A LIFE OF OUR OWN

ALOOO

Sometimes things just evolve don’t they?  A thought pops into your head, an unlikely encounter, an innocent email arrives in your inbox that suddenly triggers a whole new event in your life. That is how, despite limited time constraints and caring for Mowghi, this month I find myself about to launch my second book, A LIFE OF OUR OWN.

After A World of Our Own was published many readers sent me emails and letters full of good wishes but they also shared how they struggled with life after a life changing event. I wanted to get on with my first book of fiction but the letters kept arriving and the emails kept happening. Readers wanted to know did I continue to get up in the morning and stay positive. Did I still feel we were in a world of our own? The short answer is No. The long answer is A Life of Our Own.

A LIFE OF OUR OWN is a non-fiction self-help book that attempts to empower the reader to live an authentic life, regardless of circumstance. The wisdom that is embedded in each page comes from Mowgli which creates the difference between my first book and my second book. My first book, A World of Our Own focuses on how I taught Cian in the shadows of systems that failed him. A Life of Our Own reflects on what Cian taught me in the shadow of my own grief. The book is ultimately an exploration of what holds us back from living a life of our own and offers the reader stepping stones back to themselves when life takes them off on a different direction and doesn’t go according to plan.

It is so easy to find yourself floating far away from the life you want. Circumstances can change in an instance that can shift the direction of our lives and before we know it we are dreaming about the life we want to live rather than living it. When my son was diagnosed with Autism life as we knew it ended. Early intervention began to help Mowgli become the best he could be. There is no doubt in my mind, Mowgli’s condition would be a whole lot worse had there been no intervention. He learnt so much on how to manage life with dignity but in his quiet, unassuming way he also taught me how to manage life too, regardless of circumstance.

I have written A Life of Our Own for Cian because his wisdom has the potential to help others and without him in my life I would not have the same depth of understanding that life is truly a blessing and should never be taken for granted. I hope A Life of Our Own will empower the reader to face whatever needs to be faced in their lives with dignity and the strength to embrace challenges while living out an authentic and fulfilling life.

A LIFE OF OUR OWN is published by The Liffey Press and is out now in all good book shops or you can get your copy online at http://www.amazon.com or http://www.theliffeypress.com

 

 

YES TO LOVE, ACCEPTANCE AND EQUALITY.

images (2)First published in The Inishowen Independent.

1988. During my student days, while volunteering as a night liner for Queen’s University listening service, it became abundantly clear we needed two phone lines because the one line was jammed with the sheer volume of gay people needing advice, help and support.

I took a few of those calls, mostly from young men. Some called in person during the early part of the evening and talked about their pain, the lengths they went to cover up being gay, how they were coping, or not, in a world of hostility and fear. Others rang late in the night, their voices trembling, threatening to end it all and crying so hard they were not fit to speak. Many did not want to be gay. They were unable to accept how they were feeling. The isolation, fear and shame they were experiencing was preventing them to be true to themselves. A rollercoaster of negative emotions raged inside them. They were afraid to come out. They were being bullied, taunted, and excluded by others because of their sexuality.

Back then, lesbian and gay issues were relatively new to me. I came from the back of beyond, at least that’s what the city slickers thought—a bit like what Newstalk reporter Henry McClean thinks about Donegal. Buncrana has since put the record straight. Likewise, that type of thinking didn’t hinder me from accepting folk exactly as they were, from all walks of life.

As a young straight female student, I doubt I was able to fully understand exactly what a young gay man was going through or indeed if I was helping at all. The most I could do was listen and be there in a non-judgemental manner for anyone who came through the door or called on the phone. It was during those volunteering years I witnessed the impact of prejudice on the gay community and the destruction caused by individuals in society who remained ignorant and misinformed about people who feel different. Being ‘different’ seemed to get misinterpreted as wrong. They are wrong and we are right. We are normal and they are not. Views that fly in the face of equality.

We consider ourselves a more accepting and equal society now. Gone are the archaic prejudices and suppression of the past that prevents anyone regardless of gender, faith, or belief, to live at peace in our utopian society. At least, that’s what we like to think, but this referendum debate has unravelled some steadfast views that remain woven deep in the fabric of Irish society, views that are unyielding, erroneous and prejudice by nature when the heart of the matter is about two people loving each other and committing to marriage so that they can share the same benefits of any other married couple in society.

