April 15, 2017
Betrayal features in my work and always has done. It’s a feature of human nature, the kink in the mix that makes us the strange and interesting creatures we are. (I mean, we betrayed our own species back in the Cretacean period (I think it was), when we mated with Neanderthals. That makes most of us between 1 and 4% Neanderthal). The betrayal of love, the betrayal of truth, the betrayal of honour, the betrayal of innocence.
Self-Interview with Mary O’Donnell – Spring 2014
March 25, 2017
Diary 24th / 25th March
Question: What is the hardest thing to write about?
Answer: Happiness – anyone car write about misery, it’s easy. But real happiness with all its stubborn imperfections is the subject matter of great writers (unfortunately, I’m far from being a great writer).
My own writing evokes an inner world, a world of projections, fantasies and demonic illusions – or such is my intention. It is a world of emotionally greedy women, men whose incredible egoism is pushing them towards madness, and precocious adolescents who form an integral part (whether willingly or not) of the “ME” generation, which we seem to have created during the past three decades. All in their own way are seeking love and happiness; and all are sublimely selfish, considering only themselves in the paths they choose to take.
In good art we do not ask for realism; we ask for truth.
Pussy is a good moisturiser for the whole face. I like to apply it nightly. Even daily if the opportunity presents itself.
I have some sympathy with Oscar Wilde when he said: ‘I have no objection to anyone’s sex life as long as they don’t practice it in the street and frighten the horses.’ No one should ever want to frighten the horses.
‘As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note’ – so said Georges Bizet, and I totally agree.
March 8, 2017
Diary 7th / 8th March
Such irregular days filled with tempestuous winds. Hear it whistling in the chimney, day and night. Gusting. Carrying the dead, desiccated heads of last year’s geraniums over the lawn. Dustbin lids rattle and crash. And rubbish is scattered. It roars like an express train overhead as it flaps through the hills from the coast…
And the rain – torrential at times! Threatening a veritable Noah’s flood. We should be building an ark, gathering animals two by two. Then, afloat after 150 days, the waters will recede and we’ll find ourselves together on Ararat.
Truly, we are experiencing weather of biblical proportions!
Oh, summer when will you return…?
Then: Paris, at age seventeen: a necropolis of a city; a place of the dead, stinking of traffic fumes, freshly baked bread, and smouldering Gauloises cigarettes. A city imbued with odd shadows and strange intrusions of darkness that confused and misled the unwary. It tasted of pernod and water and Bouillabaisse and bitter black coffee.
The women, you’ll recall, tasted of salt and sweat, acrid beneath a casual dab of perfume – that perfume always gardenia on the tarts: perhaps sex workers clubbed together and purchased in bulk for a discount…?
But the whores like the city were all about pretend. Smelling of gardenia around the tits, but of Roquefort between the legs.
It was a city of rising and falling, of bright lights and darkness. The easy voluptuous rhythm of sex, and the staccato barking of car horns. French men drove with their hands on their horns, whispering their our Fathers and their hail Marys until journeys end. Jazz clubs at night, then a trip to one of the many ethnic joints for couscous “à la française”.
And writing, writing, writing until your hands cramped and you were good for nothing – not even a quick wank!
Paris, a place of occult phenomena, of conflicting absurdities. A city filled with monstrous revenants, a catastrophe…but what the hell, the Metro was cheap as chips!
In a world smitten with insanity we still have Paris and its Metro! I felt like Orpheus underground in search of my true Eurydice on the glorious Paris Metro.
Remember? Wandering the museums and galleries, day in day out, like one in a narcotic daze. Parallel worlds could be accessed there. You could easily become lost. I believe you did become lost…?
