There is Poetry in a Pint of Guinness

My parents are celebrating their 30th anniversary (a few years late!) in Ireland. One of their first stops was the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, where my Mom, who’s not much of a beer drinker, enjoyed her first pint of fresh Guinness. 

This made me nostalgic for the first time I sampled Guinness in its ‘homeland.’ I originally published the post below in 2009 on Bangers ‘n Mash, my blog about teaching and traveling in London, UK. Since it is my most viewed blog post EVER, I thought I’d republish it here. 

 

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My first pint of “fresh” Guinness at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

“Guinness tastes so much better in Ireland,” I had been told before my trip to Dublin. Intrigued as to how a mass produced brand could taste distinctly different in one country, I felt obligated to sample “a few pints” of the famous brew in its homeland. Prior to the trip, I had only tasted Guinness a couple of times, and was not a huge fan. I found the beer bitter and was worried that its heaviness would do damage to my dainty waistline (haha). I had also perceived it to be more of a ‘Dad drink’ so wasn’t inclined to order it at pubs (as weird as that sounds). Thus, I did not expect to enjoy the notorious perfect pint of Guinness that I would be served in Ireland.

The production of Guinness began in December of 1759 when Arthur Guinness bought a 9000 year lease on an old brewery (which had been on the market for 10 years!) on St. James Street in Dublin. The purchase was quite a risk, as the location was very popular for competitors. More than 60 small breweries had already established their business in Dublin due to its excellent water supply from the rivers Liffey, Dodder and Poddle. Through hard-work and perseverance, Guinness was able to surpass the competition. A dry stout, Guinness has just four ingredients: barley, hops, water, and yeast. Through trial and error, and pure craftsmanship, Arthur Guinness combined these ingredients to create what is now often referred to as the “perfect pint.”

By 1833, Guinness had become so popular that the St. James Gate Brewery was the largest in Ireland, and by the 1880s, it had become the largest brewery in the world. As a side note, I have a soft spot for the Guinness Brewery because I played on the St. James Gate (an Irish pub in Banff) basketball team when I lived in the wonderful little mountain town, although I never drank Guinness while I was there…

Today, 35 countries brew Guinness worldwide. However, each brewery must include the famous secret ingredient, a flavoured extract that is still brewed exclusively in Dublin and sent to international breweries so that the flavour of the perfect pint is consistent.

My first sip of Guinness in Dublin was at the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub. Dating back to 1198, The Brazen Head had been serving alcohol well before official licensing laws came into effect in 1635. A neat bit of trivia is that the pub is featured in the James Joyce novel, Ulysses: “You get a decent enough do at the Brazen Head.”

It was the perfect venue to sample the perfect pint: its “medievally, tavern-esque” dark, cozy atmosphere and cobble-stone courtyard create the Irish pub that I’d envisioned. All that was lacking was the music, which was to start in a couple of hours (we went for dinner, the traditional Irish pub food- stew, chowder, fish and chips, so were there a bit early).

When I put the ‘liquid gold’ (as Guinness is known due to its flawless flavour and profitability) to my lips, I was surprised at how smooth, creamy, and delicious it was. The thick creamy head is the result of the taps injecting nitrogen gas into the beer as it is being poured. With aftertastes that hinted flavours of rich coffee and dark chocolate, Guinness was not at all the bitter black stuff that I remembered. I am not sure if it was the beverage itself that I was enjoying, or merely the excitement of drinking Guinness in Dublin, but I was hooked. I literally began to crave the beverage’s distinct malty, mocha flavours. Thanks to Lululemon and stretchy denim I was able to put all of my waistline anxieties aside and continue to contribute to Ireland’s economic growth (in truth, at 198 kcal per pint, Guinness actually contains less calories than most non-light beers).

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Me, my brother Pat and my friend Kirbie (another Canadian teacher)

The next day, we visited the Guinness Storehouse, where you can go on a self-guided tour of the brewery, learn how to pour the perfect pint, and purchase Guinness merchandise. The tour was really interesting, well-organized, and informative. At the end of the tour, you receive a freshly brewed pint of Guinness. Actually, you have the option of learning how to pour the perfect pint, or enjoying a pint poured for you at the top-floor Gravity Bar, which is walled with windows and offers a 360 degree view of the city. It is worth going on the factory tour simply to see this fantastic view of Dublin.

