One Day Courses at Big Smoke Writing Factory



The Spring season of writing workshops is really getting into full swing now, and I’m delighted to have a few one-day courses coming up at Big Smoke Writing Factory.

These are great taster sessions for anyone who would like to get into creative writing, but who may not be quite ready to commit to a full-length course.

In April, I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Creative Writing on Saturday 1st and Beginning to Write Poetry on Saturday 8th. These great value courses run from 11-4, and I can guarantee a lot of fun, and a lot of writing.

42nd Hennessy XO Literary Awards 2013

So, on Tuesday night I won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award.


Myself, Ruth Quinlan and John O’Donnell with our prizes

It’s very difficult to write about these (rare) instances of success without sounding smug – but I think it’s also important to mark the occasion, so please excuse any gloating and here goes:

I really didn’t expect to win anything this year. I had attended the awards in 2011 when the lovely Afric McGlinchy won and on that particular evening I was in knots, terrified and excited and hoping against tiny hope that I might win something. I was a little disappointed when I didn’t, but not surprised and absolutely delighted for Afric, whose poetry is musical, intelligent and rich with memorable imagery. This year, I approached the event feeling a little older and wiser, simply ready to enjoy the fact that I was invited to a cocktail party in the French Ambassador’s residence (on a Tuesday, no less!)

The other nominated poets were all extremely talented – Helena Nolan, Jane Clarke, Michael Ray, Jessamine O’Connor and Patrick Toland and I had absolutely no inkling that I might be in with a chance to win something. Hearing my name read out for the Emerging Poet category almost knocked me over and when I was called up to accept the overall prize I thought they’d have to take me out of the building on a stretcher. I managed to hold it together for my (completely unprepared) speech, but I’m pretty sure the Perspex lectern betrayed how badly my legs were shaking. This makes it sound like an ordeal – it wasn’t – it was fantastic (which, co-incidentally, was the only superlative I could come up with in the interviews afterwards. It was fantastic fantastic fantastic. Poetry howareya.)

Me and Declan working the red carpet.

I’d like to mention at this point that the work of the other category winners was really excellent. John O’Donnell’s story
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Finding Words

As someone who writes poetry and prose, I spend a lot of time thinking about the best words – the best words in the best order, if you will. Often, however, I find myself frustrated at my own limited vocabulary, my tendency to use the same words and my irritating inability to summon the words I need when I want them. I seem to have come up against the limit of my own capacity to learn new words. I make an effort to assimilate a new one, use it several times in conversations in which it doesn’t really fit, and then forget it again. I wonder if this is a common experience?

I have a beautiful Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus set that my husband bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago. I also have a copy of Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary. These tomes sit accusingly on my shelf, a living embodiment of all the knowledge I do not possess. I brought them to Annaghmakerrig with me in an enormous suitcase last summer and didn’t look at them once. Faced with them, I experience the same anxiety I felt when I started to write poetry; I knew that to improve, I would have to do a huge amount of reading; to find where my voice sits alongside the voices of modern poets and to  unravel the mysteries of their relationships with other poets, both classic and contemporary. But where to begin? I had a slim Sylvia Plath volume and so I tried some Ted Hughes; there was a Selected Yeats in the house, so I tried W.H. Auden; finally, I bought myself the selected Derek Mahon and breathed a sigh of relief. Here was something I could identify with; something that excited me and challenged my notions of what a poem could/ should be. But where to next? The microcosm of poetry can be dizzyingly diverse, sometimes unwelcoming and utterly mysterious. So can the macrocosm of words themselves. Some people slip into the stream of words and paddle around happily, never suffering a crisis of confidence. Others, like me, find themselves overwhelmed.

‘Unputdownable’ (Guardian) ‘gripping’ (Times) and ‘very long’ (Daily Mail)

So how do I cope with this anxiety about my vocabulary? I have a plan to make proper use of my Dictionary/ Thesaurus set, but that hasn’t been put into action yet – in my current nomadic lifestyle I have no dedicated writing space and my dictionaries are locked away in the attic of my rented house.  In the meantime, I’ve decided to try to concentrate on clarity rather than worrying unduly about the impressiveness of the words themselves. I would love to be making use of words like simulacrum, solipsism and sybarite on a regular basis, but for the moment it’s not to be. I hope that my attempts to achieve clarity and precision will mean that readers of my writing can appreciate a message carried by words both humble and familiar.