The heart of an Irishman is nothing but his imagination - George Bernard Shaw

The heart of an Irishman is nothing but his imagination - George Bernard Shaw

As far as stereotypes go I’ll accept the one that says the Irish are the scholars and writers and creative wonders of the world. From Coleraine to Cork, Belfast to Bundoran the island is awash with talent far beyond itself. Lately I’ve been finishing off a book that soaks in the landscapes and leans into the scenery of our island and the people that make Ireland what it is. So on the day we celebrate St. Patrick here are a couple of other people from this island who I recommend to you. Grab a copy of one of their books and spend a couple of hours getting lost in the worlds they create. 

Cecilia Ahern - Lyrebird - It seems like the darling of Irish literature has a new book out every time I look on her Insta - and when you are as talented as she is then why not!

John Boyne - I’m currently reading The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas for the first time - with the film still to watch. I know I’m ten years late to the party but I had kept it on the long finger as I’m writing a WWII book and didn’t want to confuse my mind - which happened when I discovered the father of the characters was a watchmaker - two of my characters are watchmakers but in a totally different context. Im reading the Oliver Jeffers illustrated version which is beautiful and tear jerking.

Speaking of Oliver Jeffers - John has a mini Jeffers library and I know it will grow in the next couple of months as I can’t resist his books.

Anne Enright - The Green Road. It’s been on the shelf since 2015. Read it and love it - then read her book The Gathering.

Glenn Patterson - Gull. A book about the DeLorean. I love writing about Belfast, Northern Ireland and this island. Even in that sentence you get the scope that growing up in the 90’s in Belfast kinds confused my thinking as to identity and culture - what can and can’t I claim allegiance to? What does it mean to be Irish blah blah blah. Well Glenn writes about the past in such a way that brings the streets and people of Belfast to life. When you read his books you feel like the characters are sitting beside you, OK I realise that sounds a bit weird, let’s rephrase, when you read his books you feel like the characters are people you could bump into when out shappin on Royal Avenue.

Paul Howard AKA Ross O'Carroll Kelly - if you want to pee your pants with laughter pick up anyone of his books and spend the afternoon creasing your self. The genius titles of his books alone are reasons enough to buy them. You know those times when you find yourself standing at the counter in Easons with a book in your hand and you wonder how you get there. Just me then?

It’s almost a disservice to the following writers to simply list them by name but you could spend a week writing about each of them. One of the things I love about literature is discovering gems and holding them close when you walk out of a bookstore as you think, ‘I’m about to read something that no one else knows exists.’ You think you’ve found a secret story until you realise it’s an absolute classic that the world and it’s dog have read. But for you, it’s new and it’s world is about to invade yours and change and challenge you in whatever way your mind sees fit.

Oscar Wilde

James Joyce

Maeve Binchy

Roddy Doyle

Anne Enright

Claire Keegan

Lucy Caldwell

Jonathan Swift 

Samuel Beckett

C.S. Lewis

And failing all that, Half Irish is available on Kindle for the cheap cheap price of £0.99. Quick use one of your old quids and snap up a copy!

Weight. Waiting. Writing. Change.

Because I don’t like to renege on promises here is my first proper blog post of 2016! 

It’s that time of year when people make silly statements about what 2017 is going to be like. Just don’t. Or do but remember that no one could have predicted the general farce that was 2016. Man buns. Trump. Endless terrorist attacks. Heating scandals. A lot of crazy shit happened. And a lot of magical fantastically pleasantly awesome things happened. Let’s not forget that.

Around this time of the year Kerry and I usually sit down and make our ‘Next Years Wish List’. Mostly it consists of things we would like to buy and places we would like to visit on day trips or longer trips. It’s a generally safe list of rewards and one that narrows our choices so we can start to take action towards them. I have managed to make that sound quite boring, but really it’s cause I can stand in the beer aisle in the supermarket for a good 20 minutes deciding between a sawdust lager at a great price, an interesting Asian lager or an overpriced small time American Pilsner with wicked branding. I usually walk out with all three and have no pocket money for the rest of the week, so making a list is a good thing.

Anyway as we are on the cusp (I really just wanted to squeeze in that fantastic phrase) of 2017, how about some thoughts on my year - which I know is ridiculously selfish but it may prove interesting. 

 

Weight

Believe it or not this time last year I was 2 1/2 stone heavier - somedays it was closer to 3. I was the heaviest I had ever been. Following a nasty ankle injury and a six month bout of ‘I can’t exercise so I’m going to eat whatever the hell I want’ I had started to wear my shirts open. Not bare chested, but with a t-shirt under them. I literally couldn’t button some of my shirts and others were busting at the seams. I’m not exaggerating. For me this was different. So was my mood. I’m a 3.33.32 marathon guy. Then there was a moment and I thought I can go two ways - cuddlier or fitter. So I ran through the pain and the sweat and the cold mornings and nights and looked at what I was putting on my plate and the weight fell off and the smile returned. Please don’t let this ruin your Christmas dinner but also please do take your health seriously - it can have a profound impact on your general and mental well-being. Testify.

 

Waiting

Unashamedly I’ll use it again. In December 2014 I remember thinking to myself I’m on the cusp of greatness. This time next year Half Irish will have taken over the world and I’ll be in Gary Barlow’s house writing the script for the Half Irish Broadway show. It didn’t happen. But it did change my world. I’ve been learning patience for 32 years. But the last 2 years have been particularly telling. After ten years in youth work and initiating a national book project I was totally done. Some say burnt out. Others say ready for a new challenge. 

 

It was a more than welcome turn of events. For me my little personal mantra is ‘Pick up the things that give you joy’. Youth work and church stuff was no longer giving me joy, in fact it was robbing me of joy. As with everything it’s the attitude you carry that matters the most. Whatever you have faced this year may 2017 mean you choose better with a cracking attitude. And if you have to tell yourself that ten times a day it might be time to take yourself off on a retreat, look in your arms and see what you are carrying. Joy givers or joy stealers? Through this I think of two things - one profound - patience is the making of character & one less profound - no one likes a dickhead. If the circumstances in your control are making you the latter then take some serious action. It felt like ten years of hard work crashed down around me. So I threw myself into the only thing I knew would save me. 

 

Writing

As a writer I haven’t published/had anything published this year. I’ve had a couple of conversations about future publications but nothing concrete. ‘Everything in its time’ is the phrase I’m carrying. I finish 2016 knowing that I have written more ‘good words’ than any other year. I have researched and read and found a depth to my work. I have formed characters and stories that I know you will love.

 

I have also mastered two inner frustrations/battles I was having. I was having this continual conversation in my mind where I would see an artist or a photographer post something online and get a zillion likes. Yes at the age of 32 I was like ‘aghhhhhhh that’s so unfair. I write for like three hours and can’t share it with anyone and you spend five minutes on a doodle or choosing a filter and get instant likeability and wowness and emojis with hearts for eyes’. I had the simple realisation that my craft is different. It’s like a barrelled whisky that sits blindly in a barn until the time is right for people to taste it. I read about the journey of some of the best writers of this world and it pulled me out of a slump.

