Friday 3 April 2020

NaPoWriMo 2020 versus Covid 19

I haven't found the situation we are in conducive to writing. I can barely focus on my reading, opting instead for thrillers on Audible. I've seen so many creative responses to Covid 19 and this strange way we are living on account of it but have felt no compulsion to add anything. Until tonight.

Thanks to a friendly invite from Siobhan McLaughlin to share our April work together, I'm participating in NaPoWriMo again.
I like these nudges, the deadlines, the different directions prompts throw you in that your normal practice might not lead you to.

I also love that an idea triggered in twenty minutes working to a prompt might provide a line or image that you can put to use otherwise than in the prompted piece.

Today's prompt is a case in point. The idea was to choose a random 10 words then use a rhyming dictionary to find three or four rhyme matches for the ten words. Then using that word bank create a piece.

So, I took Lee Child's "The Hero", opened page ten and chose my ten. I used the suggested  and wrote this:

Cannot shake the feeling of truancy
check and recheck status and agency
strange rearrange space opportunity
move to remove temptation to mutiny
race to control to banish to manage
language curtailed immobile damaged
anguish stream of upload failed paled
recently unveiled dreams derailed
situation quickly becomes political
logistical survival on strings invisible
physical clinical denials tribal
forbidden passage from arrival to rival
less measures made than measure gleaning
the greening savage passage to meaning.                   

I know the Covid pandemic was in the background here, simmering. How could it not be?

And... I took one line form this and wrote a new piece that I am very happy with. Let's see where that leads.

Sunday 16 June 2019

The Branford Boase Award 2019

The Branford Boase Award - The short list for the Branford Boase Award 2019 has been announced. The Award is made annually to the most promising book for seven year-olds and upwards by a first time novelist. Importantly, it also recognises the work of the editors also. Links to the seven novels nominated can be found on the website. They also include a Q&A interview with each debut author and editor which I found particularly insightful and interesting to read covering topics such as the relationship between writer and editor, the editorial process and where the writer gets inspiration for their book ideas plus plenty of tips and advice thrown in. The seven novels short listed cover a range of genres from historical fiction to fantasy adventure and all seven are definitely now on my reading list. One piece of advice that stood out for me when talking about fantasy adventure was to 'know your world inside out' as it relates to some ideas I'm working on at the moment. The website also has a link to Q&A interviews for those shortlisted for the 2018 award. The winner will be announced on the 27th June and I wish everyone the best of luck. Now I'm off to create my world....

The Caterpillar Story Prize 2019

The Caterpillar Story Prize 2019 is now open! Details are available via the link. Kelly McCaughrain, author of Flying Tips for Flightless Birds, is the judge. Closing date is 30th September 2019 (that's only 106 days away...)

Monday 15 April 2019

Back at the desk - update

It's been far too long since I posted anything. Life took over after Home was launched in November, and with the best of intentions I didn't make it back this far in the interim. Here's a wee update on my writing life since then. 

Before Christmas I was welcomed by David to Eason in Letterkenny Shopping Centre where I signed copies of the book for busy Christmas shoppers. 

Home and I traveled to Charlie Byrne's Bookshop in Galway in February to participate in the Over The Edge Showcase of western writers, who formerly read at OTE, who launched a book in 2018. I was thrilled to be included and to read Home and The Year We Ate the Summer from the book. Home is now on the shelves at Charlie Byrne's. John and I went back in to town the next day and it struck me how far I've come since I was an undergraduate in Galway in the early 90s. I took this pic to remind myself, it's now my proud Facebook cover photo. 
Home on the shelves at Charlie Byrne's Bookshop
Also in February, Garden Room Writers and Errigal Writers met for an artists' date at the museum in Letterkenny and luch in Cafe Davitt, I wrote my first decent poem of 2019, in response to a powerful Holocaust photo exhibition  at the museum. I'll hold off on sharing it yet as I am likely to submit it for consideration when I find a suitable journal. 

Through March and April, along with Garden Room fellows Nick, Ann and Deirdre, I  took part in a poetry pool facilitated by ever energetic Denise Blake. For nine weeks seventeen of us responded to two weekly prompts sent out in turn by the other poolers. There was amazing writing and that support from shared practice that I will never tire of. My poem Takiwatanga written in the poetry pool, was published on Poetry24 to mark World Autism Day. You can read it here

Next week I'm off to another of my favourite bookshops, the  Reading Room in Carrick on Shannon where Orlagh Kelly has kindly invited me to read from Home and speak about the book and my writing. I am thrilled that this is happening, I feel very lucky. We've made many visits to Orlagh's beautiful shop over the years while visiting my sister in Leitrim. No doubt, we'll leave with an armful of books for everyone in the house.