And, oh, how that place could wound. That awful city, headlong full of the undead. Everything was an exaggeration. Already lonely, it painted your imagination with its horrors, its monstrousness, filling your soul with such darkness that you wished everything to end –
But then, come the morning, your ordeal, your self-imposed exile would begin over. Balance returned, however temporarily. You’d go out into the city armed with fresh hope. Experience again the desire to grow and to touch the moon from this terrible place…
December 13, 2016
Some people . . . claim that there’s nothing new in horror. In a sense, that may be true. More than sixty years ago, H.P. Lovecraft drew up a list of the basic themes of weird fiction, and I can think of very little that the field has added to that list since then. But that’s by no means as defeatist as it sounds, because the truth is surely that many of the themes we’re dealing with are so large and powerful as to be essentially timeless.
For instance, the folk tale of the wish that comes true more fully and more terribly than the wisher could have dreamed is the basis not only of “The Monkey’s Paw,” but of Stephen King’s Pet Semetery and of my own novel, Obsession, yet the three stories have otherwise far more to do with their writers than with one another. That suggests . . . that one way to avoid what has already been done is to be true to yourself.
That isn’t to say that imitation never has its uses. Here, as in any other of the arts, it’s a legitimate and useful way to serve your apprenticeship. . . . If you’re writing in a genre, it’s all the more important to read widely outside it in order to be aware what fiction is capable of. It’s less a matter of importing techniques into the field than of seeing the field as part of a larger art. Depending wholly on genre techniques can lend too easily to the second-hand and the second-rate. There’s only one Stephen King, but there are far too many writers trying to sound like him.
It’s no bad thing to follow the example of writers you admire, then, but only as a means to finding your own voice. You won’t find that, of course, unless you have something of your own to say. I did, once I stopped writing about Lovecraft’s horrors and began to deal with what disturbed me personally. I began to write about how things seemed to me, which was more important and, at first, more difficult than it may sound. I tried (and still do try) to take nothing on trust to describe things as they really are or would be.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the horror field is riddled with clichés. The house that’s for sale too cheaply, the guy who must be working nights because he sleeps during the day . . . , the attic room the landlady keeps locked, the place none of the topers in the village inn will visit after dark—we can all have fun recognizing these and many others, which is by no means to say that they haven’t been used effectively by masters of the craft. But I think there are more fundamental clichés in the field, and I think today’s writers may be the ones to overturn them.
Take the theme of evil, as the horror story often does. Writing about evil is a moral act, and it won’t do to recycle definitions of evil—to take them on trust. Horror fiction frequently presents the idea of evil in such a shorthand form as to be essentially meaningless—something vague out there that causes folk to commit terrible acts, something other than ourselves, nothing to do with us. That sounds to me more like an excuse than a definition, and I hope it’s had its day. If we’re going to write about evil, then let’s define it and how it relates to ourselves.
All good fiction consists of looking at things afresh, but horror fiction seems to have a built-in tendency to do the opposite. Ten years or so ago, many books had nothing more to say than “the devil made me do it.” Now, thanks to the influence of films like Friday the 13th, it seems enough for some writers to say that a character is psychotic; no further explanation is necessary. But it’s the job of writers to imagine how it would feel to be all their characters, however painful that may sometimes be. It may be a lack of that compassion that has led some writers to create children who are evil simply because they’re children, surely the most deplorable cliché of the field.
Some clichés are simply products of lazy writing. Tradition shouldn’t be used as an excuse to repeat what earlier writers have done; if you feel the need to write about the stock figures of the horror story, that’s all the more reason to imagine them anew. . . . It’s only fair to warn you that many readers and publishers would rather see imitations of whatever they liked last year than give new ideas a chance. But I’ve always tried to write what rings true to me, whether or not it makes the till ring. If you don’t feel involved with what you’re writing, it’s unlikely that anyone else will.
