Tied to the Wind, a hybrid childhood memoir by Afric McGlinchey

I thought I’d collect a selection of the reviews and interviews I’ve been privileged to receive to date for my recent memoir, Tied to the Wind. I’m posting the full endorsements I received from authors and poets I admire. For reasons of space, only extracts from these endorsements could be included in the book.

ENDORSEMENTS:

Tied to the Wind, is a whirlwind epic of a young Irish girl coming of age – set primarily against a wild and expansive African landscape and the War of Independence in Zimbabwe.

This is a romantic yet brutal world, where alcohol-fuelled oversight can sometimes blur the lines between childhood freedom and unintentional neglect.

The hugely attractive and magical power of Afric McGlinchey’s writing is found in the clarity of her storytelling. The tight weave of this colourful and complex tapestry cuts right to the marrow of the life, love, pain, aspiration and disillusion of a family united in love, yet torn in all directions by culture, career and geographical location.

Afric McGlinchey’s Tied To The Wind is powerful, insightful and fascinating. Through the innocent lens of a child’s point of view, she explores the failures of adults without judgement or recrimination, and learns from her father that failure is but an opportunity to begin again – offering the freedom to set out on a new adventure. 

The narrative ultimately reaches a personal redemption when we meet her and her cousin Freya, both young women, living the life, having fun, penniless and busking in Paris – feet firmly on the ground and tacking into the wind. Absolutely wonderful. – Cónal Creedon

*

Afric McGlinchey is a poet of memory, of migration, of displacement, but also of childhood and of love. Tied to the Wind portrays a life lived between Ireland and Africa depicted in searingly beautiful prose, as sharp and as poignant as black and white photographs. I loved it. – William Wall (author of Smugglers in the Underground Hug Trade, Doire Press)

*

I’ve had a truly lovely experience with Tied to the Wind. It’s a book of intense sensations, and kaleidoscopic atmosphere. I could almost feel its heat, smell its exotic fragrances, hear its gentle sounds. It was beautiful, poignant, and transporting. I finished it last night by the fire, and already I miss it. – Sara Baume (author of Handiwork, Tramp Press)

*

I loved Afric McGlinchey’s lyrical and haunting memoir Tied to the Wind. Simultaneously intimate and epic, McGlinchey’s search for belonging voyages the reader through a sequence of unforgettable landscapes, braiding beauty and challenge into an unforgettable book that lingers long in the reader’s heart. – Grace Wells (author of Fur, Dedalus Press)

*

Afric McGlinchey has written a memoir with prose poetry as her medium; the past returns in waves of memorable, poignant images, where love is challenged, and home is ever in question. Where to be, how to be and how to love are the kinds of questions Tied to the Wind asks; it’s a courageous and moving piece of work. – Paul Perry (author of the Garden, New Island Press)

*

Exquisite – a beautifully-written, lyrical charm.  – Paul McMahon (author of The Pups in the Bog, an Abbey Theatre production)  

*

Afric McGlinchey’s long-form debut steals beguilingly across the spiderweb between poetry, memoir and novel, offering an exquisitely rendered narrative of a young, hurting, growing life. Lush, sensitive, harrowing, gloriously written.  – Mia Gallagher  (author of Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland, New Island Press)  

******  

Here’s a piece I wrote for The Irish Times about the process of writing Tied to the Wind:

Bringing my mother back to life

Afric McGlinchey on writing her memoir Tied to the Wind to pin down her past

Mon, Jan 3, 2022, 06:42Afric McGlincheyAifric McGlinchey: “I had to be the agent of my own story, not merely a witness to other lives.”

Aifric McGlinchey: “I had to be the agent of my own story, not merely a witness to other lives.” 

The compulsion to write a memoir began to overwhelm me, particularly after my mother died. (She had early-onset dementia and I was afraid it might happen to me too.)

