This is the continuation of an interview with author Thomas McCarthy, please read Part One before continuing here.
MA– Having lived in three countries, how do you feel the landscape of your life has affected your writing?
TM-I lived in France for a year when I was 18-years-old, where I worked in a restaurant in Lyon. Back then, few French people spoke English, and in the early months I was not able to converse very much and I read a lot, particularly in the wonderful American library in Lyon. That year changed me radically, working and speaking in another language. And life in France was so different to anything I had known in my early life in Ireland.
Since I have lived in England, I find it easier to write about English people. That was not so in my early stories which are all set in Ireland or have Irish characters in England or France. And the years here leave me feeling Irish in England but English in Ireland. I’m doubly deracinated probably!
MA– You have had numerous stories published in a variety of magazines, do you feel you short stories similar themes or do they vary?
TM– There are certain themes I notice. I have used my experience working in the hotel business as the background for a number of stories and in one novel. But no more than that. It’s hard for me to say. Readers sometimes claim to see themes where I have not.
MA– Your novel, A Fine Country, came out in 2000. Tell us about the novel and the experiences you have had with it from concept to publishing.
TM– I first had the idea for it as I wrote above, while waiting for a ferry on a Greek island. Later in the holiday, I looked up from the patio of the house where we stayed and saw a man on a hill above looking down at me. The novel really came to me then. I used that early on in the novel.
It is about an IRA sleeper, Hugh O’Neill, who lives in London. He volunteers to assassinate Mrs Thatcher, then Prime Minister, outside 10 Downing Street. In the early 1980s, it was possible to walk along Downing Street and observe the comings and goings. The attempt fails and Hugh escapes. When the novel opens some years later, he is living on a Greek island with his English lover, an older man. The IRA want him to return to London to make a propaganda video. They have to kidnap him. There is a sub plot where the IRA leadership try to flush out an informer in London using Hugh as the bait.
I found a publisher who was looking for first time novelists. They were good but chronically short of money. They went bust about six months after they published A Fine Country.
MA– Writing in both short story and novel length forms, do you find you prefer one over the other? Or do you feel you excel at one more than the other?
TM– I don’t think I prefer one to the other or am better at stories rather than novels. I write what comes to me and if I can make it work.
MA– When it comes to the writing process, do you approach short stories differently than you would a novel?
TM– No. I have the same process, an idea, notes, an outline, which is rarely the final story or novel. There is of course a certain relief when I realise it is a story as opposed to a novel. A novel can take up to five years.
MA– This year will see the release of your new novel, The Coast of Death, what is this book about and what can readers expect from it?
TM– The Coast of Death is partly a sequel to A Fine Country in that a number of the same characters appear many years later. I became interested in how the former members of the IRA were finding life after the Good Friday Agreement and the ceasefire by the IRA and other paramilitary groups. Some went into politics, others resumed in so far as they could, a normal life.
In the interregnum between the Good Friday Agreement and the setting up of the Northern Ireland power-sharing Assembly, the IRA leadership uncovers plans by a number of dissident republicans who consider the GFA a sell-out, in particular a breakaway unit who call themselves the True IRA to destabilise the peace process. The novel is about the efforts to stop the dissident group before it pitches Northern Ireland back to the dark days of the Troubles. It takes place in Ireland, Spain and London.
I hope it is an engrossing read and provides some insights into the complicated events in Northern Ireland.
MA– The Coast of Death will be published by Serving House Books, how did you get involved with them?
TM– I was invited to submit an essay for consideration for an anthology they were going to publish. They accepted my essay and I wrote and asked if they were interested in reading The Coast of Death, They read and liked it and so they are publishing it.
MA– You are currently working on a novel called Flannery’s World, how is the writing process going on it?
TM– I have completed another draft, which I will read again, see how good it is, and if it needs any further work. I think it is close to completion.
MA– You are also working on trilogy of linked stories called Morning Has Broken. Are you writing this the same time as Flannery’s World or are they in different stages of the process?
TM– They are at different stages. Morning Has Broken is in an early draft. I work on it when I want a break from Flannery’s World.
MA– If you could go back in time and give a young version of yourself one tip about writing, what would it be?
TM– If you have the exigency to write, remember that writing is about the importance of the careful choice of words, whether or not anybody else is ever going to read them. Do not be discouraged by rejections and criticism. Learn from them.
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