Landing Author: Caitriona Lally on Writers, Rituals and Routines

Caitriona Launch Reading

The launch of ‘Eggshells’

Here as promised on Thursday, is Caitriona Lally’s guest post for The Landing Book Shelves, marking my 200th blog post:

I tend to get obsessive about writers and read everything they’ve ever written as quickly as I can. I love writers who see things with fresh eyes, who write with ferocity and are fearless about telling fictional truths. I don’t need to like the characters, but I need to not completely hate them. In recent years, I’ve glutted myself on the works of Henry Miller, Anne Enright, Kevin Barry, Aleksandar Hemon, Lorrie Moore, W. G. Sebald, Mary Costello, Alice Munro, Rachel Cusk, James Salter, and Lydia Davis. When I read such writers, I soak up their gorgeous sentences, but to motivate me to actually write, I read books about writers’ routines. I have yet to figure out a routine of my own, and tend to stuff my writing into whatever time-gaps appear in my day, so I find the notion of a habit or ritual encouraging. When I’m asked about my writing routine, it’s very tempting to describe a rigid regime that makes me look highly disciplined and hugely prolific, interspersed with a few quirks to make me seem eccentric and interesting (I can only write on vellum from month-old Friesian calves using yellow pencils sharpened with a miniature cleaver.)

I love the book Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey, which gives details of the precise preferences of various writers, artists, and composers. Their eating habits in particular fascinate me: so many writers seem to focus on their brains at the expense of their bellies, which is beyond my comprehension. My stomach clenches in knots at the idea of such foodlessness – I can’t have a cup of coffee without cake or chocolate, and I drink a lot of coffee when I’m writing. According to Currey, Proust ate croissants, but far too few for my liking. Patricia Highsmith worked from bed with a doughnut “and an accompanying saucer of sugar” which makes me think she and I would be kindred spirits.

I like knowing that W. H. Auden and Graham Greene took amphetamines to help them to write; it makes me feel smug if I can get words onto a page with only caffeine and sugar for a buzz. It’s also nice to know that Proust needed caffeine tablets and barbital sedatives to keep writing his masterpiece, that Balzac may have drunk up to fifty cups of coffee a day, and that Truman Capote preferred to work from bed or horizontally at least. Reading about writers’ habits instead of forming your own ones can be a kind of procrastination, however, and it gets addictive.

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life are books I return to when I feel low on motivation. Both are meditations on why we write, and how to live and write. They’re full of wit and compassion and sheer bewilderment at why we do this to ourselves, this endless torment of trying to write the perfect sentence, when we could be doing sensible jobs with normal hours. I find Dillard’s almost monastic approach to food fascinating – she describes writing for a whole day with nothing in her belly but coffee and reheated soup. Lamott’s title refers to a family story: when her brother was ten and had left a school report on birds until the last minute, he sat at the kitchen table surrounded by unread books, overwhelmed by the task ahead. Lamott’s father put his arm around the boy and said “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” It’s a quote I love – any writer could substitute word or sentence for bird, and it’s the perfect advice. When I read these books, I feel like I’m not alone in my efforts to battle procrastination, to will myself to stick with it. Keep going, I tell myself, just another few hundred words; come on, bird by bird.

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I hope that Caitriona’s post has both given you some reading inspiration (there are writers mentioned that I haven’t got around to yet) and the impetus to keep on writing….word, by word….

Eggshells

 

Thanks very much to Caitriona Lally for taking the time from her Eggshells publicity round, to contribute to The Landing. If you want to hear about Caitriona’s readings and events, follow @CaitrionaLally. You can find out more about the process of writing Eggshells in Caitriona’s article for Writing.ie and also purchase a copy direct from Liberties Press.

Picture Credits: Liberties Press & Liberties Upstairs.

 

Introducing Landing Author Caitriona Lally and ‘Eggshells’

Eggshells

Published by Liberties Press, 2015. Cover design by Karen Vaughan.

After quite a long gap, I am pleased to be hosting another Landing Author guest post. Over the last couple of years, I have had guest posts from some lovely writers, beginning with Andrés Neuman in April 2012 and most recently, Juliet Greenwood last August. As you can see, it has been quite a while… In looking back, I note that I have said the very same thing before so perhaps I need a better ‘Author Routine’ to keep me regular.

My impetus for (trying) to get into gear again with guest posts, was Caitriona Lally giving a talk at our Liberties Upstairs Culture Club event recently. In parallel, we read Eggshells for the Upstairs book club. I mentioned in my last post that I would like to ask her to contribute a Landing post, and she very kindly agreed. I will post up Caitriona’s piece on Friday 17 July and leave you with a taster for now.  As I have now declared my Liberties Press interest[i], I am not going to offer a review of Eggshells. What I will do however is to give you part of Sarah Gilmartin’s review in the Irish Times (6 June) to introduce you to Eggshells, and its unusual protagonist Vivian Lawlor:

 

Vivian is a self-professed changeling, left by fairies to compete with her parents’ human child, also called Vivian. With the parents dead, the two adult Vivians are all that remain. Human Vivian is married with children and uninterested in her sister’s strange ways. The narrator lives alone in her great-aunt’s house, filling her days with sugary treats, dressing up and a variety of bizarre pastimes as she seeks a way out of this world and back to her own.

