Conjuring ideas

Hannah McPhillimy and Jan Carson

Hannah McPhillimy and Jan Carson

Between business blogging, writing articles, websites and everything in between, last week I inadvertently skipped this blog, such was the need for a little time out from typing, but I still managed to scribble some creative words along the way, so all was not lost. Maintaining a blog on writing while you’re also trying to write creatively may seem like an unnecessary distraction to some, but ultimately, I find that as with attending literary events, writing about writing actually helps keep you on track and motivate you. It’s maybe not for everyone, but there’s an element of accountability there, as progress and experiences are regularly charted.

My own literary journey in the week past saw me attend two inspiring events – one in Belfast and one in Ballycastle. Just click the links to have a read of how they went, as I wrote reviews of both for Culture NI. As I’ve already written all about them, I therefore won’t go into much more detail here, but the first event – Disappear Hear – saw writer Jan Carson and musician Hannah McPhillimy collaborate in an evening of music and literary delights. Hannah wrote songs inspired by Jan’s debut novel, Malcom Orange Disappears, which added a new dimension to the story and also raised funds for the Alzheimer’s Society at the same time.AM Fyfye

The following evening I then enjoyed a poetry reading by London-based poet, Anne-Marie Fyfe, who presented her fifth collection, House of Small Absences. Both these events were inspiring in their own way, not least in the very fact that getting out and immersing yourself in the arts never fails to motivate you in keeping going. It’s also interesting, I find, to see others’ reactions at such events, as often, there are people there in support of a friend who don’t ordinarily read poetry or count themselves as being ‘into the arts’. More often than not, they surprise themselves by having a good time and come away with an added appreciation of the arts…

Suffice it to say, as I wrote a short story the week before, I’ve now turned back to the poetry and am flitting between the two as I work out where to go next with my writing. It’s always good to find a genre you love writing about and feel comfortable in, but equally, it’s good to branch out and push yourself in new directions, or revisit story ideas formerly abandoned and realise that actually, there might be something in them after all.

Right now, I’m still writing words with a hint of magic, but why not also surrealism, philosophy, heck – even realism?! – while I’m at it…

PS I should add here that a few blogs back I wrote about Claire-Louise Bennett’s book of short stories – Pond – and how I wasn’t sure, at the outset, if I liked it much or not. Well, the more I read of it, the more I got drawn into her character’s voice and her world and the more I found I really did like it – the style, the stories and the concept of the collection. Which only goes to show why you should always give a book time to win you over! :)

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Writerly styles…

imageI may be 30 years late to this book, but The Magician by Raymond E. Feist is one that has always caught my eye over the years and finally, I picked it up in a pile of secondhand books a month or so ago. I’m now reading it, alongside Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, and wondering why I didn’t do this sooner…

The books are poles apart in their content and style, one also being a rather lengthy novel, the other a collection of short stories. With the first, I slipped into the story immediately and am keen to keep reading, but with the latter, I’m finding it harder to love. Which isn’t to say I don’t like it, but the style is terrifically different – a rambling type of prose that I thought I’d really like, given I’m a fan of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.image

It’s good to read writing that challenges you though, as well as the writing that fits like an old shoe, so I think I’ve got a good mix of that here! I’m still pushing on with my own writing, and managed to pin down a story this morning that I’d made notes on a while back – a story unlike the ones in my recently submitted collection.

I read on with gusto and I continue to be inspired! :)


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Getting The Lie of the Land…

Elaine Gaston

Elaine Gaston

This week I enjoyed the launch of Elaine Gaston’s debut poetry collection in Ballycastle, which saw a great crowd turn out to support her and hear some of the poems being read.

Entitled ‘The Lie of the Land’, Elaine’s collection is a beautiful mix of poems rooted in the landscape she grew up in and those she discovered on some of her travels.

They conjure up precise images of particular moments – bringing the reader to another time and place and allowing us a glimpse into life in the glens of North Antrim, on the rugged coastline of Northern Ireland. Even if you think you don’t like poetry, these are poems that are accessible to everyone and are very cleverly put together. IMG_0770

The collection was introduced by Medbh McGuckian, who said Elaine “writes as truthfully and tenderly as Heaney about sorrow, love and the difficulties and joys of developing out from a narrow Ulster experience to embrace the whole world as a home.”

This certainly leaps out at you as you read through the book – the poems are both poignant and humourous, and painful moments – both personal and societal – are dealt with delicately without shying away from what they seek to address.

Medbh McGuckian's introduction at the launch.

Medbh McGuckian’s introduction at the launch.

This is a collection that’s a joy to read and is indeed, easily consumed – which further shows the skill with which it was written. Elaine, who has a theatrical background, also knows most of them off by heart and entertained us at the launch with her fabulously enthusiastic renditions of her work.

It certainly makes me consider my own ‘collection’, recently submitted to the Arts Council – a meagre 16 or so poems that is dwarfed by this collection of, er, 51, but it gives me something to aspire to and I’m still adding to my own work!IMG_0773

We do what we can do in the time that we have, and we appreciate the good work of others when we find it. :)

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Writing reflections

Arts Council logoThis week saw the completion of my short story and poetry collection, which I’ve spent the past year working on as part of the NI Arts Council/Lottery grant, so hopefully it will arrive in the post tomorrow morning for them! As I printed everything off and put the work in some sort of order, however, I couldn’t help but think of something Carlo Gebler (who I referenced last week) said about writing – that the end result often doesn’t reflect the amount of work that went into producing it.

