Saturday, 5 November 2011


Janet O'Steen, Ireland's foremost logodisciplinarian, sat at a small, ceramic surfaced table, and stared at her typewriter.  A sheet of paper was wound into it, and the title of her new novel already typed: Bride of Prejudice.  She could hear the sectarian cries in her head already as her Catholic protagonist attempted to marry his Protestant boyfriend while his widowed mother was condemned to a slow death in the last coal-mine in Tyrone.  "Serves her right," she thought, trying to hear the consumptive cough that would result in her death somewhere around the two-thirds-mark of the novel, at a point when a catastrophe would be needed to challenge her protagonist's determination to do the right thing.  The words to start the novel weren't coming though, no matter how many times she ran through her routine to start the creative juices flowing.
She drummed her fingers on the table-top, leaving slightly greasy fingermarks behind.  It irritated her slightly, but she tried to ignore it.  She succeeded for nearly twenty seconds before having to get up, wash her hands carefully, and use a clean, dry cloth to clean the table top again.  Then she found the spray polish and carefully cleaned the keys of the typewriter.  Only when she was sure that everything was spotless could she sit down again and stare at the almost-blank page.
What was it that Leslie daFox, that old reprobate, had suggested in his masterclass three years ago?  Oh yes, pick a minor character and spend a half-hour writing a scene of the novel from its point of view.  The new understanding that that would provide, both for the scene and the minor character, would help inspire you to write the scene from the point of view that you'd intended.  Janet sighed.  She supposed she could give it a try.
Mother Loughlin stared at the photograph of her only son, the boy who had two years ago, on her birthday, told her that he was gay.  Her thoughts turned back, as they always did, to the cold dormitory of the nunnery where she'd been Sister Dysnomia.  She'd been kneeling on the stone floors performing her Hail Maries and counting them off on the rosary when Father Dominic had come up behind her and... well, the sins of the flesh were not well to dwell on, but they had led to her expulsion from the nunnery and, nine months later, her expulsion of her son.  Was it really a surprise that such disrespect before God should have resulted in this further disrespect and dishonour?  Somewhere outside the shift bell chimed and she tucked the photograph inside the pillow slip and got to her feet.  They ached, and her arthritis made all her joints complain, but coal didn't mine itself.  Flannagan, the pit boss, was very fond of telling her that, leering at her with his smoky green eyes.  Well, the one good eye and the one weeping pus.
Janet read it back to herself and smiled a little.  The clever way she'd used the word expulsion made the whole paragraph worth keeping; maybe she could work it in to a reminiscence just before his mother died?  She also noted expulsion down on her list of words for a word-of-the-day calendar.  She would put in on June 4th, just after calexis and before subwoofer.
Then she rested her head on her hands, and tried to think how the real novel should start.  With a wedding?  She wasn't sure she was going to let her protagonist get married though, it was rather wrong really, in her opinion.  Perhaps he was only gay as a way of punishing his mother?  Tempting, but she had a feeling that the ancient greeks had had a word for that, and she wasn't doing anything that let her critics appear cleverer than her again.  Having had the embarrassment of being on a panel and asked about the Clytemnestrian and Cassandraic themes of her previous novel, which she'd thought were types of herbal tea, it was not something she wished to repeat.
Perhaps his mother struck gold before she died?  No, better: his mother struck oil, and the subsequent flooding of the mine is what kills her, a small mercy and large irony given that she's dying of her lungs slowly filling with fluid anyway.
Why does the pit boss have a bad eye?  Maybe it's a punishment for a transgression of his youth... heh, transgression was a good word too.  She noted that down beneath subwoofer.  That was nearly half the year sorted out now.  Where was she?  Oh yes, the bad eye.  A cyclopean reference perhaps?  Didn't James Joyce do something about that, now there was a good writer.  Ok, the pit boss is no longer Flannagan, he's Joyce.  Ulysses Joyce.
Without realising it her fingers were tapping on the typewriter keys at last, and her writer's block was broken.  As she tapped and rattled and dinged her way through a luke-warm love scene between the pit-boss and the doomed mother she smiled to herself.  The words were behaving just like they were supposed to.  This was logodisciplinarianism expressed as an art.

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