The International Literature Festival Dublin

 I’m writing this post on my phone in The Lunchbox, Buncrana because my internet is down. Not a great start to a Monday when I’m buzzing to follow up on a few contacts that I made on Saturday at the ‘Date with an Agent’ event during The International Literature Festival Dublin.                               

Still, I want to mark the event by expressing my appreciation to Vanessa O’Loughlin of http://www.writing.ie for the opportunity to submit and ‘win’ a date with an agent. Vanessa also took time out to talk to me after an extremely busy day when she really should have been half way home for a well earned rest, so thank you Vanessa for your precious time.                               

About a month ago, it was exciting to receive an email from Vanessa with the good news that my writing was selected and I had managed to bag ‘a date with an agent.’ It was doubly exciting to learn that my dear writing friend, Christina Campbell had recieved the same email. Much to my delight, Christina’s work had been selected too! And so we made plans to travel to Dublin and enjoy the event.

Vanessa promised that the event would be a “unique opportunity for writers to sit down with an agent to discuss their book, getting top-level advice on anything that needs work, on the market and their own career.”         

The date with the agent did exactly what it said on the tin, so thanks to Sallyanne Sweeny of Malcahy Associates, and Vanessa for creating such an opportunity. My friend, Christina, was delighted to discuss her work with Clare Wallace from The Darly Anderson Agency. In addition to ‘the date with an agent’ there were an number of talks and discussions throughout the day on writing and getting published. 

We were advised on what agents were looking for, good writing, a compelling story and a unique voice. No surprises there. Vanessa stressed the importance of writers taking the time to develop their own voice along with a great story. She told potential authors: “Just keep writing. It can take a lot longer than you think it might to get published, and it might be via a route that you didn’t at first expect, but you need to serve your apprenticeship and learn the craft. The more you write, the better you get.”                 

So I need to go write and hopefully by this evening my internet will be up and running again that will allow me to follow up on my newly established contacts. Well done to Vanessa and congratulations on another successful ‘Date With An Agent’ event. And thanks to the Lunchbox and Teresa who served me a lovely lunch while I typed with one finger, and Mary for her friendly welcome as always. 

The 2015 International Literature Festival Dublin offers a cracking line-up of writers, editors and agents, running from Saturday 16 – Sunday 24 May.

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What Autism Taught Me

 

I’m trying to write. A gloomy Donegal sky is sagging low, closing in around the hills.  It’s blowing a gale outside. Hail stones, like small round pills, are drumming against the window above me. Behind me, my ‘autsome’ boy is pacing. Up and down.  School’s out. Kids are in. No day for the trampoline. I know he wants an outside space where he can run and jump, and do what my ‘autsome’ boy needs to do, but the shower of sleet has turned everything white and wet.  There will be no going out for a while. The pacing continues. I read the same line over and over, trying to make sense of what I have written. I am struggling against the noise. Mowghi is making his signature humming sound as he continues to pace. His incessant need for movement hasn’t let up all these years. His need for noise hasn’t either. His favourite music channel on the television is belting out all the latest hits. It’s all noise to me. The computer is playing Thomas the Tank music. I know every quaver, every beat, every tune that’s comes with being subjected to Thomas the Tank videos for almost fifteen years. That’s how long ago autism sneaked in and took up residence in our home, a noisy, pacing, never a dull moment autism that demanded me to be on red alert at all times, even when I’m writing, There is no retrieve, no downtime, no out when autism is about.  It’s the way it is, and another Autism Awareness Month is upon us.  As Mowghi paces, and the wind howls, and the hailstones rattle I commit to paper a list of things that autism taught me of which there are many, too many to mention. In no particular order, here is a random thought list of lessons I’ve learnt from my ‘autsome’ boy.

