Friday, 9 December 2016

Gerard Beirne workshops on writing process at Carn Lodge, Ramelton, Co. Donegal




This is my first blog post in what seems like a very long time. I'd stopped blogging and writing fiction so that I could concentrate on finishing a doctorate. I can still scarcely believe that I’m through on the other side of that; needless to say, I’m both relieved and grateful to have completed it. My project was about the teaching of writing in higher education academic writing centres. I combined both my professional and personal interests in writing to sustain me through the process.   

With that in mind, I was really pleased to participate in a series of creative writing workshops with Gerard Beirne just days after finishing my dissertation. They were in Carn Lodge, Ramelton, Co. Donegal and were organised by Denise Blake and Maureen Curran. Little did I realise the connections I’d make with Gerard’s suggestions around writing fiction, and particularly with his concentration on writing process. 

Ideas around writing process play a large part in how many academic writing centres teach academic writing to student writers in different disciplines. Gerard Beirne's workshops reminded me of how the process of writing is similar across  many different forms of writing genre and style - including both academic and creative writing. The process approach is based on the premise that professional writers use processes that involve various forms of drafting and re-drafting. In other words, good writing is not penned, or typed, in one mighty draft from the mind of a genius writer; rather, good writing comes from time spent on drafting and re-drafting - from a first attempt through to a series of re-writing tasks.

Gerard explained, over three sessions (on poetry, fiction and publishing), that each drafting should be focused on predetermined tasks designed to improve the writing.  He then outlined some exercises that aid drafting. In the fiction session, he recommended (among other things): interrogating our choice of point of view, including consistency; and also, analysing fiction into constituent scenes to question their purpose and effectiveness. Instead of getting us to practise our writing, he asked us to think through our writing process. He then challenged us to reflect on how effectively we have been re-drafting our work. Do we practise good writing strategies, or do we simply repeat poor practices?  Do we have a rationale for what we re-draft, and do we work effectively at our drafts? The sessions I attended were on fiction and publishing, and they were enlightening, enjoyable and informative.     

What I particularly liked about Gerard’s philosophy was an idea that I share i.e. writing skills can be taught. We may all start at different levels, and we may each reach different levels, or destinations, but we can all practise and improve our writing skills. What that means in terms of writing success probably depends on what we value as success. More importantly, there are conventions, guidelines, processes and ideas, that if shared, and practised, can help to improve our chances of becoming successful writers (whatever that means to us).

I would highly recommend both Gerard  Beirne's approach and his workshops.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

It's the first week of December so check out Visual Verse's prompt for the month


I discovered Visual Verse while I was meant to be writing this July. This journal releases a visual prompt on the first of each calendar month. Writers set themselves a challenge to respond in an hour and in 50-500 words. One or two writers provide leading pieces to get the ball rolling and the issue is live. The editors invite you to submit your pieces and publish these throughout the month. There follows a rich and by its nature, imperfect, exploration of the image.
I submitted 'Turning Point'  in July in response to this image by Oscar Keys.


Turning Point

What is the sea’s invitation?
Come see blue, it says, Come and I’ll show you grey.

These changing skies are the wind’s gift,
each passing hour a flickering slideshow.

Seabirds glitter, tilt and soar
In ruckus tear, uproar

until eyes, ears, heart, soul of me answer:
Step back, they say, slip this blindfold.

Maureen Curran

Is is perfect? No. In an hour you really only have a good draft of a work in progress, not a finished piece. I wonder if my insistence on keeping ruckus was a good idea as a reader may think I spelled raucous incorrectly. Incidentally, I don't like what they did with the layout upon publishing, losing my 8 line, 4 stanza structure. Still, I valued the exercise, and there are occasions when a  good shove in a direction we weren't heading is just what we need.
It's the first week of December, have a look, take an hour out from the seasonal preparations and see where this image from Julien Menier takes you. I might meet you there.



Friday, 2 December 2016

Poem - Am I Right?


