By way of coda to this project I want to thank all contributors in the form of a synthesis of what I learned from reading these beautiful texts. There is a kind of ‘graphic’ synthesis but as that it tightly written I re-unfold the ideas here.
First of all I was often pleasantly surprised to find how images can say more, and more precisely and concisely, than lengthy explanations. We get a kaleidoscope of the most diverse extended metaphors to suggest what writing fiction is like. To Mary Morrissy it is a road trip in a bucking car, actively chasing an i-deer, while Jan Carson’s protagonist is the one chased; Heather Richardson’s character is in a middle position, like a bee-keeper: “I spend most of my life wandering through their buzzing”. Kilroy uses the image of a child entering a haunted house, while Debbie Thomas presents us with a talk show. The theatre is briefly used by Gerard Donovan: “A novel hires and fires. Players audition, seem promising, fade”; Alan McMonagle has to select worthy “centres” for his novel from a multitude which “shout and wave and make lots of theatrical gestures”. Wendy Erskine points out that her image of writing as “the arcade game Penny Falls” is a far cry from Ted Hughes’ fox and the Romantics’ Aeolian harp. Others use the hero questing for an idea(l) (Mills), embarking on imrama (De Freine), or referring to Oisín’s experience of time travel (McCrae). Bolger’s idea is more sedentary: “writing a novel is like opening up an imaginary hotel for the phantoms of your subconscious”; Paul Murray is inspired by William Gaddis’ description of a novel being like having a friend in hospital, of whom you hope every day that he will improve. In Lucy Caldwell’s universe writing is a matter of wells and stars which flow and ebb. And then there are the authors who dedicate a complete short story to their alter ego, like Roisín O’Donnell and Danielle McLaughlin.
There is something contradictory about our need to explain literature, as Evelyn Conlon’s contribution shows. Though willing to answer the invitation, she starts off with A.E. Housman’s quote “I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat”. Likewise the late pope of German letters, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, famously stated that most authors “know no more about literature than birds do about ornithology”. Comparisons with dogs and birds may be o.k., but the verb is wrong. Fiction writers don’t define, they refine. They see, feel, hear, smell and taste in words; more precisely, they sound out, intuit, sense and probe, but they do not define. Instead, they blur the familiar and turn from functional expectation; they break the surface of social fashions in order to dive into the murky world of affects, to get in touch with what feeds our drives. The difficulty here is that you cannot simply hunt for something you don’t know: the writer must go halfway and allow herself to be hunted. 
Reading the contributions of these (Northern)Irish writers I felt a little bit like Keats “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”. Chapman manages to transport the reader into another realm: his senses are so enlivened that he suddenly “breathe[s]” Homer’s world; his knowledge of his universe is changed as “a new planet swims into his ken”, and his perception is charged with a new emotional energy, like “stout Cortez” whose perception was fired “with eagle eyes”, while “all his men” shared in this new impetus as they “Look'd at each other with a wild surmise –”. In this introduction I want to develop a “wild surmise” about what happens in the act of writing, in answer to Malcolm Bradbury, who, in Claire Boylan’s “The Agony and the Ego. Art and Strategy of Fiction Writing Explored”, complained:
For the moment what criticism plainly lacks is a substantive theory of creativity itself – a concept of the ways in which the instincts, the structures, the modal forms of imaginative expression can take on their purpose and pattern not as textual slippage but as original humane discovery.
In what follows I want to draw a map of the sources, currents and countercurrents in these “instincts, structures and modal forms”, based on the observations of the contributors. Yet I want to start with the one ‘easy’ question set for this project, the one about a room of one’s own, a space conducive to concentration. Most people referred to the need for a retreat from family life, as children need that full concentration which the writer needs for her art (O’Connor, O’Neill, Kilroy, Lally, Caldwell) but most understood this “room” as time to themselves – something which, as Sarah Moore-Fitzgerald realized, is never given, it must be taken. Claire McGowan’s title “A Floor of one’s own” is a metonymy for many: any place which allows the writer to get in touch with the deeper self is fine, whether that is in a packed train (O’Callaghan), a small car (Conlon), a bed fitted with “elaborate tea-trays”, even one with “legs and a little drawer for pens” (Wall), or any other room. Some need headphones to keep noise out (Blake), others need noise to keep too much silence out (Doyle, O’Neill, McGowan). At some point Roddy Doyle was looking for the right music to calibrate his attention and found it in Arvo Pärt and other minimalists. One of McGowan’s favourite musical wallpapers is the sound-track “Irish coastal experience”; Billy O’Callaghan needs the sea itself, which is normal “when you're born within smelling-distance of water”.
