What The 32 means
WHEN Paul McVeigh chooses a piece of my writing for an
anthology he is compiling, it is like being picked to
play for an all-Ireland sports team.
Paul is the captain and he has judged that my piece,
that I, am fit for the squad; that I can join his
players and help make a success of The 32: An Anthology
of Irish Working-Class Voices.
I am selected for the second team – the first comprising
established writers like Dermot Bolger, Roddy Doyle,
Danielle McLaughlin, Claire Allan, June Caldwell and
These are seasoned practitioners who know what the
competition looks like and often how it is a
mirror-image of themselves.
I take my place on the reserves’ bench of sixteen new or
emerging writers including Theresa Ryder, Stephen
O’Reilly, Trudie Gorman and Abby Oliveira.
When publication day arrives, we will tog out together
and show what we can do with the big hitters behind us.
Inishowen journalist and writer Linda
McGrory who is delighted to be included in 'The 32: An
Anthology of Irish Working-Class Voices'.
Despite the myriad images
and voices that inhabit our imaginations, our guts,
writing can even be lonely.
The writer is like the singles tennis player, a mostly
solo performer without the comfort of the collective.
By March 2020, I have been three months working on my
creative writing with an attitude of ‘it’s now or
For once I have reached the first quarter of the year
without giving up.
At this point in my life, the ambition for my work
stretches no further than to finish things, to finish
To be discovered as a unique literary talent who
beguiles an agent, a publisher and then readers, is an
ambition that has withered from neglect.
The source of the neglect is hard to pinpoint.
Perhaps it is my Buncrana working-class background that leaves me unable to wholeheartedly embrace
any artistic ambition; a subconscious or conscious rush
to be middle class; an unwillingness, fear even, of
testing whether or not I have literary talent that can
be coaxed, cajoled or dragged out of me by the ear.
At 53, it feels like I’m running out of time, as though
the resources required to pursue something I always felt
uniquely mine, are steadily depleting as the years slide
I have written thousands of stories and millions of
words in my two-decade career as a news reporter.
Creative writing could hardly be more different.
I discover that writing creatively has as much in common
with news journalism as it has with, say, architecture.
As disciplines go, the only thing news and fiction share
is their mode of delivery – words, sentences,
The same can be said for technical manuals, marketing
blurbs, DIY instructions, a priest’s homily.
Granted, news is generally communicated in story form
but the main ingredients are facts arranged and
re-arranged to inform the reader.
Creative writing, on the other hand, operates at the
level of perspective, emotion, imagination, feeling.
A news story tells us that a woman is killed in a road
accident on the way to a funeral.
A fictional account of the tragedy might explore the
woman’s relationship to the deceased and what she was
thinking and feeling before her car leaves the road and
hits a ditch.
In the news article, the ditch will get a passing
mention, for example, its location vis-à-vis the road,
the car and the conditions.
In the creative story, it may become a character.
With its tall, whispering grasses, the ditch might be
indifferent to tragedy, its ordinariness taunting.
Or, it could long since be haunted by its proximity to a
known black spot and frequent violent death.
Barely three months into my creative writing journey
which includes a short online course, the sheer energy,
discipline, self-belief and commitment required
I can say, without doubt, that it is for me the most
challenging form of writing.
It is not easy to hold a reader’s attention, stir their
emotions and keep them reading page after page.
Less so when the average person’s attention span
continues to shrink in a daily wash of social media and
click-bait, an ever-decreasing circle that leaves little
left over for reflection.
So, while I’m on a make-or-break bid to write creatively
or else reconcile myself to shutting that part of myself
for good, my piece is selected by Paul McVeigh for his
Meanwhile, something big is playing out in the
There’s the pandemic, of course.
But a more momentous calamity for me is the steady
decline of my mother.
She will not live to see my piece published in The 32,
even though she is central to my contribution entitled,
‘We All Fall Down’.
Thankfully, I do get to tell her that my writing will be
published in an important book.
And although it is difficult for her to articulate, she
is pleased and proud –proud of me until the day she
Proud of me until January 2, 2021 when she passes away
with none of her family by her side.
I look for meaning in dates, numbers, an unusual flight
of starlings through the garden.
I search for signs in the late arrival of the swallows,
a constellation of wet sea stones on the shore, the
knots in a silver leg of driftwood.
I look into my blind cat’s lightless eyes; they speak of
how brave it is to live and to die.
Writing poetry helps as it has at other traumatic times
in my life.
I dream of my mother and in the morning, hung-over from
uneasy sleep, apnoea and grief, I write:
The child on a road after rain is my mother;
I hold her warm and soft in the late summer glare.
I see my sister, shake my head;
She will not stay, I tell her.
She will go now to the stars; to the great, big midnight
Ethna and James McGrory, the late parents
of Buncrana-born writer Linda McGrory, on a day out to
I watch for each new twist
in the The 32’s journey to publication by crowd-funding
It is a welcome distraction and offers me hope.
I join Twitter with a view to doing my bit to publicise
the new book.
I begin to feel like I’m living my life through the
social media platform so I leave, but still keep the
account open with one eye.
Paul McVeigh’s toes would curl if I gush about what
being one of The 32 means to me.
It’s not as if I have visions of standing on a school
desk like the scene in Dead Poet’s Society, when Paul
inevitably leaves the room and moves on to other
I will simply say thanks and salute the skipper thus:
Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole…