Story telling

A genius of storytelling before his time

Here Comes John (1993), Bridget O’Connor’s first storybook, blew like a great wind in 1993 – smart, stylish, very funny, even a little cruel at times, giving him more than a whiff of danger. . His voice was unforgettable, his ear close to the ground of contemporary demotic, a rare working-class voice as rebellious as John Lydon. Urgency prevailed from the start, just look at the content of Here Comes John to see that the weather was big for O’Connor – Kissing Time, Time in Lieu, I’m Running Late, Time to Go. story of his second and final volume, Tell Her You Love Her (1997), was titled Closing Time.

Bridget was a friend. We met when we were both living in Dalston at the turn of the last century, so it was difficult to re-read those headlines after her death from breast cancer in 2010. A page opened and the words at the top were read. read, “Cancer, oh no, fuck, fuck, fuck. It was unbearable, I put the stories away. But they stuck in my mind anyway. Good short stories are very memorable. Like the poems, they are short enough, focused enough to fit in the mind. We tend to remember proportionally more details of a story because every word counts. And counting was an important part of Bridget’s art.

Bridget O’Connor: There isn’t a leftover piece in his distilled prose.

I like to think that Bridget was not only predicting her own death – although she seems to have felt her time on the planet was not long – but also expressed the many ways time impacts a short story writer. . Writing stories is a very demanding art and timing is of the essence. Like a pop song, you have to get in and out quickly: a short story has to contemplate its demise from the start, like here in the first line of Bridget’s magnificent Kissing Time, the first story of Here Comes John, ”she said. declared. when she could, ‘How much time do I have?’ ”The unnamed figure is lying in the dentist’s chair; she will lose her teeth:

The dentist was young, he had alopecia (that wasn’t fair, was it?), His head like a kid’s fight, the damage combed through, his latex fingers, the smell of new dollies. A garden hose, the smell of something that’s been rotting for a long time. She lay down, cried… The noise was enormous: spitting, scraping. Needles. Light needles. The dentist was shouting: “Frankly, young girl, never never never in my life…”

O’Connor wrote straight from her time and place, the London of the 1990s, and like all short story writers on a tight word budget, she has brought up so much with a modest handful of words.

Precise, almost unbearably physical and perfectly timed. Like a pop song too, it has its refrain: “Twenty-five years. To the bone… No one would kiss her… No one would kiss her with false teeth… She was twenty-five, only twenty-five… She was only twenty-five. She hadn’t yet kissed properly.

O’Connor wrote straight from her time and place, the London of the 1990s, and like all short story writers on a tight word budget, she has brought up so much with a modest handful of words.

Bare breasts burnt on the road. Diggers dug yellow pipes and tubes, machines spun. A little red radio howled, unplugged, a crackling disturbance in the air. She patted the sidewalk. She smelled of caramel tarmac and tea stew in a toothpaste-colored little hut. – Courage, my darling, said a grown-up. She chose him. She walked over to him, so close that her smile slipped away. – Come on, then, she said. “Come on. Kiss.”

Can love last?

The kisses were to remain as constant as time in O’Connor’s stories – on the last page of Closing Time, the final story of his second collection, the ghostly character remembers Harry, “a tall man and a taller woman in nothing more than rags, long dead, still in a lipless kiss. “Kiss and time – sex and death. Can love last? O’Connor’s characters are madly obsessed with that question.

There is not a leftover piece in his distilled prose. But what does a short story writer do when she’s barely finished her first storybook and is supposed to “continue with the novel”? Novels are all about numbers, not just word count but sales. Time is money and novels take time and space to write. It’s worse than the body clock. What if the shape isn’t right for you?

Bridget and I have talked about it a lot. We were happier in the shorter forms – poems for me, stories for Bridget. But my agent’s mantra was “Push!” To say that I felt harassed is an understatement. I think Bridget felt the same, even though she described herself as “bone lazy”. “To push on!” I would say to make us laugh.

