An Interview With The Magnificent, Maggi McKenna – Actress, Storyteller, Stand-Up Comic And Writer

Maggi the Storyteller

Maggi McKenna is a friend, a member of Longford Writers group and so many other things. To meet Maggi is to meet a force of nature. I will let Maggi introduce herself and her talents to you. Welcome to Maggi’s world…

  1. Tell me about where you are from and your life/career up until now.

My name is, Maggi McKenna, I am from St Mels Rd in Longford. I am an only child, daughter to Annie and Oliver McKenna R.I.P. My career to date has mainly been in retail sales and management, with five years working as information officer with Longford Citizens’ Information.

2. How did you get into storytelling and acting?

I came to storytelling in an unusual way; I was feeling quite isolated after returning to Longford after a change in jobs. It was then that my cousin, Sally Martin invited me to join Longford Writers Group, I was hesitant as I had never considered anything like this before; however, I had no idea where that first evening would lead to. Soon after joining, our chairperson, Eileen, asked me if I would be interested in reading stories for children in Longford Library. A meeting with, Mary Carleton, Longford County Librarian followed, and this is where Maggi the Storyteller began her journey. I designed a coat to wear while reading the books at various libraries and schools, also festivals and creches. I found such joy and happiness being surrounded by happy smiling children, watching their faces light up as I read to them. It was, and still is the best anti-depressant in the world.

Maggi the Storyteller, who read extracts from my book, ‘Hattie and Jacques Love London’, at the launch of the book 4 years ago. In the middle is, Jason Silva aka Stephen Ribeiro, the illustrator of the book. Photo by Sally Martin
Maggi the Storyteller, at a session in Longford library
Getting ready for a Halloween story-telling session
Playing Mrs Claus at Christmas

I then decided to try something a little braver… I read that Backstage Theatre Group were doing readings for a spring production and that there was a part for a narrator, which I felt I could try. Again, it was not what I expected, as the plays had been changed and I ended up reading for a play set in Dublin, I was shell-shocked to get a phone call the following day to say I had got the part of, Ciara,a loud mouthed Dub (A person from Dublin). I was to tread the boards in the, Backstage Theatre, Longford, in six short weeks… EEEEEK! …Fast forward to opening night and the feelings of extreme panic and pre-curtain nerves… I still didn’t quite believe I was going out on stage WITHOUT A SCRIPT; but with huge thanks to, Mary Killane, my partner in crime on stage, and the excellent director, Pat Joe Mcloughlin, who placed his faith in me, we did it. We also relished the standing ovation, and I knew I had found something that I truly loved.

Getting ready to go on stage
Acting the part

3. What do you enjoy about storytelling and acting?

 What do I enjoy about acting and storytelling? Hmmmm, it would be easier to say what I don’t enjoy, the pre-show nerves….simple as that, everything else I thoroughly enjoy, in fact so much so, that I decided to return to college and study Performing Arts and Theatre Studies in Dublin. I am happy to say, that I graduated with distinction last September; so in three short years I have completed six stage performances, four short films, stand-up comedy in various venues and a summer school in The Gaiety School of Acting… so I guess you could say I enjoy it, lol!

Taking part in a college reenactment at the Dun Laoghaire Festival .
Graduation Day

4. What have your writing achievements been, and where would you like to go with your writing?

My writing achievements include having my work published with, Longford Writers Group, as part of our novella entitled, ‘Let him Lie’, and also as part of our anthology entitled, ‘Home Made’. I also had a story published in the children’s anthology, ‘Quirky Tales’, put together by the Midlands Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Group. I also love to write poetry and have a couple of short plays written. Future plans include publishing a book of short stories and poetry. I also hope to expand on my writing to include my own one woman show… Watch this space!

Reading her story from the, ‘Quirky Tales’, anthology launch. Photo by Annette Corkery

5. You have recently moved… What are your ambitions and plans for the future?

I have recently decided to move to what I can only describe as a fairy tale city; York in the U.K. is unbelievably beautiful and steeped in history, with tiny streets and buildings dating back over hundreds of years, and of course all this is under the watchful eye of the famous and majestic York Minster Cathedral. My move here is to expand my writing and acting career and hopefully entertain the good folk of York and further afield. I will end this with a huge thanks to my cousin, Sally Martin; without her invite to join Longford Writers Group and all its wonderfully supportive members, none of this would have happened. As I always say, “Onwards and Upwards!”

