Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jazz Writin'

Charlie Parker.

Diana Krall.

Ella Fitzgerald

Peggy Lee

Thelonius Monk.

Oscar Peterson.

Today I was up in the Tigeen writing some complicated dialogue that needed to read well and effortlessly.

Normally I just listen to the sound of the ocean, its distant soughing on the stones of the beach, trees sighing and rustling around me, birds flitting mindful of my privacy.

But today I tried a jazz soundtrack in the background. I created a playlist for the book I'm winding up. My protagonist is a jazz singer in the style of Peggy/Ella evolving towards Diana. And I wanted the rhythm of jazz in the talk. If that makes sense.

And I was surprised.

It worked.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

September Month

First blasty winds of winter scoop down today, shovelling leaves from trees, flattening the blades of grass to a green ocean, scattering the cornflowers.

Shoulds crowd my head. I should make rosehip jam. I should paint the spare bedroom.

Oh yeah, and deadline for first readership lineup of book looms ever closer. I should be editing, should be fixing that last chapter.

But I worry. Next door they are burn-clearing a hill. Smoke hangs like a pall over everything and then gets scooped up by the wind and filters through windows and doors and lurks, gasping, over the bay until the wind snarls it up again and throws it against distant houses.

What if?

I run to the post office to send back some library books. So I don't have to look at the flames licking the vast hill about 500 metres from my house. But I smell it even 5 km away.

Yeah, they ran hoses across my property as a precaution. I gave them permission for this. But the fire starters/carers are about 12 years old. How would they know anything about flame-killing if the trees catch? Or maybe it will leap across the grass over the fence and on to my house?


Now unfounded.

Day is done.

The winds are intense and noisy but warm.

I will take the dog for a walk along the shore. As is our wont at this time of day. I love watching the waves pound up the cliff on the other side of the bay and then fall back exhausted.

Much like me.

Worrying about nothing knocks me right out.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014


When I was growing up emotional extremes were a defect of character. As if I could change my intrinsic nature. Even though at times I wanted, badly, to toughen up.

Yes, I feel life too intensely. And my feelings are often worn on my sleeve. Or shut away so tightly (you might see the real me, you know) that it hurts.

Like those quilts in the wake-room. All hand created by my friend Patricia. Thrown over every surface, every chair. Every piece of scattered fabric in her life tied together so beautifully, so creatively. Colours of the land and the ocean and the boats and the wonderful drenching of colour that residents flood their buildings with. All you had to say was "I wish I had one of your quilts" and next thing, she was on your doorstep with one.

Picasso is honoured. Why aren't these handcrafters of such beauty so respected? Women's work of course. There should be many female only art galleries, flooded with the colours of the creations of artists like Patricia. With knitting and embroidery and weavings and crochet and lace. And many, many quilts.

It seemed like my floodgates opened today. I had been locking so many tears inside me, for what seemed like a month or two.

It was Jennifer Johnston who started it. I am reading "The Gingerbread Woman". And it struck chords. And more chords.

Life is about loss, isn't it? Mainly the loss of what went before. What formed us. What ignited us. What sustained us. What we leave behind. She writes of this like no other I've read.

And I had myself a really good cry.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Humble Heroes

I wrote about her here she's one of those dear ones locked in my heart who will forever inspire me.

Today she lies in her casket up in the wake-room of the church. I haven't visited yet. Though I will. The finality of death is never more enforced than in a wake-room with an open casket and yes, I'm deferring the moment.

She was a dignified, pretty woman who kept her light under a bushel. Always superbly dressed even in a tracksuit for her road training.

"Hush," she'd say to me when I'd congratulate her on yet another Tely 10. She hated being in the limelight.

She had 9 children, all university graduates. Her husband was twenty years older than her and died in his nineties. She would speak of how wonderful he was. It always brought back my granny's advice of being with a man twenty years older: "Better be an old man's darling than a young man's slave." And Granny lived it also, being married at 18 to a man of 38.

Patricia hated being alone and could never understand my desire and choice to live in such a manner.

"I was born lonely," she said to me more than once as we played cards, "From then on I always wanted company".

