Stand up for Bastards

Now Gods stand up for Bastards.

To be honest I can’t say I’ve any particular reason to open up with that. Presumably something to do with the fact I’ve booked myself a ticket to see King Lear in the Abbey Theatre on my birthday (probably not a good idea to think about that too deeply come to think of it). It’s a play I haven’t seen in any form since I studied it for my Leaving Certificate so definitely not today or yesterday. I’m looking forward to what’s being regarded as an excellent production, and also to see if I can spot the resonances with Beckett’s Endgame as were recently pointed out to me by a friend of mine who’s studied both.

What’s really brought Edmund’s soliloquy to mind isn’t specifically to do with me being a bastard, I will leave that to the judgement of others, my own true self opinion is probably unprintable, even here. No, what brought it to mind was Edmund’s embracing his ‘baseness’, and in my own writing I have to embrace aspects that I might have preferred not to.

All of this has come about as I’ve recently finished a fairly intensive period of writing and re-writing. Re-writing can be a pretty harsh exercise in navel-gazing for any writer, which usually doesn’t go well for most, and is never a good time for me. As you’re writing you can always kid yourself that what you’ve just put on the page is excellent, or at least pretty decent. Going back to re-read something usually throws up the realisation that everything you’ve tried is utter shite. The only way past this is to understand that you will always regard everything you’ve written as utter shite no matter what it is, you just hope that your first opinion of the work is at least partially true. You just hope that someone else reading it will find something they like, convince yourself you’re getting away with it and keep going from there.

Anyway, where was I? Everyone who tries to be a writer dreams, at least some of the time, that they’ll be able to take quill to hand, or pencil, or pen, or keyboard, and bring forth words, sentences, paragraphs of utter beauty. Somewhere in all of us is the wish to bring out something that will cause the reader to shed a tear of joy, or at least pause and smile; reflecting on the glorious music the writer has wrought upon the page. Like many writers, or attempting writers, before I have found that it’s something I just cannot do.

I’ve tried over the years to write beautiful sentences, tried to structure narratives, stories, even just paragraphs, that capture something of a sheer and simple beauty. But I can’t write like that. Every time I’ve tried the words always come out wrong. I may know all the right notes but I can’t necessarily put them on the page in the right order (with thanks to Messrs’ Morecombe & Wise).

Many times I’d love nothing more than to be able to engage the reader over page upon page of beautiful prose describing a smile that would knock a man sideways or early morning mists rising to reveal a rich and verdant valley or simply lying on a bed tracing a finger over the soft Latte-coloured birthmark on the alabaster skin of a beautiful woman. But I can’t, not without making each seem stilted, bland, clunking and utterly, utterly false. I’ve found that the only way I can write, to any effect at all, is by reaching for the ugliness of the world.

In essence I am an ugly writer, that is I write about ugly people doing ugly things to each other. If I have any ability at all, if I have anything going for me, it is that amidst the ugliness I can manage to find something that the reader will feel is real, something they will be able to identify with and more importantly something for which they can feel some compassion.

There are times when writing that I feel an urge to try to save the characters from the world I’ve constructed for them and there are times I just want to reach down into the shit, scoop it up, handful after handful, fling it at the wall, grab hold of the reader’s head, press it close and shout in their ear SEE, SEE, THAT’S THE STORY, LOOK AT IT, LOOK AT IT.

All of my favourite writers in one way or another look down. Oscar Wilde said we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, many of us prefer to stay looking down into the gutter, that way we can see the shit floating towards us. Those writers I admire most are those who look down, look towards the unwanted, look towards things going wrong, look towards things falling apart, look towards what happens when the inevitable failure happens and look towards what people do next. They don’t do this to deride, they don’t do this to gloat at how much better their lives are, they do so out of compassion, out of love. Doing this doesn’t necessarily mean concentrating on a flop-house drunk from a pulp novel, or one of Beckett’s tramps. It can mean looking at the comfortable middle-class lives of those in the work of writers like Richard Yates, though exposing the tensions and self-destructive urges that inevitably destroy everything the characters once loved and held dear.

I really do feel that is the only direction my own attempts can go, not in an attempt to copy, more as a realisation that their stories resonate with what I want to tell as well. You can’t pretend that influences don’t matter, you find something that echoes what’s bouncing around in your own head and you go with it. If you have any guts and if you have any talent you try to make a little of it your own. That’s the challenge.

So anyway, that’s more than enough of my trawling through my own shit for a while. I’ll leave you with this one thought

. . . . . I am available for children’s parties . . . . . .