I'm meant to be taking part in NaPoWriMo, with some fab writers who I participated with past year but to date while I've checked in most days, it's been more of a NoPoWri experience! There is still time to catch up, I tell myself. 

Home is available in Mulroy Bay Music in Milford, An Bonnan Buí restaurant in Rathmullan,  Eason in Letterkenny Shopping Centre, Charlie Byrne's Bookshop in Galway and of course online from Limerick Writers' Centre. 

Tuesday 13 November 2018


Local writer and facilitator Denise Blake will officially launch my debut poetry collection published by Revival Press this coming Saturday in Cafe Davitt. 

The book has been my labour of love for a long time and I'm thrilled with how it has come together. The first poem that I ever had published was published by Revival magazine in 2010. John and I left Milford at lunchtime, drove the then six hour trip to Limerick  to attend the launch and so that I could read my poem. Matthew Sweeney and novelist Roisin Meaney were guest readers at On the Nail that night. We left after the reading and drove the six hours back home. I cherish the memory and am so pleased that my book is being published in Limerick, by Revival Press the imprint of the Limerick Writers' Centre. 

Dominic Taylor has been great to work with, keeping me right along the publishing journey. Denise Blake and Imelda Maguire have been keeping me right for years and this is no different, their keen eyes were the first pairs to read the draft manuscript back in June. 
Little John  Nee, Niamh Boyce and Gerard Smyth said the most wonderful things about the manuscript when they read it.
Peadar McDaid gave me the gift of The Wishing Tree, his painting after my poem, for the cover.  That artists like this were willing and available to support me is truly precious to me. I hope you feel Home does them justice. 

Saturday 11 August 2018

The ‘middle-aged’ Edinburgh Fringe

Having daughters studying in Edinburgh, and knowing it’s a pretty and historic place to visit, was the main impetus for our holiday there at the start of August this year. I’d heard of the Fringe Festival and had been in Edinburgh before for day trips. Yet, in all honesty, I was unaware just how beautiful the city of Edinburgh actually is, and how much there is to do on the arts scene – especially during August. Or, maybe it’s the Irish in me - wanting to underestimate how cool a UK city can be.

I’ve been living in Donegal for 20 years now, and occasionally visit cities around Ireland, or more rarely, further afield. Donegal has been described as the ‘coolest place on the planet’ by National Geographic in 2017, and I see and appreciate its wild, natural beauty. If you want a getaway break, there’s nowhere like it, and I’m lucky to have it all on my doorstep.  If you want beaches and mountains, Donegal is pretty cool hands down. We have lots of cultural events too, of course, and arts venues and festivals, and I’m involved in running a local arts organisation in the North West called North West Words. But, being in Edinburgh recently, did make me realise again the sheer volume and ready availability of man-made, cultural attractions in a major city; I have to admit, it wooed me once more.

In my late teens (many years ago), I left a town in Northern Ireland to study in Belfast during the height of the troubles – you’ll not be surprised to hear that arts events were rare. By my early twenties, I’d moved to Dublin. In those days, cinema was one of the few affordable arts and theatre was an expensive treat. Eventually, moving back to town and country was a decision made for family reasons. Still, I remember well the excitement of moving to Dublin - somehow it seemed similar recently on visiting Edinburgh after so many years without the experience of living in a city. My daughters laughed at my excitement, and in turn, I noticed their blasé attitude to it all – they’re now used to having ready access to independent cinemas, contemporary art exhibitions and the largest arts festival in the world on their doorstep the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Nowadays, or maybe more so in the UK, lots of the events are affordable or free of charge.

I know I’m lucky to have a place to stay in Edinburgh, at this time of year, but if you ever get the chance, it’s wonderful to experience both the festivals and the city in August. It’s difficult to get your head around just how big the fringe festival alone is - over 300 venues and over 50,000 performances between 03rd and 26th August. I had associated it with comedy, but there are a range of different events including cabaret, theatre, dance, music, opera, childrens’ shows and spoken word. The whole centre of Edinburgh becomes a festival with acts on the streets, in bars, in cafes, in churches, in public buildings and spaces. Its scale, I found, mind-boggling.

