If you wait it will come. The sun. In a flash across the hills. Here it comes. Get it down. Lemon greening to lime. I am standing in a puddle in the bog amidst the long, bronze grass. Painting. It’s August. There’s a wind. There always seems to be a wind in Connemara. There is no one about, never is where I go. Across the bog. Up the mountain. A world away from the bustle of Manhattan, Seattle and London, places where I worked in my twenties and early thirties as a knitwear designer.
My dad passed away when I was seventeen. One day in Dun Laoghaire, we stood and looked out across the sea and I said I longed to travel and see the world. My dad listened and nodded but said to always remember that hills were often greener faraway. Words that came back many times in the glittering glare of the sun and neon lights of Manhattan and on factory trips to Hong Kong and Japan.
My first real taste of the fashion world came as a student with Vivienne Westwood in the year of her tie-dyed rainbow silk dresses. I wore blue pyjamas to her Spring 91 show which was an evening of scarlet hats and feathers and people who simultaneously seemed to swagger and swoon and say things like ‘Divine.’
Summer holidays in childhood were spent in Connemara. In our first year we arrived by Lough Inagh in a deluge of rain. We stared from the windows at the wuthering bogs and wondered where on earth we were going. I loved it. On Folen’s farm where we stayed, I used to get up at six for the milking. We’d take the cows up the hills. Mr. Folen had a cap and I had a hood. We went to Inishbofin every year to visit a friend of my father’s called Maggie who had white hair and blue eyes like the sea. The island was somnolent, warm. Bees purred in the loosestrife and fuchsia. Birds sang. There were no cars then. My first story A Ribbon of Rainbow told of those summers and was a winner in the inaugural Frances Mac Manus, 1986. I had just left school. Dad was gone. It was a formative moment. James Plunkett was the judge. He urged me to keep writing. I did for a while and met John McGahern the same year at a book club in Dundrum. He had a lovely, soft, lilting voice.
But Art college was by now taking me over. I had first started painting in oil at the age of twelve at an art class in Renvyle. But the textures of knitwear had now taken hold and on graduating, I went to America, New York first and then New Hampshire where the winters were cold, and I lived in a cottage on the beach where the waves froze and the snow piled high in drifts against the door. I read a lot, books like The Remains of the Day. Mum and my sister came over and we went to Maine to a Shaker village, a llama farm and a graveyard filled with headstones of 19thC immigrants from all over Ireland. We read the names out loud in the sun. There was no one else there. It was elegiac.
After America I worked for Woolmark in London. I used to travel to Yorkshire to visit the technicians and would stay in a sort of Miss Marple hotel on Ilkley moor. I was rediscovering the sense of wild places with sheep grazing in the murmuring wind. I felt close to home there. To Dad. Twice a year I went to both Florence and Paris for trade shows and Florence in July was a revelation, the bells tolling on Sunday mornings and the votive candles flickering in the cool fresco interiors of churches. One February on a different business trip to India, I stayed in an old crumbling Raj hotel near the foothills of the Himalayas where sweet pea bloomed under a great, white moon and tea was carried out in grubby silver pots to our table on the lawn. I travelled back to Delhi in a polished vintage Bentley owned by the Director and driven by his chauffeur who was adept at reading maps and was able to make a detour to visit a nun known to my mother who was living in an isolated whitewashed convent in the middle of a district known as Haryana, miles away from anywhere and surrounded by fields of sugarcane. Experiences that even then I knew would provide ample fodder for my writing.
Back in England I went with a friend to Charleston, East Sussex, erstwhile home to Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant where one of the volunteer guides regaled us with tales of the many visitors like Vanessa’s sister Virginia and how it used to be when it was lived in for real and she told us too of herself and her six dogs and henceforth became known between us as the Lady with Six Dogs and years later would be sort of reimagined as Lady Adeline Bell in my novel Beyond the Horizon.
Now living in South London, I was gardening and writing in my own time and much inspired by the parterres at Sissinghurst, I joined the National Trust on a scholarship and came to Mount Stewart in County Down where I became lead gardener for the formal gardens as created by the pioneering Edith, Lady Londonderry soon after the first World War. I took up painting again and wrote some successful stories and my first novel which took me to the IWC Novel Fair in 2016 where I signed soon thereafter with the Feldstein Agency. The night following the fair I wrote the first page of what would later become Beyond the Horizon. A fleeting vignette on the train down from Belfast of the expanse of sea at Malahide was the first nugget of inspiration. Three characters appear as it were out of the mist, a man, a lame dog and a photographer. Now I had to find out who they were. I went to the National Gallery and sat and stared at one of Paul Henry’s early dawn paintings of Killary. After that I felt the sun was breaking through and for the next nine months, I became obsessed with the book.
Painting and writing are both essentially about transcribing some perceived sense of reality into a new interpreted form, like a sub conscious recollection of what you think you see, saw, feel or remember. Both to me are about visualising your inner awareness. It’s a personal squinting of the eyes. An application of technique either by brush and paint or by pen and ink. Everyone sees something different and that’s what makes both of them for me so poetic.
(c) Eoin Lane
About Beyond the Horizon:
She points the lens of the camera. The artist turns his head slightly. The light catches his brow and his silver-white hair. She snaps. He is lit like a Vermeer.
Ireland. County Wexford, 1951. A father and son go swimming in the sea. The waves crash. The wind rises. Only one comes back—Colin, aged six. His mother, Eileen, runs to seek help, but this is a tragedy that will haunt them forever. Colin won’t speak a word. He is mute and struggling to cope. But Eileen can see he has a talent for painting. She shows him his father’s artwork and gives him a print of a Paul Henry landscape, and slowly, with her encouragement, he begins to follow his dream.
Years later on Inishbofin island off the west coast of Ireland, out walking with his dog on the sand, Colin meets Laura, a young woman on holiday, and a tentative friendship starts to develop. Gradually his past comes to life in a story filled with love and frustration, loss and betrayal, but above all with the passion he has held through his life for the light in the sea and the sky and his search for that distant, elusive shore where the sky sweeps down to the water.
One man. The sea. One painting.
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