Hermit crab haiku in the Financial Times

Well, I knew I’d never make it into the Financial Times for my business acumen, but I’m happy enough to have had one of my haiku published in the London broadsheet. :)

It was selected as runner up in the FT weekly haiku competition based on the workplace. That particular week’s theme was ‘promotion’ and I drew upon my experience of working in a Surrey-based Research and Technology Organisation for inspiration and, of all things, marine life. I wanted to highlight how such a lot of importance was placed on the size of one’s office.

Haiku often uses the technique of juxtaposition, where you place two seemingly unrelated items together to suggest a relationship between them. In this case, I combined my office environment experience with my knowledge of marine life gleaned during a childhood spent pottering in rock pools.

If you know anything about hermit crabs, you will be aware that they live in a shell that belonged another aquatic creature – usually a sea snail. When they outgrow this, they have to seek a larger one. Some hermit crab species take part in what is called a ‘vacancy chain’ (such a cool concept!) when a bigger shell becomes available. Several crabs will gather around the empty shell and form a kind of queue from largest to smallest. When the largest crab moves into the new shell, the second-biggest moves into its newly-vacated shell, thereby making its previous shell available to the third crab, and so on. I thought it was a bit like people shifting to a larger office when promoted. :)

Even better was the fact that my haiku was selected by one of the world’s most respected haiku poets and founder of The Haiku Foundation, Jim Kacian. The link to the haiku is here with a comment from him. It is between David Dayson’s ‘little snail’ contemplation and Alan Summer’s amusing ‘wage bonus’ haiku.

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Launch of Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing

I was very honoured to read at the recent launch of the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing at the Linen Hall Library, Belfast.

Bob Collins, Chair of the Arts Council, Connor Shields, CEO of Community Arts Partnership (CAP) and Chelley McLear, CAP Project Coordinator addressed the audience at the event and local poets Deirdre Cartmill, Paula Cunningham and Chris Morrow read their work from several CAP anthologies.

I read a selection of my haiku and senryu that had been published in the last three anthologies, The Poet’s Place, Moment and Still and explained how delighted I’d been to discover, several years ago, that Seamus Heaney was a great haiku enthusiast and he had penned several over the course of his writing career. The final haiku I read at the award launch was one I had written last September just after learning of his death.

The event was also a good opportunity to catch up with some local writers, including Colin Dardis, Geraldine O’Kane and Patricia Devlin-Hill and to chat about haiku with Damian Smyth, Arts Council Head of Literature and Drama.

The award is part of the most recent CAP Poetry in Motion Community’s project, ‘Making Memories’. It is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Heaney family to encourage and recognise new writing from our wee corner of the world. So if you are a budding or newly established poet from the North – check it out here!


Back: Chris Morrow, Connor Sheilds
Front L-R: Marion Clarke, Deirdre Cartmill, Chelley McLear


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Narrow Water at Twilight

I will be showing my latest oil painting of the keep at Narrow Water Castle during the Newcastle Arts Festival this week. It will be on display in a new exhibition space next to the Avoca Hotel. I will be around on Saturday as I’m attending a couple of poetry workshops during the day – looking forward to participating in this festival for the first time. :)


Here is is a photo of the painting, just back from the framer.





Posted in Narrow Water Castle, Narrow Water Keep, Oil Painting, Original Irish Art, Places, Warrenpoint | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Thanks to Libraries NI

I had a very enjoyable launch of my joint art exhibition, EXPO 2014, with Eirian McKay on Wednesday evening with family and invited guests in Warrenpoint Library.

I first met Eirian at an art group some years ago and, although we have shown our work together on previous occasions alongside other Warrenpoint artists, this was our first joint exhibition. We both had a range of mixed media paintings and prints on display.

My artwork is inspired by the local scenery in the area. I also write haiku poetry which is nature-based, so it’s no surprise that the sea and shore are major subjects for me when it comes to painting. I guess my work is a kind of celebration of the beauty of our local environment. However, I also quite like anything gothic and can also see beauty in the urban or unusual, and the subject of one of my pieces is a backstreet in Venice which is more of a deliciously dark and gloomy atmosphere, which is at odds with the more popular, tourist view of the city.

The pieces by Eirian, who is a creative arts outreach worker for Surestart South Armagh, are more conceptual. In other words, the concept or idea that has produced a particular painting is the most important aspect of her work. She is inspired by people, animals and places and uses a range of different mediums. She is also very interested in art as a therapeutic outlet and through her work she enjoys helping children to benefit from art as a form of self-expression.

