Luke Cassidy speaks to books editor Orna Mulcahy about his roots in the north of Ireland, his dream of writing in a shepherd’s hut in the Slovenian Alps, and his debut novel, Iron Annie …
Luke Cassidy has spent much of the last decade abroad – in France, where he studied for a PhD at the Sorbonne — and in Japan and in Slovenia. He has published short stories and essays and written and staged two plays. Iron Annie, his debut novel, published this month, and secured by Bloomsbury as part of a two-book deal, tells the story of bisexual Aoife who becomes obsessed with beautiful Annie and persuades her to accompany her to England along with a stash of stolen cocaine. What could possibly go wrong? Iron Annie is published by Bloomsbury Circus, €14.99.
ON HOME Dundalk? That’s home to me, though since writing Iron Annie the place got stretched, it morphed into something else. The town really did leave an indelible mark on me; a colleague in a foreign capital once made the mock-charming comment that he could really tell that I came from nowhere. That’s part of the pride. Iron Annie was a way for me to return to the place after many years, even though I was living abroad while I wrote it. Finding value in that word – home – is not at all obvious for many people.
ON ROOTS My roots are in the north of Ireland. On one side from Fermanagh and the other Belfast. The northern connection is another quite Dundalk thing, really. It’s only since returning to live in Ireland, relatively recently, that I’ve realised how special that is. Dundalk is at a very specific kind of juncture in that sense, not only geographically, but in terms of the entire conversation around Irish unity, Brexit – all that border craic. In the south there have been all kinds of centenary commemorations of 1916, the war of independence, but I’d guess few readers are aware of how the centenary of partition is being commemorated in unionist areas in the north. It’s celebrated. You only have to drive a few miles from Dundalk to see that, the flags, everything. The problem is that we’re bad at talking on this island.
ON MY NEIGHBOURHOOD At the minute I’m living out of a rented van that I’ve converted into an impromptu camper to try and cash in on this staycation hype before it’s all over!
ON WRITING Writing certainly wasn’t something I was encouraged to do, it just kept pouring out of me. I tried all kinds of things to stop it; drugs, degrees, manual labour. Manual labour worked quite well actually, because you’d be too wrecked to think, but it was always an itch there in the back of the mind. Admitting to myself that I needed to take writing seriously felt a lot like I was getting into some very extreme habit – underwater nighttime rock climbing or something.
ON WHAT I’M READING Right now I’m re-reading Voyage au Bout de la Nuit [Journey to the End of the Night], written by Louis Ferdinand Céline about a century ago. It’s a quadruple luxury, because it’s re-reading, because it’s in French, because it’s entirely irrelevant to the contemporary literary conversation and because it’s great. Next on my TBR pile is Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt, one of the smartest authors to have ever lived, in my opinion, and the good news is, unlike Céline, she’s still alive. There’s hope yet.
ON MY DESK A couple of years ago I took my life savings – about enough to buy a car – and bought a shepherd’s hut in the Slovenian Alps. My dream was to renovate it and become a literary cliché, that Thoreau-esque dream of the writer in the woods. But then I realised that I lacked essential things, like money, and skills. So while setting about getting those, I sat my arse in bars in my free time, scribbling in notebooks. Six months later, Iron Annie was born. Also, I later learned that Thoreau had his mother and sister to feed him and a fortune to fund him. Anywhere with a bit of shelter, a table and ideally something to drink is my perfect working space. I write longhand, not only because it’s a great way to avoid the endless distraction of the internet, but also because it’s a great shortcut. When you write longhand, you have to type it up, which means you rewrite without feeling like you’re rewriting – you edit as you go.
ON WHAT’S NEXT I’m working on a second book in the same vein as Iron Annie, but I’m still up to my elbows in Iron Annie stuff. In October I will kick off a 20-venue tour of Irish theatres with the “Iron Annie Literary Cabaret”, a combination of theatrical literary recitation based on the book and live music composed specifically for the show. The tour kicks off at An Táin Arts Centre in Dundalk on October 8. I’m also working on my third draft of a screenplay of a TV adaptation of Iron Annie for World Productions, who acquired the option at auction last winter. They’re the crowd who make stuff like The Bodyguard and Line of Duty, so that’s a buzz.
In conversation with Orna Mulcahy
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