‘Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.’ – Gustave Flaubert

‘Been working every day and going good. Makes a hell of a dull life too.’ – Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Malcolm Cowley

Flaubert’s advice is now an oft-quoted maxim for writers, and it certainly helps to have a routine. A life that is made of early mornings, healthy food, exercise, a dedicated time for writing and the same for reading, and early bedtimes, is ideal for a writer’s productivity. I have been adhering to this routine for a while now and while I can attest to its wisdom, it goes against my nature. I hate routine. It’s anathema to me. I’m also someone who enjoys other people, having chats and craic and great company, feeling like I’m a part of the world. As a result, quiet early nights and no socialising is not my first choice, but it has to be done.

Sometimes I think I picked the wrong career. Not only am I a very social person, but I’m also an incredibly impatient person which clearly isn’t ideal when you’re facing into a long creative process. I wonder is writing a novel actually the longest creative process there is? You can make a movie, record an album, paint a picture or choreograph a ballet in less time than it takes to write a novel. From my own experience and talking to other writers, it would appear that between two-and-a-half and four years is about average. Of course there are exceptions like On The Road (first draft written in three weeks) or The Sun Also Rises (first draft written in two months), but for the rest of us it takes a lot longer than that.

Sometimes I ask myself why I’m still writing. The answer is twofold. Firstly because it’s not a career that I chose, it’s more of a compulsion. I have written in one form or another (poetry, songs, attempts at short stories, two novels) since my teens and I suppose even if I never get a book deal, I’ll still feel compelled to write for the rest of my life.

Secondly because it’s the best job I’ve ever had. The rest of the Hemingway quote above is, ‘But it is more fun than anything else…Do you suffer when you write? I don’t at all. Suffer like a bastard when don’t write, or just before, and feel empty and fucked out afterwards. But never feel as good as while writing.’ Amen to that Ernest!

Paul Murray is one of my very favourite Irish writers and I have been eagerly awaiting his third novel since I put down his last one. The Mark and the Void was published last month and it tackles the financial crisis in Dublin as seen through the eyes of a French investment analyst working in the IFSC.

Claude Martingale works at the Bank of Torabundo, which has emerged largely unscathed from the crash. His colleagues include Ish, a hippy Australian girl, and Jurgen, his humourless German boss. Claude’s life lacks real meaning and mostly consists of sixteen-hour days working with imaginary money, then going home to a soulless empty apartment, but his problems are solved with the arrival of Paul, an Irish novelist who wants to write about Claude believing him to be the perfect everyman.

However, as Paul soon realises, Claude’s life isn’t exactly chock full of plot-worthy drama, or in fact any drama at all, and so in order to write the book, Paul needs to create a plot for Claude. Hijinks obviously ensue, including a romantic obsession with a struggling waitress/painter, an art heist, a bank robbery, a start-up website called myhotswaitress.com (with an ‘s’, and yes, click the link as it’s one of the best pieces of tie-in marketing I’ve seen recently), a suspicious Russian called Igor, and Paul’s complicated relationship with his Eastern European wife.

There are two main reasons that Murray is one of my favourite writers. The first is that he’s funny. Laugh out loud, hilariously funny. He’s a clever satirist, he’s irreverent, and he has a great ear for dialogue. The second is that he writes about modern Ireland. Skippy Dies, published in 2010, was set in the Celtic Tiger years, and The Mark and the Void depicts the post-Tiger recession. Far too many Irish novelists set their books in the past, and it’s a bugbear of mine. I want to read fiction that reflects my experience as an Irish woman today, and Murray’s books are full of characters and situations that seem familiar to me. Combined with his humour, his deft handling of multiple plot lines, and his original style, it’s no wonder I’m a fan of his work.

The financial crisis is fertile ground for satire. Watch Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, or Inside Job, or Too Big to Fail, and imagine them re-written as comedies. Sadly, it’s not a huge leap. I’m sure other writers will tackle the recession as subject matter but I don’t think any of them will manage to create the kind of black comedy caper that Murray has pulled off here. Bravo!

