The most important of Irish Holidays is almost here! Tomorrow is Nollaig na mBan! Unlike last year, we might even get to celebrate with other women IRL, and not just Zoom ghosts.
Nollaig na mBan is the day when Irish women own (and complete) Christmas. In Ireland, on this day, women would traditionally gather to feast and drink -and the men would take over the housework, and serve them food and beverages (an extraordinary reversal back in the day…). In modern Ireland, it’s simply a great excuse to celebrate all the female friendships in your life and have proper girlie knees-up. I love this holiday and think we should export it like we did St. Patrick’s Day and Hallowe’en. It’s too good to keep to ourselves. Who is up for spreading some Nollaig na mBan joy tomorrow? (Pronounced NUH-lig n’MON)
Proud to say I’ve been hired to co-write a pilot and treatment for a TV series with producer Lisa Wolfinger of US-based Lone Wolf Media. With their impressive production record including two seasons of Mercy Street on PBS, I’m super excited about this project. For inspiration, have hung this painting by Cornish artist Jo March.
I’m a writer. I love words. However, the mis/over use of words, particularly adjectives and adverbs, is the most common fault you’ll find in the work of novice writers. Lack of confidence in writing skills will have new writers shoehorn as many descriptive words as they can get into a sentence – resulting in a lot of bling and little substance. The advanced writer will know how to communicate in a pared down manner.
It’s hard to ween yourself off adjectives and adverbs. Part of the problem is that there are so many descriptive words in the English language, a tongue with more word-families than any other language. This fact is rooted in the English language’s parentage: French and German, and also the English language’s absorption of words from a multitude of other tongues. Thus, there are many English words that describe quite similarly (ie “loving” is from German and “amorous” is from French), so it is easy to get carried away and over do it, with such a lavish spread on offer. But in order to improve, you need to exercise restraint.
That is not to say you can’t enjoy words. Most of my favourite words are loan words and include: “pyjama” and “shampoo” which come from India (though I’m not sure of the specific languages), “Hacienda” and “siesta” which are Spanish. “Itsy-bitsy”, “paprika”, “coach”, “goulash”, “hussar” and “biro” which are Hungarian. “Smithereen”, “galore”, “banshee”, “slew”, “brogue”, “kibosh”, “hobo”, “gansey” and “shanty” which come from Irish. I enjoy writing them, I love saying them – I’ve just got to be careful about stuffing my prose with too many descriptive and exotic words. Less is usually more. I like to use the painter’s palette analogy – if you add blue to yellow, you get green. If you add blue, yellow, red, green, gray, you get mud. Too many descriptive words, as lovely as they are on their own, will muddy the picture you are trying to create.
Words are fun, go ahead and celebrate words – but do so in moderation and you’ll make a stronger impression.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@SueHealy) will know that I’m obsessed with the view from my London window. I bought my flat in W6 in November last year and moved in just before lockdown II (or was that III?). This panorama has kept me sane (sort of) and it’s inspired a number of story strands (more of which to come…). I’m still a night writer, but I find the morning good for editing. As writers, finding your creative time of day is very conducive to productivity.
There is a theory that the brain is more creative in the morning, especially in your waking moments. For this reason, many writers keep their notepad by their beds and make sure that the very first thing they do when they open their eyes each morning, is write. The resultant notes are called “morning pages”.
Morning pages might contain what a writer remembers of their dreams or perhaps the writer will jot down the very first words that come to mind – however nonsensical. Some writers say that this exercise helps them ‘slip’ more easily into what writers’ call the “writing rapture” when a writer feels ideas are pouring into their mind. When writers write in the morning, so the theory goes, they are closer to their sleeping state and the mind is more imaginative and/or receptive to ideas.
Nontheless, there are plenty of writers who write late at night – for the same reason that they say the closer to sleep they are, the more creative their ideas. Then there are other writers who find their most productive hours are in the middle of the day (the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling is a good example. She wrote her first book in a busy Edinburgh café).
Therefore, it is clear that different times of the day work for different people and it is really of no consequence whether you are a morning, day or night writer. What is important is that you write and that you find your ideal writing time. Experiment and find what works for you and then set an hour aside each day at that time and write, but do write.
