Sunday, 29 April 2012

Tá Mac-na-hÓige Slán ?

It all hangs together.
The priest conducting  the ceremony is Father Cormac McIlraith.
Ah hah, did I not long years ago live in a house in Sandycove beside an engineer by the name of Declan McIlraith? I did, and he (my bean cheile H whispers beside me) is brother to the priest.
Not only that.
The First Holy Communicants are drawn from several schools in the Booterstown area of County Dublin. St Andrew's. All Saints National School, and Booterstown National School.
Ah hah again. Did not the father of one particular communicant attend the precursor of that Booterstown National School, then situated beside Monkstown Church?
He did, and he has flown in from the Middle East for the ceremomy. Just as I, his father, have trained in from the Far West for the ceremony.
It all hangs together.
The child communicant is my grandson.
A moment of reflection appropriate to the occasion.
First conclusion. I am now old enough to have a grandchild of first communication  age.
Develop that I remember my own First Communion?
Well in so far as I remember a crocodile of kids being marched along Sandycove in the rain and into Glasthule Church, I do. The rest is silence.
Carry I remember the First Communions of my own four children?
Three of them yes, because they would have been as gaeilge, those particular kids having been brought up in the Irish language. But as for the older, he from the Middle East, tanned in suit, designer sunglasses perched in hair, gazillion dollar watch on wrist, I can't remember his First Communion at all. He did go to a Protestant school, but it must've happened. I may be lax and maybe lapsed, but in First Communions I take a hard Roman Catholic stance. This is my apostolic line in the sand. Once crossed, the whole thing will fall apart.
Today we're all doing our best to see that doesn't happen. 
The ceremony is well thought out, and elegantly organised. Both prayerful and exuberant, it is a happy morning in an unhappy world.  
At the bunfight afterwards I meet an interesting and intelligent Frenchman, a schoolteacher in Dublin. We have a wideranging conversation, among the topics raised being Moliere and Racine.
Ok. I know moliere all about Racine. And it is a racine certainty that I know even less about Moliere. But why let that get between oneself and a good intellectual discussion?
No reason.
Another question. Why entitle this posting Tá Mac-na-hÓige Slán, and what does it mean? Well I can certainly translate the phrase, but I cannot tell the meaning. It translates as "The Virgin's Son is Safe". And its origins are in the old Irish story about the wife of one of the people involved in Christ's crucifixion, how she said that Jesus had as much chance as rising from the dead as that cock cooking there in the pot. At which the cock jumped out of the pot saying... "The Virgin's Son is Safe!" That is the translation and the explanation.
The meaning is another question entirely.

Monday, 16 April 2012

To answer...

People asked...what happened the other postings on other topics...since website reorganised...

Well...they're available from here...

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Girl on Train

Oh well, there went March.
 Apologies to the Dear Followers. Have been away writing a book. Well, not precisely away, in the sense of being off the island, just away from this particular virtual place.
 Book in question is fiction, and has turned out to be very interesting. Yes, I can hear the mutters out there, that makes a change. So I'll elaborate, it has turned out to be very interesting to me, as a writer. Writing for a living can be very boring but...this time...different.
So, to break a lifetime’s veto, something about the job of writing follows.
 It appears to be a generally held feeling, and no doubt reasonably so, that a writer's life experiences, his/her understandings and observations and lunacies, well that they  go into a sort of cement mixer situation in the brain, get churned about a bit, and at a later date emerge as fiction, as events, personalities, characterisations and so on and so forth on the printed page. The belief is that in effect there is a progression from this 'real' world to the artificial/fictional world of the book. And furthermore, that this progression is linear and goes from the past, through the present, to the future.
Not so with this book I'm working on.
OK. For reasons quite unclear to me now, my main woman character comes from County Offaly. My main man is a Dubliner ...and the bits of relevance to this particular elaboration are…

 In the book my man character is travelling from Athlone to Dublin on train. Train stops at Clara County Offaly. Main woman character gets on. Sits beside him. The rest is 100,000 words of love and sex and travels to exotic places like Toronto and Perth. Or something along those lines.
Unfortunately the phrase "love and sex and travels to exotic places like Toronto and Perth" does not actually add up to a book, there's slightly more work involved. So a few days ago I thought I'd better do a bit of this work.

  I was in Dublin and told myself I'll hop down to Clara on the train, check out the journey and Clara and all that, and come back and hit the keyboard.
The first half went well. Although it was raining in Clara, a woegeous little place of shops to let and all pervading gloom,  I did get the picture. I could see why my main woman character was heading to exotic places.
Thing about my main woman. She's a musician. And that day (in the book) she is carrying a guitar on the station platform, awaiting the train and her destiny, the bloke from Dublin.

