The Writing of Martin Brennan


Prison always has been a good place for writers, killing, as it does, the twin demons of mobility and diversion

— Martin Silenus, Hyperion

Hyperion is like nothing I have ever read before. A sprawling sci-fi epic that is at the same time deeply personal and poetic, Dan Simmons has achieved a monumental feat of storytelling with the first novel in the Hyperion Cantos. My partner picked this up for me as a birthday present after she had read glowing recommendations for it online. I don’t often read sci-fi novels, mostly staying in the realm of literature, fantasy, and “Stephen King” (who I consider a genre onto himself), and it was initially difficult for me to get into, but about fifty pages in I was hooked.

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East of Eden

And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.

— Lee, East of Eden

THERE are a few books you may read in your life that change you in some profound way, or stun you with their beauty in a way that makes the book stick in your mind for a long time after you finish reading it. East of Eden was such a book for me. From the first few pages of reading Steinbeck’s introduction where he paints a portrait of the Salinas Valley I was hooked. Steinbeck is an author that held me in awe of the mastery of his craft, much in the same way that Cormac McCarthy did when I read Blood Meridian. It made me hope that if I could write something even a tenth as beautiful in my life, I would die happy.

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget

— Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

A COLLECTION of well-crafted essays by Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem is like going through the looking glass and landing in 1960’s California. It is a time capsule, a love letter, and a history lesson rolled into one. Joan’s writing style is engaging, and it is obvious that she is an expert in her craft.

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The Shining

What you got, son, I call it shinin on

— Dick Halloran, The Shining

I HAD been wanting to read The Shining for a long time, ever since I watched the Kubrick movie years ago. I was interested to see if the mood, tension, and the oppressive presence of the Overlook Hotel would be such a strong force in the novel. My expectations were both met and exceeded. The way King brings the Overlook to life through its bloody history and monstrous projections of long-dead ghosts sends chills down your spine. It feels less like a mountain resort, and more like a gateway to hell; a living, breathing thing that swallows up the unfortunate souls that visit there.

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Lessons from Tom Waits

Everybody knows me at the dump

— Tom Waits

I CAME across this wonderful interview with Tom Waits that Elizabeth Gilbert did for GQ magazine back in 2002. She mentioned it in her Ted talk Your elusive creative genius which is also a great watch. In the interview there were some gems of wisdom from one of the most unique musicians and writers in the 20th century, certainly one of my favorites. I thought I’d collate the quotes I found interesting here but I’d urge anyone to go read the article itself in full.

tom waits

Kids are always working on songs and throwing them away, like little origami things or paper airplanes. They don't care if they lose it; they'll just make another one

Tom said this after relaying a story where his daughter came up with one of the key lyrics to Hold On off the top of her head. What it says to me is that you should focus on just getting creative work out there, and not really worry about whether it succeeds or fails. Just write another story, or another song, paint or draw another picture, just get it out there and keep going.

He believes that if a song "really wants to be written down, it'll stick in my head. If it wasn't interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else's song."

I can really relate to this and I’d say it’s part of my creative process, but in equal parts I think it’s also important to do work that doesn’t come to you. Sometimes you need a prompt, or a guide, or something. But all of my novel and longer short story and novella ideas have come to me in this way. I’d read an article, or see or hear something, that gets me thinking on an idea. I don’t write it down. If it’s still stuck in my brain after a few days percolating up there, I know I’ve got something to work with.

A collaborator at heart, he has never had to make the difficult choice between creativity and procreativity. At the Waits house, it's all thrown in there together- spilling out of the kitchen, which is also the office, which is also where the dog is disciplined, where the kids are raised, where the songs are written and where the coffee is poured for the wandering preachers.

This is how I want our house to be as my kids grow older. The boys already like reading, and I hope to continue to guide them that way, and maybe they’ll do a bit of writing when they’re older too. It’s a great outlet. My partner loves it too, reading and writing. It’s one of our common interests that we can talk about for ages (when we can get a word in over the screaming and the barking).

I’ll stop here, but you really should go and read the article. It’s beautiful. Then, go and listen to Rain Dogs, and thank me later.

Man in the High Castle

What profit it a man if he gain the whole world but in this enterprise lose his soul?