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

For many, spring doesn’t come until the equinox in March, but traditionally spring has been celebrated on the Ist February in Ireland. The first day of spring was known as Imbolc in Gaelic, and also as the feast day of the Irish saint, St. Brigid. Brigid was known as a goddess in pre-Christian times. She was associated with healing, fertility, poetry and learning. When Christianity came to Ireland the day was connected to the Christian, St. Brigid. In particular, she kept her springtime duties of her blessings on the crops and livestock of the people.

An image of Brigid by, Annette Corkery, on the GPO  (General Post Office) in Dublin, Ireland #Herstory

Spring is a time of reawakening, of moving towards light and warmth. On the 2nd February the ancient tradition of Candlemas is celebrated. It is rooted in ancient pagan, Jewish and Christian traditions celebrating light and fire. In the Christian tradition candles were blessed on this day, when the church remembers the presentation of the baby, Jesus, in the temple.

On the 3rd February is the feast day of St. Blaise. On this day people  can receive a blessing of the throats with two crossed candles, in some churches. This tradition dates back to the imprisoned saint being given candles to light his dark prison cell by a woman who was helped by one of his miracles. His reputation spread throughout the entire church in the Middle Ages because he was reputed to have miraculously cured a little boy who nearly died because of a fishbone in his throat.  From the eighth century he has been invoked on behalf of the sick, especially those afflicted with illnesses of the throat. So again we have the association with light and healing.

What has all this got to do with writing you might ask. Well, I love the symbolism of spring and I am very interested in cultural traditions and the stories behind them. In February there are a lot of symbolic and traditional practices. They all hint to a reawakening, to a sense of something being created, new life emerging. In spring we sow and set seeds and bulbs which we hope will bloom later on. Creativity, including writing has to start from a seed of an idea; we water and nurture that seed to see it grow and flower, and so we create something that everyone can appreciate. Put in the work and the toil now and something is sure to blossom in the future.

Of course we also have St. Valentine’s Day on 14th February… a day to celebrate passion and love. There are various stories about this saint. One is that he secretly married couples so husbands wouldn’t have to go to war. Another one says that he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, was imprisoned and while imprisoned he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. On the day of his execution, he left the girl a note signed, “Your Valentine.”

Let us love what we are writing and be passionate about it. Go forward and bring your gift to the world.

Interview With Artist And Writer, Dan Flynn

Dan Flynn is a friend, a member of, Longford Writers Group, and an accomplished writer and artist. Dan, who is originally from Canada, moved to Ireland in 1992.

Dan Flynn – Photo by Sally Martin

Tell me about yourself and how you got into art and writing.

Age is turning me into a bit of a Victor Meldrew which is enhanced by being a technomoron where computers are concerned. I practice live and let live, but am annoyed when people insist their subjective experience become part of my objective reality. I have always scribbled little pictures but about 30 years ago began trying formal pictures in watercolour as well as pen and ink but only for the pleasure of doing it. I played a clarinet the same way when I was in my 20s. Painting is less annoying to the neighbours. Writing was something I never found difficult, but being more focused than painting, self-direction was more difficult. It was only after my partner died in 2015 and I needed to do something to keep from becoming part of the wallpaper, that I joined the Longford Writers Group. It was a good choice.

You did the cover art for Longford Writers Group’s novella, ‘Let Him Lie’, and their anthology, ‘Home Made’, and my book, ‘A Posy of Wild Flowers’, due to come out this year; so can you explain what approach you took to doing these covers?

The first and third of those covers I like to think of as pointillism gone mad! It takes hours but I love the results. “Home Made was easier, a watercolour of a village around a hill with a hotel on it. A community, close, definable and, as you see from the children, safe. In “Let Him Lie”, my idea was that these people possessed a simple religious faith. You can imagine a rosary at the bottom of Patricia’s hand bag. So, Earth and Heaven are joined by the spire of the church, but the coffin, shrouded in a fog of mystery.

How would you describe your artistic styIe?

I try to think of it as abstract, but letting the viewer know “abstracted from what?” Art is communication, it need not be a test of how esoteric the viewer might be. We can all nod and grunt “yes, yes” and hustle to the next picture. Historically, there has always been a question of the reality of unperceived reality. Is a tree there when not perceived? Modern physics says, maybe. So I try to imagine it not fully formed prior to one’s being fully focused on it.

