Tickling the ...

It's been a time of reflection so far this year. I've recently had more time to practice my piano playing, and I dug out a couple of boxes of sheet music I'd stashed in the attic. They've been in there for years, most of it hauled from Northern Ireland when I moved to Oregon in 1989. I've always loved the piano, but honestly could never play it. I'm not being modest. I just couldn't do more than painfully plonk out facsimiles of the melodies, blemished with wrong notes and prolonged hesitations. For someone who had their mahogany antique birdcage piano shipped across the Atlantic, that's pretty sad. That piano met an unfortunate accident en route. It was severely damaged, but I placed it in pride of place in my hallway in the house in Portland until I could bring myself to part with it. My friend Karen Keller, who also happened to be my boss at the time, a super-successful Avon representative, took it so her husband could tinker around fixing it as a hobby. I got a small amount back on insurance so I put it to a lovely little pre-owned spinet.  Even though I tried to do right by it. that poor thing sat lonely and unplayed for years, apart from my occasional embarrassing honky-tonk. In the end I just accompanied myself on the guitar when I wanted to sing.

So ... fast forward to 2012. My singing voice had deteriorated so I'd stopped playing guitar. I hadn't realized that my immune system had gone mental and was attacking my thyroid, hence the voice problems. I won't bore you with this story (again!) In a nutshell, I developed Hashimoto's, then Graves Disease, which were undiagnosed for several years so my health rapidly plummeted and things reached a critical point, blah, blah. Then during a fairly routine surgery I had a thyroid storm (basically a heart attack caused by prolonged overactive thyroid), a blood transfusion, and finally a diagnosis had me on a long but successful path to recovery. After a zap or two of chemotherapy to kill off the psychotic thyroid gland, my singing days were truly over.

No endorphins from making song was a sad loss indeed. Until my dear friend Phyl Radford decided to get rid of her electronic piano. She sold it and gifted her music books to me. When I looked through them, the proverbial road to Damascus scales fell from my eyes. They were written for easy piano with simplified compositions that even I could play. Until then I didn't know such books existed! For the first time I was able to sit down at that sweet little spinet and play something recognizable. It was the theme from Titanic if I remember rightly. I soared through Phyl's books, then got online and ordered a ton more: easy classics, movie themes, Broadway musicals ... you name it. Suddenly I could 'sing' again, through my fingers.

I have two pianos now that I alternative between (so neither gets jealous!) My faithful spinet and a much-loved baby grand that I bought from a neighbor. I can't describe the joy that surges through me every time I sit down at that instrument. I've moved on from beginner ... not sure where I'm at now .... perhaps intermediate. Not expert! Never will be. But I just finished playing Handel's Largo from Xerxes. I fell in love with that haunting piece and included it as a funeral theme in A Song of Bullets, my Northern Irish novel, which came out in November. I never thought I could play something like that! It's a form of meditation, I feel such peace and happiness. And yesterday, ploughing through all that ancient sheet music I so wanted to, but never could play before. And to my excitement, I can tickle the ivories with quite a lot of it now! Even if some pages are almost in tatters and still have the price of 6 shillings printed on them.

Mind you, I wouldn't dare record myself playing. I get self-conscious and mess up if someone's watching. But here is a quick video of an extraordinary pianist who inspires me in every way, from her incredible musical talent to her intelligence and zest for life. Any of you who have been to my St. Patrick's Day parties will recognize my sweet friend Michele Freeman. We went piano shopping before I bought my baby-grand, and she gobsmacked the entire store when she performed an impromptu concert on their 18k gold-hinged $200,000 grand! Needless to say, she was invited to come and play anytime she wanted.


The end is nigh! :-)

I have finally finished A Song of Bullets! It took several months longer than I'd anticipated, but is now completed after two years. The beginning's been reworked per editorial order, and the ending has totally changed from the first draft, because what worked for a dynamic Hollywood film script did not work in a book. The proofs are out to readers and I anticipate that the launch will be in early summer of this year.

Quite honestly, I am not certain I would have ever begun this book, let alone finished it, if it weren't for Kim Guidone. She was a guest professional from Hollywood, to whom I pitched the screenplay version a couple of years ago at the Willamette Writer's Conference in Portland, Oregon. She read it and came back with some really insightful notes on how to make the story better. Strengthen the love story, for example. The relationship between my protagonist and her love interest became the one constant throughout the story, despite the roller coaster of blazing rows, break-ups and unfaithfulness. I had hereto concentrated more on the thriller aspect ... the undercover and espionage work, and terrorism. Suddenly thanks to Kim the book whooshed into life, and I just hung on, writing down what my characters decided to do. It certainly was an awesome ride!

