How does your garden grow?

It’s been a while since I posted any updates about the garden, but this doesn’t mean I haven’t been scurrying away trying to nurture the soil, maximise the sun’s potential and tame the weeds.

It’s been an excellent year all round for the garden and I’m pleased with the results. Just like writing, a little nurturing (read: lots of hours planning, preparing, trimming, pruning, digging & feeding) goes a long way…

sprouting broccoli early signs of fruit

These purple broccoli were a surprise: hidden in with some replacement spinach plants

Maturing spinach plants

These are the replacement spinach: the first bolted because of too much sun but I know where to plant them now for next year

Maturing greyhound cabbages

Cabbages love our soil – and despite the butterflies loving them for their eggs, we’ve done well this year. The next (winter) batch are currently germinating in the greenhouse PS Best bacon & cabbage ever when home grown!

baby radishes grown from seed

These may not look like much but they’ve grown this big from seed in two weeks: the first radishes I’ve grown as for some reason I think I don’t like them (but can’t remember last time I tried them)

beetroot ready to pick and pickle

Considered a bit of a superfood, I just love beetroot! This is a test crop, checking out the soil. As you can see, it loves it. However, we have another 60 or so in the field that are looking good. They can stay in the ground quite a long time so handy to grow.

Rosemary plants transfered to soil from tunnel

Fresh rosemary is beautiful for stews, so I’ve nurtured these in the greenhouse and am now planting out so it can get used to its new surroundings before the winter comes

Home grown sweet basil

Basil is one of my favourite herbs – I love the smell and the taste. I’m not sure about the soil or how resilient the plants will be so I’ve planted one pot out and have kept another one back in the tunnel, just in case!

maturing sprout plants

Year after year, sprouts are our big success story. In fact, I think we still have a few bags of frozen sprouts from last year! If you’re not a sprout lover, look away!

grow your own vegetables for cheaper meals

I guess this shows why it’s all worth it. There’s nothing better than going into your garden every day, harvesting what you can and then making a meal out of it (pictured here is lettuce, green beans, purple beans, spinach)

Photos of Bergamo, Italy

As you all know, I’m currently in Poland – a lovely part of the world, full of interesting heritage and traditions – and I’m building up lots of thoughts about the place to share with you upon my return.

However, for now, I’m busy catching up with a good friend so I thought I’d share some photos from another recent trip: Bergamo, in the gorgeous region of Lombardy. My husband and I rented an apartment in Bergamo new town, a short walk from the the old town, and spent a few days travelling by local train to Lake Como.

It was only a week’s visit, short and sweet, but we were inundated with such beauty, I had to share a few of our snaps. If you’ve been to Bergamo, I hope they bring back happy memories. Otherwise, simply enjoy.

Varenna, Lake Como

Turquoise waters of Varenna, our favourite Lake Como spot

beautiful Menaggio seas

Exploring Menaggio, Lake Como

Bergamo stunning church

Just one example of the beautiful churches here

Incredible Lake Como views

Snow-capped mountain backdrop, Lake Como

Varenna, Bergamo, Italy

Off the beaten track, we find an old watermill

Bergamo citta alta

Shady, towering streets of Bergamo old town

old city walls, bergamo

View from our favourite spot on the Old City walls, Bergamo

Cape Clear Diaries (2): An island awakes

dawn on cape clear, ireland

South harbour, 5.32 am this morning

I’m not sure if it’s the enduring silence, the rush of ideas still trying to settle, or being alone, but for some reason I’ve been finding it difficult to sleep since arriving. This morning I awoke at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep at all. So instead, I continued reading Wonder by R.J Palacio, one of my ‘research’ books for this trip. An incredible novel, if you haven’t yet read it.

At 5am the birds started singing a beautiful melodic tune which seemed just for me (I’m certain anyone else on the island was fast asleep). That’s when I noticed the silhouettes swooping and diving past the window and I forgot all about reading.

I can’t see a thing without my glasses or contact lenses but one thing was for sure, the birds were feeding while flying & singing so they had to be swallows or swifts or house martins. Curiosity got the better of me, so by 5.30am I was up, dressed & out in the still morning air.

Have you ever walked around an island at 5.30am when the rest of the world is sleeping? Liberating is one word that comes to mind. Grounding is another.

By this time, the swallows had stopped feeding and the gulls were out. There were some loud birds making a crazy amount of noise, including croaking noises in the undergrowth – more like frogs than a birds. The chorus turned out to be a mix of starlings and blackbirds.

