Finding the Best Place to Write

writing-427527_640Years ago, indeed, so many years ago that I would prefer not to reveal the actual date, I went to Spain to write a novel. I had the perfect place in mind – a small village, not too far from the Mediterranean coast. It would be a stone-built village, with narrow medieval streets, surrounded by olive groves stretching to the beach and a glimmering cobalt sea. I would take up rooms above a friendly bar/restaurant where I would have meals of hearty stew served by a beautiful cdarked-haired girl who wanted to improve her English. In the evenings, after a hard day’s writing, I would converse with garrulous old fishermen, full of stirring tales of the sea. Naturally, these would provide me with the raw materials for a novel which would stun the literary world.

Such a village did exist, once.   But I never went there. Instead, I took up residence in a tiny eighth floor flat in Barcelona, squeezed between the tourist haven of the Sagrada Familia church (the one with the spiky towers) and the all night ambulance station of the local hospital. Barcelona was and is the city that never sleeps. And neither did I. The message from the myriad bars and restaurants that I frequented was – life is for living, not for scribbling about. My novel, needless to say, did not get written.

7946581522_f7233274beWould I have written the book if I had stayed in my quiet village? Is there an ideal place to write?

Virginia Woolf’s prescription was simple. “A room of one’s own” was all that was necessary, while Stephen King offers some practical advice on what you should do with that room. “If possible,” he says in his wise manual On Writing, “there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall.”

On the other hand, JK Rowling said the best place to write is in a café. “You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement,” she said. But then she had to write in a café – she was too broke to heat her flat, and could not bear to write Harry Potter in fingerless mittens. Incidentally, the café where she penned the first of her astonishingly successful books is now a place of pilgrimage for Potter fans. Last time I was there, an entire team of Italian footballers were being noisily photographed next to a poster of Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. No longer a quiet place to write, then.

Truman Capote and Toni Morrison recommended motels as their favoured location to write, while Marcel Proust insisted on a cork-lined room. Other published writers have claimed to do their best work in the car, the bathroom and even the local church.

Looking back on my sojourn in Barcelona, I am pretty sure that my problem was not where I had chosen to write. I simply wasn’t ready. When you are ready, you’ll know. As Ernest Hemingway replied when asked this perennial question, “The best place to write is in your head.”

~ Patrick Kelly is a journalist and writer. He has lived in Barcelona and London. He is now studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.

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Thoughts One Has While Writing a Novel

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This is going to be great, like Joyce, except better than Joyce – more readable. Clever but enjoyable. Touching. Compelling. I can’t wait for my first interview on Oprah’s Book of the Month Club. My characters taught me so much, you know. They really had a life of their own. Some lines just came from God, you know. I wrote that line and thought: “That was a good line”.

Actually, this writing thing’s harder than it looks. Maybe this won’t be Joyce. I’ll settle for, like, Nicholas Sparks. He made lots of money at least. I’ll be rich and famous from these words. I can’t wait for my book to be made into a film. I can’t wait to win my first Oscar.

How many words have I written today? Phew that’s loads. Time for some coffee.

I think I’ll give myself a week off. Just ‘cos.

Oh Jesus, what did I write last week? That makes no sense at all. What are my characters doing? Just walking around talking to each other? Are my characters even characters? They’re just words on a page. Is that sentence even a sentence? What tense am I in? What tense am I supposed to be in?

I think I’ll remove that comma. There. Much better.

I think I’ll put that comma back in. There. Much better.

Actually, this is kind of Joycean.

Actually, this is nowhere near Joyce, or even Nicholas Sparks. It’s probably more along the lines of the Teletubbies. If I could write something half as coherent as the Teletubbies I’d be doing well.

Somebody publish me!

~ Niamh Donnelly

“How am I going to read this?”

ulysses[1]The words James Joyce and Ulysses typically fill most readers with a sense of dread and trepidation. Ulysses has gained an almost mythical status with most critics agreeing that it is one of the foremost literary texts in the English language. They base this lofty argument on the innovative way in which Joyce constructs his text. In addition, the standard of language, which Joyce uses throughout the book, sets it apart from most text. Despite a relatively simplistic plot line, Joyce masterfully constructs an interweaving text that highlights his subjects in new and innovative ways. In addition, Joyce inserts a myriad of textual references, which encompass centuries of various texts making it a truly multi-contextual and internationally timeless work. Apparently, James Joyce once said that his multitude of textual reference gave it a riddle like quality that would take critics centuries to unravel thus ensuring his immortality.