I'm still ambivalent about the title. It was originally called The Peace Between Them, but is now officially called A SONG OF BULLETS.



Enlightenment or ramblings?

I am the most pathetic blogger! Jay Lake used to despair of me, and strongly encouraged (nagged) me into writing more regularly. So in respect for the one year anniversary since his death from cancer, I'll at least try to catch you up from where I left off last.

The trouble with blogging and me is that I'm okay sharing the fun and eccentric things that happen in my life. And of those there are plenty; I seem to attract them! But once things take a personal turn, I clam up. Jay had no compunction about this. He shared his deepest thoughts and emotions right up until the very end. He told me I'd find it cathartic if I did the same.

Since my (temporary) death in 2012 I have learned so much about living. And about myself. The Graves' Disease forced me to make vastly better choices than I ever had before. Before, I was living my life for other people. Always saying to myself, "Okay, I just need to [-fill-in-the-blank-] first, and then I'll be able to write/relax/be free/think/be/live/gain happiness etc." It was only after I came through the ordeal that I learned to say no and try to put myself first. I wasn't great at it in the beginning, and know that I must have hurt and bewildered a number of people. I do regret that, but can't change the past.

This year I've had even more blindingly bright revelations about living. Sometimes, (being fanciful, here) I fear I'm close to extinction, because this feels a lot like enlightenment! But I don't think I've ever seen things so clearly.

What things? you ask.

Life things. My life. How people relate to me, past and present. What is unacceptable to me, such as disrespect, and whether I have the courage to do something about it. Also, my hopes from whatever future life is left to me. I think I'm standing at the proverbial crossroads, or perhaps at Robert Frost's two roads diverging in the yellow wood.


Excuse me while I moon you

Hard to believe I'm back in Northern Ireland again! Time has this pesky habit of sneaking away from me. Last time I looked, it was the end of January ... and here we are, already in May.

As always, I have tales to tell about my journey over here. It didn't start very auspicially when United decided to cancel the direct flight from Portland to Newark. They had me flying into Chicago with only half an hour to change flights to Newark. After my last experience ('take a taxi ... to Ireland?) I knew that was impossible. The email read pretty much 'take it or leave it'. I phoned customer service and they couldn't have been more helpful. Between us, we worked out the best route and moved everything a day earlier. So, at the ungodly hour of 0400 I dragged myself out of bed and got to Portland International in plenty of time for my 0720 first leg of the trip to San Francisco. I had a window seat, as I'd literally been squeezed in at the last minute. A girl in her twenties took the middle seat next to me. She had an interesting style ... a DPM U.S. Army jacket with a red wool beret tucked under the left epaulet, a black miniskirt, white socks and concourse trainers. (What we used to call baseball boots in the UK, I think.) As she got herself settled, I noticed a huge tattoo on her thigh. It looked like a feather. Of a sudden the entire tattoo was revealed as her skirt got caught on the armrest. Absolutely stunning, of a Native American woman. I opened my mouth to compliment her on it, but was left speechless at the sight of a bare buttock!

"Oops, sorry," she said, hiking her skirt back down again. "Excuse me while I moon you."

I laughed, replying, "No worries, nothing I haven't seen before." But was she really sitting on a much-used fake leather plane seat, with no underwear on? Ergh.

We passed the time discussing the merits of tattoos and body piercings. I have none, other than my ears. I told her I'd always fancied a tramp stamp, and she informed me in no uncertain words that women aren't tramps!

The flight was over quickly, and with an easy cross from one gate to another, I then boarded the Newark flight. I always try to get an aisle seat for flights longer than a couple of hours, otherwise I feel trapped. I stood up to let a young eastern Indian couple in beside me. She clambered over to the window seat, and her husband took the middle one. I smiled and greeted them, but they didn't acknowledge me at all.

