Disneyland with Books

Welcome to Kells

WELCOME TO KELLS. (Picture courtesy of the Hay Festival, Kells.)

Last year I volunteered at the Hay Festival in Kells and was lucky enough to be assigned to St Columba’s Church for the weekend.  How do I describe the church to you? Think old country churchyard. Now age it a couple more centuries. Add the remnants of four eleventh century Celtic crosses and a round tower from the same period. Now, you’ve got it.

It’s Ireland in less than an acre.

Kells, County Meath

Kells, County Meath

Into this serene scene streamed our guests: the speakers and the listeners.

Some of the visitors hadn’t planned to attend whatever event happened to be on at the time, but the location drew them in. Come for the tower, stay for the books. Could you blame them? The discussions on offer were fabulous. This is a small place, peaceful, so we didn’t have the rock star writers like Joe O’Connor. They were at the bigger venues, like the Headfort Arms. Instead, we had the poets and the historians, as befits so ancient and elegiac a site.

Being a volunteer, I sat at the back, keeping an ear out for people wanting information or looking to buy tickets, and all the while I listened to the experts talking about the difficulties of writing poetry in a minority language, or Ireland’s part in the First World War, or researching the historical background to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Each was a revelation and a joy.

There was a family from Kent who were on holiday in Dublin and drove up to Kells for the day. They enjoyed themselves so much they stayed for the whole weekend. Oh the scenery is spectacular, and the books are magnificent, but it’s the people. You know?

I do.

Everywhere you went there were happy volunteers in bright blue tee-shirts giving directions, suggesting events or places to eat, or just sharing the joy of the occasion. You couldn’t walk down the street without hearing laughter or a book being quoted. (That’s my definition of Paradise, right there.)

A man wandered around the worn old tombstones in the churchyard and stopped to ask what event was up next. A discussion about the JFK assassination? Sounds interesting. So he stayed for that and for the lecture that followed too. Later, as a soft evening fell, he shook my hand and thanked me. Like I’d done it all myself: the tower and the sunshine and the books. “It’s been a day,” he said. He had that peaceful look of a man who’s just enjoyed a long massage. “This is some event. I’ll be back next year.” Then as he stepped down the path he turned and said, “It’s like Disneyland with books.”

The Hay Festival returns to Kells on June 25th to 28th.  You can get the full programme and tickets from www.hayfestival.com/kells . Tickets are also available in Kells from the Kells Chamber Office (Carrick Street) – 046 924 0055 – open from 9.30am to 5pm from Monday to Friday, and from Antonia’s Bookstore in Trim, County Meath on 046 943 7532.

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The Detective and the Writer: Introducing Amy Thomas

Amy Thomas is the author of a series of Irene Adler (The Woman) and Sherlock Holmes novels titled, The Detective and the WomanThe Detective The Woman and the Winking Tree, and The Detective The Woman and the Silent Hive. Her trilogy is being released in a hardcover edition in advance of her latest Holmes novel this September. She is also one of the Baker Street Babes — don’t worry, she’ll explain that herself shortly.

 Recently, I had a chance to get to know Amy a little better. Here’s what she had to say:

It’s great to meet you, Amy. Tell us a little about yourself.

 Thanks for having me! I’m a knitter, reader, and avid music fan. I proofread and edit professionally, in addition to writing. One of my main clients is a court reporter, and I proofread a lot of legal transcription. Not only is it interesting, but hopefully it also hones my ability to write effectively in the crime/mystery genre.

Wow, we have a lot in common. I hardly know where to begin. Let’s stick to the subject at hand, though. You share my fascination with the enigma that is Sherlock Holmes. How did you first discover him, and what keeps you coming back?

I started reading Sherlock Holmes, the original stories by Doyle, at nine or so. I was intrigued by the strange and sometimes grotesque world of stories like The Speckled Band. Once I got a little older, a friend introduced me to Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, and I became aware of the wider world of pastiches and homage novels.

As an adult, I continue to be captivated by how much life is contained in brief stories, how much truth about human nature and the richness of friendship. I go back to both the Canon and subsequent works, and I continue to learn more.

Well said. What, for you, is the biggest challenge in writing a Sherlock Holmes novel?

