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The one thing I'll do differently in 2019

 

Four Belfast Telegraph writers reveal their ambitions for the year ahead
Four Belfast Telegraph writers reveal their ambitions for the year ahead
As a journalist, I sometimes have to cover controversial, divisive, strongly emotive and at times extreme subjects, which can bring the trolls out from whatever dark bridge they reside under to attack me on social media
Red alert: giving blood can be the difference between life and death for others
Teasing task: poetry taxes the brain

Alex Kane

From giving social media trolls the heave-ho, to donating blood and having your debut sonnet published, four Belfast Telegraph writers reveal their ambitions for the year ahead.

Leona O'Neill: ‘My plan is to ignore the trolls’

As a journalist, I sometimes have to cover controversial, divisive, strongly emotive and at times extreme subjects, which can bring the trolls out from whatever dark bridge they reside under to attack me on social media.

Being a journalist in Northern Ireland multiplies what I jokingly refer to as "the melter factor" 100-fold. I have spent many hours defending myself, explaining myself and engaging with people, gangs of people, sometimes hordes of people, hell-bent on attack with no notion of listening to any manner of defence, never mind taking it into consideration.

What I have written has annoyed republicans, loyalists, Justin Bieber fans, politicians, Israelis, bonfire-builders, Trump supporters, lovers of Japanese pop music, religious people, atheists, Kirstie Allsopp, fans of S&M, so-called "snowflakes", people who love marching and people who don't like marching (to name but a few).

And when you annoy people who are deeply passionate about something, or someone, by writing about it, the trolls come running armed with personal insults, irrational arguments, untruths and just plain old harassment techniques.

They bring their mates and, before you know it, you've a Braveheart-esque virtual battle on your computer screen, which leaves you weary and exhausted at its bloody end.

So, 2019 is the year I am kicking social media trolls to the proverbial kerb. I don't need that type of negativity in my life. I have no longer got the time, or the inclination, to engage with energy vampires.

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In 2019, people can say what they want; I will be employing the mute button like I'm a Morse code operator and blocking anyone who encroaches on my happiness.

In real life, strangers generally don't go from 0 to 70mph with regards to spewing vitriol and screaming insults in your face if you speak to them. And if they did, we would not engage but walk away for the sake of our own safety and sanity. Why should online be any different?

Some people, for whatever reason, make it their mission to bring misery to others via digital platforms, with the result that many of our digital experiences involve wading through a toxic cesspit of hate and aggression to get to the cat-doing-something-funny pictures, images of other people's dinner, or indeed a civilised debate where no one's mother gets called a donkey at the conclusion.

I'm not taking it anymore. I'm going to be ruthless in the pursuit and protection of my happiness and harmony.

This year, I choose not to hear the growls and ceaseless snarling of the trolls. As hard as it may be to ignore someone who is insulting me, my work, my opinion, my appearance, my family and whatever I hold dear, I'm not responding to the hate.

Responding only gives the hate and the hateful power. Without a response to legitimise it, it's basically just some idiot howling at the moon.

So, 2019 will be the year I ditch the melters and moon-howlers and get some peace back in my (digital) life.

Alex Kane: ‘I would like to write one book at least’

Over the past 20 years or so, I have been asked the same question many, many times: "When are you going to write a book?"

After a run of very personal pieces for the Belfast Telegraph about my adoption, my struggle to overcome trauma and crippling fears, and the joys of being an older dad, a publisher approached me about a book.

A number of publishers have asked me to write about Northern Ireland politics, particularly the challenges and changes to unionism in my lifetime.

I've even been asked, because of my passion for Sherlock Holmes, to try my hand at a detective novel. My problem - and this may surprise some of you - is that I don't actually like writing all that much. I think I'm reasonably readable and like to imagine (although perhaps I'm just flattering myself) that I have played a small part in influencing and shifting opinion over the years. I've always regarded it as my role to try and explain things, rather than just adopting the stance "my side, right or wrong".

But writing is a lonely profession. Commentary on radio and television, or on panels and conferences, is much easier; more of a performance, if you like.

I enjoy the spontaneity of those occasions (we never know in advance what questions we'll be asked), particularly the to-and-fro with audiences afterwards.

Sitting in front of a blank screen isn't fun. Putting words into some sort of coherent order isn't fun. I'm easily distracted: usually by Frasier, old movies, or my son Indy biting my knee and smearing the screen with yogurt.

Yet, what it all comes down to is the fact (and I'm grateful that it is a fact) that my writing seems good enough for me to make a living from it.

I'm aware, of course, that time is no longer on my side. Most of us in the UK will be lucky enough to get to the end of their 60s without any major health problems. After that, all bets are off.

I would like to leave at least one book behind me as some sort of footprint of my existence: although I remain torn about whether politics, "personal", or detection should be the priority. Ideally, one of each.

But that means making a decision and acquiring the discipline (throwing away my mobile and putting a brick through the television would probably help) to commit to a few hours per day for the next six months.

Most of what I write (spread over three weekly columns and a moveable feast of other commissions) can be done in 90-minute shifts.

I've learned to do that - but adding in another few hours every day will be difficult.

That said, if I don't do it now - this year - I'll probably never do it.

