Roddy Doyle took the stage last night at the Aotea Centre. He was joined on stage by Kiwi Irishman Brian Edwards.
Brian took Roddy through his Ten rules for writers as published in The Guardian. By the by, I love this series. Read the full selection: Ten rules for writing fiction. Festival guest Geoff Dyer also shares his.
Roddy’s rules – and additions (paraphrased!):
- Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
Writing is romanticised, especially the human disasters.
- Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph.
My longest book took five years. No-one would start if they knew it was going to take so long. I measure my life in World Cups and this covered two.
- – Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.
After 5o pages is time to look again at the quality.
- Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
It’s not unlike having a baby. It becomes yours when you name it.
- Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don’t go near the online bookies – unless it’s research.
Give in and have a wee browse.
- Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”.
People don’t trust their own words. “He said” is fine. Lay off the “He chortled” or “He guffawed”.
- Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.
Domestic routine is vital. When you’re working at home, putting out washing is a nice, healthy option. The little details of going to the shops, getting on the bus etc are the stuff of a lot of very very good fiction.
- Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
You can throw stuff out. You have to be open to going through a different door.
- Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.
Don’t start getting giddy about the book until it’s done.
- Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then get back to work.
Authors never look like their author photographs. I’d like to have my bio say “He divides his time between Dublin and confusion”
Talking about Booker Prize winning Paddy Clarke ha ha ha, he talked about kids:
Any good Catholic education involves kicking cats and sticking fireworks up dogs’ arses.
Roddy then read from Bullfighting – a brilliant piece about a family’s pets, and how they all end up meeting unfortunate ends.
He was quite thoughtful on the process of writing, and praised the cold and rigorous editing at the New Yorker:
I love vomiting up words on the page and I love editing them.
The woman who walked into doors, a story of domestic violence, has resonated with women. One asked him “How did you get inside my f…ing head?” And an actress who played the lead role in a stage adaptation would have to wait around after performances to talk to women who wanted to share their experiences.
So why do people like his writing? It seems it’s the craic, the humour – and the realisation that comedy and tragedy go hand in hand.