Under the banner of Head Above Water writers, I’m giving a series of classes this Autumn from Beginners to Improvers and to Flash Fiction. My signature class is Creative Practice in Busy Lives & Short Story Essentials. As a psychology and communications studies grad and busy mum, I’m very much aware of how the creative process and producing fiction requires a combination of technique, practice, talent, time, headspace and mental resilience. All these factors combine to assist the new writer in finding confidence, developing skills, producing ever-improving material and pushing through the setbacks (motivation, uncertainty, skill gaps and the vagaries of the publishing industry) to become as productive and successful a writer as possible (where ‘success’ is defined by you.) As a published short story and flash fiction writer who has now produced longer works for submission I want to share the techniques and skills I’ve learned along the way. But what I hope in particular my courses can offer is the encouragement, support and techniques for producing material within our hectic and demanding lives and to help people find mental resilience and verve in their pursuit of a creative life. For those drawn to a creative path I know how important it is for health and happiness to be able to access and develop that side and not be cut off from it through life circumstances or lack of confidence. It with this in mind that I’ve devised the following programme…
Venue: All courses this Autumn will take place in St. Peter’s Centre, (adjacent to the Coach Inn), Dublin Road, Bray, Co. Wicklow.
Creative Writing for Beginners Sunday November 2nd 10am to 1pm 35 euro
Creative Practice in Busy Lives & Short Story Essentials Sunday Nov 16th 9.30am to 1pm 35 euro
(Suitable for Beginners and Improvers. Tips to produce writing & maintain writing verve in busy lives plus the essentials of good short story writing. Full course details and booking
Short Story Intensive Workshop (Improvers) Sunday Nov 30th 9.30am to 1.30pm 45 euro
(Suitable for those writing a while & wanting to develop skills. We will workshop one of your existing stories (in a supportive & encouraging matter) and do further writing exercises. Interactive and full of creative energy!)
Writing Fabulous Flash Fiction Sunday Dec 7th 10am to 1pm 35 euro
Flash Fiction is the epitome of writing verve! This versatile, short form is ideal for readers and writers who want to pack meaning and entertainment into bite-sized chunks. With many publishing outlets for material, flash fiction is the perfect way to sharpen writing skills and raise your profile in the writing world. This course will help you produce competent, unique and memorable short fiction.
Please share these details particularly with those in the Wicklow and Dublin areas. For each of the courses I hope that you will go home energized and motivated to pursue your creative endeavours. I look forward to meeting some of you there!
Is it possible to pick out your favourite short story? Is it like with music, does it depend on mood? We all have our favourite authors, genres and styles of writing. So if you were pressed, could you identify your favourite story? Is it something nostalgic that you read at a particular point in your life or something from a recent work that really sits with you. Well, I got the opportunity to explore these questions on the fantastic Short Story Website Story Ireland when they asked me to identify ‘The One’. My favourite story is A Stone Woman by A.S. Byatt from The Little Black Book of Stories. You can read why I love the story so much here.
In the meantime I’d love to hear what your favourite story is and why you like it so much. I’m always on the lookout for recommendations and can’t wait to hear what you suggest.
I’ve recently finished (for now anyway!) my novel about an usual exhibit in a 1980s town The Exhibit of Held Breaths and while I’ve got an extremely rough draft of another novel waiting not-so-patiently in the wings and a flash fiction novella that thinks I’m never coming back, I’m unsure what to get cracking on next. The sensible option after the all encompassing nature of the novel would be possibly to finish some short fiction (abandoned inchoate orphans) but the larger works seem shinier. We’ve used the marathon analogy before for novel writing but some people train and train and then do one marathon after another. Others never go back.
What I want to know, for regular and more established writers, what do you do? Does it depend? Do you usually have a week or two off altogether, do you write short pieces, move to non-fic or do you get up the next morning and dive right in to the next novel? What writing comes straight after you’ve finished your novel?
This blog is mindful of the challenges that writing parents face in their ‘normal’ lives outside of their creative pursuits and one of the fantastic resources I have come across in recent times is acclaimed YA author’s Nicola Morgan’s latest publication The Teenage Guide to Stress. This is a book written for the teenager but with parents in mind and is a companion volume to the critically acclaimed Blame my Brain. Nicola Morgan is not a psychologist but is an author with an affinity for the mindset of the teenager/young adult who has done research on the psychological and brain physiology of this age group whose brains are altering at a faster rate than any time since they were toddlers. You can read my article for writing.ie all about The Teenage Guide to Stress here. Nicola has written various other no-nonsense guides for writers such as Write A Great Synopsis, Dear Agent and Tweet Write and I highly recommend her sincere and pragmatic approach.
