Monday, 15 August 2016

RESEARCH TRIP - NOVEL #4 & MONK'S HOUSE

I'm at the final research stage for novel #4 Becoming Belle - this is my 'walking the land' time. So I went to Sussex and Hampshire to see where my character lived as a child and where part of the action of the novel plays out. Aldershot and Heathfield were my two main places and I really enjoyed the museum in the former and a good walk around the latter. Because I was in the area I had to visit Virginia Woolf's country retreat in Rodmell: Monk's House.

Monk's House
Fireplace in the sitting room
Window group - yellow tray by Vanessa Bell or her daughter Angelica
The dining room at Monk's House
For those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you already know I was there but, because of some confusion, I want to state now I am NOT writing a book about Virginia W. I wrote a short story about her ages ago (which I now see a hole in...) and a poem, but there are no plans for anything else.
Pear in the garden
I've been reading VW's diary in preparation for the trip and, if I was one of those monsters who mark up passages in books, the pages would be destroyed. It is so full of wisdom, insight and lit gossip, as well as self doubt and anxiety. I find myself nodding along, and pausing a lot to write down quotes, as I read. This passage I identify with: 'Is the time coming when I can endure to read my own writing in print without blushing - shivering and wishing to take cover?' Word, Vee.


It's fascinating that someone of VW's genius couldn't gauge her own success and/or brilliance. We make the mistake, I think, of presuming that succesful/brainy types are very aware of how good they are but, most likely, they are not really aware, objectivity being difficult and all that. Roald Dahl's wife was saying something similar about him on the radio this morning - he didn't fully realise his own popularity. VW talks a lot about praise in her diary, regarding her writing, and how it affects her.

Juno on the bowls lawn
Monk's House was magical, anyway, even moreso than I expected - it was one of those serendipitous afternoons where everything seems to align and we were full to the brim with the beauty of it all as we wandered around. The approach is a small country lane, packed with pretty houses with abundant gardens. It was a gorgeous summers day, sunny and windy. My heart was in my mouth as we entered the gate and my 7 yo daughter Juno was giddy. 'It's so exciting to visit Virginia's house!' she said (though she actually knows very little about VW). My happy anticipation had clearly rubbed off.



All of the staff were informed and welcoming but unintrusive - basically you can walk the house and grounds at your leisure, which I really enjoyed. The house is furnished still with VW's belongings - and her husband Leonard's: painted furniture, book covers VW made for her Shakespeares, her sister's and other friends' artworks. The volunteers had fresh flowers from the garden in pots and vases; everything is rustic, homely and organic. All of it so earthy and pleasing to look at.

The 1929 extension - entrance to VW's bedroom

VW's bedroom - the narrow bed!

I love that the success of VW's novels meant they could improve Monk's House: new plumbing, an extension, a new kitchen. My novel Miss Emily built our beloved sun-room, a fact that pleases me every day.

Sitting room table, painted by Duncan Grant
There's an amusing passage in VW's diary about other people's houses (a pet peeve of mine also), she talks about 'chill superficial seemliness' and 'mercantile smugness'. (My own beef is with rooms that lack personality, rooms that look 'done' and showhousy, rooms full of boring, crappy furniture and no art.)


Happy selfie in VW's glorious garden


The garden at Monk's House is the real star: it is enormous, abundant and has fantastic views over the East Sussex Downs. It is set out in different areas: an orchard walk, an open lawn, glasshouses, a walled garden, and lots of country cottage beds.

VW's writing lodge

VW's writing lodge is in the garden, nicely secluded and elevated. The bit where she wrote is behind a glass partition so you don't feel immersed in the space as such, but it's wonderful to get to see it nonetheless.

It's appropriate that the couple's ashes were scattered in the garden - they bought the house because of the garden's 'shape and fertility and wildness' and VW talked about the 'pure joy' of pottering there after they had spent their first weekend in Rodmell.

You could make a portrait of VW - Juno's is bottom left
Here's a great blogpost from Miranda on what to read if you plan to visit Monk's House.

So, apart from fruitful research for novel #4 and a magical trip to Monk's House, we drove a lot, found a pub-less town, went to a mini zoo in Tilgate Park, visited the wonderful charity shops for my beloved ceramics and glass (blogpost soon at Edna O'Blog), and, naturally, we ate cake, most notably in Pretty Things in Horsham - a great find by the husband when I asked him to go and find somewhere good. Score :) It was a gorgeous trip and I was grumpy coming home. But, back to reality and all that. And it's a sunshiney day in Ballinasloe, I wrote this morning, and I am going to take a walk shortly and think about the new scenes needed in Belle. All is well.


