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.

***************************

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.

 

Advertisements

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!

 

Daniel Seery: A Model Landing Author

As promised yesterday, and just in time to liven up a chilly Monday morning in Dublin are a few questions that I put to Daniel Seery, author of A Model Partner (Liberties Press). I was surprised to realise just how long it’s been since I had a guest post (my last was Louise Phillips in August) so I’m pleased to welcome Daniel to the #LandingAuthors club. I do feel compelled to mention that as I  now work for Liberties Press, any praise I give Daniel’s book might seem biased. Therefore, I will more or less let him speak for himself other than to say that I think Daniel has created a very engaging and sympathetic character in his main protagonist Tom Stacey.

CM: I was reading in your piece on Writing.ie that you have written and directed a play and been shortlisted in an RTE drama competition. Can I start by asking you how difficult you found it to direct your own piece?

DS: When I write a piece I tend to visualise the whole scene, the pace of the drama, the way a character will deliver a line, the tone they use, even their movement. Initially, it was difficult to let go of this and allow the actor to move forward with their interpretation of the play. And in this respect I had to stop myself from over-directing and trying to control every aspect. But I knew the actor very well. I’d seen him in plenty of plays and I trusted his judgement and his skill. In the end, a lot of the directing came down to the physical arrangement and other technical details.

A Model Partner

CM: Moving on to novel writing, how different do you find the creative process to be from writing for the stage? 

DS: I had a good idea of the themes that I wanted to have in the play so I approached it in the same way I’d approach a novel, in that I usually try to get a rough draft down as quickly as possible in an effort to capture the tone of the piece. The editing stage was very different though, imagining how everything was going to look from an audience perspective and adapting it for the stage. But it’s nice to take on a new challenge with your writing. I’ve a couple of ideas for screenplays and I hope to get the time to write them someday.

CM: In A Model Partner, you have thrown a lot of misfortune Tom’s way during his formative years. Did you plan this from the start or did events take shape as you worked?

DS: The first time I imagined Tom he was leaning against a wall, listening in on his neighbours. I pictured this character on the fringes of society and I wanted to delve into how he ended up in this situation. Because I wanted the character to have a lot of heart, it would make more sense that he was a victim of circumstance and the actions of other people. It also offers the notion that often the bad events in our lives can impact us greater than the good.  

CD: Assuming that Tom finds ‘the one’ do you think that she would be able to cope with Tom’s obsessive need to place his chair exactly so, or do you feel that he would no longer have a need to control his environment so closely?

DS: I think a large part of relationships is about understanding and allowing for a partner’s natural or emotional flaws, so Tom would need to meet someone who is patient and will give him time to change. I think there are some signs in the book that his behaviour is altering. Perhaps he just needs someone to have faith in him and to love him, just like everybody else, I guess.

CD: Following on from the last question, I wondered how much research you did in order to flesh out Tom’s psychological profile in a convincing way.

DS: I wanted Tom to have rigid mannerisms but I wasn’t sure as to what extent I could push this character. So I researched a lot of psychology and medical journals in order to find similar cases and articles relating to trauma and OCD and the unwavering need to control an environment. Once I had some understanding of similar conditions and that I wasn’t merely going on any engrained stereotypical ideas, I felt free to move forward with Tom and the book. Luckily, I work in a library so I have plenty of access to this type of material.

CD: Deciding to use a wax dummy as a model for a partner could have been tricky to pull off as a plot device for all sorts of reasons that it might be best not to go into here. Were you at all wary of introducing her/she/it into the story?

DS: I think writers can often have doubts about the avenues they are taking with their plot. There is certainly a risk when introducing a waxwork model as a character, the fact that it could turn out farcical or that it might weaken some of the themes you are building. But the positive outweighed the negative, like the humour it could add to balance out the book or as a tool to show that beauty runs much deeper than a culmination of perfect traits. It needed a lot of work to fit seamlessly into the book but I think it was a risk worth taking.

CD: This final question is out of simple curiosity: Tom’s friend J.P. carries On the Road around with him and of course, Tom and his grandfather have their own road trip. Were you inspired by a road trip of your own and are/were you a Kerouac devotee?

