Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Come and Share the Story with Eileen Casey- A Guest Post by the Author of Snow Shoes

Today I am very honored to present a guest post by Eileen Casey about her experiences at a conference on Life Time Learning with a special focus on using the short story to encourage life time learning The conference took place in Copenhagen and she also shares her first impressions of the city with us. She is involved in projects to promote lifetime self-development for people of all ages. Many people stop reading once they get out of school. I have even read blog posts claiming people over sixty cannot really read "hard" literature. Of course I totally repudiate these ideas and I applaud the efforts of Casey and others to encourage self development programs, with reading at the core.

Eileen Casey is an Irish writer. Originally from the Midlands (Co. Offaly), she has lived in South Dublin County since the late 1970’s. She is a fiction writer, poet and journalist. Her many awards include a Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship (Poetry) and a Sunday Independent, Hennessy Literary Award (Fiction).

A debut short story collection ‘Snow Shoes’ was published by Arlen House, 2012.  She holds a B.A. in Humanities (Hons.) from Dublin City University and completed an M.Phil in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin in 2011 where she was awarded distinction.  

Her debut poetry collection Drinking the Colour Blue was published by New Island in 2008.  Collaborative works with Visual Artist Emma Barone  are Reading Hieroglyphs in Unexpected Places (2010) and From Bone to Blossom (2011) with an introduction by Grace Wells.  