I tried to browse online and in advance about what was on and available during our stay, but the list was too long to get my head around and to pick anything to go and see. The brochure is the size of a city phone book.  Not only that, but there’s the Edinburgh International Festival the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh Art Festival all running contemporaneously. I was like a rabbit in the headlights. My eldest daughter advised that we go, float about, and pick a few random shows that appealed – that had worked for her before.  I was nervous of this approach as I was afraid of missing something when we’d limited time there.  

In the end, we started with the old reliable of a walk around some city centre sights and a visit to a museum, The National Museum of Scotland  What a wonderful museum, and all free of charge – even the fashion room was a hit (including with my husband). Highlights for me were the Inchkeith Lighthouse Lens, The Millennium Clock, all of the fashion room (seriously cool), Dolly the sheep, a cast of Mary Queen of Scots tombstone (original in Westminster Abbey), the viewing balcony from the rooftop, and a temporary exhibition ‘Art of Glass’. The glass exhibition displayed stunning examples of artistic work in glass from around the UK – such a range of different and beautiful artefacts.


Out on the street again, we were approached constantly and offered flyers for fringe events. Still no further on, we started to collect a few flyers to mull over later. We dipped into one of the many beer gardens around the University of Edinburgh campus. What did we expect? It was full of  twenty- somethings drinking from plastic beer cups – we dipped out again for now.  

That evening, our daughters gave off to us – we were to stop going to things we could see another time and to start going to festival events and exhibitions – to live in the moment.  

The following day we took the duck and selected a few events from the flyers we’d lifted. We also booked ‘Shit-Faced Shakespeare’ who were playing Hamlet in the McEwan Hall. Shakespeare as I’ve never seen it before - with one drunk character. It was pretty hilarious and not for the easily-offended, with Queen Gertrude the drunk character for that performance. Hamlet certainly wasn’t left alone for the ‘To be or not to be…’  speech and it wasn’t just the audience doing the heckling. Inspired, we tried the beer garden again and this time with some twenty-somethings in tow – somehow, we’d embraced the chaos. The following day we tried to book Foil, Arms and Hog, but fair play to them, it was a sell-out.

In the remaining days we sampled some Free Fringe The Great Irish (Finnegans) Wake Off’ with four Irish comedians  ‘I am a rich man and I have many sons’ Andrew O’Neill  ‘Gig Economy’ Christian Reilly and ‘Mental’ Dave Chawner We were never disappointed – all the shows were very different but very entertaining. These events run on donations after the show (or free, if you can’t afford or have the heart to ignore the donation bucket). So, after all, our eldest daughter’s advice was best – just dive in, take a chance and choose some random shows.


Alongside all the fun, chaos and craic, what surprised me most was just how much I loved the contemporary art exhibitions we visited in the Edinburgh Art Festival. The highlight of my visit (also voted so by my husband) was The Green Man, Lucy Skaer, at the Talbot Rice Gallery. The exhibition is designed for this particular space  and inspired by many found objects from collections of the University of Edinburgh. WOW is about all I can say – maybe I’ll manage a poem at some stage that definitely won’t do it justice.


 Having recently watched the BBC 2 Imagine programme on Tacita Dean  we had both noticed that she had an exhibition in Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh It was one of our few advanced plans. ‘Woman with  a Red Hat’  didn’t disappoint. Although, I wish I’d gone upstairs for the information video first, but apart from that it was very thought provoking. I’m still mulling over her film about the acting process.

Two final exhibitions were also both inspirational and haunting. A Bill Viola video in the St. Cuthbert’s Church, and Shilpa Gupta’s sound installation at the fire station, Tolcross. The former is in the already intriguing location of an ancient church and graveyard below Edinburgh Castle and beside the main thoroughfare of Princess Street in Edinburgh. The short video is played beside the church altar and is both mesmerising and contemplative. The latter is haunting, disturbing and pensive. ‘For in your tongue I cannot hide’ records the writings of 100 international poets jailed for their writing. In a darkened space, with poems speared to metal spikes, microphones are suspended from the ceiling and poems are read and lines repeated. Sometimes there’s a chorus of lines, otherwise, one microphone reads a poem – some are in English but others in Arabic, Hindu, Spanish, Urdu, Chinese, Russian among other languages. It’s an immersive experience of sound and sight – deeply moving. 