I’ve sent in 16 stories in all, and about 15 poems – not everything made the cut and in truth, the final four stories I included sort of stand alone from the main collection of 12, but were sent along as they were part of the overall work produced over the course of the past 12 months. I didn’t help myself, I think, by getting a flurry of inspiration in the past couple of weeks for stories, which coincided with an extremely busy time with my job, so another 13th story missed the cut, as it just wasn’t ready and I wasn’t sure of how it should end. It awaits me still.

But looking at the writing I amassed, I was both pleased and also a little apprehensive. Was it enough? Was the writing really any good? Would the Arts Council like it? In truth, I know the point of the award was to support me in developing my art – my writing – and to produce the body of work I proposed, which I have, so all has been fulfilled. I also feel more confident in myself now as a writer, and have been published a few times already this year, which I put down to receiving the grant – it motivated and inspired me to write, and gave me the confidence to keep going and to believe in my ability.Flying letters

The end result though, does not reflect the hours of thinking time – the countless edits and rewrites – the scrapping of whole sections of stories, and the read-throughs time and again. I’m not saying the stories I sent in are amazing, but they’re the end result of a lot of work and through that, I hope I’ve improved my writing. That was, after all, the point.

With all now done, I wonder what the next step shall be? I intend of course to keep on writing and to use this experience to push forward and see where it takes me. It feels sort of odd at this point to have lost the ‘reason for writing’ that has followed me this past year – yes, I would have written anyway, but with a hectic 12 months in setting up my own business, I think that without the need to create the collections for the Arts Council, my writing would have suffered.

So, I will keep writing short stories and poetry – and submitting to journals and competitions – I may also try writing a novel. We’ll see. It’s been an interesting year though in my writing life, and I look forward to the next stage…

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Writers unite!

I’ve just finished reading NI writer Carlo Gebler’s latest book, Confessions of a Catastrophist, and I thought I’d share a few quotes from it. Certainly, reading the parts about ‘the literary life’ in the book showed me that in Carlo, there’s a kindred spirit.  And I quote:image

“This was one of the great curiosities of literary endeavour. Work never looked like the product of hard work… Some of my paranoid writer friends have always believed that this was the real reason no one liked paying us… The better something was, the less the effort to make it showed.”

Here’s another that will maybe resound with some of my own ‘paranoid writer friends!’

“…the strange expectation of so many in the world that as a writer, one is happy to work for free. ‘Would you ask a plumber to plumb for nothing, a coffin maker to make a coffin for nothing? No, but writers are endlessly expected to put out for nothing.'”

Anyway, I just thought I’d share those with you! I’m currently editing my poetry and story collection to send to the Arts Council this week, so it’s all go! Why, I ask, am I getting lots more ideas now at this final stage?! But I have quite a bit of writing accumulated over the year,  so I think I’m done. :)

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Literary launches and the like


Claire-Louise Bennett reads from her new short story collection, ‘Pond’.

It’s been a busy week on the writing front recently (hence the late post!), with a bit of the Belfast Book Festival – where I heard from The Stinging Fly short story writers, Claire-Louise Bennett, Danielle McLaughlin and Sara Baume – followed by the launch of the latest Incubator Journal. The week before, I also enjoyed the launch of Kelly Creighton’s debut novel, The Bones of It, so it’s been all go in a good way!

Add to that a spot of rewriting and new writing of short stories of my own, mixed in with a bit of reading and, well, you get the picture. A bookish sort of heaven, punctuated only by writing of the business-related kind – which helps to pay the bills…

With Sara Baume

With Sara Baume

I’ve also been reading Enniskillen-based author, Carlo Gebler’s, latest book – a memoir-type work called Confessions of a Catastrophist – which charts his literary experiences (of which he has many!) and how the writing world has changed in the past few decades. I’m about a quarter way through, but it’s already inspiring and it’s always helpful, I think, to read and learn from another writer’s life. Oh, and a catastrophist (in case you’re wondering), is ‘a person who regards historical or political events as progressively disastrous; a pessimist’, which should give you a feel for Carlo’s particular point of view! But, he’s refreshingly upfront about it all, I think, and puts his own humorous twist to things.

NOCTURNESAt the same time, I’m also currently reading John Connolly’s wonderfully creepy book of short stories, Nocturnes, which was another great find in a charity shop recently. Still, I finally found time to blog in all of this, but now, there’s a short story which needs a bit of knitting together, so until next week!

Happy writing :)

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Reviewing and writing

After having had good intentions of writing a fantastic piece of flash fiction last week, I realised (too late) that I’d, er, missed the deadline for the competition, so I’ve set the flash aside for now as I knuckle down to finishing what I started in the short stories. narrative-794978_1280

It’s good to mix things up with other writing in between, but my red pen has been out in earnest over the past few days to edit two more tales which will hopefully be added into the collection. What happens then, I know not, but in the past year, I’ve managed to compile a respectable assortment of stories (and poems), which I may not have otherwise done, so it’s satisfying to now start pulling them into some sort of order and reviewing all that I’ve written.

That’s not to say I’m enthralled with every word. Au contraire. But I now have a workable collection which, in the next year, may change shape or form, or be set aside in favour of a new one. Last year I did not. This is progress. My writing is, of course, also evolving as I go, and hopefully improving too. I’ve also established (if indeed, I was ever in any doubt) that my writing genre – if we must put labels on our writing, – is definitely in the magic realism/just plain magical category. This I love – others may not. You can’t please everyone with your writing, but then again… you shouldn’t have to. :)

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