The Writer’s Eye, Short story opps and more

I’m talking about observance, ideas and the special qualities that individual writers can bring to our sense and story making of this world.

As regards writing, finding stories, I do not believe in waiting for the muse, life is out there, stories are everywhere. Creativity often comes about purely by the juxtaposition of material or ideas from two apparently separate spheres of life, helping us to say things anew or with a stronger metaphor. 

You can read the full post Creative Happenstance and the Writer’s Eye here on

Mel Ulm runs a fantastic blog on the short story and is focussing very much on the Irish short story writer. He’s very interested in hearing from up and coming Irish writers in particular, so do get in contact with him through his blog. He’s kindly discussed one of my stories Truth and Silence on The Reading Life.

Lisa Redmond has a new review of my Housewife with a Half-Life on her book blog.

Finally, short story competition deadlines coming up this month include The Bristol Prize.

The Joy of Self-publishing and Creative Sparks

Today I’m talking to Diana Bletter on her blog about Putting Joy and Energy in Our Lives, specifically I wanted to share why self-publishing Housewife with a Half-Life – a heartwarming book I believe in –  was a joyful and optimistic step and how I hope to maintain this joy and energy in my work in the future.

I also noticed this realistic post on How to be creative when your brain doesn’t want to play. Covering many of the topics we’ve explored here and especially during the 31 days of creativity posts it offers practical tips for what to do when you’re stuck and these suggestions work, there’s no mystique about creativity, you just need to find ways to ignite the spark.

This post by Louise M. Phillips on What does being a novelist mean is uplifting and affirming for those of us who have chosen to make writing our way of life. What is wonderful is that Louise wrote this post a long time before her debut Red Ribbons was published.

Best of luck with all your endeavours today. I’ve been up early at the #5amwriteclub – something which I’ll talk more about next week. A regular application of work to my novel is certainly paying dividends. If you can make time each day even for a small amount of work, it seems that the awareness of and familiarity with the piece builds up and makes it easier to see the whole. This may not be a revelation to you but my writing opportunities or routine was sometimes sporadic in the past and I’m interested to see how even slow progression can build into something more than the sum of it’s parts.


10,000 ideas for a story

As many of you know I decided in January to write 31 posts (with the help of some brilliant guest posters) on creative and mental resilience. Well what has happened is that with the particular orientation and outlook that that endeavour gave me I have developed more of an eye and awareness for interesting articles, events and related ideas so I intend to keep posting on a regular basis. What I think will work best is blocks of posting and blocks of focused novel work so that I can remained focused on whichever I’m doing at the time. As you know a particular theme of this blog is how to keep creative energy and I’m still figuring out the answers. We need to follow through on our work and plough on when it is difficult but equally we can sometimes keep going through the tunnel of our panic and narrow vision and what we are writing becomes dead. We need to constantly feed the mind with experience, delight, wonder and awe in order to keep that wordfire burning.

Anyhow, enough of the impassioned speeches for today. I wanted to share with you a really interesting product I discovered recently. Aimed at kids, it’s called Rory’s Story Cubes. It consists of nine dice, each with a image on each side – so a total of 54 images.  The idea is for the child to throw the dice and see which combination of images arise. Images include an eye, a plane, a foot and a key. The children then use the images as elements within their story. Because of the possible permutations of the nine dice there are more that 10,000 possible combinations of image, thus 10,000 possible variants on the kinds of story!

We’ve had and will continue to have regular wordprompt and creativity ideas on this blog including the similar David Bowie creativity prompt but I think this is a really neat way of providing creative prompts for storytelling. While this product is aimed at children, it could be a good way for us all to kickstart our story writing and it’s possible of course for adults to create their own version of this game either physically or with some kind of random generation software. This whole dice thing resonates with me because when I was a kid I wrote a tune by using random notes assigned to numbers on the dice. It turned out to be quite a lovely tune and I still remember it today.

