Friday, 18 November 2011

What on Earth made you do it.

My mother, who is no longer with us, would often run her hands through her hair and ask with emphasised exaggeration: ‘What on earth made you do it?’

It was the standard response when she confronted each one of her 6 sons on their latest bout with stupidity. Sometimes it was forgetting some vital provision from the shop; or a school assignment; or getting caught in the neighbours orchard; or taking a mitch (unauthorised absence) from school ; or the prize winner – forgetting to tell her that there was a dead eel in the pockets of the pants she was hand washing.

As the youngest I learned to borrow from my brothers responses but my mother had the type of eyes that could see all the way down to the core of your soul so lying was useless.

She would have liked my novel LAGAN LOVE but she would have sniffed with disdain at the sexuality and the cruder language. ‘What on earth made you want to go and write something like that?’ she would ask if she could.

The reasons are very clear in my mind. I wanted to capture something I believed was about to become extinct – pre Celtic-Tiger Dublin. You see I grew up there and while many of us have strong affinities with our home towns, Dublin is a city like no other. It was never really an Irish city; founded by the Vikings and home to the Norman invaders before it became the Provincial Capital of British rule. But all of that just made it more interesting. Full of larger than life characters that have elbowed their way onto the pages of some of the great literary works of the pantheon of Irish writers, Dublin was the high protein diet for anybody who wanted to write about life as it really was. Sure you can set your historical romance there but you can set those anywhere. You see Dublin is where the human soul has been sculpted by the winds and tides of fate. Misshapen and deformed to where beauty and ugliness conjoin the soul of Dublin will always be like a siren’s song for me.

I realised all of this years ago when I spent my evenings, and sometimes mornings, and afternoons, in Grogan’s of South William Street. You see it was where the remnants of Irish Literati gathered under the gentle and caring gaze of Paddy O’Brian – a publican of the finest order – and Tommy Smith who still runs the place. Conversation was the currency of the place that had no television nor live music though the on occasion a preferred customer might get a few bars out before the dish cloth came flying out from behind the bar. My good friend Emmanuel even got to play guitar there one quiet afternoon but the place was all about talking or sitting quietly – if that was what you preferred.

That was where the seeds were sown, fluttered down into my fertile mind from the lofty draughts of the banter of the brilliant. Politics, Mythology and Literary Classics were all blended with a generous dollop of good old personal gossip. It was the music of life and I was hooked.

As the Tiger approached, it seemed that all of that might be forgotten as everyone got ready to reinvent themselves in the New and Improved Ireland and I wanted to ensure that they, the voices of Grogan’s would never be forgotten. So if my mother was to ask I would have to say I was trying to capture a picture of a dying culture.

‘You could have done it without all the sex and scandal and bad language,’ she would argue with a flick of her head.

I could but that would not have done the place justice. That, you see, was why I had to write LAGAN LOVE.
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Sunday, 6 November 2011

What is this thing called love?

Is there anything else in life that promises such joy and fulfillment as ‘love’?

We crave it even though it often delivers nothing but pain and anguish and we talk about it forever; trying to understand what it is or how to go about it. Is it an enigma for the heart or a prank of creation? ‘In-side’ knowledge is available but sometimes it is just fantasy, or too esoteric to emulate in real life.

In philosophical and religious terms it is deemed to be a ‘virtue.’ But we also know that it is an ‘emotion’ or a ‘feeling’ or a ‘desire’ that should be indulged or denied. Throughout history, cultures have espoused both views and various combinations of the two.

Small wonder that ‘love’ is used to describe a myriad of feelings towards things as varied as people, meals, drinks, movies, books, sport teams, gods, idols and countries. It is also used to describe sexual activity as ‘making love’ but it is the concept of being in ‘love’ with another person that is the most fascinating.

I have a friend who tries to avoid the demons of childhood by regularly ‘falling in love’ and being totally renewed and completed. When these relationships end in tears I am contacted for reaffirmation, reassurance, or comfort, but everything I say is met with a stream of ‘I know’ or ‘you’re right but . . .’

During the post-mortem, I search for the most delicate ways to suggest that the inability to control insecurities – in particular – jealousy, might be a factor but my friend is one of those people who believe that jealousy is an indication of how deep and passionate ‘love’ is! My friend believes in looking for the ‘right’ someone who knows how to love them.

