Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Magic of Flash Fiction In The Orchard


Alternative title - Rain on a Cold Tin Roof and The Silence of the Lamb


The Armagh Cider Company proved to be excellent hosts as we kicked off the Armagh Food and Cider Festival 2018 with our flash fiction event.


People seemed to arrive more on time than usual, possibly the lure of warm mulled cider on a wet evening, or more likely - as was our case- afraid of getting lost in the wilderness of the Armagh Orchards.


The Barn was welcoming with its rustic decor and its aroma of cider and spices filling the air. Before too long the place filled up. I was heartened to see people who had been before greeting other regulars. Setting out on this project back at the beginning of the year, our goal had been to create community amongst writers and readers and I could see that unfolding effortlessly before me.

We started with Elaine Toal and her heartwarming story called Hurricane Glamping.


The title drew a wry chuckle from the audience considering Storm Ali had battered us all the previous day. We didn't need to stretch our imaginations too far back to feel the gusts of wind that Elaine described so eloquently. A minor technical hitch with the sound about a third of the way through Elaine's reading meant that parts of it were difficult to hear. She battled on professionally to the end, trying to ignore it when the misbehaving mics crackled and fizzed. (The joys of new venues and new equipment!) We got the tech sorted and were able to continue, but I was happy when at the break a member of the audience suggested we ask her to read again. They had liked what they had heard and wanted the full story, others agreed and I was struck by the generosity of our audience. It was also a huge compliment to Elaine who, unencumbered by mics throwing hissy-fits, rocked the story the second time around.



Next up was Jay Faulkner, bringing the audience to the brink of tears with his emotive story And Then She Danced. 


Jay always delivers and the crowd was dead silent as he read.



Somewhere outside a baby lamb bleated. I'm not sure yet if the sound came out on the recording but it was surreal - I wondered if I was imagining it, or if it was someone's ringtone, but later others confirmed they too had heard a lamb. It all added to being in a barn, in an Orchard, in Armagh, telling stories. I had one of those moments? How did I get to be here doing this? And grateful for every second of it, for every person in that barn, readers (listeners) and writers, for one was nothing without the other. My biology head kicked in and labelled it - Symbiosis.

Sue Divin lightened the mood with her lovely and lively rendition of Twist or Pull, a story aptly set in an orchard in Armagh about two young boys stealing apples.


The percussion of rain on the tin roof above us added to our sense of being right there in the orchard with them. The twist, as promised in the title was beautifully executed by this excellent wordsmith.



Jude Alexander had us all enthralled with her story Realization.


Her observation skills and attention to detail reminded me that that is what makes good writing, great.



If one can be a better writer by osmosis (or listening to good writing) then I was in the right place!

Réamonn Ó Ciaráin's story Glacadh arm agus an chéad mharú magically transported us, not only to the era of Cúchulainn but in the lyrical Irish language to a story about our Ulster Hero in an anger frenzy being calmed down by way of distraction by the women of Armagh stripping naked - I just hoped they weren't having the weather we'd been having. 


Yet again, it was great to hear people's positive reactions to hearing the reading in Irish.


I continue to be inspired to learn more Irish.

During the intermission Philip and Helen Troughton, acclaimed artisan cider makers treated us to a taste of their apple juices and ciders. Delish! But don't take my word for it - keep an eye out for their  cider range in Tescos, Marks & Spencers and Kellys in Armagh. Go on, treat yourself.



Thank you to Mervyn Steenson of Groucho's in Richhill for providing tasty platters of locally produced snacks.



Our first reader scheduled after the break created a spellbinding atmosphere with her reading that even silenced the lamb.


A true literary genius, Cathy Carson held our hearts in her hands as she read Ready, leaving hardly a dry eye in the house.


Hot on her heels, Paul Anthony pulled us into the world of a person obsessed with counting with his clever use of language in The Dead Counter.


The twist at the end collected a unified gasp from the audience and the lamb resumed operations!


The rain continued to 'fall like pebbles' on the roof - to paraphrase John O Connor's words - as Eddie McClenaghan took to the apple-barrel-podium.


He expertly wove a tale in his story, A Smile that carried the audience all the way through a fantastical twist that left us reeling. A new talent we hope to see more of.


Kieran Mc Gurk evoked emotion and wry smiles with his story Lonely Hearts.



He deftly captured our emotions and served them up to us with added spice and a twist of humour.



To round up the evening fellow Women Aloud NI member, Doreen Mc Bride read My Dolls Funeral, leaving us all with a good laugh.


When I complimented her on her humour, she looked me straight in the eye and declared that it wasn't funny at all. She had buried her doll! I've heard Doreen read at Women Aloud NI events, and the lady always leaves me smiling.


Our next Flash Fiction event takes place during the Georgian Festival in Armagh. Submissions are open for Flash Fiction in Georgian Armagh until 22nd October. Please do not submit if you are not available to read at the event. For dates of our other Flash Fiction events until March 2019 click here.


We'd like to thank the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) Borough Council for their support and for including us in their festivals. I've seen the work and commitment that goes into making these festivals so sucessful. They should be really proud of what they have achieved here.


