Stand and stare

Leisure (W H Davies)

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth canIMG_1753
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

This was today’s poem of the day in my Poem for the Day book and, given it is Easter Sunday and a time where we traditionally take stock, celebrate life and spend time ‘at leisure’, it seems rather fitting. I had ambitious writing plans for my few days off over the Easter break but I have, instead, seemingly embraced the essence of this poem and, well, have taken the time to ‘stand and stare’. In a manner of speaking.

Inspiration comes from soaking up the richness of our surroundings – consciously and unconsciously – and when better to indulge than when you have a little less timetabling (i.e. work) to distract you?

IMG_1766My peace poems have finally been submitted to the Reading and Writing for Peace project and I have made progress with this month’s short story during my time off, but mostly, I’ve been engaged in non-literary related things – that is, caring for my wee dog after a little procedure at the vets. If there has to be a point to this all, it is that, experiences shape us for the better or for the worse and, inevitably, will often seep out into our writing in some shape or form. I certainly attribute much of my inspiration for stories and poems to my aforementioned pup – those with dogs in their lives will understand the wealth of inspiration they can bring – both directly and indirectly - and walking helps to clear the head and fill it with fresh ideas.

Perhaps this Easter break will lead to some ingenious new material, perhaps not. But it has given me time to stand and stare, do a little writing, a little thinking and to take things at a leisurely pace before the wheels of work begin to grind again and I enter the arena once more…

CC33-35sPS Some poetic news which I meant to mention last week… Those with an inclination towards Ulster Scots poetry will be no stranger to the work of Wilson Burgess (Derry-based; living in Derry), who I have mentioned on this blog before as someone who has inspired me in my writing with his tales of wit and wisdom! Well, aside from having his Ulster Scots poetry books on the required reading list at Queen’s University, Belfast… Mr Burgess is now also available in Dublin, having made it onto the bookshelves of two well-known bookstores in the Irish capital. Read the story here. Well done Wilson!

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Innate, is it?

I recently read an interview with an author/creative writing tutor where the journalist asked The Question That Must Not Be Asked – ‘Surely you can’t teach people how to write?’

The author was rightly (in my opinion) a little prickly in his answer, giving a curt, ‘of course you can’, response. Writing is just like any other craft, he said – you work at it, you improve… or you don’t and then perhaps maybe it just isn’t for you.

Yes – there are bad writers. And yes – you need to work at it to be good and to get better.

I know that for many, this is not News but, given the journalist in question bringing the matter up, it appears that maybe it is. Art is taught – people go to classes, learn it, practice it and improve. Music is the same, as is craft work, engineering, medicine, baking, designing… I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

IMG_1982Just because the majority of the population can pick up a pen and physically write – can log onto a computer and tap away at the keys, does not, I’m afraid, a writer make. Is this harsh? Well, maybe for some, but it is my belief that if you want to be a writer, you read a lot, you write a lot, you hone your CRAFT, you take advice, instruction – as you would with any other art form/career – and you make yourself good.

You go to classes – perhaps a creative writing course and you say to those who proclaim that writing can’t be taught, that you are learning the tools of your trade – what you create with those tools afterwards is where the creativity comes in – the actual art that is personal to you.

Writers have historically always come under a bit of flak, I think. It’s the profession which everybody thinks they can do and which most aren’t, therefore willing to put much proper time and effort into. ‘Sure anyone can write’, is a frequent proclamation. ‘I could have written better myself’, ‘I’ve a book in me somewhere – just waiting to get out…’

I think everyone should consider how lucky they are to have the potential to write and I think, perhaps, that if there’s a book in there – let it out. If you could have written it better – go ahead – try it. If you are that ‘anyone who can write ‘ – get stuck in. See what’s it like and put in some effort, but don’t pretend you won’t have to work at it or improve it along the way. We all do.

The best thing about writing is that yes – it is open to anyone at any time – so dive right in…

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Incubating ideas

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster’               - ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop

Following my last post, I have been determined to set aside those things which prevent me from being creative – to ‘lose’ them, if you will. And… I have done it with varying degrees of success. The ‘day’ job is an obstacle for anyone (unless you’re lucky enough to be earning sufficiently from being a stay-at-home writer!), but I am glad to say that notes have been scribbled, books read and films watched, so creativity is being reclaimed from the day-to-day drudgery, despite unexpected circumstances rearing their ugly heads!

