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Phil Tysoe

The Painting - 48 hours to turn back time

Episode 11 – Sean: Lisnagroob, 1935

The church sat atop a sea of freshly fallen snow, looming out of the dusk as Sean approached. The previous night’s storm had blanketed the graveyard and had covered the winding path up to the front door. Sean’s footprints followed him in a straight line; the most direct route to God was across the dead.

He stamped his feet clean of powder once he was inside and paused to compose himself. It was as cold in the church as outside but at least he was out of the wind. Flickering candles picked out the altar, rows of silent pews, a font, but gave up little heat. He hadn’t expected to feel the warmth of the Lord’s love but its absence disappointed him nonetheless. Stepping into the confessional he awkwardly made the sign of the cross as he sat down.

‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. My last confession was…’ He faltered. He couldn’t recall how long it had been since he’d confessed. It was a habit he’d slipped out of after he’d married Aoife and especially after Mary had been born. She’d been a difficult one, arriving early and struggling through her first few months, beset by illness. They’d almost lost her a couple of years ago in the winter of ’33. She was gripped with fever and he, Aoife, Dr O’Halloran and Margaret, his new health visitor, had sat with her in shifts, wrapping her in cool towels. Father Flynn had come down from the church and sat with them, leading the prayers. Twice she’d stopped breathing. Both times Margaret had revived her, forcing breath back into her lungs even as Flynn began his final administering.

‘It’s alright Sean. Take your time. You’ve been through a lot.’ The priest spoke in a reassuring but firm, low tone.

‘My last confession was three years ago, Father. Before the wedding. Before the wedding and now, here we are, after the funeral. Perhaps if I’d come more often? Been more diligent?’

‘God forgives. He sees the repentant man and he forgives. He didn’t take Aoife from us because your faith was found wanting Sean.’ Flynn sighed. He had never had cause to question his own resolute belief and he sometimes wondered if some understanding of doubt would better equip him to bring the waverers in his congregation back into the fold.

‘I know Father. That’s why I must confess.’ There was a long pause as both men sat in silence. One searching for the right words, the other giving him the time to find them. Sean lowered his voice to barely a whisper. ‘I knew she was messing around. I saw the way he looked at her. Joseph Ryan. Up from Cork originally he was. Always boasting about how he’d be leaving for America one day. It was hard for her, you know? I was at the school all day and she never really took to motherhood. When we nearly lost Mary something changed in her, it was like she was scared of getting too close to her again. When I found out about the baby… Found out it was his…’ Sean broke off, shaking his head. A sudden draught made the candles in the church leap and lean, some of them blew out and the confessional pitched further into darkness.

‘What did you do child?’ asked Flynn.

‘I took her to that place in Ennis,’ he answered softly. ‘The parlour of Parnell Street, that’s what they call it. No questions asked. Pay your money and your wife’s mistake goes away and you never speak of it again. Except something went wrong. Was that your God, Father ? Was that his punishment for her for adultery? Or for both of us for killing the baby? Is that why he took her as well?’

They both sat silently for a long time before Flynn offered up a prayer and talked of penance. He remained in his seat long after Sean had left. Against all that he’d been taught, against all that he knew, this was the worst sin he’d borne witness to. It was an affront to God. And yet, sitting there in the dark, he felt the first pinch of something new. Doubt.

Writing news

World book day: what’s your favourite?

If there’s something that unites all of us here at Just Write (other than writing, obviously) then it’s a love of books. So, as it’s World Book Day, we thought we’d share a few of our favourites.

I should stress that this really is just a few our favourites: there were enough suggestions to fill several posts!

Lesley currently recommends “The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton. She loved it and found it utterly gripping in its vivid portrait of life in The Netherlands in the 17th century. However, Lesley was at pains to point out that pinning down her favourite book was a near impossible task and it will almost certainly have changed by next month.

Linda is a big fan of David Nicholls for his capacity to write beautifully about relationships and included both “One Day” and “Us” amongst her choices. She also picked out Elizabeth Noble’s “Things I Want My Daughters To Know”: a dying mother leaving letters for her daughters, written from the heart with great, believable characters.

Emma’s favourite book at the moment is “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion, just because it’s the funniest thing she’s ever read…

…whereas Nicki’s go-to funny book is Kingsley Amis’s “Lucky Jim”. However, her all time favourites amongst a list that spanned Susan Cooper, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, and Simon Hawke, are “The Moonstone” and “The Woman In White” by Wilkie Collins. Great villains and unexpected twists.

