I was born in the US to N Irish parents and we moved back to N Ireland at the height of the troubles. 1969. Belfast. From under the shadows of the iconic cranes, Samson and Goliath, we watched Coronation Street. We could only peek in wonder as troops were brought from England by the truckload to walk the streets outside.
I left as soon as I could. Ran away from the soft rhythms of the Irish poet and song master Cecil Francis Alexander, the words of ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’ and ‘Once In Royal David’s City’ being the most literary things in my life to date; my parents driven by the need to provide the essentials in life, with no time for anything else. Up until then I scribbled, everywhere. On walls, fences, bits of paper.
I dallied with writing in my twenties, doing fashion design and working alongside PR’s who produced dry parched press releases whilst I was told they should be admired for their creativity. I struggled to catch a glimpse of the glass ceiling that everyone kept referring to, but I just could not see. It’s always been other people’s problem, my lack of being able to stay in the place people felt I should be grateful for.
I went travelling. Then returned to work with a vengeance and quickly understood that to get on I needed something more. I went to University to study for a Master’s degree. Writing a tome for my dissertation, the conclusion was ‘Who cares – not me’. I passed. It didn’t enhance my thinking or my creativity, but it helped my income, which doubled overnight!
More importantly, I suddenly got it. The shorthand. Understood the sense of entitlement others always seemed to enjoy. Mine gained, I guess, from achieving a decent level of education. Despite my N Irish accent, my gender, my blonde hair always being referred to, I am equal and I am able.
That confidence allowed me to get into Shakespeare. Loving the twists and turns of his work. From Midsummer to Macbeth. I felt buoyed by the modern adaptations of each Shakespeare fable. I started to write. Dribs and drabs, random thoughts.
My beautiful children arrived. Then one day my world stopped when, tragically, my father died. It was a loss like no other. He left me a note, ‘Where’s the book you should have written years ago?’ That was it. And a cheque. I was bereft.
At age fifty, I applied to the first writing course I found on Google in London, The Faber Academy, and was accepted! After a six-month stint I finished a draft of my first novel which I had discussed with all of the visiting authors and other students. The people on the course were highly literary. They kept throwing names around with abandon: Sylvia Plath, Vladimir Nabokov. No one had heard of Marian Keyes. One asked if she was the wife of an economist? Which made me giggle! Eventually. After I stared a little too long and wondered which one of us was the joke? I did also wonder though, are these people really the ones who are shaping our cultural future? I quietly began to read some of the literature they mentioned. What had I been doing all my life? There were these amazing books. I have read solidly ever since. I have discovered a new level of thought although Marian remains dear. I went on another course, Curtis Brown Creative. You can read a sanitized version of my review on their website. Or you can read my original version here.
Maybe Cecil Alexander was right – maybe All Things really are Bright and Beautiful...