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Novelist finds fact stranger than fiction

Mike McCormack has known highs and lows in his career as a writer but he has always stuck to his craft. Tenacity has paid off for the Mayo man who has made Galway his home since the 1980s.  He tells JUDY MURPHY about his new novel,This Plague of Souls, and how a recent trip to Dublin was like stepping into the pages of the book – only more extreme.

Mike McCormack was in Dublin on November 23 for a book launch. The venue was close to Christchurch and when Mike entered, all was quiet. When he emerged shortly afterwards, intending to walk to Crampton Quay and get a bus home to Galway, all hell had broken loose.

Mike was at a safe distance, but the impact of the rioting and looting was apparent.

“I’d never seen a street on fire before. It was like I’d stepped into the pages of my book,” he says, referring to his latest novel, This Plague of Souls.

Then he saw a shiny Guinness tanker reversing along the docks; a national icon  retreating in the face of a mob.

There’s mayhem in the final chapter of This Plague of Souls, “but even writing a dystopian novel, I’d never have thought of Guinness going backwards”, he says with a laugh. “You couldn’t make it up.”

This Plague of Souls follows Mike’s 2016 novel, Solar Bones, which won a slew of major awards and was universally praised.

Novelists who gave their imprimaturs to the new book prior to its publication included Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright and John Banville.

Mike was delighted, especially with John Banville’s as he’s a big fan of the older writer.

“I’ve been a huge admirer since I read Birchwood,” he says of Banville’s 1973 gothic novel. “It’s never credited but I always find his work has a dark humour.”

Banville has returned the compliment, describing This Plague of Souls as ‘a sombre tale shot through with glints of dark humour’ .,

It centres on Nealon, a solitary man who returns to his rural Mayo home after being released from prison, The wife and son he thought would be waiting for him have vanished.

In the final chapter, Nealon meets a mysterious man in the foyer of a fictional Galway hotel, hoping to learn of their fate. As he does, he world is descending into chaos.

Mike’s portrayal of the city that’s been his home since the mid-1980s, will resonate with readers locally.

“You can be sitting in the middle of the city and see lobster pots out the window,” says Mike who moved here from Louisburgh after enrolling for an Arts degree at UCG.

“It’s a constant reminder of how close the city is to its origins as a fishing village, its rough origins,” he adds.

Recent events feature in the book, including the HSE cyber-attack of 2021. Mike also mentions a similar attack at the University of Galway where he’s Director of the Masters in Creative Writing.

Pictured: Mike McCormack, learned how to write about landscape from the cowboy novels he loved as a youngster, having been introduced to them by his late father who died when Mike was 18. PHOTO: JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY.

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