New novel Grace explores dark heart of Great Famine

Author Paul Lynch who will be in the Black Gate Cultural Centre in Galway City next Thursday night in a discussion with fellow author, Alan McMonagle.
Author Paul Lynch who will be in the Black Gate Cultural Centre in Galway City next Thursday night in a discussion with fellow author, Alan McMonagle.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Paul Lynch was on day two of a career-break from The Sunday Tribune, where he worked as a sub-editor, when the newspaper closed down. He had taken a sabbatical to write his first novel, and while he hadn’t expected to become unemployed so suddenly,The Sunday Tribune’s closure presented Limerick-born Paul with an unexpected chance to become a fulltime novelist.

That was in 2011 – now his third novel, Grace, has just been published by London based Oneworld publishers.

Paul will be in Galway City next Thursday, September 7, for a public conversation with fellow novelist Alan McMonagle in The Black Gate Cultural Centre, Francis Street.  Their chat will include a discussion about Grace, set during the Great Famine, which tells the story of a young girl’s life-changing odyssey across Ireland during that horrendous time.

It’s likely the two men will also touch upon Paul’s previous novels. His first, Red Sky in Morning, was a finalist for the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, France’s Best Foreign Book Prize while The Black Snow won France’s bookseller prize, Prix Libr’à Nous for Best Foreign Novel.

As with Grace, both those books were grounded in Donegal – in fact, Grace is a sequel to Red Sky in Morning, although Paul didn’t set out with that in mind.

“Red Sky in Morning told the story of a guy, Coll Coyle, who was hunted out of Donegal and went to America,” he explains. “Then, later on, I started writing a book about a 14-year-old girl during the famine. The way the timeline worked out, she turned out to be Coll’s daughter.”

The book is a compelling and evocative read as 14-year-old Grace and her young brother Colly take to the roads of Ireland in the 1840s in a bid to survive the Great Hunger. The siblings’ language is unusual – neither belonging to that era or this one – and once you get used to their rhythms, it creates its own world.

Getting the linguistic style right was important.

“You have to make a decision based on the fact that people are going to read the book,” Paul says. “And if you use too much English as it was spoken then, or have English flecked through with Irish or with long paragraphs in Irish, you run the risk of locking people out from the book.”

In Grace, Paul tells a dark story about people surviving dark times and he doesn’t flinch from it. But he tells it in a way that draws the reader in.

“You do it by having a balance of beauty, being seductively beautiful and holding people’s hands,” he explains of his approach.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.