Rest in peace, Patricia.

You never did believe me when I told you that you are one of my stars.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mind Control

I'm up at the Tigeen. Replete with deadlines. Replete. What a great word. Let me think about that for a minute or two.

I say to Leo a few hours ago as he shoots up and down the back 40 7+acres - please bring up a few logs to the Tigeen, it's a fire lighting day and I'm nearly fresh out. Leo nods, agrees and then ignores me. He does this a lot. I have to accept it. On his own time. And here he is now.....

As I pondered the shortfall of wood for the wee stove I thought: I have a lot of old wool there, I should knit a carrier for wood. Wool and wood. With a long wood handle. Open ended. Something to design and make up here when my muse, Scriobhnarin, flees. As she has done.

Knitting pushes the writing around, fills my head with fresh thoughts and approaches. I need to read, edit, add notes, descriptions, fill in the voids of symphonic phraseology(!). Attempt lyricism. Knitting plays the counterpoint to this.

And Sister gave me a brand new knitting bag when I was back home.

As if I don't have enough already.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Lemony Prune Mouth

I have to watch myself.

A dear friend maintains that as we get older our character defects become more emphasised and more entrenched.

Evidence corroborates.

If you're messy and cluttered the habits get worse as the energy dissipates with which to deal with them. The debris piles up in the face of decreased desire and perhaps a lifelong ennui. Whatever the cause.

I have to watch my inner judgemental self .

Particularly around drunks.

I was at a dinner party Saturday night. I should have left earlier than I did. Before it descended into loud arguments and hot debates and facets of friends that turn antagonistic/weepy/belligerent/ridiculous. Take your pick.

None of them will remember any of it in the morn. But I will. Alone in my rigid sobriety. Apart from one other. Who also engages in these mindless debates. He hosts and can't go to bed and leave his living room to an iffy scenario of mess and slop.

I sometimes have difficult with timing. Part of me doesn't want to desert the sinking ship of drunken debate and leave him alone on his island of sobriety.

And for a while, before the ocean of booze tips everyone into incoherence, the chat and food are enthralling and interesting.

And then.

Timing is everything. I can't seem to assess the best time to leave.

I think: I can't believe these people, all in their sixties, still behave like frat boys/girls when it comes to booze.

And I feel my mouth prune up and inner tut-tuts bang around in my head.

But I do manage to escape before the spliffs get passed around.

Not that anyone notices.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Over the Edge and Into Laughter

Seriously. My house is a construction zone. Grit covers my floors, my windows have been semi-replaced (11 of them), wet paint hangs off doors and foundations, thingies are propped open or shut. Bins of debris surround the house, abandoned scaffolding lines the deck. The only living beings who enjoy this mess are the blue jays who patrol the railings and dive bomb the bird feeders. And that's just the front of the house.

At the back of the house Leo is sawing wood for the winter. He treks up the hill into the woodlot with his noisy ATV and trailer and drags down logs and chain-saws them into stove-shapes.

And then: friends I haven't seen in 10+ years show up from Ontario, I'm very easily found on this island. Ask in most shops on the Avalon Peninsula and you'll get excellent directions. Normally I don't mind and this has happened a few times in the past.

But today? It was a chaos of hammering, stamping, banging, sawing, dragging, accompanied by indoor window fixings, dust flying everywhere and debris crunching underfoot.

On top of all this, Ansa watchdogged like a mad thing trying to keep track of all the invaders and barking while protecting me by sitting on my feet and glaring and sniffing and yapping at Those Who Dared Enter the Holy of Holies.

Timing? Sweet Jeebus. Couldn't be better.

And speaking of Jeebus.

My friends had found Him a few years ago.

And wanted to share the Good News.

It was then I broke all the way down and laughed and laughed like a lunatic.

A tonic, I tell ya, a tonic.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whatever happened to wearing the world like a loose garment anyway?

I can't seem to settle into my own skin.

It's been hectic since I got back, workers still crawling around the house, municipal matters piled up while I was gone now scream for attention and the plans for finishing off Book 3 and sending it around recede into the background. I don't think my brain could cope.

