Thanks Arts Council – I’m off to Arvon!

west cork writer

These guys are cute, but should come with a warning sign: May Cause Distraction (Look how tiny Franklyn was when we got him!!!)

I’m feeling incredibly lucky right now because I’m heading off to Totleigh Barton on Monday for a week to learn more about the craft with some of the best Young Adult writers alive – Malorie Blackman, Melvon Burgess and Meg Rosoff.

I’ve been desperate to go on an Arvon course ever since I heard about them several years ago, and I can’t believe it’s finally happening.

It’s come at just the right time too; I have some tricky final edits I’m trying to get my head around and workshops with fellow YA writers, peppered with bouts of solitude for writing, is exactly what I need to get stuck in and kick things into shape.

There’s no internet and the setting is rural, so no distractions and no excuses. This means I won’t be blogging for the next two weeks – but don’t worry, I’ll report back on my return and let you know how it went and whether it’s something I’d recommend.

Before I say ‘bye for a while’, I’d like to give a big shout out to the Arts Council who generously gave me a small travel and training bursary – they really have helped to make this possible!

I nmy absence, happy writing all!

Cape Clear Diaries (4): Changing Pace

South harbour, Cape Clear, a favourite spot to sit and dream

Gorgeous views – imagine the smells!

A change of pace was the reason I booked our out-of-season accommodation on Cape Clear at the end of last year. I had predicted that around this time, I would be starting a new novel and that I would need a clear mind and a change of scenery, away from the usual distractions, to make a solid start.

I find that switching from one major project to another is only difficult if you try to make the switch in your everyday environment. Some people thrive on routine but for me, it brings a certain level of ennui that makes the ideas sluggish and the writing process less joyous. I don’t need to be in the same spot at the same time to write. In fact, I prefer the complete opposite.

But why choose Cape Clear?

Firstly, it’s just across the water from home – I gaze upon its two towers every day from the mainland – and it’s easily accessible by ferry. Then, of course, the island is beautiful, with plenty of character, lovely walks and stunning views. Visiting out of season is advantageous, as you’re completely free to work to your own timescales, uninterrupted. And even more importantly, the incredibly strong sense of pride, identity and community that prevails here helps you focus.

Being on Cape Clear has certainly provided the change of pace I needed to kickstart this new novel. Island life is lived at a slower pace during this time of year and for me, there has been no routine to speak of over the last two weeks, other than several walks to various favourite views and locations across the island. And that means concentrated productivity.

strange little jellyfish found in ireland

If I hadn’t gone exploring, I never would have found this beautiful creature (known as sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail or velella)

My first week was mainly spent writing, exploring at unusual hours and switching from the juggling mode of thought to pure creative freedom. There was a non-structure to my day which I found really fired my imagination and my desire to create. This last week has been much more about enjoying the company of my husband and dog, taking longer walks and socialising. I’ve still been writing, but the tempo has changed again.

The other night, I wasted almost an hour debating whether to join my husband in the pub for a music session. I’d written my daily goal of 2000 words, but even though I’d achieved my aim, guilt began to gnaw at my conscience. It sounded something like this:

‘I’m here to write so that’s what I should be doing, if I can. If there’s still an iota of possibility that more words could flow, then I should stay put and carry on. Especially since I’ve relaxed more now my husband has joined me on shore.’

The peaceful, uninterrupted writing time I’ve garnered since my husband’s arrival has been pretty irregular, so accompanying him for some fun rather than using the time effectively like I usually would felt like I was cheating myself in some way, deviating from my aim. But then my husband made a very good point.

“A change of pace. A different approach. Isn’t that why you’re here?”

So despite the random attack of guilt, I abandoned my extra writing session and went to the club. And guess what? It was a great night. The world didn’t explode, my typing fingers didn’t drop off and my ideas didn’t dry up. I got to spend some time with some really lovely, really interesting folk, full of stories, information and talent. I also learned a French jig and heard a rendition of Spancil HIll translated into Spanish.

The next day, I wrote another 2000 words without issue. Good, solid prose that probably won’t need much editing.

Some say that an island is a microcosm and I consider this statement to be true, especially if Cape Clear is anything to go by. Living in West Cork I’ve discovered that everything is magnified in rural conditions – from insecurities to weather dependency to community spirit – but an island emphasises things even further. There’s nowhere to hide. It opens you up and lays you bare.

end of cape clear, overlooking sherkin, west cork

An incredible view of Sherkin Island from the end of Cape Clear

Being here, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve realised that perhaps my initial search for a change of place to create a different tempo was unnecessary. It’s the head space that I’m fighting for and against. And that can be achieved anywhere.

Now, I know I’m lucky to live so close to a wonderful island like Cape Clear but being on the island has taught me that whatever you’re into – learning a language, playing instruments, sports, writing – if you’re serious enough, you’ll be disciplined and you’ll adapt. Because it’s part of who you are. It’s as simple as that.