New Year, New Writing Verve

New Year's in beautiful Kerry
New Year’s in beautiful Kerry

Happy New Year and I hope it will be a terrific one for you personally and writing wise. This time last year I took the big step of committing to a creativity post each and every day of January and while I hope sometime to compile these and others I’ve written into a downloadable book, the resource of those 31 posts, on walking, persistence, inspiration etc is there for you to peruse now and all the links are here.

To start off with verve this new year I’ve written a post based on my reading of Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing called Writing with Love and Gusto: Lessons from Ray Bradbury over on my blog. Please take a look and share your thoughts. As you’ll see I wrote a list of my life fascinations in the post as it’s by following and exploring the things we love that we can put heart into our books and make them sing for readers and agents/publishers alike.

I like to think that I put my fascinations and wonder at this world into my books, and I write to connect and share this wonder with others, so I’d be delighted if you want to read any of them. (They are good value I think!) You can read what people said here or go direct to a full list here.

Let me know if you will be releasing a new book this year or what you are working on. I’m submitting my novel about an unusual exhibit that transforms the life of a town and a reluctant curator The Exhibit of Held Breaths to agents just now and I’m still very excited about a new project set in Ireland’s manic boomtime, a voracious, linguistic feast exploring greed, emptiness and featuring a girl with pica and a would be cannibal. The book is called Eat! and the flash fiction from which it is developed will be in the next issue of The Stinging Fly.

Now I must fly, wishing you every good thing this year and the determination and optimism and love in your work to keep going at whatever you do.

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: Reasons to Live, Reasons to Love, Reasons to Write

Life is not easy, there are many things that can hit you full on as you go through life, some challenges and losses increasing as the years go by and some people start out through illness and circumstance with challenges from the off. There are many horrors and injustices that make you wonder what kind of world we are living in.

On a personal level there is this perpetual striving to make sense, so we make stories, we are wired for narrative, we make attributions about our own and others behaviour, we seeks answers, meaning, higher guidance. We have superstitions, we make magic out of coincidence and feeling, we do what we can to traverse this life with some semblance of sanity but we all have our neuroses and delusions.

Why writing, why art, why books, why dance and music and pink and blue skies and fractal trees and light, sunlight through baby green leaves and golden autumns and the perpetual sea? Why, as writers, do we reach out to each other through words, why do we do this thing which is capricious and hard. Why aim for publication which is – as one well known writer recently said – often ‘disappointing’? It does not give you the means to live, it is fraught with lottery and hype. But when it works, when we find a book or write something and share something that says what we feel and what we mean, it is a gem, it is a triumphant, gorgeous thing and for that one moment we feel fine, the inner restlessness settles.

Why I am a writer is this: I am bowled over by the world, it comes at me, the miracle of it, here as we stand on a rotating globe in the middle of darkness. Here as we live as humans, look, see, love, look inward and think and marvel, our very existence, this astounding cosmological coincidence, this kiss of life.

A few nights ago on the day of the ice rain I stood in the garden talking to the universe, another sand heap rant. (Sand heap: me at 17 walking round and round on sand behind my house, wondering what life was all about as I stood on the edge of it.)

Here I am at this moment alive in this time, thinking of that man’s sadness in 1775 at his infant son dead. We think we are special, that we have sensibilities beyond those in the old days. No it is us, human, merely repeating and repeating. Right back to Archimedes and his fascinating inventions and thoughts, the stars mapped, the oceans traversed, this fumbling now out to the stars and more great satellites and probes and the earth melting and meteorites whizzing past.

Here I am, nothing and nobody but as much a part of humanity as everyone – that jabbering, gibbering mass of sense and nonsense. I am important and I am nothing. And these things I think and feel are as important as Betelgeuse and as insignificant, as dust, dust yes, containing everything.

What do we have –  we humans naked across centuries, our clothes rotting from us in the earth? We have these things we try to do, this impetus, we have love, what we think of as love, big or small, special or universal.

So I reach out, I make meaning out of the bricks of words. I gather to me and care deeply for those people who seem to share this sensibility and this frailty, this sense of standing at the edge of things, on the edge of things on this hurtling earth, those people who need to make marks in the sand as a testimony to our journey, this insignificant number of years we are here and then we are gone.

Susan Lanigan says it too. Why when depression hits and she might look at the dark side of the sphere instead of the light, she chooses to live and to make art and to bear witness to this life of horror and joy. This is why we write, this is why we go on doing something that is hard and makes no sense, logically. It is to make sense of all this, this senseless, chaotic spinning world, this restless, reckless humanity.

#fridayflash Reunion

They met again in a supermarket. It was Christmas Eve and everyone was there. All around the shop assaults of memory, surreptitious sightings of people from the past, back, nasty girls from school now snapped and pummeled, lost boys made good in chinos and suits, friends of her mother patting her arm in the biscuit aisle, their shortbread faces softening because they had been fond of Louise.

Eddie had a trolley. It had been abandoned in the car park. Now he wished he hadn’t bothered.

The Jingle Bells playing over the tannoy had the musicality of scraping nails.

