Friday, 27 January 2017

Debut Novels with James Hannah and Catherine O'Flynn

Initial reaction? Wow! For the past hour I've sat listening to Catherine O'Flynn and James Hannah talk about writing. I'm currently on my way home and I feel inspired and refreshed and suddenly like I have so much to say. I wish I'd taken notes! Regardless, this post is going to be full of gushing and I am sorry!

First of all, they are so humble and down to earth and lovely. I felt quite nervous when I arrived, as this was new territory for me. I've been to these sorts of events before with Jennifer Niven, but half the time I'm too caught up and starstruck (and emotional) to actually take any notes. I'll admit that shyness got the better of me. I had quite a few questions to ask. But when the time came, my voice failed me.

Regardless, the Q and A was led by my lecturer and he did a wonderful job! I had finished James Hannah's debut novel this week and was super excited to go to this event and I was not disappointed. Both Catherine O'Flynn and James Hannah addressed topics such as rejection in the long process that seems to be publication. O'Flynn admitted to having a selfishness about her writing, in that she only writes for herself. She described being unable to write according to a schedule and feeling as though her writing fell flat, and lacked something, when she did try to adhere to a schedule. Having experienced this it was refreshing to hear that to write when one felt like writing, and not before, was okay.

The pair agreed that when writing they found themselves coming back to the same sorts of subjects, for example O'Flynn addressed the fact that all three of her novels focussed on themes such as loss, a sense of place, and the past. But the thing I found remarkable about this was that they both agreed it was okay. Hannah used a wonderful phrase. He said that in writing, you find the limits of yourself. I thought that was a pretty wonderful way to describe it. It made me see writing differently, as if it were an exploration of the self.

Hannah also pointed out that you write bits of yourself into your work, and I've encountered this idea before amongst authors. I remember Jennifer Niven saying, back in November, that she writes little bits of herself into all of her characters. They are all a part of her. It was lovely to see that this was a common theme. Following this, O' Flynn expressed the sentiment that her first novel, What Was Lost, embodied a part of herself. She meant that she'd sometimes read it back, and whilst wincing as one often does when reading something they've written,  and she would realise that she had a clearer outlook then. That through her past novels, she was able to see a change in herself. I liked the idea of a novel, a piece of work, embodying a part of oneself. It made a novel seem like a snapshot; a record of old outlooks, opinions and thoughts.

Hannah, in reference to his own book, stated that his protagonist was unlikable. But I think that's what I found so endearing about Ivo. The fact that he was unapproachable and unlikable, but then I was privileged enough to see the character interact with characters like Amber, and Mia in his memories. Reading these interactions made the walls he put up a little more destructible. I like that about him.

Hannah warned that a writer should not give his work to their friends to read, for the first time. That if you did, you had to ask the question of why you are asking them to read it. 'Do you want to impress them? Do you want to depress them? Or do you want to sleep with them?' Now this had me laughing. But it's true! A member of the audience pointed out that he had given his work to his friends to read for the sake of an ego boost.

They discussed the importance of research, questioning whether or not it was important. O'Flynn described her own process of research. She discussed trying to figure out what kind of novel she wanted to write, rather than researching settings and things alike. She expressed the idea that sometimes research can put you off writing a novel in that the facts seem so perfect that you don't wish to disturb them. Hannah suggested that research was both important and unimportant. Though it was pointed out to me that I should ignore that, I shall remember that argument and it may come in handy as a student.

In short, this talk was insightful, and inspiring. It was a lovely Friday night! This is the kind of world that I want to be a part of; of literature, and research and academics. It is safe to say that after having stopped any creative writing for a long time, the talk tonight has made me want to go back to it. I feel a new notebook coming on.

I apologise for my gushing. Have a lovely weekend folks!


  1. Ah, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a positive and enthusiastic response. Aidan pointed me to it, and I'm delighted that you gleaned so much from it. The event was a joy to do, because Catherine is one of my very best friends and inspirations, and she's probably the person who makes me laugh most in the world (in a good way). Anyway, if it wouldn't make you feel too weird (and it probably would), I and we would be beyond happy to answer any questions about writing in general or in the particular via Twitter or email (ask Aidan!), so please don't be reluctant to ask -- we're all in it together. But don't now feel obliged, of course. Very best of luck with your studies, and thanks once again. -- James

    1. Oh my god. Thank you so much for responding to it. I really enjoyed the event and the atmosphere was lovely because of that friendship. It wouldn't make me feel weird at all! I'll be sure to ask him. Thank you very much, again.

    2. (Of course, in case I wasn't clear, I mean ask Aidan for my email address, rather than 'put your questions to Aidan' -- which would seem very rude of me!)