This dice technique is random so why might it work? There’s a wealth of information in your head and how it comes together is, in my opinion fairly random. Psychologists refer to information being stored roughly as schemata, an organisational device that groups similar things or things that are connected by the same internal personal story together. But these schemata must be constantly updating depending on time, location, mood, the prompts of the external environment. We are more likely to recall happy memories on a sunny day, or similar gloomy thoughts when we are tired, run down, upset or drenched wet on a grey day in November. What the story cubes and similar devices and wordprompt do is make a connection between your thoughts and associations. And more importantly makes a BRAND NEW AND NOVEL connection. When is an umbrella like a crow? When is it like a helicopter? Why does it call to mind a sheep? (think about it!)

What the world is looking for from writers, what publishers are looking for, what we are looking for from ourselves is to see and express this world, our history, our emotions, our psychology, our customs and interactions DIFFERENTLY. We want to talk about the age old things but say them new, with a new voice with a new viewpoint, making fabulous counterpoints, juxtapositions, clashes and harmonies as in the best classical music.

This novelty is not something we should sit and think about, tear our hair our over, bemoan. We shouldn’t get upset that publishers only want the next big thing or the breakout book or the extraordinary debut novel. The world is AMAZING! We’ve been in space! We’ve built gigantic monuments! People will soon be able to control prosthetic limbs with their thoughts! We’ll soon be able to print a 3d model of anything in our own home. We’ve built bridges and undergrounds and wiped out particular diseases. We made music and films and written books that have transported and transformed. We strive, constantly strive to progress and invent, we give birth, we love ferociously, we stand for good, we do difficult things, we do impossible things. And we do small, lovely, everyday things that need a torch shining on them. Find new ways of saying this. Find new ways of tell 10,000, 100,000, 100 million stories!

I’d like to extend my congratulations to E.K. Carmel and Henry who have both won a copy of Becoming Human. Arrangements will be made to send out your prizes. Well done!

31 Days: When writing is at the heart of us we will not let it go

I’ve been blogging for the 31 days of January on creativity and mental resilience. I hope to explore this area in the future but this phase is at an end. To access the rest of the posts click here.

notebookfrcropThe pencil scratching on the page, diaries for years and years, a notebook thrown further and further under a bed because it’s interfering with my studies, the story that springs from no-where when I’m back in Kerry where I grew up, a story of girls leaping over the gaps in bogs and a ‘rainbow mosaic of sphagnum moss’, a first poem at eight, poems in the teens and early twenties as Faraday cages for intense electric emotion, first love and freedom. The words written between the naps of my first infant, the stories fashioned amidst the chaos of two, three, four tiny children all mouths and hands and jabber and exhortation. And now these novels and stories, layers of accumulated knowledge and observation and experience and joy and sorrow, ways of looking at the world, slant ways, peripherally and then direct, in the gut, tearing at the places only barely healed under the gauze of memory.SuninCillRialaig

In my stories there are girls on the hills and girls under glass there are men fascinated by an exhibit of twin spheres, there is a girl who sends herself to the stars in a cryogenic chamber to save her life, there are two women at looking each other through the mirror of their alternate realities, there is a place where stories are forbidden, there is a man dreaming of his old lover in an octagonal house, there are Emily and Eddie, stuck age eighteen on a shore where they loved each other, before real life began, there is a woman flying with her child in a flugtag towards the sun.

This is the core of it, these stories that come out, these feelings that are preserved for the future, like bog bodies, like beetles in amber.


If we could hold onto the heart of that then the rest wouldn’t matter, late nights, early mornings, the fear that our words are worthless and such feeble approximations, the fear of rejection or ridicule for our endeavours. There are absolutely no guarantees. We want to be heard, we want to be read, not for money, necessarily, not for ego or fame but just because we are human and want to share what this means with others, all the emotion, and intrigue, the elevated and base things that we struggle to understand. We will write because we lose heart without it because we lose ourselves, are disconnected, endlessly adrift.

I watched a program on psychology that showed that when a person was about to be told a story that certain areas in the brain would fire, these areas mirrored exactly the areas that fired in the storyteller but fired BEFORE the storyteller began. We are wired for narrative, we are primed for stories, we are waiting to hear the story of what happens, what has happened, what will happen.

