The new novel will be published late April/early May. Getting the whole thing together in these final weeks is tricky, finicky, time-consuming and yet I remind myself that things are moving ahead and the book I began back in 2008 or so has crossed the finishing line in my head and is already out of my hands to some extent.
“Where They Lie”, is about a family in Ulster, Northern Ireland, and the trauma they experience in the wake of the non-recovery of the bodies of two brothers murdered by the IRA. It’s a journey of sorts for all the characters too, involving a Dubliner, and an Icelandic writer both of whom end up in Belfast and have some involvement with the family concerned.
Who do people turn to when all official avenues have shed no light on where the bodies might be? The story follows the lives of different family members, each of whom has their own secret, each of whom works out their own destiny in their own way. It’s not a political novel. Far from it. Although I’ve trodden territory which may seem raw to some people – after all, many relatives still await news of the recovery of bodies that have ‘disappeared’ without trace – it is a fictional account and exploration of what it is not to know. And yet, everybody knows something, as everywhere else in life. And there is the question of what we remember and choose to remember – or not.
In the meantime, I’m busy working with my publicist, taking advice on how best to get the book around the world of books. Every time I enter a bookshop and the towering walls of books register – literally walls and walls, floor to ceiling, I realise the gamble, the crazy, but necessary gamble that all writers take when they hope that their personal enterprise – the novel, the collection of stories, or whatever – will float to the surface of all the words and gleam in the light, and catch the attention of readers who might enjoy the work. That’s part of what it’s about. The hope that there will be a dialogue of some kind. That dialogue can only occur with readers. It’s invisible too, because you never really know where the book is and who is reading it, any more than you know whether people care about the characters the way I did. Well, perhaps it’s asking a lot for them to care the way I did in the writing of this novel. But I actually enjoy these quirky people, these inventions. I don’t subscribe to the theory that once a character presents her/himself that they ‘take over’ as if they were real people and literally ‘write themselves’. That seems to be how some writers experience the process. I am never under the slightest illusion about me being the one who takes over, who nudges them along into being. And if they get there, I’m delighted. I’ve often written characters in past novels, who some people found unsympathetic, but that’s okay, and some readers like their characters to be nice people. I’m not saying mine aren’t nice. I like to think they’re interesting, occasionally funny, occasionally edgy and often unconventional. I enjoy people who aren’t squeaky-clean and perfect myself, and I believe that allows me to do things to characters that provide colour and complexity. That’s the hope anyway!
So onwards I go. This will be my thirteenth publication (my sixth in fiction), with a fourteenth following in summer when my new collection of poetry comes out with Arc Publications over in England. And, as I’m turning into a new decade fairly soon, it feels just great to have all this happening. Finally, although I can’t talk about it just yet, there is an intriguing publication involving several writers including me, due next autumn. More on that in due course . . .