But the core question of course pertains to psychic space: what happens in the writing process? I pick three quotations as my starting point. Kevin Barry observes: “All of your life is turned towards the object on the desk, and how you transform the materials of your own life and experience into fiction”. Bernie McGill specifies what the materials of one’s own life are: “And there’s the crux of it. … fictional characters are … conjured out of our own imagination, our own experiences, our own knowledge, our own desires and fears, our own, if you will, secrets and dreams”. And Lia Mills reveals how, to a writer, the self is a busy place where many voices are buzzing:
“I mean where the whole I of me lives. The real I, the plurality. Writing is where I am my most real, my most honest self; where all the voices are heard – in that strange, inner, writing planet where there are no rules and the life-supporting, life-giving condition is language” (Mills).
So where Bradbury spoke of “instincts, structures and modal forms”, I will use McGill’s terms, “our own desires and fears”, “secrets and dreams” and “our own knowledge”. The first group belongs to the unconscious, where fears and desires jostle, leading to contradictions in our lifestyle; secrets and dreams belong to the preconscious, which writers explore as they dabble in or grapple with words and images. Thirdly, there is the community, what Lacan would call the Other. He writes it with a capital letter as it refers to two realms which are suprapersonal: the culture in which one lives, and one’s own unconscious. Both are tricky: the culture, because it becomes so evident that we don’t notice, our own unconscious, as we have only indirect access to it.
Following Mills, I start my chart of the writing process with four factors on two axes: the top one of predominantly conscious interaction, a bottom one predominantly un- and preconscious. On the top axis the ‘social self’ interacts with ‘others’, according to the fashions, forms and values of the dominant culture. Parallel to that, underneath, there is the axis on which the preconscious self interacts with the unconscious. There the two players are ‘the inner or writing self’ and the ‘Other’, both one’s culture and one’s own (family) history – both permeate all aspects of our existence. While the majority of people cannot be bothered with the pre-, sub- or unconscious (say, the unknown part of the self), it is striking to notice how that part of the self seems to be the writer’s lifeline. More precisely: to be cut off from the bottom axis, the source of life, and caught up by social realities only, is maddening. The writer’s attention may be absorbed by challenges, like illness or unrelenting family demands, which can lead to “cognitive disruption” (Kilroy); but the culture’s attractions can also prove disruptive. Before one knows it, one’s “brain is hopping around like a demented little flea” (Barry), dancing to the rhythms of social media on screens, dazzling the spectator with constantly flickering ads and messages.
The two axes interact in complex ways, as we shall see: if the writing is dictated by a social self which conforms with the others, it will be imitative; if the writing self looks at the others from its immersion in the unconscious, it will be explorative. Paul Murray marks the difference between both as that between distraction and attention, two basically different attitudes which have political impact: “The whole thrust of neoliberalism, or necro-capitalism, is to distract us from the moment we’re in,” he observes. It is a dangerous, self-destroying culture: while the market creates this “incessant distraction”, it “leads the entire planet deathwards”. Yet literature can call a halt to this self-hurtling, as it allows both writer and reader to make space in themselves, the very space where “I” can be a “plurality”, a playground where the ‘I’ can find its own authentic self. So,
“reading a novel becomes a political act. Rather than hook you up to a multitudinous, anonymous They, whispering their promises of corporatised assimilation, reading presents you with yourself. The form is embattled and will become more so because we are less and less able to be with ourselves.” (Murray).
It is this “ability to be with ourselves” we shall focus on. Ourselves, that is, the writer’s narcissistic/social self which interacts with others, and her writerly self which explores un- and preconscious. Both are negotiated with the help of the images from her own culture(s), a transgenerational past and her own personal unknown, and all of this is assimilated, gradually, with each writerly effort. The ability to ‘be’ with these forces, to let them live in the writerly biotope, is a matter of inviting and controlling the Other, of empathy and reflection. As Lia Mills puts it: “everything hinges on the quality of attention you bring to the task”.
We will now look at how authors calibrate this attention and will do so in four movements: (1) the writer must escape the clutches of comfort (the social self) (2) to dive into the unconscious, where she must escape the clutches of its contradictoriness (the Other) (3) which leads to the exhilarating play of exploring the preconscious world of dreams and actual fictionalizing work (the writing self); (4) finally, under the title “forms of responsibility” the interactions between writing and the community (the others) are highlighted.
Breaking the cocoon of comfort
If the best writing is done when the four factors of the writer’s interaction are in balance, the first thing is that the social self has to be shaken into an awareness and, more demandingly, an attention to the other three. This opening up means insecurity, and no one really asks for it. So why not do the things demanded by ‘common sense’? Better to cook, host, iron, clean, as these activities yield direct effect, unlike embarking on the creation of a fictional world which, after much effort and asocial behaviour, may refuse to co-operate. Or is this common sense a malin génie which holds you from a more authentic calling? When Mary O’Donnell experiences her home as one which house-holds her, calling her to be distracted by chores, she sees the home as an uncanny Doppelgänger.
