Friday, February 08, 2013
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.