Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

Thursday night was great. I got to chat to my friend Sally Rooney in a Linenhall Arts Centre that was packed full of warm, welcoming people. I’ve known Sally and her family for many years and it all felt more like a nice catch-up than an interview. I really enjoyed myself. Sally’s first novel ‘Conversations With Friends’ was launched last week. You may know this already because there have been articles and interviews in most of the main newspapers about it and Sally’s been all over the national airwaves, discussing it, and will continue to be for some time to come. 

So, having mentioned the wonderful evening and the massive attention the book is getting, I’d like to spend the rest of this post on the book itself.

I suppose I can’t know exactly for sure how I would have reacted to the book if I had not known Sally. I can be pretty sure, though. As a book lover, I believe I would have loved this book even if I’d never heard her name. It’s beautifully written, you see. Sally has been writing all her life and so this first novel comes with a sophisticated yet natural style which is already fully formed and highly engaging. 

The writing is sharp and spare but never to the extent that it alienates the reader. The central character, Frances, comes very real off the page. Perhaps this is partly on account of the unforgiving mirror she often holds up to herself. 

Sally brings her natural intelligence and erudition to her writing but those qualities alone would not be enough to make this book. Sally brings a third ‘X Factor’ which younger people than me might tend to call ‘The Feels’. The four central characters in the book are all smart and bright and metropolitan in their way but they all have their doubts, their petty moments, too. They all make their mistakes. 

I won’t give you a run down of the story. It’s there between the covers of the book. I always think it’s best to wade in knowing as little as possible. See how you go.

In certain ways, the book evoked 'Catcher in the Rye' for me. Sally has read her Salinger and, knowing her as I do, I know her fondest regard is for the writing which lies beyond ‘Catcher'. ‘Franny and Zooey’ is a work that I am now resolved to get stuck into, having heard of how highly she regards it.  I was also reminded of Brett Easton Ellis in the cleanness of the prose and dialogue and, rather conversely, of Jane Austen in the way human truths are probed with wit and insight within a relatively close knit social situation. 

I try never to judge a book by its cover but, in the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the reason why I loved my copy of the book more than I loved everyone else’s on the launch night. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of the British hard cover edition with the painting ‘Sharon and Vivien’ by Alan Katz depicted on the front. The Irish edition has a photograph representing the two central characters on a blanket in the park on a summer’s day. Both editions are beautifully produced to the highest standards but I found myself consistently drawn to my own copy rather than the Irish version.

This point is not about book covers but rather it is about heightened reality and I only figured this out in the last day or two. Perhaps Sally’s greatest achievement is to create a subtly heightened reality in her novel. A place where everything seems real but which is actually half a degree higher than real. 

For all the elements of harsh reality and pain in the book, there seems to me to be an overriding romantic ‘air’ which permeate the pages. At the end of the novel, the famous bookshop and the park and Dublin at Christmas time all seem to meld together to evoke an almost Woody Allen-like warmth for the metropolitan existence. There is almost an echo of ‘An Affair to Remember’ as Philip and Frances move across the winter city towards a predestined rendezvous. I think that's why I tended to migrate towards the 'heightened' cover rather than the 'real' one. For me, it reflects more readily the discreet fiction of the story. 

I’m not trying to ‘solve’ the book or even try to wax clever about it. If anything, I’m just trying to show how I became involved in it. I smirked at it and I winced at it and shook my head in wonderment at it and I closed its covers in shock and then opened them again soon after. 

‘Conversations With Friends’ is, to my mind, a very good book indeed and I recommend it to you. 

The Blind Man and the Little Girl

It’s something I think I mentioned before. The stories of the world slip past us for the want of a tidy ending or a catchy moral. Things happen almost every day that are a little bit remarkable and worth setting down but they slip through our minds because there is no hook or piece of bubble gum on the end to make them stick there. 

I increasingly think that stories without conclusions have an important part to play in the memorabilia of our lives. We treasure old photographs but, quite often, they offer no narrative, no punchline, no neat summary. They capture a moment and they stop there. For us this is often more than enough.  The snap shot becomes a thing of nostalgia and truth and often great value. 

Why can it not be that way for our stories too?

Yesterday, I ventured out of the office and down to the post box on the corner. Post is quite a rare thing these days, for me at least. Most things go as email and attachments and such. Yesterday’s post could have gone the same way. For some reason, I felt like a bit of printing and signing and enveloping and stamping. No idea why.

On the way to the post box, I spotted a blind man some distance up ahead waiting to cross over the street to my side. I  did a quick assessment of whether I could be of any value to him and just as quickly decided that I couldn’t. I knew him from around the place and he was pretty nifty with his long white cane. He didn’t need me and any intervention on my part would have been more around me feeling good than him being assisted.

Let him alone then.

As I came on up the street, he got the green on his pedestrian crossing light and rapidly came across. He then started working his way up the edge of the shopfronts, tapping and brushing his way along. As he approached me, he also approached a point where a building kicked outward into the pavement. He came towards it at a pace and I again debated intervening. But, no, the tip of the white cane found the jutting-out-part of the stone, a neat correction was made, and on he went. A tall rangy middle aged man, making his way. 

At the post box, I checked that everything was right with my envelopes and posted them into the green pillar box. On my way back, I almost caught up with the blind man again. He was turning into the alleyway where my office is. As he turned, a father gently held up his daughter’s progress with the palm of his hand. The girl was about seven or eight and she watched with active interest as the blind man made his way past them and on up the alley.

As the girl looked questioningly at her Dad, I heard him quietly say, “The man is blind, darling, so we don’t want to get in his way, right?”

The blind man had progressed a little further up the alleyway but he obviously heard the words because he stopped suddenly. He didn’t say anything, he just stood there until the man and his daughter caught up with him. I had almost caught up too. The guy knew when father and daughter were beside him. 

“Would you like to try my cane?” he said. 

The little girl was understandably hesitant. It might not even have been entirely clear to her that she was being spoken to. If the father had not been so relaxed and open to the interaction, it probably would not have happened. But it did. 

Slowly, so slowly, the little girl reached and took the end of the cane. Both men smiled. 

“I can’t see. That's why I have to feel for things with my cane,” he said. Then he said, “You have to close you eyes.”

Quickly, trusting now, the little girl did just that.

“Then try to find your daddy with the end of the cane.”

Quickly, almost instinctively, the dad took a step back to increase the challenge a little. The girl swept the can around and almost immediately connected it to her dad’s knee.

“There he is!” she shouted and everyone, myself included, smiled.

Then I went back to work. 

Roger Moore – My Bond

When I saw on a Facebook update that Sir Roger Moore had died, I surprised myself at how sad and nostalgic I immediately felt. Thinking about it a bit more since, I can see that it was entirely appropriate and justified that I would feel a little of that. 

Roger Moore was my James Bond in many ways. He arrived as James Bond in 1973 when I was ten years old but I had known that he was coming for almost a full year by then. As I’ve  written about before, I was already a full blown James Bond fan. I had collected and treasured all of the ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ bubble gum cards, although I didn’t see the film for many years later, and I had been to see ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ in a matinee at the Gaiety in Sligo when it first came out. 

But I was ten now and there was a sense that this new James Bond was going to be mine. I awaited the films that followed with a sense of great childhood anticipation and the moments when I first got to see them still live large in my memory.

