Life lesson, from a movie

I couldn’t put a word on it.  The something that changed in me after my brother died.  The something that was not grief.

We all know grief.  No, that is not right.  We don’t all know grief.  Grief is only open to a special member’s club.  Those that have loved, and lost.  Some might claim to think they know what grief is.  Sympathise with you.  But until they have actually experienced it for themselves, then, no they don’t know.  They don’t belong to ‘the club’.

grief

I was non member and used to nod my head and rub someone’s arm, or hug them, thinking I understood when they spoke about a lost loved one. (We are not talking pets here – for I have grieved those too)  But I didn’t really know what is was to lose some one close.  And then, without having to pay any dues, or tick any box of terms and conditions, I became an automatic member.  February 2 2016.  A month short of the full 12 months subscription.  Oh, didn’t they tell you? It renews every 12 months.  Actually, it renews with every memory blip.

Anyone can look up grief, and learn what to expect:  the five stages of grief, tips on grieving, bereavement counseling, there is even a quiz on grief  But there is very little on the joy of grief.

WAIT – what?!  The joy of grief?

confused puppy

Yes, you see that is the bit that took me by surprise too.  And I couldn’t quite put my finger on how to pin it down, how to name it, until I saw the movie ‘Collateral Beauty’.  (No, we are not talking Arnold Schwarzenegger here, that is Collateral Damage and a whole different movie.)  This one is ‘Collateral Beautywith a fabulous cast of Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightly, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet…. to name a few.   In short, the movie follows a man (Will Smith) who copes with his daughter’s death by writing letters to Time, Death and Love.

collateral beauty

For me it was a sort of ‘Love Actually’ meets ‘A Christmas Carol’ with a ‘totally did not see that coming’ twist at the end.  I loved it.  Loved it.  The movie critics couldn’t help but point out the “fundamental flaws” but  I was more than happy to suspend my disbelief and go with it.

I digress.  Back to the ‘Something’.  Collateral Beauty.  That is what made me sit up and go ” yes, that is it!”

You see, after my brother died, yes I grieved, but  I was also woken up to this new Something.  I found myself circling the wagons, life became about the non material stuff.  The first two years I definitely grieved, (it took me a long time to be able to say ‘Fergus is dead”) and went through the different “stages”.  Equally I became obsessed with Time (realising, it is short), Death  (is it really the end?) and Love (“better to have loved and lost, then not loved at all”).

There are some great quotes in  the movie:

As for Collateral Beauty in my reality –  I no longer cared about money, stuff and goals.  My focus became much more inwardly and examining the small stuff.  Death and grief showed me how vulnerable I was.  And as a result I started to appreciate all the things that I have, as opposed to wanted.  Appreciated what was around me.  Literally.  I would stop and take time to watch an ant march or a hen scratch and peck.  Clouds became art forms.  I became mindful.  Started to see the beauty in everything.  No, that’s not quite right.  Would look for the beauty in everything.  When I walked, I was ON THE WALK.  My head wasn’t in the office or at home thinking about dinner.  Before my brother died, I didn’t do that.  I didn’t see the beauty.  No, again, that it not quire right.  I saw beauty, but I didn’t look for it.  Now I do.  Mostly it finds me.   The death of my brother opened my mind, and my heart.  It is as if it is the payment I received  having loved my brother:    Collateral Beauty.

When I started to research it, of course, I found lots on it.  Here is another piece where it is expanded and others contribute to their take on it.  And while it it is not referenced, but I believe this ted talk touches on it too,  for through vulnerability we become more connected.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY – what was pledged to me as a result of Death, Time & Love

It is a gift I have been given, in a way…

a free gift in conjunction with joining the new

‘Special Member’s Club’.

Are you a member?

Do you see the Collateral Beauty?

moon

 

A Meeting Place for Kings

Walking is good for clearing the mind, body and for writing.  I like to use the time to think about my various projects (I am currently working on book 3 in my K-Girl’s series) maybe carry out some research and to work out any blocks I might have in plot ideas etc.

