Category Archives: News

Creative Corona: Day 25

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Change and hope are the themes of today’s poems. Alison Driscoll  is a poet and fiction writer and a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing.  She has just been announced as the 2020 Molly Keane Writer-in-Residence. Hayley-Jenifer Brennan is a student on the current MA.   

 

When It Is Over

There won’t be an empty seat at the table in our house for months after.

Kettles will be boiled off the stand and glasses will be clinked in the air.

The roads will pothole and commuters will beep and curse in the rush.

Floodlights will burn like leaving cert sun and exams will be sat,

pitches will pucker and balls will be won as stadiums fill up to the max

– from the drive-thru testing you can still see the tyre tracks –

 

We will hold hands and shake hands and say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’

again and again for all the caskets closed behind closed doors.

Children will fill classrooms and shops will raise shutters

We will stay on the footpaths as we walk towards others

but we’ll all carry anti-bac and recoil at coughs and splutters.

 

We’ll keep singing Happy Birthday at the sink as we try to wash away

the final statistics and images off the news – hospitals on the Hudson

and army tanks shouldering coffins instead of family and loved ones.

We will try to get back to normal but some tables will be emptier,

some families will be smaller and our doctors will face their mental scars

But people will try, and they’ll walk out their front doors

and they’ll sit in the driveway reluctant to start their cars.

Alison Driscoll

 

 

The End of the Day

Ssssh…

   The world is quiet – cloaked in thickened ink

               Shadows flicker, glimmer, stagger, shimmer

                           The Moon is on duty and the candles are sleepy now;

                                       We are outside of Time.

We drift softly as the scraps of Stardust that fall on our lashes

gather at the close of our eyes, ready to enchant us with Secret Wishes

                                                   nothing contains them, they are limitless

 

Ssssh…

   The world is in slumber – stilled by hushed tranquillity

               Stars sparkle, shimmer, twinkle, glitter

                           We are Poets and Artists now;

                                       We do not have to be careful.

Imagination is wisps of cloud that we scatter absentmindedly during the day,

forbidden from leaving our heads in them when there is sunlight

                                                   not bound by Time or Space, our thoughts can wander

 

Ssssh…

   You are at Peace now – tethered forever to Inspiration

               Moon Shavings dance, flurry, twirl, scurry

                           You are unafraid, you are free;

                                       there is no need for reservation.

We can walk through this Warm Winter together,

tingles of touch on the tips of our fingers as we meet again in Dreams

                                                   there is no sorrow here

                                                               Hope is not a requirement but an absolute.

Hayley-Jenifer Brennan                    

TOMORROW: “Easement” by John FitzGerald and “The Holy Ground” by James O’Sullivan

 

Creative Corona: Day 24

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Robert Feeney is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing working on a novel inspired by the life and work of the Irish-born Japanophile writer  Lafcadio Hearn. Robert goes back to another natural crisis in 2011 in this piece of short fiction. Mona Lynch who graduated from the MA in Creative Writing in 2017 considers the virus in mythical terms.

BLACK AND RED

The man is swept from the bridge by a tsunami of dark water and sports cars. No matter how many times he watches this, he can’t tell what the man is doing in those final moments. That’s probably a phone in his hand, but it could be a small book. The camera is too far away. The man is just an insect. The clip finishes and the newsreader returns. He can’t hear what she’s saying. Nami, the bartender, has the TV muted. She plays light jazz from a DJ setup in the corner. The TV is normally set to some soft porn channel, but that seems crass now. The man was some daughter’s father, some mother’s son.

In about ten minutes, the power will go off. It’s a scheduled cut, part of a national power-saving initiative. Kris deals the cards quickly, so they can get one more game in before the lights go out. The game is skulls and roses, but now they just call it black and red.

“Paul got a ticket on the Thursday flight out of Osaka. Twenty-four-hour stopover in China though.”

