I’m giving an online workshop for Proud Haddock Theatre. Roll up, roll up!
For more info
I’m giving an online workshop for Proud Haddock Theatre. Roll up, roll up!
For more info
Art begets art. Great inspiration can be found in complementary art forms. A poet can conjure new ideas from a dance; a musician can be moved to compose by a script.
My second love is visual art. I enjoy painting. I spent a year at art college many moons ago, and although I ultimately pursued writing rather than painting, I often hide out in painting when I’m struggling to find writing inspiration.
This period lends itself very well to re-discovering art forms you haven’t visited in a while. Part of the fun of painting for me is that I’m not a professional. No one expects much of me, so I’m able to approach it as a child would, carefree with no pressure – and that is very liberating and allows for flow.
Here are some of my lockdown efforts. Have you been experimenting with other art forms?
My great-grandfather Lance Corporal Joseph Bohan O’Shea of the Royal Engineers died at the Somme 1916, and is buried at the Quarry Cemetery, Montauban.
My great-grandfather Lance Corporal Joseph Bohan O’Shea fell at the Somme, July 19th, 1916. He’d been in the trenches since war broke out. My grandfather John was four-years-old. Joseph’s death naturally cast a long shadow on my grandfather’s life, and that of his siblings. I wrote a radio play, ‘Cake’, a work of fiction (available to listen to on the right panel) based on events in my great-grandparents’ WWI experience – though it primarily explored the impact of the era on women. Our family has many stories about Joseph, my favourite fact is that he was a fine tenor and at the Christmas truce in 1914, he was elected by his battalion to go to the German trenches and sing for them.
A writer friend of mine who is familiar with my play, was recently researching 1916 newspapers in Ireland and came across an actual letter written from my great-grandmother, Josephine, to the editor of the Waterford News, informing him of her husband’s death in battle (the letter was written from Walthamstow in London, where the family lived for some years before returning to Ireland). Also printed in the paper, were two further letters, one from my great-grandfather’s Major to his Priest and another from a comrade. To mark the centenary, I’m sharing these letters in tribute to my great-grandfather.
But first, I must give some background to Ireland’s relationship with the Great War, which is complicated. The First World War is less of a contentious issue in Ireland now than it used to be, but it ought to be remembered that at the time of WWI, Ireland was revolting against British rule – the Easter Rising took place in 1916, violently challenging British presence in Ireland and changing Ireland forever. In 1918, Irish soldiers who were lucky enough to have survived the trenches of the Somme, came home to an Ireland entering war with Britain (the Anglo-Irish war (1919-1921), followed by a civil war (1922-1923) which was waged over the terms of the treaty. In the shadow of these two home-grown wars, the veterans of 1914-1918 were at best ignored, at worst viewed as traitors for taking the “Saxon Shilling”.
Thankfully, there have been recent moves to acknowledge and remember the more than 200,000 Irishmen who fought with the British forces during WWI. Their reasons for joining up were varied and complex. Certainly, poverty was rife and a soldier’s wage offered steady income. Many others believed that their service would be rewarded by Ireland being granted home-rule. More were convinced by the ‘save small Catholic Belgium from fearsome Protestant invaders’ narrative, which was really pushed in recruitment drives in Ireland. And, at that time, Ireland was part of the UK, so there were some who saw joining up as a patriotic duty. I don’t know my great-grandfather’s own reasons for going to war, and indeed this question was a through line of my play.
However, these men, such as my great-grandfather, should not be forgotten. I would also like to remember here the youngest soldier to die in WWI, 14-year old John Condon, was from my home city, Waterford.
Here are the letters from my great-grandmother, to the “Waterford News” (some words are unclear due to age of paper):
10 Cornwallis Road,
August 17th 1916
To the editor “Waterford News”
Would you kindly make mention in your paper, this week if possible, of the death of one of your fellow citizens, my husband, Joseph Bohan O’Shea, son of Joseph Bohan O’Shea, late Relieving Officer, of 42 Grattan Terrace, Waterford.
