I was brought up in the fifties and sixties on Dublin’s north side. I went to the local primary school which was a very new school and most of my teachers were young women in short skirts fresh out of college. Inspired by Miss O’Brien in her clay brown suit I began to read at an early age. Visiting the mobile library, which came every fortnight, was a real highlight. I have always loved the quiet of libraries and the smell of books. I was lucky enough to work in a college library before I moved to Germany in 2002.
I began to write shortly before moving to a rural community in the North of Germany where I lived in an old farm house for ten years. The surrounding countryside was flat, green and windswept. German winters are a lot colder than Irish winters. With time on my hands, but not feeling secure enough in the language to take on a course in a German university, I enrolled on a creative writing course with the Open University which I could do online from my living room. A year or two later I completed a second writing course.
These courses gave me the habit of writing every day. I learned about voice, developing characters, plot, free writing and life writing which I became very interested in. I was encouraged to read what was on the extensive reading list and I still refer back to it today. Along with the guidance of a tutor the courses gave me access to a writing forum where participants uploaded their work and could give and receive feedback. A little daunting at first but I learned a lot about how a piece can be interpreted by the reader and how to “show” and not “tell.” This was the first time I had shown my work to anybody and it was terrifying.
I built a garden house in a part of the garden which was a bit of an eyesore. The activity around it opened up that part of the garden and it became a beautiful place to write. I had a room of my own. I worked and studied happily there for a few years.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I wrote about the experience as a way of making sense of it to myself and to get it out of me and onto a page. I wrote prose pieces and poetry as I reflected on what was happening in my life at the time. Some years later and grateful to have survived, I wrote the book, No Spare Life: one woman’s journey through cancer. I included the prose pieces along with the poetry as well as some of my diary entries written at the time. As a way of making a difficult subject accessible to readers, I put a lot of effort into the design of the book. I had great fun working with a graphic designer and learned a lot. The book is in colour. I have included pictures of things that helped me, i.e. favourite animals, scenes from nature and, so the reader could follow my journey, I included things like hospital menus. It is a cancer scrapbook.
It took a lot of rewriting, perseverance and courage to put my book out there. But once I decided to do it, I just went with it and the way opened up for me. It has been a great experience. It isn’t the book I thought I would write. I’d like to write a novel and I have some drafts already done.
I write most days and if I can’t, then I try to do something writerly. I enjoy reading. I like discovering new writers or at least ones I haven’t discovered up to now. Recently someone was kind enough to loan me a Truman Capote book and so I was off discovering all about him and finding his books.
It took me a long time to lose the idea of going the traditional publishing route. But the thing about self-publishing is that you can have your book however you want it. I got someone to work with me editing the pieces, proof reading it and my nephew Mark Beatty did the cover and most of the artwork.
Writing means everything to me. The older I get the more external interests fall away but writing and books have always been great friends to me.
(c) Rosaleen Glennon
About No Spare Life:
I’d been living in Germany for eight years when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2010. On gleaning the news after a biopsy, I went into a spin. I don’t remember leaving the doctor’s office on the third floor of the hospital and getting into the lift. I began to think again when the lift doors opened and I stepped out on the ground floor. I turned round three times on the spot and thought. “What am I going to do now? Does he mean I should get my affairs in order?” I almost laughed at my own thinking. I realised that we have absolutely no control. We might think we have, but we don’t.
I had been writing for a number of years and so it was natural for me to write about the cancer as a way of making sense of what was happening, as a way of keeping a record of my life and as a way to honour it (the cancer). I realise everybody’s experience of cancer is different but I want to publish what I have written in the form of poetry, short pieces of prose and artwork to share what happened to me, so that it might help other people who have had such a diagnosis as well as their families and friends. I hope it helps.
No Spare Life: one woman’s journey through cancer is on sale at Newsround, Ballymahon Street, Longford, the Úna Bhán shop, King House, Boyle, Mulveys Gifts and Toys and The Reading Room, Carrick-on-Shannon, Sligo Cancer Support Centre, 44 Wine St., Sligo and through the website www.rosaleenglennon.com