It was a good value break – super even, and an opportunity to hit the road in search of the brain balm that getting out of one’s bubble can bring.

R&R – rest and relaxation, refreshment and recovery, with a shot of pilgrimage thrown in.

Kerry had been the first place we’d gone on holidays together and 36 years on, the pull to go there again was strong.

While sleep was had in Killarney the urge next day was to escape the hub for the landscape that made the town a magnet in the first place. It was Wicklow, my home county, all stretched up. Yep, so much land that it had to be shoved up in heaps.



driving uphill in Kerry

We hugged the ditches on the narrow roads of the Ring, winding up into the Magillacuddy Reeks where even goats didn’t graze – imposing, rugged, the road snaking up and up
to Ladies View
Rainbow Road Trip (1) - Blog - Margaret Hawkins

and Moll’s Gap where an Avoca shop with a bird’s eye view had taken root.



Rainbow Road Trip (3) - Blog - Margaret HawkinsNext stop was Kenmare, a heritage town and a graceful place to stay whenever we come back. As the day progressed the weather swivelled on clouds, like mood turning on  a sentence, and the camera soaked it up – from cotton-wool skies to tall trees, monochromed by rain.

Rainbow Road Trip (4) - Blog - Margaret Hawkins

From Kenmare we took the road less travelled, we thought, to Sneem, the ‘knot’ in the middle of the Ring where there was a cat called Kevin in Kelly’s teashop and busloads of tourists sporting big lenses and short vowels.



Then it was back to Moll’s Gap where a rainbow could be seen on that day of extraordinary light. Pulling in to stare we saw that a couple had gone down the ravine to better capture the image and they were captured forever in ours.  Shades of Turner and Constable…  A favourite photo.

Rainbow Road Trip (5) - Blog - Margaret Hawkins


TOLKIEN TORCRainbow Road Trip (6) - Blog - Margaret Hawkins

Torc Waterfall was next where there were more thoughts of rings where the lichen-covered trees  belonged to Middle Earth.



Then on to Jarvey’s Rest for heat and food and to contemplate the other ring, the one that a pause at Ladies’ View had put back on, re-fitted, polished, the one first put on on December 15th 1979 but clipped off in ‘96 to play a Magdalen woman.

Rainbow Road Trip 10 - Blog - Margaret Hawkins

And there was another couple there beyond us at the View that day, twenty-somethings in the flush of love, taking selfies with phones that hadn’t been invented in 1979 and it was
like us, then, two generations of ourselves now back at the spot.  And there was gratitude for survival, heading for 40 winters on.



Rainbow Road Trip (8) - Blog - Margaret HawkinsOn the way home next day the draw was to Mitchelstown Cave to explore new depths, to descend to the bowels of the earth,down and down, to see what had never been seen before, jaws dropping and eyes saucering at the spectacle of it all and fingers reaching out to touch the stone cold novelty of column and ‘curtain’, dripped into permanence by time. I stood down there thinking of catacombs and in the 100% darkness never experienced before, in total awe at the world that lies beneath us that we tread above unawares. My mind was with the finder in 1833 whose pick loss had led to the discovery of this under-world, imagining his gasp at the sight of stalactites and stalagmites and the joined up thinking of the pillars.


Coming up for light, up 60 man-made steps to green field familiarity, a rainbow shone in the sky. Another one.

Rainbow Road Trip (9) - Blog - Margaret HawkinsTwo days in a row we’d seen them and this one lingered briefly, weaker than the day before perhaps, but still there, triggering an urge to capture it and cling.



Then in the heat of the car, as ignition turned, my ear stood to attention at a tune’s opening bars. Guitar, harmonica – that gutsy combination. Jack Johnson, I’ve learned since. Rainbow on the radio. And the words flowed in.

Well, I woke up this morning, And a rainbow filled the sky…

Yes, I woke up this morning and a ….. 

Coincidence? Godincidence?

Yeah. Everything’s gonna be alright.




