Monday, 26 August 2013

Why it's good to have a writing buddy.

Thank heavens for public holidays, time to relax, catch up on a good book and meet up with my writing buddy.  Creative writing can sometimes be a lonely pursuit especially when ideas dry up, words won't weave into beautiful prose and the writing muse leaves town for a few weeks!  I could be bitter but I'm not because this is where writing buddies come into their own.  

A writing buddy is someone who shares the joys and tribulations of the lone writer.  I'm very fortunate because I have one such writing buddy.  We belong to a very select writers' club ... so select there's just the two of us! Like me she enjoys the twists and turns of the writing process, the highs and the lows, the moments of inspiration and thoughts that create a good story.  We also share the moments of self-doubt, the painful steps out of the comfort zone and the scariness of releasing our writing to the world at large. However, in an effort to learn and grow as authors these are the strides we need to take.

I do understand that all of this is necessary in the world of writing and publication. I mean if the great authors of today (and those of yesterday too!)  hadn't released their writings to the world then wouldn't the world be very dull place indeed? Imagine a world without manuscripts, poetry, songs and plays. What would we know of faraway lands, adventure, people of fame and ill repute?  

 It's been some time since I've added something to my writing blog... what with the writing muse out of town and the word weaver busy elsewhere. Today’s meeting with my writing buddy re-ignited my scribbling spark, provided much inspiration and encouragement to share a story from my book. Enjoy and do feel free to give me some feedback particularly those of you who write and blog regularly.

Thank heavens for public holidays and writing buddies throughout the land.

An Unfinished Quilt
Mary Fraser 

“What’s this granny Mo?” asked Niamh.  “Is it a bag of scraps? There are needles, threads and bits of material. Some very pretty colours and fabrics. I do love the ribbons and pieces of lace.  Are you throwing these out?”

It was Tuesday and Mo’s student granddaughter offered to help her with clearing out the spare room.

“Oh no.  Not that…not the quilt!  The quilt stays… I’ll get round to finishing that one of these days. 

“Come on, gran, it’s nowhere near finished.  How long have you been working on it?”

“Oh, it’s one of my work-in-progress projects that I like to do in the autumn evenings.  It’s my story quilt,” said Maureen.

“Never heard of a story quilt …how does that work then?”

Maureen explained, “Well each piece of fabric in that ‘bag of scraps’ as you call it tells a story, like a history book.  The quilt is a record of events. It’s about events in my time, your mother’s time and who knows maybe even events in your time!”

“What events in my time?” asked a somewhat bemused granddaughter.

“It tells of family, friendship, good times and sad times too.  It’s sort of … special.  It’s something I want to complete and perhaps pass on to you one day.”

Maureen Graham busied herself with the rest of the tidying.

“But it’s not finished.  It doesn’t look very much like a quilt to me. In fact, it looks like it’s been abandoned,” said Niamh. She knew she was stating the obvious but the mound of material intrigued her.   

“Well yes, I suppose you could say it has been abandoned.  I’m not sure if I abandoned the quilt or it simply abandoned me” said Maureen. 

Recently there had been so much going on in her life that she really didn’t have time to sit down and work on the quilt. She had been busy with organising rehearsals for the church choir, baking for another fundraiser in the village and generally keeping her home tidy.  Often by the end of the day, she was too tired to work on the quilt.

“It’s autumn now.  Are you going to finish it?”

“Maybe one day …yes one day I will … but not now … not today.  Besides, we’ve got this room to tidy up and I know how busy you are at university so I’m grateful for your help today”.

“It’s very pretty”, Niamh continued and she carefully lifted out the unfinished quilt with the loose patchwork pieces and the various connected threads.

Maureen stopped tidying and watched her granddaughter unfurl the patchwork quilt and spread it over her bed. 

“When exactly did you start making it, gran?”

“Oh some time ago … long before you were born.”

In truth, she had started the quilt when Niamh’s mother was a little girl.

Niamh could see that her grandmother needed a rest.  “What do you say, we have a break?  I’ll make us a nice cup of tea and you can tell me all about this story quilt of yours?”

“Okay, I could do with the sit down,” said Maureen, “We’ve been going non-stop since this morning”.

Niamh put the kettle on.  She gently folded the quilt and lovingly arranged it on the dining room table. They sat either side of the table and looked at the unfinished project, the carefully positioned swatches, the coordinated colours and the patches yet to be sewn in. Niamh ran her long fingers over the colourful patterned pieces. 

“I love these blue squares with the little white flowers.  They’re very pretty”.

“Oh yes, believe it of not but that material was your mother’s first school dress.  I bought it when she started Mullaghbhan Infants School.  No school uniforms back then.  I remember how pleased she was to be starting school with her friend Isabel”.

“Not Isabel Foley?” exclaimed Niamh 

“Yes, Isabel Foley.  Our families were neighbours here for years,” replied Maureen.

“You do know that they’re good friends even today.  Can’t get them off the phone when they start chatting.  Dad says Mum and Isabel should have shares in the telephony company” laughed Niamh.

