The Burren

As well as the delightful natural-stone, thatched-roofed cottages littering the Irish countryside here in the West of Éire, we kept remarking on the profusion of dry-stane dykes, as we’d call them back home in Scotland, walls built of the local stone without cement or mortar of any kind. We’re well used to seeing them in Scotland and I know from talking to a farmer who builds them, they take a lot of time and hard labour to construct.

image So, when we looked at the local landscape here in the southern part of County Galway and into County Clare, we were struck with a tremendous sense of history. Some of these dry walls must be generations old, centuries old. We could picture the generations of farmers and their sons, selecting suitable stones, hewing them out, gathering them, carting them home to build their cottages and section their land with dry-stane dykes.

And there are SO many of them. SO many.
We began to feel there must be a huge quarry or something somewhere nearby. Sure enough, as we drove into County Clare, into an area called The Burren, it wasn’t a quarry we found, but fields of stones, hillsides of stones, many of them looking ready hewn for building with.

image When I Googled the term, having found a place where I could get a signal, I found The Burren (Irish: Boireann, meaning “great rock”) is a karst landscape in County Clare, Ireland. It measures approximately 250 square kilometres and is enclosed roughly within the circle made by the villages of Ballyvaughan, Kinvara, Tubber, Corofin, Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna.

According to the information I found on Wikipedia, the development of karst occurs whenever acidic water starts to break down the surface of bedrock near its cracks, or bedding planes. As the bedrock (like limestone or dolostone) continues to break down, its cracks tend to get bigger. As time goes on, these fractures will become wider, and eventually, a drainage system of some sort may start to form underneath. Farming in karst areas must take into account the lack of surface water. The soils may be fertile enough, and rainfall may be adequate, but rainwater quickly moves through the crevices into the ground, sometimes leaving the surface soil parched between rains.

225px-The_Burren_in_the_evening_sunWe did find a quarry too, but there are so many miles of stones just lying on the surface, it isn’t hard to imagine them being collected for use in building the walls and cottages so prolific in the area.
I suppose the stones are quarried and moved by the truckload nowadays, but the picture that comes to my mind is of those bygone days when men would wield a pickaxe, break the stones down to manageable size, dig them out, load the heavy stones into wheelbarrows or sacks and wheel or lug them to the horse and cart waiting nearby, to be carted to their destination, another field, another cottage.

The countryside was still and silent, as were we, in awe of creation, creator and the hard labour of the generations of men who have worked this land.

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Taking a Book for a Walk

In case you were wondering, I do intend to round up my Food in Fiction series, and I set out to do that, but I got sidetracked.

Here’s what I wrote before I wandered off topic:

‘Having looked at how others have used it, and the reasons why it might work for us, let’s think about the mechanics of how to do it: how to put Food in your Fiction.

I suppose we could just mention what a character had for their dinner, as in, “So-and-so sat down to steak pie and chips.” But would that really add anything to our narrative?

Better to give us a taste of the steak pie and chips, figuratively speaking, of course.’

… and that’s where I got sidetracked.

Thinking about a figurative taste of Food in Fiction reminded me of the fun book my friend Jane gave me when we were on our writers’ retreat week, and I decided to tell you that story instead, because you’ll enjoy it. I know you will.

Jane brought us lots of goodies for our week away, and one of them was the rather unusual and marvellous book Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith.

Have you seen it?

Its product description on Amazon tells us,

“Think of Wreck This Journal as the anarchist’s Artist’s Way — the book for those who’ve always wanted to draw outside the lines but were afraid to do it. … With Keri Smith’s unique sensibility, readers are introduced to a new way of art and journal making, discovering novel ways to escape the fear of the blank page and fully engage in the creative process.”

 Jane had given Sharon and I each one of these journals, but she didn’t know how we would react, if we could really do it. Deface these brand new books? Books we had been gifted? It seemed like sacrilege to true book lovers such as we three. We had gone to our retreat to write novels, not destroy books.

Hadn’t we?

But could it do what it says on the label? Could it help us ‘fully engage in the creative process?’

Our first reactions to the books involved a lot of laughter and, “Yeah, that’ll be right!” as we read some of the instructions. But it seemed like such a fun idea.

