WRITERS NEED EXERCISE TOO!

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Writing is therapy to me but it doesn’t exactly keep me physically fit. Mowghi doesn’t do a bad job—all that running after him has kept me reasonable fit for a long time—but family caring is exhausting. Caring of any kind can hardly be called a workout that sustains and creates energy so I decided to sign up for a health programme hosted by Maria McMenamin at The Natural Health Centre, Buncrana that hopefully will kick-start my exercise routine again.

At registration, Maria mentioned the word ‘intense’ more times than I care to remember so I know this is going to be no walk in the park. That’s what I have done for a long time now, walking in the park, and I shall continue to do so because we have gorgeous parks and walkways in Inishowen and Donegal, but I think the walk in the park is more to shower my head and ‘shower my head’ it does! After all, this is Ireland! But back to this exercise regimen thingy! Gentle yoga in the morning and meandering in nature might soak me to the skin but it doesn’t make me sweat or cause my heart to beat faster. What I need is a good workout and someone to take me into hand from the inside out which is what the Beach Body Burn programme sets out to do. It isn’t only about physical exercise. It is about realising a clean, ultra healthy lifestyle through healthy diet and exercise while having fun to boot!

We all know that regular exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle should be one of our top priorities in life. Only by taking care of ourselves will we be able to show up and be all we can be in our families, at our job and in the community. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Life can get in the way of working out. For some people, like me, the hardest part of exercising isn’t the vigorous physical activity, but finding a way to schedule it in and stay motivated enough to work out regularly. One of the reasons I have signed up for Beach Body Burn is because it is flexible and offers morning classes. Evenings can be busy round here. Usually I turn into a taxi service, so it is difficult to commit to an evening programme. Flexible mornings mean I will stick to the plan but it doesn’t necessarily mean I will be any more motivated so I have picked this programme as it has a time frame and something to work towards. Beach Body Burn (I have consciously decided to ignore the word burn) is a 5 week plan. 5 weeks. 5 workouts per week. 5 meal a day with 24/7 support. What’s not to like?

Well, I spotted some weights and kettle bells at registration, and that word ‘intense’ keeps coming to mind! Furthermore, if you love your chips, crisps and cookies, like me, there are loads of things not to like but at registration Maria told us we have to draw a line under our negative thinking and commit to investing in our health. A new fit body will help keep my brain active and hopefully by the end of the five weeks I will be feeling the benefits so much so that I will keep going…that is if it doesn’t kill me first! Wish me luck!

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

A WALK, A READ AND A WISH.

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First Published in The Inishowen Independent March 2013

The weather is not exactly encouraging me to keep up my morning walk lately but once I’ve talked myself into my coat and walking boots, and pull the front door after me the weather becomes irrelevant. Besides, I have something else to entice me since the Free Wee Libraries popped up in Swan Park and surrounding areas, my love for reading with a dollop of curiosity on the side.

The little libraries are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and hard to pass by.  It’s always interesting to see the different books left in the wee library I’m challenging myself to read different types of books at the moment so what better way than to find a random book on my morning walk and share one of my own. So I was vexed to learn that the harsh weather had no mercy on a couple of the wee libraries that now need a little make over.

The Free Wee Library in Inishowen is the brain child of Geraldine Timlin, award winning artist and lifelong book lover.Geraldine learned about the simple concept that has gained momentum in different parts of America and Europe and wanted to share it with the community. Her love for books and culture compelled her to establish free book nooks in our corner of the world to cultivate community and boost literacy in the great outdoors. These itty-bitty libraries bring readers to books and books to readers making reading accessible and fun!

Five of these tiny wooden libraries, built by volunteers and placed along County Donegal’s coast, are the start of something new to promote literacy for adults and children. The brilliant book-sharing scheme runs on an honesty policy … Take a book. Return a book. A tiny but mighty community builder. How charming is that?

Obviously, Geraldine cannot do enough to share her love of books and the urgent need for a growth in literacy. It’s no secret; we live in a digital age. Our reliance on computers and smart phones has changed the way we interact with the world. Yet a little wooden box full of books has captured the imagination of young and old alike and is creating a sense of community and also a desire to be part of something positive.

The tiny libraries are monitored by volunteers and each library will change its collection several times a month. Geraldine’s wish is that it continues to grow and develop with people who value literacy and community. It’s certainly a great way to declutter your shelves and recycle books!

In late March FWL is organising a poetry competition for children and adults, in Irish and English. The winner will have their poem distributed throughout the Free Wee Libraries. The FWL project has been highly successful to date and plans are under way to expand the project throughout Inishowen. Geraldine is happy to hear from anyone who can donate books, particularly children’s books or help in volunteering in any way to keep the Free Wee Library project inspiring people to read and to share a love for walking and reading in the great outdoors! I hope the Free Wee Libraries that got battered by the storm are up and running again soon and open 365 days a year. It’s hard to beat a walk and a read in the many beautiful spots in Inishowen.