Paddington 'meets his cousins' in Pretty Things




Neapolitan cake

Raspbo & carrot cake and Choc Ganache cake

Thursday, 11 August 2016

WRITING AND SAILING RETREAT - SPAIN


Inline image
Adm Wyeth

Here's something marvellous from writer Adam Wyeth. He is conducting this magical writing and sailing trip around the Balearic Islands this October. I spent two weeks on Majorca many years ago (one of two 'sun' holidays I have taken) and it is a stunning part of the world. All details below:

Kingfisher Sailing Boat

If travel turns us into storytellers, what better tale than a story of the sea. From the birth of Western literature with The Odyssey, to contemporary narratives, the sea continues to inspire. For those who dream of being a writer, Kingfisher Sailing is offering the ultimate travel package to help unlock that potential.

Bespoke

Family-run business, Kingfisher Sailing, has announced the first in a series of new sailing experiences available this year. Whether you’re an aspiring writer looking for practical tips or a complete beginner looking to find your voice, the company is offering a unique opportunity to enjoy a week’s sailing combined with a creative writing workshop devised and facilitated by an award-winning writer. Sailing among the beautiful Balearic Islands on the 3rd – 9th October 2016 (£895 per person, full board) the trip includes the opportunity to become an active member of the yacht’s crew, no previous sailing experience is required.

The package comprises of a week on-board a beautiful yacht with award-winning poet and playwright Adam Wyeth, author of two books Silent Music (2011) and The Hidden World of Poetry: Unravelling Celtic Mythology in Contemporary Irish Poetry (2013), and just ahead of the publication of his third book The Art of Dying.

The Balearic Islands, rich in history and myth, have been drawing writers for centuries. The trip combines a sense of exploration, along miles of unspoilt coastline, with specific locations designed to support the course material. With onshore visits to ancient sites and villages, such as Taulas of Menorca with its ancient stone megaliths and the cultural centre of Palma, there will be plenty of opportunity to fire up the imagination.

Drawing inspiration from these stunning locations, Adam will explore key writing topics, including general hints and tips, plot development, characterisation, sensory perception in descriptive writing and the role of metaphor and myth, to name a few. The workshop will be conducted through a series of group sessions and one-to-one tutorials, with Adam on-hand to help with any problems. Under his expert eye, participants will have the opportunity to explore style and ideas with someone who understands the process, whilst getting a unique insight into the life of a writer and his much anticipated third book.

Accommodation is on-board the beautiful 65 foot yacht, Klaus Störtebeker, recently launched back into service following an extensive refit which has returned the boat to her former glory, creating contemporary accommodation for up to ten people. As well as writing and sailing, there will be plenty of time for other activities, as the pace is set by each individual. There will be time to swim, explore or simply relax.

Adam Wyeth comments:

“In literature the sea is a symbol for the unconscious so the connections with writing run very deep. The course aims to give practical advice whilst allowing time to explore different texts. Like an ocean voyage to new worlds, every writing exercise is a trip to the unknown, you never know quite where you’ll end up but you know you’ll come out of it a new person in some way. Writers are navigators of the imagination. The trip promises to be a fascinating experience and the ultimate escape.”

Retreat
This could be you in October!

Creative writing Balearics

7 days • 3-10th Oct 2016  • £995pp • 8 places available

Great writing is all about imagination and surprise and there’s no better way to free your mind than to escape to sea.

On this unique vacation you’ll be an active crew member as we sail around the beautiful Balearic Islands while taking part in a exciting creative writing workshop devised and facilitated by award-winning poet, playwright and essayist Adam Wyeth. No previous sailing experience is required.
These islands, rich in history and myth, have been drawing writers for centuries. Adam has created a unique series of workshops with fun exercises and games, many of which will be inspired from the sea and mythology. With onshore visits to ancient sites and villages, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to fire up the imagination.

The atmosphere will be inclusive and creative, and as intensive or laid back as participants wish to make it. Group sessions will be complemented by one-to-one tutorials. Adam will be informally on hand to help with particular problems that students may encounter.

This creative writing sailing holiday is suitable for those with some previous experience and for complete beginners. All you need is paper and pen and your imagination. As well as writing and sailing, there will be plenty of time for other activities: to swim, explore or simply relax.

Some of the of the workshop exercises will include:
  • The art of speed writing or stream of consciousness writing
  • Finding your voice
  • Keeping it symbol. Exploring how symbolism can deepen your work.
  • Plotting and shaping a short story or novel
  • Characterisation, conflict and angle
  • Avoiding cliché and subverting it
  • The importance of myth and giving it a modern twist.
  • Tackling poetry forms
  • Looking at metaphor and simile
  • Rewriting, editing, polishing
  • Using literature as models and springboards for writing
An unforgettable week exploring the imagination and the beautiful Balearic Islands. Prepare to be inspired.