Guest Post by Eileen Casey

Where Words Fail, Music Speaks  - Hands Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid
A hundred years ago in 1913, sculptor Edward Eriksen created and unveiled the figure that is perhaps most associated with Denmark.  The idea of creating such a landmark figure was first thought of by brewery owner Carl Jacobsen, who got the notion while attending  The Little Mermaid fairytale ballet at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen.  There were many discussions between the brewery owner and the sculptor, discussions regarding whether or not this famous creation should have legs or a fishtail and where exactly she should be placed in the area known as Langelinie, the park near Copenhagen harbour. In the event, Denmark’s most famous celebrity sits on large rocks close to the shore at the south of the park which starts at Toldboden, continuing to the outside of Kastallet and the large marina.
When myself and my band of fellow travellers rounded a nearby curve in the park pathway and caught first glimpse of this famous lady, our initial reaction was emotional to say the least.  There’s just something about this small, modest figure (she is only 1.25 metres tall) with her human legs in the process of metamorphosis from fish tail that inspires such a response. Words certainly fail, a reminder too that in this particular fairytale, this other-worldly creature exchanged her precious voice for legs. Copenhagen has many interesting sights, including Nyhavn (The New Harbour) and The Free Town of Christiana. However, over one million tourists come especially every year to visit The Little Mermaid. There is indeed something poignant about the gaze of this sea creature who so longed to be human.  In fact, so intense was her longing in Hans Christen Andersen’s memorable tale, that she was also willing to give up her life in the sea and her identity to gain a human soul and the love of a human Prince.  Eriksen captures this sense of yearning and self sacrifice so evocatively. There’s something about the patience and endurance of  The Little Mermaid’s pose that immediately touches the human heart.
On the day we visited her in May this year, the cherry trees had just blossomed sprinkling the setting with their soft pink tinge. In 2005, the Danish Consul in Horoshima, Selichi Talaki, gave the city of Copenhagen 200 Japanese cherry trees to celebrate the two hundred year since Hans Christian Andersen was born. Our trip to Copenhagen was by way of a stopover on our continuing journey to Odense, the actual birthplace of Denmark’s master storyteller.  It seemed fitting to pay our respects to one of his most popular fairytale characters, enjoyed by children and adults alike. The Little Mermaid has been translated into musical theatre, film and of course, is never out of print all over the world.
We were visiting Odense as part of a Grundtvig Seminar called Come Share the Story through music.  As a lifelong learner and tutor in adult education, I’m part of an initiative called Bridging the Gap.  Carmel Maginn, educationalist, writer and broadcaster, was instrumental in setting up the South Dublin segment of the programme (which encourages people from all walks of life back into self-development and education); with the assistance of AltEnts Arts Group.  Lifelong learning is extremely empowering. It’s wonderful to know that senior citizens in particular who, perhaps for one reason or another, did not get the opportunity to progress in formative years, can return to learning at any stage in their lives.  In my case, I studied as a mature student for a B.A. degree in literature and history with Oscail (Dublin City University). It took me seven years to get this degree, due to work and family commitments.  In a way, Andersen’s story The Ugly Duckling speaks to us of this empowerment through change.  Andersen himself (born to poor parents in Odense in 1805) is himself synonymous with the ugly duckling tale.  Life was very hard for this thoughtful man who never found or received the love of his life.  He even considered himself to have an ugly duckling appearance, being so tall, thin and possessing a very large nose.
Harsh childhood
His childhood was harsh. His father was a shoemaker  and they lived in one room in Odense. His mother, a washerwoman for the wealthy of the town, died a pauper in a Franciscan Monastery. She was also an alcoholic, relying on drink to keep her warm while she washed clothes outdoors in freezing temperatures. His grandmother was imprisoned for eight days in Odense prison for being a loose woman (three children with three different fathers earned her the title and the sentence). 
Andersen left home to make his fortune and fame at the tender age of fourteen. Although poorly educated, he tried his hand at acting and singing and got a second chance when the director of the Royal Theatre and Patron of the Arts, took him under his wing. Andersen went to the University at Copenhagen. Like his duckling creation, Andersen soon turned into a powerful swan with embracing wings. His stories won him fame and fortune and he was eventually honoured during his lifetime by Odense in a ceremony of light which symbolised illumination. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum comprises a set of houses in the old part of Odense, one of which is the actual house where Andersen was born. The museum makes for a fascinating visit as it contains quite an amount of Andersen memorabilia, including examples of the paper cut outs he excelled at and with which he entertained the wealthy classes who welcomed him into their homes because he was so witty and entertaining. The museum has one of Andersen’s tall hats in a glass case which gives some indication of his size.  Interestingly, it also has the rope that Andersen brought everywhere he went in case a fire broke out and he could shimmy down from the window if he happened to be on an upper floor.
Meeting with facilitators and students from other countries such as Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Denmark, reminded me of the variety of different cultures and people in the world and how it is so important to engage with such rich diversity.   Andersen in his autobiography once wrote: ‘To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, to gain all while you give, to roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live.  Part of the Grundtvig programme is exactly this aim, to encourage European citizens to meet and learn from each other and to put what’s learnt into practice. 
Nikolaz Frederick Severin Grundtvig founded The Folk High School Movement in Denmark in 1830.  He wanted to provide a source of enlightenment for poor, uneducated peasants who would then become ambassadors, returning to their own part of the country and try to create change.  Grundtvig’s ethos was to help people become full rounded human beings first and foremost; as opposed to following ideals of measuring ability solely through the exam system.  Having seen my youngest daughter (who is now almost eighteen) go through the recent stress of Leaving Certificate examinations, I think the Grundtvig way is admirable.  Our group were lucky enough to visit a Folk High School at Ryslinge, situated on Fyn, only a short distance from the expressway between Odense and Svendborg.  The principal of the school, Tyge Mortensen, greeted us warmly and explained how the school works, that there are no exams as such, that creativity and innovation are the twin pillars on which students are judged. We were brought to the music room where we gathered around the piano to sing  Amazing Grace  and  You’ve got a Friend , accompanied by one of the music teachers at the school, Janne Wind, a phenomenal lady. Students at the school begin the day by singing, the best natural elixir in the world for releasing joy and well being. I felt a little awkward in the beginning because I’m not used to singing in a group but by the end of an hour, with my adrenaline on speed dial, I could have taken on the world!
The Ryslinge Folk High School was one of the many highlights of our seminar. The Culture Day at Laerdansk, a modern language centre at Odense, was a musical feast. I’d never heard singing in Kurdish or Vietnamese so my ears and my heart responded to these new and other gorgeously exotic sounds. Music as a vehicle for expanding confidence and creativity was very much in evidence at this event. Songs as a learning tool provides an understanding of culture and language as well as being a universal source of communication.  Music is known to support memory and also, encourages integration and empathy.  Co-ordinator Lene Bolding and her team in Odense certainly did a wonderful job in organising all the events we so enjoyed.
As a contribution to the workshop element of the Grundtvig seminar at Odense, I facilitated ‘Small Landscapes at the Bottom of the Teacup’. I devised this workshop around the culture of tea drinking, because this simple yet iconic ceremony is so important in our lives.  Some years ago, my good friends Sam and Lynda Tavakoli, gave me the gift of a beautiful Samovar and Iranian tealeaves.  When I drank the tea I noticed the wonderful image which was at the bottom of my teacup, the image of a ship in full sail.  Thus began a new way of accessing stories and poetry (in particular, haiku, a Japanese three line form). Exploring tealeaf shape and form gives rise to lots of ways of opening the storehouse of memory and also of writing stories which begin with an image. The results are often delightful and inspiring. Finding the key to opening the creative door is every tutor’s goal.  Storytelling, as Hans Christian Andersen knew so well, comes from sources of tension, feelings of inadequacy, unresolved conflicts. He once wrote a story about a teapot that was proud, proud of its long spout and broad handle –
‘But it didn’t mention its lid, for it was cracked and it was riveted and full of defects and we don’t talk about our defects – other people do that” – (from Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Andersen).One of the great benefits of writing is that it allows us to take these ‘defects’, these ‘ugly duckling’ elements and use them to create stories that are full of truth and beauty where readers can find empathy.  Human nature is not perfect and in order for characters to become ‘swan-like’, the challenges of life have to be met and resolved as best as is possible at any given time. Story tellers like Andersen knew this only too well.  What better way to enjoy bringing characters to life than through tea culture, a familiar and much loved ritual? Tea culture has indeed many interesting and intriguing ‘flavours’ (with exotic titles such as Geisha, Rose Garden, Chou Mei, Jasmine and Falling Snowflake among others)and the ability to create stories where characters, situations and events emerge to both entertain and engage.  On November 16th this year, I’ll be hosting ‘Small Landscapes at the Bottom of the Teacup’ at the beautifully sumptuous and scenic Aherlow House Hotel & Lodges. For full details, contact Joanne 0’Dwyer Hicks, 062-56153, 
For more information on visiting Copenhagen and Denmark, contact:
Danish Tourist Board, 55 Sloane Street, London SW1 X9SY.
Tel: 0044 207 3330200. Email:

End of Guest Post

My great thanks to Eileen Casey for this post on a topic of great importance.  I recently read an article that said one of the best protections against dementia and other mental issues associated with aging is a life time of reading, the more challenging books the better your protection.  

My post on Eileen's wonderful collection of short stories, Snow Shoes.  I very strongly endorse this book.

Mel u

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