|Cover art precisely reflecting the themes of the novel - by Matt Zanetti|
If you're reading this on 10th or 11th May 2012, you can download my novel, Bird of Passage, free to your Kindle or Kindle App, here in the UK or here in the USA.
To be honest with you, although I'm very fond of this novel, very fond of its central characters, Finn and Kirsty, even I don't know what particular genre it belongs in. So I don't think I can complain too much that mainstream publishers couldn't seem to place it either. It's a mid-list novel, for sure and it's on the literary end of the mid-list. But that doesn't mean it's difficult to read. I hope the story is strong enough to carry you along. It's contemporary fiction, but the story spans many years. It's a love story, but it also deals with the shocking realities - and the aftermath - of state sanctioned physical abuse in 1960s Ireland, which makes it a serious and challenging read.
The story of Finn and Kirsty begins in 1960s Scotland. Young Finn O’Malley is sent from Ireland to work at the potato harvest and soon forms a close friendship with Kirsty Galbreath, the farmer’s red-headed grand-daughter. But Finn is damaged by a childhood so traumatic that he can only recover his memories slowly. What happened at the brutal Industrial School to which he was committed while still a little boy? For the sake of his sanity, he must try to find out why he was sent there, and what became of the mother he lost. As he struggles to answer these questions, his ability to love and be loved in return is called into question.
The novel is as much about the crippling psychological effects of physical cruelty as anything else. I've realised that even I, as a writer, found myself reluctant to tackle these aspects of Finn's story. (And even since publication, I realise I've been reluctant to talk and write about them.) I knew that I didn't want to turn this into a 'misery memoir'. But Finn, as he presented himself to me right from the start, seemed like a profoundly damaged individual. And it was quite a long time before I could bring myself to get inside his mind and find out exactly what had happened to him. It became even more disturbing when I found out what really had happened to so many people, when I found out - distressingly - the stories that lay behind those men you sometimes see in UK cities, Irish construction workers or older men now that time has passed, solitary souls, unable to form close relationships and sometimes reliant on alcohol to see them through each evening. Strangely, this reluctance of mine seems to be mirrored in the character of Finn himself who can't remember exactly what happened during his childhood, having buried it so deeply, because it was so damaging.
If this makes it a disturbing read - and I think in many ways it does - then it also made it a disturbing book to write. I found the character of Finn and his history so absorbing that I would constantly wake up in the night, thinking about him, trying to figure out why he was behaving in this way, and what might have happened to make him like this. It strikes me that writers don't always, or even often, manipulate plot and character. Sometimes our characters manipulate us. Finn was relentless.
From some of the UK reviews, I can see that men have appreciated this novel as much as women. It has an island setting in part but much of the story of Bird of Passage also takes place in Ireland and on the Scottish mainland. It has a rural setting, but many key events take place in cities.
My friend and colleague, Dr David Manderson, of the University of the West of Scotland, reviewed it in these terms: It's not just a cracking read, it's a genuinely powerful one, and once you stumble over the great love story at its centre you won't be able to put this book down. There's real pain here and many different kinds of healing, few of them nice. A story that like Wuthering Heights has as many harsh and knotted bits as deliciously sweet ones, you will be taken to a different world by it, but one as real as your own.' Writing in the Indie eBook Review, Gilly Fraser says 'There are no pat answers in this story and no neatly contrived solutions. Endings are jagged, situations remain unresolved. Yet at the end of the book, there is a feeling of satisfaction that things did work out as they should - at least to some extent.'
There have been other reviews, most of them by people I don't know at all, one of them calling the novel, 'A breathtaking read.' To which I can only say, thank-you, whoever you are - and I'm so glad you enjoyed it, if enjoy is the right word! As writers, we tend to write for ourselves. How else could we spend so much time absorbed in the world of each book or play? But very soon after completion - if we're honest - I think that most of us want desperately to communicate with other people, our readers. We want to show them the world we have created, to introduce them to the people who have become so very real to us. And we love to hear that they too have become absorbed in the world of the novel - even when that world is by no means a comfortable one. Finally, when I was looking for a cover for the eBook, I discussed the story and its background with digital artist Matt Zanetti. After a little while, he produced the cover above. It wasn't what I expected. It wasn't quite what we had discussed. But it took my breath away in that it so precisely reflected the themes of the novel: the lonely corncrake, the themes of solitude, imprisonment and a yearning for something better.