Tuesday 24 January 2012

Why I write - Part 2 of 3

At an early age I’d set my sights on becoming a writer and spent the rest of my time at primary school, and a few years of grammar school, thinking that it was a viable possibility. Unfortunately, by the time it came to choosing my GCSEs I had been disillusioned. We were given flowcharts and instruction manuals by our careers teacher. The poorly photocopied literature provided suggested ‘pathways’ to professional careers. Accountant, barrister, doctor… Writer as a profession was glaringly absent. Bollocks.

As far as St Colman’s College, Newry, was concerned, you studied to go to university. In university you studied to acquire a vocation. If you didn’t have the aptitude to contribute to an exemplary level of achievement and advance the school’s league records, you could expect to receive advice of NVQs, GNVQs and apprenticeships. These were options my parents persuaded me to avoid. So I found myself aimlessly slogging through GCSEs and then A Levels with limited enthusiasm. I showed some flair for English, especially the restricted amount of creative writing permitted, but this was salt in the wounds really. I gleaned some praise for my imaginings but no real advice that would help me turn it into a career. Journalism was the closest possibility but on an island obsessed with politics I barely understood, I had little love for the idea.

I was accepted into Queen’s University, Belfast, after underachieving in my A Levels. I had discovered alcohol and girls by then and enjoyed them with the lack of sophistication expected from a teenager. Studying was not high up on my list of priorities. I also played in a band at the time. Bass guitar, because it was easier than lead guitar, more prestigious than rhythm guitar and there were less bassists than guitarists in my neck of the woods which increased your chances of getting into a decent four or five-piece. At one point I played for three groups. Anyway, with my focus split this way, it was not very surprising to me that I bombed out of Queen’s. I was too hungover to sit my exams and too distracted to really consider the consequences of such idiocy. But, Jesus, I had a great time that year.

So, there I was, a failure and not particularly heartbroken about it. Sure a degree in English Literature would do fuck all for me anyway. Would it get me published? No. It’d just get in my way. I needed to learn how to live life, then I could write, damn it.

So I got a job at a timber yard. Got some experience there. Learned some new and inventive ways to swear, developed a rash on my chin that wouldn’t let up and saw somebody lose a finger in a vicious machine. The lost finger was enough to send me looking for a new job. I decided to work somewhere that wouldn’t endanger my digits. After a brief stint of stacking pancakes at the Mother’s Pride bakery I landed a cushy number in a public sector office. The Belfast Education and Library Board, to be precise. Found it mind-numbing but less dangerous than manual labour. And it’d pay the bills until I figured out how to get into the writing racket.

Twelve years have passed since then and I still work in the same building.

I am grateful for my day job, though, even if I’m less than enthusiastic about it. Over the last twelve years it has provided me with a home, a series of cars, paid for my wedding, supported my children and funded my unhealthy relationship with alcohol. And each job I’ve done within the organisation (I have been promoted a number of times, and quite recently, demoted) has been just uninspiring enough to urge me to find an alternative source of satisfaction.

So I write.


seana graham said...

Bombing out of college is certainly one of the more tried and true writerly paths. Besides, you've made your way back there now.

The wild teen years, though deplorable, have given you some great material for your fiction, judging by what I've read.

Gerard Brennan said...

Seana - Can't argue with that. I'm spoiled for material, really.