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 . . . . . .

The Next Big Thing

First things first, thanks to my friend Janet Cameron O’Faolain ( who passed this idea my direction, and apologies for taking so bloody long in responding.

The idea is that each blogger answer the questions listed below and pass them on to whoever they want after that, and the questions circulate around the blogosphere like some electronic chain letter, though should anyone wish to take up the chain rest assured that I’ve sat on the damn thing so long any bad luck is bound to fall on my head so please proceed without worry.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Oddly enough it was one of those flashes that never seem to come, I was sitting at home one night and a leaflet was stuffed through my letterbox, a flyer for a take-away or something, and the snap of the letterbox startled me, and that turned into the idea of something unwanted coming through the letterbox, which turned into a gun, which turned into the story.

What genre does your book fall under?

In the broader sense it is a crime book, as in it involves characters who live in a world in which crimes are committed, though not in the conventional sense where solving a crime is the object of the story. In terms of the lives of the characters, their situations and actions I would class it as Noir; basically I tend to start with characters already in a bad place, and go downhill from there.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Curious question, and one that I really can’t answer. Not out of any sense of modesty, or false modesty, it’s just that I’ve written the two main characters in the book from the inside out, I barely provide them with physical descriptions, I actually haven’t given either of them names. The story is told as what are essentially alternating monologues, what I’m trying to do is crawl inside each character and experience the story from there.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Two men, one gun, one desperate to get it back to save a life, the other desperate to use it to get back the life he lost.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Sadly at the moment the book will sit growling on my hard drive, having neither agent nor publisher. I have entered it in the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair Competition 2013, but if it isn’t successful there I’ll probably send it out hoping to hook myself an agent, and failing that I might look at e-publishing. Being something of a traditionalist I still aspire to see my name on a physical book sitting on bookshop shelves.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Funnily enough I started the book in early October 2012 and should have a first draft finished by January 2013. This is a lot quicker than anything else I’ve written before, necessitated by the closing date of the Novel Fair competition, which can only mean either I’m on to a winner or I’ve made an awful, awful mess of things.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Also known as the ‘who have you stolen from’ question. Usually my writing will have elements of those crime writers I admire most, namely David Goodis and Derek Raymond, though in this case I can certainly detect elements of Jim Thompson and Georges Simenon, though these are aspects that I pick up on, or think I pick up on, myself, more than likely anyone that reads the thing would see something totally different. I even see little crumbs of Samuel Beckett but that may be no more than wishful thinking. I’ve always truly believed that each writer is a product of those writers he or she admires most, whether we try to or not their work will always seep in, there’s no point in trying to avoid it. The best any of us can do is try to throttle back the inspirational tap as much as possible and mix it with as much of ourselves as we can in a confusing metaphor kind of way.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Really have no idea. I suppose I’ve always loved stories about people who are trapped in situations outside of their control, and their efforts to get out of them, though in their hearts they know the situation is probably doomed. It’s the idea of fate, though without any supernatural being or beings overseeing things, that and the premise of the gun and away we go.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Awful, awful question. If you want a crime fiction book that isn’t about a detective who’s essentially a superhero without a cape chasing after an infinitely-resourced serial killer with a fixation on a classic work of fiction, and who between them pile up bodies like discarded cigarettes, this may be the book for you. If you prefer a book where people struggle against a world outside of their control, who try to do right even though they know they will ultimately fail and where you crawl inside the skulls of these characters, and learn more about them than you ever want, then this may be a book for you.

Thanks again to Janet for passing the questions on to me and anyone out there with their own blog is more than welcome to take them on, answer them as you wish and let the chain continue.

Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him.
He’s not fucking me about, he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I don’t want to buy — he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy or not — he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty.
His work is beautiful.

:Harold Pinter

Nothing more to say really