April 13, 2013 by aoifebrennan
Writing a book is a not a choice, it’s a madness. There is some compulsion that drives a writer to continue adding word after word until there are 1000s of them stacked up on top of each other in a flimsy, wordy Tower of Pisa, ever poised to fall over, yet somehow not. Or maybe that should be the Tower of Babel, where tongues of language babble away to each other without the slightest comprehension. All I know that as a writer, the urge to lay my words out – flimsy, babbled, gabbled – is as strong an impulse as when a hen lays an egg. Laying an egg, I suspect, is unstoppable, it has to happen, it is as natural as the day is long, but dang it, it’s got to hurt like hell.
The corresponding mad thing about writing a book is that nobody may read it other than the writer. How mad is that? What other passion may be as solitary? Even a demented painter may count upon a curious eye being cast over his creation, perhaps accidentally, but the entirety can be viewed in a second, if not actually understood. How many debut novels are never read past the first chapter, and how many subsequent novels meet the same fate? In addition to being a compulsion, it is a triumph of faith over experience in many cases.
Write what you know about is another war cry oft banded about by those who in the know. Thankfully, this very sage advice is often ignored. Some of the most original and amusing pieces of literature handed down cannot have been inspired by experience – think science fiction, paranormal or even crime novels. The first two demand suspension of all you might properly say you know, and the last can live just as much in pixie-land as the first two, that is as in ‘away with the pixies land’. Consider this interesting writing fact, or maybe it is an urban writing myth, but apparently there are more fictional murders per capita in the quiet, upmarket island of Nantucket than in any other war torn American city. Miss Marples’ creator has a lot to answer for.
Many writers that I know think in terms of their writing, all the time. You can see them scribbling feverishly onto beer mats, or more recently tapping with large fingers on their iphones. That is me, cursing fluently at predictive text which I love for all other correspondence, other than note taking. If the writing police raided my phone they would find some very strange jibberish altogether. They might be excused for thinking they had apprehended a raving lunatic. For there amongst the innocent grocery lists of milk, bread and carrots, there are strange utterings: She had the look of a tabloid about her, His long nails itched his head and the dry scalp made an unpleasant rasping sound, If you can’t sing, chant!, the oily mendacity of Wall Street. Further along might be found queer alliterative words – Percolate, Permeate, Probate, Prostrate – corralled by important websites or names of restaurants once planned to visit. What lives inside a writer’s head is a tangle of words like discarded computer wires and leads.
So, now that we have established that a) writers must write regardless and b) we often think in terms of our copy and c) writing about what you know is not necessarily the be all and end all of things, I have to confess to all four. Four? I hear you ask. Is that not three? Well, yes it is, but I have both written about what I know and then written about that which I do not. So that makes four and that is how I laid my egg (picked my genre).
Laying my particular genre was about as painful as the hen clucking over her egg. My personal experience was an acrimonious separation and divorce, rapidly approaching financial destitution and the daunting task of dating again in my forties. I also lost friends, gained new, muddled though the cruel machinations of family law and witnessed my children grieving. We were all collateral damage. I wanted to write about that and try and make sense of it all. Even though I had done the leaving, the raw hurt and tangible losses could not be underestimated. So my first egg was a non-fiction book about divorce, a help mate for people who were taking those first faltering steps on this road. So much had frightened me, I felt I had stepped into a foreign country where I had no friends, did not speak the language and had no map to my safe haven. Then the very instruments of law supposed to help my transition mugged me as if I were a helpless backpacker. I felt wounded and sore and traumatised. Like someone with a new illness, I discovered many people in a similar boat. I wanted to write a book to share this, so perhaps people might not feel alone, or judged or unique in their hurt. But that egg would not come out! I was going to say it stuck in my gullet, but anatomically that iscertainly not correct. But stuck it did, and fast. If I said I was constipated I might be literally and figuratively nearer the mark. It would not budge, but as I writer (or mother hen) I knew I wanted this egg.
It was at this point, I changed the birth plan for my egg. I was going to write fiction. I was going to take my experience and throw it out the window and bring in a heroine who would show the world what life was all about. I gave her curves and humour and even dates I could never dream of, especially dates! For that was when my emerging egg went a little grey, fifty shades of it. I can claim it was poverty that drove me to it. I can claim it was vicarious desire that drove me to it. All I know is that my heroine will survive in style. I’m writing her ending where mine is unknown. Such a thing is the mighty pen!
Aoife Brennan’s debut novel is called The Cougar Diaries, Part I, and is available on Amazon for Kindle readers, priced €2.99. She is currently writing part II and III. It is adult romance and an early review has said it makes 50Shades look positive monochrome. That’s some pen!