Sunday, January 22, 2012

I need your opinion.......

Ok. I need help. I've been faffing about for the last year with two novels and several unfinished stories and I really need input from others to channel me in one direction only. Both novels will be written because the characters are very much alive to me now but realistically I need to follow one set for a few months and see what happens to them. I have an ending and a beginning for one so that'll probably be the first one I'll write. Here is the core, the pitch of the story - what I need to know is-would your read it? Do you like books that are set in the past? In environment outside of your own, Do you like love stories? Stories of unrequited love in particular and tales of lost opportunities?

My working title is The Daisy-Killer and it is a fictionalised version of some parts of the life of my grandfather Tom Kennedy. Family are all ok with this. Both Tom and my grandmother Evelyn are dead as are their siblings and unfortunately so too are two of their children. Tom was born in Dublin and in the mid 1930's he married a woman from Edinburgh in Scotland, no-one has any record of where they met but I have him taking a trip to Scotland on holiday and meeting Evelyn, my grandmother. After a distant courtship by letter she comes to Dublin and they marry. They had three children - very well spaced. Evelyn found sex horrific - her frigidity stemming from her unbelievable tough up bringing in the tenement houses of Edinburgh and Leith and a mind that was dogged by depression for all of her life. I'm speculating as to the underlying causes of Evelyn's dislike of sex of course, my mother told me my grandmother was frigid but I have no way of knowing if that is true.

Tom settled for he had - he was too decent a human being and devout a Catholic to do otherwise. He worked as a stone man (a typesetter today)and was never out of work. But it was a trade - not a profession which really didn't make it easy for them to buy the beautiful three bedroomed house on Glandore Road off Griffith avenue, this was about 7 years after they married. It necessitated a big mortgage even though they had saved a large deposit thanks to Evelyn's thrifty nature and determination to have this big beautiful house. Tom liked to gamble and he loved a pint - nothing to excess but he really didn't have the money for either addiction. So when, in the early 1950s, an opportunity arose for him to earn really great money on the Detroit Free Press he grabbed the chance. His oldest daughter was already in the States and was courting a Dublin boy over there, his second daughter was in her late teens and working and his son had just started secondary school. He lived in Detroit for five years - sending home money often. He only came home twice for a holiday in that time. My mother married in 1959 and I know
he was home by then, he worked with Smurfit's Print and Packaging until he retired. Betting on a few horses and drinking a few pints. Sitting in with Evelyn watching TV when she wasn't too depressed to be in bed. He died of a heart attack in a single bed in the boxroom of my grandmother's little suburban palace in 1976.

The title comes from something my mother told me. Evelyn hated daisies, they ruined the look in her lawn and every summer she followed Tom around the garden pointing them out as he sprinkled weedkiller on them. One summer day, a year before he died, my mother was visiting them, sitting out the back enjoying the sunshine as the went about their daisy killing. A plane passed over head and Mam said Tom lifted his face to the sky and she never ever saw such a look of yearning on anybody's face. She knew he wished he was elsewhere. Mam was an inveterate romantic and that look combined with my imagination is populating the story (see, I've already made up my mind!)So in the novel I'm giving Tom a love affair in Detroit - a passionate affair with a feisty American journalist. But will I let Tom stay with his imagined lover in the States instead of coming home to this god-forsaken bog after his five years? Or should I impregnate that lover and give him an even bigger moral dilemma? Is it right to change history for the sake of a story? I suppose it is - once I'm not claiming it as fact.

I have to go now folks . I've a book to write. BTW the other book is about a man from a Pakistani family in Limerick who falls in love with a sexy young Kildare woman and is ostracized by his family. It doesn't help that his love is a witch! But I can't find the ending on that one that isn't totally corny ( based on fact but I need a denouement - maybe that one is a screenplay!) Then I have this other idea about a young Irish girl who is of Eastern European extraction and wins an X Factor type competition which eventually destroys both her and her family. Then I have this idea about....see, this is why nothing actually gets done!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Today - and staying in it

There has been a lot of talk lately on radio and tv and a lot of written articles on mental health issues. I heard Tony Bates yesterday talking to Marian Finucane about our attitude to depression and mental health issues. I love listening to Dr Bates - he is intelligent and empathetic and I always read his piece in the Irish Times medical supplement on Tuesdays. I have found myself in much of Dr Bates' work - he has an uncanny knack for making me see myself, accept myself and move on. His new book is called 'Depression:A Common Sense Approach' and I highly recommend it to anyone who either suffers from depression or lives with someone who is a sufferer.

Those of you who know me well know I have battled with depression and mental health issues for decades. I'm now thankfully at the stage where I manage my illness well, recognise it coming and I haven't had any serious bouts for a number of years. I used my own experiences in writing 'The Heron's Flood' and living with depression is a thread running through the book. Ironic that that most awful of feelings rewarded me creatively in the end - mind you I'd prefer a no depression no writing life - or would I? Are we ever fully content and accepting of ourselves?

In recent years I have used both meditation and mindfulness as a way to keep myself in the present moment - trying not to worry about the future as I can't influence it or dwelling on the past which I cannot change. My mother's' favourite prayer was the alcoholic's one (she used to say 'why do they get all the good ones!)

'God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change
To change the things I can change
And the wisdom to know the difference'

Whether one believes in a God or Higher Power is irrelevant. It is really a prayer to self - a promise to at least try to be peaceful, loving and wise, to walk away from inner turmoil and accept what comes our way. Surely something we all could strive for on a daily basis. Combine that prayer with half an hour's meditation or mindfulness - daily if possible - try Jon Kabat-Zin You tube link here to get a flavour

Dr Kabat-Zin's work is fantastic. When I discovered mindfulness it gave me back myself. After twenty years of medication and psychiatrists I finally found the answer, the 'why' of my depression. There is no why - it just is and it is within me and only I can lift myself out of it. And that can only be done if I accept myself as I am, acknowledge my bad points and try to let my good self win, and breathe.

Above all mindfulness can be done at any time and in any place. If you are feeling stressed or anxious -or even if it is only people getting on your nerves-just stop. Stop for half a minute, breathe, in out in out,breathe, be in the moment; befriend your mind and let it work unflurried by anything other than what it has to do in that moment.