Blog Entry November 4th
I was in hospital a week back for a very minor yoke and the kind woman who was doing all the form filling and box ticking asked me what my profession was. I said “novelist” and then went bright red before realising that I didn’t need to be blushing at all because I am actually finally, at long last a novelist and it rocks!
I think I was twelve when I decided I wanted to write books. I was utterly captivated by Enid Blyton and that ability she had to spellbind. The Famous Five and The Five Find Outers were particular favourites. The notion of smugglers and wreckers and disappearing cats had me mesmerised. And as for The Magic Faraway Tree well let’s just say – she had me at Moonface. I moved on to Maeve Binchy whom I adored. She had this incredible ability to speak to everyone, children, women and even men. Her writing oozed with warmth and compassion. Light a penny candle is still one of my favourite books. But more about Maeve later…
But back to me. Like most writers I talked about wanting to be a writer long before I actually did anything constructive about becoming one. I kept diaries of course. Awful maudlin things I discovered years later when mining for material. There was nothing worth saving. It was all so self-indulgent and self-pitying but I suppose that’s what a diary is for. Pouring your heart out over some lad from the Christian Brothers who’d looked through you on the way to school and you only in love with him for the last five years. Reader, I burnt the diaries. I did. Before it was illegal to do so. Out the back of the house in a steel drum my dad once had for burning files. No, no it’s not like The Firm or anything like that. These were records that were no longer needed and couldn’t be binned because of client confidentially and all that jazz. They have shredding companies that take care of all that now. And that, as my granny would say, is a job for someone, imagine?
I moved on from the depressing diaries (that I hope no one but me ever, ever read) to a class of a field notebook or series of notebooks. I took notes as I travelled and I travelled a lot. When I left college the first thing you did was book a ticket out of Ireland. There were no jobs to speak of. I made notes about places, journeys, jobs and people I met along the way and these proved to be far more fruitful and positive than any diary. I didn’t burn those.
In 2003, I took part in The Maeve Binchy Writer’s Course at the National College of Ireland. My mother, a long-time admirer of Binchy, had heard the novelist talking about the course on the radio and then called me and advised me to sprint down to the quays and enrol which I did. There was an urgency in her voice because she was very sick and was keen to see me her eldest daughter get on the road to novel writing instead of talking about it. She died three weeks after the course started. But the course was a comfort during a terrible time. It proved to be invaluable too with publishers, literary agents, playwrights and established novelists, such as Marian Keyes, all contributing as well as the eponymous Binchy. It was the first and only course the novelist gave at the college. She was generous in her advice and encouraging to the two hundred odd students who were all keen to get published. During a coffee break during the course, a man announced to no one in particular that he was only there because he wanted to “just write a page turner” which raised a good few laughs – the page turner being the Holy Grail that all aspiring novelists spend their lives chasing down even the literary ones.
The course finished and we were presented with a fifty euro cheque each. We were told it was our first royalty payment from writing. I still have that cheque. I went on to write my first novel after that and it took three months. Like my diaries, it was no great shakes but I kept at it. And here I am published by Poolbeg and happy out. Maeve Binchy’s closing request at the conclusion of her writer’s course was that when any of us were published we would send a copy of the book to her home in Dalkey. She is no longer around much to the nation’s regret but last week I did package up a copy of The King of Lavender Square with a bunch of fresh lavender and sent it to her husband, Gordon Snell, instead. He must miss his lovely Maeve. On that note I’ll head off. It’s nice to meet you.