Category Archives: Writing

Twenty Years and Counting

Strokestown Park House

Here’s news of something close to my heart (right now, serving as a distraction for me, #HennessyLitAwards): Strokestown International Poetry Festival, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary.

The programme has been announced and tickets are on sale (hurry, they’re going fast!), with an eclectic mix of all things poetry-related taking place over the May Bank Holiday weekend, May 3rd– 7th.

As a member of the organising committee, I have a vested interest in spreading the word about the festival, so here goes: Strokestown is one of only a handful of POETRY festivals in the country, and well worth a visit for both writers and readers, trust me!

There’s a must-see line up of international and Irish poets, with around 70 readings over the weekend, from newbies to old-hands. There’ll be the results of six competitions, readings, exhibitions, film screenings, book launches*, workshops, plus street entertainment and music – you won’t want to miss any of it!

If you don’t know, Strokestown is a quiet little Georgian town in rural County Roscommon, on the N5 Dublin to Westport road. Its main tourist attraction is the lovely Strokestown Park House (home of the harrowing but important National Famine Museum). The house is the venue for many of the Poetry Festival’s events.

Poets Moya Cannon and Harry Clifton have sifted through more than 1,200 entries to Strokestown’s International Poetry Competition, and the shortlisted poets have been invited to read their work at the festival, and their poems will be included in this year’s anthology**.

Jane Clarke

It’s unlikely you’ll get many opportunities to see poets Jane Clarke and Lemn Sissay on the same stage, but that’s what’s planned for Saturday evening, May 5th, in the Percy French Hotel, Strokestown. Jane Clarke’s award-winning first collection, ‘The River’, is full of bucolic images of rural Roscommon where she grew up; Lemn Sissay is known

Image result
Lemn Sissay

for writing about his life as a black teenager growing up in a white foster home in northern England. Irish fiddle player Danny Diamond will be on hand to provide the evening’s music.

Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh, best known as a community activist and slam poet from Manchester, will be performing to local schools in Strokestown on Friday, May 4th. His poem, ‘This Is the Place’, captured

Image result for tony walsh poems
Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh

the response of Mancunians after the terror attack last year in which 22 people were killed at an Ariana Grande concert. He will read at the official opening of the Festival at the Percy French Hotel on May 4th.

There’s lots more going on, most of it free of charge; doubtless I’ll mention the festival again before the day! Meanwhile, check out the website here.

*I’m launching my first poetry collection, ‘Beyond the Green Bridge’, during the festival – on Saturday, May 5th, 4.30pm, in Strokestown House.

**Yay! I also have work included in this year’s anthology…

Advertisements

Angelic Ever Afters

The Corti family, when were were still three. I’m the short one.

I find it difficult to write about my childhood.  Not because of disturbing memories of an unhappy past, but rather because it passed me by in something of a blur, and was relatively uneventful.

I realize that to call myself a writer, I should have some agonizing incidents from my formative years to draw on, but the sad truth is, I had a vague, happy childhood.

The sun always shone, I played hopscotch with my pals, and on Sundays we ate Angel Delight for afters.

Well, maybe it did, maybe I did, maybe we did, the truth is, I really can’t remember.

I can recall very few scenes from my girlhood with any clarity.  We were just an ordinary family.  I wasn’t abused by my parents.  No wicked uncles or dodgy neighbours interfered with me.  The priest and the nuns kept their hands to themselves.

Pretty dull, huh?

My mother didn’t get her belly-button pierced or have a fling with the milkman.  My father wasn’t a raving alcoholic and didn’t rob banks; it was all rather tame and suburban, somewhat anodyne for a writer’s muse. The most disturbing thing to happen was losing my status as an only child when I was six-and-three-quarters; I never quite forgave my parents for the ‘gift’ that was my sister!

My mother, a voracious reader and subject of many a sad poem these days, mostly stayed home to look after the family.  She baked her own cakes and biscuits and frowned upon anything out of a packet that was described as ‘convenience food’, except for sweet desserts like Angel Delight and Instant Whip.

