Next adventure: Poland

Oswiecim river, poland

Oswiecim – With thanks to ‘Map of Poland’ for the image

I’m heading off again; this time to Poland to see my friend who has recently moved back there to volunteer at Auschwitz. It’s a museum I’ve always wanted to visit but I’m not sure I’m prepared for the experience emotionally. Still, it’s something that I believe is important historically, humanitarianly and spiritually, so it must be done.

As well as Oswiecim, I’ll be visiting a few different cities, including Krakow and Katowice, for some exploration and a touch of Polish hospitality. I’m really lucky to have a Polish friend as a guide – that means non-tourist adventures off the beaten track and plenty of traditional food – and I’m certain the trip will yield a gamut of experiences that I look forward to sharing with you.

Hopefully, there’ll also be a few story ideas or poems to add to the creative mix. After all, I always find different settings inspiring. Partly because of the new experiences they bring, but also because of the cleared headspace that is usually take up with everyday concerns and routines.

I’ll be completing the final edits on my teenage/young adult novel while I’m there – I’m going retro and editing on paper so I’m not tempted to go online or work on non-writing projects – and I’m hoping the different backdrop will make my mistakes glow more brightly than they would at home.

In the meantime, I have some photos from my Italy trip earlier in the year to share with you on Monday, June 10th…

Other than that, I’ll see you when I return!

Cape Clear Diaries (3): A Silent Island Speaks

contrast between sea and land in South Harbour, Cape Clear

South Harbour

May 11th, 2013

In the peace and tranquility of an almost deserted island, it’s easier to watch the environment and hear what it’s trying to say. These are a few things that have struck me on Cape Clear over the last few days:

  • Abandoned buoys flailed in the water, flung mercilessly by the frothing sea.
  • The East Harbour’s milky tide crept upon the rocky beach, until only the whisper of a rock could be discerned deep below the undulating water.
  • Amidst the long wavy grasses and spongey moss, vetch and seapinks, briars and monbretia that line the rocks, bees fed and walked aimlessly, as though oblivious to the harsh wind.
  • Nothing on an island can be certain; in the east the wind rages, with angry white horses for waves. In the south, the water is calm and glistening, like no wind has ever touched its beauty.
  • Cape Clear graveyard overlooking South Harbour

    A harbinger with a story to tell

    A boat called Atlantic Freedom tugged at its moorings, riled and determined.

  • As the wind calmed, the buoys on the side of the big, orange ferry swung restlessly, as though eager to crash against the waves of the turbulent Atlantic.
  • The turquoise sea suddenly turned petrol-grey as a thick cloud covered the sun. Combined with the wind, speeding shadows crossed the land, making two fishermen quickly haul their shrimp pots as though fearful of some giant beast’s arrival, ready to swallow them whole, boat and all.
  • Huge Celtic cross tombstones in the graveyard overlooks the harbour like a warning to always respect the sea.

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?

Cape Clear Diaries (1): Dangerous Seas

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Cape Clear ferry, from Baltimore

Cape Clear Ferry – excellent skippers

My friend was reluctant to let me leave Baltimore on the Cape Clear ferry when she saw the size of the waves. It’s a good job she couldn’t see past the harbour promontory; out on the Atlantic the waves reached four metres high in places. Places we were travelling through.

As the last ferry of the day pulled away from Baltimore harbour – the rest were cancelled due to weather conditions – I sent a text to my husband in case he was worried. Our home overlooks the waters to Cape Clear and he would see the swells. His reply?

“It’ll be like rollercoasters. And you love those. You’ll be grand.”

He’s a seaman born and bred; he respects the ocean as much as he fears it. And he knows me well… Unlike the ferryboat man who took my fare straight away, saying:

“I’d better do it quick, so, before ye get sick.”

“I’m used to the sea, I won’t get sick,” I laughed.

And I didn’t. The ferryboat man was partly impressed, partly disappointed. Especially since the trip wasn’t an easy one. The ferry lifted and rolled with the waves, pitching and lurching. Sometimes with warning, sometimes without.

There were about eight of us in the galley, watching the shifting horizon through the open door. If ever you end up on a wild ferry ride like this, here’s what you need to do (having trouble with my middle ear, these are tips I learned long ago)…

  1. sit as close to the back of the ferry as you can and with your back to the direction you’re going
  2. keep your eyes on the horizon to minimise motion sickness
  3. stay alert to the movement of the boat; when the front end lifts, tense your stomach for the drop
  4. move with the boat as though you’re riding on a motorbike

Trust me, these things will help.

The roughest part of the journey was turning into the mouth of Cape Clear harbour; this is where the seas are wildest and cross currents rage. At times, the engine had to be cut off to pull back, preempting the wall of water coming our way. Waves spluttered over the cabin and drowned the deck.

Thankfully, there was cargo on board which steadied the boat. And of course, there were great skippers steering the boat, with a wealth of knowledge under their belts.

beautiful East harbour, Cape Clear

Cape Clear East Harbour; calm after the storm

Although it was fun, I was glad to step onto land and it took about half an hour for my legs to stop wobbling. It was like they were still following the ebb and flow of the tide.

