Home Schooling Mother Sent to Prison

Ishthara &Kashmira ReadingLast night, when I should have been in bed, I saw a Facebook update from a friend of mine. The update was about my friend’s friend and a woman I have known about for nearly 20 years, a woman who – on the occasions I spoke with her – inspired me.


Monica O’Connor was very active in the HBA for many years and is a homeschooling mother of her own children and the children she fosters. So I was really taken aback to learn that she’s due to be ‘welcomed’ through the gates of Mountjoy this morning.


There is a petition here that people can sign to register their support for Monica and her husband Eddie.  I can only begin to imagine how she must feel – there isn’t a bad bone in her body, yet she’s about to be criminalised by this state. There’s something wrong with that.


And here, I hesitate, because – and, sure, it’s semantics and maybe I should just get over myself – the introduction to the petition states:

However, the Child and family Agency under the Education (Welfare Act) 2000 deems that parents have to ‘apply’ for their children to be placed on the national register of home educators. We argue that this is unconstitutional and families should not have to ‘apply’ for a ‘right’.


From my reading of the Act, that doesn’t appear to be the case at all. There is no mention of ‘homeschooling’ per se in the Act. Any place  ‘other than a recognised school’  is treated the same – whether that place is the child’s home or a school set up but not (yet) recognised by the State – in terms of children who attend it needing to be registered.  It’s not about ‘applying’ for a ‘right’. It’s about applying to be registered.


I have homeschooled (and would do so again). I have a child who attends a place ‘other than a recognised school’ (one of my girls attends the Rye Institute one day a week during term-time). And I think it’s only right and proper that we need to register the fact that our children are being educated.  There is an onus on the State to ensure that children are being educated, and children either need to be registered in a ‘recognised’ school, or registered as receiving their education somewhere else. What registration does is ensure that someone – whether that’s the principal of a state-recognised school or the principal of a non-state-registered school – takes responsibility for the education of the child. This does not undermine the right of the parent to choose where and how their children should be educated. There is no special mention of home-schooling in the law. There is only mention of places other than recognised schools. Homeschooling is lumped in with every other type of schooling that is not ‘recognised’ as a school. So, homeschooling is treated the same as a school set up by – for example – a particular religious sect, a school set up for children of exceptional intellectual ability, a school for children who have dyscalculia, a school for children who are emotionally disturbed, a school for exceptionally talented ballet-dancers or any other type of school or learning institute someone might like to set up.



Could you imagine the outrage if people set up (say) a special yoga school, but didn’t teach anything other than yoga? Imagine the amount of outrage if people got hold of the story that children were going to school and learning nothing but yoga? Imagine the finger-pointing that would take place if you had graduates of a yoga school who couldn’t read, write, research, add etc. ? People would ask why no one from Tusla investigated the place, people would ask why the children didn’t have to register as being schooled in that particular place. If people didn’t have to register, and didn’t have their teaching tools and methods open to scrutiny, there is a possibility that children would receive no education at all.  You could have a situation where people simply ignored their children’s needs and didn’t teach them anything at all.  At least we have the right to home-educate. Some people – like the Dutch – don’t have that right at all.


From my understanding, Monica and her husband Eddie registered their foster children as home-schooled, but didn’t register their own children as home-schooled. For not registering their own children, they were fined €2,000 thirteen months ago. They have refused to pay the fine. For that, Monica is being imprisoned this morning.  She’s not being jailed because she homeschooled her children, she’s being jailed because she refused to pay the fine.  For the record, I think it’s a terrible thing that anyone be jailed for non-payment of a fine. I find it very upsetting to think of Monica going in to Mountjoy.  At the same time, I don’t think it’s a bad that we have to register our children as home-schooled. I don’t think it undermines our right to educate our children in line with our own beliefs and values. I think I’d rather register than not be allowed to homeschool.


Photo: My children, busy being educated at home


Whatever You Say, Say Nothing When You Talk About You-Know-What

Years ago, when ‘The Troubles’ as we Irish euphemistically called the bombing, shooting, maiming and intimidation that went on a daily basis here, there was a saying that if you thought you knew what was going on up North, it meant you really hadn’t a clue.


At the moment, I feel the same way about what is going on in Gaza. I have tried to educate myself about the situation and it’s historical roots. I have tried to figure out who is ‘right’. So far, this is what I’ve come up with: There is nothing ‘right’ about killing. There really isn’t. There can be no justification for bombing places of civilian refuge – hospitals, places of worship, schools. Two wrongs never make a ‘right’ and an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind (as Mohandas Ghandi is reputed to have said).


