I started the day writing.

This is the first day of resuming my writing life since getting home from my sojourn, free writing, walking around with some characters that have taken residence in my head since The Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank. Fortunately they are a family that travels light. Then I had a poem revisit me. It was a single line that I had previously doodled poem around. This time there was a fragment, an underscored word that came out of our last workshop with Clare Shaw in Manchester. Memory can be so selective. Fortunately, in creative writing the dust bunnies of your brain are completely recyclable. My creative writing life is still in Renaissance.

My room got redecorated while I was away. My pictures aren’t back up on the walls so it looks like very blank canvas. I walked down the corridor for the official unveiling to see a sign posted. Novelist’s Room

Writing makes us vulnerable; self-doubt an occupational hazard. To have that faith and support is so precious. Thanks, honey! Not every writer, women writers especially, have that level of good will from their nearest and dearest.

While I was away the daffodils began to bloom in the fairy garden. I spotted the first primrose on the dog’s potty walk early this morning. Lots of lambs have been born, fleece still all pristine. A neighbour has put a donkey in the next field. Our rural life mirrors the sense of renewal I am experiencing in my writing life.

One of our cats, Zymina,must have missed me. She a fairly reserved outdoor girl who has taken up residence at my feet, purring fit to power the national grid for the past three hours. The dog has crept under a corner of the duvet close beside her. She started life known as the unsociable Skitty Kitty. Obe is congenitally deaf and has some attitude issues. These two are bonded. They have no fear. In their individual ways they express love for each other and me. We’ve established our boundaries. We respect how we communicate.

In a way, this cat and dog are great teachers in character development. Also that love casts out fear- of there not being enough love or understanding to go around in the animals’ case. For my writing life: fear of inspiration running dry, obstacles and funks, of what wild exhilaration would happen if it all came together, of not getting published/getting published.

When it all comes alive in my head and I find the words matching the image- that’s love.

Bee Smith has just landed back home in Cavan from a fortnight’s sojourn to the Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank and Manchester. The course was part of the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme funded by the EU and Leargas. The programme was the brain child of Cavan County Council’s Arts Office and Social Inclusion Unit.



I’m locked away again today with the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign dangling from the doorknob.  When I finished  my 1,200 words yesterday I wasn’t sure where my almost teenage boy was going.  It appears the hormones have already kicked in or perhaps it’s also his nature, but dialogue is not really his thing.  So I went to dinner last night wondering if I was stranded with this strange, inarticulate boy, who admittedly has some sterling characteristics. I like the boy.  It’s just dialogue isn’t his way of communicating.

There’s no point losing sleep about it or pushing the river.  So I did some knitting last night before bedtime and figured something would turn up.  I’d been using Mark Illiss’ suggestions for character development.  I figured out what could be a secret but that didn’t help me out with where I had left him in the kitchen with his mum.

At 6:30am I woke up. I picked up my notebook, which was beside the bed.  I began to expand on some of the Arvon character development exercises Mark gave us last week. I scribbled for about ten minutes.

Those close to me know that I do not voluntarily or easily wake at 6:30 at any time! But here I was awake and somehow I knew I would get him out of the kitchen and even though he’s not a talker I’d figure it out. I knew he was going to meet with a kid from his school.  And I knew one other thing about him.  He was smart but he also wants to be happy.  Both those things are relative and so far in his short life mutually exclusive.  I also knew that this kid embodies the qualities of wolf.  Wolves are pack animals but they can also effectively operate as lone wolves.  I took him out of his pack and watched how he operated as a lone wolf.


After breakfast I wrote another 1,400 words having imbibed four cups of tea. (Why are the cups so minutely sized in hotels? Do I know need to add my own mug to the packing list?) At breakfast I actually managed a little civilised conversation, which is probably a first for this trip.   (On the first night I warned my companions that I don’t really talk until I’ve had a lot of tea; it’s not that I don’t love people, it just the effort is too Herculean in the morning. Mornings are bruising experiences for the likes of me.)

I had to stop right before the story concluded for lunch.  My mother brought me up to be prompt and polite.  So I saved the document and went down to meet with the group who have been either working away on their own projects in their rooms or doing a workshop with Kate Ennals.

