Anne Hailes: A New Day Dawns for Donegal writers group with eclectic debut

Pen2Paper writers group: front, Judith Hoad, Cathy Anderson, Liz Anderson, Margaret O’Kane; back, Anne Leonard, Geraldine McBrearty, Stephen Thomas, Dixi Patterson, Charlie O’Doherty

YESTERDAY afternoon an anthology by the Donegal writers group Pen2Paper was launched in the Highlands Hotel, Glenties. Eleven writers have covered many subjects, each one an insight into their lives and their thoughts. Pen2Paper was established eight years ago and A New Day Dawns is their first publication – and it looks set to raise a lot of money for the nominated charities.

The title is taken from one of Cathy Anderson’s poems. This mother, grandmother and great-grandmother writes of sitting at her kitchen window sipping a cup of tea, looking over the Sperrin Mountains, the grey clouds, the morning mist and the sun ‘peeking through the openings’, the cat, the little brown striped birds, even the pink and blue plastic pegs on the clothes-line draw her attention as a new day dawns.

In the late 1980s Liz Anderson’s first poem was about TV game-show host Hughie Greene. In 2018 she features another famous man: ‘A wee clump of snowdrops growing beside a wooden cross on a neat and well-kept grave in his native Bellaghy. There rests the Poet Laureate that we are so proud of.’

The Wee Soddy, takes her back to 1864 and the cruel eviction of her great-grandparents, a vivid account of how neighbours took the family in before building them a new cottage, family history which means a lot to Liz and it’s important that she has passed on these painful memories to future generations.

The late Peggy Hegarty was shy about creative writing but discovered her talents at the Pen2Paper group; one of her poems is about the joys of meeting together, not to talk about the weather, as she says, but to find inspiration and how the words flow when ‘the drop of a pin can almost be heard, heads are down as word follows word’.

She also writes about the garden of her youth, the joy of tending the flowers and the vegetables only to return years later to find the garden had become wild and overgrown. I know this feeling; I share the heartbreak she felt. She, like me, was left with a vivid dream of walking with her mother along the paths among the beautiful flowers.

Author Judith Hoad delights in extending her journalistic and feature writing to creative work. In Walking the Lane in Springtime she writes: ‘Oh! to be a raven / Now that Spring is here, To twist and turn / And roll and drop / Never showing fear’.

Her poems reflect the seasons, whereas Anne Leonard’s short stories talk of memories, one looking back to a Holloween night, the interaction between stern Granny Gray and her own children and the momentous event at two minutes past midnight.

:: The language flows in poems and articles.

‘Solid, worn palms A lifetime of graft Moments etched forever Along curving, ebbing veins’, Geraldine McBrearty’s thoughts of her cherished grandmother, Mary Ann Gallagher. The observation of deftly rolling dough, twisting arthritic joints, memories which Geraldine says: ‘Perhaps one day we will look down / And once again see Granny’s hands / As our own.’

Like so many creative writers, Eilish McBride remembers being praised for her compositions in school, and later in life found her voice again in a writing group. At eight years of age going to the Ritz Cinema in Ballybofey: ‘rich red velvet curtains hiding the screen and lovely light-fittings along the walls’.

The journey from going with her granny, then with friends and eventually with boys – ‘I will not go into the antics in the back seats because I might be censored.’ That’s for another edition of Pen2Paper.

:: ‘How does one become a writer?’

When asked this, question Mark Twain replied: "Just polish a chair with the seat of your pants." That’s what Charlie O’Doherty has done with his fascinating 1960s hitchhiking adventure from Donegal to Istanbul, being chased by a night watchman in Belgrade as he slept in a large concrete pipe and soldiers standing over him with Tommy-guns. "When I told them I was from Ireland both of them shook my hand and called me Comrade."

Grandmothers feature in so many of the poems and articles. Margaret O’Kane tells of finding her grandmothers’s 1917 hand-written will wrapped in tissue paper and containing one blue earring. She also takes us to Inis Boffin Island when life was simple and the trauma of young Seamus leaving the life he loved to go to secondary school on the mainland.

Dixi Patterson brings us up to date with that ‘Glorious second between sleeping and waking, between dream and reality the mind pauses.’

Reality is family tragedies, famine in South Sudan, Calais camps and Trump’s puerile tweets. But she also acknowledges gratitude for one more day and night and for Virginia McLaurin, aged 106, fulfilling her life-dream, dancing in the White House with a back president.

Dixi celebrated her sixth birthday on June 2 1953. "It took me no time at all to put ink into my best foundation pen and – with none of the blots or spelling mistakes that would usually adorn the work of a five-year-old – I penned an invitation to Her Majesty, inviting her to my sixth birthday party in Belfast."

Unfortunately her Maj was unable to attend – it was the same day as her coronation!

Stephen Thomas, writer and lead singer for the Donegal rock band The Bellies, writes of a friendship between a boy who died when he was seven and the child who comes to live in his house. The Child Ghost is gentle and beautiful.

Each writer has contributed a number of articles and poems, making this book an intriguing and varied anthology illustrating how writing groups can reveal hidden talents.

:: A New Day Dawns: €10, (£8.90) details from Margaret O’Kane,

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