Emerging Writer Member Profile
Pauline Clooney grew up in the Midlands. She is an English, History and Creative Writing teacher. She holds an M.Litt on Charlotte Brontë from NUI Maynooth and a MA in Creative Writing from UCD. She is working on a contemporary novel where the world of amateur drama in Ireland meets the world of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
She has had her stories shortlisted for the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story competition and the Doolin Short Story competition in 2014. She has been longlisted for both the Fish Short Memoir competition (2014) and the Fish Short Story Prize (2015) and was placed second in the Doolin Short Story competition (2015).
She won the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story competition in 2015.
Chapter Twelve extract from The Eternal Rocks Beneath.
It was after three when Audrey came knocking on Nancy’s door. Nancy half expected it to be Will and felt ridiculous when Audrey blustered past her.
‘Guess what? Lottie’s nowhere to be found.’ Audrey’s face was flushed with excitement. Nancy didn’t pick up any sense of concern, anything she should be worried about, besides she had enough stuff in her own head to be going on with.
‘She’s probably gone for a walk or something with that chef lad,’ Nancy knew her own face went red on the ‘something’.
Audrey was animated with speculation. She reckoned they were in his quarters, fornicating. She actually used the word, fornicating. Nancy challenged her, saying she sounded like one of those missionaries older people were always going on about. The ones who came once a year to a parish and terrorised the community into frigidity. The word also stung her own conscience. She wondered did having an orgasm fully clothed count as adultery. She found herself defending Lottie Tynan. Maybe she was married to a horrible person and had a terrible life with him. Maybe this was exactly the tonic she needed. Maybe as a woman, she was entitled to use her body, ‘her body’, whatever way she wanted. A shawl of smugness draped itself around Audrey as she sat back, armed folded, in the only armchair in the room
‘Hmm, the lady doth protest too much methinks. How was Top Withins? She said.
Nancy concentrated on the arduous nature of the climb, the biting cold, the misery of the rain, the burden of Adrian’s frequent stopping.
‘But Adrian didn’t go up, Nancy.’
‘He went most of the way.’
‘That’s not what Will told me, Nancy’.
Audrey’s habit of using your name constantly in conversation annoyed Nancy. It made everything she said sound suspicious and interrogating. Nancy felt wrong-footed. What did Will say? Had Audrey, with the same sanctimonious expression, asked him the same question, ‘How was Top Withins?’
‘What did Will say, Audrey?’ Nancy was using Audrey’s tactics.
‘He said he gave up half way and you left him sitting on a wall staring at sheep. I laughed at the image. I felt sorry for Will though, falling at the ruin and splitting his lip.’
Nancy was about to correct Audrey when it occurred to her that she hadn’t made any eye contact with Will on the way down. Was his lip split? As soon as their writhing had stopped he stood up and unlatched the door, suggesting they better get back down, all without looking at her. They had walked down, eyes embedded in the ground, chatting about the up-coming performances, as if nothing had happened. She wondered if she had bitten his lip, just like Sylvia Plath. Wasn’t she supposed to have bitten Ted Hughes cheek, the first time they met? Nancy wanted to go home, make a salad with ham and lettuce and cole slaw, cut the tomatoes in a zig zag pattern, the way Edward liked them, and call him in from the garden to have lunch. This arty life, this playacting, was all becoming a bit too hedonistic for her. It was turning her into something unrecognisable. She needed to change the subject.
‘So what’s next on the cards?’
Audrey explained how she and Henry had gone to the parsonage and how wonderful it was. She gushed about sensing Emily Brontë everywhere, felt she was walking and talking differently in the place as if she had been possessed by the spirit of the author. Suggested that she may just be the reincarnation of Emily, that she has always had this strange sensation whenever anyone mentioned Yorkshire or Wuthering Heights. Nancy couldn’t believe Audrey’s delusion, she thought again of that plain ham salad on her plain white plates that she got with vouchers in Tesco’s, years earlier. Audrey went on to tell her about the rustic lunch she had sitting outside a café on the cobbled streets of the village. Nancy thought she used the world village as if she was a local. Bernie Duncan had joined her and Henry, which annoyed Nancy, because it blew her theory about something going on between Audrey and Henry. Maybe Lottie was doing something innocent too and the only real ‘fornicator’ was Nancy Swan, the little known housewife form the little known town of Ballymoneytyrell.
‘Anyway, and you are not going to believe this, as we were sitting there, nibbling away at our ploughmans, who should come along, giving out flyers, but a drama troupe from Whitby, who are putting on a version of Wuthering Heights in the church hall tonight,’ Audrey shot her arms out, like a magician, with a ta..da gesture.
‘So…?’ Nancy asked.
‘We bought tickets for everyone. We’re going to the theatre.’
Nancy arranged to meet everyone later at the Methodist church where the performance was taking place. She headed in to Haworth by taxi. The barman had called it for her, even though, Will, who was still at the bar with Adrian had offered to bring her. She knew her line about wanting to be a real tourist wasn’t convincing. She was relieved that a female taxi driver arrived, she was less likely to be a Yorkshire Ripper type.
The Eternal Rocks Beneath.
The Eternal Rocks Beneath is set in contemporary Ireland and England. It is a story told mainly from the point of view of Nancy Swan, a woman in her fifties trying to come to terms with life in an empty nest. Her husband has recently retired and when the last of her children moved out she was left with a feeling of ‘what now?’ In an effort to add drama, literally, to her life she joins the local amateur dramatics group.
Most of the action takes place in a fictional town, Ballymoneytyrell, somewhere in the Irish Midlands. As well as being Nancy’s story the novel is the story of life in that town. The lens through which the town is viewed is the local drama society. The characters are typical of any small town drama group; the teacher, the solicitor, the housewife, the people with real acting ability and of course the committee types. In their day to day lives these people are ordinary, functioning adults but something happens when they are together as a group. The drama is never confined to the stage.
One of the main themes explored in the novel is love. Love in a marriage after twenty nine years. Love of a stranger. Love of oneself. Nancy, the protagonist, is a woman facing her mid-life and all the issues you might expect her to encounter in this so called ‘second spring’ of life are explored. But it is also a novel that explores middle Ireland.
The action takes place over three months, roughly the duration of the drama group’s latest production; from auditions to the post show wrap night. The play they perform is a version of the Brontë novel Wuthering Heights, written by one of the latest members of the group, Will Soresby, a new teacher in the boys’ secondary school, originally from Haworth in Yorkshire; home of the Brontës.
My writing is informed and influenced by the works of the Brontës, especially Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and also by more modern writers such as Anne Enright, J. M Coetzee, Ian McEwan and the short story writers Raymond Carver, Alice Munro and Claire Keegan. The plot of my novel follows the bildungsroman structure that many of these authors prefer, especially that of Brontë’s Jane Eyre, except I deal with a woman’s journey into self-realisation as opposed to a young girl’s. Nancy Swan’s journey brings her to a similar conclusion to that of Jane Eyre, but it would be a spoiler if I was to say whether it is a case of ‘Reader, I married him’ or ‘Reader, I stayed married to him’.
As the plot progresses and my characters deal with crises of increasing intensities that require attention and resolution, my guiding principle was the following quote:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
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