Tuesday, 21 January 2020

What's the best month for change?


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 Photo: La Sagrada Famila by Dee


Happy New Year!  I wish you good health and much happiness for 2020.

Yes, I know it’s more than half way through January, but it’s never too late to wish anyone good wishes, in my humble opinion.  I hope you had a reasonable festive break and have started 2020 fit and well.

I’m purposely avoiding a blog post on New Year Resolutions.  I’m at the stage where if I want to make resolutions and do new things, I just do it! There are twelve months in the year and if my changes are required in the months of May or September, then that’s okay.  New Year Resolutions are not just for January. 

Often, I’m full of good intentions to try new and different pursuits but I find that I sometimes lack energy and focus, so for me, it’s important to be in the right frame of mind before I commit.  It’s fair to say that I like engaging in new interests and being challenged with something that’s outside my comfort zone. This week provided one such opportunity and despite the need to sharpen the pencil and do lots of thinking for ‘said project’, dare I say … I enjoyed the challenge!

I’m a great believer in the old adage, ‘There is no failure, only feedback and learning’.  It’s been very reassuring particularly when things didn’t turn out as I planned . My lovely Dad used to remind me, ‘Nothing is ever wasted, learn from the experience and take away the learning’. I’ve received lots of feedback and learning over the years!  No doubt 2020 will provide even more.

Happy New Year!

 

Friday, 20 December 2019

Preparing for the festive season?






Festive season by Máire Rua

Well, here we are moving towards the start of the festive season and the end of year 2019.  How was your year? I hope you’ve had a good one.

This week I was invited as honorary guest to my former primary school’s Christmas Story.  I loved it!  It was wonderful to watch the progress and development of all the ‘little stars’ as they performed this beautiful story.  I was delighted to hear the quieter children deliver lines with such clarity and energy.  How they have blossomed under the guidance and direction of hardworking staff.  
My visit to school prompted this week’s blog post.

Best wishes to you and your families during the festive season.

Twas the night before Christmas …

‘Psst, move over.  Let me in.  It’s freezing outside’.

They all moved over, Ma, Pa and the others. It felt good to be back inside again. It was warm and cosy in the old barn.  The straw smelled sweet, almost heavenly, if only I knew what heaven smelled like!  There were voices outside and they were making their way towards our barn! The latch on the barn door rattled.  The door opened.

‘Shhh, be quiet everyone!’ ordered Pa.  We froze, all six of us.

‘It’s the best I can do, I’m afraid.  It’s the busiest time of year and everywhere is fully booked.  It’s not very pretty here but it’s warm and dry.  At least, you’ll both have a chance to rest before you move on.’

‘Thank you sir.  This is fine.  We’re very grateful.  We’ll be just fine.’

She looked tired, exhausted and in serious need of a lie down.  He led the weary, overloaded donkey into the barn.  He loosely secured the donkey to a post, not far from where we were observing the scene. He cleared a space, took her hand and beckoned her to sit on a blanket that covered a fresh bale of hay. She smiled at him and sighed. She looked as if really needed to sleep.

‘I’ll bring some hot food and more blankets for you. You must be hungry,’ said the Innkeeper.

We all felt the chill when the barn door opened.

We watched, curiously and fascinated by the woman.  We didn’t make any noise for fear of being chased from the warmth of the barn.

He tended her lovingly, placed another blanket around her shoulders and began to unwrap provisions from the basket they had packed for the journey.

She busied herself with an old crate that lay nearby. We watched with interest as she wiped down the crate and lined it with hay.  She looked hot and tired. She groaned every now and again. He moved towards her and lovingly held her arm.  She winced as if in pain.  He tried to comfort her but she appeared to be distressed.

Several hours later, we were awoken by the cries of … a baby!

Under Ma’s watchful eye, we crept quietly towards the couple and baby.  There he was, a small, chubby, crying baby.  He moved towards the crying child. He smiled. He spoke quietly, ‘He’s beautiful’.  She nodded and then wrapped the crying baby in swaddling clothes. She kissed the baby’s head, soothed him and placed him in the makeshift crib.  She sang softly to the crying baby to lull him to sleep.  In the morning, a church bell rang out for Christmas Day.

I tiptoed closer to see the baby.  As a baby field mouse, I was too small to be noticed by anyone but I had a strong sense that a baby born on Christmas Day would be a special baby and one that would make a difference to our world.


Thursday, 5 December 2019

Where did you get that hat?


Hats by Máire Rua

‘Where did you get that hat?  Where did you get that hat? Isn’t it a lovely one, I’d like one just like that’?

Okay, admit it, you did have a little sing-a-long when you read the title of this blog post.  I did.  I’ve been busy recently ‘getting hats’.

