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.

 

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…