Friday, 31 December 2021

That Was The Year That Was

And what a year it has been. I’ll start with the positives. I’m now five years clear of cancer, something I would never have dared to believe in those dark days of recurrences and bad prognoses. T and I have been together for eight years now: I truly cannot imagine life without her. We had a lovely holiday in Co Clare, our first trip away for eighteen months. I built a splendid new bike. And we gained two cats. On the other hand, T broke a bone in her foot and had to wear a surgical boot. I’ve had some recurrent dental problems. Our semi-feral cat, Ginger Dog, died of kidney cancer. And there has been a global pandemic.

My writing has had plenty of positives too, but these were the subject of a recent blog, ‘My Writing Year.’ And most of the highlights mentioned above have also figured as full blog posts over the past year. So I suppose, I should start looking forward into 2022. But that is difficult to do for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t really make plans for the future. I try my best to live in the here and now, and as the old saying goes, let the future take care of itself. To be honest, it’s not easy to do. The modern world is built around plan-making of different sorts. I learnt to live like this the hard way, through my cancer ordeal. And I go forward hopefully.

The second reason is the uncertainty generated by the pandemic itself. What is the point of making plans to do this and that or to go here and there, when these plans could easily become impossible or too dangerous to carry out? Living with the pandemic, has become a bit like living with cancer. Your life is under threat, but you don’t know when and where the disease will come to get you. The threat is with you everywhere. You can do the right things to defend yourself, but you can’t be sure that they will work. So this makes everything dangerous, provisional and insecure. The certainties of before (or what seemed to be certain) just don’t work anymore. And because my cancer treatment left me ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’, negotiating the pandemic is more complicated for me.

All of this makes life more difficult, but not impossible. The way forward I’ve found came from my cancer journey. I suppose it’s all about living within the bounds of the possible. Just beyond our front door there is still plenty of fresh air and plenty of space to enjoy it. We have computers that can connect us to family and friends around the world. And there are plenty of things we didn’t have time for previously that we can now get involved in. For example, over the past eighteen months, I’ve built two bikes from scratch, written a novel and published a second collection of poetry. When you can still spend your energy on what matters to you, life is good.

Here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year.

Friday, 24 December 2021

Festive Greetings

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Christmas, Dongzhi, Yule...

Whatever midwinter festival you celebrate, please stay safe.

With love from

P & T

Sunday, 12 December 2021

My Writing Year

Because I am classed as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, I’ve been forced to isolate myself from Covid-19. As a result, 2021 has been one of my busiest ever writing years. Exactly a year ago, my second collection of poetry, The Skylark’s Call, was launched. On Zoom of course, with readings from my guests Moyra Donaldson, Kevin Higgins and Damian Smyth, supported my members of Queen’s Writers’ Group. A year later, most of the first print run has been sold and over £200 has been raised for Cancer Focus NI. And on top of that, I’ve just completed the second draft of my novel. The working title is The Cut. It is a crime thriller set in a fictitious English town in 1961.

Promoting a new book during the series of lockdowns we’ve had over the past year has not been easy. I’m very grateful for the support of the independent book stores that have stocked the book. So thank you No Alibis, Books Paper Scissors, The Secret Bookshelf, Walsh’s and The Salmon Bookstore. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to give public readings of my poetry over the past year. So thank you The Culture CafĂ© and Marie-Louise Muir on BBC Radio, Over The Edge and Susan Millar DuMars, The Poetry Garden and Jo Zebedee, and The City Chapter of Armagh Libraries and The John Hewitt Society on National Poetry Day. These last two readings being with a real live audience. I’m also very grateful for the support of my publisher, Dempsey & Windle, as well as the many people who have chosen to buy the book through my website and get a personalized dedication from yours truly. Thank you all again for your support, for the book and for the good cause that I’ve been raising money for.

Turning to my novel, The Cut. I’m very grateful for the excellent guidance and advice I’ve received from Curtis Brown. The six week novel writing programme I followed this Autumn was very intensive, but hugely beneficial. It helped me to identify the many flaws of my first draft and showed me how to resolve them. I ended up making some major changes to the manuscript. Such as cutting five chapters and plenty of scenes throughout, as well as cutting one character and sub-plot entirely. I started the novel at the previous chapter five. I rewrote parts of all of the other chapters, and I added fifteen new chapters and one new character. For the past three months, I’ve been getting up at 6am most days to start on it. It’s been immersive and very compelling work.

The second draft of the novel is much better than the first. The final report from Curtis Brown on my synopsis and the first two chapters was very positive. My plan is to leave the second draft until the New Year and look at it with fresh eyes. I expect to then be making a series of minor changes to the manuscript. Fingers crossed that these will primarily be refining and tidying. All being well, I hope to submit draft three to a selection of agents. Isn’t it strange, even the darkest situations can also give some light.