Ballycastle, Bernie & poems!


It was most definitely all about the writing this weekend past, as I managed to fit in a creative writing class with Bernie McGill (above), wrote my NaPoWriMo poems and… finished the second read-through/corrections of ‘The Draft’!

On a surprisingly sunny Saturday morning, I took the beautiful coastal route to Ballycastle to join Bernie’s one-off writing workshop. Our group was a tidy five but this only made it easier I think, to chat and share our work in the couple of hours that we had. Our exercises were varied – first, we wrote a short excerpt based on a phrase we selected at random from Bernie (mine was to write about someone who is gone), as well as writing a piece inspired by an evocative smell (Bernie was very organised and had brought smelly things with her!) and writing about a character from a picture.

This last character-based exercise was very helpful especially, I thought, and highlighted the need to ask characters in your writing the following four key questions:

1) What do you want?

2) What is your secret?

3) What are you passionate about?

4) What are you afraid of?

You may not always answer every question you ask your characters but… you should always know the answers! Bernie reminded us that there must always be something at risk for your character and the reader must wonder what will happen as a result, in order to make it a story. A story needs a hook of course.

It’s always interesting to meet other writers (many of whom often feel reticent to call themselves writers, even though they write!), as it encourages and inspires and you always learn something. And everyone has a story to tell, even if they don’t know it (one lady spoke of her time abroad, of a kidnapping and being propositioned and then said she lacked inspiration!)

It has been said that writing for four hours a day is the ‘magic number’ when it comes to the hard slog but of course, not everyone in full-time jobs etc necessarily has this amount of time to spare. I do believe however, that if you really want to write, you’ll fit it in and around the chores and the cooking and the walking and the whatever else gets in the way. You have to.

Saturday also threw up the question of – to plot or not to plot? Do you write a book better by plotting out the story meticulously or by writing randomly?? Personally, I sketched a loose plot for my book which inspired my chapters, but as I wrote, ideas just came and often changed my narrative outline along the way. This, I think, is part of the beauty of writing and perfectly ok. I can see how it might help to plan every last detail with precision but I think that most writers probably veer off course at some point in their story.

With that in mind… is your book then plot-driven or character-driven? Both? I hope mine is both… I think I started with it being more plot oriented but I’ve fleshed my main character out a lot since I began writing and have a lot of accessory characters as well, so we’ll see. Verdict pending!

Meanwhile, on Sunday I finally finished the second read-through/correction of ‘The Draft’ and am now looking forward to combing through it even more meticulously a third time to tighten it up and make sure my language is both suitable and exciting! No cliches to appear at all!! I have to say I was relieved that after a few tweaks, my ending held up, as I’d been worried some of it clashed and wouldn’t make sense, but it all tied up in the end so thankfully, no major re-working there.

Onto the poetry then! Day 27 of Image asked us to choose a common proverb or phrase and then put it into a search engine, skim through the pages which came up and pluck inspiring words/phrases from those to use in a poem. In a hark back to Lucy Caldwell’s novel I chose… ‘If wishes were horses then beggars would ride…’


If wishes were horses then beggars would ride

like a bullet to the sun

like a chariot in its stride

If wishes were fishes we’d all be well fed

by the Queen of the World

who smothers white lies

and lives under a blue moon instead

Day 28 prompted us to pick a colour and use it as a guide to our poem i.e. incorporate synonyms for that colour, along with objects and moods associated with it. I give you…


Brown was the colour that clouded my vision that day

When morning cradled copper-coated, butternut hugs

and cinnamon sprinkles spun fortunes in my coffee.

Sensible, sedate, I chewed on the crumbs that fell from

biscuit thoughts which fenced mousy memories

one from the other – sunk them in soil thick and wriggling with worms.

My chair was mahogany

a rustic road-sign muddied with the dust of decades past

A mediocre splinter from a trunk gnarled and cracked 

and no longer

Just like me.

I tied together each stick, each spindly twig and root of my soul

to a telegraph pole

and the sky of bronze cried cocoa tears of joy.

My rusted heart it creaked

and shed a scale of copper

Greeted humbly the russet shape of love

and loved the chocolate taste of it against gravy-flavoured life.

A tawny, flushly feathered owl

it fluttered by my window

This wise – or is it unwise – sentry stared from where it sat

upon a branch that trembled, shuddered in the wind.

I closed the curtains on it.


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