I always knew I would be a writer. My father, Tom Joe Manus Rua, was a writer. He wrote short stories in Irish and published them in newspapers and journals. They were also recorded on the radio, and eventually collected and broadcast as Séimidh agus Scalta Eile. Seimidh includes both light and humorous stories of growing up in Bunbeg, Donegal, as well as more serious and moving stories about relationships and intimacy.
At the end of the collection is a story about how the only job my father could get as a newly graduated young teacher was at an industrial school.
He writes eloquently of his feelings upon entering this dark institution, his mother’s admonitions to him like a mischievous boy ringing in his ears, “If you don’t behave, you’ll end up beyond in industrial school.”
And he was there. It is a well-paced and poignant piece. All but one of the stories are set in Gweedore, so it’s no surprise that my first novel is also set in Gweedore. The apple does not fall far from the tree, they say. My dad was definitely a role model.
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I spent my summers in Gweedore.
My father taught in Ranafast, so the family simply decamped to the Gaeltacht for July and August. So many childhood images mean Gweedore to me: the mountain of Errigal, the salmon fishing, the snuff, the harsh winter I spent there with its howling storms; sea and sand and picnic on the shore. Especially the joy of bathing in the sea at Port Arthur beach.
Being my grandmother’s favourite, I also spent a lot of time with her at her cabin in Lunniagh. There I had to make my own fun.
Fortunately, I was a reader. There was a press in the living room filled with books. I have read them all, not once but twice, and sometimes three times.
It was an eclectic mix, books my aunts brought with them on their trips home to visit their mother. Classics and pots rubbed shoulders. Crime, Westerns, Mystery, Thriller, Horror and of course Romance. Bram Stoker side by side with Agatha Christie; Louisa May Alcott with Zane Grey.
I read Dracula and Twelve little Indians, little women and Shane – all with delight.
A recurring theme was the struggle of good against evil. I remember when I was 10 years old, I thought for days about how a kind, beautiful, charming woman in one of the page-turners I read – the name I long forgotten – could actually be a villain?
Did I admire the woman or did I feel repulsed by her? I found this to be a very confusing riddle. Perhaps it was this fascination with duality, the Jeykll-Hyde syndrome, that finally drew me to detective writing.
Very early on, I wanted to write, but motherhood also beckoned me, and it wasn’t until my children’s late teens that I dipped my toes into the literary world. .
During the 1990s, with the rise of the Celtic Tiger, Galway was full of fun and craic and became a hub for budding artists and literati of all types.
There was a “buzz”. Writing groups are flourishing. I was attracted. My first foray was into songwriting, then into poetry, drawn as I was to rhythm.
When after a while I turned my attention to writing prose, I found that rhythm is as important in prose as it is in poetry. I got into the rhythm of things and took my poems and songs to the cafes and wine bars – many with exotic names – downtown: Biquets, O’Che’s and La Graal to name a few. cite just three, where cabaret and readings flourished for a period in the late 90s and early 2000s.
I loved playing, the feedback was great, the adrenaline rush exhilarating. It was an exciting time.
But aside from performing, I spent a lot of solitary time writing at home while I perfected my craft.
Finally, with the wind in my sails, I sent my first poems to a magazine in Sligo called The flaming arrow, and expected, full of anticipation.
I didn’t have to wait long. In two days, the poems were returned to me.
No response, just a library stamp on the cover letter to show it had been received. I stared at the stamped letter for ages – for I was sure there must be a mistake – before I could finally accept that it was a refusal. A writer friend wisely whispered, “Maybe we should thrive on rejection.
To my surprise, soon after, I had one of those same poems accepted by that gold standard of magazines, The Rialto. I was stunned. And happy of course. A revealing lesson on the subjectivity of publishers. I continued to write and submit work with increasing success.
I knew that was the route I had to take if I wanted to get a book of poetry published.
Entering contests was another way to test your progress and also important in finding a publisher. I was now also writing short stories and sending them too.
I’ve won many awards for my work, and every time it’s a thrill, but the award I loved the most was coming in first in the Hannah Greely contest, with my entry The job fair.
This is the story of how a century ago the children of Gweedore were brought to a hiring fair and sold for six months to wealthy Presbyterian farmers in the Lagan Valley.
This story made a lot of sense to me, as my own grandmother had been sold at such a fair, but luckily without the same disastrous consequences.
By 2008 I had published my first book of poetry, many of my short stories had either appeared in magazines or won awards, and I now had the confidence to attempt longer work. In the interest of getting started, I attended a fiction workshop and found myself tasked with writing a three-hundred-word pitch for a crime novel.
I did it, I enjoyed the experience and the result is Limbomy first novel.
In a detective story like Limbo, the plot is important. But I’m as interested in the script behind the plot as I am in the plot, if not more so, and the characters that populate the story. For me, good storytelling is what I aim for.
Limbo by Maureen Gallagher, Poolbeg Press, £13.99, available now