Byddi Lee

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Talking at The John O Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival Programme Launch



As I stood up to speak at the John O Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival Programme Launch, I had a wee moment...one of those quick stock-takes I do on the hop from time to time.

It led me to preface my talk with the ad-lib, 'This time three years ago, when I heard through social media that this literary festival was first taking place in Armagh I was really excited - except for one thing. I was living in San Jose, California.'

In a weird parallel-universe-type symmetry, at that time, back in 2016, I was meeting up with Catherine Barry the founder and organiser of the Los Gatos Irish Arts and Writers Festival just up the road from where I lived in California. They were preparing for their first festival to take place at the beginning of October.

As it turned out, I missed both those festivals that year because we moved to Paris.

And so fast-forward to 2018, I was thrilled to be included in a line-up of very distinguished, talented and renowned people involved with the local writing scene in the North of Ireland. This was the artist running order...

Joris Minne

Lord Mayor of ABC - Julie Flaherty
Damian Smyth ACNI
Mark Adair BBCNI
Nuala McKeever
Anthony Quinn
Nisha Tandon – Arts Ekta
David Park
Christine Morrow
Brenda Winter Palmer
Tony Villiers
Kate O Hanlon - John O’Connor Creative writing group
David Braziel
Byddi Lee
Cathy McCullough


I was second last up, so I battled down the oul' nerves as best I could as I enjoyed the other speakers, in between bouts of crippling self-doubt (How the heck was I going to match up with these guys?) and quietly fangirling because I was sitting beside Nuala McKeever ( Belfast's 'Queen of Comedy' from Give My Head Peace.)

And then, there I was standing at the podium realising that in three years I had gone from wishing I could go to this festival to speaking at its programme launch with all "them uns what were famous, like!"

Thankfully, I'd everything I'd wanted to say written down in from of me. Anne Mc Master, a good friend I'd met through Women Aloud NI had helped me prepare my spiel and all I had to do now was deliver it. I suffer from performance amnesia. When I do a reading or engage in any public speaking, I can't remember much of it afterwards, but I must have done okay because when I sat down, Nuala McKeever leaned in and said, "I'm doing a workshop in Dublin tomorrow. Can I quote your words?"

 I was flabbergasted and nodded vigorously.

She offered to take a photo of the piece of paper that was by now somewhat bend out of shape from my sweaty hands clutching it for the past hour and a half.

"No need. Sure, have the whole thing," I said, shoving it towards her, limp creases and all.

She read aloud the line she'd liked and thanked me, little knowing how much she'd made my day.

Here's the full piece for your own perusal - I wonder can you guess the bit Nuala liked...

Armagh is a special place, not only to those who live here but to visitors who come to enjoy this beautiful ancient city with its friendly people. It’s not until you leave Armagh that you realise how truly special it is. I think about John O Connor on his travels in hot dusty Australia and wonder, was he homesick for Armagh, did he crave the tang of a Bramley apple and the spice of our humour?
As I read “Come Day Go Day ” sitting in the heat of a Californian drought, O Connor’s words brought old Armagh to me. I heard the noise of water tumbling on the umbrella when he wrote, “... the rain drummed against it like a flurry of pebbles.”  I took delight in his description of how “The afternoon sunshine fell upon the clean dry road...”
At the time, I was already mentally packing up my life abroad – the tug of home, held at bay for a good half dozen years, had finally gained traction. But what would happen to my writing? When I’d last lived here, I’d been a biology teacher – now I was returning as a writer – sure, it was like I was a totally different person.
I’d only been settled back in Armagh for a month when I attended my first John O Connor Writing School Literary festival last year. This cultural feast served portions of literature, platters of poetry and servings of song – all seasoned with plenty of craic!
Writers need community. You sit in a room all day by yourself, even worse – you hang out in your own head for hours at a time. The John O Connor festival is a place to meet and connect with other writers, to practice your craft and to share ideas and resources. That’s where I first heard about ‘Women Aloud NI’ whose aim is to raise the profile of women writing the North. I joined and as a result, have had many opportunities to showcase my writing.
After the 2017 festival, I wanted to keep that sense of belonging, of community amongst writers alive and promote Armagh as a place where writing happens. That’s why I started the Facebook Page and group – Armagh Writers – a group for writers who are from or who live in Armagh.
I also volunteered on the John O Connor Writing School board and have been in the role of secretary since January.
To draw writers to and to provide a platform for writers in Armagh, another Armagh writer, Réamonn Ó Ciaráin and I started Flash Fiction Armagh. We’ve been included in the Food and Cider Festival at the end of this month as Flash Fiction in the Orchard and are collaborating as part of The John O’Connor Lyrical Literary Lunchtime on Sunday 4th November.
Festivals like this one enable our communities to thrive, whether that be the writing community or the wider community. Everyone needs the arts. Humanity needs language, in all its forms, to communicate and express our thoughts and feelings to each other so we may recognize ourselves in others, rejoice in our similarities and learn from our differences. And this is where the John O Connor Writing School Literary Festival plays a pivotal role in our city – for it represents the things that make Armagh great – namely, culture, creativity and community. 
Be sure to book your tickets ASAP to avoid disappointment. It's a brilliant weekend. For a reminder of how last years festival went click here.


