When my husband bought me two piglets for Christmas I knew that somehow my experience of living on a rundown farm in County Down would make it onto paper. I grew up in the countryside but had very little exposure to farm life. This did not deter me, however, from moving into a farmhouse as my first marital home. The carpets clashed magnificently with the wallpaper and the bathroom was so cold I could lie in the bath and see my own breath. We soon had lambs in the field, chickens in the yard, a few ducks in a purpose-built pond and pigs, who grew up to terrorise our poor golden retriever. It was a year of free-range eggs, lost sheep and finding creative ways of preserving a glut of apples from the orchard, but it created a wonderful backdrop for what later became my novel, My Father’s House.
The setting of my novel came quite a while after I had spent time getting to know my characters and figuring out their story. The ideas I had were fluid for months and I was constantly changing things. Half way through my first draft I realised I was writing two very separate stories and had to decide which one I wanted to continue with. The other is an unfinished document on my computer. This process of working out the storyline is not very economical but it was important for me not to rush it. I did a Masters of Philosophy in Creative Writing at Trinity College Dublin and I remember the poet in residence, E.A. Markham, telling us that writing was an organic process; it could not be shooed along or bent into a shape that did not fit the story. This was certainly my experience.
That Masters course was the best year of my writing life. It was the first time I had allowed other people to read and comment on my work and what I expected to be a terrifying experience turned out to be richly rewarding and career-defining. I was working on another novel at that time, one that was never, in fact, published. When I started the course I had a very clear goal and this helped me to get the most out of the classes and meant that I had a productive year. My goal was to finish my novel and try to get it published. I knew the genre in which I wanted to write and, unlike my second novel, I had a clear storyline.
The best part of doing a year-long creative writing degree was being part of a group of people who trusted one another and were all taking a risk to try their hand at writing. There was none of the isolation that I have since learnt comes with the writing territory. We debated poetry and plot, characterisation and set design, titles and last lines. We also had the immense pleasure of meeting writers who had actually ‘made it’. From Claire Kilroy to Anne Haverty to our course tutors, Gerald Dawe and Dierdre Madden, we were surrounded by men and women for whom writing was a serious pursuit.
When I moved to Northern Ireland a year later, married a professional and fell in with a group of people who had well-paid jobs with good prospects, I had to remind myself of those men and women who believed they were good enough to choose writing as their job. I remember standing in Deirdre Madden’s office at the end of my course and asking her to be completely honest with me about whether she thought I could be a published writer. She said yes and I am privileged to have her quote on the front cover of my book.
The years between finishing my Masters and finding out that Liberties Press was going to publish My Father’s House were mostly spent wrestling with my calling. Without the year spent writing in Dublin I might never have had the courage to believe that I could be a published writer. Having my first novel rejected by more than thirteen publishers over the space of three years was incredibly difficult. Thankfully, I had developed my new characters enough to know that I could not leave them behind and I was able to finish what is now being published as my debut novel.
(c) Bethany Dawson
My Father’s House is a poignant story of love and loss, revealing the complexities of family life through the heightened lenses of illness and death that is now available in all good bookshops and online.
“Bethany Dawson’s novel is a work of subtle force, understated, elegant and quietly powerful.” DEIRDRE MADDEN, author of Molly Fox’s Birthday
About My Father’s House:
‘It had not been a conscious decision to cling to the better memories of his childhood. It had just happened when Hannah came along and the possibility of a brighter future dragged his scowling face away from the details of his past. Now, standing in the middle of the poorly part-mowed field, in front of the house that was hiding all the reasons he had run away, he wondered if it would be possible to hold the past and present in tension.’
Robbie Hanright has a normal, settled life in Dublin. With a wife and baby, an undemanding job and a nice home, everything is just as he wants it.
However, after an enduring estrangement from the rural landscape of his youth, Robbie receives a phone call from his sister asking him to come home. Left with little choice, Robbie returns once more to County Down, and to Larkscroft Farm, to confront the father who tormented his childhood and face up to a history he wants only to forget.
Set against the backdrop of a decaying farmhouse and fragile family connections, My Father’s House is a powerful, lyrical story of loss and regret, through which Bethany Dawson reveals an affecting compassion for the profound, and often painful, complexities of family life.
Bethany Dawson completed a Master of Philosophy in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin where she was picked up by her agent and began writing in earnest. She works as the Assistant Editor of The Zimbabwean, an independent newspaper produced in the UK. Bethany currently lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland with her husband and son, but has spent time living in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. This is her first novel.