I think it’s the voice. Most of my works are not in Watson’s voice because I think it’s extraordinarily difficult to capture well. I often write from Irene Adler’s first person perspective, and I’m always trying to hone things like expression and wording to capture both the uniqueness of who she is as a person and the fact that she is a woman of a certain time. Similarly, I want Holmes and Watson to “feel” like themselves, but not be mired down in too many Doylean tropes just for the sake of using them.

Period pieces always present challenges to keep the characters historically faithful but not so over-the-top into tropes that they cease to seem human. It’s an ongoing process to get better.

Like so many other Holmes’ fans, myself included, you are drawn to the women of the canon. Do you have a favourite among them? If so, who, and why? 

I appreciate many for different reasons, but I continue to be intrigued by both Mrs. Hudson and Mary Morstan. These intelligent women are around the periphery for a huge amount of the Canon, and I would love to know all they’re seeing and thinking.

Of course, Irene Adler intrigues me enough that I’ve written a series about her. Some of the more lurid sorts of things writers come up with are not the angles that sticks out to me. I admire her as a smart, self-directed woman trying to survive and go after the life she wants.

Have you been tempted to explore writing other types of fiction? If so, what?

I have. I’m currently about halfway through a fantasy. It’s a novel-length re-telling of the Grimm fairy tale Allerleirauh.

Wow, that sounds amazing. And you also have a new novel due out at the end of the year. What can you tell us about it?

Before the new book comes out, the first three books in the series will be released in a hardcover edition. These books tell the story of Holmes and Adler meeting again after the events of A Scandal in Bohemia and forming a friendship that leads to occasionally partnering to solve cases. One takes place in London, one on the Sussex Downs, and the first in the towns of early Florida, populated by characters like Thomas Edison.

The new book will take Holmes and Adler back to Florida, to the islands, to investigate a mystery involving pirate treasure and organized crime.

 You are one of the ‘Baker Street Babes’. Care to elaborate on what that means?

The Baker Street Babes are an international, all-female, Sherlock Holmes podcast. We cover everything from film, TV, and books, to anything else Holmesian. We have been featured in the London Olympics coverage, Cake Boss, shortlisted for a Shorty Award, and we have recently published a book called Femme Friday that celebrates women of the Holmes Canon and adaptations. We’re proud to continue producing episodes that celebrate the female geek perspective and highlight all areas of Sherlockian culture both old and new.

 Who are your heroes, fictional or otherwise?

Sherlock Holmes is certainly high on the list. He’s a hero who isn’t always heroic, he doesn’t usually fit in, and he’s certainly not perfect. However, he uses his mind and abilities to accomplish amazing things. He’s an inspiration to all of us who feel like misfits, a reminder that the world needs our unique gifts.

Another one of my heroes is Dorothy Sayers, the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, who also happened to be a Christian, a Sherlockian, and a feminist, all of which I am. Sayers wasn’t a traditional woman of her time, and she contended with being a very intellectual square peg in a time when women were expected to be quiet and fit in. In many ways, she lived a difficult life, but I admire her courage as a theologian and mystery writer, and I aspire to be even half as brilliant a writer as she was some day.

It was great fun getting to know you a little better, Amy. Any woman who is a fan of the Great Detective and the redoubtable DL Sayers is very cool, in my opinion. Best of luck with the release of the trilogy and the new book.

If you would like to know more about Amy Thomas’s work, check out her website hereGirl Meets Sherlock

You can also find the kickstarter for the hard cover release of her Irene Adler trilogy here.

Project image for The Detective and The Woman - Sherlock Holmes & Irene Adler

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Your Time has Come to Shine

When people ask you what you do, and you take a deep breath then admit you’re a writer, you can expect one of several reactions. On the most positive, if most unlikely, end of the scale, there’s, “Oh, wow, that’s fabulous! You must be so clever!”

That happened in the history of writers exactly once. It was March 17th 1965 to one Mary McFadden, an unpublished author, but deeply loved by her new boyfriend, and, later, husband, Michael. What happened to Mary’s cleverness is unknown. She spent her next sixty years raising a family and writing notes in a series of black, leather-bound journals which did not survive her.

