Variety at the John Hewitt International Summer School

“Raise your hand if you identify as more than one thing.” That’s what Raymond Antrobus instructed us – the people gathered at the Market Place Theatre to hear his poetry – to do.

We all raised our hands, and this was when the theme of my week at the John Hewitt International Summer School really sank in for me.

Officially, the theme was “Facing change, shifting borders and allegiances.” When I first read it, it struck me as a little odd; like something that was better suited to a political conference than a writing school.

But that’s the thing: there’s crossover there.

John Hewitt – the man himself – was as much a political commentator as he was a poet.

The quote from himself that kept popping up in various places was, “Celt, Briton, Roman, Saxon, Dane, and Scot. Time and this island tied in a crazy knot.” Which says so much. About being everything and nothing, anything and something. Being complex. Multivarious. All of the above.

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Five Years Writing FanFic!

When I first heard about fanfiction, I thought it was a fantastic idea. I didn’t start reading it right away, however, and I told myself I was not – absolutely categorically NOT – going to start writing it.

Why? Because I recognized it for the rabbit hole it was. I knew that if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop.

Regardless of knowing that in advance, though, and no matter how much I told myself I wouldn’t give in, temptation finally got the better of me.

And, as it turned out, I was right. Fan fiction kind of took me over, just like I thought it would. Do I regret that, speaking from my place now five years down the line? Nah! It gave me a lot of writing experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise and, aside from all that, it was fun!

It’s still fun.

If and when I get traditionally published, I plan to continue with fanfic on the side. Granted, I’ll no doubt have a lot less time to devote to writing in other people’s worlds, with other people’s characters, when I’m also trying to focus on my own, but I’m no longer in denial. I’ll still dabble any chance I get.

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Letter to my Past Self

Dear Eighteen-Year-Old Ellie,

First things first, you change your name to Ellie. It’ll take a while for you to figure out, but the person you’ve been to this point isn’t the real you. More on that later. In terms of the name change, though, it’ll be easier for you from a practical point of view if you do it before you go off to university. Getting people to call you your preferred name is a lot easier when it’s the one you introduce yourself as.

And speaking of university… I know you’re excited, but don’t study forensic science, it will kill all of the interest you have in the subject. Also, you don’t have enough knowledge about politics outside Northern Ireland to study criminology. Come to think of it, you don’t have enough knowledge of politics inside Northern Ireland, either. I know you have a lot of strong opinions, but most of them are ill-informed.

The world is not as black and white as you think it is.

I know this is going to come as a pretty huge shock, but you will lose your faith. You will make your peace with that. I promise it’s not the bad thing you think it is. Honestly, the change makes you less of a dick. Religion, as you’ll find out, is mostly a tool used by privileged people to hate and oppress others. You won’t want a part in that once you’ve seen the damage it can do first hand.

Try and minimize your own personal range of damage. Don’t hate on your own gender, or those who make decisions differently to you. Learn to listen instead of arguing ­– you are better than the example that has been set for you.

You are not your mother.  Continue reading

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Armagh Here I Come!

I’ve already announced this on social media but, in case you missed it, or if you wanted further explanation of what it all means: I have been awarded a full bursary to the John Hewitt International Summer School this year.

This summer school – based in Armagh, Northern Ireland – runs all of next week and is an intensive programme of events for writers.

There are talks, workshops, theatre shows, showcases, panels, exhibitions, and more (see table, below). I’m about as excited as I am intimidated.

The list of people taking part is impressive and, here’s the best part, I’m getting it all for free! This is made possible via the bursary scheme, which offers the opportunity to people who wouldn’t be able to avail of such events and teaching otherwise, and is funded in part by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. My particular bursary sponsor is the Community Relations Council.