Live and Let Die.  Since the bubble gum cards, I had always tried to get whatever information I could about a Bond film before it came out. My memory is that, before I ever saw Roger Moore as Bond, I had got hold of the book of his diaries of the filming of the movie. I gobbled it up and it started something new inside of me. To my ten year old surprise, the book was not about James Bond and spies and stunts and adventure. It was about the rather tedious business of making a movie. It was about a middle aged man playing poker with his producer and worrying about the press and battling some awful-sounding affliction called kidney stones. What it gave me was a affection for the James Bond production process that was equal to the films themselves. I don’t think I’m alone in that. The extravagance, the excess and the sheer awful hard work and toil that goes into making the shiny, rather silly, end product still engages me to this day. 

There were eight pages of still images from the upcoming film in the centre of that diary/book and I pored over each one. I can still picture them now. That speedboat flying over the road, James Bond tied up with Solitaire, the exotic unheard-of gadget called a ‘hang-glider’. 

When I finally saw the film on its release, in another matinee, I lapped it all up and went back again to see it the week after. I misunderstood so much of what was going on in it but I loved it nonetheless. When one character mentioned the ‘klu klux clan’, I could repeat the words perfectly but I had no idea what it meant. I thought that James Bond had a flame thrower/antiperspirant can on his person that he used to dispatch a snake until Niall Hopper explained to me that he lit the spray with his cigar (I was terribly impressed by that) and, most remarkably, I thought the overall conceit of the film was a bad man who wanted to spread the illicit use of herons on the mean streets of New York (this is true). I thought the herons lived close to where the alligators were. 

Roger Moore in Live and Let Die probably fueled my childhood fantasy that I would one day be James Bond. I don’t think Connery could have done that for me, he was too tough, too strong, too brutal. Roger, like me, was a rather slender winsome chappie. He made the idea work in my head.

Although much maligned, The Man With the Golden Gun remains one of my personal favourite Bond Films. I always maintain that Bond movies are like bread. You have to get to them when they're fresh and new. The ingredients and baking method means that they tend to lose their attractiveness rather quickly. I loved ‘Man With the Golden Gun’. Again, I was primed by the Ian Fleming book, an edition updated with another eight coloured stills in the centre. I stared and stared at the upside-down car over the river and wondered how it could be. This was the very first film I was allowed to go and see at night unaccompanied by an adult. I went with George H who I know looks in here from time to time. Hi George. This time it was in The Savoy. Although I didn’t have such a word in 1974, I found it to be a terribly romantic film. In retrospect, the music added hugely to that impression. John Barry’s lush strings are very much in evidence and, again, though I had no clue such things were going on at the ripe old age of eleven, seeds were being planted which still poke discernible tendrils through my mind today. I still listen to John Barry's music with disturbing regularity. 

I went to see The Spy Who Loved Me with my friend Shane R who is now an important army man in New Zealand. He looks in sometimes too. Hi Shane. I knew there was the mother of all skiing stunts in the pre-title sequence and I thought I knew what it was. I had seen a clip on Clapperboard where James Bond had done a sort of ski-somersault and shot a bad guy at the same time. I thought, ‘yes, it’s a great stunt’ and enjoyed seeing it on the big screen. The shock of the skier shooting of the edge of the cliff into the void and then opening his parachute was a shiver inducing moment that I will never ever forget. This was the almost perfect Bond movie and, although the one before pips it for me, I loved everything about it and I lapped it up.

I can’t go any further. Roger's Bond lost me with the subsequent movies. The gags became too self deprecating. All sense of edge was gone, for me at least. 'For Your Eyes Only' was almost good enough to bring me back but too much damage had been done. 

Roger Moore was a part of my teenage life. For years I looked forward to seeing him with real excitement and anticipation. In real life, he never seemed to disappoint. He was always wry, always self-deprecating, always Roger.

Thanks for the memories. Sir R. 

You did it good. 

Just a Walk on a Beach

On Friday afternoon, I bailed from the office a little bit early to drive my son down to Westport. There was a concert that evening and he had to be at the Town Hall Theatre for five for a sound check. Cool, eh? And what a super concert it was. Teenagers performing for their peers with all the talent and positivity one could possibly wish for.

So I dropped him off, bang on the five mark. I am nothing if not punctual. From there, I had no plan. The concert was  due to kick off at seven and I wanted to be there for that but what to do for the two hours in between? I had a rather romantic image of me sitting in a coffee shop reading my book. Lovely but that never really works for me. After the coffee is dispatched, I quickly start to feel like an economic blight on the coffee shop establishment, taking up a whole table, outstaying my imagined welcome. I know, I know, it’s just how I tend to go on. It’s a bit late for rehabilitation now. 

I also toyed with driving home, kicking back for a while, and then coming back for the concert. All well and good but with a 24 minute drive home and a 24 minute drive back, the kicking-back-time seemed fairly meagre.

This is where I might make you a wee bit jealous. Maybe not. 

“I know,” I said to myself, “I’ll go for a walk on the beach.”

Because I could, you see. It’s one of the many fringe benefits of living where I do, in the County of Mayo’. I don’t live on the sea, the crashing waves don’t wake me in the morning, the sea breezes don’t gently stir my net curtains. Hell, I don’t even have net curtains. The sea may not be right outside my front door but it’s not all that far away either. Far enough for a trip there to be a tiny excursion, close enough to make that entirely possible. 

So I went for a walk on the beach. Just that. Nothing’s going to happen in the rest of this post. I’m just going to write about my walk on the beach. I thought you should know, in case you might be expecting pirates or dog fights or gratuitous nudity or something. 

Just the walk, that’s all. 

The beach is about a  ten minutes drive from Westport. It’s a nice drive. Green, tree lined roads, nice houses, glimpses of the bay, a run past the base of Croagh Patrick and Murrisk Village and then the twisty lane down to the beach.

Even though the bay and the water had been seen, along the drive down, the first view of the beach is still a big surprise. Suddenly, around a bend, there’s a shock of brilliant sandy-pea-green water, a colour so unknown in my normal everyday routine. The sky is patches of blue with substantial grey/white clouds galloping across. The breeze through the open car window is tart and briny. 

It’s five thirty on a Friday. I should just be finishing up work. I park up. There are just three other cars. I walk down to the beach and none of the owners of the three cars are anywhere to be seen. This huge wild amazingly coloured beach is entirely mine. I set off walking. Twenty minutes out, twenty minutes back, and the drive back to Westport will see me right for the concert. Having made the quick calculation and checked the time, I can let it all go. I can just walk for a while. 

It’s a complete multi-sensory experience, when you’re on your own and you can open yourself up to it. How unusual to have your shoes sink gently into the ground beneath you. How furtive the little creatures who scuttle out of your way as you go. I walk along the line of the water, adjusting my route along the constantly invading advance of the waves. There is bladder wrack strewn around and perfectly rounded stones and shells glittering with some encrusted sandy mother-of-pearl. There is a boat mast out toward the horizon and some solitary crying bird on the wing. There is the mountain behind, dominant in the clear air. There is the solitude, the amazing exclusivity of it all. 

Half way along the beach and the rounded stones gather and run tight down to the water line. These are more difficult to walk quickly over. They press on the soles of the shoes and make you wave your arms about unsteadily as you go. 

