Category Archives: Poetry

Bookish wrap-up and review

This month I have an addition of a short book review, so I’ll try to keep the rest of the blog short!

Big Telly Theatre project

First up, May saw the first professional read-through of my story for Big Telly Theatre (see previous couple of posts for more details on that). Essentially, this means that some local actors gathered together with myself, the Big Telly team and the other writers involved with the project to read through our work ahead of the audio recordings which will follow later on this year. It was great to hear the other stories for the first time, as well as listening to people reading my own work aloud.

We brainstormed feedback on each piece of writing and discussed some other things relating to the overall project too. I’m really looking forward to seeing how everything comes together in the end, so more details as I have them!

Riverside Readings at Ulster UniversityMD

One of the writers involved with the Big Telly project is poet Moyra Donaldson, and she’s also just launched her latest poetry collection, Carnivorous, performing readings across NI with fellow Doire Press poet, Glen Wilson.

While Moyra was unable to make the reading at Ulster University in May, we were still able to enjoy hearing her poetry, which was kindly read by poets Stephanie Conn and Kathleen McCracken. We also heard Glen reading work from his debut collection, An Experience on the Tongue.GlenW

It’s always great getting out to meet and hear from other writers and especially good when it’s so close to home, so this was a lovely afternoon.

Giant’s Causeway Book Club

Our book clubbers met last night to discuss our May read, which was The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland. This medieval thriller scored a fairly respectable 6/10 – I think most of the group felt that it was missing ‘something’ but our discussion revolved around lots of things we liked about it, so I think it went down better than the scoring reflects! Personally, I found it a page-turner and I enjoyed the story and the multiple narratives, which allowed the reader to see from various viewpoints and gave an insight into each of the main characters.June FB cover

Our June reads are the play, Peter and Alice, by John Logan (performed in 2013 by Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw), along with Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Everyone was keen to read this after our April book choice of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit so we decided to read this as well. They’re short books, so will be easily read in a month!

Pan’s Labyrinth book review* (*contains spoilers)Pan

And so, to the book review! I’m a big fan of the film, Pan’s Labyrinth, by Guillermo del Toro so when I discovered there was a novel of this due out in the summer, I just had to ask for an ARC. Thankfully, the lovely publicity people at Bloomsbury Publishing sent me out a review copy and I subsequently devoured it over a couple of days…

First up, the book is being published on July 2 and you can pre-order a copy at the link below if you so wish (or click if you just want to find out more about it):

And so, to the review.

For those who, like myself, enjoyed the Pan’s Labyrinth film, no introduction is needed as to what the story is about. However, if you haven’t seen the film then, essentially, it’s a deliciously dark fairy tale (for adults) set in Spain after the civil war. The year is 1944 and the Resistance has fled to the forests. Our main character, a young girl called Ofelia, moves to an old mill beside one such forest, as her widowed mother has married an army captain who wants her with him when she gives birth to their son (and no, not because he loves her…) When they arrive, Ofelia quickly discovers there’s more to the place than meets the eye, including fairies, a faun and a whole hidden world to which she’s told she belongs and can return to – an underground kingdom where she’s a princess…

There’s more, but we’ll discuss that as we go. I really like the story and on the whole, I enjoyed the novel, which is written by both Guillermo del Toro and children’s author, Cornelia Funke (of Inkheart fame). Each section is preceded by a myth which weaves in the story of the underground princess, Moana, along with other tales which tie in with what’s happening with Ofelia in the present-day. The fairies lead her to a faun who explains that she must complete three tasks to prove she is truly Princess Moana and so return to the underground realm. This involves facing a giant toad who lives in the roots of a huge tree, as well as the terrifying child-eater, or Pale Man, and finally, sacrificing an innocent.

The myths fill in the background to these tasks, explaining their significance to the reader and I think they work well in the book. There are also beautiful illustrations at the beginning of each section, which are always nice to have!

