Tag Archives: inspiration

Are We There Yet?

Chess, unfinished.

As a wordsmith, when do you ever know your work is done? By that I mean finished and complete with no more amendments and tweaks to be made.

It goes for most creative work – even cooking, you can keep going, adding more seasoning, stirring this way and that, changing the presentation as well as the content. Likewise with art in all its forms – another brush stroke here, an extra shave of the plane there, more this, less that. And so it goes with writing: more words, fewer, different order, wider vocabulary.

Recently, I ‘finished’ a major re-write of what I hope will eventually become a published poetry collection. I have sifted through my favourite poems and come up with about 75 that I think are now complete. That was after the Masterclass with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke last month (which I’ve burbled on about at length elsewhere on this blog).

I’ve now done enough workshops, classes and creative writing group sessions to think I might have finally got it (whatever ‘it’ is). Anyway, I’m starting to hawk my collection around the various poetry publishers. Shouldn’t take too long – hardly any of them accept cold calls (aka open submissions).

Then what? I shouldn’t expect failure, but I did consider trying the WB Yeats route. His sisters printed and hand-bound the early editions of his first published poetry. But there’s something in me that eschews self-publishing – I need that third-party validation thingy all the time. And anyway, I don’t have enough artistic sisters to take on the hand-crafted publication of my work.

Back to never being finished. I have just heard that I have taken third prize in the Oliver Goldsmith Festival Poetry Prize, which is another rather nice accolade, although the poem, ‘Concentric Circles’, is one of those that never seems to be finished. Every time I look at it, I change something, although clearly I thought it complete enough to enter in a competition.

I’m also trying to find a suitable title for my soon-to-be-published (!) collection. Another moveable feast – it has a different title every time I think about it, not least because it’s hard to categorise.

I heard Don Paterson, the poetry editor of Picador, talking at Poetry Ireland in  Dublin last month, and was greatly encouraged by his attitude to themed collections. Mine doesn’t have a theme – I write about life as I know it, the world around me, my family and other animals, that sort of thing.

‘Concentric Circles’ is a poem about a bachelor farmer. Living in rural Ireland that subject pops up every now and then, as do the themes of memory loss, aging parents, adult children, the cruelty of nature, life, love,  and the general desperation involved in being human.

Dead hares, jilted lovers, superstitions, refugees, hurricanes, home-made wine, care home smells, punctuation, Irish Diaspora, fossils, the River Liffey, Christmas excesses, horseflies, filial ties,  ecologically-sound fruit salad, sibling rivalry, parental approval, summer barbecues, the displaced and dispossessed, magpies, artisan baked bread, fur coats, spitting alpacas – there’s a lot of stuff mentioned in my poems.

But not really a thread running through which I could use to sew them together into a themed collection.

And then there’s the title. The title? Oh heck! Forget the finishing – where on earth do I start?

PS I give you a picture of Chess, the unfinished cat (he has no tail) for want of any better illustration

A Beginner’s Guide to Procrastination

So. You are going to have a Writing Day. No appointments, no need to leave the house, no distractions – the kitchen floor doesn’t even need mopping – brilliant! Ahead, a whole day of writing .

Here’s what you do:

First, take a nice view, preferably one with a lovely comfy chair in front. Settle down to spend some time relaxing into the moment (mindfulness – it’s all the rage these days), watching the birds/clouds/treetops/passersby/traffic (delete as appropriate).

Imagine what a wonderful poem you could write – a sonnet, perhaps, 14 lines of stunning verse with a twist in the middle – based on your view of such extraordinary ordinariness. Words are hopping through your head, time to pin them down. A villanelle might be the way to go. What about a pantoum? Choices, choices.

Start hunting for a notebook. Not any old pad of paper, discarded chocolate wrapper or old envelope as Emily Dickinson did (I kid you not), but your special hand-stitched, pink floral A5 lined velum pad, the one that’s part bujo and part writing journal, full of  good ideas and the beginnings of poems and stories that you really should get around to finishing.

It might take a while to find the book because along the way you’re going to stumble upon distractions like the post arriving, 22 unread messages in your inbox, and the houseplants crying out for a watering. Then there’s a cup of Earl Grey to brew and a packet of ginger biscuits to locate (that alone can take a while since you’ve hidden them for reasons known only to yourself and you can’t remember where).