Recently I had the pleasure of a few days at the Osprey Hotel in Naas, Co. Kildare.  My husband booked us in for a few days post Christmas and it proved a great meeting point for his family.  He is one of six,  and with spouses and children in tow, we were a large gathering.  With most of his relatives living in the Dublin/Kildare/Portlaois environs, the Osprey proved a fab meeting point with swimming pool and carvery and private space –  the location proved hugely popular and successful with the Little clan!

osprey-hotel

We were booked in for a few days but on a budget so I didn’t get to use the wonderful looking Spa in the hotel.  A gal can only do so much in any hotel room/pool so I used the time to get out and about instead.

I had never been to Naas before.  Well, I lie, I have been through it on many an occasion driving from west Cork to Dublin,  back in the days when the old road went through the town itself.  But I have never spent some time in the actual place.  To me (forgive my ignorance) but I used to think it was a drive-through-mid-land town that had no redeeming features.  How wrong was I!

I made some wonderful discoveries.

Firstly, did you know the full name of Naas is actually ‘Nás na Ríoch’ from the Irish meaning ‘meeting place of the Kings’?  Now I am not going to go down a whole history avenue here, so for any one who would like to find out more, see here

I have a lousy sense of direction so my first wander was to get a feel of the place and where the Osprey was in relation to the town itself.  A 2 minute stroll down Devoy Road  found me at a junction and, grateful for some pointer signs, I was soon discovering the Naas Self-guided Historic Town Walk.

Within another few minutes, I found myself at the Harbour, and nearby Library.  The library was closed due to the holidays, but what a fab location.  Opposite was the old Market House (1810) that has planning posted to convert it to a restaurant and retail spot.  My imagination was reeling of past times and how busy the harbour must have been between canal boats docking and merchants conducting business back in the day.  Now it is a scenic walking/cycling spot where you can loop around the town and follow the canal.  Yes, the canal.

canal cranemerchant house.png

The Grand Canal I will have you know! Yes, it links via Sallins, to the Dublin Grand Canal.

I am a sea bird myself, having been raised and sailed along the Wild Atlantic Way so I am not familiar with canals and the various Waterways of Ireland.  But I was keen to find out more.  There are detailed historic notice boards along the trail that explain the various points of interest so I was learning as I walked.

The day was overcast but dry and with no commitments for the next few hours I took off on my own and found some right gems on route.

I am a sucker for old cemeteries and grave yards,  and like to take a moment to walk among the headstones and decipher what names I can.  (There is that part of me that thinks if I speak the name on the grave stone that their spirit is somewhere else smiling on hearing their name spoken once more.) But this old site had little in the line of names, most graves marked with a simple stone, which is usually a sign of a very very old grave and/or paupers/famine grave.  Towards the end of the canal I came across the old lodge house and wondered too at the people that once lived here and their role played at the ope of the estate beyond the gates.

The canal loop brought me around past the Abbey bridge and various canal locks.abbey bridge canal

In an hour or so I found myself back in town and in St David’s Church yard.  Again I had to walk among the tombstones and spotted a few unusual ones in the mix.

From left to right – ‘Atkinsons’ (forget the dieting?), ‘In Memorian’ – with a list of those from Naas whose bodies were never recovered.  Includes a Bishop (Thomas Leverous), a highwayman (Swift Nix), a pamphleteer/controversialist (Stephen Radcliffe) and a Martyr (Peter Higgins)! Next is a father and daughter tombstone where life springs yet (snow drops peeping nearby), and finally, what looks like a pirates grave with its skull and cross bones but is that of a very old gravestone dating from 1723.

But my favourite experience has to be of a little old cobbler’s shop.  It is a mid terrace dusty looking place where the trade is only revealed as a result of this little notice in the window.  I figured ‘Bill Glennon‘ has a good sense of humour and I wondered at his story too.

It was only on passing the door that I spotted a portrait in the next window and thought how nice to put a face to the name.  I was bent over taking a photo when  along came a pedestrian.  I was about to politely move out of the way when I saw that the man approaching me was the very same in the picture.

‘Tis yourself!’  says I, pointing at the window.

‘Tis’, says he, laughing.

I introduced myself and we shook hands and got chatting.  It turns out that the cobbler business has been there for over a hundred years and Bill is the last of his people in the trade.

