Nana – A Poem

Today is a day for family, and to remember.

I don’t know any other way but to turn to words in sad times.

My grandmother holds a very special place in my heart, and she makes me realise that happy memories make all the difference.

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Writing Tip of the Day: Ernest Hemingway

“I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’

So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.

The writer’s job is to tell the truth.”

– ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Image courtesy of poetryfoundation.org

La Vie En France: The Second Semester

I have only two months left on my Erasmus year abroad in the south of France and I can’t believe time is flying by so quickly. After much-needed catch-ups with the family and friends in Kerry – and my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding in Galway – I returned to Avignon at the end of January, and it’s been an absolute whirlwind of chaos ever since. After the freezing gale-force winds of the Mistral (as a friend said, “If you think it might be the Mistral, it’s not the Mistral”), the blushing sun of the last few days is serving as a lovely pick-me-up.

The Erasmus in France/Creative Writing experience thus far has been like nothing I had expected. As I blogged in September, the nerves were hitting in: I had just moved to a different country, with a different culture and a different language. Being a French resident for the last six months has helped me become more accustomed to life outside Ireland. I’ve definitely become more confident in speaking French and interacting with native speakers. I’ve noticed that it’s a lot easier for the Anglophone French to realise what a challenge it is to integrate yourself into an entirely new place and improve your language skills. I’m very glad that those students make the effort to speak in French with us.

On the creative side: I’ve put more work into my writing since September than I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve got my fantastic course at NUI Galway – and my editor, Geraldine Mills – to thank for that. It’s been a hell of a lot more hard work than I thought it would be, but so far I’ve had an absolute ball doing what I’ve wanted to do since the age of five. I’ve been writing all the time and got my first ever cover story published earlier this month by my university newspaper, Sin, on the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn’s, increase in college fees.

In the last few weeks, I’ve joined the ranks of the wonderful websites that are Studenty.me and Kettle, so I’m looking forward to writing articles for them. I think it’s great to have publications out there that specifically want student writers. Journalism is such a difficult industry to make your name in; the more credentials you have to your name the better, so I’m delighted that they’ll have me. I’m thriving on being involved with journalism. Even though I’m living in another country, each team has made an enormous effort to make me feel part of them. I’ll be contributing to Written in Ireland‘s online magazine as well, so make sure to check out that site.

I’m having a great time doing author interviews for writing.ie. Learning from other writers about what works for them will never stop inspiring me. I recently spoke to Tom Darling about his second novel, Summer, and he offered some great advice on writing – you can read about it on the site very soon. I’ve also set up a new blog specifically for Beauty, Fashion and Red Carpet blog posts, called Marése Martha, if you’d like to check it out here.

I’m terribly, terribly excited about everything that’s coming up on A Younger Theatre. The team have been nothing but fantastic since I started working with them. My interview with the internationally renowned performer, Michael Ball (currently starring in the West End adaptation of Sweeney Todd) will be published soon on their site. I’m also going to be interviewing English actress Jessie Cave, who played Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter films. My Want to Write? Blog is set for some amazing interviewees in the literary/journalism industry: I will be talking to Irish poet, Gerry Hanberry; the founder of writing.ie Vanessa O’Loughlin; TV3 broadcast journalist Sinéad Desmond; Irish children’s author Claire Hennessy; AYT‘s Laura Turner; novelist Sarah Webb; The Guardian apprentice Rhian Jones; Móna Wise of the brilliant Wise Words blog, who will be self-publishing her début book this year; and British children’s author Bali Rai (who is also now the Writer-in-Residence for Booktrust). Finally, I will also be interviewing a New York Times bestselling author for the blog…but I won’t reveal who that is just yet!

Michael Ball performing in Sweeney Todd, alongside Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Lovett. Image from The Guardian.

With the busy writing schedule and life in general, it’s been hard to utilise the great South of France base that Avignon is and find time to go travelling, but my trip to Paris last December with my lovely housemate Hannah – where I visited the most beautiful bookshop possibly in existence, Shakespeare and Company – worked wonders for me in terms of reminding me to stay positive about everything.

All set to go: TGV train ticket to Paris

Yes, alright, I was a little bit excited about Shakespeare.

Partyin' with Mona: Picture courtesy of Hannah O'Reilly.

I’m lucky enough to be going to Paris again in April for the last week of my séjour in France and I already know it’s going to be a bittersweet goodbye. I plan to fit in some more gallivanting around Marseille, Nimes and Arles before I head off home too and a couple of other cities if I have time. I’m not saying au revoir just yet!

