Tag Archives: NaPoWriMo



I may have to admit that I’m missing NaPoWriMo… just a little. The demand to write a poem a day was sometimes quite stressful but then again, they got written and May has brought with it a distinct lack of poetic creativity! (Well, so far). 

Anyway, I wasn’t able to go to Ms Gruer’s writing meet-up this week, due to work commitments, but I understand she posed some abstract questions to the writers who did make it, such as ‘what can you catch on your tongue?’ and ‘what would you do with a tail if you had one?’ I might have a think about those myself!

What I have been doing (other than posing with my Blackstaff Press books for a wee story in the paper!), is cracking on with ‘The Draft’ and seeking feedback… First up, I met with my friend (picture-book Jenny) at the weekend to exchange some encouraging words on our respective projects. Whilst I am poring through my novel making amendments, Jenny is currently crafting her picture book and I really enjoyed hearing what she had written so far. 

We both identified local writers we could approach about our writing and I will be having coffee with one of these – young adult novelist Debbie McCune – next Tuesday in Portstewart. Having just seen her book ‘Death & Co’ published (and so far very well received), Debbie has very kindly agreed to read a few of my chapters when she gets through her current flurry of PR activities. So… I will update on that as and when it happens.

Meanwhile, Jenny has now read my first chapter and delivered a very nice review, so that has boosted me quite a bit and added to the hope that it is actually, maybe ok after all… I was worried about getting the portrayal of my main character just right and her comments have helped allay the fear that I hadn’t described her as she was in my head!

As far as my editing goes – I’m now mid-way through the third read-through and this time around, it is much easier to spot phrases or paragraphs which need tightening up or simplified, having already corrected bits and pieces on previous occasions. It’s surprisingly sometimes what you can miss! After these corrections though, I’m confidant I will have a manuscript poised for the next step…

I may have missed El’s class this week but tomorrow evening I will be taking the scenic route to Carnlough – to the Londonderry Arms Hotel to be precise, for a creative writing workshop with poet, critic, curator and now novelist, Cherry Smyth, who is taking part in 11th John Hewitt Spring Festival. I’m looking forward to both the class and also to meeting more writers and seeing bits of the north coast I have to admit I haven’t seen before, so… more details on this next week! Image

I actually had the pleasure of chatting with Cherry this morning, as I’m writing an article for the paper about her writing experiences and the forthcoming publication of her debut novel ‘Hold Still’. So… I will leave you with some of her words…

“Life-changing events… are very very affecting. Poetry is a cure for that. You can look back and see the state you were in and see yourself coming out of it from the poem.

“I love having those sort of verbal trophies. It’s like an image of the struggle and the poem is the prize.”

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Workshops galore!


This week, I have been keeping myself busy with not one, but two writing workshops, so I will begin with the most recent, which took place at the Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre in Limavady yesterday morning. The class (which focused on poetry!!) was led by Irish News columnist and BBC Radio Ulster broadcaster, Anita Robinson and included myself and members of the Jane Ross Writers Group. We subsequently enjoyed a very lively session of composition!

First up, was a group effort to produce a ‘Kenning poem’, something I’d never heard of, but which is apparently a poem composed of two-word phrases which describes something using a metaphor. We came up with:


Door slammer / Mood swinger / Tantrum thrower / Ghetto blaster / Mischief maker / Biscuit burglar / Duvet snuggler / Bear hugger / Heart warmer / Teen!

As Anita said – ‘Poetry is the music of being human’ and ‘the distillation of an idea’.

We moved onto Haiku next, something I’ve become more familiar with recently thanks to El’s writing classes. The simple three-line / 5-7-5 syllable format sounds easy, but can often be more tricky to write than you think! Anyway, the subject was Spring and my effort produced…


Shadows softly fade

Tentative twitterings sound

Nature now stretches

Moving swiftly on to the next challenge and I was greeted with the friendly Cinquain, which I became acquainted with during NaPoWriMo. This, for those who er, ‘forget’, is a five-line poem with the syllable structure 2-4-6-8-2 and our topic was May Day (something I have to confess I know little about!) However…


Dancing children

Peals of joyful laughter

Weaving in and out to music

May Day

Our penultimate exercise was to compose a three-verse piece beginning with variations of ‘I’ e.g. ‘I am…’/ ‘I wonder…’ / ‘I hear…’ etc. I came up with:


I am a writer

I wonder about the thoughts growing in people’s minds

I hear life and want to write it down

I see hope and follow it

I want to inspire

I am a writer.