He's already on the train. She waits on the platform.
The rest is, as mentioned,  100,000 words of love and sex and travels to exotic places like Toronto and Perth. Or something along those lines.
All this was already written in the book as I traipsed back up in the rain from the town to get the train back to Dublin, my wet notebook brimming with interesting info.
It was two o'clock or thereabouts..
The platform was empty.
Then about four or five minutes before the train arrived I saw her, a young woman coming on to the platform...a young woman carrying a guitar.
Freaked, I was, yes I think that's the word. It’s all very well for one's characters to come alive, but to actually physically join one on Clara Station platform is another thing altogether.

I watched her warily.
She didn't actually look like my character. Ok she was the right age, early twenties, for the incident in the book, but she wasn't the woman. She was just a young woman, with a guitar. Whereas my woman in the book stands out, she is very good looking. (Writing is a lonely job. Might as well write about a goodlooking woman as a plain.)
The train was crowded and the guitar carrying woman vanished, and I just sat down any old place. The any old place turned out to be right opposite a young woman who did look like the character in the book. Right age, colour hair, right looks. Maybe even slightly too goodlooking for the character. And also, whilst my character is a civil servant, this one turned out to be a student at TCD.  Or so I learned when I bullied her away from her laptop to engage in conversation.
We got on quite well. Apart from her yawning now and then. Maybe she was tired. We discussed life's hopes and dreams, well, her ones. Being a writer I don't really have many hopes and dreams available for discussion. She turned out to have several interlocking zany philosophies and proposed lifestyles. Many of these were incompatible.  And life will wear her down.  But she was very clever, laughed a lot, and underneath had some kind of steely understated feminism. As the editor of the Diaries of Mary Hayden, I'm very fond of steely understated feminism. Bottom line she was very likeable. Even admirable I suppose. And she told me she wrote poetry and liked Kurt Vonnegut.
Just like me !
All in all, if I were younger and less married and less the father of a daughter of the same age...well...this would add up to a different story....etcetera.
I told her about the writing business, mentioned a book I'd written about my wife. In response to this she took off her top. (Yes you did!). No doubt in some kind of weird unconscious primitive female body language thing. Or alternatively it could have been the temperature in the train. I prefer to believe the former. Because she also fiddled with her hair and played with her bare upper arms. (I’m a writer, I notice stuff!) Good sign all that. (If one were younger and less married and less the father of a daughter of the same age etcetera etcetera).
But the point…underneath the sweater she wore a teeshirt. It had writing on it, saying what I do not know or clearly see.I tend not to stare at the writing on young women's teeshirts, it can be misconstrued. But the point here is that my woman character also wore a teeshirt with writing on  it.
The more I talked to my new friend the more I realised I was actually talking to my female character. I had actually written phrases she used. And given my character her little gestures. I found this pretty damn strange. If I had met this girl before I wrote the character it would've been OK, I would merely have been taking a shortcut into getting someone down on the page. But I hadn't, and I didn't.
Approaching Heuston Station we exchanged emails. For what purpose I have not the remotest idea, doubtless time will tell. We then established a pact, an arrangement. When we got to the station we would both go our seperate ways, not go down into the city together. I took her hand and shook it, telling her that while we could very well meet in cyberspace, I would like to have had some physical contact beforehand. To confirm that she was real, so to speak. Then she went her way and I went mine.
I watched her and remembered how I had described my man character parting from the woman in the book. I quote…

She nodded, and then she turned away. Yes, he noted, she did do that with some kind of flourish. He watched her walking away, some statement in her sway. He watched her walking all the way down Dawson Street, watched her as she weaved herself into the crowd, into the fabric of the crowd like a stitch of some particular colour. Now you see me, now you don’t. Lost her outside Waterstones, a closed up bankrupt bookshop. He thought of the empty shelves in there, and all the vanished books, and all the ghosts of stories.
Put that rather well I think. And apart from the Dawson Street and the Waterstones bit, that was the exit of the TCD student.

Later on the Luas platform I did spot my character…oops, sorry, the TCD student…buying her ticket from a machine. But I reckoned that particular chapter of the mysterious story we share was done, and kept my distance.
 That evening I dined with my mystical editor Michael. I told him of this strange event. more or less meeting my character on the train. He said you really don't understand, you're a gobshite. (I think that's an editorial term.) He said it's all about synchronicity. When you're writing you're in a different zone, psychically and timewise. There is no past present future. You have in fact already met that girl, and seen that other girl with the guitar. And used those things in the just think it's linear, it's not...the future is inspiring you…and all that…
But but but...
No buts about it, according to my mystical editor.