Ode to a Cactus Plant – adventures in teenage poetry

Have you ever written a toe-curlingly dreadful poem, and sent it to your national broadcaster, just for a laugh? And were you laughing on the other side of your face when said broadcaster read it out over the national airwaves on a primetime radio show, and sent you a generous cheque for the privilege? Yes, dear reader, this actually happened … it was the summer of ’85, when I was but a fledgling writer, with absolutely no sense.

I had forgotten all about this until, in an effort to update my rather sparse writing resume´, I did some careful research – aka online lurking – to see what other writers were putting on their blogs/websites/bios.

What happened is this … I had sent ‘Ode To A Cactus Plant’ to the Gay Byrne radio show on RTE Radio 1, expecting a terse note about wasting the producers’ time. When the anticipated envelope arrived, it contained a note saying that the poem had been read live on air by Gay Byrne himself, a cheque for over £100 with my name on it (huzzah!), and an invitation to speak about poetry on a live children’s television programme the following Saturday.

Speechless? You could say that. (The name of the children’s programme escapes me – well, it WAS 30 years ago, so if you think you remember what it was, please let me know in the comments below!)

On the television programme, I spoke about the fun of writing and my ‘success’ as a teenage poet because, in addition to the national glory of ‘Ode to A Cactus Plant’, my English teacher had sent another poem, ‘Pavement Picasso’ to a short-lived Dublin newspaper, and they had published that one too. (They sent me a wash-in hair colour sachet as payment. Oh, how delighted I was!)

The presenter asked me to read out a different poem, so I subjected them to my first ever Haiku – although, now that I know what Haiku and Senryu actually are, I realise it wasn’t actually either:

They say happiness is a blue bird
I met a blue budgie once
It bit me

One of the cameramen got the giggles, and the floor manager chortled rather loudly, which surprised me, because I had written it as a serious piece about man’s search for happiness and the dangers of avian malice.

As for Ode to a Cactus Plant, I shall post it in its entirety another day, because I’ve forgotten most of it. But, just to give you a flavour, here’s the first stanza:

by Patricia Groves

O! To be a cactus plant
and in a greenhouse stand.
I’d be small and spiky
with a needle for my hand.
My friends and I would sit and chat and
We’d talk about the weather at night
and dream of desert skies.
Will it rain or will it shine?
We honestly don’t know.
It doesn’t really matter
when you in a greenhouse grow.

My brief career in rhyme ended as suddenly as it began, and I stopped writing poetry, preferring instead to read other people’s. And, I’m sure you will agree, after such a promising beginning, how could I possibly improve on the perfection that was ‘Ode to a Cactus Plant’.

You may ask yourself what this blog post is all about. It’s not about good poetry, that’s for sure! I think the point I’m trying to make is to simply put your work out there – send out the poem, upload the sample chapter to your blog, enter that competition – because you just never know when success will ambush you.

So do something positive today with a piece of writing – it doesn’t matter what – just do it!

New year, new blog? Make it a great one.


For everyone whose New Year’s Resolution is to write more … read this, then sign up, join in and have fun with the lovely people at WordPress.

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

New to blogging? A new session of our introductory blogging course starts on Monday, January 5 — and all bloggers are welcome, whether you blog on WordPress.com, a self-hosted WordPress blog, or somewhere else entirely.

Blogging 101 is four weeks of daily bite-size assignments that take you from “Blog?” to “Blog!” — along with a supportive community to encourage you all the way through. At the end of the course, you’ll have a blog you’re proud and excited to publish, and that others are excited to read.
Here’s how it works:

  • Assignments fall into three broad categories — publishing posts and pages, customizing your blog, and engaging with the community — and are designed to build on one another.
  • We’ll post a new assignment here on The Daily Post each weekday at 12AM GMT. Each assignment will contain all the inspiration and instructions you need to complete it. Weekends are free (but we’ll…

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It’s official – time for a blog makeover and rebranding

Inspired by the ‘sock-it-to-you’ honesty of ‘Self-Printed, The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing’ (Third Edition) by the talented Catherine Ryan Howard of Catherine, Caffeinated, I meekly reviewed my online presence, and admitted that it was time for a blog makeover, and some serious rebranding.

Or rather, it was time to pull myself together (online) and actually HAVE a brand.

Watch this space as ‘PetticoatRebellion.com’, originally a book blog and semi-static online resumé for my filmmaking work, transforms into ‘OfficialSecrets.net’, the quirky blog about writing that I’ve always wanted to write, but never did…

Joining the Society for Editors and Proofreaders

Facebook is full of photos of ‘Ooh-er Matron!’ language slip-ups, and I have spent many a fun evening with a red pen and the local newspaper, circling special offers for pea’s and bean’s [sic], and Back to School ‘stationary’.

