#WeMadeHistory

The people of Ireland have voted YES for marriage equality — regardless of sexuality — in a public referendum, with one of the largest turnouts in voting history; we are the first country in the world to make this choice by popular vote.

I’ve never been prouder to be Irish.

The escalating momentum of #hometovote, over the past couple of days, with Irish men and women abroad pouring back into the country by train, boat and plane, to ensure their voices were heard, has been extraordinarily moving.

The public outpourings, the crowds at Dublin Castle this afternoon — both in the courtyard and bringing the streets to a standstill outside — as the results were announced, and the inevitable celebrations carrying on well into the night, signal something else: national pride and a return to joy. Continue reading

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Tools of the Writer’s Trade: 7 More Best Books About Writing

I was just having my morning cuppa, today, browsing through Facebook, as you do, and came across Book Riot‘s article on the Best Books About Writing. It includes classics like Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron – all excellent reads – but it occurred to me that a number of my favourite writing resources were missing. Here, in no particular order, is my add-on list of 7 More Best Books About Writing.

Stephen King - On Writing1. On Writing – Stephen King

When ‘On Writing’ was first recommended to me, I hummed and hawed. I’m not a fan of the kind of horror fiction, I automatically associate with the name Stephen King. So, if that’s what you’re thinking right now: STOP. Regardless of whether you are a fan of his writing – and let’s not forget, this is the guy who wrote ‘Shawshank Redemption‘ – there is no denying he is a prolific writer and who better to tell you about writing than a guy who writes lots and lots of books? But more than that, ‘On Writing’ is both intriguing memoir of a writer and a no-nonsense, practical advice about writing, by someone who knows how. Forget everything you think you know about Stephen King – this is a ESSENTIAL READ for writers.

 

2. Becoming a Writer – Dorothea Brande

becoming a writerProbably the first book about writing I ever read – a stalwart companion of the beginner’s creative writing class – and still relevant 80 years after publication, so deservedly, a classic. Practical and inspirational, Brande is a gracious and encouraging tutor, using the writers of her period – Virgina Woolfe, E.M. Forster, Edith Wharton – to draw out the writer within. A great place for all aspiring writers to start, and to refer back to in establishing a writing practice.

3. 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem – Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel - 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem

’52 Ways Of Looking At A Poem’ is drawn from Ruth Padel‘s popular ‘Sunday Poem‘ series, in the Independent on Sunday, which set out to de-bunk the myths around poetry as a literary form and open it up to a wider audience. I love her comment about readers who are happy to devour crime and mystery novels where they have no idea what’s going on yet recoil in terror from the same in a poem! In each essay, Padel examines a modern poem and explains its poetic devices, not only making poetry more accessible to the general reader but providing a masterclass on form and construction for the budding poet.

 

4. Self Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Brown & Dave King

self edit

Self Editing for Fiction Writers was recommended by Gerard Donovan, author of Julius Winsome and the Mann Booker long-listed Schopenhauer’s Telescope, at a Faber Academy Short Story Masterclass, in Dublin, alongside short story writer, Claire Keegan. When a respected, published writer pulls a well-worn copy of a book from his or her pocket, waves it in the air and swears by it, you take note. This is the book for the developing or advanced writer who want to make the leap from talented up-and-comer to published author – it covers all the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of writing, that shows a prospective magazine editor or publishing house that you mean business.

 

5. Negotiating With The Dead – Margaret Atwood

Negotiating With The Dead - Margaret Atwood

I love Margaret Atwood‘s work and when I discovered that she’s written a book about writing, I jumped on it. Negotiating The Dead is derived from a series of lectures on the role of the writer, Atwood gave at Cambridge University in 2000. Each chapter is devoted to a different writing scenario or dilemma, illuminated by anecdotes from Atwood‘s own experiences as a writer plus a wealth of literary quotes.

 

 

6. Ways of Seeing – John Berger

John Berger - Ways of Seeing

“Seeing comes before words.”

