Monday, November 29, 2010

Mary Byrne's X Factor

I'm not a great television watcher. I watch 'Emmerdale' occasionally, 'Casualty' on a Saturday night, and sometimes 'Holby City' on a Tuesday. I avoided all the Big Brother and Celebrity Get Me In, Out or roundabout type shows like the plague. The only draw back to this was the fact that I hadn't got the faintest idea what my fellow tea-breakers were talking about for years. But I must admit that I usually watch the X Factor if there is an Irish interest (once Casualty is over).

And by God do we have an Irish interest this year. Mary Byrne for me symbolises all that is positive, life-affirming and above all resilient about this little island of ours. That lady is giving it welly, cheered on by Louis Walsh and every man, woman and child in Ireland. Mary is single-handedly cheering us all up - it's on a par with your county team winning the All-Ireland despite being broke and bloody freezing - actually it's better than that.

I wonder do I identify with Mary because we are the same age-group and from similar backgrounds. I learned today that she too lost her mother many years ago and like me still misses her Mam. Mary only started to really flex her vocal chords in recent years (although she always sang) as I only started to find my writing voice, after years and years of voracious reading. Perhaps both of us were building up our words/songs until we felt brave enough to throw everything at it.

Son#1 sings and plays guitar and he and 'the band' are in a local competition on Thursday. I teased them that they are on their way to be Ireland's 2011 entrants for X Factor and their eyes lit-up. I see the same light in Mary's eyes - the light of self belief and drive. Maybe we could all take a leaf from our teenagers and Mary Byrne. We have today, let's get through it. And tomorrow? Well, we'll cope with that then.

Hard work, determination and above all self-belief and we can have an Ireland we can yet again be proud of.

Lecture over.Carpe Diem and........ G'wan ye gud ting, Mary.

P.S. I wonder if I e-mailed Simon Cowell would he make sure that Mary's performance next week doesn't clash with Casualty?!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The homes of Donegal

Just back from an overnight in my beautiful Donegal. We were all up to celebrate the birthday of one of the Cunningham clan. All twelve of Teresa's children were there, coming from all over Ireland, from London and most especially from Chicago. It is only the second time in twenty years that they have all been together. It made for a very special night.

The drive up was fabulous - I normally groan at the thought of three and a half hours trapped in the car with my family but for once the lads didn't squabble and we were all stunned into silence by the beauty of the early evening sunset over the magnificent scenery. I commented that any tourist arriving into Ireland and travelling by car towards the Northwest would have been gobsmacked by the beauty.

The Cunningham clan gathered and gathered and gathered. The food was top class, the wine flowed, the laughter was great and of course the singing started. At one stage Teresa got to her feet and we assumed she wanted her bed . Not that lady. Dancing she wanted! As did her lovely sister and her 94 year old neighbour Brid, I danced with Brid and I swear to God the woman - a tiny wiry woman - has the grip of a thirty year old man. Unbelievable. They breed them different up in Donegal for sure.

It was great to see all the cousins, I think there were twenty of them there, all growing into fine bright young men and women. And yet, I couldn't help but wonder how many of them will have to leave this island, another generation - yet again- in order to find work? How many of them, God forbid my own boys, will end up rearing their families on foreign soil? How many times will they all be able to gather together in the one house at the same time, to celebrate a birthday, a wedding or to mourn the loss of a loved family member. It tinged the night with a little sadness for me. I hope all those cousins will look back on last night with great fondness, a night to be laughed over for years.

The making of good memories for our children is so important. Whenever any of us feel a little troubled remembering nights of good craic, company and particularly the complete acceptance of those who love us can soothe our troubles somewhat. And that is the thing I will carry with me always about the Cunningham clan of Donegal. In every home I visit there I have never felt anything but love and welcome. I have been a very lucky woman to have been accepted by these very special people. I LOVE YIZ LADS!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The ? Factor - NaNoWrimo style

When I started NaNoWriMo ten days ago I was fully enthused by and committed to the project and stared rattling off my opus. It was ( note WAS) about a woman who is confined to a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt and the relationships she forms while there - particularly with one poor woman, christened 'Maddser' by the other patients. I thought I had the whole novel plotted, was happy with my two main characters and promised myself that this would be it. The novel that would finally be published.


