Making stories

Unusually, the parcel that arrived here on November the fifth was not for Ray, and it wasn’t book-shaped.  I couldn’t remember ordering anything lately, but sometimes I set up a flurry of subscriptions, and then don’t notice what’s missing, until the laggardly ones arrive.   

This parcel was soft, and wrapped in brown paper.  I turned it over, noticed the Irish stamp and wondered.  Lynda lives in Ireland (we were at University together, and she writes novels, scripts and flash fiction, if you’d care to visit her blog, by the way).  But we exchange emails, comments on each other’s blogs and occasional letters, not usually presents.  Besides, it wasn’t my birthday.

There’s an art to getting the most from a gift that I learned, long ago, from Gran.  Wrapping paper was not for tearing, it was a source of potential drama that she could stretch out for tens of minutes, turning, shaking, squeezing and throwing out wild guesses until we, the givers were stretching out clawed fingers. ‘Go on, open it Gran, please.  Please? Shall I help you?’

We never were allowed, and we didn’t learn that asking only increased the twinkle in her eye and generated a fresh set of speculations.

I haven’t managed to achieve that level of suspense, but I like the frisson of additional excitement that delaying creates, even when the giver is not there to appreciate my performance. So I made a few wild guesses before unpicking the tape. 

None of them came close. I unfolded a patch-worked, quilted, panel.  One strip of it had Eudora Welty embroidered on it, another Cold Comfort Farm, and a third, Alice Munro. All are favourites of mine.   

Beside them was a small square panel with a shamrock appliqued to it, and a note explaining how to hang the two pieces.  It was signed, ‘Love, Lynda.’ I checked the packaging, but there was no second page.

Like Rusty, I tilted my head and wondered. Had Lynda been to a craft fair, or was this her own handiwork?  Perhaps this related to a facet of Lynda’s history I should have remembered. 

Surely she learned sewing at school… I picture Lynda at a sewing machine.  I’ve seen her typing often enough for that to work. 

Her red-polished fingernails adjust the tension settings; thread the needle.  Her glasses are perch on the end of her nose, as she feeds material through the footplate, slowly.  She’s removing pins, stabbing them into a small cushion by her right hand. I can hear her nails clicking against the chrome foot-plate, and the buzz of the electric motor.  A small cone of light illuminates the needle punching through the fabric.   

Shadowy figures are beginning to form next to, and behind her.  They’re not in focus yet, but soon someone is going to speak.

Often my stories are found, this time I’ve had one posted to me.  So, thanks again, Lynda, for a gift that brightens the wall in my office, and contains the germ of a story.

Book Review.

lyndas-memoir-collectionI’ve been dipping in and out of Down Memory Lane: A Collection of Memoirs, this week.  These writings from the heart of Ireland reveal the power of writing about the self.  In the process of entertaining us, sometimes they trigger a comparison to, a taste, a smell, an activity and  I’m reminded how much has changed in the course of my life.

Or they record something fascinatingly specific about an experience. ‘I was born in Adutiskis, on the border with Belarus, where my grandparents lived,’ begins Dalia Smelstoriute, in a piece that draws together a description of an All Souls Day commemoration, a tantalisingly brief account of her grandmother’s life, and a summary of thoughts about the importance of traditions.

Other people’s families, other lives, these are often what we look for in our reading. A.L Hayes writes: ‘My Dad was a great man for mixing up left over paints to create wieird and wonderful colours.  At one stage our hall door was a strange mixture of pale pink and scuttery green.’

Here are character portraits embedded in experiences.  An incident in the playground; buying a first record; a first car; taking a holiday abroad; a journey…describing a first love. They’re fragments from a life, and yet they’re rounded moments that sit beautifully on the page.

Memoirs, it seems to me, are important.  They bring social history to life.  ‘Woolworths was at one time the biggest shop in Mullingar’ writes Caroline Connolly. ‘It had black shiny pillars outside the front door and there were square pillars inside that had long mirrors on each side.  As you passed, you could see yourself.’

This collection has come from a series of classes run in Ballinacree, Ireland, by Lynda Kirby It’s been funded by sponsors and all profits go to The Patient Comfort Fund of Oldcastle Alzheimer’s Group.  Memoirs to fund memory loss, isn’t that a nice concept?

Well done, Lynda, and good luck with the next project.


Radio Review: Lady Invincible

Are you still on the look-out for extra Christmas gifts?

Let me recommend something a little different, a great-value stocking filler: a downloadable radio play, by Lynda Kirby.

Lighthouse cover_cropped for cw jpg

Lady Invincible Illustration by Brigid Walshe


This is a well written, beautifully acted and produced atmospheric play, with the added bonus that all the proceeds go to a good cause.

The Lady Invincible, a lighthouse, is both the setting and the narrator for a narrative that dips back and forth through time.  The main strand shows us the interactions of the crew on the last day before the lighthouse is due to get automated, in 1996 as a storm breaks.  But lacing through that story are voices from the past and the future.

Don’t just take my word for it.  You can find it on Lynda’s blog at,

Prepare to be intrigued.