Friday, February 28, 2014

On joining an airline..

Every time in my teens that I took the bus along the airport road towards Santry I looked forward with anticipation to the moment when I would come upon the eye-catching cardboard cut-out of the smiling air hostess in the green Aer Lingus  uniform, her shapely legs sheerly clad in Mannequin  nylons, her smile and her eyes beckoning me to become part of that exciting life constantly flying to far-off, exotic places.

 When I eventually realised my dream and, training almost over, we were sent to the clothing stores to select a uniform, my belief in having a designer uniform individually created for me withered when confronted by row upon row of green uniforms and learned that, despite the slim skirt sizing, some of the boxy jackets would have comfortably housed a Jayne Mansfield or Marylyn Monroe..

It seemed we were to select  a jacket and skirt to our approximate measurements and take them to the airline's tailors for altering. To think I had fancied myself looking just like the elegantly uniformed air hostess in the Aer Lingus advert. When I repeated this to the tough little woman manning the counter I was disconcerted by her roars of laughter.'Her! God help your innocence. That wan's a pro.  Never saw anyone with legs like hers lasting the pace around here'. Another myth dispelled. But notwithstanding any of that it made a great first novel and happily  'Up Up and Away' is now  available on Kindle.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The art of the short story.

The art of the storyteller might  be compared to a diverting and enjoyable ramble along a leafy lane, the craft of short story writing more resembles the inner workings, the movement and precision of a beautiful Swiss watch..  Each artist has the gift of words but from the storyteller you expect entertainment, from the short story writer eloquence of form. The first, as his name suggests, tells or explains, he is the showman and knows how to get his story across with dramatic language and graphic images; the author, on the other hand, unobtrusively depicts (according to that great master of the short story, Frank O'Connor), mesmerically  suggests and allows the revolving light of each character to reveal the others.

I am reminded of  the film 'Some Like It Hot' when Curtis and Lemmon,  in an effort to escape from the  mob, dress themselves up as women and join up with an all girls' band of musicians. Although resembling classy broads in their feminine apparel, their shaven legs and tottering heels, they are aware their appearance and performance falls short of believable. But when it comes to Marilyn Monroe they reverently acknowledge that she is the real thing; she moves like 'jello on springs'  Lemmon says in awe, there is no doubting she is all woman|! When a short story is successful with all the elements that make it an emphatically personal exposition, balanced, unique and true, it is  like 'Jello on springs'  there is no mistaking the imitation for the real thing!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

When a broken ankle proved a blessing in disguise.

In every disadvantage there are the seeds of a greater advantage. Where have you heard that before?  Well, strangely enough it can be true, it was for me. . When in a fit of abstraction - bemused by a piece of prose by  Polly Devlin and, in particular, the irresistible sentence 'The loch was leached of light'  I walked off the stairs in a cafe ending up with a broken ankle, there wasn't a lot I could do but sit about until it healed.  With others doing the housework and helping out with the cooking I was free to concentrate, without guilt, on what I loved best. Writing! In those days I was composing short stories and, in that period of enforced inactivity, I wrote seven new stories.  Amazing how without the pressure of housework or other commitments the words flowed, my muse was never so strong..

Having all day to write was blissful and more than made up for the pain and discomfort I was experiencing from what had turned out to be three breaks in my left ankle, injuries sustained on other instances, once by walking off the bottom step of the stairs, another time when  stepping into a declivity in a roadway under repair.  With all out at work, school or college I left my desk only to hop along the hall on crutches to the downstairs loo, then on into the  kitchen for a snack, and on my return to my computer, I became adept at  nudging with my crutch a litre bottle of water before me along the hallway, enough to keep me hydrated during the day..

It was a six week period of my life when I was totally happy and fulfilled.  The stories proved to be good and publishable so my time and effort had not been wasted. Even better two of them turned out to be prize-winners when eventually submitted to a short story competition and for a time I was filled with the heady certainty if I were only ruthless enough to abandon my family and turn my back on my obligations I would become a best-selling author. Maybe I would, and maybe not.  Happily I didn't put it to the test just kept on serving my apprenticeship, improving my technique and perfecting my style. A lifetime work.with no guarantees of success but then I have learned it's the journey that counts and anything worth the winning is never achieved easily..          

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A good title is just as important as a good cover.

