Welcome to Double Espresso, Meraid, and thank you very much for taking up the flash fiction challenge. Meraid, we haven’t met in person, but what comes across in ‘cyber-world’ is that you have an incredible zest for life – reflected strongly in your writing (more of which later).
It seems to me that you’ve had a very varied – and adventurous life – from Software Engineer to Magician’s Assistant and Citizen Advice Bureau Manager, before taking yourself off in a small yacht to sail from Norway to Brazil. Nowadays, between cycling, sailing, travelling and gardening you are starting a new life as a writer and journalist. How did you arrive at writer from Software Engineer? Tell us a bit about that transition in your life.
‘Varied’ is a lovely way to describe my life Helen. It makes me chuckle, because I think back to that question I was asked at school – ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’
You see I wanted to be many things, and when I told my teachers, they looked at me with raised eyebrows. When I wrote code as a software engineer it paid well but didn’t excite me in the same way words do. After that, I managed a Citizens Advice Bureau where I used my creativity to complete funding applications and write reports. I suppose the real shift came when I went sailing. Leaving my family and friends for over a year was alien to me and a friend suggested I should blog about it. Well, I only decided to go two weeks before I actually went, so didn’t have much time to find out what this blogging malarkey was all about. Anyway, the blog farawayvisions was quickly set up and I promised I’d keep the folks back home updated. I wrote every day. It became a habit and time I cherished. I knew I loved writing more than any other job I’d ever done and decided to become a writer. I read ‘The Secret’ some years ago and am a firm believer in the Ask, Believe and Receive philosophy. A journalist friend noticed I had a talent for getting people to tell me their stories and her recommendation opened doors for me earlier this year.
Whether you are writing about growing veggies in your garden plot, your adopted Hampshire county for Hampshire Life, or your sailing and cycling adventures – down to kit reviews, your writing is a breath of fresh air. There’s a warmth and enthusiasm; an unfussy, honest style of writing that makes your pieces very easy to read. It doesn’t feel that you spend a lot of time labouring over them – they feel natural and very spontaneous. Is that the case, or do you manage to pull the wool over the reader’s eye, so to speak?
I love it when I write spontaneously as I get sucked into another world. I write and I write and I write until I hit the final full stop. Then I think to myself, that’s great and make myself a cup of tea and spend a couple of hours on the allotment. When I come back and read what I’ve written, I often laugh as it’s so bad. My definition of bad is when I don’t recognise myself or the story as being alive. I write about the moments that spark my emotions, simple things that can often seem ordinary because they seem to matter only to me. This piece was written in less than half an hour, however, the polishing took significantly longer and I daren’t look at it again or I’ll start another round of editing.
I know you for your factual pieces, Meraid, but I’ve not read fiction/ creative non-fiction from you. Am I right in thinking you’ve delved in creative writing before? And what about flash fiction – is it new to you?
I’ve written one piece of flash fiction, as a wee experiment for myself when I first heard the term. It went in the recycle bin. I think Mark Twain was spot on when he said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
So why the Tower from all the choices I gave you? Why this story?
I looked at the list and eliminated several options almost instantly. Then I was left with three. I couldn’t think straight with three, so I chose two, Cold Side and this one. I began writing Cold Side, a tale about industry in Northern Ireland but it morphed into a wafflefest refusing to become flash fiction.
This story was going to be a modern day Rapunzel style piece and that night, I went to bed, bursting with ideas. By morning, I’d lost my enthusiasm and cycled into Hamble for coffee. Riding over some speed bumps in Royal Victoria Country Park reminded me of the ‘Camel’s Hump’ (a notorious checkpoint on the Tyrone/Donegal border where this story is based). That was the moment of inspiration I needed.
<I felt in 270 words, you captured very succinctly what it was like to live, or work, in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Perhaps, I should mention here, that as Irish women we both have first-hand experience of the Troubles. People in England and abroad have asked me time and time again what it was like to grow up in that environment and how I managed – and perhaps in future, I’ll just hand them your story because you capture (albeit in a heightened moment of drama and fear) that strange parallel world of palpable tension and just getting on with living! And this is so beautifully illustrated in your character, Siobhan – who although terrified in the cross-fire, is equally concerned about her clothes getting dirty and whether she’s going to be late for work. There’s a wonderful irony in that. And then there’s that lovely opening of two teenagers discovering love. It’s a story of ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances. How much of the story is fictional and how much of it is based on your own experience?
The characters’ names and the camera are fictional; the rest is based on experience.
And there is that second juxtaposition: the physical ugliness of the cross-border security infrastructure and the beauty of the dancing sculptures that replaces it post-Troubles. Can you tell us a little bit about the ‘dancing sculptures’ and how they inspired you?
I’m so glad you asked this question Helen, because it is so important to the story.
‘Let the dance begin’ is described by their creator Maurice Harron as: “Two dancers stand poised, ready to begin. On the Strabane side is a musician holding a fiddle; On the Lifford side a drummer .Between them, linking the musical ensemble, stands a musician with a fife.”
Locals know them as ‘The Tinnies’.
There was no public art in Strabane during ‘The Troubles’, in fact it was the most bombed town in Europe between the end of World War II and the Yugoslav Civil War and a notorious unemployment black spot. There was much grumbling when the decision was made to install such a vast structure, you know the kind, ‘waste of money’, ‘that won’t bring jobs to the town’ and the like. But when it was installed, everyone loved it; photographers flocked to the site, their images capturing the light dancing upon the steel and bronze.
The sculpture is huge, each figure stands eighteen feet tall and is located on the site of the old checkpoint, for me, that is significant. Music and dance have always been at the heart of Irish culture and I see this as symbolic, like a phoenix rising from the ashes offering hope and life after suffering. When I drive across the border on my visits to Ireland, I see ‘The Tinnies’ and I slow down, not because I have to, because I want to.
That ending is very moving – along with the camera replacing the gun to ‘shoot’. Ultimately it’s an uplifting and positive story. There’s a lot going on. How much of it was planned out beforehand and how much of it emerged organically?
As the story is based on facts and experience, it kind of just happened. All I needed was the start and the end.
And finally, what’s next for Meraid Griffin in the writing world?
My first article for Practical Boat Owner (IPC Media) is about to go to press, so who knows where that will lead. There will of course be much blogging about my next bike packing trip to the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains and I am working on a much longer piece of fiction. That will keep me busy for some time.
Meraid thank you so much for your story – This is a flash fiction that has really resonated with me personally – and it’s great to have it on Double Espresso.
Helen, it’s a real honour to have been asked to take up the challenge and I’ve enjoyed writing this story. Thank you. What’s been especially nice is that it resonated with you as I hope it will with others who have lived or worked in conflict zones around the world.
You can read Meraid’s travel adventures at: http://www.farawayvisions.com/