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Rural Writing



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… Read more


Eavesdropping – most of us don’t want to think of ourselves as people who do that but it can be an unavoidable experience.

All you have to do is cross a car park, browse in a shop, sup in a café, travel on a bus, attend a meeting or get your hair done and life’s richness gets thrown into your path in the form of conversation snippets.

For anyone who likes to write or is just plain curious about human nature such overheard snippets are gold dust, fascinating, not to mention learning opportunities so here’s to dialogue – the nerve end of feeling and the verbal tip of the emotional iceberg in each of us.

Yes, you never know what you’ll hear where, even when you’re minding your own business. Here are a few examples of what I’ve heard already this month out and about in my home town: Read more


Dishwasher                I was thinking of writing an ode to my dishwasher.  Well, if Keats could do it for Grecian Urns and Autumn, I could surely do it for the machine I love so well.

          Oh! Item of wonderful characteristics and traits

        Close bosom friend of the maturing housewife

          Conspiring with her how to load and wash

          With detergent the dishes that round the counter-tops lie. Read more


Stethoscope on keyboardWant to know the top 20 things I’ve learned after writing a health column for 11 years?  If so, read on.


  1. The human body is an awesome invention
  2. Doctors are ordinary mortals too
  3. Exercise is fundamental to good health – we were built to move and all sorts of things happen if we don’t
  4. There isn’t a pill for every ill
  5. There are the healthy, the sick and the worried well
  6. * * *

  7. Acceptance of a condition makes it easier to manage
  8. You have to work at your mental health
  9. There is dissatisfaction with every health service in the world
  10. Eating food as close as possible to its natural state is best
  11. Fish oils are good for many things
  12. * * *

  13. If there isn’t plenty of colour on your plate your dinner isn’t well-balanced
  14. Farm accidents change lives – so many people regret not thinking safety first
  15. Medication can save lives but some people are on too much of it and don’t get it reviewed often enough
  16. Pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in many patient support groups
  17. Antibiotics are precious and shouldn’t be taken lightly
  18. * * *

  19. Admission of mistakes is best in the long run
  20. Men tend to skip over the painful bits when talking about their illness
  21. Expectations (of health services) are rising all the time
  22. Many men have fear of doctors’ surgeries and hospitals due to negative experiences as children and therefore put off life-saving check-ups
  23. Sometimes it’s the family, not elderly, ill people themselves who want the tests and medical interventions done.

* * * *



shutterstock_woman driving carIt’s silage time again and there’s the weather to make it, hallelujah, and as I write, tractors and trailers are rattling down the lane, off to harvest grass and pit it for the winter.

Sunny silage days always bring go-forring memories to the surface, though.

What’s a go-for, you may ask? Someone who goes for this, goes for that and then some – aka an important cog in any farm family wheel. And also someone who may be a tad under-appreciated. Behind every good farmer there’s a go-for – I should know – I’ve been one and I still get to wear the t-shirt sometimes!



This indispensable species – the goforitas quickasyoucanacus – comes in all shapes and all sizes but is predominantly female.

A tractor breaks down – the go-for is dispatched for a part. The amount of seed needed for a field is miscalculated – the go-for is sent off for more.

The detergent in the milking-parlour runs out – the go-for is out the gate before the froth has well settled on the tank.

Often overlooked and under-valued they run the errands, pick up the slack, prop up the system and keep the wheels of industry turning. Yessir, it’s time for the go-fors of the world to unite and take their places as the farming institution they undoubtedly are.

And how can you recognize the go-fors of this world?  It’s easiest during the very, very busy seasons – spring, harvest, calving or lambing time. They can be observed sleeping with a steering wheel in their hands or the car keys in their pyjama pockets just in case they’re needed urgently during the night.

They often sport red eyes, too, due to constant demand particularly when the weather flag is up and there is a window of opportunity to get work done. Items are usually required in a hurry, causing the adrenalin to flow in style. The most commonly heard admonition to the go-for is “Don’t be there till you’re back.”

The go-for can also look a bit bedraggled on occasion as go-for demands take their toll on top of all her own work and her family duties. Calls from the yard usually come at the right wrong time, too – like when number two baby has just gone down for a nap or when granny down the lane has a chiropody appointment or when dinner is half cooked in the pot but the farm need usually has to take precedence over those of the house.

The go-for is usually an excellent driver.  Where she may not have been when she started, she is by now, due to the large amount of practice she has had since getting hitched.

Indeed, her farming swain may have quizzed her as to her abilities in this department during their courtship.  Instead of taking her clubbing he may have engaged her in trailer-reversing activity in order that she fit the go-forring bill should he eventually decide to pop the question.

