The Season of Lost Children by Karen Blomain

tsolcthumbIn a small college town in Pennsylvania the lives of a bigamist's wife, a Polish orphan, an ex-priest and his wife—a former nun—and a mute teenage runaway intersect.

The Season of Lost Children explores the question of what constitutes family and finds that the answer is often closer than we think, if only we look with and within our hearts.

The Season of Lost Children is part of The Fenston Trilogy, which traces fifty years of the interwoven lives and friendship of three women in a bucolic Pennsylvania college town. While The Season of Lost Children focuses on the life of the eccentric former nun, Eleanor Roderi, A Trick of Light chronicles the heartbreaking discovery and redemption of Hattie Darling, the only daughter of the town's first family. Pearlsong Press will also publish  From: Oz, which recounts the exploits of Fenston's shopkeeper, Athena Westcott, and her late life affair with...well, you'll have to read it to find out.
Cover by Michael Downend - ASMP

Meg Brady, Salt Lake City , Utah

“Stories from the Emerald Isle” by Ann Jardine Bardsley, Continuum, Fall 2004

As Meg Brady was completing her most recent book, Mormon Healer and Folk Poet: Mary Susannah Fowler’s Life of “Unselfish Usefulness” (Utah State University Press, 2000), one of her students suggested she attend a writer’s retreat [Anam Cara] in Ireland, where she could get away and finish the manuscript. The University folklorist, who is three-quarters Irish and one-quarter Chicksaw Indian, had never been interested in going to Ireland . But when she arrived on the Beara Peninsula , dubbed by locals as the “wildest and most romantic of the peninsulas in the South West,” Brady felt like she had come home. “I fell in love with it. The people looked like me and they love folklore.”

Brady met Kathleen Healy, the only woman resident of Erin ’s Dursey, and island accessed from the mainland by riding a cable-suspended tram, on which cows and sheep have priority. Healy, then in her mid-80s, lived alone and had spent her entire life on the island, where all that remains are four men, a few houses, an old signal tower, and the ruins of an ancient fortress. When she met Healy, Brady thought to herself, What would it be like to be one woman so isolated on an island?

The folklorist has spent the last five summers finding out.

Brady has recorded and transcribed the life stories of Healy and nine other Irish women who live secluded lives on the Islands of Roaring Water Bay—Sherkin, Heir, Long, and Cape Clear.

“Hands down, they all love it,” Brady says, adding that she questioned the woman about “everything from island traditions to wakes and funeral customs to stories about shipwrecks and ghostly appearance, recipes, and jokes.” The most unusual stories, “foreshowings,” were repeated in many interviews and were “very convincing,” Brady says. “The women would tell stories of hearing a knock on the door, answering it, and finding no one there; having the knocks repeated several times and still finding no one there. The next morning someone would come and tell them that a loved one had died about the same time as the knocks.”

The verbal exchanges also revealed another Irish phenomenon: the banshee. “The people I talked to would say, ‘You hear the banshee crying in the night when someone dies, and it is a terrible sound.’ Most of them had not heard the banshee themselves, but knew others who had,” she explains. According to tradition, the banshee “follows the O’s,” those families whose last name begins with an “O”—O’Malley, O’Leary, O’Sullivan, O’Connell.

Of the project, which the University Research Committee and the College of Humanities are funding, Brady says, “It’s really wonderful. I love it so much. But it’s hard work physically because I walk everywhere on the islands and carry my clothes and recording equipment in my backpack.”

The Emerald Isles accounts will most likely be preserved in two separate volumes—a mass-market book that focuses solely on the stories, “a natural for tourist and local consumption,” Brady says, and an academic volume, which will examine various aspects of her fieldwork with these women.

“One hundred years ago these life stories may not have been considered important because folklorists were looking at publicly performed fairy tales and historical legends that were told almost exclusively by men,” Brady explains. “But collecting these Irish women’s stories, I’ve come to understand what they value and what’s important to them over a number of generations.”

Una Brankin, Dublin , Ireland

When Una Brankin launched her first novel, Half Moon Lake in Dublin The Irish Times was there and made this report (8 Marcy 2003):

The wind whipped along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin , making the visitors from the shores of Lough Neagh feel right at home. They had come to salute one of their own.

