Waiting for the Bullet

Madeleine DÁrcy's short story collection is called Waiting for the Bullet.Its published by Doire Press and its fantastic. After reading it I hunted her down for some questions...

1. You mentioned Agatha Christie (in the collection), and all your stories are suspenseful. Is the unraveling of the story something that happens organically or do you address that in the final edits, in terms of revelation?

I’d like to sound ultra-competent and tell you that the ‘unraveling’ is planned in advance or organised in some way. In fact, what really happens is that I start writing something on a piece of paper. Then I type it up and keep going.
When I get a bit fed up of typing, I print out what is essentially the first draft and it’s usually terrible – a right mess.
Then I scribble all over that first draft in all directions and it looks even worse – words crossed out, sentences with circles round them, arrows pointing in different directions – like a deranged mind map or a weird word-jigsaw. I then save that file and redraft the whole thing. I juggle stuff around and rewrite it all. I redraft and re-edit and ponder and faff around. I often discover that I need to re-start the story much later in time, so the first page is often quite different to the original first page. However, strange as it may seem, the bones of the story are usually there right from the beginning, hidden in the midst of the very first haphazard draft.
As regards suspense, I don’t deliberately set out to create it, but thank you for your question; it has taken me right back to my childhood visits to the musty little library in our small town.
My mother often took me to the library with her, when I was a pre-schooler. My older brother was in school and my father was at work. We were ‘blow-ins’ and knew no one in the town at first. It must have been lonely for her. She borrowed heaps of books, mostly crime fiction by writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. She read Georgette Heyer novels too, and loved everything by PG Wodehouse. I’m pretty sure I could read before I was three years old. I zipped through the children’s section very quickly and then started reading the books my mother borrowed, even though half the time I couldn’t understand quite what they were about.
Even after I started school, I still went to the library for more books to feed my reading habit. I read anything I could lay my hands on. As a consequence, my language got a bit odd. I was probably five or six when I announced one Christmas that I was ‘on the horns of a dilemma’ – but all that was puzzling me was which chocolate bar to choose from my Cadbury’s Selection Box. Even more embarrassing was the time we had some visitors and one of them asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told the assembled adults that I intended to be ‘The Belly of the Ball’. I meant ‘The Belle of the Ball’ but I had no idea that there was a silent ‘e’ at the end of ‘Belle’.
Well, I’m wandering a bit now, aren’t I? (yes, feel free to!)I’m trying to figure out an answer to your question as I go along. Perhaps all the reading that I did as a lonely child has embedded itself in my work, but if so, the results are coming out all askew. I’d love to write a murder mystery, and given all the stuff I read as a kid, you’d think I’d be able to manage it, but I can’t seem to push myself to write to a formula; not yet, anyway. At the moment, I’m more interested in discovering some kind of emotional truth; something that anyone can recognize, because it’s not hidden in complex sentences or ornate language.

2. No its not hidden, and theres a lot of adultery, which is always fascinating. Is this an interest of yours, or to put it better - is it something you are attracted to exploring?

A. I wish I didn’t feel the need to explore the subject of adultery. It’s a painful subject for me, but I keep coming back to it. I have no desire to be judgmental. People fall in and out of love; relationships change. It’s not adultery per se that fascinates me, but the motivations and thought processes involved.
When I was much younger I worked as a criminal legal aid solicitor in London, so I dealt with dishonesty quite a lot. However, I failed dismally to see the vast and complex array of lies that paraded around me in my personal life. All that is in the far distant past now, thank goodness, but the duplicity – and my failure to see it, for a long time – shocked me. Adultery is a complex thing and involves so much more than sex or love, doesn’t it? As well as lies, there are all sorts of things going on: greed, money, addictions, revenge, egotism, self-destruction, a need for excitement, a need to prop up some kind of self-image, fear… I’m useless at telling lies myself. I can’t see the point. I find it much simpler to tell the truth.

3. Yes, I felt that lies and secrets are pried open in your writing. I was particularly struck by the first story- it felt like an opening statement,  as if it was telling the reader -'this collection wont be hiding any of our nations secrets, these stories will contain the things, and people, society averts its eyes from...'?