If some memories have dissolved, others have retained their significance. I wanted to explore why these, why not others. I haven’t relied on journals and diaries – all of them were lost over the course of our family’s many moves. So these are the memories that came along with me, as part of my psychological baggage. I have included occasional interjections by my father and siblings, to highlight my fallibility as a narrator, and to suggest that their perspectives might have produced an entirely different story.

Of course, I wanted to get my hands on as many memoirs as I could to research ways of entering the narrative, but was concerned that this would have a distorting influence; I might adapt them, and accept words and concepts that would cause my to stray from my own intuitive direction. Also, while others might strive for constraint, my personal mission was to rescue exaggeration, not to write reasonably. Drama has been a key factor in my upbringing, and I’m told I can be quite melodramatic myself.

I was the peace-maker in my volatile family, and a people-pleaser. In writing my auto-fictional memoir, I discovered that I had also become a master of dissociation as a coping mechanism.

As children, my siblings and I had to become accustomed to moving, and with each move, to experience losses and separations. The result of such a peripatetic life is either not to become attached at all, or conversely, to dive in deeply as quickly as possible, to extract maximum emotional value, before you are wrenched away. And the way to people’s hearts, I discovered, was through our family stories, many of them growing taller and taller with each re-telling.

When it came to writing this memoir, I couldn’t be absolutely certain about what was true and what was exaggerated. Which is why the memoir has been cast as auto-fiction. This gave me the freedom to change names (for protection), and to converge memories. I have also altered the chronological sequence for two reasons: because I can’t precisely remember dates, and also for narrative convenience.

But why publish at all?

The public reason is that I was awarded an Arts Council Literature Bursary and felt the need to produce a result. A more private reason is that I also wanted to bring my mother back to life. I was a daddy’s girl and didn’t know my mother well. I wanted to ‘find’ her, and by osmosis, learn something about myself too. Also, I never had closure with her. There were things we both needed to forgive. I wanted to revive her so I could love and honour her more.

And there’s a third reason. When I met the Limerick-born poet Desmond O’Grady in Kinsale, where he was living at the same time as me, he repeatedly offered this advice: ‘live a life. Leave a record.’ And that made an impact on me.

In the end, I had far too much material. I found that by breaking down the stories into micro-memories, and treating them as prose poems, I could apply my editing skills as a poet and keep cutting until each took up no more than a page.

Many of the memories relate to stories my father told us over the years, and to things that happened to my brother, to my mother. But Alan Heathcock, an American writer whose workshop I attended, advised me that had to be the agent of my own story, not merely a witness to other lives. I had to be the actor – find my own acts.

I am conscious that happiness ‘writes white’. But still, when I looked at my narrative more closely, I was shocked: why were the strongest personal experiences based around anger, embarrassment, shame, guilt? Why did my childhood identity seem to be primarily bound up with the concept of fear?

And then I realised something. It was my fears that made me an agent in my own life; that drove me to act.

That revelation led me to focusing my narrative around a single event – the first completely independent act of my life. A parachute jump.

It was to be a defining moment. It would liberate me from my fears. It would change my life.

And it did. During the landing, I fractured four vertebrae, and was lucky to survive. For the first fortnight, the doctors believed I would be paralysed from the waist down. I was incarcerated in hospital for a long time. And during that time, I began to write.

So yes, the jump did change my life. I’ve become a writer as a result of that single mad act. Thank you for helping me to realise that, Alan Heathcock.

The narrative is interspersed with a series of flashes forward to that jump.

So far, the wind has carried me to a certain height, from which I have had a whole new perspective. I trust and hope it will continue to offer a soft landing.
Tied to the Wind by Afric McGlinchey is published by Broken Sleep Booksand is also available as an ebook.

