Tag Archives: Writing

On London Short Story Festival

22nd June

Started the morning at The Hard in Portsmouth, waiting in the thick heat for the coach with my old blue rucksack and a few brittle women and shuffling mendicants. The tide was out. Trains rattled into Portsmouth Harbour station. A working-class gentleman with a tattoo of a star on his hand hollered for someone to help him work the ticket machine, but no one helped. He got on the phone and hollered to someone on the line about how no one would help him with the ticket machine. When he got off the phone, he asked us all again, so I went over and had a look at the machine with him, which for whatever reason never asked for a destination. I had to tell him that I couldn’t help him. He said it was all right and shook my hand. The coach arrived. We all got on, the gentleman as well; he must’ve spoken to the driver. He was maybe thirty five or forty but thin and weathered. He sat across from me and smiled at me; already he was back on the phone telling someone that he was on his way, on his way, to see the kids. He had many conversations on the telephone while we all rode on the coach. He drank kingsized Desperados and spoke about a lost set of keys, about the keys being left in a legless woman’s house. He presented the narrative of the lost keys like mystery novel: That was the last place I remember being, he told someone on the phone. Start there. Four or five times I heard the story of him getting blotto  the night before, about the keys, about at some point falling out with his brother.  He talked on the telephone about the life he was making on the south coast, that things were good and people were kind. He listed people who’d let him sleep on sofas. He wept, snuffling like a little boy, not seeming to mind who heard. He kept telling people on the telephone: If you see my brother, tell him I love him.

Getting to London took a little longer than I’d expected so I hustled to Victoria station and got lost in its shopping-mallesque labrynth and found the station and got lost again looking for a toilet and a place to buy a packet of gum and found those and then went underground. I waited in the queue to buy a ticket because I didn’t want to be the one shouting for help for the ticket machine. It was pretty clear about what happens when you ask for help at a ticket machine.

On my way to Picadilly I tried to imagine how the London Underground was constructed. I wonder if perhaps people in London forget that the underground is a marvel. How many miles of tube, how many trains. I tried to imagine just designing the placement of stairways and escalators to get to and from platforms. The underground is a momument to rival any of London’s statues or stadiums and a living testament of its people.

Waterstone’s Picadilly is a pretty large bookstore as far as bookstores go. I arrived only twenty minutes before my reading but a kind young woman who seemed wholly at ease in the largest bookstore in the heart of London and knew my face somehow showed me upstairs to a little place they’d set up for us. Around a small table were a few other authors talking about their writing and what they were reading and doing. They talked about how things have changed for writers. I didn’t have a lot to say. My stories are okay maybe but it’s tough to weigh in on the big stuff when most of your read-aloud experience comes from reading cantos from Dante to your old roomate’s dog Sam and one time when you read to a bunch of people who’d been told you were Irish and when you got up there your hands shook and your tongue turned to pulp and you knocked the mic off the mic stand. By you I mean me.

But this reading was okay. I read Goodbye Crocodile, (which is the title story of my collection and which Thresholds published on their site a while back). That story is rhythmic and has a heart and is good for reading aloud. It was also about the right word count. The people seemed to like it and I was able to meet a few of them afterward. I didn’t knock the mic off the stand because there wasn’t one. I’ll put that in the plus column. After the reading was over I was very lucky to meet Stuart Evers and AL Kennedy and Anita Sethi. I’m pretty sure at one point I got distracted by a huge collection of stories from McSweeny’s and might have snubbed AL a little. I don’t think she minded. She’s got herself pretty together, I thought, and was talking to people she knew already. I introduced myself to Stuart because I didn’t know who he was but everyone else did, so I figured it was a good idea to know him. I told him so and he was exceptionally kind and bought a copy of Goodbye Crocodile before we saw Anita read her piece. The authors were great, yes, and everyone was very nice, sure, but it must be stated that the fires were lit and bellowed and fed by the Spread the Word staff. I’d have thought they were being paid to smile because they were doing it so much.

What was best, though, were the attendees. Many notes being taken, questions asked. Writers all of them. Not would-be writers but writers because they are writing and finding their heart. Listening and thinking and writing and reading happened all over the place. So many words spilled on the floor you could slip in them. And readers. People who love stories and who honour them. Which inspired the hell right out of me, really. Writing is a pretty solitary act so it’s easy to forget about the real people out there. Stories get written and then they go out there and find people, and sometimes those people get a chance to come find each other and to come find you. Which is what London Short Story Festival was all about.