What you call your book is every bit as important as your cover. A catchy title that maybe suggests two meanings like 'Gone Girl' is clever and thought-provoking.  For my first novel about life in an Irish airline, conscious of how quickly air hostesses become engaged I played around  for a bit with the title 'Wings and Rings.'   But it wasn't a good title for my book which was not just a light romance but an airline novel written from the viewpoint of the pilots on the flight deck as well as the glamorous hostesses in the cabin, and in particular my heroine irresistibly in love with a married pilot.  The next title I hit upon was 'Standby for Takeoff!' with an alternate title 'Up Up and Away'.  Bingo!  That second choice the publisher went for!.

For my next book, which was the dramatic story of an Irish family, of passion, tragedy and love, I chose 'A Family Affair'  A bit ordinary, even predictable? Well, I suppose so but undeniably  it was about a family and about the affairs of that family, as well as an issue of sexual abuse within the family resulting in a double tragedy deeply concerning them all.  Once more the publisher favoured my second choice which was  'Like One Of The Family'.  Of the two, it was the better title summing up the dilemma of thirteen year old Claire when drawn into the warmth of the McArdles' family circle, sharing in their  hopes and dreams and included in all of their family outings. Sadly though, Claire is  abused by her best friend's father with long term consequences. So does this mean the first title submitted is the 'safe' one while you can afford to relax a little for the alternate -  after all it's only your second choice - and who knows it might prove to be the right one after all!  So it turned out to be in my experience anyway.

So now it's that time again and the name I came up with, some  years into writing this latest novel, was 'Holding Pattern'    This time I have no alternate title to offer and maybe I don't need one.Let's  hope so anyway.. Only time will tell.                                                                                          

Monday, February 24, 2014

Country Banking moved slowly in the Sixties.

When I joined the bank and went to work in the country I found it very different to life in the city, it moved at a slower pace, there was an unhurried way of doing business.  The porter, an invaluable member of the staff, was the particular friend of the lady bank official, obligingly bringing her jackets to the cleaners or calling to the flat to deliver groceries or  unblock drains. In icy weather when the pipes froze and it was necessary to take a bath in the bank house before the annual bank dance, he would stagger up three flights of stairs carrying steaming buckets of water to the antiquated bathroom, emptying them into the iron bath on its metal legs and reappearing somewhat breathlessly minutes later clutching the bath towel given to him by the bank manager's wife, with eyes modestly averted, handing it over before starting back downstairs again. In some of the smaller branches in outlying areas  'things were a bit slow' but it wasn't until the cashier went out to the front hall  for  the post at half-past eleven that he realised why - the porter had forgotten to open the bank door that morning. .  There were quite a few discreet guffaws over that one.

My years in the country gave me much material for the short stories I began writing some years later. In one town I joined the dramatic society and took part in O'Casey's 'Plough and the Stars'. My transfer came in before I got a chance to 'trod the boards' but the manager appealed to Head Office and I was given a stay of execution so I could make my debut as Rosie Redmond.  Sadly, I never got to tour the towns and so missed all the fun. That story was entitled 'The Drama Group'  The first story I ever wrote was about a pretty young bank official arriving into a country town on the evening train and causing a stir of interest amongst the townspeople and speculation as to who she was and what her business might be. 'A Certain Status' made a good BBC radio story with a twist in the tail and was read by Harold Goldblatt, the Shakespearian actor. What a great thrill that was!

Another bank story was 'The Quality of Management' about a senile bank manager who should have been retired long ago and an accountant, continually passed over for promotion, who is finally afforded the chance to get his own branch but cannot bring himself to betray his manager.  'The Boxbed' was inspired by my father who grew up in County Laois, or 'Leeks' as he used call it, and he spoke of of his grandfather who slept in a boxbed in the kitchen and smoked his pipe behind the closed door, infuriating his grandmother. This story was about a little boy and his grandfather and his great loss when the old man dies and he cannot remember his face...until he climbs into the boxbed and finds his grandfather's clay pipe; then it all comes back to him along with it the heartbreaking realisation that he will never see that beloved face again.  So many stories, so many memories and all of them gathered together in my collection  of rural short stories called  'The Straw Hat and Other Stories.'  available on Kindle.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Life above the clouds..

