement yet.

I don’t quite know how I managed to drive all the way home from Dublin last night and arrive in one piece. Or how I manage to be at my desk, business as usual, this morning (and my lovely colleagues were leaning out of the upstairs office window giving me a round of applause as I arrived for work).

In case you don’t know what I’m on about, let me explain:

I WON A HENNESSY LITERARY AWARD FOR MY POETRY LAST NIGHT!

Definitely something to shout about…

Congratulations to short story writers Aaron Finnegan who won the First Fiction award and Manus Boyle Tobin who won the Emerging Fiction prize and  was crowned overall Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year. And it was lovely to meet author Bernard MacLaverty who was inducted into the Hennessy Hall of Fame. What a memorable evening!

Read all about (my bit) of it here, along with the winning poems!