That pot Kenny show on Newstalk. Maev wasn't sitting at the kitchen table, nor was she meditating on the stone step of the back door, drinking milk straight from the glass bottle it was delivered in. She wasn't dozing on the living room sofa, the television on both silent and empty crystal tumbler tucked inside the pocket of her peacock blue dressing gown, the one on which she had painstakingly embroidered a murmuration of starlings in the finest silver thread. Instead, there was an empty space on the banister where her coat should have been hanging.
Well, that's how we began. Helen Collins new book, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually, and we're thrust right away into the mystery. Aunt Helen Cullen joins me. Helen, good morning and welcome.
Good morning. Thank you so much for having me on this morning. And I must say, that was such a beautiful reading. I wish you could have recorded my audio book for me.
It's a fascinating opening now. Let's start with the title because you draw on an eminence to find your title.
I do. The title of the book comes from an Emily Dickinson poem that's called To Tell the Truth But Tell It Slant. And at the very end of the poem and Emily Dickinson says the truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind. And it felt like a really appropriate title for this book, which I think in many ways is about personal truth. And sometimes the juxtaposition between our own personal truths and what are universally accepted truths are what might be expected to be our truth by society or by our families.
And I do actually sometimes reflect now on the fact that, you know, I spent, you know, a hundred thousand words trying to say what Emily Dickinson managed to say in nine books. I'm very grateful to her for giving me such a beautiful title for the book. And this is your second book.
And, you know, like a rock star with the second album after the first hit album, A Big Challenge, but the Lost Letters of William Woolf, hugely successful and it still has legs.
Well, I think it's been absolutely amazing to see how much the booksellers and people have gotten behind the first book. And I never I never cease to be amazed by walking into bookshops and finding it on the shelves when there are so many new books coming out all the time. And I'm just so grateful to especially the old booksellers and the librarians and everybody who was captive's in their minds and continues to talk to readers about it. I still get letters from the Post from people who've been inspired by all the letter writing in the novel, and it's an incredible thing.
So I hope that people continue to find us as they discovered the new book alongside us.
And it's going to be a TV show, perhaps.
Well, perhaps one day, I mean, as well as optioned for television. I think they say that until you're sitting in a red velvet chair somewhere watching us on a big screen, you can never be sure. But it is a very exciting thing. And in some ways, even the fact that you get picked up for and you know, is already such an honor when there are so many amazing books out there that, you know, could be considered for adaptation.
So one day maybe we'll get to see the dead letters depo brought to life on the screen, which would be very exciting.
Now, let's talk about the new book, because your character. Well, you have a number of characters and it's cross generational, but also the location in OGX so-called is also a character in the book. But let's tell as much as you want to about at the Moon family, Amoretta Moon and Maev Morelli, who met at the gates of Trinity College.
Yes, sir. The Moon family. The story really the book really tells the story of their life on a little island off the west coast of Ireland, which, as you say, is called initially but is very heavily inspired by the smallest of the island islands in each year. And we meet this family on Christmas Eve in 2005 when a terrible tragedy befalls them and get introduced to me, the martyr and their four children, two twins, Mussi and Zelon, now the eldest daughter, and five, the baby of the family.
And then we travel back in time to 1978 when, as you say, even Martin met outside Trinity College and from their progress forward in time until we reach that fateful Christmas Eve again all those years later, and hopefully by then begin to understand why the tragedy that happened did occur. And from there, we move forward in time with the family to see how they moved on and didn't move on and the impact that it had on the children as they moved forward in their adult lives.
And it brings us pretty much up then to present time.
Now, Maev, herself, she's not Irish with an evil name like Maev Morelli.
What is her background?
So MEV is Irish American and grew up in Brooklyn. And she came over in the late 70s to Trinity College on the drama scholarship and fell in love with the country and fell in love with an Irish man like so many women before her and decided to stay here.
So she was sort of adopted then by the islanders on the island and adopted by. Martin and his family and me, this our home. So I think it was interesting for me to have her move here and have the experience of being a new person arriving in Ireland. And it kind of gave her a fresh start in her life to kind of shake off maybe the identity that was lingering around her with the struggles she might have had in the past in America and allow her to begin a new life in Ireland.
And I think it was really rejuvenating for her when she arrived. She, like many people, she didn't expect probably to stay forever. But, you know, that's sometimes what happens the way, you know, roads lead on to each other. And she became, you know, she felt as much in love with the country as she did with her future husband.
However, there is a fragility there.
Absolutely. And it was a really difficult thing navigating these mental health and the writing of the story. She has had a lot of struggles in some ways. There's a metaphor for the book in the Japanese art form of Consuegra, where the ceramicist repair broken parts with gold and silver filaments so that the damages and the fractures make the item more beautiful than it was before because it's not afraid of its history. And I thought about me the last one I was reading about Sukhi and how in many ways this was exactly like she was, you know, that she had these fractures in her.
But through them came the light. And it was a part of actually, you know, what made her such a beautiful person. Her sensitivities both it is. But she does have very, very serious struggles that manifest itself in the novel. And it's been quite remarkable to me. You know, people who have in the short time that the book has been released, I've had a lot of women in particular, you know, reaching out to me and talking about how it reflected some of their own experiences that they'd had with mental health problems and navigating that as a mother.
