March 1 to April 14
Q & A Session
I am very happy today to be able to present a very interesting Question and Answer Session with Jillian Godsil.
I have been a writer since I was very little. I had no doubt as to this career in my first decade of life. On entering my teens, I was just as adamant but strangely found little time to actually write fiction, only a few scattered attempts echoing whatever book I happened to be reading at the time. Into my twenties, I found university and then travel absorbed my time. I lived in London, Sydney and Singapore, before returning to Ireland with my first husband and first child. For my thirties it was all marriage and my children, two girls, which occupied me, as did a very demanding job and restoration of a period house in Wicklow, South Ireland. It was as I approached my forties, I suddenly went ‘Whoa! Where are my novels?’ and realised for all my talk I hadn’t actually started let alone finished any novels. In my final year of my thirties I sat down and wrote my first children’s novel, The Bell Tower. I had been experimenting earlier with pre school children’s literature but this was my first full scale attempt at writing a novel. It took two weeks to finish. It was also an autobiography with no relation to my life, just samplings of my growing up.
Next up, I wrote Running out of Road which is my first adult book and it took four years to write. It is most definitely not autobiographical but my divorce over this period had a huge bearing on the novel. Once, half way through the writing, I met an old work colleague and as we were both struggling writers we compared notes. One point he raised was his inability to write sex scenes. It was very funny as I had discovered my divorce had given me the courage to write on lots of topics, one of which was sex!
I have also written many short stories and towards the end of 2011 began blogging in earnest. 2012 was a good year for my writing. I did it more frequently and with more passion. I am slowing leaning to hone my craft.
In a parallel world everything else was falling apart. My dream house, the Raheengraney of these pages, was hurtling towards repossession. I am in court now struggling to make sense of it. I have another offer on the house but the bank still refuses to talk to me. It would prefer to repossess than try and recoup some money.
My business also collapsed in 2011 – and the bailiffs were called in. I thought that was bad but I struggled on for another year until I had to call time on my office and long term colleague. That nearly killed me. I moved home and starred for long hours at the computer. I wrote a bit. I slept a lot. I found it hard to get up in the morning. I experienced at first hand the mind crushing impact of loss of money and home and a financial future can do to a person. So I wrote a book, called Does my DEBT look big in this to try and help others. My book is about the emotion of debt and how to hang onto hope even when it is in very short supply. The profits are pledged to Pieta House, the front line charity for the prevention of suicide in Ireland.
I was also writing other books. Too many rabbits some might say but these are starting to come to a natural end. The first is a non fiction book about a family coping with a severely disabled child. It is a very hard story to tell. I hope to be finished this first quarter of 2013.
I am also writing another book with a good friend on her life with horses. An inspiring woman, she founded the only equine charity in Ireland and has dedicated her life to horses.
I am writing still about injustice and abuse. I feel I have a obligation to use my words to help others.
I write a lot of fiction too – some in short story format. I am getting into my stride in this area too.
I have a great family and many very good friends who have helped me during these tough years. I thank them here.
Finally, I have two fantastic girls who keep me on the straight and narrow
1.Who are some of the contemporary short story writers you admire? If you had to say, who do you regard as the three best ever short story writers?
William Trevor, Edgar Allen Po, Chaucer. The latter two I read while still in school and can vividly remember them. There is something about reading when a child that is different from when you read as an adult – books and stories seem to seep into your being and stay there.
2. I have read lots of Indian and American short stories in addition to Irish and alcohol plays a much bigger part in the Irish stories. How should an outsider take this and what does it say about Irish culture.
Irish culture is tightly bound up with alcohol, physically, intellectually and emotional. Just consider the recently developed Arthur’s Day marketing idea. Everyone has to raise a pint at 1759 – a pun on the year Guinness was founded. It has been a huge success since it was developed in 2009. Sometimes we believe in our marketing,
3. Declan Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing father? Do you think he is right and how does this, if it does, reveal itself in your work. "In I Lie in My Grave" the female narrator is a serial adulterer, can we see this as a related to the theme of the weak Irish father?
I would rather turn this around and say the dominant theme of modern Irish Literature is the strong woman. Historically Irish women have been strong leaders and even warriors. It is women who hold the family unit together, raise the children and keep the show on the road. It is typical of man to see the missing men and not to capture instead the women standing strong!
In my story, the main character is a rather petulant, selfish woman. She had held her own, created a life for herself, even while battling with her hostile mother-in-law but ultimately she feels she has failed her daughter. Not by the simple accident that took her life, but by not being there for her.