I pretend that it’s just for fun

I feel though, that with words I’ve won

I touch paper, soft and smooth

I worry about not writing ‘right’

I cry only if it goes terribly wrong

I am a writer.

I understand not everything works

I say it doesn’t matter 

I dream of creating magic

I try to pin it down

I hope and hope and hope

I am a writer.

That was my effort on the hoof yesterday anyway! It could maybe be tweaked a bit but, as Anita said, it probably does tell a lot about me!

Our final exercise (after some tea and biscuits of course!) was to pick an object from a variety set out on the table and then write something about it. I chose an old, chipped metal toy figure of Red Riding Hood… (I don’t know what it is with me and figurines.. I chose a similar object when El did this exercise!)


She reaches, beckons

cloaked in red,


Forgotten, discarded

or lost?

Age etched on her chipped paint

Owner unknown.

So, all in all, it was a busy enough morning but great to meet the Jane Ross writers and Anita – who takes ‘a poem with her pills’ before bed every night! A recommendation for everyone indeed, although maybe not necessarily with pills!


On to El’s class then from Tuesday night! As you can see, I was joined by a little stowaway, but he lay peacefully at my feet throughout the entire session and was good as gold! (Except when it came to looking at the camera!)

We were joined this week with a few new and much welcomed members and kicked off as we did last week, writing in a stream of consciousness for 13 minutes. It’s something I’m beginning to like I think!

Next, it was onto some ‘Mind Mapping’. El dispensed various titles and we had to decide if we thought they would work best as a novel, poem, short story etc and how that would look. There were quite a few interesting ideas for ‘The Following’ – including a cult, a familial tree and an X-Factor-type show for voting who gets to live – Jesus or Barabas! I of course, read out my ‘Chicken and Eggs’ rhyme which er… I ‘forget’!

Characterisation was next and answering a series of questions about two different people linked to an old tennis racquet. Again, lots of different scenarios here! From there, it was onto ‘Voice and the consistency of voice‘ and for this, we wrote a journal entry from the perspective of a 59 year-old man who had just been told his wife had drowned. It was a really good way to create something in a completely different voice to your own and great practice for getting ‘in character’!

I can see this post is getting ever longer so I’ll leave it at that for now!

Well, almost… I had a lovely piece of news yesterday afternoon when I found out that I’d come second in the Blackstaff Press Skypen short story competition! I’m very chuffed indeed and my story will now appear on the Blackstaff Press blog AND I got to pick a free book from their online store. Brilliant!

For those who are interested, you can read it here on Sky Pen 🙂


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To the stars!



The hall was finally destitute and the insignificant door was

Drinking rain and black branches by it

Noisily normal and compatible

Space is further than I suppose it.


Space is saner and less of it than I dream

Malleably singular. She caresses and squeezes

A plum and sucks the flesh and tastes

The soberness of it not being the same.


And the fire sputters with a simmering whisper for space

Is less kindly and static than they think-

In the taste in the sight in the sound on the soles of their feet-

There is less than wood beside the rain and the tiny branches.

Ok, that was my offering for this the unbelievably 30th and final day of Image

Our challenge this splendid sunny Tuesday was to choose a favourite poem and then re-write each line, replacing as many words as we could with their opposites, the idea being that ‘this is a fun way to respond to a poem you like, while also learning how that poem’s rhetorical strategies really work.’

I chose another of Louise MacNeice’s poems – ‘Snow’ – but of course, his language is quite difficult to write the opposite of!! (Or so I found anyway!) I hope though, that I’ve done an ok job with it.

As I said yesterday, my poetry writing might be taking a bit of a back-seat now, after the unexpected flurry of poetry production over the last 30 days… ‘The Draft’ needs work and I have a few writing workshops and what-not coming up, so there will be plenty else to keep me occupied and to keep the blog full! First up is El’s creative writing class tonight and tomorrow I will be attending a workshop at the Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre in Limavady, led by columnist and radio presenter Anita Robinson.