****

Here’s the The Irish Times link: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/bringing-my-mother-back-to-life-1.4765419?fbclid=IwAR0YyllGTotleNc83PG8t5qJOP0qtCVTk6WR1JmGe8t2MymxYjIvsGatzPo

REVIEWS:

In The Dublin Review of Books by Fióna Bolger (November 2021, 126 Shares)

Skydiving 

Fióna Bolger

Tied to the Wind, by Afric McGlinchey, Broken Sleep Books, 328 pp, €17.99, ISBN: 978-1913642907

Migration, trauma, and shifting identities across borders feature in the questions I circle in my head as I read Tied to the Wind. And there is much here to add to that mix. I also note the space between the protagonist, Itosha, and Afric McGlinchey, the author. Perhaps this distancing allows McGlinchey to write about her childhood self more easily. She mentions in her blog the challenge of writing a memoir, and chooses to define the book as auto-fiction, because memory is too tenuous and fragile to pin down as fact.

As Oliver Sacks wrote: “Every act of perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.” With this, I qualify my own creative reading of Tied to the Wind.

This is Afric McGlinchey’s third book. Two poetry collections, The Ghost of the Fisher Cat and The Lucky Star of Hidden Things, and a chapbook, Invisible Insane, were previously published to much critical acclaim, and her collections have both been translated into Italian.

Tied to the Wind is poetic in intent and portrays “a young girl’s attempts to tether herself to a life that keeps coming unfixed, every time her family moves from Ireland to Southern Africa. Interwoven into the narrative are the puzzle pieces of a fateful decision to undertake a skydive, despite her fear of heights.” There is a family at the centre of these stories. A mother, a father, a brother, a sister. The interjections, set apart at the foot of some pages, by both Molly and Ivor (Itosha’s younger siblings) lend the text the air of something which has been, if not agreed upon, at least discussed with the surviving family members.

The book is formed of a collection of fragments, each page containing a short flash piece, or prose poem (depending on your inclination to categorise) or a right-aligned lyric. These short texts are like a series of interconnecting beads which the reader has to string together to follow the journey for herself. And yes, you must string, your hands, your body becoming implicated in this visceral experience.

Tied to the Wind doesn’t pretend to present a cohesive picture of a life,” McGlinchey warns us. I would suggest that Tied to the Wind doesn’t tolerate pretence of any type; as readers, we find ourselves drawn in but not allowed to suspend our faculties. These flash pieces light up aspects of our own lives, of ourselves, and as such we are implicated in the making of the story in a way a solid narrative novel could never achieve.

On receiving a copy, I was struck by its weight, size and texture. It is similar to an old-style school textbook in its size and holding it is a comforting sensation. The feather illustration on the cover is so realistic you almost feel like blowing it away. And the cover fixes some of the motifs we will find in the text – the colour of a clear sky, the element of air, the windblown feather of a bird.

Other key elements:

The sky: Irish, Southern African, clear or cloudy, rippling with heat, or clouds “eating up the sun”;
day: “Time passes more slowly in a field when you are lying in it. Watch the silvery sun being pulled to the horizon as though there was a secret magnet.”
night:
“He takes my hand. Not a word about the incident, just points out all the stars streaming a sash of liquid silver across the sky.”

The sky is a recurring character. Itosha’s relationship to it deepens through her parachute jump, which is a presence throughout the text. The on-the-brink almost breathless skydiving poems appear at intense moments in the otherwise prose narrative. Air, in its wind form, pushes the words of the skydiving interludes to the very right edges, as if the words are almost being blown off the page.

You’re here,
a comet
on the rim
of the sky,
as the earth spins
and hurtles.
You look up
for proof
that your parachute
is still open,
the wind
shouting
inside it.
Before and after
have been
sheared away.
There is only
this.

There are feathers to be found falling through the text: “The first migration …”, where the birds are air-surfing above the children, the seagull, “Skimming down across the sea … lonely bird, just like me, to Itosha’s mother “folding her cleverness away under bright-coloured wings”, her father’s piano hands “flying like birds”, her mother as a carrier pigeon  and she herself “feeling an uprush of birds in my chest”, or a swift, the bird tied to the Ireland/Southern Africa migration route, to name but a few.

