Writing through life’s joy and pain

Though her heart has been broken, Margaret Jennings finds author Alice Taylor, aged 76, still has a passion and openness towards life

SHE was 50 and on the cusp of the menopause when fame came knocking on her door. But Cork writer Alice Taylor, now 76, says she had so much going on, “I hadn’t time to look around me.”

She heeded the words of her mother who had advised ‘The less you take notice of the change of life, the better’.

“And I did what I always do, when I have something on the horizon — I bought a book on the menopause, to get informed, to read about somebody who had walked in those shoes.”

Back then she had almost reared her five children but the youngest, her only daughter, Lena, who she had at 42, was nine. She had written To School Through The Fields, her bestselling memoir of her rural childhood which made her a Late Late Show star and a household name.

When I mention the theory that women are supposed to get more creative post-menopause, the pitch of her voice rises excitedly at this new nugget of information and she immediately makes sense of it, suggesting it would be nature’s way of redirecting female energy.

She herself has no shortage of that creative energy. Fifteen published books later — and another in the making — she says writing is like eating for her, a life force.

One of her more recent works has been And Time Stood Still, about bereavement. Again, when her beloved husband Gabriel Murphy died unexpectedly of a brain haemorrhage nine years ago, she turned to books to cope, because “the ground beneath my feet split open and I had to crawl out of it — I couldn’t stay there.”

Since she could not find any Irish books at the time on the subject, she afterwards wrote one — partly based on her own personal journal she keeps — and now gets huge satisfaction when people tell her that something in the writing touches or consoles them in the midst of their loss.

But before that it took her four years to come back to any kind of normality after the sudden loss of her soulmate, who one Thursday in November in the “bleak and cold” took in the post as normal, collapsed on the floor in a coma and died two days later.

Married at 23, she says she was “clueless” when she moved to Innishannon village to help run the post office and grocery with Gabriel. But over the ensuing 44 years she credits his warm openness and generosity of spirit in allowing her total freedom to evolve into the person she became.

Apart from the odd ache and pain it sounds like Alice continues to blaze through life with an eternal optimism. It seems fitting as a grandmother and writer she was chosen to help seven- year-old Leah O’Brien in Kilbarrack, Dublin, write a children’s book about her granddad Peter in The Family Project, which featured on RTE One last Monday night.

She relished the new experience of entering an inner city home and meeting a family from a totally different background to her own country roots.

As far as how we should age healthily Alice ticks all the boxes. She is deeply embedded and actively involved in her local community; her children, apart from one, all live nearby or in the country; she is firmly grounded in her religious beliefs, though open to others’ perspectives; she has a passion and openness towards life and though she loves company also enjoys her own solitary pursuits including gardening, painting, and meditation.

And all this continues, despite the “earthquake” that rocked her life almost a decade ago: “When we closed the coffin on Gabriel, I thought will I ever get myself right again — my life is gone in there”.

But she admits she does “whatever helps” to keep going. She believes that “our creativity is our divinity” and just like when that other major change occurred back in her early fifties, she keeps writing, writing, writing.

nThe Family Project continues on RTE One, Monday nights at 8pm for another four weeks.


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