6 Dec 2012

Toxic Love & The Single Life

I wrote the following essay a few years ago which I'm posting now in order to remind self that by remaining both married and single, I'm having my cake and munching it - so why complain? I hope you like it. 

Would you look at the time? It’s two hours to the divorce hearing. Yes, I know I should be getting ready instead of sitting here dithering, but give me a moment would you? My feet are freezing and I need to think. The fact is I’m not sure I want a divorce. On the other hand, I definitely need to end the marriage. So, why the cold feet? Well, here’s the thing: As long as I’m married to one disaster, I can’t marry another. Ever.

After all relationship break-ups are no different to childbirth. Women who have more than one child do so because they forgot about the excruciating agony of labour. They also forgot about the sleepless nights, mangled nipples, and years spent struggling to regain control over their bladders and finances rendered incontinent in the process. After the birth of my son, I swore blind I’d never have another. A year later, I swore never again to relationships when I left his father. But what did I go and do? You guessed it. Married another, had my daughter, and swore some more.

Not that I’d be without either of them now of course. The children I mean. And their fathers come to think of it. For without one, I wouldn’t have the other. But being a single parent twice over is a pattern that doesn’t bear repeating. And therein lies the problem.

Except it isn’t. I’m 40. The age at which fertility is not so much in decline but braced for extinction. My egg supply is currently disappearing faster than the Fabergé variety sell at auction and full-blown menopause is but a barren hot-flush away. Divorce or no divorce, nothing short of steroids will see me pregnant again. Problem solved.

Except it isn’t. Being 40 isn’t going to stop me barking up the wrong man again. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m 40! It’s a seller’s market out there for single, straight men! If I couldn’t snare a winner before now, what hope do I have for the future? Particularly given the wibbly-wobbly-thighs, silver streaks, and two children each with a different surname. Could I be any less appealing?

Eh, no. Apparently not. I’ve met someone. And while the optimist in me is tempted to believe he could be the right one this time, I wouldn’t bet on it. The fact is I have the worst possible taste in men.

At 22, I fell in love with an alcoholic and had his baby. At first I thought he was exciting and charming. And then I didn’t. By the time our son was born I wanted him dead. Not only did he hog my gas supply during labour, he winked at me. Repeatedly. The winking stopped when I missed a grab for the mask and latched onto the family jewels instead. In fairness he took the pain. But not as a man I’m afraid. More as a choirboy scaling high-do octaves. By the end even I agreed he deserved a drink. As ever ‘just the one’ morphed into a three day bender and it was his brother who drove me home.

After that, every time he left the house I would imagine him falling under a bus. Then I would imagine the police arriving to break the news. Death was instant, they’d say. Then I would imagine the funeral, and what I’d wear, and what hymns I’d choose, and how dignified I’d be accepting sympathy.

But he didn’t die. Rather, he guzzled the rent money, we got evicted, and I made good my escape, pushing the baby, dragging the suitcases. We’d have taken a cab but he’d emptied my purse while I was packing.

Cut to a few years later and I’d recovered sufficiently from the alcoholic to shave my legs, get out and get sociable again. But what did I go and do? You guessed it. Jumped straight back into toxic love again. This time with a married man - no divorce pending. What can I say? I understood him; his wife didn’t. Or so I deluded myself into believing at the time. How stupid can one woman be?

Plenty stupid. Two short planks of wood stupid. Inevitably the affair sizzled and fried rebounding me into a blur of meaningless flings until one day I woke up and decided I needed a husband. And a baby. In that short order.

Crash. Bang. Wallop. No sooner had I decided this then I bumped into the divorce-in-waiting – an Egyptian diving instructor I met while vacationing on the Red Sea. Talk about mistakes. This was a clangour. What on earth was I thinking? But then again I wasn’t thinking. I was too busy being seduced by melting brown eyes and pectorals to die for.

I can see it all so clearly now. But of course back then I could see nothing of the sort. All I could see was the man of my dreams – Omar Sharif meets Yul Brynner – standing on my hotel balcony, legs akimbo, hands on hips. “Wait for me in Cairo,” he growled in a spine-tingling foreign accent, tossing aside the folds of his white robe and jumping over the railing back from whence he came.

I was impressed. Bowled over. Knocked out. As much by the commanding Romeo romance routine as by the whiff of danger wafting through the jasmine scented night air. Egypt has forbidding rules governing horizontal activities between unmarrieds. Had the patrolling god-squad caught us canoodling, they’d have bounced him black and blue up and down a police cell.

He wasn’t caught. And he did follow me to Cairo. But whereas I sped across the desert reclining on board a tourist bus under army escort, he puttered far behind on a scooter which collapsed on arrival.

Most people leave their holiday romances at the airport. I imported mine six months later and married him. Friends and family gave the marriage two minutes but in fact it lasted three years.

It wasn’t the clash of cultures that ended our marriage, or the language barrier, or even the five miscarriages it took to produce our daughter. It wasn’t even the relocation to Egypt coinciding with my son erupting into his teens. Although none of this helped. The marriage ended because of an argument over dental floss and school fees.

