Monday, March 24, 2014

Remembering Tuskar Rock and the St. Phelim.

Our first child was two days old and I was watching television in Mount Carmel Nursing Home when the tragic news of the crash of the Aer Lingus Viscount St Phelim flashed on the screen.  How well I remembered that aircraft. I must have flown on it a good number of times. Indees, my very first  flight out of hostess training was on a Viscount - a gruelling duty known as a London/Shannon, with four legs of a journey, forty minute turnarounds and no time to eat in all that  long day. 

For ten months before marriage I had flown the Atlantic with two trips each week to New York and a four day trip to Chicago every so often. But the tragic plane crash off Tuskar Rock brought it home to me how easily I could have been one of that ill-fated crew had the timing been different and I still flying European routes.  Deeply emotional, I remember thinking I knew every mile of that route. In air miles I had walked  the cabin many times over and it gave me a certain affinity with the stricken crew. 

Today as I flew on an Aer Lingus Airbus 320 to Malaga I was very conscious of the significance of today's date. I know I wasn't the only one who would have been marking this forty-sixth anniversary. So many other flight crew would have been aware too, remembering with varying degrees of affection and regret those former colleagues, not to mention the grieving families and friends of passengers and crew. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Forget housework and keep writing!

We've heard of kitchen-sink writers and I have to say when I first started writing many years ago I used write short stories, first of all in my head and then on the kitchen counter top, while stirring the lunchtime soup.With the children home for the long school holidays each summer and my brothers visiting from abroad not much writing got done during those months..  There were benefits, however, from the enforced time away from the computer, come September when the schools opened again I soon got back in the swing and wrote my quota of words each day; and what's more with a new zest.

In those days I was writing regularly for the BBC and, with two broadcasts a year, was pleased to find that  I had plenty of fresh ideas for stories. I took advantage of a few hours each morning when the house was empty, or as good as, with maybe a baby napping upstairs, to make the most of my free time before heading off to collect the older children from school or kindergarten.  Of course there was still the housework to get through, meals to be prepared, but stories went on writing themselves in my head as I tackled the beds and there was no one about to remark on  'mad mothers' or 'ditzy daughters'  when mouthing sentences aloud or experimenting with dialogue - not that such a word as 'ditzy' was in vogue in those years.

In more recent years chairing an Irish PEN literary evening in the United Arts Club.Anne Enright was the guest author and I listened with interest to her views on housework but it was her entranced  expression as she spoke that made even more impression upon me than her words as she told her audience. 'The car or the kitchen floor will require washing soon again but when you write a story you have it for life.'

Great argument I thought for getting on with your novel or play.  May we all be so clear-sighted!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Are writers the best judge of their own works?

As writers we all like to think this book we are writing now will be our greatest - our major opus!  But at the end of our writing life which book or artistic creation I wonder will we  wish to be remembered by.

 In the 19th century Thomas Hardy wrote sensitive, deeply moving and memorable books on love, infidelity and betrayal, as well as the anguish and frustration suffered by labouring men with bright enquiring minds but without the financial independence to pursue the academic lives they craved.  Hardy's novels were ahead of his time, offending Victorian sensibilities and showing up the bigotry and hypocrisy of the age he lived in.  To my mind his novels were his best work and the world is far richer for such outstanding works of literature. But poetry was Hardy's first love - he was a poet by choice; a novelist by necessity - and it was for his verse that he wished to be revered and remembered.

Michael Farrell's masterpiece 'Thy Tears Might Cease' was published after his death only because in his lifetime he held on to it fearing it was not good enough for publication.  There is A.J. Cronin's best-selling  'Hatter's Castle' which the novelist's wife rescued from the bonfire and sent off to a publishing house on his behalf. But sadly not so fortunate was  John Kennedy Toole whose fine book 'Confederacy of Dunces' gained fame and recognition too late for its despairing author.

The acclaimed singer, Count John McCormack, set great store on his operatic arias and very little on his Irish ballads and yet it was those simple ballads so beautifully sung that were the most popular and best loved of all his works, not only in his lifetime but standing the test of time to the present day.

