Category: Books

Morning pages may not be the artist’s way

I’ve been writing morning pages for several years, using Julia Cameron’s guidelines in The Artist’s Way: write first thing in the morning; three A4 pages (though I use an A5 notebook, and three pages of that is enough for me); and whatever comes out of your head goes on to the page. Then I went to a journalling session with poet John Siddique at the Wise Words festival in Canterbury. This was a chance to get together with other writers in a coffee shop. John led the session with a short talk, then we all wrote in our journals for half an hour or so.

John’s talk turned my thinking about morning pages right around. He had followed Julia Cameron’s advice and had pages of negativity, covering the same ground over and over again. I too have notebooks mostly full of negative and angry stuff as a result of tipping anything in my head onto the page. I look back on these notebooks and wonder who this angry person is. I can do nothing with this material. It does not bring me on creatively.

John went on to talk about how he had been journalling around the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. How he journals about the roles in his life, and how well he is fulfilling them. Some of my roles are mother, wife, friend, sister, grandmother, stepmother, writer, editor etc.

John’s talk changed my thinking and my life. I got hold of the book, read it, and began using my journal in this way. No more negativity or covering old hurts again and again. I spoke to my counsellor about it, and she wondered whether the early morning negativity is to do with the bad thoughts that can invade if you are awake for long periods in the night. I have long-term sleep problems, and regularly battle with this problem. Maybe by writing first thing, these night demons are still around.

I felt angry with Julia Cameron for pushing her way as the best way. As well as the ‘write anything at all’ commandment, there are the write by hand and for three A4 pages commandments. I don’t think my writer friend with severe cerebral palsy would be able to follow this advice, as she can only write using a keyboard. Those of us with fatigue can perhaps write a page, or half a page on bad days.

I have been using my journal in the way suggested by John Siddique for four months now, and there has been a big change in my mental health. This may be coincidental, but I don’t think so.

I recommend The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s mainly offered as a business book, but has a lot of significance for everyone. It has changed the way I interact with people too.

I have added a lot more non-fiction to my reading, and find many of these books spark my creativity in a way that reading other people’s poetry and fiction may not. For example Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. You can watch her TED talk on the power of vulnerability here.

Maybe it’s the recovering Catholic in me – I don’t do dogma. Julia Cameron’s way is not this artist’s way. 


Gearing up for a book launch and more from the Friends’ Gallery

As Long as it Takes has now been uploaded to the printers, and I await the first shipment of books. Meanwhile, I’ve been organising some events to promote the book, beginning with the launch at the University of Kent on Wednesday 12 February (see Events page). This is where the stories began, when I was studying for an MA in creative writing, with a pair of stories linked by character and theme. My tutor Patricia Debney said that I had something that could run, and sure enough these two stories grew into fourteen, creating a community of Irish migrant women living in England and their daughters. Each of the stories stands alone, but as Susan Wicks writes:

…characters recur and situations illuminate one another, so that when we read them together we find ourselves inside the story of a whole community of Irish immigrants, suddenly faced, as the protagonists are, with the tellingly displaced expectations and longings of a generation of women and their legacy to the generations that succeeded them.

As well as the Kent University launch, there are further events at the Swale Arts Forum pART shop, Sittingbourne at 2.00 p.m. on 1 March and at the Jolly Sailor, Canterbury, at 6.30 p.m. on Sunday 13 April, where I shall be the guest of Save As Writers. Go the Events page for more details.

Maria with Sam and Barry Fentiman-Hall

Maria and Sarah March

Not a resolution, a mission – two more pictures for my Friends’ Gallery, a mission to get photos taken with my friends in 2014. On the right, I am with newlyweds Sam and Barry Fentiman-Hall of ME4 Writers whose latest publication is City Without a Head.

To the left, I am with Sarah March, writer, Kundalini yoga teacher and sister-sheddie. I met Sarah on Facebook, and she made a suggestion that we could hold literary events in our sheds. And we did, holding two shed happenings with poetry, stories, music and films projected on the shed walls.








As Long as it Takes

9780992648510-Perfect-MH cropped FRONT COVER

The cover of As Long as it Takes can now be revealed! I love it. Image by Maggie Drury and design by Mark Holihan. The book can now be ordered from Cultured Llama, and will be dispatched soon after publication.

Here’s some info about the book:

As Long as it Takes gives voice to the lost generation of Irish women who sailed to England to look for work in the middle of the twentieth century. Maura Flaherty and her daughters struggle with identity, belonging, love, sexuality and grief – and dilemmas such as whether to like punk or Elvis.

With no concessions to nostalgia or sentimentality, this deeply moving and beautifully written book, by a second-generation Irish writer, tells the interwoven stories of an immigrant family. Maria C. McCarthy skilfully weaves the historical and cultural significance of Anglo-Irish relations into a half-century of family life.

Dark, impeccably minimalistic stories about immigrant Irish mothers and their English-born daughters. The mothers belong to the ‘lost generation’ of Irish workers who emigrated to England in the middle of the last century. They call Ireland ‘home’ and inflict old-fashioned Catholic morals on their English daughters growing up in a more liberated time and culture. Out of this tension comes a series of stories written from the perspective of several women family members, transcending these painful differences with their courageous humour and absolute refusal to look away. The stories reinforce each other and create memorable echoes, reverberating in the mind long after the book is closed.

Martina Evans, author of Petrol (Anvil 2012)

Read individually, these stories might seem modest: each cuts its small piece of cloth and lays it out with truthfulness, understanding and warmth. But characters recur and situations illuminate one another, so that when we read them together we find ourselves inside the story of a whole community of Irish immigrants, suddenly faced, as the protagonists are, with the tellingly displaced expectations and longings of a generation of women and their legacy to the generations that succeeded them. Maria C. McCarthy knows how to tell this complex story, and she tells it with humanity and imagination. The thoughts, speech and actions of her characters make them intensely alive.

Susan Wicks, author of A Place to Stop (Salt 2012)

Order the book here.

Book matters, and the Friends’ Gallery begins

We are in the final stages of editing my book As Long as it Takes. This means hours poring over the manuscript for the Cultured Llama copy-editor Anne-Marie Jordan, more hours as I accept or reject her corrections, more hours for editor Bob Carling making the changes on the manuscript.

I wrote the stories over five years, and obviously changed my mind about spelling and formatting as I went along. All very tedious to get right, but I am the first person to notice errors in books, and I would not want my readers to spot any mistakes. One of the last issues is how do you format song titles, album titles and quotations from song lyrics? We have agreed on this, but it means me trying to remember which stories feature music and checking through them, rather than re-reading the full manuscript.

More enjoyable is seeing the cover image by Maggie Drury and the jacket design by Mark Holihan. I was choked with emotion when I saw the cover. How wonderful to see this moments after Mark had finished it. I suppose, in the olden days, the camera-ready artwork was sent by courier, and the author had to wait until the publisher had seen it. I won’t share it just yet, until a couple of errant commas have been added.

I can share the first photo of my Friends’ Gallery, taken after our working lunch last week. This is part of promise to get photos taken with each of my friends in 2014. Friends in the photo (left to right): me, Biscuit (who wanted to get in on the act), Maggie Drury and Anne-Marie Jordan.

Here is the recipe for the pearl barley broth that I made for lunch, which went down very well with our guests.

As Long as it Takes will be launched on 12 February at the University of Kent. More details here.

Maria, Maggie, A-MJ small


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