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Why We Write

As you know, we just voted for equal marriage in Ireland.

I posted and shared and liked a lot of stuff on my facebook page recently regarding that vote. I also wrote a blog post and even reposted it the day before the referendum.

As an author, perhaps I shouldn’t put such political or religious sensitive material things out there. I’ve been told to be careful. There can be a backlash against it, and it can hurt your career as an author. I learned this from the experience of another author who I follow on facebook. Someone didn’t like the author’s opinion in regarding the Irish vote for Equal Marriage. And they lowered themselves to dirty tricks.

Which is very sad.

Do we always have to care what people think to respect their work?

I mean, I don’t like Tom Cruise much as a personality, but I think he’s a great actor and I watch his movies – ditto for Mel Gibson.

Of course, in my own case, I believe I am on the right side of the arguments, and hope it will make people more receptive to my writing, in the end.

Because why do I write?

Let me say first, in answer to my own question, that I don’t care much about an author’s opinions.

I follow Anne Rice on facebook. I love that she’s cool, and that she replied to my email when I pointed out a typo in one of her books. But I read her books before I found out she was cool, and would have kept reading, despite her political views. I have rarely looked up information on the authors whose books I have read. I don’t think many people do. Even vegans read The Old Man and the Sea and see the quality of the book.

But many readers do care about the writers. They want to like the author.

I hope that these readers don’t hate my books (or pretend to hate them because they don’t like me).

I am sure, on the contrary, that if they hate what I say then they will hate what I write.

For what are my books if not attempts to tell a story at the same time as awaken consciousness, make the reader aware of a topic, make them think, change them a little, for the better, for having read them? (High aspirations, I know, but we must try. If we don’t try save the planet we are certainly doomed.)

As an example, a post I wrote about farmers illegally burning land in Ireland got much more coverage than most of my musings and was sent around facebook quite a bit (to my amazement). I looked through a few comments (Okay, all of them) and found nothing but agreement, even with my use of bad words.

Every author, I think, tries to change their reader.

And to a certain extent, we have a responsibility to do so. Just this week, George Monbiot took a children’s author to task for contributing to the whitewashing of the realities of intensive farming for food and milk production.

There are some who write just to thrill, to scare, for the enjoyment of making the reader have an emotion.

I do too. But I also want the reader to pause, to learn a little.

I know I’m not alone. Before the internet came about to let us connect to the daily musings of our favourite writers, everyone could get a sense of the writer’s opinions from their novels. I never knew anything about Rolling Stone Magazine until I read Stephen King’s Firestarter. But it gave me an insight into King that none of his shared postings on the internet have altered.

I know it’s not considered good writing to have the reader pause, to look up from the page to have to go and look up a word, or a reference. Perhaps.

But I love those kind of books. I like being immersed in a movie so much that I don’t notice two hours go by, but afterwards, I like to be able to talk about it, about the parts that I haven’t quite figured out. I love the same with books, though I can take a break in the middle rather than waiting till the end. I love spending two hours on wikipedia or youtube, filling in blanks and adding to my knowledge, like I did after I watched Pride last month.

If we writers really thought thinking was a bad thing, then why would be bother thinking up these stories?

And I have faith that thinking hasn’t gone completely out of fashion. Even though the thoughts are often depressing.

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Voting Yes for marriage equality in Ireland.

