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Memoirist Talks About Nature in Writing

With just one week left until the deadline for our ‘Wild Atlantic Writing Awards,’ we’re delighted to continue our series of essays by authors on the theme of Nature with this contribution by memoirist, gardener and natural medicine practitioner, Brigid P. Gallagher.

Nature is a key element in our flash fiction and creative non-fiction competition with entries welcomed in both or either category of not more than 500 words. Our competition offers 1,000 euro in prize money. Deadline is midnight (Irish time) Thursday, December 10.

Brigid qualified in and practiced natural medicine in Scotland for many years, becoming a tutor for community projects, a women's prison, and the Open Studies and Summer Schools of Stirling University. She was then diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain and other debilitating conditions, and this forced her to reassess her entire lifestyle.

After re-locating to Donegal, home of her ancestors, Brigid retrained in organic horticulture, and worked in the glorious gardens of Glenveagh National Park inspiring children and teachers to create organic school gardens.

Watching the Daisies - Life Lessons on the Importance of Slow’ is the title of Brigid’s inspirational self-help and travel memoir.

Brigid has also contributed articles for ‘Sixty and Me,’ ‘Two Drops of Ink,’ ‘The Mighty, WomELLE Magazine,’ plus ‘Travel Stories and Highlights 2019.’

Brigid (fourth from left) was a guest speaker at 'Ireland Writing Retreat.'


Spend Quiet Time in Nature, Urges Author

by Brigid P. Gallagher

Gardening and Nature have been lifelong passions of mine, inherited from both my parents, who grew up in the magical, mystical hills of Donegal.

In my memoir ‘Watching the Daisies - Life Lessons on the Importance of Slow’ I recount idyllic summers in the ‘50's and ‘60's, spent at my maternal grandfather's home, far away from shops during an era when most people grew their own vegetables, and reared cows and chickens.

I chose a career as a practitioner of natural medicines including aromatherapy, reflexology, nutritional medicine, flower essences, radionics and colour healing. However, it may have been my aunts' stories of faeries and banshees, told in our shared bedroom above a cow barn that sparked my love of creative writing.

The wild Donegal landscape became my permanent home in 1999, and it continues to entice artists, photographers, storytellers and musicians.

I would urge all artists to spend quiet time in Nature, stilling the mind and enhancing creativity. Julia Cameron suggests a similar approach in her book ‘The Artist's Way’ and in the exercises she suggests called ‘morning pages.’

On my own writing journey, creative exercises based around Nature have been incredibly helpful. Using two roses as a prompt, I wrote the following:

‘A crimson hue of velvet petals nestles close to create a delicious bloom. Gentle leaves embrace a fine green stem, each one veined with tiny lines. A little three-leaved branch sits quietly in a bend waiting to mature. Alongside these luscious leaves, lies a large rosebud, embalmed in death. Its petals have paled into mottled hues of dark red, pink and orange. The cycle completed, the two roses rest side by side - a testament to each other's beauty.’

The weather is another great writing prompt. I could write that the day is wet and grey. Instead, it could become more evocative as: ‘Under a grey sky, the chimneys spout out smoke as people huddle together by warm turf fires. Outside the library there are hundreds of ‘In Loving Memories,’ the one before me embraced in a heart. The bell raised on its platform is surrounded by puddles of water today, as rain lashes down on an autumn Donegal day.’

In aromatherapy, the chemical constituents of essential oils travel via the olfactory nerve to the limbic system of the brain, which affects memory and emotion. Perhaps authors can create similar effects through embracing Nature in their writing?

Extract from ‘Watching the Daisies - Life Lessons on the Importance of Slow’

Let me guide you round my garden as it was at the end of July 2012: You would be welcomed by three slender birch trees, standing amidst a sea of smiling cornflowers, corncockles, poppies, wild campion. This wild flower meadow, which cost less than five euro, provides an ongoing haven for bees and butterflies.

To your left is my herb garden, filled with aromatic rosemary, tall fronds of dill and fennel, silver-haired sage, and chives topped with purple pom pom flower heads. Behind these culinary delights lies my Spring bed, filled with speckled lungwort, pink perennial geraniums, purple foxgloves, and several species of aquilegia, also known as columbine or grannies’ bonnet.

A wildlife pond covered in marginal plants, hides behind a wall of rosa pimpinellifolia, with yellow evening primrose, and majestic acanthus or bear’s breeches. This small sea is surrounded by pale candelabra primula, purple astilbe, fiery mimulus and several varieties of iris. Climbing roses and clematis send out new branches, laden with flowers against the walls behind.

A purple elder shades some Crocosmia Lucifer, brought back from my travels in Madeira. They stand to attention, beside some deep purple scabious, which I rescued from a garden centre, in a state of near death. Happily, they have now made a full recovery.

A whitewashed raised bed, made from reclaimed breeze blocks, is filled with three apple trees, surrounded by an abundance of wild strawberries, sown from seed while I worked at Glenveagh. Each and every plant in my garden carries a special memory.

I offered my Donegal Garden Trail visitors a guided tour, and their generous donations wound their way to my favourite Donegal animal charities.

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