Much more to be said

Award winning author Anne Griffin to discuss her critically acclaimed novel online with Cavan book lovers

A chance meeting in a Mayo pub sparked a Mullingar author to pen a story that has found readers around the world. This month Anne Griffin will discuss her critically acclaimed debut novel ‘When All is Said’ with Cavan book clubs, and individual book lovers are welcome to join in too.

Anne laughingly agrees with the Celt that the prospect of discussing your work with readers must be both delightful and daunting in equal measure. Particularly since the readers didn’t pick the story, so there’s no guarantee they will like it.

“Not in this case, but sometimes I’d say to book clubs, ‘Listen, I won’t go on until you’ve had 20 minute of a good oul discussion of what you didn’t like about the book, and then I’ll go on and you can tell me how much you loved it!”

Anne’s experience of interacting with book clubs are generally positive, and reflects well on Irish manners.

“People aren’t going to say, ‘That’s a heap of crap! I didn’t enjoy anything about it’ – they might just stay quiet, but they might ask a very interesting question about it.”

Anne is fully accepting that her book is not going to be “loved universally”.

“There has to be people who are not going to like it, agree with it because that’s what reading is – reading is so subjective. So if you are going to be a writer, you don’t automatically have it, but you have to grow that thicker skin.”

She asserts that the relationship between writer and reader is a “two way street” and reports to being pleasantly surprised by some unintended meaning readers occasionally take from her work.

“They’ll say, ‘I love the way you did this because it meant that you were looking at the world in this way’. And I’m like, ‘Wow that never occurred to me, but actually now that you say it...’ So you learn from the reader as well.”

Can the reader’s interpretation be correct, that something was unconsciously bubbling to the surface of your writing?

“Perhaps, yeah, cos there are times when you do think, ‘Wow I’m a lot deeper than I thought’,” she jokes. “This is the beauty of the written word, because the written word means so much in different ways to different people. You just have to be open to that.”

The Celt wonders if that could prove counter-productive. If the creation of art is an act of self expression, maybe it shouldn’t indulge what readers think, or worse, want.

“When you are in the moment of writing, it is purely you and your imagination, and it’s free of all of those voices – for me anyway, because you are so caught in that moment. There is such depth to it. You are so closed off from the world, because you are trying so hard to understand a character that there’s no room to let that kind of criticism in. It is just you and your art and you have to express what’s coming out on the page.

“Yes later you go back and edit it – but that is where it all happens and you have to remain true to that. Now your editor can come along later and say, ‘We’re not sure about that scene’, and that’s the point you have to think, to be true to the story, do I have to leave that scene in? Can I let that go? Am I going to fight my ground here?”

Journey’s start

‘When All is Said’ was born out of a chance encounter when she was cycling the Greenway in Mayo. She and her husband stopped into a hotel for a bite of dinner and found an empty lounge save for one man in his 70s.

“There was only one man there,” she recalls, “elbow on the bar, pint in his hand, and he got chattin’ to us very quickly, and obviously was in need for a chat.

“He said a couple of things to me which started me on this journey. The first thing he said to me was, ‘I used to work in this hotel when I was a boy’. And I loved that idea of this full circle of life, had this man come back here? Had he always been here? My wirter’s brain was churning away

“As another couple came in and he was heading over to them, he said this thing to me and this was the start: He said, ‘Do you know what? I’m not going to see the morning.’ And he was gone.”

Torrential rain the next day deterred Anne’s husband from finishing the last leg of the Greenway cycle, but she was determined to make use of the headspace afforded by completing the Mulranny to Achill leg.

“I had this man’s words in my head. I cycled that track all on my own - I met not another cyclist that day, that’s how bad the weather was. And I came up with this idea of a man who sits at the bar of his local hotel one night – a significant night of his life – and he decides, he is there to drink five toasts to five of the most important people in his life. And through those toasts that is how we learn the story of his life, what has brought him here, and what it is that’s going to happen that night. That’s where it all began.”

We know what you’re thinking: does her protagonist, Maurice Hannigan, see morning?

“In this book, the big question is the ending, and why I chose my ending,” says Anne. “So that gets a lot of discussion in book groups, and I get emails from people from all over the world saying: ‘Why did you do that?’ They won’t even say, ‘Dear Anne...’

“But that’s what you do as a writer, you hand the story to the world and it’s up to the readers to decide how they feel about it.”

As it turns out, she did give this story to the world. Very unusually for a debut author her novel has been translated into 21 languages, including Hebrew and Farsi.

“I don’t know how it’s done in any of these countries, but just the very fact that somebody in Israel read the book and thought – ‘Yeah, we’d like to translate that.’”

Anne quite possibly Anne’s fear-free approach to having her work scrutinised is borne out of how well received elsewhere.

“It’s lovely, it’s such a compliment to be given an hour to talk to people about something you have created and to be able to say, actually that scene meant a lot to me and this is why.”

If you want to share this online hour with Anne Griffin and other book lovers, you can register by email: libraryheadquarters@cavancoco.ie or call 049-4378505. Cavan Reads book club is part of Cavan’s “Switching Off and Being Creative” initiative under the Government’s Keep Well campaign.

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