We all know of people who are forever, after a few casual dates, falling totally and completely in love: assured as never before that this was the one. But, when the objects of their unsolicited affections break the bad news, they are crushed and complain that they gave their hearts only to have them thrown back, or crushed beneath a heel.

Then there are those who ‘fall in love’ to avoid living life alone and face the same odds of winning the happiness sweepstake as anybody else.

Does ‘love’ really exist behind the veils of all of our mythology? Is it replenished when men and women endure for each other and their children; and when people give of themselves without consideration for praise or reward? Is it intoxicated when passion rules and is it tempted when love is sold or bartered? Does ‘love’ forgive us for using and abusing it, for forgetting it, and for messing around with it so much?

The world, it would seem, is full of all kinds of ‘love’ – both real and imagined – and the spirit of ‘love’ might suggest that we shun being judgmental and embrace the world we live in; loved or unloved.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Wouldn’t it be nice . . .

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our prejudices were true; if those people we believed to be evil really were and those we believed to be good – our people – were always right.

It would save us from having to consider anything but that which suits and supports our way of thinking. Our failures would be the interference and conspiracy of enemies – agents of the Devil – and our successes would be further proof that our power and authority were appointed by our God.

Blame for our economic problems could be laid at the door of those who hated, and wanted to change, our perfect way of life. Praise for our success would belong to us for placing our trust in our political leaders and the brave Captains of industry who toiled, not for personal gain but for the betterment of all and the glorification of our highly evolved and sophisticated civilization.

History has a great many examples of this type of thinking. The great Empires of the past glorified all that they did and ignored the stories of the downtrodden who were but slaves and serfs in the grand scheme of things. Even when revolution changed the balance of power, the new orders had to seek legitimacy and rewrote history to support their claims to all that was listed above.

A thinking person might despair! So where is hope – that essential aspect of humanity?

Our lives are too short to fully appreciate the circular nature of things. If you are lucky you get to live most of your life in the positive arcs. Too bad if you are born into the end of one of these and are doomed to spend the rest of your days in decline. But any child who has sat alone in the center of a see-saw knows that even the slightest change can affect a tilt.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

What to write


Anybody who has sat down to a blank page has been confronted by the question: what to write?

From adolescence, writing essays in school, I learned that pandering to the teacher’s expectations was the more likely course to a better grade but I had difficulty with that.

Thankfully I was encouraged by those teachers that challenged me to do more – to try to voice my own point of view and to write something ‘outside of the box.’ These good and caring teachers responded to my interest by steering me towards the type of book you might not find in the narrower curriculums.

I soon learned that I preferred the type of writing that jolted, or coaxed, me out of the small existence I occupied and while it is comforting to read like-mindedness, it is often no more than fast-food for the emotions. I developed an appetite for the rich and varied diet of writings that made me reconsider myself and the world around me.

As a child I liked to be led by the hand to a happily-ever-after that proved that good triumphed over bad and that Fate was fair – it was reassuring when the life I was born into was turned on its head.

But after years of wondering why Good avoided me I began to realise that life was not like that. (Blame all of those ‘banned’ novels I consumed as a teenager! Demian, by Hesse, had a profound impact, as did Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.)

From then on I was drawn to books that said: ‘here’s another point of view – try looking at the world this way.’

But that was back in the day when we asked questions and did not accept pre-packaged answers. That was back when people spoke openly of trying to make things better – not unlike today!

Writing Lagan Love gave me an opportunity to show a glimpse of a time and place that could be interpreted as a metaphor for far more than Dublin and the Irish. Too many of us were seduced by delusions and an image of life that we now know to be fantasy.

I, like so many others, do not have answers but I do have questions that I would like to discuss in a civilised and respectful manner. We all need to consider this and turn away from divisive and dismissive rhetoric and writing is as good a way of doing that as any.

The reactions to Lagan Love has been varied. Some embrace it and some reject it and I am okay with all of that. I would worry if everyone agreed! Good writing, is has been said, should not present the author but should offer the reader a chance to meet parts of themselves in the characters.

Some people have said that I have achieved that by their reactions – be they positive or negative – and I am encouraged by that.

This post was published on Jagged Edge Reviews