I have found that at this time of year, there is a certain air of well,’ fed-up-ness’. Unless you have had the fortune to have had a winter holiday, or some good luck find you, this time of year is usually the point when the most of us are simply F-E-D up with the winter and are seeking change.
Didn’t the pagans have it right idea to mark the Spring Equinox – celebrating equal day and night – the tipping point as such – the winter definitely over and they could all look forward to longer and brighter days. Any excuse for a party. The Irish never really need one.
Now I understand why St Patrick might have chosen this time of year to come to Ireland and preach the new word – the pagans being a bit more receptive perhaps to hearing some new slant on what might save them, or curious to learn what the stranger amongst them might have to say. Sure if it meant walking to the cross roads and a beyond bit more, to hear what the ‘foreigner’ had to say, and we meet a few new people along the way, we might feel all the better for it! Patrick certainly gave a new perspective on things – and all with the use of a shamrock!
For some, the change in the weather is enough – for others it might be seeking a change in circumstances like a new job or moving house, or perhaps even a new relationship. And don’t we all love to see the snow drops surface and the daffodils bob. I have taken to looking to the skies for the swallows (a bit early but I still like to look)
In my years of acquired wisdom (and let me not fool myself, I will continue learning) I have found that when I can’t initiate the change – perhaps a new perspective is all that is needed.
Or then again, maybe it is not so bad what I have and that if I look at it from a different angle, I might see a brighter side?
My ever-the-wise brother, has always said
‘The man without shoes feels sorry for himself
until he meets the man without any feet.’
And he really means that when he says it (he is after all, physically disabled and unable to walk anymore)
When we were students in Kylemore, we would complain a lot this time of year. The term between Christmas and Easter always felt the longest. There wasn’t a whole lot to look forward to, and so classes would drag on, the food would appear all the more bland, the days all that bit colder and our teachers all that bit more annoying. We would all get a bit less tolerant of each other.
(scene from Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers)
There was many a girl that would escape the confines of the school walls to get out and explore the estate within the acceptable boundaries for some fresh air, for a change of pace.
At some point I took it upon myself to vary my route – I probably bounced it off a few friends, lets go this way for a change, or how about we go up that way, but for one reason or another, maybe even by choice, I ended up discovering new places to walk on my own.
I followed a stream once, wondering how far I could stay with it – climbing up the side of the mountain, climbing over rocks and roots of trees, meandering around boulders trying to see if I could find its’ source. That was when I discovered a nice nook on the side of the hill. It gave a stunning view back towards the castle. Facing West, I could see the tower of the Gothic poking through the trees, and the castle beyond, and the land sweep on to the Atlantic to the edge of the eye. I later discovered that this resting point is called Lorenzo’s point – where the son of Mitchell Henry used to frequent. It too, became one of my favourites.
Another of my favourite views, was the path that went up to the Mountain Lake. During our time in school (the 80’s), it was a popular enough walk. But I found over the years that less and less went there. Some 10 years later, on a return visit to the school, I raised the subject of the Mountain Lake with students, and asked if they walked that way at all.
They had no idea of what I was talking about.
‘Do you mean up by the Rock Pools?’
‘No, this path that goes up along the side of the hill that over looks the walled garden.’ I explain. You know if you were going towards Pat Neagh’s.
‘You mean the path up to the Statue?’
‘No, sure there is no lake up there. No, this path is hidden near the Jam House?’ I say.
‘The Jam House?’ Where is that?’
‘You know, on the way towards the Walled Garden, where the path splits, there is a tiny little house or shed I suppose really. That was the Jam House.’
‘That was a Jam House?’
‘Yeah – well not in our time but the nuns used to store and sell Jam there I think to the passing tourists at some point’ (I think that might be an urban myth but still, we called it the Jam House.)’
‘Gosh – and there is a path there?’
‘Well sort of, it is a hidden path – you would miss it if you were not looking. It was the path the workers used to check on the pipes that came down from the lake with water to the castle and the garden.’
Anyway you get the jist of it. They had no idea of where I was talking about.
