Author On the Bookcase: Aine Greaney, author of Dance Lessons

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Author On the Bookcase
Aine Greaney

Aine GreaneyI'm excited to welcome, Aine Greaney, author of Dance Lessons. Aine's novel tell the story of Ellen Boisvert who discovered her late husband, Fintan, was not an orphan at all -- his mother, Jo, is living in a lakeside village, the westside of Ireland. Ellen, a thirty-nine-year-old American prep school teacher, packs her bags and boards a plane to Ireland to reveal the secrets of Fintan's family. Deeply rooted in the Irish landscape and sensibility, Dance Lessons shows how Ellen reconciles with Fintan's past and learns to heal the wounds.

"Is it a burden or a curse to be labeled 'an Irish writer'?” Aine chats with us about being labeling as "a Irish writer."

Fifteen years ago, I attended a reading and presentation by the late, great Irish author, John McGahern (Amongst Women, The Barracks).

Afterward, during the question and answer session, a young newspaper reporter stood up to ask McGahern, “As an Irish writer, do you consider--”.

“--No such thing,” said McGahern  (I’m paraphrasing). “No such thing as an Irish writer.”

A hush fell over that afternoon audience. Wait, hadn’t the local university billed this gig as an “Irish-author event?"

McGahern explained: “I’m a writer who happens to be from and live in Ireland,”

But a writer is a writer is a writer.

Is it? As authors, can we actually separate our national identities from our work and books? And, as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, is it a burden or a curse to be labeled “an Irish writer?” As readers, when we plunk down our money for an Irish book, is there a defined set of expectations for a book that hails from the Emerald Isle?

Yes. I first learned this with my first ever publishing rejection. I had sent out a query letter, synopsis and sample chapters proposing a collection of my personal essays to a small, literary press. Back then, this neophyte popped that package in the mail and started planning my book tour.

A month later, the rejection letter dropped into my mail box. In the letter,  the acquisitions editor said that she loved my writing. BUT …  “these stories simply don’t do justice to a country as beautiful as Ireland.”

I checked and re-checked my original pitch letter to her. Had I inadvertently promised a travelogue? A kind of expanded Fodor’s Guide of Ireland? A book of castles and meadows and Guinness signs outside brightly painted pubs? No. True to the personal essay genre, my proposed book was a set of first-person stories. Some even included some nerdy-dry statistics and research.  But presumably, this editor had read “Ireland,” and “Irish writer” and expected something quite different.  And I had disappointed.

Dance LessonsSometimes, I see this same reader-disappointment during some of my public readings or presentations. Audiences are gracious and engaged and ask really smart questions. Some even shed a tear at the sad parts. But afterward, I feel like it’s these sad or serious parts (of the book) that leave some people feeling shortchanged.   “I thought this would be different,” one woman said to me at a small-town library. She added,  “I came here for a fun Irish night out.”

An Irish night out. Fun.

Of course. I got it. I should have been funny. Or funnier. Right? Even when I’ve written a short story about a terminal illness or an essay about leaving my family, somewhere in there, somewhere behind that lectern or on that written page, I was supposed to make `em laugh.

From Ned Devine to Barry Fitzgerald, we have this national reputation as a country of back-slapping, quick-witted jokesters. Or, as one author wrote about her research on the Irish in America: “You can always depend on the Irish to get the joke.”

In my personal life, as a wife and colleague, a sister or neighbor, I do get the joke. People tell me that I have a quick wit and that I can find the funny side of the darkest things or my own mishaps.

But ultimately, I think the joke’s on me if I only give my readers “an Irish story.” Oh, yes, even when I’m reading or writing it in an Irish accent, even when the setting is on a hilltop, rural farm, my story should ultimately be about them. It should be the mirror of our shared existence. It should hail from that middle ground where readers from any place or country can meet this Irish writer's sensibility.

Thanks, Aine, for your idea of writers and readers sharing "the middle ground."

Praise for Aine Greaney

"Clean, precise, rhythmical and original, Greaney’s prose manages to negotiate a wide space of injury, geography and joy. She keeps her fingers on the pulse and recognizes that the universal is found in the heart of the local. . . ."—Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

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