Friday marks the last day of workshops as well as the last time that we as a group will be able to hear each other’s finished work.  There is a lot of scurrying around after an inspiring workshop with poet Clare Shaw, author of Head On and Straight Ahead, both published by Bloodaxe.   We did several exercises of free writing with triggers on subjects like home, packing, and saying goodbye.  Since our check out time is 11am tomorrow and we have an evening flight back to Ireland all of those subjects are surfacing in our consciousness.

I’ve shared a poem on what to pack for the Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank in a previous post.  Clare’s exercise on packing also had us look to what tangible and less tangible items we would be taking back to Ireland with us.


On a literal level my suitcase is on its last legs. It tends to tip skew-whiff at every curb and the handle takes a man to wrestle it in the up and down position its that sticky. I think this really will be it’s last big adventure.  I liked it. It’s grey so doesn’t show all the travel grubbiness.  I slapped on an ID sticker I was given at the Chamber St. Hall of Records on September 22, 2009 when I was doing some genealogical research in New York City.  The sticker with a grainy head shot of me makes it easily distinguishable on the baggage belt on arrival.

Of course, I both over and under-packed.  We traveled to a country of uncertain weather during the month when the weather seems to suffer from bipolar syndrome.  I had to buy two short sleeved t-shirts because it turned unexpectedly warm. I came with three books, passed a novel to the maid service and bought three more.I brought too many pens and herbal teabags.   I got tired of the tidgy teacups in the hotel and bought myself a mug. I decided that it was love and not just infatuation and bought a new handbag, which accomodates my mini-iPad perfectly and is teal blue. I weighed in at the airport at 12.5 kilos and have 7.5 to spare. I should be okay on the tangibles.

In our workshop today Clare Shaw told us that she admires poet Selima Hill who she has quoted as saying “All poetry is love poetry.” One of the themes that has been rattling around my brain for sometime is the Biblical injunction “Love casts out fear.”  With any kind of writing we make ourselves vulnerable. Clare asked the group to articulate all those things that hold us back from writing the truth as one sees, feels, tastes or hears it. It’s not just the inner critic.  It’s also that social constraint, “who do you think you are to call yourself a writer?!”  It reminds me of a Radio 4 programme in which Eavan Boland tells about writing workshops with women in Ireland.  She asked them if they would go home and tell people where they lived that they were writers.  A participant is alleged to have piped up, “Oh, no, they would think I was the kind of a woman who didn’t wash her curtains.”

I’ve arrived at an age where I don’t give a hang what you think about the state of my curtains.   So I guess I’m packing some attitude.

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.


I introduced the idea of Wobbly Wednesday to the group.  Many of us were tired to the bone, mind weary, brain banjaxed. But we kept writing.  So Carina introduced a game characterising the days of the week.  After Wobbly Wednesday comes Terrific Transforming Thursday and Fantastic Friday.  It’s amazing that when you give a thing a positive tag that you manifest the energy. Thursday was transforming as we all picked away at our personal writing bug bears.  One of the things that helped clear the cobwebs for me was to take a walk out and look around Piccadilly Gardens.

Listening to the complicated but harmonising rhythms from a group of African drummers shook something loose in my brain.  I am a djembe drummer myself so enjoyed a chat with a guy from Guinea who was doing some interesting counter rhythms on a hollow wood instrument. He did tell me the name but I didn’t write it down. (Note to self: you are now of an age that writing down new things is essential to hardwiring them into memory store.)

Another note to self: It’s good to keep at it but it is also essential to get out and look around and get a fresh perspective.  If you can’t get into your writing groove, get off your arse and see if a new sight, sound, smell or sensation shake up  the brown bag of creativity, transforming stagnation to metastasis.

transforming, Lowry Studio Theatre

We had a second excursion to the Lowry Studio Theatre last night to see a touring Irish production.  I don’t bandy about the word awesome.  It implies profound and a lot of people think some less than profound things are awesome. But believe me, “Silent”, written and performed by Pat Kinevane is awe inspiring as well as a profound examination of bigotry, alcoholism, mental illness and homelessness.  It’s a ninety minute tour de force by Pat Kinevane who channels several characters, including Rudolph Valentino.

This might sound terribly worthy and off-putting. But the show is also a belly laugh in a very Irish way.  Coming away from the theatre Kate mused about what exclusively English audiences would make of it.

What I made of it was a burst of pride at how marvellous and moving theatre is created in such a tiny country as Ireland.  Fishamble is a Dublin-based theatre company nurturing new writing for theatre in Ireland.  They can justifiably be proud of Kinevane’s achievement. That he garnered Fringe First award from its Edinburgh Festival show makes me glad that audiences outside of Ireland can understand the universality in its particular Irish context.

An actor friend once told me that actors were the first shamans.  Transforming is part of a shaman’s job description.  Kinevane,  in creating this theatre experience moves, reflects, provokes, nudges, winks, howls and utterly transforms htransforming, Lowry Studio Theatreow you may perceive homosexuality, suicide, homelessness, mental illness and alcoholism.  Not too many taboos left out from that list.  I’ll be watching out for his other plays.

What was also a real eye-opener was to see how the Lowry Studio Theatre is so flexible in staging.  On our first excursion it seemed a really well equipped but recognisable studio theatre. At the opening of “Silent” a blind slowly rose like a curtain along the side wall of the theatre revealing the canal basin as part of the stage set. Genius!

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.


