Listen and Learn by Orla Broderick | Magazine | News for Writers | The Big Idea
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My dog is a great listener

I got lucky. Not just with the dog, but also with the teachers, mentors and guides at HI-Arts (now Emergents) gave me. HI-Arts Talent Development (Crafts) provides support for the craft sector in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This includes funding through a range of programmes and awards, and is going from strength to strength. Recently re-chistened Emergents, the writing and publishing programme is run by Peter Urpeth and provides support to writers throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

There is no way I can condense all I learned into a compact article, but I can begin to describe how, as a result of the guidance I received, that I arrive at one page of a first draft for a story.

I write something. Every day. I find a topic or a hint or a prompt. I start with ten minutes. I build my time slot. I read everything. I taste pages of other people’s poetry and prose. I digest words like food.

I try to find what I like to read – what I like to write.

Roger Hutchinson – author of Callum’s Road, and Silent Weaver amongst others – taught me to just tell the story. As simply as possible the tale needs an outline. From point A to point B, just tell the story. From beginning to end, just write what happens.

the_january_flower_orla_broderick-140x210Characters need to be developed. They need names, ages, star signs, strengths, flaws. Get to know them. Anna MacGowan, a writer I met at Moniack Mhor writers retreat in the Highlands of Scotland, told me to draw pictures of them and hang the drawings on the kitchen cupboards. I did. Roger told me to include every little detail of their lives, every nuance of their character. He said much of it won’t be used, but at least you have a picture of who they are. I speak to them. I try to get them to speak back. I hear their voices. I call them my favourite inner personalities.

Stories bubble and ferment in the subconscious unconscious parts of our brains. We turn them over in our minds. Angus Dunn, tutor at HI-Arts’ writers masterclass and author of Writing In The Sand, taught me about the love that goes from us into our writings. With hearts and minds on the job of tale-telling, it is possible for us to weave yarns of great colour and texture.  We allow our hearts exposure on our pages of prose. I remember emotions. I remember how I felt when something happened. I watch others reactions to life’s doings and I try my best to put it on paper.

I keep diaries, I write in notebooks. My aunt in Waterford sends me several notebooks a year. They all have lovely covers. I think she buys them on her travels. At first I feel terrible destroying their loveliness with my terrible ramblings, but it’s easy to get over. I take my notebook to the beach. Every day I describe the beach. I do it for a week. At first I love the beach then I get frustrated with it then I hate it ‘cos I can’t find the right word to perfectly convey the way the sand rippled. I do the same with trees. I sit under them and try to paint them with words.

It’s good to get frustrated with beaches and trees. It’s easy to own how we feel about inanimate objects or Nature. Write it all down. I Remember what Roger said – not one word is ever wasted, it can be recycled at a later stage. I take my sadnesses and my joys to my characters. I divide my experiences, either direct or indirect, amongst them. I watch how they react. I see how they, as humans (albeit fictitious) deal with my scenarios. I see how they feel about the beach after a storm with the sand covering the sculpture they spend hours building on the previous page.

I take my story plan, my characters, my emotions and descriptions and I let my imagination run wild. I think of all the things I cannot do. My fantasies become narrative.

I read my work aloud. My dog is almost thirteen years old. She’s a lab/collie cross. Her name is Niamh. A neighbour in Edinburgh got her for me the first week I ever came to the Isle of Skye. She is the best dog ever invented. She listens patiently. Sometimes she looks at me and raises an eyebrow and we go out for a walk, leaving a half written plan with notes and corrections hanging round the air of our living room.

I normally re-write the same day, but sometimes ‘cos of dishes or actual paid work I leave it and get up the next morning when the house is quiet to try and shape it. All this effort amounts to half a page, maybe a whole page on a good day. Then I have to plan scenes and remember how Kevin MacNeil, author of The Stornoway Way, Love and Zen in The Outer Hebrides, drew a doodle: get character A to meet character B. Next, I have to build a novel, chapter by chapter.

(c) Orla Broderick

The January Flower by Orla Broderick has been nominated to the longlist of the Polari First Book Prize 2013. 
Broderick has been mentored by Roger Hutchinson via HI-Arts Talent Development funding. Born in Wicklow, she is based on the Isle of Skye where she works as a cleaner of holiday cottages. She lives with her daughter, dog and cat.
Broderick’s debut novel has received glowing reviews for use of language and originality. The January Flower can be purchased in selected bookshops around the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, via Council House Publishing ( or on Amazon.
You can follow her on twitter @orlabroderick or Facebook The January Flower.

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