Sepia toned, she faces the camera, with a turned down smile:
Challenges me to guess her secret
That my father never told me
Nor showed me her likeness while he was alive.
Her wavy hair nearly covers her left ear;                                                                      But goes only half way down her right                                                                   
Her long neck is emphasised by a blouse 
With a collar hardly above her shoulder
Pulled together with a decorative chord
Knotted in fashionable bow
                                     Above four shiny white buttons
                                     Bisected by a pearl necklace.
                                     She was obviously important to my father:
                                     Stored in a tin box of his memories
                                     Could she be his mother who died when he was twelve?

And with little imagination, and a change of hair,
Despite our different sexes,
I can see my younger self:
Believe she must be my Granny Griffiths.








But, could this woman have been a despatch rider in the war,
Who frightened the shite out of her husband
As a passenger on her motorbike?
Would the wearer of a string of pearls
Have been a worker in a rubber factory?

Her self-assured school ma’am look
Of somebody who might be only thirty,
But has wisdom beyond her years,
Nods like an infant teacher to a child,

                                     And says, “Yes!”


Monday, 8 August 2016

Bath Children's Novel Award

The Bath Children's Novel Award is now open to submissions. The website also has very useful and interesting interviews with past winners, runner's up and shortlisted authors. The closing date is the 20th November and the entry fee is £22.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Tea, Coffee, Chocolate x Haiku


 
Tugged handfuls of mint
Infuse in boiling water
Honey sweet sunshine


Mahogany tones
Laptop logs me in slowly
Oil on wood panel


Marshmallow sticky
Flake disappears in suede swirls
Chalky last mouthful

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Time to write

I'm just home from a fabulous two weeks visiting my brothers in Canada with my mum. This was the trip I won last year in the Irish Times Generation Emigration Flying Visit competition. I promised myself over the two weeks I was going to write and write and write. Although I did a lot of reading, I wrote exactly 17 words. On the back of a receipt. This didn't disturb me because the summer still stretches out in front of me and some thinking time is good. Enjoying my brothers' hospitality, inevitably I thought of the good times growing up in our too often mad home and how our wicked sense of humour, penchant for a colourful vocabulary and utter love from and for our mum sustained us then and continues to keep us strong.

So, home, my theme this six months really. I've spent some time away and am returned to it now, rested and recharged. I sat down to write yesterday and read more; the latest Crannog, the latest Spontaneity, a few papers I'd missed when I was away, checked out what submission opportunities are open. Somewhere in the midst of that I typed the 17 words and you know a poem followed. A few drafts later, but still brand new, here it is:

 Antidote 

There was living too
voices rising, sweary banter and food,
endless tables of food, second helpings, second sittings
and laughter, there was laughter,
the good of it rose in us and we carried it like light.

I know it in the bearing now, here
in this late night chat and breaking out in song:
new belief in the fact of survival, in love.
Chasidy, me, Brian, Peter, Aidan, Mum, John in Canmore, Alberta

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Caterpillar Story For Children Prize 2016



The Caterpillar Story For Children Prize 2016
Hi everyone...see link above for details of the Caterpillar Story For Children Prize 2016 to be judged by Mark Lowery ....deadline September 30th...get scribbling!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

New Series of Workshops with Denise Blake at Carn Lodge

Denise Blake has just announced a Spring series of workshops from her home Carn Lodge in Ramelton. These begin on the 12th April and run for six Tuesday evenings. 

It was at a series of these workshops that the Garden Room Writers met way back in 2009/10.
We learned to explore our creativity, our voices, our writing ambitions in a safe and encouraging environment. Denise's facilitating style is gentle and respectful and she brings many years of writing and facilitating experience to the table, as well as good coffee and a warm welcome. When the workshops ended we decided to see if we'd manage to keep meeting and keep writing and here we are six years on, meeting, writing, reading and publishing.

It's much easier not to write in a vacuum. As a beginner writer you have a yard stick, you have peer encouragement, you generate ideas by bouncing your own ides off others'. 

When people ask me about joining a group, or beginning to write I direct them to a workshop and to North West Words. There you will meet people in the same boat, interested in writing and maybe looking for writers to hook up with. The major advantage is that these opportunities are managed; crucially, there is time to find out if you can work with the people you meet there. 

If you want to begin writing or return to it after a break, try these workshops with Denise, see where the pen takes you. 




