Sheltered in the James Joyce Library

My ancient Air Max squelch on slabs polished by the soles of a century of scholars: their air bubbles victims of a tumble drier spin some months back. My noisy footsteps are all alone in the Reading Week hush; the others displaced back to homes in Nobber and Muff, Boyle and Ovens. The Texans have gone to ‘Europe’. The Ranelagh set to St. Moritz. Only the swans on the lake remain. And the nice librarian. I make my way towards the James Joyce for what could be my ten thousandth time. Every day of seven, I come to play with pad and pen. To pray in ink and plot in paragraphs that will need to be edited and inevitably absolved. There are two turnstiles to enter, but three to exit.  They say books expand people. 

Mine is a 60-hour week and for that kind of shift, I should have an opus to fill my own library. Instead, my portfolio could be blown away in a Spring breeze. Starting is easy. Much like kissing. But it’s implicit that you go further and reach the end. That glorious finish point you will get to, tired but thrilled. But unlike the sweet plains to where kissing may lead, writing towards the end can be a great terror. The rewards are too often those roguish cousins, ridicule and rejection. To get over the line is to shout to the world that I am vain and self-promoting, that I have something worth saying and you’d better all listen, drop that and read this! 

It is safer to go to the library and in the shadow of the nineteen shelves devoted to works of James Joyce, pen away and tell myself that I am a writer. I whisper it, careful not to let the nice librarian hear me, nor the swans on the lake because then I would be ousted for the fake-writer that I am. The fictional fiction-maker. Real writers finish books.

I open my emails and it is a good news day. The Irish Times are publishing my work in the Hennessy section, and there I am on the shortlist for the FISH Prize. I learn that I have a short story coming out in The Stinging Fly next month and Banshee want to publish another. To top it off, an agent has replied to say she enjoyed the first three chapters and wants the rest of my novel sent to her by the end of the day. I hit send. And there is one from the Head of School to say I have been awarded a bursary. Great, that will go towards next year’s fees. 

A cough comes from somewhere behind me. The nice librarian. He smiles. You were asleep, he whispers. I was dreaming, I say. You were talking in your sleep, he goes. What was I saying? You kept repeating over and over, I am a writer. Sorry about that, I say. Don’t worry, he says, I’ve heard it all before. He disappears between the shelves and I check the emails. All still there: Hennessy and The Fly, Banshee and the agent and the one from the Head of School. Five declines. 

I heard books expand people, or was I dreaming? I glance at the nineteen shelves devoted to a former student who wrote a few words so well that this library now bears his name and my work starts again. Put word after word and then another, until I find a path that leads to the end. 

About the contributor

Gráinne Daly was winner of the UCD Maeve Binchy Award, runner-up in the Limnisa Short Story Competition, highly commended in the Blue Nib Chapbook Competition and shortlisted for the Gregory O'Donoghue and Anthony Cronin Poetry Prizes. She has been published in Southword Magazine, Dodging the Rain, Ogham Stone and Boyne Berries among others.

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