My Literary Inspiration

Sometimes (okay, most days if I’m honest), I find myself asking why bother. Why writing? Why not an office job, a nine to five with a steady income and job security? On days when I have to drag  the words out of my head kicking and screaming, I end up on job vacancy websites, sobbing into my laptop as once again self-doubt, in all its cruel and soul-destroying glory, sneaks in again and does a happy dance in my stomach.

This happened again last night, when I had so much to do and couldn’t settle. I scrolled through the Word document that will be a novel some day (I’m trying the power of positive thinking starting….now) and I watched helplessly as the words seemed to merge into one big blob. I have to walk away when that happens. The temptation to end the struggle once and for all using just two buttons, delete and enter, is much too great when I’m in a panicky, confused state of mind.

But I digress. I got to thinking why I wanted to write in the first place. Louise O’Neill, award-winning author of Only Ever Yours and Asking for It (and, as far as I remember, sat in a few tutorials with me in Trinity- her and Ken Mooney are my claims  to fame) credits Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (now a major TV series) for igniting her need to write. Incidentally, I’m a Louise fan too, and in particular Asking for It raises some serious questions about how we perpetuate rape culture and how we need to exonerate the victim of responsibility. After all, you wouldn’t ever say that a murder victim was partly responsible for their own demise, would you?

I’m an Atwood fan too, though the book that changed my life was Cat’s Eye, a novel detailing the complexity of female friendship, the far-reaching consequences of emotional abuse by a loved one and the struggle of trying to live with regret. Atwood is the master of description, and in Elaine  she created a complex character who is a product of her past and her regrets. In fact, if I think about it, this is what I’m trying to portray in my character as well.

Another book that changed my life was the text I read for my Junior Cert, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harpur Lee. I had read widely up to that point, mainly for pleasure, and Mockingbird was the first time that I considered that a novel could be a vehicle of promoting activism. Lee’s depiction of the inherent segregation of people in the sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama and the widespread normalisation of discrimination, demonization even, made me feel cold. As a child narrator, Scout is taught both directly and indirectly, to judge people based on their differences, and yet Lee offers hope to the narrator. Yes, the innocent Tom Robinson, convicted of the rape of Mayella Ewell, is wrongfully convicted and later killed for trying to escape prison, but Scout learns to recognise humanity. In the touching scene where she meets the childlike Boo Radley for the first time, we learn that it is our perception of others that creates divide and not our tangible differences.

I still have nightmares about this last book (by no means the last book to have influenced my writing, but nobody will read a 4000-odd word blog about  it), George Orwell’s 1984. Like any good dystopian novel, the world of 1984 is not too far from the world we live in now. It’s a world in which the inhabitants’ thoughts are not really their own, where there are cameras everywhere, even in private homes, and where news stories are rewritten  to suit the agenda of the State and the real facts are chucked into a ‘memory hole’. Winston, an ordinary working class bloke, starts to question the oppressive regime under which he lives. He lives in a world where he cannot trust anyone, where he is not even allowed the privacy of his own thoughts. The reason why I had nightmares about  this book is because Winston is beaten into submission when he is placed in a room of rats. Loyalty means nothing in 1984, and neither does friendship or compassion. You think and do what you are told to think and do.

Sometimes I wonder whether I’d really be able to write a novel that would have the same impact on others as these three have had on me. Yet that little annoying voice inside says that I have to keep trying, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s better to have tried and failed than never tried at all. Right?!

Musical Inspiration

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I hate days like yesterday when, no matter what you do, you just don’t feel like writing. Even the thought of reading over stuff you’ve already written feels  exhausting. On days like these, I find that putting in my earphones and listening to some music always helps to get the juices flowing. It’s time-efficient; you can listen while doing the cleaning, and I spend the time daydreaming  about what my characters are going to do next.

Here are five of the songs that motivate me to do some writing:

  1. Pompeii – Bastille:

This is a song that my sister Alex introduced me to back in 2013, and it really struck a chord with me. At first it was painful to listen to because I associated it with her (she’s living in Australia and I miss her every day), but when I listened to the lyrics I realised that this song aptly encapsulates the message of my ‘novel’ – the notion of a society that is reluctant to change: (‘If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?’) Every time I hear it, I think of the Independent Living Movement and how it sometimes feels that we are getting no closer to achieving equality for disabled people.

