Tara’s West’s first novel, Fodder, was published by Blackstaff Press to widespread critical acclaim and established her reputation as a fresh and original new Irish writer. Her most recent novel, Poets Are Eaten as a Delicacy in Japan, was published in 2013 by Liberties Press. Tara appears regularly at literary and cultural festivals, including the Belfast Book Festival, the West Belfast Festival, the Aspects Literary Festival and Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University Belfast, is a member of the Society of Authors, and has received a number of Arts Council Northern Ireland Awards for her writing including ACES in 2012.
Here Tara explains exactly where her top ten places to write are:
Every author has a favourite place to write. Truman Capote had his bed, J K Rowling had her café, E L James has her… I don’t know, rainbow of dollars, probably. Even fictional writers have their favourites: Cassandra, protagonist of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, wrote with her feet in the kitchen sink, spread-eagled in the hayloft, atop a grassy knoll and lolling in her bed (not all at the same time, as I recall). Similarly, I spread myself around. My most recent novel, Poets Are Eaten as a Delicacy in Japan, was written primarily in the kitchen, but the settee, the train and my desk at worksaw some action too. Over the course of my life I have had many favourite places to write, each of which is held in great affection. Here’s my top ten.
The smokey, damp bus of my early teenage years was the birthplace of my first novel. I was 13, and commuting to and from school with my head tucked into a hard-backed, damp-spotted notebook, purloined from a skip. With a black biro and a great sense of urgency, I created the kind of friends I lacked in real life: kids with cool punky looks and vaguely tragic backstories. I never once introduced conflict to their stories; I couldn’t bear to put them through it. Adrift in a world of fictional pals, I was in a truly happy place.
9. The busted settee
As you might have guessed, the first novel was pretty rubbish, but that didn’t stop me. I kept writing, imitating the writers I liked best and basking in whatever genre tickled my fancy. At 17, it was sci-fi and fantasy (we’ve all been there). I didn’t have a desk, so I wrote sitting on my bed, curled over notebooks like a Dickensian clerk. When a relative donated a sunken old settee, my mother and I squeezed it into my bedroom to provide respite from the bed. Ahhh… fond memories of a clichéd dystopian future and an aching back.
8. The kitchen
In my 30s, I still didn’t have a desk and I wrote Poets Are Eaten as a Delicacy in Japan sitting at the kitchen table, disturbed and offended when my husband wanted to make a cup of tea because the kettle was behind me. An expert in passive aggression, I huffed quietly down my nose, grunted and avoided eye contact. With hindsight, I was clearly a pain in the ass.
7. The library
I wrote my memoir Happy Dark in a silent corner of the law library at Queen’s University Belfast. I had three and half weeks to complete the manuscript and needed a spot where I would not be found or disturbed. Working there also inspired a fun daily roleplay, where for a few minutes on the way in and way out, I pretended I was a world-weary lawyer, penning a lofty and authoritative reference tome. I walked with my nose at a superior angle and disapproved of everything, including myself on occasion.
6. The living room
The living room is where I write when I’m not really writing. I’m generally recumbent on the settee, laptop on stomach, tweaking or, indeed, wallowing in a favourite scene. What I love most about ‘writing’ in the living room is that I’m surrounded by the people I love most, real and fictional.
5. The café
Every writer should and probably does try this one. We look great, don’t we? Rattling away at our keyboards, neglecting our coffee, taking up seats elderly people probably need. To be serious though, I do like writing in cafés. The easy chat, the rushes of steam, the clinking and drifting of people seem to facilitate creative escape.
4. The train
Without deadlines, I am indolent and prone. I lie on my back, cover myself with a blanket and sink into standby mode. My background as an advertising copywriter means I respond best when time is tight. In a make-believe race against time and train, I use my commute to play a writerly game of chicken: I’ll write as much as possible and if I finish my sentence before the train reaches the station, I win. If I don’t, I lose.
3. The 9 – 5
OK, so I admit it, sometimes I sneak off into a fictional world while I’m at work. I can’t help it. I work in a creative industry, with other creative people, and I spend most of my day in my imagination. It’s easy to stray from the brief in hand.
2. Anywhere with a roof
Sometimes I’ll write wherever I happen to be, which can turn a dentist’s waiting room, a carpark or a bus shelter into a fabulous place to be. Spontaneity works best for me, which is probably why I can write…
1. Anywhere, but at my desk
I finally got a desk this year and I haven’t used it once. I think I might be too old a dog for that trick.
White desk with chair. Good condition. Will consider a trade for a busted settee.
(c) Tara West
First published in Books Ireland Magazine Sept/Oct 2014. Find out more about Books Ireland by clicking here.
About Poets Are Eaten as a Delicacy in Japan
‘It’s not the worst thing, matricide. I thought about it regularly – it used to help me get to sleep at night. But the older I got, the less Mater mattered. Until that Sunday in February, when Georgie rang at eight in the morning to ask if I would come to her house and bring at least five bottles of bleach . . .’
Poets Are Eaten as a Delicacy in Japan opens as thirty-year-old Tommie Shaw is shown a newspaper report by her Dettol-huffing sister, Georgie, revealing that their estranged mother, Gloria, is set to expose the family’s sad and sordid history in a scandalous new memoir. What follows is a hilarious and touching black comedy, as Tommie and Georgie’s panic spirals and they clamber to control Gloria, while dealing with the painful legacy of their childhood in an eccentric Irish commune.
With unforgettable characters such as Tommie’s monstrous boss, Jude, marketing man and luckless poet Kevin Loane, and a limo full of Morrissey impersonators – including Tommie’s best friend, Blob – Poets Are Eaten as a Delicacy in Japan is a calamitous scramble through modern life and ultimately, a story about facing fears and moving on.