ANNE GILDEA

The tor­ture of birthing a book

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS - Anne.gildea@mailon­sun­day.ie

con­text of other themes. Why in­deed? It’s a good ques­tion. But why do any­thing you do? All I can care about right now is: is it any good? I’ll ad­dress the other is­sues later…

Then I met the woman I men­tioned above and felt an im­me­di­ate con­nec­tion, maybe be­cause she’s from a small-farm back­ground too. She read the chunk. It chimed with her; I was re­as­sured I was on the right track, and then she shared her story. Her name is He­len O’Leary, she’s a pro­fes­sor of art at Penn State Univer­sity, and among her many awards is a pres­ti­gious Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship. When I

‘In Penn­syl­va­nia, life was all sleep­overs and brown­ies. In Ire­land, 14-year-old

girls were talk­ing about their sex lives’

read the in­tro­duc­tory page on her web­site — ‘I work from mem­oir, sto­ries of grow­ing up on the farm… and my life now in the States…’ — I felt as if fate had a hand in the fact of meet­ing her right at this point of be­ing frozen with doubt. Talk­ing with her pushed the de­frost but­ton.

He­len’s 23-year-old daugh­ter, Eva, is a stun­ning pho­tog­ra­pher. Her im­ages are Ire­land as you’ve never seen it — very clear, pre­cise, sim­ple, ab­stract but not pre­ten­tious — none of the moun­tains/ sheep/ big, rainy sky/ bi­cy­cle agin’ the cottage gable usual. They de­pict ghost es­tates, but Eva’s eye is drawn to the ‘weird black mould’ that’s form­ing on all these aban­doned houses, as if, she says, ‘they were built of pa­per’. There’s the camp­ing can­vas wind­breaker in Achill that’s printed with a pic­ture of dry stone wall; pic­tures of pass­ing young peo­ple that have an un­usual, iconic feel to them. She shoots with a ‘field cam­era’ on large-for­mat film, a tech­nique that ‘forces you to go slow’. The fi­nal se­lec­tion will be dis­played as a book, as part of a larger ex­hi­bi­tion of He­len’s work, dur­ing the 2013 Wex­ford Fes­ti­val Opera.

Eva’s take is in­ter­est­ing be­cause she has a dual per­spec­tive, hav­ing spent much time here grow­ing up. When she was 14, she spent a year in school in Leitrim. And what was that like? In Penn­syl­va­nia, she says, her life was sleep­overs and brown­ies; in Ire­land, it was sud­denly girls her age talk­ing about the sex­ual acts they’d notched up with boys; dis­cov­er­ing that her friend had a bong for smok­ing ‘weed’ in her bed­room, and — in one mem­o­rable de­scrip­tion — turn­ing up to a birthday party that boasted a bouncy cas­tle, later to be of­fered Bul­mers from an il­licit stash. Suf­fice it to say, she doesn’t come with ‘Old Coun­try’ emer­ald-tinted glasses.

And just now — down for a cup of tea in the kitchen — I met Belfast play­wright Marie Jones, ( Women On The Verge Of HRT; Stones In His Pock­ets; A Night In Novem­ber). She has a new play — Fly Me To The Moon, a comic romp about two care work­ers, a corpse and moral dilem­mas — open­ing in New York on Septem­ber 5th, and is here in Mon­aghan writ­ing the screen­play for Stones In His Pock­ets, which is sched­uled to shoot next year. Mean­while, her hus­band, Ian McEl­hin­ney, is up in Ice­land di­rect­ing that play, in Ice­landic, and star­ring the ( Ice­landic) ac­tor who plays Rob­bie Rot­ten in Lazy Town on kids’ TV (ob­scure fact). The play ran for three years in Ice­land pre­vi­ously.

As if talk­ing to He­len wasn’t in­spi­ra­tion enough, a chat with the buzzy, pro­lific Jones has pinged me back into ‘Ah, get on with it’ mode.

And PS: Yes, I know I’m lucky.

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