Paul is a traitor. Paul is a coward. He doesn’t even have the excuse of children. They’ll have to cover his classes while he eats his mother’s rank cooking. When classes begin again.

“I hope the Chinese detect and cut off his irradiated cock.”

Kris flips over a card. It’s a skull, no, black. He smashes the counter with his palm. Nami comes over, refreshes the complimentary dishes of corn nuts. Normally it would be potato sticks, but they come from Fukushima, so supplies are low. Corn nuts are fine, but they wreak havoc on your teeth. And no-one wants anything else to go wrong; no trip to the dentist, no lost credit card, no unexpected call from mum at three am because she’s forgotten the time difference. It’s too much right now. Kris flips over a card. It’s red. Nami changes the channel. The man gets swept away again. Maybe it is a book.

Nami shows them a video on her phone. A Russian man is testing tap water in Tokyo with a Geiger counter. It’s fine. Everything is fine. Nami makes a good White Russian. It’s good because it’s about nine parts vodka. It dissolves the bits of corn nut that get stuck in your teeth. The windows in the bar are tinted, but outside they can see people hurrying home, back to their families. They’re probably hurrying because the power is going off in a few minutes.

Last night, after Nami’s, he went home and realised the cockroach traps had been empty since the meltdown. He says this to Kris, who’s deep in thought. He needs to turn over one more red to win. A man outside is in so much of a hurry, he falls over in the street. Paul was always rushing about, always running, the stupid bastard. When something bad happens, the trick is not to run. Just sit still on a bar stool and let it flow past.

Nami taps her watch. She left her phone on the bar and now it’s showing the man again. He probably gets crushed by a car before he drowns. Hopefully it was a good book. Kris is frozen. There are only two cards left, so it’s a straight fifty-fifty to win, nothing much to think about at all. He finally makes a decision and flips over a card, just as the lights go out. Everything is so silent, Kris’ breath sounds like a sigh.

They sit in the dark for a while, until Nami sweeps them out the door.

Robert Feeney

 

REVENGE ON THE WORLD

Elena was leading a stolen life with a man she loved, who had no idea that the girl he had met basking on the rocks below his house – who stole his heart – was a selkie. As news of a dreaded virus spread through the land, she knew her time was up.

She loved her underwater family from the tiny periwinkles to the giant octopus.  

The mollusc family was in the forefront of the revolt. They had suffered most due to increasing human activity. They had tried minor kickbacks; they could cause anaphylactic shocks. Their snails in the Philippines caused death to thousands, hosting a fluke disease. In India they fought back with another intestinal fluke. In America their clams and mussels fought back with poisoning and the conus omaria used its venomous sting to inflict injury and even death.

But these efforts did nothing to stop the devastation. Their families were being used for aphrodisiacs, as medicine for sore throats and coughs.

 Windowpane oysters were being used in a plasma for youth and vitality. Paolin from oysters was extracted for use in polio and flu vaccines, venom from Conus as a muscle relaxant. Snails were being wiped out in the Mediterranean, their glands harvested for a dye that did not fade for 100 years. There was greed for their pearls stolen from the oyster shells. Add to this the massive fish markets where humans delighted in buying molluscs to boil while still alive, enjoying their cries of pain.  

Elena had grown up with the fear of extinction all around her.

They needed to teach humans a lesson. They enrolled the help of the electric eel, knowing they could spread the word to the population in the Sargasso Sea, who migrated to Europe, and through the Panama Canal to the South China Sea.  China with its vast fish markets was chosen for the first strike.

Razor fish from the Yangtze river volunteered, knowing that due to human activity, their neurotoxin had become more insidious having morphed into a virus which when they were sufficiently aroused and angry they could spit out onto an unsuspecting host.

As the virus spread, Elena knew what she had to do.

That night she left Cathal’s bed, ran barefoot through the night garden, through a pathway edged with spring buds where daffodils were already in bloom. A full moon guided her as she made her way down to the cave hidden under the overhanging cliff. Moonlight sent enough shafts of light through the entrance to show her where she had hidden her seal skin.