At this point, your partner/best friend/neighbour/least favourite sibling/offspring may call for a chat, either in person because they know you’re at home and you’re only writing (which isn’t real work as everyone knows), or because they’re on the same network and like to get their money’s worth with the free calls.

When you can get back to your chair-with-a-view, you might have to ignore the stomach rumbling because it’s now almost lunchtime. But you realise that you don’t have your favourite pen to hand, the one you’ve written your best work with.  Not that you’re superstitious or anything, but why take the chance? Spilt salt over the shoulder and into the eye of the devil, right? (left actually); no walking under ladders (isn’t that just common sense?); no putting shoes on the table (who does that anyway?); no opened umbrellas indoors (no need surely, unless your roof has a leak, which is bad luck in itself).

So the pen with which you wrote your prizewinning poems has been put in a safe place so it doesn’t get lost. And although it is eventually found, it is then definitely time for lunch, because even writers need to eat. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy affair of more than an hour or two. Roasted Butternut Squash Soup from scratch is nice, and you can check out the news headlines while its cooking, make a couple of cats purr at the same time, and dash off a few important WhatsApp messages to make good use of your time. And you know you shouldn’t bolt your food because indigestion isn’t conducive to creativity, is it?

So then it is well into the afternoon when you head back to the nice view, pen and notebook at the ready (because first draft poems have to be proper pen on proper paper, no exceptions).  Time to recapture the moment when you felt a poem coming on.

Drat!

A blank. Nothing. Not really writer’s block (which I’ve heard described as what happens when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you), more a memory lapse. You’ve forgot what were the right words in the right order.

Time to stare into space (or back at the lovely view) in an attempt to pluck appropriate words from the ether. The thesaurus might help, but where did you leave it? If you’ve the energy left to look for it, that might pass a few more minutes…

And there you have it. Procrastination.  Distraction. Writing. A whole day of it. There’s nothing to it really, is there?

In Praise Of. Punctuation!!!

wtf-1I’ve never been much taken with ‘experimental’ fiction, not least because all that stream-of-consciousness malarkey often eschews the rules of good grammar and punctuation.

It’s not that I don’t want to be challenged by what I’m reading (although sometimes I just want to read something that’s easy on the brain, in soothing, warm bath style), but frankly, reading some so-called experimental writing is just plain hard work.

And not worth the effort.

Sticking my head above the parapet here, but I’ve never got on with ‘Ulysses’ (or much else by James Joyce come to that). Gasp! Did I really own up to such heresy?

Of course there’s plenty more out there in the Ulysses mould. Endless tomes challenging the reader with stories that are inside out, back to front,  no beginning, middle or end, from multi or singular points of view (in the same sentence) and the like. Long pages of confusing metaphors, allusions, and vague references that could mean anything (and probably do).

But it’s the one long sentence trend that’s got me just lately. What’s. That. All. About? I mean, just what is wrong with proper punctuation?

eats-shoots-leavesI don’t know why punctuation matters so much to me, but it does. And I probably don’t always get it right, although I try. One of my most-thumbed reference books (beside my Roget’s Thesaurus) is ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss, enjoyable for me because I totally get it.

It’s not that I find poor grammar and punctuation unforgivable, just irritating when it’s from people who should know better. A whole novel in one sentence? Really? OK – but why?

I have a friend who is dyslexic and when she writes her annual Christmas letter to me, I don’t bat an eye-lid at the phonetic spelling and sprinkling of inappropriate apostrophes. I usually understand what she’s trying to say and I’m pleased to hear her news.

But if her efforts were to appear in print I’d be miffed. Not just because she’d beaten me to it (ha!), but because the pedant in me wants published material to follow certain rules of grammar and punctuation. And I fizz and grumble when it doesn’t.

And while I realise that not all experimental fiction is ungrammatical, why should novels written in one long, long sentence be held in such high esteem? I just don’t get it.

Of course, when I get around to reading Mike McCormack’s ‘Solar Bones’ (which so many people are raving about) I’ll probably change my mind. I might even have a bash at one terribly long sentence myself, instead of trying to put together so many of my usually short ones.

