I once mused that “taking initiative, working well under pressure, and rising to a challenge is all part and parcel of farming.” It occurs to me now that perhaps farming and writing have more in common than we realise . . .
This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Kildare Readers Festival where I was presented with the 2017 CD Lewis Literary Bursary for Emerging Writers. The event, “Cecil Day Lewis Literary Awards: Looking Back and Forth,” took place in the beautiful Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, and opened with an introduction to this year’s recipients and a reading or performance from each.
Given that I received the award based on my submission of sample chapters from Falling for a Farmer, the nonfiction novel (and a work in progress), I decided to share an extract from this with the audience. Unsure whether “hard-hitting” or “humorous” should be the order of the day, I went back and forth between witnessing my first slaughter and my first attempt at pulling the lamb as my extract of choice, before eventually settling on the latter. It was probably for the best, too; I’m not sure bolt pistols and pithing rods are suitable fodder for a Saturday lunchtime literary event . . .
I’ve done readings in churches, I’ve been interviewed on live radio, and I’ve performed in plays. But I’ve never read my own non-fiction aloud to an audience that included members of my family before — nor Jack and members of his, either. Perhaps that’s what made the difference; as I moved to take my place behind the podium, I hoped those seated before me wouldn’t notice my hands trembling as I raised the page and began to read.
Thankfully, it went well, and the laughs I received at various points throughout were all the confirmation I needed that I had, indeed, made the right choice in opting for humour on a Saturday afternoon.
Following similar presentations by my fellow winners, poet Evan Costigan and comic book writer and artist, Alan Dunne, and a play by Margaret Kane-Rowe, we were treated to an “in conversation” segment, chaired by author Sarah Maria Griffin, and featuring two previous CD Lewis award recipients, Hazel Gaynor and Martin Malone. For me, hearing Hazel, in particular, was a real treat, as she and I had been “in conversation” ourselves for many months prior on Twitter, without ever having met. We rectified that situation immediately following the event, and I look forward to taking her up on her offer of further chats over coffee (or gin, perhaps?!) in the near future.
After dinner with my parents and sister, as Jack and I digested the day’s events over drinks that night, he mentioned how interesting he found the talk on writing to be. “I genuinely enjoyed it,” he said, making no attempt to hide his surprise, “your reading, the talk afterwards . . . “
When I think about it now, I suppose it was a role reversal of sorts for us. For three and a half years, I have been the student — watching, listening, and learning the ways of Jack’s world. On Saturday, for once, Jack was a spectator, his eyes, ears, and mind opened to the realities of writing life; the discipline and dedication that’s required, the inspiration that’s sought, the creative flow that energizes, the joy of a deadline met, an award won, or a contract signed, and the disappointment of rejection, too.
I am incredibly grateful to Kildare County Council for everything this award has afforded me; the time to work on turning a collection of memories, experiences, and anecdotes into something more substantial, and, perhaps most importantly, validation — not only that there is a book to be crafted from these moments, but that I have what it takes to bring it into being, too. In equal measure, I am thankful to my employers at Clinch who not only celebrated my achievement, but who realise how much my writing means to me, and who, without hesitation, facilitated a 4-day work-week this summer to allow me that bit more time to work on my manuscript.
At roughly 40,000 words, I’m about two-thirds of the way there. A ways to go yet, but the end is in sight.
Thank you for being a part of the journey thus far.