A great evocation of life in 1940s Ireland. Is it good enough to be put before an agent or publisher?
Title: Tales of an Irish boyhood.
Word count: 63,545.
Language: European English.
Synopsis: Childhood in Waterford. Various elements of schooling embracing my un-scholastic leaps through the hoops of boarding schools. Aspects of life’s changes and challenges after being gifted a one-way ticket to the Antipodes aged eighteen. Frivolities, fears and wonders while returning to Ireland by motorbike from Ceylon.
Text: External life for me commenced somewhere on Hatch Street, Dublin. Conjures up weird images does that street name. Rows of women hatching away on pavements like a line of battery hens, maybe. However, I was pushed out to my first gulp of air in the sterile surroundings of Hatch Street Hospital. The medics severed my direct connection forever from my mother, so I screamed. It was 2nd March 1946. While the Second World War had just finished, another war took a peek, my life. “Good day to you Oliver” could have been said, but seemingly I was well before comprehension.
There are photos of myself taken through those early years. One, as a chubby three-year-old, predictably posed by the portrait photographer, holding a teddy. It depicted me in clean white shorts and shirt, hair combed. Not a lot did it do for me that picture. Still, the parents kept it in their bedroom till they were dead, so it must have meant something to them. However, as we all know, once you have looked at a picture for some time it becomes invisible.
Living in Waterford in the fifties allowed privileged youngster freedom of movement that, over the course of time, I well utilised. While the rest of Ireland deemed the City to be some off the track dump, we residents kept our secret. It had everything, good and evil.
Our lopsided house in Catherine Street manifested itself as a four storied narrow building which we adored. Elder brother Jeremy and I shared a room on the top floor for some of our formative years. The only bathroom in the house adjoined us, as did a second bedroom.
Growing older and bolder, we discovered that we could go higher through the hatch to the attic where the timbers in the floor had spread over the years as the house shifted on its wooden foundation piles. Peeping through the cracks between the floorboards in the attic floor we could watch the au- pair in the bath seven feet below. We loved that, learning fast. Hers was the second bedroom. On the downside, the bathroom temporarily became the reprimand centre where we got walloped with the back of a hairbrush for being bold.
Before that all-absorbing attic activity, I found myself, at the age of five, enrolled in nearby Newtown Junior School, a Quaker establishment, made up of small intimate classes where challenges were few. Class members all became friends. Well, we asked each other to our birthday parties if that’s what friends are!
Initially, being young, Dad delivered me to the school in his car; but it wasn’t long before, satchel shouldered, shank’s mare propelled me on my way to Newtown. I did have shoes on my feet, me being privileged; and a formal uniform. Big deal as it set me up nicely as a very identifiable potential coconut shy.
The trek from our house to the school passed a Catholic National School where I found myself confronted by my first real taste of Irish bigotry. Lined along the wall fronting the road stood the National School boys. To start with I dawdled, sheltering on the far side of the road in The People’s Park; there I felt semi-protected from the taunts and threats. That didn’t stop the savages in St Declan’s from arming themselves with conkers, stones, slings and viciously hurling anything they could in my direction in the hope that they would reduce the minority Protestant population of Ireland by one.
“Kill the Prodie Bluebell,” they shrilled in delight and hatred as I kept out of range. Aged just six, this represented a rude awakening.
Some while later, having been presented a bike, a second-hand two-wheeler with semi drop handlebars no less, I plotted my journey home. The routing brought me dangerously close to the enemy. A rapid descent down a steep hill ensured that mine was somewhat of a flyby. Using the bike as a shield the conceived plan had me squatting on one pedal to the lee of those taunting me.
“Dirty Catholics” I shouted at the top of my high pitched, unbroken voice while hurtling past. Missiles always missed me. I loved it. Brought me out of myself it did. Beat walking.
Younger sister Penny followed Jeremy and me into Newtown. She remained there for all of her schooling days but seemed to have managed not to alert the St Declan’s gurriers from using her as a coconut shy.
Father,Dr Edward Parkinson-Hill MD, a hyphen being self-imposed in the surname seemingly as an attempt to attract the landed gentry to his practice, happened to be the only Protestant doctor in Waterford. However, the ever-declining Church of Ireland populace threatened his future. There just weren’t enough of the diminishing believers left to allow him to prosper.
So, like the other GP’s in the City, he had to fight for custom. But he had a couple of weapons unavailable to the others. Dad was the only GP dispensing monthly cycle regulators to Waterford women, being a good Protestant, which kept him busy. Fair dues
The City’s wanton sexually active needed a means to circumvent the Cathy hierarchy’s prohibition of birth control, and he had found it. By convincing his patients that they needed not “the pill” but “controlled monthly cycle regulators” he attracted a following. The other ever faithful Catholic GP’s saw it through different ethical viewpoints as dictated by Il Papa in Rome and disapproved. Tough shit!
Charmian,my Mother, was raised in County Wexford, some thirty miles from Waterford, in a fine home and lands called Monksgrange. Constructed between 1759 and 1769, the time scale indicated the enormity of the project. The house has since been continuously occupied by our family. Good old stock, don’t you know!
Editorial comment: I like the chatty tone of this memoir, and there are signs of humour and authentic detail that really make the prose sparkle. However, it does need a copy-edit:
There are quite a few typos and grammar/punctuation fails. In the first para the absence of a subject in the second sentence is part of the voice of the piece ([It] conjures up …) so I wouldn’t quibble about that, but there needs to be a comma after images and since rows of women … expands on the previous sentence, I’d change the full stop after name to a colon, uncapitalise Rows and put a question mark after maybe. That’s quite a few corrections in the first three sentences, which is fine—not everyone’s a grammar nerd—but you don’t want to submit to an agent in that condition.
I don’t get the ‘Good day to you Oliver’ could have been said, but seemingly I was well before comprehension comment—it seems unnecessary sophistry, besides being a weak passive construction.
The Not a lot did it do for me that picture needs a comma after me, and it’s a curious inverted sentence structure, but I love the following But my parents kept it in their bedroom till they were dead sentence. That’s the humour I mentioned earlier coming out, a kind of deadpan black comedy.
I could go on through every paragraph, but the message is pretty much the same. It’s good writing with a very distinct voice, but needs a thorough copy-edit before it gets in front of an industry professional. If it doesn’t, the danger is that they might not read much further than the first few paragraphs. Why? Because anything that signals the author requires a lot of hand-holding with regard to basic writing craft is going to be problematic for a lot of modern-day budget-pressed publishers. Also, that old problem. The first few pages of your MS are those that you are supposed to have sweated over the most. Is this the highest standard of writing in your book?
It’s a great start, but please get it edited before you submit to agents or a publisher. I love the “voice”, and that should be cherished, but the text needs to be tightened up and polished a great deal if it’s going to be taken seriously by the industry.
Thanks for posting.