For anyone going that way, the Jam House is now the old Salmon Spawning shed on the route towards the Walled Garden and the path is just beyond this to the right, the trees and creeping rhododendron hide it very well. But if you follow that along, it brings you up the edge of the Duchruach Mountain offering an eagle view over the Walled Garden and if you have the energy to keep going, up to the mountain lake beyond with stunning views West to the Atlantic.
Anyway back to perspective – I thought I would share with you what most see when they come to Kylemore and go visit the stunning Victorian Walled Garden –
Here is the view of the walled garden as depicted in the brochures and how most people see it.
Some might believe that our paths are set and what is due will come in turn. Rubbish I say! – okay, not total rubbish – I do believe that our paths are somewhat laid down but just for the pure fun of it, GOD (whatever type yours is) throws in a bit of choice to see what we can come up with ourselves.
“if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
I have encouraged my kids to be confident in asking for something. There is a skill to this I think – there is a lot to be said for good manners, good humour, and sure, doesn’t everyone love a charming chancer?
It all boils down to asking for something ‘cos you, well, want it. So you have to put it out there.
As a boarder in Kylemore, I took chances at asking for permission – A lot of the time, I was told no, but it was a real bonus when I was told yes! I got home early from boarding school once – I didn’t expect that result myself!
As an adult I was often on the receiving end. Having worked in the hotel industry, while us managers had to manage complaining guests and going with ‘the customer is king’ attitude – I always acquiesced so much more easily to the polite guest with the issue, than the demanding loud condescending rude one.
And who doesn’t love the try-er – ‘Is there any chance we could get an upgrade?’
Did you hear about the student at a Richard Branson convention somewhere out of state? – he was receiving texts from the audience as part of the Q & A at the end of the session before he had to dash to his next commitment that was the inauguration of the new President Obama in Washington. Some bright spark texted him asking was there any chance they could get a spin with him to the swearing in – and would you believe it, Richard was impressed enough with their taking a chance and their charming cheekiness, that he said yes! The texter and their friend were whisked away there and then along with Richard in his helicopter and not only got to see the inauguration but got prime view with Branson’s entourage! (or so the story goes)
I just love that.
But what has this got to do with anything?
While the self published route has been very satisfying, now that I have written my second book in the series, I have realised with confidence that there is more to my book series than, well, books. I firmly believe that the idea as a whole has so much more potential and that realisation involves not being able to do it on my own. I can, and do, write, but I need experts in all the other areas to do what they do best and so need to be part of team.
To achieve this, I need to go back to the traditional approach that is to getting “Published” – and I think that means getting an agent. So I am back to the asking again.
Permission seeking. ‘Can I be part of your gang?’ sort of thing.
Now I have to up sell – ‘cos this time I am in a queue of askers.
Rejection is a little more commonplace when it comes to putting it out there – and I have had my fair share of those.
I am beginning to wonder do I need to revisit my approach?
Writing my blog and completing my various pages on ‘About me’ and ‘So who is Ruth?’ has made me realise that what I actually share with people when telling them about my book series is not what I have been actually sending out to the various agents/publishing houses.
Perhaps I need to take another look at that?
I recently sent out some new query’s to agents in New York – the thinking that the American market might like the idea of an Irish boarding school story and so after carefully studying and selecting the agents that I thought would be the right fit, I dusted off my submission page and query letter and sent that off.
I have received one rejection so far (1 week after submitting – good going considering some can take up to 6 weeks and beyond)
“Thank you so much for writing me about your project. I carefully consider each query I receive, and I’m sorry to say that I’m not quite the right fit for yours. I do appreciate that you wrote to me and wish you the very best luck finding the ideal agent for your work.”
Nicely put, but it is still a big fat NO!
It is a bit like going for that new job – but that role you really really want.
The fate believers will tell you that it will all come right in the end – and that you have to keep kissing a lot of ugly frogs before you find the right one – eggs to be broken to make an omelette – many doors to be knocked on before the right one opens………
It is reassuring to know that JK Rowling, CS Lewis, Agatha Christie among others, received many rejections before finding their right fit. I wonder how often they changed their approach?
And so I am now wondering should I not be knocking on doors but instead, say,
throwing pebbles at a window?
Maybe that would get a ‘special’ someone’s attention?
