All of us are influenced by everything we have experienced in our lives but like a gigantic sponge, writers absorb more than most.
The small details, the unusual objects, the striking character, the overheard conversation, the beautiful sunset, the changing leaves – the possibility of story everywhere –
like the pub dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and Baker Street in the heart of Melbourne advertising St Patrick’s Day that I discovered on Friday!
Many writers worry they are regurgitating ideas seen or read somewhere, ideas that have been written up ad nauseam…
I remember when this was mentioned at a workshop I attended years ago, the presenter said, ‘Don’t worry there’s no copyright on ideas and whatever you write will be from your perspective, you’ll have your own take on it.”
Just as the owners of The Sherlock Holmes at 415 Collins Street have done – creating their version of the famous character’s story.
Do they worry about appropriating ideas from Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterpiece? Worry about cashing in on the desire of the Irish (and on March 17th it seems a worldwide desire) to celebrate St Patrick’s Day?
Not at all.
I tell my students – even if the idea isn’t fresh, still write the story or poem because you can change everything (names, place, people or events) after you have let your creativity loose.
The finished work is yours – a unique perspective – an original manuscript!
Ideas are free and flexible.
Focus on writing your life experience, your dreams and fantasies, adding your research, your interpretation of what you’ve absorbed and your thoughts…
… and whatever results will be a new work of art.
The recipes listed in Mrs Hudson’s Pantry below are just a variation of well-loved British or Australian delicacies. There may be a pinch of a special spice or sauce that makes it ‘original’ like a story that is enhanced by wordplay, metaphor, flawed character, or exotic setting to vary one of the acclaimed seven basic plots authors keep writing!
Do you know the what, why, or when of St Patrick’s Day?
Brush up on your history of St. Patrick:
‘ before him, there were no farms, sheep, or deer, but there were saintly women who slew dragons and performed miracles’.
(This quote from an article St. Patrick’s Day Facts: Shamrocks, Snakes, and a Saint by John Roach in 2010, available from the National Geographic magazine online quoting St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.)
- Can you write about St Patrick from a position of knowledge?
- Do you know anyone called Patrick (are they saint or sinner?) that you can write about or make a character in a story Irish and called Patrick – or why not Patricia!
- Write a story around the theme of immigration, or slavery (sadly, still two very much alive and contentious issues)
- Or perhaps religious zealots, or cults – or maybe how important partying and having fun is to health!
There are many stories waiting to be written from a variety of angles… who would have thought Ireland, a staunchly Roman Catholic country would vote for marriage equality long before Australia got its act together?
What Colour is Tolerance?
Green comes in forty shades
The Irish folk group sings
Soft moss by rivers streaming
Tarragon glory of faerie rings.
Ireland the true Emerald Isle
Celtic forests delight and intrigue
Crushed pine perfumes the air
Woodland ferns soften history’s deeds.
When English mist descended
Paradise green became no more
Even Dublin Bay was laced with blood
Years of bomb blasts and ghastly gore.
Like the famed Amazon jungle
Impenetrable; a hope of peace deemed futile.
But as spring buds banish winter
Persistence gave reason to smile ––
From green felt to cameo silk
Ireland’s metamorphoses proudly displayed
Acceptance of all shades –– green and pink
In May 2015, history indeed made!
10 Things You May Not Know About St Patrick
- The apostle and patron saint of Ireland wasn’t even Irish! He was born in western Britain, probably West Glamorgan circa 389AD. His father, Calpurnius, was a Roman official and deacon.
- As a boy, Patrick was captured in a Pictish raid and sold as a slave in Ireland. he escaped to Gaul, studied in a monastery and returned to Ireland to spread Christianity.
- Although landing at Wicklow, Patrick travelled north and converted the people of Ulster first!
- He died in 461AD and is buried in County Down, Northern Ireland.
- There are many stories ascribing miraculous powers to Patrick, including one that credits him with ridding the island of vermin (snakes) Slowly, mythology grew up around Patrick until centuries later he was honoured as the patron saint of Ireland.
- No native snakes exist on the island today, but they never did so the story about St Patrick casting out the snakes was fake news in his time. (However, snakes symbolically represent evil and Patrick was the power of good.)
- St. Patrick’s Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans. (I can hear my Irish mother groaning and saying ‘typical Americans claiming everything!) However, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade did not take place in Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City in 1762. As the years went on, the parades became a show of unity and strength for persecuted Irish-American immigrants, and then a popular celebration of Irish-American heritage.
- Patrick used the three leaves of a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and sometime in the 19th century as St. Patrick’s Day parades were flourishing, wearing the colour green became a show of commitment to Ireland.
- Until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it.