Magically, as I approach this part, the receding tide seems to draw back a couple of foot more and a slender sandy causeway opens up between the stones and waves . I negotiate it, feeling unusually lucky. The final sweep of the waves keep trying to gain the pathway back and I have to step into the stones on every seventh or eight attempt but, apart from that, the new sandy path sees me right. I compare myself amusedly to Moses and how the Red Sea parted to let him and his posse through. I took a photo of the sandy path. That's it up top.

This little event solidifies an amorphous feeling of my being at exactly the right place at exactly the right time. A confirmation that I had done well today to eschew the temptations of the coffee shop and of home for this mini-adventure, this sensory dream. 

Getting back to the car park was a little bit like waking up. 

And, like I said, the concert was great. 

Younger Son Goes Away, Comes Back Again

Ten to midnight, Monday night. Driving in the car. Younger son is staring out of the side window, taking in the orange town as it slides by.

“I feel like I’m seeing everything for the last time,” he said.

It’s only the School Tour. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s going to be great. Barcelona, vibrant city, Gaudi, Picasso, Swimming Pools, Beaches, Theme Parks. Five days of comradely fun and adventure. It will be great. 

Except, at ten to midnight, Monday night, it’s not entirely great. There’s a potentially sleepless overnight trip on a bus, an early morning flight into the unknown and a full day of sightseeing and orientation in prospect, while home, with its cosy bed, recedes rapidly in the rear view mirror. 

The bus hasn’t arrived at the school yet. Students stand around sleepily in rucksacked conspiracies. There isn’t any opportunity for a demonstrative goodbye, that might play badly with the huddled masses. Not even an assist with the baggage. There must be no sign of weakness here. Younger son joins the cohort and is immediately assimilated within. Soaked up and enveloped in comradely anticipation and, suddenly, the worst is all over, the adventure has finally begun and it’s going to be fine. 

Time to go back home but who can go back home until the bus is seen to have arrived and the passengers are seen to be safely on board? But to wait and watch would be to possibly expose younger son to some gentle ribbing. Old dad refuses to go. That will not stand. Two quick tours of the town and there it is, the darkened bus, lapping against the edge of the pavement like a ship at a dock.

There is no need to wait anymore. The cohort have assembled, the transport arranged. 

Time to go home. 

An adjusted line from a well-known song occurs on the drive home. It gets posted on Social Media. People seem to understand.

“Samuel is flying tonight on a plane…”

The phone announces receipt of the text at 3.50am on Saturday morning. The bus is ten minutes out from the school. Time to go get him. The time he spent in the air, earlier, was a little odd. Flying is safe and everyday and unworrysome but, still, your kid is thousands of feet above the ground in a steel tube and things are always a little better when the website finally refreshes to say that the plane has arrived.

The parents all park their cars in the place where the bus needs to stop so that causes a momentary hiatus but it's easily enough solved. Teachers and students disembark and, despite the oddness of the hour, everyone is smiling and relaxed. Younger son is eight inches taller than when he left, resplendent in salmon coloured shorts and t-shirt. Baggage is rounded up and goodbyes are swapped. Is everyone okay for a lift? Yes, mum is on her way, she just slept through the text.

Home. Travel case abandoned in the hall. A quick face wash to remove the journey grime and straight to bed for a deep twelve hour sleep. 

The school tour is over. Respect to the teachers who herd our kids through this notable rite of passage. Respect to the kids who hesitantly go away and smilingly come back again. Respect to us parents, who are glad to see it all work out so nice and who won’t park in the bus spot next time.

Well, maybe not.


Saying Goodnight to Twitter

One evening last week, I actually ended up in a pub in Westport having a drink with some friends. This is highly unusual for me. Mostly, I’m at home, on the couch or here on the computer, tapping away. 

I don’t really do pubs or even (heaven help us) friends very much anymore. So, yeah, this was unusual and very very nice.

The conversation turned to Social Media and there was some interest from the four people there about how long I have been using Twitter and how, once upon a time, it had been quite an integral part of my life. 

One of the people was one of those type of people who we all know, a great guy but somebody with no interest or understanding whatsoever about the meaning or value of any Social Media of any description. I can understand this completely, if I'd never got into them, I don't think I would understand them either. Hell, I probably still don't. Anyway, faced with this online disdain, I nimbly sashayed into my default 'Peter the Apostle' position and started to actively deny the depth of my own acquaintance with Facebook and Twitter. 

“I hardly ever…”

“Doesn’t really matter to me…”

“Never heard of ‘im guv’nor.”

That type of thing. 

It’s hard to defend Social Media usage to non-believers. It's so much easier to play it down and get back to the news of the day as smoothly as possible.

As Jack Nicholson said in ‘Terms of Endearment’, “I was that close to a clean getaway,” when one final question was dropped in.

“What do you do on Twitter.”

“Sorry?”

“I mean, what do you actually do?”

I thought about it a bit before I answered.

“I don’t do a quarter of what I used to do, that’s for sure. Mostly I just read people’s tweets, I say one or two things myself, and I reply to things here and there. Oh, and I say ‘Goodnight’. That’s the thing I do most these days.”

The rather terse silence that followed told me that I had probably revealed a little too much for comfort.

“You..?”

“Say goodnight, yeah.” 

Now that I’d said it a second time, I realised with even greater clarity how stupid it sounded. 

“How…  how does that work?”

How it works is like this;

I rarely tweet or do Facebook stuff from my phone. Generally I do these things late in the evenings when I’m on my computer at home. I enjoy leaving both windows open and peeping in from time to time to see what people are saying and doing. Sometime after midnight, when I’m turning my computer off for the night, I tend to send a tweet that says ‘G’night’ then I go to bed. I’ve been doing it for a while. There’s no great intent or logic to it. 

What keeps me doing it, night after night, is that some people, somewhere, usually says goodnight back. Not very many, it’s not a deluge of goodnight wishes. Often it’s two or three people. Sometimes it’s only one. Occasionally, but not too often, it’s nobody at all. That’s okay. People are busy. People are asleep.

What also keeps me doing it, is the reaction of some people when I have neglected to do it for a while and then suddenly come back to it. People who I really don’t know much about have expressed pleasure that I have started to do it again after the hiatus. 

Not a lot of people will get this reference and certainly even less will care but, when I say it like that, ‘G’night’, I am channelling somebody from my tellybox. For more years than I can count, the American TV Show ‘Survivor’ has been a constant family viewing pleasure. At the end of each ‘Tribal Council’, near the end of the show, Jeff, the presenter, says ‘G’night’ to the participants as they grab their symbolic torches and head off into the dark and back to their camp. So that’s why I say it that way; ‘G’night’. 

It’s nothing, really, this 'G'night' thing, it’s just another tiny connection to the wide world. 

But, oddly enough, it’s become a bigger thing as it’s gone on and on. There’s only one reason for this. All the other aspects of Twitter have  got that much smaller. There were times when I would tweet an awful lot more than I do now. There seemed to be a loose cohort of people who would casually interact and subtly give support and a sort of virtual companionship. Doubtless these cohorts still exist all over Twitter but I think when you’ve been a part of one and it eventually fades (as they always inevitably will) it is hard to find another to match it. 

So my Twitter has become a lesser thing in my life than it used to be. That’s no harm. I miss certain people and I miss chatting casually to them but there are other people and they are precious too. I guess I’ve just moved on a bit and I think that’s a good thing. So, where once, a simple ‘G’night’ was a tiny element of an often alarming flow of tweets, it may now comprise 50% or even sometimes the entirety of my day’s contributions to the medium. 

