Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Books That Are 'Bigger' Than You: Tell Me Yours

It was late February 2008. I was in the centre of Dublin, killing time until the next showing of Juno. I went into the Kylemore Cafe in the Stephen's Green Shopping centre - not somewhere I eat often, but it has a couple of huge advantages:
1. No one aggressively whips away your plate saying 'Can I get you anything else?' with a fake smile if you sit there for too long, and
2. It has a great view of Stephen's Green and the southern end of Grafton Street (I call this the bottom of Grafton Street. The entire rest of humanity calls it the top. I think I'm right).

I ordered a mug of vanilla rooibos tea and looked out the window. I remember that I had a headache. I can't remember if I'd bought aspirin to take with my tea. I know I considered it. I'm a hypchondriac - I remember these things.

I started a novel that day in the Kylemore. My first novel as an adult, a big novel. A novel bigger than I was then, probably bigger than I am now. I don't remember starting it, but the opening of the novel never changed, and I have it still.

After her father died, it took a while before Hannah and her mother managed to fully
sort through his belongings. The very day that he died, within an hour of leaving the
intensive care unit, Nora had started to dispose of anything that visibly reminded her
of Jack. His alarm clock, his work files, the watch he’d left on his bedside locker, his
shoes, his laptop were boxed up and stowed away or thrown out. His books took a few
weeks to disappear, mainly because no one knew which books were his and which
he’d borrowed. Hannah’s brother Tony sorted the books and Nora distributed them
between his friends at the golf club and in his local. His clothes took the longest,
because they still smelled of his aftershave and cigarette smoke.
No one dared touch his desk.

Inelegant and clunky, that is word for word what I wrote that day, looking down at Grafton Street. I think it was raining outside? But I live in Ireland, so all of my memories are rainy, like photos left in a damp attic for too long. Afterwards I went to see Juno, which I loved, and I sat there in the dark thinking, for the first time in years, that I could do that. I could make a whole world out of words.

That novel was never quite finished. I wrote most of it, including the ending, but never managed to complete some of the necessary filler chapters. It was a product from my father's death when I was 21, being directionless in my early 20s, not knowing what career I wanted. It was about grief and loss and parenthood, the latter of which I've never experienced. It was about Ireland's history and the church and homes for 'fallen women'. I read more Irish history while I was writing that book than I have before or since, and let me tell you, it was bloody depressing.

But I don't regret starting my life as a writer with a book that was too big for me. I hope to come back to it someday, and get it right.

Am I the only one with a book like this?


  1. I started my first novel when I was about thirteen, and it was about all the emotions and problems I was feeling at that time, only I wasn't really sure what all those things were, or how to properly articulate them. I never finished it, and although I've started many, many drafts over the years, I've never managed to truly say what I want to. I still feel most of those things, though, and most of it was about me trying to realise what kind of person I was becoming, so I hope that one day I'll be able to finish it. It's still perhaps the story closest to my heart, and thus incredibly important and personal. One day, I hope. :)

    1. Wow, trying to write about all of the emotions of a thirteen-year-old is a big task alright! I agree with you, though, I'm 30 now and I don't feel much different to when I was a teenager - I'm slightly better at accepting that time passes and bad times won't last forever, but that's about it. I hope you finish your novel someday, it sounds like it would be a great read.

  2. I have stuff that I wrote that'll never see the light of day- sometimes it's just too personal, other times it's just the training ground, so to speak.

    It sounds like in this instance, writing this was part of the grieving process.

    1. I agree, William, it probably was. It also has some passages that were indeed training ground, and some of them are terrible!


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