Beannachtaí an Féile Pádraig

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
I have a long-standing close relationship with Ireland, so March 17 is a nice day to commemorate the two years I lived there, and the fascination with everything Irish that preceded my stay. It’s fair to say I have since moved on to have other interests as well, but the fond memories remain, and I still read the Irish Times on a daily basis (thank you, Internet). I also tune into RTÉ on occasion, and I’m still willing to drop a book I’m reading in favour of another one if it’s written by an Irish writer.

I don’t celebrate by drinking green stuff or wearing festive and glittery green clothes, nor do I spontaneously start to jig or show off a quick reel (don’t know how, anyway.), but I have made some Irish stew, and tonight I will read my favourite poems by Seamus Heaney, W.B. Yeats, Eavan Boland and Medbh McGuckian.

So, what do I remember from my Irish days? Oh, a lot! I went to Ireland several times before actually moving there, but from the more permanent stay, here are some memories:

  • Sunday walks in St.Stephen’s Green, especially in February, when the crocus were blooming in Dublin (whereras at home it would be full-blown winter).
  • The cars that would regularly be lit on fire in my end of Townsend Street.
  • The fantastic booming sound of my broad high-heeled DrMartens shoes on the wooden floor of the National Gallery.
  • Buying chips at Beshoff’s.
  • Boys on the street in track suits and buzz cuts.
  • Finding out there were two bars (possibly three) at the UCD campus at Belfield. I heard there was a staff bar in the basement too.
  • The blaring house alarms going off at all hours all over the city, and no-one ever noticing.
  • The swan lake at UCD Belfield.
  • Mothers swearing at their children, and the children swearing right back at them.
  • Eason’s bookstores. Open on Sundays.
  • The smell of dusty books in the library. Addictive. But the floors were carpeted, so lucky me I’m not allergic.
  • Buying throat lozenges from Sweney’s Pharmacy just up the street from my place, and a couple of days later, in Joyce class as we started working on Ulysses, realizing this is the actual place where Leopold Bloom bought his lemon soap.
  • Taking the double-decker bus from the south wall of Trinity to Belfield. In Rathmines or thereabouts, we passed the office of a Dr. Rachel Kidney. I smiled every time.
  • The Café Irie in Temple Bar. Lunch once a week my second year, when I was living in Maynooth and writing a very long thesis.
  • The concert with Shane MacGowan at the Olympia in December 1999. He got very drunk, which wasn’t much fun.
  • Visiting the church on the NUI Maynooth St. Patrick’s College campus, where boys studying to become priests have spent countless hours over the centuries.
  • The newspapers always had lengthy reports from various tribunals going on. The Lindsay Tribunal. The Flood Tribunal.
  • Former Taoiseach Charles Haughey was mentioned weekly.
  • Gaybo and The Late Late Show. Pat Kenny taking over.
  • The ruins of the Norman castle in Maynooth, which was the stronghold of the Fitzgerald family from the early 1200s.
  • Going to the Aran Islands, and being very perplexed at hearing the ferryman shout “The boat to Innishmaan is over there” in a very upper class (if I may say so) English accent. He sounded like Jeremy Irons. Looked a bit like him, too.
  • The very old-fashioned (to me) banking system. Also the system of paying bills. It all took so much time. I fainted in a line once.
  • The ice cream parlour at St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre. Also, lots of brownies everywhere.
  • Writing a thesis on Frank McGuinness, and having him as a lecturer, but never daring saying a word to him about it.
  • Telecom Eireann / Eircom’s customer service ‘waiting in line’ tune had the chorus “it’ll take an eternity” – which it always did with Eircom. (After some googling, I think the song is “My Love Is Your Love” with Whitney Houston)
  • Walking the mile-long alley lined with huge trees from behind my Maynooth house to the gates of old Carton House, once the grand home of the Earls of Kildare and Dukes of Leinster. (Carton was, after much debacle, converted into a hotel and golf resort in the 2000s.)
  • Taking the DART to Howth, Dun Laoghaire or Bray.
  • Litter everywhere. The Irish are great litterers, it turned out…
  • Rush hour = very congested traffic in Dublin.
  • Wee kids throwing tiles off a roof in Townsend Street at passers-by, and nearly slicing my boyfriend’s head open. A very near miss.
  • The Windjammer. Opened at 8 in the morning. Or was it 0730?
  • The Angelus on RTÉ.
  • So many lovely cafés. So so many!
  • Buying fresh loaves of bread at Avoca.
  • Seeing the film “Nora” (about James Joyce’s wife) at the Screen Cinema. The seats were plush and had a lovely dark red/plum color, if I remember correctly. Otherwise a bit dingy area, though. Townsend Street again.
  • Walking late at night through a winter fog in deserted Dublin streets.
  • Books, books, books.
  • Gaeilge.
  • I’m still in touch with many of the people I met, and we live all over the world.

Okay, I’ll stop there. The list could go on and on. The memories have no end.

If I’ve not once mentioned Guinness, it’s because I never acquired a taste for it. (I know, I know…)

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What’s Next?

Now that I’ve handed over another completed manuscript for publication, I itch to get back into writing from scratch again while I wait for the editing process to begin. No resting on my laurels!

Sounds great, right? A blank page, with room for ideas to pour out. I’ve never experienced writer’s block – not since I got into writing for real anyway – so starting on a new project is exciting for me. The possibilities! The challenges! The difficulties! Building a relationship with my characters, building scenes, hammering out dialogues, changing and erasing and adding! Oh, the words I steadily fill the pages with! (Yes, there will be frustrations too, but not yet.)

I have so many ideas, and so many first paragraphs and plot outlines filed away in my ‘projects and ideas’ folder, I could probably churn out a book every year for quite a few years. Of course, writing doesn’t work that way. I need enthusiasm, and I need a voice coming through for me to start writing, and right now I have three distinct voices on three different projects speaking to me. And not enough time to write.

Because I teach full-time, and have no plans to change this, my writing time is limited to maybe an hour or so most nights, maybe some more hours during weekends – it all depends on how many tests and essays I have to correct for work, plus I occasionally have a social life too. (You’d think that as a teacher I can take full advantage of all those holidays I have at my disposal, and write like mad all day and churn out numerous books, but in reality, it’s just a couple of the summer weeks where I can write all day. This year I got lucky and didn’t have any papers to correct during winter break, so got an extra week to write, but usually teacher holidays are working holidays. Seriously, they are! Okay, enough about teachers and ‘holidays’…!)

Back to the topic of this post: I have many projects, but of course I must choose one to focus on for the next few months if my aim to complete another book by the end of the year is going to go anywhere. So how do I choose?

I look at the ideas I already have, and I let them stew for a few days, or weeks even. Now and then I’ll open the documents and add thoughts on the plot and characters. I also do some minor research to see if an idea is viable (for instance, last week I researched Florida, Alaska and California laws concerning minors committing a specific crime). Usually, one story starts to dominate pretty quickly, and then I just take it from there – adding thoughts and characters, sometimes short scenes I want to write, and I ALWAYS ALWAYS have the beginning and the end ready before I start the more detailed plotting. Once I’m at the detailed plotting stage, I’m basically writing the book, and then there’s no going back.

Right now, I have two competing ideas, none of which are willing to give up the race yet. Since I have the opening paragraph ready for one of these stories, I suspect that one will win. I’m still open to the possibility that the other idea, the one where I have very many scenes outlined already, will claim victory first. At any rate, I’m confident that both of these projects will be written – and that is a great feeling too 🙂