Death can knock you sideways. One minute life is going on as normal and you’re getting on with work and play and your head is full of stuff that seems important – what to cook for dinner, what article to tackle next, the car tax needing to be paid, a pet due a vaccination, how long it is since you blogged or tweeted or Facebooked or what to do about a dodgy filling or what to get as a wedding present for someone in two months’ time and the next such everyday things are hurled into insignificance when utter tragedy strikes. Someone you love has died. Suddenly. Incomprehensibly.
And now no Sunday morning will ever be the same again because it’s the time you got the news that your nephew lost his life in an accident the night before. It’s a beyond grief experience. Looking back now it’s hard to understand how everyone has managed since, facing the stonewall finality of it – wake, funeral, aftermath still ongoing…
Here, it’s like losing a child, by one remove, your heart going out to your sibling and sister-in-law and their older child and you can’t find the right words to take away the pain nor make sense of it all yourself. You’re so grateful, though, for the friends and neighbours who braved the wall of grief then, and since, to extend a hand or hug. “It could happen to any of us,” they said.
And it could. And does. You know that now… And as days run into weeks and months, there’s some kind of thankfulness, too, for the daily, mundane tasks that erect scaffolding within collapse and take your mind away, even briefly, from what’s impossible to believe. Until another reminder comes… And now my prayer is that Wayne, only 23, will rest in peace and that understanding – and acceptance – will somehow come. Eventually.


what's in a notebook 1 - Margaret HawkinsI’m a notebook lover – no, not the film, the items that you write in.

I have a stack of them, collected since I was fourteen years old, so it’s a long-time addiction.

I love the feel of them and the look of them, even the smell of them, but above all I pay homage to their raising-agent qualities. Raising ideas into stories, that is.

Yes, for me, it’s a case of notebook leaven as well as notebook heaven.

A quote from one page mixed with a snippet from another can spark a character, a poem, a play, a novel… the potential is endless.

It is synthesis that leads to genesis and magic that I’m thankful for.


I can remember, even at the age of six or seven, making a beeline for Eason’s stand at the RDS Spring Show and carrying my beloved purchases round all day in one of their hallmark green and blue stripy bags. Notebooks of such colour and variety weren’t to be had in our village shop at that time…

I doubt that I wrote anything of significance in them that early on but the compulsion to fill blank white pages was there even then.

Since then there has been joy in the choosing and the using of notebooks, in the dipping into and the drawing out of what are often ‘well’ books of inspiration.


 what's in a notebook 2 - Margaret HawkinsEvery so often I take a squint back through the stack (some of them pictured here) and it’s usually a worthwhile experience.

I re-live old thoughts and observations and put discarded ones back under the microscope.  There’s joy, too, in seeing the ones that fermented from abstraction to the reality of completed stories.

Let me take you on a tour after my last look, see and remember. It’s a mish-mash magpie collection but that’s what notebooks are for.


A lot of what I jot down is overheard dialogue. That’s because I love listening to people speak – what they say, that they don’t say, the vocabulary, the sentence structure, the rhythm, the emphasis, euphemism, the silence…it’s all valued grist to the mill.

It’s not surprising, then, that there is a quotation from Google doesn’t know where in a 1986 notebook about dialogue being the nerve end of feelings. Too right. That about sums it up for me.

When I jot something down it invariably leads to other triggered thoughts that are then – guess what? – jotted down too.

Here are some examples. Most are from rural people as that’s the world I live and breathe in.

He’s so quiet it’d take a poultice to draw him out of himself.

This last one set me thinking about how long it was since I’d heard the word ‘poultice’ and how poultices were made out of bread or soap and sugar to draw out infection.

I add a note now about how I’d forgotten that schoolchildren often had boils and sties on the eyes in the past, unlike nowadays.

That brought me nicely to another quotation from another notebook about nostalgia being history with the pain taken out.

And I’m still thinking about that man who was so quiet that..  And why, exactly, he was like that.


What's in a notebook 3 - Margaret HawkinsFor some reason I also kept a list of rules for politicians going on TV. I’ve no idea why.  They’re not supposed to wear thermal underclothes, the note said, as they would ‘roast in the studio’ – and ‘no dotty ties’ (dots undermine credibility apparently).

There’s an unattributed quote, too, about ‘the Ladies’ being ‘the cheerful centre of an underground current of bitchery, gossip and feminine solidarity focused on the readjustment of underwear and repainting of faces’.

Why am I thinking of William Trevor’s Ballroom of Romance when I type that?  And men so quiet you’d need a poultice to draw them out of themselves…

Then, in another notebook there’s a list of ‘things that ‘couldn’t be got during World War II’. Lack of rubber tyres was one that affected my father sorely.


