ESSAY: ‘Walking the Camino’ by Jamie Guiney
When I write a short story it can be born from anything. I might only have a first sentence or maybe an inkling about a scene, a character; but often I have no idea what the finished story will look like or how long it will be – it just evolves until it becomes what it was always meant to be.
There are rare occasions when my stories have an additional element to them, which I will call writer’s intention. I’ll want to follow my normal writing process – mechanics, plot, character, theme, tone etc – but there will be something else I predominantly hope to achieve, something which drives the entire story.
The first time this happened was quite a few years ago, when I wanted to write a piece that conveyed the experience of suicide. ‘A Quarter Yellow Sun’ (nominated for The Pushcart Prize) wasn’t just a story with the theme of suicide, I wanted the reader to feel the intensity of it. The writer’s intention here heavily influenced how I wrote the story.
Something similar happened when I wrote my latest story ‘The Way.’ I had a personal experience that changed my life and I intended to write about it. Of course, anything a writer experiences they want to write about – but with this, I was unsure where to even begin.
In June/July 2013, my wife and I walked 580 miles across Spain in the space of 35 days, along the Camino de Santiago. If you aren’t familiar with the Camino, it is an ancient pilgrim route that follows the footsteps of Saint James as he spread Christianity across Europe. In English translation it is known as ‘The Way of St. James’ or simply ‘The Way.’ Many people have walked the Camino over the centuries – some for religious reasons, some just for a walk, some to get away from it all. Personally, I did it because I had been unwell for a long while and just couldn’t seem to get myself over that final hump – so the Camino called and off we went.
It was a profound experience and one that was difficult to put into words, so difficult in fact that after getting home, I spent a full year thinking on it before even attempting to write something. My biggest dilemma was how to express everything about this special journey that can really only be felt by putting on your hiking boots and walking it. I had to work out how to do it justice.
I chose to write ‘The Way’ in a second person narrative, which is not used very often in literary fiction. It is also regarded as a tricky narrative to pull off, which is why you rarely see works of fiction written this way and which is why I felt hesitant to even try it. But, I did it because my writer’s intention with this piece was to allow the reader to feel the depth of the experience, to literally put them in the narrator’s shoes (boots in this instance).
And so, I wrote the piece and it’s about a journey; one that is very simple. You get up each morning and put on your rucksack, in which you carry everything that you need. You lace on your hiking boots and you walk. That’s all you do each day, you walk and you breathe. Your life gets stripped right back to the most basic level, something which you will find to be very liberating. You will get to see a lot of nature, have an abundance of time to think, and meet the most wonderful people who will expose you to the broad kaleidoscope of humanity itself.
I hope you enjoy my story and that it might inspire you to someday venture onto a new path. I had an incredible, wonderfully rich life experience, where I made many friends from across the globe.
‘The Way’ is featured in Issue One of The Lonely Crowd, which is available to buy here.
Jamie Guiney is a literary fiction writer from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. His short stories have been published internationally and he has been nominated twice for the ‘The Pushcart Prize’ with his stories ‘A Quarter Yellow Sun’ and ‘The Cowboy.’ Jamie is a graduate of the Faber & Faber Writing Academy and has twice been a judge for short story competition ‘The New Rose Prize.’ His work has been backed by the Northern Ireland Arts Council through several Individual Artist Awards. Jamie favours the short story genre, believing it to be the closest written prose to the traditional art of storytelling. In between shorts, Jamie is currently working on his second novel and developing his skills in screenwriting. He tweets as @jamesgwriter