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Tramp Press Launch Title: Flight by Oona Frawley

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Oona Frawley © 3 April 2014.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Interviews · Literary Fiction ).
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I was the stereotype of a writer-in-training for a long, long time. I wrote in tiny script on damp napkins in pubs, the ink spreading; borrowed pens from people in cafés because, having come to read, I had to write instead; thought hard about images in the middle of the night because they required writing down and I didn’t want to waken my then boyfriend-now husband. I spent my teens and early twenties reading and filling notebook after notebook with self-indulgence before moving to stories, a novella, and then a novel, because the pieces I wanted to write were getting longer and longer.

I started Flight, my first novel, hot on the heels of a novella and my PhD, at the same time that I was re-writing my doctorate as a book. Writing – no matter what kind, academic or creative – was a daily happening, so I moved between the projects happily, finding respite from the restrictions of the academic book in the novel and taking comfort in the strict logic of the academic book when the novel got beyond me. The key was to keep writing, as I believed firmly (and still do) that writing is a practice, like running or yoga, and that you lose form if you don’t keep at it. Running when I couldn’t write also recharged me, cleared my head, and allowed me to get back to the words.

oona_fawley140x210Flight started on a scrap of paper and drew on heartrending family experience of dementia, and also, crucially, on the atmosphere in Ireland in the run-up to the Citizens Referendum in 2004. On a personal level I was startled and horrified at the levels of racism in the country, and the anger at ‘foreigners’. As an academic who teaches Irish literature, I couldn’t understand why Irish literature in English wasn’t coming to terms with difference in Ireland, why there weren’t novels describing the vibrant communities of people of various descent who now made Ireland their home. I wanted to hear their stories, to have them force a reconsideration of what it meant to be Irish, and yet there was a general silence. Flight grew out of that.

I finished the first draft of Flight, which I envisioned as the first book in a trilogy about Ireland, in 2005, and there was a good deal of interest in it from various publishers, but none of them knew where to fit it, how to sell it, and a few asked for major changes, like writing out one of the major characters, a black Zimbabwean woman. The novel didn’t seem Irish enough, somehow, and so it went from being a novel to being a file on my computer, since I wasn’t willing to cut the character of Sandrine and had no idea of how to advise a publisher on how to sell a book. In the meanwhile I got stuck in to the next book in the trilogy, went on writing and working as an academic, and had two children.

Since having children my writing life has changed dramatically. I work full-time, and so my writing time is severely limited in any case. But having children changed everything: I went from feeling quite precious about my writing space – needing interesting cafes, complete silence by a sunlit window in the house, or the right mood – to realizing that my time was now reduced to minutes, sometimes, which I could snatch when a baby was napping (often across my lap with some of their weight balancing the computer precariously) or a child was in Montessori. One year I spent Tuesday and Thursday mornings sitting in an unheated room in a local community center next to my daughter’s preschool because to go home would have cost me too much time, so I brought a hot water bottle for warmth and sat there writing non-stop for three hours. I was working mostly on academic books, but now and then I would do something small – I submitted a story called ‘Cow Tipping’ to the New Irish Writing page that was nominated for a Hennessy award – that made me consider returning to the novels again.

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I was prompted to submit Flight to Tramp by my inspiring novelist friend Anthony Glavin, who for a decade has offered tremendous support to me as a writer. Shortly afterwards I had an email from Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff expressing interest in the book and asking to meet up. To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement. When we met, I was so impressed with Lisa and Sarah’s drive and passion for literature of all genres, and delighted that two young Irish women were starting a press with such a clear aesthetic and strategic plan. Looking at Flight with fresh eyes was liberating; the published version is half as long as the original manuscript. Lisa and Sarah offered practical feedback, and the book is far stronger than it was at 130,000 words, thanks to their sharp eye and keen sense of narrative pace.

It is exciting to be a part of a new venture, and I’m honoured that Flight is Tramp’s first publication: I’m almost more anxious for them than myself as the book goes out into the world as I want this press to succeed and thrive. The process of seeing it through to print has pushed me to look at the other novels lurking on the computer to see how they might shape up down the road. And I find myself doing the equivalent of scribbling on those damp napkins again, typing bits of ideas or sentences into a document on my desktop. I’m not sure yet what it will turn into, but the words are piling up…

(c) Oona Frawley

Born in NY to Irish actor parents, Oona Frawley spent her early childhood backstage, listening in on conversations between actors, hearing plays through green room speakers, cueing her dad for roles and listening to her mother sing. Her parents’ attachment to Ireland meant traveling back ‘home’ once a year, so that Ireland was always part of the equation. Oona attended the prestigious math and science focused Stuyvesant High School in NY (where Frank McCourt taught), where she did terribly in science but rather well in English. A consummate New Yorker, she got quite a shock when she moved to Colorado for university and discovered an America I knew very little about. Graduate work and teaching in New York followed, as well as a lot of travel around Europe and Asia, and Oona eventually settled in Ireland in 1999 full-time and completed my PhD (City University of NY) in 2001. Prior to becoming a full-time academic she worked in a beer factory, and as a lifeguard, a waitress, an ad copy-writer, in p.r., and as a freelance editor. She has taught at UCD, QUB and TCD, and has been a member of the English Department in Maynooth since 2008. Oona is married to an amazing guy and has two children, runs daily (slowly but compulsively!), and writes.

About Flight

Flight traces the lives of two women, Sandrine, a Zimbawean woman who comes to Ireland without revealing her pregnancy, and Elizabeth, a world-weary and childless daughter of the elderly Irish couple that Sandrine is employed to care. Sandrine arrives in Ireland with the hope of improving life for the huband and son she has left behind, but fears deportation should the authorities discover her secret. As she settles into life as a live-in carer for Tom and Clare, not long returned to Ireland from decades living in the United States and Vietnam as spice traders, Sandrine finds herself wanting to trust Elizabeth – but cannot bring herself to articulate that which might end her time in Ireland, which is already marked by the strangeness of being foreign and visually different from those around her. As the months pass, Elizabeth, enmeshed in the mental unravelling of her parents and the emotional legacies of her own childhood in the  U.S. and Vietnam, watches silently as Sandrine’s secret becomes obvious.

Set in Ireland in 2004 as the referendum on citizenship approaches, Flight moves between Vietnam, the United States and Zimbabwe, culminating in moments of acute crisis in both women’s lives: will Sandrine be forced to return to Zimbabwe? Will Tom and Clare survive one another’s decline? And how will Elizabeth cope with the pressure of watching her parents deteriorate while confronting her own infertility? Flight is among a new breed of Irish novel, one that recognises the global nature of Irish experience in the late 20th century, and one that considers Ireland in the aftermath of the failed Celtic Tiger.

Flight is available online here and in all good bookshops.


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