— Philip K. Dick, Man in the High Castle

READING about World War II is always fascinating. Tragedy and human suffering was perpetuated on an enormous scale by some of the most despicable men in history. In Man in the High Castle Philip K. Dick imagines an alternate timeline of human history where the Axis powers are the victors of World War II. A history where the world is divided up between Germany, Italy, and Japan. The novel is set in a conquered United States of America, in which the west coast is owned by Japan and renamed the Pacific States of America (or PSA) and the east coast is ruled by the Third Reich, with a buffer zone along the continental divide. The central conflict of this novel is the machinations the great powers have between each other and within themselves, as well as the reemergence of American culture, and the idea that the whole world may not be real at all.

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South of the Border, West of the Sun

'For a while' is a phrase whose length can't be measured. At least by the person who's waiting.

— Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

I‘VE BEEN trying to broaden the genre and writers of the books I’ve been reading this year, so I read South of the Border, West of the Sun as recommended by my partner. I devoured it in just a few two hour reading sessions, and Murakmi’s simple and straightforward writing style mixed with the beautiful imagery he weaves left me thinking about the book long after I finished reading.

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The Graduate (1967)

My whole life is such a waste

— Benjamin Braddock

IN THIS classic film backed by a Simon and Garfunkle soundtrack Dustin Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock, a clean-cut golden boy with loving parents and the world at his feet. He has just graduated from four years at college and his future lays vast and limitless before him, and at his graduation party all of his parent’s friends are happy to see him and offer their advice. So why is Ben so eager to get away from the people he has known all of his life, to shut himself away in his room? Why does he look as if he is on the verge of a panic attack while his party guests are all smiles? Why is this young, smart kid so worried about his future?

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Brave New World

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world, that has such people in't!

— William Shakespeare, The Tempest

IN A perfect future everyone is genetically engineered to know their place in a caste system, every want or need is catered for, and if a citizen is ever feeling down, soma is there to take them on a holiday. Though in this bright imagining of the world where even death is no big deal, fractures form in the perfect facade with the elimination of free will, love, and family in the name of the betterment of society. In Brave New World Aldous Huxley goes in a different direction from the normally grim, brutal, dystopian future towards something that is still in our eyes fundamentally wrong.

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Pet Sematary

Death is a mystery, and burial is secret

— Stephen King

KING utilises all of the instruments in his depraved toolshed in this horrific novel about the secret practice of burial, and the great taboo of death. Like so many King novels, it begins with a regular, All-American family who move to a small town, in this case Ludlow, Maine, to begin life anew. Dr. Louis Creed takes a job with the local university, while his wife Rachel and his young children Ellie and Gage, along with their pet cat Winston Churchill, settle into their new life far from the hustle and bustle of Chicago.

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Logan (2017)

THIS is the Wolverine movie everyone’s been waiting for the past seventeen years. Loosely based on the Old Man Logan comic books, it is a no-holds-barred, no quarter given exhibition of brutality, packed with violent hand-to-hand combat that has more impaled heads than Vlad’s castle moat. The setting is 2029, and life goes on as it always has for most Americans. Though not for mutants, who have been brought to the brink of extinction by a virus designed to suppress the X gene that is distributed through food and drink. Logan, the most hard-wearing and stubborn of them all, cares for an aging Charles Xavier, whose fraying senility is the cause of violent psionic seizures, along with Caliban, an albino mutant who can detect and track other mutants. They huddle together in secrecy in a foundry in Mexico, hiding from the corporations that would seek to end them and use their genes for a new generation of super soldiers.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice

— Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

I PICKED this novel up at the same time as I picked up Breakfast of Champions, on a whim because it was sitting on the same library cart. The story follows six generations of the Buendía family in Columbia, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founds the town of Macondo with his wife Úrsula on the banks of a river. The book is written in a style of magical realism, and is considered an exemplary novel of the genre.

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As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.

— Henry Hill

THIS line is the start of the dream, the turbulent life story of the Irish-Italian-American mobster Henry Hill, before the heavy whomp-whomp-whomp of Tony Bennet’s Rags to Riches blasts from the screen. Henry the kid, from Brownsville, Brooklyn was obsessed with the idea of the mob life from an early age, when he watched the Luchesse crime family associates at the cabstand across the street from his parents house and longed to be a part of something.

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In Cold Blood

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there."

— Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

in cold blood

These are the faces of the two men who destroyed a family, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, in Truman Capote’s cold and heartbreaking true crime novel In Cold Blood. The novel, first published in 1966, meticulously details the lead up to and the aftermath of the slaying of the Clutter family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, a crime that rocked the foundations of the community and sparked a nationwide manhunt for the two killers.

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