Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Anam Cara Diary

Anam Cara Diary

Tuesday 11.
Arrive early, at 6.45 pm, having had a very quick journey from Cork Airport. I have hired a car, and been allocated a Toyota Yaris. Seems OK although the headlights are not very bright on full beam, and it doesn’t pick up enough speed to overtake fast. Dark, rainy journey.

I have my usual room, with a view over Coulagh bay to Dingle via Kilcatherine. Not that I can see it in the dark…

Supper is a fish pie cooked by Sue, using fish delivered fresh today. It is lovely to see writers Sue Guiney and Kate Beswick, both of whom I met here a year ago, and good to meet Jill, a Welsh lady now resident in Ireland for a long time. She is both an artist and an art therapist working with psychiatric cases, and is working on a Masters thesis.

After supper, Sue and Kate are going to read their work in front of the fire. I love this. One of the best bits of the day, I feel it balances the creative stuff. I need to break the block of not really feeling at ease writing what I am, so tentatively share with everyone over supper what happened on the abortive MPhil. The unanimous response is supportive, and I decide to read from the piece I want to concentrate on this week.

We all settle in front of the fire, all the writers, Sue the Boss, and Jack the dog. (Jack gives his editorial opinion by leaving the room if he disapproves…)

We all read, all have constructive feedback. Readings finish at 11.pm. I go to bed feeling better. Still a little nervous of writing tomorrow and finding the words won’t come.

Wednesday 12.
Walk into Eyeries to buy a pad of paper and a pen. What psychological gremlins are at work that I forget to bring these?

Work all morning identifying the right words to describe the replacement character. I don’t want him to feel like an interloper. Change quite a bit of the language of the opener, several times, until it feels ‘rightish’.

Work for an hour after lunch.

Go for a ‘reading’ from Mary Maddison, the ‘Stone lady’, the local seer, who is a great part of the theatre of life in this place. You sit with your feet in a great bowl of tiny semi-precious stones. And you pick more, from larger stones, and shells, and from looking at this lot, she tells you all sorts. Then she reads the stones that stick to your feet.

It feels mad writing this. When you are here, it doesn’t feel like that at all. You just take it as natural. In her garden, Mary has a pyramid, built of pine, I sat in there for twenty minutes and thought about not a lot. But felt very calm. I might well go back and get the key and sit in there again, despite hitting my head on the very low lintel on the way out. (I am 5 ft 3 ½ ins!).

Back to Anam Cara really looking forward to working again on the story - and get two more hours of writing done before supper- a Tex Mex extravaganza.

The others decide to watch an old film. A perfect excuse to duck out, go back to my room and do more writing before bed. I take a herbal tea up with me….zzzzzzz.

Write for another hour, get to an OK draft of just over 3000 wds, into the story (which is sitting at 8,000 very raw and rambly at present, wrong characters and a lot of blather, and no ending scenes)…with new character in situ. Happy. Happy.

Read poetry ‘how-to’ book in bed, with the window open, listening to the waterfall outside in the grounds.

Sort of minor blissful.

Thursday 13
Minor blissful maybe, but before going to sleep I follow one of the writing exercises in the book, and create images of a journey from sleep through subterranean passages floored with light.

It seems to set the mind teeming, and although I sleep, I keep waking with lines of poetry in my head. Some get written across the notebook by the bedside. Naturally, in the depths of sleep, they are the work of genius.

This morning, things look a little different.

However, after breakfast, (at which Sarah Palin is a perfect target for verbal assassination) I write the first attempt at last night’s poem. Quite like it, which is always dangerous. As I am saving it on my Macbook, I open the ‘Poems’ folder I started this time last year, for my first attempts. It is good to look at stuff that was of course the work of genius a year ago….nuff said.

Return to the story, and fiddle with the character again. Transcribe and tidy/expand/enjoy a further 2000 words. Work until 1.00 pm, and go for a walk in the rain before lunch.