With Itosha, we swallow-dive, “leaping into the air, feeling its rush flow over your body, flipping, then plunging into the pool. Everything is different under water, that denser element.” For someone whose greatest achievement is the reddening of a belly flop, I am in that body leaping, flowing, feeling the dive. For the child Itosha, experiences are intense and embodied and the writing captures this in concentrated form. We are given visceral detail and drawn into the body of the text again and again.

Itosha recounts her many guilty secrets, from the snake killed because she disturbed it, to self-blame after shouting to her brother for help, an act that triggers a family schism. As the Rhodesia she has been living in becomes increasingly militarised, she is surrounded by soldiers on R & R from the war and exposed to the physical and psychological consequences of this. Her detailed snapshots of characters such as Jack before and after service and the impact of their PTSD on those around them are powerful testimony to the damage inflicted by war and conflict.

Jack, when he and Itosha first meet, is not what she expects. “He reaches to rescue a dragonfly fizzing dustily on the surface, wades to the edge, lays it on the concrete and watches until it shakes its wings and totters off.” But later, after he’s been to war, where “He didn’t die, though all the rest of his stick did”, she is horrified by his behaviour. “Now he’s driving the car directly at a mother balancing a basket of avocados on her head, baby swaddled behind her in an orange kikoi. She topples into the ditch, becoming a parcel of soaked orange cloth.”

And the avocados become code perhaps for grenades and violence, reappearing later in the garden of her house, now full of soldiers.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind

                        Emily Dickinson 1263

McGlinchey tells the truth, but from the angle of a skydiver, and we are drawn into this world of spinning experience. Along with Itosha, we are trying to make sense of it all. “Black, why are you called Black? He laughs softly. I can ask the same thing. Why are you called Itosha? Maybe because you are an African girl? I giggle.”

We never find out either of the whys, but the questions resonate in our heads as we read on. “Back in my room, I lean on the sill. Maybe my name is a sign. Maybe I am meant to be an African girl.” And years later, she thinks: “What a name. Who gave it to him? Why didn’t we ask if he had another name, a birth name?”

McGlinchey resists the ever-present temptation to editorialise. Itosha experiences the world in the present moment and we are invited to share her perception. She grows in understanding as she ages but no overarching world view is presented. We are invited to look here, and here, and here, and make of it what we will, just as a child must do.

His shadow looming on the wall, whistle of the thin, flexible riding crop. Ivor makes not a sound. So I hold it in too, but grasp with each successive whip-whip-whip, squeezing Ivor’s hand tight. One, two, three, four, five six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve …
That’s enough Seán. Mum’s grey voice in the doorway.
After Dad follows her out of the room, we stay knelt over the bed as we catch our breath and check out the welts on our bums. They begin to trickle red. Ivor turns to me. We won, he says. How do you mean? I ask him. Because, we didn’t cry.

Later in the book, as her parents discuss moving country, Itosha describes their conversation: “Their voices leave spaces, like a threadless hem with a line of small holes.” And again, we are pulled into this family dynamic, not just as observers, but in a more visceral way.

When Dad returns from the hospital, words are coming from his mouth but they take a while to reach me. Intensive, he repeats. Care. We must take care of her. She almost died, as he looks at me. Do you understand? That heart attack nearly killed her.
My heart caught on a hook.

The use of pauses and charged language intensifies the experience of reading these pieces. Each resonates with the reader all the more for not being fully embedded in a conventional narrative. Glossing over these provocations to remember our own childhoods is not possible: there’s nowhere to run on the mainly white pages. This way of writing, as bursts of embodied emotion in poetically charged language, makes clear the flash, momentary nature of memory. At the same time, the language allows the reader to experience each piece in their own body. “My heart caught on a hook.”

We find ourselves reading the story of a young girl growing into womanhood, between continents, with constantly shifting surroundings, unable to find stability, as she highlights at the end. The white space in this book becomes the blue sky in which the words are falling towards earth with an inevitability and we as readers are called to construct a narrative for ourselves with an increasing sense of urgency.