Somewhere else I’ve jotted down a good name for a maternity clothes shop – fashion after passion.

Then there is a note about Germoline and how I never liked the smell of the salmon-pink ointment and how I was always fascinated, too, by how the colour of it was similar to my elderly aunt’s slip – more underwear – which brings me to another important purpose for notebooks, in case I forgot, as stores for future memoir material.


Blog 13 - what's in a notebook 4 - Margaret HawkinsThen there are the funny things my children said like son number two, at the age of five, seeing a field of sheep in winter -‘If you peeled them now they’d be freezing’.

There’s a comment from a friend of his too, aged nine, who has a formal, modern name, about how he loved the sound of his school bus driver’s name – Paddy. Pad-dy.

He liked Paddy the man too, he said, because ‘he spits out the window, lets big farts and belches and shouts ‘sit down in your seat’.’ I love the rhythm of that sentence.

Then there’s a quote from a newspaper about how you don’t grow up until you stop being someone else’s child’. At the time I wrote that in I didn’t know what it meant. Now I’m half way to knowing.

Then there’s the quotation stating that ‘geneticists say that the biggest agency of change in the first 50 years of the twentieth century was the bicycle and I’m back, for some reason, in Ballroom of Romance land again and grateful that the gene pool got widened and wondering if the lack of rubber for tyres during the war caused a hiatus in that expansion.


There’s also great joy from seeing the genesis of essays and stories that went on to be published.

There’s a rhyme scribbled in that my grand-aunt Ess used to sing to us as she bounced us on arthritic knees – Jobby, jobby, little horse, how many miles to Dublin… a memory that led to a radio piece.

There’s a saying jotted down too from an elderly neighbour that always made us laugh. ‘Do you want long tea or short tea?’ he’d ask as he approached the table with the teapot blackened by an open fire.

That ended up in a short story, Fond Farewell.

Then there’s a letter cut from a newspaper in 1999 about forgotten people that led to Restless Spirit, each sentence read over and over until it drove me to find out more.

In a 2004 notebook there’s a sentence written in red ink – she wanted to see the whites of her father’s eyes.  That became a driving image in the story that became Deny Me Not.


what's in a notebook 5 - Margaret HawkinsAnd now I have to leave down the notebook look-through for the moment.

That’s because I have get on with my current project – another novel, triggered by what else but two sentences first jotted down in a notebook.  They are:

Sometimes men lose the run of themselves after the wife dies’ and ‘the landscape is watching me.’

I’ve been doing the scaffolding for that novel for months and next week is set aside to start spilling out the first draft.

As I start I get comfort from another quotation in another notebook – one from Julia Cameron of Artist’s Way fame –This (novel) already exists in its entirety.  My job is to listen to it, watch it on my mind’s eye and write it down.’

I look forward to the day when I’ll look back at that notebook and be able to write ‘Completed’ over the genesis jottings.  Notebook heaven. Notebook leaven.

Until next time J


Penny---old-Irish---Margaret-HawkinsTraumatic – that’s what it was – the day the animals dropped off the face of our coinage.  No more bull, no more horse, no more deer standing regally over my purchases.  After January 1, 2002 they were side-lined, ditched, destined never to see the light of mint again.  Coming across an old penny between attic floorboards the other day set me off thinking about old coins and how much I miss them.

For many years farmyard animals and wildlife

had pride of place on our coinage – on the 5p, the 10p, the 20p, the 50p, on the one pound coin and before that, on our older shillings and pence.  The images served to keep us close to our rural roots as far as I’m concerned, and highlighted the importance of agriculture in this country.

How could we pay for a single item without being visually reminded of what kept the country going, fed and entertained – the beef industry, equine sales, tourism, even countrywomen’s pin money (eggs)..

Since Euro changeover day, we’ve been using money that features maps, gates and bridges – all very relevant in this look-to-Europe climate but a bridge too far for me, alas.

Euro - margaret hawkinsIt’s not that there is anything wrong with the euro coins and notes.  A lot of thought obviously went into their ‘no-frontiers’ and ‘dynamic background of lines and stars’ design but there’s nothing like a currency that brings you down to earth every time you look at it i.e. coins that have grass roots appeal.



