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Alan Walsh: Writing ‘Sour’

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Fiction

By Alan Walsh

I hadn’t set out to write this book. I guess that’s the hilarious thing. Later on, when you’re deep into the thing and it consumes your every free minute imagining and re- plotting and second-guessing, it’s so much a part of you it seems almost like an anatomical appendage, but I had actually set out to write a straight murder story.

The mythological aspect came about quite by accident.

I had started out a story about a murder committed in a small town, where everyone seemed to play an odd part in proceedings, but it didn’t seem to be going anywhere particularly interesting. The thing was, I was living in London at the time. It had been a reluctant move and I had fallen into the trap of winding up one of those clichéd ex-pats, pining for the romantic notion of a motherland, listening to Irish music, watching old episodes of Father Ted and reading all the old stories in those cheap and chunky two pound volumes you can buy in any bookshop. I was as familiar as anyone with Setanta and his hound and Fionn MacCumhaill and his salmon, but there was a real treasure trove there of stories with which I was only partly acquainted, and Deirdre of the sorrows seemed to stand out clearly among them. I can tell you that, because when people asked me to drunkenly retell any old Irish stories in pubs, it was the only one I could ever remember. And I wound up being able to tell it pretty well for someone who’s no seanachai.

I don’t even remember when precisely the decision came about to combine the book I was writing with the old myth, but I know it came very easily. I know the choice to cast key characters in Ireland’s mythological cycles as weird locals in the little town slotted right in with what I was trying to write and that the whole affair was narrated by a grouchy, irreverent Puca, the famed Irish trickster and probably very definition of an unreliable narrator, seemed oddly perfect.

Alan_Walsh (1)I had started writing the book as a way of reconnecting with my own culture, but by the time I was half-way through I had already moved home and found that this feeling hadn’t gone away. I wanted to travel more than ever around the country, visiting places I never had. I saw the beautiful, rolling landscapes as well as those crazy, nine-pubs-and-a-chipper one street towns where it seems to be perennially drizzling. The book borrows a lot from those trips, the town centres, the forests, the long, wet wasteland grass. Coming back when I had, I saw how the country had been very affected by the economic downturn, in comparison to the London I’d been living in for years, so there was a dark feel to a lot of towns, there were abandoned factories, pubs and cinemas had closed down, but at the same time, especially in rural areas, people maintained a sense of community, and even humour, in their day to day lives, albeit a typically Irish gallows humour. This all played pretty naturally into what was becoming the book.

It was written primarily at night. I have a full time job and am lucky enough to really enjoy hanging out with my wife so I only really wrote after she’d go to bed, starting around eleven or twelve and getting in a couple of hours before turning in myself. Anyone holding down a job pretty much has to choose which end of the day to write. I used to be able to get up at five thirty in the morning, but I found it took a little time until I was unwound enough to get anything worthwhile down, whereas starting at night my mind seemed reasonably keen.

I found Pillar quite by accident. I was browsing a website called broadsheet.ie at work one afternoon and came upon the mention of a small, Irish publisher based in Limerick. I had had the book published by a small outfit abroad but it hadn’t really worked out the way I’d hoped, so I approached Pillar. Right away, Mark Lloyd seemed very enthusiastic about the story. He spotted immediately that it was kind of a crackpot story, told in a highly unorthodox way, and that it still needed quite a bit of work to get it to a place ready to publish, but he was ready to take a chance on it. It seems now that the publishing industry relies a great deal on metrics and forecast sales based on analysis, so it was a joy to work with someone passionate enough about writing to go with his gut feeling. I owe him a great deal of thanks.

Bringing the book to completion is a very strange experience. Something you’ve lived with for years is finally done with and you have to walk away, or so I thought. I work as a designer in my day job, so I worked with Pillar to design the cover art, then came the promotional blogging, tweeting, Facebook posts and attempts at other media, guest-blogging and readings. Working on the book never really stops, just the writing part. I’d quite like to revisit the same characters and landscape again and there is certainly no shortage of source material. But I think that it’s only when you look back on a book you’ve written after a passage of time that you can see it in terms of who you were then, and it’s writing this piece especially that has brought this to mind. I’ve just had a baby with my wife, so there’s not much time to write at the moment. If I do go back to Bally, where Sour is set, I guess it’ll probably be as different as I am.

(c) Alan Walsh

About Sour

A re-telling of ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’, updated to  the modern day, re-imagined with bizarre local characters and set in a fictional Irish countryside.

In a desolate Irish town a local paper boy goes missing. Conall, a beetroot-faced, mule of a man, makes it his business to find the boy. What starts out a small undertaking, unfolds into a journey of strange rural experience, bizarre natural occurrences and warped small-town morality, revealing the shocking tale of a young girl horribly imprisoned and two boys fixed on rescuing her.

Pick up your copy online here!

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