When the idea for When All Is Said, came to me in 2015, I’d been writing for about a year. Writing was a hobby that I knew was beginning to define me more than I was willing to admit publicly. What I didn’t know back then was that writing is essentially about the rewriting.
I’d come up with the idea for Maurice Hannigan from a chance meeting with an old man at a bar in 2014. His tallness and head of white hair made an impression. But it was what he said on taking his leave of me after our brief conversation that struck the note that stayed long after he’d gone: “I’ll not see the morning”. The next day I began to write the story of a successful eighty-four year old farmer, who sits to a bar on a significant night to raise five toasts to the five most important people of his life thereby unlocking the mystery of who he really is.
My writing technique for When All Is Said came from the adage get it down now and get it right later. I tend to write with urgency. Born of panic perhaps that really I’m not able to write at all. The pressure is to prove myself wrong – that I can put words then sentences then paragraphs together that have a link. This I must do with as much speed as possible before I lose confidence.
In getting to the end of that 70,000-word-dash, I knew there would be an editing stage. I’d already written a novel, you see. I had considered it a test to ascertain if I had the stamina to write that amount of words. I’d never shown it to a soul, and had no intention of editing it. I was savouring that kind of work for the real deal, my next novel. At that stage editing, as far as I was concerned, meant correcting typos, a bit of tidying up of sentences here and there, at most a line struck out when I realised I’d repeated myself. Certainly not getting rid of whole chapters, restructuring scenes or deleting characters. I couldn’t possibly do that.
My problem was this: what if what I’d written was all I had? That the well wasn’t that deep? That I didn’t have the chops to take it any further? I certainly didn’t know how to repair things that even to my untrained ear seemed off: long passages describing what people were doing rather letting the characters actually engage in some dialogue, repetition of vitally important details in case the reader had forgotten. I was afraid of touching a thing for fear all I’d created would tumble around me like a rickety Jenga tower.
In 2015 I was accepted onto UCD’s MA in creative writing. I walked through those doors with the draft of When All Is Said under my arm, ready to face my demons. Under tutors such as Frank McGuinness and Anne Enright, and the twelve other emerging writers in the room, I learned that what I’d essentially written was only the scaffolding. That as I wrote further and deeper into the individual scenes, giving more texture, more voice, more purpose, that the support structures would be ready to be taken away. This was, apparently, the case for every writer the world over.
That simple fact, that shared camaraderie with those I read and adored, was enough to give me the confidence to unpick things. But first I took the added comfort of taking the chapters, or scenes that needed reworking and copying the files into another folder. Once I knew I had a way back then I felt I could move forward.
For me, the editing process involves one important question – what is the purpose of this scene/character/chapter? Essentially, where is it I want the story to be by the end of this piece or this character’s input. Sometimes that answer isn’t so clear and I have to go back and reread all that has gone before, mapping out the novel. At one stage during the writing of When All Is Said, my spare room walls were full of flip chart paper, detailing the content of each chapter. Words were circled or crossed through, illegible scribbles lined the margins, until I eventually got the answer. It was only then I could go back and chisel away, paring the piece to something defined, and tight with purpose.
Following the slash and burn rampage, I knew I could go back later and add in detail that gave more depth: little descriptors here and there, something someone might say that has resonance later on. This made it feel whole. After a year of this kind of work with the help of colleagues and lecturers, I knew I’d worked the book to the bone. It was ready for the world. Nine months later in September 2017, I signed with an agent in London. A couple of weeks after the book sold to Sceptre UK and Thomas Dunne Books in the US. Seven foreign rights were to follow.
My writing technique with my second book remains pretty much the same: speed-writing over a couple of months, then years of reworking. With my second novel I have the hindsight of all I went through with Maurice. The journey however remains as long and arduous. I’ve traded in my “how the hell do I edit” trauma for the “dreaded second album” blues. Yet each day I rise and turn on the computer, because I love it – because this is what I do now, I write. And this is what writing is, days of doubt and days of elated confidence. It is truly the roller coaster ride of my life.
(c) Anne Griffin
Anne Griffin is an Irish novelist living in Ireland. Anne was awarded the John McGahern Award for Literature, recognising previous and current works. Amongst others, she has been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Sunday Business Post Short Story Award.
About When All is Said:
Five toasts. Five people. One lifetime.
‘A hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner.’ Donal Ryan
‘An extraordinary novel, a poetic writer, and a story that moved me to tears.’ John Boyne
‘I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.’
At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.
Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.
Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.
‘This is how you tell a story’ Cecelia Ahern
‘Beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, and a character you love from the off’ Kit de Waal
‘When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel’ John Banville
‘Masterful storytelling’ Graham Norton
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