  • Time is irrelevant.
  • Moments make up life.
  • Treasure the moments.
  • Not all moments are magical.
  • Most moments are little miracles.
  • A lesson can be learnt in any given moment.
  • The lesson is usually a lesson in self-love.
  • Self-love comes from within and reaches out to others.
  • Self-love is unconditional love.
  • Unconditional love has no strings attached.
  • When Mowghi rests his head on my shoulder the world stops.
  • Never underestimate the power of love of any kind.
  • Autism taught me who matters and what matters.
  • Never underestimate the joy of simple things.
  • Joy can find its way through pain.
  • Given time, the pain of loss and grief eases.
  • Patience is truly a virtue.
  • Autism has honed that virtue for me very well.
  • Humour can be found in the darkest of moments.
  • Look for humour always. It’s a life-saving device.
  • So is toilet paper, and I have to look for it too!
  • Hiding toilet paper prevents blocked toilets.
  • Hiding everything prevents mess and is sanity saving.
  • Whoever invented the key should be canonized.
  • Strangers are mostly real life angels.
  • Talking is overrated.
  • Silence is the sweetest noise.
  • An non-verbal person does not constitute an empty mind.
  • A warm bubbly bath can make anything better.
  • Be soooo grateful for any night of uninterrupted sleep.
  • Material things mean little to the soul.
  • The soul celebrates difference.
  • Our human understanding is limited by logic.
  • There is nothing logical about Autism.
  • Autism remains a mystery.
  • Autism grows up.
  • Autism doesn’t always behave grown up.
  • Grown up autism needs help, support and services.
  • People who work with the vulnerable in society are unsung heroes.
  • Acceptance is the first step on any journey.
  • The journey must be experienced.
  • It’s called life, with or without autism.
  • A good giggle is essential to survival.
  • Strive to enjoy the journey.

My boy is trotting steadily towards his seventeenth birthday. Only yesterday I held him, as in the photograph above, at Crummies Bay, Dunree in Inishowen, Donegal, a small laughing mischievous rascal in my arms who knew his own mind and tormented me with his antics. He still does. I still am at a loss to fully understand him, his strange ways, his sixth sense, his breaking down, his frustrations. his wonder, his need for space, inside and outside, his connection with nature, his withdrawal to the sanctuary of his room. As he paces up and down behind me, I clock up a few more sentences, and wonder is he at a loss to understand me too?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’M NOT A BUILDING. I’M AUTISTIC. LIGHT ME UP INSTEAD.

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FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE INISHOWEN INDEPENDENT

Hello World! I’m autistic. Perhaps you know someone like me. In April you will notice buildings lighting up blue on Autism Awareness Day. Awareness is good but acceptance is better. Allow me to explain why and how you can help.

When I am out and about with my family or carer, life can turn stressful. Autism affects all my senses, attention and perception. This means my behaviour is unpredictable. It helps if you are aware of my condition but it helps more if you:

Try not to stare when I’m having a tough time.
Please give me time, give me space, stay calm and carry on. My carer is often my Mum/Dad/brother/sister. She/he needs a break too!

Give up your place in the line.
I have problems standing quietly in a queue. Waiting is an enormous challenge for me. I become agitated and overwhelmed. I can’t help or stop the sensations I feel in my body. Please, if you notice me in a queue, allow me to go in front of you. My family will really appreciate it.

Watch my body language. It’s how I communicate.
When I’m excited I behave like most folk in Inishowen when Donegal wins a match. I run up and down, scream, shake my hands in the air and clap but I can also behave this way if I am hungry, frustrated, frightened, agitated, confused etc. I may have difficulty with words but if you observe me really closely you might work out how I’m feeling or what I need.

Keep me safe.
If you see me wandering around on my own, if you see me in my pyjamas or with no shoes, if I look lost, anxious and crossing streets aimlessly on my own, chances are I have wandered/ran off and my carer is looking for me. Please watch out for me until you find my carer or my carer finds me. Thank you.

