I first read Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Man when I was in form 5. Now this was an important moment for me. I had just come out of four years of hell in a Christian Brothers school called Therry College - I regularly think I should sue that school for all manner of shit - like getting whacked at least five times a week. Being mocked and threatened and having to watch all manner of injustices handed out by pathetic men who had subjugated their own sexuality and so thrived on meting out pain and fear as a method of instruction and to ease the pain of their stupid sacrifice.
I hated the Christian Brothers for those 4 years from 1970 to 1974 and all these years later I still hate them. Hate what they did to me, and worse what they did to those who suffered far more than I ever did. Young teenagers made to feel stupid, or ugly, or unwanted. I'll hate them until the day I die. I hate them with every fibre of my artist's heart for they hated the artist, wanted nothing more than conformity. Conformity of spirit, of mind, of ideas. Grey uniforms, ties done up just right or you got the cuts, straps that were given pet names and used to force that conformity upon you. They wanted straight lines, straight, short hair, hands out of pockets and no thoughts of sex, of rock and roll or of being an individual. In short, they were the Gestapo for us students.
But in 1975 I went to a new school where there were no uniforms, no straps to deal out "four of the best", no use of pain and fear as a means to an end. And that school gave me Literature. Literature started with James Joyce and Portrait. I loved the book.
And I came from an Irish background so the fact he was dealing with the threat of hell and with being Irish. Well, I sucked up all that Joyce wrote about Stephen Dedalus. I still recall the scene with the words while he is washing his hands. I loved that chapter and must have read it a hundred times.
Joyce was the beginning. I didn't know that I was going to write after reading him, but I knew I wanted to rebel and rebellion is a great place to start for any writer.
I have read a lot more of Joyce (though still have not managed to finish Ulysses - has anyone? - I start with the beautiful hardback book I have had for more than twenty years but I think the closest I have got to finishing was about a hundred pages from the end) and love the Dubliners but it is always Portrait that I come back to, that thin little novel that taught me my thoughts weren't mad, my desire to be different, normal, and that a love of English wasn't something I should be ashamed of.
Joyce was a John the Baptist figure for me, he prepared the groundwork for the artist in me that was yet to be. I reads that book and I began to see things differently, and that was really where the journey towards becoming a writer began.
Joyce reading an original poem