I knew I could ‘add my own page numbers.’ That was fun. Random numbers in the bottom corners of every page. Hang on, that’s not truly entering into the spirit of the thing. Random numbers all over the pages. Better.

‘Make a sudden, destructive, unpredictable movement with the journal.’ Easy! I threw it across the room to smash against the wall.

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Then we were asked to, ‘Crack the Spine.’ A tricky one for some, but I was okay with that. I’m a crack the spine kind of girl.

 ‘Stand here. Wipe your feet up and down,’ ON THE PAGE! well I wasn’t quite so sure, but after some deep breathing and gritted teeth, I had a go.

‘Poke holes in this page using a pencil.’ Building up steam now. Woo-hoo! ‘Scribble wildly, violently, with reckless abandon,’

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On a roll.

Now, you may wonder what on earth such a journal has to do with Food in Fiction. I shall tell you. There is a page in the journal that invites the reader to ‘Document your dinner.’ with instructions to ‘rub, smear, splatter your food.’ and the suggestion to ‘use this page as a napkin.’

Crazy, yes?

Now we were getting to the hard core stuff. No way I could ever deliberately smear food on a book. No way! Never! Wasn’t going to happen.

Then we had Champagne.

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After Sharon popped the cork, aiming at the target on this page of my book, I was up for the challenge. Well, technically, not just after she’d hit the target with the cork, but after the Champagne hit the target…

Chilli Nachos feature on the pages of my journal.

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It is revolting, truly revolting. It looks bad enough here, but, believe me, it is so much worse in three dimensional, glorious technicolor.

But incredibly liberating.

Incredibly liberating! I had crossed the line. I was working outside the lines. Writing flowed after that. Some of it to be discarded on the cutting room floor when I got home, but some of it the best, most flowing writing I had done in a long time, to be retained and included in my next novel.

Unlike the Chilli Nachos.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book, Wreck This Journal. It provided so much fun throughout our week. We ripped pages, wiped them on dirty cars, made a page into a paper boat and sailed it in a dirty puddle, and glued pages together. SO much fun. I wouldn’t have believed it. We were given permission to be naughty children and the only consequences were lots of laughter and a very bedraggled journal.

I even took the book for a walk on the end of a string, as instructed.

click the link if you want to see how that went!

A sidetrack, yes.

But almost relevant to the topic of Food in Fiction.

Next time, I’ll write the post I set out to write. We’ll talk about how you can use Food in your Fiction. There’ll be tips and treats and writing prompts.

But, meanwhile, why don’t you see if you can meet the challenges set you in  Wreck This Journal

All in the name of setting your creativity free.

What a Hoot!

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Over on Writers Coffeehouse on Google+, we’ve been talking about our writer’s space, among other things. Well, this past few days, I’m delighted to say, I’ve been sharing mine with one of my granddaughters.

Cassie is eleven years old and she’s been staying with us while her Mum, one of my daughters, is in hospital. We are having great fun — a hoot, actually — and a productive time together. Cassie made this lovely owl picture for her Mum and we took it up to the hospital to give her. She loved it, of course.

Grandpa has been doing the more active things with Cassie, like walking across the Forth Road Bridge and back, a cold and windy walk of three miles — more, when you add to that the walk down to North Queensferry for lunch in a little cafe, plus the walk to and from where they’d parked the car in South Queensferry. She slept well that night.

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We also got to writing, and Cassie wrote a couple of poems which she’d like to share with you.

Grandma’s Room

My grandma’s room is like Aladdin’s cave,
Two of her ornaments my cousin and I gave.
Two ceramic Roses and a plaque,
Only one thing in her room is black.
The rest is all lemon and cream,
And from the the tidiness of the room,
She’s the Clean Queen.
Since I was little, I loved that room,
And it will be getting another teddy soon!
{SSSSSSHHHHHHH…..Don’t tell her}

Teddy Addiction

I have this thing I call
Teddy addiction
And with our visitors
It can cause friction.
You see, I like my teddies around
my head.
Although they do often slip down the bed.
Some are soft and some are not,
but they are soft more often than not.
Some are big and some are small,
some aren’t teddies at all.
For example, one’s a screen wipe and another is a
pin cushion!
As I said it can cause friction,
but stuff what other people say,
I like to stick to my Teddy Addiction!

