2019… A round-up of gratitude!

Like most writers I know, I usually begin a new year with a round-up of the previous, but I actively reduced my time on social media in 2019 to try and recoup some writing time, and so I’m so far behind, I think I’ll just skip to some gratitude.

As 2020 starts with a whisper – swans at the pier and fishermen bringing in their catch, gentle weather, new books to read, unexpected blooms on wintry walks, live music and dog snuggles – I know I have a lot to be thankful for.

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First up: people.

No (wo)man is an island

We don’t always acknowledge how much we need and value the input of others, but I think for writers in particular, social interaction is vitally important and something we need to remember to nurture.

I’m on the road a lot for events (I was away from home for more than 5 months in 2019, but this made up a sizeable portion of my income) and I spend far too much time alone. This past year was particularly hard in that respect, so the people around me have meant more than ever.

So, to my incredible husband, friends near and far, my patient agent Sallyanne Sweeney, writerly friends I turn to for an ear/advice (special shout out to Claire Hennessy, Caroline Busher & Kieran Fanning), my readers, penpals, and everyone else who has inspired me and made my journey/time pass smoothly – thank you. Your input has been invaluable and appreciated.

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Timeleaps, Words Allowed, and a Storytime Express

Many exciting event opportunities came my way in 2019, from the grand finale quiz of Battle of the Book, to a storytelling event on a vintage train (thanks to CBI and An Post), hundreds of events in schools and libraries around Ireland, specialist training for inclusive arts events, READON teen conference panels and writing workshops, plus a week-long tour in Germany for Marburger Lesefest. It was a non-stop whirlwind.

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I love events and there’s nothing better than getting in front of your audience for reminding yourself why you write and untangling yourself from the sometimes-stressful business side of things. So, thank you to everyone who invited me, worked with me (especially co-tutors Alan Early and Dave Lordan), and supported me in bringing my/our events to young audiences.

Pen and Ink and Bum Glue

In terms of writing, I didn’t have any books published this year, and being out of contract has felt fine – I was expecting it to be much harder. But thanks to the reduction in social media, I was pleasantly productive, with two new novels both completed as far as draft 4, plus I had several essays and short stories published in some fantastic magazines and journals including; Banshee, Popshots, Terrain, and Tiny Essays. I also got to co-write a fairy tale with Caroline Busher (currently seeking a home).

These seemingly small victories are actually huge – receiving positive reactions from publications you admire is a boost that helps to;

  • stay on the writing path with integrity and joy
  • counteract the many, many rejections received

Because let’s face it, if the writing isn’t joyful, why bother? Thankfully, this year’s writing has brought me a lot of joy.

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A Room of One’s Own

Other highlights in 2019 included residencies in Costa Rica (1 month) and Portugal (3 weeks). Both provided plenty of physical space and headspace to go deep into my novels, as well as progress some shorter pieces. The rest of the donkey work was completed throughout 2019 on trains or planes and in hotel rooms between events/freelancing deadlines (and at often ridiculous hours), but the residencies were key to planning, structuring, and intense productivity, that enabled the rest to happen organically. So, huge thanks to Mauser Eco House and Foundation Obras Art Residency for their generosity of space and time.

An Interlude

Before I talk about what’s next, I want to pause to say this…

In case the above seems all too sparkly or glamourous or ‘lucky’, at times in 2019, I felt far too lonely. I also felt overworked and underwhelmed and for the first time ever, my health suffered a little. My energy levels a little more. But I had a fantastic year overall and there was nothing I couldn’t deal with and nothing I can’t learn from and change to improve the year ahead.

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My outlook is this: We all create our own opportunities and work ethic, we all use our time in the way we choose, and we all have to make decisions based on our personal lives. Sometimes those decisions are hard, and sometimes it can feel like an uphill struggle or hectic or failure. But perspective is key.

My year was hectic, but it doesn’t mean that if you’re doing more/less/things completely different, you’re more/less/doing things wrongly. There are no rules – especially in creative professions –  only lives to live and lessons to learn and choices to be made.

My advice is this: compare only to yourself and your own parameters. Your own perspective is what matters.

What Next?

In truth, who knows? I’m trying to be a little more open and a little less planned this year. Writing wise, I aim to finish both of my WIP novels, as well as an essay collection, ready for submission. There will definitely be more events with young readers. Plus, a week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (courtesy of CBI) and a return to Portugal in June.

But above all – more people and gratitude.

What do you want more of in 2020?