I went on a walk this morning, took a turn up past the small cemetery that lies on the coastal town of Schull (West Cork, Ireland). It slopes gently down to the shore, overlooking Schull harbour and the Carbery isles – in turn lying on the edge of the Atlantic. It is a beautiful spot. I find it very moving and inspiring.
It set me thinking of plot.
And the pun therein.
Any writer will tell you that every good story has to have a great plot. And while I like to think that ‘K-Girls’, my book, has one, I have to confess that the whole idea behind writing my series starts with a rather basic, very sad looking plot.
I discovered it at the age of 12, and was struck by it from the get go. But it would take me the guts of 30 years before I gave it it’s due respect.
Not many know this, but the whole plot behind K-Girls started with the actual plot, that is the grave, of Ruth Stoker who is a 14 year old who is buried at Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, Co. Galway.
For any who have had the pleasure to visit Kylemore, you may remember the lovely walk to the Gothic Church that lies to the east of the Abbey/Castle? I could say a lot about this cathedral in miniature, but I do not want to waiver from the topic that is, Ruth. Anyway, under the shade of the Oak trees and watchful eye of Gothic gargoyles is a simple cemetery where in lies the remains of the Benedictine community that have passed on over the years.
In the midst of the simple stone markers for the nuns, there is a small standing celtic stone cross. It is the maker of Ruth. It simply states ‘In loving memory of Ruth Stoker who died on 18th December 1923 aged 14 years. RIP’
When I was a student at Kylemore the myth was that she had died having fallen from the tower (the reason why the Gothic was locked up at the time) , or another, drowned in the lake (explaining why us students were never allowed to swim or boat on the mass of water). I suppose many girls saw the grave and wondered for a moment, perhaps some didn’t see it at all. But it struck a chord with me – why was there a girl buried in the nun’s cemetery? And admittedly, the romantic in me thought how lovely to be buried at Kylemore – imagining that she must have had a great love for the school and her time there. And that one day, as I have a similar love, that I too might be buried there – or at least some ashes scattered.
Now that I am 44 and married with my own teen girls, I see a different side – that of the view of a mother – and try and imagine what it must have been like for the mother of Ruth to have to say good bye to her little girl, and then to witness her being lowered into the ground? Did the sun shine, setting the church lime stone alight, or did the Connemara rains fall gently dusting people’s umbrellas, or cloche hats and caps. Was there a good turn out? How many would have been stood around the small ope and scattered soil into the dark earth on that December day?
As a student at Kylemore, I did not consider a mother’s love, I was too preoccupied with who Ruth was and where had she come from? How had she truly died?
Perhaps that is where the seed of her spirit was captured within me at the age of 12 and she grew as I did over my years at Kylemore and then, unbeknownst to myself – Ruth came away with me.
It was only the last 7 years that I built up the courage to start writing in earnest and contacted one of the older nuns (Sr Benedict, historian) about Ruth. While Sr Benedict was not too familiar with Ruth’s background, she went to the retired elders and discovered that Ruth’s story was a foggy one.
A fire in the bursar office in the 50’s (that is a story in its own right) destroyed all student records and so little was remembered of her, only that the retired nuns remembered something about ‘galloping consumption’ and being ‘buried in Kylemore at the request of her parents’.
Oh! – now that put a different perspective on it – galloping consumption? – buried at the request of her parents? What did that mean? Consumption, I understood was TB but what did galloping? It did not bode well. And Ruth buried at the request of her parents? – Where they there after all? My mind raced with supposing and surmising.
And so curiosity took me down a road of research and censuses – all the while, Ruth stood at my shoulder, and I felt as if she was smiling enjoying the mystery that she had become for me.
Writers will tell you that characters become alive and when writing, they will so often lead us down a plot path that we never designed in the first instance. I have found this of Ruth.
Ruth Stoker the actual teen who died in Kylemore has her own story, and one I will gladly share in another post another time – her grave side remains simple and I visit it every time I am back at Kylemore. I place a stone on the cross to mark my return, (some think this is a Jewish custom but it’s origins are pagan – the stone symbolising the permanence of memory)
It is nice to see that a other stones have been placed by mine.
