Armistice Day, 2016

Since White Feathers came out, I have posted an armistice day post every year.

Over the years, the ceremonies to commemorate the dead of the wretched First World War and its successors have become marked and tainted by nativism and rage. The poppy which graces the cover of my novel was originally the symbol of doomed Adonis. Now it has been turned into a fashion statement. Make no mistake: those who boast it most stridently are the spiritual descendants of those who forced men to fight in 1914.

I sought to tell a story. I sought to cry injustice. A man who refused to salute such authority and paid a deep price. A woman who swore to fight forever to restore his name. A love that was severed by a self-satisfied, violent state order. A story that is told, and told, and told.

I now live near the place where the bodies from the Lusitania were brought in to harbour. The sinking of that ship eventually brought the United States into World War I. The graves are in an ancient plot left undisturbed behind a German supermarket chain. They carry the simple gravestones of the Commonwealth War Graves. A tacit recognition that these men and women, although civilians, died as a result of war.

lusitania-grave

It breaks my heart to see that in recent months, a malicious backlash from the privileged has imposed a deep discourtesy on the res publicae, across the Irish Sea, across the Atlantic, throughout the world. Those who have sacrificed nothing, who are devoid of virtue or humanity, are elevated and revered. Those who strive against all odds have their striving belittled by people who have been given everything. Greed allows pillaging and soiling of our beautiful Earth without a whit of remorse.

Today I am going to include Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”.

At the going down of the sun, we will remember them.

 

On Being An Opinionated Novelist

1280px-the_speakers_corner_hyde_park_2847159095

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I’ve often wondered how appropriate it is for a writer to share opinions on issues unrelated to their work. Particularly ones of a political nature. Specifically I wonder if I share too readily and express my opinion too often. Recent crises, particularly Brexit but not limited to that sequence of events, have brought this thought to my mind.

Continue reading “On Being An Opinionated Novelist”

A Cracking Review – And Why I Took Some Time off Twitter

taking a break

I’ve been off twitter a few weeks. It was having a not-great effect on my mental health. It’s not people I chat to, you are all wonderful and I miss you! But there are certain things that will always trigger me when discussed. That isn’t all my fault – much of it, I angrily maintain, is Ireland’s – and as Jefferson said, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just. But I go through my life unmedicated – that is not a boast, by the way, and I do NOT deserve any medals for it – and honestly, sometimes it shows, particularly in winter.

I don’t want anti-depressants, useful as they doubtless are. What I really want is light, bright natural light, more and more of it. I want to personally nick the sun and put it in my office and then bring it home with me on a dog’s lead made out of some substance that wouldn’t shrivel and melt at the thousands of degrees Celsius my new travelling companion would possess.

Can you tell I’m writing sci-fi right now? 🙂 I’m almost finished a first draft of a story I should have been working a long time ago. It’s looking quite robust, I’m pleased to say.

Another thing I discovered about Twitter – it can mask writing issues. You can castigate yourself for tweeting too much, not realising that once you’ve removed twitter from the equation, you still aren’t writing anything. Because you’re stuck and are losing motivation and it’s VERY VERY DARK ALL THE TIME.

Here’s a piece of light in a newspaper column – a review of White Feathers by Sile McArdle in the Sunday Independent. It’s a cracker 🙂

And here’s a brief audio interview of me by the lovely Brenda Drumm of Artyfacts, Kildare FM.

And my workshop for Carousel Creates is on Saturday, I think it’s nearly full now, yes? I’m talking about the short story and we’ll be having writing fun in beautiful surrounding up t’mountains – kinda good that I’m writing a short story too, to refresh my brain 🙂

And I’ll be back very soon, probably in a week or so, with more news to announce. But for now, am consolidating. And looking for more light!

