#Book: Strange Flowers by Donal RyanHighlights from The Pat Kenny Show
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- 25 Sep 2020
Author Donal Ryan joins Pat on air to talk about his new novel Strange Flowers.
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That pot candy show with Marter, private trust, Ireland's leading private hospitals with locations nationwide, including Dublin, Cork and Limerick. This is News Talk. It wouldn't do to be sympathising too much because that way Paddy might think they were thinking what it was only natural to think that Marla Gladney was either pregnant or dead, and it was hard to know which one of those was worse. Well, that's the situation we find ourselves in. Well, Moul Gladney goes missing from her home in rural Tipperary in the 1970s.
Ireland, a home she shares with her parents, Patty and Kit. And when she turns up five years later, the real reason for her disappearance isn't the only truth that is revealed. Donna Ryan is the author of Strange Flowers, his latest novel, Following the Gladney Family Through This Turbulent Time. And Donal's on the line to tell me more. Adonal, good morning and welcome.
Hypersonics Million. Now, this is a wonderful book. That's all I can say, but I have a difficulty. And the difficulty is, as you probably know, when Mulle turns up five years later and that's no secret, that's not a spoiler. But there are things that really turn my head that surprised me. So I can't really talk about them.
I know it's a problem. All right. With the book.
So let's set the scene in rural Tipperary in 1970s Ireland. And we have Paddy and kids living in a house which they do not own and the situation both socially and culturally that you're looking at in that time.
Yeah, I suppose it's the book starts in the mid 70s and it's in a village that's, you know, fairly loosely based on my own, my own home village as kind of all my books stories are. And it's all the characters are drawn from the Mildura is very familiar to me and people I love, really. And so it's kind of it starts out, I suppose it looks like standard rule Irish fare was really I was interested in, you know, human connection and family and familial love.
And that's what the book is about, really, I suppose. Now, the character of Marla Gladney, as we get to know her at the beginning, the kind of girl she is, she's not a tearaway, nor she's not.
But and I suppose there's a huge chasm between mother's interior life and and what she presents to the world. She's a kind of quiet, observant, prayerful girl. You know, she's kind of at one stage her dad described as good, good little girls and they have no idea why she's gone. And I suppose this kind of revealed incrementally across the book, you know, exactly what was the truth of mother's life and situation. And that's something, you know, I'm interested in as a writer to the difference between for the present and we truly are.
I mean, you know what? It's not it's impossible for us all to be completely ourselves all the time. But for some people, this can be a tragedy in their lives. You know, the chasm between what's inside her we show to the world.
Now, this was a time when religion was a dominant force in people's lives. I mean, there was no question but that you would go to mass on Sunday. And if you didn't, questions would be asked.
Yeah, it's it's familiar to nearly everybody, I think. And not just Nurdin. I think we kind of lived in a theocracy until fairly recently in effect. And that was the case in small villages, especially where everybody knew everybody else's business. These things would be observed and noted and talked about. And there's no avoiding that, really. Now, the other element of what's going on in their lives at that Paddy, who's a hard working man, a simple man in many ways, walks the land regularly.
They himself and the wife and indeed, Michael, they live beholden life, don't they?
Yeah, their so-called caretaker farmers, where they work on a farm that Dordogne and this is a situation that was fairly, you know, was fairly widespread, was that people still take care of them for other people. And my own grandparents were caretaker farmers. And, you know, for all the people, the situation was was different to neglect because obviously, you know, this kind of presents challenges for Pettys men because, you know, at one point in the book, he's he's treated very badly by the son of the people for whom he works and his whole perception of the world changes, you know, because he's kind of, you know, a lovely comfortable like he's a he's got his job as a postman.
And he he takes care of the land for these people. And his days are very measured and settled and balanced. And, you know, anything that that kind of throws that house is going to be very upsetting. And, of course, the events that will follow, you know, just completely changed his universe and his perception of the world and his place in it. It is is the kind of atmosphere that you present for this family, very settled in their ways, not well-to-do in any sense, but not threatened until, you know, various events unfold.
Was that your own experience of the world? And did that change at any point where you realize it's actually not all idyllic out there?
Yeah, I was looking at this before and I feel sometimes almost foolish saying it. I was so blind to the way the world really worked to the child because I was like, you know, nearly all children are so loved and so protected and considered.
It never occurred to me that my parents were well, you know, I mean, we lived in a small house in the state, in a small village. And my dad drove a van during the week and he was a farm labor weekend and my mom was up. But I just thought that they were the most incredible people they are, you know, but it never occurred to me that they were struggling or that was any question of money ever being charged, because we were just protected from that.
