Creativity – The Initial Spark

2. Writing furiously

I was thinking recently about creativity and the first thought that struck me was the initial act of creativity. As writers, we all know about the second and third and sixteenth drafts, and the critiques and so on, but what about the initial spark. What about that moment when you first pull the words out of the ether and put them together into a sequence that (hopefully) makes sense?

This set me thinking about writers going back a century ago, and their initial act of creation. It’s very different from writers today. Even just going back to the Forties or Fifties – before the advent of television and certainly before the advent of the internet – a writer sitting in a room was not bombarded with any of the things that they are now. There was no sensory overload. The writer sat – as many writers still do – with a pen and paper, or at a typewriter, but the mind worked differently. Many writers probably still sit quietly writing and don’t have all this external flotsam coming in, but I would imagine that’s increasingly less common. There’s this constant multi-tasking going on. Previously, if a writer got to a point where they needed to research something, they would have just made a note – “Need to research that” – and gone back to the writing, or gone off and picked up an encyclopaedia. But the speed which we can research something now is amazing. And, of course, this is not always a good thing. Because while you can research 18th century Parisian townhouses in a couple of Google clicks, this doesn’t make up for the two hours subsequently lost reading about the Three Musketeers. (No idea how I got to that page!)

For a long time – probably since the first person sat at a desk with parchment and a writing implement – writers pretty much sat at their desks and wrote. And they still do, but there are different ways of going about it now. I often use a Dictaphone, and it’s a much more off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness way of writing. So, I can be dictating whilst looking at something else, and all these ideas are coming at me, and I can stop and research, and so on. And oftentimes I’m just throwing down random ideas, rather than necessarily keeping on a constant train of thought. It’s an interesting way to work. It’s not a way that I used to work. And, funnily enough, when I dictate while I’m out walking, I actually write more “conventionally” because I’ll get on a roll and I’ll start to write an actual whole scene. When I’m at my desk dictating, oftentimes another idea pops into my head because of something I’ve just seen on the computer and I’ll go off on a tangent with that. And I know there are writers who would gasp in horror at the idea that you would write with all this going on around you, but I think that’s the difference between the initial writing and the later edits. I would find it impossible to edit and rewrite that way; for the later drafts, I have to work from hard copy and the computer has to be shut off. But it’s the initial phase that I’m interested in, and that initial phase of creation has certainly changed radically for writers in recent times and I think will continue to do so.

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An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom


“Since 1993, 14,525 murders have been committed in Ciudad Juarez bordering on the United States, of which 1,248 have victimized women. Most of these crimes against men, women and children remain unpunished.”
Extract from Men and Women of Juarez, Julian Cardona, Mexico, 2012

A new exhibition entitled “An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom” was on show recently at the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art in Carlow. The programme states:

“Since 2009 Brian Maguire has travelled on a number of occasions to Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. Described as the most violent city on earth, this is a place where the most heinous of crimes are often met with impunity. On a journey to uncover and bring to international attention the endemic injustices and cyclical nature of the violence that occurs in this place, Maguire has involved and collaborated with a number of artists, journalists and human rights activists. This exhibition has brought together five artists, who through their practices challenge the absence of humanity that allows for these conditions to continue.”

I’ve blogged here recently about one of the many tragic deaths of the Mexican drug wars – Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who was abducted in front of her daughter, beaten to death and dumped by the side of the road. But – as this exhibition illustrates – Maria is just one of the many innocent victims caught up in this senseless slaughter. It is almost impossible to gauge an accurate figure of the number of women who have been murdered in the Ciudad Juarez region. Wikipedia says:

“There are various media reports with different numbers ranging from hundreds to thousands of female homicides in the Ciudad Juarez region. For this reason Amnesty International reports, ‘Inadequate official data on the crimes committed in Chihuahua, particularly accurate figures on the exact number of murders and abductions of girls and women, has led to disputes around the issues that obscure the quest for justice.’ According to Amnesty International, as of February 2005, more than 370 young women and girls have been murdered in the cities of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua … the statistics of female homicides per capita in Juarez is significantly higher than any other major city in Mexico or the United States.”

But it hardly matters what the actual figure is – after all, every one of those numbers was a real person not just a statistic. This is something that the artists try to get across in this exhibition.

The main part of the exhibition is made up of “The Portraits” by Brian Maguire. These portraits of the murdered women/young girls are painted from images given by each woman’s family (Maguire painted a second version of each portrait to give to the families involved).


Beside each portrait is the story of how the woman featured was murdered. It does not make for easy reading or viewing, but it is essential, nonetheless. Essential in that it gives each of these murdered women a voice, it presents the human face behind the numbers.

Norwegian Artist Lise Bjørne Linnert’s contribution is an international participatory art project which has involved the collaboration of thousands of individuals since 2006. It is a wall installation of 6,100 hand embroidered name tags. The embroidered names that make up this delicate wall are of women who have been murdered or gone missing in Ciudad Juárez since 1993.


4,400 individuals in 352 globally-arranged workshops were involved, embroidering two names: one, the name of a murdered woman from Ciudad Juárez, the other, the name of a victim of similar crimes from the participant’s locality. It is a wonderful and very moving piece. The viewer can also participate by embroidering their own name tag in a space provided in the gallery.

Apart from being an excellent exhibition in its own right, “An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom” highlights an awful issue that is woefully ignored by the mass media. Recommended.

#FridayFlashFiction “Ghosts of Montparnasse”


Ghosts of Montparnasse

Sitting outside “Le Select” on the Boulevard Montparnasse. A cold, October night, underneath a heater. There were no heaters in 1929, when the writers and artists sat here, talking and arguing and laughing, and wringing art from nothing. Is that how they kept the cold out?

The motorbikes and cars fly past, a symphony of noise. The tourists and the locals pass by, talking and arguing and laughing. Do they feel the ghosts of Montparnasse walking in time with them? Do they hear the ghosts call to each other across the intersection? They wouldn’t rush across the street to greet each other as they did in those days, or they might end up in the back of one of the ambulances that zoom by, sirens singing through the Parisian night.

La Coupole doesn’t look the same as it did all those years ago, when its neon shone like a beacon to the hungry and starving artists. These days they would have to make do with staring through the window at the well-heeled tourists and Japanese businessmen.

And what of the waiters who flit around brandishing their trays like weapons? Do they hear the ghosts at these tables that they wait every night? Do they feel the weight of history bear down on them? Filling the footsteps of their predecessors who watered and fed the armies of men and women who would change the face of the world.

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The Next Big Thing: My Upcoming Second Album

2nd Album

The Next Big Thing is a blog chain in which participating authors answer ten questions about their current work in progress or upcoming publications. I was tagged for this post by writer Susan Condon, who talks about her as-yet-untitled debut novel, here.

Because I like to be difficult, I decided to do this post a little differently and answer the questions on my new album rather than my latest book.

What is your title of your album?

I’ve just started working on it so the album is as-of-yet untitled.

Where did the idea come from for the album?

I released my debut album “Do You Dream At All?” in March, 2012, mainly because of the interest shown to my music by visitors to my blog. There was a wonderfully positive reaction to the first album and I’ve had a number of people ask me recently when the next album would be out. So, I thought it was time to start thinking about.

What genre does your album fall under?

Hard to say exactly what genre of music the album will be. I’m just now deciding what songs to put on it. Generally, it will be alternative rock, but – as with the first album – I’m hoping to include a diverse range of songs styles, from acoustic songs to heavy guitar-driven songs.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ideally, I could see Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt playing me in the rock biopic. In reality, it would probably be Carrot Top!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your album?

Hard edged guitar tunes mixed with acoustic numbers, featuring strong melodies and intense lyrics.

Will your album be self-published or represented by an agency?

My second album – like my first – will be entirely self-recorded and self-released. All the publicity will be undertaken on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) However, the album will be available from all music outlets, such as, iTunes, Amazon, etc.