A tangent grew into another character. A young female teenager who was a participant in X Factor and ended up in the psychiatric hospital. This young woman fascinated me and I started to explore her back story. I met her mother, her grandmother, her childhood friend, the people in her neighbourhood, her school. The local newsman who became obsessed with her and her quest for fame. Her agent, manager, the judges on the show, the other contestants. Of course I can't call it X Factor as I'm quite sure the title is copyrighted so I'm calling it ? Factor as I wait for it to title itself. You all realise of course that this initial part of the process has absolutely nothing to do with me. It is only in the edits, all 10 to 12 of them, that my skills are called for. I just sit here, giving myself tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome while my characters tell their tales. Then I have to knit all those tales together in a manner that will grip a reader.

So Maddser and my depressed first heroine have been thrown to one side and I am now writing this X Factor contestant's story. It's bloody fascinating, even though I never watch the show I would have to have been confined on a desert island with no access to any media to be unaware of the phenomenon that is this television programme. I suppose what fascinates me is the drive that must be part of the psyche of anyone who would put themselves up week after week for rejection. Jesus. At least politicians only have to do it every four years and most of the rest us can rely on an interview at a max of one a year in order to keep out chosen jobs.

My character is fragile like us all as are her family. What impact could something like this have on ordinary lives? At the moment the book is meandering all over the place ( much like my heroine's troubled mind) but I am actually enjoying the process.

Maddser will have to wait to be released from her incarceration ( unless someone wants 8,000 words on the subject!) until I let this young lady either win, or lose.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Birth - Life - Death

The death of a child is always devastating. Not just to the child’s parents but to everyone who hears of it. A child’s death is just against the natural cycle of things.

Hearing of the death of Micheal Martin’s (an Irish politician) seven year old daughter recently reminded me of something the American poet and essayist Thomas Lynch wrote.

Thomas Lynch is an undertaker, funeral director or what ever title one confers on those who look after our dead. So he is surrounded by death in the midst of his life. In the rearing of his family. His constant proximity to death - although he would point out that he’s no nearer to it than any of us but his handling of the dead gives him - we assume some inspired insight on what it is to be dead. It doesn’t of course. It does however make him think more about it than the rest of us probably ever do. This is all a long winded way of quoting him below. He says it so much better than I ever could (from ‘The Right Hand of the Father’ in ‘Undertaking – essays by Thomas Lynch’). I paraphrase him slightly in the second paragraph.

‘’When we bury the old, we bury the known past, the past we imagine sometimes better than it was, but the past all the same, a portion of which we inhabited. Memory is the overwhelming theme, the eventual comfort.”

“But burying infants we bury the future, unwieldy and unknown, full of promises and possibilities outcomes punctuated by our rosy hope. The grief has no borders, no limits, no known ends…….Some sadnesses are permanent. Dead babies do not give us memories. They give us dreams.”

I pray God I never have to bury my dreams.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

And we're off...

NaNoWriMo and me fingers are blistered from rattling out words already. NaNoWriMo for those of you not in the know is National Novel Writing Month. A couple of students in the States (where else!) started it some years back and you sign up for it and attempt to churn out the bones of a book in a month. So there’ll be no blogging, surfing or Facebooking from me for a while.

November is a great month for it. The clocks have changed, the dark and dismal evenings are in and if you have access to a computer and can carve out a few hours for yourself most days the target of fifty odd thousand words in the month is attainable. Of course a lot of what you write is tripe ( or mine is) and will never last edits. But it is a great way of kickstarting that novel you knew you always had in you.

The bulk of the first draft of my first novel was written during NaNoWriMo 2007, I didn’t sign up last year as I was committed to ghostwriting a book and although I started in 2008 I fell off at the first hurdle!

The commitment to put your behind on a chair and write for a few hours does pay off. I felt a great sense of achievement that first year and went on to finish the novel and polish it up and send it off. It died there but I did it, I wrote a book. Maybe this year’s attempt will pay off. I think this novel may be better as I have two under my belt at this stage and understand narrative flow a little better. I’ll be churning it out anyway and it may join other stuff under the bed or it may not.

If you never write it it’ll never be published so it’s worth a try.