Monday, 2 September 2013

Jon McGregor: The Donegal Connection

Jon McGregor has written three fine novels and a superb collection of short stories.  He has attracted critical acclaim and prestigious awards for his short fiction and novels alike, but his second book, "So Many Ways To Begin" has links with Donegal. Jon kindly agreed to tell me more, answering questions on postcards that were handwritten and sent between his office in the University of Nottingham, where he is Professor of Creative Writing (Writer in Residence), and my Donegal home. It seemed like a good way to communicate with Jon as he is also editor of  'The Letters Page', a literary journal which takes correspondence as its theme, launching this month. He's a busy man....

Here is the first postcard:

"So Many Ways To Begin" is structured in short chapters, each bearing the title of an object or piece of ephemera that has played some part in the life of David, the main character. At the recent North West Words Writing Weekend in Letterkenny, Lisa Frank of Doire Press gave an excellent fiction editing workshop and told us she has studied and admired the structure of "So Many Ways To Begin", and recommended it to the participating writers.

The very first scene of the book depicts a hiring fair in the years before WWII, and introduces us to Mary, a young Fanad woman. When I asked Jon about this, he described the hiring fair as '..a startling piece of history for those who don't know it.' They are a fading part of living memory here. As a child, I heard my uncles tell stories of walking from their home in the mountains to the hiring fair of Letterkenny, working for wealthier farmers in the east of the county when they were hardly more than children themselves. With empathy and insight, Jon McGregor recreates the harshness of the times.

"So Many Ways To Begin" is a wonderful book. You should read it, if you haven't already. If you hurry, you can finish it before Jon's second postcard arrives and you'll know next time what we are talking about when we talk about home, emigration, the changing nature of work, loss, choice, fate or Anna (the most treacherous female museum curator in the history of fiction!)

(A full version of this interview with Jon McGregor will appear in a future issue of North West Words magazine. Keep an eye on this blog for further information and the postcards to follow...)

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