Thanks Arts Council – I’m off to Arvon!

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west cork writer

These guys are cute, but should come with a warning sign: May Cause Distraction (Look how tiny Franklyn was when we got him!!!)

I’m feeling incredibly lucky right now because I’m heading off to Totleigh Barton on Monday for a week to learn more about the craft with some of the best Young Adult writers alive – Malorie Blackman, Melvon Burgess and Meg Rosoff.

I’ve been desperate to go on an Arvon course ever since I heard about them several years ago, and I can’t believe it’s finally happening.

It’s come at just the right time too; I have some tricky final edits I’m trying to get my head around and workshops with fellow YA writers, peppered with bouts of solitude for writing, is exactly what I need to get stuck in and kick things into shape.

There’s no internet and the setting is rural, so no distractions and no excuses. This means I won’t be blogging for the next two weeks - but don’t worry, I’ll report back on my return and let you know how it went and whether it’s something I’d recommend.

Before I say ‘bye for a while’, I’d like to give a big shout out to the Arts Council who generously gave me a small travel and training bursary – they really have helped to make this possible!

I nmy absence, happy writing all!

Looking for writing advice? (Part 2)

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apostrophe-manFor part two of ‘Looking for writing advice?’, I’ve scoured a few of my favourite online resources for further information, inspiration and encouragement. Here goes…

There are lots of places to look for writing competitions, submissions and events, but if you sign up to Paul McVeigh’s blog and Emerging Writer by Kate Dempsey, then you’ll find you’ve got more time for writing as they do the hard work for you. Both of these blogs are an excellent resource and I recommend you sign up right away.

For those of you writing novels – whether you’re starting out or are trying to improve – have a look at Sinead Gleeson’s brilliant Would You Like To Write a Book? series of articles in The Irish Times. And if you fancy some podcasts, then you can also listen to Sinead’s The Book Show over on RTE Player.

Author blogs definitely worth reading include Libran Writer by Lia Mills and Women Rule Writer by Nuala Ni Chonchuir. For all things crime, you have Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays and for all things amazing, Neil Gaiman’s Journal. The list goes on but who could resist reading updates from the amazingly talented Oliver Jeffers? I’m not sure that one’s technically a blog but hey, it’s Oliver Jeffers, so who cares?

For a variety of information on all things writerly, try Tania Writes by Tania Hershman because she’s brilliant (you’ll also find an excellent Irish & UK lit mags list on there). There’s a great blog written by author, Susan Lanigan, and a perfect example of what you’ll find there is this post:  I Am Good Enough, And So Are You. And Clockwatching by SJO’Hart is a rather wonderful (and rather prolific blog) that is the home of everything from book reviews to flash fiction, writing advice to editing services. Her post, How I Got My Agent, is a great place to start.

I know there are many more writing blogs out there worth a mention but I don’t want to overload you; these are just a few of my favourites and I hope they prove as helpful and interesting to you as they have for me. If you have any blogs you’d like to highlight and recommend to others, please add them in the comments below. If there are lots, I’ll add them into another post so they’re not missed.

So – who have I missed that you would recommend?

 

 

St John’s Eve

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Although this is not about writing, it is about one of the things that is (almost) as dear to me and certainly takes up an (almost) equal amount of time during the summer months…

irish traditional farming

And so the fire was lit…

Yesterday was St John’s Eve, the evening before the feast day of St John and an important night in the calendar of any Irish gardener who has planted spuds!

It’s the Irish bonfire night, when fires are lit to bless the crops. The ritual is traditionally performed at sundown – only we weren’t available that late so we lit the fires a bit early. And then for the best bit; we dug up our first stalk of potatoes in 2014.

Despite our hastiness, I’m pleased to report there was no negative impact on the flavour. However, I’m sorry to report that there aren’t any photos of the cooked product as they mysteriously disappeared before the camera arrived! (*Cough*).

Apparently, summer bathing used to commence after this ritual, and it was believed that taking part in the fire burning eliminated all risk of drowning. You can read more about the custom here.

I used to live in Andalucia and – after several years of completing this Irish ritual – I have only just realised that this rural tradition coincides with the wonderful Noche de San Juan Batista.

A celebration held on the beach, Noche de San Juan Batista also centres around bonfires; in this instance, to cleanse and purify, with people leaping over fires to burn their troubles away then running into the sea for good luck. I loved this night, when smoke would permeate the air and hundreds of bonfires would line the nighttime horizon.

I wonder - did any of you observe either of these old rituals last night? I’d love to think we were all lighting fires, keeping tradition alive.

Irish traditions

The pike was then used to unearth the first stalk, breath held.

traditional farming, west cork

Time to carry the loot from the earth to the pot (in your T-Shirt, of course)!