- In 1962 the show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green. Similarly, pints of Guinness, the famous Irish stout brand are dyed and consumed. The party went global in 1995 when the Irish government began a large-scale campaign to market St. Patrick’s Day as a way of driving tourism and showcasing Ireland’s many charms to the rest of the world.
So, if you are like me, with a partial or full Irish heritage, you can be forgiven for thinking all the fuss and ‘green’ everything around St Patrick’s Day, is a modern phenomenon because it is!
Today, March 17 is a day of international celebration, as millions of people around the globe put on their best green clothing to drink beer, watch parades and toast the luck of the Irish.
What’s your experience of St Patrick’s Day in Australia – after all, we have lots of Irish immigrants?
Writers, especially if they want to be journalists or write blog posts should have eclectic tastes and always seek to improve their general knowledge.
In this day and age of instant news and a proliferation of people competing online and in print to be writers, those who want to see their name in lights and/or earn a living from writing need to be up-to-date and in fact, with the 24-hour news cycle, they need to be up-to-the-minute!
If you are writing family history you may just have a touch of the Irish in you because Ireland is a country with a long history of exporting people.
Or perhaps you have an Irish Setter? This dog breed falls into the category of ‘love them or hate them’ and as an ex-owner of one of these lovely dogs, I challenge the stereotype that they are stupid. Our Orla was indeed the queen of dogs.
Did you learn or love Irish dancing, Irish music and songs?
My music collection ranges from wonderful tenors like Father Sydney McEwan to The Dubliners folk group and Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin (anglicised as Enya).
When you hear a particular song – When Irish Eyes Are Smiling or Its a Long Way to Tipperary – what memories are evoked? What about The Unicorn song or Lily The Pink by The Irish Rovers?
Have you visited Ireland or is it on your travel Bucket List?
To get more inspiration wear something green, or sit in the garden — perhaps the luck o’ the Irish will heighten the muse!
Grab a stout and join the craic at a celebration – visit The Sherlock Holmes, or even Ireland itself!
The Richness of Celtic Culture Can Be Mined For Stories
Before the introduction of Christianity, Ireland was largely pagan. However, with the arrival of early Christians, missionaries preached where people already worshipped and folded pagan places of pilgrimage, including holy wells, into a new faith. Saints replaced pagan deities and existing places of prayer were given a Christian flavour.
Despite Anglo-Norman attempts to replace veneration of Irish female saints with the veneration of the Virgin Mary, and later efforts to suppress rituals and beliefs around wells, dedication to the saints persisted, and they remained regionally significant.
The endurance of particular saints became connected to the success of dynasties that were attached to certain territories and their endowment of land for churches and abbeys.
(Did you know that professions have patron saints? St Matthew for accountants and bankers, St Genesius for actors and for secretaries, St Jerome for librarians, and writers have two saints, St John the Evangelist and St Francis de Sales – is this because we may sin more than most or need more looking after?
What happens to those saints of professions no longer prolific or even existing? St Crispin (cobblers), St Sebastian (pin-makers), St Hubert (huntsmen) – do they get reassigned to the new professions created by technology?)
For many wells, their mysticism extends beyond their connection to a saint. Known for their healing capabilities, some wells were believed to specialise in treating diseases such as tuberculosis and whooping cough.
Today they are sought out more for maladies like sore throats, head, back, stomach, and toothaches, warts, and other skin-related problems, anxiety, and even cancer.
Researchers’ studies determined that some wells are rich in specific chemicals, for example –
- waters associated with skin remedies are often high in sulphur, an effective ingredient in acne medication.
- Wells connected with “strengthening weak children” are generally iron-rich.
- The wells in County Kerry’s “Valley of the Mad” contain lithium and were effective in treating mental illness.
…a few hours into the dark of night, an intergenerational crowd encircles a large, smoky bonfire near the sites of two holy wells dedicated to St Brigid. Just over 100 participants have gathered outside Kildare town for an annual event celebrating both the ancient Celtic holiday of Imbolc (the beginning of spring) and St Brigid’s Day (February 1st). Led by sisters of the Brigidine Order, they bring lanterns and candles to welcome “the light of Brigid” and the end of an unusually cold winter.
Quite literally in spite of the cold, the crowd is sprinkled with water from St Brigid’s nearby healing well. A woman sits by the fire and begins weaving a large St Brigid’s cross of local rushes. As the crowd falls silent— her actions are explained as symbolic ritual labour; she weaves into the cross the dreams and worries of those present…”
- This practice of observing a modern religion and a pagan precursor is known as ‘syncretism’. You can find it all over the world among former slaves and indigenous peoples who are nominally Catholic, but who identify their saints with pre-Christian gods.
- In parts of Latin America, Indians in the more remote regions especially, observe rituals that are derived from both Latin Catholicism and their ancient animist traditions.