Why?  I hear you ask.  Let me explain.  It was my turn at Writers Group to host a workshop.  It’s something we do during the course of our writing year.  As writers, we all benefit from the workshops, manuscript evenings, author visits, competitions and social events too.  I particularly enjoy the variety of activities and the support and learning generously shared by members.

Anyway, ‘Hats’ was the theme for the workshop.  As I collected hats from friends, I was inspired by the stories shared as to why and how they had acquired their particular hats. As I put together my own collection, I found myself recalling and reminiscing about travels and places where I had bought my hats e.g. Spain, France, Australia and New Zealand.  My collection included a black fur hat, which I negotiated fiercely for The Man, one year at a Christmas market in London!  I’m not sure who enjoyed the negotiation banter more, the stallholder or me?  At the end of the day we managed a Win- Win-Win, everyone was happy.  The stallholder had a sale, I had a bargain and The Man had a warm cosy hat!   We celebrated with a festive gluhwein, vin chaud or was it a mulled wine?  Whichever, it was just the thing for a bitter cold evening and the celebration of a new hat!

The Hats workshop proved quite a success too. Everyone brought a hat to the meeting, which in turn provided wonderful material for writing stories.  Hats told their own stories of happiness, sadness, excitement and mystery. One hat was abandoned after a long theatrical career, another mistaken for someone else’s hat in a bygone time, and one hat ended up in a lovers’ tiff between a squaw and Tonto (of Hi Ho Silver fame!).   Calling time at the end of the meeting shortened the creative flow but I know stories will be developed over the forthcoming weeks. I believe there will be some great ‘hat tales’ to tell when the new writing year starts … and who knows maybe a new lyrics for a song about hats too?  
 


Sunday, 24 November 2019

How do you spend a creative afternoon?




Photo by me … beautiful stitches on the Christmas tree by me!


‘Would you like to come to a Crafternoon?’ my friend asked.

The word ‘craft’ caught my interest. I love all things craft and the timing of afternoon worked too, not too early and not too late in the day.  A novel way to spend a day off I thought. Usually, I’m the one who admires and buys the artwork of others.  I’m always in awe of artistic flair and creative pursuits of friends and colleagues.  But the idea of making and sewing, I hesitated.  Why?  Sewing! Even now the word struck fear and distant memories of a domestic science teacher, Mrs P, from a certain Grammar school in Ireland came flooding back. Okay, I confess, I was not the A star sewing student but I could make a mean casserole dish that could stave off hunger for a day or two.

‘Sounds like fun,’ I said, but please understand that I can’t sew!’ And there it was, I’d spoken my truth and wondered if this had jeopardised my chances of joining the creative group.

‘Not a problem’, retorted my friend, ‘lots of other craft activities are available’.

With reassurance from my friend that Crafternoons weren’t all about sewing, I agreed to attend. What a great time I had with several other ‘crafty ladies’. The event was organised to raise funds for Brake, the road safety charity that supports families who have been affected by road deaths and injuries.

We created lots of beautiful cards, labels and papers using woodprints and paint.  We made Christmas tree decorations with felt and thread. I found myself sitting next to lady who enjoyed travelling as much as me.  As we stitched and sewed (yes, actual sewing!), we shared travel stories about Australia and New Zealand.  We were both writers and keepers of journals too. The time whizzed by as each of us worked on our respective craft pieces.  Tea, coffee and glasses of wine were served at regular intervals by the generous hosts.  Well, crafting can be thirsty work, you understand.  There were moments of chat and laughter. There were times of focus and stillness too.  Overall, it was a very enjoyable and therapeutic afternoon.  We raised £200 for the Brake charity.

I was very proud of my handiwork and takeaway achievements.  I look forward to sharing them in due course. I doubt if the pieces will win any awards but I think I’ve done Mrs P proud with delicate stitching on my little Christmas tree decoration.  What a great way to spend an afternoon.  What a great idea for an Artist’s Date too!


Friday, 1 November 2019

Why visit Seamus Heaney's HomePlace?


 Seamus Heaney, Man and Boy.  
Original photographer - unknown. 

On a recent trip to Ireland I visited the new arts and literary centre,  ‘HomePlace,’in Bellaghy, dedicated to the legacy of poet and playwright, Seamus Heaney. Although, his poetry was very much rooted in the land of his birth, it continues to speak to people all around the world. His literary talent was recognised and acknowledged via The Nobel Prize for literature in 1995.  He was hailed as the greatest poet since WB Yeats and awarded for “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth”. Did you know that it took several days to track down Seamus Heaney to tell him he had won this prestigious award?  Those were the days before mobile phones and internet! Heaney and his wife were eventually tracked down holidaying in Greece. Meanwhile, in his attic study in Dublin, reams of paper spilled from his fax machine with messages of congratulations.

