Sunday, 4 March 2012

My name is Kevin and I'm a lexiholic...

I was at an event on publishing, some years back, at the Irish Writer's Centre.  My agent was on the panel along with a woman from one of the Irish publishers (can't remember which) and a young writer who had been recently published.  I had a meeting with my agent afterwards so I'd gone along early and sat in.  It was interesting for me as I had not yet been published and though I can't remember much of what was said, I do recall one thing that has stayed with me.  When asked by a member of the audience what a writer can do to improve her chances of being published, my agent responded with two words:  'Read more.'  He then expanded on this, saying that reading--anything and everything--is the first stage of any writer's apprenticeship.  (Writing hundreds of stories and several novels before one actually figures out what one is really doing as a writer is the second stage and fodder for future post.)  But a love for reading--an addiction to the printed word--he said, was the single most important quality shared by 'successful' writers of fiction he had represented over the years.

This was comforting to me at the time.  Though I'd had short stories published and had won said agent's services on the strength of a reasonably good novel (which we never did manage to sell, thank God!) I was as yet an unpublished novelist.  (Peeler was two more unsold novels in the future for me then.)  But I was addicted to reading and had a drawer full of apprentice work in the form of short stories--some good, some dire--and two prior completed but unpublished novels.  I was on my way, I thought.

I bring this up, because it is my addiction to reading--cereal boxes, Heat magazine, novels of any genre, forms in waiting rooms--that led me this week to reading one of the best short stories I've read in years.  A colleague, knowing my propensities, gave me a stack of old and more recent magazines, thinking I would make use of them during down times at work.  Among them were several issues of the New Yorker, a magazine I'm too poor (and tight) to subscribe to now but which I read avidly in the Boston College library years ago (along with the Paris Review, more of which in a future post) when I was supposed to be studying economics or chemistry.  The story, called 'Someone', is by the Irish-American writer, Alice McDermott.  I had read, some years before, her novel Charming Billy and thought it a wonderful evocation of the Irish-America of which I have much experience.  This short story, which is an extract from her novel-in-progress, is every bit as good.

It appears you have to subscribe to the New Yorker to read it online, but if you have an iPhone or iPad, there apparently exists a free app allowing access to magazine content.  Or you could try the local library, no doubt.  But do try to find it, fellow addicts.  It is simply brilliant.  Here is a link to a short interview she gives to the New Yorker re the story, but SPOILER ALERT, it does give some of the game away so perhaps find a copy of the story before reading it.

Any other addicts have a rare gem they've come across recently?  Let us know!