Emily had a basket; Cream, cream cheese, crackers perhaps and mincemeat for mince pies. She’d found a jar rolled on its side behind the sugar. The basket crashed against her, the metal mesh fighting, there was a tailback of trolleys and a crush for the cheese boards.

So it was there, beside the cheese after, what, twenty years? All those many kinds of cheese both melty and hard, cheese with holes and mould and cranberries and apricots. In slow motion you could see their hands both reaching for the Wesleydale.

In a flash you could see their hands now older but familiar, touching like the so old days. In a moment, a place and time where Christmas crackers didn’t matter, everything here and now so close, the chill of the cabinet, the solid resistance of the floor tiles, the glare of the fluorescent lights, the past racing up, a train with flickering windows. Emily and Eddie baiting forked lighting on the quay, her hands around his waist driving on the motorbike up past the Hellfire Club to the view of the night town like stars. Emily and Eddie flinging plums into the sea on the day before he left. Why did he leave?

“Emily,” he said. A woman pushed passed with a chocolate assortment. Emily said nothing. She could not choose a word out of so many. She couldn’t pick out which thread to tell him.

“How are you?”


“It’s been…”


“I didn’t know you liked Wensleydale.”

The basket was digging into her fingers. The girls were with her father. He sometimes got nervous.

“My mother died,” she said.

He nodded, mumbled.

“I have a daughter,” he said.

Her hair was darker, shorter.

His eyes hadn’t changed.

The woman with the chocolate assortment came back the other way. They were truffles with many luscious centres.

“I’m a photographer now,” he said. His hand disappeared. She waited. Over the tannoy came a plea for more checkout operators. He gave her a card.

Edward White, Portraits, Special Occasions she read. There was a phone number.

“I have two girls,” she said.

“I live in Blackrock now,” he replied.

On the train that day, it had been him she’d seen. It was like the folds of paper coming together.

She looked at the basket with the Wensleydale on top. Her ex-husband had refused to make the trip to see the girls at Christmas. He said he would Skype if he got the chance. When Eddie had left he had said he would write her a letter.

“My number is there,” he said pointing. Emily put the card in her bag among the rest of the debris.

He wondered whether he should kiss her on the cheek. People were pushing to get round them. Good to see you Emily and Eddie said and smiled at each other.

Then Eddie turned the trolley and headed towards the milk.

If we thought that love was gone

by Alison Wells (1991)


If we thought that love was gone

that out of sweetness none remained

why should we catch the balmy air

its warm and laden music strained

upon a wise and falling light

the evening coming home to rest

the wide relentless sky still bright

like a heart stretched taut with care

then shall we find brim-comfort there

that what is now, not past is best

the full and glowing day now done.


Why should we catch the balmy air

with glee and toss it through our hair

shout and stomp and shout again

that all we want to be is here?

And yet we grip rich beauty tight

must keep this fleeting joy so rare

within our touch, our taste, our sight

but scent and sound they drag us back

to scenes of sweet and haunting pain

and put us face to face with fear

that what is gone will ever lack


Shout and stomp and shout again

that what despairs cannot be heard

Feel the sun – a love’s embrace

the breeze becomes a tender word

that soothes the soul, the heart and mind

and summer’s wealth of promise stored

makes the falling evening kind

and musings touched with warmth erase

the tracks where restless hopes keep pace

Then loss and aching quiet ignored

both strength and beauty now remain.

This poem appears in the Poetry Against Cancer book. Poetry Against Cancer is a collection of poetry from writers around the world; all the money raised from the book goes to St John’s Ward at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, the Haemotology and Oncology ward.

You can BUY IT HERE.

#fridayflash If you.

I want to say to you that…I’m so….You know that time when we…I know this doesn’t make any…. Sometimes I wish that I could…But if I only… and then  the way you ….. but perhaps it didn’t…. and then again oh but you…’s not clear if… and at the same time….there was that….there was that….I thought you….

Sometimes the light through the curtains obscura makes a wall shadow of trees. Sometimes you see feet passing underneath the wooden gate outside your house. Sometimes the sun slants, the waves slap against the ferry boat, shuttling between islands, sometimes the wind bangs a door, again, again, late in the evening the escalator down to the underground clicks round and round and round and a sweet wrapper from a relaunched bar skitters along the platform then drops onto the rails.

There are photographs in a photographer’s window of gorgeous children who are no longer children, they climb into the parks after hours and hang upside down on the monkey bars, they drink purloined cider under the slides. There are wedding photographs of the newly divorced in drawers, there are pictures of pop bands in envelopes owned by ladies with wrinkles.

What if we….well I never…..I wonder …we could have….remember when I said that….I remember the things you…in the end we….the end is never…

There is a programme on the television that revisits the decades one by one..The fashion then. My God I wouldn’t be seen dead in….There is a colour tinge for every place, for every space in time, there is a sense of…Lemon sherbert overtones. I wouldn’t be seen dead in batwing now.

Unspooling, film heroes unmade, running backwards, erasing. We tried to rewind the tape into cassettes with HB pencils. In those days the imprint of ourselves could easily be tangled and mix tapes had clunky pauses. Which song would you choose as your last?

If we had…if you ever….and I really wanted to…but when we….and at the end of the day… after all….and I wouldn’t be seen…

I rarely send letters. I stopped wearing a watch.