 

The second thing is that I have nearly mastered the ability to finish things. I really do have about twenty projects/book/ideas that are at various stages of completion. Some are fully planned and not written. Others are embryonic, others are 40% or 70% complete. So in 2016 I have learned there is no perfect time to write. That the way I best work is to always have things on the go, but in order to gain sanity I need to get shit done. So I’m working my way through that long list and completing things. Having a structure and a plan and sticking to it has seen my productivity soar.

 

Change 

We moved a couple of times this year. We had a son. I became a father and on that I will finish. My entire blog post should have been about that. But I have no words. Only feelings. My four weeks of being a Father has ripped up the book and changed everything. Mostly I’m humbled that I’ve been chosen to show this little man around this world. I’ve cried most days. I don’t like sleeping because I just want to stare at my kid. I’ve a heart that is bursting and I think, I just think that maybe 2017 is going to be the best year yet. But I remember saying that last year, and the year before and the year before that …

To you and your loved ones have a fantastic festive season. May 2017, not the month of May, well maybe the month of May, but the year of 2017, be the best yet. I don’t know what this blog is, but make good choices, laugh everyday, celebrate often and remember that change doesn’t have to be in the future. Start today. 

xo

 

I got straight A's and I still don't have (much) of a clue what I'm doing ...

The letter dropped into the hallway.

I didn’t open it straight away - I told everyone I wasn't worried so I had to play it cool and leave it for a while. For someone who didn't care, I was pretty nervous opening that letter.

A

A

A

No seriously. I looked for the misprint.

So I read the piece of paper again

A

A

A

Yup – I was now in that horrible straight A geek club (we couldn't get A* in my day!) I thought I would never join. My first thought was ‘Why the heck didn’t I apply to Oxford’ (something I sometimes still think!) Then I remembered that I didn’t expect that much from myself. 

The school called me, I jumped in the car, went to Hogwarts and had my picture take for a local newspaper - it was quite surreal.

As I was driving another thought crossed my now significantly smarter (but still lacking in common sense mind) how are the school & my parents going to react to a straight A student giving up his place in a law degree to take a gap year of volunteering (NB I took a gap year before it was the done thing to take a gap year. I thought that a full moon party was something that happened in the yet to be written Twilight.)

So I volunteered FT in Carrickfergus and on my days off worked a PT job in a sports store - I thought about reapplying for University across the water, but I didn’t bother. I went to Queens, regretted going at times, thought about dropping out – wrote a letter, shredded it, actually came to enjoy it and then completed my degree. During uni I worked on a production line in a bakery, as a postman, in an office (I lasted all of 3 days in that job!), did PR, another sports store and a few other places. 

Then graduation was over and, as I've never been much of a planner, I didn’t know what to do. It was only then – when I had my certificate (for free – we didn’t pay fees for my course!) that I realised I was in a story. My story. I had spent those previous years kinda just waiting for life to begin. But when graduation was over I realised I was being ushered into a new way of life - bills, responsibility and a lot of decisions. So I took some time to listen to other people and I realised some of the most interesting people I knew, and now know, didn’t get the grades they wanted, some didn’t even have formal qualifications – those who didn't get the grades they wanted take note - and some of them were millionaires – some weren’t – but they were all, on the whole happy. Why? It's a question I still ponder.

I asked myself a lot of questions about what I wanted to do and how I could help other people. I went into youth work - helped publish the first national youth work book in decades and now, after a decade, I’m out of youth work - I lasted a lot longer than the national average of 2 & 1/2 years.

 

A few years ago, over a period of a year, without me saying or them knowing, a lot of unconnected people had words, dreams and thoughts involving me and writing. Talk to me now and you would think - ‘yeah that fits’ but back then it was a really alien concept. So I thanked them for their comments, wrote a little and put it to the back of my mind. Then the ache wouldn’t go away. I continued to write and scribble and dream and scheme and fashion words into phrases and characters and stories that make people smile and cry and laugh and relax and dream and wonder why. Asking questions is a good thing. It makes you come alive. It connects your soul with the world.

 

A-level results, degree holding people, questioning life people - stay with me…

 

For what it’s worth - I’ve realised over the last few years that if I deny the thing that I’m born to do my life becomes very boring. I get agitated, angry, frustrated and the list goes on. But when I live out my dreams, well, that's a whole other set of adjectives and feelings.

Don’t compromise on who you have been created to be.

Don't negate or give up on the dream.

The best advice I can give you is to start turning it into an aspiration.

I had to wait until my late 20’s to get my dream. I’m working it out day by day.

Some days are really clear and others are blurry and freaking frustrating. 

Now 12 years after I received my A A A grades I still don’t have (much of a) clue what I’m doing!

BUT there are a few things that I know for sure:

Live your story.

Don’t live through others.

Make your story beautiful.

No one asks you what A-Levels you got when your 30 or 45.

Well only weird people do.

I’m really thankful that I made the most of my academic education. It’s such a privilege to study, to be able to read and write and use that for the benefit of others. I went on and did an MA that gave me the skills to create a book project that is being used up and down the country and write a novel and stories. This summer, after leaving youth work I’ve had the space and time to be on the cusp of finishing three more books. It’s incredible what you do when you focus, work your ass off and grab your dream by the scruff and make it work for you. You never know where things will take you. I have been fortunate to travel to a decent amount of places around the world and there is great life changing power in education – treat it as a privilege because it can change the world. I have an unfulfilled dream that I can use my books to help further education in developing nations. But as you study - guard your mind and continually think of ways to apply your learning. Too much study makes you puffed up baboon.

 

As cheesy as a bag of Coleraine Cheddar - some of the best education happens in the classroom of life. Listen to others, love others, put them before you – everyday is a chance to learn and grow and blossom – even on the days when the shit hits the fan and your standing right in front of it. You can choose your attitude. Some days that’s all you can do. Make it the right attitude. 

You are more than your grades. Listen to your heart, and if you dare, listen to hope. Hope is a dangerous thing – it urges you to think about a better and different tomorrow. It compels you to believe that things don’t always have to be like this - when it’s easier to accept the status quo. 

Recently one of my best mates, and one of the most capable guys I know, got in touch and told me he loves that in our early thirties we are still making life up. I hope I'm still doing that in my 90's.

I'm rooting for you - the underdog - I'm celebrating for you - the high flyer but know that whatever you do once your exam hangover eases, do it with all of your passion. Some of you will know what that is. Go for it. Work at it. Help others along the way. It doesn’t matter if it’s studying marine biology or starting a business, teaching kids or working in a shop - go and change the world. I know you can do it. And get in touch - let me know how it’s all working out for you.

 

So yeah I got straight A’s … and … well ... you know the rest.