What enjoyment do you get from doing your art and writing?

The pleasure of seeing an idea or character take shape. I did a picture of a friend’s house once. The look on his face when he first saw it was all the payment I needed…..that look was wonderful.

Dan Flynn – Photo by Sally Martin

What ambitions have you for your artwork and your writing?

I suppose ‘recognition’, but I know my work will never put me on a new car lot……maybe a set of tyres would be nice……but that look I mentioned and the wonderful responses I’ve had from reading a couple of my stories to the children at a small nearby school…..at my age, it doesn’t get much better!

Storytelling with Scealta Beo ( Living Stories). Meet the Dynamic Duo – Ann Gerety Smyth and Annette Corkery

Ann Gerety Smyth, and, Annette Corkery, are my cousins, my friends, and have worked on a few projects with me. They run their business in Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre, in Ardagh, County Longford. http://creativeardagh.blogspot.com/ This was originally a school where our grandfather, Patrick Corkery, taught.

I will let them tell you about it…


Ann Gerety Smyth
Annette Corkery

1. Tell us about Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre  and its connection to the art of storytelling.

Since opening in 2011 Creative Ardagh have hosted over 30000 visitors at events as diverse as heritage tours, educational tours and drama with active age groups to the visit of President Higgins in 2014. We regularly have groups of up to 50 tourists from all over the world. We’ve hosted speakers and facilitators from Germany, Bulgaria and New Zealand. We network with schools across the region and with authors, artists and craftspeople from all over the country to provide opportunities for high quality audience participation in the arts. In 2016 we were nominated for a Pride of Place award for reaching out to marginalised groups and offering creative cultural experiences to all ages. Storytelling is a big part of what we do in that we have been sharing the stories of the area to all who visit and we have hosted many other storytellers, writers, poets and musicians. We even shared a very magical story from the most famous of Bards when we performed A Midsummer’s Night Dream in the garden.

2. What initiated you to do your live storytelling as Scealta Beo?

Scéalta Beo means living stories and we have been living the story since we began in 2011. We have been researching the local mythology and history for decades and are members of many groups interested in this and in particular translating and discussing the original, Old Irish versions of our legends. We discovered that there aren’t many storytellers in Ireland anymore when we had the first Scéalta Beo storytelling festival in 2018. We had to bring some from the UK. When they were with us we realised that they are our tribe and that they consider us equals in our knowledge. This reaffirmed what we had already discovered in ourselves while at the Bard Summer School on Clare Island which we felt compelled to attend because the theme that year was Midir and Etain, the legend of Longford. We discovered we were, and had always been, storytellers, and that we had been in training to bring the legends to the people while running Ardagh Heritage and Creativity Centre. We had been telling the history, stories and myths at all of our events within the centre and now it was time to bring them further afield. We bring them to life by dressing in the clothes of the time and bring props and crafts of the time with us so that we can transport the audience to the past.

3, Why do you love storytelling and why is storytelling so important?

We love storytelling because we love the stories and we love to share them. It is so enjoyable to see the wonder and awakening of interest in the myths and legends of Ireland in the eyes of our audience. Stories help us all understand life and the why of it all. They help to encourage empathy and they take us away from the reality we live in to another world. They deal with huge issues in a safe way and are how our ancestors imparted the knowledge needed to survive and thrive. In these uncertain times we need storytelling more than ever.


4. What are your ambitions for Scealta Beo?

We are compelled to bring the stories to schools and festivals around the country. We are now Experts on the Panel for the Heritage in Schools scheme and we had our first festival performance last year at Rooskey Heritage Festival. Who knows maybe we will bring them to the world. 

The Importance Of Creative Writing

I always enjoyed creative writing more than factual writing. I think it was because I was free to use my imagination, and I was never quite certain where the story might take me. There is satisfaction in putting your thoughts on paper; sometimes it can be an emotional outpouring which can be wholly therapeutic. As you write you are forming characters, planning a plot, recalling and reinventing experiences, exploring feelings, putting yourself in somebody else’s mindset. These are some of the many benefits of creative writing.

Creative writing is especially beneficial for children in developing their language skills and self-confidence. It gets them to explore different genres in literature, and discover which genres personally excite them.