Mona Lynch

TOMORROW:  “When It is Over” by Alison Driscoll and “The End of the Day”  by Hayley-Jenifer Brennan 

Creative Corona: Day 23

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Laura McKenna was conferred with a PhD in Creative Writing (Fiction) from UCC last year. She is a novelist, short story writer and poet. Bridget Sprouls is a graduate of the inaugural MA in Creative Writing in  2013. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker and she published her first collection, The Remaining Years, last year. 

 

Mum and Jasper in the Morning

 

She rises before eight to oversee his peeing, no matter what the season, weather,

or her own inclination —

Downstairs, she ignores her damn knee, and while he leaps and circles, she makes a cup of tea

Takes an old rain coat, slung over her dressing gown, and opens the door onto the garden.

 

Onto darkness or lemon dawn or barley sugar skies or low slung cloud

and seeping rains or

The trickle drip from last night’s storm, the pots tossed on windblown grass,

or soaring birdsong,

Or onto stillness, a hush of frost, a slip of muffled snow. Or the grey heron

unfolding from the dark pond.

 

While he snuffles through soil or poppies or sodden leaves, she pauses —

To lift a drooping hellebore

Scour her hostas, pluck and crush a snail underfoot, brush past a salvia,

deadhead a rosebush,

Pickpocket seed pods, water saplings in the greenhouse.

 

Though why she bothers she doesn’t know

Having no more space

to grow anything.

 

And yet —

 

She turns back up the garden again, calling for Jasper,

carrying inside

Earth on her feet, scent of salvia

on her hands.

Laura McKenna

 

Sinkhole

 

The hour arrives of illicit shadow puppets,

 

summer juries barking

in tiki torch light.

 

Scenery: gritty floors,

hydrants of sweat.

 

Hear death trot his pristine gutters,

the tinkling of muds,

 

wizard of messy removals.

 

Build a mantel with these unintended bones — 

 

teeth

 

for the ceiling popcorn,

 

marrow summoned up the stack

to drift along

 

metaphysics.

 

Quiver and sing

Oh candy!

 

Oh monstrous rewards!

 

So bright with microscopic morgues. . . .

 

Loved me more than breath she said

 

Who?

 

Who was it she meant?

 

Some decades.

Some structures occasionally

chomped

apart.

 

Sometimes in the half-light,

custom knife-making stares innocently from the shelf.

 

Conifers sway where they will die.

 

How special to bleed

the right amount.

 

Bridget Sprouls

 

TOMORROW: “Black and Red” by Robert Feeney and “Revenge on the World” by Mona Lynch 

 

Creative Corona: Translation Contest

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Fancy yourself as a translator?

In association with the publication of Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh’s poem “éinín/francach”  on  today’s “Creative Corona”, we’re inviting writers and readers the chance to translate her poem into English.

Ailbhe will adjudicate and the winner will receive E100 and a copy of her latest bilingual volume, The Coast Road.

While a knowledge of Irish is helpful, it’s not absolutely necessary.  Ailbhe provided a glossary of words used in the poem posted today  – see  http://creativewritingucc.com/www/creative-corona-day-22/ – or go to Day 22 on the home page of this site.  All posts can also be accessed through the Department of English Facebook page. Another useful translation resource is – www.teanglann.ie.

The contest is open to all.  Please email your translation to mary.morrissy@gmail.com no later than 12 noon on Friday, May 15

The winning translation will be published on this site and on the Department of English Facebook page under the “Creative Corona” logo. 

Mary Morrissy, Associate Director of Creative Writing 

 

Creative Corona: Day 22

Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh is an Irish language poet.  She has published three collections in Irish, Péacadh (Coiscéim, 2008),  Tost agus Allagar (Coiscéim, 2016) and her bilingual The Coast Road (Gallery Press, 2016).  Ailbhe teaches in the Department of Modern Irish at UCC. In this prose poem she queries how to define the current lockdown – staycation or prison term?  

