Dublin Writer’s Box and the Table of Neverending Ireland

Leaving Dublin today on the slow ferry, Ulysses. Good metaphor for the book really. I am sure that it is a wonderful piece of literature, and that it is worth getting through, but that’s what it feels like – getting through it. It’s over my head. I want to read it, and I will, but there are so many other Irish writers that I want to read, that I think I will miss out on, if I have to continually plunge my head into the wooden barrel of icy seawater that is James Joyce’s prose. It’s too strong, too complicated. I am sure that, at some point, I will find it great, but at the moment it’s asking far more intellectual stamina than I have to offer.

But I’m about to contradict myself. I’m about to read as much Irish literature as anyone outside of Dublin has probably read.

Going to the Dublin Writers’ Festival, I was under a cloud of self loathing that seemed to come from nowhere, but that I know didn’t. I’m far too down on myself, all the time. People get annoyed at it, even, it’s so strong sometimes. Like it’s something that’s easily under control. But it’s not, and I struggle with negative thoughts. Especially about writing. In the last week, it’s made me not want to write. I will, and I am (obviously), but it’s like wading through treacle. I will have periods of extreme motivation, days at a time, and then occasionally periods in which I succumb to the inevitability of my failure at everything, and my lack of ability as a writer. I think I’m bad, unconnected, and kidding myself. I feel like I want to be heard, but there’s a box – I’m in it – and everything that anyone in the publishing or writing world is outside the box, and can’t see me. There’s a lot of darkness in that box. Perhaps it’s like being inside one of those diorama type boxes that have only small holes poked on the outer walls, that you can see into. You can see out better than you can see in, I imagine. Not that I’ve been in one – but I am reading Gulliver’s Travels.

After much self loathing, which is what these wonderful talks by famous and talented authors seem to have become for me (I will never be that good; I can’t believe you’re at another on of these things – how many do you think it will take before you’re good? Don’t you remember all the others you’ve been to?), I’ve decided to do something different. Not something ‘positive’, life-affirming or grandiose, but something different. I want to read all the books that were for sale on the authors’ table after I left Ronson’s talk. (Funniest writer ever.) It’s not just Jon Ronson – it’s a table of many, if not all, of the authors speaking at the Festival. Most will be Irish authors – a lot will be Ranson. But all will be published, good books.

This is doing something positive, I suppose, but it wasn’t my intention going in. I just have this idea that telling myself, when I feel bad, ‘you’re no worse off than anyone else,’ or ‘you’re a good writer,’ is, really, just a negative image of the self-criticism. Like the old film you used to take to the camera shop to get exposed – it’s just the reverse colours. It’s drawing attention to the monster, because we can all see the monster, if a little more disguised, in the negative image. And I think that’s what the monster likes. Feeding the wrong wolf. You know the saying – It feels like feeding the right wolf, but feeding the wrong wolf. You know the saying – The positive wolf and the negative wolf both come to the door – it’s the one you feed that keeps coming back. Telling yourself how good you is just like leaving food out for the good wolf, and either wolf can eat from the bowl. Because you never believe your own hype. Rarely, anyway.

But this is just doing something, instead of feeding anything. Not that I thought about any of this when I had the idea. I just shoved my bag and jumper at Andrew and tore my notebook out, and began taking names. I will blog about them when I’m reading them, and I’ll read others, but I’d like to get through these. Following is a rough list; I haven’t got proper titles for all of them:

  • The Men Who Stare at Goats – Jon Ronson
  • Lost at Sea – Ronson
  • The Psycopath Test – Ronson
  • In this Country Everything Must – Colum McCann
  • Transatlantic – Colum McCann
  • In a Town of Five Thousand People
  • Dawn O’Porter’s new YA novel
  • Town and Country: New Irish Stories
  • The Daughters of Mars – Thomas Keneally
  • Bedsit Disco Queen – Tracey Th…
  • The Book of My Lives
  • The Yellow Birds – Power
  • Shall We Gather at the … – Murphy
  • The Silence of Animals – John Gray
  • Long Halftime Walk
  • Red Sky Morning – Paul
  • The Eggman and the Faeries (?) – Butler
  • The Faraway Nearby Solution (?)
  • Time Present T… – Deirdre Madden

As I said, this was just a list I scribbled down so I could google the titles later. I have more to add.

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