Do Not Go Gentle

We meet most Sunday mornings. She is much older than me but I don’t care. Funny how she always seems surprised as I gasp ‘Good morning’, as if she’d never seen me before. ‘Good morning’, she answers back. Then we are apart again.

Shuffling along with her stick, skirting Grouville Common, set on a destination unbeknown to me. To her daughter’s house maybe. A cup of tea and a chat. Looks forward to seeing her grandchildren.

She certainly has a past, a long one too. What stories could she tell if I were to fall into conversation with her? Of her Jersey childhood, the village school, visits to the nearby beach, a weekly visit to the town of St Helier. Then the arrival of the Germans and the five long years of hardship before the Liberation. Love, marriage, a family. Maybe none of the above. I know nothing about her.100_0870

Perhaps she was a champion swimmer as a young lady. She wishes someone would ask her about her medals. Now she walks to keep fit, unbelieving that her body could ever let her down.

And does she know, or care, that this puffing stranger is also raging against the dying of the light? One day, sooner or later, we’ll meet no more.

I wonder who will let the other down?

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A character looking for a story

In my second novel ‘A Jersey Midsummer Tale’ the early scenes were of four young Jersey people meeting up on Midsummer Day 1935. Soon enough one of them – Tess Picot – was trying to tell me, convince me, to write her story. And so I did in ‘Tess of Portelet Manor’.

In ‘A West Cork Mystery’ a young, feisty barmaid in Darwin, Australia makes a brief appearance to help out one of the story’s leading characters. Later, Chantilly Taylor reappeared as the subject of a short story in my collection ‘Aspirations of a Sheep’.

Which leads me to the point of this post. Chantilly won’t let me go. I have explored her character, personality and appearance. She is pale, ash-blonde cut in a severe style, blue-eyed, straight-talking, gay or a-sexual, likes Goth music. But she is highly intelligent and, despite her background, has always wanted to study History at one of the Oxbridge colleges. Due to some good fortune she has managed to get a place a Magdalene, Cambridge.

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Nothing to do with this post, but a nice view of Havre des Pas, Jersey from the old swimming pool.

Never having been to Cambridge I have researched the city, and Magdalene, in some depth. And I have written the first couple of introductory scenes. And I have no clue what comes next! I haven’t a plot, though I want it to be crime-based.

Which got me to thinking about the popular authors who have readers gasping for their next release. Lee Childe must always be thinking up new adventures for Jack Reacher. Tess Gerritson and her protagonist Jane Rizzoli, Rowling and Harry Potter, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. There are innumerable examples. What is their process for thinking up a new overarching plot?

It’s a new one on me but I’m going to have fun figuring it out. Meanwhile Chantilly is getting used to her new life as a fresher in Cambridge.

Thoughts?

Whatever happened to my running blog?

It was early in 2003 that I ‘discovered’ running, as I approached my 50th birthday. At around about that time I set up my first blog site ‘Athletics Jersey’. This documented my early efforts, as well as commentating on the athletics scene generally here in Jersey.

I let that website lapse when I headed off to Ireland in 2008. Amazingly I’m still registered with the US hosting company and I might try to retrieve access to those early (and probably cringeworthy) posts.

In October 2008 I started my ‘Roy In Ireland’ blog which was later rolled into this one. Happily the WordPress archive has retained everything from that point.

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Anyhow, the point being that only in comparatively recent times has this blog turned more writerly, with a definite emphasis on Jersey’s social history and its environment. Though my running has continued on and off it rarely features on here any more. During 2016 I ran 773 miles compared to my best years of 2010 (1,333) and 2015 (1,178). I had a lousy start to 2016, taking many weeks to recover properly from severe manflu which struck on Dec 25th 2015. But, as I write, I’m getting back to a point where I’m ‘fit to train’ as they say in the coaching world. In other words I’ve got back to a reasonable basic level from where I can push on towards harder, more specific training targets. In 2017 I want to challenge my best times, which are

1 mile – 6.58 Irishtown Stadium, Dublin 25/12/08 (Watch out Mo)
5k – 22.51 Jersey 13/10/15
5 miles – 40.22 Bandon, Cork 28/12/08
10k – 47.54 Jersey, 21/2/10
Half-Marathon – 1:46.30 Jersey 20/8/07 (An outlier, the only time I’ve run inside 1:50)
Marathon – 4:27.23 Cork 7/6/10

Any runner will tell you that these times are pretty rubbish BUT they’re by an ageing guy and represent his best shots. To get near these times again I have to be putting in consistent long training miles. The 5k, 10k and HM marks above were set off the back of heavy marathon training, so there’s a clue. Whether or not I try to improve that pretty poor marathon PB I ought to be aware of the training effect.