But the Ruth of K-Girls, the one that lives in my head and manifests as a ghost in my writing, well she is having a ball within the pages that is K-Girls with her new mortal friend, Alice. Ruth is getting to live her teen life all over again – albeit in the 80’s – and as Alice has a whole 6 years to go as a student of Kylemore.
My seven year old found my old school diaries. Not that they were hidden for no one to find, just that it was the first time that he took an interest in them.
I have kept diaries, or journals, throughout my life – in fact, without them I don’t think I would ever have considered writing a novel at all. And so I have a big box of diaries that span my teen and young adulthood years (I journal less now that I write as an author).
Only 2 actual diaries have sat on my writing desk for the last 4 years. These two diaries were the background to the writing of ‘K-Girls’, and preparation for the sequel, ‘K-Girls Plus One’. I would have written them in 1984 and 1985, when I was 13/14.
I have to confess, that most pages are typical of a teens worries, thoughts and moans, with the odd love lost or crush.
All the same, for the most part, they are not suitable for a seven year old.
What I find interesting is that neither of my teen daughters ever took much interest in them, and so it came as a surprise that my seven year old son was not only fascinated with them, but wanted me to read them to him, and went so far as trying to sneak them into his bedroom to try and decipher my scrawl on his own.
As a parent third time round, I have learnt though, if you tell a child they can’t have something, they just want it all the more; and so in an effort to stem his new curiosity, I promised to read to him (that way I am in control) some of the pages within.
This has proved interesting to me. Most of the entries are what I would call typical, simple, occasionally cringe worthy, and even funny, on different levels. The best days are the one that, only for the diaries, I would have forgotten about them completely. To a stranger they may not mean a whole lot, but to me the pages draw on distant memory banks, and allow me to dip into my past, raise a smile and reminisce on old times. How cocky I was, how innocent, (and then again, perhaps not), how impetuous, petty, or immature, (some would say I haven’t changed much)
And then I think, hang on a second, is this what blogging has replaced? And facebook? Only as we are sharing our thoughts with the world, do we hold back on our REAL opinion for fear of judgement, ridicule? With journals, the premise is that they are private and so we can CONFESS, without judgement. We can truly speak plainly and openly. OFF THE RECORD as such.
Wasn’t Wilde that said ‘I never travel without my diary – one should have something sensational to read in the train.’
I know certainly that I am trying to be more careful in my blogging, what to say, how to say it, who is possibly reading it, (if anyone). My journals, they have a different sense about them – raw, as-it-is. Warts and all. There is a lot to be said about that I think – I can see that within the diaries, is the forming of my true writing voice – capturing the real feelings of a young teen girl, even if in the 1980’s. Have teens changed a whole lot – you would think I would know having two of them but is the main difference being social media has perhaps indirectly created a censorship to a young person’s voice?
In any case, I thought to share with you my first page in my diaries as a K-Girl – don’t get too excited now, I know my seven year old certainly didn’t.
8-3-’84 – Lent 1st day
Since this is my first page I thought i might has well tell you that I most probably wont be able to write every night cause I’m not great at writing every night. I don’t know why I decided to write but I said to hell and took this out and here I am writing this. To-day is the 2nd day of lent and I’ve given up sweets and I have to try and keep it ’cause I usually break it.
I’ve got to go to sleep now ’cause Miss Oakely is switching the light off now.
Considering the time of year, and being new to blogging, I thought it appropriate to speak about Firsts – or new Starts – they are connected are they not?
We all experience Firsts – blogging being my most recent!
But First’s appear to slow down a pace as we get older – or do they? As adults do we forget to take off our blinkers and view the world differently?
Why not take a kids view on things? – the awe, the curiosity, the excitement, the in-the-moment concentration that they give a new discovery, be it a weird looking bug or tasting a lemon.
So in preparation of today’s post, and with the start to 2015 – I thought I would take a different look at MY view on the the new year – and look to my past Firsts, to perhaps prepare for some future ones – or for the adults out there who like to put a power word on it – my 2015 ‘Goals’.