Byddi Lee




Sunday, September 2, 2018

Flash Fiction in the Orchard Presents...




An outstanding response to our call for submissions gave us some difficulty making our final selection. We are delighted to present the following writers at Flash Fiction in the Orchard, as part of the Armagh Food and Cider Festival, on the 20th September 2018 at 7pm.

In no particular order, congratulations to:

Elaine Toal, Hurricane Glamping
Jay Faulkner, And Then She Danced
Sue Divin, Twist or Pull
Jude Alexzander, The Realisation
Sharon Dempsey, The Watcher
Réamonn Ó Ciaráin, Glacadh arm & an chéad mharú
Cathy Carson, Ready
Paul Anthony, The Dead Counter
Eddie McClenaghan, A Smile
Louise G Cole, Unscripted
Kieran Mc Gurk, Lonely Hearts
Doreen McBride, My dolls funeral


So please come to the Armagh Cider Company’s beautifully restored barn where we’ll be having the event. Booking is essential, and tickets are available here.
 
I have enjoyed reading all the submissions, and consider it a privilege to have writers send me their work. The standard has been consistently high and if a story is not selected it is no reflection on the writer’s talents. To all writers – including myself – I say keep writing, keep submitting and keep going – and thank you for your tenacity because without writers picking themselves up and burrowing through despite the rejection letters, we’d all miss out on great literature, books and stories.

Byddi Lee

Monday, July 30, 2018

Facing Change at the John Hewitt International Summer School


My brain whirls with such a kaleidoscope of thoughts and ideas that I hardly know where to begin. The theme of the John Hewitt International Summer School this year is “Facing change: shifting borders and allegiances.”



As I sit in the sun outside the Market Place theatre and look across the street, I’m transported back in time to see two little girls, my sister and I, swinging and tumbling on the bars between on the concrete bollards that spanned the black expanse of tarmac that once covered Market Street. This was our playground. I was an expert at hanging upside down by my knees like a little bat.

I share my flashback with my summer school friends by telling them I used to live there, point out which was our house, which one was my grandfather's tailor shop and most importantly which one was the sweetie shop. Someone says that it must have been lovely to live there, but I point out that it was 1970’s Armagh and the place did not look like it does now. Facing change in this way is a welcome thing. So much is better but as the talks and panel discussions highlight, we still have a way to go and the path can be rocky – especially apparent after the panel discussion “What went wrong?” on the very first day with Gregory Campbell, Brid Rodgers, Colm Gildernew and Trevor Ringland.

I hadn’t expected the political discussions. I try to keep local politics out of my writing. In fact, I try to keep all politics out of my writing, but that panel discussion left me feeling like all the emotional sand I’d used to cover my political opinions had stirred up and was now swirling around, muddying the waters. I’d wanted to shout at the panel, “Listen to each other.” Have we ever just asked simple questions like, “What do you want?” “What do you need?” Have we ever given simple answers? Can we simply be fair? Kind?

There were some beautifully uplifting moments too. It was a delight to listen to Liz Nugent and Claire Allan in conversation. These women were so supportive and generous to each other. It enforces what I always say about writers – we are never in completion with each other. A book can be read far faster than it can be written. If a reader loves two writers who have similar style/genres/subject matter then they will read both. Because of this week, I need to buy another bookcase! Also great to see Dave Torrens from No Alibis selling books in Armagh – perhaps he’ll consider a pop-up bookstore here in the run-up to Christmas?

My favourite speaker was Eli Davies. Her exploration of how literature portrays the role of women during the conflict here was inspiring. I fear the creative light-bulb moments she ignited… do I really want to ever write about those times from my own perspective…maybe sometime. The following day Monica McWilliams blew on those creative sparks, with her talk about Women Waging Peace as she infused me with hope for a better future.

If you ever get a chance to see Mikel Murfi’s The Man in the Woman’s Shoes and the sequel I Hear You and Rejoice don’t hesitate to go. Sometimes a piece of writing is just so brilliant it grabs a hold of you and just won’t let go. Even days later, there are moments when I laugh out loud or tear up simply thinking about these performances. Murfi savages the audience's emotions, mercilessly swinging us between gales of laughter to floods of tears. What is it about the human condition that we actually enjoy having our emotions thus pummeled?

Between the panel discussions and classes, over coffee or wandering around the city, new friendships were forged, old friendships strengthened, ideas shared, concepts explored. Thank you to the organizers of the John Hewitt Summer School for creating a diverse and stimulating programme that enables people to get together, to share and unite. This was the overall best part of the summer school experience – the way the attendees came together in a solid body, a meeting of minds, hearts and muses. The camaraderie was palpable, the laughter infectious and the tears too – especially for those of us who attended the Mikel Murfi performances.

I would also like to thank the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council for sponsoring my bursary to attend the John Hewitt Summer School.