And we lived in a beautiful place. And so the world just seemed to me to be, you know. Happiness and full of laughter, and I guess I was in my teens before I realized, of course, you know, the darkness in the world and people didn't, you know, have the same situation I had. And it was kind of a rude awakening. And so I've always been kind of aware of the troubles people have kind of alive today to help people struggle in life.
And it's kind of my preoccupation as a writer as well. The dark side of life sometimes. And maybe it's not the best place to be all the time, you know, to be to be thinking about these things. But they do seem to provide kind of a fertile ground for fiction.
And yet the writing of this book you have said in interview was easy. Did it feel that way? No, I remember the great novelist and short story writer Mike McCormack, saying that he had no recollection of writing his wonderful book sawbones and when he said that it couldn't be true. But I know how it totally is true because I wrote the first draft of the book very quickly shortly after my father passed away. And I don't really have a vivid recollection of the process of writing it.
But I mean, you know, first drafts and final draft are often very different creatures. But the first draft did kind of unfold in an almost dreamlike way. And the only vivid memory I have is of writing the very last scene and having a very strong sense. My father's presence in the room and almost hearing his voice saying good like that just right now. I thought, oh, happy, very happy that I had the ending at least. And it's good.
It's a good place to be to have an ending, because I think the hurt texture, says Jonah Ryan, is a 21st century John McGoran. Now, that's the height of a compliment. I mean, you knew, John, in the sense that I interviewed him several times. It was a great admirer of his work. But I should point out that you are not rooted in 1970s Ireland in this book. Even it is dynastic in in the broadest sense.
Yeah. It kind of covers three generations, really, or encapsulates three generations of a family. And it moves to the 90s and kind of in the middle part, kind of because I wanted to tell a story in the 90s and the central part of the book was vastly different in its first iteration. But the same things happened in the same people were involved because, you know, the 90s when I kind of came of age myself and my memory of the 90s is of the world opening up.
And I guess it did really, because there was such huge advances all of a sudden in technology and all of a sudden with Internet and email and all these things that we hadn't had before. And the world just seems, you know, smaller and and far more vast. It was a strange, wonderful time in the world. And so I wanted to says I wanted Josh to be the same age in the 90s that I was so I could really kind of draw on my own experience for the character of Joshua Maltzahn.
Yeah, and again, I haven't mentioned other characters because I wanted to do anything, like if I was having a conversation with you in the pub about this book and there'd be a lot more detail in my head.
But I didn't want to be in any way a spoiler for people because it is such a wonderful book as it unfolds. And I read also that Donel, you said that you love happy books, but you can't write them.
I've tried. And when I write a book that you know about unmitigated happiness, it just seems that the driving force and so it's just kind of thing I do for myself, really. But you know what? It's funny the way stories tend to kind of follow themselves. You can make all the notes you want and make all the plans you want. And you can you can forensically turn out a book, chapter by chapter or most or paragraph by paragraph.
But stories tend to kind of assume the arcs and get their own kind of momentum. And sometimes things will change. And, you know, the awful things that happen to people and the darkness that we have to all contentment in life just seems to close in sometimes unavoidable. But I think what I do I do believe that my books are nearly all hopeful.
And you know, that they're books mainly about love. That's really important to me that I just hope and the people are represented, you know, through all the struggles in the best light possible. And just, you know, the delight of all of us is apparent.
Now, the other string to your bow, Donald, of course, is teaching and mentoring young writers. How have you managed during the restrictions?
Well, we switched over to online teaching you. Well, it was a bit of a struggle, but it was it seems enough because we assume it's a great platform. But it was OK, to be honest. It's always better, of course, to be in a classroom and to be alive and have people around you. And because you can measure the kind of the temperament and the rhythm of class more easily. But it was fine. I mean, it's for everyone.
It's been a huge struggle. So, I mean, I can't complain at all. But we're still, you know, really starting again next week in the New World. So we're back in action again. Yeah.
I presume you did manage to do some writing during the period. Many writers say instead of being free to write because of being free of distraction, it was quite the opposite. There was a sense of captivity that impinged upon the sense of freedom to write.
Absolutely. It's the strangest thing. I really thought it started OK, if this goes on for a few weeks or months and will get loads on here because I would be at home and have no excuse.
And we started all this up with the story about Shakespearean King Lear when he was quarante because of the Black Death and no one did. They did manage to get a bit done, but not half as much as they should have really exists anyway. We. Yeah, well, it's the beginning of a very long process with editors and rewrites and all the rest of it, so much done and more to do. I really enjoyed strange flowers and I recommended to thoroughly to everyone.
It's published by Doubleday. It's available at around 30, 99 bookshops everywhere. And you can get it online if you can't get out to a bookshop. But author Jonah Ryan, thank you very much for joining us on the program today.
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