“Well Issy and your Mum go back a long way.  They stayed in touch when Isabel moved to London.”

“What about this piece of material?  It feels all warm and soft.  Like something quite comforting?” suggested Niamh. She ran her fingers up and down the red plaid material.

“Ahh, I remember that well.  It was part of an old shirt.  It was one of your uncle Desmond’s favourites.  He was very attached to that shirt as a young man.  He wore it until it was almost threadbare.  I had a job trying to get rid of it.  He loved the bright red plaid in the material.  Reckoned it helped him to stand out in a crowd … and get him noticed by the girls!”

“But it’s so … un-cool!”

“Well back then he thought he was very cool” said Maureen.

Niamh went off to make the tea. 

Maureen continued looking at the quilt and found herself re-living times and family occasions. Memories were resurfacing. For her, each square of material recalled a memory. There was the anniversary piece, which she had saved from one of Dan’s old shirts, a light blue material with fine pin strips running through it.  He had worn that shirt at the surprise golden wedding anniversary party organised by the children.  She remembered the event and the secrecy surrounding the event too.  She had sensed something was going on.  She smiled when she remembered the clipped conversations between the children when Dan and she were around. The conversation changed if one of them came into the living room unexpectedly.

Of all their children, Gina was the one who couldn’t keep secrets, even as a child.  She took great delight in news and gossip.  It used to drive the other children mad.  Maureen had often been called to the school when Gina was a child as   she had been prone to ‘creative conversations’ in the school playground. But Dan and she had been proud that Gina had managed to put her fertile imagination to good use as an adult.  Gina loved her job as an interior designer with one of Dublin’s most prestigious design companies.

However, all their planning had been worthwhile because Dan and she had had the most wonderful day with family and friends celebrating fifty years of marriage.  It was fortunate that all the children and their respective families had been able to come to Mullaghbhan. It was the first occasion to have all their grandchildren together. Their son Desmond, wife and family came all the way from Australia.  What a party it had been. They celebrated all weekend.  It had been such a happy occasion    

Niamh moved to the table with mugs of tea and biscuits.  She handed her grandmother a mug of tea.

“And what’s the story with these navy blue and white polka dot squares?” asked Niamh.  She pointed to three polka dot squares.  They had faded a little but even today looked pretty.

“Would you believe those were from a maternity dress I wore a very long time ago when I was expecting my first child?”

“ Mum?” asked Niamh.

“No, your mum was my second child”, said Maureen, “my first baby died after three days.  We named her Rose. She was very small and beautiful but not very strong.”

“But … I thought Mum was the first born in the family”.

Maureen Graham shook her head.  She said nothing.  She got up and walked slowly across to the window.  She didn’t utter a word, despite the feelings arising within her, feelings of sadness, loss and grief.  She felt as if there was some sort of turmoil going on in her head. She looked out of the window.  She recalled the excitement surrounding the arrival of that first baby.  Dan and she had waited for so long for a baby.  Although Maureen felt more than a little anxious as a new mother, she was reassured that help and support from her own mother would be invaluable.  And it was, but not in the way she had anticipated.  

“Mum never mentioned …”

“No, perhaps because she didn’t know.  We never told her.”  Maureen finished Niamh’s line of enquiry.

“Oh granny Mo, I’m so sorry… I didn’t realise.  It must have been terrible.  It must have been heartbreaking for you and granddad.” 

Maureen Graham acknowledged her granddaughter’s words with a nod.  She was quite surprised how easily she shared this information, especially now and with her granddaughter. These had been events that weren’t openly talked about at that time.  Perhaps it was too painful or the timing wasn’t right.  Somehow, now, she had wanted to share something about this child’s short life. She felt the need to acknowledge baby Rose’s life. There was something quite comfortable and relaxed in Niamh’s company that allowed her to speak about the dead child.

She turned back from the window, clapped her hands together.  “Come on Niamh, we’ll need to get a move on otherwise we’ll never get this job finished.”

Maureen’s granddaughter knew and understood that they both needed to change the subject.  She sensed that the story of baby Rose was a painful one to tell.

Thoughtfully and carefully Niamh began to fold up the unfinished quilt.  She folded it over very carefully, tucking in the corners and the fraying threads. She gently smoothed her hand over the quilt of bright coloured materials.  She hoped there would be another time for her to listen to the untold tales of the story quilt.  Possibly every square had a story of its own?
Later that evening as Niamh wandered along Mullaghbhan strand, she reflected on the conversation with her grandmother.  The story quilt held a secret.  Perhaps there were others?  She certainly hadn’t been expecting that story today.  She wondered why her grandmother hadn’t mentioned it before now.  Was her mother aware she had a baby sister? Would it be disloyal to her grandmother to tell? She felt that her grandmother had told her in confidence.  She was flattered and honoured to have been taken into her grandmother’s confidence but there was a dilemma.  Should she tell her mother?  But wasn’t that her grandmother’s job?