When I began this 31 days of exploring how we keep our Head above Water, what I wanted to do most of all was to find ways that we could ignite the spark in us for expressing, for creativity and to keep the wordfire burning in the face of everyday challenges. I was trying to discover yes, what keeps the joy in writing and what can keep the joy and energy in us, how we can keep reaching in, in order to reach out and connect through the words we spin and the stories we share.

blurryrosebudsWe’ve looked at running, walking, relaxing, comedy, sad thoughts, claiming your identity as a writer. We’ve looked at different forms of creative writing, the energy of flash fiction, using word prompts to create new pieces, at song writing  and how poetry can enhance prose. We’ve looked at creativity, writing goals and how taking up a new pursuit can create new opportunities and verve and ways of looking at the world. We’ve seen examples of people who have taken optimistic and unexpected steps towards making money out of aspects of their writing.

The most popular blogposts have been those that get right to the heart of the things that people worry about, whether they can really call themselves a writer, how to keep joy in what they do, and what to do when trying to live and write all get too much.

The 31 days is over so what next?

I’m working on a second novel called The Exhibit of Held Breaths. I’m just starting the second draft and want to keep myself in the mindset of the book till I have another draft done. I’m often a project butterfly so it’s good for me to set myself a particular aim. It’s been great connecting up and meeting new people as a result of these creative posts so I’ll continue to post a couple of times a week during that time, most probably with a general post and some kind of creativity exercise. I’d also be grateful for any suggestions as to areas you’d like to see explored. I’ll also be blogging on on my blog Random Acts of Optimism.

Thanks so much to all for your participation and comments in the 31 days. The Becoming Human prizes draw will be on Friday and I’ll draw for the Self-Printed and Writing Gifts  on Sunday evening, so be sure to get your name in the comments to enter. I look forward to more interaction on the blog in future, hearing more of your stories, endeavours and triumphs.

31 Days: Guest Post: The Benefits of Creative Pursuits – Feltmaking and More

One of the things I’ve been interested in doing in these 31 days is looking at what engagement in a creative pursuit can mean to an individual, how it can satisfy something within them or change how they see the world. While the focus on this blog is writing, I want to see how different kinds of creativity work. Today I’ve invited my sister Sharon Wells who has always had an affinity with the visual arts, has become a proficient feltmaker and is now involved in furniture upcycling to tell us what these creative endeavours have meant to her.

The Benefits of Creative Pursuits: Sharon Wells


I am currently a stay at home  mother with three children aged, 10, 8 and 2. In my past I have worked as an Archaeologist, Archaeological Illustrator, graphic  designer and project manager in online learning.  During my second pregnancy I began to feel very creative. It was possibly a result of being at home in charge of my own day, in my own environment, hormones and restlessness.


Two weeks after my son was born I took a feltmaking course. It opened up the creative world to me. I loved the process itself and the connection it has to people thousands of years ago,  as feltmaking is one of the oldest known crafts in history.  It was like a door had opened for me. This craft has so many possibilities. The process involves  laying down wool fibres and mixing other decorative threads and silks into this. By wetting down the fibres and adding soap and rubbing and rolling, the fibres migrate together and form a solid fabric.

bag yel

With this skill I was able to make hats, scarves, dresses, sculptures, pictures. They could be made in one piece or cut and sewn. I designed new patterns for some of these items and learned how to create dimension. I became enthralled in the process and absorbed by the colours, textures and patterns I used. The process of laying out the ccolours was like meditation. A wisp of thread here and there placed flowersintentionally as a highlight. There was a freedom due to the nature of the felting process in that, if mistakes were made they could be incorporated into the design. I learned to go in the direction that the project decided. Even though I might plan things it would not turn out that way exactly. This was fine as I was involved in the evolution process.

I have gained enormous confidence from engaging in all these crafts. It has shown me flowers detailthings about myself. I get excited at the prospect of new projects.  I know I need to plan when I do them and balance this with my life with my family. Sometimes the moment isn’t right, and I have to be patient. There is always a moment when I think it’s rubbish, I suppose that’s  like hitting a wall, and then I push through it. I am not afraid to try new things and I can usually come around some awkward  problem.

I wonder sometimes, whether I craft because I need to be creative or because I always have and I know how.  It’s a bit of both and more. I remember when I was a young teenager pondering the meaning of life (with a sister like Alison this was quite normal!) The only thing that made sense to me was that we all strive to move forward, to do the next thing, to be better and to keep learning.  I still believe this.


