The bounties of blogging

Last week Hazel Gaynor (Hot Cross Mum) and I featured in an article in the Irish Independent by Bernice Harrington on Mums and blogging. Here is the Facebook link to the article which was the cover story in the Mothers and Babies supplement (requires a further download)  I started blogging in April 2009 and as is mentioned in the article it’s had a tremendous impact on my development as a writer and becoming part of the general blogging, writing, and fiction (fabulous #fridayflash) communities. In November I was asked to blog for the national irish writing site which has been a great experience. My blog, under Guest Blogs is called Random Acts of Optimism and covers writing, headspace and in particular short stories and flash fiction. Following on from some of my articles on I’ve been interviewed on flash fiction as a literary medium for the Irish Times and will let you know when that comes out.

Blogging can be time consuming and it’s necessary to prioritize and schedule blogging activity so that it doesn’t take over. My main priority is to write literary fiction, at the moment that means finishing the first draft of a novel. However blogging has given me wonderful connections and opportunities. Without sounding too calculating (I hope) it can be a great way for writer’s of presenting yourself to the world, both your personality and competency as a writer and your interests and views on literature. It is a lovely way of connecting with and getting know others in your own locality and further afield. I’m preaching to the converted here I am sure but I just wanted to let you know a little bit of what blogging has brought me. What about others who blog, what is the greatest bounty blogging has given you?

In the manner of all things serendipitous, my twitter pal Derek Flynn has written this insightful post with brilliant quotes on What’s the Point of Blogging and on the lovely Caren Kennedy gets to the heart of what blogging is with I’m blogging for blogs sake are you?

#FridayFlash Flash

Some characters from two weeks ago asked for another outing.

Emily and Eddie were baiting lightning on the quay, and it was forked. Across the bay the flashes lit up midnight townlands in isolated glimpses as if God with torches was looking for his keys in the eternal driveway. Here. There. This way a bit. Further back.

When the breeze still had air in it they knew they were okay. They wore t-shirts and jeans and Emily felt the solid beam of his arm around the outside of hers. He felt the seam of her jeans against his thigh, he leaned down and kissed the edge of her hair. Her calves lick curl lifted, shook and died. When the thunder smothered them they knew they were chancing it. They kissed completely. At the end of the quay the wires crackled. All Emily wanted to do was swim, dive-bomb off the pier and sink in, watch the lightning experimentally dance on top of the water.

Eddie was leaving at the end of the summer. He was filled up with love for her; he just didn’t know he had to do anything with it. She was loathe to count the days. Her Dali calendar was disgruntled by her apparent indifference. But there was a lot you could ascertain from the periphery. Time was flashing by.

If her father was the air traffic controller and her mum was the girl who delivered the sandwiches and coffee then she fell below the radar. Emily flipped the axis of 24/7 and slept in a honeyed bed, roamed the black night with confidence and fervour. But if it were the other way around and her mother was the mistress of flights and near misses then she was sussed and she strung out the summer with Eddie under the heavy lidded gaze of her mother’s restless vigilance.

But they did the beer on the beach after dark. One of the lads, giant limbs, small head, acted the flasher for the whitehead bus tour sea front promenaders. He used hen party props, chocolate penises melting in the humidity. They collected tuts and shaking heads and the odd raucous cackle. They slid into clubs once in a while when the rain drove them inside. When midnight passed, in the tribal stomping, she lit up her phone and it was already August. Eddie was slouched in a corner on a slope of coats. She found his hand and she made him dance. There was no rain here only sweat, brine and coffee.

Emily found out she was epileptic on the dance floor. The strobe lighting sent her into a spinning fit, flit, flit; flashbacks of dream sequences and recent dalliances.

When she awoke she was cold, shudder huddling while the world switched on again, in portions, vision, feeling, sound. She had become a small creature at the bottom of a mountain of human concern. The dance music was still playing; drumbeat dissonance, out of time with the trotting of her heart.

Three weeks later the gang wanted to know if they were going to cut her brain in half.  Someone else asked if that would make her schizophrenic. They were on the beach again and the nights came quicker now, her mother’s shift had lengthened and the fact of epilepsy added a high note to her voice when she said see you later to Emily. Across the bay the lighthouse spun, flashed, there, gone, there, gone.

Eddie was leaving tomorrow. Emily pressed into his biking leathers. He was going to take her for a drive somewhere but he hadn’t decided yet.  They were going to stay out all night. She didn’t care. Her mother could jump. You only had one life and this was it.

They went into the mountains. The bike roared and so did the wind. Eddie sang something but the sound was swallowed whole. They paused for a view of the city, like stars they said; but the stars were meek in comparison. They went further until the string behind them broke; they went on like a prayer without rosary beads.

It was just them. Turned this way, at the crest there was no city. There was gorse, stones. They sat on granite. His-her hands found warm places. In his silence was the remembrance of his voice. In her stillness was the echo of her fervour. She drifted into him and thought it could be the epilepsy. He drunk her in and thought of nothing.

They saw flashes, out of the black; ripples of light, undulations snaking the sky. The aurora borealis this far south, they weren’t meant to be there.

In the morning they went home, the cold in their bones and the light in their heads. Her father was up early on a ladder fixing the flashing. Her mother was drowning in coffee. She hadn’t slept. Her fury was thunder and Emily felt it overhead. But all she could see were scenes, flashes of her and Eddie, on a beach, on a mountain, dancing like one person in the club. Then him on his own, driving away till whenever.