 

 

Literature Bursary Award Clinic – Dublin

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green fingered writer

This (not so) little fella is always hopeful!

Every year, writers all over Ireland complete their literature bursary award forms and wait in hope. Funds are obviously limited and so many writers are disappointed when the rejections letter arrives. This is unfortunate, but a necessary part of the process.

The bursary forms are straightforward but open to interpretation, and I know from experience they can be daunting. But the Arts Council Clinic – held in the Irish Writers Centre – is a great way to give yourself the best possible chance at submitting a successful application. 

This informationis taken directly from the Arts Council newsletter – it’s something worth subscribing to if you don’t already! 

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Information clinic – Literature Bursary Award 

The deadline for the next round of the Arts Council’s Literature Bursary Award (for writers working in English or in Irish) is 17 July 2014 at 5.30pm. In advance of this deadline, the Arts Council will hold an information clinic in the Irish Writers’ Centre to offer advice and information on the application process.

The clinic will be held on Thursday, 26 June from 11am until 12:30pm in the Irish Writers’ Centre, 19 Parnell Square, Dublin 2.

The clinic will cover the following topics:

  • The purpose of the Literature Bursary Award
  • Who and what is eligible
  • The application process  – online services
  • The application form
  • Essential supporting material
  • Budgets
  • The assessment process
  • Terms and conditions
  • Common mistakes to avoid
  • Questions and answers

Further information

For more information on the Literature Bursary Award, visit the available funding section of the Arts Council’s website. You can contact the Arts Council on 01 618 02 00 or emailinfo@artscouncil.ie

 To book a place at the clinic

Places on the clinic are free but participants must confirm their attendance to events@writerscentre.ie by Thursday, 19 June 2014.
For those not in a position to attend

copy of the presentation from the clinic, along with notes from the day, will be available from the Arts Council from Friday, 27 June. To request a copy of the presentation, please email Jennifer Lawless at Jennifer.lawless@artscouncil.ie.

 

Looking for writing advice? (Part 1)

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Over the last month I’ve received over forty emails/tweets/messages asking for advice on writing. This is a pretty high number – and more than I’ve received before in such a short space of time – so I’m guessing there’s something in the air that’s making people feel extra frustrated/blank/exhausted/lost.

mayaangelou

Although I’m hardly an oracle, I love that people feel they can come to me and that I can help in some way. It’s a real honour and a pleasure every time. But I suspect that for every writer that manages to ask another for support, there are several others struggling with aspects of their writing career suffering in silence.

I know that I’ve relied on other writers to vent frustrations, ask advice, get a second opinion. But I also know that I’ve worried/stressed/suffered in silence from time to time. I can’t say why exactly – I don’t know why but sometimes, that’s just the way it is. I’m guessing fear is probably the culprit. Fear of failure, of success, of *insert worry here*.

So, in an attempt to help anyone that’s feeling a bit lost but doesn’t know where to turn, I’ve compiled a list of my most popular posts – the ones that seem to be helping people most with the questions/difficulties they’re facing – below. I hope they help.

  • For the love of writing, keep going! – a look at overcoming the feeling of failure by enjoying what we do.
  • The Wolf We Feed – a post about taking responsibility for our writing and writing career.
  • Is your routine good enough? – drawing on other writers’ experiences, this post considers how we write, whether it gives the results we’re looking for and what we can do to make positive changes.  (PS My routine has changed completely – maybe it’s time for an updated version of this post?)
  • Writing without payment – should we or shouldn’t we?
  • Thick-skinned – can rejection ever be positive?

Feel free to post links to some of your own useful posts below. Next time, I’ll be posting a list of recommended blog posts from other writers that offer further advice, inspiration and encouragement.

Pressing pause

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west cork scenery

Days like this have to be taken advantage of

This is a kind of ‘hello everyone, I am still here’ post and an apology at the same time. May has proved to be a very busy month so far and I’m only just getting round to adding a post. I know, I know… but sometimes the blog just has to wait. The balance has tipped. I had to press pause.

I often speak to writers about trying to balance their writing with work and every day life. As we all know, modern life is busy. If we do manage to get a gap in our schedule, we fill it so it’s… well, busier still. And if you write, you can always improve something/start another project/tie up some loose ends, so you’ll always need more time. But that (I’ve learned) doesn’t mean you have to be writing constantly.

There’s a difference between dedication and obsession – just like there’s a difference between working at an optimum level and battling through just because you feel you should. Sometimes a challenge is good and you have to battle; I’m currently rewriting my YA book from third to first person which I find very challenging. It’s necessary for the book but not my natural way to write. But sometimes you have to learn to press pause.