Ailbhe has kindly provided a gloss below for those of us without fluent Irish.

 

éinín / francach

 

an éinín atá ag bíogadh sa sceach – nó francach

an staycation é seo nó tamall sa charcair

an leanfaidh an mhuir ag tuilleadh is ag trá

an gcífear go brách an samhradh bán

an fearr do ghnúis a chumhdach feasta

an bhfuil masc aghaidhe anois sa bhfaisean

an éisteann tú le bachlóga ag péacadh

bhfuilir gafa le bratbhuamáil an nuachta

ar thug tú leat do leabhar ciondála

an roinnfeá liom sciar den cháca

an dream béal dorais, ar thugais faoi deara

iad ag sárú rialacha oíche is maidin

seachain seanóirí agus seachain aosánaigh

fainic anois an tsíocháin bhradach

sáil agus barraicín timpeall an tí

bardaí an ospidéil ag cur thar maoil

bhfuil pictiúr den sourdough in airde ar Insta

is do chleachtas ióga ina údar gaisce

an luíonn an imní mar ualach ar d’ucht

bhfuilir ullamh don tubaiste atá le teacht

an raibh an ceart ag cearc an phrompa

nó an bhfanfaidh an spéir in airde tamall eile

– agus an baol dom thú a chréatúir, a dhuine?

Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh

Gluais / Gloss
 
carcair: prison
an mhuir: the sea
do ghniús: your face
a chumhdach: to cover
bachlóga: buds
ag péacadh: blossoming / germinating
bratbhuamáil: brat = blanket; buamáil = bombing
leabhar ciondála: ration book
sciar: portion / piece
an dream béal dorais: the people next door
seanóirí: elderly
aosánaigh: young folk
bradach: false / untrustworthy
sáil: heel
barraicín: toe
bardaí: wards
ióga: yoga
cearc an phrompa: chicken licken
an baol dom thú: are you a danger to me

 

 

TOMORROW:  “Mum and Jasper in the Morning” by Laura McKenna and “Sinkhole” by Bridget Sprouls 

Creative Corona: Day 21

Novelist and playwright Conal Creedon, Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing at UCC, wonders are we ready to see the COVID-19 pandemic as our latest world war.  

 

AND I’M THINKING. . .

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,

but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Albert Einstein – Liberal Judaism (April-May 1949)

Even Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, could not have anticipated that World War III would be fought with nothing more than a squirt of hand sanitizer and two  verses of Happy Birthday.

By the dawn of the 21st century the anticipated rules of engagement for World War III had changed and changed utterly. The arrival of the pan-national, New Age eco-warrior movement informed us that the next Great Global Conflict would not be a nation versus nation old-style military exercise. World War III would not be a battle for territory, nor would it be a clash of opposing ideologies. No – the next war to end all wars would demand the banding together of the human race and human resources to fight against some greater, as yet unknown and un-quantified, catastrophe of global proportion.

Two years ago, our future, our planet came back into sharp focus when a fifteen year-old schoolgirl stepped out from behind the barricades, her words cut through the racket of sabre rattling and rhetoric – and world leaders sat up and took notice.

Greta Thunberg was that modern-day Joan of Arc; her message was global and simple. She reached out to every living soul across the seven continents regardless of colour, creed or nationality. “My message is the same to everyone,” she said. “We must unite behind the science and act on the science.”

Like the prophets of old, she insisted she was but a conduit to a greater knowledge, a greater power. And when our leaders reassured her saying, “I am listening to you, Greta”, her rebuke was as sharp as it was blunt. “Don’t listen to me,” she snapped. “Listen to the scientists.”

Our leaders waffled and the war on climate change was once again long-fingered. And though we all agreed that – The End of The World is Nigh, we relaxed in the comfort of our First-World life-style, sitting smugly at the top of the food chain, reassured by our self proclaimed superior intellect – we were confident that ‘nigh’ would not be coming anytime soon – and certainly not in our lifetime.

