Folklore and History, Food, Travel

Happy Nollaig na mBan, 12th Night, Epiphany 2019!

We took down the last of our Christmas decorations today, as we always do on the 6th January, or the Epiphany; it’s a tradition carried on from my own mother, who insisted almost fearfully that every last scrap of tinsel and turkey must begone by this date, or a calamitous year of bad luck would lie ahead.

I recall as a very young child the decorations coming down and then a visit to one of my mother’s friends for a cup of tea and maybe something light to eat; a cake maybe, or biscuits.

It wasn’t until much later that I recognized this as a hangover from the old Irish tradition of Nollaig na mBan, or  Little Christmas/Women’s Christmas, which is seeing something of a resurgence in the Republic of Ireland, and which my mother’s family may have observed as Catholics.

Nollaig na mBan (pronounced something like “Null-ag na Mon”) marks not only the end of the 12 days of Christmas, the Epiphany, and the deadline for many for the removal of Christmas frippery, but also the day when hard-working Irish wives and mothers would be granted a much-needed break after feeding their large families throughout the Christmas period. Menfolk and children would pick up the reins for this day, while their women met for a break, a breather, a natter and maybe something to eat.

I’d like to state that this was an outdated notion by the time of my childhood (1970s), but alas the tradition, if not the name of the day, was still in full force in most of the families we knew.

Coincidentally my husband prepared Sunday lunch today as I untangled the garden lights and nodding reindeers, once more retired to the garage for eleven months or so, but I’m glad to say that this was a coincidence; I no longer have to slave until the first week in January to get parity of workload around the house for a single day.

So as I boil the kettle for a refreshing cup of Punjana, I wish mammies around the world, Irish or otherwise, a happy Nollaig na mBan, while simultaneously hoping devoutly that it’s just a symbolic break for them, and that the division of labour is more enlightened in their families. img_2246

The Codsway Chip Shop, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
And The Buntings Flew, Food, Travel

For Cod, and Ulster – Northern Ireland’s Enduring Love of Chip Shops

This is a post I wrote on my family history blog in July that I meant to crosspost sooner;  it’s a short musing on food and language in Northern Ireland, both important themes in much of my writing!

via For Cod, and Ulster – Northern Ireland’s Enduring Love of Chip Shops

And The Buntings Flew, My writing, Travel, Writing

June ’18 Update – More Flash Fiction, and Seeking Inspiration for My Writing

Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else. – Tennessee Williams

Sometimes, rather than peace coming to me “dropping slow“, it’s inspiration. The inspiration to realise my writing dreams waxes and wanes, given the daily grind of job, commute, and paying the bills. Waiting for inspiration doesn’t get things done, and it can be interminably slow in showing up. So slow that it starts to rival the Tar pitch experiment.  

But some things do inspire me and give that drip of pitch a helpful jiggle; for example when another piece of my flash fiction is published Enchanted  is a 100-word mini-fantasy tale of a modern fairy with very traditional views of mankind.  The story has been published at 101 Fiction;  please take a moment or ten to have a read of some of the flash fiction that John Xero is publishing; I especially loved a couple of this month’s stories.

As I’ve written on here previously, flash and short fiction for me is fun, but ultimately a distraction. It’s working without getting the real job done. It’s cleaning the oven when I should be writing my thesis, spring cleaning when I should be researching 1970s Irish fashion and politics.

My dream voyage is to write novels, good novels; with gripping stories, something to say about the nature of humanity and something that I can look back on as jobs well done. As my legacy in fact. Fine, lofty goals, but they require hard work and persistence, planning and delivery, in the face of the daily grind, the daily annoyances and disappointments, or just the daily can’t-be-bothered. If I wait for inspiration, they will languish in the electronic drawer of my Dropbox, forever.

Yesterday was a nice day; cloudy, with bursts of sunshine.  I wanted to go out with my husband, but we had to wait at home until 1pm. Then the question was; what do we do now? I couldn’t think of what to do, a destination that wouldn’t involve long drives in a hot car. But I wanted an experience to round out the day. In the end, we “just” went for a walk, along a river, with no destination in mind. That’s not something I’m often comfortable with; I have a project and programme management background in my day job, and I need to have a plan (and a budget) or it’s not happening! But yesterday, I went along with it as I had nothing better to offer.

And we had a lovely time. We found a different route that almost no one else was taking, we strode alongside bushes that trembled with beautiful black and blue butterflies, and we finally reached (on foot) a pub that was on our wishlist, which was as cosy as we’d hoped. We rewarded ourselves for our long walk with a drink or two.

The quote above from Tennessee Williams reminds me; I have to make more voyages, or at least attempt them, because what’s the alternative?

With this in mind, I’ve opened up both my draft novel documents and have renewed my commitment to them both, to complete them! Short fiction might sneak in here and there, but not at the expense of my longer fiction. I might not know how the novels will turn out, but the voyage is not only a worthy quest, it’s an essential part of reaching the goal!