A walk at this time may sound adventurous but to be honest, I didn’t explore very far; just from one harbour to the next. A very short walk (about 10 minutes according to the sign posts). But it was enough for what I wanted; to watch the world wake up. In particular, the Atlantic.

Dawn on Cape clear island, ireland

East harbour as dawn breaks

Sitting on the harbour wall, I watched the clear water gently wash against the pebbles, making a sucking ‘sloop’ noise as it retreated. I saw driftwood & seaweed fronds floating on the calm sea, black-headed gulls resting on the tide or circling overhead.

The wind shoved a break in the clouds across the sky and I wondered whether the ferryboat would run today. I noticed the harbour lights switch off at 5.43 exactly. The clouds slowed down and the water turned from dark grey to the viridian of evergreen trees.

By 6am, the island was shrouded in the murky half light of an overcast day. But as a pink hue stretched to the south, I realised – hey! It’s only just 6am and it’s pure daylight! Summer is here!

Despite the chill on my fingers, the woolly hat, and the rain that started to fall at 6.18, I stopped trying to decipher why I couldn’t sleep and felt thankful for it instead.

Surely, after those short dark days of winter, a morning such as this is a gift?

To be happy, look up!

West Cork sunsets, ireland

Glorious West Cork sunset taken from our front door

While walking around the local village, I’ve noticed a huge amount of people looking to the ground as they’re walking.

I’m not sure whether it’s shyness, sadness, confidence or an overloaded mind, but seeing as we live in such an idyllic spot, it’s certainly made me think. Why are people looking down instead of up? Is it a habit, an unconscious act or a lifestyle choice?

If people are always looking down, thinking inwardly, is it impacting their life in a negative way?

(Take a look at the photos on this page to see what people have been missing – they’re all natural, no filters).

Irish sunsets, West Cork

Another intriguing cloudscape

Another thing I’ve noticed is that people regularly walk while texting/tweeting/playing games on their mobile phone. Although we all multi task and have other concerns on our mind, I wonder – is this really necessary?

As you all know, I love the outdoors and spend plenty of time gardening, walking, running and cycling (with rowing recently added to the list). Part of the reason I moved to this gorgeous part of the world was to enjoy the beauty nature has to offer. And I honestly believe that part of the reason I’m so happy is because I connect with nature throughout the day, every day.

Irish sunsets, Irish skies

Moody, but such incredible beauty

Remember that feeling of joy as a kid when jumping in puddles, playing in mud, building sandcastles, picking wild flowers or collecting skeleton leaves?

Even living in an inner city suburb or council estate (like I did), these things were attractive, sought out and enjoyed.

If you find yourself asking the question, where did those days go? – guess what? They’re still here. That feeling doesn’t have to change. Go play!

And no matter how busy you are or how heavy your heart, please remember – to be happy, look up.

The Next Big Thing – Tag! You’re it!

Giant Australian leaf

It’s all about the right conditions

I’ve watched this game of writer’s tag with interest, enjoying its supportive spirit and collaborative camaraderie. I’ve really enjoyed learning about other writers – some familiar, some not so familiar – and following the meandering path to a host of new reads. However, I didn’t expect to be included in the game. I was happy to remain a spectator, cheerleading from the sidelines, but I was delighted when Bernie McGill hollered over the vegetable patch and asked me to contribute.

Bernie McGill (@BernieMcGill) is a short story writer (a collection is forthcoming in 2013 from Whittrick Press) and author of The Butterfly Cabinet. She was the winner in 2008 of the Zoetrope:All-Story Contest in the US and her short fiction has been shortlisted for numerous prizes including the Bridport, the Fish, the Asham, the Michael McLaverty and the Seán O’Faóláin short story awards.

I’ve just delivered my next novel to my agent Sallyanne Sweeney, but, like many writers, I’m a bit superstitious about revealing too much about that particular project until it’s found a home. So I’m going to talk about my experimental short fiction sideline, which may or may not be a success. All will be revealed…

1) What is the working title of your next book?

The short fiction I’m currently writing is intended for competition and journal submissions, but I’m experimenting with interlinking plot and characters with the intention of turning them into a novel. At the moment, there are two working titles – The Book of Us (taken from a poem recently published in Southword journal) and Dinosaur Stones. If anyone has an opinion on which they’d be more likely to pick up and read, I’d love to hear why!