Work is one way to deflect the demand of the inner writer; another one is the comfort of routine. “[H]appiness writes white”, Molly McCloskey quotes de Montherlant, and she explains: “if one is too satisfied with life, too comfortable, then the tensions that give rise to writing just don’t exist”. The same goes for Roddy Doyle, who recognizes his own situation in Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles (also lauded by Pat McCabe): “‘Things had become too familiar, and I might have to disorientate myself.’ …That’s what I’m trying to do when I start a new novel. I’m trying to rattle myself, or to knock myself off my own map” (Doyle). More specifically, Dermot Bolger states that “instead of the glib things that we initially thought we wanted to say” we should allow “our subconscious minds to speculate and probe down to the awkward truths that we need to express”. The philosopher Rosi Braidotti, who sees the human being as basically a nomad, calls for a “scrambling of the master-code”, implying that both the ego and its culture have to be critically analysed and reconstituted.  Mia Gallagher does just this when she states that the writer should not “just [be] … feeding the machine of capitalist-consumerism or my own lonely ego”. David Park endorses this: “I do my best to avoid pretentiousness or expressions of ego in all its public forms … it requires my best self”. What the writer needs is a “pure heart”; Eoin McNamee speaks of an “elaboration of the soul”. In Lia Mills’ wording it is the full commitment of “heart and soul” which provides “the right engine of curiosity”. That engine is not driven by intentionality (which is a product of narcissistic ‘I’) but by fascination. It is on this wavelength that Mills believes the reader will become linked in: “what fascinates me about a character will hopefully fascinate unknown readers”.
Immersion and struggle: the drives of the unconscious
There is no such thing as a wasted emotion … and the difficult emotions are the ones that fuel the endeavour, the ones that are messy and painful and inconclusive. (Kilroy)
If the clutches of comfort reminds us of “the struggle of the fly in marmalade”, the writer who ventures towards the unconscious comes into a colder clime. Kilroy shows us that the dive into the ‘netherworld’ of our drives and affects is daunting: “I regard myself as descending into chaos when I write, and trying to fashion matter out of it. I am frightened of chaos (the blank page, the messy emotions) but feel I have to descend into it, otherwise I am giving in. Without writing, I am not living” (Kilroy). Murray explains how this is part and parcel of “writing novels … You are literally making problems for yourself: you are using the best of yourself to create the most difficult, intractable problems you can think of, and then driving yourself crazy trying to solve them.” It is the story of the mire and the wire, the story of Baron Munchausen, who maintained that while he was sinking in the marsh he could pull himself out by his own hair. If the mire is the dark side of ourselves, our unspoken fears and desires which can ambush and paralyze us, the wire is the thread of language, the traction of voice and story, which pull the characters through, or turn them into statues of humanity, mire fixed so that we admire them. It is this tension in “structuring the world into sentences which reflects that confusion and allure … that I am living” (Kilroy). Or in Nuala O’Connor’s wording: “Show me mucky, confused people struggling through and gaining small triumphs and fucking up splendidly. They’re the characters I want to read and write about.”
Three of the most important features of the unconscious highlighted by Freud are the fact that it compels to repetition, is contradictory and indifferent to the wellbeing of the ‘social self’. This indifference is amply (and jokingly) illustrated by Danielle McLaughlin, whose story focuses on the difference between the social and the inner self, which each get a name: the former is “the Other Woman” the latter “Danielle McLaughlin”. Clearly the social person is the Caliban figure: she has to do the jobs, and may provide some material for the writing self, but it is the Ariel-like McLaughlin who is in charge. At some point McLaughlin digs into the “medical records from Other Woman … In doing this she was not motivated in any way by a concern for Other Woman. Truth was, she didn’t give a shit about Other Woman, had no loyalty to her whatsoever”. To the writerly self, the social self is but “a ready body of material to be harvested”. This is also true for Rosemary Jenkinson: “Writing is everything to me. It’s my husband, my children, my religion and my lover. Next to it, living is merely a hobby”. Indeed, further in her story the literary aspect prevails over the medical one. To Gerard Donovan, personal comfort would only come in the way when he tries to empathize with his outsider protagonist Julius Winsome, and he observes: “I suspect Maugham is right about a certain indifference helping to bring about excellence”.