Up until then the Egyptian had shown only an average interest in oral hygiene. The sudden obsession with flossing, coupled with refusals to pay my son’s school fees, begged only one question: Who’s been eating my porridge?

Ho, hum. What goes around comes round. She understood him apparently. I didn’t. Not that I gave a toss about the affair. That side of our marriage had ended long since. Around about the same time he called his mother to check if it was okay to feed our daughter solids. She was two months old at the time and gagging for the hard stuff. What was I supposed to do? After that I resumed reading in bed. Up until then I told myself I didn’t mind switching the lamp off because it bothered him. But I did mind. It drove me crazy lying there night after night with fingers itching to tear open a book to know I was not alone.

It was my son’s education that mattered. Not least because I was the one paying for it. Not the Egyptian. Where else could my son go if not to the international school?

“Back to his grandparents in Ireland,” he ordered. “You and the baby stay here.”

Yeah, right. Like that was ever going to happen. Fuck you we’re out of here, was my first thought. Fuck me, was my second. Getting my daughter out of Egypt would be impossible if he objected. Yes, I really was that naive. As I type, I cringe. And there’s no excuse for it. I blubbered like a toddler when I watching Sally Field limping towards the American Embassy gripping her daughter’s hand in the film Not Without My Daughter. But like every other woman who has found herself in that situation, I didn’t believe it could happen to me.

Well it did and what happened next was dust. He went to work and I grabbed the children and headed straight for the airport, never once looking back at what I was leaving behind. I had all that I needed with me – the children, cash for flights, and my daughter’s Irish passport. I left the Egyptian everything. It wasn’t just the school fees I paid for. I paid for the house, furnishings, banana trees and a share in a diving business.

Still, there’s no point in getting my knickers in a twist about all that now. What price freedom? The marriage is over and there’s an end to it.

Except it isn’t. I still have to sign on the dotted divorce line, remember? Which brings me neatly back to where I wandered off the point: What’s to stop me repeating past mistakes? A one-way ticket to the looney bin that’s what. I need another husband like I need a hole in the head. Problem solved.

Except it isn’t. The other reason I started writing this was to figure out what to do about the date-in-waiting. But much like sliced bread, it’s obvious now that I’ve thought about it. I shall go out with him. Why not? I deserve a treat. Not that I’ve any plans to shave my legs just yet. And if I do that’s as far as it goes. Period. Occasional dating is the perfect solution to the married but single parenting life. It will give me something to look forward to outside of children and work and still leave me free to read in bed at night.

Right. That’s that settled then and times a wasting. I’ve children to care for and the single life to enjoy.


18 Sep 2012

Converted to Red Ribbons Crime

“The bad man is everywhere. Can you see him?” asks Louise Phillips, author of best-selling debut novel Red Ribbons, a psychological  crime thriller set in Ireland.

Photo:Abby Wynne 

Yes. Yes, I can. Growing up in Belfast during the 1970’s at the height of the Troubles, the bad men were everywhere. Our next door neighbour, a Diplock Court Judge, was a so-called ‘legitimate target’ for the bad men. He died taking three bullets in the head, two in the stomach.

Suffice to say bad people are everywhere and when there’s enough of them in the real world, why would I want to enter the one Phillips has created – a place without shadows where evil resides?

I don’t. I tend to avoid crime novels like the plague and yet from the moment I started reading Red Ribbons I couldn't put it down. Yes, it’s chilling and gripping, just like it says on the tin, but unlike other crime novels I’ve picked up and dumped, it doesn’t dwell on gory details in order to fill pages and in so doing repulse readers like me.

Instead, it’s intelligent and respects the readers ability to use their own imaginations in places without compromising on suspense that steadily heightens right up until the final word. Told from three points of view – the serial killer's, the criminal psychologist's, and the accused woman's – their individual stories are weaved seamlessly together into a whole that is utterly human, touching, believable and irresistible.

I like that. I like that a hell of a lot. And having finished it last night, along with a box of tissues, what I like even better is that Red Ribbons is the first in a series. Louise Phillips’ second novel, The Doll’s House, will be published in 2013.

Red Ribbons is available in Irish bookstores nationwide, and online in Ireland from Easons and internationally  on Amazon as both paperback and kindle editions.

For more, visit Louise Phillips at: http://www.louise-phillips.com/ 

17 Sep 2012

Story Pitching Competition for Juniors

How cool is this?

The Junior Galway Film Fleadh in association with Galway Film Centre and SpunOut (a leading national youth organisation) announce their fifth annual Story Pitching Competition open to young people between the ages of 10 – 18 years old.

If you are interested in competing, you are invited to write a short (500 words) idea for a story – it can be for a feature film, a short film, a documentary, a book or even a video game!

Advice from the experts – begin by drafting your idea then practice it in front of family and friends. Become comfortable relaying the story outline. Because, should your idea be one of the three shortlisted, you will be invited to present it in the Town Hall Theatre to an assembled audience and jury during the festival on Thursday 8th November.

The Prize – a drama or animation summer camp sponsored by Galway Film Centre which will include one year’s membership to the Centre (allowing entry to the RTÉ short script award) plus weekly newsletter.