But I digress. A slightly more common reaction to the, “I’m a writer,” confession is, “Oh, wow, have you written anything I might have read?” At least half of the people who ask this question are really saying, “Have you written anything that I might have heard other people talking about having read, or that has been turned into a movie, because I was frightened by Gulliver’s Travels in school and haven’t cracked the spine of a book since.”

Then there’s the snide, “Oh, writing. Anyone could do that.” This response is invariably accompanied by the disdainful sneer. We’ve all experienced that one from time to time. No wonder most of us would prefer to say we voted for Trump or were Nigel Farage’s girlfriend (depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on), than confess to being a scribbler.

There are incremental steps when it becomes easier to admit when you’re a writer. Owning it when you’re just beginning, before you have any credits and you’re still learning your craft is hard. (WARNING: THERE NOW FOLLOWS AN EGREGIOUS ‘GRUMPY OLD LADY’ COMMENT): Although from what I’ve seen on the internet, a lot of young writers seem to have no difficulty posting first drafts of whatever crosses their minds on the net and calling themselves superstars. I guess I grew up in a different age. (THIS ENDS THE GRUMPY OLD LADY INTERLUDE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.)

My first writing landmark came in my teens. I was 15, I think, and I won a national poetry competition. God knows how, because I ain’t no poet. Anyway, I won what was, at the time, a fairly decent amount of cash and, for once, my family was fairly flush (I was the oldest of six, so money didn’t stay long), and I was allowed to keep all my winnings. I bought myself a wristwatch and a copy of the Bridge Over Troubled Water album, which was still number one in the album charts, so this was around 1971.

The triumph was more my mother’s than my own. I later discovered she told anyone she met about her daughter who had won this big poetry competition. She probably thought I’d be the next Emily Dickenson. Ha! For her, it was worth the cash for the bragging rights.

I don’t remember doing much bragging about it. In my neighbourhood, bragging equalled bruises, and bragging about poetry would be a certain short cut to a full body cast. Still, every time I hear a track from the Bridge album, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Given the longevity of Simon and Garfunkel’s masterpiece, it was money well spent. As the decades have passed, the memory of that first achievement has been buried under bigger, more noteworthy things, but it lingers with those melodies.

Being faced with naysayers, sceptics and downright bullies, it’s hard to keep faith in yourself, but if you don’t who will? When you’re starting out, you tell yourself, Oh, it’ll be easier when I’m published… when I win a prize… when I’m famous… But although I’m not famous (outside a very small circle), I can tell you with some degree of confidence that all those things are a lie. No matter what level of success you’ve achieved, you’ll still find a challenge.

You’ve just been published? Congratulations! Now you have to get published again. You’re only as good as your most recent sale, you know. And who are you selling to? What do you mean, the literary journal doesn’t pay except in copies? Why aren’t you selling to the New Yorker? Aren’t you a Real Writer?

Oh, you won a prize? Brilliant! How many people entered? Oh, well, that’s OK, maybe your next competition will be bigger, better, more prestigious. No prize money? But you got  a cup, though? A plaque? Just a certificate? Oh…

I heard you had a novel published, well done! Who’s the publisher? Never heard of them. Did you self-publish? But you get big royalties, right? Will you be going on a book tour?  Oh, an indie press… Well, next time, maybe. You need to hurry up, though. You’re not getting any younger.

The writer’s ego is a fragile thing and it gets battered fairly regularly even without the assistance of a brutal public. Rejection slips and savage reviews, below living wage and failure of a work you have spent years of your life creating, all these things erode the writer’s soul.

Not long ago I was invited to read at a garden party. I arrived to find there were dozens of other people lined up to read too. All but one (other than me) were hobbyists. To add insult to injury, the organisers forgot they’d invited me and I never got to read. My friend who accompanied me was outraged on my behalf and kicked up a stink. Oh, the organisers were apologetic, they’d run out of time, they’d reschedule, etc., etc., but the damage was done. A week or two later, I had dinner with another friend who lives in a very elegant suburb of Dublin. One of her neighbours is a world-famous, award-winning Irish writer. He’s a best-selling author, does a lot for charity, and is internationally esteemed. “You’re lucky,” I told my friend, “To have such a man as your neighbour.”