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I believe that variety is important when you’re writing. Although I mainly write novels for a younger audience, I like to challenge myself with adult short stories and flash fiction at the same time. Engaging in such a different discipline helps keep the ideas flowing and, more importantly, allows me to play.

The idea of constructing a novel from linked short stories – with each chapter a stand alone tale, written from a different character’s viewpoint, but ultimately inextricable from the bigger picture – has always appealed to me. I love patterns. I love puzzles. And I enjoy the extra dimension these elements give to my writing.

This is something completely new for me and I’m treating it like a scientific experiment. I usually write books I know I can definitely write, and so this is a self-induced challenge. It’s a sideline; the chance to fail spectacularly. And something about that really excites me.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

At the moment, short fiction – it’s a mix of short stories up to 3000 words and flash fiction, as short as 500 words. But if the idea of turning it into a novel works, then I’d say literary fiction.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

One of my stories would really benefit from Jack Nicholson playing the main character – a jaded, indecisive widower with a dark future ahead of him. And in another, I’d love Paul Dano to play the disaffected, displaced youth – he conveys anger and torment so convincingly.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Always a difficult one but something like this perhaps…”A darkly humourous yet revealing tale examining the intricacies, depth and contradictions of human relationships.” Maybe that sounds more like a review?

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My aim is to submit the stories separately to competitions and journals, with a view to presenting the evolved, novel version to a publisher in the future. If the novel idea does not work – as I say, this is completely experimental and may not work at all – then I might present the stories as a collection. But as we all know, the short story does not receive quite as much attention as it deserves. Thank goodness for entities such as the Cork International Short Story Festival and The Short Review.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft is a work in progress because it’s a sideline, written in tandem with my main projects. I’m also taking a completely different approach using short stories as the basis. Usually I write a first draft of a novel in one month – more of a non-draft really – and that provides me with the lump of clay I need to mold.

In this instance, I expect the collection of stories to build up over the next year  and then the shaping of the novel to take another year. I find short stories extremely difficult to write. Novels give you more room to explain and examine – short stories are a completely different art form. I need to let them sit for longer and they take much more time to feel ‘complete’. Having this as a side project makes the timeline possible without it being frustrating.

it doesn't get much better than this

Let the great world spin… Philippe Petit walks between the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers, 7 August 1974. Photograph: Alan Welner/AP

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

If the novel idea works, think Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. That’s a great example of what I’d like to achieve. In terms of short stories, I’m still not sure I’ve mastered the art, so I’d rather name some amazing short story writers that I love and that I hope will somehow influence my work – Kevin Barry, Alexander McCleod, Haruki Murakami, Angela Carter, Raymond Carver, Deborah Willis, Flann O’Brien, Roald Dahl.
 
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The desire to play with a variety of characters and scenarios. The need to work on something without deadlines, just for fun. The need to experiment and possibly fail. And reading Collum McGann’s Let The Great World Spin at the end of last year reminded me of a project I always wanted to do.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The stories are in-depth character studies of seemingly ordinary people in a variety of seemingly ordinary situations: a kind of ‘behind closed doors’ look at how human beings function. Like any writer, I just hope that I write something that strikes a chord and brings pleasure to others. If it doesn’t work out how I expect it to, then I’ll have learned plenty along the way, and that will inevitably feed into something else…

***

Next week, on February 30th, Renée Pawlish and Hazel Larkin will be answering the same ten questions as above.

Renée Pawlish is the award-winning author of the bestselling Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the first in the Nephilim trilogy, the Reed Ferguson mystery series (This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, Reel Estate Rip-off, The Maltese Felon, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat), The Noah Winters YA Adventure series (The Emerald Quest), Take Five, a short story collection, and The Sallie House: Exposing the Beast Within, a nonfiction account of a haunted house investigation. Renée has been called “a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre” and “a powerful storyteller”. Nephilim Genesis of Evil has been compared to Stephen King and Frank Peretti. I highly recommend her blog.

Hazel Larkin was first published when she was 12. Since then, her work has regularly appeared in a variety of magazines and newspapers. She has written on topics as varied as Asian finance and orgasms; parenting and real estate; childbirth and transcontinental travel. Hazel spent her 20s in Asia where she made her living writing for stage, screen and publication. She was the co-editor of The Big Book of Hope (2010) and has also written a memoir, which is currently under consideration by an Irish publisher.

Susan Lanigan has short stories published in a variety of journals and newspapers, such as The Stinging Fly, Southword, The Sunday Tribune, the Irish Independent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Mayo News. She has been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award several times, and has won highly commended awards for short stories and poetry elsewhere. She is currently shortlisted for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair.