Deceased was a pupil of Mount Sion Schools, and was only 30 years of age. He leaves myself and four little children to mourn his loss. His death is a very heavy blow, as he was one of the kindest and best husbands and fathers. But the burden is light when I know he died such a noble death – in fact a hero’s death. He was killed as he was carrying an officer off the field under heavy fire, and I am sure his death is an honour to the city of Waterford and that he will be deeply regretted by his very numerous friends and companions. He was employed with Sir William Arroll and Co., Bridge Erectors, from the age of 17 years, when he started on the Barrow and then the Suir bridges, and had been on the Blackfriars Bridge, London where he was awarded a medal for a life-saving in 1909. He joined the Royal Engineers in April 1914 and had been through the Battles of Loos and Mons, and in fact, had never been out of danger. He was made Lance-Corporal in May 1916. He was killed on the 19th of July.
I am sending you some of his companions’ letters and also one of his major’s letters to our priest here. I am also enclosing his photo, and would you kindly let me have letters and photo back at your earliest convenience.
Trusting, dear Editor, it’s not imposing too much and thanks you in anticipation,
I remain, yours sincerely,
Mary J. O’Shea
August 7th 1916
I was not present when Corporal O’Shea was killed, but it occurred as he was helping to carry one of our officers, who had been wounded in a trench which the enemy was shelling at the time. It was a brave action, because it was done under fire.
Corporal O’Shea had been in the company under my command for nearly two years. He was a quiet man and a good workman, one of many who have sacrificed themselves for the honour of their country. It is owing to the quiet sacrifice of men such as he that we have raised an army which even the Germans now respect, and which contains many individuals such as him, whose quiet heroism has excited the admiration of the nation and their comrades will not be forgetful.
I am glad to think that I was able to let Lnc Corporal O’Shea get home to see his wife and family before the action in which he fell. If I remember right, I was able to help him in this matter on his request.
With sincere gratitude for the prayers you are making for our safety, and I assure you we need them.
Yours very sincerely,
August 5th 1916
Dear Mrs O’Shea,
It is with feelings of sorrow and deepest sympathy that I now write these few lines to you. I know one of our chaps has written but I feel I must express my sympathy towards you for the loss of your dear husband. We are all sorry to lose him as he was such a good, genuine (Pal) ??? and one of the best men I have ever worked with. I went on my first route march in Bordan with him and I was in the same section until about three months ago. We have shared blankets and parcels from time to time and I can assure you, although I am a single chap, I used to admire Joe for the love he had for his wife and children and few men thought more of home than he did. I went for a (wash/watch)??? to an old post with him the same morning as he passed away that night, but he was doing his duty when he died as he was helping one of our own officers that was badly wounded.
We read it is God’s Word that “No greater love hath no man than that man who lays down his life for his friend.”
My address is Sar. R. Baines, 34th F. T. McCoy. ??? I have his diary that one of our chaps gave to me as it would have been destroyed. So, I will send it along as soon as I have the opportunity. I left a photo he gave me ?? home when I went on leave in May, and if I live through I shall treasure it more carefully and I know someday I shall meet him in a better world. I pray that God may support and sustain you and yours in your hour of sorrow and trial. But Joe was loved by all who knew him and we are all very sorry to lose him, yet we do not know who the next might be, so may God bless you and sustain you. I do not forget you all in my prayers to the One above. With deepest sympathy, I remain your sincere friend.
OK, not Scarborough Fair… but even better, a Scarborough theatre! The Stephen Joseph, to be precise, an institution closely associated with Alan Ayckbourn.
My most recent play, Imaginationship, will be showcased on August 16th. It was one of five selected for a reading at the this celebrated institution over the summer. I’m traveling up for the event. I’ve never been to Yorkshire, not to mind say Scarborough – so I’m very much looking forward to the show. Do come along if you can.