“He’s not all that,” she said with a sniff. “He never puts the lids on his bins properly, and he’s not very friendly. No one in the area can stand him.”

Fame. It’s not so much you live forever. It just feels that way.

On the other hand, there are the successes. There are letters telling you yes, we’d love to publish your short story / book / poem / article. There are letters from fans telling you you’ve influenced them, or kept them going when nothing else did. There are prizes, even when the awards were tiny, but, hey, you won! There are people who are genuinely happy for your success and who soar when you do. There are  handshakes in the supermarket, and surprise bottles of wine at the writers’ group; there are cards of congratulations, and gifts of pens and notebooks, sometimes from perfect strangers. There are books with your name on them and on those lonely nights when the world is cold, there’s Simon and Garfunkel reminding you where it all began.

Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

Bridge Over Troubled Water / Paul Simon

Bridge Over Troubled Water


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Peripheral Vision

My writer pal Rosie describes this sort of scenario to me all the time: She’s standing in the checkout line in the supermarket and the man in front of her pulls out an odd assortment of groceries. Broccoli, a duck, a bottle of very expensive white wine, canned spaghetti (Rosie wittily comments she thought they’d stopped making that stuff in 1978), a full block of brie, six(!) loaves of French bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a packet of Smarties. By the time he’s paid and left, Rosie has cast him as a kidnapper. He’s hosting a sophisticated dinner party tonight, hence the bread, cheese, duck and wine, but has a child held hostage in the basement (the spaghetti, peanut butter, and Smarties.) He’s at the door now, the canvas bag hanging from his right shoulder. He pauses and glances back, scanning the shop with an inscrutable expression. Or is he looking for cameras?

As her own groceries are being scanned, she sees the story unfold. Within a couple of days, a week at most, she has a brand new story to show from the experience.

Damn her.

I envy writers like that. I envy their powers of observation and their deductive analysis.

It’s not that I lack imagination or, when Venus is in retrograde, some powers of observation. It’s just that I have to have a reason to go looking. With the current novel, for instance, I carry the story with me when I go around town and use the things I experience to feed the tale. The woman in the pharmacy is a ringer for Eithne, my heroine’s best friend. The way the light hits the pavement, that’s exactly the way said heroine sees the sky the day she goes to Wicklow. How do I describe that sky?

I am living the character’s life. Not just the protagonist, but all the ancillary characters, too. The little white Yaris that passes me with the blue rosary beads wrapped around the rear-view mirror, that’s Molly’s car, no doubt about it. And, oh, that big marmalade cat sunning itself on my neighbour’s porch is definitely Big Ginger, Miss Hart’s pet. The more real the elements of the story are to me, the more real I can make them for the reader.

But all of this is done deliberately. I am looking for these elements. Like an artist who has seen his lover’s face a thousand times before, but he only pays very close attention when he picks up a charcoal stick to sketch her likeness. This is the angle of the jaw, that is the curve of the neck… Now is the time to study, to define, to find the exact word to fit the thing observed. Not my word, but the word my narrator would choose. She is essentially self-taught, but widely traveled. She approaches the world visually, through her camera. The things she focuses on are colour and shade, harmony and balance. I try to do justice to her vision when I walk the streets in her shoes. Also, she is taller than me (most people are), so that alters my perspective, too.

Unless I am walking the Irish roads and fields as a specific character, my powers of observation can best be described as peripheral vision. Oftentimes I’m not aware I’ve observed anything until long after the event. I’m in my head so much, I don’t really notice what’s happening around me. To the outside observer, I probably resemble the ‘nutty professor’ who mutters to himself, wears odd socks, and is too absorbed in thought to really pay much heed to much else. And yet some things obviously do filter in because when I sit down to write, I am frequently astonished by the details that flow from my pen. I saw that? Yes, I remember. Now, I remember, and yet it didn’t really register at the time.

I call this ‘peripheral vision observation’, by which I mean seeing things but not realising I’ve seen them until much later. Years later, in some instances.

