In the beginning was a book. This is a tale every writer knows. It seems almost foolish to utter it.
But I’m a fool.
After my wife and I got married, we decided it was time for a tectonic shift. We had both embraced a scary and invigorating and wonderful new life together. But it somehow didn’t seem real enough to us until we had decided on a madcap adventure; our own little spot of time where we could be more in the world but not eaten by it.
So we sold our belongings and moved from Maine to Ireland.
This is the brief backstory. Now to the heart of the matter.
We lived in a small leaky thatched cottage in Corrandulla, just outside of Galway. At dusk we listened to a blackbird sing in the tourlough. Sometimes we would sit and watch the sheep graze. Or the wild horses race. There was little to do in the country. And we were unemployed, living very thriftily off money we’d saved from a summer of racking blueberries. Sometimes we listened to the radio, especially a show by Donal Dineen, “Into the Night.”
We left buckets out when it rained. And it rained — this is Ireland after all.
One night, my wife finished the book she was reading and set it aside. I didn’t know the author. She was a contemporary English writer. Up until this point, I had been reading Henry Miller, DH Lawrence, Tolstoy, Hesse, Dylan Thomas, Tolkien, Hardy, Knut Hamsun.
I loved the cover. It drew me to peer closer.
But I had a nightly chore to take care of first. I was in charge of starting the fire. So I piled on the peat and ignited the paper and sticks we had gathered earlier from the tourlough like medieval peasants. And then I made a cup of tea. Made sure the buckets were not overflowing with rainwater.
I ensconced in my favourite seat. Stoked the fire. Picked up the book: The Passion by Jeanette Winterson.
I didn’t put it down until I was done. Along the way I spat orange seeds into the fire.
When I was done, I sat and watched the fire’s dying embers. I listened to rain, wind, a car speeding down the dark country lane.
I made a decision that night, as I spat the orange seeds into the fire, that I wanted to be a writer just like Winterson.