Learning the Art of Writing

Blue Bell wood



Kathleen Quinlan


I can just see over the grass, the scent of blue bells fill my senses and I lay in fields of long grass until the sun hides its face in the earth.  Feeling safe.

Today was good

I have had my fourth birthday and it is not for the presents I received for there were none, but for the special day when we all walked. My Father too visits the sacred wood in the heart of Sherwood.  The fact that the small Irish woman who we call “Mammy” has remembered to make it special. 

We sang at the top of our voices such harmony, all four of us as we walked back to the tower made of stone. It is a large forbidding building with rubble littering the pathways. I could not call it home, for we move, like the wheat in the fields. Some nights I have gone to sleep in one place and woke somewhere else.  Itinerants, they call us and look down their noses. I will never care they will never hurt me; I am happy playing in the muddy lanes and being hungry.

I can hear her humming “Oh what a beautiful morning” absent-mindedly.

I watch her steely brown eyes follow me as I dance

I am wearing a red dress and I have little blue shoes with buckles, my hair is black, long with a blue ribbon in it. I look different today because she dressed me this morning and I know she has tried. I feel loved.

Mainly she is tired and empty, so many children in such a short time.

There is a glass jar and she places the blue flowers that the younger children have picked, in water. There are small sponge cakes and meat paste sandwiches. A small parcel with my name written on the brown wrapping paper ‘Katie’ in large letters waiting for me.  I had just learned to recognize my name I become excited I can not ever remember getting any other present before. She makes me wait, siting the others down to eat, they start to sing “Happy birthday” I can only here her voice; the others are too young to know it.

She smiles at me “open it then” she says in the strong Irish lilt that she uses when she is pleased. It is my first book, I look at the pictures there are horses, pigs and ducks. I understand the pictures but can not read the words. She reads as we go to bed and talks and tells us stories. It has been a bright sunny October Day, with blue flowers, food and happy voices. No clouds, or raised voices nor tears, not today.  A remarkable day. Father was here. He was sober!


 As I write I hear the voice and  the Story of a child who’s reality and understanding beyond her years are standing at the side of her like Guardian Angels.

In one so small, much sensing and using of experiences to survive the dramas of how things are in her own world. “Who’s in control “ I hear the echoes of grief and sound of tears stretching down the years. So much fear.

These situations appear repeatedly and she learns to gain control helped by people closest to her. Well mainly her parents those who life took them in to a place not made for her. Who had forgot she is only four years old.

She panics and frets, these parents are her world, finding them on some days proved very hard.  Good at disappearing and reappearing worst for wear

As she walks the country lanes to get out of the way.

She experiences the outdated map, the cultural trap.

Anyone with any problem solving skills could see the thing was never going to work without some kind of stability. “It’s the road less traveled “  I think and sees it spanning for the next millenium. A sneaky idea of some thing else came into view, another way of thinking so handy for four-year-olds.

Find a love object, and transfer a “little love” and has these things come naturally, it is easy and there he is youngest son a golden child, small and vulnerable and loveable she pours her attention on to him and some thing is saved. A soul.

Memories of this remarkable time play in her mind for she knows they will stay forever, when those few short hours were hers.  Of the walks in the Forest, dew, spiders webs, the mists and silences of tense wood  haunted her dreams. The sounds of laughing voices, excitement and exultance. She remembered the smell of woodsmoke hot red-hot fires burning to keep warm, and was central to the camp. And later ached to be there again.

There is something about the open air that gives life a different feel.

The feel of the air and birds, always birds, she loved them there was something magical about them. She knew their freedom.

I love listening to this small voice and as these memories unfolded they touch me deeply. The highs and lows of dysfunctional families are created out of joy and grief.  For now I am just glad to listen and know that the small child’s voice is still as strong “They didn’t shut her up.


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