On the 16th of May, I heard about the Zagreb Book Festival featuring Irish authors while the television was on at my aunt’s house. The next day I decided to attend an interview with one of the authors. The outdoor event appeared crowded when we arrived but heads started disappearing as the cold night air took over. While we sat there feeling our fingertips turn to frost, I looked to my husband.
“Do you think I’m insane?” I asked him, thinking about what I was making him and our cocker spaniel endure just so that I could listen to an Irish man speak about life and books.
“It doesn’t matter,” he answered me. “As long as they don’t institutionalise you.”
I nodded and smiled. The speaker’s accent was enchanting, but I had other motives for staying put. Here was John Connolly right in front of me! What were the chances of ever having an opportunity like this again? In my mind this was an important event and he may as well have been a rock star. I looked around at the few people seated there listening and felt despondent. If this is how many people show up to see John Connolly, what chance will I ever have?
I eased my mind and tuned back into the conversation. Connolly spoke a bit about the different jobs he’d had before becoming a writer.
“Writers become writers by accident… We are essentially unemployable and when there is nothing else left for us to do, we write…” I thought back to the summer of 2009 when I began writing for magazines. I didn’t care much for the money, it was fun. I only began taking it seriously years later when it could pay the bills. As I started habitually labelling myself as a writer when people asked what I do, I realized that, in fact, writing was something I’d done all my life – in nursery school I was writing ghost stories and I started journaling at age nine. I like to say I started writing because I had nothing better to do. Besides writing, I am essentially unemployable.
It was refreshing to hear that I had so much in common with a successful and well-known writer, especially now that I’m closing the curtains on my ghostwriting and diving naked into the pool of traditional publishing.
After the talk, I waited last in line so that I would not be interrupted when I asked the veteran writer for some advice. Unlike most of the guests, I didn’t have any of his books awaiting a note and signature, but only some burning questions about which steps to take.
“I’m a ghostwriter…” I started.
“Well then you know the difference between good writing and bad writing… And you know to keep writing to meet deadlines… You’re almost there.”
“Yeah, but the gatekeepers…”
“Oh! I don’t like that word. It has negative connotations. They’re not gatekeepers, they’re there to help you… Agents are always looking for new voices and fresh content. You’ve just got to reach out to the right one.”
“Okay then here’s the million-dollar question: What would it take for you to recommend me?”
“Well, if you get a publisher and it’s good…”
“Yes, but…” He knew what I was thinking – Catch 22.
“Write to me,” he added with more tips and advice.
I learned that I already had the answers, the key lay in perseverance. I felt the crowd was small but he pointed out that it’s always been small – there’s always been a few people who keep the flame of literature going and as a result, we writers still exist. We had a short conversation and he got to pet Leeto (who was surprisingly friendly considering he generally prefers animals to people).
“Where’s the accent from?” He asked.
“Oh, where? My other half is from South Africa.”
“Where in Johannesburg?”
“We lived several places. Benoni…”
“Yeah, she’s from there too. A place called North-something… Northfield…”
“That’s it! She’s close to Northmead Square.”
“We also lived there…”
Cue the Twilight Zone theme song.
Connolly’s other half Jennifer Ridyard lives between Dublin and probably not more than a few blocks from where we used to live. I later realized that back in the day when I would forage through the Citizen newspaper looking for typos, I read some of Ridyard’s work, whilst waiting for my dad to close up his shop in Jo’burg’s CBD so we could go home.
Cue It’s A Small World.
“Tell you what, if it’s good I’ll write the foreword…”
“Of course, if it’s crap, we’ll never speak of it again!”
My expression faded, but our encounter ended with a friendly embrace, a photograph, and the glimmer of a promising future.
The author gave me another gift along with his advice – Ghosts (the latest CD soundtrack to his novels). My music-loving husband was pleased! I just listened to the entire CD, then I wrote this post (My favourite songs are Hares on the Mountain by Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell, Green Grass of Tunnel by Mum, and It’s Getting Late in the Evening by Davide Rossi).
So John, here I am talking about it. It will be good. Until I prove it with the first three chapters of my debut novel, here’s the poem I wrote, inspired by your music compilation.
It is Sunday,
I am awake,
I am alive –
There is some sanity.
No need for
none of that profanity!
I listen calmly
to Ghosts –
handed to me
a couple weeks ago
by someone whom
I hope will become
a friend –
author John Connolly.
Outside my window
Hares sit On The Mountain;
nature is kind
as Green Grass chimes
through the Tunnel
of my mind.
Every Dead Thing
shades of rosemary,
and blue hues
The sun quietly sets.
I feel Your Ghost floating
through this rickety old house,
and the cloak of ancestral wisdom
knows our fate
but when I ask, whispers
The azure sea splashes
to remind me that
Love will flow Like Blood
until one day
it is thrown
into the heart of the Fire –
when my body is Dead
and nothing is left
but to extinguish the flames
with salty, red mud.
Too many words
and far too much frivolous thinking.
That’s how I know that
It’s Getting Late In The Evening.