Sunday 19 May 2019

Tips for aspiring writers: put bum in seat and 'just write the feckin' thing'

Keane's Kingdom

Get writing today and no more excuses. Don't worry if it's not perfect at the start. You can always correct and edit later on. Don't get it perfect, get it written. Stock picture
Get writing today and no more excuses. Don't worry if it's not perfect at the start. You can always correct and edit later on. Don't get it perfect, get it written. Stock picture
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

They were hardy souls, those old poets. A good few of them used to come in to the pub and they didn't hate the drink.

There wasn't much money in poetry and the poets wrote for the glory of it and the love of it. There's something very noble about poets. Now though it seems the novel is the thing and film scripts too. There aren't that many people writing plays any more.

So for what it's worth, here are a few writing tips for novels. I suppose I was lucky enough to have lived in the presence of genius for a good many years. I didn't take much notice at the time. John B was just our dad first and foremost.

There are times when I feel very much alone without him. He wasn't a man for big long chats but the two minutes' advice covered it all. It was back around the year 2000 and I thought seeing as we were entering a new millennium I might as well do something about it. I started to write a little bit for a greyhound paper. So then I ask Dad how would I go about writing and he said "just write the feckin' thing". So there's the first and most important piece of advice.

I've often told the story of the day he passed away. I've dined out on it. Fifteen years ago it was, and I miss him just as much. An old boy was on his way to pay his respects when he was intercepted just outside the door of our pub.

The reporter asked him how was it that John B Keane was such a special writer?

"Ah," said the old boy, "John B was the smartest man of them all."

"In what way was he so smart?" asked the reporter. The old boy thought for a while and replied: "John B was the smartest man of them all, because he took down what we says, and then he charged us to read it."

So there you have another tip. Listen to what people are saying. As a kid, I remember Dad scribbling down some of the sayings he would hear on the back of a cigarette box .

In the early days, he wrote in the pub late at night when the house was quiet. Find your own cosy place but don't worry if there's no perfect spot because you the writer lives inside your own head in a parallel world created by you.

The late nights couldn't last and Dad wrote every morning from about 11. So there's the next tip. Write a little every day. Even it's only 200 or 300 words, that will get you to about 100,000 words in the year which is more than long enough for any novel.

Donal Ryan is one of our most brilliant writers. He writes in a simple but powerful style. His dialogue is full of the nuances of his native Tipperary. Donal knows his own place and his stories ring so true. They say "write what you know about" and it is excellent advice, for the first book anyway.

Bum on seat is another good one. In other words, just sit down and write away. Christine Dwyer Hickey is an award-winning writer. I love her work. She is honest, literary when needs be, and caring.

Christine came to Writers' Week year after year and she was always talking about the novel she was going to write. My mother knew a thing or two about motivating writers. There was a writer in residence in our pub every year from 1955. Mam stuck Christine up against the wall and said: "Will you write that book and stop talking about it."

Christine has a big heart and it shows. Don't be afraid to be sentimental or unashamedly dramatic. After all, life is a soap.

When Dad was writing 'The Field', my mother used to tell us kids to be quiet so as not to disturb him. I heard her say to a man in the bar, "Will ye stop singing. I have a murderer upstairs writing a masterpiece." He really did try to get inside the head of a man who murdered over land and the story took its toll on Dad but once it was done, it was done, and his masterpiece is there forever.

Dad noticed too much and the pain he saw in people's eyes gave him the compassion needed to tell their stories. Donal Ryan writes with heart. His last book, 'All We Shall Know', is the story of a Traveller man who has a baby with the woman who is teaching him to read and write. It has a message of hope, love, forgiveness and tolerance.

I don't get to read much, what with the late nights in the pub and the bit of writing I do myself. Donal's books keep me up all night. Unfortunately, I'm one of those people who does all his worrying at night. So I read a few chapters of a Donal Ryan book and then I look at the late state of the clock and turn out the light. But there's no rest. I'm worrying now for Donal's characters like as if they are real people.

Try to write about people you would worry about if you knew them outside the pages.

There's a stage dramatisation of Donal's book 'The Spinning Heart' taking place in The Gaiety and it opens at the end of September. Can't wait.

So get writing today and no more excuses. Don't worry if it's not perfect at the start. You can always correct and edit later on. Don't get it perfect, get it written. Then rewrite. Make a snag list once the building is up.

The last tip is to read Donal Ryan for benchmarking, and the love of it.

Irish Independent

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