Holidaying in Cape Cod two years ago, I picked up an old book in a thrift store. It was well loved – that was obvious. Held together with Cellotape and certainly yellowed with age. But I had to buy it – costing me the princely sum of one dollar.
Writing fiction. A Guide to Narrative Craft. Date of publication? 1992!
It was like a workout for me. The heading of the first chapter read ‘Get started – keep going.’ So I did. Dipping in and out of the book – using the index at the back when I had a question that needed answering. And I had plenty, believe me. Dialogue, tense, omniscience, structure, to mention but a few. Thus I familiarised myself with the craft of writing and more importantly for me, I now had guidelines around which I could use my own free style of writing.
I sent the first three chapters of The Blue Washing Bag to Poolbeg in 2019, after which they requested the full manuscript. May I say, that the support I received from Paula Campbell from the outset, was a great motivator. I had finished the book, but it needed work. So, I signed up for the ‘Finish Your Novel’ course with Conor Kostick at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. Lockdown arrived on the second week of the eight week course, but we continued most successfully on zoom. I am mentioning this for all of you writers who do not have easy access to Dublin as the courses continue online. So, I did not have to travel and logged on from home. Taking everything that I could from the course, including the benefit of continuing contact with five wonderful writers from the group.
From that very first class, I realized, that much of what I had learned within the pages of my precious book, were really significant. I got such a buzz, as the chosen weekly material, matched with what I had read. As I had already finished The Blue Washing Bag – the big plus of the course, apart from the content, was that I was gaining the confidence to polish my manuscript and continue on my journey. And it did need a polish, I can tell you.
My natural writing style tends to be more character, than plot driven. Having a loose plot in my mind as a template – I place my chosen characters within that plot, as if selecting an actor for a part in a play. Once I have the characters chosen to play their part, the book evolves around them. They take over, telling their own story. Masters of their own destiny.
When asked who has inspired me as a writer? It would be simpler for me to name a few of the great authors and be done with it. But I have to be honest —I’ve just always had a busy head.
I have never been at my best when it comes to spatial awareness. And I had often wondered why. Until it finally dawned on me. Too busy watching and wondering what’s going on around me, distracted, surmising, maybe catching a look in a person’s eyes. Empathy is a great word.
I have always had an interest in looking at old houses, big and small, mainly the derelict ones, where signs of habitation have long since gone. I wonder about the lives of those who lived there, in different times. Seeing the remnants of wallpaper on the walls, a rusty firegrate, an old bed frame. What sounds would have come from inside, when it was lived in?
Except that I never asked myself why I was doing so. But now through my writing, I understand. And I can express my interest on the page.
So, at last I have found my own comfortable place…my place of peace…writing.
I feel that I have learned more about myself in finishing The Blue Washing Bag than I have ever done before. If the cap fits, as they say.
My style is my own and not for everyone, but hopefully my experience may be of some help to you, in bringing your own characters alive on the page.
The most essential part of character building, for me, is to imagine the character from the outset. To set up the character. To see this person in my mind. So before attempting to put a character into a situation on the page – I wonder about the following. Who does this person remind me of, to look at? If it’s a main character, the clearer the picture I create – and the stronger the narrators voice will be, in terms of reacting or empathising with this character. Are they slim, tall, short, stocky. Hair? Eyes are so important in exposing feelings. Any ailments to add? Is the character of their time? Likes and dislikes? Personality traits? Speaking voice? Rural or urban? Background? Strengths as well as weaknesses? Strong language, timid tones? Mean versus sympathetic? Once I can empathise with my characters, I am ready to write them in.
So, I get my inspiration, from stories from the past. And old buildings. Stories from years ago in Ireland when people didn’t speak out, as much as they are likely to do today. And stories still remain hidden behind closed doors to this day. Or hidden in the ruins of derelict outhouses. Things happen in small towns in Ireland…they always will.
(c) Mary Clancy
About The Blue Washing Bag:
The Blue Washing Bag tells the story of Molly Payton, who arrives in Ballygore, shiny red suitcase in her hand. Full of hope and trust in her future. Confident. Forced to leave the town less than a year later, tormented, desolate, without the baby she has given birth to.
Secrets and shame have always followed Molly. But she had been optimistic this time. Ready to live her life. Feeling hopeful.
Before long, her world is turned upside down. Unable to stand up for herself, her self confidence diminished. Leaving her vulnerable – at the mercy of those who control her. She has been left with no choice. Leaving town, a broken woman.
Years later, Daisy, who has grown up in a sheltered environment in Ballygore, finds out the shocking truth of her beginnings – shrouded once again in secrets and lies. Just like her mother before her. She endeavours to uncover her own truth, encountering many negative forces along the way. Refusing to be victimised – she bravely opens up a can of worms. Facing the demons from her past. Releasing them…
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