If you stay in a tiny hotel room with ‘Do Not Disturb’ for too many hours in too many days you are in danger of frying the brain circuitry. At least you are if you are me. My room is a fine little writing nest. Although having a mirror facing you while you type on your laptop is a bit  disconcerting. (I wound up throwing my Tibetan shawl over it.  And tonight I will wear it to the theatre. I love multi-tasking travel wardrobe items.)   A colleague, Ita, has a similar layout in her room. She’s used the mirror facing her desk as a trigger for a poem.  In search of further writing triggers I joined the main group on an outing to Manchester Art Gallery yesterday.  Time for some fresh air, see this Manchester sunshine and get some inspiration.

I have to say that I love getting to know a city by the civic art collections in their art galleries.  It tells you a lot about the people who got wealthy and endowed their city with their art collections instead of leaving them to relatives who probably don’t appreciate them and would sell them, breaking up what they collected over a lifetime.  I’ve lived in and visited many cities over the past 58 years and the ability to browse art galleries spontaneously is probably the only real disadvantage of living in a rural area.  But then I do get to look out on some pretty awe-inspiring landscape from my desk at home. And when people used to dump defunct cars my husband and I would  joke that they were Tate Prize art installations.

Wandering around the galleries in my memory I revisited other galleries with Old Dutch art. I always seem to gravitate towards the Dutch art masters.  It’s a sentimental choice now. I love looking at the faces and scrutinising all those interiors.  Once, in the Dublin Art Gallery I came face to face with a portrait that so reminded me of my Aunt Betty it practically conjured her ghost. There is some multi-generational, colonial Dutch heritage but I never really thought she favoured her maternal line. But there she was looking me in the eye from a 17th century portrait. Which, come to think of it, would have been around the time the ancestors would have been bravely leaving Holland for the New World.

There were several pieces that grabbed my imagination but this is the one I’ll share with you.  It is by a British artist, Hew Lock,  who grew up in Guyana.  As a school child he learned that it was a huge crime to deface the Queen’s head that stared at him from his school jotter.   Then he made Medusa in 2008, a piece using plastic, metal, textile on plywood, and MDF.

Medusa, Hew Lock, 2008, Manchester Art Gallery


It’s Queenie! It’s Lilibet!

Sprouting a black baby doll

A thought form snaking

right out the top of her head

(but  that was Zeus

who birthed babies that way)

Empire surrounds her-

a gorilla peeks from jungle,

there behind her left ear,

the last ibis on Gibraltar,

rhino horn out of Africa,

wasp nest of England,

a scorpion at her breast,

beads are waterfalling her cheeks,

(an exotic Mata Hari touch that),

plastic teardrop jewel moustache,

gold flashes, her coronet

edible flora and fauna.

The colonials have colonised

Her Majesty.

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.


We went to the theatre last night. We caught the tram at Piccadilly Gardens and road to the end of the line to Media City and the Lowry.  Our tickets were for the Studio where there were two one act plays, The Wardrobe and A Letter to Lacey.

The plays are part of the National Theatre Connections 2014 spearheading young talent- script writers, actors and directors.  The Lowry Youth Theatre performed both plays; this was the first time two from the company had been plucked to direct a play.  They had mentors, so they weren’t thrown into the deep end. But what an opportunity for young people!  The theatre is a fully kitted out professional set up with expert lighting, sound cues and music.  Knowing some of Leitrim’s excellent regional theatres I still felt a stab of envy for the extent  of staging equipment they can tap.

The Wardrobe by Sam Holcroft explores secrets and shame through the ages starting with an historic wardrobe belonging to Elizabeth of York, future mother of Henry VIII. During the course of the play the wardrobe witnesses the ages. Some set pieces work better than others.  The scene with two secret Jewish boys in 17th century York worked particularly well I thought.  The young actor playing Daniel was outstanding- character, voice projection, textual understanding – all pitch perfect.

While all the young actors are to be applauded I felt rather sorry for the actor speaking the section delivered completely in Russian.  She was great! But I was so distracted by thinking “WTF has this got to do with what’s come before?” that I got lost.  Not the actor’s issue.  It’s a point that the writer might need to readdress.

Having got that quibble off my chest, may I add that the non-naturalistic staging and the actor’s company minuet like scene changing is a credit to Young Creatives Director Will Bishop.  He really welded these teenagers into a precision army.  I am sure there are adults in awe at this achievement alone.

A Letter to Lacey by Catherine Johnson has the more traditional beginning, middle and end story arc.  The challenge was the subject, domestic violence, and its insidiousness.  The play addresses the inter-generational aspect of domestic violence as well as denial of it within families.   The cast was excellent, with three actresses playing the lead character Kara at various stages of her journey through love, disillusion and ultimate liberation.

What always surprises me  when I see stage productions is how certain actors just shine on stage. There was a red head who played a number of minor characters so vividly that I felt that we definitely had a future jobbing character actress in the making.  With Granada Studios not fphoto(3)ar off I’d not be surprised if she continues her acting apprenticeship with a turn on Coronation Street in the near future.

Since domestic violence has cropped up as a theme in my own short fiction writing these past couple weeks Catherine Johnson’s play was particularly interesting to me. Even on my ‘off’ hours I seem to be working or researching.

We have another visit to the theatre at the Lowry Studio tomorrow where we will see an Irish touring company. By this time I think quite a few of us have varying degrees of homesickness. Although there is also a buzz of excitement to see how they do Paddy’s Day in England!

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.


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.