Throughout this debate we have been subjected to many mixed messages and distorted images, confusing those who are perhaps less informed or have limited understanding of the inequalities experienced by gay communities. What isn’t confusing in this debate is that marriage equality will acknowledge the gay community as full members of our society who are entitled to civil and human rights as well as having the right to declare their love for each other. Love knows no gender, it has no boundaries, yet every day many in the gay community have experienced hate and little acceptance, not for who they are but for who they love. To love, to acceptance, to equality and to the memory of many tormented and fearful young people I tried to help in the late ‘80s who felt excluded from society I vote YES.

 

STORY-TELLING IN SWAN PARK

story telling in the park

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Delighted to be asked to take part in a storytelling event for Free Wee Libraries, by local artist Geraldine Timlin, I ventured down to Swan Park and discovered a lovely surprise . Geraldine was busy decorating a little corner of the park that would entice anyone to sit for a while among the green and the books.  Like bees to flowers, the children came and took their place on a tiny toadstool. When they were sitting comfortably, I began to read a story about The Mummy Shop by Abie Longstaff & Lauran Beard published by Scholastic books. A little boy wanted a new Mummy because his own Mummy made him clean his room and go to bed early. She sounded like a really bad Mummy! So the little boy ordered up a new Mummy but no matter what Mummy he got they weren’t quite right. By the end of the book, he realised he wanted his own Mummy back because she was just perfect! All the children agreed that their own Mammies were perfect too, and it was a good job because their real Mammies (and Daddies and Grannys were not too far away) I hope everyone enjoyed the storytelling morning as much as I did.

The essence of the Free Wee Libraries is the fun of being out in the open air and the magic of a story. In a way, it took me back to when I was younger. All those summer months spent reading outside, for hours on end, on my back, squinting in the brightness, up on one elbow, propped up against a trunk of a tree, turning pages to the end of a book. Granted, there wasn’t much else to do, no electronic devices to distract me, no television, no town or village near, but the magic appeared in the form of a mobile library that came every fortnight to the bottom of Pomeroy, three miles away from our home.  Along with my sisters, we walked there and back, laden with books. We were so excited about getting stuck into the books we never minded the long walk. Besides, it was totally normal. Mum and Dad were shaking hay in the fields so shanks mare was our only mode of transport. When we arrived home we would have ‘tay’ in the field, and before we were asked to lift the dockins we would sneak behind a haystack and devour the latest Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew book. Sometimes Mum joined us. Wrapped up in arms and legs, while gazing at the view down to Lough Neigh and beyond, I got lost in my mother’s voice that took us off to a land of wonder and adventure. When Dad took a break he would stretch out in the heat of the day and tell his own stories, mad, crazy, off the wall yarns, and of course we believed every word that dropped from his mouth because they were always about the man that lived over the mountain, or the woman that had no shoes, totally believable characters that was a figment of my father’s imagination. The ghost stories were told by the fireside in winter but the long funny yarns were told in the hay field. My father had no formal education but it didn’t prevent him from telling the most amazing stories that had us hanging on to his every word. With the Easter holidays stretching out before us, now is a good time to renew your love for books and nature. Make sure you pay a visit to a Free Wee Library and who knows, sometime soon, you might come upon another magical story time in the park. If you do, be sure to stop by.

Time for Mother’s Day.

Time is one of our most precious resources, a resource than mothers give in abundance by spending much of their days taking care of their families. 

Being a mother is a tough job, and it is often said no love can compare to a mother’s love.For those who have lost loved ones, Mother’s Day can be adifficult day, a day of reflection, perhaps, of the precioustimes spent together. For others, Mother’s Day is a time to celebrateI consider myself very blessed to still have both my elderly parents, and time is something I know they appreciate.

I took my Mum for her first shopping trip of 2015 lastweekend. It’s been a while since we had a day out. Usually, the day trips end when the light fades and the winter frost appears on our roads. This winter I noticed a slowing down. My father falling and hurting his ankle didn’t help. The slippy leaves where to blame, but it knocked the confidence a bit for both of them. Dad’s ankle had to heal and the winter chill is still hanging on, but I was delighted when Mum took me up on my offer of ‘a drive somewhere.’ Mum said ‘Perhaps we could go to a shopping centre.’