If you have enjoyed this post I would love it if you bought a copy of Half Irish - either paperback or in iTunes or Kindle - big love!

Jars

JARS

37 jars: all shapes and sizes. 

Square ones with clip-on lids.

Octagonal ones with metal screw-top lids.

Normal round jam jars with pretty patterns on their shoulders. Inside, the last drop of scrummy jam plays a game of hide and seek.

37 jars: all shapes and sizes.

Their contents consumed and their labels scrubbed off; washed three times in hot, soapy water.

37 jars: all shapes and sizes.

Some are old jars that once held jams and jellies and lived in cluttered cupboards. Others are old marmalade jars, once used as juice beakers and cocktail glasses by the trendy restaurant in town with the pastel décor and magazine cut outs on its walls. 

What was Lily’s favourite type of jar? The ones filled with chocolate spread of course! Receiving a jar like that meant Lily could climb onto the counter, grab a spoon from the cutlery drawer, sink it into the jar of gooey scrummy chocolate goodness and eat until her stomach ached and her heart was happy.

 

It was late on a Friday afternoon when Lily began gathering jars. She rummaged through every cardboard box in the garage and searched through all of the tea chests in the dusty attic. 

After three hours of hunting, Lily lined up 17 glass jars on her front porch. She was proud of her progress, but she knew her job for the day wasn’t over. As the sun started to sleep, Lily set to work. She hauled two tin buckets to the porch and began to wash the jars. She scrubbed the jars clean in the first bucket filled with hot, soapy water. Then, she rinsed them in the second bucket filled with warm water. Finally, she wiped away the excess water and dried each jar. The late evening sun cast shadows of the jars on the floor of the porch.

As she dried the water droplets away from each jar, Lily told her puppy how pleased she was with the collection of jars she had found in the house. Finding 17 jars was a great number, but she would need at least double that for what she had planned.

The week following her great find Lily cast her search far and wide. Each day, as she jumped off the school bus, jars greeted her on the steps of her porch. Some were clean. Some were not so clean. Lily didn’t care: the sight of new jars delighted her. 

Old Man Jack, as Lily called him, lived two houses down. He was a very friendly man and shopped in the same grocery store as Lily’s family. Whilst talking to Lily’s dad he heard about her jar collecting appeal. Jack was married to a beautiful woman named Esther; he called her his princess, even after fifty years of marriage. Esther adored Lily, and loved her just as much as she loved her grandchildren who lived out of state. On a Wednesday night before dinnertime, Esther and Jack brought Lily an old apple crate containing nine jars. NINE jars! Lily’s eyes nearly popped out of her head.

Lily wasn’t collecting jars because she liked to recycle or to raise some spare change to spend on ice-lollies on her summer vacation. She was collecting the jars so she could fill them up with treats and give them away to good homes. She wanted to paint some of the jars with pretty pictures and fill them to the brim with special things that would make people smile. 

It was the following Friday evening. After eating some delicious BBQ ribs and drinking too much cola Lily sat on the swing chair in the porch. With a notepad and pencil in hand she began to scribble down the names of people that she wanted to give her jars to.

1.    Sophia, her piano teacher

2.    Daddy

3.    Her nana, Isabella 

4.    Her Pop

5.    Mummy 

6.    Her sister, Emily 

7.    Abigail, the mailwoman

8.    Store clerk

9.     Optician

10.     Radio DJ

11.     Gardener across the road

12.     Aubrey, her best friend

13.     Teddy bear

14.     Victoria, her hairdresser

15.     Derek, her soccer coach

16.     Princess Esther

17.     Old Man Jack

18.     Puppy dog

19.     Pastor

20.     Katherine, the old lady with the purple skirt at church

21.     Mayor

22.     Mechanic

23.     Ellen, her old ballet teacher

24.     Bella, her cousin

25.     Aunt Sarah

26.     Uncle Cameron

27.     Cookie-maker at the market

28.     Sweet shop lady

29.     Rabbit

30.     Kimberly, the waitress at the local diner         

31.     Window cleaner

32.     Florist in town

33.     Bus driver

34.     Janitor

35.     Dinner lady

36.     Paper boy

37.     Lily

 

    She thought it was only fair that she rewarded herself with a bright shiny jar! After a short game of fetch with her puppy dog, Lily got back to work and wrote out a list of all the things she wanted to put into the jars. She would explain the reason for the contents of the jars when she presented each lucky person with their jar.

Shells

Smells

Noisy bells

 

Lots more hours

Flowers 

Magic powers

 

Pink false nails

A picture of a snail

A pretty veil

 

Frogs 

Cogs

An Eskimo dog

 

Cash

Mash

Lightning flash

 

Seeds

Prayer beads

A few good deeds

 

Chocolate sprinkles 

Cream for wrinkles

Shiny stars that twinkle-twinkle

 

Clocks

Socks

Lego blocks

Lollipops and bottle tops

 

Jingly keys and honeybees

Endless hugs and ladybugs

 

Biro pens and eggs from hens

 

Colouring pencils and pretty stencils

 

Freshly cut grass and painted glass

 

A large glass of homemade lemonade

 

 

The next day, Lily was pretty busy. She went to the arts and crafts store in town and spent some of her pocket money on four little jars of paint and two brushes with very soft, tan coloured bristles. 

    When she came home, Lily began to paint some of the 37 jars. She painted a big red heart on one and lots of little hearts on another. A blue, green and pink butterfly wrapped round most of one jar. She decorated the rest of the jars with lots of pretty pictures including a bright, bold golden sun, a sailboat and brightly coloured flowers. In between finishing her homework and completing her chores, Lily spent the rest of the weekend decorating all 37 of her jars.

On Wednesday, Lily’s daddy drove her all over town to track down each person she’d scribbled on her list. At each stop, her daddy waited patiently in the car as she ran up to front doors and reception counters, with a colourful jar in her hands. When Lily placed a jar into the hands of her friends and explained the reason why she was giving them a jar, some laughed, others cried, but everyone smiled at her thoughtful gesture. Each flashed a heartfelt grin and gave Lily a huge hug, thanking her for the extremely thoughtful present. 

    After Lily had given out all of her jars, she went home to pack. She loaded up an old green leather suitcase, that she’d found in a thrift store for five dollars, with all of her vacation clothes. The summer vacation was always an exciting time for Lily. This year, her parents were taking four weeks of unpaid vacation and sweeping the family out of state for a great, big adventure. Lily had managed to pack everything into her suitcase this year - well, almost, she was taking an extra backpack for day-trips. As she told her daddy when she dragged it out for him to pack into the car, “Girls need a lot of stuff. It’s just how we operate.”

    She dragged her suitcase toward the car and passed two jars that sat on the porch. Before the family took off, Lily announced that she’d be back - she had to run to Old Man Jack and Princess Esther’s house.  They were playing a game of dominos on the porch and smiled when they saw Lily running toward them, her hands clasping two colourful jars. Before Jack or Esther could say hello, Lily placed the two jars on the table and jumped into Esther’s lap. 