London Calling

Time has absolutely flown this summer. One month ago, I returned from the unbelievable city of London, and I already want to go back.

London has a way of never letting you forget it. When it calls you, you have to answer.

Trawling through the maze of the city’s streets is an experience unlike any other. It’s incredibly vast, and with only four days to explore…we spent thirty-eight hours camping out in Trafalgar Square.

Madness.

From 5am on Wednesday morning to about 7pm Thursday evening, we took up residence in one of the most iconic squares in the capital. The final Harry Potter premiere was to take place, on Thursday the 7th of July, 2011, in this very spot. We not only wanted to visit the quintessential, historic London sights and spend more money than we had on shopping, but we wanted to be there when the epic film saga, based on the world-famous J.K. Rowling’s book series, came to a smashing close.

 

Our new home: Trafalgar Square

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 shattered records all over the globe, not only to become the highest grossing film of 2011, but is now the third highest grossing film of all time, after Avatar and Titanic, taking in box office sales in excess of $1 billion.

We, however, still had over a week to wait before we could flock into the cinema for the finale, and time was ticking ever so slowly away to the start of the premiere. Seventeen hours down, fourteen hours to go: it was the middle of the night. We were frozen, lying on one solitary blanket with jackets wrapped around us, huddling together for warmth. The stage setup’s bright flashing lights were whirling and spinning in every direction. preventing us from getting any valuable sleep in our makeshift tent.

Our lone voices began to sing. Our choruses of Disney classics and rounds of Abba songs sailed through the dark, amongst the mass of humans gathered in the Square, below the faraway shining stars.

The next day was spent clutching small umbrellas amidst the lashing rain, squashed against railings, and screaming our heads off with excitement. After waiting for endless hours and finally meeting the actors, hearing the heartfelt and tearful speeches by the cast and crew, and seeing Jo Rowling at the last HP premiere EVER…

…We were wrecked, emotional, deprived of sleep and food, and ready for our real London adventures to begin.

The following morning, being the literature enthusiasts that we are, off we trotted to Shakespeare’s Gl0be in Southwark for a tour of the reconstructed theatre. As we walked over the old cobblestones and spotted painted poetic quotes on walls, it felt very much straight out of the Elizabethan era. The theatre itself only opened its doors in 1997.

The Replica of the Globe Theatre, London

Since, I believe, there is no actual image of the Globe Theatre as Shakespeare would have known it, the faithful reproduction is based on authentic original drawings from Queen Elizabeth I’s time. Under the direction of American actor/director Sam Wanamaker, the atmosphere of the new Globe was created by the replication of techniques that would have been used to build theatres in the 1600s, such as a thatched roof, with no steel or use of amplification.

Inside the Globe

We treaded on famous names carved into stepping stones underfoot, were told about the walls made of goat hair (ew) and saw the stagehands setting up for the afternoon performance. There were a few costumes onstage for the ‘Anne Boleyn’ play later that evening, threaded with the utmost care and devotion; they were all handmade dresses, each worth a cool £10,000!

That night was spent with The Wizard of Oz cast at the famous London Palladium Theatre, Argyll Street, which has the most amazing location: just off Oxford Street. I hadn’t heard a live orchestra play probably since I was in school. The booming clashes of the ‘Over the Rainbow’ overture theme magnified a thousandfold throughout the massive theatre when we entered.

The spectacular visual effects, particularly the hurricane in Kansas, combined with the show’s powerful musical numbers and strong soloist performances to make it a truly fantastic production. The show’s cast even got a standing ovation from the audience at the end!

Our last day in London was spent by the River Thames in the beautiful Westminster (my favourite part of the capital), where we ran into Johnny Depp (“Cap’n Jack Sparrow”) and Charlie Chaplin beside the London Eye, as you do. I really wanted to experience the London Eye and see the whole of the city below me…

…except I did not really factor in my fear of heights. Hmph.

After a thorough security check, we hopped on the London Eye (and it doesn’t stop. AT ALL. You actually have to jump onto the pod, while the wheel is MOVING). Rising higher and higher into the air, the golden sun glistening over Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, the crowd below on the bridge became smaller and smaller, until all we could see were little human dots bobbing along beside the rumbling, bright red, double-decker buses.

By this point, I was obviously clinging to my seat in the middle of the pod, taking deep breaths and wishing for dear life that I was back on the ground.