I’ve also booked another week in Northern Ireland in July, to refresh my memory, and to bring new inspiration for And The Buntings Flew. I may discover new butterflies, write about them, and I may have a drink or two. On that note, we discovered the best Guinness in the world (so far) in a pub in beautiful, sleepy Cushendall, on just such another impromptu voyage of discovery; let’s make more voyages, or at the very least, attempt them.

My writing, The Bondage of The Soil, Travel, Writing

March ’18 Roundup – Bruges, Website Makeover, Short Stories and Nano Probes

I posted in January about the snow hanging around like an impervious, unwelcome house guest; this week we’ve just seen the back of the latest batch! Some gloomy forecasters predict the UK will have a white Easter; I choose to ignore these pessimists (with fingers crossed).

It has been an unseasonably cold late winter and early spring, but we took a chance and booked a city break to Bruges a couple of weeks ago. This was my first visit, and I was delighted with the “Venice of the North”; if you enjoy lots of very tall, very old churches, museums, galleries, canals, fine chocolate and beer, you’re in for a treat in Bruges. A word of warning for vegetarians like myself though, or Vegans – like their German neighbours, the Belgians love meat, with some fish thrown in. If you eat Flemish, expect lots of beef and rabbit stews, mussels and pâté.  Desserts are wonderful and I made up with lots of waffles and pancakes, and a wonderful apple pie flambéd in Calvados.

Apple pie with Calvados flambe
Belgian Apple Pie with Calvados Flambé

Back in the frigid climes of England, I decided to update this site; I trawled through WordPress themes for writers (WordPress seems to think that a writer’s main occupation is posting lots of pictures, but I digress!), and I found a nice clean theme (Dara). I’m really pleased with the results. Let me know what you think!

In terms of writing, I finished a 6,000-word short story, that started life in my mind, as many of my stories do, as a piece of flash fiction. The theme for a short fiction site I frequent was “Lovecraftian”, and being a lover of all things HPL, I had a story in mind. I work in an area of London that’s an interesting mix of very modern,  a hot revitalisation area that sits cheek and jowl with some very old and somewhat out-of-the-way corners;  rivers, canals, and docks that wind through some undeveloped or just uninhabited corners of the capital. Anyway, that’s where my story was based, and it grew into a Lovecraftian homage monster of a tale that I’m really pleased with. I’ve submitted it to some respected Cosmic Horror publications, and I really have big hopes that it will be published soon, so watch this space; this would be my longest work of fiction published to date.

Last but definitely not least, as well as imagining horrid things happening to hapless Londoners, I reviewed where I was with my first draft of my Sci-Fi work in progress, The Bondage of the Soil. Reading the obituaries of the late Stephen Hawking, the beloved theoretical physicist whose A Brief History of Time I first read in the early 1990’s, I went on to spend hours reading of all the developments Stephen Hawking was instrumental in pushing forwards, especially theories of how mankind (or alien species) would achieve interstellar travel.

Without giving too much away, interstellar travel happens to be one of the core plots of  The Bondage of The Soil. I have the main plot points sketched out, but I’ve been struggling with a couple of points; I want my story to be hard science fiction in as much as the ideas are theoretically possible in the near future, but I’m very much a dilettante when it comes to theoretical physics. I came across a couple of articles that helped me out in how interstellar journeys might be feasible, and in doing so I came across some more invaluable help! My story involves a visit to earth and a trip home; I had no idea how my protagonist was going to help her interstellar friend return home, but in reading about  Nanoprobes, star chips, and star wisps, I learned that one suggested  approach to interstellar travel is that of  uploading a person’s brain via software creating an “uploaded” astronaut.  This will be the way my story goes – in effect its deals with some of the core concepts of  Transhumanism  (and trans alienism?)

I wondered: if an astronaut’s brain and personality were captured in data,  it should, in theory, be possible to “transmit” it back home as data. To cut a long story short I came across an amateur radio forum discussing bouncing data off satellites, moons and planets, and one very helpful poster was so good as to get back to my crude and simplistic questions, giving me a wealth of ideas and options which have morphed into a much more realistic and even emotional plot! I’m now busy capturing some of these points for more research; it’s reinvigorated me to get this story finished and look for a publisher.

One last note before I wrap up for now: one of the nuggets of info my radio correspondent shared was just how many observatories there are in the UK; by a beautifully serendipitous coincidence, one is within a few miles of the location in my story!

Writing is considered a solitary experience, and in terms of the mechanics it often is, but I’ve had so many people help me on my writing journey – friends and family who understand (or tolerate!) my need to be alone and google the most fantastic things, kindly colleagues and strangers who give their own time and knowledge to check my writing, editors who help me to edit and thus publish my stories, and experts who give their own time and knowledge to help me write the best fiction I can.  My heartfelt thanks to all!