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

 

 

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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.

AUTISM AWARENESS DAY

AUTISM HEART

I think my au-some son knows it is Autism Awareness Day. From very early morning, he is making me very aware of the condition he struggles with every day. My son is a champion coping with the odds of autism everyday and winning. He is not giving me a hard time, he is having a hard time. Sometimes, his siblings have a hard time too. Autism is hard but loving our au-some boy is easy.

April is Autism Awareness Month

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?

 

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.