I have a tiny water bottle that I got on Qantas Airways when I visited Terry in Australia in 2013. To most people's horror, I keep using it over and over as it's just the perfect size to pop into a handbag. After the plane took off I pulled it out and promptly dropped it. Damn. I've never seen another bottle that size so didn't want to lose it. I asked the man behind me if it had rolled back somewhere around his seat but he couldn't see it.

When the Flight Attendants brought the beverage cart along I asked one of them if they could spot it. "Oh, I'm sorry," said one of them. "I just put it in the trash."

Thrifty me wanted to request she get it right back out again, but an American would be totally appalled that I wanted to reuse it after it had been thrown away! "Oh, well," I said with a smile. It was no big deal, but she was so kind. She brought me a plastic glass of water, and then presented me with a full size bottle. Unfortunately I promptly dropped it on my seat companion by accident. Apologizing profusely, I bent double to rescue it from the floor, and realized belatedly that my face was practically in his lap. I could hear him huffing and puffing in outrage, and I couldn't help but get the giggles. Rendered pretty much useless I retrieved the water bottle and straightened up.

"I'm really very sorry," I managed with a wobbly voice, tears of laughter escaping down my face.

In unison the husband and wife turned their faces away. I shook with laughter for a while, and eventually managed to calm down. It's awful when you get the giggles in public, isn't it? The more embarrassed you feel, the more you can't control your laughter. At least the Flight Attendant saw the funny side of it and offered me an amused wink.

About three hours into the flight, I heard, "Excuse me." Turning round I wasn't sure if it had been addressed to me, as neither of my seatmates were looking at me. I went back to my work, and heard a slightly more emphatic "Excuse me." He almost made eye contact with me, and gestured toward his wife. I leaned forward to look inquiringly at her. Beverage and snacks were finished, and I thought she wanted me to hand some trash to the Flight Attendant. She ignored me. I looked from one to the other with a quizzical smile on my face. They both finally managed to look at my face without actually meeting my eyes. "Oh," I said, the penny dropping. "You would like me to get up?"

No response.

But I unclipped my seatbelt and complied. Yes, that was what they'd wanted. They shuffled by me and made their way to the back of the plane. I sat back down and before I could refasten my seatbelt he appeared at my side. I began to get up.

"No!" he commanded. Leaning past me, he retrieved his laptop from the pocket in the seat in front of him and took off again.

Dear me. And there I was, planning to slip a flashdrive into his computer when he was gone and stealing all his data. Bah, foiled again.

Back they came in due course; I was well aware of them standing over me. But I pretended to be absorbed in my editing. They stood. And stood. They would have gone on standing, but for the Flight Attendants bringing the beverage cart down the aisle again. I got up and as before, the charming, friendly young couple took their seats without acknowledeging my presence.

Well. Each to their own. Or perhaps that invisibility spell from A Celtic Yearbook took effect again? Hmm.

I gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming it might be a language barrier. But as the plane approached Newark they chatted to each other about their upcoming visit there in perfect North American English. I thought about making them sit and wait at Newark while I fiddled and faffed with my bags, but decided not to be petty. It was again an easy transfer upstairs to the International terminal, and I didn't have to go through Security again, like I used to when flying directly from Portland. I have a complimentary pass to United's Club Lounge, but as I only had just over an hour to kill, I left it for my return trip, when I'd have more time at Chicago.

I was the first person to reach the gate for the Belfast flight, and sat in solitary splendor for a while. A lady in her seventies came along, spotted me, and beelined across the deserted waiting area to sit right next to me. She was from Donegal in Ireland, and we spent an enjoyable half hour chatting about how much life has changed for the better all over Ireland. She had been visiting family in New York, accompanied by her daughter and son-in-law. They turned up shortly after that, and spirited her away to get something to eat before the flight.

When United's Customer Service had changed my flights, it was with such short notice that on the website I could only select an aisle seat on the very back row on the plane. I couldn't face six and a half hours with a steady stream of people looming over me as they lined up for the toilet, so I splurged and bought one of the Economy Plus seats that offer a lot more leg room. Conversely, the flight was pretty empty despite what the website had shown, so I got the entire row to myself. Wonderful! Once the doors were closed I shifted to the middle seat and spread out, claiming my territory.

Unlike Aer Lingus with whom I traveled the last time, United had gluten free meals ordered for me, which I cannot say how much I truly appreciate. It's probably silly, but I feel so cared for and valued when they go that extra wee bit. And then when I ordered a glass of wine to accompany it, the Flight Attendant waved away my credit card and said, "This one's on me."