Our view of Westminster from the London Eye. Photo courtesy of Shauna Cunniffe.

Once the half-hour tour was up, my feet were firmly and delightedly back on English soil (knowing that I would be thousands of feet higher in the air later when I got on the plane home. Very reassuring as you can imagine). My first and, hopefully, last time on the London Eye had been terrifyingly fun.

On the flight back home to Ireland, we were already missing our favourite city: the fact that when we’d got (BRIEFLY) lost, we had ended up on a landmark (London Bridge), being proud that we knew what Lines to get on at the Tube stations, and just the real friendliness of the people.

London is such an easy place to love.

The Blazing Sun on the Palace of Westminster

Least Favourite Book: The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

While I found it really difficult to decide on my favourite book (they’re all so brilliant!) from the collection I have amassed for well over a decade, choosing my least favourite book was possibly harder. My bookshelf encompasses literature that I adore – the first editions, the hardbacks, the signed copies – the books that make me love writing more and more every time I read them. They are the books that make life a little easier, by putting distance between me and the bustling, crazy world for just a little while. I already know my favourites, easily identified by the worn spines, the many bookmarks pocketed between their pages, and the familiar covers.

The books I dislike, however, have somehow magically managed to fade into darkness. They no longer loom on my shelves, half-finished, with the price tag still on the front. They have sunk deep into oblivion, with little hope of return. Selecting a favourite book was a mere matter of choice. Picking a least favourite has forced my mind to swim through murky memories of “Who edited this and left these grammar mistakes?!” and “How did this get published?!”, of which, thankfully, I have only a few.

There is a clear difference between abhorring a book for its subject matter (which I will discuss in later posts) and loathing a book for the dodgy writing within it. It is the latter that is the focus of this particular post, with the culprit being the novel The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly (2011).

‘The Little Women Letters’ by Gabrielle Donnelly (image from chicklitreviews.com)

I personally am not a passionate fan of the original Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, although I have read and enjoyed it. Stuck at the airport early this summer, I was browsing the Fiction section and happened upon the newly published sequel. Raising my eyebrows, I knew how much pressure Donnelly would be under in order to live up to the expectations of the diehard Alcott fan. I mean, you’d really only write a follow-up book to Little Women if you really knew what you were doing. Donnelly flails about trying to do justice to Alcott’s creation, which results in an exaggerated attempt at the production of an authentic sounding voice when she writes from the perspective of Alcott’s famous character Jo: “Bless the infant, she is the reddest and the squallingest baby you ever did see!”

While I am putting this down to nervousness on Donnelly’s part in following the renowned Alcott’s footsteps, her terribly prolonged protagonist descriptions worsen the situation. She dedicates entire paragraphs to each character and their blow-by-blow summary as she introduces them to the reader one after the other, providing information she could easily have popped into another part of the novel, or cut altogether. “[The character of Emma] wore well-cut trousers for work, and for leisure jeans in the winter or flowery skirts in the summer, which she topped with shirts from Zara or Whistles.” At no point in the book does the fact that Emma shops in ‘Zara’ become a major plot point, I hasten to add. It doesn’t really enhance Emma’s character at all. It merely feels like Donnelly needed more content for her word count.

The Pressures of Writing

Donnelly is also guilty of ignoring the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule that pretty much every author knows is part of learning how to produce great writing. At one point in the novel, she states, “Fee and David Atwater were a happy couple” (and she continues in this same vein for another paragraph, of which I have quoted only a snippet here): “Both agreed that the space his travels put between them did their marriage good. Whatever the cause, their marriage was a strong one”. The end of this tirade, however, reveals their contented relationship to the reader with one little action: “After nearly thirty years of marriage, [they] still reached, almost unconsciously, for each other’s hand when they walked down the street.” That wonderfully composed sentence makes me want to shake the editor for not taking out the rest of the paragraph!

Donnelly certainly has her writing strengths: dialogue seems to be where she shines most and it is this device that she employs throughout The Little Women Letters to divulge more of the characters’ personalities. “‘Are you sure you want her there? She’ll complain about London, and make comments about Lulu’s hair, and get that disapproving look when Lulu and Sophie start to crack jokes.'” Donnelly does saturate the book in dialogue, but it really is one of the novel’s redeeming attributes in the context of the writing quality.

The respect that she has for Alcott is undeniable, but, in my opinion, Donnelly fails to provide a worthy tribute to the classic and immortal tale of the four young girls from Little Women.

‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott, first published in 1868