Once, I wrote a short story in which a child was locked in a closet by school bullies. I had blotted the event from my memory and it wasn’t until I wrote the scene that I remembered it happening. Who needs a therapist when you have a talent for fiction?

Yes, it would be nice to be the sort of writer who is keenly observant and who can engage with the world fully, inside of through peripheral vision. However, we use the tools we’ve been given and we make them work as best we can. I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way, so long as the story that emerges is truthful.

Writers are unique and our ways of exploring the world are as individual as we are. We should celebrate that and not be cowed by others into believing our process is wrong or lesser because it is not the same as theirs.


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The Holistic Approach

lightning photo

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Every once in a while if you’re very lucky, once in a while in your writing career,  you are struck by a moment of utter clarity and you see it: the entire novel laid out before you like a landscape illuminated by sheet lightning.

After months (years) of focusing on plot points, characters, dialogue, and other individual elements, suddenly you’re not just looking at individual pieces, but the entire thing. Yes, the landscape still needs work, but now, suddenly, you can now see it all.

It’s thrilling when this happens. I’m not a musician, but I imagine it must be like hearing a piece of music being played, no longer uncertainly on the composer’s piano, but with gusto by a full orchestra for the first time.

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way…

‘I Can See Clearly Now’ / Jimmy Cliff

Any book, any article on how to write fiction, will break the subject down into its core components: How to build believable characters. How to develop conflict. How to add tension to a scene, to a chapter, to the plot… I’ve done it myself, as you will know if you’ve read this blog a few times. What none of us do is tell you how to stop, get out of the trenches, and see the whole. I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my own case, it’s because this isn’t something I can plan, it’s something that, if I’m very, very lucky, just happens, and then only rarely.

I’m not sure how essential such moments of insight are, or if they occur for other authors. It’s possible I’m just weird. Hush. I love reading interviews with well-known novelists and short story writers, and I don’t recall any of my many heroes talking about experiencing that sheet lightning moment during their re-writes.

To be clear, I’m not talking about a eureka moment. Eureka implies sudden inspiration, a sudden spark of creativity. This is more a mid-creative flash of insight that results from a prolonged period of deep immersion in the project. It’s a Zen-like state of clarity and receptiveness. The work is spread out before you with all its excellence and all its flaws, and you are able to accept it for what it is. In that moment you can see what needs doing. This is the moment when you realise you are missing a small but significant character; you can identify that one line of dialogue that is a line too many; spot where the ending has betrayed your vision, no matter how perfect you thought it was when you wrote it. All of these things strike you at once and you can see not only the work as it is, but as it can be if you can hold to the vision and resolve the issues. This is the moment where the patterns emerge, where the theme reveals itself, and where the edifice holds… or crumbles.

To be honest, I wrote three books without reaching this sort of Zen moment, so I’m not saying it’s essential to your process that you achieve this state. All I can tell you is I believe the novels I wrote / am writing when I can reach this sort of insight are tighter, better structured, better written. The clarity I achieved in that moment of insight is evident in the work. That’s definitely true of the work in process. Being able to see the whole work in one instant enables the writer to understand the novel in a way a piecemeal approach will never allow. This is what I call the holistic approach.

So, how can you set aside years of writing-by-elements (scene, character, conflict, etc.) and start looking at your novel in a holistic manner? Well, don’t rush it. The holistic approach, in my experience, works best when you are pretty far through the rewrite. It’s only then that the novel is complete enough for you to be able to see it laid out before you. Just relax and let yourself become absorbed by the story.

As much as possible, try to work on your project in big swathes of time, over several days if you can. The more immersed you are in the work, the greater the likelihood of your being able to see the length and breadth of the project in one go.

Unless your work in progress is really long, I’d start with trying to read it all in one go, with minimal breaks. If necessary, set aside a whole day, or a couple of days to do this. Be obsessive and don’t dilute the experience with anything non-essential. That means no drinks out with friends, no television, no texting. Just you and the work. The idea is to completely immerse yourself in it so it consumes you.

One word of caution: If you find yourself getting bored a few chapters in, that’s a bad sign. Imagine how a reader will feel. Still, if it happens, you have still learned something. Try to note when your interest waned and make note of it. Don’t stop reading, though. This isn’t the time for analysis. You’re simply reading and letting the story flow through you. You can put your thoughts together later.