However, this indifference can become paralysing when the unconscious’ contradictoriness dominates the writer, which can lead to writer’s block or depression. McKeon’s description of oppositional forces in her drives illustrates “how hard I had to push myself not to avoid the act of writing, even though it was the thing I always wanted most to do with my day”. Lia Mills shares the predicament: “I was often at war with myself. I needed and wanted to write but had to struggle to do it, often feeling utterly unentitled, fraudulent – a toxic disempowerment that is the cruel opposite of the authority a writer, by definition, needs.” Alan McMonagle refers to Don DeLillo: “what we are reluctant to touch often seems to contain the fabric of our salvation”. Glenn Patterson’s brilliant piece is ‘contradictory’ in that, on the one hand, it insists on the fact that “quitting writing … [i]s absolutely real”. It can be draining to an extent that a person feels completely emptied, hollow: “I said I didn’t think I wanted to go on writing. I’d lost heart. Heart. That – not confidence – is the word. Confidence is in the mind, heart is physical” (Patterson). On the other hand, that same author treats his predicament with the distance of humour, insisting on how “I have quit writing 783 times”, and how he tries to cajole himself back into writing with “a tactical” rather than a “practical … shower”. Claire McGowan too can laugh about the contradictoriness of one’s urges: “For years, even after I had a book deal, I wouldn’t give my writing any proper space or time. I wrote at the kitchen table, in a chair that gave me chronic back pain.” Lucy Caldwell also writes about a moment when everything seemed to go wrong, leaving her completely depleted; and yet, on some unconscious level, a deep well seems to have filled up again.
It looks as though it is not simple to strike the fine balance between being indifferent to your social ego and having confidence in your writerly self. Mills rightly calls the writerly confidence “authority”, linking it with the finding of one’s voice (a topic on which Donovan elaborates in interesting ways). But in order to rebuild that confidence, Mills finds “a sure remedy in reading other writers”. They seem to form a generous community “that transcends time and space. …I can have conversations with the dead. … The magic of sentences reasserts itself.” The German art historian and cultural theorist, Aby Warburg, was another one who found consolation and healing in art, and while the best psychiatrists of his time could not heal him he did so himself, remaining steeped in art, suggesting that maybe depression and mania often go together. In his explanation of his own spiritual life, Warburg used the term Besonnenheit, “thoughtfulness”, which Davide Stimilli interprets as synonymous with “Nous”, or Sophrosyne, both Greek words denoting a kind of wisdom which is a talent to ‘manage’ the things that happen in the deep self. This kind of wisdom is “a compass for the soul”, oriented towards “ob-audience”: it is obedient only to the voices of one’s own deepest self. For some, it takes the shock of motherhood to be opened up to this confidence of the writerly self; others find their voice in the wilderness; others again in the work of great writers – it is surprising how many contributors to this volume are inspired by Chekhov. But when the inner breathing space opens up again and the voice picks up, as McKeon indicates, the matter of thoughts, rather than turning to dross, soars, where “you are going to be the channel, the long, sparking tram line, along which it shoots into itself, into its form”. As Emer Martin puts it: “fiction is an extension of the spirit, the demonstration of our faith in the worth of each other and the value of our own existence”.
The fascination with the preconscious: phantasms, secrets and dreams
While the unconscious brings non-articulated matter, pure energy, the preconscious brings “secrets and dreams”. And while the unconscious brings struggle, the preconscious brings “serious play” (as Mia Gallagher puts it, quoting Adam Wyeth, who sees this as a characteristic of creativity). Ever since antique times philosophers have been interested in those images which recur throughout life as they seem to form a personal iconography. Aristotle (and in his wake Agamben, Lacan and others) calls them “phantasmata”; Bollas calls them “genera”, because they resuscitate forgotten emotions and so generate a kind of timeline, a kind of preconscious diary, our destiny in pictures, objects, texts. T.S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” is a helpful term here, as it indicates objects in real life which resonate with these preconscious emotions. Bolger’s contribution gives a fine example of a phantasm (or genera) when he refers to certain poems he read as an adolescent:
“I didn’t fully understand when I first encountered them at school but …[they] have become signposts to my adult life: their lines re-emerging in my memory from across the decades to often help me survive moments of personal trauma.”
Bolger’s description offers the complete definition of a phantasm: something which is fascinating, exuding significance yet not releasing its meaning: that has to be teased out over the years, or appears suddenly in an epiphany; but it helps out in difficult moments, helps the writer to stick to his ‘destiny’, his unique way of life. Mary O’Donnell observes how
“My instinct … actively seek[s] things that will nourish me creatively, intellectually, and in a less visible way. There is a seeking soul within all of us that beckons towards byways we had not expected to visit, but which we arrive at, explorers landing on new territory.”
According to Mills, it is
“an initiating idea. It could be character or conundrum, a place, atmosphere, or question – all stories and writers have different starting points. The idea stands up in the recesses of your mind and waves an invitation: do you want to come with me and do this thing?”