    “Here are your jars!” she said with great excitement. “I hope you enjoy them!” Lily watched as the corners of Jack’s mouth turned upwards into a smile, eyeing the jar filled with loads of chocolate sprinkles. Oh, how he loved to put chocolate sprinkles on his ice cream! Esther looked at the empty jar that sat beside Jack’s jar of sprinkles. “What’s in there?” she asked with playful curiosity. Lily beamed with pride. “Why that contains a lot more hours for you and Jack to spend together!” Esther was overwhelmed with gratitude and could feel tears forming in the corners of her blue eyes. She thanked Lily and gave her a great big cuddle. 

Lily heard the revs of her daddy’s car. She jumped from Esther’s lap onto the porch, planted a sloppy kiss on Jack’s cheek before taking off toward her car, waving goodbye to Jack and Esther as she ran. 

“All ready to go?” Lily’s daddy asked. Lily nodded eagerly, climbed into the backseat and buckled up. As they pulled away from her house, Lily thought back with satisfaction about all the jars she’d given out. She smiled as she stared out of the car window and sipped from the 37th jar - an ice-cold glass of homemade lemonade.

Pete

If you have enjoyed this story please head over to Amazon, iTunes or Kobo and grab yourself a copy of Half Irish.

 

Thank You #gawa

‘So how was it?’

My eyes said it all - then the gravelly tone of my voice said the rest - and I was only there for three days.

Plans changed for me and seven days in France was only three - a pilgrimage from Belfast - Dublin - Brussels - Luxembourg City - sleeping in a car and then at Barbara’s Air BnB in a suburb in Lyon.

I’m of the age, but not the footballing grade, of Steve Davis & Chris Brunt, having played against both at junior level. Back then I looked for Davis’ name on the team card and wondered how many times he would nutmeg me. On the cold and wet days when Brunt was playing on the other team you hoped you weren’t on the receiving end of one of his ‘power-blaster’ free kicks. I made it as far as one of the IFA select training camps - but it wasn’t meant to be - they knew Pete Waugh needed to liven up the Amateur League.

So whenever I’ve caught a glimpse of the #gawa crew on MOTD, usually while nursing some sort of knock after playing in a not so friendly game of Amateur League football, I’ve always been so proud of the fellas from our wee country who plough their trade as professional ballers.

But how did we get to this point?

We all know that some boys are cycling, others are on epic road trips (we drove the Brussels - Lyon option), some are braving the striking trains and others are hitching a lift. But that’s not what I mean. I mean how did we get from a place where the sectarian venom on people’s lips around Windsor was so bitter, to a place where we are literally the best supporters in Europe.

Well - ask the guy cycling around Lyon, whilst playing nothing but Northern Ireland songs on the flute. 

Ask the fella on the bagpipes who brought a bit of cheer to the fans.

Ask the lads who ate the McDonalds in Nice out of burgers and drank the bars out of beer - and there wasn’t a pick of trouble.

Ask the fella crowd surfing on the inflatable crocodile.

Ask all of the kids who have been to France who have had the time of their life (and a few cheeky days off school!)

Ask all the female GAWA’s who are the prettiest supporters in the world!

Ask the lads in the camper vans, the fellas cycling from Lyon to Paris (hats of Nealo!), ask the kids and partners of those who have had a pass away from home for a couple of days/weeks and will come back all the better for it.

Ask the German supporter who wouldn’t let me pass him by without singing ‘The Fire Song’.

Ask those who made banners and flags.

Ask Jimmy Nesbitt - if anyone can find him.

Ask the supporters from other countries who think we are bonkers, crazy and who can’t stop smiling when they see us.

Ask the wee woman in Lyon who lives on ‘football street’ who didn’t get any sleep cause we were singing and dancing until the wee small hours.

Ask Colin who kissed me lol  

Ask Pete, Paolo and Rebecca … and the list goes on and on.

Ask the players who called home to say thanks.

Ask the wee fella from Ballymena whose dad surprised him with tickets.

And ask the IFA.

France 16

France 16

 

And the whole point of this is to say a huge thank you. 

Thank you to the IFA.

When I launched my novel last year I wanted to write a story that was based here, but wasn’t about The Troubles. I wanted to give the reader something new, something fresh and something they could get excited about. That’s exactly what the IFA and the squad of lads from OWC have done.

Teaching the Croats some songs

Teaching the Croats some songs

 

Thank you for capturing the fact that sport is sport. Leave it at that. If you aren’t playing in Green and White you are our enemy - we can all unite around that common purpose. You have absolutely nailed this. It’s really difficult to change a culture. Especially one that’s in desperate need of change. Intentionality, raising the standards, setting a common purpose and a common goal that everyone can unite around, can dream about and get excited about. So hats and scarves off to the IFA and all those who ‘dared to dream’ who were bold enough to offer ‘Football for All’. And thanks, in this trigger happy culture of firing managers, for not firing Michael when the results weren’t going the right way. 

 

The IFA don’t get everything right. But the way they have brought football here from the doldrums of the 90’s to the carnival atmosphere that happens at Windsor every time the #GAWA run out to play, is something that has to be praised from the terraces and the typewriters.

The biggest thanks are to the supporters. I dropped in and out of the party and have been reliving the scenes on Youtube and Bakebook. It was hands down the best nights craic I’ve had.

When Keith Gillespie is being crowd surfed in front of your very eyes, followed by ‘Santi Cazorla,’ and then some bloke from the radio, and a wee woman is looking on from her apartment in bemusement, you know you’re part of something special. 

 

To the coaches. The countless coaches who spend hours standing around pitches, setting up drills, worrying over formations and how to tell the kids who have been dropped, it all is impossible with you. You are heroes. Thank You Gary and Keith, John G, Soupie, Bobby and the rest. 

 

Norn Iron v Ukraine

Norn Iron v Ukraine

To the players. Blanchflower, Healy, Hughes, Davis, Gregg (and Grigg ;0), Armstrong, Jennings, Donaghy, Gillespie, Bingham, Whiteside, Doherty, McAuley and Best. Those from the past and those from the present - you have inspired the future - and that’s 90% of your job - the other 10% is enjoying what you do. We will continue to shout at you from the terraces/our lovely new home, get frustrated with misplaced passes and, if you continue to cajole us, to lift our eyes and dream even bigger dreams than the one we are currently experiencing. Keep inspiring the next generation and let’s not leave it another 30 years before we get to party like it’s 1986 again.

But I better go. I only have six hours left to decide which shirt to rip off when Grigg sticks it past Neuer - that’ll stop Ballack talking Ballacks. 

And a tip of the semi prophetic hat to Gary Lightbody - It’s not a World Cup - but we are all watching Ireland - North and South - at a major tournament - singing arm in arm with each other (what about yer boy with the red banjo?!). So yes Gary, hopefully we will both make it to a World Cup - we’ll never stop dreaming.