In Hungary, a person gets two celebratory days a year: your birthday and your name day. I lived in Hungary for a dozen years and love marking my nameday on February 19th. And I’d encourage the same for all my fellow Sues, Suzannes, Susans, Susies, Zsuzsas, Zsuzsis and Zsuzsannas.
I have a mixed feelings about my name, however. Sue (or ratehr the homophonic ‘Szu’) means ‘woodworm’ in Hungarian, ‘drunk’ in French and ‘death’ in Chinese, none of which is terribly sexy. Unlike in Ireland where I was born, in the UK, where I now live, Sue is a very common name. Moreover, the moniker is associated with a generation older then myself. Nonetheless, my name is something my parents gave me, so I wouldn’t change it for anything. Issues around my name have made me quite a name nerd and as a writer, I’m very interested in the associations created by names.
Writers often choose names to reflect a character’s traits. Dickens was king of this device and his characters’ names are often a byword for their leading trait (Scrooge, Uriah Heap, Havisham). Arguably, JK Rowling is the modern name guru, her choices instantly evocative and revealing (think of Snape, Hermoine, Minerva McGonagall, Peter Pettigrew). And think of Hannibal Lecter, in light of nominative determinism, what person named Hannibal was ever going to be anything but a cannibal.
Conan Doyle chose very unusual names for the unusual Holmes family (Mycroft and Sherlock). Conan Doyle’s mother came from my home county of Waterford in Ireland, and he spent summers there as a young man. I’m convinced it was in Waterford the author first heard the name ‘Sherlock’ and it stuck. It’s not an uncommon name in that county as a surname, and growing up, I knew at least one man with it as a first name. An elementary deduction really…
It’s cold, it’s snowy and it’s lockdown #47 or whatever… but it’s still beautiful out there. The 6x60min TV series I created during the 1st lockdown was optioned, so there’s always good stuff going on.
The monthly speakers event, the Finborough Forum was launched three years ago by Carmen Nasr and myself with the generous support of the Donald Howarth and George Goetschius Society of Friends charitable trust. Since then it’s grown in impact and reach and the list of speakers who’ve addressed our monthly gathering is a who’s who of London theatre. Covid has moved us online of course, but this has had its advantages – indeed it permits speaks to zoom in virtually from all over the world. Although we do miss the opportunity to mingle in the bar afterwards!
Here’s a recording of a recent forum with the playwright Anders Lustgarten.
We look forward to welcoming the BBC Writersroom’s Simon Nelson on January 13th at 7.30pm.
The Queen of Irish Holidays is here, but we’ll have to update the tradition and zoom it this year!Its the day when women own Christmas.In Ireland, Jan. 6th is “Nollaig na mBan” (literally “Women’s Christmas”). On this day, women gather to feast and drink -and the men take over the housework, and serve them food and beverages (an extraordinary reversal back in the day…). These days, its a great excuse to celebrate all the female friendships in your life. I love this holiday and think we should export it like we did St. Patrick’s Day and Hallowe’en. It’s too good to keep to ourselves.
When undertaking my PhD, for five years I shared an apartment with a wonderful elderly man who owned an astounding post-impressionist art collection. This painting was one of the jewels. By the Polish Jewish artist, Henri Hayden, it celebrates the multi-culturalism of Montparnasse. It’s a very appealing image, but it has a strong message at its core – as art must, otherwise it’s just decoration. Writers worth their ink need to making a point with their story. Art must contain some comment on life, on human existence. Therefore, beneath your storyline, there should be something else going on, a deeper message, your take on how humanity works, or doesn’t… Consider Aesop’s Fables, each one is a tale that could be enjoyed on a superficial level by a child, yet there is a deeper meaning, or moral, which endeavors to teach the child some universal truth about life, ie being slow yet determined is often better than being hasty and easily distracted (Tortoise and the Hare).
A good place to seek inspiration for a comment on universal truths is a list of proverbs. A proverb is usually a metaphor and encapsulates in simple terms, a lesson from the common experience of humanity. Here’s an exercise that might get you going: sit down and have a think about the specific meaning of the following and then go freewrite a story illustrating (Or disproving) this philosophy.
You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.
The belly has no ears.
Trees don’t grow to the sky.
A dumb priest never got a parish.
The only free cheese is in the mousetrap.
Eaten bread is soon forgotten.
The squeaky door gets the oil.
If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve never spent a night with a mosquito.
Graveyards are full of indispensable people.
The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.