By the time you’ve finished reading the entire manuscript, you should have a strong sense of the landscape. The tone, the language, the characters, the plot: how they work together. Are they consistent? Is the story worth telling? What thrills you? What’s a dud?

Another caveat: If you’re still feeling emotional in your response to this process, you’re probably not ready for it yet. You need to be able to detach yourself so you can make the hard choices. What hard choices? Well, maybe you need to cut a third of the manuscript. Or kill a favourite character, or eliminate them from the story entirely. Passion is essential for first drafts, but rewrites demand the icy blood of a mafia don.

If you’re not confident of your ability to see the story in its entirety, and to do so dispassionately, then get thee to a Beta reader and beg for some help, because you’re going to need it. For all that writing teachers will tell you that characters are essential (they are), and plot is important (it is), neither of these alone will make a book work. A book must form a cohesive whole and it is this that you are trying to create.

Recently, I saw a movie that starred two actors I like. The premise was decent, the setting excellent, and I really wanted to enjoy it. But. It didn’t work. Why? Well, the actor was in a watered down French farce, and the actress was in a poorly-written romance, and never the twain did meet. It smacked of ‘writing by committee.’ Shudder. Rewriting individual elements won’t highlight these problems for you, only the holistic approach.

If you have already tried some version of this approach yourself, or if you decide to give it a go base on this blog, I’d love to know about your experience. Comment, please, and let me know how you got / get on.

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The Hinterland Festival Returns to Kells

Hinterland 2018This week, on the 21st June, in fact, the Hinterland Festival returns to Kells, County Meath. For the uninitiated, I should explain this is an arts and literature festival that comes with a uniquely joyous flavour of Irish craic. Everyone in the ancient town (you know, where the famous Book was found) gets in on the action.

The festival will feature interviews with authors, panel discussions, lectures, debates, and film screenings. Guests this year include Colm Tóibín, John Banville, Michael Harding, Catriona Crowe, Lisa McInerney, Roy Foster, Frank McGuinness and many more. The programme adds, “We’ll be commemorating 1918 and 1968 and Harry Potter at 21. We will have a full two day programme of children’s events and Litcrawl returns on Sunday evening to bring the whole thing to a rollicking finish.” Sounds like great fun, doesn’t it? So why would you want to miss it? Well, you wouldn’t, obviously.

For further information, check out the festival’s website: Hinterland

The Hinterland Festival runs from June 21st to 24th.


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Rock’n’Roll in the Sandbox

Best pal Jane has been visiting over the past week and we’ve had a wonderful time catching up. Yes, we talk on Skype every night, but it’s not the same. Now, sadly, she has gone home to glorious Yorkshire, land of savory puds, tea that could burn through steel, and the Brontes. And I am getting back to writing. Well, trying.

Whenever I’ve been away from my writing for any length of time, I start to get itchy. Not the hives type; the type that can only be cured by the scratch of a pen. Funny, but keyboards and computer screens don’t fit the bill. A typewriter might. There is something tactile about the beat of the key on the page, something rock’n’roll that a laptop just cannot match. By the same token, you can keep your smooth as silk pages and your flowing fountain pens, give me something scratchy. Scratchy is rock’n’roll. I don’t know what smooth is. Andy Williams, maybe, or Michael Buble. But NOT Rock’n’roll, baby.


I suspect I need the rock’n’roll attitude to stimulate my speed of thought. Once my brain has found its groove and the work is flowing, I’m able to think and type at my usual 80-90 words per minute. Yes, OK, on a good day. However, if I’ve been away from the work for a while, it takes me a little while to rev up to it, you dig? (Sorry, Starsky and Hutch reruns. Blame Huggy Bear.) I suppose it’s like running scales if you haven’t played the guitar for a bit. You need to remind your brain and your fingers. Unless you’re, you know, Eric Clapton.

