The novelist, E. L Doctorow, said that writing “… is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
It’s only now that my first novel Skin, Paper, Stone has been published and I find myself at my destination – slightly crumpled and in a state of mild disbelief – that I can look back on where I started and how far I have travelled. It’s a surreal feeling to see my book as a tangible thing that exists in the real world when for so long it was a work-in-progress as a file on my computer or a battered manuscript with scrawled notes in the margins.
If writing a novel is a journey, then Skin, Paper, Stone was a somewhat accidental one. The trajectory of travelling from initial idea to finished book was not a straight line from A to B but rather a ragged path with detours and wrong turns aplenty. I didn’t set out to write a novel. I wrote a short story that refused to behave itself and reach a satisfactory conclusion at the usual 3,000 word mark. Maybe it’s just a long short story, I thought to myself, my sense of foreboding growing as I continued to write until I had to concede that yes, I was, in fact, writing a novel. I was resistant to the idea because I had previously tried to write two different novel-length works, both of which petered out after the initial swooning-high like disappointing love affairs.
Since the publication of Skin, Paper, Stone a number of people have told me that they would also love to write a book. This is usually followed by something along the lines of: if money were no object… if I didn’t have to work in the day job… if I won the Lotto… I understand this completely. I think that a large part of my reluctance to commit to writing a novel was the belief that I didn’t have time due to my 9 to 5 job. While you can write a short story and redraft it over the course of a few weekends, writing a novel is an entirely different beast. You have to carry it around with you constantly, sometimes for years. As you try to go about your day-to-day life, it gnaws away at you like a bad tooth, reminding you of its existence and reprimanding you for ignoring it.
Would it be easier to write a novel with great swathes of time at your disposal instead of tiny pockets gleaned from the busy working day? Absolutely. However, we need to debunk the myth that the only “real” writer is someone who is free from the 9 to 5 grind. Perpetuating this binary way of looking at writing as an all-or-nothing pursuit is dangerous and limiting. It would have us believe that creatively we only have two choices: sacrifice art for commerce and become a defeated worker-drone; or sacrifice security for art and become a free-wheeling Bohemian.
The majority of writers occupy a middle-ground between these two spaces. The reality is that only a privileged few can make a living from writing alone. Those six-figure advances that make the headlines are the exceptions that prove the rule. Writers don’t live in a vacuum. They have to pay rent, feed themselves and even dare to attempt to have something resembling a social life. So they write when they can. They write on their commute to work or during their lunch break. They write quietly at the kitchen table when their children are tucked up in bed. They cut corners so that they have more time to write. Maybe the dishes stack up in the sink sometimes, or dinner comes out of the microwave, or the hoover remains under the stairs. These are the “real” writers.
This is how I wrote my novel. There was no trick, no secret formula or code to unlock. It was a series of moments gleaned from the everyday – short trips in the dark with the headlights on.
If you want to write, don’t wait for the perfect set of circumstances because chances are they may never arrive. Find time in your day. Use the time you have even if it’s only a few minutes. You are the driver. It’s your journey to make. It may take you a long time, but that’s okay – it’s not a race. You will get there. Sit in your car, turn on your headlights, and drive.
(c) Máire T. Robinson
About Skin, Paper, Stone
‘People think that if they go far away they’ll leave the parts of themselves they don’t like behind. But it doesn’t work like that…’
Stevie moves to Galway to pursue her PhD and takes refuge in the city, and in her relationship with Joe Kavanagh, a charismatic but dispirited artist.
Both are looking for something more, but struggle to navigate their way free from the claustrophobia of their lives, the limited circle of acquaintances, the lack of ambition. Escape is the only option, but the surface level of friendliness surrounding them masks a deeper hinterland of jealousy, secrets and violence that can break out at any time.
Exploring the chaos and confusion faced by those in their late twenties with humour, pathos and insightful sensitivity, Skin, Paper, Stone is the first novel by Máire T. Robinson, an exciting new voice in Irish writing.
‘Skin, Paper, Stone is a deceptively simple novel that packs a punch.’
Skin, Paper, Stone is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.
About Máire T. Robinson
Máire T. Robinson lives in Dublin City. She graduated from NUI, Galway in 2008 with a Masters in Writing. Máire was nominated for a Hennessy Literary Award in Emerging Fiction in 2012, and was the overall winner of the Doire Press Chapbook Competition, 2013. Her collection of short stories Your Mixtape Unravels My Heart was published by Doire Press in 2013. Skin, Paper, Stone is her first novel.