4. You lived in Singapore-my wife and I have spent some time there and we loved it. Some people find it too rigid a culture. I know I loved the food courts, how clean and green the city was, the beautiful malls, the wonderful zoo and the museums-of course we were on a trip not living there-tell us a bit about your time in and lasting impressions of Singapore please.
I loved Singapore. We lived there for about two years and I had my first child there. I was working in a top PR company and when my work colleagues came into visit me and my new baby they were terribly disappointed! Aside from being twice the size of the other babies in the nursery, she had a shock of black hair and could have been Chinese at a distance. Six months later, it all fell out and she had bouncing golden curls but by then I had returned home so they never got to see the ‘Caucasian’ baby.
We also lived in a great location – the address was Dublin Lodge, Killiney Road, Singapore. When my mother wrote to me she added ‘The Far East’ but I’m not sure that was technically part of our the address.
I loved the foods, although for the first three months of pregnancy I could not touch Asian food and survived on pizza, sandwiches and McDonalds for lunches. Terrible! I was very relieved as I moved into the latter half of my pregnancy that my normal taste buds returned. I especially loved places such as Newton Circus where you grazed at the different food stalls. I really enjoyed living there – even with the humidity.
5. Tell us something about your work with the Pieta Foundation please
I had the great honour of sitting in a filmed interview with the founder, Joan Freeman. She is such an amazing woman and so inspiring. She literally mortgaged her own home to get funding for this charity which deals with the prevention of suicide and self harm. At the time she explained that many suicides are opportunistic, that often the person hits a low and they cannot get over it. It could be loss of loved one, the ending of a relationship or loss of a job. The trigger is not important except that the person feels they cannot get past it. It is this stage of despair that Pieta House hopes to overcome. The idea that ‘This too will pass’.
At the time I was impressed and I fund raised over the following months. Then I hit a very rocky time in my own life. My home was being repossessed (it is gone now), my business failed (bailiffs came to the door) and I literally had no income. It was a very frightening place, and still is. Over 2012 I had been writing essays about my life, talking about the emotion of debt, and looking at social issues with a fresh eye. I found myself at rock bottom and was very depressed – a place I never thought I would be. Again and again her words came back to me ‘This too will pass’ and I kept on going. One shaky foot after the other.
So in January of this year, I wrote two new essays – One called Debt Never Sleeps and the other Hope – and gathered my twenty or so essays into a single book and self published it. Profits go to Pieta House but so far I have only written a very small cheque. I hope people might click here and consider buying it either on Kindle or Lulu (for a hardcopy). My mum says it is very good!
6. Your bio indicates you were impacted by the decline in the Irish economy, the fall of the Celtic Tiger-I know this has caused much pain and hardship-do you think there will also be good come from it and what lessons should Ireland learn from this?
Yes, I have been directly impacted by the recession in Ireland. My home is repossessed, my business closed and I am struggling to find work and earn money. It could not be much harder especially as I have two teenage kids to support. It is also tough as once upon a time I was a successful business woman. The contrast could not be more stark.
The good has yet to come. Ireland is a slow burning cauldron of emotion. We have huge and unprecedented levels of personal debt but the government is maintaining the status quo and indeed attacking the vulnerable in our society. The polarisation of our society is growing daily and is very unhealthy. I hope that we may see an emergence of a new society which better protects the vulnerable, serves the hard working citizen better and does not reward corruption and greed with large fat cat pensions. As you can see I have turned from a mild mannered woman into a reluctant and accidental activist. I am not sure where my journey will bring me, but I hope to create some good from my experiences.
On a personal note, when I was wealthy I thought I would be able to earn enough to semi retire and write. However, as I was the only breadwinner in the family that did not happen. Then when I lost everything, I discovered the poverty and writing make good bedfellows. So I am writing my way out of trouble now. My blog is on www.jilliangodsil.com
7. Tell us a bit about your non-academic non literary work experience please
My first job, ironically, was in the city of London working for an American Bank, JP Morgan. However, I was employed as a systems analyst with no knowledge of computers so that didn’t last very long. Or rather it lasted long enough for me to buy an ill-starred property at the peak of the boom, selling at the bottom, and to meet my husband, who is also now gone!
In summers I have worked as a waitress in the States which I loved. I moved from banking to High Tech PR which was fun and challenging. Now, I am writing, writing, writing!