 

Belonging to Your Tribe

fullsizerender-77There may be prehistoric wildcats, an amulet, imaginary worlds, a pet rat, and a mechanical shark submarine in the Nine Lives Trilogy, but behind it all is twelve-year-old Ebony Smart; a girl who just wants to belong.

So, why did I choose to write about belonging?

One reason is that I remember being the new girl in a school playground, looking around me and trying to figure out whom to talk to. And what I could possibly say. Everyone else was in a group or pair, and seemed quite happy with their little tribe. I can remember quite clearly that feeling of being on the outside, looking in through an invisible barrier and not knowing how to cross over it.

I also remember the times my brother and sister didn’t want me to join in their games. They were quite happy with how things were going, and adding me into the equation would feel like an interruption – so they didn’t want my input. At the time I felt crushed, even though I pretended that I didn’t care. Later, I would get my revenge by stopping one of them from joining in – but to be honest, it never felt like a nice thing to do and I felt just as bad as if I’d been left out.

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Some quiet storytelling

Another reason I wanted to look at the theme of belonging is because it’s an important part of our human existence. How could we have survived this long if we hadn’t formed social groups? We all need to belong to a tribe of some kind, so we can feel safe, loved, and respected. For some people, their tribe is their family; but not everyone is lucky enough to have a family for one reason or another. Your tribe might be your friends, your sports team, or a group of people that share your favourite hobby.

It can be difficult to find your tribe, and the dynamics will often shift. There’ll be awkward moments with fallouts, disagreements and upset, but these will usually sort themselves out over time and with a bit of effort. When you belong, it’s just as much about forgiveness and compromise as it is about having fun and enjoying each other’s company. You might have to bite your tongue or apologise sometimes, but your tribe will do the same for you. There’s no right or wrong way to belong – so long as your tribe makes you feel safe, happy, and confident, and you feel like you can be yourself, it’s a good fit.

But if you’ve ever felt lonely or left out like Ebony Smart, guess what? There’s probably someone else nearby feeling the exact same way. So why not seek them out and make your own tribe? Or, if you already belong, let them join in and see what they can add to your tribe? There are no invisible barriers – only the ones we create for ourselves.

(Note: post originally written for Girls Heart Books)

Are you Custer or Crazy Horse?

Green fingered writer

What’s his secret?

I’ve recently been watching a series of documentaries on the Wild West. I don’t have TV but I’ll watch pretty much any documentary on DVD. This particular series is one that my husband taped on video – I’m showing my age here but, remember those days? Trying to pause the recording before the adverts came on, and then start it up again without missing anything? How you couldn’t switch channels as otherwise the recording would switch too? Ha! Alien concepts in this day and age. Anyway, I digress…

These documentaries are brilliantly done. Well researched and lots of original footage, from photos to letter to diary entries to film – and the reportage is really balanced. Apart from the on-screen wobbles, you wouldn’t think my husband recorded these 14 years ago and we’ve only just had them converted to modern technology!

Why am I telling you all this? Basically, because of a point that was highlighted in Episode 3 that set me thinking. An historian pointed out that the main difference between Crazy Horse and general Custer was that Crazy Horse already thought he had the perfect life; he was in a state of being and wanted to be allowed to continue. On the other hand, Custer was in a perpetual state of trying to improve – he lived in a permanent state of becoming.

I think this Custer reference is a great description for artists and writers. As far as I’m aware, the creative mind constantly demands improvement and change, so there’s always movement. This movement is as unpredictable and unruly as the rolling seas, but it creates the driving force behind old ideas in fresh voices, adds the necessary passion and magic that takes something good and makes it incredible.

But is there another way to be? A less frantic and unsettling approach? My husband is definitely a Crazy Horse – he approaches life in a calm and steady manner, and has more energy and staying power than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s an incredibly creative and talented singer/songwriter, but isn’t driven to the peaks and troughs of emotion that charge in unannounced to my days. Instead, he meanders his way and eventually gets there.

We’ve discussed this and he seems to think it’s the length of the work involved and the fact that when you perform, you get an instant response from the crowd – hopefully a positive one. Although singer/songwriters suffer from nerves and stage fright, the catharsis comes much quicker. Writers, on the other hand, spend long periods of time in solitude and the work requires more input, a different approach. And there’s no guarantee anyone will actually read what you write.

So is this the key to being Custer, or does it just come down to personality? What do you think?

As writers, can we ever mirror Crazy Horse and just be? 

To be happy, look up!

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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).

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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.

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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.