‘Janice Galloway’s first novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, was shortlisted for both the Whitebread First Novel Award and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and won the Mind Book of the Year Award. The international impact of her work has led Metzstein to describe her as a writer “‘nurtured’ in Scotland”, who has however become “important in the context of a wider history of women’s writing, one which resists definition by mainstream culture”.
‘The novel presents a homodiegetic female narrator who is suffering from a serious depression after the accidental death of her lover, a married husband who drowned in a swimming-pool whilst on holiday, and who desperately tries to find reasons to keep breathing, to keep herself alive. The novel adopts a diary style first-person narration, demanding readers a close relationship with the main character, Joy Stone, and it takes the appearance of stream of consciousness. Throughout the narration, there are some analepses or retrogressions to the moment when her lover died: nineteen fragments written in italics haunt the narration, as uncanny intrusions. These fragments could be interpreted as mimicking the symptoms of Joy’s emotional trauma, as traumas tend to be partially re- experienced through compulsive or incontrollable repetitions of this frozen time. As Judith Herman explained: “It is as if time stops at the moment of trauma”.
‘The book uses different graphic modes of representation of the narrator’s trauma, as there are incomplete sentences written on the margins of some pages, blank spaces, and columns splitting the narrative in two. From Alasdair Gray to Irvine Welsh, many Scottish writers have used the appearance of the book page —drawings, typography, font, etc., which, no doubt, is a very important part of the work— as an expressive means, that is, as a means of trying to convey subsidiary narratives that are hidden in the main text. Some of the experimental techniques used by this Galloway ask readers to actively participate in the construction of the meanings of the texts, to enter a dialogue with the different voices presented (and hidden) in the texts, as they have to interpret/create these scriptible texts, to use Barthes’ term. They demand as well new identitarian reconfigurations in their bordering or liminality.
‘The novel’s emphasis on the relevance of the specific circumstances of Joy’s experience demands both a subject centred reading and a more political one, that is, to focus on individual and social matters. Here it could be argued that the Scottish interest in fiction dealing with traumas is mostly presented from a masculine point of view, involving traditionally male Scottish issues such as alcoholism, etc.
‘In contrast, Galloway is more concerned with more traditionally feminine interests. As she explained in a recent interview: “I’m interested in writing stories about problems which don’t necessarily have answers, which is I think more of a female concern than a male one”. As Bernand Sellin points out, Galloway “is aware of her position as a female writer and especially shows interest for the most innovative techniques of presentation, techniques which become appropriate to render the sense of fragmentation and the difficulties of adjusting to the modern world”.
‘In this novel, Jay’s trauma is not just an individual trauma, in the sense that it is also related to feelings of guilt and shame, which are socially oriented feelings. The narrator-character has suffered a big blow when her lover dies. However, it is not the event of his death that traumatises her, but rather, and as Dominic Head as stated, her condition of mistress and her effacement by social institutions.’ — Jessica Aliaga Lavrijsen
Janice Galloway Site
Janice Galloway @ goodreads
Janice Galloway: we all share utter fucking confusion
A life in books: Janice Galloway
‘Peak’, by Janice Galloway
PROFILE: for most of her life writer Janice Galloway was depressed
The Drama of the Mind: A Profile of Janice Galloway
Bodies that Bleed: Sex as Fiction in Janice Galloway’s “Blood”
Janice Galloway interview: full transcript
“I Didn’t Need to Eat”: Janice Galloway’s Anorexic Text and the National Body
Smash Lits with Janice Galloway
Indelible Ink : The Trick is to Keep Breathing
Female Scottish Trauma in Janice Galloway’s “The Trick is to Keep Breathing”
Janice Galloway is a reluctant autobiographer
Textual Instability and the Contemporary Novel: Reading Janice Galloway
A Good Girl is Hard to Find. The Politics of Janice Galloway’s the Trick is to Keep Breathing
Buy ‘The Trick is to Keep Breathing’
Off The Page – Janice Galloway
Janice Galloway in conversation with Peggy Hughes
How long have you been a published writer?
My first stories were published in November 1986. I’m interested in writing stories about problems which don’t necessarily have answers, which is I think more of a female concern than a male one. Science and technology is male-orientated – it’s like hunting: you track something down and stab it, get the better of it. Women are far more interested in the sideways possibilities – the reasons and psychology behind things. I’ve always thought that Philosophy contains the male perspective on the world, and Psychology the female. The ‘maybes’ and ‘probablys’ and the ‘hunchy’ side of life fascinates women. When I was teaching, and sat with a group of female colleagues in the staff-room, it was astonishing to hear the number of jokey references from male teachers about witches! Two of the older women always knitted, in a particular corner of the room, and it would be referred to as ‘the coven.’ Some of the men actually signed a petition to stop women knitting in the staff-room! There was something about it that made them feel threatened. I’m sure there are all sorts of strange things going on in the male psyche, and I’m interested in writing my own perceptions of it as a woman.