I had to cut down feltmaking due to severe tendonitis and moving house. I now paint and upcycle furniture.  I am also heading in the direction of mixed media art. This really fascinates me and although I diverge I am picking up the pieces that will pull it all together.  As my husband tells me ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’. Even if it’s a knitted hat, or a painted dresser or a recycled bed into a bench, I see myself and my own expression in it. This has brought me a calm, contentedness, from the act of doing it which is chairapplication of concentration, and from the knowledge that I am doing something I can, something I want and something I am able to do.  It just may be that simple!

Thanks to Sharon for sharing her thoughts with us. For more you can visit The Down at Gate facebook page

Sharon’s blog, though not recently updated is well worth a look to see the processes involved in her art and in her craft and she involves her young family in her work. She has also run a local craft group and I hope to share with you the wider view on how this group has helped people not previously involved in crafts to develop their artistic side.

Please share with us any thoughts you have or endeavours you have taken up. It’s great to hear how creativity feeds into your life and wellbeing.

31 Days Guest Post by Fiona Melrose: Poetry performed Alchemy on My Prose

One of the wonderful things about my 31 days of blogging on mental and creative resilience is how I have made the acquaintance of new and interesting people who are finding ways to enhance their own creativity and are trying new things. One of these people is Fiona Melrose. She told me how attending a poetry course had revolutionised how she approached writing longer pieces. I immediately wanted to hear more since poetry and rhythm are important aspects of my own prose. In this guest post Fiona explains to us how her poetry course taught her to write from ‘inside the word’ then move out to the sentence. Here is her most interesting post.

As an elective of my MA I signed up for the 6 week poetry Module with poet Liane Strauss.  I had, like many writers, dabbled with poetry but never with any serious intention.  By the end of the six week course,  my poetry was much improved but as a prose writer everything had changed, and all for the better.

I came to the poetry course at a time when I was struggling with my writing on a fundamental level.  I had over fifty thousand neurotic, empty words sitting in a drawer and none of them, I felt, had anything to do with who I am or what I hoped to achieve as a writer.

The course changed the way I write from the inside out not only in terms of technique but in terms of subject matter.  Both the art and the craft of writing were turned on their heads.  I have thought about this at some length trying to understand how so fundamental a shift could have occurred.

The most important archeology took place around the sentence.  Given that, in my abandoned novel, the larger sweeps of plot and form were failing me, the return to not only the sentence but the weight and play of individual words in them, was the perfect place to start to rebuild my writing.  Writing poetry demands a forensic attention.  Not only to the moment you are trying to capture or express but on a technical level too.  Each point of punctuation can fundamentally alter the heft and meaning of your entire poem. This taught me to write from inside the word and then out to the sentence, then the paragraph and so on.  This is not to say I always achieve this but at least I now know what I am aiming for.

Clarity and economy are synonymous with good poetry and if ever I learned to cut and edit sentences it was here.   Instead, rhythm and texture are all a by product of the sentence and the number of breaths it takes to express its meaning.  The oral nature of poetry made me so much more aware of how my sentences sound and how my breath travels through them.  This has also translated into how I can inhabit a character’s voice.  I have never really understood what it means when we speak about “voice” in fiction and the importance of finding it in oneself.  The poetry course taught me that it is a person’s own natural poetry.  How their age, culture, physicality, their most secret thoughts, all come together in the sound they make when they speak, be it direct speech (dialogue) or narration.

Poetry is rich is symbolism and metaphor, everything matters.  There is no colour, animal , sound, allusion that isn’t there for a reason.  Everything is working on at least two levels, possibly more.  This has made me much more aware of what might previously have been dismissed as “incidentals” in my fiction.  If I write about a tree is is a tree but it is also about a family tree about rootedness in the tribe and about belonging.  If a dog dies it is also about the death of a loyal bond and the dog in the Fool card in the tarot deck which represents the original self, the unencumbered soul.  Foxes feature heavily in my novel and much thought has gone into that choice.   For me, these choices put the poetry into the prose.