Yeah, I'm living in chaos.

On top of that my android phone appears to have been stolen while I was gone. The wee shelf where it lives and sucks power is bare. Daughter hunted high and low while she was staying here. As did I when I returned. That leaves me feeling queasy.

Dozers and other machinery tear up and down next door building monster summer homes for the sons of the local merchant.

Discombobulated is what I am. Restless and irritable. And anxious. About what I couldn't tell you. Pileup it feels like.

This could be seasonal, or it might be the noise and banging around me not to mention the crunch of scrapings, dust and debris underfoot. Summer people are now leaving for warmer climes and that makes me sad.

Oh yes, good news in that a play I submitted to a St. John's theatre is being "considered" for production.

And no news on the artist's grant I applied for.

I can really see now how elders/artists living alone make a monthly choice between food and heat.


Nudge: To the Universe - grant, please, now. I need this grant!

Then it will be loose garment time.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014


My friend is home.

First telephone conversation with me after all she's been through:

"I'm only on the phone with you because you're so worried. I'm not supposed to be on the phone at all. You're the first phone-call. Now. Relax. I am perfect."

"But the surgery? The recovery? The prognosis?"

"Listen to me, I am perfect. My doctors say that I am in such great physical shape I can have the chemotherapy at home and have six weeks of radiation in the hospital in conjunction."

"I can't believe how you're sounding."


"I'm eating like a pig again, all lovely foods, I'm being spoiled I tell you. They all run out of the house and get exactly what I want. Like a 5 star hotel."

"You had me in bits - and now listen to you."

"Listen: I went all through this before with the breast cancer and I had so many other stresses in my life, remember the trouble I had with Daughter at the same time?"

"Yes, you got through that and no flies on you."

"And right, this time is perfect. I am older and no worries and this is an absolute doddle compared with then."

"Well, not a doddle....."

"It's a perfect doddle. So stop all the fuss. I am perfect."

Yes, ma'am.

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Sunday, September 07, 2014


I am still processing a trip back to my home country.

A trip which started with an enormous shadow cast over it.

A shadow which crept into every aspect of it, which had me telling extended family members or close friends as I sat down to table or met them in cheerful places:

"I'm really, really sorry if I appear sad and distracted. It's not you."

And then I would creep off stage to take or make a phone-call on my Irish mobile.

My very best friend, my friend of over 60 years (how rare that is, a friend from kindergarten, from everything and everyone important in one's life who knows all your secrets and you hers)was sick when I arrived. Doctors had thrown anti-depressants at her, she wasn't eating, her brain wasn't functioning, her balance was precarious. This I saw when I arrived.

I was shocked, appalled, frightened. She is a livewire, had completed a marathon in June, was on the Irish bridge team, formed her own successful book club and was a host, along with her husband, of salon type gatherings of interesting, wonderful people, one of which she'd planned for me the following night.

The wheels were set in motion from that point. Immediate medical attention from other consultants if necessary.

Within days, she was under a surgical team of 4. The brain tumour was huge, 5 centimetres. And they didn't get all of its evil tendrils as it would have impacted her mobility and intelligence.

And I haven't written about it until now, even my personal hand written journaling of the whole scattered time of it brings me to tears.

I am frozen in the processing, something inside went numb and scared and can't get up.

I don't know what her comprehension is of what is going down. Only her husband's. He is being so brave and positive for their adult children but lets more of his bewilderment and loss and fear out with me.

To say we are stunned is to put it mildly. To say we are lost for words when words are lost to us seems trite.

The magnitude is incomprehensible.

I can't imagine my life without her, without her cheerleading, without her daily emails, without her chat. Without her, my glorious, wonderful friend.

I had thought to stay on in Ireland to dither around the edges of the pain and loss and helplessness.

I thought long and hard and alone on this but decided against it. Our usefulness can often be more helpful in the simple carrying on of our own lives.

Pretending everything is okay.

When the heart is shattered.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nasty Job

My house in the throes of massive repairs and painting.

There is always one nasty ugly job in my life that I keep putting off and putting off.

