“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.

Since the rumours of Gove’s most recent nail in the educational coffin began to surface on Twitter yesterday, I’ve been trying to translate my utter despair into written word, but my mind has continued to return to the above quote from the great novel at the centre of this story.

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“Til death do us part”

I love New Year’s.

As a serial resolutionist any calendar event that promises the hope of a fresh start, a new beginning and a lethal cocktail of drunk friends, Jools Holland and copious amounts of confetti, well that’s my kind of celebration.

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Sure it’s great for the town…

Join the Library

Join the Library

Talk about coming full circle.

Last week the global spotlight sprang on my little hometown of Strabane when a photograph of this rather genius piece of graffiti began trending worldwide on Twitter, even reaching the attention of Academy Award winner Minnie Driver.

The original scrawl which decorated the side of this electricity sub-station in the Ballycolman read ‘Join the IRA’, not an uncommon sight in Strabane, but it achieved much greater media attention after a local man, naturally dubbed ‘Strabanksy’, altered the piece of graffiti to read ‘Join the Library’.

It was a strange but wonderful thing to see Strabane making headlines for reasons other than bomb scares, stabbings and shootings as it has done in recent months. For a place declared the eighth worst to live in the UK by Channel 4’s experts Kirstie and Phil in 2005, a town which once boasted some of the highest levels of unemployment in the industrial world, and whose only great claims to fame include semi-successful Eurovision stars and being the most bombed town outside of WWII, it’s quite nice to be put on the map for something a little more light-hearted, positive, even hopeful.

Locals have become almost immune to the paramilitary propaganda that cover the walls of the town, how refreshing to see a new message much more reflective of modern day efforts for a more peaceful, prosperous Northern Ireland.

The online responses to the photo spoke loud and clear ‘Books beat Balaclavas’, surely music to the ears of staff at the local library who admitted in a statement last week “We’ve never had a better advertisement”.

Strabane Library: “We’ve never had a better advertisement”

Strabane Library: “We’ve never had a better advertisement”

What a shame then, that Northern Ireland Electricity very efficiently repainted the wall of the sub-station, destroying the first masterpiece of our very own Strabanksy, stating that it is company policy to remove all graffiti from their buildings. With that in mind, I wonder how long it will take them to paint over the freshly scrawled ‘Join the IRA’ which reappeared this week.

What did I tell you, full circle.

Back to the dark ages...

Back to the dark ages…

However opportunist and illicit his actions, Strabanksy’s message on the sub-station wall is one to be celebrated. You should join the library and books do beat balaclavas, they prove much more useful when it comes to applying to college or university, or getting a job, or raising your children.

Strabane should be making a new kind of history for itself now that we’ve, hopefully, left the Troubles in the past.

Here’s hoping Strabanksy and others like him will continue to put our little town on the map for the right reasons.

A Correction.

A correction.

For writers, words are our daily bread.

We try and taste all new words that we come across, endeavour to maintain a balanced diet of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, all mixed together in the pot, producing sentences and stories to tantalize the tongue. We consume books, magazines, newspapers, novels, poems, plays, anything we can get our hands on to satisfy our hunger for words and the knowledge that comes with them. We learn about new styles and tastes, explore recipes from throughout history and national flavours, we could simply not exist without words. Life would be bland, beige and unexciting.

As a creative writer and an aspiring journalist there is one word that stands at the forefront of everything I write, printed in bold, capital letters among all others in my repertoire, that word is TRUTH. Even in my most fictional offerings, the foundations are built with truth, an honest representation of some place or person or feeling. Throughout history writers have endeavoured to capture their world and the people in it with honesty, truth and integrity, I think of Dickens, Austen, Joyce. We know their worlds as clearly as our own.

I mention integrity because there is dishonesty in not telling the full story.

To recognise Father’s Day I wrote a brief, honest list of things which I had inherited from my father, lessons he has taught me over the years, but it was not our full story, not even a fraction of it. The truth of the matter is, and even now I only glimpse at that truth, is that the most important lessons my father has taught me have not been easy truths to accept. I have not made peace with them yet, as my father and I have not made peace with each other. He disapproves of my choices in life as much as I disapprove of his, that is perhaps the shortest telling of it. It has been a long time since I have wished him Happy Father’s day because ours is a tumultuous relationship, and truth means as much to him as it does to me, we cannot pretend and simply play happy families. We are each other’s catalyst, testing patience, breaking tempers, building character. The glimpse of my father’s influence on me which I tried to capture yesterday, did not do either of us justice. He will always be the most important and influential man in my life. He has made me who I am, the writer I hope to be, the shining example of everything I hope not to become. And someday I hope to be brave enough, at peace enough, to tell that story because I owe it to him as much as I owe it to myself. But not yet.