In Boylan’s collection of writers’ testimonies, Jane Gardam explicitly links these iconic ideas to hingeing moments in her creative life: “With me the idea for a novel has always arrived with an image, which has often been the same one, of a child walking alone on a beach. … They were lucky encounters, colourplates I put away” (Boylan 13-14). Conversely, Nicola Pierce found a word in a line in a book in a glass case which gave her the theme for her new book: “It sat behind a glass case and was opened to the first page where I read: Home – there’s magic in that little word.” Maybe mental images work like magnets which draw objects into our special attention. To characterize the phantasm Lacan coined a special word, “extimity”, to indicate an exterior thing which uncannily ‘objectifies’ something so intimate to ourselves that we only vaguely sense it while feeling a deep imperative to explore it.
But the short story Roisín O’Donnell wrote especially for this collection elucidates even more how the writer plays with the preconscious, and this author’s penchant for magic realism is of course ideal to describe such realms. In “My Patron Saint”, the protagonist’s preconscious is personalized as her “muse”, named Francis. As in McLaughlin, the social self is so unimportant that she does not even get a name. Francis is clearly not conducive to logical argument: “Sometimes Francis’ absence came as a relief. My essay grades improved.” He cannot be compelled by purpose, only works in ‘incubation time’: “‘let’s sit on the bed or the sofa, or anywhere, but not the feckin desk’”. He cannot be controlled: “This was the thing about Francis … You couldn’t cajole him or persuade him.” He takes nothing for granted but goes for playful variation: when the “bemused” one tells him of an event “he made me retell it from five different angles”; and he is always present “Chameleon-like, he adapted to suit my every mood”, whether in childhood, adolescence, or in a relationship.
Writing as autogenesis
In classical philosophy such a ‘guardian angel’ or muse would have been called a ‘daimon’. Alan McMonagle stages a pleasant enough devil (borrowed from Ingmar Bergman), but in Yeats the daimon is a force to be reckoned with. He situates this figure in his own inner quarrels and in other writers he considered great “Masters” because their work was deeply rooted in the unconscious. This often threw them into mental and emotional turmoil, but proved the right challenge. Likewise Bollas writes that genera are “not always beautiful or wonderful occasions – many are ugly and terrifying but nonetheless profoundly moving because of the existential memory tapped”.  Catherine Dunne seems to touch on this exciting, sharpening, firing up of new attention when she quotes Nadine Gordimer: “‘Powers of observation heightened beyond the normal imply …the double process, …identification with the lives of others, and at the same time a monstrous detachment’”. The challenge can come in a life-threatening way, as Lia Mills indicates: “I was absolutely present in that illness, one big ball of apprehension: nervy, taking every thing in. … I could translate experience to words, images, sentences. I was relatively powerless in physical terms, but there were powers I could summon – powers of suggestion, of association, of imagination and naming.” Indeed, Mills turned her illness into a beautiful book, In Your Face.
In this sense writing is an essential part of the writer’s life; it is the right engine of curiosity, driven by the fascination of what’s difficult. In order to give one’s “very best attention” (Mills) it seems one has to let all the voices of the self speak: the one who entertains and the one who challenges (Richardson), the skilled professional one and the innocent, joyous one (Power); “the me who dreams, imagines, intuits, and the me who observes, dissects, and crafts” (Dunne). Writing is always a struggle, “the challenges of grappling with what Margaret Atwood calls ‘the slippery double’” (Dunne). In her “private, unrelenting grappling with words” Siobhán Parkinson uses the same idea, only now there are more voices “jostling …in my own head … the pushy one, the sly one, the smart one, the beguiled one, the creative one, the amazed one, the shy one, the exasperated one, the delighted one”. And while Nessa O’Mahony hilariously distinguishes between being an “author” or a “poet”, she feels she will soon again be the poet who “wrestle[s] with images that capture whatever existential crisis I’m currently grappling with”.
Most important – for most types of writer – is that these fights carve out one’s path in life. Bollas makes a difference between those who do not dare to follow their desire and its consequences, and make false choices, and those who battle on. Bolger notices how Kavanagh “could have been as happily unhappy as the ordinary countryman in Ireland’”, except he escapes his fate and follows his inklings, his phantasms: “A man … innocently dabbles in words and rhymes and finds that it is his life’”. Finding one’s life, one’s fulfilment, is what Aristotle called “eudaimonia”: eu, Greek for good + daimon means a person’s balanced dealings with her deeper powers. Unlike happiness, which is pleasant and entertaining, this “happenness” is more encompassing, a realization of the whole self. The full writing experience seems to approach what Herder called the “synthesis of one’s sensible nature, the cognitive and the volitive”, or what Nietzsche called “die große Gesundheit”, “Wide health”, i.e. an awareness of all the aspects of one’s being, not just the ‘nice’ ones. Maybe it could be translated as ‘magnificent happiness’ as different from the ‘little happiness’ which does not take the axis of the unconscious demands into account. It can be recognized when “Somewhere in that labyrinth of experience and observation, of dread and love and awe I came home to myself in writing. It was a while before I noticed: I was happy there…” (Mills). The same kind of existential happiness characterizes O’Callaghan’s sense of authenticity: “whether the mornings flow or feel mired, I am for those few hours the happiest version of myself because that's the part of the day when whatever mask I feel the need to wear falls most easily away and I can get somewhere close to the truth of things”.