Thanks, LSSF. See you next year.

Oh, and PS.

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On Why I Write

This is a short article I wrote last year for The Huffington Post. It has been revised for clarity and length.

Why do you write? Discuss in the comments.

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I was working on a spreadsheet in my office and it was getting into me like a poison. I was sat at my desk, the air-conditioning was on. I was surrounded by sharp-dressed professionals. I had been working the spreadsheet for maybe only an hour, which in terms of being a real-life working office person is probably nothing, but there it was. My tongue tasted like a busted-open battery.

Here: information squared into a box. Here: mathematics all done, columned and coloured as you pleased. At a nearby desk a co-worker was playing the radio and some hot new number was playing. The number was so clean and sharp and it just went on and on perfectly chorded, digitized, auto-tuned and bass-thrummed, and this co-worker was humming along with it working on her own spreadsheet, which looked very much like mine and contained very much the same sort of information. The air-con blew cold. Good lord was it ever hot outside. Recently I had quit smoking and was in pretty bad spirits. Out the window the breeze was moving in the trees.

I sat there at my desk with my spreadsheet, with the air-con blowing, the co-worker with her tinny machine-music leaning open-mouthed toward her screen turning boxes red and blue. Suddenly, the first line of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl came into my head: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.

Maybe it didn’t mean that much–maybe I’m crazy. Make any assumptions you’d like about me. I’ve made assumptions about you. Not saying they’re right. Here we are together, though: crammed into offices, classrooms, courtrooms. Air-conditioned and ergonomic. Manning the counter at the grocer, the cinema, the department store. Nine hours a day minus one for lunch. Armoured in aprons or business-casual or chameleonic suit-and-tie. Clock-watching. With the dawn we rise muddy-eyed at eight-seven-six in the morning and we’re off!  to the gym. We stair-climb the stair-climber. With faces twisted we run, panting and and sweating, on a treadmill. We run in the fresh cool morning under green trees, in the shadows of skyscrapers, along the water, down the beach where the waves roll blue up the stony shore and hiss pulling out into the sea. We miss the sea because we are counting burned-down calories. We are listening to headphones instead of to the water.

We quit smoking, we quit drinking, we quit cheating, we quit coffee and carbohydrates. Our blood pressure goes down, our debts go up, we lose weight or gain it, we buy elastic-band trousers, we sit on the sofa, we watch The Apprentice on television.

That day in the office, all of a sudden I wanted to leap up, to shout, to push the computer off of my co-worker’s desk and jump up and down on it until it smoked acrid chemical smoke and glass was pressed irretrievably into the carpet. I wanted to scream: We’ve all gone crazy! We’re just sitting around, waiting to die! Run! Run, for Chrissakes! Death is breathing hot down the backs of our shirts! I wanted the other people in the office to be excited, or terrified, or overcome, or–

Of course I didn’t do or say any of this–who could? And what–be fired? Today, standing up and running out of your job because you are inspired by poetry to go out there and do some real actual living counts as an act of incredibly stupid heroism. An act for which you will, perhaps, be lauded, but rarely celebrated, and almost certainly not emulated. And, like most people, I cannot afford to be a hero, stupid or non.

And so I write stories. When I am faced with smallness and inanity, or struck down by the catastrophic grief of life, or in my belly writhes a nest of snakes, stories are the only cure. I need them because I want to run screaming from the office whenthe radio plays an advertisement for mattresses or bank loans or cruises or clothes or cars. But: maybe the mattress salesman is, right now, trying to close up early and, before five, make it to the jeweler’s up the road where he’ll lay down the last payment on a pearl-topped engagement ring for a girl who works in a donut shop. Maybe aboard the cruise ship, right now, in the dark of the South Pacific, a woman plots to murder her husband. Perhaps the man designing the cars is, himself, obsessed with designing ever-safer ones because he was involved in a minor-fender bender in 1992 which has left him with a ridiculous but paralyzing fear of automobiles–I mean, who knows? Stories for me are a window to what is possible. To something larger and more meaningful underneath our day-to-day trivialities.

At night, I open the window so I can feel the breeze. I lay on my back and shut my eyes and focus on the coolness of the sheets against my skin and one at a time I go over all the stories I imagined might have happened that day to the people I saw. I think about someone like me who, sitting at his desk with his clean white spreadsheet, imagines he is descended from a tribe of Euphrates Bedouin.

