This has been a Christmas to celebrate. Last week my internet and phone were down most of the week (no that's not a celebration though I did get a lot of writing done on next novel) but when I managed to get on again I was thrilled to find among my 43 emails (mostly rubbish) there was one gem of an email from Fireship Press offering me a publishing contract for Anahareo, A Wilderness Spirit. Thrilled to bits, is an understatement. As you can gather from some of my previous posts this has been a long road.
It all started at Christmas..... about 5 years ago, or was it 6? Watching marathon TV in Cornwall at my mother in laws (as you do) and in between the cowboy films there was Richard Attenborough's film Grey Owl. 'Ah that's up your alley,' says the husband. And low and behold it was. We ended up talking about it all during an evening walk. 'Fascinating character I said. 'Anahareo's the one for you,' says my husband. 'You need to write about her.'
Little did her realize what those words started.... Hours and hours and hours and hours of research, travelling to Canada twice and so much more. And now finally I have something to show for it!
When I first was offered my publishing contract my husband asked me if I was going use a pseudonym. “No,” I said. “I’ll use my own name. I’m happy to have it attached to my novel.” Then he asked me if I meant my married name or my maiden name. “Oh, Kristin Gleeson,” I said. “It works well and it’s easier to spell.” All the years growing up struggling to get both names spelled right went into that statement.
With a name like Kristin Brownsey, when people asked me what I was called when filling in forms or any kind of official capacity, I automatically launched into spelling it and watched them with great amusement as they continued to type/write “Christine”and then hesitate with the second name.
“Brown with an S E Y added on the end,” I’d say in a helpful tone. The results would be more creative. “Blownski,” “Brownski” and “Bownsky” were the most common. My first name, if it didn’t meet with the more usual “Christine”result was put into Kirstie, Kirsten or even Kisten. At one point I remember receiving three copies of a wholesale book catalogue on a regular basis with three different spellings of my first and last name.
In most cases it really doesn’t matter in the long run, except if you run into job’s worth officials. “That’s not you,” I’ve been told. “No really,” I say. “That’s me, they just spelled my name wrong.” “No, I’m sorry, but the name has to match exactly.” Sigh.
I liked my name growing up (well for the most part), though no one had heard of it, that is until Kristin shot J.R. in the TV programme Dallas in 1981. My mother named me after the character, Kristin Lavrensdotter, in Sigrid Undsett’s nobel prize trilogy published in the 1920s. Determined to have the name “Kristin” she even phoned up the Norwegian embassy to see what the boy’s equivalent would be (or so she said). The surprised embassy official made a brief check and then told her, “Kristen.” Now whether this is
true or not, I don’t know, but it made me determined to retain the “i” in my
When I came to Ireland I realized my issues were nothing compared to someone who spelled their name as gaelge (in Irish), especially women. The women could choose to retain their maiden name and put “ní” with it, as in my friend, “ní Laoghaire” (daughter of Leary) or they could go with the married form, and put “uí”with it, as it would be in my case, “Kristin Uí Ghliosáin.” But spelling your name to someone not familiar with these many Irish permutations can be a nightmare, as any Irish woman spending some time in America, the U.K., or anywhere else for that matter, can testify. Passport and birth certificates sometimes leave no choice, for good or ill.
Yesterday a friend emailed me the link to the amazon page in the U.K. that is selling my book. Yeah! I thought. Another milestone. Then I saw the
spelling. Ha! They spelled it wrong. Kristen. What! Sod’s law. I should have expected it, but sometimes, after a spell of no problems you forget.
And now, with the name almost common, I really have relaxed vigilance. I contacted the publisher and she assured me that it would be set right, eventually.
In a calm of trying to make lemons out of lemonade, I thought perhaps that it might set me highest on the google search machine when googling my name. At the moment a woman named Kristin Gleeson from New Jersey who was on some crash diet programme to lose massive amounts of weight is rated in the top google search. When, out of curiosity, I went into it to see what she looks like I found that I had to sign up to read further. Years ago when I googled my name there was a mime artist? from New Jersey who had my name. Could this be her I speculated? Does a career in mime (miming?) carry hazards of obesity? So maybe I am glad for that “e.”
