Excerpt from 'Farrowing'
“Well, how’s it going Dad?”
These hopeful words were spoken to a broad chequered back cross-strapped by dungarees. James stepped cautiously into the hotness and, closing the sheeted timber door behind him, sat down lightly beside him on the end of a bale of straw.
“Not so good, son.”
“When do you think it’ll happen, Dad?”
“I don’t know, son. She’s labouring hard but still can’t get them out. I think they’re breached cross-ways inside her.”
This story was inspired by a childhood experience of a sow having difficulty giving birth. It had stuck in the recesses of my memory for years until it became dislodged during an exercise at a writing class. It was a fairly short piece (just over 1000 words) and I was delighted when it made the finals of the Scottish Arts Club Awards in 2015 – my first ever writing success.
About Michael Tennyson
I currently work as an architect and project manager in Belfast where I live with my wife and three children. For the first twenty years of my life, my home was a small farm in Co. Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Lacking easy access to the nearby village it is perhaps unsurprising that when I wasn’t helping on the farm I had my head stuck in a book. And when books weren’t readily available I could always make up for it by reading the ingredients of cereal boxes or the warning labels of veterinary medicine packets! The first story I can remember writing (sadly now lost) as a schoolboy was about life on the farm and there is often a rural thread running through much of my work.
I have been writing (intermittently) over the years and have been trying to establish it as a more regular activity recently.
Excerpt from Greetings from Glenariff
That morning Ernie’s shoulders had dipped and rose and then dipped again as he worked the long curved tail of the water pump. He could feel his bones complain – in time with the grinding creaks of the pump’s rusty pinion. The water came out in small erratic surges. Some fell into a galvanised bucket and some overshot into a concrete gulley that ran the length of the yard down towards the old flax dam. The damp April air had hung over the farm since dawn, suffocating everything like a thick blanket. Through the mist, all sounds seemed distant: the hard uneven knock of the little grey Ferguson, the lowing of the cows, even the slopping of water at his feet. Usually, through the five barred gate at the top of the yard, he would have been able to see McCracken’s fields, green and lush, sweeping upwards with the crown of Slieve Orra beyond. Nothing was visible today but still – he knew they were there.
This story evolved from an attempt to write about a particular emotion (in this case jealousy) which the down-at-heel protagonist feels towards his rich neighbour and which he sees in all the lush greenery around him. This story was successful in making the shortlist for the Michael MacLaverty Short Story Award in 2014.
My writing process
To be honest it’s been a battle (with myself, mostly) to establish a regular writing routine. I try and get an hour in the evening at a desk on the landing beside my ‘library’ (which, in reality, is a three-shelved bookcase). Mostly I write ideas and first drafts long hand into notebooks and then work these up and edit them on the computer. I attend a writer’s group at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast and find that I can achieve a lot in a quiet productive hour there alongside like-minded souls.
Childhood memories from the farm have been a large part of my inspiration as has the rich and varied Northern Ireland landscape particularly the north coast at the Giant’s Causeway and places such as Portbradden and Portballintrae. Like many writers I am a quiet observer and find useful material in the everyday behaviour of people that I meet. I also read quite widely both short stories and novels. This could be anything from John McGahern to Philip K.Dick - as long as it interests me.
I have always been interested in poetry though my output is certainly not prolific. These are two poems that were published as part of an anthology called Crescent Pages to coincide with the Belfast Book Festival in 2011.
Gusts rip through the quivering whins
clinging from a thin soil scalp
over a furrowed brow
of black basalt cliff
The stitched scar of the shepherd’s path,
down a cheek to the scree chin,
battered by a swirling beard,
of blue and white foam.
Here, a lone basalt tooth juts
bravely up through the waves
There, a smooth, worn boulder
cups a chair for the young.
Bare shoulder of bunched stone pencils,
hammered down into the depths,
reaches an arm out to Scotland
beneath a blanketing sea.
I have often visited the Giant’s Causeway and the many unusual formations of its landscape never fail to suggest new interpretations to me.
Natural Born Re-Writers
Crabs and lugworms,
recording their lives
on a palimpsest beach.
Their daily entries,
punctuated by Plover,
crossed through by Curlew,
underlined by Sea Rod,
by a harsh scouring tide.
This poem occurred to me after a bleak walk along the beach. I was impressed by the tenacious industry of these shore dwellers on an otherwise unpromising day. I was also jealous of how they could keep writing their stories day after day!