Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Wandering Rocks and Sirens - Dublin and Writers

Wandering Rocks, but alas no Sirens

On Thursday, as my plane manoeuvred towards its gate at Dublin airport, the first thing I saw was a hare, lolloping along the runway. It was unperturbed, pausing here and there to take in the mechanical beasts around it, and then heading straight down the tarmac as if about to launch itself into the sky.
It was a suitable omen. In my 30 hours in Joyce’s city I only stopped moving briefly when sleep demanded it. I was there for the launch of Labello Press’s first anthology of short stories, which you can read about, and see pictures of, here.

Labello was created by Deborah MacMenamy and I’m very proud to be part of her first anthology anyway, but going to the launch and meeting some of the other contributors, as well as enthusiastic readers, was good for the spirits as a writer. Sometimes I forget that anyone beyond my writers’ group (TheWriter’s Lab, at Brick Lane) ever hears or reads my work, and it is a wonderful kind of shock to be approached by a stranger who can tell you all about your characters! Deborah did an amazing job in creating the book and bringing us all together, and I hope we’ll work together in the future.

Having recovered from my public reading, and the (medicinal) wine that followed, I set out the next day to traipse the streets of Dublin. I had spent the night before my flight taking part in the recording of another podcast for www.bigreads.co.uk, where month by month we are dissecting JamesJoyce’s Ulysses, so I was full of the joys of the Wandering Rocks and Sirens chapters. Reading and researching in order to have something worthwhile to say for these podcasts is hard work and time consuming, but it has been more than worth it. (The Sirens episode, where Joyce deploys techniques and structures from music to create a fugue-like chapter of overlapping voices, sounds and ideas, has been my absolute favourite so far – in fact I might be driven to write a whole blog post about it.)

Joyce was not actually resident in Dublin when he wrote Ulysses, but spent much time poring over a map of the city while plotting the movements and encounters of his characters. Wandering Rocks is the maestro performance of this technique, with every character so far mentioned in the book, as well some new ones, criss-crossing the city over an hour. We catch the same sights from their many angles, watch them notice one another or stop to talk, all the while enjoying an inventory of the streets, pubs, waterways and shops of the city.

My wanderings took me along many of Leopold Bloom’s paths. I went to the National Museum to see if I could spot the statue’s bums that Bloom checked for anatomical details (ahem), but found instead a horde of Celtic gold. My glass of wine at Davy Byrne’s missed an accompanying gorgonzola sandwich, but allowed me to hear some good gossip between women over their pints. I passed the same places, even the same faces, over and over, and talked to more people than I talk to in London in a week. My only disappointment was that the site of the Sirens chapter – the Ormond Quay hotel – had closed. Still, it meant I had a wistful moment by the Liffey, just like Bloom did watching the birds, both wondering about happiness, both wondering where to stop for lunch.