About The Author
Originally an award-winning blogger, Lisa McInerney's work has featured in Winter Papers, The Stinging Fly, Granta and BBC Radio 4 and in the anthologies The Long Gaze Back, Beyond The Centre and Town and Country.
Her debut novel The Glorious Heresies was published in 2015 and explores salvation, shame and the legacy of Ireland's twentieth-century attitudes to sex and family. It won the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize. It was shortlisted for an Irish Book Award, longlisted for the 2016 Dylan Thomas Award and named as a book of the year by The Irish Times, Sunday Independent and Sunday Business Post.
Though it can also be read as a standalone, her new novel, The Blood Miracles, returns to Ryan Cusack and his violent, chaotic life amongst Cork's criminals and drug dealers. Exclusively for Foyles, we talked to Lisa about discovering rather than creating characters, the potential for living a different kind of life and how she's rooting for Ryan and Karine.
Questions & Answers
The Glorious Heresies was fantastically well received and won the prestigious Baileys and Desmond Elliott Prizes. Were you already well into the second book and did the attention the first received impact on your writing?
I had finished the first draft of Miracles by the time Heresies was published, so there wasn’t much I could do in terms of second-guessing myself by the time Heresies was longlisted. It happened, though; I started to fret about what I wrote and how I wrote. I started wondering what it was about Heresies that struck a chord with readers and, if I wasn’t quite sure what that was, would I ever be able to get it right again? I can eke a bit of anxiety out of anything! I’m very good at anxiety.
Had you always intended for Ryan’s story to be part of a trilogy?
Well, funnily enough the idea for the story in Miracles existed in my head before the story in Heresies, so I developed both together, and I knew that they were too dissimilar and too big to ever work in one novel. And as I was making sense of this bustling, crowded world coming together in my head I knew I’d want to see how it all worked out, and that then there would have to be a third novel. I don’t really see them as a trilogy, though. Maybe a ‘set’, if that doesn’t seem like too pedantic a distinction. I really hope that a reader will be able to read one and not feel lost if they haven’t read the others. The third will, I hope, function as a satisfying end for familiar characters, but there’ll also be new people, new perspectives and a whole new story . I’m very excited to get cracking on it. Ryan feels very much like the anchor character, though. I like the idea of tracking the impact of this one life. I think he still has the capacity to surprise me.
Ryan is of mixed Irish and Italian heritage which makes him feel that he’d ‘never been a whole person, just two torn halves.’ What made you decide to give him this mixed background?
It was very deliberate; Ryan’s been in my head for ages, but when it was time to actually craft a story for him, I wanted to create some distance between my experiences and his. It might sound strange but for me it’s very important that I don’t simply develop a character whose life is comfortably close to my own, whose outlook would easily match mine, things like that. So I felt that there had to be something about him that I found separate and incompatible with my own life. I had to work at understanding him. I think characters are better discovered, not created. But Italy wasn’t an arbitrary choice . . . Ireland and Italy make sense together.
Ryan is not your average teenage hoodlum: as well as his mixed heritage, he is also an accomplished pianist, for example. Is this clearly drawn potential to have lived a different kind of life what makes him such a compelling character for you?
Ryan isn’t average but he’s not special either. There are plenty of young lads who’ve ended up walking the same unfortunate road but who have equally interesting facets (and plenty of them are drawn to music). It’s rare you’ll find a hoodlum with nothing more to him than being a hoodlum, and it’s a convenient, cynical conservative trick to suggest otherwise. What interests me, really, is the fact that most people who’ve made the same ill-advised choices as Ryan have the potential to live a different kind of life. You can certainly look at Ryan as being an exceptional person – for better or worse – but the world is full of exceptional people. The black market is full of exceptional people. And I think that a person who claims not to know any compelling characters probably lacks imagination.
‘Ryan goes back to his father to tell-him-without-telling him that he’s OK. Without-telling-him, Tony tells him he’s relieved’. There’s an almost Shakespearean amount of ‘not-telling’ in the book, with often life-changing intelligence withheld. Was it a deliberate plot to have your readers shouting at the page, ‘tell him Ryan, now while you still can!’?
It wasn’t deliberate, but authors love to think that a reader somewhere might be so stirred as to shout at the page! I think that Ryan’s reticence is real, though, in that it’s frustrating as hell. How many times has any of us missed an opportunity to make some real connection, or for some seriously important revelation, because we couldn’t find the words or didn’t want to hurt anyone or couldn’t handle the potential consequences? It’s a very human thing to hold back when you really shouldn’t. And with Ryan and Tony, well. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
There is a real poignancy to the occasional letters Ryan addresses to his dead mother. Is it too simplistic to see her death as the catalyst for everything that followed?
I think so. I think that Ryan would love to believe everything would have been better if she had been around to manage his father and keep Ryan on the straight and narrow, but he knows that’s not the case, and as he continues writing letters I think he begins to be more honest about the fact that his mother was flawed, and vulnerable, and was as likely to fail in guiding him as his father.
Is Karine a heroine or an idiot for putting up with Ryan as long as she does?
She’s probably an idiot, but what twenty-one year old isn’t an idiot? I don’t think she’s quite as committed an idiot as he is, though. She held on for, I think, just about as long as was reasonable before realising he wasn’t ready to be the person she wanted him to be. He still has a very determined faith in their relationship, making him a blindly optimistic idiot. I don’t think either will move on easily . . . He might grow up. She might even wait for him. We’ll have to see. God help me, I think I’m still rooting for them.
Have you noticed any differences in the way your novel has been received in Ireland and elsewhere?
Not outside of the most obvious differences – in that it takes a little longer for someone from outside Ireland to get the hang of the dialogue and slang and general bounciness of Hiberno-English. But otherwise people seem to react the same way. It’s largely been very positive, so I’m really pleased. I think that while the story has elements that are very specific to Cork, the broader story could happen anywhere.
How are you finding the process of adapting The Glorious Heresies for tv? Did you have particular people in mind for the key roles? Did the tv deal affect how you thought about The Blood Miracles and the third book in the sequence?
I am really enjoying the process! It’s a privilege to get the opportunity to tackle the story and its characters from new angles, and I’ve learned a lot. I haven’t thought differently about Miracles or Book 3, yet. The (hopefully!) eventual adaptations will necessitate my thinking differently about those stories anyway, so right now it’s my job to write the best novels I can. I haven’t at all thought about casting – honest! I would love it if we could make some great discoveries in Cork, though. It’s a very hard accent to get right, you know.