Over lunch, discuss what we’ve done this morning. Make plans to share work together again this evening. Talk to Sue Guiney, who has taken poetry to schools, and had the children’s work set to music. We decide to have a cuppa together later this afternoon to talk about working in schools as writers, and also about markets for poetry.

Back to work.

By 4.30 the wordcount of the fair draft as far as it goes, is 6,250 or thereabouts.

I need a break. The next section contains a death, and I need to be on form to kill off a character.

I brought several books, among them “All Quiet on the Western Front”. I curl up on my lovely double bed (all rooms have huge beds, with oodles of pillows, duvet, blankets, cushions..), wrap myself in a blanket, and mean to read.

I sleep, instead.

Then spent an hour with Sue G before supper, swapping market information and details re some writing associations. Sue has a novel published with Bluechrome, and her ‘play in poetry’ also published as a collection by Bluechrome, has been performed in London. She is an accomplished and well published poet and her advice is invaluable. It appears that publishing on the net in the poetry world is fairly meaningless in serious CV terms, even more than prose…. I have a list of good print magazines to target.

After supper the four of us spend a couple of hours round the fire, reading our work and giving feedback. I shared a couple of poems, and had great feedback about a changed line or two.

Friday 14

The first two hours were spent worrying at this character again. Having written a further 1000 wds or so, I realised that I had removed an element of the ‘old-new’ character that made the ending flow… so had to reinstate it all. Hmph.

Word count now over 7000 wds by coffee time, and nowhere near the ending yet. I am fascinated to see how long it is going to be, at complete draft stage. Hoping to get to the ending at least in ‘think-note stage’ today sometime.

After lunch, I take the car and the other writers to visit Kilcatherine and The Hag of Beara. We all bring a gift - coins, bright pieces of coloured paper. We drive for ten minutes through the mist. Then we pick our way over the mud to the Hag. She needs visiting, and I go each time I’m here.

The story goes that she lost her man when he went to sea and was drowned. She promised she’d wait on the headland for him, and stayed there, looking out to sea, hoping, until the wind turned her to stone. People bring her gifts. And tell her their dreams and wishes. The crevices of the stone are filled with coins, messages, crystals, bits of ribbon, messages scribbled on bits of paper.

(Madness? Not really. It doesn’t feel mad when you are here. And that’s one of the things about ‘here’…)

Delighted to see that a little stone I found on Dursey and gave to her two years ago is still there.

Also visited Kilcatherine churchyard.

Back for a cuppa, and by 5.30 my draft is still only at 7500.

I am finding displacement things to do, like mad…avoiding this ending. Hmph. Need to take self in hand, I think. Give self a talking to.

Mind you, a squillion texts from number two son about surfing next summer in Cornwall are a tad distracting too!

At 6.30 ish, I set a fire going in the sitting room, and curl up with a glass of wine and a poetry book – a bit cross that I haven’t succeeded in doing the ending scenes of my story.

This supper is Kate, Sue and Jill’s last supper, as they are leaving tomorrow. There is a tradition here that those who are leaving choose the meal… and they have chosen roast chicken, followed by pears poached in red wine, with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce.

But the best thing is that Kate has finished her novel. Today. She was advised to rewrite two pivotal chapters that seemed underwritten, and has spent this week completing that task. So, a project that has taken several years is finally done and ready to go out to agents.

Kate has brought champagne to celebrate. We down two bottles, and as Sue B doesn’t drink much at all, and as I also had a glass of wine beforehand, I end up feeling very squiffy.

We are reading and feeding back until midnight. My feedback is strange… like it’s in a language I don’t understand - ‘But this is already a novel… what’s the problem?’… when I don’t believe it is.

Before turning out the light, in bed, I realise I have bitten the nails on my right hand. Haven’t done that in years.

Saturday 15

Breakfast is like a therapy session, the conversation is about digging at the things that make us react as we do as people, and as creative beings. How we create our own barriers.

