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Guest Post: by featured author Orna Ross

Why I write

Orna Ross describes herself as a conscious creativist, a term she coined to describe those who apply the creative process to all aspects of life. She writes and publishes novels, poems and the Go Creative! books and is Founder/Director of the not-for-profit, global association for author-publishers, The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). The Bookseller has named her one of the 100 most influential people in publishing. Orna is Irish and lives in London… mostly.

Why I write: Because it keeps me sane

If I didn’t write, I’d probably be in a twelve-steps programme or taking some very strong medication. The activity of turning words into sentences, stories and poems has made, and kept, me sane and happy for twenty-five years now. I know if I hadn’t taken to it as I did during my troubled teens, the side of me that likes to snivel and snark, dramatise and despair would have been given far too much time out in the world. Thanks to writing, I’ve done most of my drama on the page.

Why I Write: Because it’s magic

Those of us who are lucky enough to be literate can take writing for granted. We forget it is magic of a very advanced kind. These dark marks on a light page manage to hold millennia of knowledge, wisdom, information, opinion, emotion, inspiration and entertainment — and all capable of being communicated to each other across time and space.

As a human breakthrough, the invention of writing ranks with that of fire. It enabled us to create complex social structures, fundamentally changing how we live together. Without writing, there would be no science, no history, no cinema and, of course, no literature. Writing enables us to know which human attributes we share across history and geography and which are unique to our own people and places. It is the human achievement that literally underwrites the others. And I get to do it. Every day.

Why I Write: To take me into creative presence

I write and teach poetry as a way of developing creative presence, that sense of co-creating the moment we are in with the mysterious fabric of life and the creative spirit that moves within it. I love Japanese poets like Basho and Shiki, who strip all down to a single image, or two in juxtaposition, to give us a jolt into the here-and-now, the sort of poetry that nobody in the Western tradition seems to have written between Chaucer and William Carlos Williams.

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Why I Write: To save myself

Every writer works within a tradition, in my case two: the Irish and the female. When I was being educated In Ireland in the 1970s and 80s, the classic British canon was what we were mostly taught: Shakespeare; the big 19th century novels; the civilised essays of satire or pronouncement; the meditative or witty poems with clear closure. Alongside we were taught a separate strand called “Anglo-Irish”. This claimed Irish literature Nobel winners, Shaw and Yeats and Beckett, back from the perfidious, plundering Brits and celebrated rural poets like Patrick Kavanagh and Austin Clarke.

This reading-list was what the greatest of those rural poets, Seamus Heaney, has called “a kind of force-feeding” for an Irish girl and woman of my time and place. It didn’t echo the way words are used on a female tongue or observe women’s experience and offer it back to us in arrangements that made us see or think more clearly—the job of writing, to my mind.

It offered none of the delights of surprised recognition that I now see as so important when teaching people to love writing — and love their own lives. Still I found enough nutriment in it to make me want to be a teacher of English literature. The idea that I could be vested for the calling of writer wasn’t something I could even imagine at that point.

It was the struggle for reproductive rights in my country that brought me to my own thought, to the creative effort of claiming life through my own body, and mind, and imagination. My novels and poems are my way of chalking “Ms Kilroy was here”.


Blue Mercy is one of the seven books featured on the limited edition box set Outside the Box: Women Writing Women

Why I Write: Because it’s hard

“Those… who are most wise,” said Years, “own nothing but their blind, stupefied hearts.” It’s not easy to own, or own up to, our own blindness and stupefaction and work out what it means in words, Two great essayist-poets, Adrienne Rich and Eavan Boland, have my undying gratitude for their wise articulation of what it takes for a woman to express her own experience, reveal her own texture and touch, and take herself seriously. Again Seamus Heaney has a beautiful image for it; he calls it breaking “the skin on the pool of yourself.”

As a writer, you do what it takes to break that skin, in response to some impossible-to-explain, un-namable need. You drop into the pool of yourself, down to the depths of the imagination and return to watermark life with your own pattern of experience and perception.

In the doing you forge vows that you inevitably break. You work harder than you have ever worked at anything else and see yourself fall short. You read back words that took weeks to compose — and hate them with a nauseated passion. You feel in your core what Iris Murdoch meant when she said: “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”

But somewhere along the line, you come to know that it’s the struggle itself which, by some mysterious alchemy, turns this activity that seems so self-obsessed into something you’re doing for others too. If you can only get it right this time, you just might touch another imagination. If you really get it right, you just might move another towards their own self-expression. That’s the difficult, self-saving, spirit-stoking, magical, sanity-protecting lure to which we devote our lives.

Who could ask for anything more?

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