Now, a word of thanks from Mum…

Thanks for giving my autistic child the thumbs up…the way you smile knowingly…the way you offer to watch him for a minute until I do what I need to do…the way you say hello to him even though he never says hello back…the way you ignore him when he helps himself to his favourite sweets in your shop…the way you wave my money away…the way you give him a drink and some goodies in the cinema when he gets fed up sitting….the way you open up your shop even though you had just closed it to let him check it out…the way you allow him to sneak behind the bar and serve himself a coke, the way you watch over him when he runs into your premises…the way you didn’t object when he went for a good snoop around, the way you offer to fetch our car when he has a melt-down in the middle of the multi-story car park…the way you didn’t react when he poked through your bag…the way you stopped and asked me if there was anything you could do for me…the way you made our visits to the clinic easier…the way you offer him a treat…the way you make us feel welcome in your restaurant. You will see us again and again and again because we are loyal to those that make every day life possible for us.

When you do that, you light us up, not only in April but every day of the year. Thank you for accepting, for understanding and making allowances for all families with Autism.

 

 

 

REMEMBERING THE POET AND THE POETRY OF SEAMUS HEANEY.

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Seamus Heaney has died. The news reader made his announcement across the airwaves causing me to stall the car at a junction in Derry. The driver to the left of me looked like he was flapping a wasp away. Gripping the key I started the car again. Chugging off to the right I gestured an apology to the agitated driver who obviously wasn’t listening to the news. If he had of been, and even if he never read a poem in his life, he would have at least recognised the name and learnt of the untimely death of one of Ireland’s finest poets. My stalling was an overreaction surly, but the sheer familiarity of Heaney’s name left me feeling as though a close friend of mine had died.

I have the school curriculum to thank for introducing me to Heaney’s work and his simple rural upbringing that resonated so vibrantly with my own as I dilly dallied home from school through quiet country lanes picking blackberries and peering over hedgerows separating me from cows and freshly ploughed fields. For long enough Digging gave me a deep appreciation of my own father’s passion for working the land and farm routines.  Somehow I took his words to heart. 

Is that why I started reciting Mid-Term Break at the kitchen sink while preparing for dinner around the time the Nobel Laureate poet was being buried in his beloved Derry soil? The last line stuck in my throat as it had done before, over and over, when I was sixteen.

Little Missy wanted to know why I was sad so I told her about the poet, Seamus Heaney, who had a brother called Christopher. “Just like me?” she said. “Just like you,” I smiled back. “But why are your eyes wet Mummy?” she said as she leaned in to help me pick out a few potatoes for peeling. “Because he wrote a poem once about losing his brother and today they are together again.” “But that’s a happy story.” she said. “So it is,” I said, “…and did you know he also wrote a poem about peeling spuds with his mother?” Missy lifted an eyebrow, her eyes full of suspicion. “He did! I’ll find it for you later,” I said turning on the tap and reaching for a knife. She laughed then and ran out to the garden as tears ran down my face remembering Clearances, the poem Heaney wrote in memory of his mother and the gaping emptiness that it had conveyed.

I stood for a moment watching Missy join her other brother on the trampoline and marvelled all over again at Heaney’s ability to pluck a moment of time out of his world or the world of northern politics, or the underworld and record it in such an organic state that it would be relived and felt and understood again and again, time after time.

Those thoughts and reflections he dug with his pen will never die and a name like Seamus Heaney will never die either. Perhaps it was a natural reaction for me to be taken by surprise at the moment I learnt of his death because, as Paul Muldoon said at Heaney’s funeral, “he had the ability to sweep us all up in his arms,” and so a friend in kind did die but the poet Seamus Heaney and all his works will forever live on in the hearts and minds of men and women all over the world but for now the world is feeling his lost aptly described in Heaney’s own words…

The door was open and the house was dark

Wherefore I called his name, although I knew

The answer this time would be silence.

Seamus Heaney 1939-2013 RIP

Dalai Lama in Derry-Cultivating Compassion

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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

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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.