Thanks also to the wonderful women in Women Aloud NI who were a joy to be with all week long. Despite the things that make us different, it is the things we have in common that matter. Accepting our diversity makes us stronger and more adaptable, more able to face change, more happy to accept change. I loved having you here – please come back soon. Click here to read what my friend Angeline King thought of Armagh - you might be surprised, or you may know better and might not be at all surprised...

For a local like me, it was wonderful to see people come and enjoy Armagh. It is a special place, has been for thousands of years, all the way back to times of Navan Fort. There’s magic here, and I feel that magic touched us all last week, helping us to listen to one another, share with each other, giving us the tools to face change together because together is the only way humans will surmount the changes facing us in the near and distant future. 

Byddi Lee

Monday, July 9, 2018

Filming 'Dark & Stormy' when it's Bright & Sunny

When I returned to Armagh in September 2018, I really wanted to learn about screenwriting. My dream is to see March To November as a six-part BBC drama. I've had a little bit of interest from screenwriters to do a movie but nothing came from that and so I thought I'd learn the craft myself.

Screenwriting NI is a Facebook group which encourages community among screenwriters They are a warm and welcoming bunch, and extremely patient with new screenwriters like me. At one of their meetings, I met the talented Marion McDowell. She generously agreed to swap critiquing scripts with me - extremely generous, considering my lack of experience compared to hers. But I felt I could at least contribute with plot structure and story since that would be similar in many ways to writing fiction.

Her script was called 'Dark & Stormy' and I offered some suggestions. She entered the script into a couple of competitions and was shorted-listed and won awards! When she asked me if I'd like to be involved with the shooting of the film, I said yes immediately.

So I had committed before I realized that we were shooting a film that would need to be filmed late at night, in the rain!

There wasn't a drop of rain for the first shoot back in April but the crew had a rain rig. I was tasked with working the clapperboard and was happy to do it. It was quite an education. One scene can take hours. The minutest details can cause havoc. The shoot ended at 3.30am. The road back to Armagh was eerily empty of traffic. But it had been a great evening of cooperation, camaraderie and making new friends.

Life gets in the way and the date for the second shoot was pushed out and out until eventually, we were all available on Sunday morning. That is Sunday morning at 6.30am. Quelle horror! That means me leaving Armagh at 5.30am.

I dreaded the early rise from the moment the date had been set but in all honesty, it was a teeth-grittingly gorgeous morning. A golden fireball of sun gave movie-magic lighting to the empty roads and rolling fields rippling with long green grass, as I made my way to the big smoke.  When I got there I had my choice of parking spots in just off Great Victoria Street! I chose one near one of those self-cleaning public toilets I'd seen across Europe but have never had the courage nor necessity to use. But as it so happened I reckoned today was going to be the day I would avail of their services since I badly needed to go and there were no cafes open yet.

The rest of the crew and cast were arriving and I thought I better get the public toilet experience over with so I could get to work. But the toilet wasn't accepting my coins. I wasn't too heartbroken - It smelt rank and I was standing outside in the fresh air. But I was going to have to get inventive. Someone suggested I try the bus station behind the Europa so I headed that way to find the gates there closed. However, the Europa Hotel was open and the security guard on the door was distracted chatting to someone who seemed to have a tonne of luggage. I slipped in through the revolving doors and tried to walk as though a) I knew where I was going and b)as if I had every right to be there. I headed for the grand staircase - following the sign for the restrooms - got about four steps up when I heard a polite but firm "Are you okay there?"

I couldn't tell if the man was front desk or security but either way, I'd have to explain myself. Oh, the shame of getting thrown out of the Europa and me not even drunk!

Should I pretend to be a guest?

Nah - better to be honest...

"Sorry, but is there any chance I could use your toilets," I asked.

"Sure, they're just 'round here." He pointed to the cafe and added, "Can I get you a coffee while you're here?"

Seriously! Instead of kicking me out, he offered me a coffee!

"No thanks, it's just that we're shooting a film up the street and there's nowhere open," I explained unnecessarily because a) it didn't matter what I was doing he was letting me use the loo and if I'm honest I was just showing off because I loved saying that bit about "shoot a film" and b) it was 6.30 on a Sunday Morning in Belfast - of course, nothing else was open and he would know that!

"No problem, luv," he said (Belfast men and women call everybody love - it's not him being sexist) "Sure you know where we are if you have to come back."

As I had the most luxurious pee, (for free) all I could think about was how lucky I'd been to avoid the smelly mysterious public toilets that never seemed to work but smelled like they were used all the time!

When I got back to the rest of the crew, Marion was laughing in that I-can't-believe-this-is-happening way. The building we wanted to use for filming now had a crane in front of it and a team of window cleaners were getting set to work. Marion decided that the footpath in front of the Millenium Building would work just as well - actually better since the trees across the road had leafed out since she'd first scouted the location and the shot from Fratelli's of the original choice of building would be awkward. Serendipity at work!

