The past few weeks have been a bit tricky. Snapping black dog etc. I've also begun reading a few new books, but have so far failed to reach the middle of one; when I'm in this state of mind I can find it a bit difficult to be engaged enough. It's a failure to secure a purchase on those things that one normally takes an interest in. I met a very charming and established author, Stephen Benatar, in Chiswick Waterstones last weekend. He stood beside a small table that featured piles of his own novels. Whenever anyone strolled past him he took the step or two and handed them three of his books and asked that they might take a moment to browse through. I did and immediately took them to a spare chair at the back of the shop. What struck me from all three was the quality of the prose; an established quality. Does that sound old-fashioned? Having heard of the title I made inroads into 'Wish Her Safe at Home', an NYRB Classic, including an introduction by John Carey. I think that 'established' is the right word when you're good enough to merit introductions in a well-known publisher's Classics series. I had a few words with him, saying that I would take the Wish Her Safe at Home and that I had enjoyed the first few pages. Benatar is tall and lean; he's looked after himself. And yet I was still shocked to learn that he is 75. That an author of his calibre was still happy - and he seemed comfortable and perfectly at ease with himself - promoting his own books in the unaffected way he did spoke volumes, I felt. I admired his air, his manner. The longer I write the more I totally understand how difficult the path is. The odds of being published and having copies on shelves of mainstream book stores are increasingly slim; although now anyone can publish an e-book. Amazon has reported that e-book sales now outstrip those of conventional books. I have my own on the kindle platform, A Clockwork Apple, but I never check to see if any are sold; I don't promote it, apart from the initial odd tweet. I often wonder if I'll have another work published. It won't be for lack of trying - and trying to work on my craft; my voice - and putting the hours in. I have started to write a memoir. I'm 17,000 words in and it seems to be taking on a life of its own. I showed it to a trusted writer friend and she both worried and reassured me by saying it was the best thing she's read by me - that it was my story and my voice. And yet there is still so much more. We'll see. I know I have a story to tell but I had always feared that story - of somehow branding myself with it. There has been the space of a day from writing the above, that I hasn't yet managed to reach halfway on anything I'd been reading but that looks set to be broken now. A few years ago I read John McGahern's The Barracks. I seem to recall posting on it on this blog. The writing was second to none; the psychology of the characters and the descriptions of the interpersonal and personal relations, devastating. The Irish rural mindset is the one I seem mostly to identify with - and well I might. Despite growing up in inner city Manchester I grew up with a silent yet loaded Da who was made of the rural Irish. And my Mum, well she is a bit harder to describe that way, but her own mother also carried it very strongly. It's in my Celtic bones as much as the rain itself. So I could be forgiven for having to gear myself up to read McGahern's Amongst Women. But I did so last night and am already having to absorb it in doses; floored by the devastation and the silent grieving and the ghosting around the father of the story, Moran, the old Republican army man. I identify with it so strongly - and yet the deep and abiding love of the three daughters towards their unpredictable father who wand only to appear dignified and Proper. Honourable. McGahern's fine detail that demonstrates his insight is so taut. And then there's the speech, the dialogue, which I'd also latched onto in The Barracks. Moran says to his older daughter, 'mind you don't wake up the crowd who have to be up for school in the morning'. A d there's also a scene in which his kids 'cringe into themselves' as they walk through the town. What we have in Moran is a man desperately locked into himself, and how that affects those around him. Given the nature of what I myself am trying to write - the personal nature of it - and of not being able to get into any other book but this at this time reveals so much to myself. And of so much of what I'm trying to reveal.

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