I think our paintings really complement each other. At the launch, quite a few people commented on our poppies and sunflowers paintings working well together. I also imagine a solo exhibition might be a lonely experience, but we had a lovely time setting it all up together and chatting with lots of guests on the launch night.

Thanks to branch manager Rosemary Lavery and her library staff and our husbands who did the heavy lifting for us!

Any artists in the area seeking to exhibit their artwork should contact the library. It’s great that the library is now offering this free facility for local artists and exhibition spaces are extremely difficult to come by in Warrenpoint.

The exhibition runs until Friday 29th of August during library opening hours.

Everyone had great craic, conversation and glasses of wine on the evening  – I could definitely get used to this… :)

Here are some shots of our work.

2014-08-06 16.52.17

2014-08-06 16.56.21

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EXPO 2014

My artist friend Rian McKay and I will be exhibiting our paintings and prints in Warrenpoint library during the month of August. If you would like to attend the launch this Wednesday evening, please message me on Facebook, Twitter (MarionSClarke) or send an email to msclarke@sky.com

Library-Expo-poster Library Expo poster

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History of the Book Cover For Find My Baby


This is an interesting blog post from Mitch Lavender, author of the newly-released crime thriller ‘Find My Baby’ on how he arrived at the final cover for his novel. I would also have gone with the one he selected.

More details at http://lifein64squarefeet.com/find-my-baby/

Originally posted on Lifein64SquareFeet.com - A Writer's Survival Blog:

Over the course of writing, editing, rewriting, revising, cursing, etc., I toyed with different covers for Find My Baby. These are several iterations of the covers I considered at one time or another.

Find my baby cover

This was the first cover, developed for my Nanowrimo author’s page way back in November of 2011. I liked this one at the time, but then an artist friend pointed out that the shadow on FIND and the shadows on my name were opposite of each other. My name was also a little too prominent on the cover. This works for known authors but does nothing for me. Eventually, I abandoned this one in favor of the next.

Find my baby cover-3

The font changed to give it a ransom note feel, and my name was reduced to a smaller font. It has a very dreary feel to it, and I abandoned this one pretty quickly.

cryptic FMB cover3

This was the second cover…

View original 343 more words

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Collection of winning short stories – free to download


Last year, GKBCInc held its inaugural short story competition judged by crime writer Tim Weaver. Tim is the Sunday Times bestselling author of novels Chasing the Dead,  The Dead Tracks and Vanished published by Penguin Books.
Tim Weaver


The theme for the first year of the competition was (perhaps not surprisingly) ‘crime’ and I was delighted to learn earlier this year that my entry, ‘One Stop Beyond’, came second. The story was based on a strange event I heard about years ago – but I added a wee twist of my own!

I have been informed that the winning and short-listed stories have just been published in an eBook collection. Please click here to download a free copy.




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Heaney and haiku

Some years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Seamus Heaney greatly appreciated the Japanese-style poetry form, haiku, and even wrote several himself. After the tragic news of his death last September, I submitted a tribute haiku to the ‘Seamus Heaney – In Memorium’ website, inspired by the great poet’s poem ‘Digging’. It was published on 5th September.

I decided to combine the haiku with a detail from one of my paintings of a cottage in the Mourne Mountains to produce a haiga (haiku with artwork)


The ‘turf’ haiku was also published on Chen-ou Liu’s ‘NeverEnding Story’, a bilingual haiku and tanka site where he translates poetry into traditional and contemporary Chinese.

The following haiku, ‘Ulster hedgerow’, is also featured on Chen-ou’s site.

Ulster hedgerow
the steady click
of golf balls


‘Ulster hedgerow’ was a tribute to the following haiku by Heaney. I love how he compares the sound of the army patrol’s walkie-talkies to birds squawking in the hedges of Ulster:

Springtime in Ulster:
aerials in hedges, squawk
of walkie-talkies

Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, 2008

‘Springtime in Ulster’ came back to me during a residential writing weekend in the countryside near the town of Banbridge, here in Northern Ireland. One of the group pointed out the continuous sound of golf balls being hit on a nearby course and it struck me how this contrasted with the sound described in the hedges of Heaney’s haiku, written during The Troubles.

Chen-ou Liu has written an interesting article on Heaney’s thoughts about how this Japanese poetry form may have influenced Western literature, with a subsequent online discussion.

