Sheila’s Brush is an idiom used in Newfoundland and it refers to the last big storm of the winter season, a storm that occurs around St. Patrick’s Day. The term comes from an Irish legend which says that Sheila was the saint’s wife (or sister or mother) and that the snow is a result of her sweeping away the old season.
On this mid-March day in this part of British Columbia when buttercups sweep meadows and spring-green tendrils of willows sweep the ground, it’s hard to imagine such a storm. However, I do remember it from life in Newfoundland. I even referred to it in the following excerpt from my novel, Of Sea and Seed:
“Finally, March showed up, in like a lion. Mother Nature gradually smiled, warming things up a bit, but she frowned again around St. Patrick’s Day, unleashing another storm, the annual Sheila’s Brush. It was the end of the month before the weather settled into lamb.”
According to The Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador, Sheila’s Brush usually follows a spell of fairly good weather. If the storm happens after St. Patrick’s Day, a fine-weather spring is on its way. If it happens before St. Patrick’s Day? The name of the storm becomes “Patrick and Sheila” and a bad-weather spring will ensue.
The legend of Sheila’s Brush is not to be ‘brushed’ aside. To this day, there are Newfoundlanders who firmly believe in this and fishers who won’t venture out until the storm has occurred.
I am certain there are many who, as the first day of spring approaches, hope that Sheila will just put away her broom!
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With Irish scribes advising, sure the writers all take wing…
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, in tribute to my Irish ancestry, I offer the following tidbits of advice for writers from well-known Irish authors:
Frank McCourt: author of Angela’s Ashes; ‘Tis; Teacher Man
Maeve Binchy: author of Tara Road; The Glass Lake; Light a Penny Candle; Circle of Friends; Nights of Rain and Stars
- “You’re much more believable if you talk in your own voice… I don’t say I was proceeding down a thoroughfare, I say I walked down the road. I don’t say I passed a hallowed institute of learning, I say I passed a school.”
(In Memory Of Maeve Binchy: Her Writing Secrets by Jonathan Gunson)
Colm Tóibín: author of Brooklyn; The Master; The Testament of Mary; The Blackwater Lightship; The Empty Family
- “Finish everything you start. Often, you don’t know where you’re going for a while; then halfway through, something comes and you know. If you abandon things, you never find that out.”
(Colm Tóibín, Novelist – Portrait of the Artist by Laura Garnett, The Guardian, Feb, 2013)
Tana French: author of In the Woods; Broken Harbor; Faithful Place; The Likeness
- ” It’s OK to screw up. For me, this was the big revelation when I was writing my first book, In the Woods: I could get it wrong as many times as I needed to. I was coming from theatre, where you need to get it right every night, because this audience will probably never see the show again; it took me a while to realise that, until the book goes into print, it’s still rehearsal, where you can try whatever you need to try. If you rewrite a paragraph fifty times and forty-nine of them are terrible, that’s fine; you only need to get it right once.”
5 Writing Tips from Tana French, Publishers Weekly, 2012
Frank Delaney: author of Ireland (A Novel); Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show; Tipperary; The Matchmaker of Kenmare
- “Give similar rhythms to the opening and closing paragraphs of your entire piece. It’ll deliver an unconscious sense of completeness.”
( Frank Delaney’s Writing Tips, #283)
Emma Donoghue: author of Room; Frog Music; The Sealed Letter; Landing; Life Mask
- “Write a lot, write with passion. Don’t give up the day job till you have reason to believe you can live off your writing; plenty of great books have been written at weekends. Try giving up TV, or getting up earlier; if you want it enough you’ll find the time to write.”
(FAQ Emma Donaghue)
Roddy Doyle: author of The Commitments; Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha; The Barrytown Trilogy; The Guts
- “Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.”
(Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, The Guardian, Feb, 2010)
Sebastian Barry: author of A Long, Long Way; The Secret Scripture; On Canaan’s Side
- “I do believe writing for a writer is as natural as birdsong to a robin. I do believe you can ferry back a lost heart and soul in the small boat of a novel or a play. That plays and novels are a version of the afterlife, a more likely one maybe than that extravagant notion of heaven we were reared on. That true lives can nest in the actual syntax of language. Maybe this is daft, but it does the trick for me. I write because I can’t resist the sound of the engine of a book, the adventure of beginning, and the possible glimpses of new landscapes as one goes through. Not to mention the excitement of breaking a toe in the potholes.”
(Interview With Writer Sebastian Barry by Marissa B. Toffoli)
Marian Keyes: author of Sushi for Beginners; Anybody Out There; Rachel’s Holiday; The Mystery of Mercy Close; Saved by Cake
Can’t think of a better finish than that concise and precise bit of advice from Marian Keyes! Do you have any snippets of advice that I can include in this list? Would love to hear from you….
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My best to you,