#fridayflash is a community on Twitter, Facebook and here. The idea is that you post a short fiction up to 1000 words each or any week on your blog and you link to it using the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter as well as adding the link to the collector. Everyone who posts tries to read as many of each others’ stories as possible and post some constructive feedback. For general readers it’s a great way to discover brand new fiction and authors.
I’ve posted elsewhere about how flash fiction and fridayflash in particular has changed my writing life. It provides a regular deadline, allows you to get feedback on your work and to try new genres and formats as well as making you hone your writing for smaller wordcounts. You can even set yourself challenges for tiny wordcounts while still telling a great story.
The flash fiction I’m posting today is the result in many ways of my whole #fridayflash expenence. I’ve been working on a novel for a while so haven’t posted here. However, #fridayflash had led to me accumulating a body of work of interrelated flash fictions features a core set of characters and locations, life through a prism with stories told from different angles and with crossovers. I’m now working on consolidating what will be a flash fiction novella, called Unusual Flashes Of Light. (Some of my characters believe they’ve seen UFOS). I’m delighted to be back posting #fridayflash. I’ve had such fun and success with the form that I’ll be shortly running a flash fiction workshop as part of my Head Above Water courses in Bray so keep an eye on the listings. After that ramble, here’s today’s story. (For related stories see Lethargy and The Solid Table Fallacy.)
Morrison Pentworthy had a motor car, an Aston Martin DB4 convertible that belonged to his Dad. They drove to Killiney with the top down. Sandra and Karen sat in the back.
‘What does DB stand for?’ Sandra wanted to know.
“David Brown,” Morrison shouted back against the wind.
‘Oh,’ replied Sandra and Karen together.
Morrison stopped at the garage for some mints.
‘If we drove away now we could be Thelma and Louise,’ said Karen.
Sandra laughed. They watched Morrison moving about in the shop, he seemed a bit lost between crisps and cold drinks. They looked at him, willing him on, wishing him the best.
Down the coast road, barely clinging on, Sandra wriggled herself forward to shout in Morrison’s ear.
‘I thought your Dad was into Doors.’
‘He’s into cars as well.’
Morrison chucked something small and hard into their laps. It wasn’t mints. It was a packet of Love Hearts with inscribed messages of endearment. Be mine, I love you, lucky star, love bug.
‘What does your one say Morrison?’
‘Find me,’ he said, then crushed it between his teeth.
‘Smile’ read Sandra and held Karen’s hand.
Morrison pressed a button on the dashboard and they heard rain.
‘Can he do that?’ said Karen looking into the lately summer sky.
‘It’s Riders on the Storm’ Sandra said, tightening the scarf round her head.
Over the beach the grouchy cumulus hung. Karen admired Sandra’s newly painted toes. Morrison was scribbling. The water did that to him.
Some men ran down the beach, feet pounding, sand exploding between their toes
‘It’s like Chariots of Fire,’ remarked Sandra.
Except for the dog,’ Karen suggested, watching a yappy terrier having a go at their heels.
‘There should be horses…’ Sandra mused. She thought of how they would kick up the sand with their hooves and make the air seem fast around them. The riders would lift up from their seats and have their hair flying back and it would make anything seem possible.
Far away a woman and her two children were playing at the water’s edge. The children had a bucket, the woman had rolled up her skirt and was writing something in the wet sand as the sea rolled towards them. Morrison was taken by the scene, as if it stood for something. The woman and the girls, there was something familiar. Yes, he could hardly believe…She was here. Emily, Emily, Emily, wuthering, could not stop for death.
He heard a rustling, behind him, turned from the scene, found Karen and Sandra reading his notebooks.
0110010100100000011110010110111101110101” Sandra read out, very precisely.
Morrison put out his hand, digits starfish spread, his face all tenderness and fury.
Sandra threaded her fingers through the spaces of his. ‘Sorry,’
‘We just wanted to have a gander,’ added Karen.
Sandra kept on holding his hand, keeping the drowning man above water. ‘What are these?’
‘Codes,’ he said. ‘That one’s binary and that ones Morse.’ He pointed to another.
.. .-.. — …- . -.– — ..-
‘What do they mean?’
‘I can’t tell you that or I would have to kill you…’ Morrison turned back to the water. He was wearing Karen’s big dark sunglasses. His hair was blown back at the front like a New Romantic. His toes made holes in the sand.