Have you ever thought of writing from a male perspective?
I don’t know. I think it’s highly unlikely. Unless it was a pastiche. I was asked a question on the radio that made me laugh out loud. The interviewer said didn’t I think that The Trick is to Keep Breathing was very self-indulgent. I thought, dear God, how many books are there which are an examination purely of the male psyche? For some reason, it’s self-indulgent when a woman wants to do it. You should never be afraid to write even if you are regarded as being self-indulgent by some people. It probably means you are getting a little too near areas which people think shouldn’t be touched.
Joy reads a lot of women’s magazines and has many ‘silly’ female inclinations, like dieting and reading horoscopes. Why did you stress this stereotyped view of women?
Well, I think women do that and I don’t think it’s silly. I’m writing an introduction at the moment for a book about ‘the canon,’ about things that the male literary establishment has propounded as being important. With astonishing regularity, anything that has much significance to women is seen as trivial… which is of course why women ‘can’t write,’ because they don’t have experience of ‘important things.’ Part of what I was consciously trying to do was to say, ‘Look, a large part of women’s lives does involve things like cooking and baking and looking after people.’ I personally am addicted to women’s magazines! The way some women crave chocolate, with me it’s a magazine. Women tend to enjoy things which are regarded as slightly ‘alternative’ – like vegetarianism, homeopathy, astrology and so on – and far from these being cranky, I think they are frequently female concerns. I wanted my character to be a woman who did recognisably female things. I was taking the thin end of the wedge of women’s lives, and making Joy the ‘thick’ end. She was the logical extreme – her food obsession for instance is something with these magazines encourage.
So are you criticising magazines, as pandering to women’s vulnerability?
No, but I am saying that a magazine is something that a woman will often turn to when she is ill or lonely or unhappy. It’s like comfort food – I remember when I was a wee girl I was often given rice pudding if I had been good, and I can still find comfort in a bowl of it. There is a cosiness about being part of an amorphous mass of women reading the same magazine. Some of them are actually bloody good – they’ll tackle feminist issues side by side with other stuff.
How important was the Scottish context?
There is a Scottish dimension. In many ways the ‘Scottish’ question and the ‘Woman’ question (if there is such a thing) are analogous. There is a sense of colonisation on women’s territory as there is on Scotland.
Why are there so many subsidiary male characters as opposed to female ones?
One resource that single women usually do have is other women. I wanted to take that companionship away from Joy to see what would happen. She was meant to be a woman ‘in extremis.’ Single women’s lives fascinate me. They are often portrayed as slightly comical – sit-com material, centred around domestic sagas, whether they are going to ‘get their man.’ I don’t think being a single woman in today’s society is necessarily all that amusing. John Linklater described the book as a ‘woman’s survival novel’ – like one of these books where you stick a man in a prison camp and take everything away from him, and ask what it is that keeps him waking up in the morning.
When Michael is drowned, Joy is outcast from the ‘accepted’ role of grieving woman – because she was his lover, not his wife.
I tended to pile everything up for Joy – all the attitudes from society that make her unacceptable. If you don’t live within society’s rules I think that some kind of revenge is still exacted. You don’t have to sit on a separate stool at church and have a finger of scorn pointed at you, but there is retribution. Single women are breaking one of the cardinal rules in not getting married and having children.
Did you base any ideas on your own experience as a teacher and social worker?
Experience is the only thing you have, even if you’re writing a science fiction novel, where something is happening on planet Koozebend – there’s still got to be something there that you’ve seen through your eyes.
Did you find it difficult, writing in the first person, to avoid making references that were very particular to you?
Naively, I thought it would be a help. I like writing in the first person because I’ve got an attraction to drama and the dramatic voice. If I can assume a persona, what that character sees is going to come more readily to me. One day the voice suddenly came into my head, and when I got home I bashed the first few pages down on the typewriter and thought ‘well, that’s it.’ It was a frightened but very grimly determined voice. It was only later that I realised that I’d set myself up for a series of depressions. I’d come away from the word processor after I’d been sitting there for maybe three or four hours, and there were times when it would be quite blinding, having looked through that perspective, and very difficult to shake the mood off. My experience in writing the novel was that I had to be utterly absorbed by it. I would sometimes go downstairs to buy a loaf of bread and would come back up without anything. It’s a relief when you can become obsessed by a technical problem, rather than by the character’s neuroses. That can be scary.