Gone, but not forgotten…

collie pup rescue dog

Our new addition – Franklyn

I’m referring to you. Yes you.

January is a jam-packed month as I complete the final edits for my next book – a YA tale about the effects of alcoholism. As a result, I’m taking a short sabbatical from writing posts for the Green Fingered Writer blog.

It’s not because of New Year’s resolutions – we all know they get broken as quickly as they’re made. Like a car or electrical appliance, their value disintegrates the moment they’re bought.

The reason behind my retreat is that I need to free up as much time as possible. To edit the book, gather final bits of research and to get some space from my manuscript.

I need to breathe.

I’ve realized that one of my many failings is that I don’t let myself wind down enough. I live in a beautiful place and lead a very fulfilling life – but my time is so rigid, I sometimes forget to have fun along the way.

Only sometimes.

It’s that whole ‘get contacts before you’ve finished the book properly’ multi-tasking syndrome otherwise known as ambition. Does anyone else out there fall prey to this?

It’s when life becomes all about achieving when, in fact, the process is what’s important. I know that – I’m possibly the idea’s biggest ambassador – so why does my daily routine regularly forget?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll post some photos of the beautiful land and seascapes that surround me. Hopefully, they’ll delight or inspire you. Other than that, I’ll be in absentia until the end of January.

Sorry for the disappearing act and I hope you understand.

But know this – even though you’re out of sight, you won’t be out of mind and I look forward to catching up with you all before the month is up.

Wish me luck?

Celebrating Others – Part 1

Cheers!

Cheers!

I’ve seen a lot of posts over the last while about gratitude and thankfulness, probably sparked by the thanksgiving holidays and the build up to Christmas. But whatever the reason, isn’t it great to see?

A couple of months ago I found that my twitter stream was filled with self promotional links. Of course, self promotion is wholly necessary – and to be applauded – but ALL the tweets were self promotional which I thought was a bit extreme. So I threw out the question:

“Where has all the conversation gone? My twitter stream is all self promotion!”

Some people suggested I was maybe following the wrong people and should unfollow a few. A valid suggestion, but I choose selectively and I know I’m following a crowd of fun and interesting people – so what happened? Was it just bad timing?

On closer inspection, I found that there were strings of RTs supporting other writers – published traditionally as well as independently – so I couldn’t complain. In fact, I was pleased to see how supportive everyone was being and my irritation turned to a feeling of admiration. I felt like applauding.

But it got me thinking…with all the advice out there about self promotion via social media, is it possible to lose the art of conversation and get bogged down with links to our writing/books/blogs?

As a result, I decided to take a bit of time out to celebrate a few other people’s achievements. After all, if you can’t celebrate those you admire, you’re not living!

There are so many deserving people that I could add to this list, but I’m limiting it (for now) to a few who really stand out to me personally. There’ll be more next week…

Vanessa O’Loughlin is the brains and brawn behind @writing_ie and Inkwell Writers. In my experience, she’s instrumental in bringing together writers, agents and publishers as well as providing brilliant workshops with attentive aftercare. There are many published writers out there who are thankful for her help.

Bob at @gutterbookshop is one of those people you can’t help adoring. As well as his fabulous bookshop, he’s a really lovely and interesting guy who’s always up for fun & a chat. Plus, he’s full of ideas and works like a Shire horse to make them happen.

@sarahwebbishere needs no introduction. But not only is she an amazingly prolific author, Sarah’s also extremely generous and helpful to those starting out. A kind and talented lady.

@mduffywriter has just released her second book, The Terrace, with Hachette, which quickly reached the top ten for original fiction here in Ireland. Her first book, Any Dream Will Do hit the Irish bestsellers list. Best thing is, Maria’s down to earth, fun and incredibly kind.

@derekF03 went from wishlist to a recorded album in under a year, and he still manages to maintain excellent writing on his own blog and writing.ie’s Songbook. Throw in a few novels at various stages of brilliance, and you know that Derek is one to watch. Driven, enthusiastic and supportive, he’s also great craic.

And finally, never forget the poets. Kate Dempsey is always on the lookout for what’s going on so she’s a great one for sharing news and events, especially via her Emerging Writer blog. For all things poetry, check out her writing.ie blog Poetic License or connect with her on twitter.

There’ll be more celebrations next week, but in the meantime…

Are there any bloggers or tweeps that you particularly admire? Please give them a shout out!