So I’ll keep doing it, for now at least, and I’ll keep smiling whenever a night-time wish drifts back to me from across the ether. And (a small confession) some nights, when no reply materialises, I may sit for a little longer than is seemly to see if one might come in.

We are all odd, in our way. 

We may as well embrace it. 

After The Debs is Over

If you know me via Social Media, you might have seen a few of the terse updates I was posting this week. ‘Almost time…’, ‘Tech Rehearsal…’ ‘Full Dress…’ ‘Showtime…’ ‘Exhausted…’ that kind of thing. 

An extraordinary week has drawn to a close. My newest play, ‘Deb’s Night’ has had its two nights in The Linenhall Arts Centre here in Castlebar. It played to capacity audiences and the extraordinary cast received spontaneous standing ovations on both nights. I think I can say this because I only wrote it, they fully deserved each one.

So today, after reflecting on things for a day or two, I want to first thank the main players in my wonderful week and then I want to scribble a little bit about the writing of Deb’s Night, partly as an aide-memoire to myself as I get ready to move on to the next one, which is mostly already-written in my head.

So. Thank you.

Thank you to Donna Ruane, who is my friend and who also happens to be a highly talented director and actor. For many years, Donna has run her Acting for Fun classes on Saturdays here in Castlebar. It is one of her many commitments but one that is particularly close to her heart. That title ‘Acting for Fun’ is both slightly misleading and entirely correct. It’s correct because the teens who go there pretty much have the best fun you could imagine. They tend to become tight friends and (from what I know) they look forward to each session with eagerness and anticipation. It’s slightly misleading because the name almost has a casual feel to it, a sort of ‘let’s not take this stuff too seriously’ vibe and that could not be further from the truth. Donna shows her people how to act, really act, and, to her, it is an earnest and important endeavour. This seriousness rubs off on the teen actors. This mix of serious and great  fun produces a special kind of acting student. One who loves to act and have fun but who never-ever take it casually.

Thank you Donna, for seeing something worthwhile in the Deb’s Night script and for taking it on and for shaking quite a brilliant production out of it. 

Then there’s those guys I was just talking about in the last paragraph-but-one. The Cast. Eighteen, yes count them, eighteen amazing guys and gals, every one of whom brought their ‘A-Game’ to this endeavour. The feedback I got suggested that the audiences could not quite believe the quality of what they were seeing. I could believe it though, I’d seen how hard they worked and how much fun they had doing it. (there’s that mix again).

Then there’s The Linenhall Arts Centre. I’ve written about them quite recently so I better not go on too much but, damn, they really know how to look after a creative endeavour and that’s for sure. A vibrant young cast finds itself enveloped in a professional theatre with a professional director and professional lighting and sound design and professional show management and everybody raises their game to come along with what The Linenhall gives. If you’re here in Castlebar and you’re artistically inclined I would suggest you make friends with the place. See the exhibitions, catch the shows, drink some coffee there. Your creativity will blossom just from spending quality time within those hallowed walls. 

A particular word for my friend Oisin Heraty who brought the theatre design up to the highest level. Because I mostly write stuff that doesn't use formal sets, in this case, just a couple of stools (well, eighteen) I tend to want to lean heavily on lighting and sound and music to set scenes and tone. Oisin has never let me down in this regard. Also the pleasure of being allowed to work the sound cues myself while Oisin ran everything else (and most of the sound cues too), the ability to watch the play and the audience as-one while also feeling as if I was a part of the theatrical machine that was running it. It all made me feel a bit important and I’m still cruising on that vibe. So thanks mate. 

For me, it’s kind of the dream come true. To write something as carefully and well as I possibly can, to have twenty plus people working flat out to make it come alive, and for the audiences to come out and enjoy the result. Yes, it’s ‘dream-come-true’ territory all right and I count my blessings that I get to experience all of this. 

And so now the Debs is over. There may be another outing but The Linenhall premiere is now writ in history.

A moment, then, if I may, for me to selfishly set down some thoughts and reminiscences on the actual writing of the play. What drove it and what might have added a pinch of inspiration to it because, as with all my little plays, there were many pinches borrowed from hither and yon.

I had written two other full length plays-for-teens and both had been pretty well received. When the second one ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ was revived last year at The Linenhall, along with the shorter (and beloved) ‘Fine’ I saw the power and potential of the current young cast that Donna had trained up and I resolved to try to give them a brand new play for this year. Teen casts move along quickly to College and Adult Life and they have to be grabbed while they are still around. This was very much a year to do that.

I knew I wanted to write about Family and, particularly, about Parents and their Children. I was intrigued to give the teens a platform where they could play out some of their parents concerns and, in doing so, to show them what they sometimes look like from the adult point of view.

I also knew I wanted to capture something that I had seen in Donna’s classes. There, in the safety of the group, scenes and sketches would be devised and performed while the other actors sit around and become the audience. I loved how, from this relaxed and fun atmosphere, something dramatic and moving would often suddenly emerge. 

For that reason, I wanted everybody on stage the whole time, watching their fellow actors as they came centre stage and did their pieces. It’s not a new idea. I read ‘Equus’ as a much younger person and had loved how Shaffer had done it there. I had also seen ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Bruiser’s excellent production) in The Linenhall and had loved that Brechtian notion of the ‘Play within a Play’. The wonderful Mickel Murfi had also directed ‘The Far Off Hills’ in The Linenhall a few years ago and I loved the way his actors stayed around and visibly enjoyed it while their peers were doing their thing. 

I wanted a number of little families in the play, each with their own story to tell. I ended up with four. A family without a father, a family without a mother, a family with neither father nor mother and a family with both father and mother around. Several people commented that there were a lot of ‘dead parents’ in this play and they were not wrong.

The stories worked themselves out and evolved from one thing to another. The notion of the characters Debs Night being a part of the play actually came quite late on. At first, this was a play called ‘My Project, My Family’ in which a  school project to look into family histories threw up a series of dramatised stories, the teacher ultimately becoming the central character in the main story. But that didn’t quite play ‘entertaining’ enough. The threat and promise of an impending Debs Night seemed a better reason to have some fun and I think it turned out that way. 

The stories all may have evolved but there was one little kernel of a story there for the longest time. The story of a dad, a recent widower, and his daughter, alone together in the world and one stupid, silly thing he might do to try to keep her safe. This was always the nut at the centre of the play, everything else grew up around that. 

With eighteen actors and eighteen characters in the play, there was another challenge I was keen to address as best I could. I needed each character to have their own little story arc. Without going overboard on the technicalities I simply resolved that each one would have their own object of desire and something standing in their way of getting it. Some were small, Tam wanted to be a tree but the Stage Manager wouldn’t let her. A tiny thing but the audience went with it and many commented on Tam afterward. The most rewarding comment, repeated quite a bit, was how every actor had their part. Audiences don’t generally concern themselves consciously with such things as story arcs and desires and impediments to achieving those desires but they do respond to the tiny stories that emerge when these things are thought about. 

