This is a new feature to this blog. I know, I know, everyone else has been doing it forever – but I’m a slow learner. Now and then I’ll invite other writers to use this space for short essays. My first guest is Daniel Seery, whose first novel A Model Partner came out last year. (See below for more info.)
There was an elderly man who sold programmes at the Shelbourne FC matches in Tolka Park every week. I know this because I used to be on the opposite side of the stall trying to flog tickets for the half-time draw.
‘Programme of the game,’ he’d roar. ‘Fishing programme.’
I did briefly wonder why this man was trying to sell fishing programmes at a football match but I was of an adolescent age where I didn’t overly contemplate the world around me. It was only when I received the lofty promotion to programme seller a few months later that I realised his hollering had nothing to do with fishing.
‘Official programmes,’ I clarified for one of my fellow traders. ‘He’s saying official programmes.’
This revelation was greeted with a disbelieving shake of the head and an extra bundle of programmes for me to peddle.
There are many reasons behind misunderstandings in my life. Youth. Ignorance. Distraction. But the latest one and by far the most dangerous is social media. The ease at which innocent comments might be misconstrued is terrifying. Especially with the blatant, some might say ‘hippy’, disregard for grammar that comes with social media. Sarcasm and humour can fleetingly go astray and there’s not always room for a ‘Laugh Out Loud’ acronym when dealing with 140 characters. Besides, for a long time I thought LOL stood for ‘lots of love’. I’ll admit to having a very confused and disturbed relationship with social media in those early days.
The problem is intensified with the emergence of everyday folk using social media as a means to build an online brand for their own personality, inclusive of social habits, global causes or political leanings. This has led to a kind of moral policing of the environment, with users sniffing out anything that looks like an ugly or opposing opinion. And if mistakes are found, news spreads rapidly. Picture a fat out-of-control snowball rolling down a gargantuan hill. Years ago you would have had to record the office racist and somehow get it played on a national broadcaster to have the same effect. And even then, the notoriety would be short lived, more than likely disappearing into some dusty archive along with early episodes of Pat’s Chat and The Riordans.
Beyond social media, the whole writing environment also widens the risk of being misunderstood. There is the peril of a careless remark at an interview or a lazy blog sentence. It may even be an unconsidered angle spotted by a reader. Because the writer may produce a single book but it will be read in many different ways.
After the release of my debut novel a couple of reviewers misunderstood the title of the book, mentioning how they had been expecting a different kind of novel. And doesn’t that just show the power and beauty of words, how merely putting a handful together can evoke so much in the imagination of others. But it does mean even more debate for me when choosing the title of my next novel.
There’s a supporting character in the piece I’m working on now, an antiquated bitter script agent called Shelley who has some advice when choosing a film title which could apply to books as well. Shelley insists against using political movements in the title. ‘No political figures or party names,’ he says. No use of the word existential, intercourse or corpse. Avoid putting any numbers in the title too. That could get confusing if a sequel ever comes out. And above all else, do not have a title similar to an already established piece of work.’
That last bit of advice rules out some great titles like ‘New Ways To Kill Your Mother’ and ‘Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither’. But the big question is – does it also rule out The Fishing Programme??
Daniel Seery is a writer from Dublin. His debut novel A Model Partner was published by Liberties Press in March 2014. His work has appeared in local and national publications including The Irish Times, The Stinging Fly and Solas Nua and he was the resident writer in the Axis Centre, Ballymun. He has also written and directed a play The One We Left Behind which ran in a number of venues in 2012. Dan has a blog too @ http://danielseery.com/