Or as Barry puts it: “writing stops being the thing you do, and it becomes the thing you are”; it means to be steeped in “the business of being alive” (McKeon). Indeed it took a lot of busy toeing and froing, projecting and reflecting, identifying and observing, miring and wiring. Themes, motifs and their elaboration are almost never pre-given: the writer is “not chasing easy”. The fact that O’Callaghan has no object in the sentence, merely an adverb, is telling. And he goes on:
“If my stories are at all a reflection of who I am – and I can't help but feel that my better ones are – then it is probably correct that they should come slowly and without certainty, that every sentence needs into be wrestled into place. I am not writing autobiography”.
Indeed, the word is often misused, as it implies that the “autos”, self, is a monolithic block, whereas it is an ongoing inner dialogue or even fight between social self, others, Other and writing self – more an ‘autograppling’. O’Callaghan puts it very clearly: writing is “not about therapy, or healing; it's about having somewhere to be”. This is also the case for William Wall: “the imagination was my emancipation”. One speaks, writes, articulates, summons oneself forward; it is more a matter of auto- or scriptogenesis, and this is an exercise which goes on “in sickness and in health, as it were” (O’Connor).
And staying alert always means starting again from the bottom up: “Each piece is a new question, or a new way of answering an old one; you start from a new position, a beginner all over again” (Mills); and after fourteen novels “the process of writing a new novel remains as uncertain as when I wrote my first book” (Bolger).
Starting a novel is one thing, persevering till the end is another one. Lia Mills beautifully parallels the relationship between the writer and her text as one between partners, going through all the stages of the early thrills, the daily grind, the doubt and even loathing; Mary Morrissy gives a witty, graphic version of it. Claire McGowan somehow quantifies the stages as “the enjoyable first 20-30k”, the “hard grind between 40 and 60” and the “relief of 60 to 80 or 90k, when the story limps to a close. After this, the rewriting starts, the importance of which is of course stressed by nearly everybody. (Except the children in Siobhán Parkinson’s writing classes who are “implacably opposed to the idea of rewriting” and do not see it is a necessary condition to be able to “make more nimble moves”.) Another aspect of the writing process is the calibration of the ego’s ‘activity’ in her writerly alertness. An author cannot ‘will’ a character into being, Catherine Dunne explains. “It is, above all, a state of being actively passive – not straining anxiously to capture something, but being alert instead to its shadowy presence.” The necessary mix of active-passive-receptive is beautifully described by Bernard MacLaverty and Lucy Caldwell. Another recurring threat is, as Morrissy puts it, the length and darkness of the tunnels one goes through. In this darkness some writers revert to ‘the Newman method’: like that cardinal who asked God to lead him kindly – “I do not ask to see /The distant scene; one step enough for me” Mills’ advice is “It’s just work ... one word at a time will get you there.” Bolger also subscribes to a breakdown of work “into achievable mini-summits”. This is echoed in Nicola Pierce’s credo, “one step and one word after another” will bring the writer ‘home’.
Finally the issue of scriptogenesis also bears on the writers’ representation, or rather remoulding, of the senses. This brings us back to the issue of ‘scrambling’ we started out with. By replacing a narcissistic ego by a writing self in busy interaction with social and emotional factors we may have ‘scrambled’ the notions of ‘ego’ and ‘auto’ (and autobiography), but maybe more interesting is that many writers also scramble the Cartesian code. Some of them mix and mingle exterior and interior worlds with the greatest ease; Roisín O’Donnell’s magic realism, to give but one example, lends itself to this. Others weave both worlds not so much in their use of register but through grammar or lexicon. Some remind us of Bottom’s rearrangement (or systematic derangement) of his senses “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was” (4.2, 203-210), only they do it more subtly, in the way of Keats’ observation of Cortez’ “eagle eyes”. Indeed emotions and organs are interwoven, word and world chiastically linked, as in “[B]obbing always in and out of the work” O’Callaghan does not only “read a paragraph” but also “walk[s]…it around the room”, or he senses a “feeling that sits me down over a page”. Likewise, McKeon feels “shame-heat down to my fingers which did not write enough”. When Bernie McGill has to make an extra effort to interpret her mother who is language-stricken, she finds “Mother’s eyes were loud with refusal”, but later “Our mother’s eyes positively danced in agreement”. Likewise, McGill notices how Jennifer Johnston suffers a writer’s block when “No words burst out through my fingertips”. Finally, Mia Gallagher explicitly observes that “Behind the visual impetus, there was always something else, something wordless, that I wanted to communicate. A physical-emotional feeling. A tone I hoped would sound through the work”. Mary O’Donnell is also curious about the emo-physical dimension, identifying “flagging ectoplasmic forms that inhabit the weird inner space of my reading and writing mind”. Patterson, when suffering from self-doubt feels this emotion in a very bodily way: “I’d lost heart. Heart. That – not confidence – is the word. Confidence is in the mind, heart is physical”.