In case you think I’m vanishing up my own arse here, talking about Brecht and Shaffer and such, the play also purloined little nuggets of stuff from many much more street-level sources. ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ definitely played a part. If you watch the climactic scene and if you’ve seen my play, I think you’ll know what I mean. ‘Mary Poppins’ featured more heavily in earlier drafts but a tiny little taste still remained in the final product. ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ is clearly in there somewhere, as is ‘Hamilton’, Reeves and Mortimer’s ‘Shooting Stars’ and, of course, Bruce Lee and ‘Enter The Dragon’. An online pal, Darragh Doyle’ once said something on Twitter, years ago, and that has clearly turned up in the play. None of this stuff is stolen, not to my mind anyway. I think it’s a powerful writing tool to try to be open to those myriad little things that give you pause on any given day. These, to my mind, can sometimes become tiny keys to our souls. 

This was the play where I finally learned the value of scene index cards in the writing process. I wrote about that here. I could never make them work for me until David Keating, in a great one day seminar, explained how he used them right at the end of the process instead of at the beginning. This really focused the mind on what was missing in the play, narratively, and also tightened the flow and pacing of the thing. Remember that for next time, Ken. 

Enough.

Wait. Just one final thought. 

The play has a slightly peculiar structure. It starts out in an element of deliberate chaos as the group try to work out how to do their little devised play. There are mess ups and miscommunications and pratfalls and arguments. In the end too, there is a sort of joyous chaos, a relief that the silly thing is nearly all over.

But in the middle… in the middle some stories emerge, the tomfoolery slips away and some moments of drama and pathos peeps out. 

This is where Tom Waits has yet again inspired me, as he so often has in the past. 

He has a song called ‘Please Wake Me Up’ on his album ‘Frank’s Wild Years’. This little play of mine owes quite a bit to that song. Not on account of the words and not on account of the music but on account of the intangible chaos that exists at the start of the song and the chaotic refrain at the end. Mostly, it's on account of the lovely melody that emerges briefly right there in the middle, in among all that chaos. Have a listen on YouTube, I think you’ll see what I mean. Here's a link.

I’m generally my own toughest critic and I’m rarely entirely pleased with the writing I do but I must confess that I am quite proud of ‘Deb’s Night’. I know I owe much of that to the Actors and the Director and the Designer and the Theatre who made this production go as it did but, hey, I did my bit too.

And that feels pretty good. 

Memory is a Dish Best Served Hot

Yesterday, I thought of a girl from my past and, as soon as I thought of her, I realised that I’ve been thinking of her pretty-much once a week for years and years now. 

As blog post openings go, this may promise to be rather yearning and revealing and such but it’s not. It’s just my old pal Memory throwing one of its curve balls at me again. 

I met this girl for the first time in, oh, it must be thirty years on Monday last. It was at the sad occasion of her Father’s funeral. She was (and still is) a sister of one of my very best friends from my teenage and young adult years. Let’s call her M for that indeed is the initial of her name. 

When I met her again on Monday, I remarked to myself how little the years had changed her and how she still looked like the same M that she had looked like back in the Seventies and the Eighties. I never for one moment remarked that she entered my head roughly about once every week and had done for so many years. I didn’t know it then.

I only knew it yesterday, when I was making dinner. 

Most Saturdays, I make Chilli. I make a big pot that satisfies the appetites of the most voracious of returning students and spice-seeking adults alike. If I say so myself, I make a great Chilli with all the freshest ingredients and the best, most potent spices. There are touches of vinegar and sugar and dark, dark chocolate. There are real fresh juicy chillies that I cut while wearing an old golf glove but still the burn works its way through to my fingers. There is also cumin and peppers and onions and… oh you know the score, it’s a Chilli after all and it’s not rocket science. It’s just that I’m quite proud of my one and I enjoy cutting everything up and preparing it and dishing it up and eating it. 

And, yesterday, as I reached a particular stage of making the Chilli, I thought of M and I suddenly realised that I thought of M every week as I come to this very stage of Chilli-making. 

The thought is a simple one and it’s not a romantic or an aching one, except perhaps in the sense that all memories are, to some extent or another. It’s just… a memory.

Here it is. 

M made me my first Chilli. 

We were at a party in my friends house. Their parents had gone away and we had all gathered there to play records and maybe dance a bit and eat a late night Chilli which I had never had before, my Mum not being adventurous in the culinary respect. To try to date the year in which this party happened, I remember that one of the favoured albums by the girls at the party was by Culture Club – Colour by Numbers so that puts us firmly in 1983. 

There is actually very little detail to the memory. It is primarily to do with kidney beans and it is at the kidney bean draining part of the my own Chilli making that I invariably think of M and that party. 

On that night, the Chilli was served up on large white plates on the compulsory bed of rice. I got my plate and sat down beside S. I inspected my plate. I had never seen a Chilli before and had certainly never set eyes on a kidney bean. 

“What are they?”

“Kidney beans, they’re great,” this last part said in Tony-The Tiger fashion. 

I remember how I carefully ate my way around all of the kidney beans and left them all to the side of my plate. Logic told me that they were called kidney beans on account of their kidney shape and not because they were some kind of little animal kidney, cruelly harvested to ‘meat up’ the stew. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to eat them. No way. 

“’You having those?” S was eyeing up my stash of beans hungrily. S was always hungry.

“No.”

He ate them. All by themselves. Relishing them. I felt sick.

Today, I would do the same thing. I love how the little beans soak up the Chilli essence. My son would look at me in the exact same way as I looked at S that night. That might be the key to the recurring memory.

So, every Saturday, when I’m making my own Chilli in my own kitchen, and when I’m working on the kidney beans, I think in passing of A’s sister M, of the party and of Culture Club and of Chilli and kidney beans and youth and changing taste and of my sons and of time. 

And I realised all of this, not when I saw her again on Monday but a week later when it was time to cook. 

Cool, eh?

Except…

Well, this one niggling thought persists.

Did I?

Did I really think of M and her Chilli every Saturday for years? Or is it perhaps possible that I only thought of her yesterday for the first time in years. The memory having been spurred by the funeral and the visit to my home town and seeing my friend A again and the sad passing of Martin, his Dad, who was a lovely man. 

Maybe my mind has played a trick on me. Throwing me a memory but then going further. Implanting another memory of me recalling this memory all of the time when, in fact, I only ever remembered it once. It happens in dreams all of the time, perhaps it happened to me while waking too. 

I don’t know the answer. I don’t think I’m capable of discerning the answer. We are, to an extent, slaves to our memories and the vivid tricks they can sometimes play on us. They serve us up a rich banquet and we eat our fill and we never really know what is fresh and what has come out of a tin.

Still the food is good and we eat it with some relish. 

Enabling My Writing at The Linenhall

Writing can be viewed as something of a bad habit, by me at least. It takes up a lot of time in the doing and it takes up even more time in the thinking-about and the plotting and general mulling-over. Lawns don’t get mowed, cars don’t get washed, cobwebs remain largely unchallenged and the tangible rewards are singularly meagre, except in the case of a daring and talented few. 

The writer embarks upon a course that, unless he/she is very careful, will result in a dotage spent wandering through a spider-ridden house, with tonnes of paper stacked high in every room and no visible means of support.

That’s why, when I use the word’ Enabling’ in the title, I’m thinking of the slightly negative connotation as well as the positive one. When someone enables you in writing they are encouraging you and providing you with resources and creative shelter. But it’s also like you’re a smoker and they’re holding the door open for you and handing you a box of matches.

Enough whimsy. All I really want to do this week is to acknowledge the part that the Linenhall Arts Centre has played in keeping me thinking of myself as a sort-of-a writer and in making me better in that regard.

