Memorable debut from slow-burner Aoibheann

Aoibheann’s debut novel, Marina, has just been published.
Aoibheann’s debut novel, Marina, has just been published.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

“Children fascinate me with their take on things. Before my daughter was born, I believed we were products of nurture; now I believe nature is very strongly in there,” observes writer Aoibheann McCann about human beings.

Aoibheann’s debut novel, Marina, has just been launched and its strange central eponymous character certainly seems more a product of nature than nurture.

The short novel is a darkly compelling read with its strange and unreliable narrator, who is sympathetic and often very funny as she struggles to find her own place and people.

Aoibheann, who is originally from Donegal, but who moved to Galway in 1992 to study at UCG, wrote the first draft in 2004 on a break from her day-job. Her daughter Saoirse was in primary school at the time, and Aoibheann used the school hours productively.

“I had a vague notion in my head as to what it would be about and it kind of wrote itself”, she explains of the novel.

Aoibheann wrote every day for six months, loving the process but then went back to work and “did nothing with it for eight years”.

Eventually she decided to revisit it and received encouragement when she showed it to people in her writers’ group. Then, during the 2013 Cúirt Festival of Literature, she successfully pitched for a mentorship programme and was paired up with Mike McCormack. He was ideal for someone of her writing style and sensibility as he too creates strange, surreal stories grounded in a very Irish reality.

Mike, who has since gone on to win international acclaim for his novel, Solar Bones, encouraged Aoibheann to compose a blurb for the novel to focus her mind on its core message. And he got her to examine its peaks and troughs and assess its overall rhythm.

That led her to some stylistic changes. Initially, Aoibheann had written the story in the past tense. But now past and present are interwoven, giving the reader a greater insight into Marina’s state of mind.

It quickly becomes apparent that Marina is in a psychiatric hospital and disconnected from her previous life. Her doctor offers a counterpoint to this unreliable narrator but his conviction that she is grieving for something that’s happened in her past is too reductive, says Aoibheann.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.