‘I love vomiting words on the page’: An Evening with Roddy Doyle

CoverRoddy 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!):

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. ­– 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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”.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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”

Roddy DoyleRoddy then talked about his first (unpublished) novel Your granny’s a hunger striker. Though it was ‘shite’, he feels it got a lot of stuff out of  his system and helped him grow as a writer.

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.

We need to talk about …

No, not Kevin this time, but … the homeless. I think it all started for me with the Christchurch quakes raising our levels of anxiety about our homes, the having or not having of them, that is.

Around about quake time I stumbled on William Boyd’s novel Ordinary Thunderstorms, in which the main character – someone just like you or me – ends up living rough in London.  Ever since then, the homeless have slowly but surely insinuated their way into my very living room.

And there is no escape, because the subject of homelessness has really hit its straps at this year’s Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012 where book after book has the homeless jumping off the page at me.

In Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, author Martin Edmond – in an attempt to better understand McCahon’s Sydney walkabout – goes homeless for one night in Sydney. It is amazing how compelling it is to read his account of this. You can’t help but wonder how you would cope with a life lived out of a supermarket trolley.

Charlotte Wood also incorporates the homeless into her excellent novel Animal People. Pet owner Nerida is described as someone who would:

feed a stray cat or fret if Balzac had a cough, but the homeless were as intolerable as vermin.

In Snowdrops by A.D Miller, the homeless have a spectacularly bad deal. Not only is Russia a freezing cold country in which to have no front door to close, but homeless people are often murdered and lie under piles of snow all winter only to emerge like snowdrops  in the Spring thaw.

Only Kathy Lette, in The Boy Who Fell to Earth, doesn’t flirt with the topic. But if she had, I bet she’d have made it laugh-out-loud funny.

It is a subject that seems to be in the air right now. So I wasn’t the slightest bit taken aback to open  The Press  the other day and read of a pensioner who is going to sleep in her car for a week in a show of solidarity with all the Christchurch people who have no homes right now.

It could all be quite depressing – being homeless or feeling homeless. But as a Chinese proverb so succinctly put it:

You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair!

Goldilocks and the three blogs

My favourite festival cover this year.

It had to happen eventually – Goldilocks got tired of bears, their furniture and yucky porridge and took up blogging instead. Her first blog was too hard – she sweated bullets over that one, she really did. Her second blog was too long – she’d got life story and blogging all mussed up. But her third blog was just about right and Goldilocks really got into the swing of it and settled into a steady blogging rhythm.

Then she got sent to Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and that was when Goldilocks realised that there’s blogging and then there’s FESTIVAL BLOGGING. Four days of frantic reading, writing, interviewing and panicking. Colours seem brighter, ideas come faster and she never once thought of porridge. As for beds – that was where you collapsed at 2am, all blogged out. Turns out that festival blogging is like blogging on steroids. And Goldilocks found that she liked steroids!

Youth, hair and flouncing dresses way off to one side here, I’m the Goldilocks in this story. And after much deliberation, here are some of the authors that I am really looking forward to hearing,  meeting and definitely blogging on at AWRF this year.

But first there’s the technology to master. So I took my new laptop to a wifi cafe for a trial run and prevailed on my waitperson to photograph me for this festival blog. In the first photo my nose looked too big. In the second my nose looked too…., you get where I am going with this. After the third shot, my waitron put the camera firmly back on the table and said:

You’re really excited about this festival thing aren’t you?

However did she guess?