I hope I’ve given you something fun to read when big ears and the other commentators are talking in patronising sentences about OWC before they find some tedious link back to talk about England. (BTW slap it in ye Owen.)

From my time in France the only disappointing thing is I didn’t get a selfie with The Dentist formerly known as The Nesbitt.

For those in Paris - enjoy the party.

Bye for now. 

I’ll be back when I’m launching my next football related book - about a wee fella from Poland who lives in Belfast and goes to Sweden to find Zlatan. If you want to buy the missus a love story for her summer holidays - pop over and buy a copy of Half Irish - also available on iBooks and Kindle for a couple of quid.

Jars

So this week I had some good news about a local distributor who is going to stock and carry my books! It's all about the small wins! I'll tell you more about that when it's all signed sealed and delivered.

This means I am going to push on with the second print of Half Irish  - which is an exciting time. I'll do a wee re-design of the back cover which will be fun! I currently have 4 1st editions on the bookshelf so if you want to order one for Christmas get in quick! 

To celebrate I thought I would let you read one of my short stories. So why not grab a beverage and take 15 minutes to read a heart warming story! 

JARS

37 jars: all shapes and sizes. 

Square ones with clip-on lids.

Octagonal ones with metal screw-top lids.

Normal round jam jars with pretty patterns on their shoulders. Inside, the last drop of scrummy jam plays a game of hide and seek.

37 jars: all shapes and sizes.

Their contents consumed and their labels scrubbed off; washed three times in hot, soapy water.

37 jars: all shapes and sizes.

Some are old jars that once held jams and jellies and lived in cluttered cupboards. Others are old marmalade jars, once used as juice beakers and cocktail glasses by the trendy restaurant in town with the pastel décor and magazine cut outs on its walls. 

What was Lily’s favourite type of jar? The ones filled with chocolate spread of course! Receiving a jar like that meant Lily could climb onto the counter, grab a spoon from the cutlery drawer, sink it into the jar of gooey scrummy chocolate goodness and eat until her stomach ached and her heart was happy.

 

It was late on a Friday afternoon when Lily began gathering jars. She rummaged through every cardboard box in the garage and searched through all of the tea chests in the dusty attic. 

After three hours of hunting, Lily lined up 17 glass jars on her front porch. She was proud of her progress, but she knew her job for the day wasn’t over. As the sun started to sleep, Lily set to work. She hauled two tin buckets to the porch and began to wash the jars. She scrubbed the jars clean in the first bucket filled with hot, soapy water. Then, she rinsed them in the second bucket filled with warm water. Finally, she wiped away the excess water and dried each jar. The late evening sun cast shadows of the jars on the floor of the porch.

As she dried the water droplets away from each jar, Lily told her puppy how pleased she was with the collection of jars she had found in the house. Finding 17 jars was a great number, but she would need at least double that for what she had planned.

The week following her great find Lily cast her search far and wide. Each day, as she jumped off the school bus, jars greeted her on the steps of her porch. Some were clean. Some were not so clean. Lily didn’t care: the sight of new jars delighted her. 

Old Man Jack, as Lily called him, lived two houses down. He was a very friendly man and shopped in the same grocery store as Lily’s family. Whilst talking to Lily’s dad he heard about her jar collecting appeal. Jack was married to a beautiful woman named Esther; he called her his princess, even after fifty years of marriage. Esther adored Lily, and loved her just as much as she loved her grandchildren who lived out of state. On a Wednesday night before dinnertime, Esther and Jack brought Lily an old apple crate containing nine jars. NINE jars! Lily’s eyes nearly popped out of her head.

Lily wasn’t collecting jars because she liked to recycle or to raise some spare change to spend on ice-lollies on her summer vacation. She was collecting the jars so she could fill them up with treats and give them away to good homes. She wanted to paint some of the jars with pretty pictures and fill them to the brim with special things that would make people smile. 

It was the following Friday evening. After eating some delicious BBQ ribs and drinking too much cola Lily sat on the swing chair in the porch. With a notepad and pencil in hand she began to scribble down the names of people that she wanted to give her jars to.

1.    Sophia, her piano teacher

2.    Daddy

3.    Her nana, Isabella 

4.    Her Pop

5.    Mummy 

6.    Her sister, Emily 

7.    Abigail, the mailwoman

8.    Store clerk

9.     Optician

10.     Radio DJ

11.     Gardener across the road

12.     Aubrey, her best friend

13.     Teddy bear

14.     Victoria, her hairdresser

15.     Derek, her soccer coach

16.     Princess Esther

17.     Old Man Jack

18.     Puppy dog

19.     Pastor

20.     Katherine, the old lady with the purple skirt at church

21.     Mayor

22.     Mechanic

23.     Ellen, her old ballet teacher

24.     Bella, her cousin

25.     Aunt Sarah

26.     Uncle Cameron

27.     Cookie-maker at the market

28.     Sweet shop lady

29.     Rabbit

30.     Kimberly, the waitress at the local diner         

31.     Window cleaner

32.     Florist in town

33.     Bus driver

34.     Janitor

35.     Dinner lady

36.     Paper boy

37.     Lily

 

    She thought it was only fair that she rewarded herself with a bright shiny jar! After a short game of fetch with her puppy dog, Lily got back to work and wrote out a list of all the things she wanted to put into the jars. She would explain the reason for the contents of the jars when she presented each lucky person with their jar.

Shells

Smells

Noisy bells

 

Lots more hours

Flowers 

Magic powers

 

Pink false nails

A picture of a snail

A pretty veil

 

Frogs 

Cogs

An Eskimo dog

 

Cash

Mash

Lightning flash

 

Seeds

Prayer beads

A few good deeds

 

Chocolate sprinkles 

Cream for wrinkles

Shiny stars that twinkle-twinkle

 

Clocks

Socks

Lego blocks

Lollipops and bottle tops

 

Jingly keys and honeybees

Endless hugs and ladybugs

 

Biro pens and eggs from hens

 

Colouring pencils and pretty stencils

 

Freshly cut grass and painted glass

 

A large glass of homemade lemonade

 

 

The next day, Lily was pretty busy. She went to the arts and crafts store in town and spent some of her pocket money on four little jars of paint and two brushes with very soft, tan coloured bristles. 

    When she came home, Lily began to paint some of the 37 jars. She painted a big red heart on one and lots of little hearts on another. A blue, green and pink butterfly wrapped round most of one jar. She decorated the rest of the jars with lots of pretty pictures including a bright, bold golden sun, a sailboat and brightly coloured flowers. In between finishing her homework and completing her chores, Lily spent the rest of the weekend decorating all 37 of her jars.

On Wednesday, Lily’s daddy drove her all over town to track down each person she’d scribbled on her list. At each stop, her daddy waited patiently in the car as she ran up to front doors and reception counters, with a colourful jar in her hands. When Lily placed a jar into the hands of her friends and explained the reason why she was giving them a jar, some laughed, others cried, but everyone smiled at her thoughtful gesture. Each flashed a heartfelt grin and gave Lily a huge hug, thanking her for the extremely thoughtful present. 