Forms of responsibility: experiences & knowledge
“The reader is as vital to the book as the writer” (Emer Martin)
After having made the journey from banal comfort to ‘eudaimonia’ or ‘happenness’ we should take a quick look at the author-reader relationship. Like the writing process, the responding process is not a simple one; it is even further removed from the author’s intentionality, as texts are supposed to work long after the writer has gone (from the reader’s presence or from life). In what follows I will briefly touch upon what the contributors said about (1) their responses to the community, (2) their responsibility to their models and (3) their texts’ responsibility.
Responsibility to the audience: the community
It seems that, like the writer who has to break through her bubble of habit to find openness to a wider frame of reference, she also has to suggest ways for her community to do the same. In her contribution, Evelyn Conlon states that, “Because I am a citizen as well as a writer … Some of my earlier stories deal with how the strictures of our society affected the ways we lived. ... I had already expressed bafflement at the narrow view of what constituted a family”. Martina Devlin shows how a mere closed mind can “ratchet up grievances”. She describes the decennia of useless violence due to the stubborn “stupidity” among “the top brass” of the British army in the North:
If civil rights had been extended when lobbying started – if British law had only been applied to Northern Ireland in exactly the same way as it was applied in any English, Scottish or Welsh city – there would have been virtually no support among the population for violence.
Another function of literature, according to Emer Martin, is that “Stories are medicine. The hurt once exposed can be healed by acknowledgement.” This means that those who are forgotten by the dominant culture should be rescued from oblivion: “beggars and refugees, broken families adrift on a constricting planet; women prisoners”. McInerney thinks along the same lines: “writers should feel responsibility for their stories. If you don’t write this, no one will.” But writing to this author is not just a story of representation, there is an epistemological dimension to it: “What’s the purpose of writing about people, if not to try to understand them better? … Despite all of the writing about writers, writers write for readers”. This is also the case for Bolger: like O’Neill, who draws “bucket after bucket” from the deep well of his self, they hope that the readers, at some tumultuous moment in their life, could … pick up some particular poem and feel a shock of recognition at how someone else has captured the emotions they are feeling (Bolger). Mia Gallagher, too, wants “my readers, maybe, to see what’s going on under their own surface”.
This brings us to a third point, the importance of empathy and the possibility of catharsis. Emer Martin harks back to the function tragedy had in the Athenian community, when “the Greeks recognized the cathartic element of performing tragedies in a shared setting”. Only, empathy and catharsis are not so easy to come by and O’Neill cautions against too much optimism: all we can do is be very careful in our perception of things:
“An accurate sentence is the ideal. … I mean ‘accurate’ in its etymological sense, ‘toward care’ (ad + cura). An accurate sentence tends toward care—of language, of justice, of reality.”
This ties in directly with Murray’s cri de coeur about the “precipitous decline in public discourse” and “the rise of hate speech” which “seem to me to go hand-in-hand with the modern inability to pay attention, which is the first step towards empathy”. Kevin Barry would certainly agree with that, when he says “I think the daily or nightly reading of poetry is essential, not just for your development as a writer but for your development as a person”.
Responsibility to the models
Eoin McNamee knows only too well that empathy is limited, which makes him wonder whether it is a sin to use other people’s lives to feed into his fiction. Is he stealing their lives, or erecting a statue for those who would otherwise have been forgotten? On the one hand there is the all too real pain in the exterior world which is recognizable in the work, so one can ask oneself “whether the piece of art was worth it in terms of the pain it might cause to others”? On the other hand he cannot help but feeling “borne along by the imperatives of the work”, an experience McNamee finds well worded by Thomas McGuane as “an elaboration of soul”. Theft and stealth versus investment of the self: do they balance? Do they transfigure each other?