We are off to the Lowry Studio Theatre tonight where I’ll get my ear attuned to how a dramatist works dialogue.  I’ll also be watching out for any less articulate characters to see what the actors convey with body language.  While we have some people particularly interested in writing drama on this fortnight, observing the characters’ dialogue will help us all.

A friend posted an article on Facebook this morning “18 Things Highly Creative People do Differently” (I kind of  hate all these  ‘numbered’ articles so popular on the web and with SEOs, but I forgave the writer just this once.)  It is certainly true that we need solitude.  Yet, I have witnessed some creative colleagues over last week write in very public areas of  Lumb Bank.  And yes, creative people do seem to have a way of growing roses when they are showered with shite.  They are noted for noticing – people, details, EVERYTHING – as well as being  change agents.   I could relate to a lot of the listed characteristics in the article but one thing it didn’t mention was that creative people tend to cluster.  Julia Cameron writes about this in her Artist’s Way book.

We are a creative cluster this week, envoys of creativity from Cavan.  As we talk over dinner or in workshops we are striking sparks on the flint of creation.  We don’t work in a vacuum. It’s not a competition. It’s the great unfurling of creation, the wise spiral that is our DNA.

We were all born to create.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts and the Social Inclusion Unit offices.

Embarking 2


We’ve departed from the creative cocoon of Arvon’s Lumb Bank and are now ensconced in a Manchester city centre hotel where I can hear the Toytown toot of the tram crossing Piccadilly Gardens. It’s been sunny since we arrived and how often do you get to put the words sunny and Manchester in the same sentence?


Over the week we worked on poetry skills, character development and plot. We arrived rather nervous for our own reasons.  But by the end of the week we were welded into a peer group of writers, the writing being the equalizer and counting more than any amount of previous experience.


I now can stop vexing myself to death over poem line endings thanks to Carola Luther. Mark Illiss has contrived to blow me out of any kind of comfort zone into the free fall of fiction writing.  Did I write a short story last week?  Or is it something more, a novella if not a novel?


There was some very brave writing that was shared at our Friday night gathering.  Taking my lead from my travelling community of Cavan writers,  I am taking a leap of faith and scrapping my original project.  I have locked myself in my hotel room with the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign posted.  I plan on being here for  most of Monday and Tuesday.  By then I hope to know if this a short story, or sequence of interlinked short stories, a novella, or a novel.  My friend Claire started an MA in Novel Writing and is going to bring me over some reference books.

do not disturb

Taking pointers from our exercises in character development with Mark I’m fleshing out one of the secondary characters of the story I read in our Friday night performance of work in progress.  I want to see where he will take me.

And no, it’s not a murder story.  Just because you want to kill someone does not mean it’s a murder mystery.  Everyone wants this character dead because he is a truly vile human being.  This villain will have to be humanised and given some redeeming characteristics by the time I’m done with him.  Although my tutor Mark seemed to think it odd that I had moral qualms about killing off such a reprobate.  Pacifism may not be a bonus for fiction writers.

I’ve tapped out 1,200 words this morning and mulling where will this child character lead me.  He’s not a talker. I’ve found out that much. And that can be problematic for dialogue. Kate Ennals is our tutor for this week. Around 4pm I’ll trail downstairs to have a chat. One way round might be to have the non-chatty boy speak in first person so we can see his point of view.  But he is still a bit opaque. I’m not quite sure of his potential.  I may just need to let him reveal himself in his own good time.  Unlike his sister who has burst upon the scene in all her OCD fury.

I’ve also been contemplating how some people choose happy over smart as a modus operandi in their life.  Say you have a character born smart. Smart does not necessarily make you happy. You know too much – not just academic knowledge but the street wise smarts that help people duck and dive through life.   But what if a smart person disavowed smart life and elects happy instead? It’s an interesting life decision-making process. How would that manifest? What would a character have to do to get that ball rolling.   I have no idea where that’s come from or where that thought will go but it’s there, floating like scum to the top of my consciousness.

It’s all part of the Lancashire hot-pot of my creative writing life at the moment.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts and the Social Inclusion Unit offices.