Louis Hemmings describes his journey from teenage poetry to writing novellas later in life
In 1972, at fifteen, enamoured by Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, I began my writing journey.
My literary start took place at Newtown School, Waterford, a co-ed boarding school. Anneli, my boarding school girlfriend, had run away because I had broken us up. Class mates were angry at me. Friends were in short supply.
I ripped up that first poetic attempt. It lay in the classroom bin, nestling among the grey lumps of old chewing gum, empty plastic fountain-pen ink cartridges and stubs of chalk sticks. After hearing about it, Anneli searched for a long time, then found it. She sellotaped that jumbled jigsaw of torn paper back together and exulted in what she read.
Poetry, bookselling, and a diploma later in life
My emerging author ego exploded. Starting wasn’t a problem, but stopping was! Once, my late-teen, religious-leaning verse got fairly described by an author and critic – as “subtle as a hammer flying through a plate-glass window.”
I’ve self-published pamphlets and booklets over the years—but much to my surprise I won a prestigious Poetry Ireland award in 1981, This gave me a compass for my ‘true north’.
My lifework has been in bookselling: first at Carraig Books, then at the revived A.P.C.K. shop in St. Anne’s Church, Dawson Street. I worked at Bookstop for another 18 years. Following in the footsteps of Susan Naughton, I started an (Anglican) online used book business.
My writing life continued after I got married, starting a family—and burying a stillborn.
Over the years I’ve been published in The Irish Times, Hot Press, Village, Ireland’s Own, Farming Today, The Irish Catholic, and Books Ireland, and more recently I have made video poems and poetry recordings online. Through my collaboration with the RNLI, my dramatic maritime video poem, ‘Siren Sounding Lifeboats’, received over 4,700 views and raised a small sum for that noble charity.
However, I had mostly shied away from fiction—until I decided to enrol in a creative writing and digital publishing course. It didn’t take long for this digital dinosaur to drop the digital part of the modules and instead focus on the creative writing aspect.
Studying later in life was an enjoyable challenge. It was rewarding to work with other students in their 20s and 30s.
The writing assessment required a 500 word introduction to a memoir or novel. Whilst I had written a lot of memoir because of my family history, I really needed to attempt fiction, since more balance was required in my writing portfolio.
I began to write more and more because of the class reaction, and the affirmation continued. I continued to develop my plot and by the time I was finished I had 10,000 words—the makings of a novella.
After the course ended, I knew I had to write a series of novellas. The first novella was a departure for me because it put literary aesthetic before my usual cautious, self-limiting writing style.
The Logistics of Adultery features unfulfilled temptations of a married man, offset printing, used bookselling, and stillbirth.
My second novella, What a Difference a Day Makes looked at inheritance, early retirement, entering college late in life, meeting an unusual and inspiring female student, and winning a poetry award.
My third novella, A Boarding School Boy’s Regrets, represents my irrational love of boarding school life. The hero Ben and a student photographer, Xenia, return to his boarding school for a documentary project.
There is a significant story told about each school room. Later Xenia and Ben get asked to put on an exhibition of their photos and poems for an old scholars weekend re-union. That is where Ben’s life changed forever…
If you’d like to see where the story goes, you can get hold of a copy of A Boarding School Boy’s Regrets directly from me email@example.com at a cost of €5. It is also available as a free, weekly serialisation on Substack.