Shakespeare 400 and the wound

As we pass through the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare we all, readers and writers alike, have to acknowledge that his work is not only the bedrock on which we build but the continental plate out of which everything we try to do struggles to survive and grow.

My favourite description of the work of Shakespeare has always been that provided by Harold Pinter

Shakespeare writes of the open wound and, through him, we know it open and know it closed

It comes from a note he wrote in 1951, it’s reproduced here by Granta

A Note on Shakespeare

3:AM Magazine

I’m delighted to have a short story published in 3:AM Magazine. For years it’s been a fascinating, and always entertaining, collection of both fiction and non-fiction and I’m thrilled to now be a small part of it.

Here’s the link to the story, I hope you like it.

 

WellNomore

 

Exercise your reading muscle

Right, I’m not going to post about how in 2016 I’m going to eat better and exercise more, nor about how I’m going to write a masterpiece and take the publishing world by storm. Whatever I write about it’s not fantasy. I’ll keep slogging away to the best of my ability, keep adding to my collection of rejections and maybe, just maybe, find a little success here and there.

The one form of exercise I’m planning to go public on, in the hope that by doing so I force myself to continue with it, is to improve my reading exercise.

Reading is the fuel of all writers and like someone entering a gym for the first time after only jogging I plan to broaden my exercise, my reading exercise. The plan is, borrowed / stolen from a friend of mine, that every third book I read will be something I’ve never read before though probably should have. This could be a classic, or books by authors I’ve been aware of and always felt I ‘should’ read. Whether this improves things for me I’ve no idea, but at least I’ll have a better appreciation of works out there. I’m making no promises with regard to the gender, nationality or any other descriptor of the writers I’ll read, especially as I haven’t come up with any plan, as I come to each third book I’ll dig out something that fits with this idea and see what happens.

In the spirit of the plan my first read of 2016 (after I finish my current book, 1599 by James Shapiro) will be Jane Eyre, Naturally I know the story from various film and TV adaptations but I’ve never read it.

The reason for choosing Jane Eyre is quite simple. Two friends of mine whose opinions I trust have both over the years, quite independently, told me that Jane Eyre is their favourite book, and something they both return to. So at least now I’ll have a better idea what all the fuss is about.

I may, or may not, post about how I get on, depending on whether I manage to continue with it, but it’s a good idea so hopefully it’ll last.

After all, we’re always being told that we should exercise more, and as a writer exercising my reading muscle is as important a way to pass the time as I can think.

 

And reader, I exercised it!

(. . . or something like that)

Another short story in Visual Verse

The good people at Visual Verse have been kind enough to publish another piece of fiction by me this month

http://visualverse.org/submissions/tell-me-a-story/

They really do a fantastic job. Every month they put together an arresting image and organise the publication of poems and short fiction based on that image and I’m really glad to be a small part of it.

I hope you enjoy the story, and you should really browse the rest of the site and enjoy all the other work on show, or even submit something yourself.

In a cabin in the woods sat a writer / idiot / all of the above

This is a kind of ‘you know you’re a writer when . . . ‘ type of post.

Like most of us lucky enough to have a job I’d reached that stage when it was time to think about what I wanted to do with my time off. Would I go somewhere and lie on a beach, though in my case and genetic makeup that would involve dousing myself in sunblock and moving my seat every half hour to ensure I stayed fully under the shade of whatever tree or umbrella I could find to avoid bursting into flames? Would I take some time to explore a city I don’t know and wander around aimlessly trying to look worldly and sophisticated without effectively having the word TOURIST scrawled across my forehead?

No. I’d go to west Mayo and live in a little cabin for a week and see how much, if any, writing I could get done.

After some googling I settled on the Old Rectory Retreat outside Westport (http://oldrectoryretreat.com/) as it seemed to have what I wanted, close to the sights and sounds of Westport and west Mayo yet just far enough away so I couldn’t easily decide to take a wander down to the local pub of an evening and stay there until I crawled home. Initially my plan was to stay in the main house, use the desk that would be provided in my room and see what I could get done. But the owner, Roisín, then suggested that they had a cabin on the grounds and asked whether I’d be interested. Of course I said yes.

So I found myself on a wet and windy Sunday afternoon pulling in to the grounds of the rectory, meeting the lovely Roisín and collecting my keys.

