The Arts Interview: Noreen Mortell

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Born at home on Clanmorris Avenue, off the Ennis Road, I enjoyed growing-up in a very active house where abundant creativity was supported.

I have remained in Limerick ever since. My father, Jim Mortell, from Co Limerick and my mother, Mary Cashin from South Wales, originally met in Ballingarry in the late 1940s. Subsequently, they married and settled in Limerick. I would consider myself hopelessly devoted to the arts. For as long as I can remember, I just loved doing creative things. Thankfully, it doesn’t look as if it’s going to leave me anytime soon. This creativity reveals itself in the form of music, art and writing.

I love my chosen career as a music teacher in the Limerick School of Music, where I teach piano and the Theory of Music.

It is a privilege to be in a position to educe the musical abilities of my students. Opportunities abound in this area and it is very rewarding to watch the same students blossom. My early piano learning was influenced in an unusual way from San Francisco. Paddy Kelly, my maternal granduncle and godfather, emigrated to San Francisco. During my teenage years, I wrote to him regularly telling him all about my world, which at the time consisted of music and basket-ball. After each piano exam, he sent me five dollars. I was absolutely thrilled and I would proudly wave it in front of my siblings. American dollars were scarce then. During my Intermediate Certificate year, I decided to work especially hard and so I was able to sit two piano exams that year. Uncle Paddy very kindly sent me a very encouraging letter and ten dollars. Whatever it takes, I guess!

In terms of my artistic practice, the form that fascinates me is mosaic.

Indeed, I have studied it internationally for many years. With background music on, I find the process very relaxing. The freedom and the possibilities that creating a mosaic presents is very exciting. Mosaics continually intrigue as their light-reflecting textured materials alter with the changing light. Presently, I am working towards a collection for an exhibition.

On returning home from the nursing home one day, having visited my mother, thoughts came instantly to me.

I rushed to get a pencil and wrote without interruption. It emerged as a five verse poem – The Nursing Home. Subsequently, Olivia McCarthy, a friend and colleague, invited me to contribute to a collection of writings and drawings she was co-ordinating, called ‘Pen to Paper’. My poems Embarking on a Creative Writing Course and A Precious Reel Gift were included in this anthology.

I signed-up to a creative writing course for a bit of fun.

Niamh Collins was such an inspiring teacher that I wrote the above poem in full, after pulling over on the road, on my way home, from the first lesson. Writing for me reflects intuition, observations, everyday experiences and significant memories. After a short while, I realised that I had sufficient poems to put a collection together. Having made two phone calls, I decided to self-publish with eprint Ltd. In my mind I knew what kind of book I wanted and that certainly helped to keep the momentum going. ‘Dare to Express Yourself’ came to mind immediately as a title. I designed the cover and submitted my work to Barry O’Brien and my regular contact Margaret, who were extremely supportive and helpful.

Having a book launch for me is similar to having a party.

I have very fond memories of my launch and greatly appreciate the sincere support that I received. Celebration is also important. Book a venue, provide beverages if possible and ensure that everyone enjoys themselves. To continue selling your books, you could approach independent bookstores within a certain radius of where you live. They usually stock books on a sale or return basis.

It is quite manageable to be a writer in today’s economic climate.

With the Celtic Tiger behind us now, we can re-connect with our own inner resources. When you write, your individual style and rhythm will surface. As you practise your skill as a writer, you will connect with the reader. It is exhila-rating when you recognize your own distinctive voice. I carry a notebook and pencil with me all the time. Ideas come to mind randomly. They equally disappear in the same fashion, so be ready. Presently, I am at the initial stages of teasing out an idea for a non-fiction book. I find that using a mind-map system can be useful. It frees-up your subconscious giving it the best possible chance to thrive.

We all need and will benefit from support.

Personally, I am grateful for the continued support and encouragement I get, particularly, from my two daughters, Aisling and Deirdre. Limerick has a lively writing community. Avail of supports such as The Limerick Writers’ Centre, Poetry Readings in the White House Bar, and the Locke Bar, as well as any online resources.

My advice is to enjoy reading.

Three books that come to mind that have remained with me are, Charlotte Chandler’s ‘Ingrid’, a biography of Ingrid Bergman., Sidney Poitier’s spiritual autobiography The Measure of a Man and The Billionaire Who Wasn’t by Conor O’Clery. I have come to realize that music; mosaic art and writing have a lot in common. The individual notes/tesserae (pieces)/and words, all combine to make a perfect outcome. This is very similar to the way that we, as humans, evolve over our lives!

Noreen Mortell will speak in the final of four Lunch Time Poetry Readings which will take place in the Hunt Museum on Thursday, July 30 at 1pm. For more info please contact Dominic Taylor, Community Literature Officer of The Limerick Writers’ Centre on 087-2996409 or email: To contact Noreen email:  noreen_mortell

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