Although I haven’t watched the film for a few years, I could easily picture the scenes from that as I read the book and to my mind, I didn’t come across any material which was truly ‘new’. I had understood that the book would contain a more fleshed-out narrative but in my opinion, it was all as expected. This is completely fine, of course, except that the promo says the book has ‘expansive original material’. On reflection, this may simply refer to the fact that as a novel and not a script, the material is freshly written, but for some reason I thought there might be added layers to the story which I just didn’t find.Pan2

I haven’t read many books by multiple authors and I think that on this occasion, it may have affected the flow of the writing. Personally (and of course, this entire review is made up of my own personal opinions, so make of them as you wish), I found the overuse of the words ‘for sure’ fairly irritating and in every instance (my inner editor says), they could have been cut. I found that they disrupted the flow of the writing and it may seem a minor thing, but for this reader, it irked.

That being said, there was lots of the writing that I liked, for example:

‘Her mother said fairy tales didn’t have anything to do with the world, but Ofelia knew better. They had taught her everything about it.’

I thing fairy tales help us to understand the world and our place in it and I like how fantasy is used here to reflect the world back at us and Ofelia.

‘But men don’t hear what the trees say. They have forgotten how to listen to the wild things…’

On occasion, there are pieces of writing which I felt could have been reworked to keep in with the old ‘show, don’t tell’ aspect of writing. For example, when Capitan Vidal is listening to playful music, do we need to be told in black and white that ‘It gave away that cruelty and death were a dance for him.’ ?? To me, it’s unnecessary, as the simple juxtaposition of the cruel Vidal shaving himself while listening to the light-hearted music shows us this without the need to spell it out. Sometimes, subtlety is lacking.

However, we always dwell on the negatives, don’t we, and while there are a few things which snagged me while reading, I did read the book very quickly (always a good sign!) and enjoyed doing so. It’s always difficult reading a book after having seen the film and in this rather unusual case, the film preceded the writing of the book. However, if you enjoyed the film then you’ll most certainly enjoy the novel and as I was reading a proof copy, who knows, perhaps those pesky ‘for sure’s will have vanished by the time of publication… 🙂

All in all, Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun does exactly what you would hope it to do, delivering a dark fairy tale which is packed full of myth, magic and murderous men… NB I definitely found it easier to read about the Capitan’s violence than I did watching these more gory aspects of the story on film (but that’s just me!) and I would point out, for those unfamiliar with the story, that this is not a book for kids.

If I was to give it a star rating out of five then I think for me, it’s a solid four. It has all the ingredients of a great fairy tale and is a compelling story which is always moving swiftly onwards, with everything from magical creatures to rebel fighters and of course, a young girl trying to find her way home.




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Autumn inspirations

With autumn comes, for me, an added compulsion to write. There’s just something about the season that’s infinitely more appealing and inspiring to me than the mugginess of summer. I like the coolness, the dark evenings, the subtle shift in ambience.

So, it was an added bonus that this autumn kicked off with a few special literary events, as the new Seamus Heaney Homeplace Centre opened its doors in Bellaghy. What better way to be inspired than visiting the home of one of our finest-ever poets and immersing oneself in both his words and those of other great writers? img_0157

Last weekend was filled with more than a few poems from the past with the launch of All Through the Night: Night Poems & Lullabies – an anthology edited by Marie Heaney – with Michael Longley and Marie herself reading from the book, along with Gerarld Dawe. Bronagh Gallagher also sang some of her songs, before putting one of the lullabies to music.

There was also Bach to Broagh, which saw Christian Poltera play on a 300-year-old Stradivarius cello, with Fiona Shaw reading Heaney’s poems in between. There was also a heck of a lot more, but these are the gems I managed to take in anyway.

Today, there’ll be Beethoven’s Opus 132 to enjoy in the atmospheric settings of St Mary’s and St Tida’s Churches in Bellaghy – the former church being where Heaney is buried. Both Heaney and TS Eliot were inspired by Beethoven’s music and we’ll hear The Play Way being read, while Eliot’s Four Quartets will also be put to music.

What could be more enchanting and inspirational than that…?fullsizerender-3

Poetry inspires all of my writing – the prose, the poems – and I think that not to read poetry, or indeed, not to read fiction as a poet, would leave my literary life just that little bit bleaker.