Why did you decide not to create chapters?
Well, it was far more continuous at one stage, and I thought I’d better do something to hold it together, but then I thought, this is daft, it’s not the way I wrote it. Abrupt beginnings and endings to chapters didn’t feel natural.
There is a good deal of anonymity in the novel. Joy calls her psychiatrists at the hospital ‘Dr One’ and ‘Dr Two.’
It’s just her way of self-preservation, and her fear of letting anything in. She is a little uncomfortable with names. Something that is personal, even a little thing like a name, is a bit sore for her. There are a lot of people whose names you know, but the way you say them, they might as well just be a number.
How about Joy’s own name?
Finding a name was a wee bit tricky. It was almost an after thought. I don’t think that her name suits her all that well. It’s been grafted on her. All the names in the book are like pseudonyms, which don’t really become personal to the characters.
People do odd things to names and attach associations to them, like saying ‘He doesn’t look like a Michael to me.’ There’s a certain mystical significance linked to the naming of someone. Names are quite sacred things to me. It would be almost unthinkable to open a book and call a child the first name you come across. There are always perfectly innocent names that people can’t stand. If a person doesn’t suit their name it will be abbreviated, or added to, or they’ll be given a nickname.
I know what you mean. It’s illogical, but I’ve always thought that certain names suit certain appearances – like the name Sarah – it always seems a ‘fairhaired’ name to me, even though I know lots of Sarahs with dark hair.
Yes, that’s something else that I wanted to write about in the book – these odd feelings that people have which they seldom discuss because they feel they’re somehow absurd. That interests me – off-beat reactions to something everyday.
There’s a child-like side to Joy’s character. She does things which most adults would be too inhibited to do – like running away from someone who comes to visit her when the situation becomes too much.
I don’t think it’s so much a child’s reaction as discovering that you can’t stand ‘normality’ a moment longer, and you have to do what your feelings tell you to.
Janice Galloway The Trick Is To Keep Breathing
‘This inventive first novel explores the widespread problem of female depression. A 27-year-old drama teacher named Joy Stone has come undone. The problems of everyday living accumulate and begin to torture Joy, who blames her problems not on her work or on the accidental drowning death of her illicit lover, but on herself.
‘Clutching at the wrong things, she eventually learns that the trick is to find those that let life go on. While painful and deeply serious, this is a novel of great warmth and energy. The wit and irony found in moments of despair prove to be Joy’s salvation and add a completely original note to women’s writing.
‘The novel was first published in Scotland in 1989, where it won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Scottish First Book of the Year. It was published in hardcover in the U.S. in 1994 by Dalkey and received widespread critical acclaim.’ — Dalkey Archive
There are split seconds in the morning between waking and sleep when you know nothing. Not just things missing like where or who you are, but nothing. The fact of being alive has no substance. No awareness of skin and bone, the trap inside the skull. For these split seconds you hover in the sky like Icarus. Then you remember.
This is my workplace.
This is where I earn my definition, the place that tells me what I am. Work is not a problem. I work in a school.
I teach children.
I teach them:
2. when to keep their mouths shut
3. how to put up with boredom and unfairness
4. how to sublimate anger politely
5. not to go into teaching
That isn’t true. And then again, it is. I am never sure what it is I do.
[writing letter] “The photograph you asked for is enclosed. I’m sorry it looks so terrible: polaroids never show me at my best.”
I write HAHA so she knows it’s a joke to be on the safe side then look at the photo near the edge of the table. I took it facing the mirror because I couldn’t work the self-timer. The camera bludgeons off half my face and the flash whites out the rest. My arms are looped over my head to reach the shutter and hold the thing in place. It looks like a spider devouring a light bulb. The only visible eye is shut from the glare. It doesn’t look like anybody. It doesn’t look like
Outside there is scaffolding and a strip of moon. Pockmarks of rain on the glass. Alter the focus and you see eyes. They blink when I do but it proves nothing. There’s no of telling if it’s really
Last Sunday night…
PATIENT I’m tired and I still need somebody to talk to. I need to get less angry about everything. I’m going nuts.
DOCTORK Don’t tell me how to do my job. Relax. You cein talk to me. I made a double appointment so we can have twenty minutes. Go ahead. I’m listening.
PATIENT What can I say that makes sense in twenty mi- nutes?
PATIENTK How can I be more iike you?
DOCTOR That’s not what I meant. That’s not what I me- ant al all. Envy is a destructive emotion. Besides I had to fight hard to get to feel Iike this. I’m buggered if I’m giving away tje fruits of my hard work for nothing. You must tell me how you are.
