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Is There a Book in You?


Do you look forward to waking up in the morning? Are you happy all day? Do you feel good when you go to bed at night? You are standing on the street and you see a friend coming. Are you happy? Or is it a bother? Look around and notice the scenery. Does the beauty of nature strike at your heart? What about music? How does it sound? Do you look forward to tomorrow? How about the day after next? Do you look in the mirror and like what you see?

Quite a lot of questions! They come from a novel I reviewed some years ago by a young Japanese writer, Banana Yoshimoto, and the questions are being put by a mother to her 11-year-old son as part of a family tradition, for the boy to discover the secret formula of life. The book itself, ‘Amrita’, is wonderful, and is full of magic, and it is one of the reasons why I prefer fiction to non-fiction. I believe that through stories and the use of the imagination we can make some sense of the jumble of life: what is it all about, why are we here, why do we behave the way we do; why we are flawed and irrational and guilt-ridden and emotional. Why do we hate and why do we love.

What is it about fiction that makes it so powerful? Well, we know how biased are journalism and reportage which are supposed to be based on observation and facts. Biography and autobiography are also unreliable because not only are they prejudiced and judgmental but they are ‘censored’ out of consideration for the living, as well as for reasons of libel! But fiction – once we suspend our disbelief – allows us to do the impossible – to enter into the thoughts and feelings of real and imagined individuals many of whom turn out to be characters with whom we can readily identify from among our acquaintances, and to gain knowledge of the human heart and mind.

We all know good souls and brave people, and narrow-minded and evil people. We all know busybodies and guys who think they are God’s gift to women, and friends who think they are great singers, and mates who forget to pay you back, and people who are inveterate liars, and others whose tall stories beguile us, and friends whom we love and would forgive almost any transgression. All these types, and why they act the way they do, and what they are privately thinking, are to be found in all good literature. And so are great descriptions of nature, of adventure and travel and tragedy and romance and heroism.

Thus does fiction advance our knowledge of human nature and help civilise us. Or impress us, as when the noble Rick persuades Ilsa to get on the plane with Viktor Lazlo, with the words, “The problems of three little people don’t amount to more than a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Or entertain us, as when urchin, Huckleberry Finn, describes the Puritanical ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’: “The statements was interesting, but tough.”

The creator of these imaginary worlds and beings is the writer (and script-writer) and the jury is still out on whether writing is a craft, which can be taught, or a natural gift of the individual which cannot be imparted.

I was down showing my face at the Conway Education Centre’s Information Day last Thursday at the launch of its impressive Adult Education Programme which I want to plug here, particularly the creative writing classes which begin in September.

James Plunkett, author of ‘Strumpet City’, was once asked why do writers write. He replied (and let’s excuse his sexist language): “My own view is that it is his attempt to understand his own memories. Memory, I firmly believe, is the source of all insight, and literature is conceived out of the constant contemplation of those images which accumulate in the memory and persist in making their presence felt throughout the whole of the writer’s life. This interior life is the possession of each and every one of us, but the writer nourishes it and listens to it within himself in a very special way: by withdrawal, contemplation and self-questioning – a procedure which is not as lunatic or odd as it sounds.”

So, do you think you could write? Or that your writing could be improved? Do you like reading? Have you got a story to tell? Is there a book inside you? Do you like poetry? Would you like to talk about your favourite book or poem? Do you think you could act in a scene in front of your adult class mates? Do you know the relationship between art and music and literature? Would you like to have a bit of craic? Can you find your way to Conway Mill? If so, ring Maeve Binchy or Jimmy Joyce at (028) 90248543 and ask Brenda for the details.