‘I love you.’ said Sandra and Karen looked up. ‘I love you, That’s what the codes mean. I studied science in college.”
‘Surprising,’ Karen said, her eyes on Sandra.
Morrison didn’t hear. He was looking at the seashore with sunglasses. The youngest child had the mother’s face between her hands. She kissed her on the lips. ‘I love you mummy,’ the child was saying. That’s what the child must be saying, down at the shore, holding her mother’s face so precious.
Later Morrison bought 99s for Karen and Sandra from the ice-cream van. He was walking away from the ice-cream van when he stopped and went back for sprinkles and syrup, Karen and Sandra were sprinkles and syrup kind of people. They knew that Morrison was no longer mad at them for reading his notebooks.
After the ice-creams they lay down and looked at the deep blue of the sky.
‘Do you think this will go on forever?’ Karen asked, roasting her toes in the sun.
‘Probably,’ said Sandra from behind dark glasses, big ones like the celebrities wore.
The two children and their mother were coming closer, the smallest girl was running up the beach with a spade in her hand. She seemed very determined. It was the way her shoulders moved, the way her small legs carried her without hesitation.
“Isn’t that the woman from the bus,” remarked Sandra and they all sat up.
Morrison didn’t say anything, he stood and brushed the sand from his rolled up trousers.
The little girl flew past them up the slipway, her feet were dark with mud, her spade raised for action. The woman was rushing, holding too many bags, the handle of one fell down and the older girl rushed forward to hold it. They hurried by, each holding a handle of the bag. Morrison stood like an anatomical exhibit demonstrating forward motion. A few metres away the family disappeared up the slipway into the car park.
Sandra lay back down, adjusting her glasses. “I thought you were going to do something there for a minute, Morrison..”
“Ouch,” said Karen, wriggling on her beach towel, she reached under her, and revealed a rogue Love Heart. Dream On she read out and then crunched it between her even white teeth.
Morrison sat back down. He kept looking in the direction of the shore but now the sun was in his eyes and he could no longer see.
If you’re a writing parent like me, the summer holidays can make writing progression at best interesting and at worst a write-off literally. Preparations for back to school for (in my case) four children at three different schools is mind boggling, expensive and a complete time suck. I’ve also decided to use the holiday time to finally tackle ten years worth of papers, toys and those tiny bits and pieces in boxes and drawers, so I’ve done little writing and am fit to spend a bit of time in some padded cell or other, with no clutter whatsoever.
Organising my writing stuff
In addition to some DIY (look at our beautiful new BOOKSHELVES) I’ve also arranged box files with old drafts and am filing research for future projects and general stuff I find interesting.
This all takes a MASSIVE amount of time but I’m hoping it will make me much more effective when it comes to getting stuck in to projects in the future. No more “where are those edits?” or “Which draft is this?” or “where’s that vital piece of paper.” NO MORE EXCUSES to get up off the chair again. (Here’s hoping.)
Like many things when you start getting interesting in something it can become an obsession, so as well as organising my own files I’m sorting out files for the kid’s work and have just sellotaped my youngest’s name (Age 6.5, he starts a new school tomorrow) to each one of his ‘Twistables.’ Something must save me from this madness and something will, that something is…
Those who’ve been with me from the start of this blog in 2009 will know that oh my goodness the kids were tiny then. 2, 5, 7, and 9. This year my youngest will finally move to a later school ending slot at 2.20, so I’ll have a great span of time to push on with writing (while pretending the housework doesn’t exist.)
Keeping the Faith
This is what I promised in the title. How do you keep the faith if due to school holidays, general holidays, life challenges, illness etc you haven’ written in a while. Here’s some suggestions.
1: Like me, do something related to your writing work like organising your manuscripts, creating a writing area, put up so me shelves, gather your writing books
2: Read writing books such as On Writing by Stephen King, Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and so on. You’ll feel at home with the people who, like you, love writing and can’t -in the long term – not write. You’ll know you belong in the writing world.
3: Read in general and recall the joy of novels and stories that brought you to write in the first place.
4: Read over some of your own work, recall your successes however small, remind yourself that even orientation towards making yourself a better writer or embarking on a project is a big step that you should commend yourself for. You are thinking ‘writing’ and you will get back to it. Thinking space is thoroughly important for the process of incubation. If you haven’t managed to write for a while, you’ve still been working in your head and gathering ideas (jot them down!)