Euro time wasn’t the first swipe at our four-legged friends, however.

Decimalization in February 1971 had already put paid to several farmyard familiars, namely the hen and chickens, and the sow and bonhams, not to mention the greyhound and the wilder hare that adorned the 6d, the sixpence piece, and the 3d, the threepenny bit, respectively.

Whether these animals getting the decimal elbow had a negative effect on the pig, poultry and dog-racing industries in this country I’ve no idea, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised – sideline a symbol and you diminish the value of what it represents.

Euro money - margaret hawkinsThere’s nothing for it now, of course, but to accept the currency we have.  Acceptance, they say, is the key to happiness but nostalgia seeps back occasionally when I find an old coin. It pulls at the heart strings somehow, making me miss salmon jumping over the weir, bulls pawing the ground to get out of my pocket and the snipe nose-diving in silent flight as I spend the grand sum of 50p. All has changed, changed utterly. Was a European beauty born? Alas, we’re not coining it. No such luck. We haven’t got two cents to rub together and if we had they’d probably be rounded up.  Still, life goes on and as long as we have some kind of jingle in our pockets we’ll get by and be able to have, every now and again, on attic sorting days, a few little thoughts for our penny.



Valentine's card - shutterstock - margaret hawkins

I don’t normally spend a lot of time thinking about serviettes but every February, come Valentine’s Day, those colourful crumb-catchers and paper lip-dabbers always trigger a smile.

That’s because once upon a 14th of February, ten years ago, something happened that, let’s say, imprinted them on my memory…

Prior to that serviettes or table napkins of any description hadn’t really hit my radar much.

As a child growing up on a farm there wasn’t really much time for meal-time frills, and while white paper ones may have made a brief appearance at Christmas in latter years, I didn’t have any great knowledge of such things until I worked as a waitress in a hotel as a teenager.

That’s when I got up close and personal with these items, particularly 3-ply, gold-coloured ones that themed with the hotel’s décor.


Because folding serviettes was an important part of the job we were instructed in same by the permanent and professionally trained staff who were whizzes at it.

There are all sorts of ways that you can make a piece of paper stand to attention, we were told. You just had to know how to do it. So we folded and practised, practised and folded.

Now you could choose the easy options, the pyramid or pocket handkerchief shapes, which only involved a couple of diagonal folds of the serviette – a likely breakfast or lunch-time style – or you could go more for fan shapes to stand between knife and fork if you had more time and dinner was approaching.

You could also go all ecclesiastical and shape the paper napkins into stiff ‘bishop’s hats’ or if you were feeling really ambitious, you could shape them into swans, maybe for a wedding top table or a gala dinner dance.


My favourite fold, though, was what I called the flowery one. It was the most decorative and flamboyant, I thought, standing in a sparkling wine glass with the paper ‘leaves’ towering and tumbling down each side.

There was a lot of folding to be done, of course, for the flowery type, first this way and turn it, then that way and turn it, and then you had to fold the napkin back on itself several times before positioning the flat edge in the glass. After that it was a case of separating out the delicate plyed layers to get the ‘flowery’, ornate effect.

It’s that kind of flamboyant serviette that I’m thinking of now in the run up to Valentine’s Day and right now I’m back at that eventful 14th of February night in 2003.


ROMANTIC SCENEdining table - shutterstock - margaret hawkins

There we were, all dressed up, walking into the dining-room of our favourite Wexford hotel.

The tables looked lovely – all burgundy linen cloths draped over white, floor-tipping ones, candles flickering, roses (of course), gleaming cutlery and yes, the piece de resistance – flowery serviettes towering and tumbling magnificently out of sparkling wine glasses.

What more could a body want?

Within seconds the waitress had brought us the menu and that, to be honest, was where the trouble started.

No, we weren’t fighting over what we would eat. Instead there was a small problem related to..visibility.

reading glasses and menu - shutterstock - margaret hawkinsNow dim light might be conducive to romance but it’s not very good when you’re trying to read something. It’s even worse if you’re trying to read something and you’ve hit the big 5-0 and you haven’t actually admitted that you need reading glasses.