I wouldn’t want to be confused with an overweight mime artist from New
On a connected matter, many of you know that I’ve written a popular biography of a Canadian Indian woman, Anahareo (see her page on website). I’ve been trying to get the biography published and have run into various issues. One publisher sent it out to reader who, clearly at odds with Grey Owl, said “the most interesting aspect of Anahareo is that she was so sexy.” Forget that she was a prospector, trapper, dog musher, and early advocate of wilderness and wild animal preservation. No she is sexy. An academic publisher encouraged me to submit the manuscript for consideration in their special popular series called “Voices.” Unfortunately
after revising it thoroughly to simplify it and include many direct quotes, they turned it down because Anahareo wasn’t ordinary enough. They wanted ordinary people.
In some ways this is true, Anahareo was an extraordinary woman who enjoyed a few years of celebrity. But the essence of her voice, especially
after that fame disappeared is representative of many of the struggles First
Nations women in Canada (and the U.S.) faced in the twentieth century and, in some ways still face today.
Now I don’t imagine I will be enjoying the kind of celebrity Anahareo did in the 1930s, and I’m sure my name will continue to be spelled in all variety of manners, but my voice has been heard in many ways that hers never was. What does an “i” matter in that light.
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Macroom, Co. Cork
Since the recession and my temporary contract in the county library system ended back in 2009 I’ve had the pleasure of teaching painting to some people in my local town, Macroom. Ironically, I was asked to take over the class at the library counter when a woman I knew was checking out a book (the Englishman who’d taught had become too elderly). The timing couldn’t have been better.
Though a little anxious (did I know enough to be able to teach them anything?) I attended the first class after taking every book on painting out of Macroom library and the village library. Research, research, research. What can I say? It’s the historian in me and I can’t escape it. Though I probably didn’t learn an awful lot from going through these books, the act gave me the feeling that I was creating some expertise. In the end I needn’t have worried. They were so friendly, so grateful for someone to just lean over their shoulder and give them a few words of advice or encouragement, it wasn’t long before I relaxed.
It was at the tea break (of course there’s one of those) that I realized that this experience would contain more than art. As I listened to these people talk and discuss various things about what was going on in Macroom I realized how much they knew of the history of the town, how much a part of the town they were, some from birth. Some of the laughed and reminisced about how much things had changed I realized the huge changes they had witnessed locally, changes that represented those Ireland had experienced. Macroom cloaks for example (18th c. origin) were worn up until the 1970s by some women, especially to mass. It was something you could wear to mass everyday and no one would be any the wiser if you had your old pinny on underneath. The choir I’m in wear replicas sometimes when performing.
Macroom cloak replica
Another person in the art group remembered leading the family cow from their house, down the road in town to graze in one of the nearby fields. There’s still a mart twice a week in the town where cattle, sheep and miscellaneous animals are auctioned off (farming is king in this country). And of course nick names. With Marys and Seans in abundance there had to be ways to distinguish one from another. One woman in the art group, Sheila, grew up just near the bridge going into the town and, to distinguish her from all the other “Sheilas” was called “Sheila the Bridge.”
I just itched to record all of this information, conscious that so much of this social history would be lost. While trying to beat down the compulsive historian in my head, the writer rose up and started musing on all the wonderful stories each reminiscence generated. You can never tell what will provoke a “novel” thought. A headline, a TV bit, an overheard exchange in a café. You never know. For my friend Frances Kay, her highly acclaimed novel, Micka, was inspired by her drama work with troubled youth in Newcastle. The novel’s power comes the voice of the two main characters, two ten-year old lads, whose awful family backgrounds contribute to the terrible choices they make.
See Frances Kay’s blog, www.FrancesKaywriter.wordpress.com. Her book, Micka, is available from Amazon.