"Really?" Pleasantly surprised I thanked her profusely. I don't know why I was favored, for I noticed other people paying for their drinks. Then when I thought about it, I'd said hello and smiled when I came on board, while most of the other people just shifted along, ignoring her. Perhaps that was it, but I really appreciated it. Then I curled up on the three seats and managed to have a twenty minute nap, which is more than I've ever slept on a plane before!

I woke up with a start and raised my head to look out of the window. I'm so glad I did. The moon looked amazing with wispy tendrils of smoky cloud linking it to the wing of the plane. I watched the sky change from dark cobalt to light rose as dawn crept in, and saw Venus rise, sparkling out in the horizon.

Then we began our descent. I watched as the green patchwork quilt of Ireland's fields rose to meet me. It doesn't matter how many times I come back here, they always fill me with a sense of joy and expectation.

I'll stop now and post this before time starts slipping away again. I have lots to share, and promise to write more in a day or so.



Fly me to the moon ...

First blog of 2015! And Dad and his eccentricites already promise to make this a very entertaining year.

This afternoon I was lost in work, trying to catch up where I got behind over Christmas. At some point I became aware of thumps and bumps, and Dad's customary assortment of exclamations, including: "Damn it all to hell! Goddamn bastard!"

Then there was one almighty THUNK, followed by, "Fucking BASTARD!" Almost immediately the front door slammed and Dad tornadoed past the window, hurried round the outside of the house to the back door.

After a lifetime of listening to his harmless rants I have become highly immune, so I tuned it out, distracted by the sight of a luminescent golden moon hanging in a pink sky, so close over the neighbor's house that it looked like it might rest on top on the chimney tops. Grabbing my camera I headed down to the kitchen to go outside and take a picture. But the door from the kitchen into the utility room was blocked by a garden two-seater cane sofa.

Dad was on the other side, working at a metal screw in one of the sofa legs.

"What's happening here?" I asked without thinking.

"What does it look like?" he retorted.

Again, so used to his ways I automatically replied, "You've perfected Star Trek's teleportation device disguised in this sofa and you're trying to beam to another planet?"

Obviously so used to my ways, he didn't even react and carried on working at the leg.

"How did ... " I began and then stopped. I didn't want to know.

He'd gotten a new year's urge to clean out the spare room, and had hauled out two ancient mattresses, intending to take them to the dump this weekend. He had mentioned he wanted to retrieve this sofa from the garage and put it in there, trying to make a nice guest room. I just didn't think he meant today. The mattresses now stood upright in the corridor, awaiting transportation.

Putting down my camera I used both hands and shoved at the sofa to see how wedged in it was. It didn't budge.

The screwdriver slipped from Dad's grasp and clanged to the tiled floor. "Oh, for goodness' sake!" He flounced out the back door, letting it slam behind him.

Bending down I saw that on the other side the rocker part of the sofa was loose, and if I could push it out a little, the sofa might shift enough to slide through the doorway. I pulled over the pine kitchen stool, climbed up onto the counter by the door and clambered over the sofa.

Dad came in through the front door, and between us, we got the sofa back out into the ulitity room and outside.

"Shall we try the front door?" I asked.

"No, put it back in the garage. I can' t be bloody bothered, anymore."

Good, I thought. "It would be hard getting it past the mattresses, anyway."

"Oh," he said. "I'd forgotten about those. This was a fruitless task from the beginning."

I wondered how long he'd been dragging all that furniture about? I'd been so involved in my writing I hadn't even noticed.

We stowed the sofa back in the garage and as we returned to the house I noticed the moon again. "Did you see the moon?" I asked him.

"What moon?"

"The only moon up there that I know of."

"Where is it?"

I knew he was teasing me and chuckled. "Up there. Come and see." I headed back outside.

"I'm not that bloody interested," I heard him say but ignored him.

"Look." I pointed.

With a sigh he joined me. "Sure, it always looks like that," he muttered, turned on his heel and went into the house.

I could only see the funny side and doubled over, laughing. I'm so glad to see he's still indominatably eccentric. What will he get up to next, I wonder?



A brush by any other name...

The other day was blustery and rainy, and Murlough Nature Reserve had become a quagmire when Dad and I walked Cooper there. But our boots didn't only get muddy, we got dog poop on them as well, from where other dog owners hadn't bothered to clean up.