The course had its difficulties for me too.  The very personal often confessional nature of poetry demanded that I be more visceral about what I was prepared to put on the page.  I have an analytical, academic training and in retrospect my “first” book had a distance too it.  I found writing poetry in the first person very challenging.  Sharing it made me feel vulnerable and I felt it too confessional, even vulgar or indiscrete.  I am still no fan of this type of writing, but, I know that it has taught me to much braver on the page, seeking out the tooth and claw in a sentence and in a character as opposed avoiding it.

I wrote a short story just after the poetry class and for the first time the voice of the character came to me as naturally as if it where my own.  For the first time in fiction writing, I felt less as if I was trying to make something up than I was trying to get something down.  It was less about manufacturing a plot or character and felt more as if I were simply transcribing the images and scenes unfolding a few inches above my head and the words I was hearing in the character’s voice.  This story just came out in one exhalation and sounded nothing like me or anything I had written before.  It has become the basis for my new novel.

I believe that writing poetry allowed me to continue to write and explore my creative process but forced the expression through non-habitual routes and in so doing produced a more exciting, non-habitual response. I cannot recommend this enough.

Course: The 6-week poetry elective with poet Liane Strauss was part of the MA Creative Writing at Birckbeck, University of London.  As students we produced a short collection of poems and a critical essay on an aspect of the craft.

Fiona Melrose was born in Johannesburg where she studied and taught politics.  She is a writer, reviewer and blogger.  Her short fiction has been published and she is completing her first novel.  Fiona lives in Suffolk with two charming dogs who approve of her habit of writing stories in her head on long muddy walks.

You can follow Fiona on twitter at @papercutprint and visit her site at site

Sincere thanks to Fiona on this fascinating post. Please post a comment if you have experienced a course or activity that has changed how you write.

31 Days: Guest Post Derek Flynn – When is a poem not a poem

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

We’re looking here in the 31 Days posts at different aspects of creativity. I wanted to hear from musician and writer Derek Flynn on how music, songwriting and writing in general interact for him. He asks when is a poem not a poem, is a song not a poem and tells us what’s the difference between being a songwriter and a novel writer. There’s a link to his blog at the end but also be sure to check out his album Do you Dream at All?

Over to Derek.

As a writer, I’m used to being asked the question: where do you get your ideas from? (I sometimes like to answer: “The Devil”, just to see the look on people’s faces.) But as a writer AND a singer/songwriter, you tend to get asked different types of questions. “How can you get up there and sing in front of all those people?” is usually top of the list. This is common even from other writers. “I could never do that,” they tell me, “I’d freeze.” This from people who would happily get up in front of a room full of people and read their – sometimes painfully personal – stories. I find it very interesting that creative people, i.e. writers, who confound other people’s expectations with their ability to create something are themselves in turn often confounded by a musician’s ability to create something. So, what is the difference between being a novel writer and a songwriter? Or is there one?

To be sure, there are differences. But there are also similarities. For me, I actually began writing stories. I grew up on the British comics of the 1970s, such as, 2000AD and Battle, and I started out as a kid writing and drawing my own comics, eventually graduating onto short stories. Then in my teens I discovered the guitar and began writing songs.

And, to start off with, there are the obvious differences between the two. For me, one of the main differences is that writing music and writing prose require a different headspace. I can’t write a chapter of a book and then turn around and pick up a guitar and start writing a song. When I’m writing a story, I need to concentrate on that and vice versa. Another difference is, you don’t usually sit down and plan out a whole song in advance, using flow-charts and character biographies. But, then again, a lot of novel writers don’t do that either. Many simply sit down with an idea or a character and start writing, letting the story take them where it will. This is very similar to a songwriter.

So, while there are differences, there are similarities as well, which I don’t think my writer friends realise. How many writers have started a story with an image or a phrase or an idea generated by something they saw on the TV or the news? That’s the same way I write a lot of my songs. I will often have an image or a thought or a phrase which will start me off and I will go from there. Writers also often think that song lyrics have to be rhyming couplets. As a songwriter, my lyrics tend to steer clear of the kind of rhyming schemes of someone like Coldplay (sorry Coldplay fans); that is, rhyming of the moon-June-swoon variety. Sometimes my lyrics don’t even rhyme. They are more what could be described as blank verse.