A similar, yet different question is raised by Emer Martin who, after having written The Cruelty Men, is approached by someone who actually lived in a Magdalene Laundry who thanks her for representing her troubles. Being aware of the difference between her own imagined knowledge and the woman’s lived knowledge the author feels
“moved and humbled. I knew then the story was bigger than me. It was outside of me. It had its own life. The book belonged to those who had suffered. Their courage and reliance was what inspired me to write it in the first place. Fiction is a communal act.”
Yet the lady was grateful, as it helped her to hold her past at arm’s length, its objectification making it more manageable. Martin is aware of the fact that writers are the professionals of the imagination; as they translate dreams and inklings, nightmares and solidarity into solid fiction they may one day provide the phantasms that will support some seeking souls. “We close our eyes and our brain fictionalizes our thoughts, spews images from fears, manufactures totems from dreams, and scaffolds our understanding with myth.”
The text’s own ‘responsibility’
To Catherine Dunne, books, more specifically characters, are “created by a silent agreement between writer and reader”. Donovan stands back even more, paring his fingernails after the work: “In terms of the novel’s organization, any contest between the reader’s perception and your intent as the novelist will produce a clear winner: perception”. Again, the writer’s narcissism is no match for the work’s fascination. Donovan further illustrates this by opposing two kinds of publications: the “polished vanities” which are “somehow pointless”, and those in which the “writing” remains vibrant. The text’s life is its afterlife: “It’s what happens to it afterwards”.
Mills observed that long-dead writers can still be worthy partners in the Great Conversation: “when I’m stuck, or lost, or in despair, there is a sure remedy in reading other writers”. Their work “transcends time and space. … I can find their answers, freely given. I can have conversations with the dead. … The magic of sentences reasserts itself”. Because some literary works are like a densely organized universe, they keep their appeal. And because a dense text does not aim at one issue or another, but to the complexity of human contexts, it proffers neither opinions nor meaning, only significant situations, labyrinths the reader must try out, engaging in the text with all the layers of his being.
Long after the author has gone, her work may still have the ability to respond. We notice this in the statement by Philippe Lançon, one of the journalists who worked for Charlie Hebdo and who survived the attack. Recently he published the Femina Award-winning book, Le Lambeau, on the event and his recovery. When asked about why he never empathized with the killers, he says he read many articles about their motives, but never learned anything from journalism. “I learn more from the novels by Joseph Conrad and Fjodor Dostoyeski. Terrorism is a problem of the community but also of the soul. And fiction writers are better than journalists in analyzing that.”
This coda has given but a kaleidoscopic impression. There is so much in the contributions that it is worth reading and rereading, coming back to at different times, and in different moods: that way they can sink in properly, spark off ideas, inspire. I hope that the reader of these fifty texts will enjoy them as much as I did, and continue to do so.
 "Die meisten Schriftsteller verstehen von der Literatur nicht mehr, als ein Vogel von der Ornithologie." https://www.stern.de/kultur/buecher/zum-tod-von-marcel-reich-ranicki-literaturpapst-mit-jahrhundert-biografie-3049874.html
 Throughout this text I will refer to the writer as “she, her” as the majority of the contributions are by women.
 Boylan, Clare, ed. The Agony and the Ego. The Art and Strategy of Fiction Writing Explored. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993; 62.
 Braidotti, Rosi. Metamorphoses. Towards a materialist theory of becoming. Cambridge/Malden: Polity, 2002, 124.
 Stimilli, Davide. L’énigme de Warburg. Revue française de psychanalyse 79, (2015: 4) ; 1100-114. See also “Daimon and Nemesis.” Anthropology and Aesthetics 44 (2003, Autumn); 99-112.
 In Clare Boylan’s book Marina Warner admires Italo Calvino for the way in which he concentrates on this very private album: “in Six Memos for the Next Millennium … [Calvino] describes how he used to pore over comic strips obsessively before he could read … He was trying to create … ‘a fantastic iconology’.” (Boylan 32)
 In Extimiteit. Jacques Lacans terugkeer naar Freud, Johan and Tim Schokker devote a whole book to the phenomenon. Amsterdam: Boom, 2000.
 “Had not Dante and Villon understood that their fate wrecked what life could not rebuild, had they lacked their Vision of Evil, had they cherished any species of optimism, they could but have found a false beauty, or some momentary instinctive beauty, and suffered no change at all, or but changed as do the wild[Pg 154] creatures, or from devil well to devil sick, and so round the clock.” (W.B. Yeats, The Trembling of the Veil, www.gutenberg.org, EBook #33505)
 Bollas, Christopher. The Shadow of the Object. Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987; 29.
 Interview in De Standaard Weekblad, 3 November 2018, nr 370; 28.