work/life balance

Phillipe Petit

Philippe Petit                                                  Photograph: Alan Welner/AP

Work has taken over my life. Officially. But today I’m on a quest to reinvigorate myself, re-balance things. Here’s how it’s going:

  1. I met a friend yesterday evening; I’m meeting another today.
  2. I began a poem and a story this morning.
  3. I began a new book last night, The Girl on the Train.
  4. I’m researching Daphne Du Maurier’s life story.
  5. I’m going to find out more about Major Henry Arthur Herbert.
  6. I’m going to see Moll by John B. Keane tomorrow night in Macroom with LdeS.
  7. It’s sausages (the big fat gourmet ones), Tuly Irish rashers, fried eggs, tomatoes and toast for breakfast, washed down with some Lavazza coffee.

Gym, chopping wood, fire, walks, air, conversation, new words, perspective, leave my village to know my village, rugby, smiling, laughing, being me…

The purple ones and productivity

the purple one

I haven’t been doing much structured writing of late (bar essays for college!) but here I am back with more routine in my life so it augurs well that it’s Saturday morning and I have an early draft.

I read a good bit over Christmas but a lot of the time I slipped into Claire Keegan’s no-no of watching a gabháil of tv. It was hard to avoid: Downton, Christmas movies, Oscar bait, the list goes on. I maintained some awareness of plot structure and characterisation but it’s so passive that it becomes a lair for constant hand-to-mouth feeding and easy entertainment.

Downton Abbey

When  it comes to pastimes and entertaining myself, I’m not one for reading books for my betterment. I have the best of intentions but it’s unlikely that I’ll keep going unless I’ve been promised a good read. I read everything from the newspaper business pages to Daphne Du Maurier (again!) to Michael Fullan on principalship. I also picked up Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs On Other Planets, E.R. Murray’s The Book of Learning (nearly finished), a book of Benedict Kiely’s short stories and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (thanks RP).

Writing-wise, I’ve begun a story about a man with a vision of his home town (on an island) who loses it all only to salvage something at the end. My problem as usual is how to keep the plot momentum going. I think I’ll do some research to try and find some help. Here’s to getting a little more down on paper every day. Much better than staring at the box and wondering if there are any more purple ones in the box!



100 words a day for the rest of Nanowhatevero

“Here is an exercise for you. Go to page twelve of the book you are reading, pick out random words and write a piece around them.” Thanks Lorraine! Here goes the first attempt at writing 100 words a day for the rest of November. Expect English and Gaolainn!

Don’t look now but they’re opening. At last. Let’s galvanize our efforts! Your tone was off so I took a furtive look, to calculate the distance. No. The barn was closed, sealed. Without a key we could do no more. The heads of gas-blue flames rose up behind the gates, a vacuum sucking out the life. Let them burn.

(From p.12 of Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín)

Clammed Up


‘How’s the writing going?’


‘Any more stories?’

‘A few, but nothing new.’

‘Will you show me one when it’s finished?’

You’ll be waiting.

‘Yeah, no bother.’

‘Grand job. So, any other craic?’


‘Me neither.’

‘Feckn’ cat out tho’!’

”Tis, yeah. When you can see the mountains, it’s a bad sign.’

But I love being able to see the mountains. And smell the leaves. Yeah, smell them. That damp, heady blast of air that promises rain. Cloud gathered in a posse. Bunched, hanging, full. Then they splice apart like those digger shovels that open their mouths like clams and then the rain is free, and you’re free, you’re free, you’re free…

‘Talk tcha.’

‘Yeah, cool. Later.’

I’m free, I’m free, I’m free.




My review of Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty


Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty

I hadn’t read a children’s book in a while. In fact, when I do it’s usually up a notch in age group to young adult level. Often, I would have taken my reading recommendations from my pupils but this time I was drawn by the cover hee hee!. Anyway, am I glad I read this gem, this “crystal”! (Geddit? Well, you will when you read the book!)

The premise of the story is an underlying threat from “The Infested Side”, the world of monsters, or more accurately, “legends”, who aim to infiltrate and overcome the humans in the “Promised World”. Finn is twelve years old and fated to be the next Legend Hunter in his town Blighted Village of Darkmouth. He is in line to succeed his father, Hugo, who obsesses with catching or “dessicating” these legends who are threatening to take over the world. The trouble is that Finn is no superhero and looks at life through the lenses of any regular kid his age. He contends with school, homework, bullies, relationships—he is growing up. The difference is that all the while he is being relentlessly trained by his father to take over the role of protector of the town to prevent an ultimate and seemingly inevitable doom.

Simply put, the book is clever and engaging. The start is on the slow side but it soon takes off. Significant but subtle clues are casually rolled into view and just out of the corner of your eye you may make out a hint of what is to come.