Yes, long-sightedness had kicked in, in my husband’s case, and while I had the menu choice sorted he was in the mutters about the bad light and to remedy the situation what did he do but put his hand over and pull the candle a bit closer…

Now if he hadn’t made such a move – and if the candle had been a bit shorter – what happened would probably never have happened but there you go, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and as he moved the candle over, both he and I failed to notice that it was now positioned dangerously close to his glass – and its over-spilling, flamboyant serviette…

All I can remember is the ‘whoosh’ and the flame and uttering the Lord’s name (in vain) and feeling paralysed by the fright and the suddenness of it all but luckily our momentary paralysis – brought on by the shock of such a conflagration – wasn’t fatal, because next thing we knew, a great ‘splosh’ of water arrived from the left, thrown on the fire by the male half of the couple at the next table who obviously had a fireman in his ancestry.


And there it was, all over, and the once flamboyant serviette was now just a little heap of blackened ash in the bottom of the glass.

All I could do then was laugh. Quite a few people laughed actually. Beloved eventually joined in when the mortification had receded.

‘Flamin’ yokes!’ he muttered.

‘I always said you set my world on fire – baby,’ I said and my shoulders shook with laughter again.

So that’s why I smile when I see serviettes, especially flamboyant ones, and I smile even more when I think of the oblivious waitress returning to our table that night from the far side of the dining-room to take our order, and of her pausing momentarily and sniffing the air and asking eventually if anyone else smelled burning…


Small box  margaret hawkinsStories taking over my head – that’s the way my two books started.

In both cases it was visceral – an in-the-gut awareness that I couldn’t not get these stories down on paper. And there’s nothing to beat those magic moments of realization – they’re utterly life changing.

Restless Spirit:The Story of Rose Quinn, was about a voice from the grave seeking justice.

My latest book – my first novel – Deny Me Not, is about a woman, Hannah Casey, seeking justice too, but in the form of recognition from a father she has never known.

As writers it’s often life events that trigger books – overhearing something, experiencing something then adding to it and putting your own creative spin on it.

Imagine discovering that you had a cousin you never knew existed. That the aunt you loved – and thought you knew – had given birth to a daughter in 1940s Ireland, and had carried that secret for into her 80s.

That happened in our family – and to hundreds of thousands of families around the world, I’m sure.

Deny Me Not is not my cousin’s story but the novel would never have been written if I hadn’t experienced the joy, shock and anger that surrounded such a discovery.

Years lost, wishing that my aunt had felt able to tell… Anger about cover-up, about my cousin being kept hidden from us…

Anger that she was reared in a children’s home…

Concern that her experience there was difficult…

On the other hand, there was joy of knowing her at last, of seeing the physical resemblance between her and her mother, of having continuity where we thought a gene path was ending.

There was understanding, eventually, too, of how society’s pressures could force women to keep such secrets and the joy of meeting my cousin’s family, her children around the same ages as mine and those of my siblings.

The main character in my novel Deny Me Not has been a hidden child – a person with a hunger to know who she really is – surely a basic human right?

As a writer, coming up with the plotlines for the novel was all part of me making some kind of sense of that emotional turmoil.

I believe creative writing – the writing of it and the reading of it – helps us all do that.

In the past secrets were kept and society colluded with the keeping of those secrets. Time has shown that the keeping of secrets is unhealthy, a recipe for scar tissue in future generations.

I’m glad there is more openness now.

This minute, in relation to my aunt’s and cousin’s stories, there is gratitude that the truth came out eventually. It could have gone to the grave.

But for sudden and dramatic illness, we might have been simply left find a UK telephone number on a scrap of paper with no name attached to it in a tiny, special box in our aunt’s handbag – after her death. With a coin to cover the cost of the call.

It’s an image that will linger forever.

When it came to writing Deny Me Not I chose to write from a rural standpoint – one that I love and, I think, understand. I was reared on a farm and live on one and I wanted readers to smell the soil off the pages, to sit up half the night to finish the story of Hannah Casey.

Would the truth set her, or anyone, free? Over time the plot presented itself, laced itself through with basic human drives like fear of losing property and face and reputation and the honest yearning for love and recognition.

Writing Deny Me Not was exhausting and compelling but joyful too. Some days I didn’t notice daytime moving into night. I wrote about truth coming out and about how different personalities can react oh so differently when their comfortable worlds are suddenly threatened. If you ever get a chance to read it, I hope you like it.