03 Mary Grehan

Mary Grehan studied ceramics at the National College of Art and Design, and went on toLITEB book cover 11.3.13 become Arts Director at the Waterford Healing Trust, Ireland's leading arts and health programme, based at Waterford Regional Hospital. Love is the Easy Bit is her first novel. Mary was nice enough to agree to be my third featured author here on Literary Love Fest.

1) What is your name? What is your quest?

My name is Mary Grehan and my quest is to write novels that drill down into the messy swamp of human experience. I want to put my lead characters under the microscope and show up their quirks and ticks, play with the tension between internal thought and external action, show how they say one thing and do another, how they say one thing and think another and so on.

Most of all I want to tell stories that are beautiful in their honesty, and compelling.

I want to paint pictures with words that people can see and I want readers to have those moments of recognition. And I want them to keep turning the pages because they care about the characters as much as I do.

2) Okay, tell me about your book.

Big intake of breath. My editor described my book as 'a gritty, redemnitive tale of a woman's breakdown and recovery'. I memorised that because I felt it fitted and because it was easier than trying to come up with my own line!

It's very difficult for a writer to summarise their story when they have spent years writing it. As soon as you do so, you find yourself saying 'well, no, it's not just that. It's more than that.'

So bearing in mind that it's more than this, here goes:

'Love is the Easy Bit' is the difficult story of a mother, Sylvia, who has failed to fully bond with her 11 year old daughter Kate for layers of reasons that emerge in the course of the story. A chance encounter with a former lover that reminds her of the artist she once was and the life she gave up, triggers a series of events that tip her into despair and cause her to almost destroy her own world, and that of her family. Coming so close to the edge, however, forces Sylvia to face up to certain truths. She is backed into a scenario whereby she must choose to take action or risk losing everything.

As the back cover says: 'It is a journey of heartbreak, challenge and painful surprises. And for Sylvia, her husband and Kate, it is one in which the destination will remain unknown until they get there...'

3) What was the most difficult bit to write?

A very emotional breakthrough scene at the end of the story. I was trying to get the balance between raw and subtle emotion and of course at all costs avoid the dreaded sentimentality! I wore a hole in the carpet in my attic (my writing room) by pacing up and down and reading aloud the scene, again and again.

4) What surprised you about writing it?

I see 'Love is the Easy Bit' as a gentle novel. To my friends, I am seen as energetic and outgoing, but I learnt in the course of writing the book that the process of writing demands quietness, a turning in and listening to the things life has taught us that we may not have realised we knew. For the lead character Sylvia, it seems there is more going on on the inside than the outside, hence the external quietness of her.

Although I am an extrovert and talk freely about most things to most people, I found myself protecting the book by keeping it to myself as I tried to figure out the story. I did give it to some friends to read, but I limited the number of people and these were carefully chosen!

5) First line:

'The old man waiting to cross the road makes me turn.'

6) What's the next project?

I began work two years ago on my second novel which is set in Kyoto, Japan, where I used to live. It tells the story of a woman who returns to Kyoto after an absence of 12 years to find that her memory of her time there is deeply flawed. I returned to Japan in 2011 and again in 2012 to carry out research.

7) Your three main characters are trapped in a barn during the zombie apocalypse. What's the outcome?

I reckon they'd pull together a lot more than they have done outside the barn without the zombie apocalypse!

8) Your book's been made into a movie. What's playing over the opening credits?

Oh that is tough. I'm essentially a visual person and can see the opening scene of Sylvia driving nervously around Dublin housing estates. I can hear Roger, her driving instructor's voice saying 'straighten up' etc but god knows what's playing over the opening credits. Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day' would be great for the closing credits, if 'Trainspotting' hadn't used it already!

9) When and where is the book available? 

It's available now in all good bookshops as they say and online (Amazon, Book Depository etc) too. It's even been kindleised!

My two cents: Sharp, sad, funny, and beautifully written. I was never sure if Sylvia's journey would end in her own destruction or her family's. The setting, on the rural Irish coast, added so much - this is a novel I remembered in images. My favourite bits were the letter that Sylvia's twelve-year-old daughter receives from her schoolfriend - the poor kid has been brainwashed by Victorian novels - and the overall tone and atmosphere.

For more information on Mary and her work, click here. Now, erase Trainspotting from your mind, and picture those closing credits to Love is the Easy Bit:

 

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"...astonishingly good....a juicy coming-of-age story...also an important read." The Globe and Mail

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