My Juvenilia and The Opening Line That Wasn’t


I was 16 and practically the same but for a hideous mane of long, straggly brown hair with orange highlights. I had just finished struggling through The Satanic Verses. I’d taken it to Germany where I spent many a journey on slow trains, puff-puff-puffing their way through the Bavarian countryside, with the battered book on my knee, trying to make sense of it all. Bizarrely-named angels, and evil and the Muslims didn’t like it: it went something like that. Still though, I used torn up bits of receipts from purchases of Puffreiss Schokolade in Müller to mark interesting passages, which I later transcribed into a notebook, in case I ever decided to emulate Rushdie’s descriptive style, which I must have assumed would be a piece of cake.

My literary aspirations began early in life; in fact they were very much present before I could read and write. At the age of three, I was inspired by numerous attempted break-ins to our home to compose my first work of non-fiction, which I titled “The Book of Burglars”. It was a no-nonsense guide to local criminals, which I penned with help from the local Gardaí, who had shown me an enormous, hard-bound book with an austere brown cover full of photographs of known criminals in the Rathmines area. I illustrated the book interpretively and filled its pages with line after line of elaborate pencil swirls, which I supposed represented the words I was imagining writing. In hindsight, it was rather a reasonable conclusion to draw, given that I had witnessed countless adults sign their name with a scribble that bore no resemblance to the letters of the alphabet of which I had by then become cognisant.

When I subsequently added literacy to my repertoire, I concentrated my efforts on the story of Spook, a castle-dwelling ghost-child, who gets separated from his parents only to be re-united with them at a banquet, where he enjoys (what in my 6-year-old eyes was) the ultimate consolation prize after an agonising ordeal: a drink of 7Up.

As I turned nine and became politically aware, (where such consciousness has since departed is anybody’s guess) my literary efforts were directed to a novella on the subject of the war in Kosovo. Alina’s Story told the tale of a girl and her family struggling to come to terms with the effects of ethnic cleansing in her village. It was written as part of a class project and my older sister of 13 kindly agreed to be my editor. Her decisions and re-writings may have been difficult to reconcile with my original vision, but I was convinced of her sagacity and the finished work is testament to her editorial skill.

Alina's Story, First Edition

When I turned 16, my hairstyle and literary interests took a new direction. I became immersed in the realm of the hypothetical and was in no small part inspired by Rushdie to create an unintelligible literary landscape of my own. It was my solipsistic phase, you see. I considered the predominant preoccupations of my life: self-loathing and the feeling of inadequacy and decided, delightedly that I would transmute these singular insights into a mytho-historical landscape. I imagined a people and land far away from mine and outside of the inconvenience of an established historical timeframe. These people lived in a country that looked precisely how I had pictured Rushdie’s India to be. They had inherited self-loathing, which was rooted somewhere in a bitter historical event (possibly a world war) which had generated, across generations, a learned guilt. I wrote 26 words of that epic work. I have lost the original to a large mainframe Pakard Bell computer but I had enough foresight to commit the 26-word opening line to memory. Here I admit it, for the first time to public view. It went like this:

The self-hatred of the Rahadan race was not ancient, but had existed long enough for the Purkhan family of four generations not to know anything else.

That line concluded my Juvenilia. Little did I know then to what my literary aspirations would amount: a paltry offering of my miscellaneous adventures to the blogosphere. Should have stayed in the genre of mythic-realism. Glad the orange highlights grew out though.

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15 thoughts on “My Juvenilia and The Opening Line That Wasn’t

  1. Sorry about the orange highlights; hairdressing may not have been my calling. Nor editing for that matter. However, I would like you to finish your masterpiece on self-loathing – that first line has hooked me already, and it would be a true tragedy if I can never read the rest.

    • Those highlights had their charm; of that I am sure. I actually read Alina’s Story today. Turns our you wrote the whole thing! It’s genuinely excellent – what a talented sista you are. Hmm, I’m not sure I could go back to quite the level of self-loathing required to complete that work, but who knows? Strangers things have happened..

  2. (however, re-claiming editorial entitlements: I would be interested in seeing the family names transplanted into generic suburbia – Smith, Jones – and contrasting the epic nature of generational dysfunction with the 9-5 grind and aspirations of a nice 3-bed semi-de in Stallorgan)

  3. LOVE the picture, and the blog …even though I always prefer your earlier stuff 😉

    “When I subsequently added literacy to my repertoire” made me laugh aloud, a lol if you will.

    I maintain that I really like your opening sentence of the novel you’d planned only two short years ago. It certainly beats, if you’ll allow me to paraphrase them, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ (clichéd and indecisive), ‘it was a cold april morning and the clocks were striking thirteen’ (factually inaccurate) and ‘every happy family is alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ (vague).

    Also, I found “little did I know then to what my literary aspirations would amount: a paltry offering of my miscellaneous adventures to the blogosphere” to be inaccurate as I genuinely think it’s consistently well written and that you’re amazing.

  4. You still have a little of your unsureness in this piece Kate. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Your work is timely and it will blossom before you’ve realized it’s happened. Your piece on the Wild West captured me in the first paragraph. I would have enjoyed more of the ‘lonliness’ factor of the fisherman. Push your feelings more. Pull what you are feeling and let it do the writing for you.

    r

  5. I loved the picture of you when you were young! 😀 Sorry, the picture literally took all of my attention;)
    Yes, and it’s really inspiring to know that you had this aspiration to write since young. I only remembered that I simply love to read and I teared each time I read something touching. Didnt have a single streak of creativity.
    And I would like to let you know – you have been a great source of inspiration/motivation to me through your writing – continue to keep faith in your literary talent and I am confident you will be able to find what you are looking for:)

    • Clariice, first of all let me thank you for YOUR encouragement! You are my earliest and certainly most loyal reader and I really appreciate all your insightful comments! I think that the fact that you were moved to tears as a child is indicative of an early sensibility which certainly manifests itself in what you write now. I think that appreciating words and stories means much more than to produce them, even though that’s what I keep striving to do!

      • I have a question though – does sensibility and boring go hand in hand? And what does sensibilities entail really?
        And though I found that I do look for novelty most of the times, I just havent seem to have found my final goal either…

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