Why I’m Missing 1970’s Wallpaper – Inspiration for Far Out Writing Dudes

Wallpaper can free your mind
Wallpaper can free your mind
I grew up in the 1970’s: the era of swirly carpets, psychedelic curtains, bed coverings and wallpaper. The wallpaper was flock, groovy, funky, floral, paisley, repeating geometric, colourful, clashing, kitsch. But you have to admit it, compared with the pared down smooth walls in neutral cream paint of the minimalist mode we have now, there was something going on there, there was movement, activity, shape.

When my husband and I moved into our first house, it still had the original orange and brown carpet with giant swirls. In college my sisters and I shared a flat – part of a large old building known as Blair’s Castle. It was decorated in luscious, heavily textured red flock wallpaper. As a kid, I remember lying in bed looking at the walls, picking out a particular pattern within the wallpaper, following it with my eyes until it morphed into another shape or became something, an animal or usually some kind of face. In particular, paisley design was my favourite, the ever repeating fractal like patterns echoing the world’s elegant chaos.

If you want to read a fabulous story about Wallpaper becoming something, or something becoming Wallpaper,  read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper.

We can see things in wallpaper
We can see things in wallpaper

First published in 1892 this 6119 word story is included in Peter Boxalls 1001 Books:  You must read before you die. He describes it as ‘This little slip of prose, a novella running to a mere twenty-nine pages, it is a literary masterpiece’ and a ‘yearning for sexual and intellectual freedom’. It is written in the first person as a series of journal entries by a woman whose husband has insisted she be confined to a room, (decorated in the yellow wallpaper) to recuperate from what he, a doctor, has diagnosed “temporary nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency;” The story stays with her as she descends into psychosis with the wallpaper as her companion.

If the Yellow Wallpaper is an extreme example of where identification with wallpaper can bring you,  I still believe that the dearth of pattern and activity in our furnishings and wallcoverings is a loss in our creative lives. There’s a state of mind that is crucial to creativity. It’s a kind of free state awareness, where you become utterly immersed in what you are doing, an energized focus. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi identifies nine aspects of this feeling of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one’s skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
Ever repeating fractal patterns help creativity
Ever repeating fractal patterns help creativity

As a writer, it’s that feeling you have when you are receptive to ideas, when the writing is flowing, when you are ‘in the groove’. It’s the feeling I used to get, spaced out on groovy wallpaper, a narcotic free method of ‘opening the mind’ and ‘chilling’. Its benefits for creativity and healthy mental relaxation – for us as writers trying to open up a path to our subconscious and our memory, for our children,  kicking back in their bedrooms – are huge. It’s a way of freeing the mind, letting go of our residual concerns and moving into a world of possibility. It’s a way of creating creative head space, going places. That’s why I’m Missing 1970’s Wallpaper and glad that its coming back into fashion.

Why I write.

What has been wonderful in the last few days is getting feedback from my published story Bog Body. Although I’ve had a couple of stories published in magazines before, this was the first time that – thanks to modern technology – I was able to receive feedback not only from friends and acquaintances but also those in the general population that had found the link to my story.

This has been said before, but writing is a solitary occupation and the circumstances of being a stay at home mum mean that I circulate more in the private than public domain.  Having had this publication has helped me get ‘out there’ (see the use of that phrase in the Bog Body story – with its themes of constraint and stagnation).  The comments I received were wonderful, the general impression was that people could really feel themselves in the story, it resonated with them. Here are some thoughts I had jotted down recently about writing. 

‘Being a writer is like digging, turning over the soil of life and revealing, unearthing and making ready the ingredients of adventure.

Sends shivers. Done right, writing connects to the shaft of light reaching between the soul and everyday, illuminates the world with it, directs and diffuses the beam into the readers life.  

That one moment, that butterfly wing, that blink, that swallow, that turn of the head, that fall of a petal, that lift of breeze catching the hair, that tipping point, that second that everything changes. That held breath. When I write I want you to hold your breath, jump into the story, drown in it, feel something, a flicker, some resonance that reverberates in the back of your brain now and maybe later unexpectedly, fusing your experience of life with mine and humankind in general.’

At least with this story I have been assured that I may in some way have achieved this connection that is absolutely the reason I write.

Link to ‘Bog Body’ by Alison Wells
Interesting article by Anne Enright on her personal experience of whether or not someone can be taught to write:

Bog Body Discovered by Sunday Tribune!

Get my head above water?  Well I must have done or perhaps not… My story Bog Body – which is about being submerge and trapped among other things has been published by Ciaran Carty in The  Sunday Tribune’s New Writing section, yesterday August 2nd!

I discovered it was to be published only a few days before while visiting family in Kerry.  Without broadband I did not venture to update my blog and have come here to discover so many of you visited yesterday! I hope to greet you again!

It is such an honour to be chosen for the New Writing section, particularly as the story is automatically shortlisted for the Hennessy Literary Awards next year.

As I said to a friend, after I found out I was like a child who suddenly remembers its Christmas Eve and finds themselves grinning and spinning with excitement.

Thanks to all of you who sent your best wishes by various technological means. Now that I am back online, normal service will resume and the site will be updated to include a blogroll  etc so I look forward to connecting with other likeminded in the near future.