The cabin was very comfortable, electricity, shower, kitchen, all the mod cons, even Wi-Fi if and when I needed it so I was hardly Thoreau disappearing into the wilds. But it had what I needed, a sense of privacy and solitude, just me and what I might write.

20150802_184138

You see, this wasn’t a guaranteed thing. I’ve almost always worked better with a gun to my head. On many occasions while I’ve been at home I’ve thought about taking some time off to just stay in and write, only to find that the time I take off is just pissed away in doing needless household chores that suddenly become vitally important, or just lazing about the place and wandering off to go to the cinema or something. Essentially I thought there was a very strong risk that I’d take one look at my laptop propped up on the little table in the little cabin and decide, sod this, and head out to sample the delights of Westport in the summertime.

For those who don’t know it, Westport and the surrounding countryside is a lovely place to spend some time so it was definitely a risk.

But thankfully the reliable Irish weather came to my rescue. For the first couple of days the weather was absolutely manky. Absolutely pissing it down, and the clouds had that look of permanence that didn’t suggest things were likely to change.

So I started to write. And I wrote. And I continued to write. I’d had a project in mind for the month of August but after a week in the cabin I found I had it completed. Roughly twenty four thousand words in a week.

Almost Simenonesque?

Naturally I now have to go back and edit what I did, but I’m really happy that I got it all done. I’m also delighted that I stuck to my plan and worked for the week. And the best thing was I didn’t have to live as a complete hermit to do it all. I tend to write in quick bursts, when I sit down to write I don’t like to stand up until I’ve done a thousand words, any less than that and I don’t feel I’m trying hard enough and if I start to wander to far beyond that it does tend to turn to shite. So a thousand words a go. It seems to work for me. So my day in the cabin would usually begin with breakfast in the main house, to try to keep some semblance of human contact, then work, then maybe a drive somewhere for lunch, then back to the cabin to work, then out for a walk (rain permitting), then work, then a drive again for an evening meal and back to the cabin to work again and finish out the day. Like I say it worked for me. Of course I don’t know what would have happened if I’d stretched my stay into a second week, could I have maintained that pace or would I have given up? I don’t know, and don’t really want to press it at the moment, just to say I’m delighted with how the week worked out.

So yes, my summer holiday 2015 involved me taking myself to a little cabin in Mayo to lock myself away with nothing but my laptop and the mumbled witterings I try to turn into stories. Writing friends I know have smiled and agreed that it sounds like a great thing to do, while others, those in the real world, have given me their best ‘for fuck’s sake Colm are you right in the head?’ look.

Thing is, I may well go back again next year.

So naturally after finishing my work in an almost Simenonesque fashion surely all I have to do is just sit back and wait for the equally Simenonesque women and money to arrive, . . . ., anybody, . . .  . , anybody?

Anyway, to finish off here’s a snap of me enjoying one of the nearby beaches of a summer day

20150804_125725

Lather. Rinse. Repeat

So my nice little plan of writing up an end-of-year post fell apart. I shouldn’t have expected anything else. I don’t know about you but December for me can be very busy, mostly brought upon myself to be honest, but busy all the same. Apart from the normal end of year meetings and reports to be compiled in my day job I usually volunteer to help some friends of mine who run a bookshop over the weekends in December and the build up to Christmas. This does mean I can end up working most of the month straight through but at least this year I had some days off sprinkled in between to allow me to catch up on little things like sleep and the like. On top of this there’s the usual social activities of December and catching up with friends, and, the cherry on the top, is that I was working my way through a draft of a new novel at the time.

I have managed to survive all this, but as you can imagine there was little time for me to write up any sort of end of year blog. As it is I’m struggling to get it finished by the end of January.

