Try something new

patchworkspools

Jelly rolls

I was having a chat with a friend the other day who was feeling a bit fed up. There was nothing particularly wrong, but the long nights, plummeting temperature and ghost-town effect on the village were getting to her.

It was one of those moments where you haven’t much to offer. The only thing I could come up with was – why not try something new? She looked a little taken aback, then thought for a moment and agreed…”I might just do that!”

Now that advice may sound obvious, but sometimes, we don’t see the answer staring us in the face. And trying something new isn’t always the right answer. Often, we use new experiences as an excuse to avoid the things we don’t want to do (if that sounds like you, see this article by Alison Wells on procrastinating procrastination).

But at other times, a new experience or skill is the tonic we need to keep life interesting and challenging. As a writer, this is something I definitely need.

I’ve had a mixed bag of one-off experiences. For instance, feeding sharks from a perspex cage in Australia (amazing), sky diving (getting out of the plane was the scariest bit), trapeze (not so good – I made weird girly squeals I wasn’t happy about) and walking on the bottom of the ocean wearing a lead divers helmet (surreal). Then there was running with bulls in Spain (exciting but hair-raising at times), parasailing in The Bahamas (surprisingly tranquil), swimming with dolphins in Jamaica (too cute) and stingrays in The Bahamas (less cute). One of the weirdest things I tried has to be marching with trained flamingos that kept pecking my head.

But don’t get excited; I seem to be mellowing. Living rurally certainly provides me with enough challenges of late. Yet even though everyday life is busy – think finding and chopping fuel, escapee calves, growing our own veg, flash floods, fishing, running a social media business and maintaining a strict writing routine – there’s always room for more adventure. For something new.

My latest adventure is making a patchwork quilt. I’ve always loved patchwork quilts – the detail, the weight of the fabric, the million hidden stories – so I joined a class with a neighbour in her makeshift barn studio. And guess what? It’s been an amazing experience.

Here’s where we started, with bits of fabric and bobbins of thread…

Like a kid in a sweet shop!

Like a kid in a sweet shop!

It didn’t take long for me to select the kind of style I wanted to go with. I have to live with it after all, so it had to match my idea of style. Not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but I’m certain it’s going to look cracking!

Some select pieces

Some select pieces

I’ve never used a sewing machine before. I can’t drive a car and my wiggly sewing suggests there’s a link between the two. I’m still a bit scared of the sewing machine but I’m continuing nonetheless. Here’s the monster we’re using…

How do you drive this thing?

How do you drive this thing?

And after five weeks, this is where I’m at. It’s starting to come together nicely. Tonight, I’m sewing all the rows together and attaching the quilt to a backing with a blanket filling. I can’t wait.

Now, I could have put this blog post live when I’d finished the quilt, but I purposely chose not to wait. Why? Because all too often we focus on the end result and not the process. Whether it’s writing, growing vegetables or making patchwork quilts, the actual experience and learning we enter into are just as important as the finished product.

As I said, my sewing is higgledy-piggedly in places. Some of the patches aren’t quite straight. I think I’ve already stained a small bit of fabric by accidentally standing on it while organising the pattern. But none of that matters.

I’ve tried something different and have learned new skills. I got my butt out to the class, walking by torchlight along country roads in the driving rain, because the desire to play with fabric and improve on what I’d learned was greater than my desire not to. And it’s been invigorating.

What about you? What new experiences have you tried? What effect did they have?

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Autumn in photos

I’m currently taking a break in London – part business, part pleasure. But in my absence, here’s some local autumn scenes and a few things I’ve been up over the last few weeks…

A disappointing corn crop

Golden brown

Setting for my creative writing class for teens

Preparing windfall apples for Christmas

Beautiful autumnal mushrooms

Coming to the end of our harvest

Visit to Moth HQ for a writing masterclass

First signs of winter frost

Tricky (but cute) working conditions

Some garden still grows

What is this creature?

What am I?

I must have a name!