Pat and I opted to enjoy our pints on the top floor, while our friends earned certificates of mastery in Guinness pint pouring. Did you girls remember to update your résumés?

The slogan, “It’s alive inside” is used to advertise Guinness.

Although this is not literally true, there is something magical about drinking Guinness, especially drinking Guinness at the St. James Gate in Dublin.

The pint I had in the Guinness Storehouse was pure perfection. It tasted smoother, creamier, and more delicious than the pint I had at the Brazen Head (and at subsequent pubs…). In terms of its physical composition, I doubt that the beer poured at the St. James Gate is in actuality any different than the beer poured at any other pub in Dublin. However, the allure of drinking Guinness at the Guinness brewery definitely adds to the richness of the experience, and makes you feel like you are consuming an extra special recipe.

One sign that caught my eye in the Guinness Storehouse read “There is poetry in a pint of Guinness.”

I thought a lot about what this means. I suppose I would define poetry in an English class as a “written expression of human emotion”. But another interpretation could be that, poetry is, essentially, life. Therefore, the poetry is not the pint of Guinness itself but the life experiences created by the pint: sampling Irish pub food with my brother and friends, discovering that musicians in Irish pubs seem to only play American covers and U2 (I guess I had expected the fiddle??), the feeling of panic when I looked in my wallet and realized I had spent more on a night at the pub than on my return flight from London to Dublin (alcohol is ridiculously expensive in Dublin- I literally spent 7 Euros on pints at some pubs), meeting other interesting travellers, and of course, the memory of tasting my first sip of Guinness in Dublin.

It is interesting to note that despite the love of Guinness that I developed while I was in Dublin, I haven’t had a drop of it since I got back a couple months ago*. Perhaps this is because I subconsciously know that it just won’t taste as good as it did at the St. James Gate? Although I am sure that I will order the odd pint of Guinness every now and then, I doubt I will ever choose it regularly over other options that I would, of course, drink responsibly.

Since my perspective of Guinness consumption in Dublin came from a tourist’s point of view, I am interested in learning more about whether Guinness is actually the drink of preference for most Dubliners, or if that is simply a stereotype. I suppose the commercial success of Guinness suggests that people do, in fact, drink it quite often, but do Irish people link Guinness with part of their cultural identity? Or is its Irishness simply the brand image that Guinness promotes to the world?

I’m sure I’ll sample many more pints in the future, but none will have quite the same ‘magic’ as my first Guinness in Dublin!

*Since I published this article in 2009, I have consumed many more pints of Guinness. Yet none have been as tasty as that first sip of Irish magic!

See What Flowers Book Signing at Indigo

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This past Sunday, I was thrilled and honoured to have had the opportunity to sign copies of my début novel, See What Flowers, at the Yonge and Eglinton Indigo location in Toronto, Canada.

Set in Toronto, Vancouver, and the Canadian Arctic, See What Flowers is a contemporary fiction about love and mental illness.

While this is not the first event I’ve done to promote my book–I launched it in both Toronto and Ottawa, and did a book signing in Shawville, Québec–I was most nervous to talk about my book in front of Indigo customers, most of whom I had never met before.

Chapters/IndigoChapters/Indigo is Canada’s biggest bookstore, so it felt like I had entered the “big league” with this event.

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During the event, there were most definitely awkward moments. I felt shy about encouraging readers to purchase copies of my book when copies of Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings were prominently displayed on the shelf in front of me.

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But I kept reminding myself that my last name is “Mullen”…which gives me the alphabetical order advantage to be shelved beside “Munro” (as in Alice).

This little self-pep talk gave me the boost of confidence I needed to chat about the plot, setting, and characters of See What Flowers, my writing process, and about book publishing in general.

In the end, many customers took a chance on my book, choosing to place See What Flowers alongside the many books that fill their own personal libraries.

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I am very fortunate and grateful that Chapters/Indigo has such an active “Local Authors” program to support emerging authors like me promote their work.

The best part of the day was when one of the staff members placed the remaining copies in Indigo’s CanLit section, complete with “Signed By Author” stickers.