It was in the shopping centre I was reminded of Mother’s Day by all the pretty displays at the shop fronts. “Oh, I haveforgotten about Mother’s Day Mum, is that this Sunday?”Mum wasn’t sure either, so we wandered in to one of the shops and stopped by a Mother’s Day display to check out the date.  Sunday, the 15th March. “So I didn’t miss it, I said. I still have time.” “Time for what?” Mum asked. She had already forgotten why we entered the shop and had turned her attention to St. Patricks Day Cards. “Time to get you a card and a pressie,” I said. “You don’t need to do that,” she said. “This is my present.” She put out her arms to convey the moment we were in. “I don’t need anything more. Time is enough.”

On the way home I thought about what she said, and as a mother I considered what it is I would like for Mother’s Dayonly to realise that time must be the most precious gift you can give to any mother, or father, or anyone really. When everything falls away, when we look back on our lives, whenwe contemplate all that matters, time is the only thing we want. The treats and presents are nice, and we all like to give a little something, but the material things don’t figure in our memories in the same way we remember time, the precious time we share and shared together with our loved ones.

Mother’s day is a time to reflect on our loved ones and find a way to celebrate them whether they are with us or not. Families and family circumstances are unique, and how wecelebrate Mother’s Day is unique too, but taking time to honour our loved ones is more precious than any material gift.

Despite that, and Mums protests, I will present my mother with a little card and small gift on Mother’s Day but the time will be the real gift. It is what she and I will appreciate the most. As a mother, I will also appreciate the time I spend with my own children, especially that wobbly cup of tea that will appear rattling first thing in the early morning, along with the handmade cards. Nothing beats homemade, handmade and heartmade on Mothering Sunday. 

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and grandmothers everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BE STILL AND KNOW

IMG_0773

It’s quiet round here. The road is stretching out in front of me for miles, a silky black ribbon weaving its way through Coolcross and Binnon. In their purple navy attire they roll down towards me as I surmise their stature across the lakes on the mountain road.

I turn towards a quiet country lane and head up the hill. The trees, naked and spindly, are waiting patiently for their new Spring coats. It won’t be long. Before I left I noticed a few new shoots  in my battered back garden. Heedless of the recent storms, they must have slipped up some time last week through the  darkness unnoticed…until today. Sunday. Even the birds are quiet this morning.  Are they contemplating too?

Over short heather and grass I ramp on as the ground rises steeply towards the top of Coolcross. It is well worth it. The view is breath-taking. I find them all standing tall and resting in their Sunday morning splendour, Malin head and Glashedy island to the north, Slieve snacht to the south, Slievekeeragh, Raghtin More and Mamore Head to the south-west, Culdaff and Scotland to the north-east. 

Sunday.  It’s a good day for a hike to feed the soul.

The fruit of silence is prayer,
The fruit of prayer is faith,
The fruit of faith is love, and
The fruit of love is silence.

—Mother Teresa

Dalai Lama in Derry-Cultivating Compassion

20130419-123922.jpg

Be kind where possible and it’s always possible. Dalai Lama

The rain was spitting and the wind was messing with the umbrellas while tight security sifted through handbags and confiscated water bottles from old and young yesterday as 2500 people filed into the Embrington Plaza, Derry-Londonderry to hear Richard Moore and His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak on “The Culture of Compassion.”

The event was organised by the Children in Crossfire charity that helps children in war zones across the world. As serendipity would have it, I was one of the 2500. The mood inside the blackened arena was upbeat, celebrity and moving as we watched, via video link, 300 local primary school children form a guard of honour on the Peace Bridge for His Holiness, Richard Moore, Bishop Ken Good and Monsignor Eamon Martin leading the Peace Walk as a splash of sunshine escaped from the rain-filled threatening sky. The Dalai Lama hugged the children and urged them to go in front, spoiling the photographer’s view of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. “We need a sense of concern for others,” he was to say later. “That IS compassion.”

When everyone was safe inside, the heavens did open but as the rained drummed on the roof, his Holiness smiled and his gentle way filled the arena with warmth and humour.

“I am very happy to be here with my hero Richard Moore. Those of us who believe in peace and non-violence have a responsibility to show support and solidarity. It’s a great honour for me to come here. Today has turned out to be a special day for me. I’ve known Richard for some time, and he’s has come to see me in Dharamsala with Charles the soldier who shot the plastic bullet that blinded him. Despite that tragedy, he showed how as human beings we have a capacity to forgive and be reconciled. But today, I met my hero’s 93 year old mother, which has made it a great, great day.”