The most important stories we have to tell are always the most difficult to write.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child.

Traditionally, Father’s Day is a holiday upon which I fervently bite my tongue, recalling the good lesson learned from Bambi, passed down to Bumper from his father “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

Like Father, Like Daughter

Like Father, Like Daughter

But I will endure to say only nice things, to be thankful, unlike King Lear’s treacherous daughters, and celebrate those things, good and bad, which my father has given me.

 

1. My brown eyes.

2. A genetically low tolerance for bullshit.

3. Strength of character.

4. My first pair of football boots.

5. He taught me how to throw a punch.

6. Rubbish veins.

7. My love, adoration and respect for books.

8. Confidence in myself as a writer.

9. A tendency to the sentimental.

10. He taught me, by example, that not only was it OK, but often preferable to be a black sheep.

pops

Realistic Resolutions? Yeah right…

Well that’s that then.
The excitement of Christmas has subsided, the Quality Street have been devoured, the countdown is over, the living room floor is collecting pine needles and a breakfast of chocolate and wine is no longer considered perfectly acceptable.
The media have been busy with end of year reviews reminding us of all the must-see films we didn’t get a chance to go see, the must-read books we still haven’t gotten around to reading and the year-defining albums we’ve never even heard of. The shops have very swiftly put to bed their ‘Eat, drink and be excessive’ mantra, filling their shelves instead, with fitness DVDs, exercise equipment, dieting pills and nicotine patches, while casting a judgemental eye on the extra pounds we drag along the aisles, and the fewer pounds we have to spend at the tills.
It’s January 1st. Everyone is skint, sick of turkey and ham sandwiches, and full of unrelenting optimism for the year ahead… Isn’t it wonderful?
2013 is here, and so far I’m impressed.
My Les Miserables anticipation is at breaking point, travel plans for the summer look promising (in that they might actually happen this year) and despite a potent combination of rose wine, Polish vodka, four hours sleep (a nap) and a roast dinner I actually don’t feel all that dreadful. You’ve gotta love New Year’s positivity! Look at this year, all shiny and new with the wrapping still on, so full of possibility and potential…
This will be the year! You watch, by this time next year I will be a millionaire! I’ll have the body of a Goddess, I’ll speak two new languages and will have successfully finished and published my first book. No problem.

Clearly, realism is not a friend of the resolution.
So to give myself more of a fighting chance with the New Year’s hopes and dreams I’ve put together 13 more realistic resolutions to tackle in the coming year.

1. Learn how to bake bread.
2. Make more soups.
3. Be a good gig reviewer and actually keep up to date with new music so that when it comes to the best of 2013 lists I will not be left wondering who all these young pups in the top ten are.
4. Give blood (finally).
5. Get my ears pierced (finally).
6. Watch more classic films so my common response to the mention of any critically acclaimed movie will no longer be “Never seen it”.
7. Spring clean the extensive collection of utter tripe on my Media Player and iTunes.
8. Remove Tokyou as the default response to the daily wondering ‘What will I have for dinner?’
9. Visit London (finally).
10. Learn how to like coffee/red wine/Guinness.
11. Learn how to combat hangovers with something healthier than a giant bag of Heatwave Doritos.
12. Find the ultimate Little Black Dress.
13. Break the bad habit of a lifetime and stop becoming so emotionally attached to fictional characters… except my own.

A Day in the Life…

As part of the Guardian’s ‘Write a Book in Thirty Days’ drive I have been reading authors’ ‘A Day in the life…’ with the reassurance that everyone finds it difficult to squeeze some writing into their day to day life. Duly inspired I decided to write my own ‘Day in the life’ but it somehow became a ‘Morning in the life’. This much productivity and mental thought before Philip and Holly have taken to the ITV stage of a morning is very unusual and not a typical day whatsoever.

I wake uncharacteristically early, before my flatmate has left to catch his 7.30am train to his real job. I’m rested, but it feels like another night of tossing and turning, partly caffeine induced, partly because I still haven’t gotten round to putting up curtains in my room. Achy shoulders. Must get a mattress topper. Vague images of the night’s dreams – my mother sitting by a sickbed, bringing her tea, then later, images of Batman and Robin fleeing a building as the police turn up – wait, were they on the rob? Surely not…

Wide awake by 8am I lift my phone, a few unimportant emails, an unexpected Facebook message from a very old, once very dear friend, I will have to mull that one over. On to the news. I am still romantically fond of the physical, awkward to fold on the bus, print-stained fingers, actual newspaper, but a combination of laziness and living in cheap, cold digs mean that I am easily converted to anything that allows me to begin my day without actually getting out from under the covers.