I’m not someone who likes to watch horror movies. For a start I have to sleep with the lights on after watching one, and secondly, I think there’s enough horror in the real world without inventing more. For example last night I watched a truly terrifying film based on real events: Conspiracy, a 2001 co-production between HBO and the BBC which depicts the Wannsee Conference of 20th January 1942 where the Nazis revealed the plan for the Final Solution.

The film boasts a great cast: Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich (who won an Emmy for his performance), Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann (who won a Golden Globe for his performance) and Colin Firth as Dr Wilhelm Stuckart, with many other well-known character actors. Written by Loring Mandel, the script is exceptional and is based on the only surviving copy of the minutes of the meeting, found in 1947. In just ninety minutes fifteen government officials, under the direction of Heydrich, agreed on the proposal for and method of the Jewish genocide in Europe.

Heydrich begins by discussion by talking about the ‘storage problem in Germany with these Jews’. Heydrich was known as the The Butcher of Prague and Hitler described him as ‘the man with the iron heart’, and the casual way in which he reduces the Jewish population to a ‘storage issue’ is typical of his sociopathic political efficiency. A proposal for sterilisation of the Jewish people is discussed and quickly dismissed as it would take too long.

Gradually Heydrich wins the others around to his plan, which is to empty the ghettos and take the prisoners to concentration camps, three of which had already been built in secret. The attendees used euphemisms like ‘evacuation’ and ‘processing’ instead of murder, gassing and burning, and the minutes of the meeting were edited and all notes burned to guarantee secrecy.

Those who have objections are taken aside and threatened by Heydrich ensuring their eventual cooperation. One of the attendees, Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger (played brilliantly by David Threlfall), opposes the plan but his objections are rubbished by Heydrich. In fact, after the conference Kritzinger attempted to resign from his position in Reich Chancellery but was refused, and historians speculate that his resignation was prompted by his disagreement with the Final Solution.

Conspiracy is a stomach-churning glimpse into the psychology of the Nazis and though difficult to watch, the script and performances, plus the direction by Frank Pierson, makes it a must see film for anyone interested in World War Two.

One of the things I like about festivals is researching all the bands I want to see when I get there. It’s a great way to discover new music. Before I went to Longitude I went through the bands and ended up discovering Purity Ring, a Canadian electropop two-piece who’ve been around for about five years. They’ve released two albums, Shrines in 2012 and Another Eternity in February of this year.

The second album is leaning more towards pop rather than electro, and while it has nice tunes I kinda prefer the first album. I’ve linked to two songs from it below: ‘Lofticries’ which has a Sneaker Pimps-esque vibe, and ‘Obedear’.

And so to the second last of the Ten Favourite Books list. I have posted many times about David Mitchell; he’s one of my favourite modern writers. He’s the exception to the maxim that one shouldn’t meet one’s heroes. I met him at the Dublin Writers Festival five years ago and he couldn’t have been nicer.

My introduction to his work was Cloud Atlas, first published in 2004 and first read by me around then. (I didn’t write my name and the date when I bought it as I usually do, because I bought a first edition in hardback and it would have devalued it. Not that I ever intend to sell it, but I have a certain respect for first editions.)

Cloud Atlas is structured in a unique way; it’s the literary equivalent of Russian dolls, in that each narrative is contained within another. The book comprises six interlinked stories, each taking place at a different time in history with a different narrator and a different style, ranging from a nautical story set in 1850 to a post-apocalytic story in Hawaii, and straightforward mystery to speculative fiction.

The book starts with the first half of the first story, then the first half of the second story, etc., until the sixth story which is told in its entirety, and then we get the second half of the fifth story, the second half of the fourth, etc., hence the Russian doll comparisons. Perhaps it sounds complicated but it’s not, mostly because Mitchell pulls it off with considerable ease and style, leaving each narrative at a crucial moment without the reader feeling like he’s playing some kind of cheap cliffhanger trick.

