Performance Anxiety

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It’s been almost two months since I last wrote anything more creative than a magazine article. Whilst I had wonderful intentions of ploughing on with short stories or even making it through the next chapter of my second novel, the reality of publishing a book and working full time has been a lot more taxing than I’d expected. This afternoon I gave my last reading for a couple of weeks in Hodges Figgis; a beautiful book store situated in a stunning, historical building in Dublin City Centre. I tried to do a quick count in my head and I think that today’s reading was somewhere around my 24th speaking engagement since the launch of Malcolm Orange Disappears at the beginning of June. I caught sight of myself in the shop window on the way out, (I have to admit I was admiring the lovely arrangement of Malcolm’s in HF’s summer reading display), and I looked positively grey. Reading your work in public is the ultimate adrenalin rush- the performer in me loves seeing the audience react to the text- however, my throat is beginning to feel permanently bruised, I’m running out of performance lipstick and to be honest, I’ll be pretty glad to give the public appearances a rest for a wee while, if only to catch up with my laundry, (I’ve not a stitch of clean, authorial black clothing left to wear).

On Monday I go back to writing my second novel, Roundabouts. I left it at the awkward halfway point, hanging 50,000 words in, between infancy and completion. Part of me can’t wait to get back to it. Emma and Stevie, my lead characters, have not let me be over the last eight weeks. Little nuggets of ideas have bubbled to the surface in the middle of the night; plot twists and conversations combining with my missing bedroom curtains to ensure I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in weeks. The idea of retreating to a coffee shop, slipping on the headphones and blocking out the real world is infinitely appealing. I’m aiming to have this novel completed by November 1st, which means at least 50,000 more words in 4 months. That’s just over 10,000 words a month, a mere 3,000 per week. Surely that should be achievable considering the Arts Council have supplied me with the means to forget about work for 3 out of 4 of those months. Completing Roundabouts, I keep reassuring myself, is no big task.

Then I begin to get overwhelmed by the prospect. It’s not time nor energy which worries me, it’s the emotions involved in trying to improve upon, or at very least equal, previous efforts at writing. Over the last two months lots of people have said lots of very complementary things about my writing. Malcolm Orange has been championed by people whose writing and judgment I’ve held on a much-deserved pedestal for a long time. Though the process has been a little overwhelming, I’m beginning to come round to the idea of being quietly and modestly proud of Malcolm. I’m just not sure if I can manage to wade my way through another novel.

So, this weekend, with Tuesday 1st July (my proposed re-entry point for Roundabouts), looming like the first day of a new term, I’m feeling rather fragile. What if the ideas just won’t translate to paper? What if the first 50,000 words are rubbish and the next 50,000 traipse merrily down the same path? What if I’m one of those writer who only has one decent book in them? All of these are legitimate questions; little demons which need to be stared down each time I sit in front of the keyboard. Regardless of all my current insecurities, (and, despite the kind words, let me admit that I have never been more artistically insecure), the fact remains that I will have to write on Tuesday. Not because of deadlines or duty or even some self-righteous drive to prove myself, but simply because I cannot keep from writing and these last two months- my longest period of creative abstinence in almost a decade- I have felt like a large and rather significant part of me has been missing. I’m stealing myself for the week ahead; two parts terrified, one part more than ready to get back on t


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