Green Diesel, writing what you know about Athlone, handy dusht. #14.

I set the the Post Office robbery in El Niño in a small North Galway town called Headford. It was a pivotal part of the book. It gave the characters a genuine reason to leave their home town of Ballinrobe in Mayo and move their criminal organisation to Galway City. I’m from Mayo and was living in Galway at the time so just walking down the street was akin to research

Too many writers set their work in places they’ve never been. New York, London, Dublin. They have some idea about all the good stories coming from the big cities that you see on TV – but how can you describe a place if you’ve never been there? Some writers will scream: Research? Imagination? Talent? – yet the best fiction comes from people who write what they know.

I teach writing a lot now and I’m always amazed at people’s ideas to write a book “….set in South America….” Or “….about an African Tribe wiped out by Colonials….’ Sure, these types of books are written but rarely by debut authors. They’re often funded projects written by authors that have a proven track record. The (paid) writer will go to South America and live there for a while. Or visit the African tribe being written about. If you can’t afford to do any of those things then keep it local.

Also, in your own locality, you hear people speak every day. You see their way of life. You witness human moments. All of these things are vital for your novel to have a ring of authenticity. But, says the student, what if I get sued for writing about real places? You won’t get sued. Who’s going to sue you? You’re writing fiction, not Journalism or Biography. The key is to use your locality as a touchstone for your work, not record it entirely. People love to read about their home town or place. They’re delighted to see its unique nature recorded. John Steinbeck is a great example of this. Or John B. Keane. Or Roddy Doyle. Or Stephen King. Or any great writer you can think of. It’s so simple it reads like magic.

I don’t live in Galway anymore. I live in a place called Athlone, but I set my new book Mokusatsu in Galway. I figured I’d lived there so long, and knew so much about the place, I’d be able to write from memory. Turns out it doesn’t work that way. Although I wrote some of it before the move, I could feel the world start to fade. The sounds got dimmer. The streets got darker. The truth began to decline. I’d go down there regularly for teaching work and speaking events and come back revived. But if too much time had passed then the creative distance seeped in again and I’d lose sight of the story. Eventually the solution hit me: Write about Athlone.

So instead of using my creative energy trying to imagine what Galway is like today I can look out the window and get ideas from whatever I see right in front of me. It’s like alchemy and it saves time and hardship and unnecessary research trips and leaves more time to do what you’re supposed to be doing: Writing

So originally the line was: ‘Hey, Charlie, will you pick up a truck load of green Diesel in Rahoon?’

And now it’s: ‘Hey, Charlie, we’re doing a new deal with an Athlone crew. Need you up there for while to get things set up.’

‘What is it?’

‘Green diesel. Handy dusht. Don’t fuck it up.’



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