The Linenhall has been doing this for me for the last fifteen years or so, pretty much ever since I first came from London to live and settle in Castlebar. Before that, there were other ‘Enablers’ – good folk who quietly provided me with kindling for my writing spark. There was my English teacher in school, Patricia O’Higgins, who quietly slipped me books that were out of my comfort zone and who, when I was getting ready to leave for Dublin at the tender age of sixteen, told me how, ‘it would be good for my writing’. The instillation of the idea that I might have something called ‘writing’ was a key moment in the confirmation of my lifelong passion.

Then there was Independent Radio Drama Productions. Marja Giejgo and Tim Crook gave me my first break in radio and continued from there right up to today in quietly affirming that I could righteously consider myself to be a writer, even though I’ve never quite managed to do that.

Apart from the radio productions with IRDP, Tim and Marja also allowed me to be a script reader for a number of writing competitions. I would receive bundles of radio scripts in the post, thirty at a time, and would pare them down to the best two. It wasn’t hard. The best ones always shone so brightly that anyone could have seen them. The invaluable lesson was not found in perusing the top two but in examining the other twenty eight. Each had to have a little review written and I took some care with those, trying to explain why, to my mind, the script had not made the grade. Seeing things that should not be done being done over and over again taught me something. I’m not sure what, exactly, but it’s in there nestling all the time.

When I arrived in Castlebar, I was a little cast adrift from anything that might anchor me to my writing. Luckily, I’ve always had the drive to be writing, even when there was no logical reason to be doing so. Somehow, I blipped on The Linenhall’s radar and they’ve been subtly looking out for me ever since.

I have come to be a person who likes to share the writing I do. If I did not have a facility to do this, I would still write but it would be a less satisfying, more closeted, sort of writing. What the Linenhall have done, among many, many other things is allow me to avail of their facilities. They have a lovely theatre with all the lights and all the sound and all the space that a person like me could wish for. Through their auspices, I get to avail of all this stuff. If there’s a play, I get to take it in to the theatre space and, with the help of good people, work it up and mould it and make it more ready to be shown. That’s only the start of what they do for me at The Linenhall but much of it is almost too subtle to pin down in a coherent sentence. They… make me feel like a creative person. I think that’s it.

Of course I am a creative person, at least by some definition. I take a blank sheet of paper and, for better or worse, I make a play and then actors come and bring the play to life. So, from nothing there comes something and that, I guess, is what you might call creative. I can drag myself for enough to say that I am creative but I will never think of myself as an ‘artist’ or anything as far reaching as that. I am, at most, a storyteller, a mouthpiece, a bit-of-a-wag.

And the Linenhall give me room to be all that and they do it with a constant smile and a gentle nudge in the right direction, which is unerringly forward.

I feel so lucky to have this.

Sometimes I feel like David Mamet (although I could not tie his shoelaces). Like him, I can grow my play in a small theatre setting, show it, improve it, and send it out into the wide world to see where, if anywhere, it may go. I won’t ever be a world-beater but the little plays conceived and grown in-and-around The Linenhall had gone on to play further afield and to people who don’t know who I am. I like that.

This time next week, we’ll be in the run-in to my newest play at The Linenhall. ‘Deb’s Night’ is directed by my good friend Donna Ruane and features a superb teen cast of eighteen. Yesterday afternoon, I sat and watched the rehearsal. The drive, the intensity of trying to get it right. You couldn’t buy it, not with a million bucks. I hope it plays well to the audiences who will come. There is drama in there and humour and some feeling. Let’s see how we go.

I am a lucky duck to have The Linenhall Arts Centre in my life. I have deliberately refrained from naming everybody in there because you are all my valued friends but I’m not writing about you today. I’m writing about what you collectively become when you do your work for the Artists and for The Community and for the old Writing Wags too.

Something valuable.

Something good.

Sometimes Sleep Goes Away

Sometimes sleep goes away. Not very often, thankfully, and not for very long but sometimes it does go.

It’s not a stress thing, although there’s some small element of that. It’s not an anxiety thing either but that probably does play a tiny part too. For me, it’s more an overpowering feeling that there is simply too much to do and that it would be wrong to sleep too easily.

I know lots of people suffer a thousand times worse than me with this kind of thing. I really don’t get it too bad at all, nor do I beat myself up too hard over it. So I’m not pretending to be a martyr to insomnia or anything like that. In my case, it’s simply that sleep occasionally goes away and I thought I’d write a few lines about it this week because, well, sleep has currently gone away.

In my case, it works like this. I go to bed, sometime around midnight. I read my book until the words get all mixed up with sleepy thoughts. Then I put the book down and I close my eyes. Sleep comes really easily and quickly. It’s been a long day. The sleep is solid and deep. 

Then, at about four or half four, I wake. It feels a little like that bit in ‘Groundhog Day’ where the radio clicks on and the same song as yesterday starts to play. “Uh oh, here we go again.” The immediate reaction is to go to sleep again. It’s dark and it’s hours yet until morning. Sleep is the obvious move. But the old brain hasn’t just woken up, it’s come alive in a strange highly-caffeinated fashion. Ideas, plans, scenarios have come leaping in, all wanting to be thought about and considered and mulled-over and worked out. There’s no great feeling of anxiety or unease. A general annoyance at being awake again, yes, and a drive to process information, leaping mentally from one thing to another. 

Oddly enough, no matter how much information is processed or scenarios are worked over, it all seems gone by morning. Nothing is furthered, nothing is any more resolved that it was  before. It’s almost like it’s a sort of wide-awake dreaming. 

Running through song lyrics in my head is sometimes a constructive way to push the mind toward something more ordered and sedate. I know a lot of songs all the way through. ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ is a recurring lyric in these sessions, ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ also comes up quite a bit. My night time owes much to ‘Blood on the Tracks’. It’s no good racing through the lyrics either, as this overactive mind of mine itches to do. The words have to be recalled at the same pace as which they are sung. This isn’t necessarily effective in reclaiming sleep but it does tend to calm the jumpy brain down and ease it away from all that infernal planning and analysis. 

I don’t tend to get up. I ride it out. I think some measure of sleep sometimes comes back on the way towards morning but it’s a light ‘skim across the surface’ sort of sleep where any dreams which may arise are grounded in facts and real life events. 

The alarm goes and then I feel like I could sleep but I can’t and I don’t. The day begins. 

If you’ve never done it, you would imagine that the days after such a night would be long and weary and sub-par. That’s certainly not how it is for me. There seems to be a heightened focus and edginess to those days after sleep goes away. Work gets done.

It all generally runs its course in a couple of weeks and then I’ll sleep like a slightly more normal person again. It might not come back again for a year or even two. 

The main thing, I reckon, is not to worry about it too much. The bed is warm at 4.30 in the morning and the darkness is all-enveloping.

And Bob Dylan’s lyrics are not the worst thing to bounce around in your head. 




Words are Pouring Out

And when I finish one writing thing, I get to start the next and that’s often a great relief.

That 'next thing' has been crashing around in the old head for a while now, generally demanding attention. Suggesting little snippets of insight, dangling a tantalising notion or two, but mostly generating a measure of unease. Will I be able to write that thing, when the time comes? How on earth will it all fall together into some coherent shape?

It’s something of a relief, then, to finally get to the moment when the next thing can be started. It’s also a relief, almost physical, when the words come pouring out. It’s very much like drinking pints of water and not being allowed to go to the toilet for a while. The well of small ideas has been visited and visited but no relief has been granted. So, yeah, words tend to come pouring out.

