In celebration of International Writers’ Day 2021, Naas librarian and highly acclaimed author, Wayne Byrne, gives us Five Things that have shaped his work in literature.
- Film – The motion picture has been the single most important factor in me becoming a writer. And I don’t mean that in the sense that I write about Cinema, I’ve written about plenty of other things in my career, including music, food, books, and other assorted topics, but it is because of the huge and crucial influence that Film has had on my life that I am even writing this piece in the first place. When I was younger, my love of Film was such that I didn’t really prepare to do anything else in life, I had no Plan B. I struggled toward finishing school as someone who had no interest in or time for academia, but I put all my hopes on going to study Film; I wouldn’t even consider any other subject, nothing else existed to me nor inspired the kind of fervour that I had for Cinema. Then I got turned away from all of our national educational institutions that offered a Film Studies degree. According to administrative letters, I was deemed “unsuitable”. Ultimately, that didn’t matter, I still had the greatest teachers of all in my DVDs and VHS tapes, and the greatest lecture hall of all in my living room, and that, as always, is where I was educated in my field. Film gave back to me when it inspired me to write, and that writing led to new possibilities, a new career, and a new life. It also gave me an opportunity to teach Film, where once I wasn’t deemed worthy enough to even study the subject. So, Film has really been a good friend. Speaking of which…
- Friends – No, not the TV show, although I do refer to one of the men who made it: Nick McLean, the cinematographer of said ‘90s sitcom. Nick and I became good friends when I met him as I was working on my Burt Reynolds book. I had interviewed him for that and our discussions were so much fun I ended up suggesting we write a book on his career. Of course I was very familiar with Nick’s work, all of those classic movies that he shot including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, The Goonies, City Heat, Being There, and the TV shows Friends, Cybill, and Evening Shade. Those were all part of my life growing up, so Nick’s visuals were already seared into my brain, which made writing about the work so much easier. I have very little specific recollections of the actual writing process of that book, Nick McLean Behind The Camera, because it was such an effortless journey, it feels as if it wrote itself. Nick was always present and an endless source of information, nothing was ever a chore about that book, it just seemed to fall together and remains the book that I receive most attention for. We gelled so well that we toured Ireland as a duo discussing Nick’s time working on some of the biggest films and TV shows of all time. We were welcomed by some wonderful theatres and colleges, greeted by perfect strangers who asked for hugs and expressed their admiration to Nick for his work that is so beloved by multiple generations. I watched and smiled, overjoyed at the attention he received, living vicariously through the well-deserved approbation of Nick. Perhaps this level of emotional engagement in my subjects has spoiled me, but I have learned that I can only write about artists and art that I truly love. I have experienced a couple of failed projects that I abandoned for one reason or the other, and that largely came down to interpersonal disparities. I began work on one book that I ultimately binned, despite my enthusiasm for the project, because from the outset the director of that film and I were clearly not on the same wavelength. It was a torturous experiment that has led me to conclude that I can only write with and about people whose company I enjoy. No matter how great a film or work of art is that you want to write about, if the people you are working with make it a miserable exercise, why waste your time and sanity?
- Readers – One of the things that has inspired me to write as prolifically as I have is the encouragement and support of people who have enjoyed my books. Receiving good reviews is a wonderful experience, and I’m not sure if it is very hip or cool to admit that, but I always find it a thrill. Perhaps I won’t enjoy it so much if they ever become negative reviews, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. One of the greatest pleasures of all has been receiving photographs from readers in various countries, images of my books sitting on their shelf, on their bedside locker, on their coffee table. It is a tremendous feeling knowing that my work has literally become part of the furniture and part of someone’s personally curated collection of art works. Whether I find my work sitting on a shelf beside Joyce or the latest ghost-written Love Island autobiography, no sales report or royalty statement comes close to the joyful emotion of such a communication from a reader. I’ve also been most enraptured by artists whom I deeply adore and whose work has influenced me greatly when they have in turn been wonderful supporters of my work and photographically captured such to my great delight.
- Pressure – I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense, I’m talking about the kind of positive pressure that gets oneself in motion to produce a book that will be in the shops within eighteen months of that first click of the Microsoft Word symbol. I’ve never gone more than a few days between publishing contracts, and in some cases I have taken on two at once. Of course, a contract means a deadline, and a deadline means having to get work done, so there isn’t much waiting around for your muse to strike, as once you sign that contract the clock is ticking and sentences need to be strung together. My first book was written across five years, because I only sought a contract when it was completed, rather than before it began, so there was absolutely no temporal weight bearing down on me to finish it. However, on all subsequent books the contract was in place before I put a single word on a page, and generally I have agreed to a one-year deadline, a timeframe I find most agreeable. It is long enough to begin arranging any necessary interviews, assemble any research materials, stock the liquor cabinet, and begin formulating your magnum opus before you begin typing words; it is also short enough to get one focused and disciplined.
- Leopard Print Pyjamas – Essential attire for those long nights of “research” screenings. You’ve gotta be comfortable when you write, right?