The most striking thing for me now, re-reading these stories after more than a decade, is that she is ahead of her time. She really talks, rape culture dissected before she even had a name

Later, Bridget’s poetry of dialogue along with her exquisite timing found another home in her award-winning scripts and plays. Towards the end of her life, Bridget worked with her husband, director and screenwriter Peter Straughan, on several projects. They adapted John le Carré’s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy into a film of the same name in 2011, for which they received the Bafta Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The screenplay was nominated for several other awards, including the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2012.

The Flags' Studio Theater production by Bridget O'Connor

The Flags’ Studio Theater production by Bridget O’Connor

A poster for the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, for which O'Connor won a Bafta

A poster for the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, for which O’Connor posthumously won a Bafta

But the most striking thing for me now, re-reading these stories after more than a decade, is the fact that she is ahead of her time. She really speaks, the rape culture was dissected before she even had a name:

I was on my way to meet a group of girls in Dalston, walking, now I see it as a Crime Watch Reconstruction, in click-clack heels. I was robbed in front of a cash machine, reclined in high heels, dressed for no reason like a slut, asking the mirror before going out, How stupid do I look? Cash dispenser beep response: Extremely thick girl… The Gangster had a knife, the handle pointing up her sleeve. At least I think he had a knife. The more I replay this scene, the more the knife thickens into a broad sword, thins to the width of a pencil. Would I have been stolen by – a pencil?

(The hard times)

The speaker, unnamed like so many O’Connor speakers, goes on to realize, “I have been victimized. I am a Victim. And once you’re a victim, the Wankers are everywhere. When Bridget talks about Wankers, she’s not talking figuratively. And they are really everywhere; “He polishes, he works at a shine. He’s … It’s … oh my God, it’s lacquered like a colonel’s stick. “You are a wanker!” “I shout… I look at my watch indignantly:” It’s only half past nine in the morning. I haven’t had my breakfast yet… A stocky man in a granite shadow turned ready to squirt, sporting the wanker’s worried pride look, his cock in hand like a thick brown arrow… Sometimes they are lying on your back. They come to you from the ground. Watch this land.

Bridget had a fine line of disgust; his stories are full of poetry of disgust.

The ATM incident

I think of her every time I walk past the Irish pub where Bridget once saw two nuns pulling pints behind the counter. She assured me that they weren’t in disguise but that family members were helping in an emergency. And they’re as real in my imagination now as Ulysses’ Joycean bartenders, though I’ve never seen them and I’m still not sure Bridget wasn’t pulling my paw. I think of her as I walk past the Santander ATM on Kingsland High Street where she was assaulted – that was Abbey National at the time. What a web she has woven of this incident and with what precision.

Like her adorable and glamorous Secretary of Investigations (General), she was deceptive. Beneath the carefree lip and bravado of his working-class London women hides an intense visual attention, an imaginative keen knowledge of nature: their brown helmets tightened for an earthy shag and now had to put those damn things back on.) ”Even the Bridget’s kissing beetles fear wasting time.

Bridget o'connor

Bridget O’Connor: When she walked the streets of east London, which was not yet gentrified, she “framed” the details that made her stories sing

In a 2007 Irish Times interview with Martin Doyle, Bridget spoke about the diagnosis of cancer, which occurred during her pregnancy:

“My God, I better work, not sit around watching breakfast TV anymore.” I felt a kind of electricity – the day is not as long as I thought it would be. Plus, being a first-time mom, I really want to be there.

I think Bridget was too hard on herself. I imagine she learned about these beetles and a lot of other things from “the box” because real writers always collect when they’re not writing and it all goes together. She too listened very attentively to the music of the demotic. These fascinations made their way into the stories and later into his plays and screenplays. And when she walked the streets of east London, which was not yet gentrified, she “recorded” the details that made her stories sing. When it comes to writing, nothing is wasted, not even time and especially not for a genius like Bridget.