I happen to know and love people from both sides of the current conflict. Many years ago, a Palestinian friend saved my sanity. In more recent times, an Israeli friend has saved my life. Literally. I have listened to both these wonderful men talk about the conflict in the Middle East. They are both fabulous people and I am blessed to know them. But the problem is, when I hear them give their sides of the story (I don’t mean the current conflict, but when they have generously tried to educate me in general about the conflict in Israel and Palestine), I can see both points of view. I can see why my Palestinian friend wants his land back. I can see why my Israeli friend wants his land back. I can see why they both feel that they have a right to land. And I can see why neither of them has any right to be anywhere near it.


What I can see – what I do see – is picture after picture after picture of dead, dying, wounded, grieving, terrified men women and children. I see human beings in pain and I want it to stop. I just want the violence the terror and the trauma to stop.


But this isn’t about me, or how I feel, or what I wish I could do. It’s about human beings inflicting untold suffering on each other while the rest of the world wrings its hands in a practiced gesture of helplessness and forgets, completely, how it said ‘Never again’.



Books, Media

On Publishing

A few weeks ago, Alison Wells posted something on Facebook that made me think. When I mentioned it to Alison, she told me that I’d actually mis-read what she’d written. Never mind! What I thought she’d written made me think…. Confused yet? 🙂


Increasingly, I’ve been wondering what one has to do to catch the attention of a half-decent publisher. I was published for  the first time when I was 12. Since then, my work has been published in anthologies (the first when I was 17), magazines, newsletters, newspapers and (in another month or so) an academic journal. I have written for television – magazine programmes, dramas and a soap for teenagers – and I have been commissioned to write plays and musicals.


For the past four years or so, I have been trying to find a publisher for my book because I don’t want to self-publish. While I know there are many good reasons to go that route, there are many reasons why I don’t feel it’s the right way to go with this particular book. It’s a memoir, called Gullible Travels and (ostensibly) it deals with the 10 years I spent in Asia. I do a lot of stupid things in the book and I realised that, in order to explain why, I needed to explain where the seeds of stupidity were sown. I was adamant I was not going to write a tome of misery lit. And I didn’t. I came up with a literary device that tells the back story in a dramatic way, but without being dreary, or disturbing the narrative. The book has been edited, read by beta-readers, read by a proper editor and edited again. And then again. And then once more, to be sure, to be sure. I am very pleased with the manuscript I now have.


I do not have an agent and, if I’m honest, my attempts to attract one were a bit on the half-hearted side. I don’t meant that when I contacted agents I was half-hearted – far from it! Any agent I contacted I did so because they had been personally recommended to me or because I was familiar with their work and how they treat their writers. I only contacted agents with whom I felt my work and I would be a good fit. There are many agents that I’d love to work with, but they don’t represent the memoir genre (I just mis-typed ‘gene’ there – was it really a typo?!), so I’ve left them alone (save for following them on Twitter 🙂 ).  In a way, I’m lucky, because many publishers will accept unsolicited and un-agented submissions in this genre, where they won’t in others. So, really, it’s not the end of the world that I don’t have an agent.


I’ve approached publishers directly. Some have passed without reading a word of the book – which is fair enough. Some have asked me to send them the full manuscript – which I do with cautious excitement. In the interests of full disclosure, I was very excited the first time but after that disappointment (‘Your story is fascinating, but it doesn’t fit our current list. Good luck placing it elsewhere’), I’ve tempered my emotional reaction to a request for a ‘full’. I draw hope from the fact that no one has written back to say ‘You are delusional. You cannot write.’  or any variation on that theme. I draw hope from the fact that many, many good writers were rejected countless times before their books found homes. I am aware that this is the one project I have not shelved (I have written two other books that I couldn’t even find now on the desktop if I went looking for them!) so I feel in my gut that it has merit and I really should stick my shoulder to the wheel and work a bit harder to get it published.


I think part of the difficulty for me – and people like me who have not published a full book of their own work before – is that publishing is a gamble. We are asking publishers to take a gamble on our work. We are asking them to predict the future. We are asking them to know what will sell in the future based on what has sold in the past. That’s a hard thing to do. Last night, I was listening to The Green Room on Newstalk with Orla Barry. She was interviewing writer Joe Lansdale and he nailed it:

‘They get scared because it isn’t familiar,’ he said, when talking about bringing something new and fresh and different to the party.

And, for that, I can’t blame them. But I wonder what one has to do to convince a publisher that you have readers for your book? That you have people who want to read what you have written. For example, at an international conference on trauma about a month ago, I read from my memoir for the first time. I topped and tailed what I was reading with ‘academic stuff’ and then I read various extracts from the book, bridging them to reveal where I was in my history, so as not to confuse my audience.


The reaction was better than I could possibly have hoped for.  I spoke the final word of my 20 minute presentation. And there was silence. Now, 150 years ago, I trained as an actor, so I knew that this was a good thing. After about 3 seconds someone just went ‘Wow’. And then the applause kicked in. I was thrilled. I had given birth and my baby was not ugly.