Dad got to the sink first to clean his boots. As I watched with dawning horror, he ran the hot water over the soles of his boots, then grabbed the dishwashing brush to scrub the enrusted crap out of the grooves.


"I didn't realize you used that to clean your boots with," I remarked, trying not to sound too disgusted.

"What's wrong with it?" he asked.

Not even going to answer that. "I think there's another brush under the sink." I rummaged around and found a brand new unused one. Holding it up triumphantly I declared, "Okay, this is the new dishwashing brush. That one is your boot-cleaning one."

"Sure, a bit of mud never hurt anyone," he grumbled.

Yes, I'm sure a bit of mud never hurt anyone ... it's the other stuff I'm concerned about!

The next time it rained while we were out he rushed to the sink. "Oh, goodie, a nice new brush to clean my boots with!"

I lunged and rescued the brush. "Don't you dare!" I chastised, even though I knew he was winding me up.

The brush event came on the heels of me discovering Dad wiping the floor, (where all kinds of filth ends up and the dog routinely licks) with the sponge I normally use to wipe the kitchen counters. Ick! The gods only know what else he has used it for! I dread to think.

Wait, I do know. Cooper rolled in some vile-smelling combination of decomposing corpse and ancient animal feces. The stench was unbelievable. I walked into the kitchen to find Dad wiping the dog's fur with that sponge ... !!

I immediately purloined a drawer in the kitchen where I hide a couple of sponges so I know they're only used for countertops. (I must have a great immune system by now!)

Dad throwing Cooper a stick at rainy Dundrum Bay, with Ballykinlar in the background

Cooper feels 'neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...'

Tornado-looking cloud over Murlough

Not the salvo you were expecting

Last week I was in Belfast again, meeting up to bid a friend bon voyage before he headed home to Australia. For old time's sake we stopped in at Lavery's Bar in Shaftesbury Square. Tempted, so tempted to have a (sickening sweet) Southern Comfort and white lemonade in honor of the past, I just couldn't bring myself to! I stuck safely to my new-found favorite of strawberry and lime flavored cider.

As I've mentioned before, liberal application of cider eventually results in the inevitable, so off I went to the Ladies'. While contemplating life, the universe, and everything in there, two women came in, chatting and laughing. They went into the stalls on either side of me.

Next thing I hear is: PPFFFFFTT! It went on longer than I thought possible. Followed by hysterical giggling.

"Eileen!" she shouted, "did ya hear that?"

Eileen: "No, I can't hear anything, Carol."

PRRRRAAAAFFFTT!!!!! "Did ya hear that?"

Eileen: "No!"

Another prolonged salvo. More giggling. "What about that?"

Eileen: "No, I tell ya I can't hear nothin'!"

Me: Exploding with laughter. "I did!"

Carol: "Oh! Hee hee hee! I'm on antibiotics ya see, love. It's playin' havoc with my stomach. I'm making all this noise but nothing's coming out."

Me: "I'm sorry...antibiotics can be hell on the system."

I went out to wash my hands, where Eileen was applying lipstick in front of the mirror. She turned to me, her face beetroot red. "I'm so sorry," she mouthed.

"No worries at all," I assured her. As I left the bathroom I called, "Hope you feel better soon, darling!"

"Thank ye, love!" shouted Carol, punctuated by a blast that would have alarmed the very security forces in days gone by.

Stumbling out to the table, I shook so hard with laughter I was incapable of speech for quite some time.

With Terry in the bar

Pub crawl...hard work, but someone's got to do it!

On Monday afternoon I headed to Belfast for a little last-draft research. This is the point in finishing off the book where I have to make sure all the small details are correct. For instance, while wandering around the city center, I realized my memory had failed me in thinking one could see the Woolworth’s shop from the main British Home Stores entrance in Corn Market. Not going to give any spoilers, but when you read the book you’ll see why this would be important to get right. And this is only one example!

I checked into the Days Inn hotel in the center of Belfast and met up with ye olde friende Terry, one of the gang I hung out with in Belfast eons ago. I’ve mentioned him before in my blogs…he immigrated to Australia and most of us only got back in touch once we’d been assimilated into Facebook a few years ago. One of these days we’ll collaborate on a screenplay, about the fate and follies of Norn Irish immigrants over the world.