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Book Signing at Yonge & Eglinton Indigo, Toronto


On Sunday, October 1 from 1-4pm, I will be signing copies of my début novel, See What Flowers at the Yonge & Eglinton Indigo location in Toronto.


For more info about the event click here

See What Flowers is on the shelves at select Indigo locations and in the online store

For more information about See What Flowers you can follow me on Goodreads or check out the Amazon listing. 

Thank you to all of my friends & family for your ongoing support!

Ottawa Book Launch for See What Flowers

The Scariest Thing About Sharing Our Story

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“I guess I’d been experiencing it for the 30 years before I actually started writing the book,” I admitted. “I knew that I wanted to write a book ever since I was a kid, but I was too afraid to try.”

It’s true. My fears—of failure, of not being good enough, of what people would think, of not getting published—had held me back from starting at all. So I made a lot of excuses and told myself a narrative of “shoulds.”

I should work toward a more stable career.

I should accept that it’s too hard to “make it” as a writer.

I should appreciate my life as it is.

I should be more realistic.

In my latest piece for Elephant Journal, an online magazine dedicated to mindful living, I write about fear, self-doubt, success, and why it’s not selfish to pursue our dreams.

You can access the entire article here.

My novel, See What Flowers, is available through Barnes & Noble

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See What Flowers, my début novel about love and mental illness, is now available to purchase in the United States through Barnes & Noble. Click here to access the listing.

See What Flowers is also available in Canada as both a paperback and e-book through Chapters/Indigo and Amazon.

For more information about the book, you can join the conversation on Goodreads.

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About See What Flowers

All that remains is a note: “Gone to get pancakes.”

Her 30th birthday party’s over, yet it’s the happiest Emma Watters has ever been. Life couldn’t be more perfect. She’s an emergency room doctor and shares a home in Toronto with the love of her life, Adam Davison.

The next morning, Adam is gone. Emma’s shocked. At first, she decides that Adam’s having an affair and scavenges through photos on Facebook, trying to identify “the other woman.” But as the days pass, Emma seeks out help from the Toronto Police and floods social media with pleas for assistance. Where’s Adam? Has her life become an episode of Breaking Bad? Has she been dating Walter White all along?

Wild, beautiful, and terrifying, See What Flowers is a thrilling depiction of love’s attempts to survive in the face of undiagnosed mental illness. Set in the hectic, cosmopolitan cities of Toronto and Vancouver, as well as against the harsh, rugged landscape of the Canadian Arctic, it’s a raw and compelling journey towards understanding, forgiveness, and, ultimately, escape.

See What Flowers: Ottawa Book Launch at Terrace on the Canal

 

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It was a beautiful evening, at a beautiful venue, with a beautiful audience.

Last night, See What Flowers launched in Ottawa at Terrace on the Canal, a cozy outdoor patio/bar and event space nestled next to the Rideau Canal with picturesque views of the Parliament buildings and downtown Ottawa. A host to weddings, weekend yoga classes, and a pit stop for cyclists or tourists out for an evening stroll, it’s no surprise that Narcity recently described Terrace on the Canal as “the most amazing spot for literally any reason.”

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Terrace on the Canal was an absolutely stunning venue for my book launch.

It provided a relaxed café feel where people could lounge on couches and catch up with old friends, combined with the magic of being at the heart of the nation’s capital, the fairytale charm of waving to a group of tourists as their boat drifted down the historic waterway and into the sunset.

 

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The evening opened with a musical performance by Ottawa-based band, The Bristol Hum.

Featuring  Shawn Baldwin, Scotty Lean, Tex McManus, and my super talented cousin, Sean Keohane, The Bristol Hum plays “straight-up rock n roll with a little funk and folk thrown in for good measure.”

To capture a more folky, emotional and bookish feel, they played their first ever acoustic performance, which seemed to draw out the magic of surrounding landscape. Their mesmerizing and melodic harmony warmed my heart underneath the twinkle of patio lights.

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The Bristol Hum is playing at Baconpalooza on Saturday, August 26 at 1:45pm at the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum. Their is music is also available on iTunes, Google Play and Spotify

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The second half of the evening involved a book reading of select passages from my novel. The book is written in he said/she said first-person narratives in the style of Gone Girl, alternating between the main characters Adam Davison and his girlfriend, Emma Watters and is set in Toronto, Vancouver and the Canadian Arctic.

