How do writing and politics/rhetorics relate in our era?
Writing in the epoch of fake news, one is very mindful when writing issue-based themes not to drift into fiction. Fiction is my favourite genre so writing politics can be complex. The complexity comes from a lived experience of racism, ableism and sexism. It’s often a matter of playing with fiction to work out facts.
What should your writing do to the ideal reader? to society?
Ideally, my writing should engage people. Minority categories of people such as Irish Travellers/Roma and people with disabilities should find themselves as active protagonists in my work. In mainstream literature minority categories of people are often prescribed a role of victim or passive recipients of the writer’s view of tragedy and deviance. My characters are not heroes. They are not inspirational nor are they extraordinary.
What is an ideal sentence to you and why? Are there any metaphors which are central to your perception / work?
An ideal sentence is usually the sentence that you have struggled to shape and make. It should encapsulate the essence of the motivation of a piece of writing. Metaphors and allegories have become the tools of convention in writing. They’re usually in place to help the writer keep the reader focused. In my own work metaphors are easily too tame, too conventional and it’s difficult to work with a metaphor that encompasses obvious themes such as otherness. Metaphors are primarily for readers. The writer’s intention is to make the readers use their own imagination. However, as said, the task of thinking, developing and writing new metaphors can be quite difficult. For example, a Syrian refugee in Ireland living in a direct provision centre lives an otherness which may work better without metaphors. Or if s/he/they chose to use metaphors it would read as ‘re-othering the other’. Expressing an idea can be done via soft, lyrical, poetic images. The intellectual method should hold an idea whereby the metaphor compounds the idea into a vivid image.
Layering your writing adds intrigue and texture. There is more than one tension at play in a particular piece. If the writer has given previous indicators or pointers, the reader will follow a main theme without being intimidated by multi-plots or voices.
In which conditions does your writing come into being/flourish? Does mood play a role?
Ideas for a piece of writing come from various circumstances and contexts. The trick is to develop those ideas into strong compositions written in a light easy and accessible way. If the idea has potency, then that brings passion to the writing.
Which conditions are detrimental to the right concentration?
Noise is a negative distraction. You need an equilibrium of mood; when the pendulum swings too high or too low, the writer cannot focus on the task of writing. Love or infatuation has a tendency to delay or ruin my writing.
Does writing need a room (physical, mental, emotional) of its own?
Writing needs many things. A space in your head, room in your heart and a commitment that is sustainable regardless of the immediate environment. The task of writing is about honor. To a writer honoring the time and effort that goes into anything and reworking a piece of writing is essential.
Which place does writing have in your life? how does it interact/interfere with life, or does life interfere with writing?
Writing is a priority in my life. It’s my greatest love and my precious gift. Having a significant speech impediment means talking or being understood is impossible. Writing even if it’s only a message on your telephone is a wonderful relief of expression. My Traveller ethnicity meant historically that writing in any form was closed off to our community. We were the objects and never the subjects of our own narratives. As a professional writer, deadlines are a source of motivation. When things are going well, basically each aspect of writing is a favourite: planning, preparing, welcoming the idea and the gestation period where you are holding the elements of the idea in your head but have not decided how you would write it. This part of the process is exciting. The whole process of writing cleans the page, cleanses the mind and nourishes the soul.
Is the literary translation of life into stories/poetry/drama somehow an unceasing commitment? Could you give an example of how that works?
As a younger person finding myself in a book or in a piece of literature was difficult. Now, as a professional writer, I take great pride in the task of insuring that my characters, be they good or bad, be they disabled or from minority ethnic communities, will always have prominent roles in my work. At times this is difficult as there is no blueprint to work from. Nonetheless, working with other writers and working out ideas is always fruitful and fun. Colum McCann’s novel Zoli grabbed the heart out of me. Her journey as a Roma poet based on the Polish poet Papusza saved me from despair. Her lazy eye was a metaphor and a marker of difference. He crafted a piece of work that captured the experience of being othered by your own. It was powerful and Colum has generously encouraged my writing onto another level. Each time my mind or my heart is aching with frustration, returning to this piece of fiction gives me calmness, a moment to reflect and a sense of purpose and warmth about the art of writing.