    After Lily had given out all of her jars, she went home to pack. She loaded up an old green leather suitcase, that she’d found in a thrift store for five dollars, with all of her vacation clothes. The summer vacation was always an exciting time for Lily. This year, her parents were taking four weeks of unpaid vacation and sweeping the family out of state for a great, big adventure. Lily had managed to pack everything into her suitcase this year - well, almost, she was taking an extra backpack for day-trips. As she told her daddy when she dragged it out for him to pack into the car, “Girls need a lot of stuff. It’s just how we operate.”

    She dragged her suitcase toward the car and passed two jars that sat on the porch. Before the family took off, Lily announced that she’d be back - she had to run to Old Man Jack and Princess Esther’s house.  They were playing a game of dominos on the porch and smiled when they saw Lily running toward them, her hands clasping two colourful jars. Before Jack or Esther could say hello, Lily placed the two jars on the table and jumped into Esther’s lap. 

    “Here are your jars!” she said with great excitement. “I hope you enjoy them!” Lily watched as the corners of Jack’s mouth turned upwards into a smile, eyeing the jar filled with loads of chocolate sprinkles. Oh, how he loved to put chocolate sprinkles on his ice cream! Esther looked at the empty jar that sat beside Jack’s jar of sprinkles. “What’s in there?” she asked with playful curiosity. Lily beamed with pride. “Why that contains a lot more hours for you and Jack to spend together!” Esther was overwhelmed with gratitude and could feel tears forming in the corners of her blue eyes. She thanked Lily and gave her a great big cuddle. 

Lily heard the revs of her daddy’s car. She jumped from Esther’s lap onto the porch, planted a sloppy kiss on Jack’s cheek before taking off toward her car, waving goodbye to Jack and Esther as she ran. 

“All ready to go?” Lily’s daddy asked. Lily nodded eagerly, climbed into the backseat and buckled up. As they pulled away from her house, Lily thought back with satisfaction about all the jars she’d given out. She smiled as she stared out of the car window and sipped from the 37th jar - an ice-cold glass of homemade lemonade.

Pete

If you have enjoyed this story please head over to Amazon, iTunes or Kobo and grab yourself a copy of Half Irish.

 

 

Jars ... 

Jars ... 



Latvia - the most welcoming of places!

I have been travelling to Latvia every year for the last nine years.

I call it my second home. 

When your friends over there leave a key under the milk bottles when you are coming over because they are in another city and ask you to look after their pets until they get home, I think you can safely say you have found a place and a people who trust and welcome you.

I have found Latvia to be the most welcoming of places.

There is a deep found respect in the people’s lives. A respect for life and, after living through the various things they have, there is a respect and appreciation for second chances. It is a country experiencing rebirth and there is an excitement in the air. But it isn’t without issues. An ageing population and the rise of ‘ghost towns’ due to the missing generations (anyone under 40), a lot of whom have moved West in search of better economic conditions. 

 

Wages for professionals - teachers, social workers, police etc - are in the hundreds not thousands and a lot of people eek out a living from the land. Google tells us the nations GDP is around $16k - (having risen from $2k in 1994) with the UK’s currently around $42k. Yes when you go to Riga there are sports cars and a few lovely shopping centres (one of which puts the Shabbycentre to shame), but the majority of the residents of the country live frugally, with the main money generators being wood, the service industry, an increasing and awesome tourist industry, food (honey = the bees knees) and an ingenuity towards life.

While most of us are thinking about France next June, we need to turn our heads turn towards Latvia this Friday. 

The boys should knock them out of the park. It will be a tough, physical battle but the GAWA have the skills to ‘do them over’. The majority of their squad play in Latvia, which is Irish league standard. As a former Carrick Rangers U 15 & 16 captain I feel I could have got a kick in their league. One summer I trained with the current league champions which was a cool couple of nights. Some of their other players play in mid to lower leagues across Europe and one fella plays for BATE. So their squad is one, if not two steps behind ours. 

Their national stadium in Riga has a 9500 capacity and I nearly got kicked out of another stadium one time for starting the bouncy. Their security guards don’t do the bouncy, or banter as it happens. At a footballing level Marian Pahars, the wee man who scored some wonderful goals in The Prem, including this gem against The Scum, has brought a fantastic professional ethic to the national setup - not dissimilar to what King Michael has done for the GAWA. We should beat them, but shouldn’t take them lightly. 

In my next book I am addressing the undercurrent of racism in our country through the diary of a young football loving Polish lad called Artur (Arthur). And yes I know it’s sometimes more of an in your face blatant racism when we entertain sentences such as, ‘Oh Eastern Europeans. The ones who wash your car, take our jobs, run the sun-beds and cut you up in traffic.’

Some people would say, ‘take race out of it. People are people.’ And while this is true I say keep race in. Where you are from shapes who you are and who you are becoming. To be a truly inclusive society we need to celebrate our differences. I want to eat the different types of food and take part in the celebrations the various cultures (many that have been here for generations) hold dear. I love when I travel to Latvia and hear stories of how one of the Babushkas grandkids lives in Ballymoney or Dublin and how they love living in Ireland! 

As a writer I have been deeply inspired by the country of Latvia and I am currently writing a war book set in the city of Liepaja. It follows the life of a man called Janis (John) who has the misfortune to live through WW1 and WW2. You might say he was lucky to survive the wars but when you research the brutality faced by those who have survived a war you quickly realise that life was something lived, endured and not always enjoyed. But despite that life had to go on, people fell in love, babies were born and folk tales were sung in bars and cellars. The book focuses on the horrible fact that the city of Liepaja used to have a thriving Jewish population, but at the end of WW2 only 3% of those who proudly called themselves Jews, remained. 97% of the Jewish population of Liepaja were, well, you know what happened to them. It has been very difficult to research, you couldn’t make up some of the things I have read. Things that are in the history books. 

I would encourage you to pop over to Riga for a weekend, and if you are feeling brave to go for a week and explore beyond Riga. There is a wonderful Old Town - with, yes tourist prices, but plenty of culture. I have loads of stories to share from the last 9 years of travelling to Latvia but I will leave you with these two:  

I remember sitting in an old Soviet apartment block - of a former KGB spy. The older generation hold this life bringing, bone shaking depth in their minds and hearts. But for me it’s their eyes. Eyes that swell as they remember stories of their youth. Eyes that drown in tears as they recall stories  that those of us from the West only hear about in blockbuster movies. Life in the secretive state was hard and some of their stories are stomach churning. 

I was sitting on a bus, inspecting my mosquito bites when a man in his late 50’s got up from his seat, walked up the bus and gave me a closed fisted punch on the side of the head. It’s not cool to put your feet up on the seats when you are on a bus.

