Irish author took advantage of confinement to publish his first novel and deal with the pain of his brother’s death

When lockdown came, Kilkenny-based author Lizzy Shortall used it as an opportunity to finish her first novel after six years of work, which also helped her deal with the pain of losing her brother Lar to suicide. .

The Lotus and the Tiger, a fictional novel with parts based on the author’s life, follows Lucy Woodrow, a life-loving Dublin girl who struggles to find meaning in her life and her family.

Ms Shortall told BreakingNews.ie: “I was lucky during the pandemic to get a book out, it’s my first novel, it took me six years to write because I had two babies and moved county and moved county along with work. .

“I finished it during lockdown because I had free time like everyone else.”

Pain

“The best way to describe it is fiction based on true events, some things that have happened in my life. The Lotus represents a journey of mourning that the main character Lucy goes through and the Tiger represents the demons she kills.

“My brother committed suicide in 2004, when I was pregnant with my first child I was just beginning to grieve a lot, thinking ‘they will never meet’ and all that. I was doing a creative writing course at the time and I started writing about him and growing up together and all of that, and over the next six years it turned into a novel about a lot of different things. A woman who undertakes these adventures and goes back and forth to Thailand three times. , and you can see all the good stuff and then how she fights through the pain and comes out the other side.

“It was very therapeutic and when I finished writing it I realized, ‘oh, that book is about grief, it was never meant to be about that, but there is a big thread coming out of traumatic grief. I went to Thailand three times and the first time and the second time it was part central, full moon parties, and the third time I went I was alone.

“I kept busy after he died, I went back to college and I was working, and all of a sudden I was in Thailand just looking around thinking ‘Has this place gone down in seven years?’ I thought it was sun-bleached or something, and then I realized it was me, I wasn’t very happy, I was seeing everything through a black and white lens because I was grieving and hadn’t processed it to think,’ you know what, Lar would want me to be happy, and it’s time to try to let it go’ so I did a ritual in a temple with this Lotus and that’s where that part comes in. Then by the time I finished writing it I felt like I had really processed the pain.”

Since then, Ms. Shortall published her first children’s book, Joy’s Playground, in October.

She is the mother of two girls and her oldest daughter helped her with the creative process.

Ms. Shortall also works as a mindfulness and emotional well-being coach and Joy’s Playground aims to teach children “mindfulness, gratitude, and self-confidence.”

“Joy is on the playground with her friends and they meet a confused monkey who learns about mindfulness, a grumpy giraffe who learns about gratitude, and a scared squirrel who learns about self-confidence, so she’s a fun story where they can learn these skills with.

“The oldest helped me write it, she’s six years old, she helped pick the names and she helped me with the story, so they brought it to school and local schools and preschools are using it, that’s great.

“I’m doing a second children’s book with my other daughter, which will also support children’s emotional well-being. I can’t see myself doing more than two children’s books, but I would love to write more novels.”

“It’s amazing and their imagination is so good, the things they come up with and the way they see and understand things, I don’t think it would have been half as good without their input, they’ve been so excited to see other people sending us photos with him, or in stores, and other people meeting the animal friends they’ve created.”

Ms. Shortall worked in social work for years before becoming a mindfulness coach.

“I worked in social care first for years and when I got into social work I thought I could do resilience training courses with people and teach them coping skills and mindfulness and all that stuff. But as a social worker, they really are firefighters, and it’s a lot case management and your time with people may be more limited than you want. I’ve worked in the areas of mental health, oncology, child care, addictions, and it was really apparent to me that it would be wonderful if we could work more in the prevention side.

“Teaching people these coping skills so that when something happens, like myself, I don’t have the coping skills that I needed when Lar died, I was at a loss for quite a while trying to figure out how to cope, and I think if I could instill these skills on people and children before it made life so much easier, so I decided to leave social work and provide a resiliency training service where people could come to me one-on-one.”

consciousness

So what is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose in the moment without judgment, so it’s like this is where I’m at,” Ms Shortall explained. “If you’re not feeling good, judging yourself or being hard on yourself, it’s just about saying, ‘Okay, I’m having a bad day, okay.

“Or if something good is happening, it’s about being present to enjoy it, so instead of focusing on the past or the future. One great thing that I use a lot with people, I incorporate a lot in my book, is to use all five senses to bring yourself back to the moment.

“Simple techniques like what I see, hear, taste, smell and feel, if you focus on that it will take you right back to where you are, and most of the time the timing is right, a lot of anxiety comes from our thought pattern and, Of course, there are things that are anxiety-provoking right now. I had a lot of anxiety myself when I was in college and that’s how I got into mindfulness in the first place.”

Meditation is the formal practice of mindfulness, and while it helps a lot of people, others don’t have the time, and Ms. Shortall believes that mindfulness may be enough to help many people overcome anxiety and negative thoughts. .

She feels that mindfulness and resilience tools need to be thought of from a young age, especially now that we come out of the pandemic, which has been an isolating experience for many people.

“Resilience is the ability to get back to where you were before something or to recover well, so it’s not just the ability to recover but to recover well. Resilience tools will help us do that after Covid and mindfulness It would be one of those instruments.

“My own mental health deteriorated after my brother died because I didn’t have good coping skills, I’m a pretty determined person and I made sure I found a way to cope, even though it took some time.

“I think there are a lot of teachers out there with great awareness, but it has to be built into the curriculum because teachers have time. I think a lot is being done in the transition year, which is great, but we still have to get the younger, elementary school time. Because it’s left up to the teachers, some local elementary schools and preschools are using Joy’s Playground.”

Ms. Shortall describes writing as her passion and hopes that there will be more books to follow The Lotus and the Tiger.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the Samaritans toll-free 24 hours a day for confidential assistance on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

You can also call the free National Bereavement Support Line run by HSE and the Irish Hospice Foundation. at 1800 80 70 77 (Monday to Friday from 10 am to 1 pm), and Contact information for a variety of mental health supports is available at mentalhealthireland.ie/get-support/. In an emergency, or if you or someone you know is at risk of suicide or self-harm, call 999/112.

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