Today I’m delighted to feature author Gráinne Murphy. Gráinne’s debut novel, Where the Edge Is, was published in 2020 by Legend Press, followed by The Ghostlights in 2021. Her third novel, Winter People, was published in October 2022, also with Legend Press. Winter People started life as a short story, Further West, which was longlisted for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award in 2021.
Gráinne is endlessly interested in family and in identity, particularly those moments where we have to stare life down and choose who we want to be. Even if she starts somewhere else and with something else in mind, her stories and characters inevitably end up there.
She lives with her family near Kinsale in Cork (Ireland), which, among its other charms, has far and away the best beaches and skies.
Over to Gráinne :
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
When it comes to music, I have a definite type. As Susan Cain’s book Bittersweet says, ‘Upbeat tunes make us dance around our kitchens and invite friends round for dinner, but sad music makes us want to touch the sky.’
Perhaps Love by John Denver and Placido Domingo. This is one from my childhood that came roaring back to me a few years ago. As I’m getting older, my sentimental streak is cracking ever-wider and this song has so much sorrow and beauty. All the big questions and some suggestions for answers – plus something in the duet manages to suggest the fun of looking.
Elvis – The Wonder of You. We got married in the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas with just our immediate family and it was solemn and joyful and all done and dusted in under seven minutes (including three songs). Best of all, I got to see my sister startled into singing Viva Las Vegas with Elvis, which remains one of my fondest memories. (Having read the intro paragraph above, it won’t surprise anyone to hear I have a major soft spot for Villagers’ version of this).
Within You by Ray Lamontagne. We played this at our daughter Ali’s funeral and it was such a comfort. It’s a very simple song – ‘War is not the answer. The answer is within you. Love, love, love, love.’ That’s all there is. On that very difficult day, the gentle repetition helped me to keep it together. I can’t listen to it now, but I like knowing it’s there if I need it.
Safe Travels, Don’t Die by Lisa Hannigan. This is parenting, with all its love and never-ending worry. It’s a gentle little poke in the ribs, with truth at its heart, and it makes me smile. More than that, it makes me feel entirely normal, which is always worth holding onto. If you’re an overthinker, this one is for you.
End of the Line by The Travelling Wilburys. This song encapsulates a lot of what I believe at this point in my life. I particularly love the line, ‘I’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive.’ I have mixed feelings about gratitude, which has become somewhat co-opted in ways I distrust, but gladness, to my mind, remains pure and uncomplicated. I was reading Stephen King’s Fairy Tale lately and the main character says, ‘I was glad. Maybe that seems like a tame word to you, but it doesn’t to me. I think gladness is a big, big deal’ and in my head I was shouting YES! ME TOO! For me, this whole song is about being alive to the big and little gladnesses in this ride we’re all on.
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
Books, definitely. On that horrible day in 2020 when everything in Ireland was shutting down, my lovely local bookshop, Bookstór Kinsale, texted me to say they had the book I’d ordered and they would be open for another hour if I wanted to pick it up. I bat-out-of-hell-ed it into town and spent half an hour what can only be described as panic-browsing to make sure I had a few things to keep me going. Local bookshops are the best – support yours when you can!
My laptop. I’m self-employed and work remotely with companies in Belgium, so no laptop would have meant a very different kind of life for the past seven years. When I’m writing, I take notes in notebooks, I write full drafts on the laptop, then edit on paper. If I had to write a first draft in longhand, I would struggle to decipher it myself. I gave my dad a copy of Winter People with a little note in the front and he texted to say ‘That’s lovely. What does it say?’
My dog, Scout, a four-year-old mixed-breed rescue terrier. She’s loud and cheeky and full of love. It tells you all you need to know that everyone tells me ‘she’s full of personality’, usually while trying to fend off one of her enthusiastic welcomes. Dogs change the energy in a house – they are living gladness.
Walks by water. I do my best thinking by the water and I’m lucky enough to live right beside an estuary and with the beach not far away. My 11-year-old surfs and it’s the greatest gift to know that time by the sea is ahead of me at the end of every week. No matter what mood I’m in, the sea adjusts my perspective to where it needs to be.
Cardigans – they are a hug in clothing form. An all-day hug. A silent hug, even better. Literally can’t be beaten.
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
Very few things are the end of the world – when one hits you, it’ll be unmistakeable, so until then, try to keep things in perspective.
An early night with a book in a bed with clean sheets solves a lot of everyday ills.
If you’re not getting on with a book, stop reading it and start another (thanks to fellow writer Emma McEvoy (@corkyorky) for the expression ‘not getting on with’ a book, which is just so lovely and neutral).
You get one go at life. Be who you want to be, always knowing that there is time to do things, find things, shift and change and make things better.
People are not mind-readers: if you want them to know what’s bothering you, you’ll probably have to tell them.
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
I worked as a waitress one summer in Greece and was so terrible that by the end of the summer, I wasn’t allowed to carry food or drinks and basically kept my job by talking all night every night to the mostly-English clientele about the weather. I didn’t expect Irish weather chat to be an actual life skill, but there you go.