So travel to Riga, a fantastic place for a stag or hen party or a city break weekend and walk over the streets that only 24 years ago were occupied by Soviet forces.

Oh What A Night!

Well what a night for Our Wee Country!

When the block booking tickets came out last year I couldn't scrape together the shillings to buy one and didn't get a ticket for the game last night - so I watched the match on a strangers phone in the queue into a bar and then with a lot of other random strangers! We sang our hearts out, hugged and cried and danced and talked about France. Grown men were weeping all around me and then Shaftesbury Square was turned into a party zone/dance zone/GAWA mass audition for the X Factor. Ladies were popping bottles of champagne and lads were downing bottles of Belfast Wine faster than they could book their flights to France! There were even a couple of lads doing the bouncy on top of a bus shelter! Then the second wave of supporters came down from Windsor and joined in the party! It was one of those moments that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives! It was proper magical! 


I love football. Playing, watching, coaching and now writing about it! The book I wrote over the summer follows a Polish kid as he transitions into life in Belfast ... It focuses on the simple diary of a kid who loves football, then tackles racism and shows how one kid unintentionally weaves a street together. It's on the first wave of editing and still has a bit to flesh out - after last night I might shift the timescale slightly and put that special night into it. 

But as I was walked the streets of Belfast last night I had shivers as I witnessed the dream of unity so many of us carry for this nation happen, in a small part, before my eyes. It was a special night! 

So I'm off to plan the Kickstarter appeal for the book and work as hard as Davis & co in the hope that I can give this country something else to be proud of just in time for June 2016, in the form of another excellent summer read! 

My Three Sided Coin

There's something so exciting about a new start. 

I spend a disproportionate amount of time picking out new jotters and journals. 

The blank page is so important to me - it's a place where I can scribble down words, phrases, create characters and draw out timelines of my stories.

In some ways that's the easy part. Creating and dreaming is the liberating part of writing. But committing to a project is the difficult part. For me here are my two fears when I stare at a blank page

1. This is a not a crazy merry-go-round although some days it feels like it is!

I'm not exaggerating when I say I have outlines for at least 20 books in my study and some more in my head! All of them excite me in different ways. But there in is the challenge - I can happily bounce between projects and then it feels like I am going round in circles. 

The challenge for me is to pick the correct project. 

When I started writing and then helping others write I came across the following quote, 'wisdom is proved right by what results from it.' When I scribble down the thoughts on a new character or get carried away by the prospect of a new book this phrase always pops back into my mind. It  reassures me that although this can feel like a crazy merry-go-round, the truth is that writing a book is nothing like it. I have found a new way that helps. I liken writing a book to going on a hike. It's exciting, gruelling, sometimes dangerous and even though you have a map to help you along your way, the map is a guide that helps you to experience moments of wonder.

2. Committing to the book

My default is to create, dream, outline and then shove it into the back of the cupboard! In doing so some projects die a death and some mature over time. But through Half Irish I learned so much about committing to the project. That is why point 1 is so important. I'm at the stage where I have developed full characters and outlines for three books that I think are really good. And they are all so different. On Monday I spent about 2 hours researching the Latvian dairy industry in the 1920's - 1930's. In August I spent a lot of time researching, contacting people and discovering the history (or non-history as it turns out) of Swedish-Northern Irish relations. And I have also been researching Scottish-Irish heritage and exploring the Highlands of Scotland. As I commit to write the next book, with no lucrative advance or promise of success - I commit to the project in hope. I hope you like it! I hope you read it and I hope I enjoy the journey!

So I'm going to go back to my study and flip my 3 sided coin, or 20 sided coin, and see what book I write next - because honestly - they will all take me on a journey!

PS Two social media highlights - 

I was delighted to get a couple of mentions on BBC Radio Ulster during the week - you can listen again to the fantastic Kerry McLean here and in August I filmed for NVTV's Novel Ideas - you can watch the show here

I got straight A's ... and I still don't have (much of a) clue what I'm doing ...

I got straight A’s … and I still don’t have (much of a) clue what I’m doing!

The letter dropped into the hallway.

I didn’t open it straight away - I told everyone I wasn't worried so I had to play it cool and leave it for a while. For someone who didn't care, I was pretty nervous opening that letter.

A

A

A

No seriously. I looked for the misprint.

So I read the piece of paper again

A

A

A

Yup – I was now in that horrible straight A geek club (we couldn't get A* in my day!) I always swore I would never join. My first thought was ‘Why the heck didn’t I apply to Oxford’ (something I sometimes still think!) Then I remembered that my teachers didn’t expect that much from me or I didn't expect that much from myself. 

The school called me, I jumped in the car, went to Hogwarts and had my picture taken with the other geeks*. (*joke)

As I was driving another thought crossed my now significantly more confident (but still lacking in common sense mind) was how are the school & my parents going to react to a straight A student giving up his place in a law degree to take a missional gap year and ‘work’ for the Good Lord. (*NB I also took a gap year before it was the done thing to take a gap year. I thought that a full moon party was something that happened in the yet to be written Twilight.)

So I volunteered FT in Carrickfergus for a year and worked a PT job in a crummy sports store - I thought about reapplying for University across the water, but I didn’t bother. I went to Queens, regretted going at times, thought about dropping out – wrote a letter, shredded it, actually came to enjoy it and then completed my degree. During uni I worked on a production line in a bakery, as a postman, in an office (for 3 days - shoot me now!), doing PR, another sports store and a few other places. 

Then graduation was over and, as I've never been much of a planner, I went on the dole for a few weeks.

It was only then – when I had my certificate (for free – we didn’t pay fees for my course!) that I realised I was in a story. My story. I had spent those previous years kinda just waiting for life to begin. But when graduation was over I realised I was being ushered into a new way of life – it was a life of love and grace. I began to listen to other people and I realised some of the most interesting people I knew, and now know, didn’t get the grades they wanted, some didn’t even have formal qualifications – and some of them were millionaires – some weren’t – but they were all, on the whole happy. Why? It's a question I still ponder.

I asked myself a lot of questions about what I wanted to do and how I could help other people. I went into youth work by some cosmic accident. Some days I love it. Some days, like most of us, I struggle. 

Then, a few years ago, a lot of unconnected people told me I was really good at writing. So I continued to write and scribble and dream and scheme and fashion words into phrases that make people smile and cry and wonder why. Asking questions is a good thing. It makes you come alive. It connects your soul with the world and the maker and shaker of this planet.

I've also realised over the last few years that if I deny the thing that I’m born to do my life becomes very boring. I get angry, grumpy and begin to complain. But when I live out my dreams, well, that's a whole other set of adjectives. 

Don’t compromise on who you have been created to be.

Don't negate or give up on the dream.

Start turning it into an aspiration.

 I’m working it out day by day.

Some days are really clear and others are blurry and freaking frustrating. 

Now 12 years after I received my A A A grades I still don’t have (much of a) clue what I’m doing!

BUT there are a few things that I know for sure:

Live your story.