But then, three months ago, just when we least expected it – World War III began. COVID-19 hit.

Our expert strategists all agreed: This is a pandemic. In the absence of a vaccine there will be deaths, many deaths. An uncurtailed spike in infections will overrun our frontline medical defences and lead to an exponential rise in human mortality. The greatest scientists and medical minds on the planet assembled and devised a definitive battle plan. 

Phase one of World War III was to be a rear-guard action of damage limitation. The plan was simple. We had to ‘flatten the curve’.  This would give medical science some chance to limit the carnage of the first shock wave of attack. The strategy was clear: Self-quarantine and social isolation. Non-combatants [Joe and Josephine Public] must stay in our homes, for the virus lurks within the non-combatant community. Movement of people would stop. Our normal social discourse through work and play was to cease immediately. Shops, pubs, sporting and entertainment events would be shut down. The message was clear and simple. Stay home and “Flatten the Curve” – we were warned that, if we continue recklessly unchecked, the net result would be to “Cull the Herd”.

An interesting aspect of human group dynamics is our ability to react to any given situation with either herd behaviour  – or pack instinct. In times of crisis, humans function most efficiently when we rely on our pack instinct. We work best when refined to small groups with strong trusted leadership, working towards a common goal, for the greater good. In the face of this pandemic, under the guidance of good leadership, small groups would isolate from the herd and work as individual packs for the greater good – and that was the plan – plain and simple.

But the initial denial, dithering and mixed messages by some of our most powerful and influential opinion leaders – created uncertainty among the herd. The message they delivered was not simple, the plan was ever-changing and the strategy was unclear. This confused our pack instinct and encouraged our herd reaction – leading to some bizarre behaviour – not least, the insane stock-piling of toilet paper in every home across the globe.

And so, I sit here looking out on the deserted streets of my hometown. Life has degenerated to a Grade B science fiction movie – a dystopian global scenario that would not be unfamiliar to Austin Powers, Peter Sellers or Mr. Bean. The whole world is in lock-down.

And I’m thinking. . . 

The sceptic in me feels, not much will be learnt from 2020. The cynic in me imagines a future of unchecked climate change, rising water levels – and those who should know better, with their trousers rolled up beyond their knees and they paddling around the foothills of Mount Everest – reciting the mantra,  ‘Fake News! Fake News!’

But, the eternal optimist in me believes that we will remember the words of Greta Thunberg when she insisted, “We must unite behind the science and act on the science.”

Nobody knows if or when World War III, this battle with Covid-19 will all end. I’ve heard some say, it will all be over by Christmas. . .

When all this is over, and we honour our dead and count the costs. Let us look back on 2020 with 20:20 vision.  Let us hope that when the next call to arms resounds around the world that neither party political expediency nor partisan national interests will take precedence over human survival.

And I’m thinking. . .

Maybe Albert Einstein was correct when he predicted  – “World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Conal Creedon

TOMORROW: éinín / francach by Ailbhe Ni Ghearbhuigh

 

 

 

Creative Corona: Day 20

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Alison McCrossan graduated earlier this year with an MA in Creative Writing, The imperative mood in her poem echoes the admonishing tone of much of our public communication during this crisis, while in a poem dedicated to Alison, her classmate, Irene Halpin Long, anticipates returning to simple rituals when the danger of COVID-19 has passed.  

 

May The Bells Sound, Spring 2020

 

There are holes in the streets but no funeral bells sound.

The imagined clips,  the rattle out of sight.

Shut the windows, lock the  doors, lest darkness saunter round.

 

His name is viral, embedded in every social site, one of a kind.

He’s driven to infect your society, with no regard for plight.

There are holes in the streets but no funeral bells sound.

 

He’s a modern myth, ego of a single cell organism, bound

to his mission of riding, host to host, until he comes upon your light.

Blacken your windows, lock your doors, lest darkness saunter round.