- Write about a saint or someone who turns up at the well to be healed.
- What story can be written about the failure to keep the sacred feminine well?
- Do you have a ‘miracle’ cure story?
Did you Know These facts about The Shamrock?
Trifolium dubium, the wild-growing, three-leaf clover is what some botanists consider the official shamrock.
However, many refer to other three-leaf clovers, such as the perennials Trifolium repens and Medicago lupulina but according to the Irish these plants are “bogus shamrocks.”
The custom of wearing a shamrock dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries, but there is no evidence to say what plant people used, therefore, the argument over authenticity is purely academic.
Botanists say there’s nothing uniquely Irish about shamrocks. Most species can be found throughout Europe so is this just another example of the Irish ‘gift of the gab’ and great marketing?
Spiders are supposed to be lucky too – so I guess my run-in with this greenery cocooned in webs in Northern Ireland was extremely lucky!
STORY IDEAS ABOUT IRELAND & ST PATRICK’S DAY
Think of words associated with Ireland and St Patrick’s Day – list them and see if a story or poem is triggered:
WORD LIST TO GET YOU STARTED:
Ireland, luck, leprechaun, a pot of gold at end of the rainbow, Guinness, stout and beer, blarney (kissing the Blarney Stone), brogues, dancing, bagpipes, the fiddle, Gaelic, Erse, potatoes bread, Irish Stew, scones, shamrock, shillelagh, limerick, poetry, jigs, faeries, banshee, pints, poteen, marching, clover, green, Irish, happy, St. Patrick’s Day, holiday, myths, legends, stove pipe hat, buckles, shoes, surprise, superstition, seventeen, Dublin, Belfast, magic, four-leaf clover, tradition, celebration, family, emigrants, Emerald Isle…
- Pretend that you have found a four-leaf clover that will bring you extraordinary good luck for exactly one day. Write about that lucky day.
- What does it mean to get a “lucky break?” Write about a time when you got one.
- James Garfield (the 20th US president) said, “A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck.” What do you think he meant? Do you agree? Why or why not?
- Draw a mindmap in the shape of a large four-leaf clover. In the centre write: I am lucky because… Then, write a different way that you are lucky on each of the four leaves. Use the words to make a poem.
- Do you have a good luck charm? Describe your lucky keepsake and how it brings you luck. Do you have a lucky number? An item of clothing that you wear that always seems to make you happy or good things happen when you wear it?
Writing About Leprechauns
- Do you believe in leprechauns? Why or why not?
- Write the Legend of the Leprechaun. Create a story about the lucky Leprechaun (or one who lost his magical powers).
- What do leprechauns do all day? Make a daily schedule for a leprechaun – what will happen if one leprechaun tears up the timetable?
- You have caught a leprechaun (how?). He/she gives you a pot of gold in exchange for freedom. What do you do with it? Or maybe you are granted 3 wishes… but there are rules/consequences
- A mischievous leprechaun paid a visit to your garden during the night and caused all kinds of trouble. How do you cope/ fix it?
- Make a list of the advantages or disadvantages of being as small as a leprechaun. Can you write a story?
- You are a leprechaun who is tired of the old-fashioned hat, suit, and shoes and you’ve decided green is not your colour. You want a new, updated look for today’s modern leprechaun. Write a letter to the leprechaun fashion designer explaining why you think an update is a good idea and what the new leprechaun outfit should be. Or write the dialogue between a grandmother/mother and teenage leprechaun daughter or grandfather/father and teenage leprechaun son.
- Describe a magical land “over the rainbow.” How do you get there? Do you stay? Is it really Nirvana/Paradise/Heaven?
Acrostic poems can be written about anything…
You can use one word for each letter, create a full sentence, have it rhyme, or just write random phrases. Acrostic poems are whatever you want them to be – I’ve used GREEN and LUCKY from the word list above.
Grass is always greener somewhere else
Really you make your own luck
Each of us can pay it forward
End the myths about magic
No leprechauns just as there were no snakes!
Leprechauns are too small to see
Unlucky for some, but not for me
Can a rainbow grant wishes, or promise gold?
Kids love these stories and beg they be told
You can see the ‘wee people’ if you’re bold!
Are you Green?
Today ‘Being Green’ has everything to do with the environment and recycling, or having a ‘green thumb’ in the garden.
But perhaps you were ‘green’ once upon a time when you were learning something new?
Or perhaps ‘green around the gills’ from a wave of nausea?
Mairi Neil’s attempt at St Patrick’s Day Limerick
Have you ever tried writing a blog
Through a St Paddy’s Day partying fog?
The brain is numb
Words don’t come
Until you sample ‘the hair of the dog!’
May your muse function better than mine – Happy Writing and feel free to share!