PATIENT I don’t seem tó Know how I am except bad. There nothing there but anger and something scary all the time. I don’t want to get bitter because it will ruin my looks.
DOCTOR Maybe a hobby would help. Facetiousness is not an attractive trait in a young woman.
What will I do while I’m lasting, Marianne? What will I do?
The day Marianne left, I found a note pinned to the kitchen wall. It was there when I came back from the station without her along with some books of poems, addresses, a foreign phone number, money and a bottle of gin. The gin and the money went long since. The note is still there.
THINGS YOU CAN DO IN THE EVENING
Listen to the radio
Have a bath
Listen to records
Write letters or visit
Go for a walk
Go out for a meal
Phone someone nice
I hear every radio programme at least twice. I can recite the news by the time I go to bed. Besides I have to move around while I’m listening. This is not an occupation on its own.
TV is tricky: the news is depressing and the programmes sometimes worse. I hate adverts. They are full of thin women doing exercises and smiling all the time. They make me guilty.
The water takes ages for a bath. I hate waiting.
It’s asking for trouble to listen to music alone.
I already read everything. I read poems and plays and novels and newspapers and comic books and magazines. I read tins in supermarkets and leaflets that come through the door, unsolicited mail. None of it lasts long and it doesn’t give me answers. Reading too fast is not soothing.
Writing is problematic. I cover paper with words as fast as painting. Sometimes it’s indecipherable and I throw it away.
Visiting is awkward. The place I live is an annexe of nowhere and besides, I don’t like to wish myself on anyone.
Walking is awful. I do that when I want to feel worse. I always run.
Sewing and going for a meal. Tricky juxtaposition.
I’m getting worried though. Some of the things I do worry me. I want things I can’t have, trivial things. I want cards. I want cartoon characters and trite verses wishing me well. I see Michael in buses and cars and walks past the road outside the window. Visiting times are terrible. I can’t get the hang of not wondering what to knit him for Christmas.
The difference is minding. I mind the resultant moral dilemma of having no answers. I never forget the f*&%$*g questions. They’re always there, accusing me of having no answers yet. If there are no answers there is no point: a terror of absurdity.
ME I’m kind of busy this aftemoon.
PHONE What do you mean busy? Look, just an hour or two, that’s all. I’ll give you a lift back so you can change for tonight that’s worrying you.
ME Well, maybe. I’ll think about it OK? But I can’t come tonight. [Inspiration] I’m having a meal with Ellen.
PHONE Break it. She’d understand.
ME No, I’m sorry Tony. I can’t. I really can’t. You wouldn’t like me to break a promise.
PHONE Well, worth a try. But she doesn’t have all that many runs left this season. [Means There’s something wrong with you, going to see an oíd lady instead of grabbing the change with me I’m used to better things I can any amount of girls you know don’t you realise what you’re being offered here?] Better catch you early next time eh? [Means I know you’re just playing hard to get]
ME Yes. I’m sorry Tony. I am. I’m sorry.
PHONE No skin off my nose. I’ll forgive you this time. [Means Don’t let it happen again and remember I’m your boss]. Anyhow I have to get back to work. We don’t all have the day off. Ciao.
ME I’m sorry.
1 The Rev Dogsbody had chosen this service to perform a miracle.
2. He’d run time backwards, cleansed, absolved and got rid
of the ground-in stain.
3. And the stain was me.
I didn’t exist. The miracle had wiped me out.
The first symptom of non-existence is weightlessness.
The second is singing in the ears, a quiet acceptance of the unreality of things. Then the third takes over in earnest.
The third is shaking.
No matter how often I think I can’t stand it anymore, I always do. There is no alternative. I don’t fall, I don’t foam at the mouth, faint, collapse or die. It’s the same for all of us. You can’t get out of the inside of your own head. Something keeps you going. Something always does.