Another boost to my creative instincts came this week from learning that one of my short stories is to feature in the debut publication of the new online short story journal, The Incubator, along with a book review, so that was certainly cause for IMG_1626celebration. I am attempting to write one short story a month and so far, this has been happening, so getting positive feedback about one of them helps the process along. I mean, I’d write them anyway, but it’s nice to know I’m producing readable work…

I have subsequently taken more time this week to incubate ideas for my writing – with regards to poetry and prose. Words may not always ink the page, but ideas are constantly being planted and left to seed slowly in the mind. There is much to be said, I think, for creative thought without action. Sometimes, thinking is enough, for now, until the ideas flourish enough to be committed to visible form.

That said, I must away to think some more, read some more and perhaps… maybe even breathe some life into my imaginings…

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Cultivating creativity

Do you make time to be creative? Do you read books, watch films, listen to music….?

Well, I made the time (one week on) to read an article on creativity yesterday, which pointed out the benefits to us all of finding time to tap into our creative sides - whatever that may look like. For me it’s definitely reading books and creative writing, although film-watching comes in there too. Find out what works for you and go with it. Except – it’s increasingly to do that in a work-weary world. The emphasis is always on working harder and longer and leaving leisure behind.

Well, I think not. I have become one of those people now (thanks to a long commute and very late working hours) who often finds themselves checking emails and work stuff on the laptop As I Eat Breakfast!! I’m not proud of IMG_2035that, but it’s going to stop. Before, I simply read a bit of my book, scribbled notes or just sat with my wee pup and thought things over at that time in the morning. Unleashing creativity is only helped by switching off from work and tuning into our imagination.

I’ve said it before but - many of my ideas and writing inspiration come whilst I’m out walking the coast with my dog – i.e. when my brain is away from work and let loose to just ‘be’.

So, from hereon in, it’s back to basics.

The clocks may have just hopped forward an hour, but I’m winding back…

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Still

‘Still’. One small word. One diverse collection of many words - Chelley McLear, Poetry in Motion Co-ordinator.

This is the tag-line to the second poetry anthology - entitled Still, and inspired by the same theme - which has just been published by the Community Arts Partnership (CAP) and funded by the Arts Council Northern Ireland. It is a collection that I am delighted to be a part of, having been selected as one of the poets included in the book, launched earlier today at the Black Box in Belfast.IMG_2202

Over the past year, inspired by the various writing events and workshops and courses I have attended, I have steadily developed and concentrated upon my creative writing and indeed, come round to the fact that, yes – I am a writer and a bit of a poet and there’s no reason not to admit it. You certainly don’t have to be published to be as such, but it is really rather nice when it does happen. What’s more – it’s different from seeing your name in print on a journalism piece – just as brilliant, but different. IMG_2203A poem or a story you have created and aren’t simply reporting, means that much more and particularly then, when someone deems it good enough to be printed - it means a lot.

So, today, I declined and then promptly changed my mind about reading my poem to the assembled audience of fellow poets (I may never get this chance again!). Everyone was there to support one another, I was the fourth up (which helped) and, well, once on stage, you really couldn’t see anything, thanks to the great bright lights and the darkened space of the er, Black Box.

I read it, I enjoyed it and I fear I have developed a taste for it…

River starsIMG_2199

Liquid light, scattered

each iridescent pin-prick of space

in space drowning.

 

Winks of dying fire,

celestial performance poets

caught half-alive in reflected refraction.

 

A depth of possibility.

Death re-played on a window of water

blackened by a bashful moon.

 

Diamonds in the airIMG_2200

hung softly in sleepy, silent dark

and still,

no ripples to swallow their dance,

or dull the romance of a river

dressed in stars.

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Collecting thoughts

I recently wrote a review of a collection of what I consider to be brilliantly constructed short stories (I’ll provide a link to it when it’s published) and it’s got me to thinking again of my own approach to writing in this genre.

The short story requires a clear voice from the outset – it, more than any other story should drop the reader right into the action from the first word. There’s no time for skirting around the issue – characters must be strong from the outset and their tale likewise.

The stories I reviewed find their strength firmly in the everyday – they draw on seemingly mundane experiences and transform them, through the power of carefully chosen words, into something much more meaningful.

A writer I know once advised that we should ‘write every day – even if you don’t like what you’re writing – and finish it’.

It’s sound advice, but all too easily forgotten amid the hubbub of a busy working and home life. The short story format should, however, fit in more easily with a hectic schedule but then again – sometimes it’s more difficult to create something where there’s no room for indulgently descriptive padding…butterflies

I’m currently collecting my thoughts on all of this, as I muddle through my own particular jig-saw of a writing life – piecing together odds and ends of poetry and snatches of short story and hoping the pictures they form are recognisable and somehow meaningful. Different people work in different ways but the key of course, is just to keep on working – whether you write a few words, sentences or paragraphs per day. Some writers produce 500 words a day, others won’t stop until they’ve achieved Stephen King’s recommended 4,000 (I think!) words a day… others spend an hour, a morning or an evening writing.