I can’t nap because it fills me with rage. It’s not refreshing, it’s interrupted sleep. No matter how tired I am, I’m up from morning until night and that’s that. Even when my children were babies and I was up half the night, I was still up all day. I was a joy to be around, as you can imagine, but I would have been far worse after a 20-minute
nap interrupted sleep.
I read very quickly. My family joke that it is my super-power. They are all outdoorsy and all in scouts and dab hands at making fires and building things and navigating and being generally useful, so they say it with a sort of kindly pity, but I’ll take it.
I cannot watch a film if I’ve missed the start, even if I’ve seen it several times before. If I go to the cinema and miss the trailers – or even the ads – it colours the whole film for me.
Before starting a new story, I spend weeks or months wool-gathering. I’ll have the central question I’m interested in, I’ll have the characters, I’ll have pages and pages of notes on their thoughts and motivations and actions, but I can’t start writing until I have the title. The right title coalesces all of the thinking in the direction and tone I want for the story. It comes with a quiet certainty behind my ribcage. As long as I can feel that quietness, I’m going the right way.
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
I harbour dark thoughts of learning to play the violin. We were on holiday in Gdansk a few years ago and I was enormously taken by all the buskers playing beautiful classical violin, and decided that I would learn when I turned forty. But then I turned forty and discovered I’m too protective of my writing time to diversify anytime soon.
I would really like to have one of my novels translated into another language. When we lived in Belgium and I was trying to improve my secondary school-level French, I read Agatha Christie novels in French and was fascinated by the language choices compared to the English versions. (I had quite peculiar school-gate vocabulary for a while. Friendly Parent: ‘So did your son enjoy his first term at school?’; Me: ‘Yes, he cackled and rubbed his hands together with glee’). The cultural differences that are evident in the cover choices for translated books are fascinating too – Anne Griffin’s covers for Listening Still are one gorgeous example.
I love train journeys. Twenty years ago, we travelled on the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Moscow-Beijing and I hope to do the full Moscow-Vladivostok at some point.
I’d like to be a little looser in myself, a little more relaxed about everything. I saw a t-shirt online last year that said, ‘Hold on while I overthink this’ and had to stop myself buying it in all the colours. For now, I’m holding tight to my assumption that this sort of easing happens naturally as we get older and all I have to do is wait…
My fondest wish is that I will some day succeed in convincing my dog not to bark at the neighbours coming in and out of their own houses. If I can do that, I can do anything.
Many thanks for joining me today Gráinne, it’s been a pleasure. Delighted to find another bookloving, dog lover. I agree dogs are indeed a ‘living gladness’, our house definitely changed it’s energy when we said goodbye to our dog. I also agree with all of your advice to your younger selves and ‘an early night with a book in a bed with clean sheets’ certainly solves a lot of everyday ills. If you could share your super power of speed reading I’d be grateful, I’ve got more books than I’ll ever read in my lifetime! I sincerely hope you can achieve your dreams but having owned a terrier good luck with that last one!
Gráinne ‘s Books
(NB This post features Affiliate links from which I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases)
The wild Atlantic coast of Ireland.
One question: who are we without the people who love us?
Sis Cotter has lived her whole life in a small house by her beloved beach. Here, she grew up, reared her family, and buried her husband. Now her children are far away and, in three days, her house will be taken from her.
Next door, Lydia has withdrawn from her husband, her friends, her life. She watches the sea as her own private penance for a wrong she can never put right.
Peter’s best friend is dying, and his long-time foster mother is slowly forgetting who he is. Adrift without his two anchors, and struggling with the ethics of displacing people for a living, he looks for something to remind him of who he is and who he wants to be.
Winter People is a story of forgiveness, resilience, and the power of the sea to unlock what we are most afraid to say.
Can we ever truly escape our past?
The Ghostlights is the poignant story of a family of Irish women who are each looking for the real meaning of home. This is a novel about family, obligation, identity and small-town life, written with deftness and sensitivity by the author of Where the Edge Is.
When a stranger checks into a family B&B – in a small village in rural Ireland – no one takes too much notice… at least until his body is found in the lake four days later.
The identity of the unknown guest raises questions for polar opposite twin sisters Liv and Marianne and their mother Ethel, all of whom feel trapped by the choices they made earlier in life. They each find themselves forced to confront their past, their present and what they really want from their future.
Where the Edge Is
As a sleepy town in rural Ireland starts to wake, a road subsides, trapping an early-morning bus and five passengers inside. Rescue teams struggle and as two are eventually saved, the bus falls deeper into the hole.
Under the watchful eyes of the media, the lives of three people are teetering on the edge. And for those on the outside, from Nina, the reporter covering the story, to rescue liaison, Tim, and Richie, the driver pulled from the wreckage, each are made to look at themselves under the glare of the spotlight.
When their world crumbles beneath their feet, they are forced to choose between what they cling to and what they must let go of.