Don’t live through others.

Make your story beautiful.

No one asks you what A-Levels you got when your 30 or 45.

Well only weird people do.

I’m really thankful that I made the most of my academic education. It’s such a privilege to study, to be able to read and write and use that for the benefit of others. I went on and did an MA that gave me the skills to create a book project that is being used up and down the country. You never know where things will take you. I have been fortunate to travel to a decent amount of places around the world and there is great power in education – treat it as a privilege because it can change the world. As you study - guard your mind and continually think of ways to apply your learning. Too much study makes you puffed up baboon. 

Some of the best education happens in the classroom of life. Listen to others, love others, put them before you – everyday is a chance to learn and grow and blossom – even on the days when the shit hits the fan and your standing right in front of it.

You are more than your grades. Listen to your heart, and if you dare, listen to hope. Hope is a dangerous thing – it urges you to think about a better tomorrow. It compels you to believe that things can be different when it’s easier to accept the status quo.

I'm rooting for you - the underdog - I'm celebrating for you - the high flyer but know that whatever you do once your exam hangover* eases (*literal or not), do it with all of your passion. If it’s marine biology, working in a petrol station, doing a trade or starting a business walking someone else’s pets.

So yeah I got straight A’s … and … well ... you know the rest.

1 Month

1 Month!

In many ways it feels a lot longer since some of us gathered in the wonderful Established Coffee house and heard the story of Half Irish. The night was fantastic and a wonderful way to celebrate a couple of years of hard work. My only regret - I didn’t get to eat any of the awesome traybakes! I haven’t put the photos online - must do that soon!

Over the last month (and I don’t mean to sound like a celeb here) I have had a number of radio interviews, TV interviews, been in a couple of magazines, presented at the Belfast Book Festival and tried my hand at having a market stall! It’s been a surreal experience and I have been loving every minute of it. 

Things I have been learning:

The people of Belfast/Northern Ireland/Ireland love a good yarn/story/natter! I have had countless conversations with people of all arts and from all parts. Carrying a message of life, love and inspiration is an attractive message. People seem to be attracted to Half Irish - through its message, the characters and the way I carry how much I love it! Whatever gift you have or thing you work at carry it with life, love and inspiration. That’s not just summer advice but life advice.

Tall Ships  We love a good global event. Yesterday I had a stall at the Tall Ships - hosted at the wonderful Dock Market (blog post to follow later in the summer) There was so much to do so I would recommend getting down and checking it out! My only regret - I could only have my stall for 1 day as I am heading off at the weekend to Latvia.

Tall Ships

Tall Ships

Huge Sails!

Huge Sails!

This is a lifetimes work Over the month I have been convinced once again that this writing malarkey is a lifetimes work. Buoyed by the joy of the feedback coming in about Half Irish - from 73 year olds to teenagers and everyone in between - I have been encouraged and convinced that writing is something that I not only want to do, but have to do.  

Listening During the last month I met the wonderful local author Tony McCauley for a coffee and he gave me some tips, hints and great advice. Apart from being local authors, we have a few more things in common - past pupils of BRA, youth work backgrounds and we are both former employees, of sorts, of Ormo Bakery! Tony has written about his experience in Bread Boy - a recommended summer read! It was fantastic to listen to Tony, the journey his writing has taken/is taking him on and to garner inspirational thoughts and words from someone who is further down the line. 

Next Project I have been sharing a little but about my summer writing project and have received some great reactions to it. At the end of my workshop in Belfast Book Festival I read the first chapter of the next book and the audience were laughing throughout! It’s about a Polish kid who comes to live in Belfast. The book has been great yet difficult to write. I tackle the idea of a changing Belfast, racism, transitions and write about another character coming out of a paramilitary background. Some chapters are charming and others are just difficult to write because they reflect on some issues that are live and real to our wee country. 

I hope you have a rocking weekend! I might be a bit quiet over here for a week as I’m away - but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on getting stuck into Half Irish 

Kindle

iTunes

Physical

Other random things:

A dead ringer for Foy Vance in a charity shop in East Belfast

Writers Sleepy Friend

Writers Sleepy Friend

It's always BBQ season at our house! But this week we had an awesome chicken! Also look at the freshly painted wall in the background!

It's always BBQ season at our house! But this week we had an awesome chicken! Also look at the freshly painted wall in the background!


Big love!

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, TEN

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

On Saturday I head to Latvia for the 10th time.

As some of you open a new tab to remind yourself where the heck Latvia is let me save you the time - it’s over there near Russia. If the area was a sandwich Latvia would be the filling with Estonia and Lithuania being the bread. Russia would be the enormous salad on the right hand side of the plate and Finland some sort of Scandinavian garnish to the north.

Latvia isn’t a place that a lot of people have been to or even have on their radar.

But for me it’s a home from home.

Latvia, and in particular the city of Liepāja, is a place that I can now navigate with a fair degree of ease (although I’m still to master the language!) 

It’s a place that has opened up other nations. I count people from Norway, Holland, USA and other great nations as friends because I have spent time with them in Latvia.

It’s a place that I think about each day.

There are people there who have and continue to shape me.

 

I have been in villages where mothers have smiled when I told them I was from Ireland because their relatives live in towns dotted around our island. The most random time was whenever I was in a house and one guy didn’t say much, but kept smiling at me. Finally he spoke to me in a Latvian/Ballymoney accent - he had worked in Ballymoney for a couple of years and we had great chat about Cow Town!

I have preached in a prison, slept under the stars, had a car break down in the middle of nowhere and wonder what the heck I’m going to do, worked with kids and teens and had countless cups of tea in Soviet apartment blocks. But what brings me back so often is the reality that I have listened to countless testimonies of how simple acts of love have helped to soften callous hearts and break through years of suspicion and mistrust. 

In terms of faith there are cultural differences, but there is a sense of expectancy that I don’t often see over here, but more than that, a sense of journey. Plans are good, necessary, but there is an invigorating aspect to their faith that is spontaneous, costly, practical, daily, and so obvious that we often miss it. That’s one of the things I’m reminded about when I head to Latvia. It’s a place where I have seen love shared and sowed, discussed and discovered. I have spent over 4 months of my life in that country and the amazing thing is that every time I go I learn new things and get encouraged by other people. 

So as I prepare to hear out this week I wonder what you are doing with your summer? Later in the summer we head to France for a holiday, another adventure. But I challenge you to take the time this summer to go on an adventure with your life, your wife or your amigos. An adventure in conversation, a day trip or a longer period of time. I promise you will learn a lot and come back changed. Open yourself up to spontaneity, to days with no agenda, to moments to refresh your soul.

And if you need a good book to read during that time remember to pick up Half Irish - 

Kindle

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A few years ago I wrote a short story about a couple of kids kicking back and spending their carefree summer on the sandy shores of the Baltic Sea. I’ll do you a swap - Send me a screen shot of your order of Half Irish and I'll email you a PDF of that short story for free!