Friday, February 08, 2013

Something encouraging


Almost by accident I read ANGELA's ASHES--a book I had never wanted to read because it sounded so depressing. But it was there and so was I, and once I started it, I couldn't stop (even though I started reading it after midnight at the end of a busy day).

His family had no money mainly because his father spent what wages he had in pubs, even drinking away all of the £5 his parents sent when a new baby was born. The children didn't have enough to eat. Three died.

Yet they  laughed a lot. They talked well -- and wittily; read voraciously (under the street lamps sometimes); learned a lot in school;  and had a closeness with each other few American siblings I've known ever achieve. They seemed to deal with the hardness of their lives with a cheerful stoicism -- and dreams of going to America, a dream Francis achieved by leaving school at 14, working, and saving his money. He left when he was 19.

From the later books I think he always missed Ireland. He was a public school teacher for 30 years (I'm now reading the third book in the trilogy, TEACHER MAN) -- he always WANTED to write, but didn't. He considered himself a failure. Then, when he retired, he wrote ANGELA'S ASHES.

I remember hearing when the book came out (does anyone know if this is true??) that he knew so many people from his evenings in NY bars that they helped him find an editor -- an editor who loved the ms. When the book was published, he was 66; and it sold FIVE MILLION copies.

But what probably pleased him just as much was what a good book it is -- not for everyone, maybe -- I know I'm a sucker for stories about children who survive tough times -- but even those who don't like it would, I think, admit that it's really well-written.

Sometimes being a writer can seem like an idiotic choice to make -- but it's something at which you CAN succeed at any age. It's not like being a baseball player or ballerina.....there is always a chance that one day you'll write something that is a huge success.

And I believe that all of us, no matter how we try not to and tell ourselves we're being unrealistic, cherish that hope. Otherwise, why would anyone do it?

I'm not saying that is THE motive -- there are others, including the sheer joy of it (at times). But that hope -- unrealistic as you know it is --  helps keep you writing, especially during the (many) "you'll just have to get through this" phases of finishing a novel.


Anna Alter said...

Well put Libby!

Libby Koponen said...

Thanks, Anna. As long as one person is interested in what I say, I'm glad I posted.

Even in Australia said...

Mr. McCourt was my English teacher for one semester. He came out of retirement to sub for a teacher on maternity leave. He was a hoot and spent a lot of class time telling us the stories that ended up in Angela's Ashes.

Libby Koponen said...

Even in Australia, THANK YOU! I have just finished TEACHER MAN and was wondering and wondering what it would have been like to be in his class and now you have told me! Were you in that class that chanted recipes by any chance? The one where other kids played instruments, and the Chinese girl sang in mandarin while her brother played?

It did all sound pretty great.

I would love to hear (read rather) your memories!

Thank you for telling us.


Even in Australia said...

Since he was already retired and we were seniors, the class was a lot of fun. We sang Irish songs every Friday. We kept starting to read Hamlet but he would get all excited about the line where "the funeral meats" become "the wedding feast" (which is near the beginning) and we'd get stuck there repeatedly. And like I said, he spent a lot of time just telling us the stories of his life.

Libby Koponen said...

Haha (about Hamlet),and that all sounds really fun. THANK YOU SO MUCH for sharing this with us!

Anonymous said...

Hello Libby, Food for thought as always!!! I recently heard - and then read something to support this - that most great writers produce their great work in their mid 30s. (One of the articles was observing that great scientists tend to be most intellectually active in their early 20s; musicians too - and writers a bit later). And as I'm beyond that age, it was a bit depressing to read. Your post has reminded me that a) statistical averages are not rigid fact b)art is not ruled by scientific laws c) there are ALWAYS brilliant exceptions to rules when it comes to human creativity. Thank you for rekindling that hope!!