Just to top it all, Edinburgh is also a seriously beautiful and historic city full of sights to see at any time of year. We’ll be back as soon as possible.

  Deirdre McClay

Friday 20 July 2018

Poison ivy and rain ponchos

In Donegal, we’re in the middle of the Earagail Arts Festival (7th–29th July Music, theatre, visual arts, literature and circus events are running all over the county throughout July. Go see something if you can.

On Tuesday night last, North West Words ran an international poetry event for Earagail Art Festival involving three poets laureate from the city of Santa Barbara. I’ve been heavily involved in organising the event and it was lovely to see it happen this week. There was such a buzz around Florence Food Co with these poets coming first to Letterkenny on their summer tour in Ireland. David Sharkey, Chryss Jost and Paul Willis are all past Santa Barbara poet laureates  Such a great idea for engaging with the written word in the life of the local community – we need more writers in residence around Ireland. Sharing their poems about life in California proved to be an engaging and interactive experience. Do we have poison ivy – no, we have nettles? What came up? Various things emerged – angels, poison ivy, water treatment plants, mountain treks, serial killers, deer, and lawnmowers in living rooms (not recommended by the poet).   

Left to right: David Starkey, Paul Willis and Chryss Jost (Santa Barbara Poets Luareate), Ann Marie Gallagher, Deirdre McClay and Deirdre Hines (North West Words): photo by Eamonn Bonner    

As a feature of the event, we had come up with the idea of response poems. The three poets had been gracious, and interested, in sending me a poem each from their body of work. I had sent the poems out to local writers groups and made a call on Facebook for poems in response. The three sent poems were all quite different and set the tone for the night. So, in the spirit of response, the poets laureate decided to read at North West Words, in a round, responding to each other, with a poem connected in some way to the previous reading. The final round comprised the three ‘response poems' - two of which were written as poets in residence. Paul Willis read his poem about watching deer in a national park ‘Deer At Twilight’. Chryss Yost read her poem about the impact of water ‘The Flow’, and she explained that it was written for the opening of a water treatment plant. Finally, David Starkey read his poem ‘Nordic Noir’ – a murder mystery. There were five response poems - by Deirdre Hines, Guy Stephenson and Teresa Godfrey (all read by their authors), and one poem by Mari Maxwell (which I read in the absence of the poet). It was a lovely night with great poetry and a lovely blend and interaction of poetic communities. Scratch the surface and there are so many common themes.  
Then, last night, I attended another Earagail Art Festival event – ‘Foyle Punt’. It’s a local, immersive, theatrical experience based on the true life stories of the McDonald family of boat builders from Inishowen, Co. Donegal. I had heard radio interviews and I’d also read reviews of the event which intrigued me It’s a debut project by The Local Group and it emerged from the story of 6th generation boat builders in Donegal (originally, pre-1750, from the Isle of Skye in Scotland). I attended the performance at Rathmullan pier - each event is site specific. Normal Donegal weather was the tone for the night, but it only added to the atmosphere on this occasion. The whole performance was outdoors with some tarpaulin and ‘rain ponchos’.

I can certainly say that it was a new and thought provoking experience for me, and particularly on that historic site (Flight of the Earls, Rathmullan, 1607). The McDonald family were originally Scottish boat builders, but fled from Skye in 1750 and settled in Inishowen, Co. Donegal. The performance reflects on the craft of wooden boat building; the Foyle Punt are now hobby/racing boats and not working boats.  Then the vulnerability of humans on board small boats:  you are on a boat, you are safe, you are still breathing, you get to eat - do you get a life jacket or not? There is music, movement, stories, food, audience interaction and the real-life character of the on-site pier. It is slow in pace and allows time to absorb the surroundings. I would highly recommend the experience – it’s  immersive, interactive and highly sensory. It speaks to the past and to the present in so many ways, and has been sold out at many venues Well done to all involved – enjoyable, thought-provoking, and both local and international.  

Maybe in time it will  inspire a poem or two.