Cloud Atlas blew me away on first reading. Mitchell’s writing is obviously accomplished and he has a singular ability with language and pacing, but I was most impressed by the fact that he created six distinctive narrative voices in one book, a feat many novelists fail to achieve in the course of a career.

I have read everything of Mitchell’s, except for his most recent novel, The Bone Clocks, which has been sitting in The Pile for a while. I adored Cloud Atlas so much that I have bought it for many people as a Christmas or birthday present, and I think if you haven’t read Mitchell’s work, this is the one to start with.

I haven’t yet seen the film adaptation and I’m kinda scared to, but if any of you wonderful readers say it’s worthwhile then I’ll check it out.

The new Beck single ‘Dreams’ is his first release since Morning Phase last year. Morning Phase was critically lauded and won three Grammys. Although I liked it, it was folksy and a wee bit morose, and there were certainly no tunes that an indie DJ could use in a set.

‘Dreams’ is a different ballgame altogether; a stompy, jangly, dance floor friendly, slice of summer cheer. (Apparently he wrote it so he would have something upbeat to play on tour!) ‘Dreams’ is the first single to be taken from Beck’s upcoming thirteenth studio album, although a release date has yet to be confirmed.

I’ve been bopping around to this at home and playing it at gigs. It’s a great summer rock tune. Check it out.

Lots of people have comfort food, or a song that always puts them in a good mood, or a movie that takes away the blues (one of mine would be Singing’ in the Rain), but for me it’s a certain kind of book. (And yes, I did rhyme that sentence on purpose. Why? Who knows.)

A couple of weeks ago I managed to do something unfunny to my ankle while doing yoga. (If ever you wanted a reason to give up yoga, I now have evidence that it’s actually bad for you.) As a result I have been resting my foot and reading a lot. When I’m ill or I want to be cheered up there are some books I turn to time and time again. They include Cold Comfort Farm, the novels of Nancy Mitford and the short stories of Noel Coward, and The Chronicles of Narnia (you’re never too old) amongst others.

A few days ago I returned to a book that I hadn’t read for years, or rather three books: the David Lodge trilogy of Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work, which I first bought and read in 1994. I’d say I’ve read it at least six times since then. The books are campus novels set in the fictional university of Rummidge, England (based on Birmingham). In Changing Places, Philip Swallow, a professor of English Literature, takes part in a six month academic exchange with his American counterpart Morris Zapp, a professor from a university in Plotinus, Euphoria (based on Berkley in California). The programme has huge implications for both professors, both professionally and romantically, and they return to their positions changed men.

Or do they? After all, how much can anyone really change? This is explored in Small World, which revisits Swallow and Zapp’s stories and adds new characters including Persse McGarrigle from the University of Limerick (which didn’t actually exist at the time of publication). Nice Work tells the story of Dr. Robyn Penrose, another professor from Rummidge, who again takes part in an exchange programme (called the Shadow Scheme) except this time the focus is not academic but instead commercial. Robyn shadows Vic Wilcox, manager of an engineering firm, for two months and then the situations are reversed.

Lodge was himself a professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham (thus proving once again that every writer draws from their own life in one way or another) and is a very well regarded literary critic, all of which is evident throughout the books as they contain allusions to other novels, elements of pastiche and satire, plus lengthy descriptions of subjects such as semiotics and the industrial novel.

But even though the narrative is set in the world of high academia, it is not a difficult read as a result. In fact the books are very very funny, which is why I have read them so many times. Lodge has a particular knack for sympathetic character description (even though the characters can be bumbling idiots) and he excels in constructing comic sentences, finding the perfect word or turn of phrase that makes you laugh rather than just smile.

Lodge’s book, The Art of Fiction, has been on my Amazon wishlist for ages. It will make the perfect addition to the ‘writers on writing’ section of my library, and now that I’ve been reminded of my love for Lodge, I think it’s my next purchase.

Here’s a short BBC interview with Mr. Lodge from 2008 in which he mentions the novels.