 

He’s suffocating old stars, the sick and the frail, as you surround

yourself with solitude; his strength lies in your need to interact.

There are holes in the streets and no funeral bells sound.

 

For every heart he nulls; every hole for every soul, it’s time to mound

an edifice, taller and taller, mind by mind, soul by soul, lighten his impact.

Check your windows, check your doors, lest darkness saunter round.

 

He’ll shoulder your faith for a vulnerable thought, blood lusting hound,

but hold on tight, keep looking to the sun, strike this pact:

while there are holes in the streets and no funeral bells sound,

open your windows, look to the sky, lest darkness saunter round.

 

Alison McCrossan

 

Let the chips fall where they may 

  for Alison McCrossan

 

Some day soon, our asphalt car park will feel

the weight of bald tyres, unwaxed upper lips,

giggle pocked bellies, grumbling for a hit

 

of hand-cut chips, doused in salt, vinegar,

folded in a paper parcel, cans of pop

and pots of curry sauce standing sentry

 

on the counter as we argue; “I’ll pay!”

“No ya feckin’ won’t! It’s my turn this time!”

Fingers racing to find the right change first.

 

You carry the cans. I carry the chips

back to the car, offering our bounty

to the dashboard. Heat fogs the windscreen window.

 

Seats pushed back, we set the world to rights. Chips

hop from unfurled paper to brazen mouths,

cooled by slurps of fizz and safe silences.

 

Irene Halpin Long

TOMORROW: “And I’m Thinking” – an essay by Conal Creedon

 

 

Creative Corona: Day 19

In a short excerpt from his new novel, Arts Council/UCC Writer-in-Residence Danny Denton depicts a Cork social world that seems very exotic in the midst of lockdown, while MA graduate Christine Kannapel considers the fugitive beauty of ravens. 

 from:  The Undiscover’d Country: An Echo Chorus

The Friday night Friary crowd arrived intermittently, flotsam delivered by the tide, each arrival announced by the banging of the door. Out of the buses they came, and out of the taxis and the lifts, and after brisk walks, with smiles, with keys and coins jingled in pockets, bags unhooked from shoulders. So careful with those early pints, gathered up in twos and threes.  Come midnight, only the nearer faces were clear. Jolly heads and shoulders bobbing. The loveliest kind of yellow light. Hands held. Arms draped. Wonder of the pint. Wonder of the deranged posters on the walls. Voices unravelling many spools of tales all at once, the palaver chewing and consuming and digesting and regurgitating itself. The selves unfolding. It didn’t matter what you said. Hours sinking in the watch. Deep hearty laughter. Jolly place. Waiting for Mike’s attention for ages. Random conversations, strange people: students; gamblers; the Apple crowd; that musician, that rapper dude; the swing crowd; the Icelandics with their Mohicans; the rugby-mad postman; the gamer; Toe Head; the taxi man; that African busker; yer wan with the art studio above in the Firkin Crane; Sheffield Chris who did the quiz of a Wednesday; that Traveller lady who was always about the place; four heart attacks right there; a campaigner there; lonely, they said; couldn’t even kill himself right, they said;  hiya, John! hey, June!; transformed groceries was all they all were; pasta and muesli converted; plans and problems; outrages…; no shocks here though; all was punditry; punditry was all; stories of the guards; voices in the void, repeating what they heard on the radio and on the television and on the web; no phrase so terrible as the beef industry; the match; the world put to rights; yes; yes; ho-hum; hey-ho; ahwell; herenow; gowan; gluck; goway; buck up; your hole; me hole; upoutofit; that could be us, Marta, that could be us; don’t be so dramatic, Lou; please, let the bombs start falling now!; tell no-one, even now; even now; say nathin’; not a word of boasting; not one to gloat; share the luck, I say; share the news; not one to boast; not one to gossip; not one to walk away; not one to give in; not one to take shit; not one to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong; not one to talk out of place; not one for the dogs; not one for bold statements; not one for doing; I love you; I know you do; do you not think about the future? what it might be like?; I think the world is going to hell; I think I’ll go for a run tomorrow; exit all, eventually, all ghosts, to leave Mike counting the cash, busting for that second-last fag.