After all, isn’t a Goal something we aspire to achieve (for clarification, I am not talking scoring between goal posts here) – and if it is a Goal, doesn’t this mean we have not done it before, and by consequence, it is a First.
I think Michelangelo is quoted somewhere as saying ‘I am still learning’ as he painted the Sistine Chapel.
But what about the small stuff, the bits that really only matter to us as individuals.
So for 2015 I am not going to make any resolutions – as these are so often based on failures, or trying to change the negative – I am going to revert to the past to go forward. If that makes sense?
Not a bucket list – more an appreciation. An appreciation of any Firsts that I may continue to experience, to recognise, and to celebrate them. Even if I think I have done it all before, to approach it as if I have not – with awe, with curiosity, with excitement.
To that end, I am happy to share my first letter home from boarding school – written at the age of 12, back in 1983, having settled in a few days to Kylemore Abbey School for Girls, Connemara. I don’t think it holds any life changing messages. But I am happy to say that, thanks to my father’s archiving, that the letter remains (misspelling and all), as opposed to decomposing in some land fill – and I appreciate that, and it, on so many levels – my first letter home – the first of many letters that would follow, but this one capturing one girls’ mind set as a boarder, starting anew, making that fresh start to secondary school – and what was important to her at that time, in that moment when she took her new letter writing set and quickly penned a letter home.
I feel strangely reassured that, 30 years later, my needs haven’t changed much!
Here’s to yours for 2015.
Transcript from letter:
Dear Mum and Dad,
It’s my second day here and its great fun. I thought I would be really homesick but I’m not (no offence). By the^wayhow’s everyone, I’m just after remembering that I’ve left loads of things at home so would you please send the up the following:tourch, radio, cuddley toy, posters and some books and tuck Oh yah! And a picture of the family (scamp and shandy as well). Say hallo the rest of the family and give Shandy, Scamp and Nillie a big X
I’ve made loads of friends so theres no need to worry. Im sleepin in the farm house wle, which is great fun, one of my friends name is Jane and she’s very nice she sleep in the same bunck and bedroom as me. I’ve got another friend whose very nice aswell she’s in 6th year and her name is (oh dear I’m after forgetting.) I’ve got loads more to but I haven’t enough time sorry. I’d better go now.
I am not going to suppose that all of you do but if you did have one, is it something that you can quote and recall at a moment?
‘Kylemore Abbey School for Girls’ did – I can’t tell you how many of us ‘K-Girls’ would have seen this crest over the years. Specifically the ‘Pax‘ part remained with us – Pax (‘Peace’) being part of the motto of the Benedictine order: Pax, Ora et Labora (Peace, Prayer and Work)
Our full school crest was ‘Pax et Nos Avi’ – but what did the ‘et Nos Avi’ mean?
There are conflicting theories of the true grasp of its essence as there appears to be no clear translation.
And so, I contacted the Community at Kylemore, and specifically the Abbess, Mother Maire Hickey, for more detail.
As it turns out, there IS no clear translation – and for good reason – the motto capturing the essence of what Dame Scholastica, the original Head Mistress at Kylemore Abbey School in 1923, first conceived for the new school.
For those not in the know, Kylemore Abbey School was founded by the small community of nuns in 1923, having fled war torn Ypres in 1914. I can’t imagine what the ‘Irish Dames of Ypres’ must have experienced first hand in the battle torn European city, and then the relief to settle in Connemara’s bleak yet beautiful landscape of Kylemore (Castle).
Back to the crest.
I believe that ‘Pax’ couldn’t have been a more poignant and powerful motto at that time. But Dame Scholastica’s thinking I am told, was that something needed to be added for the new students that would be educated and excel at Kylemore.
And so, it has been suggested that the school motto incorporates both that of the Benedictine Order, and a reflection of what K-Girls, would carry forward, that is to inspire girls to seek peace, work for justice and peace, and commit ourselves to handing it on to the future population of the planet’ – Pax et Nos Avi – Peace is Our Heritage
For me it is about seeking peace within myself and within my life. As if there are two types of peace; the Zen sort of peace and the anti-violence/war/anger etc. Peace within and without – But that is just my take on it.
I am still learning.
And have other K-Girls continued to try and live up to the motto?