When I joined Aer Lingus and started training to be an air hostess I had never been in an aircraft of any description before. Our training flight was my first flight and I wasn't the only one, it was first time flying for most of the others too. That day two girls were selected by our training officer to serve the rest of us snack trays, tea/coffee/sandwiches and we all sat back and enjoyed the ride. A quick trip around the Eastcoast of Ireland and then back home again to the airport. It was all great fun .But then that about described life as air hostesses -  or flight attendants - in those days.  The travel, the perks, the glamorous life flying in and out of cities, with stopovers now and then in Paris or Rome, more often in London and Birmingham when we visited the West End or the Bullring. Sometime we were based a whole week in Cork flying to and from London, but wherever our roster sent us from week to week we were always on the move, never on the ground for long - never a dull moment either!

But the most exciting experience for me  came when I trained for the Boeings and made my supernumerary flight to New York just before Christmas.  That drive from Kennedy to Manhattan, sweeping down into the city with the uneven jumble of towering skyscrapers showing up to our right and all lit up against the night sky, was an unforgettable and magical sight. Straightaway I loved America although to begin with it took some getting used to, the faster paced life, the abrasive-tongued assistants in the stores, the jostling New Yorkers on the baking summer streets .

When I wrote my first novel 'Up Up and Away' I really enjoyed revisiting in memory my time on the Atlantic. In fiction my heroine Kay Martin followed in my hesitant, naive footsteps, getting caught halfway across the busy New York street when the  'Walk' sign had already changed to 'Don't Walk', thrown into tongue-tied confusion when challenged by a big, red-faced
Irish cop on  rearing horseback who kindly held up traffic with a majestic hand to allow the embarrassed cailin scuttle shamefacedly on across to the other side. 'Ah, you're over from Ireland I can tell!.' he roared in a broad Kerry accent. 'Ah, Go on let yeh, and remember the  next time.'   Like myself, Kay was fooled by the pilots practical jokes and really believed the Captain, as they sat waiting in the hotel foyer for the arrival of the pickup taxis to take them to the airport, that the huge laundry baskets being carried out of the elevators were full of suicides.  That much at least was autobiographical but all the rest now - the romance with the dark-haired, devastatingly attractive married pilot, Captain Graham Pender...  Ah now,
on that subject my lips are sealed.  Go ahead and read it for yourself and draw  your own conclusions!  
Up Up and Away is available on Kindle

Friday, February 21, 2014

Where does writing inspiration come from.

When I started writing my brother used say, 'Use your experiences, it's all grist to the mill!'  How true, for a writer everything is valuable. If someone passes your gate wearing a yellow hat replace the brown hat your character is wearing with that yellow one.  For the yellow hat is real and believable, haven't you just seen someone wearing it passing your gate? In my childhood my best friend's mother used call us in from play to give us cups of milk.She was kindly and motherly and virtually adopted me in summertime and I would sit down to picnic meals with them all.  They had a lovely house and they always made me very welcome. My friend sometimes gave me the loan of her second best teddy bear and I was delighted to take him home with me for the night, there's even a photo still about somewhere of the pair of us cuddling 'our' toys.

Sometimes we did our homework at the big dining-table in their house, our heads - hers dark, mine fair - bent over our books. Now and then we would quarrel and once I got up in a huff to go home but I was too small to get my coat down from the hook . Her older brother took pity on me, he lifted it down and opened the front door for me  too, the latch was beyond reach of my  small fingers.  When years later my five year old son's friend was visiting, the pair of them had a disagreement and I came upon the little chap in the hall, angry and frustrated,desperately trying to get out the front door. Alas, he wasn't tall enough to reach the catch. With a sense of deja vu I t watched him tearfully running away home, before closing over the door with a sigh. Well, I remembered my own frustration  that evening long ago, my sense of injustice.

Those childhood memories were strongly with me when I wrote 'Like One of the Family, the story of an Irish family, of passion, tragedy and love. My friend's mother was the basis for the character of Dr Jane McArdle, who was always so kindly and careful of Claire, making her welcome in the McArdles' lovely house that was so like the home of my childhood friend, and including her in all their outings and holidays, as though she were truly one of their family.  But there the resemblance ended. In the book Eddie McArdle, who abused Claire and whose culpable actions sparked off the double tragedy that devastated their family, bore no relation at all to my friend's father who was the nicest and kindliest family man you could ever hope to meet.