Danny Denton

Tower Ravens

So black they’re blue
streaked in summer light,
I see why

a photographer
narrows into their perch.

Why do they fly away
when I too want to capture
them—to see my reflection

on their moon shine
feathers, my eyes
beads in theirs.

Christine Kannapel

TOMORROW: “May the Bells Sound: Spring 2020″by Alison McCrossan and “Let the Chips Fall where they may” by Irene Halpin Long

 

 

 

Creative Corona: Day 18

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Fiona Whyte is a PhD student in Creative Writing at UCC.  This extract, with its plague echoes, is from work she’s submitting as part of her doctoral thesis, a novel inspired by the life of the 5th century Saint Cuthbert.  In today’s second piece, MA graduate,  Sue Lewando, ponders on what makes a story and why we’re all addicted to them. 

Let These Things Be Written (an extract)

They beached the boat at the foot of the Royal City and climbed the hill to the fortress. Wilfrid kept a few paces behind Bishop Cuthbert, picking his way slowly over the frost and ice-stitched path. The top of the hill was alive with birds. A rolling sea of black. Ravens, hooded crows, black-backed gulls. Beating wings, they swooped and dived, rose and swooped again, shrieked and cried and swirled around each other like warriors in a battle dance. Wilfrid pulled up his hood and tried to keep his face covered as they moved ever closer to the demented torrent of birds that plunged so close now they had to swipe them away with their hands. But the birds, this whirling mass of demons, had not come for the living. Just outside the walls of the fortress was a huddle of corpses, clothing ripped, faces, hands, any exposed parts picked over by the birds, plucked clean of flesh. One corpse lay on its back, mouth open, lips ripped away, bloodied hollows where the eyes should have been. Wilfrid stepped back, shuddering. He swallowed down the bile rising in his throat, and then, following Cuthbert’s example, made the sign of the cross over the dead.

        A watchman admitted them inside the gates. He eyed Cuthbert’s pectoral cross anxiously.

        ‘Why are these people unburied?’ Cuthbert said, his voice harsh and rasping. His throat must be sand-dry from lack of food and liquid, Wilfrid thought. He had been fasting for days. ‘Why were they not afforded the King’s protection within the walls?’

The watchman was a small, thin lad, younger than Wilfrid, too young for battle. A sword, too large to be his own, hung heavily from his waist.

        ‘They had plague, Bishop. Before he left for Pictland the King warned that no pestilence carriers were to be admitted to the city. No one was to touch them or come within ten paces of them. They were ordered away time and again, but they kept coming back.’

        Cuthbert joined his hands as if he would pray, though Wilfrid noticed how he appeared to clench his hands tightly together.

        ‘It is a violation of every sacred rule and custom to leave their mortal remains here unburied and unblessed. Even under the old gods due respect was accorded to the bones of the dead. This, this is a sacrilege. See that they are buried. I will say the funeral rites myself once I have spoken with the Queen.’

        The boy watchman shuffled from foot to foot, looked miserably at the ground as he spoke.

        ‘No one will touch them, Bishop, for if they do they may not be let back into the fortress. Ecgfrith King says he has built walls against the plague. He will keep the plague beyond these walls as surely as he will keep the Picts beyond the boundaries of our territory. The bodies are to be left to the birds of the skies to serve as a warning to others who are plague-ridden from spreading their contagion here. Those are the orders of Ecgfrith King and must be upheld until he returns. The Queen herself would not go against them.’

        Cuthbert put his hand under the boy’s chin, lifted it so the boy had no choice but to look at him directly.

        ‘I will bury them myself if I have to,’ Cuthbert said.

Fiona Whyte

 

What’s in a Story?

