Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for catching a few Z z z z

The last post of the challenge and sleep might now be possible.

I know, I know, my attempt to complete the A-Z challenge resembled a toddler trying out the alphabet: letters left out here and there.

And due to pure exhaustion, I didn't get to as many blogs as I would have liked.

But I have arrived at the end.

Late nights blog-hopping and typing apart, it's been fantastic meeting many interesting people whose paths in cyberspace I would not have crossed but for the challenge!

So many thanks to Karen, Arlee, Alex, Jeffrey, Talli and all who hosted.

As I write, I remain in a sort of post-blog-challenge euphoria and plan continuing to check out the list of challenge participants.

Look forward to meeting you, after a decent night's sleep, that is.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for X-factor

Okay, so it's cheesy, exploitative and appallingly lucrative and that's just the behaviour of the judges. Love it or hate it, deny you ever watch it, one thing you cannot do is avoid it. Well in my house anyway, with my 10 year old daughter glued to it (and threatening she's going to audition one day.)

Whether it's auditioners making a complete ass of themselves.

or an unexpected gem of a singer in the shape of an ordinary mortal,

the show has inexpliquable irresistibility.

The X-factor maybe?

This year for the first time ever, I actually watched the programme.

And solely because of a likeable, 50 year old, mostly ordinary but very talented contestant.

Observing Mary Byrne, a woman of an age deemed "past prime" and far from Twiggy-like in proportions, journey her way through the exhausting jungle of the weekly shows, did make me feel, that age or waist size should never be a barrier to success.

Most memorable, while Mary was storming her way through X-factor, in the last weeks of November 2010, Ireland received some visitors.
During those bleak weeks, when the International Monetary Fund team arrived to sort out our economic woes, Mary Byrne's storming success did go some way in spreading cheer.

You go, MaBy!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Visitors to Ireland

High profile, uber-famous visitors are a bit like buses.

We don't see them for ages and then two arrive together.

Ireland is hanging out its brightest colours for the month of May to extend Cead Mile Failte (hundred thousand welcomes in Irish language) to Queen Elizabeth, the first British monarch in a century to pay us a visit.

Two days after, the American President, Barack Obama, the fifth ever president to grace Irish shores, is dropping by for a whistlestop tour of his ancestral homestead in Co Offaly.

Okay, we have Republican-minded sections of Ireland expressing opposition to the first visitor. And cynics (or realists depending on how you look at it) reminding us the American president is only calling to garner Irish-American support in the impending election.

No matter what your view, these exalted visitors can only sprinkle a bit of much needed feelgood factor on our little recession-battered island.

I wonder though, if the Queen is packing the I-pod Barack gave her when they met up in 2009?
Just in case she gets delayed and they bump into each other.

I'm sure he'd be chuffed to know that one is still playing it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review - Open Mic night, Newbridge, Co Kildare

What is it about a bunch of writers in one place together? The sudden conviviality after all that solitary business of writing? Perhaps. One thing for sure. An Open Mic night is not just about writers reading their work. And, undoubtedly, the eclectic mix of writing on Wednesday night, in The Liffey Arms, Newbridge, Co Kildare, was well worth hearing.

Nineteen readers took to the podium, starting with Ann-Marie Mullen, who read us an evocative piece about her Auntie Pat in Glasgow. Audrey Doyle read some nature poetry and Innes Dillon told us about light "bouncing off silky water" in her poem In the swim.

John Martin reworked a witty version of Adam and Eve called Forbidden Fruit and Olive Collins (whose novel Lucinda's List is launching on May 14th) read a short story about Becky and her hilarious and varied guises.

Debbie Thomas vividly brought her characters to life from her children's novel Dead Hairy (launching on May 7th)

Dominic Cogan read Almost Famous a (hopefully not autobiographical)quirky piece about the quest to become famous.

Ann Tannam gave us The art of listening from her newly published poetry collection This Life. Ilona Blunden read a short story from the NUI Cert in Creative writing Anthology Original Sins. Eleanor Dillon gave us a personal reflection.

Bob Shakeshaft read some poetry, including February Field which was his very first poem.

Eileen Keane gave us an extract from her awaiting-publication novel Voices.

Brian Carroll read Deprivation/Depravity, a short story that included amongst other hilarious characters, "a well-fed policeman"

Una Ni Cheallaigh, whose poetry collection is due out soon, read about the impact of an illness on a family. Mae Leonard read from her poetry collection (launching 6th of May) and our M.C. Rita Crampton stayed at the mic to give us two dark pieces of flash fiction In the forest and Death by Chocolate.
Claire Mc Cormack gave us a piece of memoir about her childhood on The Curragh.
Breda Wall-Ryan read a linked sequence of poetry inspired by the Ceide fields as well as a hilarious sonnet about being drunk.

