I had very clear priorities this morning:
I also had a lift to the workshop, courtesy of a lovely lady called Clare, which I was most thankful for because the weather has turned in the past 24 hours. Following a spectacular thunderstorm last night, today has been largely damp and muggy – ideal weather for being indoors talking about books.
The workshop continued with feedback on three more participants’ writing samples, and a thread running throughout regarding middles. This appears to be the toughest part of novel writing, carrying your reader successfully through to your no doubt exciting denouement. Questions you have to keep asking yourself, Dean advised, include:
- What you need a scene to do
- Whether you’ve escalated the previous drama
- Whether you (the writer) are trusting the scene, reader and/or characters?
Billy O’Callaghan, Neil Hegarty and Colm Tóibín
After the workshop, I attended Billy O’Callaghan and Neil Hegarty’s talk at the library. Though experienced short story writers, both have just recently published debut novels. Billy’s book The Dead House is about a ghostly pre-Famine cottage in west Cork; Neil’s book Inch Levels is set in Derry, and covers three generations of a family with secrets. In both cases, the past looms large over the present. This is something that’s true of real life too, Billy said. “We carry the past around, it’s like shackles.”
Neil said that while he had fun doing historical research and writing about WWII in the early drafts of his novel, he gradually came to realise that there was a whole other half of a novel still to be written, dealing with the next generation in a way that felt more personal – but that demanded to be told.
It was a very interesting discussion, which touched on many aspects of writing. Neil, for example, pointed out that in real life you get to tell the truth in only one way, whereas novelists have the luxury of telling ‘the truth’ in any number of ways.
In terms of writing advice, Neil said it’s important to listen to your subconscious voice when it comes to putting words on a page. Billy writes firmly in the belief that no one will every read his words, so that it’s just for him and anything weird that pops into his head is a bonus.
In the evening, I made it along to the Colm Tóibín talk. One of the many generosities of this festival and the From the Well competition is that I was given a free pass to all the events (with the exception of sold-out hot ticket Graham Norton tomorrow night), which has meant I’ve been able to dip into more events than I otherwise would have. I haven’t read Tóibín’s latest novel House of Names, the retelling of the ancient Greek story of Clytemnestra, nor do I know much about the classics, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage amid the very up-to-speed audience, but it was great to have the opportunity to sit in on such a detailed talk.
Organico Cafe scored well in today’s Cakefest trials, with samplings of coffee cake and “something with berries”. But the real winner wasn’t cake – it was apparently a magnificent lentil burger (I know, I don’t think those words belong together either). I am under strict instructions to try one before we leave these fair lands.
I’ll be reading my From the Well competition story Smoke in the Rain in the library at 1pm. Also reading are Mary Rose McCarthy and Silke O’Reilly, with competition judge Billy O’Callaghan doing the introductions and controlling any bad behaviour. I have two main concerns about the reading:
- No one will turn up
- People will turn up
So (maybe) do come along if you’re around the town and need to shelter from the rain/sun/Mob. I’ll be the hyperventilating one.
Day 4 here