When I called my husband to et him know I was safe, he told me he’d climbed the hill with our dog, Franklyn, and watched the ferry pitch and flail in the sea through the binoculars, waiting until we’d turned safely into the harbour.

Now on Cape Clear, the island is silent. There are no tourists and few islanders. The air is thick with rustling trees, waves bashing against cliffs and birdsong. A wren dashes out from under a twisting briar and crosses my path, cocking his tail as he perches on an old stone ditch to welcome me.

Anyone need a writing prompt?

Australia, Blue Mountains

I remember sun. I think I quite liked it!

I’m back! I’ve reached the finish line and my book is now with my agent – phew! I’ve also managed to squeeze in a few writing competitions along the way.

Luckily, just like the lovely Hazel Gaynor, I’m brimming with new ideas. But I realise that isn’t always the case…Which is partly why I write the Wordspark blog for writing.ie

If you haven’t yet heard of writing.ie, it’s a wonderful site set up by Vanessa O’Loughlin for writers at all stages of their career. Although Ireland-based, it’s suitable for writers anywhere in the world. If you haven’t already, take a peek. There’s so much info on there from some of the world’s top best-selling authors, it’s an invaluable resource.

But back to ideas for your writing…

The idea behind Wordspark is to get creativity flowing. The prompts can be used to fire up the imagination as a pre-writing/editing exercise or to spark off a piece that can be sculpted into a competition or journal submission further down the line.

It’s a little extra help, when needed.

Here are a few of the #wordsparks already posted – take your pick and join in!

Description – ten words describing the sea

Postcard Prompts x3 – Trains, Art and Balloon Sellers

Rhyming Couplet – using a photo as inspiration.

There’ll be plenty more coming. If you find them useful, stay tuned!

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?

Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 4)

Would you think the same sat here?

This week, in the final installment of my writers’ toolbox posts, I’m looking at how our general environment can help to build ideas, improve our current works in progress and give us the energy to keep going. 

  • Exercise – fresh air, heart rate pumping and a good stretch create a feel-good factor that generates more ideas & better state of mind. If you take your workouts outside, you never know what you might see; it could trigger an idea or iron out a kink in your WIP.
  • Conversation – being nosey is a great asset for a writer. You overhear amazing snippets of information and quirky detail; often in the form of fleeting mentions which you never hear the end of, so you can create your own.
  • Found items – Picking up stray items – e.g. a plastic horse discarded in a bush, a stone from a beach, a badge found on the pavement – can inspire new ideas or trigger a character trait for your WIP. If you’re a neat freak (like me) then store all these items in a box & stow away until needed. You can build a story around the item or use it to inject something into something you’re currently working on.
  • Local history – listen to/research accounts of the people who lived in the area, as well as strange events, traditions and hearsay. There’s a mountain of material there and it’ll be fun to research.
  • Ideas board – collect all your jottings on receipts, cut outs from newspapers/magazines, inspiring postcards/photos and plaster your board with them. Get other people to stick things on there too. Pull items out when a themed deadline comes up or an open submission has you stumped; this is also good just for writing exercises to get your brain geared up for the day. After all, not everything you write is going to be completed. Some ideas just have to be scrapped, seen as a learning curve.
  • Other hobbies/downtime – as I was discussing recently with @katyod, it’s taken me a long time to realise that down time is just as important as scheduled writing. Anything that helps you switch off so your brain can recuperate, preventing implosion, should be seen as useful, rather than as a waste of time. Painting, gardening, sport, dancing, jigsaws, litter picking, fishing – it doesn’t matter what it is that you enjoy doing, so long as you make time to do it!
  • Do things differentlychange your routine or try something new to get in the head of a character of trigger different thoughts processes.  Schedule a day every now and again when you say yes to all new experiences – routine is useful, but breaking it can also have positive effects.

What writing techniques/tricks do you employ to stay inspired and energised?

Build a Writers’ Toolbox (Part 3)

Step away from the computer...

This week, I’m continuing the idea of building a writers’ toolbox, but I’m now going retro and taking it offline; starting with a few select books and magazines. There are lots of books about writing to choose from and many are informative or useful. But these are my particular tried & tested favourites; the ones that I return to. Please add more of your own favourites below…

  • Story by Robert McKee – Even though it’s about scripts, it works perfectly for fiction.
  • Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – Some sound advice for children’s writing, as well as a beautifully designed book.
  • Writing Magazine – includes the excellent Writers News as well as subscriber-only competitions: perfect for beginners or writers wanting to keep an eye on the submissions market  (@writingmagazine)
  • Mslexia – even though I usually shy away from gender-specific magazines, this magazine does offer great articles and features and clear submission guidelines (@mslexia). Plus, their Women’s Novel competition winner just got scooped by Harper Collins for a 6-figure sum!
  • Mortification: Writers’ Stories of their Public Shame recommended to me by @STomaselli, a book that makes you cringe & smile in equal measure, especially if you’re battling to sign on the dotted line.

Do you know of any more good books on writing? Please add in the comments below: if there’s enough, I’ll collect and create a new post.