My last run of 2016 was earlier today, the Bouley Bay Hill Climb. I huffed and puffed up the severe 0.85 mile climb in 10 minutes or so and was near the back. But it was great to see the many young kids (some very young indeed) running for the sheer enjoyment of it.

So that’s where the running blog went. Twitter is where I hang out for running purposes these days, but I’ll get back to you again on this subject in 12 months time.

Happy New Year from sunny Jersey

Family Lines – part 4

While Donal McCarthy was growing up in Dunmanway, young Joan Culverhouse, aged 18 months, was being deposited with her grandparents in Bandon, a town roughly half way along the road to Cork city. This was in the early 1930s.

No one is quite sure why the young English girl remained in Bandon, but she was to call it home for the next 17 years or so.

As we have seen, the McCarthys get everywhere. Joan’s grandparents were McCarthys. They lived a short way from the Protestant town of Bandon in a cottage in Kilbeg. A few years later they moved to Knockbrogan Cottage nearby.

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Joan, my mother, at Kilbeg early 1930s and in August 1995

My great grandfather Patrick died in 1938 and great grandmother Margaret (in the first photo above) in 1949. In 1911 there was a tragedy with their young son John meeting with a fatal accident when driving a horse and cart along the road. They all lie in lonely Kilbrogan cemetery, the headstone having been erected in recent years. (Here’s a link to the image.)

Somewhere along the way Donal and Joan hooked up, joined the general emigration from Ireland and rocked up in Birmingham in about 1950. These were the days of landladies openly displaying signs saying ‘No Dogs, Blacks or Irish’.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Done & dusted – Book 7

Funny, when I started doing a bit of writing I harboured – like most beginners – a hope that one day I’d hold a book with my name on the front. Today I went live on Amazon Kindle with my seventh.

It was only reading it over for the very last time I realised I had written a YA novel. I don’t aim my books at anyone in particular but it’s clear to me that, if this one has an audience, it will be young adults. Again a young female protagonist with not one, but two separate quests.

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Those of you who have read my recent Family Lines posts will soon realise that much of the story is set in Dunmanway, West Cork. Indeed the cottage named ‘Coolbawn’ in the story and its present and former inhabitants bear a passing resemblance to Tonafora and my father’s family. Beyond that it is fiction, and a bit of fantasy fiction at that.

It’s available at Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or indeed at your regional store. Paperback follows.

Will there be a Book 8? Probably, but the muse has yet to arrive in that respect so it might be some time.

Family Lines – part 3

So, Grandpa Flor and Grandma Ellen – as was the Catholic Irish way – had a large family. They must have sometimes lost count. Six boys and four girls I believe (edit – I’m advised eight boys, four girls + one more adopted), though I’ll need to check that. All somehow lived together at ‘Tonafora’. Flor & Ellen had their own room, the boys in another and the girls in the last one. They would sleep, like pilchards in a tin, alternatively head to feet.

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Grandma Ellen, outside Tonafora

No wonder that they scattered to the four winds once they were old enough. Their stories are, for the most part, long forgotten. The family lived through the early years of the last century, through the War of Independence with Britain and the ensuing Civil War which saw the birth of the Irish Free State. Indeed Uncle Jimmy, one of the youngest boys, was born during Easter Week 1916. The somewhat bodged ‘Rising’ that week nonetheless kick-started Ireland’s freedom from British rule.

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Cousin Mary, Jimmy’s daughter, d.2013

Uncle Jimmy became a legend in my eyes. He worked on the railways. When I first knew him he was a level-crossing keeper. He lived only a couple of hundred yards from ‘Tonafora’ with his wife Sheila and his children – my cousins – Mary and Ann. The West Cork line ran through the meadows here between Cork city and Bantry. When the bell sounded in their house Jimmy would put on his hat, completing his uniform, and would head outside and open the level crossing gates. We’d stand on the gates and watch the train rumble through. Later, Jimmy would go on to work at Cobh Station, out along the estuary from the city. He died one Christmas, relaxing in his armchair with a glass of whiskey after lunch.

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The last inhabitants. Aunt Nuala with husband Jack outside a renovated Tonafora in 1989. Tonafora has since been demolished.

