Every year around this time I compile a roundup of what I’ve done from a writing point of view during the old year. This year we’ve continued to try to learn to live with Covid 19 as best we can. Personally, I’ve been lucky up until now, but this Christmas Covid caught up with us and we couldn’t have the Christmas we planned. Fortunately, we are all vaccinated and boosted and we don’t appear to be suffering too much so far. However, being confined to the house, we miss the walks and interactions with nature that usually sustain us at this time of year. But we have each other and plenty of books and Netflix and food and drink so things could be a lot worse.
Having been granted a Professional Development Award by the Arts Council at the end of 2020, this year was all about the new novel. I had already done some work on Riverrun before I used my Arts Council Award to enrol in the online Novel Writing Course with Faber Academy in London. The course ran from January 2021 right up to September when I submitted my opening 15,000 words for assessment by my course tutor, novelist Peter Benson. Throughout the year we covered many aspects of the novel and read and critiqued each other’s work in what was an intense and intensive writing regime. The nine other writers I worked with were really supportive. Their honesty and incisive comments helped me come to grips with the fundamental issues of my novel. Peter’s assessment came back in October, and I was more than pleased with how positive he was about where I was going with the story.
In August I was granted a further Agility Award by the Arts Council to continue work on the novel and I kept working steadily throughout the autumn and winter. I entered Riverrun in the Novel Fair run by the Irish Writers Centre in September, more in hope than confidence, and I was delighted to get a phone call in early December to say I was a winner. I firmly believe that the Arts Council funding and the level of focussed engagement during the Faber Academy Course allowed me to apply myself to this novel in a way I never could before. I realise how lucky I am – having been commended twice before in this competition – to be given the opportunity to bring my work to the attention of agents and publishers in February at the Novel Fair.
Working on the novel so much meant that I didn’t write as many stories or new poems as I normally would. But all the same, I published three stories and twelve poems during the course of the year.
Here’s a quick rundown of everything writing-related that happened for me in 2021
- My story The Creaseless Society was shortlisted for the Poetry on the Lake short story competition and was published in the anthology Off Centre.
- My poem The Invisible House was runner up in the Trim Poetry Competition by judge Jean O’Brien.
- Four poems from my formal sequence Freedom in Constraint was published in Live Encounters Poetry & Writing in January.
- My poetry film Staying Home as featured in The Honest Ulsterman in February.
- My poem Loss was published in Skylight 47 Issue 14.
- My sonnet Belturbet Under Frost was shortlisted in the formal category of the Poetry on the Lake Poetry Competition in April.
- In May I was featured on the Poetry Programme on RTE Radio 1, reading my poem Houses which was published in the Climate Crisis Anthology Empty House (Doire Press).
- My poem In The Old Days was published in The Honest Ulsterman in June.
- My sonnet Belturbet Under Frost was published in 14 Magazine, Series 2, Issue 2 in July.
- In August I was awarded an Agility Award from the Arts Council of Ireland to work on completing my novel work in progress.
- In September I was featured on the poetry podcast Words Lightly Spoken reading my poem Small Things (for Catherine Corless).
- My sonnets Night Brooding 1 & 2 were published in Shot Glass Journal in September.
- My story The Green Man and The Fool was published at Fictive Dream in October.
- My story Disenchantment was shortlisted for the Poetry on the Lake Short Story Competition and published in the anthology Haunted in November.
- My poem A Purpose was published in Issue 92 of Cyphers in November.
- My poem Planting was published in the anthology Local Wonders by Dedalus Press in November.
- My long poem Remember was published at Live Encounters Poetry & Writing 12th Anniversary Edition in December.
- In December my novel Riverrun was chosen as a winner (along with 11 other writers ) of the Novel Fair 2022. We will be invited to pitch our novels to agents and publishers at the Novel Fair on 11th and 12th February 2022.
I read even more than usual this year and can’t begin to name all the books I’ve enjoyed, but here goes. In terms of novels I have to mention White City by Kevin Power, The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding. Short story collections I really enjoyed include Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin and The End of the World is a Cul De Sac by Louise Kennedy. I read a huge amount of poetry and really loved Averno by Louise Gluck, The Readiness by Alan Gillis, Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón, Invisible Sun by Richard Skinner, Wasp on the Prayer Flag by Maeve O’Sullivan, The Limit of Light by Grace Wilentz, The Examined Life by James Harpur, Of Ochre and Ash by Eleanor Hooker, Glass Life by Ciarán O’Rourke, Liffey Sequence by David Butler and Riptide by Amanda Bell.
There were some excellent anthologies this year also including Days of Clear Light, a Festschrift for Jessie Lendennie, celebrating 40 years of Salmon Poetry, Empty House an anthology on the climate crisis from Doire Press and Local Wonders, a celebration of our immediate surroundings from Dedalus Press. I was delighted to have poems in each of these.
Plans for 2022
My main aims this year revolve around finding a publisher for my novel Riverrun at the Novel Fair in February. I’ve also done some more work recently on my short story collection What Do You Actually Want? and am keen to find a publisher during 2022. And I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my second poetry collection, Palimpsest, which I hope to submit to Salmon Poetry early in the new year.
I also have an idea for a new novel which I hope to start on very soon and I also plan to continue to write more poems and stories as the year unfolds.
This year has been very good for me I know. It goes without saying I’m sure that in this post I’m only mentioning the successes and publications. My 2021 diary is scarred with rejections and failure as every diary has been since I started writing and sending work out.
I know we’ve all said it before, but hopefully next year will see some sort of return to normality – live readings, events and book launches.
In the meantime, stay healthy and well and best wishes to all for a Happy New Year!
29th December 2021