It’s just a few weeks until my novel will be in the hands of my editor and I know that once I get that back, there’ll be lots more to do with the manuscript. So, in the meantime, I’m thinking that some new poetry or a short story or two might just be what’s needed in the interim. My cover design for the book is also pending – all details have been sent to the designer so hopefully I’ll see how that’s taking shape soon. There’s lots to do – and lots more to be inspired by…


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It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the writing front, both with book things and poetry. In the past few days I enjoyed reading some of my own poems (in my first poetry slam!), along with a Seamus Heaney one, at an event in Bellaghy which celebrated 50 years of Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist collection, and also his work in general. Held at Bellaghy Bawn and organised by the Poetry House, the day-long event brought together poets and artists, musicians and chefs, with something for everyone to enjoy.

Bellaghy reading

Reading ‘Blackberry Picking’ by Seamus Heaney at Bellaghy Bawn .


Earlier in the week, I was also delighted to discover that one of my poems had been selected in the Fourth Annual Bangor Poetry Competition. It’s now hanging (handwritten and framed) in Blackberry Path Art Studios in Bangor, after I dropped it off yesterday morning, and will be exhibited there for two weeks following the official launch event this Friday evening. All of the poems will be subjected to a public vote to decide the winner, who will then read their work at the upcoming Aspects Festival.

As for the manuscript… my self-publishing journey has definitely begun, as I did yet more editing of the book over the past couple of weeks (I have no idea what number I’m on in edits at this stage… I just know it’s been enough that I’ve lost count!) and I found myself some beta readers, including a few ‘age-appropriate’ ones. (Gulp). So, we’ll see what the kids have to say about it all – and I know they’ll be honest (as kids always are!) and won’t spare my feelings, so fingers are firmly crossed…elf-478330_1280

I delayed emailing about copy-editing and cover design in the interim, as I wanted to get the beta readers sorted first, but did make contact with a few people before the weekend, as I know that most of these guys are unlikely to just be able to take you on as soon as you email them. You need to assume it could be a few months and indeed, the editor won’t be free until November and the cover designer October, so that’s why we plan ahead!

This is no rush job though… there’s still lots to be done and, all being well, I’m aiming for publication in spring 2017. However, we’ll see what happens. No-one knows how long the editing process will take and if it’s going to be done, then it’s going to be done right.

News as I have it… 🙂

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Distilling words

‘Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science.’ Wordsworth.

I’m not sure if I’ve shared this quote before but whether I have or not, it’s worth sharing again. Poetry is enjoying renewed popularity (depending on who you talk to anyway), and I for one think that it will always endure because it is a form of expression used by many when all other forms fail.dandelion-463928_1280

It seeks to represent a myriad of emotions and ideas by stripping back our language and refining it for maximum impact – putting on paper the very essence of our thoughts. What remains is writing that’s distilled down to the bare essentials; which is not to say the language isn’t rich or even complex in form but rather, that all other noise is muted and we’re invited to take float away with the words, wherever they take us…

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Creative links

photo 3Yesterday I was delighted to pick up my copy of SHIFT Lit -Derry, which is a really nicely produced local writing magazine crammed full of poetry, stories and art. This third edition took on the theme of women, and I met some of the other contributors and the SHIFT Lit team as they launched the magazine at the Women of the World Festival in Derry.

During my visit to the city, I also enjoyed meeting lawyer/crime writer, Desmond J Doherty, as well as taking in a double book launch from Sam Burnside, who has a new book of poetry and a book of children’s stories out. All in all, it was a busy day of writing events and I’ll have links soon on my articles page here with regards the interview with Des and the review of the launch (if anyone’s interested).

Far left - Geraldine and Aine from SHIFT Lit, with two contributors to the mag.

Far left – Geraldine and Aine from SHIFT Lit, with two contributors to the mag.

As for my own scribblings – it’s been more of an editing job this week, but I went to a poetry lecture on Thursday which has got me thinking on some new ideas, and I feel there’s another short story ready to be written!

My other writing news this week is that I was very pleased to learn that my short story for children – The Wishing Tree -has been accepted for publication in the inaugural edition of the new NI journal for children’s writing, The Launchpad.

11045486_10153132938600877_1332391419223408004_nSo, it’s been a good week for writerly things with me, although next week, I hope to put a bit more ink in my notebooks. 🙂

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Notebooks and novellas

photo (2)On a day when the wind is gusting round the house and the rain is making the coals sizzle in the hearth, there’s nothing better than seeking refuge on the sofa with a stack of books. It is November now after all, and up here on the north coast of Ireland it does get rather blustery! Knowing I have time on a Sunday to do my own writing and read for more than a few snatched minutes makes up for all the missed moments during the week, when work and other commitments consume, although every week is different of course.

