IF ever there was a place made to create good writers then Limerick is it.
From the sieges and struggles of the 17th century through to the cataclysmic fallout from the Celtic Tiger its history has, rightly or wrongly, been defined by hardship.
And while Limerick’s various travails have made life for its occupants difficult, sometimes unbearable, they have had an inspirational effect on its scribes.
Frank McCourt most famously captured the essence of the city, his recounting of life in the windswept, rain-soaked midwest earning him a Pultizer Prize and resulting in a film adaptation starring Emily Watson.
But McCourt was merely following in the footsteps of others; Charles Johnstone, Kate O’Brien and Michael Curtin to name but some. He was the latest to drop off the production line, a line which shows no sign of slowing even as Limerick heads towards what it hopes will be more prosperous times.
However, the Limerick writers of today face greater challenges than any who went before. In this modern era it’s not enough to simply be talented or to be ambitious; you must be lucky, you must be stubborn and you must become accustomed to something that even the hardiest of souls have difficulties dealing with: rejection.
We spoke to three Limerick writers about their experiences in the industry and what it is that drives them to succeed in a notoriously difficult profession.
Adam Chappell was approaching his thirtieth birthday, he had a wife, two kids, a good job and an addiction to Football Manager. For those of you unfamiliar with Football Manager it is, as the name suggests, a computerised football game that simulates the day-to-day life of a manager. It has sold millions worldwide and been the ruination of many a young man with aspirations of greatness.
As Adam approached this landmark celebration, he decided to take stock of his life thus far. First order of business was seeing how many hours of that life he’d spent playing his favourite game. It was not a pretty sight. “I saw the triple-figure total and, from that day, stopped playing the game.”
Suddenly the Cappamore man had a lot of free time on his hands. He was in need of a new hobby, a new passion. He could have taken up gardening or running, something similarly mundane, but he didn’t; he took up writing.
“I think a lot of the motivation behind it was to prove I could write something,” he explains by way of reason.
And write something he did, two things in fact. Having cut his teeth at the Limerick Writer’s Centre he began work his his first book, Thief – Omertá. Inspired by his love of Italian mobster films, it tells the story of Robert Forrester ‘a thief for hire, traveling the world to acquire items of value, no questions asked.’
“It was my first effort really,” says Adam, “In my own humble opinion, it wasn’t bad.”
With hopes suitably grounded, Adam set about sending his work to publishers, agents, anyone who might take an interest. “The majority of the feedback was ‘this is okay, come back to us when you have something else.'”
He then submitted the book for consideration on Kindle Scout, a service run by Amazon which offers unsigned authors the chance to get picked up, based on public reaction to the first three chapters of their work. Unfortunately for Adam, Thief – Omertá didn’t receive the requisite amount of votes. It appeared that his writing career was over before it had even started. A return to Football Manager looked on the cards.
Not a bit of it. Undeterred, Adam, who cut his teeth at the Munster Literature Cente, began work on his second book, a shorter, more concise tale inspired by the novellas of Albert Camus and Ernest Hemmingway. The Earth and the Sea retains the crime elements of his first work but has a more “noir” feel to it. Surprisingly Adam has chosen not to send his second book out to publishers, “because it’s a novella, it’s a little less marketable.”
For the time being, his focus is on honing his craft, becoming as good a writer as he possibly can.
“A big part of what I’m trying to do at the moment with the writing is trying to get better at it,” he explains. “It’s something I’ll be doing for a long time so this is the time to be practising.”
That practise comes in the form of a third book, a science-fiction story which is, as of yet, untitled.
Adam will continue to write, balancing his new passion with the real-life responsibilities that come with being a husband and a father, and regardless of how his new work fares, he will not be discouraged; he is in this for the long haul.
“I’ll keep going. Someone once told me that writers tend to peak in their powers around 50/60 years of age. I like that idea, that I’ve got a lot of time to get really good, so it’s more of a self-improvement thing at the moment. The fame and fortune thing isn’t really on my mind.”
For more information on Adam or to read any of his works, visit http://adamchappellauthor.com/
One of the most common pieces of advice handed out to new writers is to “write what you know”. And while this is undoubtedly good advice, it remains one of those catchall phrases that can be interpreted however its recipient sees fit.
But if, for example, you are attending a family funeral and the long-lost son of the deceased turns up unannounced, it would be almost folly not to write about it. It was one such occasion which gave Donal Minihane the impetus to write his first book, Clíona’s Wave, a winner at The 2013 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair.
“A story dropped into my lap, based loosely on a family situation where we discovered that one of our grand-aunts was in the Magdalene laundries. A few years ago her son turned up at her funeral in west Cork. None of the family had ever known about this man or known of her circumstances as she’d lived in England all her life. That became the kernel of the novel.”
Describing himself as a “reader who got a bit uppity”, Donal’s writing career to date is that rare thing, an unqualified success.
“I got very lucky considering it was the first thing I’d written, I submitted it to novel fair and got a call three months later to say it had been shortlisted, and whether the book was finished?