I don’t think I’m alone here. I hope not. Consider this an invitation. If you are overwhelmed, anxiety-ridden, or simply hungry for more than spreadsheets and bad radio, look for the stories buried in the strata of the everyday. I don’t know what it’ll do for you. I’m not making any promises. But it only because of stories that I am able to get up every morning and go to work. That when the first comes around, I’m okay to just get on with it and pay the rent. It is because of stories that, when I get into bed at night, and the breeze comes through the window, I am able to move through the ritual that enables me to sleep.

 

 

Currently Reading: Go Down Moses by William Faulkner

Currently Listening to: Metamorphosis by Philip Glass

Current Location: The 9th circle of Excel

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Well! Well. All right. So.

Right now, I am doing two things. One of them is that I am listening to “Entre Dos Aguas” by Paco de Lucía. You can listen to that track right here while you read, if you want to. The second thing is that I am beginning this blog. So here we go.

I am Conor Patrick. I write stories. It’s important, they say, for you and I to get to be able to talk to one another. For the moment, let’s ignore them, because you know that I know that you know that neither of us cares yet where I came from or why I’m doing this. (That will come later). For the moment, let’s  cut to it:

If you want to read a story I have written, you can find a couple of them behind curtain #1 and curtain #2. They are “Goodbye Crocodile” and “Three Tigers”, respectively. Two very different stories. If one or the other  gets you going, (or both, forbid), you can buy GOODBYE CROCODILE, twelve stories by yours truly, for less than the cost of a pack of smokes. It is available in paperback right over here. If you’re the kind who likes the ebook whatsits, I got you covered there too: click for Amazon US or its UK compadre. The electronic version is cheaper, if you’re wondering. I would like it very much if you would give them a try.

Plug over. Moving on.

I am new to this. I do not understand–and therefore I fear–blogging, tweeting, snap-chattering, tumbling, and other forms of nuevo-talk-tech that simultaneously cultivates and strangles communication on a global scale.*  This is an attempt at understanding. To find the draw. I neither read blogs nor write them. Or I didn’t, until today. But if I am going to do this then I should embrace wholly the hog; by the time you read this there will be twitter and facebook and goodreads buttons somewhere around here. Click them if it pleases you. Also: if you have a blog I should read, then I will read it. Spare me the hunt and link it below in the comments.

A very little about me: I used to be into arguing about politics and arguing about the environment and arguing about lots of things like wars and guns and schools and which flavo(u)r Ben and Jerry’s is Emperor of Ice Cream, but these days I’ve learned to embrace modern life a little bit, and now I like to see what types of food I can ingest and how many hours of House of Cards I can watch in a row. I am still prone to iced cream-related discourse but otherwise I try to keep my ire in a jar under the kitchen counter. I enjoy particularly good books and sometimes great films and sometimes bad television. I particularly love bad food–anything which we are supposed to feel guilty for eating, or should not as adults allow ourselves to enjoy, is of interest, e.g. a peanut butter, Nutella, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup sandwiches. In this blog I will not post about television but I may post about bad food. I have a vision of a chili-cheese hotdog post brought to bear not long from today. I will certainly post about stories and books and writers, but fortunately not exclusively so.

This blog is my Voyager 1. It is made to do one job, which is to provide a forum in which ye all can communicate with/to/at me about items which I will express electronically here and in which we share a mutual interest. It is exactly like Voyager 1, except in the many ways it is not like Voyager 1, such as the fact that I am not NASA, and this blog is not a space probe which has now left our solar system, and it was free instead of $250,000,000. So, it’s almost nothing like Voyager 1, except insofar as I am lobbing it out there to see where it goes, out past the heliopause, (the metaphorical one, y’dig), to see where we end up.

So that’s it. Comment below and let me know your favo(u)rite food/book indulgence. Or other indulgence. I want to know what makes you feel good and guilty. If there’s a blog you like, don’t forget to let me know about it.

Stick around, won’t you? You don’t want to miss the chili-dog thing.

-C

Current Location: Muzambique, Algeristico.

Currently Reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. (Almost, thank Christo, finished. I will be talking about it when that blessed day hath arrived.)

 

 

*Which is to say: we are able to tweetursnap with our lover or sister or in-law on faceblast, but at what cost? This cost: your significant other, who is sitting there trying his damndest to get you to watch The Hunt for Red October, has to hassle and cajole you into witnessing what is undoubtedly Alec Baldwin’s tour-de-force performance when he shouldn’t even have to because Sean Connery was a traitor to Mutha Russia all along and that is some compelling narrative, man, but you’re just sitting there glaze-eyed in the blue light of your stupid phone.

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