For further details contact freeweelibrary@gmail.com Follow at Free Wee Library Project on Facebook.

Details on the Free Wee Libraries Poetry Competition to follow…

 

 

 

 

 

SHINING A LIGHT ON AUTISM

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Hi Aileen, The New Signature building has a blue light tonight. Xox.

I received this message from my dear friend Colette around this time last year, a reference to the global initiative that lights up iconic landmarks blue to support Autism Awareness Day. She was obviously thinking of me and my son but I wish government bodies would think of us too by turning Autism Awareness into Autism Action for families that face many a ‘blue day’ while caring and supporting a loved one with Autism.

With the cutbacks of already limited services it would seem that the government is not aware of the increase in autism from 1:10,000 in 1980 to 1:88 in 2012. A recent study this year had claimed the ratio is as low as 1:50 yet early intervention, family support services, alternative secondary level education, and employment initiatives remain limited or non existent. Are they not aware that autistic children grow up? Seems not because due to me having the ‘1’ I am very aware that the government failed to support early intervention for my son and I am also aware that there is little in place for a generation of children presenting with autism who are growing up fast and who are turning into adults that will live long lives inevitably dependent on the taxpayers for their support and care.

When my son presented with autism in 2000, services were dire. Now—north and south of the border—services are still dire. Recently when I went looking for help with an issue regarding my son I was advised due to cutbacks, lack of funding, and resources I would get little help. As everything turns blue to help raise awareness for Autism, including me, it seems that autism services have not progressed and so I dearly wish Autism Awareness Day would lead to Autism Action Month and every day thereafter…but all is not lost. Last week, in response to my quest for help I received a letter in the post. It was a reading list of twenty or more books that, apparently, might be able to help me!

While I was standing in complete disbelief scanning the two pages of book titles I noticed my book wasn’t on the list. I laughed out loud at this because why would my book be on the list? It only highlights the lack of support for our children and calls for action…action that has never happened. Lack of services saw me move my son from county and country to a school that embraced children with autism and their needs. It’s no secret the school is Scoil Iosagain in Buncrana. It is also no secret that school funding, resources and support has been stripped from Scoil Iosagain and every other school in the country and from families caring for special needs children.

This month the media will report stories on the blue symbol that raises awareness of autism but will fall short of shining a light on the real issues that plague autism communities and families; government cutbacks, inadequate support and resources that fail to support families that are emotionally and financially drained, constantly dealing with difficult and challenging behaviour that affect everyone in the family, including siblings, sleep deprivation and quite often having to contend with lack of awareness in public places.

The Light it Up Blue campaign will possibly help raise awareness in public places but let’s hope it translates into better services for our children and families. In the mean time it feels good to receive messages from friends that translate into ‘I’m thinking of you.” If you know someone caring for a loved one, why not send them a wee message of support during Autism Awareness Month. It will be much appreciated.

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day in Ireland and the UK. Little Missy is home with a brand new book and a book voucher. As I type she has taken to the comfort of her room and has started a READaTHON. Soon she will read dozens of books and collect much needed funds for her school library. She is having a pretty exciting day and so am I.

On World Book Day authors and writers get to talk all day about reading and writing. I spent my day with the most coolabulous awe inspiring fifth class pupils in Scoil Iosagain, Buncrana, Co.Donegal. We chatted about what they liked to read and I give them some tips on how to start writing. That was easy. All I had to do was tell them to grab some coolicious pens and notepads and start creating stories with words. The writing is in the doing. They asked a host of other questions including the most common one, “Are you really wealthy?” Of course I had to tell them the true – I am wealthy in words, books and health…you know all the stuff that matters to writers and authors.

The pupils were extremely wealthy too – in reading material and enthusiasm but one of the things that really made my day was the fact all three classes loved the children’s book I am working on at the moment. It’s about a little girl called Gracie who doesn’t like boys until she meets Niall. Their reaction and pin drop silences has encouraged me to get on with it and send it out there so that’s my focus for the next week. Wish me luck!

A big thanks to all the fababrilln’cool 5th class pupils in Scoil Iosagain, Buncrana (keep reading and writing and remember you are amazing!!!) to all the staff who invited me and thanked me a zillion times for doing what I love to do. Now I have to wait for a whole year before World Book Day comes round again….Maybe I will have my first children’s book published by then. Happy Days!

Want to read a little more about my day and how I developed my love for reading? The magic of books published in the Inishowen Independent today will fill you in.