But the inspiration was there though, right from my early childhood days, and by letting my imagination free to wander I weaved a 'what if' story around the characters and circumstances managing to produce a book that was dramatic, tender and, at times, heart-breaking. 'Like One of the Family' is now available on Kindle.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

House-owning obsession or dream?

It's only natural wanting to own your own home, everyone can identify with that. Some people spend their whole lives planning and saving for it but it never happens. Or else, it comes too late for them to be able to enjoy it. Some people search for their dream house until it becomes an obsession but that's another story now.  Growing up, our rented house was a bone of contention between my parents and in later years it was a story I felt compelled to write, giving it, simply enough, the title 'The House'. My mother hated paying rent and she took it as a personal affront that my father went off briskly on the first of each month to pay our landlady. She would have happily left 'the old biddy' to stew a few days longer but my father was a very law-abiding, courteous man and wouldn't have dreamed of making her wait for what was, after all, her money. His punctiliousness was the cause of discord between my parents but the way things turned out my father had the last word and my mother cause to thank him for bringing about a happy ending to what gradually became an obsession with her. An unexpected legacy and a howling gale (which blew out the front windows one night), marked the beginning of mother's campaign to get the landlady to sell us the house.  It was to be a long and weary battle. From month to month the old woman changed her mind as well as her asking price. For a brief period negotiations ceased. She was keeping the house for her son, she said, she might even decide to live in it herself.  My mother wasn't having any. 'We have rights too,' she said darkly, and after a brief lapse into her house-owning blues, she would return more vigorously than ever to the fray.. Looking back I think the fight to get the better of the stubborn old woman was what my mother enjoyed the most and the realisation of her house-owning dream only secondary to this. Of course, the beauty of being a writer you can shape your story any way you want, but I wrote my mother's house-owning obsession the way it was. It is only now so many years later that I see all kinds of different aspects to the affair, not least my mother's own stubbornness and intractability.  But that's the way with life, it's only with time and maturity you begin to see the bigger picture.. The House' is one of 18 stories in my collection 'The Mask and Other Stories' and available on Kindle.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Can life imitate art?.

Can life imitate art is a question that is sometimes posed?  In my experience it sometimes can although I wasn't the one who witnessed it in action. Rather, it was my long-suffering, saintly husband who used to regularly do the 'Monica Run' - as we'd got in the habit of calling it - the drive across the city to collect my mother from the elderly people's home she resided in and bring her back to spend the day with us. As the short story was my first love and I'd already had some success in writing for the BBC it wasn't long before I found myself exploring this theme in 'The Usual Arrangement' (see my story collection 'The Straw Hat and Other Stories' on Kindle). In it an elderly woman, waiting for her son to call on Christmas Day, becomes confused when he's late and begins to wonder if he is coming  at all. Believing he has forgotten all about her or, worse still, her daughter-in-law has turned him against her, she sadly goes into the dining-room to join the other old ladies and eat her Christmas dinner. Some years after this story was broadcast the identical scene was replayed right down to the tiniest detail in real life. There my mother sat at the dining-table on Christmas Day, still in her hat and coat, the paper crown balanced on her head, the cracker in her hand ready to pull with her neighbour as her contrite son-in-law hastened forward to bear her away to join us all around the family dinner table. It wasn't a story of mine that she ever read but she, who in her heyday had always shown such kindly hospitality to the elderly, would most certainly have appreciated it!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dawn flights and strong black coffee.

My first awareness of Dawn London flights in my teens was the roar of the Viscount passing over our house, on the city northside, as I lay warm and snug in bed.  Sometimes I felt a slight unease though - the engines sounded so loud, the aircraft so low in the sky  - that I feared it would land in the back garden as I had dreamed on more than one occasion. But I was determined to become an air hostess and knew I needed to rid myself of such notions. When the time came and I became one of the 'glamour' girls those Dawn Londons weren't high on my Wish List nor on anyone else's either; everyone wanted Paris/Romes and the chance to stroll by the Trevi Fountain, tossing coins and making wishes. One thing sticks out in my mind past rising in the dark, applying  full makeup and getting to the door before the crew-car driver hit the bell and woke the house, was companionably sharing strong, hot, black coffee in the galley with the other early risers and enjoying a natter before the passengers boarded. It was fun living it, fun writing it. See my book Up Up and Away on Kindle. Ah, those were the days!