So, is songwriting more like writing poetry then? Well, yes and no. There are those – mostly poets – who take great umbrage with the idea that a mere pop song could be considered poetry. And while this may be the case with a song like Jedward’s ‘Lipstick’, what about the staggering oeuvre of someone like Bob Dylan? And what about someone like Leonard Cohen, who is both a songwriter and a poet? This begs the question: when does a poem stop being a poem and become a song? The answer: when you start to sing it.

Derek Flynn

Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and was First Runner-Up in the 2011 J. G. Farrell Award for Best Novel-In-Progress. His writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – can be found here: and on Twitter, he can be found here:!/derekf03

Note re Write Prompt Comp: I’ll announce winners tonight.Update. The day got away from me, apologies, announcement will be Friday.

31 Days: Say what you want to be

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

My dears, sometimes we feel fretful. For those whose drive to create is at the heart of them it’s something we have to do, somehow, it keeps us mentally sane, we are jittery and pacing if we don’t unlease these thoughts and connections that are zooming round our brains, if we don’t release the tender and exhilarated feelings pressing on our chests.

But we have normal jobs and duties and responsibilities. We have things that other people think we should be doing, indeed things we think we should probably do, housework is one shining example in my case.

I’ve written before about how taking part in the 50,000 word November nanowrimo writing challenge ensured that I was writing everyday but also that my family got on board to help me complete the challenge. For one month I could explain that I needed extra time, space and help to complete the full quota of words. It’s easier to ask people to rally round when it’s not an ongoing thing. If you have a family or a full time job it’s not possible to use every other spare minute to pour into writing or whatever creative endeavour you are pursuing. You usually have to work around things.

However, if you ask for time, a full day every so often to dedicate to it, a quiet hour when the kids aren’t to bother you, a weekend retreat that can be organised well in advance, friends and family are often happy to step up and help out to do something to support you. You can be flexible and ask them to be flexible. People like to be helpful when asked straight out for something specific, most of the time anyway!

But the first step is saying that you want to be a writer, or a photographer or an artist or whatever it is. It might be a hobby but now you want to take it more seriously. One of my most popular posts ever was: I’m not an aspiring writer. If you write, you are not aspiring, okay, you might not be a published author, you might aspire to be one of those but if you write and love it and make stories you are not just aspiring to write, you are. If you say what you are and what you want to be then over time people will come to see you and refer to you in those terms. Yes, you might feel more confident if you win a competition, or join a writing group or do a course. These are all ways that you will feel legitimized. But if you have a desire to create, let it be known and find ways of pursuing it. Don’t scuttle around in the background trying to fit it in without imposing on anyone else.

Some people play golf for the weekend, you create. And it doesn’t even matter if you are good right now, people learn to play golf, you can learn to write or paint or whatever it is because that’s who you are, now just let everyone else know about it.

31 Days: Finding Wordfire

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

A busy day today so I have just time for a flying post. I saw a link this morning  to English actor Benedict Cumberbatch reading John Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

The luxuriance of Ode to a Nightingale reminded me of the experience of studying poetry in school, of being immersed in a poem, of committing sections of it to memory, of speaking the words and feeling the rhythm of them, becoming familiar with them. Listening to the reading of Ode to a Nightingale and the nonsense poem Jabberwocky I realised that in my quest to be a writer in the middle of a prosaic family life, I read and enjoy the language of books – for example Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane and Eowyn Ivny’s The Snow Child have been recent favourites – but I haven’t taken the time to dive right into the feeling of language, to enjoy it’s musicality, rhythm and sound spoken out loud, to experience it with many senses.

Here is the link to the poetry reading It has certainly inspired me and reminded me what I love about language and why I want to be a writer. You’re inspiration might be something different but whether it’s a book, a poetry reading recorded or live, or finding the work of an author such as Penny Goring who does things with language that you didn’t know it could do (see her book THE ZOOM ZOOM) it’s great to find something that puts the fire back into your wordspinning.

Have you found something that has made you excited about writing again? Let us know in the comments.

Don’t forget this weeks Photo Writing Prompt Comp, post entries until Sunday night!