To Return to That Daily Mail Article

I’ve had a few responses on twitter and interest about my article in last week’s Daily Mail about being offered a job in 2009 and then abruptly having the offer withdrawn because I failed a psychometric test and was judged too “emotionally unstable” to work there. Something else kept it in my head too – the recent launch of a campaign by the Health Service Executive and Taoiseach Enda Kenny called #littlethings. This campaign encourages people to talk about the “little things” they do to safeguard their mental health and bring themselves joy. A thoughtful idea with some great advertising by Una-Minh Caomhanach whose work I respect (my computer has lost fadas, sorry!) and I’d love to join in, but as Matthew Mulligan has noted in Trinity News, such campaigns are once again placing the responsibility for a collective failure of empathy right back onto individuals, without making sure the helping mechanisms are working. The implication from our Head of State is that we primarily are responsible for our own mental wellbeing when our mental health is under threat.

I was not responsible for having a job offered to me, and then the offer taken away after three interviews, in the middle of the deepest recession in history. I was not responsible for being told the following:

But when I returned to the terraced office for a follow-up meeting, the director’s attitude towards me had done a 180. This time he snarled at me with open contempt, drawing a line on a piece of paper and jabbing at it with his finger. “See the middle of that line? You should be here. Instead,” and he put an asterisk on the far right, “you are there. Now I can get you back in the middle, but you have to do the work. It’s up to you.”

I am not responsible for maintaining my mental health in an environment that is prejudiced against my existence. How can I be? I am not responsible for failing to measure up to a culture which thinks I am not in the middle enough. I am not responsible for other people’s stigma. I am only responsible for myself, for keeping a roof over my head, and fulfilling my artistic goals. Going by the reviews, I don’t think I’ve done too badly. But it was not all smooth sailing, personally.

So what is the #littlething that sustains me when my soundness of mind is threatened? It’s to remember that none of this was my fault and that I’m not obliged to do anything differently as a result of these people. They’re, frankly, wrong. My only fear is that when I had my brush with discrimination, I was no spring chicken, and had a very marketable skill. I knew my own worth. When I think of vulnerable young people being taken advantage of in similar manner – oh here’s that WWI thing again – and then told to think about the #littlethings rather than the #bigthings like stigma which hurts them – my blood starts simmering.

Here’s the full article below the cut: Continue reading “To Return to That Daily Mail Article”

Speaking out about Stigma – My Article in This Life in the Irish Daily Mail

I have just had a wonderful time at the Author at My Table event, more about which later. But there’s one thing I need to mention really quickly. I wrote an article that got published this weekend in the Daily Mail. The article isn’t important because I wrote it. It’s important because it talks about the time I took – and failed – a psychometric test to measure my mental health aptitude for a job in 2009 and the offer was rescinded. So when I get angry about stigma, in life and in fiction, I have good reason.

 

DM snippet

The article is in the Daily Mail this weekend. This supplement is not available online, but I would strongly encourage anyone who is feeling isolated, ashamed or small about their mental health because someone shamed them, to get the paper and read it – and take all that for the nonsense rigmarole it truly is. I’ve seen stigma and come out the other side. Thank God, I’ve been lucky with my workplaces. My colleagues have been so supporting and encouraging about the book, they’ve renewed my fate in humankind.

We work. We thrive. And we kick stigma, and its perpetrators, right up their snotty, mediocre, shaming, unimaginative, clenched, bony, little arses.

#TimeToTalk Green Ribbon Day – Talk About Mental Health

Green Ribbon

I have been following the @GreenRibbonIRL account on Twitter and reading about the conversations being started about mental health. Wearing the Green Ribbon, or blogging about the event,  indicates a willingness to start and continue this ongoing conversation.

I’m nearly finished my part of a novel that concerns itself greatly with mental health (WWI combat soldiers had high rates of shell shock) and stigma (the white feather itself) It’s strange how little people change from that day to this. I hope that the “conversation” will resonate come publication day! Yesterday was National Conscientious Objectors day in England and I feel it is fitting that the two events are so close.

I have always felt that the act of stigma carries a dubious legitimacy. Then and now, it’s about one thing. Power.