Does the unconscious come into play, and if so, how? Could you give an example of how something gestated over a certain time? Do the best passages come (un)intentionally?
Yes, the unconscious comes into play. As writers we are never off. Ideas come to me often in the most mundane ways; dreaming or cooking the dinner, having a conversation with a friend. Reading someone else’s work can be incredibly inspirational. Technology means it’s much easier to write anywhere and everywhere. The impetus is all in the impulse. Immediacy is the currency. This is the pull of globalization. Access to information and technology is available with the press of a button. Due to its readiness the writing tends to be fast. There is very little room for reflection. Time to think. Time to read. Time to digest and a moment to recognize that maybe what you’ve written could be better. Although its idiom is used in more scientific vocabulary or genres, the word ‘refraction’ positions writing as something which is fluid and transparent. This can only happen when adequate time is given to a piece of written work.
What exactly can a wo/man’s specific ways of perceiving bring to writing?
The lens is very important both to the writer and to the reader. Critical theory has influenced how we write but also how we read. My input is always to look for a narrative that is paying homage to integrity and authenticity. Identity matters. Gender matters. Disability matters. All these elements of our individual narratives make us open not only to being receptive in acknowledging the ‘other realities’ but they also help us to be confident, respecting and valuing our own journey in writing. Critical theory picked up in my academic learning spills into my reading of fiction. Take Alice Munro’s collection of short stories entitled Dear Life; it has a piece called “Corrie”. This character is a female with polio. The character Adah Ellen Price in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible similarly has a character with cerebral palsy. Both writers pushed back against the grain and created strong mischievous female characters with impairments who were morally ambiguous. There were neither pure nor perfect. Finding these two characters in novels was so unexpected and satisfying that time and time again these characters and how they’re written gave me great joy.
Which is your favourite genre and why?
James Baldwin, in Notes of a Native Son (1955) says “I consider that I have many responsibilities”. Baldwin is my muse. The polemics of writing is not for everyone. Nor is the burden of resistance, representation and responsibility. When searching for stimulating reading, identity, oppression and poverty are the themes that draw me in. They keep drawing me in because my narrative is matched. There’s a connection, a spark, a knowing where the imagination is bridged by a sense of realism. His essays are also a great source of enjoyment for me. Fiction is my way of communicating. It borrows from reality. It attempts to imply great hurt, injury & places of great love. Toni Morrison says “all good art is political”. A romance novel can be very political.
Do you read Critical theory? Could you specify which?
Critical Theory is very important for my political, cultural and social consciousness. Feminist Critical Theory opens the lens of the position of women and how they are placed in society. Critical Theory, Disability Theory and Critical Race Theory are my inroads to reading. These elements of learning and reading filter down into my fictional writing. As said, my Traveller ethnicity meant historically that writing in all its forms was closed off to our community. Due to systemic and endemic racism, Travellers were mostly the objects of other people’s fiction.
What is the purpose of writing for you?
The purpose of writing for me has no purpose. My imagination is allowed to run wild when writing. Words and the job of putting them together fills me with energy, curiosity and contrariness. It’s difficult, full of frustration with magnificent rejections. However, when not writing my head feels sore. My heart is empty and my body is sick. Life is aimless and lonely. Writing fills the hours of each day. It’s stealing voices. Talking, walking, climbing, dancing, sitting with pain, responding all these aspects of life come to me when writing. Loving a person nearly as much as loving writing or reading is beyond my capacity.
If you were to describe the act of writing in one scene, would that be a curse, a relief, bliss, a struggle, all of these?
No character, no journey, no novel, even on the last page is finished. Why else do we as humans have memory, humour, all sorts of emotions that remind us of how hard it was to write. Writing – is all in the challenge.