Talk about gush! The woman chairing the session, Tessa Hadley, came over as a bit of a sexagenarian groupie – not a pleasant sight. I felt embarrassed for her. Colm himself was relaxed, soaked up the praise. No false modesty he. The session concerned his book of collected essays about authors, ‘New Ways to Kill Your Mother.’ There was no set talk, but a conversation which we were allowed to witness between Tessa and her hero. On the way there were some great little insights. In how many books does the author get rid of the mother, a figure who might overshadow the main character? The mother might require the author to write in distracting everyday conversations and replace the development of the main character with a focus on the mother and her inner feelings; with too much attention on the relationship with her mother, a different, less interesting book emerges. Austen’s mothers, for example, are either absent or so silly as not to require serious attention. Dealing with an orphan now – that can focus the inner story, even better if it’s an only child.
Novels he said are not there to teach or analyse but to explore the tiny details of experience – texture and patterns of life, a sense of the world as it is lived.
Never worry about other people when you are writing, he counseled. That way you’ll never write anything. Those who are closest to you will always fail to understand why or how you have mixed personal memory with fiction and often see themselves misrepresented as a result. On reading one of his early short stories, his mother complained that the mother in the story placed all the cutlery in the centre of the table for the family to pick up what they needed. She resented the implication readers might take that tbis was what he was used to at home!
Parents and their children. Well maybe that relationship is the most interesting thing after all. It’s certainly what his book of essays is about.