Please note, we require a minimum of 4 guests to run this retreat. If you're interested in joining us and would like to receive more information once dates are confirmed, then please contact us.

For further information or to make a booking visit Kingfisher Sailing.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

SHANGHAI AFTERS & PICS


Chairman Mao at the uni
Pudong district buildings and the Huangpu River from the Bund
It has been a long, long week since I got back from China. I spent the last two days of my Shanghai trip confined to my hotel room with food poisoning which was not fun. I also fainted at Shanghai Airport and woke up on the bathroom floor (with a sore head) surrounded by kindly airport officials who called doctors (help comes in multiple figures in China). Mortified! Anyway, I was let on the plane but it was a long, hard flight and the combined smell of noodles and perfume almost did me in. I got home eventually and have had a bit of a lost week of sleep, sickness and general dullness (with two exhausting forays to Dublin for a gig and a wedding.) Whatever bug I picked up does not seem to want to let me go :(

Huge duck, Fangsheng Park

Anyway, up to that point the trip went well. We got to see a little of the city (vast, smog-lidded, high rise blighted) and we enjoyed the International Short Story Conference as always. It's lovely to re-connect with old friends/short story lovers.

Aquarium eel

Looking up a shark's rear end at the aquarium :)
My fave thing and I didn't have much :(

Communing with penguins
My husband and I had some time to explore Shanghai so we went to a bazaar (again, vast) and to the aquarium (I love belugas and they had three), to lovely Changfeng Park (beside our hotel) and to the Bund to see the amazing modern buildings. The heat was incredible (30 to 35C and humid) so we would walk for a bit, then hide for a bit in anyplace that offered air-con.

Bazaar
Bazaar
Jetlag, oncoming illness, and pre ice-cream mania...
Large waffle cone in YooShake - is this the food poisoning culprit?!!
Food was difficult for us as veggies so we did not dine well overall and I have no idea where I picked up the bug. Maybe an ice-cream bought from a park stall? Or one eaten in YooShake? Who knows...

Ann Luttrell at Dashu Wujie
Baby courgettes and mushrooms
Lotus hearts
The Irish contingent were delighted to have dinner at gourmet vegetarian restaurant Dashu Wujie at the invitation of Zhao Lihong, director of the Shanghai Writers' Association. The food was incredible: lotus hearts with asparagus, teeny tiny courgettes, tofu and seitan done in many ways, avocado wrapped in beetroot etc. We talked Cork (Zhao Lihong has been published there),Yeats, Wilde and the Irish language with the help of interpreters.

Jamie O'Connell introducing me and Alan McM
Alan McMonagle

Me reading my story 'Napoli Abú' from the conference anthology
Tracey Slaughter, NZ
At the conference, which took place in the East China Normal University, I enjoyed many readings by the likes of Gish Jen, Yiyun Li, Robert Olen Butler, Clark Blaise, Felicity Skelton, Katie Singer and her daughter Kayla, and my friend Alan McMonagle (we read together).

NZ panel: Tracey Slaughter, Jack Ross, Frankie McMillan,
Leanne Radojkovich, Bronwyn Lloyd
I really, really enjoyed the panel of New Zealand writers who were as down to earth and vibrant as one might expect. NZ author Frankie McMillan also gave an interesting paper on flash fiction which is having a renaissance in her county. Inevitably at a conference so vast it is impossible to get to everything but, considering I felt pretty unwell most of the week, I got to lots.

Clark Blaise, Robert Olen Butler, Gish Jen and Yiyun Li
There weren't many books for sale at the conference but I managed to get Gish Jen's s/s collection Who's Irish? and it is totally brilliant - funny, deep and informative on the Chinese immigrant experience in the States.

Wigdresser

Shanghai was as hectic and strange as I'd expected (it was my first time to Asia). The clichés stand up: lots of overloaded bicycles transporting odd goods; funny signs 'translated' into English; lots of hawking, nose-clearing and spitting; copious amounts of bullfrog and pig intestine on restaurant menus; a sweet and friendly populace.

Welcome sign in the s/c beside our hotel
Sugar Report - a café in the s/c and its cryptic/appropriate message

Sweet shop
A very empty Shanghai Tesco
The whole 10 Yuan shop (or a €1.40 shop)

Because my eating forays were so haphazard over there, I took pics of cakes especially for John Foyle, who always enjoys the foodie aspect to my travel posts. Here you go, John. Enjoy!

Chocolate bread at Ichido, French bakery
Cream buns at Ichido
Ichido
Bun(ny) - I was too sick to eat anything but his bready ears :(