Anne Griffin. PHOTO BY JOHN BOYNE
Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
Some author biographies are filled with past jobs; the more of them the better, and a mix of the exotic and the menial seems preferred.
Anne Griffin has had, by way of contrast, a series of grown-up positions that were, one guesses, rather intense and full of responsibility, which may go a long way towards explaining her “ideal conditions” answer below.
“Now a full-time writer, I started writing for the first time in 2013 aged 44,” she told the Echo. “Before that I’d had three other careers: working for Waterstones Booksellers in Dublin and London, a community development worker, and a financial manager in the charity sector. I turned 50 in January 2019, receiving the best birthday present with the publication of my debut novel.”
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Griffin continued: “‘When All Is Said’ is the story of Maurice Hannigan, an 84-year-old successful Irish farmer, who sits in the bar of his local hotel in County Meath one Saturday evening to drink five toasts to the five most important people in his life. Through their stories we learn just who Maurice is, his triumphs and failures, his secrets, his regrets and what it is that will happen at the end of the evening.”
The first of his toasts, in Chapter 2, is for Maurice’s beloved brother Tony, who was five years his senior.
“At 4, I was the tiniest of things compared to the towering giant of him, or so he seemed to me. I imagine my little steps beside his on the road or round the farm,” Maurice remembers. “Always running to catch up, three of my little trots to his one stride. All the time him chatting to me, telling me about the hens we were feeding or the carrots we were planting in Mam’s little garden or the ditches we were clearing. The man loved the land as much as my father. And I’d be looking up at him, trying not to trip while taking everything in, trying my best to remember, to show him I could do it too, relishing his praise.”
Tony calls his younger brother “Big Man” and he is big. And so the obvious solution at 10, when Maurice refuses to continue at school (the reader understands he’s dyslexic), is to send him to work with the Dollards at Rainsford’s big house. It’s the beginning of a miserable six-year period, but some of the main elements of his story are in place at the end of it, including a stolen Edward VIII gold sovereign coin from 1936.
The bar itself is in the Rainsford House Hotel, once the big house. He is being served by a young woman named Svetlana; the awful Dollards are long dead.
The Guardian’s reviewer called Griffin’s novel a “confident, compassionate debut,” while fellow novelist Kit de Waal said that it’s “beautifully written, unhurried, and thoughtful, [with] a character you love from the start.”
Date of birth: Jan. 9, 1969
Place of birth: Dublin
Residence: Mullingar, Co. Westmeath
Published works: “When All Is Said.”
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I write Monday to Friday 9-4 p.m. in complete silence. I can’t write if there are people about, I get too distracted. Before I work I try to exercise for a half-hour and I take a walk at lunchtime. I finish up once my son comes home from school. The rest of the day is family time.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Writing is about rewriting. Take the critical advice seriously. But make your own decision about what you’ll change. Have confidence in your work once you genuinely feel it’s good and keep submitting!
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“Nobody’s Fool” by Richard Russo – he delivers the rhythm of small town life perfectly. “What a Carve Up” by Jonathan Coe – Coe’s novels are adept at showing how big political decisions impact on everyday lives. “Emma” by Jane Austen – A main character who isn’t very likeable and yet you’re on her side from the off, the true mark of an exceptional author.
What book are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading William Trevor’s “Last Stories.” We lost one of Ireland’s greatest writers when Trevor died. When they released this final collection I was over joyed. His writing is so gentle and graceful and yet it deals with some of life’s major tragedies.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Donal Ryan’s “From A Low And Quiet Sea.” It is a masterpiece. It tracks the lives of three very different men that join together in the final tragic moments. Ryan can get into his characters’ voices so deeply that as you read all else fades away.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“Threads Of Life” by Clare Hunter. This history of needlework is exceptional. From the mothers of the Argentinian disappeared to modern-day Leith in Scotland it looks at how needlework has helped peoples’ voices to be heard.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Richard Russo. He gives us excellent characters, dialogue that is pitch perfect, scenes that have you laughing one minute and crying the next.
What book changed your life?
“Emma” by Jane Austen. Austen was exceptional at getting the narrative right. Holding the reader in her grip, building the suspense until exactly the right moment. She taught me what it is to be a storyteller.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Cape Clear Island, in west Cork. Three miles long and one mile wide, it is breathtaking. I love to go there to forget what day of the week it is and to watch the Atlantic Ocean lap against the foot of the cliffs.
You’re Irish if…
you love storytelling.