vote yes

A few months back, I talked about voting YES in a referendum. Now I’m back doing the same. Different topic, different country, but strangely, I can’t actually vote myself in this one, either.
Even though it’s an Irish referendum, and I’m obviously Irish.
Once you leave the island, you may as well not exist for the Irish government and civil service. They probably want people to leave so they have fewer people to canvas for votes.
I have missed a good many votes since I left home.
Some of them I wish I could have been there for. This is definitely one of them. There have been significant changes to our constitution before. This is no less important. It is more so, in fact. It proposes that we, the Irish, change our constitution to make it possible for anyone to marry anyone else. And to have a family the way they see fit.
It is apparently the first time in history an entire nation has had the opportunity to do this. Other countries with free marriage changed their laws in parliament.
Ireland has a well-written and strong constitution. We the people have a lot of power. Luckily, given the shower of gombeens that usually “leads” us.
This May 22nd, we can show the world that the Irish are indeed, an independent nation. Nearly a hundred years after our attempts to overthrow the heavy jackboot of a foreign invader, we can demonstrate a different type of independence. We are at last free from the shadow of a false morality, the lying claims of a moral superiority that locked up unmarried mothers, that made grandmothers pretend to have infants in their forties, that forced a lot of good people to do a lot of stupid and awful things. One of which was hide their true selves from the world – from their own friends and family.
I had a long facebook discussion with someone who was worried about the effects of this law on children. Not on the direct impact of having a gay parent, but of having to deal with bullies who might make fun of a child with gay parents. The person had witnessed a child in the nineties being made fun of because her parents had split up (yes, Ireland was that closed minded still then: at least some were)
No matter how I explained that this person was actually arguing against their own logic, the fear of children suffering because we haven’t changed the world to perfect yet led her to believe we should wait until the world is perfect before we change it.
I think this person is just not used to the world the way it is now, is afraid of change to the way things always were in Ireland way back then. I’ve since learned that the No campaign have purposefully brought children into the picture to muddy the waters…
I was thinking about old people today, as I cycled along a busy main street. A handful of pensioners were on the side of the road, about five feet from the edge, ready to make a break between cars. I wondered how they could be in such a rush as to endanger themselves. But they probably don’t see it that way. They have always jaywalked, and they’re not going to stop now. It’s why old people are the ones who don’t wear seatbelts – they’re used to the old ways. And they want the old ways to stay, sometimes. No matter how much pain and suffering and often death the old ways caused, and knowing in their heart of hearts that the new way is probably better. It’s why I don’t wear a bike helmet in the city (for the record, bike helmets are like low energy light bulbs: not the best solution to the problem at all – slow the cars down, make them a bit more respectful of cyclists and 90% of all serious accidents would disappear. In most car incidents, having a helmet doesn’t save the cyclists anyway). It’s why I as fast as I always did in my teens though I’m forty-one. But my daughter doesn’t complain about the helmet, nor do I feel quite right in a car unless I have my seatbelt on.
We accept the world we are born into.
That’s why we have to change the world now for our kids to accept the new reality as they grow up. They won’t make fun of the children of gay couples if they see that their parents don’t, or don’t allow it, if they live in a society where gay parents are accepted as just as normal as anyone else’s parents. I touched on this when I was talking about how Clarkson is a relic of an old world we don’t accept anymore.
Such changes can come quickly. Spain has had gay marriage for 8 years. It has only had democracy for 40. When I was born it was still a fascist dictatorship. Ireland has been a republic for 90 years. In some aspects we’re only catching up with the rest of Europe. But we’re finally here now.
We don’t frown on unmarried mothers or make unhappy couples stay together for life, or prevent them finding happiness with someone else. We frown upon counties who still restrict their citizens’ freedoms in ways we no longer do.
When the results of this referendum are out, we will be able to hold our heads high and claim a real moral high ground.
Show the world we’re grown up. Vote Yes.

The Wind has Changed

So my old mate Dave – that’s Sir David Attenborough to you lot – has come out.

Out of a slightly different kind of closet to the one you’re thinking of.

He’s said it.

He sees no reason not to reintroduce wolves to Scotland.

And at first I didn’t realise anything was out of the ordinary.

I mean, why wouldn’t he?

Well, there are some reasons.

But the times have changed. So quickly it’s rather astounding.

Suddenly rewilding is happening.

And it’s a little akin to our changing attitudes towards being gay, actually.

I’m forty, and I remember when I was in my twenties that coming out was an ordeal for most men, and women.

