• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

Maria Tivnan

Location: Galway


I live with my two children, four hens, dog and husband in Galway. I love tea and Guinness, art, the sea, fields and cows, imagining and re-imagining and day dreaming. I am currently the artistic director of Fregoli Theatre, and I’ve written a number of original plays with the company including The Sweet Shop, Mary Mary Mary and Shur Ill Be Alright Here on Me Own. I am currently pursuing a PhD with NUI, Galway in how theatre creates the meaning of home in Galway, Mexico and Gaza.

Current project

I am trying to write about my life, all ordinary lives are extraordinary in so many ways, last week I began writing a short story about falling in love when I was 19, and realised it was not fiction but my truth, the story is called Nineteen and I hope it may form a chapter among others about the parts of my life that stand out in living memory.

Writing sample

It started with birthdays. It wasn’t the cake so much as the candles, oh Lord the candles! Set snug in the icing, twisting their little pink and blue striped bodies towards their great flaming buds of heads. I used to stare into the flaming buds, a game to catch six parts in one glance, the red at the tip, dipping way to orange, then yellow and white at the centre, the hottest part,silencing screams of hell. All gives way to black of course, yet right at the tip of the wick is the slightest tinge of blue. Beautiful but deadly, like most of God’s handiwork one might say.

When I was six I set a match to a cock of hay. It was July. Everywhere grass was dying, meadows were stripped bare, left yellow and stumpy like an old man’s unshaven face. I stole a box of matches from the kitchen table, no mean feat under Granny’s watchful eye, shoved it quickly into the pocket of my dress, and raced down the path to the meadow, leaping over the mucky imprints of the tractor tracks. I eyed them for a while, the cocks of hay, those temporary monuments of summer, neat and round and full of promise, I wished to carefully choose my prey. I picked the smallest of them, took the match from the box and struck it, relishing its sound against the rough brown strip. I saw it come alive and I lay down with my Olympic torch to touch one wisp of hay. The crackle, the smell, Oh Lord the flames, it went up like a flash, much too fast, and much too high. Big Michael came over the field running, half out of breath and stamped it to death with a shovel. That evening Granny ‘reddened me arse for me’, and Father had tears in his eyes.I swore I’d never do it again.

‘Sure I’ll be alright here on my own?’’ she asked the gleaming walls. The gleaming walls said nothing and the tap continued to push gloriously hot water out of its pouting mouth. She was washing the breakfast cups, for this the second time. Her’s was the cleanest house in Ireland that she took as fact. Easier to clean now of course, that she was here mostly on her own. Her children all grown up, had gone to chase money as their dream. Her daughter Sinead was a dentist in Cork, and her son Conn a barrister abroad. Followed her husband’s path that way she supposed, Tom was a big lawyer, in a big city firm, away a lot on business, awful important stuff.
It was his air of importance that first drew her to him on that Stephen’s night in Flanagan’s bar. It was his back she spied first, strong wide shoulders, on a long slim frame, and beautifully dark curly hair, that licked the top of his stiff shirt collar. He was talking to a group of lads she knew from around, a few years older than her, and as she watched their faces in response to his stories, eyes widening, smiles a glow, she knew they both envied and adored him simultaneously and this fact fascinated her so. He turned then to face her, with the grace and poise of a matador one might say. His blue, blue eyes pierced through her and she knew then she was his.
She removed her yellow gloves, and clutched the edge of the sink, staring at the circular patterns printed on her Roman blinds, and listened to the silence. Oh Lord for the strike of a match! ‘No, No, you can’t be at that. Time to keep busy; find Darina and make some food’. No-one to cook for these days, Sinead was always on some blasted diet, and the neighbours were a no carb zone, but the smell of sconesbaking; now there was a sliver of happiness past. She could see her taking them out of the oven, cutting them open roughly, their yellow centres bursting with heat, swallowing up the butter, so it drizzled over the edge, and plonked on top a big dollop of jam, blackberry her favourite of course.
‘Ah sure there’s always room in the freezer, and there might be an emergency someday’ so she set about to task. She was interrupted by a sound from the hallway, ‘twas probably only the post. Heaps of letters for Tom, there was never anything for her, unless by chance they remembered her birthday. Chances are Sinead would.
She kneaded the scones with tenderness, in the way she thought her mother would have done. In much simpler surroundings she supposed, and she thought of the wooden table, surrounded by the rickety chairs. The big brown Rayburn in the corner, with its lifelong friend the battered kettle sat on top. The clinking of buckets and the smell of turf, the chicken feed and the countless mugs of tea…..She pressed her fingers to the cold Connemara marble that ran through her kitchen space. Tom chose it, said it reminded him of the West, cold, and rough but beautiful and besides wasn’t it the colour of her eyes. He had the sales woman at his fingertips, that same old look of adoration on her face. He had many admirers she knew all about that, but he’d always come back to her, that she also took as fact. That day they’d got a great deal on the kitchen, not that they needed it of course.
Once the scones were in the oven she went out to check the post. Tom, Tom, Tom, oh one for her, a pink envelope that’d be Sinead, and by God another! A slightly dour looking yoke with huge inky handwriting scrawled across its front. Defiantly not Conn or Tom for that matter. She opened it with haste, and out dropped a letter, just a single page.

  • The Dark Room by Sam Blake
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