Also that the conversation cannot just be had between the vulnerable and relatively powerless. The powerful need to examine their ways, check their sanity privilege, and throw their weight behind this discussion. If for nothing other than economic reasons. Even the War Office needed to do something in 1917 when 40 per cent of their fighting men were disabled by extreme mental stress.

Stigma and “Cowardice” in World War I and Some Thoughts

Today is Easter, the festival of renewal and hope. The story of the crucifixion and redemption is a powerful one. I hope everyone who celebrates has a good day. I’m continuing to work through the novel, and will be blogging more about some of the historical events that inspired it over the coming months.

Editing the war scenes in the novel, picking through each line and sentence and paragraph for any possible inaccuracies and infelicities, has brought the unfortunate history back to me. It’s impossible to pore through books and source material without being brought out of oneself for a while and taking a moment to feel common, human sympathy with those who suffered. Men and boys who could not endure day after day of artillery bombardment. Or, in the case of this teenage lad:

Private Thomas Highgate was the first to suffer such military justice. Unable to bear the carnage of 7,800 British troops at the Battle of Mons, he had fled and hidden in a barn. He was undefended at his trial because all his comrades from the Royal West Kents had been killed, injured or captured. Just 35 days into the war, Private Highgate was executed at the age of 17.”

(from the BBC webpage)

A seventeen-year-old boy. I want to mother the poor fellow and give him tea and biscuits. But I can’t reach 100 years into the past and stick his bullet-riddled, torn body back together. I can’t give him his innocence back.

Much of this suffering was inflicted by older men on younger. One example of these older men was the bould Canadian doctor, Sir Andrew Macphail. According to Wikipedia, Macphail enlisted in the War at the age of 50 (now there’s a man who wants to recapture his earlier virility if ever I heard of one.) He served in the Ambulance Corps – heroically, one presumes, as I doubt the man could take a dump in the loos back at Base in Rouen without making it a heroic one –  and took it upon himself to write an Official History of the Great War in 1925. About mental breakdown in combat, he had this to say:

The War Office went so far as to recognize three forms of neurosis or psychoneurosis, namely, shell-shock, hysteria, and neurasthenia. Sir Frederick Mott observed, however, that all persons so affected ‘had an inborn or acquired disposition to emotivity‘… Soldiers who developed these manifestations in the stress of war would have presented a similar spectacle in corresponding circumstances in civil life.

So what he’s saying is that the massive numbers of shell-shock victims on the battlefield were all mentally weak anyway. Ladies and gentlemen, victim-blaming par excellence, 1925 stylee, with no statistical data anywhere. Though I can’t help wondering how he would have categorised a man like Siegfried Sassoon, who earned a Military Cross for his courage in battle then later had a huge nervous breakdown, chucked the medal into the Thames and wrote a letter to the papers telling them the whole war was a horrific swizz. That would stuff up Macphail’s theory a bit. But the good doctor is not finished yet:

Under cover of these vague and mysterious symptoms the malingerer found refuge, and impressed a stigma upon those who were suffering from a real malady. ..What was once a disease had in 1917 become a stigma, and yet…fear of the ostracism of contempt for weakness at best and cowardice at worst did much to counteract the emotion of fear of the enemy…Hysteria is the most epidemical of all diseases, and too obvious special facilities for treatment encouraged its development. ‘Shell-shock’ is a manifestation of childishness and femininity. Against such there is no remedy.

Well once something is called “feminine” you are pretty screwed. “You crack up under relentless shelling like a girl!”, eh? It astounds me that it never once occurs to this man, who is presumably equipped with all intellectual faculties, that the war itself was a horrific waste and slaughter, that men were asked – and after early 1916, forced, thanks to conscription – to endure what man cannot endure, and that the whole rotten system was to maintain them in this unrealistic – and insane – state of endurance so the old men could get their stats right.

Thankfully, now, the approach – in Britain at least – is more enlightened and all the young men shot at dawn have been pardoned. Have a peaceful Easter, everyone, and as Stevie Wonder sings, keep hatred from the mighty and the mighty from the small.