Almost like sticking my head into a bush with my bum sticking out thinking no one could see me. Don't laugh. I had a dog that did that. I'd be calling her: "Tara, Tara!" and she'd head for a bush and hide and I'd have to laugh, watching how she'd let her bum hang out and tuck her tail around it and lie perfectly still. She was always amazed when I'd stick my head in the other side of the bush and go "na-na-na I'm smarter than you!"

But I digress. Today I was in my office up the road all morning. I want to put a park in our town. With a BBQ pit and nice benches and maybe a stretch of boardwalk on the shore.

But that put-off nasty job in my house? it kept jumping into my brain.

It's like this: I get infested in my utility room with ants every July and put down bait and spray and powder and eco-friendly solutions (baking powder and icing sugar mixed 50/50), etc. And all this takes place behind a freezer and all over a window where they get in and down from the ceiling where there are gaps (old wood ceilings and I do like them, the ceilings, not the ants). And the mess this year, people?

Do you know that ants cart off their dead for they have their very own graveyards near wherever the hell their nests are? Yeah, they do. But this year I killed so many I imagine I must have been lucky and killed the graveyard attendants plus the funeral corteges and the mourners too. So the massacre sites on windows, in poison buckets and behind freezer? Beyond imagining

This avoidance had to come to an end. I am leaving for Ireland this Friday and I thought the job is too awful for Emma, my twice/month cleaning treasure to deal with. There are limits to demands I can make on her or on anyone else for that matter.

So I had to bribe myself. I talk myself into doing deferred nasty jobs. I have been doing it since I was, like, 4.

"I will make you the best BLT in the world after you finish this. Homegrown Swiss chard, lashings of crisp bacon, home grown perfectly sliced tomatoes AND some smoked salmon, and yeah, okay, cream cheese on - wait-for-it - 12 grain artisan bread from the best bakery in the world. Toasted to gold."

And rubber gloves, bleach, buckets and vacuum to hand I did it. And I only came close to gagging once.

And I was so proud.

And the sandwich? Heaven on a plate.

Bribery sure works on this wuss.

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Monday, August 18, 2014


I'm applying for an arts grant. A few pennies to throw food on the table as I write WW1 scenes for this novel and edit it and wind it up. Yeah it's work, it's a struggle, but when it goes right, I'm in my bliss. And no, there's no daddywarbucks in my life. Just me on a fixed paltry income.

I've already assembled my team of First Readers, except for maybe one more. If you'd like to be on it, drop me a line, see email addie on the left side of the blog. October 15th is my deadline to release to the team.

There I've said it. October 15th.

Anyways. I'm here today, with pictures and details of the Battle of the Somme, careful graphs of dates and ages. Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1970. Etc. It's intense. I saw the inside of the Ritz once. 1965. Close enough, right? unless they made changes without telling me.

And then, sweet Dog, the work starts on my house. Not simple work understand. Complicated banging, scraping and unfolding rotting foundations work. So much so that the dog crawls under my desk and whimpers, "Sorry I can't defend you against these ravening hordes. Sometimes it's just all too much for me. I'm old, see."

A simple scrape and slap on the paint job is just not happening. Rot. Old doors. Damp buildup. 11 window panes need replacing. Fresh new lumber trucked over from the lumberyard across the bay for part of the foundations. Banging, did I talk banging? And how do I afford this add-on horror to the original barely manageable financially job?

And I think as I write: this is nothing. Imagine those WW1 trenches.

And no, I can't go to my Tigeen. There's a 3 foot drop outside my back door. Into mud. I am moated with extreme sound effects while I summarize my 75% completed book begging for a measley arts grant.

And you think you've got problems.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014


I see a meme being tossed around on FB of three things to be grateful for for 5 days and then roping in 3 more friends to do the same.

It's interesting reading these lists and I become mindful of all I have to be grateful for.

I'm making lists at the moment. A few lists.

