This month, in celebration of Brigid and the new holiday in her honour, I’m going to ask you to think of a woman who was important in your life and write about her. St Brigid comes to us as an amalgam of story and myth. Suitably, since we’re thinking about writing, one of her titles was as patron of poetry and in her honour the chief poet carried a branch of tinkling bells.

There are various ways into writing about this special person. You might think of a moment that in some way epitomises what she meant to you. Think of Seamus Heaney’s beautiful poem, Sonnet 3 of Clearances. The sonnet sequence was written in memory of his mother and was voted Ireland’s favourite poem in 2015. Here Heaney thinks of a time when, “all the others were away at mass” and he was “all hers” as they peeled potatoes together at the sink.

In a house full of children, having your mother to yourself was rare and special and in the poem their intimacy with the “fluent dipping knives” becomes as sacramental as the public communion the rest of the family are involved in and it is a moment then remembered by him as she is dying.

Poet, creative writing teacher and memoir mentor, Maureen Boyle. \ Lindsay Allen

Another way to do this might be to document a life. The poet Paula Meehan’s poem, The Pattern, tells in verse vignettes of a lifetime of tension and battle between a mother and daughter from the hindsight of adulthood, which allows her to think of the sacrifices made to allow her to go on a journey far beyond the orbit of the mother’s life, circumscribed as it was by poverty. Meehan uses the metaphor of knitting and following a pattern to speak of a mother’s influence as she tells her daughter, “one of these days I must teach you to follow a pattern” and the poem itself becomes the form of patterning chosen by the daughter.

Something you might think of as you attempt to write about this significant person is how you can best give us a sense of what she was like as a person. As we noted in our first exercise last month, detail is what will make the writing sing and one way to do this is to show us the person’s character through the detail of their life and actions.

Scent of a woman

A brilliant example of this that I sometimes use is from the Irish writer Maura Laverty’s book Never No More. This was the first part of her life told as fiction. Laverty had a fascinating life. She was from Brigid’s country, Co Kildare, and was educated by the Brigidine nuns in Carlow. She went to Spain as an au pair in 1924 and fell in love there, but on returning to Ireland to make arrangements for the wedding, she met the journalist James Laverty and married him instead.

She wrote a cookery book, Full and Plenty, which itself is full of story and memoir. Chapter IV on soups, for example, begins with an account of the relationship between teacher Brigid and a runaway Tom, who breaks into her house on, appropriately, St Brigid’s Day. She takes pity on him and feeds him a delicious mutton broth, at the same time extracting the story of how he had run away from a reform school in Dublin. She asks him to return and when he finishes his time there, he returns to the village and they marry. Proving, she says, that “though the smell of French scent may attract a man the smell of good, honest broth will anchor him forever”.

In Never No More, Laverty tells us of her main character sent to stay with her grandmother as a child. The grandmother is a devout and scrupulous woman who keeps a beautiful if spartan house, using the natural things of the world to make it beautiful – making her own pot pourri, her own jams and butter. But Laverty never uses words like “devout” or “scrupulous”. Instead, she describes how she has her altar cloths ready in a trunk for when she passes; her rituals of prayer every night before sleep; the lovely herbs and flowers picked to make pot pourri. So she shows us everything we need to know to get a vivid image of this woman.

Unleash your memories

Think of how you might describe someone. What aspects of the person would best demonstrate who they are and why they have been important to you? Think of the material things of their life – perhaps their house, their room, their dress sense, their garden. Think of significant memories that you associate with them. If you’re shy of writing directly, follow Maura Laverty’s example of turning the memoir into fiction and making yourself a character in the story. CL

If any of our readers would like to share writing inspired by this exercise, for potential publication, please email