This text could be seen as an enactment of trauma. There’s a sense in which all moments exist and are equally relevant at any time: the constant rattling of the ice cubes in a bucket becomes a sound track to the endless parental partying, “and we’ve missed it again, the tree-wafting, world-sleeping nightness of night”; the association of a chocolate bar with an incident of childhood sexual abuse; the teen’s voice declaring “Adults are not to be trusted. Not even priests. Especially not priests.”; and the breathlessness of the interspersed skydiving experience throughout the book. All of these contribute to the sense of a text so intense and fragile it is cracking in places, allowing space and time to mix and meld.

For some readers, secret spaces might be perceived, hidden between these prose poems and skydiving pieces, “places more intimate even than our own bodies”.

I find myself writing about the fact that some people have never had a tree, or a room or even a bed to themselves. They have lived every minute of their lives in the presence of others. But no matter where anyone is in the world, whatever their circumstance, they can go to this secret place, the most intimate thing we have, more intimate even than our bodies.

Although this is a unique work – auto-fiction in a flash-fiction format with an intense use of language and a fearless approach to content – there are two other books with which the themes of PTSD and the search for a place to belong resonate for me. Robin Robertson’s The Long Takealso uses poetry to portray trauma and PTSD. And Sarah Crossan’s The Weight of Water handles the story of a girl’s migration and search for a sense of belonging through a form of poetry. In McGlinchey’s work, she captures both these themes through a similarly hybrid form.

This book is a skydive from the first slap and a four-year-old and her brother on the run, wondering “how will I know my own home?” through numerous shifts of place, family issues, the impact of war on individuals and communities, through violence, racism, sexism, alcoholism, and finally, to the note passed by a stranger to Itosha: “If you tie yourself to anything, tie yourself to the wind.”

The brave reader dives in to these intense experiences, but this book lands you gently, if shaken, at the end. Your parachute is McGlinchey’s sure-wordedness and craft, her ability to catch the winds of language and fly us with her. Do not open this book lightly, but know that the experience will be well worth it.

1/11/2021

Fióna Bolger has lived in Ireland and India. Her first full collection was published in 2019 by Yoda Press, Delhi, A Compound of Words. Her grimoire, The Geometry of Love Between the Elements, was published by PB Press in 2013. She facilitates workshops on various aspects of poetry for all ages and stages. Her next collection is due out from Salmon Poetry in June 2022, Love in the Original Language. www.fionabolgerpoetry.com


Review in the Irish Examiner by Michael Duggan:

                                                              

Here’s a link to an interview for OUT FROM THE CITY (interview by Leah Mulcahy):

Here’s an interview with the author Nikki Dudley for her blog:

Hello!

Thanks for agreeing to appear in my newsletter / on my blog. 

Q: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your writing?

I live with my partner, an artist and poet, by the sea in a remote part of West Cork.  I’m a book editor, reviewer, workshop facilitator and mentor. So my life is all about the written word. When I’m not working, I’m reading other stuff and writing, walking and swimming. Lockdown has been easy for us, as not much about our life has changed. 

In terms of my writing habits, I don’t have a set rhythm or ritual, although I’m more likely to write in the morning. I hate the idea of being pigeon-holed, although there’s not much chance of that anyway,  as I’ve lived a pretty nomadic life, and don’t really fit into any of the Irish boxes. All I ask of myself is that every new book I write has a freshness to it, a new angle, different from my earlier work. Of course, one’s writing style or ‘voice’ is always going to be identifiable, like handwriting. No getting away from that!

Q: Which book/s have you read at least 3 times?

Well, I’ve read King Lear – my favourite Shakespeare play – at least six times, but as that was for study, maybe it doesn’t count? Sylvia Plath’s Ariel poems, because I wrote my thesis on her work. Recently, I read the Canadian poet, Eva H.D.’s début, Perfect Rotten Mouth several times. Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Oh, and Amy Leach’s Things that Are. But I am such a bibliophile that usually I get to read  a book only once or maybe twice, because there are so many tantalising others queued up, waiting.