Phil (who doesn’t usually write himself in the third person) is a big, big fan of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey. It’s obviously a fine film as well but favourite movies is a whole different post. The last book he read was “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept” by Elizabeth Smart. Published in 1945, it’s a sublime piece of prose poetry which uses extraordinary language and imagery to conjure a hugely evocative expression of falling in love.

Angela also struggled to pick out a single book. However, as sagas with plenty of romance go, she couldn’t top “Gone With The Wind”Margaret Mitchell’s tour de force. Scarlett O’Hara is the ultimate flawed heroine and Rhett Butler is the irresistably attractive villain. Mitchell paints the vast panorama of the American Civil War with a broad brush, but still manages to define the impact it had on the diverse lives of her characters. Angela also had special mention for “Wuthering Heights” and Bronte’s masterly uses of the forces of nature to illustrate her themes.

Chris flew the flag for Canada with two Margaret Atwood books: “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Cat’s Eye”. The former offers a glimpse of dystopia that feels easier and easier to imagine happening as society automates and individuals lose control. She also picked out Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History”, with a slight sense of awe that it was her first book, as her favourite novel. The horror of the story and the psychological games involved stay with the reader for a long time after the final page turns.

One of Carol’s favourite recent reads is “Elizabeth Is Missing” by Emma Healey.  It is a beautifully written, deeply touching debut novel about an old lady with dementia trying to make sense of the world. She also loved “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters – completely unputdownable. But her all time favourite book is “Tess of the D’Urbevilles” by Thomas Hardy which she first read when she was sixteen. She cried for a week afterwards.

And finally Liz picked out a really broad range of her favourites, including a number of classics from Dickens, Twain and Joyce. She loves “What Katy Did” by Susan Collidge because Katy was a tomboy, as was she! Conan Doyle’s plotting is wonderfully clever in “A Study In Scarlet”, Wodehouse makes her laugh out loud in “The Code Of The Woosters”, and Ian McEwan’s tangled web in “Atonement” is heartbreaking. And then there was De Maurier’s “Rebecca” and Sebastian Faulks’ “Birdsong” and…

…and we really, really love books and could go on for hours. Not just on World Book Day.

Hope you find something here that inspires you. We’d love to be inspired by what you’ve read recently. What are your favourites?

Short story - Romance


I listened to the dial tone until it flat-lined into a single note. Please hang up and try again. The receiver was heavy in my hand. Please hang up and try again. I pressed the red button to reset the phone, vaguely remembering the days when hanging up was more literal. The world was more physical then. We were more physical then.

Perhaps I should have seen it at the time but I always thought I was content in the moment. Now I think I was slow. What was it you used to say? The appearance of things depends on how quickly you’re moving: that was it. That was typical of you. Making a joke about relativity when I was telling you how much I loved you. Still love you. You were always moving faster than me. I guess love must have looked different to you.

I knew what had prompted it. The reason I was holding the phone. The urge to make contact. On the radio this morning they’d babbled excitedly about gravitational waves, about detecting the ripples from broken stars across the furthest reaches of space. We can even hear it. God’s pulse. The universe’s heartbeat. But I needed to hear you, laughing at my ignorant wonder and explaining it all; rational, precise, sure. God’s pulse? I could almost see you shaking your head, that mocking half smile. Signals converted to sound waves and frequencies pitched for human ears. You might as well let a child press random notes on a synthesiser. People will still claim they hear God. That’s what you would say, that or something like it. You were never cold though. Just different. I knew you’d hear the beauty in the sound of dying, ancient black holes, even if it was us that had given them artificial voice. You marvelled at the ineffable but saw no guiding hand, no designer. Love had been the great unknown for you once. Something you felt but could not explain. The only thing I could ever express better than you.

There was something else I’d heard listening to that gravitational surge, something magical amid the traffic news and weather and stories of strikes and crime and footballers and missiles and award shows. I also heard hope. Or more accurately I remembered hope. I remembered us. To me it was like a distress beacon from the past; my distant collapsing heart, folding in on itself all that time ago, still yearning, still beating, only for its absent twin.

I dialled the number again, each digit echoing down the line and back across the years. You pick up.