Not a traditional book about writing but arguably something even more fundamental to a writer – a book about how we view the world. Ways of Seeing is made up of a series of visual essays, exploring and critiquing the hidden language of art and imagery; companion to a BBC series of the same name – still available to view online and well worth the effort. Although dating from the early 1970’s, with the advertising images (not to mention politics) definitely showing their age, the message holds true, drawing a trajectory from the oil painting to the instant imagery of advertising and pointing directly on toward pop culture and the visual overload of the digital age.

7. The Writing Life – Annie Dillard

annie dillard - the writing life

“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as a dying friend. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”

An undisputed classic, Pulitzer Prize-winner Dillard‘s take on the writer’s life does not pull any punches, making it clear that writing is sheer bloody hard work, not a lifestyle choice. Yet, it is not without its rewards and if you choose to climb the mountain, there is no better guide. This is the book to read before you leave your job / husband or sell your car / house in your quest to become a writer.

 

 

Of course, no list of books about writing could ever be complete. Do you have any favourites not mentioned here? What books on writing do you go back to for inspiration? Whose advice do you swear by? Leave a comment with your recommendations!

Book Cover Photography: Jana Heimanis

Ever since I began promoting the launch of my debut poetry collection, I’ve been receiving compliments for the beautiful book cover photography and I thought it was high time I introduced the woman behind the photo: Jana Heimanis.

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Jana is an inveterate globe-trotter, taking photos wherever she goes; when she posted pics from a trip to Iceland, I saw the image above and something clicked.

I’ve talked before about what makes a good book cover and, as I started to think about what the cover of my own book should be, asked other writers about their thoughts on this part of the publishing process. Yvonne Cullen, poet and creative writing teacher extraordinaire, gave me a beautiful benchmark for what a book cover should do:

“The key in my mind… is a sense that image plus book equal more than the sum of their parts. The reader has to go somewhere, imaginatively… ideally, right into the emotional landscape of the book, to join image and title together.”

For me, Jana’s image does just that – capturing the sense of loss at the heart of the collection but also reminding us that in the bleakest of moments, there is the potential for great beauty. Although taken in Iceland, people keep recognising parts of Ireland in it and I love that it has a universal quality that speaks to everyone.

Originally from Sydney, Australia, I met Jana through mutual friends, from working at the same architectural practice in Dublin (but at different times) and I’ve always loved her spirit of adventure.

So I asked her to tell us a little bit more about herself – work, travel, photography and, of course, poetry.

Jana, tell us a little bit about your background:

I trained as an Australian architect at the University of Sydney, and the University of Newcastle (the one in Australia). Worked in Sydney for several years in small architecture firms on local jobs and large firms on foreign jobs. Found my way to Dublin, spent three months architecturally drafting, then was recruited by a dear friend, met fashion designer, John Rocha, and began a working collaboration that has lasted ten years.

How did you start taking photographs?

It probably started with holidays in Australia, bookended by (mostly long) road trips – the world framed by the back-seat window. Photography is most certainly a part of travel for me. I travel solo a lot, both for work and for curiosity’s sake. Taking photos is a bit like having a traveling companion, like pointing out the new things, funny things, beautiful and different things ‘hey, check that out’.

Also my training and work, being about detail and beautiful things, has a huge influence on what catches my eye – I like to put composition, texture, colour, and a story in the frame.

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What do you love about photography?

I am a bit of a point and shooter, I like the simplicity of it. I have a good digital camera, with a nice lens and a zippy zoom, and some other features I’m not that au fait with. I love that I can use that simple tool to collect images that work. I love that it can be accidental, that moment, or place. I love creating a composition that satisfies, is possibly beautiful, is balanced, hints at a conversation, tells a story without words.

What’s your favourite place from your travels?

