On Writing a Book.
Ireland, circa 2007, I had undergone many upheavals in my life. The end of a long-term relationship and the death of my grandmother who raised me alongside my mother and grandfather. Life seemed cruel and unfair. Having recently returned from a short stint in San Francisco, where I worked for a wonderful Irish man in a furniture and antique removal company, I was unsure what to do with my future. I was the lowest I had ever been in my life up until that point and the weight of loss and grief stemming from the aforementioned incidents crippled me mentally. I became reckless in my behaviour, angry at the world, myself and my friends around me. Reckless turned to destructive. I was no stranger to locking myself away in my room for hours on end and only leaving the house to go drinking once or twice a week with anyone I knew who’d join me. I started to become the go-to-guy when people in my life wanted a night out. Things seemed grim and continued to escalate until I eventually lashed out at the very people who had been important in my life, my friends. They were drawn into a ridiculous and juvenile spat between myself and the person, whom for many years, had been the most important person to me. Regret doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel towards that particular drama. It all came to a head and I knew that something had to change or I might not be able to turn back.
It all sounds very dark and dramatic, I know, but if anything I’m playing down the despair and turmoil of those days.
One of the few bright lights in the darkness was my brother. He would have been around 8 years old at the time and he brought me great joy since I’d been an only child for the first 18 years of my life. That’s not to say I didn’t have surrogate siblings in cousins I grew up with but my brother was something different. An instant bond had formed when we met for the first time a couple of years before.
While all this was going on I found myself obsessing over the past and as a result memories of my youth flooded my mind. During my primary school years I was taught by a headmaster who had a passion for all things Greek mythology and history in general. The more I thought about this the more stories from Greek mythology, Irish mythology and Irish history came to mind that my headmaster had recited. I sought out an encyclopaedia on Greek mythology – that my ex-partner had bought me as a gift a few years previously, knowing my interests well- and began refreshing myself on the deluge of characters therein. An idea began to form in my mind about mythology and how to retell some of these stories for children of today. I made the decision to write a short book for my kid brother and have it ready for his 10th birthday and started drawing up notes and a structure for a tale. All this occurred before that fateful night where I knew something had to change.
Before making the decision to change things in my life I first secured an apprenticeship in carpentry – the stint in San Francisco and the love of the work there pushed me towards a more hands on line of work – but not long after that applied for and received a position in the Arts course in NUIG to keep my options open. I reluctantly gave up my offer of the apprenticeship since, fairly enough, my boss wasn’t willing to invest 10 months into training me only to lose me come September 2008. It turned out it may have been a lucky break choosing Galway since it was in 2008 that the bottom fell out of the housing market in Ireland and it still hasn’t fully recovered.
Just after the aforementioned turning point I decided, in order to save some money for the move to Galway, I should spend 3 months living at home. This was the first time since leaving at 18 and would now only be my mother and I without the presence of my grandmother. This is when I really turned my attention to the idea of the book. I wrote a prologue – which is one of the few things that survived in its almost original form – and the first chapter of the book. All the while I was writing out rules of the universe I was creating and coming up with names that I felt would suit the role of each character and their respective journeys. I became immersed in the process and increasingly excited at the prospect of telling this story to my brother. An old friend gave me much appreciated support on the outset of writing the book and also helped with applying to NUIG when I did. It’s doubtful she realises just how much those early words of support propped me up enough to follow through. The dust having settled after the juvenile spat, my other friends continued to support me in this venture as well as my new move to Galway also. It still amazes me the capacity of some people to forgive. Lucky for me.
By the time I had made the move to Galway – again with help from some long suffering friends who lived there – I had a few chapters of the book written. After a few weeks into the new course at NUIG I soon realised that my aim of finishing the book by my brother’s 10th birthday may have been ambitious for two reasons. Firstly, I was again a full-time student with little time for writing outside of assignments and secondly, the book had taken on a life of its own and was becoming something more than a short book. In fact, it was beginning to look more like the first of a trilogy of novels. This realisation forced some changes to the book, which were ultimately better for it. The book was never going to be ready for my brother’s 10th birthday so I had to up the age of the main characters with a more realistic end date in mind. This was the first of many changes to the book.
Not long into my first year I met someone who would become my new partner and we were together for the the full 3 years at NUIG and the majority of the writing of the book. She provided the support and encouragement only a partner can and many times pulled me back from the brink of abandoning the book completely out of frustration when finding out certain aspects of it had been done before, for example. She convinced me to come back at it from a different angle and to figure something new out. Which I did.
I worked hard at NUIG and after first year specialised in psychology. Every summer holidays I’d work on the book. Granted the first summer I spent more time partying with my partner and friends and only occasionally turning my attention to the story. However, the second and third summer I worked on the book like a demon typing away into the early hours of the morning. The third summer was the one and the same where I had completed my undergrad and was seeking a PhD candidacy. Things were tough then and this is where I put most of the work into the book to distract myself from an uncertain future regarding work.
By the time I was successfully awarded a PhD studentship I was a couple of chapters from completion. True to form I stopped writing until the first available holiday which was Christmas. At this stage I was yet again recently partner-less but having learned from my past mistakes handled things a lot better. I took one or two weeks of self wallowing alone accompanied by a few nights of drinking a bit too much and things started to seem not so bad. Unlike in 2007 I had direction in my life and was on the cusp of completing my book.
Once the Christmas holidays started I endeavoured to complete the tale. At approximately 7am on a December morning in 2011 I typed up the last words of the first draft in the same house I had begun it, my family home, and as a single man again. Things had almost come full-circle but thankfully minus the more negative aspects.
I gave the unedited draft to my brother around February 2012 – who was 12, nearly 13, at the time incidentally – and he adored it. Mission accomplished. In January I corrected a few niggles and my old friend who supported me early on is almost finished the grammatical edit as I type and I’ll soon be submitting to agents. I might as well make a go of it. Now that my brother – and a few friends – expressed enjoyment anything else will be a bonus.
I’m sorry if when reading the title the reader was expecting a guide to writing. I’m afraid I wouldn’t know where to begin with that. The one thing I would say however is that when bad shit happens take that and try and use it. Exploit it for something positive. It can act as a source of creativity. It can act as a chance to make the changes in your life you’ve always wanted to. People can change and experiencing the bad is strangely a wonderful experience in and of itself. In order to experience we must be alive and we are fortunate that we can experience negative emotions at all since many do not have that privilege. Sometimes things are not easy but this is life and life is everything.