Tag Archives: inspiration

Creative Thinking?

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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.

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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!

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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 🙂

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

Now. Anyone fancy a game of Scrabble?

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?

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!).

Imagine that!

No, I can’t imagine, either

One of the best things about being a writer is having free reign with imagination. Writers can create whole worlds – plus all the creatures that live in them.  And they can make up characters and force them do whatever they like. What power!

There’s that fridge magnet/bumper sticker that says something like: ‘I’m a writer. Yes, of course you’re going to be in my book. You come to a grizzly end on page 27’.

I feel a bit that way at the moment as I’m writing a longer-than-usual short story based on something that’s been going on in my life lately. But the clue is in the word ‘story’. What I’m writing may be inspired by reality, by living people and actual events, but I’m putting such a twist on it, the characters will be unrecognisable to themselves (otherwise I get sued, of course). It’s called fiction and I love it! I’m having a great time changing the reality to suit myself. It might even have a happier ending than the real thing, I haven’t decided.

And sod all those writing gurus who say, ‘write  about what you know’. I’m all for writing what I’d like to know.

Chess (the feline one) imagining he has a chance here

Of course, it is unlikely I’ll ever *murder my husband, take a toy boy lover, eat raw steak, drive the wrong way down the motorway doing 100 mph, use cocaine, climb Mount Etna, learn to fly a helicopter, join an on-line dating agency, or learn to play the piano, but any of my characters can. I can make them do whatever I want (so there), and I hope that by now, after all these years of practice, I can make their lives convincing to the reader.

And aren’t we lucky to have the research tool that is the Internet at our fingertips? If we don’t know how something works, someone will have put a You Tube video on line to explain. Research for writers is a doddle these days (so long as you trust your source).

My own life has been quite interesting so far, so I’ve a deep well of personal experience to dip into. I have insider information about all kinds of activities, including keeping alpacas and bees; polytunnel growing and selling organic veg in farmers’ markets; camping and outdoor survival; Austin Sevens and ships in bottles; treasure hunting and archaeology; hot air ballooning and light aircraft. And that was just last week (!).

I’m still trying to figure what names suit my fictional characters best and although I think I’ve decided, I’m going to have to proof-read very carefully when I’ve finished, after I discovered in an early first draft I’d used the name of the real person (oops!).

Killing off characters, making them scruffy, ugly or fat, giving them tattoos and bad breath, making them jump off a cliff. How cathartic is that for a writer with imagination and issues!

*In case you’re wondering, only one of these things is a vague possibility for me, but I’m not saying which.

And if you’re nice to me, I won’t let you get killed off until page 500.

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.