• www.inkitt.com

Happiness Comes from Nowhere; Shauna Gilligan

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Fiction | Interviews
Happiness comes from nowhere COVER

By Shauna Gilligan

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

It’s a year since my debut novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere (London: Ward Wood, 2012) hit the shelves and I saw with a thrill, for the first time, my name on the cover of a book. It had been a long journey to the final, published project. I’d written it late at night after a day’s work either in the office or at home with the family. Over nearly five years, the novel had emerged from these daily crevices of space I had created and two intense weeks at the wonderful Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig.

When I first started writing Happiness Comes from Nowhere as a traditional, linear novel, it stemmed from a desire to write about social issues and to explore how the lenses of identity in relationships shift over time. Suicide was to be one of the central themes to the book. Statistics from recent studies such as Dooley and Fitzgerald’s My World Survey: National Study of Youth Mental Health (Headstrong and UCD, 2012) show that the mortality rate from suicide in the 15-24 age group in Ireland is currently the fourth highest in the EU and the third highest among young men aged 15-19. It angered me to think that the Government spends more on road traffic safety than on suicide prevention. Surely, As Noel Smyth, Chairman of 3Ts Charity recently stated (in his introduction to Suicide in Ireland 2003 – 2008 UCD, 2013), the model of reducing road traffic deaths, “can be embraced in our fight against suicide and a dedicated Suicide Prevention Authority can finally begin to turn the tide of suicide.” Writing, I believe, can be a way to reflect on and be a reflection of the world in which we live and through this mirroring, can help provoke conversation, awareness, even debate.

In Happiness Comes from Nowhere Mary, Sepp and their son Dirk are shown over time and in different places. So each voice had to reflect and be authentic to, not only character, but also be faithful to the time and society in which it existed. This was not an easy thing to attempt. After a few drafts, there came a point when I felt as disjointed as my narrative, as disconnected as my characters. I had done my research, written the narrative but the story didn’t feel real. I was discovering that there were different layers to this writing business: what I wanted and what the book wanted. I wondered how could I possibly write about suicide, if, as Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison says, it “carries in its aftermath a level of confusion and devastation that is, for the most part, beyond description”?

shauna_gilligan_high_res-crop 2I decided to step away from the novel, leave the manuscript sit. I needed to feel what it was like to be my characters, where I would cease to be, or as John Banville recently said where “the language itself, I think, is writing.” (Five Dials). When I went back to the manuscript a few weeks later, I tried to get deeper into the main players through other angles, minor characters. The minor characters such as Ita or Tara on their own stage provided interesting insights into Mary and Dirk. In allowing the writing to be character-led, I felt able to dip further into their lives and connect with them on a more emotional level.

It was like looking through a kaleidoscope. The novel gained a composite structure. In a way, seeing that process happening (and resisting it, at times) was an evolution and as I re-drafted and revised, the minor characters knit themselves into the larger story that became the composite novel that Ward Wood published. What also emerged – and many readers have commented on this to me at book club readings, festivals and so on – was how essential place was to the writing. Dublin as a character had crept into the book; the growth of Dublin city from the 1970s through to the 1990s echoed that of my characters. Dirk, Mary and Ita leave Dublin and go to Italy and Spain and it’s these journeys that also help create a Dublin reality by showing the characters a place that is not Dublin, or the other.

And from engaging in this process, I learned that writing about difficult and complex issues such as suicide, could be less about the act and more about what surrounds it: the ripple effect on friends, family, and society. There is far more to fiction than showing the act itself; there is the mind of the character (quite apart from that of the writer); there are numerous narrative techniques (such as interpretation, thought, appearance, and action); there are both words and images and there is certainly both showing and telling.

In the end, the form of the novel echoed both subject matter and character. Sue Leonard said in her review in The Examiner “Fresh and Original. The episodic structure suits the subject.” What I was writing about was not despair, but, with an essential bit of humour, the search for happiness and how, sometimes when we find it, we are not able to recognise it. With my publisher’s help, the the title was decided upon: Happiness Comes from Nowhere. Stories, like life, are never one-dimensional. Beside that dark void of suicide, there is hope. Alongside despair, there is happiness. A twist of that kaleidoscope and the perspective changes.

In Ireland today there are many organisations working hard to create spaces where we can talk openly about mental health issues. Many, such as 3Ts, Console, Shine, SOS rely on support and donations. If you are thinking of running the Rock ‘n’ Roll™ Dublin Half Marathon, you might log on to Aware.ie and consider running to raise some much needed funds. Or simply take some time and browse through the websites, see the important work that these organisations do. The Aware blog entry for June is on the power of words.

About Happiness Comes from Nowhere

Happiness Comes From Nowhere follows the lives of the Horn family: Mary, Sepp and Dirk. Their paths cross and intertwine with those of extended family, friends and acquaintances as journeys are made through the changing city of Dublin. People also venture further in search of happiness: Mary and Dirk wander the streets of Rome and Ita watches a cargo ship unload in Spain. Expressed in ways as different as suicide, art and sex, the inseparable pangs of loss and happiness – remembered and present – are threaded through the novel.

Find out more about Shauna her blog http://shaunaswriting.com/wordpress/ and her website is www.shaunaswriting.com

You can find Happiness Comes from Nowhere at Kennys Bookshop , The Book Depository or direct from Ward Wood

(c) Shauna Gilligan

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Shauna has worked and lived in Mexico, Spain, India and the UK. She currently lives in County Kildare, Ireland with her family. Her fiction has been published widely and she has read from her work and  presented on writing at conferences in Europe and the USA. She holds a PhD (Writing) from the University of South Wales (formally University of Glamorgan).

Happiness Comes from Nowhere (London: Ward Wood, 2012) is her first novel

  • www.designforwriters.com
  • allianceindependentauthors.org

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from writing.ie delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books