Myself? Well, put it this way – my words are like butterflies in the breeze… sometimes I catch quite a few gems in my net… other days they just flutter away, but they’re always buoyant and beautiful and just waiting to be collected…

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Seeing Double

One of the great things about going along to writing workshops is that it gives the opportunity to meet fellow writers, and this week, I have decided to share something about the work of one of the members of my recent peace poetry workshop experience.

Originally from Sicily, Antonio Chisari is now living in Derry and has created an interesting project inspired by his dual homes. This project is called Double/Doppio and is a collection of short stories written in both English and Italian. The ‘double’ aspect to his work, however, is mirrored in much more than just the title. As he explains on his own blog (link above), the stories portray the two sides to their narratives – for example, the consequence to ourselves of an action we take can also be of consequence to someone else, whether we realise it or not. There are hidden meanings and alternate ways of viewing the world and this, I think, is what ‘Double’ seeks to explore.

Antonio

Antonio

I am fortunate enough to have been gifted a version of the book to read, but have not yet read it in its entirety, for the usual reasons of work interfering with leisure. Suffice it to say, however, I am intrigued by the concept and like the two-language format. There is also a taster of Antonio’s writing on his blog, for those who want to check it out.

In my own writing, I continue to chip away at my peace-themed poems and have decided to tweak the format of one which is almost in a traditional poetic style. Almost. It is still probably more free verse, but rhyming is something that seems to come very naturally to me and it just always seems to happen with my poems! That said, the tightening up of the piece has improved its reading, in my opinion, which reaffirms the advice of writing something, leaving it aside for a week or so, and then returning to it. I tend to do this less with poetry as opposed to prose for some reason, but am beginning to be more meticulous with my poems and taking the red pen to them so that each word can indeed ‘fight for its right to be there’.

Of the two poems I currently have in mind for the project, both are individual responses to incidents which polluted peace – one told from the point of view of a fictional voice and one from my own voice - drawing upon a childhood memory which always sticks out in my mind when people mention the Troubles in Northern Ireland. They need a little more tweaking I think, but they’re getting there!

Prose has taken a little bit of a backseat but… with the launch of Northern Ireland’s new online journal, The Incubator, which celebrates the short story writer and their work; as well as the imminent re-launch of The Honest Ulsterman, there is plenty to motivate me into picking up that pen! I’m also still intending to write a short story a month (a sort of new year resolution which grew into being!) and have indeed, got a story for January and February already written. The hope is that with each one, improvement will be seen…

Oil painting workshop with Julian Friers (left of me)

Oil painting workshop with Julian Friers (left of me)

When it comes to the creative process in writing, inspiration comes from many things in life and this week, I ventured into the world of oil painting in a workshop arranged as part of Creativity Month in Northern Ireland. Would a blank canvas be akin to a blank page, I wondered - one waiting for paint, the other for words – both seeking, well, creative genius.

To be honest, the workshop - led as it was by the brilliant Julian Friers - was helped along by our talented tutor, who had primed our canvases for us and allowed us to attempt to mirror him in painting a tree-scape. As he said at the start, every picture would turn out differently and that is one of the things I most liked from the exercise, as it was physical evidence of how differently every person in that room interpreted the concept of a simple tree set upon a grassy landscape. Each painting was indeed varied, but was subsequently unique, and portrayed something a little different to the observer than the one next to it.

The expert's painting...

The expert’s painting…

The process of applying paint to canvas, it should be added, is wrought with technique and is, I would argue – like telling a story. It is telling a story – of what the painter wants to convey and of what the picture inevitably conveys to those who look upon it. As we all derive our own meanings from the tales we read, so too will we take away our own interpretations of the pictures we view.

It was nice to get an insight into another creative process and to see the similarities we all, as artists of any craft, face in our work. Will those colours/words work like that, or do they need to be re-painted/substituted and blended into the background – brought to the foreground? Is this the correct perspective we need for the tale? Is there depth to what we have created and where do we want to draw the eye towards? What is the lasting impression we intend it to make?

My tree-scape...

My tree-scape…

Perhaps it’s just me, being enthralled with writing and words, who sees the parallels in this, or perhaps it harks back to what Antonio has done with his creative writing project – and presents two sides to the singular concept of creativity….

(The problem is – now I want to add painting to my ever-increasing list of creative pursuits. If only one could paint a little extra time into the picture!)

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