The main success of the story is that at no point  do we lose sight of this tension: will Finn succeed, keep  the legends at bay, save the town and the world too? He engages in his daily training routines but is torn between a wish to be the same as everyone else and an innate desire to please his father and fulfil his designated role in life. This inner turmoil is the other hook.  We will him to succeed and it is this empathy with the protagonist that keeps us reading.

The author manages to ratchet up the tension even further by using the other characters as the means for Finn to reveal his true self.  The well-worked characters of Emmie, Broonie and Mr Glad  provide important glimpses of Finn’s abilities and potential as does the fraught relationship he shares with his father. The common-sense but also tender relationship he has with his mother proves to be an eye-catcher and she is the one to hold the household together, keeping a hold on reality.

I laughed along too, and the splashes of humour give some welcome relief from the threat of the legends.  The Concise Guide to The Legend Hunter World is hilarious as are the decidedly “Irish” references such as “Niall Blacktongue” or “Dermot the Tomorrow-Knower”. Sergeant Doyle’s extended cameo role  fits the bill as he does his best to maintain law and order in a chaotic but still relatively normal day-to-day existence for a “garda”.

The author has conjured quite the world and if you’d like to take a rip-roaring trip into the known and the unknown, get your hands on a copy.


The next instalment, Darkmouth: Worlds Explode is out now. I’ll be getting it. Now, where’s my fighting suit?:)

The summer and this teacher

summer hols

Writing is writing right? Did you know that I’m a teacher by day? Today, I’ve decided to sidestep fiction and expound a little on the forthcoming return to school, the French version of which has never been bettered in a single statement, “la rentrée”.

I’m back at work since Monday 10th August and you may think that’s a bad thing but you know what I’m delighted! We teachers get bad press. “What’s the best thing about teaching? June, July and August.” I speak for myself but I have a general view too. I exited in June to get an operation done on my ankle and have been recovering since. I finished up the school year with a battery dangerously in the red and the face  I usually wear (fair I hope), replaced with more of a grimace than a smile. I needed a break and the operation imposed it as only surgery can. And so it went.

Generally speaking once the exams have reach their zenith, I make the well-worn journey to Athlone, set up camp for a two day marking conference, before spending the next 24 days at least in a marking marathon. More money on top of the money I already make? Agreed. You won’t find me arguing with that but if a person is happy to work, what’s the difficulty?

I read an article in the Irish Times the other week ( which compared the marking process in this country with that in France. Tellingly, teachers there mark exams over a 10-15 day period and may or may not be engaged on a year-to-year basis. There is an extra payment but it is understood as being part of the package for a teacher in France. Here, it’s optional. The naysayers cry from the hills, “make it compulsory sure they’re off anyway!” Again, I’d have no major problem with that if it could be woven into the accountable, transparent and fair system of marking that we already have. Separating the roles of teacher and examiner has a merit that maintains confidence and anonymity in the results and find me an Irish person to argue with that one (this applies only to the Leaving Certificate examination—the new Junior Cert. is a battle and debate for another day).

So, if you so choose, you may pack up the boxes in your classroom (if you have one), turn the key in the door and never darken the door again until the exam results come out, or if otherwise engaged sometime towards the end of August. So, what do teachers do during the summer? For me, I keep busy but rest at the same time. Evidently, this year was exceptional but it more or less matched the pattern for other years except that I had to volunteer on a “work-from-home” basis rather than showing up in person. The summer time for me consists in large part of the following: working until the exams are over (this year June 19th), then marking exams (until July 11th or so), while volunteering in my spare time and taking a holiday. I also write and read fiction, history books, newspapers, magazines (I’m big into business ones at the moment), watch films and read up on educational issues which is something I struggle with doing during term time. Throw in catching up with friends and family or helping someone to move house and it proves to be a busy time. There is a structured break thrown in at the end where my wife and I seek out the sun and kick back before I return to work in time for the exam results.

Two weeks down and I’m tired but it’s a different sensation. I’m invigorated, charged. I’ve a good two weeks’ work done with much to do between now and when the other teachers breach the threshold on the 27th August. I’m fully rested and ready for the year ahead and so it is. Brass tacks: I have a good job which pays well. I have the privilege that I have time off from that job which allows me to reflect, re-evaluate, re-energise and get into the best shape I can for the academic year ahead. For many a year when someone asked the inevitable, “and what do you do?” icebreaker, I rattled off “teacher” with a little too much deference. I’m educated and will continue to learn as much as I can (I’ve enrolled in UCC for the forthcoming year) but that doesn’t mean I inhabit a plush room in an ivory tower. I don’t consider myself superior to you because I’m so used to the sound of my own voice that I can’t hear you. I’m open to change which brings about an improvement for the pupils in our care. Would I welcome readjustments to improve the service of education to our pupils? Of course I would; without change we are dead. One way or another, I’m busy and that won’t be changing if I have anything to do with it.