5: Take in everything you see, places you visit, know that this will all find it’s way into your books in the future.
September, begin again, Head above Water courses
September is one of those begin again months, academically at least. For some writing parents it’s an opportunity to reappraise and set a writing schedule.
This Autumn I aim to run my Creative Practice and Short Stories course again locally in Bray, Co. Wicklow. This course is specifically designed to generate verve and ideas and help writers within busy lives, see out and find ways to start writing. The course also covers the essentials of short story and flash fiction writing.
New courses are planned in Short Stories and also in Flash Fiction (These will be for beginners and improvers and will cover the key elements for writing successful Short Stories and Flash Fiction with a chance to workshop an existing story and also do some new writing.
An interesting and exciting new course I’m adding is called What I Felt, this will combine the creative pursuits of writing and feltmaking, while also covering the role of autobiography in writing and looking at journalling, morning pages, how to incorporate (or not) live experiences in fiction and so on. This will be a fun and restorative class that I think people will thoroughly enjoy.
All classes take place on Sunday mornings until about lunchtime the Short Stories Course and possibly Flash Fiction may operate over two morning on consecutive weeks. I find this time suits in particular parents and those will weekend commitments while still allowing people to take time out for themselves.
More details including dates etc will be available soon. If you’d like to hear more email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There’ll be more posts here to give you a kickstart (or a kick) for creativity in September and get you back into the swing of things. Have you had a break and how has the summer season been for you writing wise?
Head above Water has had it’s head literally above water on holidays near Venice, a beautiful, surreal, inspiring centre of wonderful renaissance architecture and art. The holiday spirit still lingers, particularly with the school holidays still in full flow, it’s difficult to eek out extended periods of writing or creative time so I look forward to September to really get back into the flow of it all.
In the holidays of course I used the time to revel in reading – more on the specifics later but I really enjoyed Nuala Ni Chonchuirs/Nuala O’ Connor’s The Closet of Savage Mementoes, vivid, touching, engaging and although drawn from real experiences able to spin a universal, beautifully drawn and accessible tale about the different kinds of loving in life, about forgiveness and imperfection. I also had the good fortune to have been completely bound up in A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, a massive but enthralling and fascinating tome set between the 19th and 20th centuries. What a wealth of knowledge and social history covering the potteries, the economic and political situations, artwork and art movements set alongside the very real and personal unfolding story of several families and in particular that of a children’s writer and her many children and their trajectories. Questions of upbringing, relationships with different children, the place and ambition of women, all this is covered in this breathtaking novel. Now I’ve begun Matt Haig’s heartwarming and comic The Humans and it looks like I’m in for another treat.
A wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed recently is Laura Wilkinson’s Public Battles, Private Wars. There’s a chance to grab it for FREE on Kindle (I believe offer ends today July 31, so quick!) I really recommend this and you can hear Laura say more about it here.
On of my favourite bloggers is Karen Rivers whose lovely first book The Tree Tattoo was a great read, again, very insightful, poetic and engaging (she writes mainly now for the Young Adult market.) For me, her blog with her beautiful observations of life always hits the mark like no other. Here is her latest riff on Travel and Reading and the tricky eeking out of writing, putting down those elusive phrases and hoping for the rest.
Irish Blog Awards Longlist for Head Above Water
Speaking of blogging I’m happy to say that Head above Water is longlisted in the Irish Blog Awards along with many deserving writing and creative pals. This blog which aims to support and encourage busy people, and probably in particular writing parents, towards creativity in busy lives has been in existence for just over five years. I hope many of my posts, creative months and links have inspired others and helped you feel not alone in your writing endeavours. Blog judges will create a short list in the next few weeks and this will be put to public vote. I hope, in any case, to keep this blog as a venue for creative people who struggle with creating the head space or physical space in their lives to produce creative work. But it’s not just about struggle, it’s about the joy of doing something authentic in the span of our lives.
I hope you are refilling the well over the summer, whether through the better weather, a change of routine or location. For many, freed of job commitments over the summer, this may be a particularly productive time and may the force be with you! (They are filming Star Wars near my beautiful childhood home right now!
Head above Water has a fascination with the conditions of creativity and an enthusiasm for the idea that you can make creative sparks by combining ideas from a variety of sources. When I discovered the online magazine Spontaneity.org it encapsulated perfectly that cross pollination – an artwork in one creative sphere literally leads to another through a series of site links and people use existing pieces as the inspiration for further work. Today I’m delighted to have Ruth McKee, founder of Spontaneity.org guest posting to tell us all about the site and suggest some gorgeous and highly evocative artistic works from the site as the starting point for your next creative endeavour. Over to Ruth.