The team got set up and started shooting. The actors are so game. Poor Shannen Lofthouse, playing the lead role, had to lie on Great Victoria Street for a good half hour. It was now past 7am and Belfast was waking up, or at least the tourists were judging by the wheelie cases trundling past giving us curious looks. By the way that's not the security guard from the Europa... that's our actor PJ Davey who was scary to watch in front of the camera (on purpose, of course) and a really nice guy behind the scenes.


At least it was a nice day to be lying about the streets of Belfast but that posed another problem for us. The script called for it to be dark and stormy but it was gloriously sunny and dry! Yes, we had a rain-rig but we weren't sure how that would go down what with there being a hosepipe bad in effect. Just our luck...

But the scriptwriter is God of their world- at least within the body of the script. When one of the actors Griffin Madill suggested a switch out of the words "dark and stormy" with the words "bright and sunny" in one of the lines, Marion ran with it realizing it actually made the script even better - you'll have to watch the film to understand! But serendipity strikes again.


Then when we were in the swing of things, with Griffin Madill aka The Slasher, giving us his chilling stare, a team of road workers struck up their tarmac cutting saw right beside us. Not quite the "slashing" we were pitching for. I went and had a wee chat with them to see how long they planned on making hat God-awful noise. I reckoned they might well tell me where to go but no... they were simply lovely. Promised they'd have finished this piece of noisy cutting in 5 minutes and then quiet for a while. When they planned to resume cutting it would be in bursts of 5 minutes and they'd send someone up to warn us. I thanked them and told them no need to send anyone since we'd hear for ourselves but sure enough one of them came up to tell us they were starting the drill. I was sweet of them, but I suspected they were happy for a wee nosy too - I would be - which was why I was there!

Behind the scenes time works in a weird way - sometimes it's a mad scramble to get things done and then there's loads of waiting around time. Our cast & crew camped out at the bus stop for a while - grateful of somewhere to sit down.


The camera and sound crew work seem to have a big workload - to my inexperienced eyes.


But there's always time for a bit of craic with the cast. Shannen's knee looks so sore but that's all down to our excellent makeup department!


The second half of our shoot took place in Fratelli's, and oh boy, was that a luxury!

Frederika Machala

The cast for the next set of scenes arrived and we were working roughly to schedule which was a miracle considering the window cleaners and the saw guys, not to mention the fact we'd had to work around using the rain rig.



We had a coffee station and even fancier toilets than the Europa - I know go on a lot about loos but these things are important to me.

Ray, the restaurant manager was welcoming and helpful. We took over the upstairs and filmed a scene with three obnoxious men ogling a young waitress. That was their characters. Behind the scenes, all the actors of both genders were simply lovely - a pleasure to work with! The actors at the table below are Tim Ferguson with his back to us, Nigel Boone drinking his pretend whiskey (cold tea) and Corey Millar.


Things went pretty smoothly. We even had time for a bit of messing about with the gender roles between setting up shots. The original line had Nigel's character leaching over the waitress (played by Frederika) and saying "Can't beat the twenty-year-olds."

Frederika turns it all around.



The camera-woman (me) wasn't too bad for this, but I'd sack the sound person (also me!)

For me, this has been a fascinating process. I'm in awe of movies now, and the patience that actors must have (our actors are so tolerant and wait for long periods of time between shots in sometimes uncomfortable conditions.)  I'm grateful to be a part of this project and am looking forward to seeing the final product.

Byddi Lee


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Flash Fiction Armagh 2

The upstairs room in Mulberry Bistro filled quickly and when every seat was taken, people had to line up around the wall, lean against the bar and crowd the door. The following photo doesn't tell the full story as it was taken about ten minutes before we started when the room was still relatively half empty! 




We doubled our audience since the first event and we were thrilled to bits. Nearly everyone who came the last time came back and many brought their friends. There was an air of excited expectation. With the rising hubbub, I worried that Réamonn Ó Ciaráin, whose turn it was to be MC for the evening, would have trouble getting things started but in a flash, he had the crowd tamed and ready to listen to the fantastic readers we had lined up.


First up, Maureen Boyle read an extract of her poem Incunabula from her recently published book, The Work of a Winter.


Click here to read a review of Maureen's Book in Lagan Online.   
 
Mairead Breen is new to reading her writing in public.
Looking forward to seeing more from this writer



Karen Mooney was back again with a lovely poem about her brother road-racing. You could sense the audience share Karen's emotion as she worried about her brothers' safety in her poem, I Didn’t Feel the Wasp Sting.



Another returnee, Christopher Moore gave us a skilful and delightful peek into the mind of a poetic genius with his piece Yeats.

 
All the way from Gweedore, County Donegal, Máire Dinny Wren read Scáile Dheirdre, the lilt and rhythm of the Irish language brought me back to my Gaeltacht days as a teen. I wish I'd keep practising the language - perhaps it's not too late.



Then I read Beheaded, a piece inspired by my trip to the Armagh County Musem which I blogged about a few months back.


After the break, Jude Alexzander toyed with our emotions in a brilliantly crafted story called Hope.


Elaine Toal, a new local talent kept us on the edge of our seats with, Revisiting. A lovely reading and I'm hoping to see more from Elaine.



