I always, always wanted to write. Actually, it felt more like a need than a want. An appetite that could only be satisfied by cramming words onto a page to try to make sense of the world around me.
But writing is self-expression, stepping out of the shadows into the light. Saying ‘this is me’. ‘That’s what I think’. ‘Here’s what I see’. And I was a painfully shy child. The idea of being visible terrified me. Maybe that’s why I developed such a harsh inner critic. To keep myself safe. To keep my appetite in check.
She paced beside me through my twenties, as I took faltering steps towards what Neil Gaiman calls The Mountain. Pouring scorn on the tentative beginnings of short stories. Sneering at the chaotic scribbles in the notebooks I started and abandoned. Spitefully reminding me that I was too young, too old, too busy, too stupid, too undisciplined to write a page, much less an entire book.
It was years before I had the confidence to go to a writing class. I told nobody. I assumed they’d be as critical of my ambitions as I was. I sneaked off to it as if I was having an affair. It sounds ridiculous, but I would have preferred to walk naked down Dun Laoghaire Per than let my boyfriend or my flatmate read my homework assignments.
I always managed to be absent when I was due to share my efforts with the group. I didn’t need a room full of other novice writers to tell me all the things that were wrong with what I’d written. I had my inner critic for that.
Then I stumbled on a different kind of writing class. An extra mural course in UCD, taught by a woman called Dorothy Molloy Carpenter.
Instead of writing at home and bringing our work in to be critiqued, we sat in a circle and wrote on the spot, all of us, including Dorothy herself. We were invited to share what we’d written, but we didn’t have to. We were encouraged to comment on what was read out but there was one rule. We could only give positive feedback.
Every week Dorothy brought things along to inspire us. She’d upend a box of old postcards onto the floor and invite us to choose one and write about it for twenty minutes. She’d arrive with a box of charity shop junk and we’d all pick through it and pull out a piece of treasure to inspire a story. An old candlestick, a rusty mouth organ, a single cufflink. Once she solemnly passed around a roll of toilet paper and told us each to take a piece.
The atmosphere in that class was magical. I can still remember the bent heads, the frantic scribbling, the way we blinked at one another in disbelief when our twenty minutes were up.
I forget the plots of whole books I read back then. But I can recall vivid fragments of the stories my class-mates wrote in those twenty minute sessions.
A description of waves in Dun Laoghaire on a stormy day as ‘baby elephants tumbling over and over’. A piece about a widower in his seventies bumping into the woman he should have married on a street in Cork on Christmas Eve. A crazy stream of consciousness about a drunk who glimpses the face of Jesus in the toilet bowl.
Listening taught me that every word does not have to be perfect. That when you take a running dive into writing sometimes you executive a graceful dive and if you land in a belly flop, it’s not the end of the world.
We laughed a lot in that class and we cried too. Hauling words in quickly, without looking too closely, can bring up unexpected lumps of hurt. All of us were mugged by our own tears at one time or another. I remember stopping half way through a piece, unable to get the words past the lump in my throat and Dorothy saying ‘It’s okay. Just take a deep breath until you’re able to go on. Nobody ever died from crying.’
If I could give any budding writer one thing, it would be an hour in Dorothy’s class. But she died of liver cancer in 2004, ten days before her first collection of poetry was published.
I started a small writing group, based on her method, with my friend Kate Kerrigan. She brought along her friend Marian Keyes and Marian brought two friends of hers. We’d meet in my office on South William Street every week and write and read and tell one another what was great about what we’d written.
My work-mates called us ‘the coven’ because of the shrieks of laughter that leaked beneath the closed door. And they weren’t so far off the mark. There was a kind of white magic going on in that room, for me, anyway. I had other voices in my head now when I sat down to write. The kind, gentle, supportive ones of my writer friends.
My inner critic didn’t disappear overnight (in fact, she’s right behind me as I type this, making me rewrite every other sentence.) But I learned to ignore her more and more. I started writing travel pieces and had them published. I went on a writing course to Greece. I began to write every single day. I fed my appetite. I edged out of my darkness into the light.
My first novel was published in 2011. I thanked Dorothy in the acknowledgements and, I should have thanked her in the second and third novels too, but I forgot, the way a child who has just learned to cycle forgets the grown-up who ran along beside her, holding the saddle, shouting encouragement, out until it was safe to let her go.
(c) Ella Griffin 2015
About The Flower Arrangement
Golden peonies bowing their heads beneath blue delphinium bells. Delicate pink anemones threaded between freckled green orchids. Soft apricot roses woven together with velvety purple irises.
Every bouquet tells a story.
And every story begins at Blossom & Grow, a tiny jewel-like flower shop in the heart of Dublin. Here, among the buckets of fragrant blooms, beneath the flickering candles and lanterns, Lara works her magic. Translating feelings into flower arrangements that change hearts and lives.
But what about her own heart? Has she really healed since she lost her chance to be a mother? What will happen when her own story takes a sudden turn?
Can the flowers that heal the customers work their magic on the florist?
The Flower Arrangement is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!
About Ella Griffin
Ella Griffin was born in Dublin. She is an award-winning advertising copywriter and travel writer. She lives in County Wicklow with her husband Neil and their deerhound, Haggis.