Research began in the lobby bar of the Europa Hotel, famed as the most bombed hotel in the world. My memory turned out not only to be faulty about how it looked back in 1979 (when the book is set) but downright wrong! I thought I remembered marble floors, but according to the mini museum on the spiral staircase wall off the lobby, it was all wood paneling and dark carpet.

After a berry-flavored cider we crossed the road to The Crown Liquor Saloon. This tavern was in the original draft of the screenplay but I’m not sure if it’s going to be in the book or not. A Victorian gin palace, built in 1885, it’s a really attractive building with ornately elaborate Italian tiling, stained glass and woodwork. A pear-flavored cider, this time…sitting up at the bar and people-watching.

Two glasses of cider prompts a visit to the bathroom, where unfortunately several sterling pound coins fell from my jeans pocket and rolled under the partition to the stall beside me.

“Don’t worry, I won’t keep them,” came an American-accented voice.

I laughed. “Finders keepers.”

Using a pointed index finger, my neighbor slid the coins one by one back toward me and headed out to the sinks. When I emerged I found her bemused by the disposable toothbrush vending machine. Whatever they looked like, they came in round blue plastic bubbles, a pound each.

Next stop was Lavery’s Bar, apparently another gin palace. This doesn’t feature in the book, but I based a couple of places on it. When I spent a year studying my A-levels at the Shaftesbury House College nearby, almost every afternoon a bunch of us came in here after school. We were all about 17, (under age), and where we got the money from to drink every day I do not know! I have a very clear memory of drinking Southern Comfort and white lemonade in there. The very thought of it now makes me want to hurl!

Then it was time to head down to the ‘Movie House’ on Dublin Road to see the film, ’71, which has just been released here. I had mixed feelings about seeing it. It’s hard to watch stuff like this that stirs up stuff probably best forgotten. But I thought it would be helpful to see a period piece set in Belfast, particularly considering the subject of my own book and screenplay. And it was, to a point.

I thought the movie started out well, but lost a lot once we got to the second act. Too many plot holes. Spoiler alert: in my humble opinion, I think it would have worked better if the main character had been more proactive about his survival throughout the story rather than blundering around and trusting others too easily… and when he’d passed out in the street due to his injuries, with astounding good luck he was found by the only two people out walking in the area…one who just happened to be an ex-army medic and his daughter, who dragged him up several stories into the heart of Provo land in the infamous Divis Flats.

But really, who am I to criticize? It was pretty well done, all in all, and I am well aware what a remarkable feat it is to get a movie made in the first place, so kudos to writer Gregory Burke. Perhaps people who didn’t grow up in this shit might find it simply an entertaining war movie thriller.

We ended up in Kelly’s Cellars, the oldest licensed premises in Belfast. There’s always a great atmosphere there, and it was a perfect place to wrap up a day’s work over a shot of smooth Bushmills whiskey.

All in the name of research, you understand…!

View from the hotel window


In front of Belfast city hall

Reliving history, posing in a new-style phonebox where an old cherry-red one stood

Some charming person left this cigarette butt in half a Mars Bar


A Taxi to Ireland

Back in Northern Ireland again. How does time zoom by so quickly?

This time I traveled a different route with United Airlines...from Portland to Chicago, and from there to Dublin. It was about half the price of flying into Belfast, and I am heartily sick of the interminable 6-8 hour layovers on my usual route through New York.

Very much in its favor was the 1130 flight to Chicago instead of 0730 into Newark. With a 3 hour layover I had plenty of time to change terminals in O’Hare for the Dublin flight.

Or so I thought!

The inbound flight was delayed half an hour, but we got underway fairly quickly, so with just over two hours layover I was reassured that I had oodles of time. By the time they brought the meal cart around I was more than ready for lunch, and picked out the only gluten free dish for sale on the menu: Chinese chicken salad. The attendant said they didn’t have it, and as nothing else was to be had, I fished out one of the protein nut bars I carry in my purse and made do with that.

When we landed in O’Hare, the pilot informed us we had to stay in a holding pattern until a gate could open up for us. Other passengers had connecting flights too, and some had already missed them. The pilot requested that those with connections be allowed to deplane first, but the passengers completely ignored it. I let a girl go in front of me, who might have made her flight if the rest of the passengers ahead hadn’t been so damn selfish.