List #1.
Packing: For my trip to the Oul Sod. Keeping it lighter, keeping it useful. I'm good at packing. I never, like some of my friends, pack anything I don't wear or use. Everything's interchangeable with another item. I gave up dresses and skirts a while back so clothes are simple. Dress pants, cargo pants, jeans. A few tops. A cardie. A rain jacket. A few pairs of socks. Undies. Scarves. I've always loved scarves, they can dress up sombre (blacks, neutrals) like nothing else. I struggled with the EReader again. For the last time. No. Back to paper. Pack 2 books, buy another or two when I'm there. Knitting? Maybe.
List #2.
The Dog List: For when I'm away: Ansa's foods, the way it's fixed in the morning, her baby aspirin for her arthritis, her carry-kit for the car (leash, water, flask, doggie bags), her commands (example: she only comes down the stairs with verbal permission, the poor baby could be stuck up there all day if not given permission to come down), etc.
List #3.
Gratitude. (1)So many well-wishers pouring forth lovely thoughts for my birthday yesterday. I was quite overwhelmed.
(2)A day with Daughter who arrived early with baked goodies and crops from her garden (she has this strange farming gene)with the gift of a day with her, wandering where the wind took us with brunch and a seafood dinner thrown into the mix. And a walk by the ocean afterwards.
(3)Lady Day (August 15th)in Newfoundland arrived two days ago. On the Newfoundland calendar this is the start of fall. Summer here is a quick blast of heat, incredible growth spurts in vegetation in a matter of weeks, and the longest autumn - often running 4 months. I just love it. My favourite season. For many reasons.
And Bonus:
(4) Each day I wake up to in reasonable and joyful good health.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Taking Offence

Dear Diary:

Some of the gang went off to have lunch at a theatre event yesterday and then visited an older friend now in a swishy home for the aged followed by dinner at one of my favourite Chinese restaurants. A jam-packed-with-activity day.

I didn't even get a token invitation: you know, along the lines of: you must be up to your neck but hey, would you like to....

I admit it. I was hurt. That lasted about 4 minutes.

And then I started to laugh and laugh and laugh.

At myself.

Because seriously, Diary, it totally sounds like a day from hell for me: 12 hours of constant company and being "on", a horrific dinner/lunch theatre thing that every year involves at least one male actor in drag playing a simplistic, overly sexual (huge balloon breasts),short-skirted, simpering, grotesque, stupid woman that would have me gnashing my teeth in rage as all about me fall down in thigh-slapping, helpless laughter.

Thank you for small mercies.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Another One

I don't personally know these famous people who choose to die by their own hands. Alone. No goodbyes. Unable to go on. Unable to suffer another hour in addiction or depression or hopelessness or all three or even more.

Feeling their lives are worthless, placing no value on themselves or their gifts. Feeling their pain is unheard, their connection to others severed, strained, vanished.

Seeing no other way out. None.

Thinking everyone and everything shallow and hopeless, their lives one big sham. One never-ending pretence of laughing on the outside and dying inside. Wanting it over. Finished.

Nothing does the "trick": Expensive clinics or the love of a spouse or lover or child. Or grandchild. Or a parent, a sibling, a best friend.

This death. This death. I understand. I know how he felt.

And the extraordinary thing, the most extraordinary thing today, when the news was released: Two of my dearest family members in far flung countries reached out in a tight little circle to me to write communally about this. It was a group hug of the finest love. The awareness of each other and our common familial struggle with those demons of Robin Williams. And Philip Seymour Hoffman and so many others.

We three have been there. Their pain is our intimate.

And we can never, ever be complacent in our recovery.

RIP Sweet Robin.

Thanks for the laughs and the genius of your mind.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014


View from the Tigeen

I'm up over the trees and the birds and the ocean in my Tigeen. Where good stuff happens. Like writing. Like musing.

And then, a half an hour ago, I hear the sounds of the cemetery mass floating on the air towards me. Crystal clear. Something I'd never hear in my house below.

This is a combination of the placement of the Tigeen, the prevailing breeze and acoustics.

The sermon arrives at me intact. The bits of singing, the readings. The sounds of my childhood and some adult years. The pray-for-usses, the pleadings, the begging of Himself, the Invisible Cosmic Housekeeper, to do what he is requested but only if it is his will - a wonderful form of circular thinking. And a win-win for those requested to intercede to end the suffering, or grant the wishes. I used to wonder - even when practising these rituals - about that. As in why bother praying (and paying) if he's going to do what he damn well pleases anyway?