And a measure of order too. That’s the most surprising thing. While the mind has been assembling various component parts, and the brain has been worrying about how it might all screw together, the subconscious must have been tinkering away too. When the physical writing starts, I often find that decisions have already been made, decisions I really knew very little about. An order is rapidly achieved and the words come pouring out. It’s a halcyon moment.

And how crucial it is to not stop and think too hard about what is pouring out. Not now. Let it flow, baby, just let it flow. It’s a time for forgiveness of all things. A time for doing anything and saying anything, just so long as the flow keeps coming. Drain the brain. Get it on to that page at all costs.

And the stuff that comes out can be quite emotion-bringing and visceral. Just yesterday, as I was typing the flow of uncorked words, the damn stuff was making me nervous just because the set up was quite an edgy one. I was worried how it would all turn out and who would get hurt and would they be okay after. Actually really worried. I raced through the scene with my pecking fingers, trying to arrive at a place of some resolution where I could breathe a bit again. It was odd.

And today, the flow will continue. I can feel it clearly in my fingertips and in the base of my skull. These words I’m typing right now are not the words I should be typing. The right words are crashing around and tickling and struggling to get the hell out. So stop, Ken, stop. Go and write the right stuff and stop this dicking around.

In a minute. In a minute.

Just one more thing and, as Hamlet said, “Meet it is I set it down.” What was it again? It's difficult to focus. Those other words are making a lot of noise and turning my head.

The flow…

The flow…

The mistake so many people make…

Ah, yes, that’s it.

It’s so easy to fall in love with the product of the flow. A large beaker full of stuff that came out so gushingly and even assembled itself in ways that were surprising and new. How could it not be wondrous? How could it not be the best?

Of course we all know it isn’t wondrous. It isn’t the best, not to anyone but you at least. We all know that first drafts are shit and that the good work is now only beginning. A block of wood has been created from nothing, as if by magic, but now it needs to be carved and sculpted and shaped into something a bit fine.

We all know it.

But, man, how we forget it.

We are charmed, bewitched by our tall beaker full of product. See how it gleams in the pale moonlight. We take it door to door and show it to our friends and they (being our good friends) confirm for us that it is indeed wondrous and we are indeed magnificent human beings for creating it. We smile and bask in the reflected light from the jar while, inside, our friends secretly shrug and shiver. For all they can really see is a big jar of piss.

And so, on with the flow. Long may it continue, long may it go.

Just don’t fall in love with it, Ken. Not this time. This time, remember that there is still much work to do after the flow has stopped.

And, oh, what's that? In the back of my head tickling gently?

Damned if it isn't the thing after this one.

Starting to squirm...

Words Coming Out of My Ears

We changed the car recently. Nothing wild or extravagant, just a second hand car that was significantly less of a second hand car than the previous one was. It’s nice though. It’s nice to set out for someplace with some level of confidence that you might actually arrive there. 

I’m not what you would call a ‘car’ person. In fact, one of my odd focuses in those rare times when we do change cars is the kind of radio that it might come equipped with. 

I’m old enough to remember wishing the car would have a CD Player. I even remember wishing that a cassette player might come as standard. Hell, I even remember wishing for a radio that had push buttons rather than two twirly knobs. That’s old. 

With this new/old, car I had an updated wish for the radio. I wished that it might be possible to connect my classic ipod to the sound system via a cable so that I could listen to my podcasts over the speakers. Honestly, it was one of the first things I looked for. So, yay, I am happy to report that this feature does indeed exist. Now, when I set off on my long journeys, I can enjoy my podcasts with ease as I roll along.

I’ve been doing it for a few weeks now and it’s great.

It is… great, yes, great.  Except…

Except something has been lost. Something really small and quite difficult to define. I’ll give it a go, though. You know me; always trying. 

Before I do, I just want to explain why I’m not going to tell you about the podcasts I listen to. Not today anyway. Podcasts, I feel, are a bit like underwear. You can reveal a little too much about yourself by describing in depth the type you use. With a reveal of your underwear, you can immediately be seen to be either the coolest dude on the block or the lame ‘tighty whitey’ doofus. So can it be with podcasts. So lets not go there today. I don’t feel up to it. 

But, yes, something has been lost. Let’s  do that.

Before my new Batmobile, I tended to listen to podcasts in three places. Firstly, when I go on specific ‘walking’ walks, I bring my beloved, still pristine, ipod classic along, I plug my earbuds in, and I ‘do’ my podcasts. Secondly, if I’m making dinner and there’s a bit of prep involved, I will again break out the ipod and buds and do me some listenin’. Generally, in this case, I put the ipod in my breast shirt pocket and go to work. Invariably, the earphone wires gets caught in chairs and pots and the buds get ripped out of my ears and I swear a lot such that my family thinks I hate making dinner but, apart from that, it’s good. 

Thirdly, and this is naughty I know, I used to listen in the car on long drives. I’ve done a lot of podcasts that way. 

“Ah no, Ken,” I hear you say, “that’s not naughty. You stick one of the earbuds in your ear and turn the volume up a bit and you’re good to go.”

Yes. Um. 

I use both earbuds. When I’m driving. I know, I know, it’s just that the one ear thing winds me up. I’ve always been a bit of a sound junky and the one ear thing just doesn’t fly my balloon or float my boat or rattle my cage. 

So, yes, naughty.

But it’s okay. I’ve stopped now. I’ve got my new/old car with the hot line connection between ipod classic and car sound system. I don’t need my earbuds any more. All is peachy. Except…

Except I miss listening on my earbuds. 

Something has definitely been lost. Something I never really knew existed until it was gone. It’s a strange sort of intimacy to comes from listening with earphones wedged in your ear canal. The words and the voices all seem to land with an unfiltered purity in your brain. The tones and registers of the voices seem to tickle those tiny nerve endings that bring us our sounds. To go altogether too far, there is almost a sensual quality to listening to regular podcast stuff like this with earphones. And in the car, on the speakers… well, it’s just in the car, on the speakers. 

Do I make sense? I don’t know. The ease and convenience of the new/old car and its sound system means that earbud free driving will now be the norm and, in truth, there’ some sense of relief about that. I always felt I was doing wrong being totally plugged in, in the car. 

But I will now look forward even more intently to the long long walks and those chair-tangled kitchen earbud listens. 

Tickle me, podcast. 

Tickle me there. 

I Just Won’t Write One This Week

I’ve probably said it before. I think I’ve said everything before. Sometimes the problem is not being able to think of what to write about, it’s much more a problem of focusing in on one particular thing. 

This week, the old mind is racing with all kinds of different stuff, some fantastic, some utterly appalling, and it’s hard to find the right direction to focus in. It’s equally hard, also, to find any kind of consistency of tone. Should I verbally punch the air or verbally throw myself off a cliff. 

“I’ll tell you what, “ I say to myself, “it’s Sunday morning and you still haven’t written anything. Take it as a sign, a gift from the Cosmos. Take a day off.”

It’s tempting. There’s a nice smell of toast coming from the direction of the kitchen. The rain has stopped. Why the hell not? 

I just won’t write a blog post this week. Why should I bother anyway? If I can’t pin myself down to something I want to say, what’s the point?

Right. Toast. A walk in the non-rain. Maybe even a glance at the paper.

