It’s not all writing, writing, writing

I have chosen to live in a beautiful, countryside village so that I can enjoy the wonderful natural surroundings and the warm sense of community. I love cities, but I love country life too, and after years of city living, I’ve happily adjusted to my life in rural Ireland.

Although writing is part of my everyday life, so is enjoying the beauty around me. I make sure that I take walks every day; I watch the patterns as seasons change, the habits of birds, the cloud formations. And I also try to make use of the space and resources the best I can to stay balanced and grounded in a world that’s full of technology and social media.

Since signing a book deal, watching the physical book take shape and the sending it out into the world, a lot of my posts have focused on my writing. So, seeing a sI think balance is so important, here’s a brief escape from words and a return to the natrural world.

country garden ireland

Plenty of seed dug up, ready for next year

gardening ireland

Outdoor lettuce looking healthy enough, along with rhubarb (& weeds!)

making apple cider

Lots of sweet apples, windfall & picked, for making cider. Currently fermenting…

gardening in ireland

The onions did well again this year – we have a whole wall to last through the winter

greenhouse growing

Lack of sun meant that the chillies and peppers are way behind. Just starting to fruit now! I’ll be amazed if we get any but I’ll keep trying 🙂

autumn leaves

Autumn is definitely here.

irish calf

Spring in the Irish countryside

One of the spring lambs

One of the spring lambs

Spring is here and this means lambs, calves, daffodils – and lots of ground to dig up in preparation for planting our vegetables. This is a wonderful time of year in the Irish countryside if you don’t mind a bit of hard work and gardening in the rain (or the hailstone, as I discovered last week).

My husband and I have tried planting as much as half an acre of vegetables in the past, all grown organically and managed by hand, but the amount of work involved was incredible and the crops return very little. With so much to look after, it’s really difficult to keep on top of the slugs, rooks, and rabbits, and so this year, we’re sticking with a few drills of potatoes and several raised beds – some in a field and one in the front garden – along with the tunnel.

rural irish garden

Shallots for planting

It’s still early, but so far we’ve got two decent drills of early potatoes sat, and this weekend we planted a bed of shallots. Next week, I’ll be able to plant some of the hardier seeds in the tunnel; lettuce, chillis, and purple beans to start, as well as various pak choi seeds I bought in Thailand.

I’ll wait a little longer for the herbs as they need lots of sun and I’m not convinced there’s enough just yet for them to grow properly. Our greenhouse (‘tunnel’) is built against a shed, so it doesn’t have 100% light – and this, we’ve discovered, means we have to amend the usual planting times for better results.

It’s such a lovely feeling having stuff planted – I love everything about it; the digging, manuring, watching things grow, planting out, weeding – and of course, eating! It’s a great way to get away from the computer, and let your head unwind. And every year, you learn something new.

Growing your own food is just wonderful and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You don’t even need to have a big space available – I’ve helped quite a few people grow their own veg in tiny spaces, including window boxes – so if it’s something you’re interested in but don’t know where to start, just shout!

You can also feel the stretch in the evenings now, which is a real treat when there are no streetlights nearby. This week, we’ve seen flowers burst open, a few pheasants, wild ducks and the first few ladybirds; the sun has been shining and the sea has been the most stunning turquoise imaginable. It all feels loaded with so much promise, it makes you glad to be alive.

Who else has that Spring feeling?

What does Spring mean to you?

irish calf

A young calf, just days old

 

Farewell to summer…

As I watch the trees turn into glorious shades of amber, burgundy and golden brown, with a warm, glowing sun – I can’t help but feel that all is forgiven re the terrible summer (think gales, flash floods and frost).

So, to say farewell, here’s a few photo’s of the final few months of ‘summer’ in lovely West Cork.

A gentle summer breeze…

Our field turned into a pond (August, 30 minutes of rain)

Road turned into a river

Eels swimming up the road!

Driving rain (hence the floods)

Poor Bob insisted on her walk (hot bath followed)

All’s not lost: runner beans, leeks & sprouts doing well

Garlic crop: small but pungent

Meet Ozzy and Freckles – two very wild additions

How did your summer compare?

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!)

May in Photos

We’ve found shrews…but so did the kittens. Rescue missions in place!

Our mini veg garden is growing (onions, lettuce, courgettes, runner beans, French beans, corn, leeks, sprouts)

The tunnel is pretty impressive too…

…with good strong flowers on our tomatoes

We launched our punt (& had a few spins)

Spotted orchids on Long Island (West Cork)

Baking (for pleasure and book research)

Three types of jellyfish spotted

Picnic time!

Some impressive sunsets

Navel-gazing

It all started with this on my friend’s Facebook page:

These images really got me thinking, because this pretty much sums up many people’s attitudes to writers and writing.

Whenever I tell people I’m a writer, living in the countryside, I always get the same reaction; “Ah, that’ll be inspiring. You can look at the sea for hours on end, waiting for the ideas to come. That’s the life!”

Well, yes, in many ways, it is the life. I’ve surrounded myself with beautiful views and inspiring people, and I get to do what I love every day. But as any writer knows, writing doesn’t entail sitting and waiting for an idea to form; writing is hard work. You have to discipline yourself to sit and write every day – you have to make ideas work, yet be prepared to scrap hours, days, or even several months’ worth of work if the plot/characters/general ideas don’t work out in the end. And you also have to be ruthless and selfless enough to spot the failure in the first place, despite the time and effort you’ve invested.

Writing can be lonely, time consuming and takes an enormous amount of self control – it’s a selfish monster but, if you’re a writer, it’s a necessity. Writing is embedded in your soul and words need to be formed, manipulated and loved on a daily basis, no matter what else is going on in your life. But don’t get me wrong; writing is also a complete delight. And there’s an unidentifiable joy that you gain from jumping into the sea of language and coming up with a handcrafted pearl.

As writers, we take huge risks to follow our passion, our dream. We risk isolation, rejection and failure as, every day, we strive for perfection. We practise and train as much as athletes, craving success and recognition as well as the satisfaction of producing an enjoyable read. Ask any writer; you can write for yourself and try to feel satisfied with your work but there’s an inherent need for verification in the form of a publishing deal.

Yet, with or without a publisher behind us, we have to remind ourselves on a daily basis that yes, we’re writers. We have to know what we’re aiming for and be prepared to go out and get it. So we stoke up our laptops and wield our pens, then leap back into the tide – unsure of where we’re going but delighted to be going on the journey.

Why? Because, contrary to popular belief, writers don’t navel gaze; they write. No matter what else is going on, writing is our driving force for everyday life. And, I must say, it’s magical.

How do you keep the magic alive and keep on writing?

Sailing into the unknown

(originally posted on my old blog, Serendipitypoetry)