Little did I realise that this pedantry is a valuable skill. My Typo Radar has undoubtedly saved oodles of money – as well as time – when preparing materials for publication, for the many charities I have worked for over the years.

After a recent (and very satisfying) red-pen splurge, I decided to bite the bullet (rather than just the eraser on the end of my pencil) and apply to join the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I was so pleased when they accepted me as an Associate Subscriber. I shall now happily while away the long winter evenings by the fire with lots of background reading, and online training. In spring, I plan to emerge, bleary-eyed and pale-skinned, as a nascent editor.

Link to Society for Editors and ProofreadersThese are some of the many reasons I have joined the SfEP:

The Society aims to uphold editorial excellence, and provides training, support and accreditation for proofreaders and editors. It produces a free online periodical for members ‘Editing Matters’, and hosts a number of valuable online services, not the least of which is the Members’ Area, full of helpful information and forums.

Their introductory publications are available to purchase in either hard copy or to download, which is super-useful for people living outside the UK, like myself. The local SfEP branch is in Belfast, chaired by the talented Averill Buchanan, who recently won the Judith Butcher Award for her services to the Society.

Who Do You Think You Are? – with Julie Walters

The phone call came out of the blue… “Hello, Patricia? This is ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ – yes, the BBC series.”

Sitting at my desk at work, in the middle of a project, on an ordinary day, I considered this for a moment. “Yes, of course you are,” I replied, absolutely certain that it wasn’t. I looked around to see if anyone was giggling in the office.

“No, really, it is,” insisted the voice. “And we’re looking for an expert on the Ladies Land League.”

Right, I thought, this is definitely someone at work pulling my leg. I decided to play along, and see how long the caller could keep it up. “I know of a few experts who could help,” I replied. “Have you spoken to Nancy Smyth or Myles Dungan?”

“Um, we want to talk to you,” said the voice. “We came across your book about the Ladies Land League, ‘Petticoat Rebellion’. Would you be free to meet with our director and researcher in Dublin? We’re planning to shoot part of this episode in the National Library of Ireland.”

Realising this was for real, the rest of the conversation felt surreal … and even more so when, in the summer of 2013*, I found myself in the National Library of Ireland with a documentary crew and Julie Walters. Having seen the show, I was determined not to say “Well, Julie, let me show you this document…”, and I am grateful to the editing team for cutting out the hundred times that I actually said it.

Julie was so much fun to work with – in between the serious bits about a potential famine in 1880s Ireland, and the tenants’ struggle for land rights, we scoured the small ads in the vintage newspapers. One ad which quite captured Julie’s imagination was for a mysterious ‘Hair Destroyer’. We asked the archivist, who was there to safeguard the massive bound volumes, which had been taken out of storage for the day, what this Hair Destroyer might be. She said that it was either an electrical device which you plugged in to make your hair fall out, or some kind of potion which did the same. Julie got a fit of the giggles at this. If you watch the episode, you can see that she was clearly having a LOT of fun that day in the Library.

There’s a photo and more information about Julie’s brave ancestor, a treasurer in a local Ladies Land League branch, Mrs Maria O’Brien, on the Who Do You Think You Are? magazine website.


*Saturday 10th August 2013, to be precise.

Google AdWords – It all makes sense

I could hardly sleep last night, thinking of Google AdWords. (Yes, Google Analytics sometimes keep me awake too…)

Yesterday evening at Griffith College Dublin, our lecturer Keith Feighery brought us through a lab on Advanced Google AdWords. Like a light switching on, it all suddenly made sense (at 2am), and I couldn’t wait to start designing campaigns.

This is remarkable, because last time I looked at AdWords (way back in early 2011), it made no sense to me at all. Google has really improved their online tutorials and help menu since then.

When I sat down this evening to complete my AdWords assignment for next week, the campaign grew organically and easily, and my draft ads received an average Quality Score of 7/10, which is not bad for a first attempt.

If Google AdWords has always had you stumped, take 3 minutes to watch this short animation. The audio isn’t great, but it might just give you that same ‘a-ha!’ moment.

Introducing ‘Just Write’ Ireland

Many moons ago, I registered the business name of Just Write, here in Ireland, as a channel for my writing work. Word of mouth and recommendations keep me busy, but with an expanding portfolio of video and print projects, I realized it was time to set up an integrated online presence.

Today, ‘Just Write Ireland’ has its own URL  – http://www.JustWriteIreland.com (which currently redirects back to this blog, if you click it and wonder what’s going on!) – and a LinkedIn Company page.

Visit again soon – well, maybe in a month or so – when the structure is in place.

In the meantime, you can reach me at trish[at]JustWriteIreland.com.