My luggage had gone directly to Dublin, so I only had a small cabin case that I wheeled behind me at a fair lick as I emerged into Terminal 1. Following signs that led to the train that bore me to Terminal 5, I made it there, where I had to go through security again. I presented my boarding pass and passport, only to be refused entry by a very young, swarthy officer.

“That’s just a ticket to here…Chicago,” he informed me in a tone that indicated he thought I was an imbecile. “You’re already here.”

“Yes, I know that.” I tried not to sound impatient. “United says I’m booked through to Dublin, but they couldn’t issue seats as the international flight is with Aer Lingus.”

He raised his voice and enunciated. “You’re in O’Hare, Chicago.”

Gritting teeth. “I’m aware of that.”

“Other way.” He waved emphatically towards the outside doors. “Get a taxi.”

“To Ireland?” I couldn’t keep the sarcasm dripping from my tone.

He frowned. Comprehension at last. “Ireland?”

I spoke clearly and slowly as though he were the imbecile. “Ireland...Dublin...flying Aer Lingus.”

He gestured round the corner to the check-in desks. “Aer Lingus is over there.”

I gave up. “Thank you.” Glancing at my phone I saw I had about an hour before the flight left, so didn’t panic.

There was only one passenger up at the desk, so I waited my turn. An American couple, aged about 70ish, wandered toward the desk. The lady gripped a printed form in hand, while her husband paddled behind with multiple bags. They stepped in front of me and went to the desk as the previous passenger left.

That invisibility spell from A Celtic Yearbook must be working again.

The couple began a long, drawn out complaint about the fact that they didn’t have seats together. I rolled my eyes and tried not to stress that I might not make the connecting flight, or that I'd been ignored.

Finally a new clerk appeared. “Have you been helped?” she asked in a pretty Irish lilted brogue.

“No, not yet,” I answered gratefully, my accent suddenly becoming more Irish than it had been in a while.

She quickly got me sorted in my requested aisle seat and I was on my way.

Mr. Security saw me coming. I held up my pass. He lunged forward to study it intently. “Ireland,” he announced to no one in particular, and waved me through to a secondary security station.

I pulled my passport from the folder with all my travel documents, and promptly dropped it all. “Shit!” I hissed, drawing inquisitive glances. I was getting flustered. The man behind me sighed impatiently as I fumbled to gather it all up, and I felt like telling him to shut up. I took a breath, refocused and got through security and onto the shoe-removing, pocket-emptying, laptop-and-toiletries-in-trays part.

At the last second before stepping into the Backscatter X-ray I remembered I’d tucked a tissue into my bra in case my allergies played up. Whipping it out I showed it to the TSA agent.

“Hold it in your hand,” he told me, and I stood with it aloft like a white flag of surrender.

Through at last and on to the gate.

I boarded the flight, found my seat, and as the plane was still filling up, sneaked into the head to run cold water over my wrists and generally try to cool down. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more filthy airplane washroom. The floor possibly might never have been vacuumed since the plane was built.

Business taken care of, I opened the door in the midst of a line of people in the aisle, threading their way to their seats.

“Hello gorgeous, and how are you, this evening?” asked a tall, very good-looking gentleman. Irish accent, face slightly flushed from the effects of some tasty alcoholic beverage.

“I’m great thanks." I couldn't help myself. "But I fell asleep in there," I added. "Where are we?”

He boggled, and then burst into laughter. He and his mates teased me until I got back to my seat. Lots of flirty fun.

The flight was comfortingly uneventful, except that they didn’t have any gluten free meals either, despite me pre-ordering one. Ravenous, I just took one of the available meals and picked out what I could.

Presenting my American passport to the Irish immigration officer was fun. He saw my birthplace as Belfast on the landing card and announced, “You can stay as long as you like!”

Then he queried me about my job as an author, and asked me what I was working on now. Without thinking, I answered, “A screenplay-to-book adaptation about the…” I hesitated. He raised his eyebrows, waiting. “…set in the Troubles in Northern Ireland,” I finished with a laugh, holding my passport over my flushed face.

“Well, you’d know more about that than me,” he stated with a grin. “So, are you on holiday here, or what?”

“I’m here to finish the book, and to visit my Dad. I’m not certain if that exactly comes under the heading of holiday or not.”