‘Is there not anybody in the family, or maybe an apprentice, that might be interested in carrying it on?’  says I.

‘Ah, no,’ says he.  ‘It is a dying trade.  I have only the one, my son David,  and he has a good job in a bank in Dublin.’

Not to miss the opportunity, I asked Bill if I could take his photo next to his shop photo and he obliged.  It was only in our chatting that I glanced down at my phone to check if the camera was on that I noticed his shoes.  I couldn’t resist taking a sneaky shot!  Fab shoes Bill!

I didn’t get to complete the full historic trail and explore all that I might have liked so I look forward to returning to Naas and doing so.  I will make sure to pop in on Bill and see how he is getting on.

A Fresh New Look for K-Girls

Sincere apologies!  It has taken me much longer than expected.  I am delighted to report that book two, in my ‘Kylemore Abbey School’ series, is finally launched.

I find it hard to believe that book one, ‘K-Girls‘, was launched in 2013 and in today’s impulsive and impatient society, it has been a long wait for book two, ‘K-Girls Plus One‘.  Thank you all for your patience.

You might find it as interesting as I did, to see what famous authors took years or more to follow up with their sequels.  Not that I am not claiming to be famous by any means, but it is reassuring to know that I am not the worst when it comes to following up with the next book in a series!

To be honest, the loss of my brother did throw me for six, and I took two years to really recover from that (having written a memoir in between).  So I am only thrilled to hoot my own horn and announce that K-Girls Plus One is now available on Amazon.

You can download ‘K-Girls Plus One’ here.  For those that have yet to read book one, ‘K-Girls’, you can find it here

What I am most excited about are my new covers.

While I love, and appreciate, the work that Jonathon Parsons did on my original K-Girls  cover when launched back in 2013 (possibly now a collectors item??) , feedback from readers made me re-think the cover and it was decided that, I should take a different approach.

KGirls book cover

scintillating good read

 

As a result, I did my research and discovered  Irish illustrator, Fergal O’Connor

I asked Fergal to come up with a new cover for both, ‘K-Girls’, and ‘K-Girls Plus One’ so that they would be similarly themed and reflect the different plots.  Fair play to the young man as he took on reading both to get the ‘jist’ of the story line and then it was easy sailing for him to come up with these gems!  I have to say he went above and beyond though when it came to uploading covers for Amazon KDP/Create Space for self publishing as an e-book and paperback.  Both versions take a different format and tool and Fergal was super in taking that on too.

Thank you Fergal!

So at last, both books are available as ebooks AND as paperback with their fab new covers. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

It is worth saying here that I don’t plan to do a big media push on this as I have discovered that there are often snags that need to be sorted re Amazon and the product detail pages/promotions etc.  I am choosing instead to have a ‘soft’ launch and share the news with my existing fans and followers.  Next job then is to get my head around, and set up, some promotions on Amazon.  I think it is only fair that there is something in it for the readers that have been so patient to date!

By the way, some followers have asked me why the title ‘K-Girls Plus One’?

Let’s just say it all becomes clear on reading it!

Enjoy and of course, please please leave a book review.  They are gold when it comes to getting the book out there on Amazon. Thank you in advance!

 

Here’s to a new direction for 2018

It has been some time since I updated my blog – apologies for that.  Grief got in the way but I am pleased to report that I have some of my mo-jo back and am focusing once more on writing.

When my brother Ferg died,  in Feb 2016, I lost interest in creative fiction but did take up the pen to write a narrative memoir, ‘Overload’.  This was a whole new approach in a  different genre and writing style.  This new book, let’s just say, is an unusual one and may not be exactly a commercial fit.  It is experimental.   I hope it will find its way to the right publishing house.  With that goal in mind, I have submitted to some agents and am playing that awful waiting game….(watch this space)

In the mean time, the good news is that I have been given the go ahead by the community at Kylemore Abbey for  book 2 (‘K-Girls Plus One’) in my teen series, ‘K-Girls’  (I like to submit my drafts to the Community for review) and so once the copy-editing/proof reading is completed I will self-publish digitally in March/April.

In the mean time I thought I should give an update on a previous blog as I am delighted to report that I can now share proof that my the first in the series, ‘K-Girls’, did indeed reach its unusual destination.

