DBF Interviews: Nessa O’MahonyPublished 01/11/2015
Q: Writers and poets are fuelled by their lives, loves and losses. How difficult is it to address the issues that are closest to us and turn them into something for public scrutiny? How important is it to get a balance between the personal and the universal?
The need to respond to love and loss is a common characteristic of writers, to be sure. We write for all sorts of reasons, some personal, some aesthetic, some political, but as human beings we all experience moments in our lives of great joy and great despair and, as writers, we learn that the act of translating those experiences into words with shape, pattern and imagery can provide distance and objectivity that helps us get through the worst of it.
But it’s never an easy choice. Nobody would wish to experience the loss of a loved one, purely to be able to write about it, and for some writers the loss can sometimes be too great to even countenance turning it into art. I know that when my father was in the final stage of his illness, I was consumed with guilt at the notion that I would want to respond poetically. That stilled my hand for quite a few months, I have to admit, though I knew at another level that something was going on in the subconscious that would ultimately emerge as poems. I hated myself for that, but forgave myself too.
One of the reasons for forgiving myself was the realization that we all suffer loss and that writing about my own experiences could help others going through the same process. I’m not saying it was altruistic, but it did make me want to ensure that the work would be universal enough to let other people in and bring their own experiences to bear on the reading of my poems. But in that case, the specifically personal was universal, as it dealt with a subject, death, that most people encounter at some stage in their lives.
Q: As a poet and facilitator of creative writing workshops what do you think is being talked about when people talk about the craft of writing?
For me, craft is practice. There are techniques, of course, and lots of manuals to read and courses to take that teach those. But the preparedness to stick with something, to try something out, to fail, to try again and again, day after day, is the real craft of writing. I think genius does exist, but for most writers, it is stubbornness and stamina and simply keeping at it that helps them produce excellent work. There are no quick fixes in writing, no short-cuts (though it may appear like that from the outside sometimes).
Q: What do you find to be the most inspiring aspect of your life in terms of your own writing?
If I understood the question correctly, and I may not have done, the most inspiring aspect of my life as a writer is having time. I never valued time so highly until I became a full-time writer and discovered that full-time actually means part-time in between all the other jobbing activities that help pay the bills. There’s so little time free for writing, one relishes even a spare half hour gleaned by getting up a little earlier, before the first phone call or email or status update. I had a wonderfully productive four months last year when I got up at 5.30am each day and wrote for about 90 minutes. I managed to get 50,000 words of a novel written. Regrettably I stopped that practice for all sorts of silly reasons I won’t bore you with, but it was a very happy and blessed time. I must try that again soon!