Does this mean that writers and artists are not the best judge of their own work or can it be in our continual quest for perfection we do not see or value what is already there?.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Good Ebook reviews from South Carolina

On checking out my Ebooks on #Kindle I  was really pleased to see good reviews from America for my collection of rural short stories The Straw Hat and Other Stories  Happily these stories are finding favour with Irish Americans abroad and bringing a glow to the hearts of those from the 'old country' and making them feel closer to home for the first time in years. These  are 21 short stories about life and love in Irish provincial towns; some of the stories depict an age that has long since gone.

When my father was growing up in the country there was a boxbed in the kitchen - an old wooden bed with a sliding door - and my great grandfather used sleep in it; sometimes to my great grandmother's annoyance he would smoke his clay pipe in there with the partition closed.  What my father told me of these years inspired me to write the story called The Boxbed - about a little boy and his grandfather, of the great affection between them and all the stories the old man used tell the child about the Red Branch Knights and Cuchulann and Oisin. But after the grandfather dies a man comes to the farm to demolish the bed and Paschal realises that his beloved grandfather is never coming back.

In The Straw Hat an old woman decides that this is her last year dressing the itinerant brides and the pick of her bridal collection, donated by the village people, is a beautiful straw hat surrounded by tiny red roses. When a young itinerant girl comes to the door looking for milk for her sister's baby she sees the hat and falls in love with it. Mammy Donovan urges her to try it on and it suits her so well that she lets her keep it, reminded of her own teens when she had set her heart on a straw hat that arrived in a parcel from America but was given to an older sister.

Many people in the Fifties used look forward with delight to the 'parcel' from America and I know my family was no exception.  Sometimes there would be a frilly party dress - maybe not quite the style we were used to in Ireland but very pretty all the same.  I got my first pair of shorts when I was eight years old and felt very self-conscious wearing them out to play. I can still remember imagining everyone was staring at me as I sauntered down the road but they were probably  not thinking of me at all.  No one wants to draw attention to themselves at that age nor to be seen wearing something so different to what other children were wearing - despite the influence of Hollywood and what we saw on  the movies.

Style versus voice.

Much is said to aspiring writers about finding their voice, as well as advice about not falling into the trap of imitating their favourite authors. But of course nearly everyone cuts their teeth in this way and soon moves on. Experimentation is not a bad thing if it leads you to finding not only your voice but yourself.  To me voice would seem to be more a reflection of the writer's personality - witty, wry, pedantic - and not to be confused with style, which is a more polished form of expression.

 At the  age of ten or eleven Enid Blyton's school stories held a certain fascination for me.  I was one of a big family and had never been to a boarding school and these stories depicted a delightful, other world of perpetual midnight feasts and high jinks in the dorm. I amused myself and my classmates by writing an Irish version of The Upper Fourth  at Mallory Towers. Imitation I agree but  it served as an introduction to fiction-writing at an early age. Another writer, even more satisfying and exciting, was E. Nesbit who wrote Five Children and It and The Railway Children- the most famous of her well-written, well-loved stories . She created a magical atmosphere, introduced intriguing, sometimes strangely-spoken, characters like  Mouldiwarp and an ancient sand-fairy called Sammy who lived in the gravel pit, as well as the Ugly-Wuglies,  a jumble of innocent-looking umbrellas hanging on the hallstand who metamorphed in The Enchanted Castle into a bunch of pursuing Nasties  intent on harming their fleeing victims. Enthralling page-turners from an author who had undoubtedly found not only her voice but her distinctive style too.

There are numerous styles all proclaimed as high art and, as the word suggests, they are literary and containing a certain elegance.  The real stylist is born not made but thankfully good style can be acquired.  Much of it can be learned by studying the works of famous authors. Style is a unique way of expressing what you wish to say, often it is beautifully written prose as in the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Updike.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez uses humour that is often black, bizarre or sheer fantasy,  his imaginative vision, his mystical and poetic descriptive passages that could never be mistaken for the work of any other writer are  wonderfully evocative, and his endings often pure joy as in Love in the time of Cholera.  .