How many authors can claim that their own book made it to the South Pole!

From here everything is looking up (get it?)

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Sayer Houseal holding a copy of ‘K-Girls’ @ the South Pole – where every direction is North!

My New Normal

Has it really been December since I last wrote?  My brother died at the beginning of February and this did throw me a bit.

Let’s just say I have been somewhat discombobulated.

fergus-ofarrell

Fergus O ‘Farrell:  30th June 1967- 2nd February 2016

Artist, composer, musician – big brother

 

Since the death of Ferg, I have found that my writing juices are just not flowing in the same way.  Well,  that is not entirely true;  it is my creative writing juices that have not been flowing.

I did take up journaling again and have found this quite therapeutic.

healing

In any case, I just wanted to try and reboot – start with updating a post.  If nothing else, I need to get myself back on the keyboard – life moves on.  Doesn’t it?

I think it is more about adjusting to a new normal.

My new normal.

calvin and hobbs

 

So I ask you to bear with me a while…….

reboot

 

Christmas Spirit

 

Seven more sleeps till Santa Clause for all children good and bold.  But my mind turns toward Ruth Stoker, will her true story  ever unfold?

Think back to December 1923, what was it like for a girl of fourteen?  All those miles away in Connemara, first term learning the life of a high society.

Was there a wonderful  atmosphere in the Castle, was it decorated there too?  Did a giant Christmas tree reach up to the atrium, baubles and candles glinting through?

castle christmas

 

Were your holiday plans simple?  To get home to your own bed.  Looking forward to time with your sisters and parents, time for  oogling Clearys window instead?  How happy I imagine your mother,  anticipating her baby girl home at last.  Putting aside society etiquette and hugging you fast.   Your father might be busy with his Surgery but no doubt he could fit in time for play ?  He might let you use with his Champion tennis racket, perhaps a family lunch at the club house a plan for one of the days?

fortnum-and-mason-christmas-window

 

How would your house greet you,  Number 23 Westland Row?  Would the lamp lights dance and flicker, beams of yellow all a glow?  Did you imagine a healthy wreath of green and red,  hanging on your front door.  The Georgian hallway full of festive cheer, with  holly and ivy garlands  sweeping the stairway to the floor.  Prisms of light dancing through the leaded glass on the landing, where faires hide with glee.   Had your parents placed any Christmas presents underneath the candle laden tree?

christmas tree

 

But you would never see that Christmas, nor sleep in your own bed once more. Never see Jesus placed in the manger of Saint Andrews  or hear their Christmas Day choir soar.

I  see you instead the week before Christmas, sick in your bed at Kylemore.  Feeling miserable,  weak and afraid, eyes nervoulsy darting toward the door.

caring for tb patient

 

At first, put down to a chest infection and the end of a long school term. The tolls of learning Latin and Music,  and elite school rules that were firm.  When the  infection took hold and got more serious, and scarlet droplets dotted your chin, were  travel plans home delayed and the local doctor called in?  They then treated you  for pneumonia but sure how could the ignorant have known ?  It was not only your life that was threatened, but the Community as a whole.

When did they finally move you, were you isolated, placed in an old Castle room?  Were the rest of the students sent home with an excuse of  Christmas holidays and prayers from Rome.

 

Was it the 17th when  you became too weak,  as the fever set in?  Did the scarlet droplets turn to blobs of betrayal,  as your lungs quickly deteriorated from within?  Modern medicine had yet to be discovered, and superstition and taboo your fate.  Was there a secret hush throughout the Abbey corridors? It is Galloping Consumption  – Alas!  too late.

consumption

 

Who bravily cared and wiped your brow , cleaned the blood from your blue lips?  Did your parents make it in time to your bedside, say their goodbyes, take your dying kiss?

romantic consumption

 

I know not what hour you slipped from this world.  By  the 18th you were gone.  To be buried in the nun’s cemetery, did the nun’s gather in prayer and sing some song?  Did you pass from this world to the next or decide to stay a while?  As they lowered you down into the clay, scattering  lime as was the style.

Who visited your grave to mourn you, who tendered the mound as it slowly sank?  Who placed the hand carved headstone, who do we have to thank?

