Nothing stranger than fiction…

STRANGEHaving today rewritten a few chapters of my hitherto shelved children’s fantasy novel (set aside the past year to focus on my short stories and poetry), and being on the final leg of re-reading a magical classic (in my opinion), I’ve allowed my head to be filled with all sorts of strange ideas and fantastical ‘facts’ recently. And it’s been brilliant.

There’s nothing so strange as fiction, I believe, and it’s great fun to both read and write. The possibilities are endless and you can always bet on something unexpected lurking around the next corner. Nowhere is this more the truth than in Susanna Clarke’s novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is the book I’ve been re-reading this week. Let’s just say, it’s a bit of a door-stopper, and as it’s been 10 years since I read it last, it’s been like entering Clarke’s world for the first time again. You can imagine how great that is, when it’s a book you know you love – you just can’t remember the particulars of why…

Anyway, for those Strange and Norrell fans out there, you’ll know that tonight was the BBC’s airing of the first episode of the book, which has seemingly taken those past 10 years to bring to the screen. Peter Jackson managed to get Lord of the Rings condensed to film, but he struggled with Norrell & Strange, so it fell to the creator of Sherlock to do the deed. Library

I’m always hesitant when books are brought to life for film or TV, in case they meddle too much and, well, you know, change how you see the characters etc etc. I am, however, pleased to see that Strange, Norrell, Childermass and the gentleman with the thistle-down hair have stepped off the page and onto the TV in fine form and I can’t wait to see how the next bit of the story is shown.

I’m not often one to re-read books, especially long ones like Clarke’s, but when the writing’s this good, it’s worth it. It’s helped to re-inspire my own writing and has served as a timely reminder of those limitless possibilities in creating fiction. Well worth a read if you haven’t yet enjoyed it!

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When poetry and art collide

photo 1In recent weeks, I’ve devoted myself more to the writing of poetry than of short stories (although I’m back to the stories again now), and this week I visited the MAC in Belfast for the launch of the latest edition of poetry/art journal, Abridged.

I like it when different art forms collide, and this particular edition was created in conjunction with the art exhibition, I will go there, take me home, curated by Abridged editor, Gregory McCartney.

I was also lucky enough to have one of my poems, Spinning Shadows, included in the edition.11201869_10152769665350877_4488013456649642690_n

The overall initiative considered the theme of ‘the end of things,’ and the poetry was inspired by Dante’s purgatory in his epic poem, The Divine Comedy.

It’s always interesting to see how different poets interpret the same theme, and viewing the art linked in to this project gave it a whole other perspective. Indeed, through the various mediums of writing, painting, photography and installation, it presented a compelling new world to explore…

photo 3I’m keeping it short and sweet this week, as I’m intent on getting stuck into another short story and, while ideas are swimming around in my head, they must be caught and put on paper!

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Literary goings-on

BOOKS

Recent reads!

Around this time of year, literary events seem to pop up all over the place – at festivals, in the form of one-off workshops and in readings, launches and the like. This is good. I enjoy going along to whatever I can, and have in the past couple of weeks attended a festival, poetry workshop and book launch.

Such events are a great opportunity to mingle with other writers; to pick up some new writing tips or stumble upon fresh inspiration. It’s good to get away from your writer’s cubby-hole every once in a while after all.

However, the other side to that of course, is that it’s easy to begin comparing yourself to other writers – usually the ones who appear more successful than you. There’s also the fact that, when you’re at all these events, you’re not writing. The same goes for reading though, and I’ve spent this weekend immersed in Sara Baume’s ‘spill simmer falter wither’, and now need to pick up my own pen again.

With Paul McVeigh at the recent launch in Belfast of his book, The Good Son.

With Paul McVeigh at the recent launch in Belfast of his book, The Good Son.

But pick it up I will, for these fallow periods are needed for nourishment, I think.

Different people tell you different things about how they write, but I like to follow my senses and write as often as I can, while also making sure not to neglect the reading and the thinking periods. The incubation of ideas. I’ve been indulging in my poetry in recent weeks, but now it’s back to the short stories. My fallow period in this regard is drawing to a close, but I feel refreshed and ready to get stuck in. :)

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What’s in a word?

IMG_0676Yesterday, I made what has become my annual pilgrimage from the north coast to Carnlough – a beautiful little seaside village nestled beneath the cliffs where, every Spring, the John Hewitt Society’s Spring Festival takes place.

The route I take to get there hugs the coastline; the road winding through quiet villages; stretching over sparse, windswept hilltops, and twisting and turning beneath canopies of crooked trees – all against the backdrop of a glittering blue ocean and sweeping blue sky. In short, I relish the drive almost as much as the Spring Festival, and for the past three years, I’ve been blessed with wonderful weather each time.

Stephen Sexton reads from his debut poetry pamphlet, Oils.

Stephen Sexton reads from his debut poetry pamphlet, Oils.

I’m writing a review of yesterday’s poetry readings – which came from Belfast poets Stephen Sexton and Ciaran Carson – for Culture NI, so I won’t go into that now, but I did want to pick out something that both writers mentioned when it comes to writing poetry.

Apparently, Ciaran Carson, who lectures at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast, always tells his students to ‘look every word up’ when they write. A lot of the time, he said, you’ll find the word doesn’t mean exactly what you thought it did. It will help your poetry, was the implication.

I do this now and again when I’m reading. A word might keep cropping up that I read all the time and roughly know, in context, what it means, but then I’ll think – if someone asked me, I couldn’t give them a definition. So, I’ve looked up a few words in my time (!) and have usually found exactly as Ciaran said – that the word will mean something slightly different from what I thought it did, or it will have multiple more meanings which immediately make it more interesting and give me more ways in which to use it in my own writing.