His Holiness stressed that developing a culture of peace is ultimately related to developing compassion for others. “We need to analyse whether anger and hatred have any value,” he said and gave three reasons for developing compassion. “First, it is based on our common experience; everyone responds positively to kindness. Secondly, it is common sense, because it’s obvious that people who are open-hearted are happier. And thirdly, scientific findings show that negative emotions like anger, hatred and fear eat into our immune system, whereas there is evidence that open-heartedness and compassion are good for our overall health.”

He made reference to the love he received from his own mother and the role of education to develop compassion in our communities to ultimately create peace and peace of mind.

“Peace must be part of our lives and part of our culture. Non-violence doesn’t mean we should be passive, because, for example, it takes will-power to restrain yourself from violence. When we have a problem, we need to look at it from many angles with a calm mind in order to understand the reality of the situation.”

He concluded, “Please think. It’s not enough to pray and to hope, we have to work hard to create and maintain compassion and peace.

He then presented the Youth Compassion award to a young medical student, Oisin Duddy, who spends his free time volunteering in Altnagalvin hospital. Oisin also gave a short but moving speech and when he finished he said, “If I ever come across your path may I be of service to you.” Let’s hope his compassion, like the Dalai Lama’s and Richard Moore’s is contagious with no known cure.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Derry-Londonderry

20130418-124217.jpg

I’m back and I will write about Bologna soon but I am still living and storing up all my experiences to write. At the moment I am in The Venue, Derry waiting for Children in Crossfire/Culture of Compassion WITH HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA in association with Bright Brand New Day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if compassion was contagious? No doubt we are all going to catch some today. There’s the bell. Time to look for my seat. I’m in the second row and feel so privileged and blessed to be here…later.

IL Papa – Living Simply in Vatican City

Newly elected Pope Francis Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina appears on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican

(Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

Il Papa—it sounds much more precious in Italian—is a humble man who leads an austere and sober life without ostentation. He lived very simply in an apartment in Argentina where he took care of a handicapped Jesuit and rode the bus to work. I’ve written most of that in past tense because he has now moved house and we all know from here on in how he’ll be getting around.

Most women like the sound of a man who can cook and Jorge Mario Bergoglio is no exception but I’m guessing il Papa will need a little time to re-adjust in his new gaff before he turns the heat up in the kitchen.

Naming himself after St Francis of Assisi the rich young man, who renounced wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars in 1290 and Francis Xavier, the formidable 16th-century Jesuit missionary evokes images of peace, poverty and a simple lifestyle. When I visited Vatican City with my Mum a few years back—eyes agog and dizzy with awe—images of poverty and simplicity didn’t spring to mind. In the same vein, Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s lifestyle and living on the edge of Buenos Aires is a far cry from the sprawling financial empire he is now in charge of that is dangerously hanging over the edge of reason.

Maybe it’s all the pomp and circumstance that goes hand in hand in electing a new pope or maybe it’s because it’s Easter or maybe it’s their age but my children are asking a lot of simple questions about Catholicism but simple answers are not coming forthwith as I clamour around in the confines of out-dated canonical law shadowed by contradiction, crime and cover ups within the male only Catholic hierarchy. In the middle of  it all sits my fourteen year old drop dead gorgeous autistic. He remains silent, asks no questions and has absolutely no concept of any religion on this earth yet his spirit is vibrating at a level deeper than the foundations of the Sistine Chapel! For him, simplicity is key and so it seems for il Papa.

I wonder what it is like for a Jesuit veteran to be plucked from the far corner of simplicity, adorned in robes and entrusted with the secrets of Vatican City that has not entirely trusted the teaching intelligentsia order he represents because, like my kids, the Jesuits ask difficult, challenging, and thought-provoking questions.

Pray for me, he asked, after emerging from behind the red curtain on the balcony of the central logia at St. Peter’s Basilica. And pray for him we shall because Pope Francis will need all the divine and human intervention he can get as the Catholic Church crumbles and cracks under the weight of great crisis, scandal and conflict in the Vatican bureaucracy. But young St. Francis’ conversion did not happen overnight and neither will the Vatican City’s conversion to spiritual simplicity. That’s not to say Pope Francis won’t make his mark and shake a stick or two.

Let’s hope Papa gets some answers and time to cook, and freedom to hop on a bus. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to keep things simple and cook in my bare feet singing an old Janis Joplin number. ‘Oh, Lord will you buy me a Mercedes-Benz… I wonder did Jorge Mario Bergoglio, while he was cooking the rice and wandering around in his bare feet caring for his friend ever dream of a Mercedes-Benz Popemobile? It’s kind of like a bus…isn’t it?