DS: I wasn’t inspired by a road trip but the back story was in some ways influenced by the fact that my father is a truck driver. As a kid I’d love getting the chance to sit beside him in the cab and go for a drive. If I’ve a natural talent at anything in life it is definitely the talent of being a good passenger. Although Iggy Pop’s The Passenger was released on the Lust for Life album the year I was born, I still think he must have written the song about me!

‘All of it was made for you and me…so let’s take a ride and see what’s mine’

With On the Road, I loved the novel but I wouldn’t say I was a devotee like J.P. Instead, I wanted to use Kerouac’s book as a symbol of a future that JP naively presumes he is entitled to. But with the likes of JP, their aspirations are only a mimic of someone else’s aspirations and they are reluctant to chase or work for their vision of the future. And in some ways they are forever waiting on an adventure that is never going to happen.

Many thanks to Daniel Seery for taking the time to answer a few questions about Tom Stacey and A Model Partner. I hope that you will now be intrigued enough to want to read the book for yourselves. If so, just follow the links to the Liberties Press site where you can order a copy.

Now, I’ll try not to leave it too long before my next #LandingAuthor…

Introducing Landing Author Daniel Seery

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week, I am due to host debut author Daniel Seery  (A Model Partner, Liberties Press) on The Landing. Daniel’s novel had a successful  launch last week at The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin by fellow Stinging Fly contributor Colin Barrett. As you will know from one of my previous posts, Daniel generously gave a guest spot on his blog in the form of a Q & A to his cover designer Karen Vaughan. This time it’s Daniel’s turn to go under the spotlight with a few questions based on A Model Partner. I’m going to post up the email interview on Monday but meanwhile here is a short introduction to Tom Stacey, whose methodical search for his perfect partner will lead him into some surreal situations…. But will he find ‘the one’?

A Model Partner

The bees are a buzzing…

Tom Stacey has moved into his neighbour’s bedsit. He wasn’t asked. It was just that the door was open and his neighbours have gone on holiday. And it is so much bigger than his own bedsit. Plus, he has a lot to think about these days. The bees for one. He hasn’t seen any but he keeps hearing them, buzzing in the fridge at work, in the overhead lights, in the test equipment in the factory where he has spent the last fifteen years of his working life. They seem to be getting louder and more insistent, and they are beginning to affect the way he goes about his business.

Then there is his search for Sarah McCarthy to worry about. Sarah was his first love when, as a teenager, he travelled around the country in the back of a horsebox with his grieving grandfather. But perhaps it is not the bees or the past which is the problem. Perhaps it is his on going loneliness. Twenty-two dates with Happy Couples dating agency and nothing to show – bar a dent in his bank balance and several complaints about ‘eccentric behaviour’. Relationships are all about the details and there are just not enough boxes to tick in the Agency’s personal profile form.

Armed with a wax model and a list of criteria, Tom sets out on a quest to create a personal profile to find his ideal match. On his journey, he meets people just like him, warm but unable to show it, lonely and unable to remedy it, the lost, the misplaced and the damaged.

Daniel Seery

Daniel Seery

About the author:

Daniel Seery is a writer from Dublin. His work has appeared in local and national publications including The Stinging Fly and REA Journal and he has worked on a number of public arts commissions. In 2012 he was the resident writer in the Axis Centre, Ballymun. He has also been shortlisted for an RTÉ drama competition, has recently been one of the winners of the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair and he has written and directed a play The One We Left Behind which ran in the Irish Writers’ Centre in May 2012 and in the Helix in August 2012. A Model Partner is his first novel.

Credits: Book blurb and cover taken from Liberties Press website.
Author photograph taken from Daniel Seery’s blog.

An Interview with Karen Vaughan…

This post from Daniel Seery’s blog is an interview with one of my colleagues, graphic designer Karen Vaughan. When I discovered from reading this that we share a liking for Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham, of course I had to give her a mention! It’s also worth checking out more of Daniel Seeery’s blog if you have the time. His first novel A Model Partner (Liberties Press) is being launched next week in Dublin. And it does have a great cover…

Daniel Seery

In 1925, an artist by the name of Francis Cugat was commissioned to design the cover of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ despite the fact that the novel had yet to be completed.  When the author saw the cover, he was so enamoured with it that he told the publisher he had written it into the book. This is the power a cover illustration can have on a book.