How long did it take you to record the album?

As I said, I’ve just started work on it, but I imagine the recording and mixing of the album will take approximately two months.

What other bands would you compare this album to within your genre?

That’s very hard to say. I will say my influences range from Nirvana to The Smiths, from Bruce Springsteen to The Shins, so take from that what you will!

Who or what inspired you to write this album?

The inspiration behind the recording of the album was the interest shown in the music I posted to my blog. As for the individual songs, as with my novel writing, the subject matter of the songs is not inspired by one specific incident. The songs deal mostly with relationships between people (often troubled relationships), whether they be romantic relationships or otherwise.

What else about your album might pique the listener’s interest?

In this age of corporate control and the homogenisation of music, I think it’s important that there are artists out there making their own type of music, independent of fads. I hope that is what my new album is and I hope people will support it.


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Sometimes You Fall But Sometimes You Fly

Sometimes You Fly

Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you.
And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.
Neil Gaiman


As the New Year approaches, so does the dreaded spectre of New Year’s resolution, new beginnings, plans and schemes. Things that will last for a few months, and then, peter out. I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions; however, there is one exception to this. I joined Twitter about 18 months ago. 2012 was quite a year for me. I realised a childhood ambition – I released an album. And – as I said many times during the year – this wouldn’t have been possible without the support, interest and encouragement I received through social media.

I’ve noticed something in my time on social media sites in the past year. I think there’s something infectious about the creation of work, of work being done and decisions being made. And I think this is way more important than any New Year’s Resolutions or anything else. It’s a slow, incremental force that builds in people from watching other people doing stuff, whatever that stuff may be.

And that’s how it happened with me. Slowly, one by one, as more and more people listened to my music and gave me feedback about it and asked me about releasing an album, I slowly got to the point where I felt confident about doing it. And I think that’s what happens on social media. There are a lot of people at the moment – especially in these recessionary times – who are floundering, or treading water. They’re not sure where their lives are heading. And, perhaps, if they were just to stay within their own social circle of friends, family and workmates, they would probably just continue to tread water. But when they take the step into social media, they start to see other people making life-changing decisions and making bold moves, and this seems to rub off on people.

And I – for one – think this is a wonderful thing. It’s not the case with everybody but there are some people involved in social media who – in the coming year – will take the step that they always wanted to take but maybe didn’t have the confidence to do. Because they’ve seen others do it. Perhaps friends that they’ve met online, or just people they don’t even know but who may have influenced them.

So, if you’re going to have a New Year’s Resolution, make it a big one. Make it a life-changing one. Do that thing that you’ve put off but that you’ve always wanted to do. It may not be possible to do immediately, but at least you will have set the ball rolling. You can start to plan it, to make it a reality.

Be bold. Take the leap. Sometimes you fall. But sometimes you fly.

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Goths Don’t Kill People. Guns Do.

In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy that took place in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec 14, it’s understandable that people would try to understand how something like this could happen and how another human being could do such a horrendous thing to defenceless young children and adults. Sadly, it seems that rather than really trying to get to the root of the problem, the media has yet again decided to scapegoat a small minority of young people. This is a selection of headlines from Sunday’s newspapers:

“He was a nerd, genius, Goth”: Profile of gun killer Adam Lanza – Daily Mirror

School gunman Adam Lanza ‘a loner’ and ‘one of the goths’ – The Sun

Goth loner was ‘ticking time bomb’ – Daily Mail

Adam Lanza Described As ‘One Of The Goths’ – CBS

And the newspapers go on:

Last night, a troubling portrait began to emerge of the ‘Goth’ loner, who dressed all in black and was obsessed with video games. Other students remember him walking through school dressed in black, carrying a black briefcase. Catherine Urso, whose son knew the killer, said: ‘He just said he was very remote, one of the Goths.’ (Daily Mail) Family and friends remember Adam Lanza as many things — intelligent, nerdy, goth, remote, thin. (Fox News)

I could go on but you get the picture. For some reason, the media seems to think it is okay to indulge in this kind of senseless scaremongering that can achieve little other than embitter and isolate more teenagers. When we use the labels “Goth” or “nerd” or any other similar epithet as shorthand to describe a severely disturbed individual like Adam Lanza, we do nothing more than marginalise and alienate more young people. Being a “Goth” is not akin to having a mental illness. It is a lifestyle choice and says little about the young person other than the type of music they like to listen to and the way they like to dress. And, of course, that they want to belong to a social group. But then, what teenager doesn’t want to belong to some social group?

