Archive for September, 2011

Conamara Sea Week

Next month will be the time to be in Letterfrack. I’ve been a regular, though somewhat haphazard visitor to the delightful occasion that is Sea Week –  given workshops, sung songs, enjoyed meetings with wise and musical people, walked the stunning white beaches and swum in the so-clear-you-could-drink-it sea.  One year I stole a perfect recipe for soda bread.

Alas, this year I can’t be there.

One year a poem emerged, all by itself; to celebrate Clare and Leo Hallissey and their creative enthusiasm for the part of the world they live in, here it is:


Weeds wash with the surf

Slaphappy jumblesale of shell and shale

A curious curlew questions

Why, why are we here?

On this strand where men have died from hunger,

Seaweed straggles the stones in stripes of terracotta, fern-green, peat bog black;

I dip the dulse, rosy-brown, and bite.

This salt salad satisfies

Land hunger, sea hunger, man hunger.

I could live on these rainbows.


Here’s a link to tell you more http://www.ceecc.org/

If you get there, walk on Renvyle beach. I envy you.



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Listening to the McCarthy women on the Irish news today: I don’t know where they will be tonight, and in spite of their cheerful talk, neither do they –  but that is how  life is for travellers.

People have asked me if the traveller scenes in ‘Micka’ are realistic. They are drawn from my experiences, starting in Birmingham in 1971, where we would be told on the grapevine about early morning evictions from unauthorised sites [they had no choice because their traditional sites had been built on]. It was the job of the support group to photograph the strong arm men as they hauled the trailers off the site, whether there were children inside or not. As we couldn’t afford film, we clicked away with empty cameras, trying to look official. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. At one of the evictions I met Grattan Puxon, still an activist, who is at Dale Farm today.

Later, I worked with travellers in Perthshire and the West Midlands. I’ve drunk gallons of tea and eaten heaps of sandwiches in many types of trailer, from the ‘flash’ ones with mirrors and Capo di Monte china to the less luxurious version with no running water or toilets. Traveller society is complex and the hierarchy is partly based on nationality, ancestry and wealth, or lack of it. There are probably other, more subtle factors at play. I never knew half of what was going on around me, and that was not because they were talking in Romany, it was because their everyday lives were as full of cataclysmic events as a three act Greek tragedy.

I can’t get inside the head of a bailiff who has been told to break up a community of families. I guess he will have to see these beings as somehow less than human, therefore not entitled to the same considerations we normally give to our friends and family. In ‘Micka’ I may have created an idealised picture of travellers, but the tolerance of children towards each other, the moments of generosity and hospitality, and the amazing organisation of the women, particularly for weddings and funerals, are real and lasting memories for me.

I wish the Dale Farm community could be guaranteed their safety and security, under a less tyrannical local authority and with the support of a less judgemental settled society.

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Always excited when the shortlist comes out. It may be only a lottery, a cynical exercise in marketing, or a reductive, subjective way of choosing the best novel of the year, but it makes books, writers and readers news for a few weeks, and that buzz surely has to be a good thing for literature?

I’m excited for all the shortlisted writers, but the one who has caught my attention, and whose book I will definitely be reading, is Stephen Kelman with ‘Pigeon English’. Three cheers for a book written in the voice of an eleven year old boy! Last year, Emma Donoghue’s extraordinary and gripping ‘Room’ gave us the thoughts and ideas of a five year old, which also made it to the shortlist. Children need and deserve this level of adult attention, in books as in life.

Writing as I do, for and about children, I feel passionately that the world should sit up and take notice of them.  In ‘Micka’, I spoke in the voices of two boy characters whose world, I feel, ought to be known and understood better by adults.

Seeing ‘Pigeon English’ on the shortlist is brilliant, and I salute the judges for their choice.

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