Una Brankin, whose first novel, Half Moon Lake , has just been published by Pocket/TownHouse, was the centre of attention this week in Warison, a new up-market furniture shop beside The Ferryman Hotel….

The Northern contingent included Brankin’s husband, guitarist Declan Murphy, of the Four of Us, ….Brankin’s mother, Sheila Brankin, is from Upper Ballinderry in Co. Antrim, “on the shores of Lough Neagh, where the book is set,” she said.

It’s of that place that this book was born,” said Treasa Coady, of Simon & Schuster/TownHouse. With Brankin, “you believe her from page one; that’s a rare thing in a writer,” she said.

A number of writers came along to support the first-time novelist, including Cauvery Madhavan [another Anam Cara writer-in-residence] whose last book was The Uncoupling, June Considine, author of when the Bough Breaks, and short story writer Margaret Dolan, a two-time winner of RTE Radio’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition.

Brankin’s story is about “a woman who has been marginalised, who has been rejected by society,” said Emer O’Reilly-Hyland, the editor of VIP, who launched the book.

It’s kind of a love story, a human story, it’s full of intrigue, and there are little shockers there too.

Alex Barclay, Dublin , Ireland

“The Power List: The 7 Amazing Women Shaping Your future,” New Woman. October 2004

“Alex’s talent is so evident that when the first draft of Darkhouse landed on my desk I instantly knew we had a name for the future.” Wayne Brookes, senior commissioning editor at HarperCollins.

“My first book is a thriller about an NYPD detective whose former life comes back to haunt him. It’s been snapped up after a publisher’s bidding war; I’ve ended up with a six-figure book deal and it’s expected to be one of 2005’s bestsellers! It’s amazing, and a bit overwhelming to think of all these people reading what I’ve written.

“I’ve been a journalist for years, but my dream was to write a thriller before I hit 30. The idea for the plot came to me out of the blue last year. After writing a couple of scenes I showed my husband. He loved it and offered to support me financially so I could concentrate on the novel. There were times when I’d get writers’ block, but my husband and friends were really supportive. After nine months hard work, I sent out my first draft and HarperCollins agreed to publish it. It’s exciting but nerve-wracking that they’ve got such faith in me when I’m totally unknown.”

Sarah Dunn, New York City , New York , USA
The Big Love , Little, Brown, 228 pages, Time July 19, 2004

Genre Unapologetic chick lit

The Setup Alison is ruthlessly smart, terribly funny and totally neurotic. And the fact that her boyfriend Tom went out to buy mustard, then called to say he wasn’t coming back, isn’t making her any more stable. At 32 Alison has only ever slept with two people in her life, in part because she was raised an evangelical Christian, which has given her a kind of spiritual-sexual hangover she’s still trying to get over. She has a lot of catching up to do. Oh, and she’s a newspaper columnist—not the most original plot device, but, hey, the formula works. The Big Love is a perfect sugary confection, with a surprising center of wistful wisdom.

Free Sample “I’ve always thought that dating a really good-looking guy would be like buying a white couch; it might be nice to have, but you’d waste all that time worrying about it.”

It’s Like A highlights reel from Sex and the City. It’s that funny.

From The New York Times, June 25, 2004

“For a Girl with Principles, Sex in the City Gets Dicey, by Janet Maslin

At the beginning of The Big Love, Sarah Dunn's charming little pirouette of a first novel, Alison Hopkin's boyfriend goes to the grocery store and doesn't come back. It turns out that he is in love with an old flame named Kate.

Is this terrible news for Alison? The Big Love is the kind of book in which Alison's friend assures her that Kate's role in the breakup is actually helpful. It's best to have one's lovers run off with other people, the friend explains, "because otherwise it mea ns they just really, really can't stand you. It's much less personal this way. "

Now, the ground is littered with failed attempts at I-lost-my-boyfriend comic fiction. But Ms. Dunn's book is brighter and funnier than most, and not only because this fluff has an unusual wrinkle. Alison was raised as an evangelical Christian. She was a virgin until she was 25. And her love life is complicated by such sticking points as moral principles. "The truth is I still can't imagine cheating on somebody," Alison tells the reader. "Do I secretly think this makes me a good person?