Ever since the Columbine school shooting, it seems the knee jerk reaction is to label any such individuals as “Goths” (for “Goths” see “freaks”) as if this alone explains their behaviour and motives. The first thing to remember is that “Goths” are not a single social entity. There are many sub-groups within the “Goth” culture, all with different beliefs, styles and tastes. But, more importantly, the main thing to remember is that these young people are exactly that: people. Human beings with thoughts, fears, hopes, insecurities. No different from the quarterback or the Prom Queen, if we’re going to indulge in stereotypes.

And let’s also remember that fears and insecurities are writ large in our teenage years. Do we really want to add to that by labelling these teenagers as would-be killers or possible “time-bombs”? Because make no mistake, that is what will happen. If the media continues to label those who dress differently or listen to loud music as “freaks” and “outsiders”, that is exactly what the teenagers concerned will feel that they are. And they will react accordingly. And if – God forbid – we have a repeat of Friday’s scenario, the media will wring its hands and wonder once again where it all went wrong.

The Man Who Missed the Nobel Prize

Douglas Prasher

In 1988, American molecular biologist, Douglas Prasher, received a two-year, $200,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to clone the gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP), the protein that gives the jellyfish its glow. When his funding ran out, Prasher shared his findings with a number of other scientists. These included Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien, two men who would go on to win the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (shared with a third man, Osamu Shimomura) for their work on GFP. Prasher was not included with them, as only three individuals can share in a single Nobel Prize. Chalfie said of Prasher’s contribution at the time of the Nobel Prize announcement:

“(Douglas Prasher’s) work was critical and essential for the work we did in our lab. They could’ve easily given the prize to Douglas and the other two and left me out.”

But they didn’t. Indeed, by the time the prize – which carries with it a $1.4 million cheque – was announced, Prasher was unable to find work in the scientific field and had relocated to Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife and three children where he was working at car dealership for $8.50 an hour. In interview with National Public Radio in 2008, Prasher said that – after the funding for the project ran out – he was unable to find another job in science, so he took a job working as a courtesy shuttle bus driver in Huntsville. In the NPR broadcast, one of his former colleagues called Prasher’s current situation a “staggering waste of talent.”

Prasher didn’t seem to mind his new line of work, however. “I never thought I would enjoy working with people so much,” he said. “’Cause doing science is kind of a loner thing; but doing this, I meet new people every day, and I hear all kinds of stories, some of which I don’t need to hear. Because I’m kind of a bartender.” But the job didn’t pay enough to support his family. “Our savings is gone; just totally gone.”

Despite this, Prasher said he didn’t have any regrets about giving away the gene.”At that time, I knew I was going to get out of it; my funding had already run out,” Prasher said. “When you’re using public funds, I personally believe you have an obligation to share. I put my heart and soul into it, but if I kept that stuff, it wasn’t gonna go anyplace … Do I feel cheated or left out? No, not at all. I had run out of funds and these guys showed how the protein could be used and that was the key thing.”

Chalfie and Tsien invited Prasher and his wife to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony as their guests, and all three men thanked Prasher in their speeches.

And the story does have something of a happy ending. In June 2010, Prasher once again took up a job working as a scientist.

As for his place as the unknown “fourth man”, it seems his was not an isolated case. Karl Grandin, director of the Centre for History of Science at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, told the Guardian newspaper: “Anyone with any insight into how science works knows there’s always a fourth person”.

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