Belfast poet, Ciaran Carson, chats about writing and reads some of his work.

Belfast poet, Ciaran Carson, chats about writing and reads some of his work.

Both Stephen and Ciaran (Stephen is an ex-student of Ciaran’s) have done this in their work, and both are very successful poets. I’m not saying everyone has to use this technique, I do think it’s a good idea, as words can change their meaning over time, or still have meanings that we’ve forgotten about or never really knew.

When it comes to language, we never know it all. Language is full of twists and turns, and is always metamorphosing, so there are endless possibilities, I think, when it comes to weaving those words together…

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Poetry with Penelope

Opposite Belfast City Hall sits the city’s oldest library and it was here, squirreled away in a book-lined room amid beautifully ornate surroundings, that Penelope Shuttle was to be found a few days ago.

Linen Hall Library is resplendent in original features, with polished wooden bannisters, a bubbling café area and of course, a fair few books. It’s a little gem embedded in the heart of Belfast and one which I intend to visit more often, but my recent visit was all about the poetry – in this case, a workshop led by Penelope.

Our theme was ‘streets’ and we began by reading the poem Heckmondwyke by Catherine Smith – a poem which illustrated perfectly how a street can inspire so much more than you might at first think! That’s the beauty of poetry of course – it can take you somewhere completely different from where you intended to go…budapest-253850_1280

Before we knuckled down to the writing, we each brainstormed some street-related words for use, if we liked, in our own poems. It turned out though, that Penelope’s prompts of strange street names (my own choice was Beak Street), along with random words to work into the text, were sufficient for most of us!

This is what I like about workshops – I’ve never written about a street before, or indeed used it as my starting point for a poem, but this exercise has inspired me to do so again. The poem might be about the street, the people in it, on it or near it; it may be about the idea of the street; it’s essence/history/future – or it might led you off on a tangent to somewhere deliciously different. But why not start with a street?

The two poems we each created stemmed from two exercises:

1) Either writing about the dark side of a street (using a name chosen from those Penelope provided), or writing about five things a street can do.

2) Choosing a question Penelope gave us about streets and writing an answer to that in our poem (I, along with a few others, chose to write about The Perfect Street).

photo 2We also read through a few other street poems, including Rue di Puits-qui-Parle by Pascale Petit, Niece by George Oppen, and Retreat by Gerry Cambridge (my particular favourite!).

I left the workshop suitably inspired to work on my poems, or to write fresh street-related poems using my own internal prompts. It’s always great to get out and learn from other writers – to consider other perspectives to your writing and to return home with new ideas and a little more spark than before…

 

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Philosophical words

bone clocksSince last week, I’ve jumped straight from David Mitchell’s brilliant, The Bone Clocks, to Jostein Gaarder’s equally absorbing Sophie’s World. (The original was published in Norway in 1991 and the English version later in the decade, but it was a big hit at the time.)

Both of these books embody what I love about reading – the stories encourage you to think a little more about the world, and in a different way than you did before. You might say, well – surely all books do that? Okay, yes, but not all to the same degree.

It’s possibly also why I love fantasy books so much, as they challenge readers to consider something outside of their normal world view – to explore beyond what they know, even if there’s no ‘real’ possibility that such things could possibly happen in their own lives… Fantasy stories sometimes get a bad rap, but myths, fairy stories and the fantastical creations of people like Tolkien and Pratchett push the boundaries in writing and challenge us to think more creatively.SOPHIES WOrRLD

I’ve slackened a bit in my own writing this week (!), due to the aftermath of Easter and getting stuck back into work, but I think my stories and poems will be laced with the spirit of what I’ve just lately read and am currently reading. Sophie’s World is a crash-course in philosophy, written by an author who taught the subject, but the ancient ideas it discusses are embedded within a fictional narrative and it’s so far proving to be excellent reading (perhaps particularly as I almost studied philosophy at university!).

I always want my own tales to challenge the reader and make them ponder the story afterwards. Philosophy, to me, is the epitome of open-mindedness and as I delve deeper into Sophie’s World, I’m excited about what will rub off on me. :)

PS Some more good news this week regarding my poetry… My poem, Spinning Shadows, will be published in the next edition of the Northern Ireland literary journal, Abridged, so I’m very happy about that! If you read the link above which describes the issue (Take Me Home) that my poem will appear in, it fittingly ties in with what I’ve just been writing about here…

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Spring writing!

spring-640958_1280Today, on Easter Sunday, spring finally decided to shake off the winter chill and emerge bright and warm and wonderful.

Whether it’ll last is another thing, but it inspired me to have a little spring clean of my spare room (!) and to consider my next wave of writing…

Of the short stories written since last July, I have still a few I want to rework, but the shift in the seasons has also made me want to spring-clean my writing, so to speak. bone clocksA couple of my earlier tales still have potential, but they need to rest a while before they can be refined. At the minute, I’ve lived with them too closely for too long, so it’s onwards to something new in the meantime!

With the longer evenings and brighter days, perhaps my writing will also take on a sunnier disposition… My poetry, at least, has very much been influenced by dark winter evenings over the past few months, with much talk of the moon and stars, so we’ll see what spring brings. Do the seasons influence your writing, I wonder? As a daily dog walker, I have to admit, my writing does seem to soak up my surroundings, but I also do have a natural inclination towards dark, quirky fiction!easter-683084_1280

With my reading, meanwhile, I’ve just delved into a whopper of a novel by David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks, which is turning out to be just as brilliant as I suspected it would be.

So, for now, Happy Easter and I hope the spring sunshine inspires you to some fresh new writing as well :)

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