31 Days: Guest Post: Photography – taking up a new creative pursuit

Merchant's Arch - Dublin Copyright ©  John Ivory: All rights reserved
Merchant’s Arch – Dublin Copyright © John Ivory: All rights reserved

I promised you a writing exercise. It’s coming tomorrow and will be related to today’s post. I am very happy indeed to welcome to the blog, John Ivory, who I met through social media and have subsequently met in real life. John has recently been posting fabulous photographs on Facebook, they are of a tremendous quality but I knew that photography was something that he’d recently taken up. Thinking here about how our creative pursuits can change how we see the world and looking at the relationship between creativity and mental resilience, I asked John if he would tell us what his experience has been of taking up a new creative pursuit. Over to John…

My name is John Ivory, husband, father, owned by a cat, spent a near-lifetime in the IT industry and, until very recently, never would have used the word ‘creative’ to describe myself.  That changed during the summer of 2011 – a time during which stress and pressure caught up with me, mentally more than physically. I needed to take my mind off things and off myself. I felt the need to do something new and different. With some encouragement from my wife – a lifelong enthusiast of photography – I decided to try my hand with the only camera I possessed – my iPhone!

During the summer, as I travelled around Ireland and, closer to home, around Co. Wicklow, I took photos which I felt represented the beauty and character of the places I visited. At the end of the summer I compiled two photo-books (“Ireland by iPhone” and “iPhone Home”) using the best of the photos I had taken combined with brief words about the shots.

And that was it – hooked – so much so that I decided to acquire my first ‘proper’ camera that autumn. I was still a little scared of the ‘big’ cameras so I settled for a ‘little’ one but one which allowed me to take some control. I haven’t looked back since. I would be considered quite an observant person but until I took up a camera I didn’t realise just how much I was missing. I literally began to see the world with new eyes, looking for angles and opportunities that would be interesting to capture.

My ‘day job’ calls for quite an analytical approach and any ‘creativity’ is very much related to solving business problems. Most of my pastime pursuits, including my other great passion – music – were approached from an analytical rather than creative angle. Photography, however, affords me the opportunity to explore my ‘artistic’ creativity, something that lay dormant in me until now. I’ve also discovered that the process doesn’t begin and end in the camera. The old days of darkroom film processing have given way to computer processing of digital images and that’s something that fascinates me greatly. The creative possibilities are endless.

Photography and the creative process around it has been very good for me, helping me achieve a great balance and perspective in life. To my surprise, it has also enhanced my social life. There are regular meet-ups with local friends who share a love of photography. Additionally, I have found a great affinity between my love of photography and my social networking. I really enjoy connecting with people on Twitter and Facebook and I have found the latter to be an excellent way to connect with people who share a love of photography. Here I must also include Flickr – a kind of social networking site for sharing photos where, during 2012, I undertook a ‘Project 52’ – taking and posting one theme-based photo each week for a year. Through that project I was able to engage with and enjoy the work of many photographers from around the world. Many of them have now become personal contacts on Flickr and some even on Facebook. I’ve since moved on to more projects for 2013 but I’m making time to put the finishing touches to a photo-book of my first ‘52’ journey.

There is a long way to go and many more aspects of photography to be explored. I also feel ready now to move on to a ‘bigger’ camera. I sense it will be a lifelong learning experience but that’s a good thing. It will help me to keep looking outward at the world and the people around me in search of inspiration. I know it is going to be a very exciting and fulfilling part of my life and the great thing is the journey is only beginning!

If you would like to see examples of my photography, here are some links to my online presence:

Flickr:   – my main online portfolio

500px:   – just starting to build this portfolio

JTI Photography:  – website for John & Teresa Ivory Photography

My blog:  – I plan to combine writing and photography on here

Thanks to John for his account of how photography has opened up the world visually, creatively and socially for him. His story really shows how creative pursuits can enhance our lives dramatically, giving satisfaction, purpose and happiness.

How about you? Have you taken up something new? Have you unexpectedly come across an activity/craft that you loved? How has it helped or amused you? I know some of you tried flash fiction for the first time in last weeks challenge, can you describe how it made you feel to try something for the first time and what you got out of it?

Our creative exercise tomorrow will be based on a photo prompt related to John’s photo above that he’s kindly agreed to share on the blog. Have a look at the photo and think of ideas and I’ll set you a small challenge tomorrow. See you then!