Imagine the darkness of a tribal night, and the tales that hang on the flickering firelight; the actor on stage, enthralling his audience; the beer-swiller in front of an action movie. Imagine the reader curled in a swing seat; the poet at open mic night. For each of them, the surroundings have evaporated, story has taken over. The love of story rests deep in the human psyche, and has done for so long the centuries disappear back into the mists of time.

In Ireland, I’m greeted with the words: What’s the story, anything new or strange? When I moved here, a few years back, this was alien to my English ears, but the words strike the writer’s chord full on. My friends don’t want to hear a list of personal gripes, the same old, life’s irritations regurgitated. It’s also likely they don’t want a discussion on politics or what was on TV. They’re asking if anything interesting and personal has happened in my life. They’re seeking a story, and want to be entertained.

In real life conversation rolls around a subject, going off at a tangent, skipping around stories, anecdotes, and interruptions. The storyteller can digress to the point that the punchline gets lost in the landslide of words, but by then someone else has taken the floor, so it doesn’t matter. It’s what turns the social wheel. But when someone comes up with a new story, something you haven’t heard before, don’t you lean forward just slightly, focus, and listen?

Fiction isn’t like real life. It can’t ramble around the houses, or the reader will lose the plot, then lose interest. It must grab the imagination, and not let go. However, writing fiction which achieves that goal is like playing a game of chess against yourself. You might think, how can you fail, but perhaps you should wonder how you can possibly win, when you’re fighting on both sides of the board, and each move changes the game plan. The story you’re seeking is sometimes a moving target, and hitting the target is a skill that needs to be learned and practised.

Even if the tale has been triggered by a real event with real people, the author is not trying to tell the truth. If you like, fiction is a compound lie, driving towards some kind of closure. Even when the underlying story nugget comes from the same source – a prompt in a writing circle, for instance – no two writers will envisage the same characters, the same situation, the same plot.

For some readers, a good book means a literary novel with prose that can be enjoyed for its own sake. For others, it rests in a driving story with a dramatic ending. Who are we to judge? Whatever reason for the eventual choice, however justified in terms of literary value, fiction should enthral or transport the reader, or it has failed in its task.

Sue Lewando

TOMORROW: an extract from  Danny Denton’s new novel and “Tower of Ravens” by Christine Kannapel. 

 

 

 

Creative Corona: Day 17

Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Cathy Ryan and Elaine Desmond are currently students on the MA in Creative Writing.  As an antidote to lockdown, they bring us out into nature with these two poems. 

 

The Arctic

 

Rosebay willow herb,

it was the last time you told me the name of a plant.

We were walking the dusty gravel road to the edge of the woods.

Woods so silent and full that

the absence of noise was pure sound.

 

Up here, the clean living of tree and bark have

grown into wildly shifting shapes,

into creatures and beings I have never seen.

They skin, scale and shimmer, their beaks, jaws

and eyes appearing from twisted, lichened trunks.

 

Up here, the trees are an endless unwrapping of language and tellings,

written in dapples on tireless, delicate skins of bark,

whorls and hieroglyphics marking the passing of time.

Telling of the passing of silence, telling of our passing

our hands tucked deep in our pockets,

making the break slowly.

Cathy Ryan                 

 

Head-

                          Land

 

Darling heron-ruled headland, green-marine

claw of rock and water. Cadet blue

sometimes or paint swatch shades between

damselfish or larkspur. Truly? Not true —

it’s mostly grey. Mud-sullen, pallid grey

as colourless as tuberculosis.

Though our eyes find turquoise past this clay,

some days even storm tides won’t heal sepsis.

Watching trawlers, ferries, overhead flights,

we haul our bones from shore to shore, as practic

al herons squawk their advice,                                                       

KEEP GOING they shout, walk light, don’t stick,

keep-your-hearts-open, trills a curlew

be primed for magic. Listen — from out of the blue…..

Elaine Desmond

 

TOMORROW: An extract by Fiona Whyte from her novel,  Let These Things be Written, and Sue Lewando on the nature of story-telling.