8. Divorce is a great trauma-if you can tell us how your experience impacted you as a writer and as a parent
I found divorce to be an earthshattering force in my life. I struggled with a very angry ex, who still refuses to talk to me, and with a very difficult divorce lawyer (my own ironically). Regardless of the reasons behind divorce, it is impossible to co-parent when one partner does talk to the other. So I have found it very difficult to parent my two beautiful girls. I have made so many mistakes and when you are essentially a lone parent that is doubly hard – there is no one to share the guilt, blame or worry. My two girls are fabulous despite my efforts and I love them to bits. Even on bad days, I could not imagine my life without them and thank god daily for them.
This first article below tries to explain how I felt last year – of course the house is now gone despite all my efforts. The second article is a clinical view of the complaints I raised against my lawyer which were all rejected by the Law Society. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.
http://jilliangodsil.com/?p=121 – my life after divorce
http://jilliangodsil.com/?p=434 – Divorce is a dish best served cold
However, the good that came from my divorce is that I became brave. Topics and issues I would normally have shied away from, no longer scared me. I leant to bare my soul though my writing.
9. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?
I’m not too sure but we certainly do. I am very proud to have come from this literary nation.
10. (This may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe in Fairies?-this quote from Declain Kiberd sort of explains why I am asking this:
" One 1916 veteran recalled, in old age, his youthful conviction that the rebellion would “put an end to the rule of the fairies in Ireland”. In this it was notably unsuccessful: during the 1920s, a young student named Samuel Beckett reported seeing a fairy-man in the New Square of Trinity College Dublin; and two decades later a Galway woman, when asked by an American anthropologist whether she really believed in the “little people”, replied with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there."
No I don’t. sorry.
11. Do you think the very large amount of remains from neolithic periods (the highest in the world) in Ireland has shaped in the literature and psyche of the country?
We are very conscious of our history, too much so at times. And yes, this sense of leaning back into time affects our writing going forward.
12. When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write? As a playwright, do you caste the play at least by types as or before you write it?
No, I don’t imagine an audience at all. If I did I might not write. However, I probably should as then I might not write books that don’t seem to fit into any genre!
13. Do you think, as I do, that the Irish as reflected in their literature and your marvelous book title, The Irish Book of the Dead are more concerned with (wrong word) facing death than other cultures?
I rather like our connection to death. I think it healthier to confront our feelings about grief than ignoring them. I have been by the side of dead people, either laid out in their bed or in an open coffin. That can be very traumatic but it is also very real. Just in the same way, people in big cities have no concept of how food ends up on the table, there is a disconnect between the dead and the living in our modern society. The old idea of wearing black and being in mourning served a purpose. It allowed people to grieve.
14. Does the character of the "stage Irishman" live on still in the heavy drinking, violent, on the dole characters one finds in many contemporary Irish novels?
I don’t think so. At least, I haven’t seen my evidence of his existence.
15. William Butler Yeats said in "The Literary Movement"-- "“The popular poetry of England celebrates her victories, but the popular poetry of Ireland remembers only defeats and defeated persons”. I see a similarity of this to the heroes of the Philippines. American heroes were all victors, they won wars and achieved independence. The national heroes of the Philippines were almost all ultimately failures, most executed by the Spanish or American rulers. How do you think the fact Yeats is alluding too, assuming you agree, has shaped Irish literature
It is possible to learn more from your mistakes than your successes. So too with heroes.
16. Tell us a bit about your children's books please
I have written a number of children’s books and must return to write more soon. I was writing for my children at the time but now they are young adults. So maybe I should dip into young adult genres. lol
I was also very happy with my first book, The Bell Tower. This was a coming of age story written by a coming of age adult. I wrote it in two weeks basically in my spare time and it just flowed out of me. I was so proud of it and it is a lovely gentle read. It also proved to me that I could write a novel – beginning, middle and end!
17. Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers?
Good question. I am not sure. It seems a bit harsh to give poets an additional social role in their job! Should we ask the same of singers, electricians and engineers?
18. "To creative artists may have fallen the task of explaining what no historian has fully illuminated – the reason why the English came to regard the Irish as inferior and barbarous, on the one hand, and, on the other, poetic and magical."-is this right? Kiberd, Declan (2009-05-04). Inventing Ireland (p. 646).
For starters the English tend to think of most other cultures are being inferior – it is part of the old Empire thinking. Of course I am talking to stereotypes here but running an Empire does make for an arrogant people! With the Irish, we were a bit close for comfort I think. We share a lot of similarities while still being vastly different. However, our ability to write is respected by the English so I think they are a little conflicted in their views – and moreover often claim some of our writers as their own!
19. Do you think Irish Travellers should be granted the status of a distinct ethnic group and be given special rights to make up for past mistreatment? Are the Travellers to the Irish what the Irish were once to the English? I became interested in this question partially through reading the short stories of Desmond Hogan.
