Plot – Story or Grave?

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’

Ruth Stoker grave stone

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.

The two of them will  have a lot of fun with plot;

and sometimes even losing it every now and then.

Speaking on Firsts

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.

first letter home page 1first letter home page 2

Transcript from letter:

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore

Co. Galway

Spet 1983

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.

          Lot and lots of love

                              Daughter number 2

                                        (Lydia)

X a nice big kiss

P.S write back and don’t forget the things I need

Kylemore Abbey School – Crest and Moto

Pax et Nos Avi

Did your school have a school moto/crest?

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 the motto of the Benedictine order.

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 that survived, 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 city, and then the relief  to settle in Connemara’s bleak yet beautiful landscape.

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

And so, have we lived on to fulfill this?

I can only let others be the judge of that…………..

2013-06-28 17.32.00 School Blazer Crest 1984