All good. 

But wait. What's all this? I’m here, two hundred words in to something that has no rhyme or reason and has no clue where it might go after the next line. Why am I not eating toast? What the hell is going on?

There’s a tiny trickle of fear, certainly, that keeps me typing. If I don’t do it this week, will I ever do it again? That must be how a blog finishes up in the end. Not with a ballistic post damning all-and-sundry to hell and back nor even with a post announcing the end of it all. I bet the final post on most blogs is an everyday run-of-the-mill thing about, I dunno, eating toast or walks in the rain. 

I don’t like things to end. I don’t like things to stop. I don’t like throwing old, long past their sell-by-date things away. That’s why I wear the same old shoes and jacket, that’s why I follow the same old patterns. That’s why I’m still sitting here, three hundred and seventy words in, and not out in the kitchen munching toast.

So what can I tell you? If I try to write about the awful stuff that is lurking in the news, I will find that a couple of sentences won’t make it and anyway anything I might write would seem impotent and floundering in the light of the awfulness. Best leave it for another day, when thoughts may come straighter.

There’s been lots of drama stuff this week. I could tell you about that. Three separate rehearsal sessions for three separate things. All of them excellent fun. I could easily have written a long post about all that. I just don’t want to overplay that hand and the fun is only just beginning. 

I’ve read a few good books. That could make a passable post. Not bothered though. I tend to write fairly shitty reviews because the tropes of review writing tend to bore me so I usually just end up saying if I thought a book was good or bad and refusing to tell you the plot. So, no, not a post about books although, if you’re looking, I found Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh to be very good. I also enjoyed Miss Jane by Brad Watson for the quality of the writing and the empathy therein. I recommended Remember My Like This by Bret Anthony Johnson to Lucy and she enjoyed it too so that makes me feel safer in saying I thought it was great. 

Movies I’ve seen. I loved The Lives of Others on Netflix, which I was years late to. I thought In A World was smart and sweet and funny and Bone Tomahawk settled me in to a very well made genre-respectful western only to be shocked out of my complacency two thirds of the way through. Oh, yeah, Hell or High Water is a fine film too. Jeff Bridges remains The Man. 

What else? It’s been raining. I got wet. 

Sam and I went to see Graham Hopkins at his Drum Hang in Mocha Beans in Westport. That was very cool. Graham is the ace drummer with The Frames and many other collectives and he was happy to drink coffee and chat and drum like bejaysis. A good night. 

We saw Dinosaur too at The Linenhall, fronted by Laura Jurd who plays trumpet like a great-trumpet-playing thing. It’s lovely to hear and see trumpet playing in real life. It’s quite a physical thing. The jazzy inflections of the instrument are naturally paced by the limits of what a breath can do and the breath itself sits behind the music like some physical proof of its reality. Also there’s saliva to be drained. It’s quite a beast and Laura doesn’t tame it, she more rides it like a bucking steer.

We’re watching ‘This is Us’ on RTE2 and it is pretty schmaltzy and smooth but I think it’s also pretty good. The narrative is corralled in an impressive way, the humour is light and good, and the characters are engaging. It’s not Ibsen but we keep recording it and sitting down with it so that’s a good sign. 

Apple Tree Yard was very good on the BBC. It sparked some lively discussion around the place and that’s always a positive sign too. We missed Taboo and we don’t get iPlayer in these parts so I’ll have to look into a way to see it. It sounded really edgy and blunt, all at the same time. 

So, yeah, look, I just won’t write a blog post this week. I’ll have that toast and that walk (not at the same time) and I’ll come back to it fresh and inspired next week. 

That’s the best thing. 

See you then.

Great Evenings and How to Have More of Them

Last week I told you about my day out in Dublin. I didn’t tell you what I did when I was finished there though. I’ll do that now.

Most people would just go home. Not me. Nuh huh. I pointed my car in another direction entirely and headed for the town of Gort in County Galway. It was going to be one of those good evenings for me. The Wild Swan Theatre Company in that fine town were putting on one of my plays, ‘Conception Pregnancy and Bert’, and I was driving down there to see it. 

I get to do this a bit and I feel lucky every time I do. I get to go to a town that I don’t know and find a band of smart talented people there who have taken weeks and weeks learning off some of the silly stuff that I write down in my spare room. They have grappled hard with my pages and figured out how best to perform them. Then they'll play it all out for a willing audience. What a compliment they have paid me in taking this on. How very lucky I am.

In the case of the Wild Swan Theatre Company in Gort, that was only the start of it. Imagine my surprise when I marched in to a huge room elegantly dressed, table by table, as if a society wedding party was about to motor in at any moment. Walk around a corner and there was this beautifully set stage with hundreds of seats carefully laid out in front. 

This was Supper Theatre, except it was more Dinner Theatre as the patrons were about to be treated to a full sit down meal in between the two plays they had come to see. My play was up second, after everybody had been wined and dined. 

I won’t single anybody out. It was just a great evening. The first play was very well written and performed and went over marvelously with the audience. The second play was a little more odd and maybe a little more edgy. It needed a good director to get its quirky set-up across and a brave cast to play out the rather extreme levels of silliness that ensues. The Wild Swan Theatre Group delivered all of these things in spades. 

My usual delight is to sit at the back and watch the play and the reactions of the audience at the same time. I can learn a lot from where people laugh, don’t laugh, shift uncomfortably in their seat or even look down at the floor. This time, my cover was blown by a nice introduction from the stage. Never mind. The audience went along with the play as the pace accelerated and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a room erupt with laughter at some of your own writing. 

I drove home after a very, very long day, buzzing and happy. 

So thank you, Wild Swan Theatre Group. It was a great night.

I only wish I could figure out how to have more of them.

My plays generally end up getting performed by a sort of ‘word of mouth osmosis’ or, as often as not, because somebody saw a production somewhere else and thought the play might suit their group for a performance too. I have quite a few plays and quite a few of them have had quite a number of productions. Which is great. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s great. 

It’s just that there’s no plan to it. None on my part anyway. No real rhyme or reason. I word hard on the plays, trying to get them as good as possible, and their first productions usually emanate from the wonderful people in the Linenhall Theatre here in Castlebar coupled with my production and directing friends here in Castlebar who all support and encourage me more than I can say. In the case of ‘Conception Pregnancy and Bert’ it was initially born as the third of three radio plays written for and produced and directed by Mary Carr and St. Patrick’s Drama Group in Westport. It then evolved into a theatre play, with the encouragement of some of my Castlebar friends.

Once a play has been first-produced, I generally end up at a complete loss as to what to do with it next. Sometimes, as I was saying, word of mouth carries it on to some other adventure. One play has been published and one great production came out of that but then no more. Another play is on the national database for youth drama and that has resulted in three productions since the first so that was good. Sometimes, though, it all just stops in Castlebar and I don’t really do much about it.

What should I do? Should I send the plays more vigorously around to theatre groups? I guess I should. That seems obvious even now that I’ve type it out. Should I make the scripts downloadable from this website? Very few people come here, in actuality, so I’m not sure that would be much use but then Google does seem to index the stuff on there pretty well so maybe it might be worth doing. From time to time, I just bang up a link to a script at random and that too has led to a most interesting production.

Whatever it might be, I should really do something. Because I like having those great nights out and I love seeing the plays picked up and performed for audiences all over the place.

I mean, who wouldn’t?