Lunch today will be at 12.30, as Sue G and Kate are leaving early. Sue has a driver to take her back to Cork airport. He seems very nice, and she uses him each time, and they talk in the car all the way. It costs not much different to hiring a car… and on balance, I think I like the solitude of a car journey, the independence once here, and above all that sense of being totally grown up because I have crossed a different country all on my own, in a strange car.

(I didn’t drive until quite late. I lost a friend in a freak car accident in my last week at school, the Sixth form, in North Wales, … have never really liked driving.)

But by lunch, the story sits at 9000 words. I have managed to assemble all the ingredients for the final scene, and already the piece is 2000 wds longer than any other edited single piece I have ever written. I feel slightly wobbly…

After lunch, Jill and I decide to go for a walk for an hour, taking Jack the dog, It is misty. Low cloud on top of the hills behind the house. As we start out, it begins to rain, so we walk along the road and down to the strand, along the strand to where the river meets the bay, then back home. About an hour or so.

I fall asleep on the bed, curled in my duvet, then Jill knocks to say she is leaving… tis sad to say goodbye. I hope we meet again. I have plans to write about her book on the blog when I get back.

Write until supper time, by which time the story is 10,120 wds and the ending is almost done, bar the shouting… feel very accomplished even thought the thing is a draft… its OK.

Pat self on back.

Pat self on back!

Supper is lovely, just Sue and I in the kitchen. We have haddock in a lemon, red wine and leek sauce. And we talk.

Later, I check the file to make sure I haven’t made it all up, this stuff about stories coming out at over 10000 wds!… and edit some of the spelling… I was doing the last thousand words typing blind, a tee shirt over the computer screen. Final edit of this draft in the morning, I think, and the last paragraph…

I go to bed with a collection of poems edited by Sue’s good friend, the American poet Billy Collins, the friend who sent Jhumpa Lahiri here in September.

Sunday 16
I decide to stick to the same routines, even though it’s just me and Sue here now.

By 10.30, and after a natter over breakfast, I am back in my room, polishing the ending of the story. Funny what happens when you type fast with something over the screen! There are a zillion typos, some paragraphs seem to have married each other and had kids, and the formatting has gone to pot. Must have hit some function keys!

But as I polish, the word count keeps growing.

And when it is finished, just in time for lunch, the final word-count of the longest story I have ever written is 10,813.


After lunch, I take Jack the dog for a lovely walk, two hours, to the rocky coastline near Eyeries. We explore the rocks, and the fields behind the beach which isn’t a beach at all but lichen-covered fingers of dark rock, and black water breaking.

When I come back I make a fire and curl up to read All Quiet on the Western Front. And I flip back and forth between that and North, by Seamus Heaney. They seem to go together.

Monday 17th

My last day. It crosses my mind that today I was meant to send the finished piece of the novel in to Glamorgan, and it is a real relief to consciously think I don’t have to do that. No way could I have written it this week if I was still ‘there’.

After breakfast, the wind is howling. A storm is brewing. The rain is lashing down from Mishkish Mountain. I return to my room with my reading books, and get into bed fully clothed, as the room is chilly (I’ve turned off the radiators, which I loathe with a passion) and start to read the Seamus Heaney.

The words of each short line rise off the page into me. Each image settles somewhere under my ribs. After a while I have to put the book down to think.

And I wake up at one o clock….

During lunch, we have a visit from Terry Black, the local storyteller. He joins Sue and I at the table after protesting that he mustn’t stay, and an hour later this lovely man is still with us, telling the stories he is so well known for. Hilarious.

“The day we stole the geese from the nunnery” is truly priceless. And every word is true…as is ‘How the boys from these parts learned to swim so well’… (the boys and girls had separate beaches, and the priest used to sit with his book on the rocks in the middle….so the lads had to swim miles out to sea and back if they wanted to catch a glimpse of the girls in the buff…. It was strange how the girls used to change facing the sea… )

The afternoon is spent in front of the fire with the dog, listening to the wind howling louder and louder, beginning to worry about the drive back to Cork in the morning. I read Heaney. I also read an excellent book of exercises for creating poetry… and spend a long time doing several exercises, to create some images. Or not.

