Arresting Storytelling

I blame Con Houlihan on confusing editors.
I did my best to follow his writing advice and found myself explaining the use of English to more than a few harassed editors and sub-editors.
Con’s voice was stilled on August 4, 2012; but his words carry on through his writing. There can be no finer memorial to a writer than that.
Many years ago I used to buy the Evening Press to read Con’s reports on sport and theatre. They were published under these headings; but a report on a football game often wandered off to discuss the Red Badge of Courage as a relative concept to the matter in hand.
Con was a theatre critic and a long-limbed man. He did not budge when a cast member leaped over his shins one opening night in the Project Arts Centre when the Sheridans, Peter and Jim, were guiding a revival in Irish theatre, and mayhem had been loosed.
The production was in the round, for there was no stage, and when the review appeared it merely suggested that the front row of audience chairs be moved back to allow the actors more space.
The performers.
A long time ago, Con came along to chat to some aspiring writers in the People’s College. He sat on a hard chair before the group. He closed his eyes and did not open them until he was done, a half hour later.
We would have followed him back into Hamelin, there and then.
He revealed secrets and enchantments of the art of writing; not the least of which was not to be a lazy writer. To take time to find the apposite word for what you wanted to say.
It is all about removing the commonplace, the expected form of words, and substituting it with a telling word picture that arrests the speeding eye, he said.
Arresting the speeding eye was not what hurrying editors prefer to contemplate on a busy day with deadline drawing nigh, where speed, accuracy and flow are the order of the room.
Con was of our times and of another time and of endless time. A contemporary of his said he asked in the local butcher’s shop for some sheets of that large unlined paper they used to wrap around fresh meat.
He handwrote his articles on the sheets, a paragraph a page in a unique calligraphy of his own and handed them in where others were arrested in their work as they re-packaged Con’s words for the waiting reader.
He was never less than arresting, and for that, as a follower, I give thanks.
Brendan Nolan

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