   2. Talking ’bout a Revolution – Tracy Chapman:

Thanks to my friend Orla, I’m still a shameless Tracy fan. Almost thirty years later, ‘Talking ’bout a Revolution’ is still as relevant as it ever was. Our government continues to create social divide and while we are all furious, we can’t seem to change anything; revolution in Ireland sounds ‘like a whisper’. My love affair with Tracy Chapman started shortly before I read To Kill a Mockingbird. and for me this song – and indeed all of her music – demonstrates the importance of denouncing discrimination. All of her music is slightly uncomfortable, and again reflective of a society that is slow to change.

3. Dear Mr President – Pink:

This song is so different from Pink’s usual ‘in your face’ style, which makes it even more poignant. Although the song is addressed to former President George Bush, it could also be directed at Donald Trump or even Enda Kenny (‘How do you feel when you see the homeless on the streets? … How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?’) The line ‘how do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?’ hits me every time as I think of all the women across Ireland who were forcibly separated from their babies over the last century (including the protagonist of my novel and her mother). A history that, in Ireland, we are still too embarrassed to talk about.

 

4. Just a Girl – No Doubt:

The tone of this song is slightly more upbeat – and more angry. It’s the ultimate feminist song, a call for women to be treated equally. It’s sarcastic from start to finish (‘don’t you think I know exactly where I stand?’ ‘I’m just a girl, guess I’m some kind of freak.’) It’s a song about being tired of being defined and controlled within a patriarchal society. And I can relate to how annoying this is (‘Oh I’ve had it up to here’).

 

5. Turning Tables – Adele:

This is an important song to me because the music and lyrics capture the relationship between Rachel (the protagonist of my story) and Sister Anthony (the antagonist). Anthony is Rachel’s carer but she abuses her power, and her words and actions mould Rachel into a person who believes she is worthless. As Rachel moves away from residential care, Anthony’s words continue to haunt her (‘under haunted skies I see you, and where love is lost your ghost is found’). Rachel needs to forgive Anthony her mistakes in order to move forward, but has built an emotional wall (‘I won’t let you close enough to hurt me’).

 

Admittedly, these aren’t the cheeriest of songs, but they really help to get the creative juices flowing. Don’t worry, I’ll use headphones, I promise.

 

Source of all videos http://www.youtube.com. Copyright of artists named

Why I’m writing again

It would be incredibly pretentious of me, having started writing again only four months ago, to say that I would love to write full time. I’m certainly no JK Rowling or Marian Keyes or Cecelia Ahern. Yet, the more time I spend with my ridiculous thoughts, the more I find myself leaking them onto this page and, more specifically, this blog. And the more I feel that, Yes, this is what I want to do.

From a very early age, I have been acquainted with the written word. My mother, fearing that I would not be accepted into the local mainstream school, taught me to read at the age of three. I was reading before I was potty-trained at the ripe old age of five. When I was in Junior Infants, I had already read all of the class readers. I was bored, which the teacher was not expecting.

I have always been encouraged to write. At a basic level, I was given an electric typewriter at school, and it was through using it that I communicated my basic human needs, such as the need to go to the toilet. I had to type out all the answers to the teacher’s questions, as my speech was on a par with someone who was heavily inebriated. I remember, even at this age, thinking how degrading it was. As far as I was (and still am) concerned, I can talk, I do my best to be understood. It’s up to those to whom I’m talking to, to make an effort to listen.

Even now, however, this doesn’t always work in practice.

When we were making the RTE Documentary, ‘Somebody to Love’, I made it quite clear that my speech was the only part of my disability that I would change, because I feel that people tend to link my slurred, incoherent speech with my cognitive ability. For example, if I have to make a phone call to someone I don’t know, they tend to ask me to put my parents on the phone, or they hang up on me. ‘Call back when you’re sober’, ‘Is there anyone there with you’? ‘Listen, I’m hanging up because I don’t understand what you’re saying,’ are pretty standard responses when I call somebody who doesn’t know me. I dread phone calls, and firmly believe that every single person on the planet should have email or text. So. Much. Easier.

It’s been twenty-five years since I started primary school, and a lot has changed since then. I use a laptop instead of a typewriter, and I can make myself understood when needs be. I’m a wife and a mother; instead of being a dependent, I’m heavily depended upon. I’ve a degree in Trinity and relatively good experience of the working world. Yet, I’m still perceived by (some) people who don’t know me as a victim of unfortunate circumstances, who will never enjoy a decent quality of life; who is in some way inferior or lacking.  I endure the staring, the tutting, the ‘isn’t it terrible, the poor pet’, because to verbally object would be futile, like throwing petrol on a roaring fire.

And this is why I’ve started writing again. Admittedly, it would be a bonus if, one day, it became a way for me to put food on the table. For now, I’m just happy that the writer’s block is gone and I’m able to write once more, knowing that at least my words will be understood, even if I’ve nothing of importance to say.