Bealtaine Book Club - Blog Post 2 - Bealtaine At Home

The Bealtaine Book Club has added a new strand for Bealtaine At Home, in the form of a Facebook Group curated by Mia Gallagher. Mia has selected a wonderful reading list which responds to Age & Opportunity's theme of resilience during these times. Two of the authors from the list will join Mia for a live-streamed interview and they will also share their thoughts through blog posts. To find out more about the facebook group, click here. In this second blog post, the authors look at revisiting their work.


Revisiting 'The Years that Followed' - Catherine Dunne

Catherine will be interviewed by Mia Gallagher on May 29th, find out more here.

My finger hovered over the ‘send’ button on my keyboard, late one evening in September 2015.

I know that, because I’ve just checked it now. I also know why I hesitated: once I pressed that button, I had no further opportunity to change the text, no room for improvement, no chance to change my mind about a character’s fate. This was the final version of THE YEARS THAT FOLLOWED.

It’s always like that, at the end of the writing process. There is a tension between a reluctance and the need to let go, and, yes, surprisingly, sadness also accompanies the sense of completion. The characters – products of my imagination – have become real people during the two or three years we have lived with each other. I may have brought them to life, but they very quickly let me know who was boss. When we say our regretful goodbyes, the waiting begins. There’s that time to be endured before the text I complete ends up between its covers and becomes a proper book.

And even then, it remains a text until a reader engages with it. Only then does it become fully alive. Rebecca Solnit in THE FARAWAY NEARBY captures that thought with her customary insight and elegance. She says: ‘[A book] exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.’

I love that last line. ‘A heart that only beats in the chest of another.’

Neil Hegarty explores what it was like for him to return to his novel THE JEWEL, no longer as a writer, but as a reader encountering its freshness. I returned to my own work with a sense of trepidation. What if my own novel’s heart had ceased to beat for me in the four years between publication and #BealtaineAtHome 2020?

The first thing that struck me as I read was the presence of the landscape of Extremadura. I was glad that my own descriptions transported me back there, made me feel once again the texture of daily life in that place.

I could see the older Pilar, too, in modern-day Trujillo, watching the swifts at sunset descend in their hundreds around the bell tower. I could see her in the bright and welcoming main square of Cáceres. And I could hear her as she strolled through the streets on her way to her favourite local café. It was a lovely feeling, the two of us walking side by side.

I grew very fond of this feisty, spiky, fiercely independent woman. And I felt her presence again as I read, could feel the warmth of her smile, the lightness of her step through those ancient cobbled streets.

What I have particularly enjoyed is the regular YouTube readings, in which I get the opportunity to revisit my characters.  In the scenes from Calista and Pilar’s life, I meet them again, I hear them, and I can feel the beating of their hearts.


Returning to 'The Jewel' - Neil Hegarty

Neil was interviewed by Mia Gallagher on May 15th, you can watch it back here.

It seems to me that when I have finished a novel, when I have handed it over – to an editor, to a trusted first reader or readers – then in that moment it begins to gain its own life, momentum, independence. It ceases in that instant to ‘belong to’ me – and as time goes on, so the feeling increases that the book belongs to the reader much more fully and profoundly than it ever belonged to me.

This is the way it should be, I believe, and there is great satisfaction in feeling that a book has been given its start in life, and sent on its way.

It’s for this reason that – even though I completed The Jewel in 2018 and published it as recently as the autumn of 2019 – I have felt a great sense of freshness in returning to the book for Bealtaine at Home. It feels new. Some of this freshness stems from the comments I have received from readers, and the questions that have been asked of me – such as: Where did you learn about painting, about techniques, about colours? What did you read in order to learn about London in the 1950s and 1960s? What did you read in order to gain insights into psychological abuse, into gaslighting?

And: why were you drawn to the book’s central theme, which is the meaning and importance in all of our lives of home, of connectedness, of community?

We all know that reading is ‘good’ for us: it enables us to see other viewpoints, to feel the experiences and imaginations of other people, to travel the world without leaving our own home. At this time of emergency, I think the virtues of reading manifest in a new way – in that it helps us to combat the emotions and strangeness that have arisen since the arrival of the virus. Isolation, fear, grief, the sense of being sometimes at sea (and this last is how I feel now and again): reading a novel, and allowing ourselves to inhabit other minds and other places for a while, alleviates these feelings. It reminds us that being a community – in this case, a community of readers – is no theory, but something real, and alive, and crucial to our wellbeing.

In other words, I’ve returned to The Jewel as a reader, and not as its author – and time, and distance, and the tensions of the present moment, have all added new dimensions to the experience.

And added something else: a reminder of that very same sense of connectedness, which is a precious thing.