But I do begin the creation process of several poems, to work on at home.

And as it’s my ‘last supper’ Sue makes me what I choose. I choose fajitas, made by someone who adores Mexican food, so they are suitably authentic and absolutely delicious.

And the fire is still going for the late evening….a little turf on the coals, and the room is filled with scent, round and rich…

Before turning in for the night, I show Sue the photos of my sisters, on my blog, and ones of the youngest, who is a well known makeup artist. Sue retires to bed, then her door crashes open… #she’s turned on Sky TV and the fist programme was some make up award ceremony… and MY kid sister compereing…

Of course, I missed it… but what a coincidence.

Tuesday 18
Drive to Cork, (two and a quarter hrs) check car in, buy newspaper. Read newspaper. Do Sudoku on plane.

Chris drives to Gatwick to meet me. Lovely man.


So. I check back what my objectives were, and how far I met them.

Story rejigged, edited, new character done, rewritten loads, ending written. Story 10800 and finished. Task completed.

Second story not touched. Task not completed. It was far too close to the last story. Silly idea!

Poetry: Wrote the start of at least six new poems. Completed many creative exercises, and have lots of material to work on. Talked through stuff with Sue G, and tweaked an important line or two as a direct result. Task completed.

Reading. Did I say I would read?

All Quiet on the Western Front.
North, Seamus Heaney
The presence, Dannie Abse.
Anthology put together by Billy Collins.Including a poem by one of Ireland’s finest young poets, Leanne O Sullivan… (Two collections from Bloodaxe and she’s only just out of the egg!) I’ve met her here, as her Mum Maureen does the cooking for workshops.

I’m happy.


Sarah Salway said...

This sounds bliss. Anam Cara is one of the places I've wanted to go to - you've just convinced me!

Sarah Hilary said...

I'm so glad you had a wonderful trip and that you're returning happy. How was Kate? I talked and talked with her at the supper we had in Bantry in July. Anyway, congratulations on such a successful 'recharging', V. Lovely to have you back. xx

Tania Hershman said...

Wow, it sounds wonderful and wonderfully productive. Makes me wonder what the hell I am getting up to here... and miss Sue's cooking like crazy, as well as Jack, ahhh Jack. Amazing. Well done, you really made great use of your week!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Sarah (S)... I would like to go there for a months at least twice a year. One day... it is such a positive place. And the structure of the days works with you. I can recommend 100%!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi other Sarah!

Kate was on great form, and I was so delighted for her, finishing the novel. Its been a privilege to listen to some of it, as it gestates. Russia, Paris at night in the 1920s...

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi T

It was very good setting out my objectives, here, before I went. It spurred me on, as well.

I am so sorry that wonderful place you are/were at isnt working quite as well. What seems to work at Anam Cara is the synergy that comes from other creative beings making their stuff under the same roof... sharing, sinking in. Relaxing into it. All orchestrated and presided over by Sue.

I just read this diary back... so much SLEEPING in the day... I never do that normally. Obviously needed it!

Tania Hershman said...

Well, that is one thing I am doing a lot of: sleeping. Obviously it's what we both needed. That is a vital part of the creative life, most definitely!

Douglas Bruton said...

'Happy'.... that sounds like just the tonic you needed.

Sounds like you ahd a wonderful time.


doris said...

It certainly sounds like much progress was made - and batteries recharged. Ireland is a magical place, you bring back many memories! I'm glad you had a good time.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Douglas... yes, thanks... now the challenge is keeping it all stored safely!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Susie

I am SO looking forward to meeting you. Yes, ireland is magical... I wish we could up stumps and move, but I dont think our sons would quite understand!