It’s just as well, then, that a number of things have made the life of the go-for easier. The first one was the advent of the internal combustion engine.  Prior to this, go-fors must have died early due to exhaustion.



The second was the invention of the mobile phone. This enables her to liaise with her in-the-field hubby from her destination – the co-op, the parts supplier, wherever – when the promised item she’s gone for is not actually in the store, even though she was told it was, and an alternative has to be decided upon.

Now she can even send a photograph of an item to beloved in the field if required to establish suitability – a stress reliever all round.

But still she is needed to get the physical object itself from point a to point b at speed . . .

Yessir, the go-for is a farming institution – one that in these recessionary times, trad-minded farmers may be appreciating just a little bit more – hallelujah again – as it’s not before time. It takes a team to run a farm business and everyone’s input should be appreciated, I say. How about a monument to the go-fors of this world – a ‘woman at the wheel of a car’ statue, in bronze, no, gold, to represent the many journeys of the go-forring individual?  Maybe I should start a petition as soon as I come back. Now what was it I was supposed to get?


eclipsed posterI was a Magdalene woman for seven weeks – six in rehearsal and one in performance. I played the part of Nelly Nora in Eclipsed, a play by former nun Patricia Burke Brogan and staged in Wexford Arts Centre in October 1997.

Getting ready to play the part of a woman put in a Magdalene home because she was pregnant outside marriage I often visited my aunt, my Dad’s only sister, in Dublin. She was 79 at the time.

As we sat around the fire in that Georgian flat I’d tell her what I was doing and about the character of Nelly Nora and about how I’d be wearing a blue dress and a white apron over it on the stage and that I’d have to take my wedding ring off and find a pair of battered black boots in a charity shop to look the part. I’d talk, too, about society and how hard it must have been for girls who became pregnant outside marriage in those times.

‘Aye’, she’d say.

‘Mmm,’ she’d say as I rattled on about the play-acting to come.

She sat there, her blue housecoat over her clothes to keep them clean, hands tucked under thighs on the red stool by the fire, her almost grey plaits wrapped around her head the same way that they’d been wrapped around her head since she was a child.

‘Time to get to bed if we’re to be up in the morning bright and early,’ she’d say eventually, rising to riddle the fire and fill the kettle.

It was only in 2004, three weeks before she died, that I realised why she didn’t engage in that ‘Nelly-Nora’ conversation.

It was because she was a woman who knew how hard life was if you became pregnant outside marriage.

She’d given birth to a daughter, not in a Magdalene home, but in a Protestant version of it – Bethany Home in Rathgar – in 1947.

Her daughter, the cousin we should have known and loved all our lives, turned up at the hospital where my aunt was dying. We’d never known she existed.

In conversations now, I listen for silence and lack of engagement and if they occur I wonder privately, each time, what it is they signal.



Champagne poppingBook launches are nerve-racking events. Will anyone turn up, you wonder, or will you be left standing there crying into the back page because it’s all gone belly-up?

Thankfully the launch of Deny Me Not wasn’t like that!  Instead, 300 people packed the hotel room and there was music, laughter, chat and celebration – definitely a night to have an inside smile about for a long time to come.



Yes, launching Deny Me Not is up there with all my personal great experiences including having my children because – don’t laugh – writing a book is a bit like having a child – long gestation, hard labour but oh the relief and joy of delivery! Makes it all worthwhile.


And feedback has been great so far with the record going to one reader, M, who sat up all night to finish it. Every writer dreams of writing a page-turner so it’s an absolute thrill to get that kind of response.


As a book lover myself I remember that pleasure, sitting up all night on the bathroom floor (because it was the only room in the house where there was a light on) reading Maeve Binchy’s first book Light a Penny Candle. Dawn was breaking and there I still was, rubber duck for company, my eyes rapidly devouring the lines – pure joy! If I was bleary-eyed the next day I have no recollection of it . . .



The launch of Deny Me Not was about two things besides casting the book upon the readership waters – celebrating the completion of a B-I-G project and also gratitude for having a hobby that I’m passionate about.



Writing a novel is a marathon experience. Forget the sprints of articles or short stories or even the cross-country trials of writing a non-fiction book – writing a 400-page novel calls upon all your resources. Yep, it means dredging up every gram of creativity you can muster and lacing it heavily with s, s and d

  • stamina
  • stickability and
  • determination with a capital D.


And not thinking too far ahead – that’s a good idea, too. Every journey begins with a single step. Whoever said that deserves golden brogues.

I hit the wall a few times, of course, but something keeps you chipping away, page by page, scene by scene. Eventually, after many, many steps – forward and reverse – you get to the point where the script is fit to show someone – another milestone.