I said ‘it was’.”
Just one small problem; it wasn’t.
With a full manuscript requested for the end of that week, Donal (37) had to lock himself away and finish what he’d started. Emerging a few days later, bleary-eyed and exhausted, he sent away the finished version of Clíona’s Wave just in time for the deadline.
The book was one of the winners at that year’s Irish Writer’s Centre Novel Fair and was published in 2015 by Indigo Dreams. Success came as a surprise to Donal who admits that he was unsure of his talents of a writer before winning the award: “I hadn’t a notion, I got an awful shock when I heard. But it also gave me great confidence, a boost to continue writing.”
You might think that as a successful, published author, Donal should be able dedicate himself full-time to his craft, that with the royalties flooding in he can ditch his nine-to-five and become a writer, full stop. But no, he continues to manage a hotel in Doolin, a job which requires early starts and late finishes, while working on his second book, “a more contemporary novel, which tells the story of an extreme surfer who narrates from the confines of the central mental hospital for the criminally insane.”
However, from this autumn onwards, Donal will have another commitment eating into his time; he is starting a Masters in creative writing at the University of Limerick.
Again, it might seem odd that someone who has already had a novel published would feel the need to spend time studying an art he has apparently cracked, but the Caherdavin native sees it as a natural step in his progression.
“There’s something mysterious about writing,” he says, “like any other craft or trade like working with wood, or stone or metal, you’re just using words to build something. You need to listen and learn from those who came before you, your peers. You have to love it and obsess about it, strive for perfection.”
In between studying, working and spending time with his wife and two daughters, Donal will continue to work on his second novel. This time he will finish the book at his leisure, with no pesky novel fairs to bother him. He already has an offer from his previous publisher but is open to “looking at all options, and maybe securing an agent.”
And that’s about as far ahead as he is willing to look. Despite his early success, he appreciates the capricious nature of the business, and says that he will take it one day at a time and concentrate on the page in front of him because “that’s all you can do really.”
Donal is the founder of the Doolin Writers Weekend, learn more about it here http://www.hoteldoolin.ie/doolin-writers-festival.html
In most businesses, having a string of national awards to your name would automatically improve your chances of employment. In most businesses having a CV the envy of your contemporaries would send you shooting to the top of the pile, a special case to be treated with care.
Writing isn’t most businesses.
Pat O’Connor’s achievements as a writer are as varied as they are lengthy.
Since 2009, he has won the Sean O’Faolain International Short Story Prize, been shortlisted for the same, as well as winning or being shortlisted for a litany of other writing competitions both national and international.
Pat is struggling to get his first novel published.
“I’ve been to every agent and publisher in Ireland that I thought it would suit, and they didn’t fancy it,” he says matter-of-factly. In this game, previous successes count for nothing, it’s all about the quality of your product and how likely it is to sell.
“You have to bear in mind that you’re handing this over to people who are trying to pay mortgages and bring up their children. They’re going to print it and put it into shops in a way that the maximum amount of people are going to buy it, so they can make money. They have a very clear idea of what they want. So, unfortunately the novel hasn’t taken flight yet.”
Pat describes his novel as being a “particular type of story set in Limerick, involving drugs and ‘a’ policeman.” Having written it in his own inimitable style, he was informed by his agent that he had to make it “more like a thriller”. Ever willing, he did as instructed, but ended up with a book far removed from what he’d intended.
“You rail yourself as a writer for putting yourself into a genre, but they’ll fit you into one when they start approaching the publishing threshold.”
Now 56, Pat has been writing “since primary school” and, after a career in the sciences which involved traveling all over the world, he has settled back in Castleconnell, his birth-place, to write full-time.
Not everyone, however, takes his line of work that seriously.
“Everybody thinks that just because you don’t go off every day into a place where you’re getting a salary, that you’re not working but you’re always working, even when you don’t seem to have your eyes focused, you’re probably working just as hard.”
Pat gets paid for his work, “a little bit here and there”, but is reluctant to call what he does a ‘career’.
As an occupation, he says it offers little security and an income best described as irregular: “I greatly admire those who come out of school and say they want to be a writer and that they’re not going to do anything else – they’re gonna die.”
Forty years on from the end of his own school days, Pat is finally in a position where he can be a writer and nothing else without the fear of dying.
This is thanks in no small part to his “very understanding wife” and children who have grown to understand his passion, although not all their feedback has been positive: “When my son heard my play on the radio, he said ‘oh my God, I hope nobody hears that.'”
He has long since stopped worrying about what his children think of his work, though.
Pat’s only obligation is to his readers and to ensuring that his work is as genuine and as honest as it can possibly be.
“You’re not you when you’re writing, you are a window to the world, and anything that comes through that window has got to go down on the page. If you distort it, people are going to say ‘that window’s not much good, it doesn’t show things the way they are.'”
For more information on Pat or to read any of his works, visit http://www.patoconnorwriter.com/