Meanwhile. Let’s eat Grandma! Or: Let’s eat, Grandma! Or even: lets eat grandma because nothing else here makes sense…

Or you could try reading January’s story in the Hennessy New Irish Writing section of the Irish Times – one long sentence by Manus Boyle Tobin: The Drizzle on the Windscreen. I’m not sure how to say this, but I grudgingly admit that it works. And I rather like it!

Arresting Stuff

Rhiannon Cole - recent winner of Swansea University's award for the highest overall mark for a dissertation in Criminology.
Rhiannon Cole – recent winner of Swansea University’s award for the highest overall mark for a dissertation in Criminology.

So my daughter’s a criminal. No, no, that’s not right …. she’s a Criminologist.

Not quite the same thing, although she did once appear on TV’s Crimecall.  That was a few years ago when she was in Ireland’s version of the UK’s Crimewatch programme as a TV extra in a cold case story about a blonde, very pregnant missing person. Seeing my girl on national TV with a prosthetic baby bump was a bit unnerving, and it was a very sad story that still hasn’t been resolved (the Fiona Pender case).

My daughter’s interest in the dark side of life led to her move to Swansea to study for a Masters in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Not that there are many more baddies in Wales than anywhere else (so I’m reliably informed), but there was an excellent opportunity to study the genre at Swansea University. She’s just graduated and is now on the look-out for post that will enable her to demonstrate her specialist skills.

In the meantime, she’s been visiting me in here in Ireland and we’ve been doing more work on our psychological thriller, although it’s taking a tad longer to pull together than I’d hoped. We’re writing together as ‘Luri’ Cole (a combo of Rhiannon and Louise which we’re rather taken with).

But progress is a bit slow – not least because of the distractions. Rhiannon (she’d have to be half Welsh with such a name, eh?) has taken up genealogy. It’s fascinating stuff, especially since she’s found that she has, on her father’s side, a Welsh-speaking harpist forefather who was born just around the corner from where she now lives in Swansea.

We haven’t yet been able to confirm that this was the same Welsh harpist caught poaching rabbits on M’Lord’s estate in the mid-1800s, but it does look likely that the convicted felon is on that side of the family (on mine, all our ancestors are squeaky clean and virtuous, of course).

It sounds rather like the start of an exciting historical bodice-ripper, although we really need to get and finish our original joint-writing effort first.

Watch this space!

 

The Noise of Celebratory Glasses (and something of mine for you to read)

anthology-pile
Some of my anthology haul from the last 12 months or so*

Well, actually this is all about link, link rather than clink, clink, but I couldn’t resist.

If you’ve ever heard of me, you’ll know I write (mostly) poetry, flash fiction and short stories. So I thought I’d pull a few of my recent best bits together in one place.  Took me long enough – how could I expect anyone else to bother? So I wouldn’t blame you for never having sight of these pieces before…

So here are the links to a few samples of my writing (and you’re not allowed to comment that it’s all a bit so-so. So there.) So:

  • The one that started it all, my nomination for the Hennessy Literary Awards, a short story published in the Irish Independent: ‘Flying Lessons’
  • Third placed poem in Strokestown Poetry Festival’s Roscommon Poets’ Prize 2015: ‘Yellowbrick Road’, alongside (if you scroll down far enough on the same page) shortlisted poem ‘Softly, Softly’: Strokestown 2015

*Apologies for the awful photo quality; I’ve asked Santa for another camera. Not sure if he reads this blog. Watch this space…

Of Mice and Then…

 

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And what article about mice shouldn’t have a picture of a cat…?  This is Ashley.

 

I wrote this article a good ten years ago. And now, after catching another NINE mice in our garage (not all at once I have to say), I thought it might be a good time to publish it…

If you happen to be driving through the quiet lanes of north Roscommon and you spot a mouse trying to hitch a lift, please ignore him.  Even if he’s in smart shorts and t-shirt and looks like Stuart Little, harden your heart and look the other way.  It’ll be one of ours trying to get back home after I’ve evicted him for unreasonable behaviour at four in the morning and I really don’t want him back.

When we first moved into our house, we discovered that mice had eaten their way into a sofa stored for a few months in the garage. We’re of the ‘live and let live’ persuasion (although I draw the line at fleas, nits and tapeworms), so we weren’t worried about the tell-tale evidence of rodent incontinence.

