The journey begins with a dedicated English teacher and ends with a published novel. Along the way there was much reading, four creative writing courses and a lot of thinking. The hardest part is the thinking. Really thinking. I’m liable to hit the leaba for a good think. And it’s tiring work. You’d never think lying on the bed could be so draining on the body’s resources, but throw in a complex entanglement of characters not doing or saying the right thing and the gauge will start dropping fairly fast.
The idea for the book came to me one day when I was thinking about a different story. A situation, a setting, proffered itself in my mind as premise for a novel perhaps. I played it out in broad terms, gave it a quick once over as you might a new car, to see if it was worth investing in. Beneath a circumspect frown, ideas unfurled, smothering the first story with new possibilities. Throughout the process, this single premise held steady while all ideas begot by it went mad. It was always there to return to, strong enough as it was to anchor the story.
I wrote in scenes and fragments, jumping around a lot. Initially, this freed me from structure, but post-structuring was tedious and difficult. So I started into notes. If I had advice it would be to keep some sort of plotting notes, character maps, lists. As for getting stuck: change something—the pen, chair, environment, the troublesome scene, the character. There’s a myriad of things to work on. Move on to something new or back to something that has been left for a while. Maybe the thing in front of you is going nowhere. If you’ve given it a fair shot, let it go for the time being.
I try not to get stuck. A lot of the time is spent, when not procrastinating, on coming up with strategies to counter that most unnerving of eventuality. The strategies need to constantly develop in order to deal with evolving strains of distractedness and brain-knot which are much cleverer than their host. Blame your tools. Sometimes the implements of the craft are fair targets. Change it up, switch to pencil; what about that new notebook you’ve been lustily sniffing? That would only love a few words scratched across its milky smugness. Dirty words. Soil the thing, that’ll get the juices flowing. Failing that, I’ll have a good stretch, and look about getting more comfortable. I might change the wall in front of me, the chair under me.
I have three strategic locations for writing: A large A0 drafting table and it’s accompanying high-backed swivel bar stool. This apparatus is ridiculously unconducive to doing anything including drafting. But the masochist in me returns continuously to the bar stool, if nothing else to marvel at the fact that if this was a bar counter, I would happily sit for hours without ever noticing the ergonomic ignorance of its design. The advantage of this desk is that I can keep many things on its surface: sheets of A4 notes, notebooks, reference books, other novels, thesaurus, laptop, elbow room, cup of tea, and still space to one side for whatever drafting project might also be on the go.
In a corner of the room, beneath a small built-in desk, a kitchen chair waits patiently for my loins to begin aching from the high stool. Problems at the desk too though: lack of desk space and leg room. I’m a sprawler. I need depth and width. The little desk would be ample accommodating to a child filling in the day’s school workbook, but trying to write here with all my accoutrements is akin to taking the aforementioned child’s bike to the shop for milk and bread.
The last bastion of comfort for a restless fidget is the bed. A dangerous place to end up when the morning’s word count hasn’t pushed three digits, but alas, it was always going to happen from to minute you got out of in the first place. You can try all you like to be strict on the naps, but the more you beat yourself up about the inevitable, the more inevitable it becomes. All is not lost for our tentative scribe, however. The trick is not to be too tired getting on to the bed in the first place. If so, you might have to write the morning off. Minor indiscretions allowing for, a no-messing-around 10-15 minutes should do. Because when you wake, you’re ready to go.
I was never too far from the bed while writing the novel. You can’t think if you’re tired. And it’s all thinking. Also, I remember some pacing—Good!—exercise is important to keep the blood flowing. The self-loathing and doubt was a bit of craic, I suppose. I vaguely remember shouting. I definitely pulled my hair out a few times. I may have hit myself once. Ok, twice. Good times. Hindsight has been kind.
A caveat on my apparent laziness: While writing Here In No Place, I was recovering from an illness and suffered a lot of fatigue. It all started with the illness, you see. Having done some creative writing classes, I was keen to take it a bit further. Perversely, getting sick offered me time and opportunity to take the UCD creative writing MA.
I didn’t have an undergrad in English lit. This bothered me. Fearful of being criticised and debated into pulp by a herd of would-be English teachers whose every word was an ironic reference of some sort, I prepared to keep a low profile (I was also a bit envious of the very thing I feared).
I was serious about what I hoped to get out of the course. Without it, I would not have a published a novel. Following the MA, I gave myself time to develop the thesis project. Two years later I had a first full draft. The writing was terrible, I know that now. But I had done it. I’d written a book. Now all I needed to do was fix it. That’s when the real thinking started.
And some people tell me now that I don’t seem very excited about it. They say it’s amazing; any normal person would be proud and beaming. And I might not seem that way, but sometimes, in the early early morning, right before the world begins, I wake up smiling.
(c) AW Timmons
About Here In No Place
After several years travelling and working abroad as an architect, A.W. Timmons returned to Ireland. Having completed a Creative Writing MA, he developed his thesis project into his début novel Here In No Place which was selected as one of the winners of the inaugural Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair competition where his novel came to the attention of New Island editorial director, Eoin Purcell. He currently lives in County Wicklow where he divides his time between building, farming and writing.
Murt Doran lost everything eighteen years before. His wife is dead, his daughter raised by relatives. A man cast adrift in life, he lives at a guest house, picks up odd jobs, keeps his head down.
Having had enough of the guilt, finally, he sends his daughter a letter and suggests they meet. But the girl’s adoptive family, the dubiously self-made Foley and his wife Helen will do whatever they can to prevent Murt from contacting his daughter. They have motives and ulterior motives. Theirs and Murt’s past are intricately intertwined. Once friends and work colleagues at the saw mill, Murt and Foley haven’t talked for years. The rift runs deep beneath a past that casts long shadows. Whether they like it or not, the Foley’s and Murt have all been bound together and torn apart in equal measure by his wife’s death.
For the characters, time does as much damage as their secrets. In order to meet his daughter, Murt must turn and face the lurking shadows. But Foley has things of his own that must be said. His conscience is far from clear. How much of what was lost can be recovered and at what cost?