Co Tyrone author Tish Delaney is delighted with her upcoming appearance at the Belfast International Arts Festival.
On October 19, in an already sold-out show, she’ll be in conversation with Limerick author Donal Ryan.
“It’s such a delicious thing to think about. I’m a big fan of his books,” says Tish.
“He’s one of those writers I always listen to and it’s so surreal that you suddenly get to talk to him. We’ve been in touch very briefly via email.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’m a bit of a newbie to it, I’ve only done a few of these things. To be able to do this in Belfast…with Donal Ryan, that’s pretty fancy.
Tish, whose latest novel, The Saint of Lost Things, was published in June, “gave up” feeling nervous “years ago” about speaking in public.
“I’ve never been good at giving presentations. But I thought, pull yourself together, nothing bad is going to happen. I don’t know how it’s going to be…but no, I’m not nervous” , she laughs.
“Before, I was very nervous and could barely speak,” says Booker-nominated author Donal.
“My mouth would get very dry and quiver, I would be terrible.
“But it’s been 10 years so I kind of got used to it. When a new book comes out, it’s a necessary part of the role.
There’s a synergy between Donal’s fiction and Tish’s, which focuses on relationships and isolation, both geographical and literal.
“We tend to stray to the dark side,” says Tish, who published her debut novel Before My Actual Heart Breaks in 2021.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to his books, they’re always quite dark and I like that in the books.
“I don’t really like the kind of Disney side of life that’s promoted almost constantly these days. [To be compared to him]…that’s a huge compliment to me.
“They have thematic things in common. I love the way Tish writes and uses language,” says Donal whose latest book, The Queen of Dirt Island, focused on three generations of resilient Aylward women.
It’s a beautiful, timeless novel that could take place in any era.
“Readers get a little shocked when they use a cell phone mid-stream because they put it in their head earlier,” Donal laughs.
Themes of being on the periphery of life, however they appear in fiction, are something readers are interested in, we say.
“It’s such an interesting thing. I grew up in the countryside,” says Tish. “It wasn’t far, I’m not talking about miles, but it still felt very far. You’ve always had this kind of loneliness.
“I was brought up in West Tyrone, the big swaths of Northern Ireland that are covered in these huge evergreen forests. Everywhere you go on the bog roads, there’s huge forests everywhere.
“We felt like we were completely locked in this bubble and cut off. It’s very strange, but you kind of have a sense of loneliness.
For Donal, it was important that the almost unbreakable relationship between grandmother, mother and daughter on Dirt Island be recognized.
“I really wanted to get this across without anyone saying it directly in the book. I wanted it to be really obvious that nothing could separate them. They could fight but never fell. I wanted these women to have real emotional intelligence, to know how important the other was.
Tish’s most recent novel focuses on silenced women, that group in society who have no choice in life decisions.
Protagonist Lindy Morris watches her grandfather abuse her mother and hopes that while running away to London, she will meet a man who is the complete opposite of her relative. She finds out the hard way that the man she has chosen is neither decent nor kind.
‘I think there’s a terrible element to that because being a woman is part of your nature I think, but also you’re trained to absorb more of it,’ Tish (right) says of the number of women who keep to each other, for many reasons.
“It’s that kind of old-fashioned idea of not playing or you’ll look spoiled. You’re trained to never fight for yourself, because you don’t want to look spoiled or that you don’t want to look demanding.
“It’s a very particular balancing act, as a woman, that you have a part of your nature that you want to be good and kind and loving and you’re all of those things, but because of that, you take recoil.
“Of course it’s very unhealthy for everyone involved because you put yourself in the background. I’m not really interested in the male/female relationship, but I think that’s part of being a woman and a very feminine quality of putting people before yourself.
And may heaven forbid women who dare to put their heads above the parapet.
“You must never do that!” she laughs.
Given her choice of heavy themes — and her skill at writing them for readers — we ask her if she ever feels the weight of her writing.
“It doesn’t weigh on me much because I think I’ve waited so long to write,” she says.
“I think the only good side effect of aging is that time is seriously running out and you want to put on the page the things that have been in your heart and mind.
“I find writing dark stuff to be quite therapeutic.
“It seems awfully fairytale when I see it in print, giving these women a voice, but there’s an element that so many women I meet on both sides of my family have never been able to speak up, have never got to leave the square mile they were born in, never really experienced much, not even a slight hint of material wealth.
“It’s good that you can finally have them a little…I like a little revenge anyway.”
For Donal, The Queen of Dirt Island was a quicker write than her readers would expect because a previous, longer novel didn’t work out.
“I was well over my submission deadline. I thought, I’ll write this in a modular style and make sure the reader stays engaged. I had to make sure the story was told in a cohesive way,” he says.
The author “loves economy” and always tries to be as economical as possible when it comes to word count.
“I always have a 60,000 word count in my head as a good length for a novel and if I can’t tell the story in that time frame, I’m saying too much,” he says.
“But sometimes I like a long novel; I remember reading The Incredible Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon and it seemed to go on and on and on but it didn’t matter because you were so invested in the story and so desperate to find out what happened pass.
The Saint of Lost Things by Tish Delaney, Penguin and The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan, Transworld, are available now. Tish and Donal will be in conversation on October 19 as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival. For more information on the arts festival, visit belfastinternationalartsfestival.com