This is a quick detour in the usual blog-posting schedule because, quite frankly, it’s been driving me nuts!

I saw this bug on a shop window in Dublin over a year ago and have been unable to identify it since.

I’ve asked all my science-loving, bug-loving nature-loving friends and have consulted books, websites etc to no avail.

Can anyone help? Any ideas at all?

Shipwrecks, Beans and Bike-Powered Cinemas

April showers bring forth May flowers,
A wet and windy May fills the barns with corn and hay…

Our punt afloat at the pier

May was a crazy-busy month. We launched our punt (only two trips out and six pollock caught so far; it’s too early for mackerel) and planted out more vegetables. Then there was the local short film festival; Ireland’s only film festival in a village with no cinema. Think bike-powered films, talks with Mike Leigh in the church hall and a visit from the Mexican ambassador and you’ve got an idea of the hotch-potch that you come to expect from rural living. Not forgetting the writerly side, I also managed to complete a new Young Adult book for my agent to read and got long/shortlisted in a few competitions (you can read one of my flash fiction pieces here).

As the local saying above foretold, the plentiful showers of April did bring plenty of May flowers; we got our first lily, our new heather burst into purple blooms and our tomatoes and beans are thriving. We’re particularly delighted with the latter because last year, our tomatoes suffered from blight and so we didn’t get any fruit at all. Tomatoes aren’t too much work; they need feeding every three days (we’re using rose feed thanks to the good advice of the local garden centre) and the side shoots need to be removed regularly to keep the head flowering. You have to make sure they’re not over or under watered and then there’s the tickling (it helps pollinate them apparently). As you can imagine, it’s heartbreaking to spend months tending to crops, only to watch them all fail. Thankfully, everything is going smoothly so far.

Tomato flowers in the tunnel

Spending so much time in the garden (the weeding alone takes at least an hour a day), I’m amazed to learn how resilient plants actually are. The beans, cabbages, potatoes, beetroot, sprouts, leeks and onions have exploded, despite the lack of sun and continuing winds. The infamous heatwave forgot to reach us; when my Twitter feed was jammed with talk of ice creams and tans, I was struggling to see more than five metres ahead of me while launching a boat. But crops that I thought had died have sprung back into life; and somehow, this makes me feel renewed. I guess I’m experiencing what Mary Carbery described in her 19th century diary:

Isolation means a deeper love and sense not of possession, but of being a part of something essential.” (Jeremy Sandford, Mary Carbery’s West Cork Journal 1898-1901)

Although I’m not living as remotely as many, between the garden, the sea and writing, I’m living a rather isolated life. In fact, weeks can go by where the only other person I see is my husband. Although it’s an amazing way of living, watching nature, being so immersed in it, has also proved frustrating in many ways. Mainly because it shows up your own inadequacies. My biggest inadequacy is time related.

It’s not that I’m bad at managing time; if anything, I’m too good at it. You know that phrase: if you want something doing ask a busy person? Well, that’s me. I fit a ridiculous amount into every day. Which is great for achieving but I’ve discovered it’s not good for the soul. It’s tiring, and often things don’t work out how they’re meant to.

The boat launch highlights my point perfectly. My idea of launching a boat would be: figure out what’s needed, who’s needed, pick a date and time. Total time taken: an hour, max.

Out on the open sea

How it really works is: look out of window, hum and hah about weather conditions, have a cup of tea. Work out the tide times, wander down to the pier to take a look, hum and hah about being right, then back for a cup of tea. When the tide is coming in, return to the pier and sit. Hopefully someone will arrive. As people arrive haphazardly (“Joe might be over in half an hour; let’s wait and see…”), sit and chat about getting the boat in the water. Total time taken: whole day. Time taken to actually launch boat: fifteen minutes.

It’s certainly a lesson in patience, but one I need to learn. If we’d had it my way, launching the boat would have been just another tick off the day’s to-do list. But with my husband taking charge (well, muddling us through), it was an enjoyable experience which included a bit of banter, plenty of laughs and a more relaxed state of mind. Which, as a writer, is very difficult to achieve.