Ruth Stoker grave stone

I see you  Ruth Stoker of 23 Westland Row, though I never knew you at all.  I can only imagine our friendship, as an original K-Girl.  Do you turn to face  us in Connemara where your spirit resides?  Do you turn to face the sunset beyond Diamond Hill or the Kylemore Lake sunrise?

 

2014-09-11 07.29.32

 

Here is to you Ruth Stoker and all the K-Girl’s besides.  Those, who the week before Christmas have left us, and those over the months and the years of tides .  How many smiles turned to sorrow?  Hearts broken across the miles?

Lay you all not forgotten,

Lay you loved all the while.

Remembering all K-Girls today

and forevermore besides.

candle of light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

K-Girls goes South

It was a first for the post office manager, Bridie Roycroft, in my West Cork village of Ballydehob.

bdehob post office

 

It’s not every day someone comes in looking to post something to the South Pole.  The North Pole is not an issue.  After all, postal delivery services have been sending mail to Santa for centuries.

But the South Pole?

The Irish post computerised system does not appear to recognise the address.

Little did I know I would be presenting a conundrum to the village post office when making enquiries into how much it would cost to post a small parcel to the American Base in Antarctica.

 

antartica

You see a friend has gone to the South Pole for the next 12 months.  Six of which will be spent in complete darkness.  Naturally I thought it would be nice to send him a small parcel.  I wanted to send him some light home Irish comforts like Barry’s Tea bags, packets of Knorr soup and Cadbury’s chocolate along with some family kid’s drawings.  And I thought why not include a copy of my book ‘K-Girls.’

 

There is a short window to post before  the November deadline to ensure the parcel arrives sometime in the next 12 months.  It has to get to New Zealand first and then wait for a weather window to fly post & provisions over. I think they call it “Operation Deep Freeze”.

Our family friend, a Texan, Sayer Houseal, has journeyed to the South Pole having been selected to work as a carpenter as a participant in the United States Antarctic Program.

 

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Sayer Goes South

 

We first met Sayer as a volunteer on Helpx.net in 2010– a site that matches families to travelers seeking bed and board in exchange for some help around the homestead.  (I like to think that If we can’t travel the world, let the world come to us.  We get some help around the place while sharing our home/Irish culture with worldwide visitors.  There is no exchange of money but lots in the line of culture, food and stories.)

Sayer stayed with us helping with garden and DIY projects over a number of weeks in that November and we have kept in touch ever since.  Over the years, Sayer has done much including volunteering as part of Habitat for Humanity and has also volunteered in Canada, Hawaii and other parts of the world.

But I think this stint in Antartica will be the toughest assignment yet.

I was happy to remind Sayer of his Irish roots and our Nation’s connection to the South through Tom Crean (explorer).  Sayer promises me that he is packing a copy of Shackleton’s memoir and so will get an insight into Crean’s part of the adventure.  I am not sure ‘K-Girls’ will be quite this 27-year old’s genre, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to send my own book to the South Pole.   After all, how often does an author get to do that?

tom crean

Sayer has a blog of his travels to date, and will continue to update on his Bottom of the Pole adventure.  It is a fascinating and fun read.  Give it a go.

As for the cost of sending the parcel from Ballydehob?  A few phone calls with An Post head office and it turns out it costs no more than posting it to the States.  The sense being that any Antartic mail  goes to the US first to link up with the military mail and then gets sent out through their internal system (via New Zealand)  along with all other US provisions.  So I decided to send two.  To be sure, to be sure.

I was worried that my parcels might not arrive before Christmas 2016 never mind Christmas 2015, and by sending two, there was a better chance of him at least getting one of them (I only sent one copy of K-Girls) but judging by Sayer’s most recent blog, I think getting mail is not a problem for him.

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Sayer’s got mail!

It is not clear yet if he has got my mail (I can’t make them out among the masses) but  I am hoping it will get there safe and sound.

As you can see he is a pretty popular guy.

You will have to take my word that this is a shot of Sayer at the South Pole

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where every step is North

 

I am secretly hoping his next South Pole photo will be him posing with a copy of K-Girls!

How cool would that be?!