Bernard MacLaverty – Life Inspiring Fiction

BERNARD MACLAVERTY – Life Inspiring Fiction.
16th September 2015

Having experienced firsthand, during twenty years in the classroom, how Bernard MacLaverty’s fiction can capture the imagination, and inspire secondary school pupils to produce some of their best pieces of work, I was very excited to be meeting one of my literary heroes.

He did not disappoint.

Bernard MacLaverty’s Irish brogue – no doubt modified a bit by years of living in Scotland – hypnotised us, last night, at AYR WRITERS’ CLUB. Not only did he share his writing journey, from enthusiastic teenage poet, inspired by the “rock ‘n’ roll” of Gerard Manley Hopkins and an enthusiastic English teacher, to his more recent writing, opera libretti, in partnership with Gareth Williams, but he also treated us to the readings of two of his short stories – THE ROUNDABOUT, and THE CLINIC. Both stories ably demonstrated his belief in turning to lived experience for fictional inspiration, creating achingly memorable pieces.

THE ROUNDABOUT, simple but powerful, lulled us into a false sense of security, as a happy little family unit – “seat belt kind of people”- set off on an innocuous car journey, only to witness a violent atrocity, in 70s Belfast, at the hands of laughing, hammer holding, UDA members. It left me overwhelmed with the sense of – how can human beings do that to one another and, more importantly, how would I have reacted?

The second, longer short story, though not as visceral and violent, packed just as much of a punch. Its subtle layering of apparently insignificant detail created a profound commentary on the aging process and all that lies ahead. This piece demonstrated again elements of MacLaverty’s lived experience brought vividly to life with evocative descriptions of a squeaky door and a urine sample, like “spring water with a hint of apple”. Cleverly enmeshed with this was the protagonist’s reading of an Anton Chekov story, THE BEAUTIES, a tale so captivating that it provided the ultimate escapism from the sombre reality of the diabetes clinic. The juxtaposition of fact and fiction brought into sharp relief the threat of becoming unable to read, should diabetes take hold, as well as making us question society’s preoccupations. MacLaverty’s repetition of Chekov’s haunting “a wind blowing over my soul” at the story’s conclusion was a master stroke.

During a break for refreshments, our guest gave generously of his time for autographs, photographs and chatting. Next he regaled us with more of his creative journey: his delight that Belfast publisher, BLACKSTAFF PRESS, had been interested in publishing his stories; his discovery that some pieces featured a ‘voice’ which lent itself to adaptation for radio plays (and the opportunity to earn money from repeats); his amazement and pride that one piece, THE ASSESSMENT, had broken free from its literary life to become a training tool for dementia professionals. That some of his work has made it to the big screen, with starry names from the worlds of film and music, seems still to surprise this modest man.

Last night made a lasting impression on me, inspiring us as he did, to write, write, write – to use our lives as raw material. And if you happen to be in the vicinity of the new Waterstones store on Byres Road, in Glasgow, check out those ‘distressed tables’. You may well spot the figure of literary giant lowering his blood pressure in his favourite places.

Carolyn O’Hara
September 17th, 2015

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