I'm afraid I do."

However devout she may be, Alison isn't prim: she tries her best to see the cultureclashes between herself and many of her friends. About not having found a husband: "For an ordinary single woman, the tragedy appears, to outsiders at least, to be mitigated. It is mitigated by the fact that she's meeting new men, she's taking fun trips, she's kissing in dark hallways at parties, she's waking up with promising strangers, she's eating takeout in bed with old boyfriends after sexual encounters that begin with the phrase 'This is not a good idea.' "

Alison's options are more limited.

"It's hard enough to find anybody you might want to spend your life with," she points out. "But if you are more or less forced to narrow the field down to the six weird bachelors milling around outside the sanctuary on Sunday morning - one of whom looks a little too intentionally like Jesus - things start to feel a little hopeless." Still, Alison does not doubt the value ofher religious faith.

"You give up some of life's more interesting perks and in exchange you lose your fear of death," she says.

Alison lives in Philadelphia . ("If anything big ever happens to anyone who lives in Philadelphia , they end up moving to New York . ") She writes a column for an underground newspaper - the kind of paper whose sex columnist takes a stand against bestiality because a dog cannot officially consent to a sexual encounter. Many of the unabashed writers for this publication, it is said, write as if their parents were dead.

Alison keeps a picture of Woody Allen on the wall of her office, which makes perfect sense: The Big Love has a worried, wisecracking voice like that of Mr. Allen's prime romantic comedies. (Ms. Dunn even throws in a funny glimpse of her heroine’s psychotherapy.) Otherwise, Alison’s reference points—Sex and the City, When Harry Met Sally—can veer dangerously toward sitcom wisdom.

This book is bubbly, at times too much so. And its plotting owes a debt to half the other chick-lit love stories around. But there's a genuine wit at work here, and a pragmatism that seems especially wry under the circumstances. Alison has both a father and a stepfather. One "is always doing extremely right-wing things like going to prayer breakfasts with John Ashcroft and attempting to privatize the state prisons in Texas ." The other runs the ministry of a famous evangelical paraplegic who types inspirational songs with a stick. So when asked by strangers about her Dad, she explains, " 'He's a dentist' is what I would say."

The story involves the whiff of freedom that comes to Alison after her boyfriend ditches her. Maybe things aren't so terrible after all. (Enter a stock character: a smart, dishy Hugh Grant of a new boss.) So she begins to take chances, even if they threaten her job, solvency and so on. "I was like one of those renegade filmmakers who make entire movies using nothing but their credit cards as financing," she says. "Only I had skipped over the whole 'making a movie' part."

The cover of "The Big Love" features a bed and the title in pink neon letters. It is an indication of the kind of opportunity that awaits any heroine in a flirty , effervescent novel of this genre. But the image also evokes, however back-handedly, the book's sense of a higher power. Alison already has one kind of big love in her life when she strikes out in search of something more earthl y .

It's a testament to this book's sparkle that Ms. Dunn is able to express all this in warm, good-natured fashion without raising hackles. She simply explains Alison's reasoning and carries it to its logical conclusion. Here is a young woman who grew up with a very clear goal: to get married so she could have sex, and to do it before Armageddon. "Precisely what happens next varies, depending on one's theology," she explains, "but the one thing everyone seems to agree upon is that there will be no sex involved."

Cauvery Madhavan, Straffan, Co. Kildare , Ireland
Travelling Light edited by Sarah Webb, Tivoli , review by Shirley Kelly in The Irish Times

Travelling Light is an impressive smorgasbord of essays, bringing together 30 intelligent, articulate women, each with a traveller’s tale to tell.

Edited by novelist and former bookseller Sarah Webb, the anthology features some of our most popular women writers (Julie Parsons, Marian Keyes, Catherine Dunne, Marita Conlon-McKenna), as well as our most eminent travel writers (Dervla Murphy, Mary Russell), others who are not best known for their writing (Riverdancer Jean butler and Red Cross activity Senator Mary Henry), and a smattering of non-nationals offering insights into their native lands, like Indian writer Cauvery Madhavan.

