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Waterstones eleven: Kevin Maher on The Fields
Journalist Kevin Maher's debut novel The Fields is our Waterstones eleven choice for March. Writing exclusively for Waterstones blog, Kevin tells how he came to write the novel, and in a video interview with us he discusses how his knowledge of the world of film has fed his fiction...
Set in the 1980s in Dublin and London, The Fields tells the vividly evocative story of Jim Finnegan's unfairly interrupted adolescence, which Maher describes in our interview as being "violently autobiographical"...
I get sick of watching movies. Yes. That’s how it starts. Really. It’s London 2001, and I’m the film editor of a hipster bible called The Face magazine and I’ve seen a million movies (actually around two and a half thousand – I counted), and I can’t take it anymore. So I up sticks with the wife and only child and head north, far north, to a tiny Scottish fishing village. There I begin what will eventually become The Fields.
I spend these days admiring sunrises, jogging on the beach, hanging with the family, and writing. We live sparsely, off incoming London rent (certainly not my writing), and I do about fifty good pages of story before my hipster head takes over and I decide to go all postmodern and critic-y, and write a book about the death of a book, an anti-book about anti-story and the impossibility of narrative. Naturally, it sucks. People read it and tell me that the first fifty pages are great, but the rest is really awful.
18 months pass. I get sick of jogging on the beach and admiring sunrises. So we move, all of us, the family, back to London. I start writing about films again and, in my spare time, I attempt two different novels, again both postmodern and smart-alecky and ain’t I so clever that I’m, like, totally above storytelling. Of course, they also suck.
Eventually, 10 years after it began, I return to those original precious fifty pages. At this stage I have three children, to whom I tell bedtimes stories at night. I am older, but not too old. And I am not scared of story. In fact, I know now that there is only story, and nothing else. So I return to those precious fifty pages and I tell the story that wanted to be told. Of a fourteen-year-old boy bounced between the two grand narratives of 1980s Ireland – of IRA violence, and of the menace of clerical abuse – but a boy, all the same, with very simple needs. The need to be loved, to love, and know fully that so much of life around him is transient and absurd when compared to the delicate lyrical beauty of dancing to Soft Cell or Bronski Beat in a suburban box bedroom with a true and loving friend by his side.
The book, of course, is my life and not my life. It’s the feeling of my early life transposed to other events. Thankfully. It’s the distillation of the pell-mell senses of an 80s Irish childhood crashed right up against the quietly beguiling trauma of that big biographical move from Dublin to London, and the kind of Oz-like experience that it can be, in every possible sense.
In the end, I like to think, with my smart-alecky, postmodern, critic-y head on, that the journey of the book – from Scottish scribblings to now – is a journey towards an embrace of story and a love of the once-upon-a-time-ness of everything. Because all that The Fields really says is that once upon a time there was a boy whose cat died. And the boy loved that cat, but he loved his father more. And he didn’t want his father to die. And so, this is what he did.
Kevin Maher, for Waterstones.com/blog
Read an extract from The Fields now.