And that that's just been an incredible thing to experience, you know, for people to see their own struggles reflected back at them in a novel.
And it just means a lot to me that it has resonated with people in the right way.
Now, the initial guyland, which was inspired by your own early experience, leaving home and going to the doctor. Absolutely.
That incredible rite of passage that many of us have the great privilege to have from our teenagers. I mean, I was particularly blessed. I think that my girls had experience with a colossal utting natha on any year. And it was my first time away from home, the youngest of six children. And I think the first time I'd ever done anything by myself. And I just think I finally way independent there. And it was the first time I really sort of tuned into that kind of writerly instinct of wanting to kind of capture my experience and to put what I was thinking down into words.
So I associated with being a really critical time for me in terms of getting to know who I was and who I might be one day. And when I thought about setting a book back in Ireland, I knew I really wanted to try and capture the magic of the Arni initiative in particular. And but I was a bit nervous about recreating it. Exactly. And getting everything right in terms of logistics and geography. And I was terrified about misrepresenting the island.
So I adapted it into my own fictional version. Cos any Zogu, which I hope that people will still recognise the original island inspiration in it, but gave me a little bit of creative freedom so that I didn't get too bogged down in worrying about all the particular details that would be so easy for me to get wrong sitting in London when I didn't have the pleasure of sitting on the island for those writing us.
Now, one of the interviews that you gave, you talked about your own father, who was 80 at the time of beginning the writing of of your book and wondering what would happen if he gathered the whole extended family together and deliver it, a secret that he had held close to his chest for years and years and years.
And what an earthquake like that would do and indeed how unknowable the lives of our parents tend to be to us, because we only see them as a generation above. We don't see them, as it were, when they were in their pomp.
Absolutely. And I think I suppose it's probably fair to my lovely father, Frank, to say I don't think that he has a big secret that he's going to reveal to us. But I did wonder about the impact of that, because I think there's this generation of Irish fathers in particular who are so beloved by their families and but but remain still a bit of a mystery because they have been so stoic and just weren't really brought up to be so expressive about their emotions and to share their kind of interior, whereas in the way that the generations coming behind them might have done.
And occasionally even now, after all these years, you know, my father will release a little trickle of something, you know, from his childhood or from his adolescence or from his heir to your life. And I'll be, you know, amazed by that. It's just another little thing that I don't know that's part of its history. And so I did think, especially with how much Ireland has changed in the last 10 years and how much more acceptance there is, you know, for people to have made make alternative choices now and to be more truthful about, you know, themselves and what they want from the world and who they are, that, you know, what would happen to maybe the older generation who hasn't had that privilege of being able to live a full life, who now suddenly thought, gosh, maybe I can't be more honest with my family or maybe share something that I didn't feel comfortable before.
And how were their children, especially their adult children, cope with that, having had such a fixed idea of them in their minds beforehand?
So I thought it was a really interesting premise for it to have that kind of reveal and a multigenerational family where there's always drama anyway.
But then how would they cope with this new this new news about something that they felt so sure about at lest people think that you were, you know, an old fashioned writer closeted away from the world and, you know, meditating on the west of Ireland and all of that, you are a thoroughly modern woman with quite a CV behind you.
Well, I think it's interesting that for someone who has been so obsessed with letter writing and kind of, you know, the the romantic notions of, you know, letters and writing by hand and vinyl records and all of that business, because immediately before I signed my book deal, I was working for Google, which is probably the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of like living in the future and technology. So I think, you know, as my mother's guiding principle in life has stood me in everything else, my life, everything is fine in moderation.
So, you know, I take the technology and I and I embrace the old fashioned methods. But, you know, to everything, to a degree, I think it's the blend that makes for a happy life, maybe not throwing out too much of the old, but and not being too afraid to take a step into the future as well.
I know many of us were critical of social media and all of that and how people were living their lives through their mobile devices and, you know, not talking to each other instead, just wire tapping or texting or whatever it might be. Your Instagram using these devices. However, it's been revealed to one and all just how incredibly in a lockdown situation that social media can be and all sorts of digital communication.
Absolutely. I mean, I think there are so many positives that have come. I mean, the risk, as we all know, is that even though we can communicate more efficiently and economically than ever before, it sometimes does leave us feeling more disconnected because we're missing the intimacy and the kind of physical embrace of being together in a way that I think actually letter writing does feel more intimate. But I think that especially during lockdown, it has allowed us to kind of keep the communication open.
And I think people have discovered new ways of using technology that feels more inclusive than before. I think I suppose the big danger for me outside social media, I always say to people, is that you shouldn't compare your interior worlds to everyone else's exterior world. And I think that's sometimes where it can be difficult if you only see the kind of public persona of everybody. And, you know, and it can feel very different from your own private experience.
But I think like everything with balance, if we can take what's good from it, but still make sure that we still connect in the real world as well. And I think that the mix's is a great thing.
I think that's a great mantra, which I shall repeat, if you don't mind. Do not compare your interior world with everyone else's exterior world because their lives on how. And sometimes envy and jealousy and sometimes even mental health problems. Look, your book is wonderful. I have to say, I'm sure you're already contemplating the third hour, but this one has got already a great welcome. It's called The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually, and it's available online and also in all bookshops all around the country.
And its author, Helen Callon, thank you very much for joining us on the program.
Thank you so much. Past this is such a pleasure.