All the way from Hungary, Csilla Toldy told the heartbreaking story, The Joke



Malachi Kelly's story reminded us how far we have come in his heart-stopping reading of One More.


And finally, we had Peter Hollywood's beautifully crafted and emotive After the conflict with it's honest and wry commentary about where we live today.


From the above video footage, I think you'll agree that each and every reader had the audience enthralled. You could hear a pin drop in a room packed to the gills, where every table held cups and saucers, or glasses or plates and cutlery and yet silence fell and held its ground for each reading.

It was simply a special evening and a great gathering of readers and listeners.

Our next event is Flash Fiction in the Orchard, as part of the Armagh Food and Cider Festival. 

20th September 2018 at 7pm at the Armagh Cider Company.
This time there's a small cover charge that includes snacks and cider tasting and tickets are available here.

Submissions are now open for this event until 20th August 2018. Please email your 200 – 750-word submission within the body of your email (no attachments please) to byddi@hotmail.com. 

If it's anything like that first two events, it promises to be a great night out.

Hopefully see you there.

Byddi

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Walk Around Seagahan Dam on a Summer's Evening

My heart is full and sure how could it not be? A warm summer's day in Ireland is a magical place.


The sunsets these past few days are like nothing I've ever experienced anywhere in the world. With the long evenings - sunset at 9.45pm - the sun takes a long amble to the horizon in tones of pink gold. Everyone is in great form and each greeting includes, "Lovely day, isn't it?" And a lovely day (or few days) it has been.

The fields are bursting full of flowers...


...and cute baby animals.


And there's the mysterious headless horse of Ballymacnab!


Okay, maybe this is a better angle of him, grazing contentedly under the full moon.


Yes, my heart is full of the joy of being home in Ireland on a warm summer day.


On one such warm evening this week, we took a walk up around Seagahan Dam, a reservoir a few miles south of Armagh City that features in my new book.


A new walkway allows a circuit of the dam. It's so peaceful, as night drops down, and the fishermen try to catch that last elusive big-guy lurking in the shallows. His advice to us - buy a rod! I must say I'm tempted...

 Not only did we have a spectacular sunset but also a stunning moonrise.


 And there was me travelling around the world, crying for the moon when all along it was here in our very own Armagh drinking water. Does moonshine come out of the taps here? I'd say there's the evidence for it!


 Byddi Lee

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Flash Fiction Armagh 14th June 2018



Yes, it's happening again, with an exciting line up that includes a fabulous mix of new straight-out-of-the-wrapper talent alongside award-winning writers.

Flash Fiction Armagh proudly presents the following writers at our Flash Fiction Armagh on Thursday 14th June 2018 at 7pm.

Maureen Boyle - Extract from "The work of a Winter"
Mairead Breen - "Cool customer"
Karen Mooney - "I didn’t feel the wasp sting"
Christopher Moore - "Yeats"
Máire Dinny Wren - "Scáile Dheirdre"

Jude Alexzander - "Hope" 
Byddi Lee - "Beheaded"
Elaine Toal - "Revisiting"
Peter Hollywood - "After the conflict"
Malachi Kelly - "One More"
Csilla Toldy - "The Joke"
Kelly Creighton - Extract from her short story collection "Bank Holiday Hurricane"


So please come along, listen and mingle at our next Flash Fiction Armagh as we spread the seeds of creativity far and wide.


A big thank you again to Mulberry Bistro for generously hosting the event in their gorgeous upstairs room allowing us to keep the event free.


If you'd like to see what it involves you can click here to see what happened the last time we did this or simply come on down. Feel free to have a bite to eat beforehand (or even during the event). The staff of Mulberry cater to our every whim - try a nice relaxing glass of wine while you listen, or a cuppa tea and lovely tray bakes or even a full-on delicious meal! 



 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

'Lion Hunting in Armagh

When I was a terrible-two my mother appealed to my abounding sense of adventure by inviting me to go lion hunting with her. Now, I can't remember the actual occasion but like those stories that our parents tell us of our early lives, I'd heard the tale so often, I nearly believe I can remember it!  Picture the scene - My mother brings me, wild with excitement, to hunt lions, only for me to discover with disappointment and disgust that it was dandelion hunting. We were going no further than the front lawn armed only with a weeding tool!


While it was a good introduction to the falsehoods of marketing, it didn't teach me to question other things she told me in me my early life. I grew up believing that she had once had a career riding horses in the circus and that she was good friends with the Harlem Globe Trotters. Yes, it's safe to say I inherited my imagination from my mother.

But back to the 'lion hunting...


The most valuable thing living abroad has gifted me is the ability to see this wonderful place where I grew up with new eyes. I'll admit to being quite evangelical about Armagh - you could say I'm a Born Again Armachian.

I noticed something this year that I've never noticed before - how gorgeous the dandelions are.



They're everywhere in a glorious blaze of yellow as if transporting the sun's rays from beyond the clouds to shine from our lawns, fields and roadsides.


I'm so happy to see they haven't been sprayed with weedkiller and that some councils seem to be encouraging their growth on the grass verges - or is this just a delightful side effect of having no government and no money spent on local infrastructure?