Monday, 4 January 2016

Composition. Choosing. Grand Plans.

Today I'm thinking about the various ways we compose.
Mum took part in a creative writing class this winter - she's been writing her thoughts and reminiscences since and  they've blown me away with their clarity and focus. Mum writes carefully in beautiful hand writing. I know she thinks very much of writing as 'composition', the term used for the essays she wrote in school.
My sister-in-law invited me to read and respond to her draft novel over the holidays. This was an eye-opener and a privilege. I've never before had access to behind the scenes on that kind of scale. I'm staggered by the work that has gone into her novel already: the research and plotting and redrafting that has brought it to this fine, though not final, version. I'm excited to see what happens next: where will the redrafting take her?
My brother in Madrid has sent me the outline plot of a musical theatre piece he has written the music for, so that I might give him feedback on the story. How special an opportunity to observe and be involved, even in a tiny way, with the workings is that?
John met a client this morning and now is sketching alternative layouts and drawing up the plans for the project. While I was in chatting to him in the study (tea-ferrying) I heard some of the response on the radio to a photo published in the Manchester Evening News. This is the photo by Joel Goodman they were all talking about and wow, is it a study in composition?


Have a read of some of the commentary in the Guardian here

I'm obviously conscious of composition when I work on my poems. What goes in, in what order, what shape does the poem have on the page, when is a poem finished? I've gone back on poems and reopened them after a year or more of letting them sit, I'm not untypical in that. Sometimes I've put them back as they were in a previous incarnation. 
Then there is the matter of composing a representative selection of poems. That might be for a reading; in which case I look at what's gone down well before, where and when the reading is taking place, some new poems. 
This has been my writing work over the past couple of weeks. I've been choosing poems for submission for the Prebooked Reading at Cork International Poetry Festival and for my latest attempt at Poetry Ireland Introductions. The submission has been made to Cork, and I'm almost settled on my poems for PI.
Most exciting and challenging of all though: I've  been working on assembling my poems into a draft manuscript, selecting poems, ordering them in some sort of logical sequence. It's the biggest thing I have ever done with my writing. It calls for composing on a big scale, sitting back from the poems and reading them with an editor's eye and with a potential reader's eye as opposed to listener's ear. It means looking at the narrative as far as there is one in the selection. It means swinging between confidence that I write well and massive doubt.
So I listed what I felt were the best, then the next best, then the next best. If I had any doubts about the truth of a poem it didn't go in, if I saw workshoppiness in the DNA of the poem it didn't go in, if I saw lazy it didn't go in. I left out three that have been published in reputable magazines. 
I put in some poems I continue to champion despite rejection by reputable magazines. I included my first published poem among them. A Deer on Meenaroy was published in Revival in October 2010. It's been interesting looking back, satisfying to see the development of my writing, admiring for the most part composition decisions I made over the years.

Here's to 2016 and all it brings to the Garden Room Writers, to the Donegal scene, to you! 

A Deer on Meenaroy

We meet ourselves on the road,
versions of ourselves at least.
In a car we once drove
the same rush we used to be in  
full headlong into the turns that took us from
Milford and Ardara and set us in one place.

After twelve winters, we are driving home
from your father’s wake. I watch you sidelong,
reading your face in the orange dash light.

Then, just beyond your window, he is there
fractional in the shadows, I say
Deer, did you see him John? He was beautiful
but tired eyes on the road ahead, you’d missed him.

We feel his company later when we read
Memory of my Father
fished out of an old schoolbook
because it was whispering itself all day.
You shut the book suddenly
That’s enough of that.        
Like a smile beguiles a gag reflex,
the slap of the book cover
dissolves the lump in your throat.

In our darkened bedroom
you tell me again about the time
your Dad and you were driving home
and you met a deer on Meenaroy.

The deer, tonight, anchors the random things:
faith, fear, vacancy.





Tuesday, 24 November 2015

North West Words is this Thursday 26th November in Cafe Blend

It's that time of the month again - the last Thursday and North West Words.



The deadline for the NWW two poetry competitions are also this week on Friday 27th November 2015. One competition is for English poetry and the other for Irish language poetry. See details and entry requirements on the NWW website