I am so detached from all of that mumbo-jumbo now, a bemused ear is thrown over to the graveyard. A reflection on all the money collected for these lamentations and laundry lists.

"Oh Lamb of God" I hear as I type this, "Fear not I will come for thee". Yelled very loudly by he who officiates, white biscuit held high above his head I would imagine.

And then I imagine ICH convulsed on a cloud, snorting uncontrollably, finally collapsing in helpless laughter.

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Saturday, August 09, 2014


I realize I think in extremes. I'm not late to this realization but it tends to darken perception.

I'm writing in the midst of a power outage. We had a bad thunderstorm an hour or so ago. And as is the way of it, I do not have water stockpiled or a back up generator for the house utilities. Oil lamps, yes. A propane mini-stove, yes. Normally I keep water on hand but in summer, who needs backup?

Maybe being brought up with the possibility of nuclear disaster/and the Fatima end of the world scenario - a distinct possibility reinforced by the Catholic school system on a regular basis - had something to do with this bleakness of outlook.

So I think: what happens if the power never comes back again? OMG freezer and contents?

Meanwhile I have this battery back up in the office - thus enabling internet and laptop, good for an hour or so.

I remind myself this is not the end of days. Even though, seriously, it feels like it.

I remind myself how fragile we humans are, how dependent on the niceties of the power grid, the internet, water, fuel.

And the antidote: Right now, I am safe, housed and coffeed.


Thursday, August 07, 2014

Natural Selection

Today (for Dog knows I wasn't up for it yesterday)I wonder about life's manifestations and nuances.

And birth order.

And how some in the same gene pool escape the afflictions of the others.

And nature vs nurture.

And hereditary vs environment.

Is everything in life a balancing act - i.e. a vs?

Like some eat and never gain weight.

While others can't even look at an ice cream without some kind of osmosis taking place.

Are there trade-offs - like you get so many talents but you also get all the angst, whereas you, you over there, get none but you're oh-so-happy-all-the-time. Because money/beauty/wit/Harvard.

And addiction? Is that genetic roulette?

Is adult life all about unmet needs from childhood?

Existential moments.

From me.

Who doesn't feel quite all there, right now.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Holding Your End Up

I was commenting on John Gray's blog this morning when I was reminded, as we are, of this old phrase of my mother's.

The life lessons of an Irish mammy.

Along with never marching off to visit anyone with "your arms the same length", "holding your end up" was another essential one.

"Holding your end up" involved:

Writing thank you notes for everything and anything tossed your way no matter how awful or badly knitted or even wrapped in newspaper.

Never letting the family secrets out of the cupboard.

Not wearing raggedy underwear in case there was an accident and then the whole hospital would be talking about you and yours. Forever amen.

As soon as you landed on Irish soil, no matter how long away, you were put on the phone to every aunt, uncle, cousin and grandparent to tell them you'd arrived and to give them all the news. Hours I'm telling you. Hours.

Table manners: The right and the wrong way to hold the fork. And always decline seconds of everything. Never be the first one into the chocolate box.

QED: Make sure everyone knows how well you were raised.

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Blending Reality and Fiction.

I read. I read a lot. I always have. I gain so much from reading. Insight into the lives of others. Insight into the minds of writers. Massive escapism. Understanding. Being understood.

Some have it that to be a good writer one needs to be a voracious reader. My jury is out on that one. I would like to hear the other side of that argument. As a voracious reader and voracious writer I link the two processes. But how I would I know? I've always read. Since I was four, thank you Daddy.

In mid-July I finished a large tome: "The Novel" by James Michener.

And he put into words something I'd been mulling about for a while.


As so often happens with writers, my imaginary terrain had become more real to me than the physical one that surrounded me.

I have exactly that feeling with one of my unpublished (but complete) books. When I am back in the town in Ireland I write about (but disguise)I see my own imaginary characters on the roads and in the houses and churches.

I know these people.

They walk with me.

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