Month: May 2010

Guest post on Write Olive

Olive O’ Brien is a children’s book writer who recently launched the second in her Perry the Polar Bear series. I was absolutely delighted and honoured to be asked to contribute my very first guest post ever to her blog Write Olive where she blogs about her writing journey. My guest post Childlike Thinking makes for Creative Writing can be found here. Thanks again to Olive for asking me to contribute!

You can also find out more about Olive and her published books at www.silverangelpublishing.com

#FridayFlash Ten Woebegones lie sleeping

This is my first #Fridayflash fiction. The Woebegone is a creature from my novel-in-progress Housewife with a Half-Life. This is a newly written spin-off. Enjoy!

Although they were quite commonly known in the alternates; it was many years before I came across a Woebegone. They were – as most things are in this cobbled together double helix DNA system we call life – paradoxical creatures. They looked as dumb as mumbo jumbo. They were lumbering, juddering creatures with great jowls and jelly legs. In manner they were as slow as the mud-stuck passage from the thick primordial soup, the swamp of not knowing. They were also possessed of a brain the size of a dinosaur – the proverbial pea – but for reasons still not uncovered (and we shall get to that later) they had a supercharged intelligence, a tightly wound coil of premium gold plated synapses that were said to be able to do any job under any circumstances. Woebegones were said to be the fount of all knowledge.

Founts they may have been purported to be but there was nothing springy or gushy about them. They sat Buddha-like in knolls or on sand dunes amidst the marram grass watching the sea rolling to its inevitable end.

It was in one of those places I found my Woebegone; back in the Middle Ages. There were nine other Woebegones laid down nearby like beached whales, snoozing in the weak sun. I sat down beside him – my long legs bent almost up to my chin, my steel toe caps disappearing into the sand – looking at the wide beach with sand like snow, the wide horizon, the grey sea, the seabirds brushstroked into the altitudes. The air was bright and briny, it settled on my lungs with a seaweed nonchalance. I breathed again. In. ‘What’s it all about then?’ Out.

They were Slow Thinkers. I left him there and went about my business for a human life span or several. It was a coincidence that I just happened to be in the area when I met up with him again eons later. By then the Woebegones were causing more of a furore. There was something of an epidemic of existential itchiness going about at that time and the usual quacks and charlatans were on the loose trying to fix on money spinning solutions. Now that the Worlds Wide Web had been woven so thickly by spider neurotics, the whole intellectual endeavour thing had become, shall we say Parasitic. The forums and message boards were infested with Threadworms searching for the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth. The Woebegones – having once been a vague curiosity, had begun to receive, shall we say, focussed attention.

The Woebegone was still unperturbed. Well, it’s difficult to tell, but that was the sense I got. We sat in companionable silence once more and looked out at the landscape, quite different now that the sea had dried up and the reclaimed area had been developed into a theme park. The Theme was ‘A million kinds of pasta from around the alternates.’

I guess I wasn’t expecting anything from the Woebegone. He’s like your old granddad sitting in his comfy armchair making the odd pronouncement into moments of musty tranquillity. I was just chilled out, looking at the theme park, thinking about change and entropy, descending chaos or obfuscated order. Then he said:  ‘Nostalgia, Melancholy and Wurble* – That’s what it’s all about.’

I was flummoxed for a moment. It had been some time.

‘But that’s all about sadness.’ I said. ‘Past, present and future.’

He was a Woebegone, what did I expect? But I still had to ask. ‘Where’s the happiness?’ I said. The question made me wurble. It made me look into my uncertain and rapidly decreasing future. I would probably be dead by the time he answered. I looked at him, a slab of sedentary serenity. He wouldn’t budge if I kicked him, he wouldn’t notice. Besides; he was asleep like the other nine. And snoring.

I was never a bounty hunter. But these things sometimes just happen. Sometimes the things that are under our noses are never obvious and although I couldn’t understand it, none of the pseudo scientists seemed to be able to locate the Woebegone. I didn’t think I was the sort for revenge but I guess I felt existentially aggrieved, although it may just have been something in the water. Ironically by the time I divulged his location for a large sum of disposable cash I had figured out where the happiness was.

As it turned out, they never got to the bottom of him. They were going on the scientific evidence that parts of the body have their own internal memory and they were pretty clued in on brain mapping but they couldn’t find the answers they were looking for. He just had too many layers, of skin, of blubber, of sinew, tissue, nerve, synapse, cell and enzyme. They should have just let him be. I should have left him sleeping with the nine other Woebegones at the shore of the former sea.