“Away wi’ ye,” he said with a wink, and waved me through. to Belfast for some book research! Been so long since I was in the Europa Hotel or Crown Bar that I need to go and experience the...ambience again for myself. (No, really!)

Walking with Dad on Murlough Bay, with the Mourne Mountains in the distance.


The Great Scheme of Things

I just updated my website, and when I got to the Blog page I realized I hadn’t entered anything since I got back from Northern Ireland. Procrastination is like that, isn’t it? I keep putting off writing anything because there seems too much to write about, but then by putting it off it just gets to be a more challenging task!

So, in a nutshell… (ha! Whenever have I been able to write that concisely?) As soon as I got back to Oregon I concentrated in getting Blood of Orange up to ‘snuff’ so I could pitch it at the Willamette Writers Conference. I even ignored unpacking properly to get it done. There were a thousand other things I needed to do as well. I’d intended to sort out all my bits and pieces around the house… clothes and jewelry I don’t wear, and items I don’t use… and hold a garage sale. But that hasn’t happened. (Yet.) I also had a couple of book signings, one of which was in downtown Portland at the 6th NW Book Festival, where my newest anthology, Tales from Erin, was launched.

Then I had surgery scheduled for the Monday immediately after the conference. That’s a story in itself. Without going into details, it's what I call ‘lady-stuff’. On Sunday at the conference, I fasted all day in preparation for Monday morning. I expect I was a bit flakey and dopey by the time I left the Lloyd Center Doubletree in the afternoon, but it couldn’t be helped. I got everything ready for the hospital and showed up in the morning only to be told my surgery had been canceled. I was suitably shocked, and the clerk at admittance called my surgeon’s office for more information. It turns out the surgeon closed down his practice the Thursday before, (this was after the admitting nurse phoned me on Wednesday to confirm and update details). However, no one told me about it! There was nothing I could do and no point in being angry, so I thanked the people at the hospital and went home. I’m afraid to say in reaction I succumbed to one of my weaknesses and bought a chocolate éclair in Safeway, and gobbled the entire thing once I got home. (Pastry made with wheat; neither a healthy nor wise thing for me!) But oh, so delicious while it went down. I since spoke to the surgeon’s office to get my records sent on to a new surgeon, but they are very close-lipped as to why the practice was closed down. One will just have to wait and hope it comes to light sometime in the future.

So, the long and short of it is my immediate plans have been severely disrupted. I expected a maximum of six weeks to recover, and then head back to Northern Ireland. Now I have to go through all the proper channels again with the new surgeon, who estimates the surgery should be after the end of September. Ergh! I’ve had a divil of a time getting my mindset back into work mode, and have fallen behind. I had hoped to wrap up the Blood of Orange book by now and then reworked the screenplay version. I have a sequel in mind, and thought I’d make a start on that back in Northern Ireland. Ah well; it’s only a few weeks. Not long in the Great Scheme of Things, right? Maybe this way I'll have time to put the garage sale together, after all.

As far as the Conference goes I feel it went very well, indeed. This was the first time we were in our new venue in the Doubletree. I was aware of some minor glitches here and there, but the feedback I’m getting is overwhelmingly positive. We’ll have a better idea of overview when we get together at the end of the month for the Board meeting. I pitched the book to two agents, both of whom requested the first couple of chapters. There are other options out there concerning the book, none of which I can talk about, yet. I had such a great time meeting up with friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for an entire year since the last conference.

There were many high points during the weekend, but the most memorable for me was our keynote speaker at the banquet, Diana Gabaldon. I so love her Outlander series, and when I met her a few years ago at Conestoga in Oklahoma, it was before I was published, and I was so starstruck I could barely get an intelligent word out! I was still a bit in awe of her this time, too, but at least managed to have a sensible conversation! She is such a lovely person, and so generous. When (as Awards Director) I handed her her check for speaking, she donated it right back to us. Our president, Jenny Schrader, announced that we'd put it into our Books for Kids program. What a brilliant weekend. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy being part of this organization. To be involved in something so close to my heart is a privilege, indeed.

With Diana Gabaldon


Tales from Erin cover, original art by award-winning artist Jeff Sturgeon (He claims this is supposed to
be me in front of my favorite place, Dunluce Castle!)


With Master of Ceremonies, Dave Sweeney, Awards Banquet

With Leigh Goodison at the NW Book Festival
6th NW Book Festival L&L