Come along to Virginia LIbrary on Saturday 27th January 2024 for the launch of 'Teddy Cool and Other Stories' from The Lost Landscapes Storytelling Project, Volume III.
A Love Letter to the Landscapes of Childhood: Review of Short Story Anthology Teddy Cool and Other Stories
By Anthony J Quinn
The Covid lockdowns of a few years ago galvanised a readership drawn to writing about the natural world, and the binding power of this new collection of stories from the Lost Landscapes Storytelling Project is landscape. The autobiographical stories and vignettes of Teddy Cool and Other Stories are filled with the rural and urban settings of the writers’ childhoods, giving the reader a kaleidoscopic vision of Ireland, north and south. We get the multiple textures of small parishes, entrancing loughs, landmark hills and city streets revealing a literary geography that captures, among other things, the sociology of immigration, fraught mother and daughter relationships, loss and grief, and early romance.
The writers showcased in this collection, all of whom have connections to the border counties of Ireland, demonstrate that the best stories are waiting right before us, in our own landscapes and pasts. Making her publishing debut is Deirdre McKenna, who turns her poetic vision to Wellington boots and her home landscape of Killeeshil, Co Tyrone, in The Wonderment of Wellies. Like the rest of the writers in the collection, she shows how our childhood imaginations were fed by our experience of natural settings, and how these terrains can be used as metaphors to describe dislocating feelings and states of mind in later adulthood.
The anthology is a celebration of childhood and also an elegy to what has been lost. It’s hard to ignore the fact that the freedoms experienced by Bob Gilbert’s, Marie Quinn’s and Ann O’Donoghue’s child protagonists, as they wander widely across their home territories, is far greater than the freedoms experienced by children today. Bill’s story ties together nature, daydreaming and a thrilling kidnapping plot. With its description of mythical hounds, Teddy Cool also taps into the magical strangeness of our childhood landscapes. Ann O’Donoghue’s stories, Grandad Brady’s Prized Grotto and The Wild West, capture a child’s sense of adventure and the power of family bonds, whilst Marie Quinn’s story, Polehill, 1954, is full of awe for the dreams and hard work of her relatives, and the landscape to which they have chosen to return.
Ultimately, it is child narrators as much as the landscapes of Ireland that rise to the fore in this collection, the youthful voices of the writers, which fit in and belong to the settings as much as the hills, rivers and trees. Their stories are about children exploring and taking risks such as in Veronica Williams evocative Salt Tears, children growing up and learning about loss and shame as in Nollaig Byrne’s The Left-handed Child, children discovering their power in the landscape and over others, and the gifts their settings bestow upon them. The Left-handed Child evokes the spirited stubbornness of childhood and explores family lore, poetry, song and history. It’s so richly detailed and saturated in anecdote that the reader feels they can step back into late 1940s Killeshandra and be engulfed by the setting. Veronica’s story, set in her vividly described native Dublin speaks to us about the resilience of childhood and shows us what hope and bravery look like in spite of setbacks and cruelties.
Similarly, the unbridgeable silences and dark moods of adults are touched upon in Marian Dudley’s and Olga Maughan’s stories. Ireland, My Ireland and Every Dog but this Dog conjure up a world of emotionally-loaded crossings between England and Ireland, pain and laughter, forgetting and remembering. Many of the writers have been living with family histories full of puzzling questions, but somehow these stories have helped them find the answers and write them down.
Kathleen Grogan’s story captures the excitement and fear of emigrating to America. The comparison of her experience on the US ship SS United States to the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale distils the sense of danger and mystery superbly. It’s a poignant leave-taking but once again her story speaks to us of hope and adventure. Deirdre Tighe’s A Fond Farewell offers another emigration story of love and loss and is a moving tribute to her great-aunt Susan. It has a familiar backstory of separated families and depicts a rural society struggling to grasp that its young women might want more out of life than domestic servitude. Cecilia O’Neill’s A Day to Forget movingly recounts an accident with a cooking range and the peril that comes with independence and autonomy. Her story shows how the lessons we learned as children arm us for the life ahead.
Evelyn Brady’s Lakes of Evelyn captures how our lives and our imaginations can be fed by nature, and in particular bodies of water. She shows how these lakes can work powerfully in a memoir, giving a stage, a setting, that can be used as metaphor and to create a mood or feeling in the reader, as well as being a source of suspense in their own right. Ellen McKenna’s landscape stories capture a world living on borrowed time, on the cusp of fading away. Like the other stories in the collection, her writing shows us the advantages of anchoring our writing in a real place and the way we can draw inspiration, and some old ghosts, out of familiar streets and fields.
The stories brought together in this collection emerged out of a course of creative writing workshops designed and facilitated by author and creative writing teacher Anthony J Quinn, with the help of Cavan Older People’s Council, Cavan Council Arts Office, Creative Ireland and Age Friendly, Cavan. The anthology, copies of which will be available at Cavan Arts Office and in local shops, is being launched at Virginia Library on January 27 at 11.30am. All are welcome to attend.