Bealtaine Book Club - Blog Post 1 - Bealtaine At Home

Bealtaine Book Club - Blog Post 1 - 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 regular blog posts. To find out more about the facebook group, click here. In this first blog post, the authors look at he deep inspiration behind their book.


The Birth of a Story - Catherine Dunne

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

One of my earliest memories as a child is huddling under the blankets with a torch, long after I was supposed to be asleep.  I can still see the way I turned the pages feverishly: galloping my way through the ‘Arabian Nights’. I was in the grip of a clever, witty storyteller, whose life depended on keeping the king, Shahryar, entertained for a thousand and one nights. To add to the sheer drama of her stories, there was also that delicious, vicarious terror of waiting for poor Scheherazade to lose her head – literally, physically – if she failed to keep her vengeful king entertained.

Sometimes, I think of those childish days as a metaphor for how I now spend my life. Clearly, I’m not in danger of having my head cut off if I fail as a storyteller: but the irresistible impulse towards story is still there, alive and well, and growing stronger even as I grow older.

I have always loved myths and legends.  Greek, Roman, Arabian, Irish: these mythological tales hold a particular fascination for me.  Over the last decade,I’ve become more and more interested in how much these ancient tales can tell us about ourselves. They are not dry, soulless tales about battles and power struggles and the shifting sands of kingdoms and spheres of influence. They are, instead, stories of love and lust, of betrayal and revenge, of sibling rivalry and obsession and conflicting loyalties. 

Ultimately, these are stories about people, making their way in the world. People just like us. They are also stories about family.

‘THE YEARS THAT FOLLOWED’ was born when the perennial writer’s question of ‘What if?’ came face to face with the richness of the Greek myth of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.  There are many versions of the myth, of course, but some elements remain fundamental. 

Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, was husband to Clytemnestra and father of Iphigenia.  He was a man of his time, by all accounts: brutish, tyrannical, obsessed by power and retribution.  Before he set sail for the Trojan War, he summoned his young daughter, Iphigenia, to Aulis, on the pretext that he had found a husband for her in the person of the  warrior Achilles.

Unsuspecting, Clytemnestra gave her permission for her teenage daughter Iphigenia to join her father and for the marriage to take place.  However, consumed by a sense of duty and his overweening ambition, Agamemnon offered his daughter’s life to the gods so that he would have ‘fair winds for Troy’.  He then sacrificed his own daughter on the altar at Aulis.

Clytemnestra was, understandably, heartbroken.  She longed desperately for revenge: and that longing can only have been intensified when Agamemnon  arrived home after ten years at war – bringing with him another woman, Cassandra, as a prize.

Now there was the skeleton of a fascinating story.The possibilities gripped my imagination and would not let me go. What would Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s relationship be like if I transposed their story to the twentieth century – a time without email, or mobile phones, or Facebook?  How would they behave?

What kind of fate could befall Iphigenia in the twentieth century?  And what sort of revenge could Clytemnestra exact?

These questions – and so many others – occupied my imagination for more than three years.  I’ve often said that writers don’t choose their stories: that our stories choose us.  And this was certainly true of ‘THE YEARS THAT FOLLOWED’. Once the ancient spark was there, the work of constructing the novel began.

At first, I believed that having the scaffold of the story in place, my task as a writer would be easier.

In that, as in so many other things, I would be proved wrong.


The origins of The Jewel - Neil Hegarty

Neil will be interviewed by Mia Gallagher on May 15th, find out more here.

In looking back at the roots of The Years That Followed, Catherine Dunne speaks of the inspiration which sparked this powerful novel into life. The perennial question is what if? – and in Catherine’s case, the question was: what if the myth of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra were transposed to the modern world? And so the story began.

For me – for The Jewel – I remember a moment in which the novel sparked into life: a tingling moment, a lightbulb moment. So: a bus travelling between Derry and Belfast, a cold winter morning, a newspaper on my lap into which I dip now and again, my reading interspersed with long absent-minded spells looking out of the bus window at the snow lying on the softly rounded peaks of the Sperrin Mountains. A feature on an art exhibition catches my attention: Beyond Caravaggio has just opened in London, is due at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, before finishing in Washington. It’s a real blockbuster show, with a galaxy of priceless pieces – works by Caravaggio and his contemporaries – brought together for the first time.

I read the piece, and fall to thinking about the practicalities involved in organising such a vast exhibition. Priceless art means anxious arrangements, security beyond belief, insurance – and I realise I don’t know a thing about this side of gallery life. And then I think: what if – in spite of the security arrangements – one of these priceless pieces is stolen?

And there it is: the tingle, the moment, as the beginning and the end of a story, a novel, presents itself. A painting will be stolen, the painting will be called ‘The Jewel’, and the story and the destiny of this painting will intersect with many lives and many destinies. This is the novel.

Every writer, or so I suppose, is familiar with this moment of presentation, in which an idea steps into one’s head and into one’s life. The idea can be polite, bashful as it slips into the room, eyes cast downward. Or, it can possess the sharpest possible elbows, pressing into ribs as it boldly announces its arrival. For me, The Jewel arrived in the latter, emphatic way. ‘The merest grain’ of an idea: this is how Henry James describes this sense of onset – but the arrival of The Jewel did not feel, in that moment, as the ‘merest’ anything. I felt a pressing sense of swiftness, that this was a book which wanted to be brought to life.

It is a strange sensation, I think, to feel as though an idea has a life of its own, that it is an entity in its own right, flesh and blood, and not to be gainsaid – but for a writer, it is a sensation to be much welcomed. I hope for many more such energetic introductions!