Our Chair, Tony Brady, reflects on our Question & Answer session with Patrick McCabe last Saturday at Fermanagh House, Enniskillen:
An eclectic session I thought: wide ranging from the specific to the general with the focus on fiction. Patrick McCabe was witty, provocative, referenced literary figures* widely, took questions ably, was modest about his own achievements while providing interesting insights into their genesis. I took some general soundings at the first break and the opinions were indicative of a session well worth attending.
Patrick had to hand a work of Dorothea Brande whose book – Becoming a Writer – published in 1934, is still in print and available on Amazon books. He cited this book as offering advice for beginning and sustaining any writing enterprise and the key to his own perception of what constitutes style: in other words the personality of the writer.
In his view Patrick, believes publishers’ editors are no longer literarists but commercial entrepreneurs and well made books that authors offer for publication can take decades to find a publisher. He mentioned as an example the recently successful book – A Girl is a Half Formed Thing – by Eimear McBride. It took the author 9 years to find a publisher.
“Get rid of the editor at your elbow!” is Patrick’s advice to any aspiring writer whatever the genre they set out to work in. Another of his axioms is: “Never assume the target audience is your friend!” Write to experience “The sheer moment of ecstatic bliss” he emphasised, quoting Vladimir Nabokov.
Patrick memorialised his autodidact father whose feel for the natural rhythms of language and cultural idioms was expressed in his reciting “A Man Lies in Armagh Jail.” He lived at a time when access to books was severely limited and the work of influential authors strictly proscribed. Even so language was rich. He then recalled the translation to film of his book – The Butcher Boy – and how Hollywood financiers complained they did not understand Irish as expressed in the film script. Their attitude was based on the notion of a camel being designed by a committee. Fortunately, Neil Jordan, “a literalist” countered their negative views, got 10 million dollars and shot the film. Patrick was himself delighted with the completed work. When asked how long it took to write The Butcher Boy he replied – 22 years.
I had to reluctantly leave after 2 hours. Patrick McCabe came across as a thoroughly likeable man and I felt I was in the presence of an accomplished teacher and consummate master of his material.
*Anne Enright; Eimear McBride; Vladimir Nabakov, Patrick Kavanagh; Colette, Harold Pinter; James Joyce, Raymond Chandler; Amadeus Mozart; T.S Eliot; Samuel Beckett; Alfred Hitchcock and many more….