We were philosophical.  Sure, it was only a field mouse come in from the cold, who could blame him?  It was an old sofa anyway.  And what mouse couldn’t resist my son’s collection of crisp packets and sweet wrappers stuffed down the sides of the cushions? The poor little mouse would surely be gone by the time we moved into the house. Ha!

Attempts to buy a humane mouse trap (bet you didn’t know there was such a thing) were met with snorts of derision from local shopkeepers.  So we devised home-made contraptions that anyone of a certain age and Blue Peter inclination would have been proud of. They captured the creature, but they weren’t escape-proof.  Mr. Mouse would eat his bait of raisins and biscuits, sit and wash his whiskers appreciatively, then proceed to wriggle free.

I know what you’re thinking: get a cat. Actually we have three cats, but each of them was a tad too full of Felix meaty chunks to be useful here.  Worse, they saw an invitation to go house mousing as an opportunity to sleep on a comfortable bed for the night, stretched out in the lap of luxury, oblivious to nocturnal rustlings in the cupboards.

Then, just as I was considering grisly deeds involving spikes or poison, we discovered probably the only humane mouse trap in the county, and we snapped it up (to coin a phrase). A lure of peanut butter proved successful and the trap snapped shut with Mr Mouse inside, whole and un-spiked, if a little loose-bowelled. But what to do with him?  I couldn’t bring myself to throw him to the cats, what with him being such a soft target and covered in peanut butter.

So we chose to relocate him in a distant derelict cottage, at least a week’s hike away.  If the stoat or the owl had him for breakfast, well that’s part of the great scheme of things – the circle of life (yes, I’ve seen that film.  No mice in it).  But at least he’d have a sporting chance.

I’m happy to report that it took only four nocturnal car trips down the road to rid our house of mice, but mouseless we now are.  And I’d like to keep it that way, so as I said, please don’t go listening to any sob story from Mr Mouse and whatever you do, don’t offer him a lift home!

 

Spitting Nails and other Pointless Activities

copy-of-scary-betty
Scary Betty.

I’ve been helping to get a new Creative Writing Group up and running in Charlestown Arts Centre, here in County Mayo. It is proving to be an interesting exercise in perseverance and determination – and of course, creativity.

We’ve a core group of hardened scribes with significant publication credits to their names, alongside biro-wielding retired ladies looking for something interesting to pass the time on a Monday morning. Plus a few others who drop in and out, who aren’t quite sure if creative writing is their thing.

Over the years, I’ve belonged to a number of different writing groups, some more enjoyable than others, but all ultimately helping to invoke the creative muse.

My favourite kind of group meeting involves some writing time with inspirational prompts, as well as chit chat and the exchange of writing news and information. An opportunity for constructive criticism  can be included, too. And to be absolutely top dollar, there has to be a cup of Earl Grey and a ginger biscuit or two to hand. Which is where we are with the Charlestown Creative Writing Group, every other Monday from 10.30 am until 12.30 pm (next meeting October 24th 2016, new members welcome!).

But it is proving to be an opportunity for me to shoot myself in the foot as I share information about competitions and submission deadlines with my fellow writers. I’ll be entering too, which means we will be competing against each other.

By now, I’ve had enough successes (and failures) to know that the whole process is so subjective that it often isn’t just about writing skill. Which means anything can happen, and often does.  Like when I’ve encouraged fellow group members to enter a competition and they’ve ended up being shortlisted and I’ve not. Which is where the nail-spitting comes in – although like most negative emotions, anger is usually a waste of energy.  And I speak as a hot-headed ginger child who grew into a (mostly) placid, (mostly) blonde adult…

One of the fun warm-up exercises we did recently was to write a verse for one of the following greetings cards:

  1. a) Sorry You’re Leaving;  b) On Your Retirement;  c) It’s A Boy!  d) Bon Voyage;  e) Congratulations!

Sounds easy, right?

Wrong!

I found it really tricky, even using a rhyming dictionary (no, it’s not cheating!). And the point of this story is that I had to take my hat off to some of the writers around the table who created tiny masterpieces in just 10 minutes. I shouldn’t be surprised (or upset) if any one of them beat me to a writing prize (or a job with Hallmark).

And now I’m thinking I should have a go at throwing my hat into the ring and write about clichés.

Or cats with big teeth.