Friday, 19 November 2010

Round Robin: Ciara Hegarty

Alis asked:

Ciara, The Road to the Sea is set in a very particular time and place. Is there something specifically Irish in its themes or do you think it could have been set anywhere? And how does landscape and the importance of place impact on the way you choose tell your story?


Hey Alis, thanks for your question. And apologies to all for not passing on my congrats to all the exciting things that have been happening with you MNWers - I’m not on this blog v much and I can see I’m missing out!

Those of you who know me will know that I am not very good at talking about my own work...I just find it difficult, or strange or something, discussing what I’ve written, and am intensely shy about it al! so my answer may be considerably shorter (and likely less well-expressed than the others!)

Re the Irishness of it - I think it, for me at least, it’s fairly pivotal to the book - in how it’s bound together, how the characters interact, the general feel of the setting and the traditions and so on. Of course, the nitty gritty of the story and the major themes could be set anywhere...but in setting it elsewhere it would become a totally different book. Maybe that’s the same for any story though? It’s a very interesting question now that I think about it. It would actually be an intriguing experiment for one author to take the same story and place it in different times/cultures/places to see the different outcomes. I expect those things - place, era etc would dictate, to perhaps a great extent, how it was written.

For example, there there are certain Irish elements that pervade throughout - not simply in the setting and the characters’ speech etc but in the history and traditions of generations before that dictate the ways things are for this family - expectations formed by Catholicism, the culture and ‘ways’ handed down that gave me the threads with which to weave the fabric of the community and the central family. Of course the era (the 1940s) dictated certain aspects too.

Many people have asked whether the theme of incest came from the awful stories that have come out over the years over there - and here - and thus it could be construed as a specifically Irish, or at least Catholic, issue. But it wasn’t at all, and I am a bit dismayed when people ask me this as it was not in my mind in the slightest...This is where the story could have been set anywhere - it happens everywhere, to all sorts of people in all sorts of situations...I was more concerned with portraying a different angle or instance of incest - while it is always wrong and disturbing, for my characters it was almost inevitable that it would happen, a natural thing, and maybe a necessary thing - although I am wary of using the word ‘consensual’. Exploring the characters’ emotions with regard to what happens and the effects on the wider family and community were equally important as the reasons for the act itself happening. I worry about talking about it to be honest, as I would hate to be seen to be undermining the very real issue of abuse...But my book is not a comment on this, it’s simply its own story in which incest happens...

Obviously the shame and ‘what to do with’ young, unmarried mothers has been well documented in novels and the cinema over the years. But again, although these responses are society/culture/era-bound, I’d like to think that this was more generic rather than specifically Irish. And in fact, I hope there is the sense that the family/community reaction in my book is not the ‘stereotypical’ response.

I suppose the most specific Irish issue that is touched upon regards the feeling of unease that some people felt about welcoming back young Irish men who had fought with the British in the war (a minority viewpoint in my book).

A sense of place is definitely an important element of the book, and important to me as a writer and as a person...and I think the same is clear in my second book. For me, the characters of a book are inextricably linked to their surroundings, to the world the author creates for them. Kathleen (the main character) is so connected to her landscape for various reasons - I hope the reader gets a sense of this and feels it would be rather tragic for her to have to leave. In my new book a sense of place is equally prevalent. It is viewed from two distinct viewpoints over the course of time and we see how important the landscape around them is, among other things, in terms of connecting these characters as the story evolves.


So, to Doug: How does the thought/writing process differ when writing features/articles etc compared to novel writing - does one ‘feel’ very different from the other? Also you said previously on the blog that writing Thin Blue Smoke ‘fundamentally altered’ your understanding of yourself. I expect many writers empathize with this - it would be great to get it going as a talking point...was it that book specifically that had this effect of you, or the process of writing itself?


Alis said...

'It would actually be an intriguing experiment for one author to take the same story and place it in different times/cultures/places to see the different outcomes. I expect those things - place, era etc would dictate, to perhaps a great extent, how it was written.'

An interesting point, Ciara and I'm sure you're right. I think place and era dictate almost entirely what is and isn't possible in a story. Dee Swift put up a very interesting post on her own blog recently about how she started writing historical fiction and her conclusion was that the things she wanted to happen in the narrative of The Lady's Slipper could only happen at a particular time and in a particular place.

Brian McGilloway said...

An interesting post, Ciara. I loved the Irishness of the novel and I think that place and time should be integral to a strong story, to allow us to place the characters in every way.

Ciara Hegarty said...

Thanks guys...Ahh, that's interesting about Dee, I'll check out her blog. I have my dad hooked on your books, Brian! I'm officially crap at reading at the moment, but I have most of the MNWers on my shelf pending...although so far I've only managed one and a half...if only there were more hours in the day for reading!