Friday Fiction: Interview About The Irish Trilogy with Regina Joyce Clarke

 I thought you might enjoy this selection from an in-depth interview I've just done with author Regina Joyce Clarke. The full article, which also discusses background, influences, poetry, creative advice and self-publishing can be found on Medium.comThe extract below is the part of the interview about the Irish trilogy. 

Interview about the Irish Trilogy: Writing

Did you plan a trilogy from the start?

No. It was all one book but it was too long and had to be split. And then a third and final part of the story presented itself…

Did you know what each book was to have in it in detail, or just the overall arc?

I just had the overall arc of the first two to start. Once I knew it was going to be three books I went back and changed things, to make the story work at different levels, and to have three separate but related and ascending, climaxes. It took a bit of figuring out.

The first book in The Irish Trilogy, After the Rising, is lyrical and powerful and compelling. I couldn’t put it down. Sometimes it was as if I were actually there in a deep and unexpected way—for the dialogue and people and what happened to them become so real. It begins to tell the story of such a division in Ireland, and you center it around three families. But the level of detail, both historic and in the dynamics of the families involved, is so absorbing.

Thank you for being such a great reader, Regina. For me one of the great challenges of these books, especially the first one, was integrating the research without interfering with the story. I wanted to tell people what I had learned about the Irish Civil war but more than anything, I wanted to bring the people who lived it, and their way of life, to life again. I’m glad that worked for you.

Your dialogue between the characters is incredibly true-life–nothing labored about it, all of it in such a flow, so effortlessly it always seems real, not written. It is part of why I got so absorbed in the books. So the question is–how did that come about? Was it planned, somehow, or did it just flow for you, and did it need much editing? Did you hear the characters speaking together? It seems as if it had just flowed and no editing necessary. It is the most powerful feature of the writing.

It was hard work, mostly, the help of a great book–Writing Dialog by Tom Chiarella–and dismantling the techniques used by great writers to see how they did it.

The further I got into the book, the more it flowed, but it is the most heavily edited part of my fiction… always. As Yeats puts it so beautifully:

A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,   
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught. 

Interview about the Irish Trilogy: Genesis

What was the turning point in your life—when you decided to write The Irish Trilogy? What inspired the books? What made you write what you did, carry it on the path it took?

When I was 16 I told the girl who sat beside me in school that I would write a novel about all this, the intimate and intertwined war of Irish history and family history. But I carried the different parts of the story around until I was almost 40, when I set out to finish it.

For me, a book is not ready until I get that finishing impulse. Then everything else shifts into second place. And I find life usually comes in around such creative intentions, to support us. In this case, my husband got a work transfer that took our family to the North of England for two years. I set aside my other obligations and focussed only on writing this book and raising our two children. It was a very happy period for me.

How could this happen, brother against brother, friend against friend, at a cost of lives, all based on truth? But the Civil War in Ireland did happen. How could this be? Were you aware of the effects of this growing up?

This was precisely the question that led to the book: how could this happen? My uncle was killed in that war, and I grew up not even knowing. The whole episode was buried under fathoms of secrecy.

When I was growing up, our school history books jumped straight from the “glories” of 1916 and the War of Independence, to the mid-1920s. “The War of The Brothers” was literally a blank page. And the few sources I could find had even less time for the sisters, the women who played their part in that time.

I knew that my great-aunt, who lived with us, had been in Cumann na mBan, the women’s auxiliary IRA. And that during the Civil War she was on the side of the ‘Irregulars,' as those against the Treaty were known. Her brother had been shot during the Civil War, allegedly by a former friend.

As you say: how could this happen? The older generation wouldn’t speak about it. There was this sense of shame, drowning in silence. A magnet, of course, for a writer. I couldn’t find out what really happened, so I made up this three-volume novel instead. It tells the truth of those times as I see it. And stories are so much more truthful than facts.

(More on Civil War secrets, shame and silence in this interview with The Irish Independent )

Interview about the Irish Trilogy: Characters

The suitcase of old documents and photographs Jo’s mother left her are the frame for the book, the documents bringing in life as it was during the war and strife, and a modern Jo wrestling with what it meant about her relationships with her family and their role in the wars. She seems to feel the guilt of them all, though she doesn’t want to yield to that. What made you choose that framework?

I love books like that myself and I love old documents and how they use the same words as us, but so differently. But mainly, using documents gave dead people their own voices, that felt important.

Peg is a redemptive figure. Is that deliberate?

Totally. She is the grandmother I didn’t have. All of my grandparents were dead by the time I was seven.

Dan O’Donovan—this man is an enigma—was he modeled on someone from the past?

Yes, he’s a mix of two older men I knew, who lived at that time and were involved in that Civil War.

Interview about the Irish Trilogy: Covers

The covers are full of portent and meaning. Did you work with the designer on them, influence their outcome?

Oh yes. Working on the cover in this way is one of my favorite parts of the self-publishing process and one of the reasons I so love being indie. My novels were originally published by Penguin and one of the reasons I took my rights back was that I didn’t like the covers they gave the books. They also, I think, pitched the marketing wrongly in loads of ways. It was such a joy for me to be able to put the books out with the titles and covers and treatment I had originally envisaged for them. And to know that I have now sold more copies of them than Penguin did.

To read more of this interview that covers all my books and poetry, and work for ALLi and Go Creative! visit Medium.

You can read Regina Joyce Clarke's “stories from another universe” here.

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