I seem to be in a constant state of excitement these days.
The latest reason is that I have confirmed the person who will launch my book. It is none other than Mark Roper. Mark is a nationally renowned poet and creative writing educator with a lengthy list of publications, credits and accolades to his name. (For details of these see Mark’s website.) I had the pleasure of having a piece of mine included alongside one of his in The Sunday Miscellany Anthology in 2011.
Even more significantly for me on a personal level, Mark was a writing mentor of mine back in 2003 and 2004 when I returned home to Ireland from my travels abroad. He encouraged and supported my writing as part of his Writer in Residency year at Waterford Regional Hospital (now University Waterford Hospital) and kindly included a piece of mine in an anthology of writing from people in the hospital. He has continued to provide support and encouragement ever since.
Mark’s kind and gentle manner is famous among those who know him. That temperament was in evidence when I attended his workshops in the hospital with a small, sometimes noisy baby in tow. He did not bat an eyelid at the presence of my daughter and made us feel nothing but welcome. It is seemingly little things like these that are true indicators of a person’s character.
The launch itself takes place in The Book Centre, Waterford on March 24th. There will be details in my next post; in the meantime, check out the event page on Facebook.
Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing author Mia Gallagher as part of this year’s Imagine Arts Festival.
As I suspected, Mia is a delight. She is an interviewer’s dream: chatty, friendly and open. She has lots to say but isn’t in the slightest overbearing. Despite being an internationally acclaimed writer, she is completely down to earth and generous.
We talked a lot about her latest novel, Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland, as well as about her writing life, her process, and creativity. I loved hearing that at one stage during the writing of BPLH, she sat cross-legged on her floor, surrounded by stacks of paper. That’s such a romantic image of a writer. Much more appealing than sitting bolt upright in front of a computer screen!
The occasion was further enhanced by the venue, St. Patrick’s Gateway Centre in Waterford city. As the image above shows, this former church provides a highly suitable and atmospheric setting for arts events.
My thanks are due to Ollie Breslin, Nora Boland and everyone else on the Imagine organising committee for a perfectly run event, and to the audience members who turned out on a Monday evening.
Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland is available from all the usual book outlets, as is Hellfire, Mia’s first novel.
This writing business is very much ‘in the head’. Watch a writer working furiously, and you will see him or her sitting at the desk, not moving very much at all – not much change in facial expression, even – and staring intently at screen or page. There will be occasional bursts of work on the keyboard or with the pen. That’s it.
So I take every chance I get to move my work more into the physical world. I got the chance recently when I started to edit a story that I am preparing for publication (more on that soon). Editing on-screen produced a lot of head-scratching but not much else. I somehow couldn’t get my head around where everything fitted together in the story.
Enter our old friend, paper. I printed out the story and got to work with my pen and scissors. I literally cut out the bits I didn’t want and wrote in new material by hand, old school style. Then I stapled the pages together in one long scroll to create the new draft of the story.
The process of editing in this way was a tangible one. It felt good to work with physical objects.
Of course, once I had done all the work I could with pen, scissors and stapler, it was back to the computer to make the changes in electronic form, too.
Have you come across any of the articles about the spaces in which writers do their writing? They were published as a series in The Guardian a few years ago. I must admit to drooling over some of them. Just look at the room where Seamus Heaney did his writing: with its shelves of books, framed photos, little sculptures and the sloped ceiling, it is every inch a writer’s haven. Or the writing room of Michael Morpurgo, unmistakably writerly in a different way, with its ascetic wooden bed and bare walls.
Now to go from the sublime to the ridiculous. This is the space in which I currently write:
A recent bedroom re-assignment in my house has meant that my “office” (half a room, fenced off from the other half, which is a play room) is no longer “mine” but “ours”. In addition, several years’ worth of hoarded items are now temporarily stored here, as there is no safe (i.e. child-proof) space anywhere else in the house.
The bits of wood that you can just about see on the left of the picture belong to the “fence” – complete with lockable gate – that my husband constructed across the middle of the room, to keep the children away from the computers. Yes, we really have a room with a fence running through it. (There is probably some The Field-like metaphor in there, if only I could think of it.)
I can only pass the buck on some of the hoarding; much of it is mine, years of memorabilia from travels, studies and life events. So the Herculean task awaits of sorting, culling, clearing and storing. Yet another task to take away from writing time.
On the plus side, I get great psychological benefit from de-cluttering. I find the process, once started, to be energising, and the results bring me a great sense of calm and order.
A friend has recommended Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, which my friend says is excellent for motivating oneself to have a life-altering de-clutter. I have the book on my Kindle and plan to get stuck into it tonight.
Have you got a work space in your house that is exclusively yours? How do you go about keeping it clutter-free?
Tempus is fugiting! Saint Patrick’s Day is now behind us and Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 is right in front of us. So here’s the third in my series of reviews of alternative venues to visit over the festival weekend.