So, what do you think? Perhaps not poet laureate yet, but not bad for an eleven year-old rattling it off in next to no time sitting beside me, while I labour over whether to use the perfect or the pluperfect tense.

What a hoot!

Crafting Memories

When I was a wee girl…as opposed to the wee wuman I am now…I loved playing ‘shops’, like most wee girls, I suppose. I particularly liked playing at ‘department store’, ‘shoe department’ being one favourite. We didn’t have a lot of toys back then. Let’s face it, we didn’t have a lot of anything in the late forties: the post WW2 era. Family & friends used to keep any old shoe boxes they came across and they would be my ‘toys’. I loved stacking them up and my imaginary customers always seemed to need the bottom box opened. I became very skilled at sliding that box out from under the stack, leaving the perilous pile standing undisturbed.

No such things as Kleenex back then, we used real cotton handkerchiefs: monogrammed for the more fortunate gentlemen, prettily embroidered or lace-edged for the lucky ladies. Beautiful boxed sets of ladies hankies became THE gift for every occasion. These boxes of handkerchiefs were my absolute favourite things in all the world! The best handkerchiefs were not to be used. That would be sacrilege! How could one possibly blow a snotty nose on fine lace or delicate embroidery? And the boxes! Oh! The boxes! Perfect, uniform, flat, square boxes: eminently stackable! I hoarded them, squirrel-like under my bed, to be pulled out and played with when graceful retreat from trouble was the expedient thing to manoeuvre: I was constantly in trouble, usually inadvertently.

Begged, borrowed but never stolen, my hoard grew. The shoe boxes became houses, wardrobes, beds and tables for my doll. The handkerchief boxes, the dream stock for the shop she browsed in. Most precious of all were the boxes that still contained their precious pearls: handkerchiefs deemed useless by dint of their frills and frippery. Aunts and cousins, neighbours and friends threw their unwanted gifts my way. Unwanted! Unwanted! Never by me. I tenderly took out the pins that pinioned the handkerchiefs in place in intricate pattern in the box, washed them in the bathroom sink, cajoled Mum into ironing them for me, then refolded them as I desired. They were handled and fondled, held and admired on a daily basis, and they tenderly mopped up many silent tears as I licked my emotional wounds.

When I married, the boxes didn’t make it to my new home. The handkerchiefs did. For many years, they rested in a drawer; shown to children and grandchildren very occasionally, still loved by me. I don’t recall what gave me the idea to mount a few of them in collage form. I had made a few collages of other craft materials and bits and pieces of lace and ribbon and hung them in my room.

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When I realised how much pleasure it gave me to see my handiwork each time I entered my room, something clicked. My childhood treasure could give me pleasure that way too. It had brought me comfort through painful years, perhaps it could bring me joy through the remaining ones. I didn’t use all the treasured store. I might yet, but, at the moment, I lack the wall space…and I doubt they’d seem appropriate among the decor in other rooms. They belong in mine. Once more, I washed the handkerchiefs, this time it was I who ironed them, and folded and refolded till I found displays that pleased me.

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I make no claim to being artistically gifted: these treasures may not be displayed to best advantage. But, what they represent is history: a glimpse of my history, my comfort. I share because I trust you to be kind…and we all need to know we can leave a little of ourselves behind. X

 

Don’t You Just Love Being Creative?

 

Maybe it’s watching the new lambs frolic in the field, or the spring flowers shaking off today’s hailstones…yes! I said ‘hailstones’, or maybe it’s just because the days are getting longer, I don’t know, but something is making me feel all creative this week.

Apart from the writing and blogging I’ve been occupied with, I’ve also been crafting…making cards to be precise. I had a few folks to say ‘Thanks’ to, but, instead of dipping into my ‘here’s one I made earlier’ box, I decided to make some fresh ones. Hope you like them.

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I think in my next creative burst, I could do with learning how to take better photographs…but, hopefully, you get the idea! What about you? Does spring awaken your creative muse?

 

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