What’s more, it’s all in a good cause: proceeds go to the children’s ward of Kisiizi Hospital in Uganda , which runs an out-reach programmed for the thousands of AIDS orphans in the region.

For armchair travellers and intrepid explorers alike, this collection makes for pleasurable dipping. As the title suggests, the tone is generally light, but Irish Times journalist Louise East is not joking when she tells you that she nearly died three times in one week while travelling through the wilds of Columbia .

Almost as immobilising is Tina Reilly’s tale of a wet week in West Cork with a toddler who doesn’t like “lollidays.”

Marian Keyes reports on her trip to Ethiopia with Concern, with her usual good humour, while Dervla Murphy writes a letter to her daughter from a refugee camp in Rwanda .

Olutyin Pamela Akinjobi brings us some supernatural experiences from Africa and Terry Prone offers some practical (though not entirely convincing) advaic in “How to Sleep on Planes.” Julie Parsons recalls her six-week journey in a “rust bucket of a cruise ship” from New Zealand to Ireland in 1963, and Martina Devlin describes her quest for an amber necklace in St. Petersburg.

If you’re venturing no further than your back garden this summer, Travelling Light will broaden your horizons. For every copy sold, €1 goes to Kisiizi Hospital .

Gordon Grant, Savannah , Georgia
“Author Signing Book,” Southern Star, 27 March 2004

An American writer of Irsh descent, Gordon Grant, will be signing copies of his latest book, The Golden Mask, at the Castletownbere library this Thursday and Friday.

Mr. Grant wrote his first book last year while on sabbatical in Skibbereen. He finalised his second book last year while at Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat in Eyeries.

US-based journalist Sharyn Ellison wrote of the author: “Gordon Grant has accomplished much in hislifetime, but the achievement closest to his heart is the publication of two books, the second of which is being celebrated in Castletownbere this week. While Grant, 65, is an American who lives in Savannah , Georgia , his Irish roots run deep, and it was his sabbaticals in Skibbereen and on the Beara Peninsula that fuelled his energy and provided inspiration for his writing.

“Yet, Grant has spent most of his life in banking, and has even dabbled in real estate, all the while struggling with a fatal illness. ‘I have a disease,’ Grants says with a straight face. ‘It’s called writer’s disease. Once you get it, you have it for life.”

“Writer’s disease struck, Grant back in his college days at the University of Georgia . ‘I started writing poetry when a love affair went bad,’ he says with a smile. As the years passed, he continued to struggle with his disease while the need to write smouldered.

“Whenever the smoke turned to fire (and he had enough money set aside), he would quite his job and go on sabbatical to write. His 1995 sabbatical in Ireland was Grant’s first of many to his ancestral homeland. ‘I had always wanted to visit the old country, so I decided to travel to Ireland and conduct my research in the libraries there,’ he says. He didn’t have a plan – he just got on a plane to Shannon Airport with the idea of going to the ocean. ‘I decided on Diingle, but I got on the wrong bus and wound up in Killarney. So I said, ‘Heck with it, I’ll just keep going southwest, and took another bus to Bantry and then another one to Skibbereen.’

“Skibbereen felt right. He stayed three months, occasionally venturing into Dublin , conducting his research, and scratching out the beginning of his first novel, Goliath’s Legacy, a story of international intrigue that was published in 2001. Yearly sabbaticals in Skibbereen worked well for him for the next several years, until somewhere in his travels he heard about Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat, where he spend his 2003 sabbatical. It was at Anam Cara that Grant finalised his newly published book, The Golden Book, his second novel of mystery and intrigue.

“Grant’s yearly writing sabbaticals in Ireland have proved fruitful. Grant will be signing copies of his new book at Castletownbere Library on Thursday, 25 March from 11:00 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. and on Friday, 26 March from 10:30 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. The event is being sponsored by the Castletownbere Library, Beara Community Arts Group, and Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat.”

Sharyn Ellison is a writer living in Savannah , Georgia , where she is employed by the Savannah Morning News.

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