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Monday, 13 August 2018

'You have to be lonely to be a writer.' - Edna O'Brien

Edna O'Brien is famously quoted as saying, 'You have to be lonely to be a writer.' There's a marvellous Guardian interview with her when her autobiography, Country Girl came out in 2012. You can see it here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/video/2012/dec/07/edna-obrien-autobiography-country-girl-interview-video

There are many definitions of loneliness, of course. As Edna says, 'you can be lonely in the middle of a party'. Her mother described her as 'a lonely child and hard to reach'. I guess my loneliness stemmed from not only being an only child, but from never feeling as if I fitted in. I still get that sense of not really belonging to this day. As Edna O'Brien says, 'our disposition as children remains with us all our lives' and 'my interior life is where I live life'. This is so very true for me. The beauty of writing is exploring this interior life and trying to interpret it through 'the shimmer of language and fiction'.  However, 'you couldn't go through the purgatory of writing, if you weren't a lonely person,' she says. And yes, writing can be purgatory.

Recently I've been wrestling with what kind of writer I really am and I'm coming to acknowledge the fact that I haven't been true to myself, particularly where my novel is concerned. The wonderful Joanna Campbell once advised me to 'forget the word count, forget writing to the market, just immerse yourself in the words'. I had the quote pinned above my computer for quite a few years until it fell off down the back of the desk, which is why I probably haven't got the words quite right here. You get the gist, though.

Norman Mailer once told Edna O'Brien that 'You're far too interior'. That may be so, but so was Virginia Woolf. Is this really a criticism? I interpret it as meaning these outstanding and gifted female writers actually write from the heart, which is exactly where we should all be writing from. Isn't the reader searching for emotional truth in whatever he or she reads?

Talking of reading, I haven't been true to myself here either of late. I've been reading popular fiction, mainly psychological crime thrillers, because this is the novel I've written and with which I've been trying to lure an agent, all the time knowing deep-down that something isn't right. I've written it with an eye on the market and it shows. I could name one or two female writers whose psychological crime novels I've recently read and have wondered why they've drifted so far from their outstanding debut novels and short fiction.

I'm going to mine the depths of my inner lonely child, hoping she isn't too hard to reach. Maybe then I'll produce a piece of writing, long or short, of which I can be truly proud.

And guess which author I'll be reading next?


5 comments:

  1. A brilliant post Jo. Looking forward to hearing from your lonely inner child, because I just know that what she writes will be fantastic.

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    1. Thank you, Alison! Kind words, indeed! x

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  2. My inner child was scared and lonely. Perhaps it’s where we should all go, you’re right. I’m just frightened I get stuck there having spent so long trying to forget her. Poignant post, Jo. Thought-provoking.

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  3. Such a lovely post, Jo, and thank you for your very kind words. The Edna O'Brien interview was mesmerising and thought-provoking. I always think we are our true selves in childhood and that I've spent my life trying to find my way back there. I always liked being alone, but spent too many of my adult years feeling there was something wrong with wanting solitude. Being a writer gave me a kind of 'permission' to enjoy it unashamedly, so maybe I've found my way back at last. Enjoy every minute of your writing, Jo. You have every reason to be proud of it and I am sure you will reach your inner child xxx

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  4. As an only child I can empathise. My first published work was a poem about being 'all alone' and how I'd turned to reading to ease that. It was a snapshot of one day in my life when I was about 8 and it was the school summer holidays and my best friend had gone on holiday with her family. I think I'm a bit of a strange mix of introvert and extrovert, but I mostly prefer to keep myself to myself. I love mixing with people and people watching/listening but I can only stand so much of being with other people before I need time to myself. And that's when the words and the fictional characters crowd into my head and beg to be given life on the page.x

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