Category Archives: Writing

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.

Advertisements

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!

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?