I haven’t read Desmond Hogan but will. I’d ask a question back – does the lobbying group of the Travellers wish for it? Will it help them (as opposed to the current spate of reality programmes which does not really paint the people in a goodway, with titles like ‘My Big Gypsy Wedding’ inviting more ridicule than understanding.)
20. Please tell us a bit about your time in Sydney.
I spent three fabulous years in Sydney and truly loved it. The weather was amazing, the food fabulous and the people very friendly. Sadly it is very far away from family and so I don’t think I would retire there.
21. Do the Irish, I think they do, care more about their own past than other countries, as a negative factor does this sometimes lead to a morose brooding?
Yes, there is this line which I hate – ‘800 years of suppression’ which refers to English rule. I really want to kick the history ball into touch and get on with our lives, without constantly looking over our shoulders. We have a past, deal with it! Some of it was good, some less so. I am reminded of the funny scene in the cult film The Life of Brian. In it, the rebels are gathering and someone says ‘What have the Romans done for us anyway?’ There is a good deal of foot stamping and shouting until one by one the rebels say, ‘Well, the roads, the sanitation, the water, etc etc.
So too I view our past. It has shaped us but it doesn’t need to own us.
22. My brother and I are making our first trip to Ireland in May so here are some questions on that I Hope you can help us with
- best place for fish and chips?
- best splurge restaurant?
The Magpie (actually pub but great food)
- best book store?
The Gutter book shop - @gutterbookshop
- best walking tour?
Around Trinity – haven’t don’t one but it is supposed to be good
- Book of Kells-must or see avoid the long wait and see it on the net?
I think you have to do it – ‘being there’
- best traditional music venue
7. options for a fairly price pint near Trinity
23. If you were to be given the option of living anywhere besides Ireland where would you live?
Someplace warm with easy flights home
24. If you could time travel for 30 days (and be rich and safe) where would you go and why?
To last week and buy the winning lottery ticket
25. Have you attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please.
I did some time ago in the UK and from there we formed our own ad hoc writing group, meeting up again in my old house, Tucany and finally in London for lunch. We fell apart in the end but it was a lovely group.
I am also a member of a writing group locally but our ‘leader’ has moved to the UK so we are a little lost at the moment.
26. Flash Fiction-how driven is the popularity of this form by social media like Twitter and its word limits? Do you see twitter as somehow leading to playwrights keeping conversations shorter than in years past?
Twitter is great and I love it. It certainly focuses the mind and reduces the words. It also makes the tweeter commit loads of grammatical mistakes in order to fit the meaning into 140 characters. Will it affect writing – yes I think it might. It also can lead to some killer sentences. Julius Caesar would have been a fan of twitter I think given his laconic Veni, Vidi Vici tweet!
27. How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?
I think less than it should. We do not engage much in the sea and tend to cross it rather than use it. I think it has limited impact on our literature but I am prepared to be proved wrong!
What has impacted us is being on an island. That has created an island mentality. I wrote about it some time ago. We are an Island Race http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/column-this-is-a-unique-island-%E2%80%93-and-it%E2%80%99s-time-we-regained-our-pride-437582-May2012/?r_dir_d=1
28. When you are outside of Ireland, besides friends and family, what do you miss the most? What are you glad to be away from?
I miss our sense of humour
I dislike our tall poppy syndrome
29. Quick Pick Questions
a. John Synge or Beckett-?
Beckett – fail once, fail better the second time!
b. dogs or cats
c. best city to inspire a writer-London or Dublin,Sydney, or Singapore-best food city? cleanest, friendliest?
d. favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner?
e. RTE or BBC
f. comedy or drama or neither
30. OK let us close out on this note-what is your reaction these lines from a famous Irish poet?
I was born to the stink of whiskey and failure
And the scattered corpse of the real.
This is my childhood and country:
The cynical knowing smile
Plastered onto ignorance
Ideals untarnished and deadly
Our white marble statues were draped in purple
The bars of the prison were born in our eyes
The sick glorification of failure.
And if reality ever existed
It was a rotten tooth
That couldn't be removed.
Funnily enough my childhood was idyllic. We did not have much money but there was lots of love and laughter. So, I find it hard to relate to this poem in a personal manner. It’s like looking at a very stranger, alternative reality. Not mine. Even with all the trauma of recent years. Not mine. Thank goodness.
I give my thanks to Jillian Godsil for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and illuminating answers. I look forward to reading more of her work.
I give my thanks to Jillian Godsil for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and illuminating answers. I look forward to reading more of her work.