My posts will generally be back to once a week from hereonin, although I just might throw in the odd extra update along the way!

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Paint pots – smears of azul y rojo, greens and yellows

cluttered onto pages cream


Caterpillar letters crawl across the screen

dust fairies dance

almost unseen

Steam blushes from milky, frothing machines

y sueños

ellos se esapan

Wahrheit hovers

slips unseen, takes with it a 

pear-shaped hole of sweet



Mé fada chun éalú

This is today’s penultimate poetry offering for Day 29 of  Image. The prompt was to write a poem which included at least 5 foreign words, so, if these don’t ring a bell with you… I’m afraid you’ll have to look them up here!

I can’t believe tomorrow is the final day of what has been a pretty epic writing experience for me, as I’ve gone from not really writing much poetry at all recently to suddenly producing 30 new pieces! I’m impressed both at myself and at everyone else who’s taken on the challenge. The prompts, which I decided to stick to the entire way, have definitely helped, although I found that the ones which told you to write about a certain theme were the easiest!

Anyway, I now have a ‘poetry collection’ (be it good or not always so good) and tomorrow… it will be complete! I think I’ll need a rest on the poetry front for a while after that but I’ll most certainly be keeping it going.

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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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I do not want to reflect any more
Envying, despising unreflective things
Finding pathos in dogs – undeveloped handwriting
Young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
Flushed by the childrenæs bedtime, level with the shore.

The tide comes in and goes out, I do not want
To be always stressing its flux or permanence, 
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after that let the sea flow over us.

Come then, come closer, form a circle, 
Join hands and make believe that joined
Hands will keep away the wolves of water
Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
That no one hears them among the talk and laughter. 


Ok, Day 26 of Image challenged us to remove sections from a long poem, that is, to perform ‘an erasure’. I chose one by Louis MacNeice but was loathe to remove anything from this wonderful writer’s work, so I’m not sure I’ve done a very good job!

Anyway, it’s been a busy week and tomorrow I’m off to Bernie McGill’s creative writing class in Ballycastle, so I’ll report back on Monday about that and also post my weekend poems! I also intend to work on my manuscript so… I will be embracing the busyness!


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The ballad

Image Caught

Upon his gaunt and angled frame

hung scraps of memories lost

She felt a melancholy shame

his honour paid the cost

There were no words of honeycomb

no crystal kiss of hope

A bare-branched skeleton crept home

his dream a tattered rope

For Day 25 of Image our prompt was to pen a ballad, generally with four-line verses, alternate ABAB rhyming format and alternative syllables of 8/6…

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I’ve caught up to Day 24 (only six days left!) of Image and the prompt is to write a poem inspired by anagrams of your name. I’m just going with my first name, Claire, which has produced a few strange combinations I have to say… From these I’ve selected ‘eclair’, ‘lacier’, ‘a relic’ and ‘clear I’. If I use the rest it really won’t make any sense!


Today I pressed my nose upon the glass and sighed and thought perhaps, but no, I couldn’t, definitely wouldn’t venture in / The creamy crisp and flaky flutterings from the light and airy tasty and scrumptiously tantalizing vision of the chocolate-coated queen of sweet delights / The éclair on doily white like lace, not quite like lace but racier, less lacier / It was clear I couldn’t, absolutely would not go in, for this is a relic from the pastry past that dares to dance behind the glass I pass but pass it so I will for the taste of it would make… me… ill / 


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Balloons and buoyancy!


Today is a day of catch-up for Tuesday (apologies) but that being said – Tuesday was a fairly busy day! I will begin with my Day 23 poem for Image, which asked us to write a triolet – an eight-line poem.

‘All the lines are in iambic tetramenter (for a total of eight syllables per line), and the first, fourth, and seventh lines are identical, as are the second and final lines. This means that the poem begins and ends with the same couplet. Beyond this, there is a tight rhyme scheme (helped along by the repetition of lines) — ABaAabAB.’


I have my own hot air balloon

I spy on people, from the moon

On rainbows bright I slide with glee

I have my own – hot air balloon

It’s really nothing strange to me

On clouds of dreams I snuggle

I have my own Hot Air Balloon

I spy on people from the moon.