Q: Is there a writer you would love to meet? Who and why?

Impossible question! So many writers, so many reasons! Maybe James Joyce – a very complex character, probably fun when he was drinking. Because even though he was supremely selfish, his self-belief and his gigantic vision, intellect and ambition were spectacular – as well as his ability to win patrons, his courage, impulsiveness and sense of adventure,  his ability to absorb languages the way you absorb a tan in the sunshine. Joyce reminds me of my charismatic, alcoholic, musical, self-absorbed, adventurous father, whom I adored.

Q: What’s your least favourite part of the writing process?

Having to promote a new book. Although I do enjoy readings if there’s another poet reading with me. Much less pressure! 

Q: Which fictional character would you invite for a drink and what do you think you’d discuss?

I’d like to invite both Sugar and Agnes from Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. It was agony reading about Agnes’s continuing ingnorance of sexual matters, even periods, and I’d love to have a heart-to-heart with both of them about being women in those Victorian times, sharing with them how it is these days, discussing the dynamics between men and women then and now.

Q: How would you describe your writing style? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you write everyday or whenever the moment strikes you? 

A pantser. I binge write at first. Once the bones of a book are in place though, strategy comes into it.

Q: What advice would you give a new writer?

Seek out a mentor. Make friends with your local librarian, and request books. Read, read, read, not just Irish, but international writers, and outside your own genre too. Only submit poems you’re proud of to journals you admire (if you can’t afford to subscribe to them, you can access them in good libraries, or online). Always wait at least a month after writing a poem before sending it anywhere, because hopefully you’ll continue editing and improving it. Submit regularly to New Irish Writing and enter competitions. 

Q: What inspires you?

The sea. Swimming. The natural world. Dinner party conversations with good friends. Music. Art. Movies. New places. Flying. Love. Reading. 

Q: Which words/phrases do you overuse in your writing?

Honestly not sure. Just did a check on Wordcounter and the repeated words in an extended piece I’ve just written are: wind, light, sea, body. You can see where I’ve been spending lockdown!

Q: Tell us about your latest work. 

It’s called Tied to the Wind, and is an auto-fictional account of my nomadic childhood. My family moved back and forth between Ireland and Southern Africa, so it was difficult to attach, latch on, to have a sense of belonging. I wanted to re-enter that childhood space, to relive those moments. So I wrote in the present tense, with no advantage of enlightened adult hindsight. I wanted to meet the child I was, and get a sense of her and her perceptions. The I, in the story, is called Itosha. That distancing helped.

The constant moving triggers a sense of destabilisation, exacerbated by my father’s alcoholism, racism, war and the conflicts of complicit colonial privilege. Interwoven into the narrative are flash-forward puzzle pieces of a fateful decision to undertake a skydive, despite Itosha’s fear of heights. She wanted to shock everyone, including herself, to be an agent in her own life. And that impulsive act backfires. But she does learn something too.

I intended the narrative to be in the form of prose poems, but some critic is bound to argue that it’s no such thing. Of course, it depends on how you define a prose poem. I read the Penguin Book of the Prose Poem, and the diversity of those poems is exhilarating. I also read Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept – another one I’ve read a few times! My story isn’t as lyrically ‘heightened’ as that. But if I define a prose poem as having a certain compression, an atmosphere,  as having its own entity, who’s to contradict me?

Q: Where can we find out more about you and/or your book?

Here’s a link my book on the Broken Sleep Books website, where you can order the book:

https://www.brokensleepbooks.com/product-page/afric-mcglinchey-tied-to-the-wind

And here’s a link to my website: www.africmcglinchey.com

Twitter handle: @itosha

Thank you for your questions, Nikki. It’s been fun.

Here’s a link to Nikki Dudley’s website: https://www.nikkidudleywriter.com/blog/speaking-to-afric-mcglinchey-about-her-new-collection

*****

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.