Today, I edited and re-wrote elements of two of my recent childhood-inspired poems, as well as writing a new one, so I have my selection for submitting to the CAP poetry anthology judges later this month. More refining may follow, but the skeletons are now in place.

I also immersed myself in John Connolly’s Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2 – a wonderfully creepy tome filled with bookish novellas and short stories, which is just perfect to read on a day like today. Unlike some other supposedly chilling stories which I’ve read over the years without so much as a shiver down the spine, Connolly’s haunting tales always deliver, so I’m savouring this book while I can. Hopefully some of his skill will rub off in my own writing… There’s no harm in hoping. 🙂books-20167_1280

Speaking of my own stories, I’m very pleased to say that one of these will be published in the next edition of a magazine which champions new writing over here in Northern Ireland – SHIFT Lit – Derry – so I’ll be picking up my copy of that this weekend. It’s one I wrote a few years ago, when I began writing again in earnest. My short stories are usually a minimum of 2,000 words and the requirement for the magazine was around the 1,300 word mark, so to me it’s not quite flash fiction, but somewhere thereabouts. The story was one I’d always quite liked but never done anything with, and it was also around 1,500 words, so I edited it and tightened it up and was therefore very happy to hear it had found a suitable home.

I’ll also be dropping into a double book launch next weekend, as Sam Burnside reveals his latest poetry collection and children’s book, so more will follow on that!

Anyway, that’s my writing story this week… 🙂

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Unlocking the poetic form

heart-773140_1280Mid last week, I went along to a poetry workshop aimed at facilitating us north coast writers in producing a new poetic work for submission to the 2016 CAP poetry anthology.

This is an anthology published yearly by the Community Arts Partnership in Northern Ireland, and I’ve been lucky enough to have featured in the last two editions. Which sort of puts on the pressure in making it a hattrick!

However, it gives one something to aim for, so there’s nothing wrong with that.

This time around, the theme for the anthology is loosely based on connections, so it’s a wide spec, which I think is their aim – it could inspire all types of poems. The question is – what to write? background-936710_1920The workshop I attended in Ballycastle (where I joined some of the wordsmiths from the Ballycastle Writer’s Group!), was led by Georgia Wilder, who chatted to us about poetic form, including the ‘found form’ as well as things like villanelles, sonnets and the like. As I usually tend to write in free verse, I enjoyed going into all of this, although I think writing in form does run the risk of distorting what you want to write sometimes, in order to make it fit the style.

However, I’m now suitably re-armed with thoughts on the poetic foot, meter and scansion, so all that’s left is to have a go at writing something new and exciting… or possibly editing one of those wee poems I recently wrote while under the influence of Plath and Hughes. We’ll see what happens. 🙂

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Thrills and spills in writer-land

With John Connolly.

With John Connolly.

We’re extremely lucky in Northern Ireland to have a brilliant independent bookstore called No Alibis in Belfast. You can find it nestled on Botanic Avenue – a bustling street populated with students and creative types, coffee shops and more. As well as selling crime fiction, which it’s very well known for, No Alibis also stocks a wide range of other fiction and poetry books, and often holds book launches and music nights. In short, it’s a Northern Irish gem when it comes to the arts.

So, this week, I enjoyed a double book launch in the store with none other than John Connolly and Brian McGilloway – from Dublin and Derry respectively. Both are thriller writers, although John Connolly was launching his latest collection of spooky short stories, Night Music: Nocturnes 2, while Brian McGilloway was debuting his latest DS Black book, Preserve the Dead. (You can read my official review of the evening here.)

Anyway, as we all know, there’s nothing like going to a literary event to get you inspired, and it was great fun listening to these two chat with host David Torrans about books and reading. I like that both of them prefer the feel of a traditional paperback in their hands rather than e-readers and that a mystery/detective book was the first type of book both of them read as kids as their first ‘reading alone’ book.

David Connolly, David Torrans and Brian McGilloway talk books at No Alibis Bookstore.