Our final reader was Niamh McSweeney who dedicated her piece The Gymnast, about a cartwheeling nine year old and flying plates of salad, to her mother, Kitty.

And throughout all this entertainment, we took short breaks to mingle, chat, network and swop writerly gossip. Great social networking of the REAL kind.

As I said, it's not just about the readings.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Open Mic Reading night

My writing group, Clane Writers, is hosting an Open Mic reading night, in Newbridge (Co Kildare) on Wednesday 20th April.

Are you ready to unleash those writings on an unsuspecting public?

An open mic night is an opportunity to perform (read)your work before a live audience.

Previous nights have been a great success, with writers from all over Leinster converging on Johnsons, The Liffey Arms, Newbridge to read a variety of material from flash fiction, memoir, short stories,novel extracts, poetry, travel pieces, personal reflections and more.

One good reason to come along is the practice you will get for when you LAUNCH that NOVEL or collection of SHORT STORIES or POETRY that's bubbling inside you. You will have to read in public now is your chance.

Speaking of launching a novel leads me neatly to some great news for our writer's group. Clane writers are proud to announce that one of our members, Debbie Thomas, will be reading from her newly published, fabulously funny, deadly original, children's novel "Dead Hairy" on Wednesday night.

As a member of Clane writers, I have so enjoyed Debbie's thoroughly entertaining readings of "Dead Hairy" at our meetings. Particularly special is that I've listened to "Dead Hairy" in its fledgling form, knowing that it was brilliant and HAD to be published and now have seen the book in the flesh and on the shelf. An inspiring journey.

Would love to see you there!">

Friday, April 15, 2011

Music and Memory

"The region of the brain where memories of our past are supported and retrieved also serves as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotion."

Now I know why when I hear:

Earth, wind and fire Boogiewonderland I can feel the sunshine of 1979 on my face.

Dionne Warwick's Heartbreaker I get the sinking feeling that my heart is about to be broken (which at the time it was)

Spice Girls Wannabe I recall my eight month old staring fixedly open-mouthed at their brash video (previously having shown little interest in telly) and looking away in disinterest when it was over.

Kylie Minogue Can't get you out of my head the excitement of a family visit to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Kylie cavorting in her white shift dress on every television screen and "Na na na" on every overhead piped music system.

To name but a few.

What are yours?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

King Stephen

I guess I've not been a true blue Stephen King fan. The only novel I've read is "Carrie" and that was way back in the seventies. Somehow I've never been drawn to his novels.

The movies of his books, however, are nothing short of classics. Notables are
"The Shawshank Redemption", "Misery", "Dolores Claiborne" and of course "Carrie" (I will never forget when her bloodied hand reaches out of the grave and the whole of the tiny cinema in Boyle, Co Roscommon, (West of Ireland) jumped en masse out of their seats!)

I'm currently reading King's part memoir, part learn-to-write book, and it gives a gripping insight into the mind of this greatly talented and prolific author. His detached description of abusive treatment received as a four year old from a particular nanny is sad and hilarious at the same time. Eula-beulah sat on him, farted in his face and shouted POW! Instead of bemoaning the horror of the situation he tells us that a 200 pound babysitter farting in his face, prepared him for the terrors of literary criticism.

Perhaps, surviving a tough situation, as he obviously did, inspired him to write his unforgettable tales of suffering and redemption?

I look forward to becoming a true blue fan.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Houses -the celebrity photo shoot

Beds with counterpanes as unruffled as the calmest ocean.

Kitchens with worktops so clean no-one could possibly ever have cooked/eaten there.

Living rooms so spotlessly tidy that anything but living is done in them.

Welcome to the celebrity house photoshoot.

Am I really interested in gorgeous mega-expensive designs that tell me nothing about the occupants? What does an impossibly spotless house say other than 'the cleaner was here'?

Maybe some shirts drying on the radiators, takeaway bags, beer cans and unwashed crockery on the sink, unsorted laundry on the beds...think Tracey Emin's famous bed (exhibited at Tate Gallery London 1999) with its stained clothes, empty booze bottles, cigarette butts, ruffled, grubby sheets and how much of real life was revealed in that one image.

Some 'Real' photo shoots of celebrity houses, please.

The visibility of a bit of normality would never dent a celebrity's aura.

I promise.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

First person narrative

I'm partial to first person narratives. Often, it's what attracts me to a novel.

There's an irresistible drawing in by a first person voice, a feeling you are being confided in, as if the narrator is somehow telling you the truth. And I know all the arguments against first person narratives, too narrow a perspective/point of view, and reduction in tension because the narrator has lived to tell the tale. And I have loads of third person narratives I really love.

Yet, first person narratives remain my top choice.