Whatever it is I say let the 'lions roar!


Many folk believe dandelions to be weeds but I promise you they are much more than that. Click here of a great summary of facts about dandelions.

Dandelions  are food for bees.


Dandelions are among the first flowers to blossom after the winter and provide a food source. It's not the richest food for the bees but it breaks their fast and saves them from starving. For more information check out these links:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2015/may/12/dandelions-pollinators-wildlife-garden
Dandelions are food for humans.


Dandelions in foreground - rapeseed crop in background. The Irish landscape creating it's own sunshine!
Dandelions are edible and even have health benefits. You can make medicinal teas, pesto, salads and even wine (yay!) Here's a few links to some recipes:

Fried dandelion heads (Imagine telling your two-year-old you're eating 'lion heads for dinner!)
Dandelion ginger wine (For the grown-ups!)
Dandelion pesto

Dandelions are good for your lawn.

This surprised me the most but makes sense - dandelions help the lawn in at least two ways.
  1. The strong and deep taproots break up the solid, aerating it.
  2. The same deep roots pull minerals up to the surface layers thus helping to fertilize it.
Mowing the lawn won't damage your dandelions too much. It may even promote another show of blooms. Just don't use weed killer...that will kill your dandelions.




To think that we travelled for miles last summer to see fields of lavender flowers in Provence and here on our doorstep we have equally beautiful sights that most of us don't even appreciate. Watch too for the gorgeous rapeseed fields. I noticed the delicious fragrance when I hoped out of the car to snap this shot. Gorgeous all round.


Byddi Lee











Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Decade in Time - A Drop in the Ocean of Eternity

This time ten years ago I sat by my father's bedside as the final pages of the closing chapter of his life unfolded.

He died just before dawn. Even in my loss, the new day felt like a gift to me. Dawn was his favourite part of the day, holding a promise of fresh starts and new beginnings. For him, that day, death was a new beginning in the afterlife. For the next ten years, I found myself revisiting the image of him ready to greet me when it comes to my turn to take the same Great Voyage. I imagine him standing with a smile lighting his features as soon as he spots me, the way his face brightened when he'd meet me at the airport, returning from my travels. But I didn't have to go that far away - I'd get the same great big smile upon him opening the front door when I called to visit. Even now, I relive the bear hug he'd give me, bring his scent to the front of my mind, listen for his voice saying my name, and try not to be afraid of the swell of grief that accompanies the joy of those memories.

As I work on setting up my new house back in my old hometown, I wonder what he'd make of the last ten years.

It's been a decade of huge change for me, my family, Armagh, Ireland - north and south, and the whole world...

I would love to hear his take on it and in the quiet moments, if I still my mind and think of him, I can guess his side of our conversation. Like the time I sent my sister a birthday letter from him using my technique for writing character dialogue...

And it occurs to me...

We are as much a part of each other now as we were when he was alive. He was the first great love of my life in the way only a daughter can love and hero worship a father, especially a father like mine. In a world where women are often undervalued, he showed me I was worthy and valued. He told me that in spite of being a woman, I could do anything.

It was my mother who taught me it was because I was a woman I could do anything!
But he was a man ahead of his time. In touch with his feeling and always ready to have a good ole heart-to-heart. He was wise and kind and full of good humour. I was a woman lucky to have had him as my father. And I still have him as my father, for no matter where I am, he's in my heart.

It's been a quare decade Dad... You loved the world back then and took the good with the bad all in your stride and I think you'd be exactly the same with how things are now. Making the best of all the new technology and cursing it at the same time! I'm sorry you missed having your own Facebook page but sure if it makes you feel any better, Mum doesn't have one either. But I'm pretty sure this would have been your profile pic - at least for a while!

My Father proudly holding his first grandchild "fresh out of the wrapper"!



We'll keep trying (in vain) not to miss you because I know you don't want us to be sad.

Thank you for being you and always letting me be me.



Love you forever, Daddy.





Byddi Lee

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Time Travel at the Armagh Museum

A good friend recently put me in touch with Sean Barden, at the Armagh County Museum when I expressed an interest in writing some short stories set in the past and based on actual events in history. We discussed how objects from the past had their own stories, and I was invited to come down to the museum to see the temporary exhibit they have at the moment entitled Telling People's Stories for 80 Years.

"You might remember Humpy the camel from Lenox's," he said.

"Oh my God, you have Humpy the camel!" I clapped my hands with delight.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who had reacted like that.

Photograph courtesy of the Armagh County Museum

Every Armagh child who ever went into Lennox's Department Store knew Humpy. He was one of those coin-operated rides that made children beg their parents for the money to take a ride that lasted a fraction of the time it took to procure the funding - a lesson for life indeed!

I loved how Humpy looked - he wasn't humpy by nature - his face molded and painted in a friendly smile, his legs in a perpetual gallop. And he hadn't changed one bit when I spotted him in The Armagh County Museum. In fact, it was all I could do to stop myself from patting his nose, now worn bare of paint from years of people doing the same. Since I had my museum manners on, I quashed the urge to throw my arms around his neck and whisper, "Take me away!"

