Tag Archives: sue healy

Never Forget

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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,
Walthamstowe,
London,
NE

August 17th 1916

To the editor “Waterford News”

Dear Sir,

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

Dear Father,

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,

R. Hearn

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.

R. Baines.

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Are You Going to Scarborough…

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.


What a Character!

 

Imaginationship Atilla Akinci, John Sackville

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.


Imaginationship: EXTRA SHOW added!

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.

Imaginationship Patience Tomlinson. Bart Suavek


IMAGINATIONSHIP run near SOLD OUT (tickets remaining for Jan. 16th matinee only!)

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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 at the FINBOROUGH Now Showing

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.

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BOOK HERE

Featuring:

Joanna Bending – Melody

Jilly Bond – Ginnie

Atilla Akinci – Gediminas

John Sackville – Baz

Bart Suavek – Attila

Patience Tomlinson – Brenda

Rupert Wickham – Tony


COW – A Sold-Out Success!!!

 

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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!

Play:

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. 


2017 Claremorris Fringe Award!

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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!


In Boll’s Retreat on Achill Island

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An inspiring Irish speciality, a seaweed bath

Two weeks at the Heinrich Boll cottage in Achill, two whole weeks of wonderful industry and contemplation on Ireland’s wild Atlantic shores, in one of Mayo’s most scenic corners in the home of one of the 20th century’s most famous authors. That is how lucky I am. And yes, it was very fruitful. Nothing compares to time spent on a writers’ residency.

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Achill Island

I’ve had residencies at four institutions. They’ve all been great and interesting and why wouldn’t they be, providing time and distance from routine to concentrate on your art alone or in the company of other creatives. Each institution has provided something unique, whether it be conversation with the other artists, inspiration from the environment, tuition or the calm and stillness that lends itself so well to the creative process. For all these reasons, I’d also recommend the following: Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland), Aras Eanna (Ireland), The Hurst (UK) and last year Ginestrelle, (Italy). I’ve also rented friends’ holiday homes in low season, which is a way artists can enjoy a focused way to write, without breaking the bank.

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Castle of Graunuaile (the pirate Queen of Connaught), on Achill Island.

I’m going to reblog below, a list of residencies/retreats I drew up some years ago. I haven’t had time recently to check, expand or prune this list, but please feel free to add your own comments/suggestions. And apologies if some of the links are out of date.

Do note that America is where the writers’ colony was born, hence its dominance of the list. The U.S. still provides the best, the most prestigious and the most difficult colonies to get into. Yes, “get into”. Therein lies the difference between a “residency” and a “retreat”  (which I explain below):

Residencies are institutions to which you must apply and demonstrate your professionalism as an artist via a portfolio, and perhaps references and a CV that shows you are considered by your peers to be a practicing artist. Residencies are often funded by an arts and/or educational body and can mean you must also provide a service such as creative writing classes in the locality. Residencies can last from two weeks to a year.  In Ireland, prestigious residencies include The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Cill Rialaig and the Heinrich Boll Cottage. Even if accepted, you may have to pay for your stay. However, attending one of these establishments is an impressive addition to your C.V. Moreover, you may meet artists of international renown.

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Then you get Retreats. These are institutions that sometimes offer courses – the UK’s ‘Arvon Foundation’ is a good example which has three properties around England and holds intensive writing courses throughout the year. Other retreats might just offer room and board to writers for a fee, somewhat like a hotel but with an emphasis on creativity and productivity during your stay. Anam Cara and the Molly Keane house are Irish examples. They’re not as prestigious residencies, although such places tend not to attract those at the peak of their career, you might still meet some interesting creative, supportive people and the surrounds are usually very picturesque and perhaps inspiring. Retreats are good for novice or emerging writers who are not yet at the stage in their career where they might gain acceptance on a “residency”, or if you simply want to try the set up out for a week or so, but can’t commit to a residency.

Finally, if all you want is some peace and quiet, why not rent some respite, a holiday cottage in the wilds of Connemara in autumn, or stay in a B&B on Dartmoor or a shack in the Catskills – you may be able to get a ‘low season deal’ and it may provide the inspiration you seek.

 

A sample (and by no means exhaustive) list:

Ireland

Residencies:
Heinrich Böll cottage
Cill Rialaig
Dublin Writer in Residence

Tyrone Guthrie Centre

Retreats:

anam cara

Molly Keane Writers Retreat

France

Residencies:

Chateau la Napoule

Centre Culture lrlandais

Aerogramme Studio Brown’s

Retreats:

La Muse Inn

UK

Residencies:

Gladstone’s Library

Hawkwood College

Hawthornden Castle

Cove Park

Retreats

Arvon Foundation

Urban Writers’

Germany

Schwarndorf

Italy

Ginestrelle

USA

Residencies:

Anderson Centre (Minnesota)

Art Croft (Kentucky)

Atlantic Centre (Florida)

Caldera Arts (Oregon)

Saltonstall (New York State)

Djerassi (California)

Dorland (California)

Exeter (New Hampshire)

Albee Foundation (New York State)

Cambridge (Georgia)

Headlands (California)

Hedge brook (Washington State)

Jentle (Wyoming)

Kerouac (Florida)

Kimmel (Nebraska)

OMI (New York)

Macdowell (New Hampshire)

Millay (New York State)

Spring creek (Oregon)

KFW (Kentucky)

Kulcher (Minnesota)

Lynchburg (Virginia)

Norman Mailer Centre (NY, Wyoming, California)

Montalvo Arts (California)

Radcliffe (Massachusetts)

Red Cinder (Hawaii)

Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Stanford (Connecticut)

Studio in the Woods (New Orleans)

Poetry Centre (Arizona)

Virginia Centre (Virginia)

Ucross (Wyoming)

Vermont Studio (Vermont)

Wild Acres (North Carolina)

Woodstock (New York)

Wurlitzer (New Mexico)

Yaddo (New York state)

Retreats (also offer a limited number of fellowships)

Nantucket (Massachusetts)

Ragdale (Illinois)

Dairy Hollow (Arkansas)

Canada

Banff

Saskatchewan

Australia

Varuna

If you know of more, please let me know. If possible specify if it’s a residency (free or subsidised) or a retreat (self funded).


It’s How I Roll, baby

writing woman

I’m at my professional best when I’m stressed, with a to-do list in hand and no time to take a break.

We all work in different ways. Some writers need planning and easy, soft pacing. My approach is broad stroke, manic, if slightly anarchic – but I get stuff done. Likewise, we all perform better at different times of the day. Many writers keep their notepad by their beds and make sure that the very first thing they do when they open their eyes each morning, is write, hoping the dream state will have left a creative legacy. The resultant notes are called “morning pages”. Morning pages might contain what a writer remembers of their dreams or perhaps the writer will simply jot down the very first words that come to mind that day. There are writers who say that this exercise helps them ‘slip’ more easily into what writers’ call the “rapture” when a writer feels ideas are pouring into their mind from elsewhere.

Just as the waking moments are a bridge from the sleeping state into sober reality – the hour before you go to bed is often a creative time with the brain slipping into that semi conscious state.  Hence there are plenty of writers who write late at night.

And to show that there are no rules, there are other writers who find their most productive hours are in the middle of the day when all of life’s busyness is in full swing (the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling is a good example. She wrote her first book in a busy Edinburgh café).

What is important is that you write and that you find your ideal writing time. Experiment. Find what works for you and then set an hour aside each day at that time and write. Likewise, writers have very personal tastes regarding an environment conducive to writing. There are those who like music or TV buzz in the background and those who can only write in silence. Manic or meditative, find whatever works for you.