A few favourites:

The madcap tellings of scatalogical Ariel Manto in Scarlett Thomas' 'The end of Mr Y'

The cool, sensitive voice of Hans van der Brook in post 9/11 New York in Joseph O'Neill's 'Netherland'

The mysterious stranger in a Lahore cafe in Mohsin Hamid's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'

The detached Eva detailing every mother's worst nightmare in Lionel Shriver's 'We need to talk about Kevin'

The contemplative yet gripping voice of Michael in Bernard Schlink's 'The Reader'

The unreliable, sinister narration of Michael Rogers in Agatha Christie's 'Endless Night'

The smitten (with Holly Golightly) unnamed narrator in Truman Capote's 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'

The sensible, self-possessed voice of Jane ('Reader, I married him') in Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre'

Have you any preference on narrative or any particular first person favourites?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dear Diary

I write by hand whatever comes to mind, a stream of consciousness, an ejection of freewriting. Some days the pages are covered with crooked, close to illegible, scrawls. Other days, letters are fine-edged, calm and even.

The emptying out of the goings-on in the brain, the absence of need to punctuate or obsess about syntax or phrasing -it's only me who's reading anyway. This is a no-editting-necessary purging of thoughts, followed by a surge of relief.

It's now all out of the system, down on paper, off the chest. The good, the bad and the ugly, placed honestly on a "For My Eyes Only" blueprint.

Best of all is days, weeks, months or even years on, reading back the worried bits.

I've survived. All is well. What on earth was I getting so het up about?

“Writing, expressing can heal us. It can focus, support, and enhance our lives and well-being. Whether we laugh or we cry, whether through sorrow or joy, we can understand more about ourselves, and each other, through keeping a journal, diary, or diaries.”
- Doreene Clement

Cats & Me

My attitude to the feline population has always been pragmatic. I blame my upbringing on a farm. There, every animal had a job specification. Cattle were bred to produce milk and meat. Dogs were burglar alarms. Cats kept rats and mice away.
Having lived in an urban area since leaving home, I've regarded cats as something to be tolerated. The approach of one in my vicinity brought on an automatic "Shoo."

Life has, however, conspired to change my attitude.

The sudden, tragic loss in recent years of a dear family member, left our home in mourning. My then eight year old son was in a state of perpetual, glumfaced gloom. Until the arrival of a stray cat at our back door, with whom he made immediate friends. Despite my reservations about her presence, their friendship flourished. She would arrive under his bedroom window each morning, miaowing feverishly until he threw on his clothes and ran down to let her in. He would kneel beside her, rubbing her luxuriant coat, while she nuzzled his face and purred like an engine, his mother buzzing around in silent dissention in the background.

I had no option but to concede to a greater power. She had put a smile back on his little face at a very difficult time.

So, the word that now forms in my head when she approaches is "Respect"

Except, of course, when she sleeps on my favourite chair, but then I can't have it every way.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book - there's one in everyone.

I wonder, though, if everyone is actually able to get that book OUT.

Note the word "in. " My own struggles lead me to add the proviso, "but NOT everyone will get that book out."
"Genius is ninety nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration" (thank you, Thomas Edison) A lovely thought when applied to the writing of a book. Stamina alone (bar 1%) should get a long, sustained piece of art completed.
So, what about the small matter of:

*Impatience - Re-writing & polishing will take months and I will be going over the same characters again and again and am already feeling somewhat sick and tired of them.

*Lack of faith - Do I really want to invest so much time in a project that may well result in a bundle of paper that will sit gathering dust in a drawer?

*Unwillingness to move on to another project - I enjoy the tag "I'm working on my novel." Dumping it into the bin, even if that's the best place for it, will leave a hole in my life.

*Cold, naked fear - Does all this procrastination prove that I'm not up to writing a novel at all?

This sorry-for-herself, wanna be novelist, who should be working on her novel instead of taking part in a blog challenge, is looking for sympathy.
Any (encouraging) comments hugely welcome.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Acts of God

On March 11th 2011, I was frazzled.
A trip around the traffic choked city in the non-stop rain, a mislaid umbrella, a delayed (without explanation) train, a mysterious noise in the engine of my car, a daughter with endless financial requests - the day seemed never to cease throwing up challenges.
Then I heard the news, saw the telly footage. The progress and possessions of a hard working, thriving nation obliterated before my eyes.

The fragility of my comfortable condition and how perilously close I live to destruction was sharply brought into focus, the power of nature and helplessness of mankind in its wake, highlighted up close and personal.
The sudden arrival of the earthquake in Japan, as well as disasters in Haiti and New Zealand, show there are things that cannot be controlled. Fate can wrongfoot me in a split second.

So, there is huge merit in living each day as if were the last one and showing gratitude for the goodness of God, no matter what (meagre or otherwise) daily challenges I am thrown.