Creative writing puts any absurd perspective or secrets at a free stance, there are no restrictions to what you write about. The beauty in this is that when you write you can be whoever you want to be, you can release all the emotions inside you and put them into words that maybe no one else can understand. https://www.theodysseyonline.com/creative-writing-important

Creative writing isn’t something new, as people have always been telling stories. First they were told orally and then people started writing them down. There are a lot of stories in us, why not let them flow and pass them on ?

Interview With Writer And Photographer, Sally Martin

plus her photos from the Quirky Tales Launch. (See https://eileenmoynihan.wordpress.com/?s=book+launch+2 for the original write up on the launch.)

Sally Martin

Sally Martin, is a good friend, secretary of Longford Writers Group, a very creative person, and a talented writer and photographer. Her photographs from the Quirky Tales launch are after the interview.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I am from Co. Longford. I grew up on a farm near Keenagh, along the Royal Canal.  After leaving school I moved to Dublin and worked there for a number of years and that is where I met my husband Dave. We moved back to Longford in the early 80’s and still live here. We have four children and eight grandchildren whose company we enjoy very much. I also worked for many years in the healthcare sector in the Midlands, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I love writing and photography, and I have had some of my work published in a number of anthologies.  I am secretary of Longford Writers Group. Ten of our group collaborated on a Novella called, ”Let Him Lie”, which we launched in December 2018. In December 2019, a number of us launched a collection of short stories and poems called, “Home Made”. As a group we have been very busy. I am also working on my own short story collection.

2. When did you start a)writing and b) doing photography?

Inspiration is all around us in everyday life and in nature. Everywhere I go I see things, places, people that I want to photograph and write about. I started writing when I was very young but never liked anything I wrote, so I just burnt everything. I don’t do that anymore.

Photography and writing are similar as they both tell stories in different ways. I have always loved to read and that inspired me to write; also people watching and overhearing snippets of conversations can give you ideas. Life in general throws us ideas all the time.  Writing lets you escape into another world, your imagination can bring you anywhere. I took up photography as a serious hobby ten years ago when I was given a camera for my 50th birthday by my family. I have done a number of courses and I am still learning. The past couple of years have been busy with family commitments so I haven’t had as much time as I would like, to pursue both genres. 

3. Where do you get ideas or inspiration for both writing and photography?

Going forward now, I hope to improve my skills in both my interests.  We can always learn more and become more proficient in our work.  You never stop learning. 

4.  What do your plans for future projects include? 

As I said, I am working on a short story collection. I would like to write a novel someday, maybe.  I have a short story that I would like to turn into a novel. The story is there, I just have to stretch it out a bit…quite a bit, but it’s possible.  Watch this space, you never know.  At the moment the Writers Group keeps me very busy, so for now, I am looking forward to new challenges.

Motivation and Inspiration To Write

Quote: “Motivation is when you get hold of an idea and carry it through to its conclusion, and inspiration is when an idea gets hold of you and carries you where you are intended to go.” Dr Wayne Dyer

Motivation
inspiration

People who write know they may have to write something for their next writers group meeting, their next blog, their next assignment, or a new book. They maybe motivated to write something because of a deadline, a duty to deliver, fear of failure or other reasons. So they are ready to write but what inspires the writing?

Sometimes it might just be a given title that starts the creative juices flowing, a picture, a book, something they heard, a memory or a random experience.

I asked some fellow writers what inspires them to write.

Rose Byrne: ‘Could be wanting to highlight some issue or just something amusing to entertain.’

Dan Flynn: ‘ If non fiction, the desire to follow the implications of an idea, or to question the truth of an argument and the solidity of its assumptions. Fiction, nothing need be huge. Choose a simple, uncomplicated event and imaging it working out in various directions.’

Some thought they had lost their muse for the moment. Muse is any one of nine goddessess from Greek mythology https://owlcation.com/humanities/Muses-Nine-Goddesses-of-Greek-Mythology who provided inspiration for music and poetry. In today’s world, a muse can be anyone or anything that provides inspiration to create.

Quote: There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter… Stephen King

Sometimes we lose our muse because we are overwhelmed by life, sometimes we need to get involved in some kind of creativity, to go to creative events and mix with creative people to get a glimpse of our muse again. I hope if your muse has left you that one day it will creep back into your life and take you by surprise.