I’m not quite sure if this reads as the er, best triolet ever, as I found it a little tricky, but it’s an effort anyway! Yesterday also saw the final (or so I thought) night of creative writing with El Gruer but… she’s very kindly added on another three weeks! So, NaPoWriMo may soon be ending but poetic inspiration will continue…

Last night with El (over a pot of tea of course), we began by sharing our homework – an extension of last week’s exercise with the painting. (I chose to write a ‘Painter’s Poem’ from the perspective of the painter on the beach.) From this we moved on to writing in a stream of consciousness for ten minutes, which sounds long but actually flew by really rather quickly. This produced a lot of, as El aptly put it ‘mind vomit’, but as the ten minutes were nearing to a close I did actually begin to write something a bit more meaningful. Personally, I love reading this type of writing (eg James Joyce/Virginia Woolf), but I know it’s not for everyone.

The purpose of this was to clear our minds of all our cluttering thoughts so we could get to the good stuff. It’s something I’ve never done in my writing generally, but El told us how some writers she knows do this every time they sit down to write – before they write what they’ve set out to do – so they can de-clutter and focus properly. Some also use it as a diary, doing it every day and some go back to see if any word pairings or phrases could be salvaged and used in their writing. Useful stuff!

Next up was an exercise in abstract thinking as we filled in the gaps in a generic sentence with quirky/creative words (an eg of why I need to do this type of exercise has just been demonstrated… ‘quirky/creative’ – I use these words a lot!). So, one example of mine was: ‘A sparrow in an orchard of sparrows‘. We then listed the sights, sounds and senses we associated with the images we had created – all a very original way I thought, to create writing to grab a reader’s attention.

THEN, it was feedback on the first chapter of ‘The Draft’… I am pleased to report however, that the comments were positive and the advice was very well received! My plus points were in the structure and flow of the story, the pace and the hook – that is, El thought for the young age group I’m aiming for, the adventure began at an appropriately early stage and would grab their attention. (Here’s hoping!)

Points to consider included repetition of phrases/words/sentences and saying the same thing quite close together but in different ways. Also, for the 7-12 age range I’m writing for, making sure the language I use is simplistic and explanatory enough is a key point, which I know I need to work on in various parts of the book. Sourcing punchy, exciting adjectives which differ from the norm and ‘get beyond the usual’ was also advised… like I said – El’s exercises help a lot with this (as does a thesaurus..) 

So, after my second read-through and correction of the manuscript, my third reading will see the circling of all of the above – repetitive phrases, ordinary adjectives and difficult language! It has definitely re-inspired me and made me buoyant once more!

Anyway, back to the class. It was then onto a ’12 Days of May’ exercise, where we wrote ‘On the first day of May I…(walked over a rainbow)’, unleashing our inner child/dreamer to come up with all the fantastic things we might have done. This was a good way, we were told, to delve into your character’s mind – for example, what details would they pick up on? Also, once again, it inspired creative thinking and alternative ways of describing things.

And finally, the night closed with some ‘Writing for Screen’ tasks, as we jotted down how we would shoot the opening scene for various scenarios. Of course, different things must be considered when writing in this way, so brevity and directness are key.

As I said, there are now three additional weeks of El’s classes on the horizon and I am in no doubt they will continue to inspire and spice up my writing. If you’re near Coleraine on a Tuesday evening (7-9pm), pop into Hope & Gloria and try them out!

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Earth Day



Sun spills softly onto soil cold and stark

Green has gone from here – left the landscape in the dark

Rain it brings no hope, no sustenance to see

Who on earth’s to blame – is it you?

Is it me?


The rays grow ever stronger as protective layers go

They said it might be fast, might be slow, well

do they know?

The minute hand ticks on and the hours and days they pass

One thing is for sure

things like this they cannot last.


As earth it crumbles inwards and dissolves upon us all

there are some who fight right back and who will never let it fall

their solar panels shine and their hearts are just as gold

they refuse to let their planet turn to rot – turn to mould.


They stand up for what is right and they help the ones in plight

be it animal or human, neither one of them they slight

They’re prepared to make things better even though it seems so hard

Won’t you join them in their mission – won’t you help to be a guard.


Today’s offering for Day 22 of Image, prompt being something tied in with Earth Day 2013.

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