 

A Real Humdinger Children’s Book Festival in Derry/Londonderry!

securedownload[1] - Copy 

Humdinger (noun)…a remarkable or extraordinary person or thing of its kind. And that’s exactly what I got when I attended the Humdinger Children’s Book Festival in Derry/Londonderry with Little Missy at the weekend. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Roddy Doyle who kicked off the festival on Thursday but all the other big names in children’s books were still around on Saturday and come hell or high water I was going! Not even the flu was going to stop me! I woke up on Saturday morning with a scratchy throat and yucky head cold but armed with all sort of remedies to make me feel better I arrived just before 9.30am at the Dog Ears Head Quarters for the Writing for Children’s Workshop. 

The festival brochure promised that Humdinger would inspire a love for reading for years to come, and there is no doubt about that as their programme showcased fun, family friendly and innovative events over three days in a number of venues across the city but ‘wanna be writers’ were definitely not left out. What a lineup!  Meg Rosoff, Alex T. Smith and Malachy Doyle among others, were proudly introduced by Laura of Dog Ears. 

My biggest challenge was trying to keep my nose clean and not cough too much but the morning was informal and full of magical inspiration. Creative therapist, Ursula McHugh from the Playhouse set the mood before highly acclaimed writer and multi award-winning author Meg Rosoff, whose books I have feasted on a few times, encouraged us to find our own unique writer’s voice. It was encouraging to learn that even Meg Rosoff can get ‘stuck’ sometimes. Writing is not always fun and flowing, more like drawing blood out of bad veins. Still, if you can find your unique voice there is a possibility that someone might just like it. So forget about being precious, send out your voice and keep writing and rewriting!

Up next was the very talented writer and illustrator Alex T Smith who was born to do what he is doing. He had brought along some of his earlier work and drawings and talked about how his grandparents influenced his choice of career and his stories. He likes to keep things simple while developing quirky ideas that make his books fun for both adults and children to read. Keeping it entertaining, Malachy Doyle read from his Too Noisy book and he encouraged us to keep writing, rewriting and rewriting as persistence is a key ingredient of success. AND he has written a ton of children’s books so he should know! Then it was our turn to perform or at least pretend to be Jamaican for a short while with the energetic and colourful creators of Rastamouse Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza who started off self publishing before Rastamouse became one of Cbeebies hit shows.

David Maybury, co-editor of Inis magazine and Freelance Editor at Penguin finished the workshop by providing an invaluable insight into the publishing industry but unfortunately I didn’t hear all he had to say as I was rushing off to meet up with Little Missy to go and see Julia Donaldson in The Millennium Forum. It was pure magic, reliving all the old favourites that I had read to my children one hundred zillion times including Zog, A Squash and a Squeeze, The Snail and the Whale and, of course, that fearful Gruffalo and friendly mouse was there too!

Dashing up to the Playhouse afterwards, we managed to see the Rastamouse team in action again followed by refreshments and a talk delivered by Derek Kielty, début author of Will Gallows. Derek shared some writing tips and exciting news as well. A while back, Elton John’s Rocket Pictures, which produced Gnomeo and Juliet, called him up and expressed an interest in adapting Will Gallows into a kid-friendly film. Exciting stuff! David also read from his first book in the series which he kindly gave to Little Missy after a little autograph session. We rushed home with empty bellies but my head wasn’t full of the cold so much as it was full of inspiration. After we got fed, I went upstairs to persist and rewrite for a while before retiring with a good read. When I peeked in to check on Sleeping Beauty this is what I found…

securedownload

 Little Missy, under the covers, laughing out loud…

Tonight she asked me if I would go on Amazon and order up the second book in the series as she is now half way through the first one. I’m beginning to wonder if the bookworms I am rearing think Amazon is some sort of genie lamp! But I shall keep granting their wishes if it keeps them turning pages and Humdinger obviously achieved what it set out to achieve – to inspire a love for reading!

Dog Ears wanted to do something amazing for UK City of Culture 2013 and they did it. They hosted one humdinger of a festival for children and adults alike. It felt like Fionnuala, Laura, Jackie, John and Trisha had moved New York and London a little closer to home and pulled out all the stops to give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet some best-loved authors and illustrators while providing endless possibilities to get crafty and creative in the many workshops on offer. Thank you to all at Dog Ears. Great job! Magical festival! Cheers Dog Ears!

If you want to find out more about Dog Ears or the Humdinger Children’s Book Festival check out www.cheersdogears.com