Category Archives: writing

The Darwin Murders

A short time ago, I was invited by a friend to write a short piece for an upcoming anthology, published online, called The Darwin Murders. Participants were asked to write a 250 word piece in which they could kill of a character of their choosing, provided the poor unfortunate didn’t/doesn’t exist in real life. (No killing Hitler or Stalin, okay?)

I choose the bane of modern-day small screen viewing, the horror that is the television licence inspector. The editors liked my story so much that I was one of two authors who had their pieces put aside for special mention.

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If you want to find out how and why I murdered a television licence inspector, pop over to Amazon and see for yourself. And don’t stop at me, either. Other writers in the anthology harbour secret desires to bump off their nemeses. At the end of the day, we each have our dark sides.

Don’t forget to look behind you – you could be next.

 

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David Foster Wallace: The Infinite Jester.

I have just finished reading Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace, an author I’ve heard about but never read. I doubt I’m the only one in the latter category. He’s mentioned in the same breath as Dave Eggars, Thomas Pyncheon, Jonathon Franzen and Dom DeLillo. Of these authors, I’ve only read DeLillo’s Point Omega – and that’s only because it’s a short novel. I still didn’t get it – if there was anything in there to “get” that is.

Wallace achieved fame after the publication of his second novel, Infinite Jest. There is a copy of this 1,079 page monster beside me right now, looking at me, daring me to open it up and read it. It’s a scary proposition. All the more so because the author himself felt he couldn’t top it. No matter how hard he worked (and he came up with some great excuses when he couldn’t quite find the inspiration), Wallace’s anxieties and ongoing struggle with depression and addiction – as well as a succession of failed relationships – ripped his undoubted talents as a fiction writer to shreds. His non-fiction, particularly his journalism, kept him alive – but only to a point.

Wallace committed suicide at the age of 46. He left behind his wife of four years, and an unfinished manuscript for what would eventually become The Pale King, a novel about boredom and the I.R.S.

So why would I be interested in a writer I’ve never read, especially one I’d probably never read? * Because he (and I’m sorry if this sounds clichéd) suffered for his art. When he faced long bouts of writer’s block, he wrote to DeLillo and Franzen to complain about his lot. Nowadays we writers moan about our lack of creativity on Facebook or Twitter. Both actions are cries for help, but Wallace had a bit more class about him. He was also a deep thinker; there wasn’t a subject he didn’t want to know about. He studied philosophy, mathematics, tax accounting (for The Pale King), and was a clever, funny, but insightful critic on modern-day consumerism and mass entertainment. Infinite Jest is Wallace’s commentary on a society brought up to worship television, a society that has become addicted to addictions, become increasingly disconnected, and mourning for a loss of community. Wallace gives us no answers because that would be the easy way out. We have to find these for ourselves.

And this is why I am drawn to this man. He echoes my thoughts right now. The world he wrote about in 1996 is still very much the world of 2012. We’re still searching for answers, looking for meaning in an ultimately meaningless society. Will we find them? Wallace didn’t stay around long enough to find out.

* (I will clarify my above statement. I have read Wallace: it was an article he wrote about Roger Federer – Wallace played tennis to a high level when he was younger – and it’s an exquisite piece of writing.)

The Daily Whatever: On Strangers in Coffee Shops.

You have an hour to kill, so what else are you going to do but go for a coffee somewhere, right? This is Dublin, and like any major city, there are about as many coffee shops to choose from as there are pubs. But you like Fixx because the staff there make better cappuccinos than Starbucks (which isn’t hard, in all fairness). To them it’s like an art form,

You order, pay for, then collect your cappuccino and sit down to read your book. For once you get a good seat, a comfortable one that you can flump into. You hang your coat on the chair opposite so no one will ask to sit with you. You’re going to be with people all night; all you want is an hour and some space to yourself. Besides, the book you’re reading – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – requires concentration; a table to yourself is what you require.

Because your head is dug into a book all you see of the woman who sits on the table next to you is her legs. She’s wearing black tights and black calf-length boots. Your eyes move up and you notice that she’s wearing a grey suit. At that moment, though, you can’t see what she looks like because she’s facing away from you. Her hair is jet black and you suspect she might be foreign, Chinese or Japanese maybe (although she might be a touch too tall to be Oriental).

