Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Back to earth

My time on the spectacularly beautiful Achill Island is coming to an end. For the last three and a half weeks here, I've had the blessed freedom of doing nothing but writing, reflecting, plotting, gamboling in the hills and eating.

The view from the cliffs beside our cottage.

Naturally, I have spent a lot of that time not actually writing.

This is okay, I think. Discipline in writing is good, and necessary. But so is a certain amount of kindness towards yourself.

This lesson has been a long time in the learning.


Two years ago, I hit a low point. I spent a winter under a blanket, doing very little of anything, including writing. I had always wanted to write, and I had been doing so in my spare time for more than a year, being very disciplined about it. But I had started to believe I would never write well.

I realise now that a year is not a very long time. That I had set my expectations unreasonably high, and that I was turning inwards upon myself. You are not good enough. You will never be good enough. We are our own worst enemies, at times.

Towards the end of that winter, I received an email from a man in Dublin who wanted to publish a story of mine. His name was Ciaran Carty, and the publication was The Irish Times.

I remember my response being something along the lines of: Ohjesusfuckyesthankyou.

I remember holding onto it like a life raft.

Part of the balance between kindness and discipline is taking the time to celebrate successes, however small they might be: finishing a draft; sending out a story; receiving a heartwarming comment on your work. Successes come far and few between in the writing life. That first publication was crucial for allowing me to be kinder towards myself, to stop driving myself so hard.

Between then and now, I have been lucky enough to have had a few more stories published, and to enjoy some other moments of encouragement. 2016, in particular, has brought affirmation in spades. It has also brought many opportunities to meet other writers and become part of a (mostly virtual) community of practice.

And so it was a joy to attend the 45th annual Hennessy Literary Awards in April, at the invitation of that same Ciaran Carty, to meet all my fellow nominees for the title of New Irish Writer of the Year. My priorities were to: (a) put faces to the names I had been chatting with online, and (b) not get horribly drunk. I may have also unashamedly fangirled over some of the more established writers present:

Irish authors Dave Rudden and Sarah Griff, myself, and my brother Colin. 
(Yes, that brother).

Hennessy puts on a pretty fancy night - cocktails and photographers and Oscar-style announcements. It's all a bit intimidating, in fact. Not made less so by the alcohol getting endlessly pushed into your hands. (Don't get drorribly hunk, I kept reminding myself)

Probably everyone says they are taken by surprise when they win something - but in this case, I truly was.

Naturally, I carried a small, burning hope that it might happen. I think we all do. But I also expected it not to, and so the announcement came as an almost physical shock.

I can't even remember much of it. I do remember the lovely Anne Griffin, who was seated beside me, squeezing my hand to try and keep me from falling to pieces. Also some stumbling and a completely incoherent few words of a speech. I was looking pretty dazed, as you can see:

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne (left), who was inducted into the Hennessy Hall of Fame, and me. Other photos of the 45th Awards can be found here

One of the highlights of the night was hearing Tara Quirke read out excerpts from each of the category winners. You can read the pieces by Chris Connolly, Jane Clarke and myself online, but there is something special about hearing them come alive in another person's voice - so go on and listen to an excerpt by Tara here. Meeting previous winners Henrietta McKervey and Jessica Traynor (in the loo, over recalcitrant handsoap) was also fabulous. And spending time with some of the other nominees the next day made for a perfect ending to the week.

It was a beautiful, gloriously affirming experience, for which I am extremely grateful.

But now... back to work.


  1. Looks as if you've had a lovely time in Achill. And it was an absolute pleasure to meet you in person at the Hennessy thingy, and get to hang out with you and Tony and Celine again on the following night. Safe travels back to Jo'burg. Niall

  2. Ah, thanks Niall! Likewise!

  3. I nominated you for an Awesome Blooger Award: https://ragingfluff.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/awesome

    Should be renamed Brilliant Blogger Award because 'awesome' is a detestable word.