Tom Stacey was born from a mumble.
One moment my thoughts were on the unremarkable and the next instant he was there, in my head, hunched over and eavesdropping on his neighbours’ conversation. Often, my characters come to me like this, usually arriving on the back of some faint distraction, like distant music, a fleeting image, an almost forgotten scent, or in this case, the tremor of a voice in the room beside.
I usually give my character the chance to stew. And, when I have an idea of their current situation, I consider how they have reached this particular point in their life. Mostly it’s due to a combination of inherent qualities and key events in their past. At times a short story or the scene in a play might come from the character. On this occasion it was a novel called ‘A Model Partner’ which would go on to be published by Liberties Press.
Since the news of its release, I’ve been asked by a number of people how I managed to get a book published. The answer I normally give is ‘loads of reading and loads of writing’. And as simple as it sounds, this is where most of the effort lies. But if I compare my publishing-path with my technique for developing a character, I guess there must be key events or traits that have contributed to it happening. Maybe my curiosity of people might have been a help, a hankering for a good story or a genuine love for the whole creative process.
Or perhaps, like my characters, background had a large part to play.
Both my parents left school at a very young age but despite this my mother filled the house with books and my father filled my head with stories. My sister jokes that I didn’t really talk until I was fourteen. If I was a child in current times I’d probably be spending my Saturday afternoons on a big couch looking at inkblots and playing games which all end with me shouting the words –
‘I AM A STRONG, CONFIDENT CHILD!’
Back then, I preferred to watch the people around me. And listen. And sort my Beano comics into chronological order. I believe, to be a good writer, you need to encourage your awareness of the environment you inhabit so you begin to intuitively listen and watch for the quirks in the everyday. But remember to be somewhat inconspicuous when doing this, as staring can often cause people to get a tad uncomfortable.
My character, Tom Stacey, has been shaped by the unusual events which happened in his early life, a journey around Ireland in the back of a horsebox, an eccentric grandfather and an encounter with a vagrant and a missing finger to name a few. For me, there was nothing unusual about the events that moved me along as a writer. It was local publications, readings at art venues and community centres, attending courses and festivals and joining a writing group. Eventually, the time arrived when I had to decide which direction I wanted to go. For the lonely Tom Stacey, his motivation came as 22 failed dates. For me it was a competition.
In 2012, The Irish Writers’ Centre ran its first novel fair event, a chance for writers to meet publishers and agents from Ireland and Britain. Thankfully, I won a place at this event and it was in preparing for it that I began to really contemplate my writing. Up to that point, I was working hard but more or less floating in many different directions. So I asked myself a few hard questions about my work, questions which every writer should probably consider asking themselves at some point too. Why write? Who for? What inspires you? How is it original? Where is your writing taking you? What areas can I improve?
The Novel Fair introduced me to a fantastic agent, who I’ve been working with ever since. In 2013 I received the news that ‘A Model Partner’ was being taken on by Liberties Press. I like to think that every sentence I ever wrote was leading up to that point, every encouraging word and harsh critique, every course I’ve attended and all my interactions with other writers.
Along the way, I’ve learned that it is important to challenge yourself, to be brave with your work. Take it to places you’ve never been, pick characters you have to work at in order to understand. Tackle some serious themes. This will bring energy to your writing and will make you love it all the more.
Getting a book published can be tough. There are a vast amount of writers fighting for attention and at times you may feel like your voice is not being heard, as if you are merely mumbling in a noisy crowd.
But just try to keep in mind- interesting things can sometimes come from a mumble.
(c) Daniel Seery
Daniel Seery is a writer from Dublin. His work has appeared in local and national publications including The Stinging Fly and REA Journal and he has worked on a number of public arts commissions. In 2012 he was the resident writer in the Axis Centre, Ballymun. He has also been shortlisted for an RTÉ drama competition, has recently been one of the winners of the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair and he has written and directed a play The One We Left Behind which ran in the Irish Writers’ Centre in May 2012 and in the Helix in August 2012. A Model Partner is his first novel. Dan is an avid blogger and his website can be found on danielseery.com