Ghosts Must Do Again

By Ken Bruen


Those lines by Auden continue with


What brings those lines to the forefront of my mind are the posts by Dusty and Alex about sometimes hating writing. Oh horror, heresy etc. A writer not always loving their craft. Arthur Miller, well into his 70’s, said every morning he sits in front of the blank page and

Feels … terror.

I don’t think any of the writers I respect ever said it was easy.

There are mornings, when I see a ton of email, I give a sigh of relief as it means I can defer actual writing for a bit. If I skip a day, for whatever reason, and don’t actually write, I feel guilty and no rationale will eradicate it.

There’s no real mystery, pardon the bad pun, to writing. You just sit down and do it.


How hard can that be?

And writers block … they say, think of your bank manager, and you’ll be back on track.

The days of blankness, when I really don’t have a single thought in my head, I just barge and blitz through it.

Blood from a stone.

Above my desk is a quote from Somerset Maugham. Now I don’t think he meant it as a curse but that’s how I interpret it, it goes

The compulsion to write and no talent.”

Jesus wept.

I had always believed that if you wanted to write, you must have some talent, however vague or latent.

One of the finest books on writing is, Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande and a passage in there goes

an inclination to reverie, a love of books, the early discovery that it is
not too difficult to turn a phrase – to find any or all of these things in one’s first adolescent consciousness is to believe that one has found the inevitable, and not too formidable, vocation.

Wow, is that ever the road to ruin

As in … I want to, therefore I can.


Malcolm Bradbury makes a wonderful point

Good writers are generally, first and foremost, good readers.


In my experience, the best writing comes at a personal cost, when the words have to be gouged from your very soul and for that reason, they ring true.

There are the bleak dark days when you write and think

“Christ, this sucks.”

You do it anyway.

Then sometimes, not too often, you hit on magic, the words jell, the writing sings and you don’t need a critic or another person to tell you it’s good.

You know and there is no better feeling on the whole planet.

In its very rarity, lies its conviction.

Recently, finishing up a new book, it was the usual slog, the uphill battle and then, voila, I hit paydirt, a whole page of dark alchemy. I didn’t stop to wonder where it came from, or what put it into play, I just went with it.

Then the acid test, how did it read the next day.

God almighty, it was even better than I thought.

After more than twenty books, I’ve had that feeling maybe three times.

The edit came back a few weeks later with that whole passage deleted and the comment

“This doesn’t work at all and is not up to your usual standard.”


Take a wild guess.

And then you have to shrug, mutter, however darkly

“The hell do I know?”

The end question

“When is a writer done?’

Like, retiring?

For me, it’s when they prise my cold dead fingers from the keyboard.

My wife used to say, on being asked what it was like to live with a writer

“It’s not a problem as long as you know you’re only part of the plot.”

Is there anything else I’d rather be doing?


January has come in cold and wet, no surprise, it’s expected. But on Jan 4th, I was up at the crack as usual, had me first cup of coffee, got stuck into my writing and didn’t actually raise the blinds till nearly 7.15 and went

“Holy hell.”


And heavy snow.

We don’t do snow in Galway, unless you mean one of the many terms for cocaine.

My daughter is 15 and she has never seen snow, apart from movies, Christmas cards and her Geography books.

But the real deal, never.

We went out into the yard and her eyes, lit up in wonder, truly enchanted at it.

She was lit up for the whole day.

Next day, it was gone and her face, like she’d lost something truly precious, and she asked me

“Will it come back?’

I didn’t know

I said

“It might.”

Like the snow, you never quite know what any day will bring.

Lou Boxer, undefeatable organizer of Noir Con sent me a beautiful card with the greeting

Leaves tremble

Roots remain still

Blessed be.

Later in the day, I meet with an ex –nun, who used to work at The Magdalen and after she left the convent, she wrote a superb play on the laundries. She is a fine poet and we went for coffee to celebrate her new book of poems. They are quite extraordinary, and later, I’m still so taken with them, that I write her a long email , extolling them. She phones me and asks would I be willing to write an introduction to the collection.

I would.

And did.

Because of the nature of my books, I am perceived here as anti-clerical, despite the fact that I taught my daughter her prayers in Irish and one of my closest friends is a priest. It seems incredible now that when I attended Trinity, Catholics had to secure permission from the bishop.

I went to meet with him and he was a notorious bully. I asked if I might have permission to attend and he snapped

“What’s wrong with our own Universities?”

I tried to explain that the course I wished to follow was only available at Trinity.

He refused me permission.

I went anyway and I remember a friend commenting

“You’re like … excommunicated.’

Woe is me.

On the outside, which is a place I think writers thrive.

Least I do.

The final word I’ll leave to my Rabbi, David, who shared with me, from The Talmud

Learning is more important than action-

When the learning leads to action.”

And lest I got too deep, he added

Logic is neat

Life is messy

This morning, I was up earlier than usual and you guessed it

Praying for snow.

A line of Bruce from Thunder Road uncoiling in my head, jelling with Auden

The ghosts of all the girls you sent away."


9 thoughts on “Ghosts Must Do Again

  1. pari noskin taichert

    Ken,I love your posts. That’s the truth of it.

    And, today, your weaving about writing made my heart sing. Those rare moments of grace do keep us going. And we’re willing to put up with a lot of crap — often self-generated — because of their promise.

    Thank you.

  2. Louise Ure

    And Ken, if you, in all your glorious writing, have only found a handful of those moments of epiphany … then there’s hope for the rest of us.

    Thank you for a thoughtful (and hopeful) post.

  3. toni mcgee causey

    Ken, every time I read your posts, I feel less alone. Reading them is like sitting at the knee of the leader of the tribe. We may all be a little crazy, but we’re crazy together, and that’s okay.

  4. Jacky B.

    Thanks Ken:

    Came at a time when I really needed it. Ha, like every fuckin day. If they can cut one of YOUR fine passages, I guess I can develop some sort of resignation to the process.

    All best, Jacky B.

  5. Fiona

    I have been writing for a while, but have only recently been brave enough to submit anything. Thank you for your encouragement, and the beautiful way you deliver it.

    We have plenty of snow here in Minnesota. Please come enjoy it some winter.

  6. Lukas Ortiz

    Hermanissimo! I loved reading this terrific post. You are and will remain the one of the most honest writers in the world…Gritty, witty and truly amazing.

    It snowed lightly in NY, today. When we get a bigger snowfall, I will take a photo and send it to you, so Grace can catch a quick glimpse.


  7. Sophie

    KB – sometimes when I’m stuck I read your books because they remind me that what’s starkly true on the inside *can* sometimes retain its beauty when it’s made into written words…Thank you

  8. JT Ellison

    I’ve had my own epiphany today. My feelings on writing are directly tied to what point I am in the process.

    The overwhelming enthusiasm is when I’m nearing the end, or in edits/revisions. The I love this job comes in the middle. The why did I ever think to try this comes on at 2,000 words. I’ve forgotten how, I think. I know it will pass and I’ll find that footing, but egads, what a great post for me today.

    Snow, darling. Snow. That’s what I need to imagine. Words falling like flakes from the sky.xoxoxo


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