A Bite-Sized View of Photoshoots.

Trish and Sarah brought me to The Fermanagh Herald for a photoshoot. Did you know that the carpet upstairs has a fantastic grip for going at speed? I took some of those corners so fast, I almost passed myself out.  Lots of people got up from their chairs.  I’m sure they wanted to talk to me.  I tried to get around them all. Some were so busy they didn’t notice I was there.  They were staring at screens, looking sad.  They needed licking.

The photoshoot was brilliant.  I got treats.  They begged me to get up on the table.  If I did that at home, it’d be “out the back” for me.  It wasn’t any old table either, it was a great big table in a room on its own that smelt of biscuits.  I had to sit and look at a man with a big black thing in front of his face.  It blinked at me lots of times.  I was going to go over and sort it out but it didn’t smell dangerous and everyone was smiling.  I let it live.


The Fermanagh Herald – Focus on Rascal – 23/11/16 written by T. Bennett on Rascal’s behalf.




A Dog’s Tale


My Mate Socks keeping an eye on me

Hi there, in case you don’t know already, my name’s Rascal.  I’m playing Toto in the “Wizard of Oz”.  Trish, my pack leader, says it’s a play.  I love to play.  She told me that I’m going to be a star and I should write something about myself for my fans.  By the way she said it I’m thinking fans are licky things.  I can’t wait!

Ronan and Sarah are the other humans in my pack.  We also have two cats, a parrot and thousands of bees.  I stay away from the bees, those girls have no manners.  There I was, just sniffing their butts to say ‘hi’ and they stung me.  I got such a fright.  Socks, my friend cleaned my face and told me not to bother with them. He said they taste yucky.


Socks looking after me when I was a pup.

Now that I’m a grown up, Socks is not fond of me jumping up on him.  He’s still good for a chase though.  I’m doing him a favour, Trish says he needs the exercise.  He never gets cross, not like Kitten.


Kitten the bruiser







Kitten was very thin when he arrived but he’s a big cat now. He walloped me when I was a pup.  He’s got a mean right hook.  Socks protected me.  Now that I’m older, I stand up for Socks when he’s fighting with Kitten.

The bed’s mine but Kitten says it’s his.  He’s sneaky and steals the food in my bowl when he thinks I’m not looking.


I let him share the bed sometimes

Trish says that Kitten lived with bad people before us and I should let him have a little ‘cat tax’.  “You won’t starve Rascal” she says.  I can’t take that chance.

When someone claps in our house it means we’re putting the cats out.  I’m good at helping.  Socks walks but Kitten runs fast.  Kitten thinks he’s winning the race – he never does.

Chasing cats is fun.  Sometimes I run so fast my back legs pass my front ones out when I’m going around the corners.  My Sarah, likes to run too.  She plays with me and throws my toys and she’s got a great bark.


Keeping an eye on Barney

Barney, our parrot, thinks I’m stupid and tells me “it’s OK” when he’s trying to bite my nose.  My nose is my greatest asset so I keep it well away from his beak.  I’ve seen him crack nuts with that thing.  I guard Socks when he’s asleep and Barney’s trying to bite him.


Barney up to his tricks


Barney gets into trouble a lot.  I like that because then we can race.  He flies, I chase.  He’s not as fast as I am but I let him win.








Hey, look, I fit!

After all the chasing I take a nap on a lap.  Trish’s lap is great but my favourite place to sleep is in Ronan’s fur-lined hoody.  When I was a pup, I would climb in and he’d zip it up.  Ronan still lets me squeeze in there but now my middle hangs out.  Sometimes it gets cold but I don’t mind.  I’m happy. I’m with my pack.    ***********************************************************************

The Enniskillen Light Operatic Society Presents “The Wizard of Oz” in the Ardhowen Theatre from 1st December 2016.  It runs for 11 shows.  Phone: 028 66325440 or www.ardhowentheatre.com for more details. 

A Dog’s Lead on the Road to Oz



Hi there, my name’s Rascal.  When my Sarah told me I was going to star in a show called “The Wizard of Oz”, I wasn’t keen on the idea.

