Acclaimed Glasgow writer BERNARD MAC LAVERTY returns to his native Belfast for his first novel in fourteen years. It has been a long wait for fans of Cal. Words: Kathleen Morgan
When Bernard Mac Laverty left his native Belfast in I975. he expected to move back within a couple of years. A string of books. some screenplays and a family of four later. he is still thinking about it.
The Glasgow-based author has never been away from Northern Ireland in his imagination. The province and its turbulent sectarian background have repeatedly surfaced in his novels and short stories. He is best known for Cal. his acclaimed tale of an adolescent Catholic boy sucked into guerrilla work for the IRA in small town Ulster. Mac Laverty later adapted the book for a powerful movie starring John Lynch as Cal and Helen Mirren as the boy’s lover.
‘I went away for say. two years.’ says 55-year-old Mac Laverty. sitting in his west end Glasgow ﬂat. ‘Then I realised it was 22 and I hadn’t made a decision. The grip Belfast has over me is enormous. in that I’m still trying to write about it.’
Mac Laverty returns to Belfast again for Grace Notes. his first novel in fourteen years — this time through the eyes of a woman. Catherine McKenna is a composer searching for an identity somewhere between her music. her Irish Catholic background and single motherhood.
Struggling to write her first symphony. she finds herself living with a friend in Glasgow flat. up to her eyes in dirty nappies and blank sheet music. Behind her lies a failed love affair and a bitter fall out with her parents. She has reached a dead end. labelled post- natal depression.
The unlikely catalyst that refires Catherine’s creativity is her father’s death. She returns to Belfast to face his funeral and her past.
Grace Notes is party autobiographical — at least geographically. A former lab technician. Mac Laverty taught English to Scottish children who, he jokes. thought he was American. He gave it up to write full time — Catherine packs teaching in to write music. Like Catherine. he lived on lslay. before moving to Glasgow.
Mac Laverty also lost his father. a commercial artist. although at a much earlier age than Catherine. The experience has shaped much of his writing. The
‘The grip Belfast has over me is enormous. I went away for say two years. Then I realised it was 22 and I hadn't made a decision.’ Bernard Mac Laverty
Bernard Mac Laverty: his latest novel is influenced by the death of his father
father-son theme dominates Cal and the writer’s first novel Lamb. which explores the fateful friendship between an epileptic boy and a ‘father ﬁgure’ priest. adapted by Mac Laverty for a Channel 4 film starring Liam Neeson. In Grace Notes. the focus switches to the mother-daughter relationship after the death of Catherine’s fa'ther.
‘My own father died when I was twelve.’ says Mac Laverty. ‘Up till you’re twelve you’re full of uncritical admiration for your parents. It’s after that when the hormones come along. then you become more critical.
‘Having lost a father. I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to have talked to him as an adult. One way of dealing with this is writing — trying out fathers.’
Grace Notes at first lacks the passion of Cal. There is no great love affair at its centre. only the search for the self. Catherine’s internal dialogue replaces an action- packed plot — one reason why Mac Laverty has no plans to adapt the novel for the screen.
But his portrait of Catherine’s creative journey from her father’s death to the birth of her baby and finally. her symphony. is convincing and moving. If it takes another fourteen years for Mac Laverty to write another novel, it will have been worth the wait.
Grace Notes by Bernard Mac Laverty is published by Jonathan Cape at £14.99. Mac laverty is at John Smith. 252 Byers Road, Glasgow on Thu 3 Jul at 7pm and Waterstone's. 13-14 Princes Street, Edinburgh on Thu 10 Jul at 7pm.
preview BOOKS The Write Stuff
Stella Duffy’s new crime novel in the 532 Martin series is Beneath The Blonde.
NAME: Stella Frances Duffy. TWO of my grandmother’s names and one great aunt's.
PREVIOUS JOBS: I was a house cleaner to Nigel Demster, the social columnist. Actor and ironer and a temp for just about everything.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: I think circuitous would be the short answer. The first thing I wrote was a play at the age of sixteen and that was performed. Then I had my first novel Calendar Girl published when I was 29. In between those ages I wrote improv for theatre, lots of comedy and did loads of acting. I'd describe becoming a writer as a nice accident rather than intent.
DAILY ROUTINE: I don't have one but I really wish I did. I get up in the morning, chant because I’m a Buddhist, do my exercises because I'm an exercise obsessive, then I go off and do all my stuff. This could be writing or acting, teaching, business or meeting people. Even when I'm writing a book, I don't spend all day or week purely on that. there's always a mix. If I have a deadline though, I'll stay up till Sam.
INFLUENCES: My mother for hard work. My father for honesty and my big sister because she's so wonderful and is my role model. She had four kids by the age of twenty and still manages to have a great life doing loads of other things. I have three spiritual influences in my life: Catholicism, because I was brought up that way, Buddhism and the Jewish religion because of my girlfriend. Literary influences: Jeanette Winterson, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Janet Frame.
AMBITIONS: Yeah, to have a routine.
FEARS: This is not meant to offend, but I have a fear of being physically disabled by my joints seizing up. They are already starting to 90. Other than that, poverty and spiders. But I'm not afraid of the dark.
INCOME: £17,000 per annum. I‘m telling you this because everybody thinks I earn a lot more and should always pay for dinner. I get a third from my books, a third from acting and a third from teaching the other two. (Ann Donald)
I Beneath The B/onde by Stella Duffy is published by Serpents Tail at £8. 99.
27 Jun-IO Jul 1997 TIIEIJSTB3