The Sad Lot of The Writer

The Sad Lot of The Writer

Inner Writer’s Voice (IWV): this isn’t going to be some kind of a whinge, is it?

Me: well, it is, sort of, but let me do it first before you have a go, right?

IWV (sighs, leans back, hand on big red knob (haha) like Graham Norton when someone’s in the big red chair): alright, begin.


There’s me, right? On Monday? I submits the manuscript to the editor, like, and it’s happy days–– Continue reading “The Sad Lot of The Writer”

Why are Writers So Happy?

Why are Writers So Happy?

The question was ironic. The questioner was commenting on the subject matter of the three readings at the Cork International Short Story Festival at Cork City Library, one of which was by me. The event was showcasing the Smoke in The Rain Anthology, the 2017 From the Well Short Story Competition, organised by Cork County Libraries and Arts Service and it was very kind of The Munster Literature Centre to do so.

In fairness my story was probably the darkest, but Mary Rose’s wasn’t all sugar and spice either. Anne’s was a bit more uplifting, about a boy coming to terms with his grief after his father’s death – yeah, I know, says a lot about the others doesn’t it? Continue reading “Why are Writers So Happy?”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shortlisted* or ‘Jealous, Who? Me?’

So You’ve Been Publicly Shortlisted* or ‘Jealous, Who? Me?’

Dealing with rejection is part and parcel of being a writer. The stories are legion.

JK Rowling rejected by 52,000 publishers. Donal Ryan rejected by 230,000 publishers, including Ireland’s Own. James Joyce self-publishing and then buying up all the copies with a loan from his brother and then ‘giving’ them away for glasses of white wine. Yada yada. Continue reading “So You’ve Been Publicly Shortlisted* or ‘Jealous, Who? Me?’”

Henning Mankell made me angry, Henning Mankell made me sad

Henning Mankell made me angry, Henning Mankell made me sad

Illustration by Andrea Ventura for The Guardian

I don’t think that any writer has ever made me as angry as Henning Mankell did, when he callously discarded Kurt Wallander at the end of The Troubled Man.

I still vividly remember my shock and dismay when I read the words on the page. It was in June 2011 and we were on holidays in the south of France. I was in Café Sola, in Collioure, where I’d gone for a pichet of rosé, to savour the final chapters of Mankell’s latest installation of Wallander’s lonely and melancholic police career.

This is what he wrote:

Wallander suddenly felt terrified. His memory had deserted him again. He didn’t know who the girl running toward him was. He knew he’d seen her before, but what her name was or what she was doing in his house he had no idea.

It was as if everything had fallen silent. As if all colors had faded away and all he was left with was black and white.

The shadow grew more intense. And Kurt Wallander slowly descended into darkness that some years later transported him into the empty universe known as Alzheimer’s disease.

After that there is nothing more . . .

It was like a punch in the face. I did feel sad about Wallander, but even more so I was raging at Mankell. I remember wandering back to our little fisherman’s house on Rue de la Fraternité to voice my outrage to Ciara, who had to work that afternoon.

I’d had no idea that he was finishing the series or that this was his last Wallander book. And it was partly that – that would be no more Wallander – but mostly the callous way he did it. For fuck’s sake.

Now I understand better. It turns out that he had wanted to write about Alzheimer’s disease all along. It also turns out that Alzheimer’s was his own biggest fear. He never had to face it. Cancer took him instead, last year.

Reading excerpts from Henning Mankell’s last book: Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being, in the Guardian last night had me close to tears, several times.

And it isn’t just because it is about the death of a man I admired so much. (I think The Kurt Wallander series is the reason I want to write a crime novel of my own.) Nor because it describes his initial cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. My mother died of cancer too and it did remind me of that, but no, that’s not the reason either.

It was because I realised, when reading it, that his writing is so beautiful. And his writing is so beautiful because it is so true. And perhaps that’s why I admire the Wallander books so much. Because they are true.

And that’s why he also wrote about Wallander the way he did, at the end of The Troubled Man. It wasn’t Mankell who was callous, it was the Alzheimer’s. And the writing had to reflect that.

So I forgive you, Henning. And I miss you. And I’ve pre-ordered the book. And I’ll read it with joy.

Here’s a brief extract from the piece in The Guardian. You can read the full article here.

After about two months, when I had reached the middle of the first basic cycle of chemotherapy, I had the feeling one morning that a new sort of normality had entered my life. Nothing would ever be the same as it had been before I received the diagnosis, but nevertheless it was as if life was now taking on a form that in my darkest moments I would never have thought possible.

The days were getting lighter. Not a lot, but mid-winter was past. One morning, all too early, a blackbird started singing from its perch on the television aerial. It occurred to me that this was something I could record on my gravestone.

I have heard the blackbird. I have lived

Eimear McBride and Marlon James and a guy from the NFL

Eimear McBride and Marlon James and a guy from the NFL

I went to a reading in UCC last night. It was by Eimear McBride, an author, whose book A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was published in 2014.

Here are some of the awards and notices the book received.