My father Donal was the youngest of the boys. I used to travel back to Dunmanway with him when I was young. We’d do the rounds of aunts, uncles, cousins. I used to think Ireland as a sort of fairyland and I never got over my love for the place.

But what of my mother’s side, I hear you cry. Part 4 coming up.

Family Lines – part 2

Irish lineage is notoriously difficult to negotiate. Few records exist prior to 1800. Registration of all births, marriages and deaths did not begin until 1864. The census records from inception (1821) up to 1851 were destroyed by fire in 1922 during the Civil War. The records from 1861 – 1891 were, unbelievably, pulped by government order to support the 1914-18 war effort.

Add to this that County Cork was overrun with McCarthys and given names tended to follow a narrow pattern down through most families. The task of even reaching back to the mid 19c was not easy.

However, my Great-Grandpa Jeremiah married Mary (also a McCarthy) in 1864 in Dunmanway, West Cork. They are recorded living in West Green, Dunmanway in 1911 when Jeremiah was 74 and Mary 72.

One of their 11 children was Florence (Flor), my Grandpa (b.1877). He was to marry Ellen Murray (b.1880) in 1903. The Murrays hailed from the townland of Behagullane, which is a few miles north of Dunmanway. They made their home at ‘Tonafora’, a cottage down a lane a mile or so outside Dunmanway town. The story is that Flor was granted an acre of land to house his family.

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Taken at Tonafora early 1930s – Grandma Ellen, Aunt Nuala, Grandpa Flor, two unknown aunts.

I have early memories of both Flor and Ellen. I spent several extended holidays at Tonafora as a child. Flor was, by some accounts, a harsh man. He worked hard at labouring and I recall he would regularly collect horse dung from the lane in a bucket for gardening purposes. My Grandma Ellen was always happy to see me though I recall that she could never understand a word I said to her, Dad having to translate.

More to come in part 3.

Family Lines – part 1

I’ve recently been inspired, by a couple of excellent blogs, to write down for the record a little of my ancestry. Those inspirational blogs are

I commend both to you. They are quite different but both have a true feel for Irish history, including that of their own families.

You should also visit Kerry Duncan’s blog ‘Postcards from Kerry’. Kerry has recently been looking at some work done on her ancestry and she has uncovered some great secrets.

There is so much social history that is lost and whatever we can preserve will make research that much easier for those that come after us.

So I’m going to work backwards and we’ll see how we get on. But the story starts with the next generation and my children Eoin (b.1987) and Emma (b.1989). Eoin is a qualified doctor working in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Emma works for the States, the government here in Jersey, Channel Islands.

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Here is a recent view, one of my favourites, of the Beauport headland here in Jersey

I have, or had, three siblings. I’m the elder statesman (b.1953), then there is Terence (b.1957) and Colin (b.1961). Colin’s twin Kieran died some years ago.

We were all born and raised in Birmingham to Donal and Joan. Dad died some years ago but Mam is still, at 86, buzzing around in the old homestead. Both came over to Ireland in the late 1940s – like so many of their compatriots – and, after living and working in Blackburn, found their way down to Birmingham where they settled.

Some old photos to follow, but here’s one to be going on with. It will have been taken about 1956 in Dunmanway, West Cork. The grown-ups are my Uncle Jimmy, Grandma Ellen, Aunt Nuala and Grandpa Flor. The little girls are my cousins Ann and Mary. Only Ann is still alive.

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In part 2 I’ll explore my antecedents on my Dad’s side.

Aspirations of a Sheep

In A West Cork Mystery Joe and Miranda, touring around the west of Ireland, stopped to stretch their legs. Leaning against a wall they looked across the vast, rolling, rocky countryside with, in the distance, some woolly inhabitants. One sheep appeared to be heading up a hill, away from the flock. Joe and Miranda lightly speculated that this sheep was determined to find a different, better life. No longer would she run with the crowd.

Most stories begin with a single idea, or incident, that inspires the writer. Some of these ideas are better expressed in the short story. dfw-rm-aoas-cover-3d

So at last I got around to gathering together some of these bits and pieces that I’ve jotted down over the years. (I was pleased to rescue the earliest of these from an old laptop that was, surprisingly, still working.) There’s no central theme but – as you might expect – there’s a bit of Jersey nostalgia in there among what is a fairly random collection. Fourteen stories in all and you might like a few.

Not a long read and priced accordingly – £0.99 or $0.99. Available to download now by clicking here for Amazon UK or here for Amazon.com, paperback to follow.

Let me know what you think.