The Granary café, Hanover Street, Waterford
Food and drink: Above average prices with standards to match. On offer are quiches, pies, salads, panini and daily specials. Everything is of exceptional quality. The salads in particular are among the best I have had anywhere; the beetroot and carrot salad takes the two humble roots to new heights. The main dishes change daily; a recent example is pan-fried hake with lemon and tarragon cream. The coffee is very good, though not the best in Waterford (for that, see my previous venue review). If you are booked in to any of the early morning events at Waterford Writers’ Weekend, the mushroom omelette breakfast (two-egg omelette with mushrooms, sausage, rasher and wholemeal toast) comes highly recommended.
Service: Self-service. The counter staff are highly efficient, though some are not given to smiling. An exception is manager Artur, who is equally efficient and very friendly.
Layout and accessibility: The cafe is located in a high-ceilinged, glass-walled extension to the beautiful old granary building. These days, the former granary is home to the Waterford Institute of Technology School of Architecture.
The cafe itself, located on the ground floor, is one of the best in Waterford in terms of accessibility and family-friendliness. The main doors have no steps or door-sills. Inside, there is plenty of space to manoeuvre wheelchairs and buggies. The seating area is large, and there are leather sofas and good-sized coffee tables at the back by the lift. This area is also good for quiet conversation, and local movers and shakers of the arts and commerce are often to be seen holding meetings here.
Toilet facilities: Upstairs, accessible by lift only. The lift itself is well located. The toilets have baby changing facilities.
Free wi-fi: Yes.
Parking: There is no parking directly outside as Hanover Street is pedestrianised. The nearest on-street parking is on Thomas Hill, across O’Connell Street. A little farther away, there is the car park on Little Patrick Street behind The Book Centre. Charges: €1.80 per hour.
If you’re planning to head to several events over the day, park in the private car park just off Thomas Hill (head up the hill, follow the street around to the right, entrance is on the right) for €5.00 a day flat rate.
Accessibility to festival venues: The Granary is a 60-second walk from Garter Lane theatre, one of the main venues at Waterford Writers’ Weekend. Other festival venues are a maximum of five minutes’ walk away.
Café Libro, The Book Centre, 25 John Roberts Square
Food and drink: the menu looks ordinary enough at first glance – pre-packed sandwiches, pizza, cakes and pastries, coffee – but the quality and freshness of the ingredients elevate the fare here well above the ordinary. The made-to-order pizzas have fabulously thin bases and the sandwiches are delicious. The cakes and pastries are home-made by local artisan bakers, which is particularly commendable for a chain. The cinnamon rolls are worth the visit alone. And the coffee is – drum roll – the best in the city.
Service: Very good. Friendly and efficient. Order at the counter and staff bring your goodies to your table.
Layout and accessibility: Now we come to the real USP of Cafe Libro. Like the other cafes in the chain, it is situated in a book store. But this one is special, because it is in The Book Centre. This book store is notable on two fronts: it is one of Ireland’s few remaining independent book stores; and it is housed in a former cinema. The cafe is located on the mezzanine, overlooking the ground floor and main entrance – ideal for people-watching. The atrium construction preserves the cinema feel.
Appropriately, the cafe serves as an informal meeting place for writers, and many can be spotted here on weekdays mornings, tapping feverishly on their MacBooks. The tables are quite close together, but not unreasonably so. There are leather sofas and a low coffee table near the counter. The walls are lined with books on sale just like the rest of the store, and the ceiling is decorated with an impressive newspaper collage made from real newspapers (I checked with the manager!).
Accessibility is fine for the non-mobility-impaired, but if you use a wheelchair, or have a buggy or pram, this is where things get tricky (despite the sign outside proclaiming the cafe to be “child-friendly”). There is a lift in the building, but it only goes to the higher floor, not the mezzanine. Buggy users have two options: fold up your buggy and carry it up the stairs (hopefully you will have someone with you to carry the child), or leave the buggy downstairs. Wheelchair users have no means of access that I have been able to make out.
Toilet facilities: up a flight of stairs, basic, clean, very cramped, no baby changing facilities.
Free wi-fi: yes.
Parking: behind The Book Centre on Little Patrick Street. Charges: up to €1.80 per hour.
Accessibility to festival venues: this cafe is bang in the city centre, within two or three minutes’ walking distance of all festival venues.
Well-known writers are always being asked, “What advice would you give to new writers?”
This question must fill writers with dread. For one thing, it is quite a responsibility to give advice that someone may actually act on. For another, it is even more of a responsibility give such advice publicly. For yet another, advice is a strange beast that can reveal more than is intended about the giver of the advice.
Every week, in the “There are no rules” section of Writer’s Digest editor blogs, the author trails through the magazine’s archives, searching for writing advice from famous authors. The most recent list includes Harper Lee, John Steinbeck and James Thurber.
The article contains several contributions from famous and less famous writers, and is worth a read. Also, it’s fun to try to connect each piece of advice to the author’s personality (or persona).
Harper Lee’s contribution seems typical of the notoriously media-shy and no-nonsense author of To Kill a Mockingbird: “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide”.
John Steinbeck and Carl Sandburg both take a subversive approach to giving advice:
“Beware of advice – even this” (Sandburg)
“Sorry – if I had any advice to give I’d take it myself” (Steinbeck)
My favourite is the single word provided by Robert Fuoss: “Write”.
If you have any favourite pieces of writing advice, from well-known or less-well-known writers, I’d love to hear them – just reply below!