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I was born and brought up in Ireland – Derry (then, alas, a city of murderous religious battles) and the gentler Donegal – and then, from the age of 13, attended the peace-loving Mount School. There I learned the value of music, of speaking beautiful words aloud – those texts! – and, above all, of silence and waiting, fundamental all my life.


Then, based on my fine grounding in Classics, I won a place at Oxford (hard for a girl in those days), and in 1956, to my amazement, gained one of the top Classics Firsts of my year (all this made possible by financial support from MOSA).

After a short spell of teaching, partly for the experience partly to pay back my student loan (yes, then too), I returned to Oxford to study anthropology, a wonderful follow-on to Classics. Some five years on I achieved a doctorate in record time (after all, I’d learned at school to be organised and just, well, get on with things).

The doctorate was based on field research in Africa where I learned, from a people called the Limba living in remote villages in Sierra Leone, about the arts of story-telling. This had a deep effect on me. From them, combined with my Mount experience of the resonance of texts spoken aloud,  came the lifelong interest in live performance that runs through all my best publications (not sure how many by now!).

Ruth with her RAI medal

These life lessons also seem to have won me something of an international reputation,  including a handful of book prizes and a  medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute  of  Great Britain  and Ireland which I greatly prize, as well as Fellowships of world-class bodies like the British Academy and American Folklore Society. The Mount obviously produces humanist scholars as well, as scientists and actresses!

Ruth with a member of the Limba tribe in Sierra Leone

In addition to my continuing academic writing and research, including co-editing what I hope will be an inspiring new series for young adults, ‘Hearing Others’  Voices , (something the Mount was also good at), I have found myself also writing poetry, novels  and film scripts, all new genres for me but several of which have, to my astonishment, won international awards.

The most  recent excitements have been, first,  meeting a brilliant young Canadian Film Director eager to produce my ‘Black Ink Pearl ’ screenplay. On the surface it’s a romance drama, but underneath a deeply religious myth (we would love to include Judi Dench as one of the lead actors, with our shared Mount ethic I know she would warm to its vision). All we need now is funding for the (not too costly) filming; and, second –  just this morning as I write – an in-principle agreement for Fiji Television to produce their first feature film, ‘Voyagers in the Fijian Pearl’ – script  by me!

The strange thing is that all this recent writing has come unexpectedly, without deliberate planning. It arrives in dreams, or, better put, in that liminal in-between place that is neither sleeping nor waking, and yet both.

And there I discover again in myself the inspiration and magic of silence and of waiting. Thank you Mount!

Professor Ruth Finnegan FBA, The Open University, versatile multi award author, and anthropolgist. Find out more about Ruth’s work.


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