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Writing about writing my book

08/05/2018 Comments off

Loop HeadThere is nothing this writer likes more than writing about their writing process. A recent visit to the Coming Home Famine Art exhibition at Dublin Castle prompted these thoughts about the the writing journey for my new book which has the famine experience at its heart. Thanks Writing.ie for sharing my thoughts.

Like a rock in the sea, islanded by fields…..

27/10/2015 Comments off

Reading Mary Lavin’s story ‘In the Middle of the Fields’ in the recent anthology of Irish Women Writers The Long Gaze Back, I was reminded of a visit to East Walpole on the outskirts of Boston several years ago. I had travelled along Washington Street which seemed to extend forever in straight lines south-east of the city. I remember the harsh-sweet smell of hot asphalt when I reached the sleepy town.

It was here that Mary Lavin, the only child of Irish parents, was born in 1912 and passed the first nine years of her life.  At the brow of a hill on the town’s edge, I entered the Francis William Bird Park which slopes down to the Neponsett River across which was the mill where Tom Lavin worked. Here the the small black-haired child was thrilled by parkland, flowers and water, imaging that she flew over the place like a bird. In October 1921, Mary Lavin left East Walpole and crossed the Atlantic to Ireland with her mother for a new life.

The shadows were lengthening when I departed William Bird Park to a chorus of bird song, soon facing the long stretch of Washington Street back to Boston. Next day I crossed the Atlantic through turbulent skies. Francis William Bird Park, East Walpole

What is it about walking?

23/09/2015 Comments off

Thoreau quotation near cabin site at Walden Pond

Concord, Massachusetts, the birth place of Henry David Thoreau, is a very civilised place these days. When I travelled there from Boston, I had to go to the nearby Walden Pond, the place Thoreau made famous and where he lived the simple life in a cabin for two years. His essay, Walking (1862), is one of the books that faces outward on my book shelf to remind me to delve into the richness of its pages. He comes closest to answering for me the question ‘what is it about walking?’  And he is no champion of civilisation. Rather, he speaks for ‘absolute freedom and wildness’ and not for the merely civil.

Walking, for Thoreau, is above all about entering a wildness where he can recreate himself. It is the wildness of the savage he strives to rediscover. Nature is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours. In this he reminds me of the Irish writer John Millington Synge and his tramples through Wicklow and North Mayo and the Aran Islands.

The most alive is the wildest.

Now for the walking boots.

Time Lines

24/09/2013 Comments off

Image

In the Stepping Stones interviews Seamus Heaney spoke to Dennis O’Driscoll about the ‘power of a dividing line’: the line of the first ploughed furrow; the laying of a house foundation; the marking out of a football pitch; the place of sanctuary behind the altar rails; the space between graveyard and road. Lines mark out spaces that are ‘utterly empty, utterly a source’.

Lines loop around and through Jo Slade’s most recent poetry collection The Painter’s House. In the poem ‘Twine’, time is the length of twine her father used ‘to set in straight lines a run of lettuce’; now it is a line that ‘draws distance in and out’, connecting poet and father. The parent’s hand in the earth is a conductor, ‘a bridge across forbidden space’ that reaches out to the writer whose hands are weaving together another line in ‘a braid of words’. 

The Painter’s House is a memoir collection, stretching back to great-grandfather clock-maker Joseph Wangler: ‘his nimble fingers placing the pins / his musical ear timing the cogs / his eye like a moon in the  ocular.’ There is the 1963 scene recalled of the poet’s father, Peter, ‘so beautiful / skating the lake / making a figure of eight’, and that of daughter and fragile mother, ‘her old back bent over / and sometimes the drag was immense – ‘. In ‘Last Journey’, the poet is an observer at the back of a cinema watching those she has loved in life flit across the screen, realizing that she still carries them around: ‘… they weigh me in / but they are blameless as shadows’.

The boundary line that marks the crossover into the artist’s inner space is at the heart of this collection. In the section ‘The Artist’s Room’ (previously published as a chapbook) the writer follows the artist Gwen John through Paris, at the same time pursuing her own artistic impulse: turning inward, becoming ‘so still at the still point’, ‘completeness contained’. In this collection we are led steadily and gracefully across the threshold line, inward into the artist’s house, ‘which is where she sits her easel tilted / to the light and there’s the painting / she makes with a house at its centre / and the nails she feels that hold it together.’

Making Facts Dance

05/04/2012 Comments off

My piece in the current edition of Writing.ie here describes the path I travelled in writing my nonfiction book The Veiled Woman of Achill and the challenge of staying true to the facts of the story while building a compelling narrative around the 1894 dark events at the Valley House, Achill.

 

 

Rain that is Absolute, Maginificent and Frightening: Heinrich Boll’s Ireland

19/03/2012 Comments off

Heinrich Boll in Ireland | Melville House Books.

Melville House included Heinrich Boll’s Irish Journal in their book bundle for Saint Patrick’s Day. Boll’s book includes a wonderful sentence about Irish rain: ‘The rain here is absolute, magnificent, and frightening. To call this rain bad weather is as inappropriate as to call scorching sunshine fine weather.’

Irish Journal covers many places, including my current home place in Limerick where Boll described the Shannon rushing along under old bridges: ‘this river was too big, too wide, too wild for this gloomy little town’. Along with the river Shannon, the image of the ‘snow white milk bottle’ throughout the city lingered with Boll after he left Limerick.

But it was in Achill that Heinrich Boll would make his Irish home in 1950s Ireland, in a cottage not far from the Deserted Village where he once visited for five hours and where ‘in ossified hedges fuchsia hung blood-red blossoms’. He was mesmerised by the ‘skeleton of a village’ that seemed to him like a body without hair, eyes, or flesh or blood.

Plumming

09/08/2011 Comments off

Back in January I committed with great enthusiasm to the post a week challenge. But it became a tyrant. Then, about a month ago, without really planning it, I stopped blogging. I took a blogger holiday. It seems to have worked for this morning the urge was back – inspired by the magic of the plum-tree in my back garden.

It was a morning of black news; it seems that there is a black hole facing the global economy, and riots are spreading like wildfire across UK cities. But the plums gave me a lift.  Just as it seemed that I had picked all the ripened fruit off the tree – or that the blackbirds had feasted on it – along comes another bunch where the pieces of fruit just fall off to the touch. The crop has ripened in such a rush that I have had to find new uses like apple and plum crumble.

So this blogger is back – for the time being at least – inspired by a burst of seasonal plums.

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