The last time I was in a show, I won two prizes — “Best Dog Handled by a Child” and “Cutest Eyes”.  I got rosettes.  Sarah was delighted.  Trish (my pack leader) put them on display.  I was not impressed.  You can’t eat rosettes.


They don’t smell like sausages


They persuaded me to go to the new training.  I’m glad I did.  The show pack smell wonderful.  They give me food.  A show with food is all right in my books.  I don’t read books, but my new pack read them all the time, out loud, to each other.

Scarecrow, the Lion and Tin man are fun.  The Lion knows all my sweet spots for scratching.  Tin man can stand as still as a tree.  He’s lucky I’m not a boy dog.  Scarecrow falls a lot.  I was worried when Scarecrow fell.  I was going to bark for someone to help but Sarah patted me and said “It’s OK Rascal, they’re just rehearsing”.

Rehearsing is the humans way of learning tricks.  Two guys called Directors train them like Trish and Sarah train me.  I love training.  I always get treats.  I feel sorry for my friends because they rehearse a lot and never get treats, except for Scarecrow.  He’s smart.  He brings his own.  They clap when they’re happy with their tricks even though there’s not a cat in sight.  When someone claps in our house it means we’re putting the cats out.  I’m good at putting cats out.


Want me to put those bad boys out?


Sarah says she’s scared of witches but I’m not.  When I met the Good Witch of the South I got so excited, I almost wet myself.  Well to be honest, I didn’t mean to but I tinkled a little.  Don’t judge — you would too,  she’s got an amazing smell.  The Wicked Witch of the West and I are buddies.  We chill on the couch together and she tickles my belly.  I overheard her say she’d like to take me home.  She makes Sarah jump when she does her mad scream.  I want to bark along but I keep quiet because I know that’s not my job.

My job is to be Toto, Dorothy’s dog.  I’m no rookie when it comes to playing Toto.  When I was a pup Sarah dressed up like Dorothy for ‘Enniskillen’s Got Talent’. She sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow”.  My role was ‘to look cute’.  Been there, done that, got the rosette.


Dorothy (Niamh Carney) pic. taken by my good friend Ena Trimble, The Wicked Witch of the West

It’s a lot more ‘paws on’ this time.  I’ve got a new Dorothy.  She’s a star.  She carries me around and talks nice to me, just like Sarah.  She has an Auntie Em and an Uncle Henry.  Best of all she has a pocket full of treats and I know they’re all for me.

img_7972                 ***********************************************************************

The Enniskillen Light Operatic Society Presents “The Wizard of Oz” in the Ardhowen Theatre from 1st December 2016.  It runs for 11 shows.  Phone: 028 66325440 or www.ardhowentheatre.com for more details. 

A Survivor’s Guide to the John Hewitt International Summer School (2016)

When Stephen Gordon calls to say that you are one of the ‘chosen few’,  it’s ok to go mental like you have won the ‘Literary Lottery’.  You get the feeling he’s heard it all before.  You know this place will allow you to be free of responsibility for a while, to explore what’s at your core — the writer.  You only realise how lucky you are when the course is over and you’re putting another load into the washing machine from the mountain of washing left by your family, awaiting your return.


The Royal Grammar School, Armagh

The John Hewitt is not any old Summer School.  Don’t expect a spa break with 5* accommodation.  The basics are covered.  It’s clean.  If you’re from the North, you will stay in the Royal Grammar School.  You will have a bed with clean sheets, pillow and quilt, wardrobe and desk.  There’s a shower and toilet down the hall.  I was lucky and had a shower in my room that pinned me to the wall each morning.  I christened it “beast”.  The flights of stairs are not a friend to wheely cases.  The large fry and breakfast banter is worth getting up for.

This is not a high brow, chilled-out authors convention where everyone is la-di-dah and dressed to the knockers in all sorts of designer gear.  Here, anything goes provided the “essentials” are covered.  Comfort is key.  Wear layers, a raincoat and comfortable shoes.  Each trip between the accommodation and Market Place Theatre is a ten minute walk.  There are enough hills to tighten those buttocks better than a Stairmaster.


The Market Place Theatre, Armagh where JHISS is held.

Armagh in July is the tropics of the North.  This year was particularly sultry.  Galway poet, Rita Ann Higgins near collapsed with the heat.  Paul Maddern wore shorts — I’m jealous of those legs!

