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.