Later, several people approached me and asked where they could buy copies of the book. Those were squirmy moments for me when I had to admit that, actually, they couldn’t because it wasn’t published. This was met with disbelief.

‘Why ever  not?’ one therapist asked.

‘Are they afraid?’ asked another, bluntly.

I had no answer. I still don’t.

These delegates – therapists, counsellors, doctors, mental health professionals and academics – wanted to read my book for themselves, but some also wanted to offer it as ‘bibliotherapy’ to their clients. They really believed that my book would help their clients and passionately wanted to get their hands on it. I had to disappoint them.

More than one person has said to me that I am just ahead of my time, and because of that, I make people uncomfortable. Now, I don’t think I’m a maverick or a trail-blazer or a thought-leader. I do think, however, that I have written a book that could be very useful to a certain cohort of people, and very entertaining to another.


A few weeks ago, I happened to be talking about the book with a young woman who works in the theatre and is in her late twenties. I was musing about the possibility of turning (part of) Gullible Travels into a play. Her enthusiastic response was:

‘Please do! I’d go and see it!  And I’d love to read the book, as well. Will you keep me up-dated?!’ I was surprised that she’d be interested in the content. I was wrong. It clearly struck a chord with her. Similarly, it has struck a chord with a man who survived Belsen (he was in tears listening to me read and he thought it was fiction). 


So I have people who want to read my book, it has been trialled on real live people who thought it was worth reading/listening to and I am happy to do whatever I can to promote it. I just don’t know what to do to get the attention of a publisher. Maybe I should make a video of me reading from my book and stick it up on You Tube?  Maybe I should say that, if you’re a publisher and you’re reading this, I’m a safe bet. There are more than just my three best friends who want to read Gullible Travels. I already have an international audience waiting to read the book (or listen to it on audiobook!).  Or maybe I should just upload the thing as a PDF here (with a paypal button beside it!) and let whoever wants to read it go right ahead? 🙂


If you have thoughts, comments or advice, please pop them in a note below. Thanks!


Garth Brooks

Honestly, I couldn’t care less if Garth Brooks plays one night or twenty or none. I completely respect that he’s a talented musician, but I don’t like his music, so I wouldn’t be going to see him. Nor do I live anywhere near Croke Park, so the concerts would not impact on my life at all. The most impact I can imagine these (proposed) concerts would have on me would be that, were I in the city centre before or after a gig, I might see more people with ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots than usual. That’s it. That’s the sum total of the impact it would have on me.


Garth Brooks and his (proposed) concerts in Dublin are under huge discussion in the Irish media at the moment because a licence was not granted for all five of the proposed gigs. The tickets themselves were bought and sold with the caveat ‘subject to licence’. The promoter didn’t even apply for the licence until April – two months after the tickets had gone on sale. Dublin City Council deliberated over the granting of the licence and decided that – based, in part,  on the objections of residents of the area (and let’s not forget that Croke Park is slap-bang in the middle of a residential area) – they were only going to grant a licence for three of the five days.


Then Garth Brooks himself weighed in and said he couldn’t choose which of the dates to play “To choose which shows to do and which shows not to do, would be like asking to choose one child over another.” Well, don’t worry your pretty little head about that, Garth – Dublin City Council has made that decision for you. You don’t actually get to decide. The Council has granted a licence for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night gigs. The Monday and Tuesday ones have been axed.


Garth Brooks then told anyone who was interested that it was ‘five gigs or none’. Playing ‘just’ three nights wasn’t acceptable. What a spectacular spitting of the dummy! It’s his ball and he’s taking it home.


As I said earlier, I couldn’t care less if Garth Brooks never sets foot in Ireland again. The man, his music and his musings have absolutely no relevance to my life. I have no skin in this game. What I do have, however, is a concern for the fact that this man seems to be having a problem with his memory! He seems to have no recollection that, initially, he was only going to play two nights in Dublin. Then, due to the fact that the tickets for those nights sold out in something like 0.07 of a second ( I exaggerate, but only slightly), the performer and his team generously offered another night. They kept offering extra nights until they had reached the magic number of five.


So, this is the bit that has me puzzled – if, initially, he was only going to play for two nights but then managed to offer the Irish public five, why is he so upset that Dublin City Council is ‘only’ granting permission for three gigs? I mean, if I agreed to work for someone for two days and then they said they needed me for five, and then they revised that figure and said, actually, they only needed me for three, I’d still see it as a win.


Clearly, I’m not rich or famous enough to understand how being offered work for three nights when you’d initially only planned to work for two is a bad thing. I must be one of those friends in low places I believe he sings about….