Delighted to welcome fellow Urbane author, Deirdre Quiery, to the blog this week to find out more about her excellent novel, Eden Burning. Set in Belfast in 1972 it tells the story of two families – one Catholic, one Protestant, and how they try to get by in such troubled and violent times.
Deirdre, you get inside the minds of characters on both sides of the Troubles really well to show the blind belief in ideologies that are ripping communities apart – how did it feel when writing this to return to those times and mine your memories for things that you probably would rather forget?
I think that pain faced and deeply experienced can be transformative. Pain repressed distorts the present moment. I wanted to explore that in the novel with the characters – Cedric in particular. I am quite an adventurer into the world of the psyche. In the physical world I am afraid of heights, flying and Water Park slides. Yet I fly internationally to be able to work, have abseiled and went to Acqualand here in Mallorca this summer. Mind you I only managed one water slide!
So in writing Eden Burning and returning to the reality of those terrifying times, I approached it with an adventurer’s mind knowing that what I would find would be fascinating and new. I believed that the emotional experience in writing would inform me at a new and deeper level of a reality that lay beneath the turbulent surface. This would allow me to create three dimensional characters. I wanted to feel, not only rationally understand, the full range of human experience – the moments of horror and terror with the moments of joy, peace and connection. So I wanted to adventure into everything that was terrifying to learn what it means in the present.
One of my school reports when I was 14 at the time of setting of Eden Burning was from the Science Teacher – Miss Hawkins – who said that I had “an open and inquiring mind”. The interest factor of exploring the past and believing that something could be learnt from it was much more significant for me than a trembling fear of not wanting to remember.
At the same time you also showed the more balanced individuals who tried to live as normal life as possible but who also didn’t judge and hate people on the other side. Would you say from your memories growing up there that there were more people like this than the extremists we associate with those times?
Yes. Absolutely. These were the ordinary people who never made it into the News, yet who were remarkable in their tranquillity, forgiveness and support for each other. They formed a true community. They were the forgotten people and were the majority. I wanted to show how they existed on both sides of the “Peace Line”.
An Uncle of mine was murdered. The mother of the murderer walked around the corner and found my Uncle dead before the Police arrived. She was horrified. Only years later, when the investigations were completed, did she realise it was her own son who was involved in the murder. This happened to people. They were caught up in the violence of others and yet found the courage to stay true to deep human values of love and forgiveness.
You explore the psychology of hatred and also redemption in this novel – do you feel that the hope and belief in the good of human nature that imbues the novel is a true reflection of that time, and of humans everywhere?
Yes. I know that may seem possibly naïve when we look at the levels of violence currently in the world. On reflection I think as human beings we find ourselves in a predicament. We want happiness. It is natural. But we don’t really know what makes us happy. We grasp at things we believe will make us happy. Some of those things may be the identification with a group or a culture. We look outside of ourselves to see who we can blame for this deep seated sense of dissatisfaction with life. When we identify who or what it is – we rationalise our violence. I see this only as a result of not knowing what love is.
So when we are touched by forgiveness and find ourselves loved unconditionally – our true nature can break through. We all have that responsibility to ourselves and others – to forgive and to grow in love. I think we are all capable of it. I wanted to explore that through the characters and plot in Eden Burning. Is forgiveness for terrible crimes really possible? If it is what is the impact on the person forgiven? Forgiveness for me heals the forgiver every bit as much as the forgiven. There is a oneness that happens – a melting of boundaries. I have tasted this from personal experience and know it to be true.
One of the earliest writing classes I ever attended the teacher said first novels are almost always very closely related to the writer’s life. You lived through the Troubles so this is definitely true of yours – but what are you writing now? Is it also very close to your life or are you going in a different direction this time?
I think life closely observed by the writer is love in action. Love is attention to detail. This is always inspirational. This week I was out walking and a couple were walking along the path with me. The woman looked sad, holding the man’s hand. They had three small dogs with them. The dogs were all old. One was like a small terrier – rounded tummy – filled with energy. As it ran along the path its back legs shot up into the air and at the same time its ears fell forward in total synchrony. It made me laugh.
The second dog was taller and ran along and with every third step its back right leg shot out. It was again extremely amusing. I thought that these are animals in old age with flaws but they are infinitely loveable and extremely amusing to be with. The reason I share this with you is that my second novel Gurtha is set in Mallorca. It opens with a cliff path walk in which Cornelia a key character is planning to push Angelina off the path – to murder her. Angelina slips accidentally off the path and catches hold of a bush growing out of the cliff edge. Cornelia reaches down instinctively to give her a hand and is pulled over the edge. They are both dangling there and three men come around the corner – Todd, Barry and Gurtha. What happens next? We find out how the five are connected, why Cornelia wanted to kill Angelina but there is one character not present – Paddy – Gurtha’s father. Paddy has dementia.
In the thriller which unfolds we see the beauty of the island contrasted with the decadence of an expatriate community and Gurtha’s growing understanding of what love is – within the twists of a murder plot. I so enjoy taking the human condition with all its frustrations as a starting point and then exploring how we struggle to make sense of life. I am very much enjoying writing a novel set in Mallorca in 2013. I am also fascinated by exploring how Gurtha learns about love from his father with dementia and his rather unusual platonic relationship from university with Cornelia and her ex-pat scene.
So real life continues to inform my writing (I live in Mallorca and my father had dementia for 10 years before he died) but so far I haven’t known anyone desire to push another person off a cliff path!
Many thanks, Deirdre, and I share your belief in love and redemption and that there is much more good in the world than bad, we just don’t get told about that in the media too often. You can buy a copy of Eden Burning here – and it really is a great read.
Next up in the Year of Indie Debuts is Helen MacKinven and she’ll be talking about Talk of the Toun, her coming of age novel set in 1980s Scotland.