Wherever I go, whatever I do, whomever I talk to, my brain is constantly sourcing information which could trigger a new story idea/character/title/novel. Even when I don’t want it to. Especially when I don’t want it to! The moulding, editing, and shaping takes up so much time, the ideas/inspiration part infiltrates every other minute of my day. Frankly, it’s exhausting. Gardening, fishing boating – which all have a strong sense of belonging and purpose – help me to switch off, but I wonder…is it the same for all creative fields? How do other creative people cope?

In my first post for Krank.ie, I talked about the cuckoo. Well, she’s here: I heard her for the first time in the middle of the month and she hasn’t stopped singing yet. This morning, she was warbling away on the wire above our home. Maybe it’s the excitement of the shipwreck that was found off the coast of Schull, just metres from where we live?

A sunken ship may not seem like a big deal, but being coastal, piracy is ingrained in the local history. Most locals can name the majority of the nearby shipwrecks. People from Long Island used to wave lanterns to confuse passing ships, luring them onto the rocks to loot the ship. There are numerous legends about buried treasure beneath local land. So, of course, another find is a great cause for excitement. The bounty that’s been recovered so far consists of a crate of coconuts from the 1600s and there’s a temporary pause in operations due to lack of funding. But that hasn’t stopped people’s curiosity. Isn’t that wonderful?

Lettuce grown from seed

I love the fact that when something happens in a small community, everyone talks about it. In a city, you can often miss what’s going on right under your nose. When people talk in a rural setting, you not only hear the facts, you also hear the legends growing. Each version of the story alters a little and the ideas flourish. I mean that as fact, not a slight. It’s a beautiful part of the ingrained storytelling that still exists across Ireland. I feel so lucky to be here when something like this has happened; you feel almost transported back to the times of oral tradition.

As I’ve said before, rural living is not for everyone. But in a time of such uncertainty and economic distress, there’s worse things you could do than spend time amongst trees, vegetables and the sea to balance perspectives. For me, May has been a month of growing in so many ways. As for the corn and hay, we’ll have to wait and see. You can’t hurry nature.

(Note: This post was originally written for and published by Krank.ie – an excellent Irish news and current events magazine website. Take a peek at krank.ie here!)

April in 10 photos

Sorry it’s a bit late folks, but with all the fun over at the Writers Week Blog, it’s taken me a while to sort through this month’s photos. April was a very busy month and it was difficult to select what to show, but here goes…

Building weather-protection for our mini-garden (real veg garden is a whole field)

We planted out runner beans & French beans (could be way too early; esp. with the freak winds – we’ve more propogating just in case).

Collected seaweed to fertilise our cabbages (plastic strips deter the birds)

This is where we collect the seaweed: some interested walkers came down to chat about what we were up to!

A fisherman friend brought us our first crayfish of the season

Created a river view: you couldn’t see the water before. It was all briars and dead fuschia. Now look at it!

And here’s some of the stuff we’ve planted on the newly-cleared banks (there’s monbretia and wild strawberries too). It’ll look gorgeous in summer.

I made a sign to help people get the message…

We built boxes for our tomatoes and transplanted them – this is where they’ll stay now until they’ve yielded all their fruit.

And I leave you with one of our beautiful, moody sunsets.

2012 so far…

Rural living is amazing. But it’s also random. It needs a lot of organisation, a nonchalant attitude towards the weather and often, plenty of hard work. But – combined with writing, it’s my haven. And here’s some photos from my year so far to prove it!

Planning our mini veg garden

Making sure there's fuel

Dressing up as a soldier (Edinburgh)

Writing in the painted hall (Greenwich)

Pickling the last of 2011's beetroot crop

Digging the tiny veg plots

Writing in fields (Guisborough)

Making my husband upside-down

I was going to do these posts on a 3-monthly basis but – it seems there’s so much going on, I could make it a monthly thing. Or even weekly.

What do you think? Would you like to see more? And how often?