I have a couple of small chairs in my house that need to be recovered and I have been searching for upholstery fabrics online. A friend of mine (with impeccable taste) introduced me to House of Hackney, a British company founded in London in 2010 by  Javvy M. Royle and Frieda Gormley. Their aim was ‘to take the beige out of interiors’, and create high quality fabrics with an emphasis on original prints and design. Since their launch they have branched out into fine china, furniture and bathroom accessories.

The design collections range from straightforward stripes, whimsical animal prints featuring storks, monkeys and sloths, through to ferns, bright tropicals, and vintage inspired florals. I have fallen wholesale in love with the House of Hackney aesthetic and am definitely purchasing some of their fabric for my chairs. The fabrics are expensive, as befits the quality, but they make a design statement and are perfect for a small item of furniture or a pair of blinds. (And when I eventually have a very large house, I’ll definitely be using the Tarovine Midnight wallpaper for my dining room.)

PAMPAS wallpaper

PAMPAS wallpaper

HACKNEY EMPIRE wallpaper and sofa fabric

HACKNEY EMPIRE wallpaper and upholstery fabric

PALMERAL upholstery fabric

PALMERAL wallpaper and upholstery fabric

TAROVINE upholstery fabrics and LONDON STRIPE wallpaper

TAROVINE upholstery fabric and LONDON STRIPE wallpaper

The coolest woman in rock and roll today celebrates her 70th birthday. Happy Birthday Debbie Harry! She’s a music icon, an actress, a stunning beauty, a champion of LGBT causes, a philanthropist, a long-time resident of NYC, and according to a mate of mine who worked with her, one of the nicest and funniest women you could ever meet.

I’ve loved Debbie Harry since I was a teenager and she remains a huge inspiration for me. Debbie has always chosen to live life in her own way and that includes how she ages. Although she’s in her seventh decade, she’s still performing, still doing charity work and still dresses like a rock star. Just check her out at Glastonbury last year and imagine being that cool at sixtyeffingnine years of age! Whatta woman!

Dan Deacon’s last album Gliss Riffer has been played in my gaff a lot over the last while. Deacon is an American composer, musician and producer based in Baltimore, Maryland, who has been pretty prolific since he released his first album in 2003. Deacon has dabbled in many genres, from contemporary classical to film scoring, and his live shows are apparently amazing. He played last weekend at Body and Soul in Ireland and the reports are great. (And kudos for his brilliant Twitter username.)

Shades of the Beta Band and Boards of Canada are evident in Gliss Riffer. ‘When I Was Done Dying’ is my favourite track so far. In March of this year ‘Off the Air’, a programme broadcast on Adult Swim, asked nine of their favorite animators to each animate one section of ‘When I Was Done Dying’, a premise which sounds like it has the potential for a ‘too many cooks’ type disaster!

The end result is one of the most interesting and perfectly expressive music videos I’ve seen for a long time. The artists obviously worked together closely and each section is sympathetic to the one that went before, building on colour and theme while still retaining individuality. It starts with a black and white hand drawn illustration and ends with a blur of neon and digital trickery and it’s just wonderful.

The Multiverse

is a blog from an Irish writer and DJ which takes in a wide range of subject matter as follows: Monday’s blogs are related to literature and writing; Tuesday is fashion, style and beauty; Wednesday is music; Thursday is TV and cinema; and Friday is a miscellany.

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Last night before bedtime. #niece #aunt #laughs Had a wonderful day with this fella belatedly celebrating his birthday at The Big Grill. Great mini festival with lovely food and choons in gorgeous surroundings. #thebiggrill #herbertpark Hardcore anti-smoking message in the back of my cab! #antismoking #Dublin #nojoke Bought this print for a dear friend's birthday. ♡ Missing you @emmaharneydevries and Fionn and Chris. Hope you're all having lots of fun and making great memories. Xxx #tbt #absentfriends Belated birthday brunch for Hazel. Sisterly lurve!


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