There’s only one rule for the type of stuff I write while I’m getting back into my rhythm. It must be utterly without merit. Character sketches work well, as do bits of dialogue, or passages of description. I seldom try poetry unless it’s very silly. I like writing little bits of things and these can sometimes work their way up to whole scenes. Completely worthless ones, of course. Naturally, I avoid anything to do with the current work in progress. That feels too much like serious work, and right now I’m still playing. This is all sandbox stuff. Humour is good. Humour is fabulous. If I can make myself laugh, I don’t even notice the exercises filling the pages.

Writing scenes for your favourite comedy show, or sketches for your favourite comedian, can be fun, if your mind works that way. Don’t worry if the stuff is rubbish. These are just ways of having fun, after all. It’s not like Billy Connolly is really going to do your routine about the taste of postage stamps.  Or sing your rap about Donald Trump’s hair.

The idea of playing in the literary sandbox is to remind yourself why you love writing. It’s to whet your appetite for the project so you’re eager to get back to the task at hand again. This is play time, so go on, play.

Just to add to the entertainment value, you might want to keep a special fun notebook and pen just for this purpose. A journal with different coloured pages, one that you doodle in, use glitter pens, and unleash your inner twelve-year-old upon, is just the thing.

Don’t wait until you’re stuck to have fun in the sandbox, either. Play there on a regular basis. Crank up the stereo, play air guitar, and write your own lyrics to your favourite tunes. I know, it’s only rock’n’roll.

But I like it.

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N3 Warriors

You really bond with a person when  you share a life-and-death experience with them. You learn their history, their hopes and dreams, their favourite flavour of ice cream. Sometimes you even learn their name.

Yesterday morning, my companion was a woman a little younger than myself. Tall, fair, Amazonian. She’d had surgery on her back and had only recently started to walk without canes. I flashed to an image of a Michael under each arm helping her around.

“In my spare time, I help the disabled walk. Not a lot of people know that.”

Not that sort of Caine.

I go into silly mode when I’m trying not to panic. The reason: the beast known as the N3 loomed before us. This is the N3:

Image result for n3 motorway kells to navan

I know, EEK! right.

You see, the thing is, generally when you take the bus from Kells to Navan and tell the driver you’re going to the hospital, he’ll remind you there’s no bus stop there, then he’ll say, not to worry, take a thirty second detour, and he’ll drop you right outside the gates anyway. About 90% of the drivers are happy to accommodate their passengers, or at least they used to be up to a couple of months ago. Recently, however, they have, to a man — Bus Éireann drivers are predominantly male — refused to make the very slight detour (we’re talking a difference of one turn and no time delay) and insist on dropping the hobbled and infirm at the stop before the hospital which is on the N3 motorway. See EEK! picture above.

Pause for suitable gasp of horror.

Now, to be fair, the motorway doesn’t always look like that. At certain times of day it’s fairly tame. Still, it is a dual carriageway and there is traffic, and the people going to the hospital are not going to present any challenge to Mo Farah. It’s only a matter of time, you know what I mean?

In the meantime, the gang and I hold hands, hold our breath, and hold our bowels while we leap across the multi-lane motorway. Then, once we’ve crossed that hurdle and conquered the north-south onslaught, we get to do it again with the east-west. Oh, the fun we have! Mary, who I met last month, told me she’d just had surgery on her knee. I think that’s what she said. It was hard to tell over the sobbing.

Leonard, who was limping quite badly, said he’d been threatened with amputation, but he told them to feck off. If he could handle the N3 during rush hour, the doctors presented no challenge to him whatever.

We’re a fierce lot, most of us. We’re thinking of getting tee-shirts made with N3 WARRIORS in day-glo colours, because some of us will have appointments in December and we’re not sure we like our odds. At least bright colours improve our chances of survival by about 1%. Leonard’s a mathematician. 

Some of the gang prefer to go it alone. They’d rather strut (I use the term very loosely. It’s hard to strut on crutches) without anyone’s help. They don’t want to bond. If anyone ever makes a movie of our adventures, the mavarick will be played by Viggo Mortensen. I’ll be played by Judi Dench. We’ll share an if-I-were-thirty-years-younger moment before he ends up with Emily Blunt. Sigh. 

In the meantime, the life and death battle with the N3 continues, and soon the mornings will get darker and icier and the death part a lot less academic and far more terrifying.  

Seriously, Bus Éireann, this is an easy fix. 


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