Failure is what writers do.


The Ballymun Booker with John Banville, Roddy Doyle & Anne Enright in Axis, Ballymun – Tuesday, 21st May 2013

When I finally found my way to the Axis in Ballymun, after an absurd wrong turn off the M50, I took my seat at 7pm and awaited the event that I was most looking forward to this week. The Director of the Axis, Mark O’Brien, was the first to appear on stage and said how delighted he was that the Dublin Writers Festival had spread across Dublin to hold an event there. He then introduced Dermot Bolger, who I actually hadn’t realised was chairing the event. *Note to self – read the programme more carefully in future.* Dermot Bolger took to the stage where he detailed the background of the Man Booker Prize and the history of Irish writers in it. He then introduced the three most recent Irish winners to do a reading in the chronological order which they received the prize.

First up, Roddy Doyle, whose Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1993. However, this was not the book he read from; instead, he chose a story called ‘The Animals’ from his collection of short stories Bullfighting. Next to the podium was 2005 Man Booker Prize Winner, John Banville, who read from his winning title, The Sea. Last up for the reading portion of the evening was Anne Enright. Her novel, The Gathering, won the Man Booker Prize in 2007, and she read a piece from it; but beforehand, she gave us a sneak preview of an article on the subject of failure. It was a fascinating piece of writing with some sound advice for writers. She claimed that “Failure is what writers do. It is built in.” I don’t believe she made us privy to where that article will be published, but I would recommend hunting it down to read it.

The readings were followed by a Q&A session with both Dermot Bolger and the audience posing questions to the Booker threesome. There were some discussions over “giving up the day job” and adaptations of books to film and stage, but the overall questioning was about the writing process. Enright was going to get a mid-life crisis tattoo, except that she didn’t want to encourage her daughter, but it was going to say ‘200 words a day’; highlighting that despite all the conversation about writing, it is just the words written in a day. She posed the question of how many words a day to Doyle, who replied “I like to hit 1000. Never have!”

Overall, the advice for budding writers was that the words will happen, but so will emotional struggle. Banville spoke of Cato the Elder’s saying – “Grasp the object, the words will follow.” Doyle talked about the first line, how it is never likely to be your first line; and not to be afraid of blank pages, just fill them. Enright mentioned the emotions writers have during the process, how everyone has them. Banville then added a further piece of advice to a writer starting out, simply ‘don’t’.  All three writers acknowledged that they read voraciously growing up and beyond. Banville noted that reading was an escape for him, but the writing, which came later, is about getting to know oneself.

This was followed by a discussion on the publishing process, specifically self-publishing and whether it was something they would have done in the beginning. Doyle pointed out that The Commitments was self-published; so if he was 26/27 today, he would do the same. However, echoing Enright’s writing on failure, he highlighted that rejection is part of the job and never goes away – “If you can enjoy the writing, the publication is the gravy.” Enright spoke about how she was lucky to find a happy home with her publisher; stating that it was each to their own, but she had a childlike idea that “my book is a gift to someone that I don’t know would I get the same from writing online.” Banville was unsure about self publishing and said that it used to be known as ‘vanity publishing’ in his day. Roddy Doyle quickly piped in “Not in my day!” Their advice for someone who writes a lot, but is struggling to get picked up, was to write less and re-write more. Enright advised picking up your best work, then re-write and edit it, again and again. The consensus was that if a person is writing to get published, that is the wrong thing. In the closing words of the conversation and the event, John Banville further emphasised this – “Write for yourself. Write to get it right.”

The evening was a fantastic success; as a writer, a reader, a listener and also as someone who works with books on a daily basis, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to be in the presence of such talent and wholly interesting conversation. During the signings in the Axis foyer, I think I overheard Anne Enright say that it was the first time the three of them had done an event together; if that is so, then I am delighted to have been witness to it.

Written by Caelen Dwane.

Photo by David Mannion.


4 thoughts on “Failure is what writers do.

      1. Can’t believe I didn’t notice that…nor the huge site banner nor logos…that’s what I get for sneakily reading the page at work! 🙂

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