Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rubbing Shoulders with Nuala

A few weeks ago on this blog I mentioned Bryant Park, which as you probably gathered is one of my favourite spots in New York. One part of the park I especially like is the ‘Reading Room’ – a tradition from the 1930’s which they brought back in 2003. The ‘Reading Room’ consists of trolleys of books and magazines that people can read for free while in the park, there’s no ticketing system or anything, you just read them and they trust you’ll put them back.

So, being a marketer and a first time novelist who just happens to have four copies of her book with her I decided to surreptitiously leave a book on the trolley. Funny how I felt so conspicuous, hanging around until the librarian was well over the other side. I think it would have been easier to actually steal a book rather than leave mine behind. One the advice of a friend I inscribed the book, to the readers of Bryant Park, saying how much I loved the place and I hope that whoever found it enjoyed the book.

That was a couple of weeks ago and each time I pass, I casually stop - as if browsing you understand. Only hours after ‘the drop’ I was delighted to see the book was gone! I scoured all the trolleys and got a little carried away. Maybe it had been stolen? Perhaps for sale on Ebay? Surely that would be the ultimate compliment! Alas, a few days later it reappeared, not on the ‘Classics’ section where I’d put it originally (it was the closest trolley to the edge) but on the bottom shelf of another trolley, next to a copy of Nuala O’Faolain’s “My Dream of You.”

I never met Nuala in person but from reading her memoirs I felt like I knew her, and like many other people, felt that we shared a love of lots of the same things – Raymond Carver for example, New York, Berlin. I’ll admit that seeing my book there, next to hers with Manhattan bustling all around gave me quite the thrill.

In the past few weeks, my book has come and gone, come and gone and now even proudly carries a yellow sticker declaring that it is the property of the Bryant Park Reading Room. Needless to say Nuala’s has come and gone several times too, but somehow they always seem to find their way back together again. Perhaps it’s because they are the same height – the librarian seems to favour filing by shape and size – but sitting there every morning making out my notes for the day ahead I like to let my imagination play, and in the dappled September light of the trees it’s easy to believe it’s something more than that, just for a few minutes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

It’s been a while since my last post. Nearly two weeks. But I have an excuse, several in fact. I am in New York, which means there’s a lot to do to distract me from blogging. And the fact that I am writing a novel, which means any writing brainpower should be channeled towards that. And, best excuse of all, I survived a tornado!

OK, so there is no direct link between the tornado and my lack of blog posts but it’s really just an excuse to write about it. Being Irish, I haven’t really experienced extremes of weather before. When I see rain and lightning and wind that makes the tops of the trees going wild I think it’s just a storm. And even when the thunder claps are threatening to smash the window and it sounds like someone is tapdancing on the roof I think it’s just a bad storm. That’s what happened last Thursday, around five thirty and it was only half an hour later when all was quiet and I went to venture out to yoga I realised the extent of the damage.

For anyone who has never been to Brooklyn, the first thing that differentiates it from other boroughs is the trees. Each block has four or five or six of them –big sycamores and oaks and elms that push up the flagstones on the sidewalk. As I walked my short seven block walk to my yoga studio, I lost count of the number of them that had been hit. They had gaping holes where they’d lost branches, some still hanging on by a slim ribbon of wood. One was completely cracked in half, like a mirror of itself. The debris littered the paths and the roads, stopped some people getting into their houses. Cars drove slowly negotiating their way around fallen branches big as tree trunks, mounds of leaves. They stopped at each corner where the walk/ don’t walk signs were stuck on both. It was like something from a movie and on one corner where they’d been trying to make a movie I found three men standing around some crumpled piece of scaffolding, flattened and leaning onto the road, their hands on hips unsure of what to do.

By the next morning I found out it was a tornado, not just a storm. That someone in Queens had died. In Fort Greene Park the workers were out in force clearing up the damage, talking about overtime. The giant American Elm at the entrance on Willoughby had been struck, hundreds of years of tree split down the middle, felled, just like that. Someone had wrapped yellow tape around it, the kind like in the cop shows that they put around the bodies. Like a few other passersby I stopped and looked, watched the squirrels as they ran along the now horizontal branches, chased each other through the leaves.

It’s nearly a week later and everywhere is cleaned up, the sidewalks are clear again, traffic lights and train lines working. Some of the trees that are still standing are just hollow pieces of wood, reaching to the sky. They don’t know they’re dead yet. Most of them survived, their scars new and visible, light whitish wood where pieces of them were ripped away. After a while though the bark will grow back and you won’t notice the missing branches, their unbalanced shapes. And soon they’ll lose their leaves anyway, they’re already starting to, and in spring they’ll grow again and wait to ride out the next storm.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Two answers and a question..

One of the many things I like about being here in NYC is the amount of readings that are on. And that they're all free.

There's pretty much someone reading somewhere every night of the week and this week I've seen two, AL Kennedy and Jonathan Franzen.

AL Kennedy's reading was on Monday - Labour Day - and she got a pretty decent turnout. Turns out she does stand up comedy too which I didn't know, but then again, not having read her before there's a lot I don't know about her. She was very witty and self deprecating - not sure the audience got all her jokes - and read from a work in progress novel about two people falling in love which already seems doomed for disaster. Afterwards she spent a lot of time answering questions in a sort of roundabout way. The only one she answered with any level of certainty was mine, when I asked if writing novels became easier or harder. "Harder," she said. "Definitely."

Last night, I went to see Jonathan Franzen who is very much the man of the moment over here, appearing on the cover of Time magazine and being touted as the greatest American novelist of all time. Not surprisingly, Barnes and Noble on Union Square was packed. I arrived 50 minutes early and got a seat about 20 rows from the front, by the time he came on there must've been 500 people there, many of them standing. Seems there's been some hoo-haa over here about chick lit with some female writers claiming that only white, male writers living in Brooklyn receive this kind of media attention over here. Not being from here I don't know how valid this is but they probably have a point. When JF was asked for his view, he was pretty quiet about it, only pointing out he doesn't, and never has, lived in Brooklyn.

He read from his latest novel, "Freedom", nine years in the making and, it seems, worth the wait. I wasn't the biggest fan of "The Corrections" in the world but last night his 38 minute reading seemed to fly by and I held onto every word. At the end someone asked him if he could write a book a year. "No," he said. "Next question" and that was that.

So now I have a question. If writing novels gets harder and the reputed greatest American novelist of our time takes nine years to do it, then why the heck are the rest of us expected to do it in 12 months? And how many better books would there be out there if we were all given more time?

Time to go for a late lunch and muse over that rhetorical question. And to my editor, if you're reading, don't worry, that second novel is coming on fine. Just fine...!