I browse through the BBC and Guardian apps, save any stories that spark an interest or an urge to share, make some notes, vow to actually write them in the course of the day, inevitably delete the link from Evernote (another handy convenience I’ve been converted to in recent months) in a few weeks.

By the time my alarm goes off at 8.45am I am already contemplating breakfast. This is very rare, early mornings are extraordinary for me. I usually don’t finish work until after eleven. I am a night owl, which means I rarely start writing until after sundown. Inspiration never really hits until after 10pm and the real magic or clarity doesn’t kick in until around 1am. Last night after a few hours struggle, I had a breakthrough with a troubling character around midnight, something clicked, I wrote frantically for twenty minutes, getting it all down on paper before the magic dried up, and then felt immediately exhausted. I managed a few pages of the very brilliant novel I’m currently reading (My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain if you’re interested) and then succumbed to dreams of mum and batman (not always typical I promise).

With a recent addition to our little family home, I am now learning to incorporate cat care into my morning routine, which unfortunately today means emptying a litter tray before I’ve  put the kettle on the boil or brushed my teeth. I reassure myself that my mother has probably already done this for the five cats at home over an hour ago – but then I remember, it’s half term, she’s probably still in bed, Dad will be up, let the dog in to curl up at the foot of the bed, he’d have brought her tea and cereal, and she will be reading a bit of something before she gets up and takes on the cat litter. It’s a pleasant thought, to know for once, I am probably up and active before my mother, I reassure myself once is probably enough, I can lie in tomorrow guilt free.

Cat fed and watered, teeth brushed, Monday deemed a bad hair day (just two days till payday, then I can get it chopped…) and kettle boiled. I stack up the dishes I avoided during yesterday’s hangover, collect up any other artefacts of the weekend. By a quarter past nine I am at my desk (on the sofa) with a brew and BBC News. I make more notes. Steve, the cat, has taken up position on the windowsill watching the traffic on Great George Street. (Steve’s real name is Mimsy, but I feel it emasculates him, so I’m calling him Steve, he seems ok with it.)

More news. Teenage boy missing. Ban on Ash trees. Pasta bake for dinner today I think.

Usually by now I would be dragging myself out of bed after three alarms, and preparing for the weekly Media Team meeting at the Biennial offices – today however I am working from home, trying to sort out a faulty electricity metre which will no doubt ending up costing a fortune. Nearly payday.

My appetite slowly returns since brushing my teeth, and my mind turns to breakfast once again. And a conversation at work last week, about the benefits of both pre- and post-breakfast teeth brushing – the important issues you discuss during a quiet nine hour shift in a bar with no windows.

Nine hour days are the norm now that I am a contracted member of staff at LIPA Bar. A three day weekend, a four day working week, sometimes five. AFDs (All Fucking Days, for those outside the hospitality industry.) An odd way to work but a welcome structure to the week after a summer of discontent. Clocks went back yesterday, officially winter, chill in the air but nothing compared to the storm hitting the east cost of America this morning. Shan’t complain. Actually, weather looks promising.

American presidential campaigns. Vote early, vote often as they say at home. Afghanistan’s first female rapper – the new age revolutionary? Steve is on the move, watching me through the net curtain.

Steve overturns kitchen bin. I overturn a mug of tea over the coffee table. First moment of greatness today. Thankfully the other tablecloth is freshly cleaned and folded on the side. Kettle on (again). In a pot this time, separates us from the beasts. Mushrooms browned. Bacon sizzled. Bagel toasted. Mango chopped. Breakfast. How very cosmopolitan of you, I can hear my dad. Wonder how he’s getting on with the digital switchover. Must be like Christmas, more than six channels to shout at.

Breakfasts. There’s a FoodLink feature in there. Make a note.

Mental To Do List formulating. Steve watching me eat. No, Steve.  More news. Annual migration of farm animals through central Madrid. Endearing idea. Age old right exercised, tradition celebrated. I need a holiday. Scenes from Hurricane Sandy making itself known on the Maryland coast. I was in Maryland. Over ten years ago! Huge waves. Must be nice to watch from a safe place. Vivid memory of perching among sand dunes in Donegal watching huge waves thrash against the beach. And a late night barbeque on the beach, was that the same time? Were there fireworks? I haven’t seen a beach all year, not since Blackpool last summer, hardly counts. Didn’t even get my feet wet.

10am and not a wain washed. Must get dressed. Just finish my tea. Headlines are on now anyway. Jesus, I really am turning into my mother.