There is a collection of work, a book, a book of short stories – with my name on it – and it is out in the world. I know because I recently received copies of it, a solid ten of the initial print run, the copies delivered direct from the publisher, fresh off the machine. It’s called Young Skins.
The book looks good – stylishly designed, bound and covered – and there is an elementary exhilaration in the fact of its tangible existence. The notion, the dream, of the book was with me for a long time, but now it is indisputably here. I am proud of it, of course, and relieved that it exists (relief is surely the most gratifying of all pleasures). Touch it, bend it, snap it against a wall. It is here, the book -in its final, material incarnation- having previously existed as a tatty, swollen and perpetually provisional manuscript; as dozens of fragmentary files on a computer; as single stories published in earlier forms in journals going back years; and before all that, in my head, though only and for a long time as an intimation, a position of faith, as something I knew was there but could not yet see.
So I look at the books -the book – and the sight of them -of it- prompts within me a many good feelings, but also a fugitive sense of something like displacement. Of mild usurpation: for what was once exclusively mine, tended to, fretted over, and nurtured in isolation, is in a way gone, replaced by this unalterable, extrinsic, and slyly multiplying artifact, for which I am responsible, but for which I can no longer be held responsible: it is going out into the world, hopefully to charm and entertain and fruitfully provoke, but also no doubt to be met with vexation and puzzlement, if not boredom or indifference…and in the mean-time I’ll walk around the house, and see, on a drawer-top or in the compartment of a half-unpacked travel case, a copy of the book, and I for a brief moment I will still need to ask myself- how did it get there? How did it get anywhere at all? And where is it going, and what is it going to do?
With the caveat that I almost certainly know nothing about anything, except what everyone already knows, I will put down a few of the most salient lessons I learned while writing my first book:
Writing is rewriting, and rewriting is the art of productive repetition. This means the art of editing of course, but also subject matter. Do not be afraid to repeat yourself, to turn again and again to familiar territory. Writers do not have to be especially adroit or original thinkers: what matters is stamina, the ability to keep thinking for however long it takes for something useful to arrive. And it is usually only in that trance of extended contemplation or scrutiny, when one’s investigative impulse has been brought right up to the verge of its own exhaustion, that the best and most useful insights are gleaned.
On editing; it is a deep if difficult joy, and will drive you near mad. The feeling that you are on the verge of utter failure, or enmeshed deep in an exercise of exponentially ramifying futility, is entirely normal over the course of any normal editing/drafting/rewriting process. While editing, you will find yourself in an insubstantial territory of innumerable dead ends, of incremental progressions and incessant reversals. You will witness the routine dissipation of one lovely, cheap mirage after another. You will stagger in circles of obsessively tightening circumference. The start will not have been the start and the end no end at all. Love being lost. There is no way out until you are out.
It is always harder to sit and do nothing, to stew in inaction and brood upon a problem, than yield to an impulse of delusive decisiveness. Sit and do nothing. Or stand up and do nothing. Or go do something else, but do nothing where it counts. Sometimes you have to neither press on nor give up; just wait, inhabit a parenthesis, while solutions gestate down where you cannot yet access them. Trust your body: it does everything it needs to without your conscious input, as does your consciousness itself, so trust your mind, too. Almost everything happens when it seems like almost nothing at all is happening.
To those looking to start writing, or unsure to what degree to commit to it, or how ‘serious’ to take it. It never arrives; definitive permission, the exactly propitious circumstance. Though it is not true, keep in mind that much of the world –in its fleeting approbation as much as in its wider incuriosity- seems to feed the gut doubt that the last thing the world needs is another writer. A voice that counts, matters, says something different or new or urgent, can only be discerned after it has appeared. What its contemporaries make of it cannot be known in advance. What posterity does with it is another matter. Relevance is relevant. Timing is the most enigmatic thing of all.
(c) Colin Barrett
Young Skins is published by Stinging Fly Press and is available in all good bookshops and online here.
About Young Skins
A recovering addict drifts closer to the oblivion he’d hoped to avoid by returning to his home town; two estranged friends hide themselves away in a darkened pub, reluctant to attend the funeral of the woman they both loved; a bouncer who cannot envisage a world beyond the walls of the small town nightclub his life revolves around.
Set for the most part in the fictional County Mayo town of Glanbeigh, Colin Barrett’s stories deftly explore the wayward lives and loves of young men and women in contemporary post-boom Ireland. Young Skins offers an utterly unique reading experience and marks the appearance of an arresting and innovative new voice in Irish writing.
Colin Barrett was born in 1982 and grew up in County Mayo. In 2009 he completed his MA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin and was awarded the Penguin Ireland Prize. His work has been published in The Stinging Fly magazine and in the anthologies, Sharp Sticks, Driven Nails (Stinging Fly Press, 2010) and Town and Country (Faber and Faber, 2013).
Colin received bursaries from the Arts Council in 2011 and 2013. This is his first collection of stories.
You can follow Colin on Twitter: @ColinBarrett82