It may seem like a strange idea, that a Twitter account, of all things should make an Irish Mammy the focus of attention. And yet it has. Ten months after I set up a Twitter page to list the everyday things that a Mammy might say about/ to her children, spouse or the neighbours on topics like the weather, the plates or who’s after landing a job, nearly 60,000 people have signed up to read an Irish Mammy’s words.
For those of you still a bit unsure of what Twitter is, it’s a bit like a room where everyone is blathering and a few people are listening.
I didn’t begin this year intending to write a book on the topic. Like a lot of ideas, it started out as something else. I set up the Twitter account to get some screenshots of what it would look like if an archetypal Irish Mammy had a Twitter account. I followed about 400 people, wrote a few throwaway tweets and thought no more about it until those 400 and many others started following back and retweeting. I wondered then, I might be onto something.
It was an enjoyable transition from comedian to writer. For a start I could tell everyone I was writing a book. An actual BOOK with covers and publishers and bar codes and ISBN numbers. While I didn’t invest in a corduroy jacket with elbow patches, I did start calling myself a Writer. But if I was going to write a book, there would have to be some discipline.
Comedians – especially me – are among the worst procrastinators. Perhaps within us – especially me – there’s a belief that things always come together on the night which lends itself to a laissez faire attitude in preparation. Certainly within me is an attention span that has been shrivelled over the years by a succession of Internet-based innovations. Even writing that last sentence took an hour after I disappeared onto Wikipedia, journeying through many pages, returning with only the clothes on my back and the knowledge that Samuel Beckett used to drive Andre the Giant to school. But with a book to write, things were, for the time being at least, different. I had a publisher who wanted to see some results.
I needed to be somewhere there were no distractions – a writer’s retreat.
As I am relatively new to this game, I didn’t have the money for a formal affair. My networks within the literary community are not strong enough to befriend a French aristocrat who was willing to give me the use of a villa as repayment for teaching his children English all those years ago.
And you know what? They did. This was the first time I’d tried any kind technologectomy in order to get some writing done and it worked. My brain, freed of the need to alt-tab between browser windows started to remember things long forgotten and come up with stuff that wasn’t there before. It was with every fibre of my being that I struggled not to tweet about this epiphany.
The other challenge within the book had a number of facets – who is the Mammy in the book?
It’s clear that she’s not going to be every Irish Mother. Neither are all her traits exclusively Irish but Lookit, as she might say, some of them are anyway. The most important thing is that she would be a sympathetic character with strong views but even stronger pragmatism.
And what would she look like? The Twitter avatar was Brenda Fricker from My Left Foot but I know from the tweets that people sent to the account, that they were seeing their own mother in the words. I decided as much as possible that the book wouldn’t break that projection by having too strong an image of her. As much as possible, her face wouldn’t be visible. The ‘camera angles’ in the illustrations would be from floor height – like maid from the Tom and Jerry cartoons – or from above. I did some sketches and assembled together a Pinterest of ideas and sent it off to a very talented illustrator called Doug Ferris http://www.douglasferrisart.com who within a couple of versions had captured what I wanted perfectly.
This isn’t first portrayal of the Irish Mammies archetype. The advertising industry have made a good fist of showing her, from time to time.
Remember the famous Kerrygold ads? Who is the real hero in the Who’s Taking The Horse To France debacle? It’s not the fella who was the rector in Glenroe or the wan who was leaning against the doorframe saying “cooked like a Ffrenchmahn”. It was Mrs Mac – the no-nonsense woman who was “going to be serving now any minute”. And you know she was going to be serving a big can of ‘Cop-The-Feck-On’
And remember Angela, forced to watch her son spend his last morning before heading off to Germany, digging up a biscuit tin of soil like a tool? When her German daughter-in-law passes a seemingly innocent remark, Angela tells her off: “Oh shur we export all our best stuff”
Another tear-jerker is the Mammy in the Barry’s Tea ad, who, while looking at some old photographs is surprised by a figure from her past. “Did Dad take this?” “No it was someone else” Not that her daughter would be one to be casting aspersions. Wasn’t she the one who went on to have an affair with Harry Molloy in Fair City?
Within these ads is a very important facet of the Mammy: brevity is the soul of impact. While the younger generation in the ad are eejiting around with soil and horses, only one person cuts through the bullshit: The Mammy.
I think that’s why the Twitter account appealed to people. In the midst of their timelines full of important updates from Al Jazeerah, the BBC and Kanye West, Mammy ‘appeared at the door’ to warn about the consequences of using the “good scissors”
I wanted to bring this spirit of brevity and impact into the book too. I hope it works for the readers. Or as Mammy will say – “Well you tried your best anyway, that’s all that matters”
(c) Colm O’Regan
Isn’t it well for ye? The Book of Irish Mammies is published by Transworld Ireland and is available in all good book shops. Read Barbara Scully’s thoughts on it in our Recommended Reads section.