Bring a large bag or preferably a backpack for during the day with a notebook, pens, tablet, water, snacks, a credit card and/or plenty of cash.  Be nice to the guys at the ‘No Alibis’ stall. Think of them as your “dealers”.  You may laugh now, but after poets of the calibre of Jane Yeh, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Sarah Howe, Paul Durcan and Tom French, there will be a stampede. Try as you might to stay away, you will crave that poetic fix. You will keep buying until you end each day like a pack mule. By the end of the week you will need another shelf in your home.  Don’t expect sympathy, we all have our load to bear.

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Some of the Stack

I know you’re thinking “What’s she on about? It’s days of sitting around, listening to other people talk about their work. How could that be hard?”  Ask any survivor, they will tell you how strenuous it is — if you’re doing it right.  Attend all the talks, fiction and panel discussions that you can.  Stretch yourself.  Go to events you think you have no interest in.


Jack Doherty’s Waypoint Exhibition

You will be surprised.  Mikel Murphi’s “The Man in the Woman’s shoes” brought tears of laughter from a man who spent all week nose deep in books.

Open your mouth — talk to people.  You will learn much from fellow inmates about the discipline of writing and how to get yourself heard.  You will meet artists from other mediums such as painters and musicians. This is no ordinary group.  You are on an intellectual assault course.  Think boot camp for the mind.

By midweek there may be fallen comrades, unable to take any more. In any survival course, this is to be expected.  If you find a casualty lying on the floor, just nudge them with the toe of your shoe.  If they’re alive, they’ll grunt.  If they need a bed, throw them into the nearest available empty room.  If there’s a problem and you’re not sure what to do, contact Stephen Gordon – MacGyver.

Most writers are bottomless pits for a brew.  The John Hewitt panel know this and are well prepared with morning and afternoon tea/coffee and scones laid on.  After the breakfast, so big you couldn’t shake hands across, you may think that you won’t eat ever again. You will — having raced out of the lecture hall like a starving pilgrim.

For those taking a break between events, stand back from the auditorium’s main exit door after lectures and panel discussions.  The race for the loos is worse than a Black Friday sale.   During the day (for the women at least) the main social hub for the Summer School is not the bar— it’s the loo.  It’s where you go for feedback and synopsis on an event, to corner a female author for an in-depth discussion or for information on what’s on offer in the salad bar at Sainsbury’s (a short walk from the Market Place Theatre by the way).

Promote the School.  Facebook if you can or Tweet.  Use the hashtags #hewittrocks and #JHISS.  Don’t spend the week (like I did) sending tweets with the hashtag #JHSS – The Japanese Hairset School.  They should be pleased, there was some cute hair.


Martin Hayes and David Power

Bring a notebook and pen everywhere.  Inspiration strikes in the strangest places.  The free writing homework from my Memoir workshop (that I thought I couldn’t do) started to flow onto the notepad app on my phone when Martin Hayes and David Power played their “Unnamed Jig”.   My fingers tapped to the beat of fiddle and uileann pipes.  I got the makings of two poems.

If you make it through the week, you will get a well earned Certificate of Survival from Northern Ireland’s version of Russell Brand, the Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council (ABC), Councillor Garath Keating. Some female graduates were so impressed, they went back for a second round.


The Lord Mayor, Garath Keating presenting my Survival Certificate

After five days, and in some cases six (if you stay for the Saturday workshops and I highly recommend you do), it’s time to go home.   Despite meeting as strangers on day one, none of us wanted to say goodbye.  We were all loitering around, looking at our shoes, not sure if a hug was the right thing.  There’s the awkward feeling like leaving a one night stand but wanting more.  The words stuck in our heads like the man in Matthew Francis’s “Poem without words”.  Eventually, someone charged in — unafraid and we all embraced, exchanged twitter, Facebook and email details.   We went our separate ways, loaded up, weighed down and knowing that for once in our lives, we were understood.

When you return home you will find that a good few days are needed to come down, a detox of sorts from your artistic high.  Some of my friends and I are experiencing recurrent dreams about still being there.

Will these side effects wear off with time?

Who knows?

Maybe the only cure is to return.



JHISS 2016 Programme