Closing date – Wednesday 23rd October 2012

Entry form is available for download by clicking HERE

Post or email entries to:

Address: Junior Galway Film Fleadh Script Competition
36D Merchants Dock, 
Merchants Road, Galway, Ireland.

Email: junior@galwayfilmfleadh.com

20 Aug 2012

How Not to Write A Novel

The most effective way not to write a novel is to do as I do – absolutely everything and anything to stop myself from getting the finger out and knuckling down to writing the damn thing.

However, that’s not to say I don’t clock up the hours getting match fit though. Quite the contrary in fact. Over the past couple of years, I’ve read at least a dozen books on writing, analysed various novels in various genres, and even gone so far as to absorb the contents of several motivational self-help books for good measure.

But all this is as nothing compared to the row of lever arch files lined up on my pristine desk, each one labelled and gagging to be pumped full of draft manuscripts and research. And the timetables! I almost forgot to mention the timetables! Colour coded and liberally sprinkled with red dots flagging allocated novel writing time. And that’s not all. I have the original pinned up over my computer, with duplicates strategically placed in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

So now that all the preparations are out of the way, here I am, up and doing with the 5am dawn chorus, fingers locked and loaded and itching to get crack on. After all, if I have learnt anything from all the books I’ve studied it is this: Writing is 90% sweat vs. 10% inspiration.

Hence, the plan for today’s Code Red allocated novel writing time is to compile story boards filled with cuttings from magazines. Images of my characters, and the world they live in, is one sure-fire way for keeping me focussed, on track, and fully charged with inspiration. Or so I'm told. Once done, I can take the rest of the day off secure in the knowledge that I #amwriting.

Of course, before I can do any of this, I must first source a suitable image to use with this long overdue blog update caused by distractions with novel writing. Oh, and there’s Twitter to sort out also. What writer can do anything these days without first tweeting about it? 

However, before doing any of this, I must first – simply must – put the kettle on, light a fag, and tell you about this book ‘How Not To Write A Novel’ I found buried alive in Mrs Quinn’s charity shop where I spent half the day yesterday foraging for magazines. Do you know it? Mrs Quinn’s in Ringsend, I mean? It’s a veritable treasure trove for book lovers. Plus, all proceeds go to the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI). What better charity is there for writers who write non-stop all day, every day, withering their eyes to the bone to support than the NCBI, I wonder? There's AWARE of course … but I digress. 

‘How Not To Write A Novel’ is a book on writing like no other I've ever come across. It's written by Guardian shortlisted novelist Sandra Newman and veteran editor Howard Mittelmark, who say in the introduction:
Hundreds of unpublished and unpublishable novels have passed across our desks, so we have been standing here by the side of the road for a very long time. Had you been standing here with us, you would have seen the same preventable tragedies occurring over and over, and you would have made the same observations.

Do not think of us as traffic cops, or even driving instructors. Think of us instead as your onboard navigation system, available day or night, a friendly voice to turn to whenever you look up, lost and afraid, and think “How the fuck did I end up here?"
I don’t know about you, but I find that last sentence immensely reassuring. It’s a shame they didn’t include a 24 hour contact telephone number though. Still, by the time I’ve finished reading it later on this morning, I’ll be up to speed on at least 200 clangers best avoided if one is to have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a novel written and published. Here’s one favourite passage so far:

Alice in Lapland
Any undue interest in or physical contact with children will set off alarms.  If you do not want your reader to think he is reading about a paedophile, dandling of children on knees should be kept to a minimum by fathers, and even more so by uncles. If your character is any way associated with organised religion, whether he is a bishop, a minister, or the kindly old church caretaker with a twinkle in his eye, he should not even pull a child from a burning building.
To find out more, visit: http://www.hownottowriteanovel.com/. Meantime, while you’re doing that, I’m hopping over here for a minute before getting on with the story boards.

13 Aug 2012

Sunshine Blogger Award

Breaking news – David Taylor bestowed a ‘Sunshine Blogger Award’ on me. Moi! And this despite the fact that I so rarely well, um, blog. Cheers Dave!

Admittedly I’d never heard of this Award before, but who cares?  A compliment is a compliment and in my world, I’ll take compliments where I can find them.

However, there are conditions attached. I have to answer the following questions and then pass on a ray of sunshine to ten other fabulous people.  So … here goes:

1. What is your favourite Christmas/festive movie?
The Wizard of Oz. What other Christmas movie is there?
2. What is your favourite flower?

3. What is your favourite non-alcoholic beverage?
Water - first thing the morning after.

4. What is your passion?
X-rated - but at my age that’s more fantasy than reality.
5. What is your favourite time of year?
September when school re-opens.
6. What is your favourite time of day?
Bedtime – with a book I can’t put down.
7. What is your favourite physical activity?
Scuba diving.
8. What is your favourite vacation?
France. Permanently. Or Spain. Or even Sherkin Island in West Cork. I’m not fussy.
And now ... cue the drum roll ... for my ten ‘Sunshine Blogger Awards’ listed A - B ...

Actually, that's 11 but so what? They're more than worth it.  Go check out their blogs and you'll see what I mean.