To mop up the events of last year I attended the launch of Issue 2 of gorse where I read an extract of my story Extrapolations, it went well, I think, and people seemed to like it, which, as they say, is nice. Below is a link to some film taken on the night including an extract from my piece.

http://gorse.ie/multitudes/

It was a great event and was a fantastic opportunity to hear some great work, and meet some great people. It’s something I definitely want to be part of again in the future. As anyone whose read my story can attest it doesn’t really lend itself to a public reading. I had a vague idea that I could read the whole piece in the allotted ten minutes only to fail miserably when I tried it at home. As it was I managed to get through about half the story. It nearly killed me in the process. The sort of frantic, inner monologue voice I used in the story doesn’t easily translate to a public reading and I was definitely falling apart at the end. Some in the audience may have felt I was getting overcome with the emotion of the piece; oxygen deprivation is closer to the truth! Still, as I said I’d love to do it again. There is a video of my full reading somewhere amidst the gorse. If I get my hands on it I may put it up online in the future, just to serve as a lesson to others how writing a story is all well and good, but if you want to actually read it out loud you’d better be prepared to put in breaks here and there so the reader has a chance to breathe every now and then.

The people at gorse were also kind enough to ask me to suggest my reading highlights of 2014, which I did along with other contributors through the year. It’s not exactly a Christmas list, but it does include those books I most enjoyed reading during the year, both new and old. A list I’d certainly recommend dipping into if you’re interested.

http://gorse.ie/farewell-to-2014/

So on we come to 2015. I’ve no great resolutions to report, nor do I have any great expectations that in the broad sense the year will be radically different from last. I’ll continue to write. I’ll continue to submit. And I’ll continue doing this in the hope that I’ll find some success.

The title of this piece Lather. Rinse. Repeat comes from an old sit-com Friends I think, where one of the characters arrives late because she got caught washing her hair in a lather-rinse-repeat loop (not exactly Godot, but not a million miles away either). The writing game is like that. You go through the same steps, you write, you revise, you submit and you wait, and when all that’s done you go back and do it all again. As I said I’m under no illusions that this year will follow any different pattern to last. I’m also aware that this sounds perilously close to that old definition of insanity, repeating the same actions expecting a different response, but I suppose it is really.

The thing is, it’s not just that you have to learn to accept rejections of something you’ve worked very hard on; it’s that despite all your work you may never have any success. I don’t go in for positive thinking, prayers, lighting candles; votive offerings and the sacrificing of small animals aren’t my thing. It’s like those nature documentaries, the turtle lays her eggs on the beach and swims back out to sea, how the hatchlings survive is entirely out of her hands. It’s the same with submissions. I work hard to get my submission in as good condition as I can, but the minute I hit the send button, or put the envelope in the post box, that’s it, I’m done. There’s nothing I can do, except wait.

I think you have to accept the idea that you may never succeed with anything you do.

This isn’t me being defeatist. This isn’t me giving up. This is me accepting the fact that despite everything I do there is no guarantee that I will ever reach that stage where I can walk into a bookshop, browse along the shelves, and see my name as author on the spine of a book. I think I have to face that. I think I have to accept that. But I also have to accept that it isn’t going to make a difference.

I am a writer. I’ll say it again. I am a writer. That statement isn’t qualified by the books on the shelves, the publishing deals or the agent’s contracts in my back pocket. It’s defined by the fact that I spend what time I can sitting in a quiet room in front of a keyboard translating ideas in my head into words on a page, and I continue to do this again, and again. That, God help me, is what makes me a writer. It means that if I am successful I will hopefully make the most of it, but also if I’m not successful I’ll continue writing.

It sounds fucking stupid, it sounds futile, it sounds like a potentially huge waste of time, and it is. But that’s what I choose to do. I know what I do, the types of story I write, written in the style I write, them makes my work a difficult sell. And I know there’s never been a more difficult time to be a writer, though I doubt there’s ever been a good time. But in my own way I don’t care, I really don’t.

I’ve looked myself in the proverbial mirror and accepted that this time next year, or the year after, or in five years, or ten, or twenty, I may find myself going through the same motions, my own lather, rinse, repeat loop, and I accept it. I’ll accept that because I know I’m writing the stories I want to write in the way I want to write them.

It may be stupid, but it’s my stupid.

(and before we go any further this whole post isn’t my attempt to grab the unappreciated genius high ground. I think I have some ability, I think, to some degree, I can write. I know what I do will, even with the best will in the world, always place me in a niche, but I’m fine with that)

So even though everything I do may be a colossal waste of time I intend to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve never felt futility to be a good reason for not doing something 😉

So to end on a slightly more upbeat tone here’s a similar sentiment, in a pop music vein from the Ben Folds Five (basically the same misery, but with added Fraggles!)