New experiences, not just creative ones, but any kind — travel, music, a love affair – open us up to different ways of expressing ourselves, give us new things to say and novel ways to say them. Spontaneity is a magazine which offers new experiences in words and pictures in the hope of sparking an idea, making a connection. It’s a creative chain reaction between poetry, prose, music and visual art of all descriptions.
I’m a writer, but I also play musical instruments, enjoy painting and love design – so I wanted to start a magazine that welcomed all kinds of creative people, from the newcomer to the established artist, that didn’t have boundaries of what was acceptable and that was an interactive place. This is how Spontaneity came about in the autumn of 2013, and already it’s a thriving community.
The concept of the magazine is simple: respond to any piece, from any issue of Spontaneity to be considered for the next. So, if you’re drawn to a particular photograph, story, or poem, respond in whatever form your creativity takes – and that can be anything. Recently we had a music video (http://spontaneity.org/issue03/note-weeper/) which responded musically and visually to a previous contribution – we love this sort of thing! We’ve had street photography, portraits, oil paintings, pen and ink sketches and acrylics. We’ve featured everything from the lyrical poetic series to short modern verse, poetry in French, Irish and in translation — and all kinds of prose, from the traditional short story, to the super-modern.
Here are two arresting images from our current issue to get you buzzing – a painting by Kate Powell “I tried to draw my soul but all I could think of was flowers” and a photograph, “Abandoned Cottage” by Ian Murphy. So why not see what ideas strike you and get submitting? For more details about these images and for some creative inspiration, see spontaneity.org and check out our submission guidelines http://spontaneity.org/submit/
As a psychology and communications graduate and over the course of several years writing this blog I’ve developed a great interest in the techniques and psychology of motivation and creativity. As a mother of four I have personal experience of juggling a busy life with creative endeavour. I’ve had many stories published in literary journals and anthologies in Ireland (Crannóg, The Stinging Fly, New Planet Cabaret etc) and abroad (Two National Flash Fiction anthologies in UK, Deck the Halls and Eighty Nine in Australia, Literary Orphans in Chicago, and online Metazen, The View From Here etc). I’ve also been nominated for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Prize, Bridport and Fish prizes and many more shortlists. ) I’m running a morning course on June 8th in Bray, Co Wicklow to encourage and support new and newish writers on their creative practice and develop the basic techniques to write great short stories.
I’d be very grateful if you could share the details of the course with anyone you think who might enjoy it. I want the focus to be enthusiasm and developing abilities.
Creative Practice and Short Story Essentials Workshop June 8th
St Peter’s Hall, Bray, Co. Wicklow (Dublin Road, coming into Bray, turn right at the Coach Inn.)
Date, Duration, Price
June 8th 10am -1pm, 30euro
• Creativity: Tips on finding the space, time and energy to write: Aims & deadlines, motivation, writing places, marking progress and calling yourself a writer, gathering material and down time. Idea generation.
• Short story essentials: Very short stories/flash fiction, longer short stories, plot, character, journey, showing, telling and dialogue. You will get a good idea of what makes a good short story, how to begin and develop a story, the importance of character, revision etc.
• Practical writing exercises
You will also receive handouts on creative exercises and short story resources.
To book or for more info: Email email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
A quick one today as I’m trying to train myself into sticking (roughly) to a schedule in order to progress work on a couple of projects at a time (more on motivation soon!) On one of my projects I’m trying to inject life and tension into a novel that’s already in pretty good shape but needs to grab us by the vitals more. I recently found a terrific post by Angie Capozello on the Friday Flash site that talks about how she puts body language to use in spicing up her work.
Rouse the reader
She talks about getting up close and personal, but the only seduction is that of the reader. Our characters glare, frown and grin she says but what is the body doing, if they brush against someone, pick up and object, look at their watch there is a direct physical react, and, says Angie, OUR bodies react to these descriptions too.
She also makes an important point of looking at our use of the word ‘Like’ . If we say something is ‘like’ we are making an intellectual comparison with an object, not eliciting a visceral response. She also talks about our physical reaction to the description of textures. Think of sharp glass, pine needles, pebbledash walls – these evoke a response.
Let your characters react
Angie gives a great example of a piece of dialogue where one protagonist describes how he feels about someones eyes. Our characters don’t just observe, they also have physical responses. Dialogue can be set on fire by characters talking about their own sensations.