The Important Stuff
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I am the tallest American you will meet in Barcelona, where I translate poetry collections from Catalan into English. My own writing directs its gaze at the underbelly of society and celebrates the underdog, which just might have something to do with growing up on a farm in Iowa.
Rash hairdos, cloned sheep, bar scenes and a nifty etch-a-sketch. This is a Christmas story of a young single mom with a unisex salon, a little boy with a gift for drawing, and his war-damaged dad. Small-town life – which way is out? Who controls the line of scrimmage?
Liza Schultz didn’t dream big if she could help it. Her dad ran off after her first and last communion and she lopped off her ponytail with a single rash snicker of her mom’s sewing scissors. Her mom, sinking into the arms of Jim Beam, reeked of defeat morning, noon and night so that Liza’s teenage hell-raising – booze, weed, screwing around – got no snappier comeback than the white flag of a rictus grin. Aunt Gracie, the one person she still managed both to admire and to trust, suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve in Liza’s sixteenth year and died at the blinking foot of their Norway spruce.
I prefer to read and write in the continental (mainly European) tradition of the historical novel, where the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction are more permeable. A semi-retired doctor, I am currently working on a history of palliative care under the title ‘Palliatus’.
“I Believed” is about Love, Life and Death on the pampas of Argentina… and a story of two meetings; a fugal exploration of a triangulated relationship… without the certainty of either proof or resolution.
When I first met MacKay I believed of course. At the time I was a boy and during the summer my brothers and sisters and I travelled to the west coast Highlands of Scotland to stay with relations in their large house on a hill above the sea. MacKay did not live there but in the Home Farm below in the outskirts of the local town an hour’s walk away.
We were required to attend church on Sunday mornings in the town, and afterwards we would walk back to the Home Farm for orange juice and plain biscuits dispensed by three other elderly female relations who lived there with MacKay, before we were collected by car to return for lunch back up the hill.
Growing up as a child in Ireland during the most violent years of the IRA conflict, I discovered that nothing is ever black and white. There are hundreds of shades of grey. Small decisions can have big impacts. It’s the grey areas I like to explore.
Yellow Cords is a story about choices and making the wrong ones, fitting in and not fitting in, childhood and being different.
I was dressed in a yellow corduroy suit with red rain boots. They were very modern, with a piece of fake leather sewn on the top and a shoelace which could be tied in a bow. I knew that I stood out in my colourful clothes. The other children wore brown and black. “Ireland is behind,” my mother said, “the Seventies haven’t started here yet.”
There was an older boy in my class who was about sixteen. Everybody called him Frank, and at first I thought that that was his real name. Only much later I found out that it was short for Frankenstein.
I write fables about things with teeth in the forest and that bloke in the corner-shop with the dodgy smile. Whispered backyard myths and glimpses of love in strange places. Tales about beauty in dark times and the importance of a good cup of tea. You should read them.
This is a story about love, loss and countdown conundrums.
We meet in the park, in the mornings. It’s winter and the cold chews my earlobes. Seagulls squabble over chip-licked bags, the furious wheels of tricycles leave a trail of discarded mittens and bedraggled Barbies abandoned like Oates in the Antarctic.
I sit myself down on the bench next to him, ignoring the hot cat hum of my hipbones.
‘Morning Margaret’ says he.
‘Morning John’ I reply.
The morning sun slips down the grey flank of the hills and I watch him turn his face to the light, the clean cut lines of his skull etched against the air.
He raises a hand and points to wings stitched across the sky. ‘Look’ he says. ‘Geese leaving.’
I feel like a bit of a mongrel. English, French, with splashes of Georgian. I have travelled, taught, written, learnt new languages. My mind in later years however has become inhabited by the voices of my ancestors, whose tales have me dreaming….
In this story, a great-grandmother has chosen to forego a holiday in St Tropez with her extensive family and stay confined to her apartment in Paris in August. Madness? It is her late husband’s birthday, Paris is empty and her memories are swelling uneasily.
‘Long years must pass before the truths we have made for ourselves become our very flesh.’ Paul Valéry
The white muslin curtains billow; the breeze I have been waiting for all day finally arrives. The relief is short-lived as a window begins to rattle. I stare at it angrily, willing it to cease and finally lever myself out of a chair to close it.
I am rarely in Paris during the month of August. By now, I have usually escaped the mugginess which descends upon this city, to St Tropez or Cap Ferret, anywhere one of my four daughters has managed to rent a villa at an exorbitant price.
The threads of my writing explore the strangeness of everyday relationships and events, and the blurring of reality and fantasy. A psychologist by trade, I use my experience as a therapist to make links between early events and today. But there are, as in real life, many hot hypotheses, and few causative links.
This story tells how, in the 60s, North Oxford life is rocked when a grandmother runs away to Italy with her sculptor lover. Her granddaughter, already reeling from a turbulent home life, tries to understand why her much loved confidante left her to fend for herself.
Her face was certainly thinner, and even more leathery than the last time I had seen her five years ago. That was just before she ran away to Italy with her lover and £500 she had saved from her housekeeping.
But it wasn’t the running away so much as the money that most surprised me. How on earth she had managed to stash away so much from the weekly £5 allowance my grandfather gave her?
North Oxford reeled and chattered with the scandal.
I have told stories all my life as an actor, theatre director, writer, mum and now as a gran. Having lived in the U.S., England, France and the Middle East, I write about men, women and children in different countries, and how they deal with life’s unexpected situations.
This story tells how, as an artist and a man, Luke’s life has hit the bottom of the well. Going to France to decorate his friends’ house, they pass the Somme – Little Vimy – and there, Luke finds an outsider, like himself.
The bottle opener on his knife was badly worn, Luke noticed as he finally prised off the cap on the litre of 33 Export beer. He’d controlled himself all morning, but now the liquid flowed quickly easing his thirst, his mind. The beer and the racing movement of the car gave him a lift, triggering again his interest in the scenery outside. A road sign whizzed past, the name of the town vanishing behind him. Oh God, he’d forgotten he was supposed to watch out for the turn-off to Vimy Ridge, and now it was gone. It was his fault.