Anatoly Kudryavitsky , editor of the Irish Haiku Society’s Shamrock Journal, has also written an informative article about the development of haiku in Ireland. This piece was first published in Bamboo Dreams, an Anthology of Haiku Poetry from Ireland. Doghouse Books, 2012

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Looking back (and forward)

As 2013 comes to an end, I realise that a lot of my year was spent studying and writing haiku, something that seems to have become more a way of life for me than a poetry form. It’s as if I have started to see the world through a ‘haiku lens’, allowing me to focus more on little things, like dew on a spider’s web, a perfectly striped pebble on the beach or a rainbow reflected in a puddle. This may sound strange, but it’s a good strange.

Writing and translating French haiku is another also activity I’ve enjoyed this year and I have recently been helping an online poet based in Paris to translate her poems into English. This was largely conducted via private messaging on Facebook, which was a very immediate way to exchange ideas. Having also read a lot of wonderful French poems on the site ‘Un Haiku par Jour’ (A haiku a day) I have come to the conclusion that French haiku is a lot more descriptive than its English counterpart, but it’s quite beautiful in its own way.

In July I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to attend the full week of the John Hewitt International Summer Scheme at the Marketplace Theatre in Armagh. I enrolled on Stewart Neville’s three-day crime writing course and by drawing upon his experiences and giving us one-to-one feedback on an exercise, Stewart provided participants with a great insight into this genre.

In September, my writing pal, Sue Morgan, helped me to organise a weekend writing break for our online writing group Splinter4all in Banbridge, County Down. We hired two beautiful stone cottages and the members of the group spent the time attending and presenting a variety of poetry and prose workshops. I facilitated a session on emotive poetry which was inspired by an event I attended in Belfast earlier in the year led by the great performance poet, Tony Walsh and he kindly allowed me to read some of his work at the event, which went down well. Meeting the Splinter gang ‘for real’ for the first time (they are scattered all over Ireland so I had never met the others in person) was a bit daunting, but when they started to arrive, it really did feel like meeting up with old friends again.


In October, I attended a very useful workshop in Banbridge library on editing poetry, run by the excellent NI poet Moyra Donaldson. By encouraging me to be ruthless and lop off the beginning of an old poem I’d brought along, she showed me that less is often more. Kill those darlings!

In November I had my first job as a ‘real’ poet when I conducted a series of six workshops in a school in Newcastle as part of the Belfast-based Community Arts Partnership Poetry in Schools Programme as Poetry Facilitator. It was great fun and I cried when reading the letters of thanks I received from the pupils – all twenty of them!

Just before Christmas I was pleasantly surprised to hear I’d made the longlist in the Desmond O’Grady International Poetry Competition and my kids recorded me reading my entry to send off, as there was no way I was going to get to Limerick on a Wednesday evening to read. Sadly, I didn’t make the shortlist, but getting that far was a real boost to he morale, as I hadn’t written any longer work for quite a while.

So, hopefully this year will bring more poetry facilitation in schools and although I intend to continue writing haiku in both languages, I will start concentrating on longer work such as flash fiction (still not very long!) and short stories (which are by nature, still quite short!) I’ve already written a bit of flash and micro fiction in the recent past, including work published over at Postcard Poems and Prose. Starting to write a novel is something I can only dream of, as I tend to agonise over every sentence before moving on to the next which means that it would probably take me a few years to complete the first chapter!

So, these were some of the writing highlights of my year which I found immensely enjoyable. . I hope that whatever you do in 2014 is a great success and that it is your most productive, healthy and happy year to date.

Black & White New Year

Black and white version of my ‘Winter Woodland Scene’ painting. Thanks to Dave Morehouse at Postcard Poems and Prose for helping me with the text for my cards on Redbubble

Posted in haiku, My Poetry, Writing, writing competitions, Writing Events | 10 Comments


I’ve decided to put my artwork onto Redbubble, a site that sells cards, prints, etc using an artist’s original design. I’m not really sure how it all works, but it’s good to have my pieces all in one place instead of having to sift through lots of folders on my laptop.

I discovered this site when I was admiring a card that someone gave my mother of one of their paintings – in fact, she ended up buying me the original painting as a present because I loved it so much.

I guess now it’s a case of waiting to see what (if anything!) happens. :)


Giants Causeway

Update – by the time I’d come back from work I’d sold fourteen cards – not a bad result, but I won’t give up my day job yet! :)

Posted in Art, cards & prints | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments