Tag Archives: Budapest

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Interior location – my bedroom, Flat 1. Budapest, Hungary -photo Nannette Vinson

The setting is the signature of many a writer: Stieg Larsson and Sweden (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Annie Rice and New Orleans (Interview with a Vampire), John le Carre, the world of spies.

And a surprising literary setting can make your story all the stronger. Agatha Christie stories work so well because in every quaint vicarage with its lace table cloths, jam, Jerusalem and glasses of sherry – there’s a body under the table.

A New York Street

Writing what you know

It is often said you should “write what you know”. A sensible approach, especially for the new writer. By placing your characters in scenes and situations with which you are familiar, you are more likely to invest a sense of realism in the story. Also, practically speaking, writing about familiar territory will save on research you might otherwise have to do on a subject/setting.

Some writers resist writing what they know as they feel their own environments are not “glamorous” or “extraordinary” enough to merit such attention. This is nonsense. Whatever you do and whoever you are, your life will seem exotic to someone else. The fact that you grew up on a council estate/project developent in Bolton/Kalamazoo is interesting to someone living on a farm in Siberia. Remember, the life of an immigrant taxi-driver would quite likely fascinate the Queen of England.

Also, you don’t necessarily have to set your story in your street or your workplace. Think of your Saturday morning football team, your chool, the nightclubs you frequent, a hospital you’ve spent time in or a prison. All are equally valuable settings for a short story, novel, play, film script or even poem or song. Your environment is your gold, mine it.

But I don’t want to write about my environment…

That’s fine too. There is also case for “writing what you don’t know”. Fantasy writers, for example, are (usually) not elves living in Middle Earth. Historical fiction writers have not lived in Tudor England. Yet, Fantasy/SciFi/Historical novels are written and enjoyed every year. For Fantasy/SciFi you need a familiarity with the genre and a vivid imagination. For historical fiction you need to like research. For all the above you’ll require the ability to convincingly create an unfamiliar world.

Bear in mind, however, that while a Fantasy writer won’t get complaints from angry elves about his misinformed stereotypes. A novelist who sets a story in a modern French monastery, and knows nothing about France or monks – is asking for trouble. Firstly, their prose may be riddled with (skewed) perceptions of France and the French, monks/Catholicism/wine-making etc… And not only is there danger of rehashing clichés, their writing might lack the detailed realism a reader finds so reassuring and intriguing.

So, if you want to write about banditos in the mountains of Sardinia, and you can’t go and live there for a year – then research, research, research. Read as much as you can on the topic, as well as any other fiction that has used the same environment as a setting.

A picture from home… A cave. Dunmore East. Co. Waterford, Ireland.

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East and West

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There are ten years and quite a few countries between these two pictures (above); the first one in Budapest, 2004, the second taken last week in a pub in Pimlico. And these girls are still as strong, funny, fun and gorgeous (even more so!) as they were when we were all young expats living in Hungary.

I spent eleven years in Budapest. They were heady years when I grew up in many ways: when I first fell in love, got a proper job, learned to drive, took my degree, first published my creative writing, bought my first properties and found many of my closest friends. All the above are milestones in one’s life and mine all happened in Hungary. It’s a country which continues to inspire and give grist to my creative output, even if I’ve not lived there in six years now.

I moved to the UK to do an MA in 2008. For the purposes of my Ph.D., I’ve been living in Kensington/Chelsea, London, since September 2014 (as it’s close to the focus of my thesis, the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square). This part of London is an impressive and captivating territory and as full of history as Budapest. Likewise, there’s culture and art and parks and shops and museums galore. And now spring’s here, there are visitors… and I’m using them as an excuse to explore the backstreets of Chelsea, or ‘my manor’ as they say in London.

In other words, Chelsea and I have hit it off. I feel that this area and I will have as long and positive a connection as I’ve enjoyed with my friends Kristina and Fiona (pictured above). Nowhere I live in the future will ever compare to Budapest and what I gained from my time there, but when Chelsea’s got her blossom on (see pics below), she sure is going to conjure your muse. Wherever you live, writers, make sure it inspires.

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I Left My Heart…

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A lock on Szabadsag Bridge over the River Danube

I’ve now spent the majority of the summer back in Hungary and I’m not done yet. I previously spent eleven years in Budapest. They were heady years when I grew up in many ways, fell in love, got a proper job, learned to drive, took my degree, first published my creative writing, bought my first properties and found my closest friends. All the above are milestones in one’s life and mine all happened in Hungary.

 

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Budapest is an intoxicatingly beautiful city. In my pretty informed opinion it is the most beautiful in Europe. It is also an entertaining, lively, full on, sometimes maddening, never boring, place to live. I think I needed to step away from the Danube for some years to digest my time here and to write about her with some objectivity.

I am now close to finishing the first draft of my novel which is set between Dublin and Budapest (and Kali medence – which is a beauty spot near Lake Balaton attributed spiritual energy) and the words are flowing. Hungary grabs the imagination and shakes it up in a way I’ve only ever previously experienced in Ireland. I’m enjoyed having Hungary as my muse this summer and grateful also for the years I spent in England which gave me the distance and silence I needed to appreciate Hungary properly and to digest the significance of my time here.

My next stop is Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival… wonder what impact that will have…


Oh Happy Daze

Oh happy days. I’m in Budapest for the season with my dearest, most supportive, most loyal friends – in many ways, my family.  And I’ve reason to celebrate. A radio drama I wrote and am producing ‘Cow’,  has won full funding  from the BAI  Sound and Vision  scheme. We will go into the studio, in Kilkenny, Ireland, the first week in February.

The drama is to be directed by renowned Irish director/playwright Jim Nolan. ‘Cow’ will also feature the talents of Waterford actor Michael Power, who recently finished shooting an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ for HBO, Madeleine Brolly, a veteran of BBC Radio 4 drama and Geraldine Crowley, a Dublin based actor who hails from Barrabehy, Co. Kilkenny. The soundscape will be managed and produced by BBC sound engineer, Eugene Sully. They’re a highly professional and talented team, I’m enormously lucky to have them on board and I’m sure their expertise will enhance my little drama no end.

Catching up with dear friends, Dob utca, 22nd Dec. 2012

And on the same day I got word that ‘Cow’ was successful in the funding bid, I also heard that I’ve been shortlisted for the East of England’s Escalator Award – on a proposal for a novel I’m writing. So, once again, Oh happy days!

Hey, this year has been challenging in many other ways. There have certainly been tough moments. But how lovely to go out on such an up beat note. And, I’m due to enter the New Year with an intense, focused period of writing on Inis Oirr, one of the Aran Islands, where I’m ‘artist-in-residence’ for January.

I’ve got a long list of projects to concentrate on whilst there, and am hoping it proves very fruitful – if I don’t get blown off a cliff. The population is Irish speaking – which will be a challenge, as I haven’t really  spoken Irish since I left school. Ufasach!  If you’ve ever seen ‘Father Ted’, Inis Oirr is actually the island used as ‘Craggy Island’, in the opening credits. Yes, I’ll probably turn up in the Kilkenny studio with a full beard and a grizzly bear in tow. But hey, it’ll be worth it.

Many thanks to you, visitors to my blog, for dropping by this year. I wish you all the best of the season and may you have much success in all your endeavours in 2013!

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Home

Budapest in December

Budapest in December

There are a few schools of thought on where a writer should live. In the 1920s and 1930s, the greats flocked to Paris, the 1960s – London, the 1990s – Prague, and perhaps it was Berlin in the noughites.

However, it should hardly matter where you are, if you are determined and disciplined, you’ll write in a suburban semi in a provincial town, just as well as you will in a garret in Montmartre. One thing the abovementioned cities do have in common is that they were all cheap places to live at the time of their popularity with writers. Writing is not a well paid profession, and it makes sense to nest somewhere where rent and food is affordable, thus lessening that worry every month. Other writers will argue that one should focus on areas where artists are congregating so one can better breathe in the zeitgeist, feed on that cross pollination of ideas. Then there are those who say it is a better idea to reside somewhere in relative proximity to the centre of your chosen industry – and for publishing that would be London/New York/Berlin. Others suggest pitching down in a city which is going through an ‘interesting time’ such as a war or social revolution.

Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Dunmore East, Co. Waterford, Ireland

 

I’ve come to my own conclusion which I’d like to share today. I’ve spent much of my life wandering (perhaps running away, or was that gathering experiences?) So much so, that it is hard to know where home is now and I’ve spent the past year considering my future quite strongly. I think it is time I surrendered and called somewhere home and I think I’ve found the spot or rather, it has found me.

This Christmas/New Year, I’m spending time in Norwich, UK, Budapest, Hungary and Waterford, Ireland. All of which could lay a claim to being my home – and in some respects, they all are yet none of them are.

Having spent the majority of my adult life abroad, the impact of my experience of exile is thrown in to relief when I return to Ireland. And I don’t like that sense of no longer belonging. Also, Ireland is as complicated, contrary, passionate, stroppy, defensive and temperamental as I am. And therefore, I am not convinced it is the place to live as a writer (although, it does make for excellent material).

Budapest, my adopted home, the city which gave me maturity and launched me as a creative writer – and where the majority of my friends and social circle still reside, is slipping from me. A friend emailed yesterday with some suggestion of cafes I should try out when I’m in Budapest over Christmas. I was mildly affronted. I don’t need ‘where-to-go’ tips for a city I lived in for eleven years. I used to edit a guide to Budapest, forcryingoutloud! But in truth, I didn’t know any of the places my friend suggested. Life has moved on in Budapest, without me. I’m am no long of that beautiful city. Also, Hungary has recently taken some scary steps politically and I don’t want to be there while it continues on that sad path – though I do feel compelled to comment on it from afar.

Norwich, a 'fine' city.

Norwich, a ‘fine’ city.

 

And then there’s Norwich, England, a city where I came to study for my MA in Creative Writing and have ended up spending much time here over the past four years. Norwich is a pleasant, very English city, which I had to locate on a map the week before I arrived here. All I knew about Norfolk was that Oliver Cromwell came from hereabouts, which to an Irish person, is not a great recommendation.

I’ve since found Norwich to be a ‘goldilocks’ town. It’s not too much of anything, yet it seems to have everything in moderate measure. In short, it is comfortable and pleasant and undemanding and reserved and allows me to sit back and digest the years I spent living in more dramatic, demanding, raw, aggressive, passionate theatres like Hungary and Ireland. In this way, I feel that Norwich is, in its quiet, unassuming way, a city conducive to art – if more so as a catalyst in its facilitation of creativity, rather than a city that inspires great art per se.

Can I dare to say that I’ve found home? I don’t think I’ve quite made that decision yet – but I can venture that it is quite likely that Norwich will be my home in the future.


A Dream on Tour

Dreamer

A quick post to thank all of you who have signed up for the ‘write an novel in 6 months’ challenge. I’m looking forward to getting up at the crack of dawn (well, sort of) on Saturday to get my first 500 words down. We can do it (ooo, feel a slogan coming on…)

Saturday will be a day for firsts for me. I’m launching my creative writing workshop in Waterford, Ireland at Grayfriar’s Art Centre in the city on October 1st. The course, which I’ve authored myself, provides novice writers with the basic tools of the creative writing craft. It’s designed to entail two face-to-face workshops taking place on the first and last Saturday of a given month.

The first Saturday will focus on: finding inspiration, use of language, developing character, theme and structure. The ensuing four weeks will see the students work on a project of their choice with online support from me. The final face-to-face workshop, on the last Saturday in the month, will focus on editing, submitting and will finish with a peer workshop  – after which I’ll give a professional critique and advice on how to bring the piece forward.

I’m planning to run a further workshops in Waterford at the end of the year and in Galway in the new year. If all goes well, and I’m confident it will (well, nerves aside) I am hoping to ‘tour’ the workshop outside Ireland, taking it to Budapest, Nice and London in 2012.

It’s an ambitious plan but I can do it (there’s that slogan again). And we’ve got to dream – as writers, it’s part of the job description.

Therefore, I hope my fellow six-monthers will understand if I don’t post about the the first 500 words until Monday – as I have to fly to Ireland for the workshop.

Please wish me (and my touring course) good luck


Back

And she’s back… after two weeks of holiday covering a sleepy break in rainy Croatia, a friend-a-minute visit to Budapest and a cousin-a-minute break in Dunmore East.

Did a lot of thinking in Croatia (it was raining – really raining hard, hard hard). Have spun up a zillion new ideas for stories for the novel, for ways to make a living as a writer without having to work in a prison – speaking of which, london riots look like they’ll be supplying me with choc-full with pupils for the next while…

The Open University have deemed me ‘appointable’ to tutordom – just awaiting news on a course now. Newcastle turned down my funding application and have joined the other five universities which offered PhD places but no funding (and that has put the caip bás on the PhD idea). And The Moth Arts magazine will be publishing me in September edition.

Seriously thinking of running workshops to subsidize my living expenses… And I’ve got to work out a timetable whereby I can fit in my writing.. not getting much done these days.

I feel a whole loada resolutions coming on… and thoughts are all scattergun but looking ahead.