Sometimes I think writing is like climbing a mountain. You keep chipping away at the stone and all you can see before you is rock. Maybe the odd bird doing the avian equivalent of blowing raspberries in your face.
And that’s the job. Day after day you chip away at the rock, creeping upward inch by blessed inch. You never look down because, well, what would be the point?
You don’t look up either. You’ll get a crick in your neck if you try and it’s not like you could see beyond the mist that swirls around the summit. Besides, your sense of futility is likely to make you just let go of the rope and plummet down to earth.
You just keep it up every day and then all of a sudden you find you’ve reached a clearing. You can stop here for a while, catch your breath, and take a look around.
That’s when you realise that you’re not alone. There are other travellers sitting on this ledge, catching their breath too. Some of them may be more muscular than you are; others have better equipment, but here you all are at this point ready to cheer each other on. Because, let’s face it, this is a milestone.
Such a ledge was the Novel Fair last Saturday at the Irish Writers’ Centre. Twenty of us winners gathered together to meet with the elite of the Irish publishing industry. Some came from New York or Canada. Most of us were Irish. All of us were hopeful that by day’s end we would find ourselves on the next stage of our climb.
I knew I had reached some sort of landmark event when I was greeted at the door with the words, ‘Are you a novelist?’ I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my case the response was, ‘Oh, I suppose I am!’ Why was it such an extraordinary thing to acknowledge? Perhaps because, after years of chipping away alone at the mountain, someone finally said: I’ve seen your climb. I know how hard it was to get here. Now sit down, put your feet up, and have a cuppa.
They’re very hospitable at this camp.
The day passed by with incredible speed. The meetings with the lovely Sherpas (AKA publishers and agents) were just long enough for you to tell your tale, but not quite long enough to make yourself look a prat. (Though the publishers and agents may have a different perspective, of course).
By the time it was over we were all glad to sit and relax with a glass of wine and share our experiences with one another. It’s rare you get a chance to meet your peers, much less have a decent conversation with them. When at last I stepped out into the fading evening sunshine of Parnell Square I was left wondering which of us would pull ahead to the summit first.
In the space of just a few short hours, nothing had changed, and everything had. From that vantage point, I could look back and see just how far I’d travelled. More importantly, I have a better sense of the climb ahead. I’m rested now and ready to go on.
From here, the view is great. And on a clear day you can see forever.