She taught me how to rustle up a batch of scones and fairy cakes on a Sunday afternoon, how to knit and sew – and how reading a good book beats domestic chores hands down.

And although there was no unimaginable childhood misery to act as inspiration,  if pressed, I could probably write a few sweet words about instant desserts like Angel Delight or Instant Whip…

My Week as a Real Writer

I am coming to the end of my writer’s retreat at Annaghmakerrig – just one more day to soak up the creative atmosphere before I have to return to the real world.

When people told me what a fantastic place this was, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, in Monaghan, I imagined most of what they said was hyperbole. Nowhere could be that wonderful, surely? Well, yes it can, with knobs on!

I am staying in one of the self-catering cottages, which is stylish, warm and comfortable, with every creature comfort taken care of. And I have taken at least one walk a day around the fabulous grounds, trying hard not to be distracted from the purpose of my being here – that is, to write. And I have written, boy, have I written – 26,545 words at the last count.

Having the opportunity to do nothing more than be a writer has been a wonderful experience for me, although I probably couldn’t keep up this pace for much longer. Writing about 7,000 words a day is frying my brains.

But at the moment, I’m thinking I’m writing something that’s going to get at least a Costa nomination. Of course, next week, I’ll look back through it all and cringe, thinking it’s rubbish. But at the moment, I’m flying!

Even the weather has been kind to me – sunshine and showers, snow and ice, but I’ve still managed to walk for miles hereabouts. And it is still winter, after all – I can only imagine what this place must be like in the spring with bluebells and rhododendrons.

I haven’t had the full Annaghmakerrig experience because the main house is still full of builders doing renovations. And I’ve barely seen another soul all week, so the networking opportunities I’d anticipated haven’t materialised.

But no matter. I arrived here as a writer – and I’m going to be leaving having written. What more could I ask?

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.

Thank You, Snowflakes

IMG_0590 (2)
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.

Iechyd da!

I say you chaps! I’ve found some splendid new words to play with since coming to Tŷ Newydd. Welsh ones, as well as some half-forgotten English ones.

Apparently, the Welsh language has been around for 1,500 years, despite various attempts to kill it off; it is now spoken by more than half a million people in Wales, plus another 160,000 around the world.

Being married to a Welshman, I should have known this already. In my defence, I might not speak the language, but I can bake passable Welsh cakes when tasked. But not this week, this has been all about (my) use of the English language.

The Autumn Poetry Masterclass with Gillian Clarke (who wrote ‘Storm’,  today’s Friday poem from Picador) and the lovely Maura Dooley has been a challenging but very rewarding experience. I have discovered lots of unknown (to me) brilliant poets, made some new friends, and stand in awe of the talent of my fellow participants. We’ve had some fun, too. What is there not to like about the surrealism game as a rich source of writing prompts?

Our guest poet this week was Jonathan Edwards (‘My Family and Other Superheroes’), whose dead pan humour reminded me why I love this country and its people so much. He’s from Newport, which is in South Wales, and bears a particular brand of Welshness that I’m partial to. I defy anyone to read Jonathan’s collection without a smile on their face.

We’ve been blessed with fine weather this week, rain only stopping me from going out to play (a dated concept which probably gives my age away) on our last afternoon. And I should have been writing anyway, so I did. Lots. Not sure if quality and quantity are evenly distributed, but we’ll see.

Our grand finale has been the production of ‘Y Dryw’ an anthology of some of our work from the week. It means ‘wren’ – there are lots of them in the grounds here, and they have a particular affinity with writers, so Gillian tells us.

The last evening included another fabulous feast from chef Tony (delicious chocolate brownies for afters), followed by a poetry reading in the wonderful Tŷ Newydd library, which during daylight, has a beautiful view of the sea. Tonight it was echoing to the voices of some lovely new poets…

And just in case you’re wondering, Iechyd da! means Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

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!