For my set of three creative writing workshops, I’ve picked studying fiction under Bernie McGill, though I’m sure I’ll glean lots of things about poetry from other parts of the schedule, too. Oh, to be spoilt for choice! Already I have my reading material for the week picked out, though I’m not sure where I’ll find time to read the book of poems by the man himself.  Continue reading

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Things I Wish I’d Known About Counselling

I finished a series of counselling sessions recently which I found very helpful. I’ve had good counselling experiences before that, too, but I’ve also bad ones. Because of this, and because getting help can be a daunting experience, I wanted to impart some advice. So, here’s some things that I feel should be common knowledge but aren’t, necessarily:

1. There are different types of counselling

There can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health because we’re individuals and all of our issues are entirely unique. When most people think about counselling, they imagine sitting talking through their issues, either one by one as they occur to them, or as a kind of word vomit that they’ll then sift through (hey, no one said it would be pretty). This is ‘talk therapy’ and it’s what I personally prefer, but there are a million other ways of doing things. Some will suit you, some won’t. Some are best suited to dealing with different kinds of things, it depends what you want out of therapy. If you want to change or stop a destructive habit, for example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) might be for you.  Continue reading

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Story Triage

One of my husband’s favourite authors is Dan Abnett. Recently, he was reading a book by him (The Magos – part of the Warhammer series) and was surprised/amazed/amused to hear him describe a little bit of his writing process in the introduction.

Dan writes a lot of books – his Goodreads page lists him as having 1,403 distinct works – and, by the sound of it, he has ideas for at least ten new writing projects for every single one he completes. How does he carry all of that around in his head? Well, imagine his brain as a waiting room…

“At any point in the last decade,” he said, “I could have told you, in order, what books I’d be writing this year, next year, and sometimes the year after that.” He explains that most of his novels “plan their visits” months or years in advance. “They line up, take a number, and then go and sit in the waiting room, glaring at me, surrounded by their carrier bags of reference books, clutching their lists of problems and demands.”

On the other hand, some of his books “turn up without warning.”

Sounds intense, right? I’m sure most writers don’t ascribe to the same system, and almost no one else to that degree or volume. But when my husband read me the introduction, awe in his voice, I looked back and him and was like, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Which is to say, I’m not normal either and I’m thankful for it.  Continue reading

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On Headspace

It’s been just over a month since I published a blog post about having limited time/energy and how that finally made me decide to cut out some things from my day-to-day.

Before that, I had been trying to cut back on my responsibilities for a long time, gradually decreasing the number of hours I spent volunteering and doing client work; because I was strongly aware I was doing too much but couldn’t find another way to live. I can’t think how many times I burned out just in the past two years.

For a while, it seemed like I was going to be permanently exhausted no matter how much I tried to lessen my load, because it was still too much. Nature, they say, abhors a vacuum. Well so, it seemed, did my calendar. Before I even began a month, it would be filled with so many appointments and events that I felt exhausted just looking at it. Not exactly the best start.

The problem, I think, was the mental energy my responsibilities were taking more so than the physical work or literal hours. I get anxious, and everything seems worse in my head. Overwhelmed became my state of being.

So how’s it been, now that I’ve gone from trying to do less to literally giving up some of my roles? In a word: amazing. Finally, my calendar is under control and I can actually think straight. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference it’s made to both my mental health and to my writing.

What a novelty, I can actually write! You know, that thing that was always supposed to be my main priority and the main reason I tried to do all of the other things to “support” it.

The number of blog posts I’ve been able to write in the past month alone speaks volumes. They’re like my journal to the world, bringing all of my thoughts and feelings into a single narrative and making sense of them. There’s a direct correlation: if I’m blogging a lot, my mind is processing things well and not just stuck on sending out distress calls.

The way I was[n’t] functioning before was counterproductive. Now I’m back to being productive, and nothing makes me happier than getting shit done.

Lesson learned; experiment successful. Yay me!

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Another Six Months of Books

Now that we’re into July, it seems like high time I update my reading progress again. This time last year, I had read thirty-seven books across several genres. This year, my total goal for the year is fifty-two and I’ve read thirty-four so far. Not too shabby!

So, here’s what I read:

Novels

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