In many cases, Ulysses may seem daunting to college students whom their lectures require them to read. Often students will get to chapter three (Proteus) and give up as the effort of deciphering the text becomes too much. On the other hand, students who continue with the text despite its difficulty experience a phenomenal sense of achievement when they finish it. In many cases, students see it as a badge of honour having successfully read one of the most difficult texts in the English language. Equally, students and readers who finish the text often see their achievement as a badge of cultural capital placing them in a small and select cultural group that share a common interest.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Ulysses is a most difficult read and students often ask the question: “How can I successfully complete this book?” There is no one correct answer to this however, readers can utilise a series of qualities and strategies that can use to help them complete Ulysses. Patience is a virtue but in the case of Ulysses, it is a necessity for any reader who wishes to finish the book. The text is difficult and readers need to be patient in terms of completing it. Furthermore, understanding a text is a core objective for most readers however; in the case of Ulysses, most readers on initial reading will not fully understand the text. It is important for readers to be comfortable with this and instead focus on taking what they can from the text and this will certainly help them to finish the text. It is extremely wise for reader not to confuse the author with the text. The narrator in a text does not necessarily represent the author. However, most creative writers will draw on personal experiences, cultural and historical contexts in forming their narratives. It is reasonable to argue that James Joyce was no different in this regard. Therefore, readers who have an adequate knowledge of Joyce’s biography will have a better chance of understanding the text. Read! Read! Read! Certainly, a well-informed reader will have a much better chance of understanding Ulysses than a less well read individual. Because of Joyce’s myriad of textual allusions, a more sophisticated reader will be able to notice the multitude of references that Joyce makes throughout Ulysses. On a practical level, having a dictionary close to hand is useful when reading Ulysses as the reader can use it to look up the many difficult and unusual words that Joyce uses in his text. Finally, take time reading Ulysses. If the reader is under a time constraint, they will certainly struggle to complete the text. Instead, take plenty of breaks while reading it as the time away from the book will help to clear the readers head giving them a fresh perspective when they return to it.

Lastly, and most importantly, try to enjoy perhaps the greatest book in the English language and share in the tremendous sense of achievement that fellow readers garner from finishing Ulysses

~Pádraig Ó Loingsigh

Listening vs Reading: The Rise of Audiobooks

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In our house, we’re well-versed in the world of audiobooks as they saved our family holidays.

I love to read books (well, duh) but my husband doesn’t.  He just never really got into it – his boredom threshold falls around the size of the average newspaper article, which he reads in abundance.  Essentially, his digitally-trained brain can’t cope having to read 100,000 words before finding out ‘the point’.

My favourite thing to do on holiday is to find a beautiful view and a comfortable seat and settle down with a great book.  On our first holiday together I found myself unable to get past a single paragraph without being asked how it was going / did I see the kid with the ball / was I too hot.

And so we discovered many years ago that this was a problem we would have to overcome or I was going to drown him in his holiday beer.

The solution? Audiobooks.  I downloaded books I thought he would like (Wolf of Wall Street was a big hit, followed by biographies of Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs), charged up his Iphone and let him off

The only problem is that audiobooks are rather expensive.  Roughly €20-30 each, which is understandable when you consider the book’s value in itself, with added production and narration costs.  Enter Audible.com, which sounds rather convoluted but is in effect, a subscription service.  You pay a monthly fee and depending on which tier you’re on, you get at least one book a month.

The only downside for me is the lack of learning.  As I’ve barely a toe on the first rung of a writing career, I like to read great writing so that I can learn from it and hopefully imbue a tiny droplet of those writers’ talents into my own work.  I do feel that listening rather than reading impacts this, as I can’t fully appreciate the structure, the language, the skill.

I find I most value audiobooks when travelling.  I get terribly car-sick so have never been able to read in the car or on a bus.  Now, however, a journey to Dublin equals at least six or seven chapters.  And, when flying, they’re good to block out at least 90% of the ear-torture inflicted by the relentless purveyors of scratchcards, perfumes and bus tickets. Which is always a good thing.

So for now, I think I’ll stick to mixing it up, listening and reading. What about you, have you given audio-books a try?

~RM Kealy