WHEN a woman suffers serious injuries after falling downstairs, the question arises as to whether it was an accident caused by her long hair, or otherwise.
That’s the premise of Kilroche, this year’s second Summer Soap, a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts.
Written by Assumpta Curran, it starts on Monday for two weeks, in print and online at EchoLive.ie.
Summer Soap is the result of a collaboration between The Echo and the MA in creative writing programme at UCC.
Set in the fictional village of Kilroche, the serialised soap was sparked by a writing exercise that Assumpta was given, whereby a visual of a cast iron spiral staircase served as a prompt.
It led to Assumpta’s tale that takes place in a typical Irish village, with a cast of characters that includes a priest, a publican, a guard, a doctor, a shopkeeper, and blends in local gossip and the curtain-twitchers.
Tralee native Assumpta, who moved to Cork to study Irish and music at UCC in 1984, was encouraged to do the Masters in creative writing by her sister, as she had always been writing in one way or another.
Assumpta, 54, recalls being at school in the 1980s when pupils didn’t have the choices of today’s school-leavers.
“I suppose, back in the day, it was teaching or nursing. We were limited. Because I was deemed to be quite musical, it was suggested I study music at UCC.”
The piano is Assumpta’s main instrument.
“We also had to do traditional music and take up traditional instruments. I learned to play the bodhrán and the tin whistle.”
The late Micheál Ó Suilleabháin was one of Assumpta’s lecturers. “He was my favourite lecturer; great fun and a fantastic teacher.”
After college, she spent a few years teaching. Her first post was at Spike Island where she taught prisoners who used to be incarcerated there.
“I didn’t feel ‘incarcerated’. I saw it as a job, a challenge, and I actually loved it. But then my mother got sick with cancer. There was no-one in Tralee to look after her as we had all moved away.
“I took a career break to go home and look after her in 1997. She recovered fine. I ended up subbing for years.”
Assumpta, who is married to a Cork man and has two grown-up daughters, taught in lots of Cork schools, including St Aloysius, the North Mon and Christ King.
“I loved it, but my passion is writing music as opposed to teaching it. I have written a lot of songs. I had a song writing partner, Karl Fradgley. We used to write songs for what was called the National Song Contest. We were shortlisted for the Eurovision one year. In the end, our song didn’t qualify and we gave up at that stage because we had entered songs for four or five years.”
That shortlisted song, entitled Whatever You Decide, was subsequently used as the theme music for a movie that was screened at the Cork Lesbian and Gay Film Festival over 15 years ago.
“That’s as far as our song-writing career went. I continued to write songs. During lockdown, that crossed over into writing prose. I suppose when you’re writing a song, you are writing a story.”
Assumpta successfully applied for a place on a writing course given by Cork-based author, Denyse Woods, as part of the libraries service - a 12-week course conducted over Zoom.
“Then after that, there was another course advertised, to be given by poet, Matthew Geden, writer-in-residence at Cork County Council.”
While Assumpta felt it would be “greedy” to apply for a second course, she went ahead and was accepted. (Matthew Geden teaches poetry on the Masters in creative writing at UCC).
“I love stories,” says Assumpta. “I love the Irishness associated with stories. Growing up, I loved the writing of John B Keane and Maeve Binchy.... My father was a great storyteller and I grew up in a very musical household.”
This interest in the arts saw Assumpta and two of her sisters touring Kerry during the summer months, singing, with their father and brother doing the sound engineering. “When I look back on it, it was mortifying. But we loved it.”
When it comes to literary genres, Assumpta loves crime writing. “I watch a lot of it and I read a lot of it. But I suddenly found I hadn’t broadened my scope and felt the need to do that.”
The Masters in creative writing has surpassed Assumpta’s expectations. “I couldn’t say enough about it. Eibhear Walsh as a writer, mentor and person is just amazing. Writer Danny Denton, another lecturer on the course, is fantastic. We also have visiting guest lecturers such as Jan Carson who gave us a masterclass.”
Asked if she’d like to be a full-time writer, Assumpta says: “At my age, it’s probably pure indulgence. I’m only sorry I didn’t do the Masters years ago.”
Outside of the Masters degree, which Assumpta is doing over two years, she is still involved in the Cork County Council writing group. They produced an anthology of the members’ writing, entitled Swerve Magazine, launched at the recent West Cork Literary Festival.
As for her soap and the reason why Hannah fell downstairs, Assumpta says: “It’s open to interpretation at the end. But if the reader reads it in the way I picture it, there is a conclusion as to what happened.”