Lots of them didn’t, until they’d left university (with doctorates, not just bachelor degrees), until they’d left Ireland.

The idea of gay marriage was in the same category as human missions to Mars – some crazy fools were saying it would happen some day but most of us were fairly (but not rightfully) sceptical.

Well, maybe not in the same category as going to Mars – one is a worthwhile step forward for humanity, the other is just some geeks spending money making the masses wonder if perhaps we can survive without Earth.

Anyway, here we are : suddenly the right for gay people to marry is common fucking sense. People wonder why it’s taken us so long to cop on to the fact.

Even in middle America (as traditional as middle Earth in many aspects: Americans sometimes think they’re immune from the general rule that people in the centre of large land masses – like central Asia, the outback of Australia, WestMeath – are slow to change and often reluctant to keep up with the rest of the world. But they’re not) state after state is changing the law.

 

A lot of this is due to the direct action of brave citizens:: something rewilding advocate George Monbiot, and his new mate Russell Brand advocate for in lots of situations.

Wild boar were released (accidentally, in some cases) in several locations, in Britain and Ireland. At least in Britain, they were let live and the sky didn’t fall.

The Scottish government had a small experimental reintroduction of beavers, which they might recapture once their data is in… Meanwhile, beaver were released in another location in Scotland, and also in England, and suddenly people want them to stay.

The MFI millionaire who wants to have wolves on his estate also wants lynx. And now the path for at least a small lynx reintroduction is being laid (in birch tree plantings).

David Attenborough reckons a fence around those Allandale wolves is necessary.

But he never said that before.

All those years of wildlife work and I don’t recall him advocating wolf reintroduction to Britain once.

Why not?

Because it wasn’t a serious suggestion for a respected biologist to make.

I remember when I started my PhD thesis, on deer population biology and management. Twenty years ago now, too.

I was told there was a government scientist who worked on the deer in the same area (he actually ended up being my external examiner) who the hunting community disliked. Mostly they just thought he was an idiot for having voiced the opinion that wolves should be reintroduced to Ireland.

They called him “the wolfman.” Yeah, clever lads the Irish.

So I never voiced the opinion that I agreed.

I worked with those hunters on my project, and since in different ways (hunting myself, of course).

Wolf reintroduction was not something I ever mentioned to anyone but close friends.

Just over a year ago, I wrote an article for the Irish Wildlife Trust about deer management in Ireland (the link has since been removed when they rejigged their website. I must post the original here).

I didn’t mention wolves.

But then they asked me to.

So I did.

Not that enthusiastically.

I reckoned the readers who could have influence in implementing any change I advocated (mostly by getting more deer hunted to reduce numbers – not popular among many hunters) did not want to hear me talking shite about bring back the wolf. It was considered less than a pipedream: a sure sign of being a hippy and having taken too many drugs.

I did get some feedback from hunting organisations

But then I noticed that the wind had indeed shifted. Not much, but it wasn’t blowing my own piss back into my face.

I said in a blog post straight after, that if we didn’t start pushing now, we’d never get to realise our objective in twenty years. And it was my decision to start pushing myself.

Since then, I’ve blogged probably once a month about rewilding. And every month there are more articles about it in the newspaper.

The wind was blowing the other way.

Snowballs were rolling.

And growing.

The idea of rewilding Ireland, and Britain, has snowballed so big that the most influential biologist on the planet now thinks that the time has come, that the public can get their minds around it.

(Just to be clear: I’m sure Sir David always would have liked to see it. Now he feels he can say it. He’s lots more to lose than me. Well, the planet has more to lose, since Sir David has the standing to influence other places on the planet where protection and extinction prevention is paramount.)

There is nothing that can stop it, now.

Just like gay marriage, even in dear old quaint little ultra catholic Ireland where until after I was born unmarried mothers were living as slaves in state-sponsored laundries….

I only hope that things have changed so fast that we can have wild wolves not in twenty years, but two. And that Sir David can narrate the first documentary about their release.