I read two passages from Emma’s point of view and one from Adam’s, attempting to capture the various plot, characters, and setting without revealing too many spoilers.

 

See What Flowers Reading

“Is there such a thing as being too happy?” 

“We’re lost in each other, in the heart of Toronto, slow dancing to nothing but the beat of my heart and the sound of her breath on my neck. I know the subway trains are trembling beneath my feet and that we’re amidst the constant buzz of city life, yet I hear nothing but my heart beating and feel nothing but her breath on my neck.”

“When we begin to search a little deeper into the heart of the glacier, into the wisdom preserved into the remains of the last Ice Age, we can see that all life contains elements of light and darkness, and that to live truthfully, we need to be able to accept the joy as well as the pain.”Meg and Shan

 

Following my book reading, I participated in a Q & A led by my longtime friend, Megan Valois. Megan read early drafts of See What Flowers and provided some important feedback and criticism, ultimately motivating me to persist with writing and publishing, so it was very important to me that she was involved in this event.

During the Q& A, we chatted about my writing process, inspiration for See What Flowers, and future writing endeavours. Megan asked some thought-provoking questions that I am still reflecting on. Thank you, Megan, for your involvement and for being such a fantastic interviewer!

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I was absolutely touched and honoured that so many friends and family members took the time to come to this event.  Self-publishing is a difficult and extremely vulnerable process and I really wouldn’t have had the courage to do it without your continued support and encouragement.

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See What Flowers, a contemporary fiction about love and mental illnessis available on Amazon.

My next book event is a book signing on Sunday, October 1 from 1-4pm at the Yonge and Eglinton Indigo location in Toronto.

 

 

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Cottaging, Camping & Book Promo: My Summer at Home

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Camping on Little Coon Lake in Algonquin Park

 

“It is always quietly thrilling to find yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before.” 

― Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life

Since I’ve been living and working away from home over the last couple of years, I’ve taken every opportunity to travel during my holidays.

For me, the purpose of travel is to deepen my understanding about people and life. Through exposure to new people, places, and cultures, travel has broadened my perspective about the many different ways that one can live a happy and meaningful life. It has also helped shape my identity by reinforcing which values I held onto and which ones I let go of.

So it may seem strange that I chose to stay home this summer during my holidays from teaching…especially since my bucket list keeps getting longer and longer.

One of the main reasons that I stayed home was to promote my first novel, See What Flowers, which I recently published through Amazon CreateSpace. As I self-published my novel, I’m required to do all of the marketing and promotion myself. While this work has been very fun and interesting, it’s also quite time-consuming. As writing a novel has always been a dream of mine, it was important to me that I invested the time and energy into making this happen.

Another reason that I stayed at home was to spend time with friends and family. Several of my closest friends live abroad and came home for parts of the summer and it was important to me to hang out with them as much as possible while they were here.

By staying at home, I was able to go to the ROM in Toronto for the first time with my friend Meira who lives in Israel. I was able to meet my friends’ Lisa and Jessie’s new babies. I was able to attend my friend Paige’s wedding in Creemore. I was able to have some long chats with my friend, Laura, who lives in New Zealand, and attend a Blue Jays game with my friend Jill who lives in Colombia and her awesome dad. I was able to explore a few of Ontario’s Provincial Parks with friends and family. Oh, let’s not forget that I was also able to spend last Saturday night alone with my parents at the cottage listening to Taylor Swift on repeat.

While I still intend to travel to as many different places as I can, my summer at home has helped me see the value of making time for the people and places that matter most to me. Although travel has been one of the most incredible teachers in my life, some of the most formative experiences for me have resulted from building deeper connections with the people and places I’ve known forever. Turns out that some of my best adventures have happened in my own backyard.

Here are a few photos from ‘local adventures’ that I partook in this summer:

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First annual cousins canoe camping weekend in Algonquin Park!