Gatsby_1925_jacketRecently, I’ve been working with a fantastic cover artist by the name of Karen Vaughan.  Karen is an illustrator and designer working with Liberties Press. She has a particular love for pen and ink and examples of her work can be seen on her website –

http://kvaughan.com/

She is an artist to watch out for in the future and luckily I managed to get an interview with her…and here it is…

Karen, when did you first realise you wanted to…

View original post 499 more words

Landing Author: Bethany Dawson

Today’s post contains a guest piece from debut author Bethany Dawson with whom I first made contact via good old Twitter (@storiesbybeth). I was given a copy of her novel My Father’s House (Liberties Press, 2013) by the publishers earlier this year, and upon reading it, I was very impressed by its literary quality.

For those of you who haven’t read My Father’s House, the novel’s plot centres on Robbie Hanright’s return from Dublin to his family home in County Down when he learns of his father’s illness. Robbie turned his back on the family farm, his parents and two sisters to make a new life for himself a few years previously.

book jacket of My Father's House

An Evocative Image..

As the narrative unfolds we learn more about what he left behind and why he chose to do so. Time has moved on since Robbie fled to Dublin and things and people have changed back home so he has much to absorb and to reflect upon. Robbie meets faces from the past and has to come to terms with his actions. But will he learn from the past?

This is a deceptively quiet novel where the focus is upon relationships with family and friends. The reason I say ‘deceptively’ is because there is a huge depth of emotion conveyed within an ostensibly straightforward series of events. The effect builds throughout the novel to satisfying effect. The layers of the characters are gradually revealed and I found that the more I knew about them, the more I wanted to know. I don’t want to reveal too many of the plot details so I won’t tell you any more.

Bethany Dawson has written a piece especially for The Landing in which she discusses her characters and her readers’ responses to them:

Muddling through: characterisation in My Father’s House

I have found peoples’ response to the characters in My Father’s House very interesting. One reader said she finished the novel feeling sad that there hadn’t been a happier ending. Another said she wished the main character, Robbie, had just ‘grown a set’.

My fascination with people and how they relate to one another is the centre from which my book flows. Several thousand words into my original manuscript I felt as though I knew my characters pretty well. By the end of the three years it took to complete the writing of the novel, I had spent far too much time with them.

Robbie is the kind of man I hoped would be better but always left me feeling slightly disappointed. His relationship with his father, John, is complex, and both their Northern Irish identity and the shadow of sickness intensify the difficulties they have connecting. I found it wonderfully challenging to write scenes with the two of them. The culture of sweeping things under the carpet means so little is actually said and at times I found the tension unbearable.

Robbie’s mother is a refreshing example of someone who took the opportunity to change. A few readers found her transformation from dowdy housewife to a woman with a young lover who keeps ostrich feathers on her dresser quite amusing.

I wanted readers to see their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and grandparents reflected in my characters. Although the story is a work of fiction, there are truths reflected in it with which most people can identify. In general, the characters muddle through a very difficult time and try, quite unsuccessfully at times, to work out how to relate to one another. By the final page of the novel some things are resolved but most are not, and in this way I hope I have been true to how the majority of real life stories come to an end.

BIO

Bethany Dawson

Bethany Dawson

Bethany Dawson released her debut novel My Father’s House last month. She completed a Master of Philosophy in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin in 2007. She works as the Assistant Editor of The Zimbabwean, an independent newspaper produced in the UK. She currently lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland with her husband and son, but has spent time living in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Bethany blogs at http://www.storiesbybethany.blogspot.ie/ and if you want to take a look at the Liberties Press website, she has recorded a promotional video for My Father’s House.

Many thanks to Bethany Dawson for contributing to The Landing

Photo credit: Carl Whinnery

UPDATE – June 2013 –

Bethany Dawson is featured in this month’s edition of The Gloss magazine talking about living and travelling in South Africa. You can click on The Gloss website for an extract of the article.