Mary hits right note with young adult fantasy novel

Mary Watson; 'I decided I’d write something I could only write here that would deeply connect me to this country.' PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.
Mary Watson; 'I decided I’d write something I could only write here that would deeply connect me to this country.' PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

There’s a new kid on the block in the world of Young Adult Fiction – she’s Mary Watson who lives in Castlegar and is originally from Cape Town, South Africa. Mary’s new novel, The Wren Hunt, published by Bloomsbury Press, was launched this week in NUIG and it’s a page-turner.

Part thriller, part love story, it’s roots are firmly based in Ireland and in the Irish tradition of the wren hunt. But its story is a universal one, a teenage girl’s coming of age in a challenging and often dangerous environment.

Mary moved to Galway in 2008, with her Irish-born husband, Cathal Seoighe when he took up an academic post at NUI Galway.

With a doctorate in film studies, Mary had worked as a university lecturer in Cape Town. She’d also written a collection of connected short stories, Moss, in 2004. Inspired by a dream, and written under the mentorship of novelist and anti-apartheid campaigner André Brink, it won her the Caine Prize in 2006.

But she and Cathal moved to Galway as the recession was taking hold and there were no academic jobs going, despite Mary’s qualifications and her experience. It was a tough time, especially as she felt torn between South Africa and Ireland.

Then, in 2011, her mother died in South Africa and Mary became very homesick for the country of her birth and for her three sisters – even though only one of them lives in Cape Town now.

“I wanted to be at home with my sisters. And then I was fed up with not being at ease and at home in Ireland. So, I decided I’d write something I could only write here that would deeply connect me to this country.”

It took a while. But she found her voice, largely by focusing on the landscape around her – landscape plays an important role in the book as does Celtic mythology.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.