Winner of 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize
Winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award
Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize
Winner of 2013 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
Shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize
Shortlisted for the Folio Prize
Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014
One of Time Out New York’s Ten Best Books of 2014
Selected as one of NPR’s 2014 Great Reads
A New York Magazine Best Book of 2014
A Boston Globe Best Book of 2014
Chicago Tribune Printers Row Journal Best Books of 2014
Star Tribune Best Fiction of 2014
Electric Literature 25 Best Novels of 2014
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2014
The New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books of 2014
Vanity Fair 11 Best Books of 2014

Not bad for a first novel, eh?

Anyway I haven’t read the book yet but I will. It tells the story of an Irish girl/woman and her life. It’s a tough story, by all accounts, but brilliantly told. It’s also written in a mixture of modernist and realist styles. It’s been compared to Joyce and Beckett in style, which says a lot. Her reading of it was stunning – it came alive, you were inside the character. That’s partly why she chose that style – because it allowed, no it demanded that the reader be inside and not outside. A privilege to have been there.

It took her almost ten years to have it published, having written it in six month. She had so many rejections that she ended up putting it away in a drawer and she began another book. Most publishers who were interested said that their marketing departments couldn’t sell it so they wouldn’t publish it. And we know, we know, that publishing is a business, but still. I hope they are sorry now…

Which reminds me of Marlon James, the 2015 Man Booker winner. Here’s a recent Guardian article about him which I found very moving and inspirational. You can and should read it here.

He says that he failed the main test of a writer which is never to give up. To keep going, no matter what. He says he failed that test because, in 2003, after 78 rejections by publishers at the age of 33, he destroyed all copies of his first novel John Crow’s Devil – he wasn’t cut out for it. Writing wasn’t for him. Delete, delete, delete.

Then he went to a writing workshop with Kaylie Jones and she liked some of his exercises and she asked him for some of his work and he had to go back home and try to find a copy of his novel from one of his friends who hadn’t obeyed his edict to delete it from his or her computer.

And he did, and he gave it to her. And it was published in 2005 and here he is now. And here is Eimear McBride now. And we’re all the richer for it.

Which reminds me of a quote by an American Footballer from last year’s Superbowl. New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman was assessed by a coach in 2009 who said he was too small, didn’t have the durabaility needed etc. He was quoted last year as saying: “There’s only two things you can do when someone says you’re not good enough: You can prove them right or you can prove them wrong.”


Book of the Year, 2015: H is For Hawk.

Book of the Year, 2015: H is For Hawk.

The hawk had filled the house with wildness as a bowl of lilies fills a house with scent. It was about to begin.

I couldn’t put the same title on this as for the film (Favourite) because it wasn’t so much my favourite book as the most important book I read in the year, and I read a good few. And I write about it not so much because I enjoyed it but because it consumed me. It chewed me up and spat me out.

There’s a famous scene with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in the 1997 American film As Good as It Gets. Everybody knows it. They are in a restaurant and Jack says: ‘You make me want to be a better man.’ And it’s Jack, being Jack and I know, I know but, still. I rate books not so much any more as how good they are or how much I enjoyed them but how much they make me want to be a better writer – or a writer at all.

And H is For Hawk by Helen McDonald tops the lot in 2015. Now it wasn’t even published in 2015, it was published in 2014, but I read it early in 2015 when I was recuperating from surgery (nothing major – an elective repair of my collar bone). So maybe the timing was a factor, I don’t know.


And I’m not going to review it, There are plenty reviews out there and here is the best one I’ve seen, if you are interested, and here’s a plug for the great Maria Popova and her wonderful blog: Brain Pickings. Click here for the review – or maybe it’s more a reflection. But I can’t do better than quote her (Maria’s) opening paragraph:

Every once in a while — perhaps thrice a lifetime, if one is lucky — a book comes along so immensely and intricately insightful, so overwhelming in beauty, that it renders one incapable of articulating what it’s about without contracting its expansive complexity, flattening its dimensional richness, and stripping it of its splendor. Because it is, of course, about everything — it might take a specific something as its subject, but its object is nothing less than the whole of the human spirit, mirrored back to itself.

And of course it ticks boxes for me and it may not for you – beware: no refunds, no whinging, NONE. It’s about our relationship with nature (sort of), birds to be specific (yay). Raptors – The Keith Richards of birds – to be more specific again. Goshawks – The Keith Richards of raptors – to be even more specific. And it’s slow and detailed and reflective but also moving, and it’s beautifully written and it’s truthful and searing and all those things. But as Maria says: it’s more. And to even mention the topic of grief is to contract and flatten and strip it. It’s about the human spirit – mirrored back to itself. See? See?

It contains a line that struck me deeply: ‘We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all of the lives we have lost.’ And this book made me think about the reckoning – that’s for sure. And it scared the hell out of me. Or woke me up. I can’t wait to read it again – when my brother returns it – YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!

And now whenever I see a long tailed tit, I think of a cotton bud with wings, and that that is so fucking cool. Thank you Helen.

Long tailed tit