On her tray she has a small pot of tea, a brown scone, some butter and jam. You go back to your book – but it’s too late; your attention is diverted. Her hair is short but her fringe covers her eyes. You see, however, that she wears glasses. But she’s looking down. First at her phone, as she checks her messages, then at her scone, as she decides whether or not to eat it. She pours her tea but you’re frustrated that you can’t get a look at her face. She may or may not be beautiful.

She doesn’t touch her scone but instead stretches her legs. You spot that she has knobbly knees. But you still can’t see her face. You return to your book.

Then you give up because you’re fascinated by this woman, this stranger whose face you can’t see. You see a wedding ring on her finger and think, At least her husband knows what she looks like. She picks up her phone and either makes a call or checks for voice mail. She says nothing, in fact there is no reaction at all. She drinks more tea, but this time cuts the scone in two and spreads some butter on it. She takes a nibble and puts it back on the tray. Then she looks down at her lap, and it is then you wonder if she’s upset about something, this woman whose face you can’t see. This woman in a grey suit, wearing black tights to cover her knobbly knees, wearing a long fringe to cover her eyes. You’re still not sure of her nationality, but you suspect she isn’t happy about something because she turns away and stares out the window.

Then she lowers her head again, concentrating on her lap. You think she has closed her eyes. You are utterly entranced by this stranger, and you find this weird because normally you don’t pay too much attention to other people (a strange trait for someone who writes, no?). She nibbles at her scone once more, then returns to her reverie. You are convinced she’s sad.

Then she gathers her coat and bag and heads off to the toilet. You wait for her to come out so you can get a good l00k at her face. But when she does she remains as enigmatic as when she came in. You think she may be beautiful. Sad but beautiful.

You return to your book. You now have thirty minutes to kill.

Write Here, Write Now: NaNoWriMo Update.

National Novel Writing Month is just over two weeks away. To this end I have come upon an idea that I think will carry me through these “30 days of literary abandon.”

Having decided to not play it safe this year and write within my (limited) comfort zone, I will take on a challenge. For those of you who have read the book or seen the musical Les Miserables, you will know it features the innkeepers Monsieur and Madame Thernardier. In the novel they are an unscrupulous and devious pair, and they represent the true arch-villains of the piece. I know it’s Javert who is in pursuit of Jean Valjean but he’s not a true antagonist because he follows his own moral compass; he believes in God and the Law. The Thernardiers are a different story altogether, though.

In the musical they are used for comic effect and as such are good characters to play around with. So my challenge for 2011 is to reimagine Les Miserables from the viewpoint of the devilish duo. As part of my research I am reading as much as I can of Victor Hugo’s mammoth 19th century novel. This in itself is as much of a challenge as NaNoWriMo.

As an aside, I have to work out whether I want to portray the characters as they appear in the musical – comic relief – or in the novel – much more complex. I’ll work on this closer to the time. So enjoy what follows this post. I had the pleasure of seeing Master of the House performed live on stage recently and it is one hell of a showstopper.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 90. On NaNoWriMo (via Quantum Leap).

Theorizing that one could write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, Writer James McShane turned on this laptop and typed.

He wrote until he found himself stuck in the zone, facing words and  images that he had created, and driven by an Unknown Force to change plot points for the better.

His only guide on his journey is You, a reader that James can neither see nor hear. And so, Writer McShane finds himself leaping from chapter to chapter, from character to character, striving to put down one word after another, hoping each time that the next word will be the last.

 

 

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 79. On Poetry.

The Waterboys: An Appointment with Mr Yeats

I’m not as well up on poetry as I should be. If I’m to be any sort of writer, I should appreciate all forms, right? Perhaps – but not always. When it comes to poetry, I do know what I like. Ireland is renowned for its poets: the most famous, in my mind at least, is William Butler (WB) Yeats.

When I heard that a favourite musical group of mine, The Waterboys, had recorded an album set to Yeats’ lyrics, I had to have it. So I downloaded it from iTunes and I have to tell you: it’s wonderful.

Get it.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 77. On Male Grooming.

There was a time when all men had to do before heading out was brush their teeth, comb their hair, then splash on a bit of smelly stuff (Brut, Old Spice or whatever your father had in his collection). Nowadays, though, things have become a little more complicated. I blame David Beckham.

Now it’s all about moisturisers and eye cream. Where once I had shaving foam and toothpaste, now I have l’Oreal, Nivea and other products sold to me by advertising. One thing I will say, though, no way do I look 46. May this crap does the job after all.