So, in the autumn of 2020, look out for a book about a detective who was adopted and now investigates crimes like The Curious Case of the Phantom Assembly.

If nothing else, it may attract more sales than The Increasing Toxicity of Inter-Community Relations in Northern Ireland.

Fionola Meredith: 'I must get over phobia and do my civic duty'

Giving blood. Even the words cause a squeamish thrill of dread to run through me. The thought of willingly rolling up my sleeve and exposing my arm, and getting that cuff thing put on, and then the approach of the needle to the vein, and then my blood pumping out along a tube - ah, excuse me, I'm just going to have to take a moment for myself here.

Okay. Back again, a few deep breaths later.

I've decided that 2019 will be the year that I donate blood. It's time to get over this phobia and do my civic duty.

There's no doubt that giving blood is an incredibly important thing to do, if you care about the society you live in and if you're physically able to do so - which most people are.

Giving blood really does save lives. It's the difference between life and death in many emergency situations and it's also necessary - less dramatically, but no less vitally - for patients who need longer-term treatment, like regular blood transfusions.

When you consider that only 6% of the eligible local population actually donates blood, that's a massive 94% of us who don't. And, in order to keep up sufficient supply, 150 new blood donors are needed in Northern Ireland every single week.

Given the good it does and the fact that it takes only a few minutes to make a donation, there's really no excuse for wobbly refuseniks like me to keep shucking our moral and social responsibilities any longer.

In order to do so, I'm going to have to find a way to overcome this deep-rooted squeamishness about blood - my own and other people's.

It's odd, because I have no problem enjoying a Quentin Tarantino movie, with the director's trademark lashings of blood swilling around. Probably it's because this kind of film-blood has a pantomime quality: you know it's fake.

When it comes to the real stuff, I have a habit of keeling over. This became obvious during my first pregnancy, when testing samples of blood is routine. I tried looking at the needle, I tried looking away from the needle, but each time the result was the same: a ringing in my ears, a slow slide off the chair and then, a few moments later, I'd be sheepishly picking myself up off the floor.

Many years later, when my daughter was getting a blood test as a hospital out-patient, I dutifully stayed at her side, until I felt my gills turning distinctly green and had to stagger out of the room to do some embarrassing swooning in the corridor. Not my finest moment as a mother.

For me, donating blood will be a case of mind over matter. I believe that, with sufficient determination, I can do it.

I hope they'll let me lie down during the procedure and give me a lovely, comforting cup of tea afterwards.

The sense of a small duty done will be my real reward.

And who knows: maybe I'll even become a regular donor - once I've beaten the fear.

Malachi O’Doherty: ‘It is time for me to turn my hand to poetry’

I spend a lot of time around poets. When I was a teenager and even younger, I wanted to be a poet myself. At primary school, I kept a little notebook for my wee rhymes.

But when I entered journalism, I encountered a disdain among my contemporaries for the idea that the journalist is a writer. My first editors saw it as part of their job to knock out of me any pretension to literary style.

So, I became a reporter and then a commentator and a sort of storyteller. And that left little time for poetry, anyway.

I wrote books on politics and religion and works of memoir. And sometimes I thought that some of my paragraphs, even in the Tele, were as elegant and tightly wrought as some of the poems I read.

My wife, Maureen, is a poet and she writes in a style which is basically a condensed form of storytelling, too. So, I am inclined to think that, if things had been only a little bit different in the past, she might be doing what I do and I might be doing what she does.

But then poets don't like me saying that. They say that their poems come to them. It wouldn't be their way to take a call from an editor and write a poem to a deadline. Yet, that is what my wife has just done.

The BBC asked her to write a poem about Strabane and she wrote one. You can hear it tonight on Radio Four at 11.30 on a programme called Conversations On A Bench.

Once they asked her to write a poem about the Crown Bar. No problem to her.

So, I've come to think that the distinction drummed into me by hard-headed editors in the past is false. I don't have to choose between journalism and poetry. Nor do I have to sit around and wait for inspiration if I am to write a poem.

And the type of poem I would really like to write is a sonnet. I love sonnets, not just the gloriously entangled Shakespeare sonnets, but some of the modern sonnets that disguise their rhyme so that you can almost miss it and read them as prose.

And I have been practising. Our Christmas e-card this year was a sonnet. I wrote it and recorded it over a sequence of photographs, edited into a slide-show.

And I have a few others, which I will post online when I am done with them. Some of them are just playful. One is bawdy.

I'm not yet ready to deliver a succinct philosophical insight packed into 14 lines. Maybe I never will be.

And through writing them, I am discovering what is technically hard about this. I can see now why poets have largely given up on rhyme; it limits what they can say. They don't have the time; they'd be at it all day.

In the past, I taught creative writing and now I think the best exercise to give students would be to write a sonnet.

I even think journalists would benefit from trying this, because it really taxes the brain to find the right word, to balance the line, to condense a thought and keep it sharp. It beats crossword puzzles and Scrabble.

So, I aspire this year to getting a sonnet published in a poetry magazine. Then I will carry myself with a little more hauteur among my poet friends.

And they will say: there goes a man who could turn his hand to anything.

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