This week we talk to new fiction writer, Jim McVeigh
Q: Hi, Jim McVeigh, did you have a good St Patrick’s Day? What have you planned for this year?
I had a quiet day. I have a three-year grandson, Koda, who came to visit. It’s all about Koda!
I will spend the rest of the year working to pay the bills, but also promoting my novel as much as I can, so that this time next year I don’t have to work so hard.
Q: Your debut novel Stolen Faith was published recently. It’s a fictional love story but refers to real-life events that happened in Tuam, County Galway in the Republic of Ireland. Can you tell us how you came to write this book?
I had spent time in Tuam as a young child and returned as an adult. I visited the little makeshift shrine built on the site in 2001 before the story of the secret grave broke. When the news revealed the presence of children’s remains in an old septic tank, the idea formed in my mind that I wanted to write a novel that would tell the story of one young woman banished to Tuam in 1944.
When we talk about women and children housed in these horrible institutions and the 796 children buried in Tuam, it’s very easy for them to become a statistic but, of course, they were real people with hurts, hopes and dreams.
In the novel, I got an opportunity to bring some of them to life, explore what it must have been like to be banished to one of these institutions, and consider the intergenerational impact of institutional abuse. It ripples out through a family across generations.
Q: Obviously, there is a certain amount of publicity when a book is published. Given the sensitive nature of Stolen Faith, do you have to navigate that delicately?
Absolutely! There are so many victims and survivors that I was sensitive to how they might respond to the novel. I had a choice to tell the story of abuse subtly or address it full-on in all its horror.
My inclination was to tell the story and not shy away from the brutality. I reached out to several victims and survivors and asked them their opinion. They told me to tell their story in its full horror and not to sugarcoat it. So that is exactly what I did.
Q: You write part-time currently. Would you like to become a full-time author?
Oh, I’d love to become a full-time writer. I’ve so many ideas and subjects I’d like to write about. My mind is constantly thinking about other stories, books and film scripts.
My mind buzzes, but I just don’t have the time to write about everything I want to. If this is an international bestseller, I will! It goes on release in the US on May 5.
Q: No doubt child abuse is something that you’ve had to reflect on. What lessons from the past should inform the way children are educated today about keeping safe?
It’s vitally important that the truth about what occurred in these clerical institutions is documented and investigated, and those responsible for the systematic abuse of young women and their children held to account.
There are tens of thousands of victims across both these islands who are campaigning for the truth to be told, for justice, for acknowledgement and for restitution.
If the truth is kept secret or hidden, it can happen again and again.
Q: Previously, you have written history books. How would you compare your experiences of writing fact and fiction?
History is about gathering information and interpreting facts, or at least it should be. Fiction is pure imagination, even if it sometimes resembles real life. I enjoy both. I find history fascinating, especially hidden history; working-class stories.
Fiction has the power to really move and inspire the reader, make them cry, laugh and feel angry at injustice. It’s a very different process and more difficult in my opinion.
Q: 1 in 8 schools across Britain do not have a library – have you had experience of the educational inequality within the school system or met anyone who was?
Yes, of course. I come from a working-class background. I left school with little or no interest in reading. It was only as an adult that I started to read, and eventually, I went back to study. I joined the Open University and got a history degree and returned to university again and got a master’s degree in human rights.
I passionately believe in free and open education for everyone, including third-level and adult education. We need to value education and invest in the system. More teachers, smaller classes, first-class facilities and adequate special needs provision.
Q: What book or books do you think all children in schools should be given to read?
That’s so difficult to answer. Anti-war literature, particularly from the first world war.
Wilfried Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est.
And Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
Q: Ok, so the final question, Jim McVeigh – if all the libraries in the world were burning and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?
My word! How difficult is that!
The Lord of the Rings simply because it is an incredible work of pure imagination.
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje because it is the most beautiful love story and I read it at least once a year.
Strumpet City by James Plunkett because it captures the terrible poverty in Dublin at the start of the last century and Plunkett writes its working-class characters so true. It also exposes the greed, hypocrisy and culpability of the upper classes in creating poverty and injustice.
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