Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Cause and Effect?

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Second thoughts

Sometimes – often? – writing can bring on delusions. Really.

Bear in mind that there’s a critical difference between falling into the unconscious or uncontrolled delusional fantasies, and diving into same. This ‘falling/diving’ dichotomy is used to comment on the difference between Lucia Joyce’s sad life bound up in severe mental illness, and the products of her father’s imaginings and explorations beneath the surface of life and language.

Oftentimes when writing, strange and unplanned things can fly off the end of the pencil and turn out to have origins in identifiable places: newspaper articles, a novel, a character in a movie, an event in history, a remark, a line of poetry. Imagination and memory are far from being watertight containers. Indeed, memory is more complex, more suspect even, than it is to be taken as simple and innocent.

Making stuff up is the task at hand, remember: dreaming up stuff is matter of bread and butter here. This seems to shock some readers. “You mean it’s all made up..?” Uh uh. That response is more a tribute to the power of the reader’s suspension of disbelief than any plausibility or veracity of detail in the story: it is the reader who 'makes' the story.

That said, I often aim too much at GPS level detail of streetscapes and places. In former years, I’d parley with family in Ireland and get them to write down steps between a certain place and a corner, or to take a snapshot. More recently of course, an email or chat results in a photo zinging in from my brother or sister’s phone while they go about their business over there. No words need be texted either: the photo tells all.

At any rate, the delusion that’s scratching at the back door of my mind lately is that there is some synchronicity at work. By this I mean some mysteriously guided set of events that is connecting with what I am imagining and writing into this book ‘Haywire.’ It doesn’t take much to imagine that there is even some cause and effect at work in here too. So, goes this delusion, if I write about a person committing suicide in a pub in the centre of Dublin, then a corollary real world event will follow.

Well that is nonsense. It even overlaps descriptions of the symptoms or of psychotic states. So nonsense to that for an idea of causation, and double nonsense because such an event is unheard of, even in contemporary Ireland.
Except this very event happened last week. A late middle aged man entered a well known pub, went to the toilet (= ‘washroom’ in Ireland) and blew his brains out.

Less shocking was another item. I had hardly finished word-processing a section of the story where a Garda (Irish cop) and his family are threatened. The threat was delivered via a small plastic baggie – yes, very much what street level drug dealers use– containing two bullets left outside the door to the cop’s mother’s home. Along with it was a piece of paper: ‘To X and his mother.’

So the threat was explicit and broad, and serious. Cops are threatened in near-routine encounters on duty of course, but a threat like this, coolly composed and delivered, is of a different order. My sources in the Garda may be editing what they reveal to me – surprise – when they tell me that this is a rare occurrence, very rare indeed. Coppers have their reasons to keep this to themselves, you can be sure, and there may well be an absolute embargo on any info like this leaking out too. Guards can be very helpful, very informal and very candid, but there is a blue wall. To be ‘a member of the force’ (i.e. A Garda Síochana) is to be behind the ramparts as regards chat with non-‘members’ and the drawbridge can go up very fast. Still I decided to run with this ‘threat’ in the plot. To me it’s plausible.

Within ten days (I counted back), I was scanning the Irish newspapers online and there was the shock news of a Garda detective from the Drugs Squad (same unit as my character) being threatened… by means of bullets delivered to his home.

This happened several times writing the Minogue series: an airing of the secretive Catholic Opus Dei movement’s membership amongst Irish elites ended up with a friend there asking how I knew that Y was an Opus Dei member? I didn’t.

Again, that there are exotic mixes of criminals operating in Ireland today is not as widely known as it could be, even in Ireland. An acquaintance there wryly poked fun at me putting in Albanian, Serbian and Russian gangsters some years ago (Albanian gangsters … in Ireland: now there’s a thought for fans of globalization or organizational behaviour) as though it was pure invention to add a spicy (?) international dimension to matters Irish. An Albanian – identified as a criminal - was shot dead in a dispute some months later.

I prefer to think of these events as me picking up signals or patterns that are not yet reported on, or widely known, a sort of bleeding edge. At a reach, call it ‘coincidences in advance.’ It’s less astral travel than it is the murky process of getting things up from memory and imagination for a story.

So naturally, being a rational adult, superstition has no decent place in the business of writing a realistic, gritty tale of crime Irish style. Right?

If it were that simple.

It brings to mind that oft-quoted response of a farmer who was asked why he simply didn’t plough and seed a bushy area in his field, and for that matter, why his forebears had left this awkward spot untilled also. His response was that it was a fairy fort i.e. a redoubt of the Little People. Did he actually believe in fairies then, was the predictable question. He certainly did not, he averred (other words were used also). Did they take him to be an iijit to be believing in such nonsense? Moments passed, and so did the testiness. Then the farmer murmured, as though he wished not to be caught in a lie, “but they’re probably there all the same, I daresay.”

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Brady

John Brady is the author of the acclaimed Matt Minogue mystery novels. His first Matt Minogue mystery novel, A Stone of the Heart, won the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award, and his novels Unholy Ground, Kaddish In Dublin, All Souls and The Good Life have all been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. The sixth novel in the series, Islandbridge, was shortlisted for the Dashiell Hammett prize and his most recent, The Coast Road, was named a Globe & Mail Top 100 book for 2010.

Go to John Brady’s Author Page