Heaney took much of his inspiration from the landscape around him.  He wrote earnestly of folk, family and friends.  Many of his poems captured the everyday-ness of events and people who influenced him.  Sometimes it was at the work they toiled, places he was drawn to and political events of the time. Heaney was not afraid to tackle the emotional landscape of pain, grief and loss in his writing. At ‘HomePlace’, there is the opportunity to listen to Heaney recite several of his beautiful poems as you wander through the exhibition.  You may recognise other voices reciting his poetry, people like Stephen Fry, Bono and Bill Clinton, to name a few.

There is much to see, hear and read at HomePlace.  There’s a chance to ‘release your inner artist’, work with words and should you require a little nourishment, I can highly recommend coffee with cake at the Café. 

It’s well worth the visit and a great place for an Artist’s date too.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Where would you go on an Artist Date?


Photo by me. An unknown Creative Self?


As a writer, it’s always good to have something or somewhere to write about. And even if you haven’t, it’s helpful to think creatively about something or somewhere. 
Several years ago I was gifted a beautiful book, ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron.
I just love books … a girl can never have too many books … or chocolate, although books are definitely less fattening!

The Artist’s Way was recommended to encourage more writing and to help develop my creative self. If truth were told, I had never really considered part of me as ‘creative self’. I liked the idea of more writing. I was intrigued by the term and wondered what on earth would unfold with my new found creative part!

The book suggested writing several pages of journal every morning, at least three pages about whatever comes. Sometimes, I know it can be a challenge to do that. What will I write about today? I can’t think, brain dumb, inspiration won’t come. The Artist’s Way assists and encourages the creative write. It also encourages the concept of ‘Artist Dates’. Now, readers, before you go scurrying off and regress into the realms of, ‘Oh I haven’t written or drawn anything since my school days’, I request you to stop right there. Don’t panic. The way it works is like this – Set aside one morning, afternoon or day to make time for YOU and only you to experience something to develop your creative thinking. Examples may include walking in nature; going to the theatre, seeing a film, visiting an art gallery, checking out somewhere you’ve never been before. Ideally doing something or experiencing something different or for the first time. The brave step is doing it on your own!

This week, my Artist Date prompted me to attend a local Arts Centre to participate in a new initiative called ‘Talking Tables’. The idea behind the initiative;

1. To encourage people to watch new films 
2. To invite people to stay and review the film

Welcoming and friendly staff at the Talking Tables facilitated the discussion and noted our feedback about the event. There were some great discussions about the film ‘Bait’, set in Cornwall, the fishing industry and its community and how life there had changed over the years. I highly recommend seeing it…perhaps an Artist Date for you?

As a result of this particular date, I came away with lots of new ideas about writing and creativity. The subject matter provided abundant food for thought about life, changes in communities and the impact of such changes particularly in small coastal communities.

The Talking Tables provided a platform to listen to different viewpoints. In turn, the discussions generated further film recommendations and suggestions about other Arts venues worth a visit.

On this occasion, my solo trip provided opportunity, to see a new film, review it through my artistic lens, meet some lovely people and give me something to blog about this week! I wonder how my next Artist Date will unfold?



Wednesday, 9 October 2019

What does it take to be a published author?



Photo: Nicola May by Dominic Martin

My Monday evenings are dedicated to Slough Writers. It’s a local group that encourages, supports and inspires writers of all genres. Their eclectic programme of events offers many writing opportunities. Last week, we invited Nicola May, a local author, to share her writing journey with us.

After many years of diligent writing, resilience and perseverance, Nicola is now an established author, fulfilling a long held dream, to become a published author. We had many questions about how she achieved this. She explained how the writing started when she tasked herself (a few years back) to run a half marathon. She kept a diary to chart and track her progress. She confessed that at the time she hadn’t considered the diary would start her writing career, but it did! She enjoyed writing. It was her ‘first and only half marathon’ (completed in a reasonable time of just over 2 hours). What an achievement! I was impressed.

I was also impressed as she took us on her writing journey about who and what inspired her writing. She talked about her characters, the situations they found themselves in and how events unfolded, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

I had a real sense that Nicola’s heart was shared with many characters in her books. She spoke passionately about how she wrote and what she wrote. Nicola shared her writing experience and tips generously and with great honesty. Being an author was not only about writing, it was about marketing, promoting and networking too! She declared, ‘Writing the book was the easy part’.

So what did I learn from Nicola’s visit to our Writers’ Group?

1. The process of writing a book is much more than crafting the words to tell the story.
2. Getting a book published is not for the faint-hearted - persistence, resistance and resilience are needed in bucket loads!
3. Marketing, publishing and promotion opportunities are key on the road to success, especially for the new and unknown author.

Nicola admitted that her journey from writer to published author wasn’t without its challenges but in spite of never having attended a writing class – she made it!

In my opinion, Nicola is woman of substance, determined, persistent and a great role model for aspiring writers. My thanks to Nicola for an inspiring evening. I wish her every success for the future and in my book (yet to be published), she deserves it!