‘Scamper‘ is, I think, a good word for my gait as a creative writer, a novelist: I tread lightly and eagerly, with excitement, trying not to press too hard upon the grass of story, letting it tell itself between the unspoken moves. I am not, in the strict sense of things, a narrative writer – and, yes, I scamper all around plot!
I’m not a great one for talking, me, never have been. In fact, I would say that, as a race, we are over-dependent upon the sound of the human voice and the words that trickle and flood from its facial orifices.
As a writer, I have always been more interested in what lies between, and beneath, the words that pour from people in such abundance – because it is my contention (and this is hardly a new thought) that we communicate a whole world of atmosphere as well as the stream of story: That what we give off is just as clear as that we give out in the verbal sense.
In ‘Heneghan’, and without going into any extraneous details, I attempt to pin down and explore the world of hesitant or reluctant speakers; people for whom emotional damage – often deeply buried – or natural inclination casts clouds of thunderous power and intensity over gatherings. But not only that: I am working, as a writer in this novel, with those more comfortable in the realm of virtual silence; those who express themselves through land or paint or metal or pen and ink; those whose very creative impulse comes from the thrumming of the in-between states.
I write of people whose mere presence booms and blasts, who create waves (not always in the positive sense but always, ultimately, in the cathartic) and bring their own brooding atmospheric pressure with them: Those, in a fine irony, who cannot be pinned down by words (no matter how apt they may be) – but need to be read, like our weather system, in isobars and trends and connection with the earth, sky, sea. It is not enough to say/write that someone is scary, intense, light of spirit or whatever; words need, somehow, to penetrate to the centre of the vibrations behind and to express that menace in a verbal, yet non-speaking, way: To touch the essence and translate it into something closer to painting or music than writing.
That is the challenge I have set myself. That is the struggle I – as someone who is, many ways, a non-native speaker – have engaged with from the earliest age. How do we transmit the ineffable using the twenty-six letters our alphabet gives us? My answer: We use something of the wordless immediacy of other art forms to help us, to add richness and depth: We dip into the emotional effect of music upon the soul and give our written language rhythm or cadence or timbre. We use the infinite palette of colour to sketch and dot impressionist scenes. We sculpt figures out of the marble or stone of the personality, hacking away the words and leaving the shape of the human being below.
We adopt and adapt our materials in order to let words rinse and wring the ear – as Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed it so beautifully – so that all of nature can be heard trilling and chirping, thundering and crackling, brooding and boiling, and the mountains attain a life force fully equal to that possessed by the chatty little chimps at the centre (or so they believe) of it all!
Not at ease with the spoken work, I sing and doodle and talk and hew out through writing – with the in-between states at the centre of my philosophy as an artist!