‘So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rainwater’. William Carlos Williams’s poem came to me as I was walking through the grounds of Lisnavagh House, in County Carlow recently while on a week’s writing workshop with The Story House. Through dripping branches, I came across the child's red toy, the rain not so much glazing it as hitting off its sides while all around me not white chickens but swathes of perfect snowdrops that rang their silent bells to summon me to work.
And so much depends upon people with purpose. Without Margaret O Brien and Nollaig Brennan we would not have had this opportunity. These two women had a vision, saw the need for Irish writers to have an experience such as that of the Arvon Foundation and set about realising it. Lots of people have vision but not the courage to bring it to the next stage. They had, giving of their precious time to seek out tutors, a location that would be able to accommodate sixteen people, room for workshops and an inspirational setting. A tall order but they did just that in Lisnavagh House.
I had come to this place to learn about writing for children. Just because I had published Gold last year didn't mean that I knew how to take the next step in this exacting writing form. I needed the guidance and expertise of the masters and that is what we got in this place with roaring fires, nourishing food and people of like minds.
Their choice of workshop facilitators, E R Murray and Sheena Wilkinson, was inspired. They were a perfect match, a symbiotic pairing where one sparked off the other and between showing and telling, through a series of entertaining prompts, we became familiar with the rudiments of good story, and like the keepers of the flame, they kept the fires of our imaginations burning brightly.
Evening meal was prepared by three participants per night and like a Masterchef programme, the ingredients were laid out for us and recipe to hand so that we could follow it line by line. I cut my teeth on cooking for such a large and discerning group with fellow chefs Ger and Aidan. We sang our way through the preparations, chopping, grating, stirring. So busy was I trying to hit the high notes that I didn’t read the recipe correctly and was a tad too generous with the spices on the sweet potato. If anyone noticed they, creatively, said nothing.
Our accommodation was in one of the cottages away from the main house and it afforded us a walk there and back each day to have some time to think about what was worked on earlier. Evenings were spent in the library, reading from favourite books, reading from our own work or listening to the published works of Sheena and Elizabeth as well as our visitor Patricia Forde who entertained us hugely with her writing experiences to date.
Storm Doris raged through the trees as we returned to our cottage each night, the sound of a fox, a flick of its tail in the flashlight, the rooks settling into the trees, a last song. Thanks to one and all for making it such a worthwhile experience, but especially the visionaries, Margaret and Nollaig.