Later on, when you’ve proof read within an inch of your sanity, all ‘walls’ and other torments are forgotten when the big day arrives. I remember it well – the time I held the first copy of Deny Me Not in my hands this February. I had missed the courier’s first phone call and had to bomb it up the road to ambush him in the village to retrieve my package.

“Are you excited?” he said, when I explained what I was expecting. “Am I what?” I said. What was the moment like? A cloud nine experience – nothing less.



The gratitude bit was important to mention at the launch too. There was a time glasses in my world tended to be half empty but now I’m a ‘half-full’ kind of person and having a hobby that I’m passionate about – writing – is something to be thankful for.

Absorption, thy name is hobby! Pick up pen, ten o’clock, look at clock again when the juices are flowing and two hours have passed and you didn’t even notice – utterly priceless feeling.


Everyone who has a hobby they enjoy should be grateful for it, I think. It doesn’t matter if it’s writing or diving or cooking or restoring a tractor engine – time spent on doing something you enjoy gives you something to look forward to and look back on with pleasure – soul food, I call it, and we all need plenty of that these days.


A big thanks to author, Suzanne Power, for launching Deny Me Not on the night.  I still think I’d die happy if I’d written her wonderful book The Lost Souls Reunion!


Note: The champagne pic is important. In 2006, at the launch of Restless Spirit:The Story of Rose Quinn a friend gave me a bottle of champagne. I didn’t open it. ‘No, I’ll keep this for when I’ve finished the next book’, I said to myself. So I did. It sat there on my desk, gathering dust at times, waiting to be opened. And it finally was a short while ago.  Yep, a fizz day to remember – M


It’s a question I get asked a lot – where do you get your ideas for stories?Blog2-Bird-web

The answer is anywhere and everywhere. I call it ‘magpie magic’. Just as a bird gathers feathers, grass, twigs, leaves and God knows what to make its nest, anyone who writes has a mind open to gathering a snippet of this, a thread of that and a grain of something else that may set him or her on the way to making a story.

Once the scraps of inspiration are there – the ideas that push you to pick up the pen – the outline (the scaffolding) of the nest comes next.  That’s when your mind develops the story in ‘what if’ style. What could happen there, you ask yourself?  Who does what where? Layer upon layer of incident and possibility eventually present themselves as you push out the boundaries of the incident or idea or overheard phrase that started it all.  Eventually the thread is woven into a new – and often more interesting – story than the snippet that started it.


https://margarethawkins.ieI often think, too, of how some birds hammer a snail shell against a stone until it breaks and releases its bounty. Writing a story is a bit like that. You hammer away at an idea until it spills itself into a reality on the page.

What you shake out may be a small idea, enough for the sprint work of a poem or short story, or it may be bigger than that and such a strong story that the urge for the marathon of a novel or full-length play starts thumping in your chest.

That’s what’s happened with any story I’ve written but in particular with my two books.


On both occasions there has been a dramatic prompt – an ‘aha’ moment.

I knew the minute I heard Rose Quinn’s story that it was something I had to write. A woman dying in an asylum because she wouldn’t live with the man she was forced to marry and being buried in an unmarked grave behind that asylum . . . How many people did her story represent, I wondered? Hundreds? Thousands? Someone had to record her story and I knew, that very minute, that it was a story that was going to take over my life until I had written it out of my head, doing a huge amount of research and reconstructing her story in novel form to bring her to life on the page in Restless Spirit.

The gut prompt for my second book – my first novel, Deny Me Not, being launched this week, was even more dramatic – and more personal – and came hot on the heels of completing Restless Spirit.


The day after I posted the Rose script I took my 86-year-old aunt to hospital. She was diagnosed with liver cancer that day and was to sadly die six weeks later but three weeks before she died we got a shock. Our aunt, we discovered had a daughter we didn’t know existed.

Very soon, after that remarkable and dramatic time, I knew that secret babies and the people who made them and the families who discovered them would be something that I would be compelled to write about – maybe write even more than one book.

This novel, Deny Me Not, is not my cousin’s story but it is the result of the journey that my magpie mind took me on after the emotional drama of that time.

As well as the impulse to tell a story that you can’t not tell, writing is often about trying to grasp a bit of meaning and closure out of a lot of confusion and emotion – stuff that life throws at us wholesale.

Anyway, I hammered away at the shell of the story of Deny Me Not for many a day, plotting and planning and scribbling until I shook out the story that it has now become – over 400 pages long and one that, I hope, will keep you wanting to turn the pages.

Deny Me Not is being launched in Wexford on the 27th March so it’s time to get the glad rags ready and celebrate a marathon project’s completion.

Blogging off until next time. M


If you have any questions or queries please do not hesitate to contact me