But the thing is: there’s life or there’s nothing. In between the nostalgia, melancholy and wurble, there’s a journey forward and back, there’s movement and that’s where the happiness is. You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to go where the impetus takes you.

*Wurble Burbling worry

Do you write everyday and should you?

Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing‘ is a fabulous no-nonsense practical approach to being a writer and one that anyone serious about writing should own (in my humble opinion). From a previous reading I recalled that King said that he wrote everyday including Christmas Day and his birthday. On re-reading I see that he says that he told interviewers that because, when you are being interviewed you have to say something…However the nuanced truth is more interesting. When he’s really into a project, he DOES write everyday (including Christmas and his birthday). On the other hand, he says when he is not writing, he completely comes away from it and does plenty other things instead.

When we want to call ourselves writers, when we come to a point when writing is almost as vital to us as breathing, we can begin to eat, drink and sleep writing. We ponder plots and subplots, fret about wordcount, viewpoint, characterization. Sometimes we go to our writing day after day like inmates of an institution who don’t realise that they are free at any time to leave. During National Novel Writing Month in November, thousands of writers pledge to write 50,000 words. Why? friends sometimes ask Is there a prize? Is it a competition? No, we just do it, for ourselves. But producing the necessary 1667 words a day is a baptism of fire and there are days when you want to beat your head against the table and shout ‘No, no, no!’ You feel literally burned out. And the reason is that you are sapping every inch of your available subconscious and leaving no subconscious soup to bubble and brew and produce new rich and substantial ideas.

I’ve written before about the absolutely vital part of creativity called incubation (the psychological process whereby disjointed ideas stew and associate in new and startling ways). It famously worked in the bath for Archimedes and – as I’ve discovered this morning – for the inventor of the ATM (who unfortunately forgot to patent the idea.) At the moment I am itching to write a short story, I just love the form so much. I have plenty of ideas jotted down, some character development done, some paragraphs written but nothing, at the moment is jumping out at me. As indeed Stephen King puts it ‘good short story ideas come quite literally from no-where, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun’.  So my short stories ideas are reasonable but there is no spark to set them alight, align them in a unique and exciting way. All it will take is a moment, a chance remark, something seen on television (Gah!) or by listening to a song or reading something in the newspaper to make the difference. But that cannot always be planned and sometimes you have to work through the piece in the absense of inspiration hoping that the next time you come to it you will see it with a fresh eye.

Being committed we will write as much as we can, even when life is busy and emotionally demanding, even when we are sucked from all sides. ‘Sometimes, as King says ‘you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you are doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position‘. We need to be committed and ready to feel the fear that our work is going no-where and go there anyway. However we also need to be aware of finding a balance between word production, following through and giving ourselves the mental space to find new inspiration and drive.

Do you write everyday? Through difficult times or holidays? Or do you give yourself a day off every week? Or a break at the end of a project? What works for you? Would love to hear your comments.

WOW Awards – Words on the Street

On Friday 30th April I attended the inaugural WOW awards in the Galway Bay Hotel, Salthill. The WOW awards were organised by the Words on the Street Publishers, a publishing house set up in 2006 and run by Tony O’ Dwyer and his business partner Geraldine Burke, both writers themselves.  The publishing house, says Tony is an act of love, they publish what they are passionate about, what they themselves enjoy and what they believe deserves to be published. They publish mainly Irish writers but also foreign works eg. from Belgium that they believe should be accessible in this country.

The WOW anthology includes the work of 10 poetry and 10 fiction writers, many with fairly illustrious publishing backgrounds in various journals. Some have had collections or novels already published. The story I had included was ‘Sad about the Plumber’s Uncle’, a wry account of a housewives brave attempt to ‘lure..(a plumber) to my suburban, little bit upmarket four bed home’ and the plumber’s fascination with funeral going.

At the WOW awards with the anthology!

I tremendously enjoyed meeting and chatting with the finalists and look forward to following their progress over time. James Lawless (also a Hennessy shortlistee) took first place in the fiction competition and Patricia O’ Callaghan the first prize in poetry. For more details on the winners, Words onthe Street, or to order the anthology, see here. The new competition for next year’s awards is open now and worth a look!