The museum has 3 temporary exhibit areas and at the moment all three are being used. We took a walk through the exhibit, Eye in the Sky - a display of aerial photographs from a time long before we could send a drone up for such snaps. It's fascinating to see familiar landscapes from that angle and era. I could happily spend more time browsing these - oh, but when would we have another rainy afternoon here in Armagh to do such things?

Humpy is one of forty objects as the signage at the museum explains...

"Armagh County Museum – Telling people’s stories for 80 years.


Armagh Natural History & Philosophical Society moved their museum into this building in 1856. However it would be another 60 years before the county museum was born.

When Armagh County Council took over the premises in 1930 and Council Secretary T.E. Reid was influential in getting local historian T.G.F. Paterson appointed as Honorary Curator. Paterson spent the next seven years building up a collection relevant to the history of the area and disposing of many of the Philosophical Society’s more unusual ‘curiosities’.
Armagh County Museum officially opened on 28 April 1937 and was the first dedicated county museum in Ireland.

To mark its 80th year we have chosen a selection of objects from the collection that tell the stories of people who have lived, worked and been associated with the Orchard County over the past 9,000 years."
A helpful booklet is provided that tells a little about what is known about each object (numbered for easy referencing) and I invite you to fill in the rest with your imagination.

Photograph courtesy of the Armagh County Museum

Take item number 6, for example. A human skull and reconstructed head. Who was that man?

We can see the hole in his skull, so no medals for guessing how he died.We are told that it was between 1000 and 1300AD and that he was aged between 25 and 35. The skull was found without a body during a dig in Market Street, which would suggest that he was decapitated.

Did his head roll into a ditch? Was a loved one left to wonder where that person (or even worse just the head) was until the end of their days? Was he a bad person? Had he deserved this end? Or is this the heartbreaking story of a man viciously wronged? Does his ghost still walk Market Street?

Beside the skull is a reconstructed model of what that man might have looked like. He was handsome and young.

Photograph courtesy of the Armagh County Museum

The little patch box (number 17), though tiny, spoke of much bigger issues. This little box was used to hold the beauty spots that women wore on their faces. If you read the pamphlet that accompanies the exhibit you'll learn from the clues on the container that this may have been quite the radical item to receive or gift to a secret lover perhaps! Find out more yourself at the museum.

Photograph courtesy of the Armagh County Museum

Object numbered 8 is a stick pin found in a garden in Callan street. Linger a moment here. Focus in on the head of the pin and examine the fine detail.

Photograph courtesy of the Armagh County Museum
Who took the time to make this and why spend so much time on tiny details that many might overlook?

Photograph courtesy of the Armagh County Museum

I like the idea that this workmanship did pay off, that somehow the craftsman in the afterlife knows that we are still admiring his work.

Photograph courtesy of the Armagh County Museum

These are but four objects in the exhibition - each if the others gave pause for thought in a similar way. It was so wonderful to get time away from the desk, from the screen (phone, tv, computer) and just have a look at real things. The museum is free in and a great change of pace. Often we don't appreciate the treasures on our own doorstep and the Armagh County Museum really is one.

For me, the biggest revelation was learning the true purpose of a museum. While viewing bronze axes for the story I was researching, I commented on how good it would be to have a bigger museum to display more of the objects in storage. I was surprised when told that although a larger museum would be great, the ultimate aim was not to put every item in the collection on display. Actually, when objects are in storage it is easier to control their environment and thus preserve them better.

The job of a museum is not in fact to display everything it has collected but to keep that collection safe. Storerooms are not just some "dusty oul' sheds" somewhere. Museum storage is working storage, accessible storage where each object is easy to find. Even when in storage each object is there for anyone who wants to look at it. A museum is essentially a collections resource centre, a library of objects. The Armagh County Museum has been collecting objects for 80 years and some of these objects date back as far as 9000 years ago.

It is not about restoring an object either - this implies that you are changing the object. It's about making the object stable - taking a snapshot of time then trying to preserve the past - making time stand still. I joked with Sean telling him he was, in fact, a time lord - Armagh's very own Doctor Who!

A tour of the stores had me fascinated. It was so tidy and clean and - joy of joys - labelled! A clutterphobes heaven in an oxymoronic way. The museum has an ongoing project to photograph everything it holds - like the stick pin. If you were doing a project, the museum will let you use their photos - all the photos on this post have been supplied by the museum. They are much better than anything I could take.

I learned something eye-opening on that visit - the museum is for more than browsing on a rainy day (though that's cool too.) But if you wanted to research anything that has its roots in the past the museum is the place to go. Sean made me laugh out loud with his next truism - "It's about getting past the posh frocks and the stuffed fox..."

Photograph courtesy of the Armagh County Museum

So do yourself a favour, tear yourself away from your screens and get down there - in person - to have a poke through moments in time.

On Saturday 31st March 2018 they are having a Family Fun Day and there will be owls - live owls! For more information click this link - https://visitarmagh.com/whatson/easter-family-fun-at-the-museum/

Maybe see you down there on Saturday.

Byddi Lee