Deirdre McClay

Sunday 8 April 2018

Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales

Today I discovered that  Future Learn  currently has a 6-week online course looking at Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales and it has only just started so it's not too late to sign up.
The course content is supplied by The Hans Christian Andersen Centre at the University of Southern Denmark and is suitable for 'anyone who loves fairy tales' from beginners to those wanting to supplement literature studies at degree level.
The course is free (or if you would like unlimited access to the course material and a certificate it costs 39euro). In 2015 I signed up to a Future Learn course on Hamlet and found the structure and course material to be very informative, accessible and easy to use. You can do as little, or as much, as you like which makes it an ideal way of squeezing some extra-curricular study into your busy schedule from home.
I've signed up so in 6-weeks I should know everything there is to know about fairy tales!

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s BLOODROOT Donegal Launch 13th April, The Shamrock Bar, Falcarragh

Annemarie Ní Churreáin caught my eye first for the most silly of reasons. We have the same surname and are both from Donegal. Obviously, had her work not hooked me on its merit, her name and origin wouldn’t have sustained lasting interest (My maiden name was O’Donnell and I have no similar interest in Daniel’s work). I found Annemarie in the Stinging Fly, and later surfacing in Poetry Ireland Introductions and sustaining a presence on the Irish writing scene that established her among the writers I followed in the media. Annemarie works hard, travelling to take up literary fellowships in Germany, Florida and Scotland. She is currently Kerry County Council Writer in Residence. Her journeywoman to mastercraftswoman path has been fascinating to watch. In the early days as we were establishing North West Words reading series I had the pleasure of finding and inviting writers to make the journey to Letterkenny and Annemarie read for us on Culture Night in 2015 at one of our Cafe Blend events. I am delighted to be able to attend as Annemarie launches BLOODROOT, her debut collection published by Doire Press, at 8.00pm on the 13th of April in the Shamrock Bar in Falcarragh.
BLOODROOT has been much reviewed including in the Dublin Review of Books by Mary O’Donnell and in the Irish Times  by Catriona O’Reilly. It was shortlisted recently for the Shine Strong Award and in the US for the Julie Suk Award. 
Annemarie writes eloquently in this recent Irish Times article of her life, her writing and BLOODROOT.
If you cannot make it to Falcarragh on the 13th  you can order a copy of BLOODROOT from Doire Press or find it in some of the following Donegal stockists: The Gallery, Dunfanaghy, Olivia’s Boutique, Dunfanaghy, Teach Thomais, Gweedore, and Eason Letterkenny.
Annemarie’s website is

Sunday 11 February 2018

Reading and Redding Up

As Mid Term Break begins and snow has caused my son’s basketball game to be cancelled, I’m availing of the opportunity to read and redd my way through the mountain of things I have put by my writing space at the dining table since Christmas. These include receipts, schoolwork, notebooks, to do lists, shells and sea glass lifted from Rathmullan walks with Summer, my kindle, novels, things cut out of the newspaper and poetry books. These are hastily bundled to make way if we need the table, as when Garden Room Writers met here last week. It’s amazing how the pile accumulates and appears to the untrained eye (my mother’s) as a mess. Still, I know exactly what is where and that none of it is for dumping.

For years my morning ritual includes time spent with a poem, a pause before the working day commences. The first coffee of the day tastes of poetry. Last thing most evenings when the lights are going out and the kitchen is stilling I dip in again. The pick-up-ability of a poetry book means there is always one in my handbag to pass the moments I must while away over the course of the day.  Bed-time reading is always a novel (The Witchfinder’s Sister these nights), but these are like TV: entertainment, downtime, relaxation and relatively forgettable. Poetry reading is something else, maybe closer to prayer in my life, certainly in that it insinuates its way into most of my waking time. It’s soulful, meditative, for sure but also like the best conversations it is provocative and inspiring. I am the better for it.

Among the books I bundle today are Annemarie Ni Churreainn’s BLOODROOT, and Amanda Bell’s First the Feathers from Doire Press and the beautiful gift of Emma McKervey’s collection, The Rag Tree Speaks, that Lisa sent along with my order. Also in there, the most wonderful Dead End from Joan Newmann from Summer Palace Press and brand-new purchase, Angel Hill from Michael Longley, published by Cape Poetry.  I feel blessed among these books, this rich seam to mine as the snow falls outside. I am reminded with each dip into these collections of Imelda Maguire’s beautiful ‘Why I Love Poetry’ from her collection Serendipidy from Revival Press.
“I love the friendliness of poetry –
the way the poet expects me to see
what they mean. Like a friend would.
I love the trust in that. I love that
 every poem is another hand, reaching,