Thanks for taking the time out to answer a few questions Lynda. So, you're an Irish lass?
Yes, I was born in Portadown, a large town in County Armagh, and this is where I grew up and went to school. However, every weekend my parents would bundle me and my siblings into the old Hillman Minx and drive to Innishmore Island on Lough Erne. This was the home farm where my father had grown up as the youngest of ten children.
It was! On arrival we would be given complete freedom to roam the fields and explore nature, and I think this mixture of a combined rural and urban upbringing has been very valuable to me as a person. During my teenage years Northern Ireland was going through what is now termed as the Troubles, and it was certainly not an uplifting environment, in any shape or form. Nobody was unaffected by what was happening in those darker times, but people just got on with living their lives as normally as they could. I am immensely proud that, because of my parents’ innate goodness and broad-mindedness, I had friends of different denominations, and was always encouraged to respect other people’s views. But despite the difficulties of living through the Troubles, I look back on those years with gratitude too, as I was very much into the music scene, writing songs and making recordings in a Belfast studio. That was probably where the seed of my later poetry and prose writing began.
Were there things growing up in Ireland and during the Troubles that still influences your writing now?
That’s an interesting question and the obvious answer would be to say that yes, undoubtedly there must be. But if I’m truthful, I would have to admit that most of the influences in my writing have been a product of more recent events in my life. Yes, I was set a good example by my parents, which has hopefully allowed me to know the difference between right and wrong, thus influencing (perhaps) how I perceive the characters in my books and stories. So I suppose you could say that my life has been shaped by events while I was growing up, but imagination has taken over somewhere along the line and now allows me the freedom to write about subjects that can often be uncomfortable to tackle.
Can you remember writing down your first structured words at school?
Actually no, although I do remember reciting poetry by rote at a very young age. We were taught the art of penmanship during primary school and were expected to write legibly and neatly (and on the lines!) but as for putting a proper sentence together – who knows?
Did you have a love of words back then?
I didn’t exactly have a love of words back then, but my father kept an old dictionary in the house and he would always be looking up words and relating their meaning to us most evenings around the tea table. I may not have valued that at the time, but certainly his efforts have stood me in good stead since, as I love to find new words for myself now. As a child I wasn’t very interested in reading and I have regrets about that as it is only when you read, read, read, that you appreciate the wonderful diversity of the English language. You can always learn from the writing of others regardless of the genre.
Did you go to a university in Ireland?
Yes, I attended the Ulster University in the mid 1970s and studied physical education with music. It was probably some of the worst years of the Troubles with a great many bombings etc., in the province, but on campus life was the same as it was for a lot of students anywhere really - enjoying that first taste of freedom away from home and making the most of it. When I left university it was to go straight into teaching and I taught music for several years afterwards, before changing to special needs.
Is writing your full-time job?
Well, as I’ve just stated, I’m a special needs teacher in a primary school. I do love my job, but I am presently on a career break and have been working assiduously in trying to put a poetry collection together. These days you’d be very fortunate to make a good living out of writing full time and you also have to be extremely disciplined. I have done some freelance work for newspapers etc - mainly human interest stories about subjects that have affected my own life such as cancer, dementia and being in a mixed marriage.
Tell me about your very first writing engagement.
My first serious piece of writing happened when a friend of mine died and I wrote about my relationship with her (we suffered from the same type of cancer but approached it very differently). It was published in The Belfast Telegraph at the time and I followed it up with several more human interest stories that seemed to have made a connection with the readers. That gave me the confidence to try and write fiction, so I enrolled in a creative writing class and everything went from there. I’ve tried my hand at most types of writing; short stories, novels, poetry etc., and have enjoyed the challenges involved with each of them but my attempts at writing plays have been pretty feeble.
Tell me about the projects you are working on at the moment.
Last year I worked very hard with my publisher to put together an anthology of short stories entitled Under a Cold White Moon. Many of the stories had previously won awards or competitions, or had been broadcast on the BBC, so it seemed like a good idea to include them together in one book. The anthology was published last November and I’m really pleased with how it worked out. Since then I’ve put all my efforts into writing poetry, and am presently in the final stages of pulling the collection together. I spent the start of this year in Bahrain where I’m a member of the Bahrain Writers’ Circle, who have given me great encouragement with my writing. I’ve also been delighted to have had a couple of my poems recently translated into Farsi for an anthology entitled Where Are You From?
What really inspires your to write?
I can be inspired by the most surprising things and most of them ordinary observations in everyday life. I could be waiting in a queue at the bank, sitting on a park bench watching the world go by, or having coffee with a friend – always listening to snatches of conversations that I could add to the stories or poems developing in my head. But essentially I prefer to write about challenging subjects. In my short stories I tackle themes like dementia, suicide and euthanasia which are serious issues that affect many, many people but not everyone wants to talk about them openly. Hopefully I deal with them in a sympathetic way although that is up to the reader to decide of course.
What is the process of transforming that initial moment of inspiration, or idea, into actual words on paper?
Well, always write down the thought or inspiration straight-away, for if you don’t it’s certain that five minutes later it will be gone. No matter what I’m doing I will always have a small notebook with me to scribble down ideas. Sometimes I’ll think of something in the middle of the night and scratch the words out half-blinded by sleep but knowing that if I don’t they’ll have disappeared into the ether by morning. I may not use some of these thoughts for a while; for example, I might have overheard an interesting conversation somewhere but only use it much later when I have a story that lends itself to that particular dialogue. When I’m writing prose I’ll write it straight onto the computer, but a lot of my poems are written by hand first, and then transferred later on.
Do you have a particular writing location?
Ultimately I write in the spare bedroom where the main computer is, and if I’m using the laptop I can write anywhere as long as it’s completely quiet. I can’t seem to be able to write with any background noise going on, which can be quite restricting at times.
What are your plans for the future?
I would dearly love to publish a poetry collection with an Irish publishing house. Failing that I’ll keep on writing poetry for the joy of it, and continue to share my writing at library readings, poetry slams etc.
Name your THREE most favourite books and why.
Last year I inadvertently read an interesting book review before heading off on holiday so I thought I’d give it a go. That book was Plainsong by Kent Haruf. I was so impressed that I followed it up by reading the next two in the trilogy and then backtracked and read all his other books as well. His use of language is extraordinary, but most of all he can take a completely ordinary scene from someone’s ordinary life and make it sing with humanity. Someone else who has a similar gift is Elizabeth Strout. In her book Olive Kitteredge, she does not shirk away from the frailties of human beings. The characters are never only black and white, which allows the reader to connect with their vulnerabilities. I loved that book. And my third choice would be Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor, a story about one of the famine ships that sailed from Ireland to America during the famine. I go back to this book every now and again when I want to remind myself what good writing is all about. Oh, and if you get the chance to hear Joseph O’Connor read, he has the most beautiful voice.
Lastly... what does writing MEAN to you?
Writing has given me the means to express myself in a way that I couldn’t have imagined when I was younger. I was never a diligent student at school, never a great reader, never a lover of the written word until it was almost too late to make amends. Yet somehow I have managed to have an appreciation for writing, whether it be prose or poetry, because I have come to realise it is what connects us as human beings. In the world we live in at the moment I think that’s important.
Thanks so much Lynda, and thank you for your wonderful contribution to LONELY. Don't stop writing!
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