Hope triumphs at Listowel Writer’s Week

All of Listowel was out last night for the opening ceremony of the Writer’s Week. No other literary festival that I have attended over the years feels as loved by its own town as this. It’s family, pure and simple.

It was such a special evening of song and poetry. Seeing Brendan Kennelly, my former  tutor at Trinity, receive his lifetime achievement award and hold the room mesmerised as he recited ‘Begin’ and sang John B Keane songs is a moment I will never forget. Laura Enright’s voice was haunting, my skin prickled, and I’m desperate to meet Stephen Murphy’s bad boy Cu chulainn.

If I picked out one highlight though, one moment that’s opened a new door in my mind, it was Richard Ford on Second Acts. Richard opened the celebrations and my heart soared as he spoke about the very issue that is playing constantly on my mind right now – and one I had only minutes before been discussing in the bar with Richard Skinner, Director of the Faber Academy, the second novel. I had only just been saying to Richard that the first novel is like the love of your life, a grand passion but with the second, you get 50,000 words in and start to feel queasy as you wonder should you even be going out with this one – in today’s Tinder world, should you have swiped left perhaps?

Richard Ford talked about trying to talk yourself out of the second novel, cautioned you have to take it as seriously as getting married. And there I am wondering if I should have swiped left! Cue, Richard Skinner to give me a knowing look in the audience! The second novel ‘must ask crucial and critical questions.’ As a writer, it’s no longer about you, you move beyond being a first timer and if you are to continue you must ‘be invested with new important questions’, be ‘truthful’ and discover if you truly can ‘fashion a vessel beautiful enough to capture the imagination.’  You have to ask if you can be good enough again, can you dig deeper still?

Hearing these words has been pivotal for me. There’s such pressure with the second novel. The writing feels different this time, unnatural even though it flows. I wrestle to sit down to it each time, it no longer lures me. My first story burnt, Electric Souk,  within me, I had to write it. This second one has niggled, and is perplexing me far more. Characters are most definitely not behaving. My setting is suffocating me. And the complexity of the layers of my theme quite frankly terrifies me that I can’t pull it off. Plot has taken over, and maybe that’s right as I’m only on my first draft, but it has me in a spinning, nauseating grip. And it’s so easy to get caught up in the seduction of wanting novel two to be bigger, better, shinier. To hook that deal. Novel one gives you the taste of the apple and you just want more. It becomes ever hungry, insatiable lust – not love. As Richard talked of the need for ‘hope to triumph over experience’ and how novel two is an endeavour of ethics, I re-focused on the questions and the original pinprick of an idea for a story that has jabbed at me for years and is the reason for novel two, why I must write this second novel. I feel myself falling in love again and my fingers twitch to get back to my manuscript. I may not be able to live up to Richard’s concluding words, but they will be my inspiration and hope as I firmly swipe right: ‘Writing is not about making a living, but making a difference, especially today. The world depends upon it.’

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