This year, I’m trying really hard to fight the urge to constantly write or work. I’m awarding myself one day off a week from everything that involves the written word. No social media. no articles, no writing. The computer stays firmly shut.

This is an attempt at maintaining sanity. To allow my brain to unwind. To be rested enough to write at an optimum level the other six days of the week. I failed the first few weeks and did some sneaky (about four hours each day) editing on the day off, but guess what? By Wednesday night, I was starting to run on adrenaline alone. By Saturday, I was shattered.

How can you resist? A bit of this means more smiles all round.

How can you resist? A bit of this means more smiles all round.

I think it’s a legacy of my childhood, this need to always be achieving, to always be moving forward. I believed that enough fight and enough hard work would open up doors. That they’d provide me with opportunities I was told would never be possible. I was right. The hard work paid off. Only I never quite managed to figure out how to put on the brakes.

Strangely enough, writing has taught me a lot about the need for pause and reflection. Not in a navel-gazing kind of way, or a waiting for inspiration to hit kind of way. As far as I’m concerned, that’s complete nonsense. But writing has shown me that – very frustratingly – there some things are, and always will be, out of your control. That hard work will get you so far, but you need your health and wellbeing too. That you’re far better off working shorter bursts at an optimum level than always fighting.

When I first left my job to focus on my writing, I was arrogant and impatient and pushy. All the time pushing; to beat deadlines in record time, to write for longer and faster than the day before, to produce as many finished pieces as I could. I turned down social engagements, days out, nights out (especially these – I mean, I had to be up at six to write the next five thousand words). I missed out on some interesting opportunities because my writing had to come first. I ended up feeling lonely, isolated and somewhat bug-eyed by it all.

west cork writer

Tools of the trade – should have some great fresh eats by the end of it all

And so slowly I have learned – I need time off.

This month, Sundays have been my only spare days for blog writing and so – apologies, but I chose to press pause.

Instead, I’ve been getting the garden in order, planting and nurturing potatoes, tomatoes, beans, sweet pea, chillies (I didn’t nurture them very well – they died), pak choi, lettuce etc.

I’ve helped fix up and paint the boat and get it back in the water. We used it to go watch a basking shark last week and last Thursday, I ate my first fresh-caught mackerel of 2014 for breakfast.

I’ve been taking walks and visiting the local Sunday market and reading lots of great books or watching great documentaries. And I’ve been going to sleep early, without my characters yapping on at me or images of the computer screen floating in my head.

west cork writer

Gotta love the sea dog (not so much the barking at seagulls or fish we’ve caught, but hey, can’t have everything!)

Has my writing suffered? No. I’m still on schedule. I’ve completed one big project. I’m almost finished another, And I’ve a few dalliances in-between that may, or may not, come to something fruitful. We shall see.

So if you’re feeling stung out or stressed out or even slightly overwhelmed, here’s my suggestion: have a look at how much you’re doing, compare it with what you think you should be doing and then figure out how much you realistically can manage, without tearing your hair out or losing it over the slightest irritation.

Find a spot to press pause. And do. It might not be easy at first, but I think you’ll feel the benefits over time. I’d love to know how you get on – and what wonderful things you get up to. You never know, there could be a story lurking there…

Mobbed (a flash fiction piece)

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KCPairHis dad had always said that a home wasn’t a home without a few ducks. Now, Declan wished he’d never opened his mouth about that. Amazing how foolish a few whiskies at a wake could make you.

Victor Sullivan hadn’t been an hour in the ground before his doting son had shared the anecdote with friends and well wishers. Within a week, there was an army of ducks in Declan’s care and yet another red face to contend with.

“Erm, here you go, lad,” murmurs Old Pat as he hands over a Khaki Campbell. A good layer. Over 300 a year. Better than the Saxony that Mrs O’Regan presented earlier; friendlier too, according to the booklet he’d been forced to buy.

“As if the funeral costs weren’t enough,” his wife had grumbled.

“Thanks, Pat,” Declan calls from behind the wriggling neck, before carrying the duck to the back garden and introducing it to the mob.

Wings flapping, the duck runs clumsily over young lettuce shoots and hides in the prized herb bed. Declan hopes it’s feeding on a juicy slug, rather than his basil. Marcy would like that as much as she liked his old man.

As the gate swings open, Declan crouches on his heels, sinking into the grass.

“Not another bloody useless duck,” tuts Marcy, eyes lifted to the heavens. “I swear, Declan, I won’t be back out here until they’re all gone.”

Following his wife’s gaze, Declan smiles. Maybe the old man was right.

 

(Originally shortlisted for the Anam Cara 250 word flash fiction competition, 2012, Theme: Garden of Eden)