David Connolly, David Torrans and Brian McGilloway talk books at No Alibis Bookstore.

I also like the fact that Connolly, like myself, now keeps a book journal so he can remember what books he’s read in the year and that he’s a self-confessed bibliophile – he collects books and loves being surrounded by them; can’t resist them.

It’s always nice to see authors in the flesh, I think, and while everyone writes differently, hearing about their writing processes is intriguing. Connolly says he has nothing lurking in drawers that could be published – he writes with the purpose of publication and wants everything to be perfect (that’s the journalist in him I think!). McGilloway on the other hand, like most writers I’d say, has a drawer of half-finished or discarded pieces of writing – for a rainy day. He might use an idea or two from these at a later stage; Connolly however, doesn’t work this way. He added that for him, writing a novel was a two-year process, which is interesting to hear in this world of seemingly speedy wordsmiths. But again, everyone has their own ways and habits of writing.

CONNOLLY2Myself? Well, it was a week of nights out for me this week with work and what not and, as I usually squeeze my writing into the darkening hours, I had to wait until today (Sunday) to do some scribbling. But my hand could not be stayed thankfully, and I managed to write a chunk of my latest story, as well as a wee poem. (How good these poems are remains to be seen, but I’ve amassed a fair few over the past couple of weeks, using my early childhood as inspiration, and I quite like them anyway!)

The important thing is – to keep writing and to keep being inspired. 🙂

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Meandering on…

Following on from last week’s flurry of poetic activity, I’ll admit, I haven’t been quite as proactive this week, although I did manage to pen four more poems and did a little bit of prose writing. I also managed to find Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters in my local second-hand bookstore on Saturday (along with a few great books from some Irish writers, including Edna O’Brien and Colum McCann!).

photo (3)I really need another bookcase…

There are so many great books, stories and poems out there already that it seems sometimes futile to be attempting to add to their number, but then, this is why it’s so important to mix contemporary writing with what has gone before when reading. The oldies are great, but new writers shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored, as they’re the next link on the literary chain. However, on the other hand, modern writers shouldn’t, I think, be consumed without any enjoyment of their predecessors as well. It’s a balancing act, as I really believe the best reading experience is to have a blend of both. You can’t read everything in your lifetime but, well, you can try!

As for me – I’m currently in somewhat of a ‘what’s gone before’ phase, reading the likes of Hughes and Edna O’Brien and also just now, a book from the 80s by Polly Devlin, although I’m also reading the latest short story collection from Tramp Press and have got a few other new novels waiting on the sidelines. With books, as you can see, I have no issue with simultaneous reading!

Meanwhile, my own writing tootles along somewhere in between all of this, being both inspired and frightened off after reading all of these literary greats… 🙂

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Plath and Hughes = muse

My new poetic tome...

My new poetic tome…

Over the weekend, I caught a programme on BBC2 about the poets, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (worth catching on iPlayer!) and it had the effect of bringing my poetic consciousness out of hibernation. Yes, I admit it had been squirreled away in some remote corner of late, but I was suitably inspired and I went with it. My previous poetry book where, yes, I wrote all my poems by hand, had given up its final page a short while back, and a new book beckoned.

Listening to friends and acquaintances of Plath and Hughes speak, as well as hearing them both physically read their poems, brought home the idea of the personal muse.

Yes, it’s hardly an earthshattering announcement, I know – to use personal experience and/or people to inspire your work – but most of my poetry is abstract in that it deals very little with my personal life. I write from afar – I use it as an often fictional narrative and while I don’t think there’s anything very wrong with that, this documentary was the spark that made me sit down on Sunday and pen seven poems one after the other in my freshly minted little paperback book (nicely decorated with a stag that’s quite literally blossoming…)

My poem (beneath the pic) in the County Derry Post.

My poem (beneath the pic) in the County Derry Post.

Reading them back, I was actually happy with what I had produced, straight from memory – snapshots of personal events from my childhood – little moments which for me, are the signposts to another time.

I wrote another two today, and was also delighted to discover that my poem, Winter’s Witching Hour, which I wrote last Christmas, had been published in the inaugural ‘Writer’s Corner’ page of a local newspaper, the County Derry Post.

It’s been a poetic reawakening for me these past few days, and I intend to keep it up!

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