It is an interesting set-up, with a clever ambiguity surrounding the narrator. The book is rooted in the natural world of contemporary Dublin, but to Vivian’s eyes this is a fairytale world, full of rules of threes and sixes, and potential gateways to supernatural lands. How much of her changeling status is fictional, the delusions of a severely disturbed character, is left for the reader to puzzle over. This question gives momentum to Vivian’s escapades. It also, somewhat unexpectedly, provides plenty of laughs in a book full of one-liners.

Much of the humour comes from the author’s preoccupation with language and wordplay. Vivian tells a social worker enquiring about her job prospects: “I am open-minded. Sometimes I wear my slippers on the opposite feet to change my worldview.” As she searches for portals across the city – St Stephen’s Green, Glasnevin cemetery, the canals, the Liffey bridges – her literal take on language brings about many absurd situations. The need for precision in language is a major theme, with Vivian constantly drawing attention to the gap between speech and meaning. “I wake on a damp pillow,” she tells us. “My dreams must have leaked.”

A loose plot develops out of this affinity with language when Vivian pins a notice to a tree: “I want a friend called Penelope. When I know her well enough, I’ll ask her why she doesn’t rhyme with Antelope.” The new friend, actually called Elaine, is another oddball character. Struggling herself with mother issues and an obsession with painting cats, Elaine/Penelope doesn’t judge. More importantly, she promises she’ll organise a vertical burial for Vivian, which is all Vivian has ever wanted in a friend.

The black comedy gives the book a jaunty quality that complements the dazzling trip around Dublin. From the “soot-streaked backs of the buildings at the junction of George’s Street and Dame Street” to the “fierce bang of hops from the Guinness factory, a smell somewhere between meat and toffee”, Lally uses Vivian’s otherworldly perspective to bring the city to life.

 

Caitriona, a lover of words who confesses to having no proper writing routine, has written a post for us about her obsession with other writers and their routines. I won’t spoil the blog post by telling you about any writerly habits that you may or may not wish to emulate (on Friday you can judge the wisdom of those mentioned).

I was delighted to realise that Caitriona’s post will be the 200th post on The Landing! See you on Friday…

Caitriona Lally

Caitriona Lally

About the author:

Caitriona Lally studied English Literature in Trinity College Dublin. She has had a colourful employment history, working as an abstract writer and a copywriter alongside working as a home help in New York and an English teacher in Japan. She has travelled extensively around Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Her essay about Grangegorman appeared in a recent issue of We Are Dublin. Eggshells was selected as one of twelve finalists in the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair 2014.

[i] Since I have been associated with Liberties Press, I have similarly featured the books of Bethany Dawson (guest blog post) and Daniel Seery (Q and A).

Picture credits: Liberties Press and the Irish Times.

Culture Club at Liberties Upstairs

I have borrowed my post from the Members’ Blog on Writing.ie, in which I talk about a new venture that I am involved in organising for Liberties Press In Dublin. The main reason I want to mention the Culture Club venture here is that the first session features a previous #LandingAuthor, Daniel Seery (author of A Model Partner). Sometime soon I hope to include a guest post from Caitriona Lally (Eggshells) as well so that’s a another reason for borrowing my blog post. Of course, I’m also not averse to spreading the word about the Liberties Upstairs Bookshop’s Culture Club either!

A Model PartnerThis post sees me wearing my Liberties Press (Liberties Upstairs) hat, as I want to spread the word about a new venture that I’ve been involved in organising for the Liberties shop. Inspired by the positive experiences of organising the Liberties Upstairs Saturday morning book club (running since November 2014), I have decided to try setting up a monthly Culture Club. My aim is to have a varied programme, drawing on the resources of Liberties Press authors, publishing insiders and the arts and crafts contributors at Liberties Upstairs. The pattern of the sessions will be a talk and or reading followed by the opportunity for questions and discussion over wine or coffee. We might even rustle up a few biscuits to keep up our strength for the Q and A (well, what’s sauce for the book club….)

As the Liberties book group runs in a morning, we‘ve opted for an evening culture club, which we hope will be similarly supported by the local community. Indeed, some book club members have already expressed an interest in the new Liberties venture. The club will run on the last Wednesday of the month, with the inaugural event on 24 June at 7.30 pm. For this session, I am delighted to have debut authors Daniel Seery (A Model Partner) and Caitriona Lally (Eggshells), both alumni of the Novel Fair to talk about writing, pitching and getting a publishing contract. Both writers will speak and give a short reading, so it will be a packed evening to start our series of events. It should be a lovely beginning to our new programme; Daniel and Caitriona are looking forward to appearing, so I hope that a good time will be had by all.

Events and launches are an important part of any bookshop’s strategy in the ceaseless quest to increase footfall, that dread word. The Liberties Upstairs bookshop has hosted several events since setting up Liberties Upstairs in November 2013. However, this is the first time for embarking on organising a series of events. Initially I have planned a programme of six sessions with a further six in the pipeline for next year if all goes well. We plan to announce the first part of the programme at the June meeting. I hope that some people will be keen enough to sign up for the whole six sessions. My technology skills (!) have enabled a booking facility through our online shop (€5 euro per event) so I felt quite a sense of achievement when receiving the first confirmation.Eggshells

I’m looking forward to next week’s event; perhaps our author talks will inspire at least one would be writer to give it a go and aim for the Novel Fair. You never know what might happen…

Look out for a future post on The Landing from Caitriona Lally, and if you’re Dublin based, look out for future Culture Club events in Liberties Upstairs!