Atilla Akinci as Gediminas and John Sackville as Bazzy in my play Imaginationship
If you want to hook your readers, you’ll need a character that leaps off the page. A good character is believable and interesting. Firstly, be careful your character is not of music-hall-cliche stock (dumb blonde, greedy banker, uber-organized German, upper class twit etc…) – the problem here is that the reader will have met your character far too many times before to find them interesting now. As usual, turning the cliche on its head can be a good place to start getting ideas (chess-master page three girl, a banker who secretly gives away money etc…)
Also, don’t focus on describing what they look like from head to toe. In fact, their general physical appearance is not so revealing – the key is often in the interesting quirks and blemishes. Moreover, you ought to climb inside your character’s skin, get to know them intimately and let the reader see how they tick. It is good if there is something unusual about them. Here’s a sample list of questions you could mull in order to give your character depth:
Rather than describe the colour of their hair and eyes, write instead about their height.
What about their gait, posture and walk? Does he flutter, jerk, flap or glide?
If you first met this character, what would strike you most?
Does s/he resemble an animal?
What is their natural scent?
What sort of diet do they have and what has been the physical impact of this regime?
What does their best friend think of them?
What happens when your character gets drunk?
What does your character have in his/her pockets/handbag/beside table?
What is your character’s favourite joke?
Also, to make your character particularly memorable, give him/her/it a singular physical attribute your reader will long associate with them. Think of it this way, if you were going to a costume party dressed as Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Havisham or Liesbeth Salander – what would you need? My guesses are, respectively: a lightening bolt scar, a deerhunter hat and pipe, an old wedding dress, and a dragon tattoo. Try to imagine what you’d need to be recognizable as your character.
The entire run Imaginationship at the Finborough Theatre has SOLD OUT! So, we’ve added an EXTRA PERFORMANCE, a 2pm matinee on Monday 22nd, due to the extraordinary demand for tickets. If you wish to come, tickets for this extra date go on sale on Friday 19th at 12pm, but please book asap as they’ll sell quickly: Finborough Theatre.
All bar one of the remaining performances of IMAGINATIONSHIP at the Finborough Theatre have now sold out. Very limited tickets remaining for the Tuesday MATINEE on Jan 16 only. If you plan on coming, please Book soon!
IMAGINATIONSHIP has sold out four of the remaining six performances already! Please book your tickets asap if you’re planning on coming to see my new play at the Finborough Theatre , London.
Directed by Tricia Thorns, the play is set in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. 59-year-old Ginnie attempts to seduce her unrequited love, the nymphomaniac Brenda. Attila is from Hungary but has ended up scraping an existence in Yarmouth – and pursues Melody who is obsessed with her commitment phobic evening-class tutor, Tony. Power-plays and relationships clash until a seduction too far leads to mass murder.
Set in this marginalised Brexit town, Imaginationship explores obsession, sex addiction, and the devastating effect of imbalanced relationships, not least between immigrants and locals, London and the regions.
Joanna Bending – Melody
Jilly Bond – Ginnie
Atilla Akinci – Gediminas
John Sackville – Baz
Bart Suavek – Attila
Patience Tomlinson – Brenda
Rupert Wickham – Tony
Phenomenal response to COW! SOLD OUT!! Full house and heartfelt curtain calls. We’re now mulling its further life. Many thanks to all involved and to those who came. COW will be back!
When a mysterious and beautiful Hungarian woman arrives in Glenmore, Co. Kilkenny to work as a mushroom picker, the Clearys’ strained, childless marriage comes under further threat…
An entertaining light comedy that also mulls contemporary issues including immigration, perceptions of women and infertility – and there’s ongoing consternation about hurling, camogie and Irish weather! The play is directed by Catríona Clancy. COW also features acclaimed Irish actor Michael Quinlan as Damien Cleary, Firetrap Theatre’s Geraldine Crowley as Marie Cleary and Emma Lyndon-Stanford as Ági Kovács.
Mayo magic: The Dog in the Treehouse wins the 2017 Claremorris Fringe Award
What could top two weeks at the Heinrich Boll cottage on Achill Island? Very little, but picking up the 2017 Claremorris Fringe Award for my short play “The Dog in the Treehouse” on the day of my departure comes close.
Not only does this win supply prestige and very welcome prize money, but I also was presented with an excellent staged version of my play, and treated with royal hospitality by the event organisers and theatre lovers from every corner of Ireland. What a March you’ve provided Mayo!