This year I had a number of wonderful road/train trips. Iceland was spectacular, icy and remote and just awesome – your photo is from the very North of the country, a farm that found itself sunk lower than the water table after one of the frequent earthquakes that happen when there are volcanoes around. Here in Australia, I took the smaller roads from Sydney to Melbourne and back via the Great Ocean Road. Other favourite places – Kyoto (temples, the buses, kimonos along the river at dusk), Istanbul (mosques, snakes in jars, markets, carpets, sensory overload), Leon, Sevilla, Cork, Berlin… sure, I find discovering a new city to be very exciting.

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You must have have some good travel stories…

So many, and I’m not a good teller of stories… Some snippets? Sharing a stranger’s sandwich on a train in Poland because he wasn’t convinced my plain bread roll was ‘lunch’; rowing a boat in the Arctic circle off the coast of Norway; hitch-hiking to avoid rambling bulls in Latvia….can we say that my pictures tell better stories? Instagram has a few of my latest tales…

I know you’re also a reader of poetry – any Aussie favourites we should check out?

Banjo Patterson – a classic. Responsible for Waltzing Matilda, but I like him for Been there Before, and Clancy of the OverflowGwen Harwood and Paul Kelly – ok, he’s a songwriter and musician, but I reckon he’s a poet.

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Discover more of Jana Heimanis’ beautiful travel photography on Instagram or at her forthcoming web-site: www.jana.net.au.

All photographs © Jana Heimanis.

 

 

Mslexia Poetry Competition 2014: After The Storm – The Story of a Poem

Back in September – yes, I am woefully slow at reportage, one of many reasons I am a poet, not a journalist – I had a poem published in Mslexia, the UK literary magazine for women who write. The poem, After The Storm, was selected as a finalist in the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2014, judged by poet, Wendy Cope.

People often ask where ideas for poems come from and this one I remember quite clearly.

I was in Gothenburg, Sweden, kipping on the sofa of a friend’s house-swap – a top floor flat, six flights up, next to a monument on a hill, surrounded by trees. It was early July, thunderous, all the windows flung wide to gather scraps of fresh air.

As I lay there in the darkness, the wind got up and tree shadows scurried across the ceiling, lit by street lamps; it seemed as though they had invaded the room, the hallway, the kitchen, the attic overhead.

Too lazy to get up and search for pen and paper, I fumbled at the coffee table for my phone and by its tepid glow tapped out a draft text: “The trees are children running through the house.” Then turned over and went to sleep.

In the morning, I found the text and the seed was planted.

after the storm2_mslexia

My Swedish jaunt was very productive on the poetry front – I came home with the bones of 4 or 5 poems laid down. Sometimes, you just need to step out of familiar surroundings to open the door to new ideas.

The ending was prompted by another poem I’d read – I can’t remember the name of the poet or poem, sadly (Reasons I’m Not A Journalist #573) but the image that stayed with me was one of absence, in the dent of a pillow where someone had lain, and it was the sense of emptiness as a concrete presence I wanted to evoke at the end.

Mslexia holds a very special place in my heart, as the first print magazine to publish my work, when I came second in their inaugural Mslexia Short Story competition, in 2009. I can still remember the phone call: I shot out of my chair and performed an arrhythmic celebration in the medium of dance around the kitchen, to the utter disdain of the neighbour’s cat, lounging on the window cill.

It’s a beautiful journal, with lots of valuable, practical advice for writers and I was delighted when the latest issue hit my doorstep. I’ve sent work to the poetry competition in the past and this is the first time I’ve made the cut – one of 20 final poems out of 2000+ entries. Wendy Cope talks of her process for choosing the winning poems on the Mslexia competition page and also provided feedback for all the finalists in the print edition:

“It isn’t easy to describe a storm in a poem because it is such a familiar subject; I can’t help thinking of Ted Hughes’ ‘This house has been far out at sea all night’. But Angela T Carr has found her own way of doing it in ‘After the Storm’ without sounding derivative. This is another poem about bereavement. The quiet after the storm suggests the quiet after the funeral, when the person left behind has to ‘fold around’ the new emptiness.”

Yup, I’ll take that. Thank you, Wendy!

After the Storm is included in my debut collection launching in Dublin, next week.