Available for freelance writing commissions on a variety of subjects including family history, nostalgic Belfast and its famous people, shops, shoppers & shopping (40 years in retailing), the golden age of Hollywood (including westerns) and humorous pieces on life's weird and wonderful. Op-eds, columns, non-fiction book reviews too.
firstname.lastname@example.org & @JoeCushnan
I have a portfolio of features, reviews, poetry and short fiction published in all sorts of places - Belfast Telegraph, Tribune, Ireland's Own, Dalhousie Review, Fairlight Books, Reader's Digest, Reality, Lapwing Poetry, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Spillwords, Dear Reader, Amethyst Review, to name a selection. Oh, and the odd BBC radio contribution. I wrote a book on retailing, on dealing with job losses and a biography of Stephen Boyd.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to have the award-winning writer Jan Carson writing a brilliant guest post today.
Jan Carson is a writer and community arts facilitator based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has a novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears and short story collection, Children’s Children, (Liberties Press), two micro-fiction collections, Postcard Stories and Postcard Stories 2 (Emma Press). Her novel The Fire Starters was published by Doubleday in April 2019. It won the EU Prize for Literature for Ireland in 2019 and the Kitschies Prize for Speculative Fiction in 2020. It was shortlisted for the Dalkey Book Prize in 2020. The Last Resort, a ten part BBC Radio 4 short story series and accompanying short story collection is forthcoming from Doubleday in early 2021. In 2018 Jan was the inaugural Translink/Irish Rail Roaming Writer in Residence on the Trains of Ireland. She was the Open Book Scotland Writer in Lockdown 2020.
Postcard Stories 2
I’ve always worked best under pressure. I like deadlines, projects and commissions. My imagination is expansive. I need boundaries to reel it in. I often set myself writing tasks and projects; a bit like being back in school. I work best with repetitive, daily or weekly writing goals. I like to write in the same place, at the same time, for the same duration every day. I like to drink strong coffee whilst I’m doing this. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I hit a deep vein of generous words. Sometimes I pick at the same three sentences over and over, like a toddler going at a scabby knee. Most of the time I don’t feel much like writing but I still turn up every day. Even on the most constipated mornings, I rarely regret my writing time. I’ve tried other ways to coax the stories out; nothing but routine seems to work for me.
I know lots of writers have struggled to write during the Pandemic. They’ve feel blocked and preoccupied and exhausted. I completely understand how difficult it has been, wrestling with anxiety and weariness every time you approach the page. I’ve also found writing an awful lot harder this year. Most days its felt like swimming through custard just to pull together a couple of paragraphs. I’ve written even more nonsense than usual, (and my nonsense quota is pretty high). But I’ve felt compelled to continue trying because I don’t know how to cope with the world, when I haven’t got words. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think there should be any judgment when it comes to writing practice. Every writer approaches writing in their own peculiar way. It’s completely understandable if you’ve found yourself frozen for the last few months. In my experience, clinging to the routine of everyday writing, as if it’s some kind of life preserver, is also an equally valid response.
Productivity has always been my coping mechanism. When I get stressed, anxious or confused, I can’t be. I have to do. If I wasn’t writing to curb the worry I’d probably be alphabetising my books or scrubbing the floors or teaching myself Portuguese. The truth is, I find solace in writing. It also gives me a means to vent my frustrations. On the best days it’s a vehicle for making sense. I tend to write huge amounts of material -most of which will never see the light of day- in order to occasionally get to the good stuff. I write an awful lot. I am whatever the opposite of a minimalist is. Recently I’ve also found myself writing as a means of shaping my time. The two to three hours I spend sitting at my laptop are often the only solid points, in days which feels like fluid mush. I feel more real and present sat at my laptop. I feel, at least a little bit, like myself.
Every writer has a different approach to craft and practice. Sometimes, I wish I could write differently. I’d like to be the sort of writer who takes months over every story. I’d like to be deliberate and careful and slow. And have fully-formed notions of what I’m doing. But after almost twenty years of writing, I can admit that I’m just not wired like that. Routine and excessive productivity are the only things which work for me. When it comes to writing, you do whatever you need to get you through.
Which brings me neatly to Postcard Stories. Back in January 2015, I was stuck in a rut between my first two books. I had no ideas and no motivation. I probably should have taken a break, instead I fell back on old habits and announced I’d be writing a short story each day for a whole year. I’d post these stories, on the back of postcards, to friends who lived all over the world. The first two weeks were hellish. Even for a writer who relishes routine, the need to find inspiration every day felt like an overwhelming ask. By early February I’d fallen into a rhythm. The ideas began presenting themselves. I felt as if I’d toned the muscles of my imagination to such a point I was seeing stories everywhere. I managed an entire year of stories without missing a single day and on the 1st of January 2016, felt a little bereft. The daily practice of writing something small and complete had become a kind of foundation on which other ideas could be built. Let me put this idea another way. The half hour I’d spend writing a postcard story became a kind of warm up for the rest of my writing day. After finishing each postcard I’d approach the novel I was working on more confident and limber than coming at it cold. The small stories were daily reminders that writing was something I could still do.
Over the years Postcard Stories have become a kind of crutch for me. There are almost a thousand of them now. I use them to ground my writing practice and to sketch out ideas I might develop in the future. I use them to record those smaller ideas, which might otherwise distract from bigger projects. I use them when travelling to make my writing a kind of camera so I pay close attention to the unfamiliar. I use them, almost like meditation, to make sense of moments I find myself in. So, it’s no surprise that Lockdown found me once again writing a Postcard Story every day and mailing them out to isolated individuals. Yes, I did this to cheer folks up. But I also did it for myself. Because productivity and routine continue to be my coping mechanisms and these stories have become my primary means of tricking my imagination into action. If I’m writing something every day, no matter how little or how slight, it’s harder for my imagination to seize up. It’s easier to tell myself, the easy words will return again.
Postcard Stories have got me through some very dry writing spells in the last five years. 2020 has been an absolute drought so far. I hope they’re going to start working their magic again soon.
Postcard Stories 2 is published by The Emma Press and available to purchase from the website www.theemmapress.com The collection launches online as part of the Eastside Arts Festival at 7pm on August 6th 2020 (GMT). Book your free ticket to this event at www.eastsidearts.net
Thank you very much, Jan. Best wishes for continuing success, greater recognition and many more accolades.