There’s another side to the field that is overdue for attack by a new generation—its reactionary quality. A horror writer I otherwise admire argued recently wrote that “it has been a time-honoured tradition in literature and film that you have a weak or helpless heroine”—implying, I assume, that we should go on doing so. Well, tradition is a pretty poor excuse for perpetrating stereotypes (not that the author in question necessarily does); time-honoured it may be, but that certainly doesn’t make it honourable. In fact, these days, so many horror stories (and especially films) gloat over the suffering of women that it seems clear the authors are getting their own back, consciously or not, on aspects of real life that they can’t cope with. Of course, that isn’t new in horror fiction, nor is using horror fiction to define as evil or diabolical whatever threatens the writer or the writer’s lifestyle. But, at the very least, one should be aware as soon as possible, that this is what one is doing, so as to be able to move on. I have my suspicions, too, about the argument that horror fiction defines what is normal by showing us what isn’t. I think it’s time for more of the field to acknowledge that, when we come face-to-face with the monsters, we may find ourselves looking not at a mask but at a mirror.
Avoiding What’s Been Done to Death
From: On Horror Writing, edited by Mort Castle
December 9, 2016
From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.
I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight. For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. Nevertheless the volume of serious — i.e. seriously intended — writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages. I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation. I cannot remember anything about it except that it was about a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’ — a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake’s ‘Tiger, Tiger’. At eleven, when the war or 1914-18 broke out, I wrote a patriotic poem which was printed in the local newspaper, as was another, two years later, on the death of Kitchener. From time to time, when I was a bit older, I wrote bad and usually unfinished ‘nature poems’ in the Georgian style. I also attempted a short story which was a ghastly failure. That was the total of the would-be serious work that I actually set down on paper during all those years.
However, throughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary activities. To begin with there was the made-to-order stuff which I produced quickly, easily and without much pleasure to myself. Apart from school work, I wrote vers d’occasion, semi-comic poems which I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed — at fourteen I wrote a whole rhyming play, in imitation of Aristophanes, in about a week — and helped to edit a school magazines, both printed and in manuscript. These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest journalism. But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind: this was the making up of a continuous ‘story’ about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my ‘story’ ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a match-box, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf’, etc. etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.
Why I write
December 7, 2016
Prose is not to be read aloud but to oneself alone at night, and it is not quick as poetry but rather a gathering web of insinuations which go further than names however shared can ever go. Prose should be a long intimacy between strangers with no direct appeal to what both may have known. It should slowly appeal to feelings unexpressed, it should in the end draw tears out of the stone…
Pack my bag
December 6, 2016
Diary 6th December
Muggy this morning. The sky fell on the moor during the night, smothering it and its few inhabitants in this damp closeness.
Yesterday I did a little work. A very little work. Finished reading “About KANE: the playwright and the work” by Graham Saunders. Here, we are able to read Sarah Kane’s own words on her plays. For example this, on ascribing meaning to the play “Crave”:
‘I was trying to do something different with Crave which was in a way about not releasing control, but about opening up options. In some ways for me Crave is very specific. It has very fixed and specific meanings in my mind, which no one else can possibly know, unless I told them. For example, who here knows what 199714424 means? None of you knows. I’m the only person that knows – beside the actors – and I’ve no intention of telling anyone what it means. So I can’t possibly expect to see the same production twice.’
An excellent little book, highly recommended.
Diebus ac noctibus…ingemiscit.
And who dealt me the feckin’ Ace of Spades on the day of my birthing? A card of ill omen, if ever there was one, full of malice, misfortune and perhaps death.
November 18, 2016
When I finished the poems in The Lotus Flowers, I came to suspect the orderly structure of narrative – beginning, middle, and end. For about two years I wrote nothing but fragments. I came to think of them as “middles,” as having anti-narrative impulses behind them. I also came to think of them as what a painter might produce, what Monet did when he went out to paint the same haystack every day in different light. For me, that meant allowing myself to take on huge subjects – truth, or beauty, or innocence – and go to that subject every day and have the variant be tone. What would be light for a painter would be tone for a poet.
Ellen Bryant Voigt
Interview with Steven Cramer
October 25, 2016
Novel writing doesn’t breed serenity. It is lying, you know, and the novelist has to spend a lot of time during the course of his writing worrying about whether he is going to get away with his lies. If he fails to, his novel isn’t going to work.
Kurt Vonnegut to Charles Reilly
College Literature 1980