Interview and Reading with Peter Murphy

Peter MurphyAuthor Peter Murphy was interviewed by Anne O’Neill in the Seanachaí Centre on Thursday 30 May. He also read from his latest novel, Shall We Gather At The River, which he describes as a two-tiered novel. Peter said that he’d  read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. “The Grapes of Wrath contains these amazing, vernacular, really gritty down on the earth stuff of the Oklahoma migrants as they moved towards the promised land of California. There are overhead crane shots of the desert and of a tortoise crossing the road and it’s the beautiful biblical language that then contrasts with the ordinary language of the  Okies. I really loved that structure in the book. It seemed the two aspects of it seemed to complement each other. Shall We Gather At The River is quite similar. The major dramatic backdrop to it takes place over two weeks in 1984 in the month of November when a river floods.

“As the flood waters begin to draw back, nine souls deliver themselves to the river – they walk into the water over the following two weeks. Nobody knows why.  It’s based very loosely on something that happened in my own home town of Enniscorthy in 2002 and it was an event that made national news, but once the reporting had ceased there was no sense of solving the mystery. It haunted me and a lot of the people in the town. What spiritual virus can jump from one mind to the next? Are they social reasons or supernatural reasons, who knows. So the spine of the book attempts not to answer the question, but to ask as many questions as possible.

“Some people think that certain topics such as suicide are not suitable for fiction. Those people tend to think that fiction is not a serious business, that it’s somehow play – and it is play and it’s fun, but Freud said ‘the Irish are impervious to psychoanalysis,’ but the part of that we quote we don’t often hear is  ‘because they tell each other stories,’ so that’s the Irish type of psychoanalysis.  Stories serve a purpose in keeping us sane.

“As far as writing is concerned, Peter says that there are seasons where you must work and seasons where you must rest. “What I usually do is write fairly blindly for a year maybe, just putting seams down – words on pages. Just filling up pages and then I wait, and hopefully it will start to find a form or shape. A title is important for me. I really like to have a title, even if it’s going to change later on. Once the clicks start to happen and it starts to take a form I work on it harder. That usually lasts about six months or a year, and for that time I’m barely a human being at all. I’m trying to get more in balance because it’s not that much fun for people when they find a lump of coal in their sandwich. You’re making them a sandwich and you’ve spaced off again thinking about something,” he laughs. “After that I just read the draft over and over again, reading and rewriting, reading and rewriting.”