p.s. Hey. I offer a wish for extra strength, courage, determination, fight, and creativity to all of you who are fellow US citizens starting today. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! In a week, okay, and obviously awesome that they’re taking care of the legwork for you. I’m sure reading the Secret History was fun, and I hope you had a ton of it with your friend yesterday too. My yesterday, let’s see … I hung out with artists and blog-ites Michael/Kiddiepunk, Bene/Oscar B, and future artist and non-blog-ite Milo, their tiny kiddo. That was nice. I have a possible lead on a guy who might possibly be able to help Zac and I find potential young handicapped performers, and I’m writing to him today, and we’ll see. Kept trying to figure out the French bank problem, ugh. Some emailing and junk. A bit of work. Not a huge day, but an okay one. Today I have stuff to do, maybe fun involved, and my main plan to stay as far away as possible from anything to do with the US presidential inauguration today, which will not be easy. And your today? ** Joakim, Hi, Joakim! I’m pretty good, all in all. Oh, shit, ouch physically and financially about your wisdom teeth operation. Well, re: Paris, to look on the bright side, it’ll be warmer here when you come, and you’ll get to come with Asger, and I’ll get to meet him, and Zac and I can tell you funny stories from the film shoot, I’m sure, and we’ll probably be pretty around then because we’ll be editing the film, so, as sad as the delay is, when it happens, it’ll be great, greater! Did I introduce you to Sarunas Bartas? It’s possible. But, yeah, there’s a connective thing there, although the dude yesterday is even more, I don’t know, poetic and gradual or something? Have an awesome day. What are you up to of late and currently? ** Jamie, Hey, J! I think you’ll dig the videos once your laptop chills or does the opposite of chilling more like, I guess. New laptop! Getting a new laptop is better than the nearest Disneyland opening a new ride. Sorry, I have a bad habit of Disney-fying things. Destiny makes no logical sense, and I tend to be a pretty logical and pragmatic kind of guy, but I do almost kind of believe in destiny against my ‘better’ judgement. Kids are super smart and super open and super hungry, It’s the fucking mediators between kids and art/stuff with their disrespectful overprotectiveness that are the problem. That’s my theory. Okay, see, having to fight for a fart gag vis-a-vis kids … how ridiculous is that. I love the sound of the Harbin Ice Festival. I love stuff like that. I haven’t done an ice sculpture post here in ages. I’m going to plunge into whatever that festival is and then extrapolate and explore hither and thither and make a new icy post. Cool, thank you! Thursday for me was mostly pretty good, reasonably productve, with some flecks of pleasure, not bad. How did your haircut pan out? What style did you get? I don’t know anything about your hair. The 16th is the largest arrondisement in Paris. That’s why you got that one. Haggis, err, thank you for the thought, but, err, thank you too for not offering love in haggis form. In return, I will not offer you a fois gras of love, just normal love. Dennis. ** Steevee, Exhaustion. Ugh. I relate to some degree when I think about how my jet lag feels. Even the the ‘okay when active’ and not okay when not active thing reeks of jetlag’s bleah. ‘The Producers’ … the Mel Brooks film? Yeah, I don’t see why you should tell the possible actor about the real life inspiration model. But then in Zac’s and my films we want the performers to know as little that isn’t on the page as possible. Which has worked good so far. Interesting about the great Iranian film. I’ll read your review and peel my eyes. Everyone, Here’s Steevee’s review of what he says is ‘the best Iranian film I’ve seen in years, and the first 2017 new release with a shot at greatness’. ** Toniok, Hi, buddy! Thank you, man. I’m so happy you like Val del Omar. I’ve only really gotten into his work enough to get and experience it in the last couple of months. What a discovery! Oh, cool, I hadn’t heard of Lagartija Nick before I made the post, but it made me very curious. I do very much like Jane Bowles, yes! What are you reading of hers? ‘Two Serious Ladies’? Nice to see you! ** Montse, Hi, Montse! Whew, I’m really glad you thought the post was a good one. Yes, I think maybe in recent times his work has gotten more known outside of Spain because it was surprisingly not hard to find enough to make a post, as you could see. I hope his manifesto writings, like the one in Spanish that I used in the post, get translated. They seem very, very interesting. I have to say that I think it’s pretty cool that you’re subtitling ‘Finding Dory’, but I am generally a Pixar admirer. Have a fine, fine Friday, and tell me me how it occupied you, if you like. ** David Ehrthe greatest novels ever writtenstein, Whoa, your name has gotten wild and experimental today. Which means I like it, obviously. I, of course, second your big up about ‘Two Serious Ladies’. It’s sublime. I should do a spotlight post about it. ** Jonathan, Hello, Jonathan. I stared at a screen a lot too. Well, maybe not stared. Squinted and flicked my eyes around. Ooh, I’ll look for those chapbooks. I love chapbooks. Gary Lutz has a new chapbook, re: which I am panting like a dog in a hot car. I hope there’s some awesomeness in the world today, and that, if there is, it will sprinkle some of its whatever in your location and in mine. ** Okay. Someone either here on the blog or somewhere else asked me to spotlight this very, very good novel by Janice Galloway, and I have done precisely that. If you need something to help ward off CNN or your newsfeed or whatever else today, maybe this post can help? See you tomorrow.