Zen and the Art of Public Transport

I write this piece a few years ago, It was published in the now defunct Tipperary Voice and I then turned it into a successful speech. I tried a radio programme called Sunday Miscellany, but as Irish writers would know, this is a hard nut to crack. I always felt there was more life in the piece, so forgive my indulgence as I republish it.

The 7.30 bus from Clonmel to Waterford is tucked into a corner of the Bus Eireann (Irish bus company) schedule. You need an eagle eye to detect it. Old buses are dragged out of retirement to service the route. Yet it is heavily populated, with people taking their first steps towards an independent life, commuters who are immune to delays and young professionals in crisp suits, with dew from their showers clinging to their hair. It is the route that marks the dividing line between our conscious and unconscious lives. As a freelance writer, I can set my own hours, but this is the route I have chosen.

Public transport: a vehicle for writing

I savour the silent streets as I walk to the bus stop, a short distance from my family home. The world belongs to me – and the hardy soul walking his dog. In the distance, I hear the chunter of a reluctant car engine. On summer morning, the air is fresh and untouched. The sky is pale blue, washed clean by the rising sun. Yes, fellow Toastmasters, believe it or not, we do get a summer in Ireland, between the hours of 5am and 9am. Winter mornings are a different story. My breath lingers in front of me, forming a smoky question mark. My fingers are stiff. My way is lit by a procession of umber street lights. Night still hovers, waiting for a lethargic sun to push it away.

Waiting for the Bus

I have become a master of the art of waiting. My trusty notebook eats away the empty minutes. A battered pole keeps watch as I write. The clean morning air is conducive to clear thought. The street becomes a background to the scene I am writing. Even if the arrival of the rattler is delayed, it doesn’t trouble me.

A hissing sound alerts me to the arrival of the bus. A door clicks open and a bus driver grunts a greeting. The Pink Cage was written during those snatched moments. I should have included Bus Eireann in my acknowledgements.

I settle myself into my usual perch, second row, left-hand side. Beats drown out the thrum of the arthritic engine and the bus driver’s ear piercing sports commentary. But the banter of the regulars still penetrates. They bat comments back and forth between the seats; their words are friendly missiles. My earphones act as a cover for my eavesdropping.

 Onward Journey

After Carrick on Suir, the bus winds away from the prescribed path. Obscure villages pass by in a blur. Trees thick with dew gather in congress. The movement of the bus merges with the beats. It feels as if the bus is airborne, cast adrift on waves of sound. I lose myself in electric dreams. The bus cocoons me, giving me the luxury of postponing the day’s challenges.

Somewhere between Piltown and Fiddown, the bus sails over the river Suir. The agricultural buildings on either side of the bridge are hidden by a mist which gives the water a milky appearance. At this stage in its journey, the river is wide, majestic, worthy of song. After the bus lands on the other side, the road narrows, twists back and forth.

A tangle of trees lines the right-hand side of the road. Water can be seen through the trees, this time an unruffled pond. Sunlight glistens on the water and poke through the trees, turning the gnarled branches black. A house rises up out of the mist, a vast expanse of cream brick. Its many windows keep watch over the trees and water.

Journey’s End

By the time the bus joins the commuter traffic on the Kilmeaden road, the sun has burned away the early-morning mist, ripping through the layers of sleep and dreamtime thoughts. My body stirs as it returns to earth. Bags are gathered, the air is punctured with shouted words of gratitude and parting. I step out into the day, refreshed and grateful for the reprieve the bus journey has offered.

Yes, it takes a longer, windier road, but if taken in the right spirit, the bus is a bubble of silence in a chaotic world. You relax, surrender, let yourself be carried along. There are no worries about speeding fines or parking. And because you’re free from the need to concentrate on the road, you can take in the scenery, listen to whatever tunes might chill you out, or even listen to an audio book. It’s a way to step back and find a level of bliss Buddhists would be proud of.

When’s Your Next Book Coming Out

When’s your next book coming out? That’s the question on everyone’s lips. Well, a few people anyway. It’s in the pipeline I tell them. What’s it about, is the next question. I tell them it’s about them. Keeps the reader happy. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Keeping the reader happy.

The truth is, I wish I knew the answer to that question myself? You see, I used up all my material in the first book. Few people have a life that’s eventful enough for a few books. I was lucky to have material for one. My second book will require me to look beyond myself. Which is a pity, because that’s our favourite subject, isn’t it? Whether we admit it or not.

What to Say

I read a blog post which said that writing a second novel was like learning a new language. You start from scratch. You feel your way. And you have to gather new material, outside your own experience. You have to ask yourself the question: What is it like to live someone else’s life?

I wrote my first book because I had something I wanted to say. I spent quite a long time saying it and I finally ran out of things to say. I’d exhausted the mine. Now it’s time for me to find a new mine, to dig for new gold. In other words, to find something new to say.

There are outside factors holding me back too. I’ve seen how challenging and daunting the publishing world is. I’ve realised how hard it is to make any real impact on readers. It’s tempting at this stage to try and create a story that readers will like. After all, what’s the point in slaving over work that no-one ultimately wants to read.

Great Expectations

And I expect more from my own writing. I feel the weight of that expectation on me. To create more sizzling conflict, to create settings that add a real 3D effect  to my writing, to be more meticulous in the language that I choose and to pace my work in a way that will engage readers, without alienating them.

In spite of all that, I’m longing to get stuck in. This is a chance for me to start creating a whole new world, with new characters to meet and new themes to explore. I can’t say when this epic tale will emerge, but I’m confident that it will. And while you do write for yourself, my goal this time is to create a story with more universal appeal, that will create wider ripples.

If anyone does have a cure for the second novel blues, be sure to drop me a line.