 

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Pink Hues over Little Salmon Lake in Frontenac Provincial Park
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From South Africa to Collingwood, E-Bay and I make excellent wedding dates! (At our friend, Paige’s wedding in Creemore, ON)
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Kayaking at my cottage in Norway Bay, Quebec
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Canoe camping with friends I met in the Arctic in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
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Practising my nature photography skills while canoeing and kayaking
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I spent a lot of time in the kitchen…Cooking fajitas in the backcountry at Frontenac Park!
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Camping with my cousin, Jenn, and her son, Cameron, at Bronté Creek Provincial Park
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Book signing at Café 349 in Shawville, Quebec
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Book Promo! Scruffy says “It’s a page-turner!”
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Teaching fitness classes at Goodlife whipped me in shape for this 1.5 km portage at Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
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Exploring my neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant Village in Toronto
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Practising my French and Spanish at Mundo Lingo in Toronto
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Checking out the Blue Whale exhibit during my first visit to the ROM (even though I’ve lived in TO for 4 yrs on and off)
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^ My heroes ^ Many evenings at the cottage were spent binging GOT with my parents!
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My first novel, See What Flowers, is on the shelves at Indigo, Canada’s largest bookstore at Yonge & Eglinton in Toronto

^ I started teaching myself how to windsurf at the cottage…this involved at least 20 wipeouts. Thanks to my Aunt Pat for rescuing me from a near storm.

In addition to these things, I also did a lot of NOTHING. (Although I’ll admit that a lot of this nothing was spent watching fan commentary about GOT Season 7 on YouTube!) I’ve learned that doing nothing every once in a while fuels creativity, reduces stress, and makes space for spontaneous surprises. It also makes me excited to get back to work in a couple of weeks once I feel fully rested and recovered (However, I’ll likely be saying something different on Labour Day weekend!)

See What Flowers Book Signing at Café 349

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Thank you to everyone who came out and supported my first novel at Café 349 in Shawville, Québec today! It was so nice for me to chat with some new and familiar faces about books, publishing, and summers in Norway Bay.

One thing I find hard about self-publishing, is that I am required to do all of the book promotion and marketing myself. This means that I have to sell myself and my work. As a shy and humble person, it is quite a challenge for me to ‘knock on doors’ and self-promote. Luckily, I have an enormous support network of friends and family who have helped me along the way. I have been touched and overwhelmed by all of the ongoing support you have provided for me.

Thank you to everyone from Norway Bay, Shawville, and the Pontiac who came to my book signing. Special thank you to Ruth Smiley Hahn at Café 349 for providing me with the opportunity to promote my work.

Paperback copies of See What Flowers are available to purchase in Café 349, or through Amazon.ca, and Chapters/Indigo. See What Flowers is also available as an eBook.

Upcoming Events

Thursday, August 24, 7:30pm-9:00pm

Ottawa Book LaunchTerrace on the Canal, Ottawa, Ontario, featuring acoustic performance by The Bristol Hum

Sunday, October 1, 1pm-4pm

Book Signing at Yonge & Eglinton Indigo, Toronto, Ontario

signing books at cafe 349

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IndieView about my début novel, See What Flowers

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The website “The Indie View,” an online forum for connecting indie authors with reviews and readers, recently interviewed me about my début novel, See What Flowers.

In this “IndieView,” I discuss the inspiration behind See What Flowers, my writing process, publishing, and a little bit about me. Click here to access the full IndieView.

“After finishing the first draft, I realized that the writing was more emotional, more honest, and more impactful when I put more of myself into it. So during the editing, I added bits of personal experience to add depth and emotion to the characters.”

Shannon Mullen – 3 August 2017

My Book is on the Shelves @ Yonge & Eglinton Indigo in Toronto

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It is pretty much the coolest thing ever to see my book on the shelves at the Yonge and Eglinton Indigo…with a special “signed by author” sticker.

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See What Flowers is currently available to purchase through Chapters/Indigo online store and copies will be available in some select stores in Toronto and Ottawa.

Upcoming Events:

Saturday, August 12, 11am-2pm

Book Signing at Café 349, Shawville, Quebec

Thursday, August 24, 7:30pm-9:00pm

Ottawa Book Launch, Terrace on the Canal, Ottawa, Ontario

Sunday, October 1, 1pm-4pm

Book Signing at Yonge & Eglinton Indigo, Toronto, Ontario