From Typewriter to Computer
It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve actually published a book! I always considered myself as having a scientific mind, not a mind tuned to relating or composing stories. Having left school, my instincts led me to study chemistry at university and, after graduating with a Ph.D. in that subject, I found myself working in chemical industries, both abroad and in Ireland. When the office computer became available at my workplace in the 1970s, I embraced those machines readily for the preparation of my scientific reports and technical presentations. I suppose it was while playing with my father’s typewriter as a child that I developed a general familiarity with the QWERTY keyboard. That standard layout, devised in the early days of the typewriter, has remained the basis of the modern computer keyboard.
My Children and Grandchildren
On retirement, I needed something to occupy my mind. There were frequent questions from my children and grandchildren about my past life and my ancestors. ‘What were things like when you were growing up, Grandad?’ was a frequent question. These queries prompted me to write a family history that I illustrated with many old family photos. I found this to be a rewarding exercise and I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of interest it attracted and the discussions that it prompted within the family. In the months that followed, I found myself adding to it with more detailed recollections of the past.
Up to that time, my writing had been largely descriptive in nature – I was simply relating facts as my scientific background had trained me to do. I decided to try my hand at composing something fictional and so I drafted a novel. Composing it brought some satisfaction and showed me that I could draw on my imagination. However, I shelved the draft eventually as I was not totally happy with the quality of my writing. I began to realise that I was lacking the skills to adequately portray my feelings, to describe things artistically, to write imaginatively and in a way that might be appealing to a reader.
While reading bedtime stories to my grandchildren, my imagination was stimulated by the magical world of the child’s mind. I felt the urge to write my own children’s stories so I composed a number of tales, all in rhyme, and each finishing with a motto or message that was specifically composed with my grandchildren in mind. Seeing the rewarding reactions that those stories brought to those young faces made me realise the magical powers of the written word, even in those simple children’s tales.
Out of curiosity, I attended the ‘Dalkey Creates’ writing festival in the Autumn of 2015 being held close to where I live. I found the presentations inspiring and I met a few amateur writers who recommended that I join a creative writing group to enhance my writing skills. This I did, again mainly out of curiosity, not really feeling that I had much talent in that area. But I started to benefit from the guidance given by the course facilitators and, following their prompts, I participated in the class writing exercises. I felt myself drawn into the enthusiasm of the group and its convivial and encouraging environment. Many of my fellow participants were, like me, amateurs trying to acquire the skills of creative writing. Others were more advanced in their writing abilities and I found that I could learn by listening to their well composed contributions to the class.
After about three years of attending these classes, I had accumulated drafts of several short stories, many of which I considered to be of dubious merit. Some, however, seemed promising. These were mostly inspired by incidents in my past or my family history. Growing up in post-war Dublin, I retain memories of a lifestyle and a city very different to that which I see around me now. I tried to capture these memories in some of my stories as I felt they should be preserved for future generations.
But I have other lasting memories. My father came originally from the village of Castlebaldwin in County Sligo and I have many enjoyable memories of Mayfly fishing with him on Lough Arrow, not far from his family homestead. That was the lake where my father fished as a child and he retained a strong bond with it throughout his long life. One of my stories illustrates that bond and reflects my memory of a poignant event on those waters. In addition, recollections of events told to me by my father about the turbulent times in the Ireland in which he grew up are subjects for other stories that I wrote.
My mother was from Wicklow Town and I have many fond memories of visits to my grandparents. They owned the Bridge Hotel (now named The Bridge Tavern), an old and historic building by the river. My grandfather’s intriguing tales of past events in the hotel stuck in my young memory. These included stories of the previous owners, the Halpin Family, and their famous son Robert who was involved in the laying of the first functional trans-Atlantic telegraphic cable from Valentia to Newfoundland. My recollections also span the couple of years I spent living in the hotel as a child after my grandfather’s passing when my mother was trying to keep the business going. These vivid memories, together with tales from my mother’s childhood, transitioned into several of my stories, thus preserving these precious reminiscences. I also included some more recent memories of significance.
Many other stories are products of my imagination that had undoubtedly been honed by exercises at the writing classes. In many cases, however, my imagination was inevitably fuelled by actual events, people, places and experiences in my past.
Should I Publish?
On sharing some of my stories, both memories and fictions, with family, friends and fellow writers, I was encouraged to publish. This advice I initially ignored as I felt it was a troublesome undertaking for stories that I felt didn’t merit such public exposure. I could never have envisaged myself as a published writer. Eventually, however, two of my short stories were published in a book produced by a group of fellow writers in the Dalkey class. This was my first taste of being a published author.
As time passed, and under repeated encouragement from colleagues, I eventually acceded to the idea of independently publishing some of my short stories, which by this time had grown in number. But would any publisher accept them? I knew of many writers who had experienced repeated rejections from publishers, especially when they had no previously published material to show. The simplest approach, I decided, was to self-publish where I would not have to depend on a publishing house. I opted for this more direct route.
At about the same time, I was looking through some of my late mother’s papers and I came across a few of her poems. She was a pharmacist and a very practical lady who had what I would consider to be a scientific mind. However, she enjoyed composing poems in her spare time, many of a religious nature. I suppose it was reflecting on her duality of talents, her ability to combine a scientific discipline with a poetic thrust, that gave me both the incentive and the inspiration to try my hand at writing poetry. I eventually composed a few poems and I decided to include these with my stories in the planned publication.
The first drafts of a selection of 45 of my stories and four of my poems were viewed and critiqued by an editor. He suggested some small alterations in structure, all based on his knowledge of what might draw in a reader. After some re-drafts, my creations were deemed ready for the copy-editor.
No matter how many times one reads one’s own work, there are always errors, both spelling and others, that escape detection. My copy-editor picked up several of these and also worked on punctuation, consistency of format and typesetting before uploading onto the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing site. I was fortunate to get the assistance of a fellow writer who had experience in the self-publishing process and also the help of a creative cover designer who produced a wonderfully attractive cover for the publication. This brought the book to life in my mind. There followed several final adjustments involving the setting up of the paperback edition on Amazon. During this period, I learned a lot about the self-publishing procedure, even though I was content to leave the more detailed aspects to my more expert copy-editor.
It was about nine months from the time I first gave my draft stories to the editor until I experienced the unique satisfaction of holding the printed book in my hand. The effort was well worthwhile and the assistance and encouragement of my writing colleagues were of enormous help. Have I completed the journey from Scientist to Author? To my mind, it wasn’t really a journey as such; I feel I haven’t left the starting point. By nature, I’m still a scientist but one who has derived pleasure in dabbling in another creative and rewarding discipline as an aside. This is a pursuit that I would encourage anyone to explore, especially those with even a mild interest in creative writing. A little encouragement is all that is needed.
(c) Brendan J. Nangle
About Roots & Wings:
Roots and Wings is a unique compilation of historical memories, supplemented with imaginative tales and captivating poems. Informative and entertaining, the collection provides a valuable window into the Ireland of over half a century ago – an Ireland that is fast disappearing as a shared experience.
The Memories are lucid descriptions of the author’s own family history, with local lore and stories passed on down through the generations. Looked at through a sparkling lens, Brendan’s exceptional insight informs every page. The Fictions give testament to his rich imagination. Also included are four evocative poems.
This is an engaging and thought-provoking collection of stories. The writing stirs something deep inside the reader, lingering in the mind long after the last page has been closed.
Signed copies are available from Bridge Street books in Wicklow at https://bridgestreetbooks.ie/ Significantly, the shop is situated directly opposite Brendan’s grandparents’ old Bridge Hotel, which features in several of his stories.
Alternatively, order your copy online from Amazon here.