A. I’m so glad that ‘Clocking Out’ gave you that impression. I long to express some kind of truth.
I felt so confused as a child. When I was eight I wanted to be a nun and by the time I was twelve I wanted to be a prostitute. I had no idea what either of these professions entailed; it seems as if I thought life was some kind of weird fancy dress party. Mind you, my sex education consisted of being given a book called ‘Dear Daughter’ by Angela MacNamara, so it was no wonder I hadn’t a clue. The real information I needed certainly wasn’t readily available in the Ireland that I knew, in the 70’s and 80’s.
In my day you couldn’t even have the conversation that led up to the conversation that should have been happening in the first place, if you get my drift.
The nuns made me stand in the corner during religion class in secondary school, for asking too many questions. I was particularly bothered about the ‘fact’ that unbaptised babies ended up in Limbo. In my imagination, all those tiny babies floated around in space, all cold and lonely among the stars – I couldn’t bear it. How could God let something so cruel happen? Why should those babies be consigned to Limbo just because they weren’t baptised? It wasn’t their fault.
Astoundingly, when I came back to Ireland in 1999 I discovered that Limbo had been abolished, in my absence. No one had thought to tell me. I felt a bit cheated, to be honest.
There were many reasons why I left Ireland, but escape from all the double-think and double-talk and double-standards was certainly one of them. The treatment of the 24-year-woman at the centre of the Kerry Babies case in 1984 was shocking. Nell McCafferty gives a very clear account of the case in a book called ‘A Woman To Blame’ (Attic Press, 1985, reprinted 2010).
Now, in 2014, the recent revelations about the Tuam babies bring all my nightmares about Limbo back.

Of course, not everyone toed the line and I really admire the people who stayed in Ireland and campaigned about the issues that I felt strongly about: divorce, contraception, abortion, gay rights, sexual violence, etc.
But has anything really changed here in Ireland? The case of Savita Halappanavar was appalling. It made me want to leave Ireland again. We need to get our priorities straight. It seems ridiculous to me that there’s so much public discussion and debate about GAA matches and whether Garth Brooks will play in Croke Park or not – and so little time to talk honestly about the things that are truly important.
I’d have been no good in politics though. I’m very suspicious of knee-jerk reactions and, frankly, people who shout too loudly on all sides of every equation scare me. And though I have no time for organised religion, I totally respect everyone’s right to practice their faith. Nothing is straightforward. Life is complex. There are no easy answers. Well, I don’t have any. All I have are questions. Limbo may be abolished but many questions remain to be answered.

4. I know what you mean, the Tuam Babies Case makes me want to leave this country. Your writing feels quite honest Madeleine, clear-eyed... where do you think that comes from? How, do you think, you can tell so well, the story of a gay man who has to keep his grief a secret while attending a parent’s funeral?

The story ‘A Good Funeral’ was inspired by many different tales of home-coming, which I heard from friends both straight and gay. Coming home, even for a short while, especially to a small town in Ireland, is fraught with invisible tensions. There’s the interaction with one’s own family, the way your local community views you and that gulf between your own existence in that world and your life outside it.  So it’s not just the story of a gay man but also the story of the returned emigrant, of hypocrisy, of greed and of loss.
Out of all of the characters in ‘Waiting For The Bullet’, Luke, in ‘A Good Funeral’ is probably my favourite. He truly loved Bernard, and I firmly believe that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I know that’s a cliché, but clichés often contain the truth.
I was pondering on the first draft of this story one day but instead of doing any work I deserted it and tootled down town instead. I bumped into a friend, Fiona, in Patrick Street outside the bank and we stopped to chat. Somehow, the conversation turned to funerals. That’s when she said, ‘Ah sure, a good funeral is better than a bad wedding’, thus gifting me with the title. I’d never heard of that phrase before and I loved it.
Of course, weddings and funerals are always good fodder for a writer. My favourite ‘bad wedding’ in fiction is probably the title story in Walk The Blue Fields by Claire Keegan.

5. So, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m the scholarship student on the inaugural MA in Creative Writing in University College Cork. It’s brilliant to get such a great opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of it.
At the moment I’m writing a radio drama for my thesis. Once I’ve completed the MA, which runs until 3 October 2014, I plan to return to a novel that’s been in the pipeline for a while.
Everything I do involves story-telling. I want to write about real people and the strange things they do, hopefully with both kindness and black humour.

6. Finally, I love quotes - have you one or two favorites that keep you on track and writing when you may feel like throwing in the towel?
When things aren’t going so well and I need to put things into perspective I like this little poem:
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea; 
And love is a thing that can never go wrong; 
And I am Marie of Roumania.
(Dorothy Parker)
And I love this quote:
Women are like teabags; they only realise their own strength when they’re in hot water. (Eleanor Roosevelt)
On writing, when I feel a bit stuck I like to remember the following:
Every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order. (Jean Luc Godard)
A character is defined by the kinds of challenges he cannot walk away from. And by those he has walked away from that cause him remorse. (Arthur Miller)

Raymond Carver’s essay, ‘On Writing’ is available on-line, and well worth reading for the wealth of wisdom contained therein. One of my favourite sentences is:
But if the writing can’t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labor, is the one thing we can take into the grave. (Raymond Carver)
And for general day-to-day living, here’s my favourite quote:
You can only see with your heart; what is essential is invisible to the eye. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Thank you for your answers, and so many good quotes, and best of luck with your MA Madeleine!


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