Kevin Curran takes some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his latest novel with Maebh Butler.
Writing two books in five years is certainly no easy feat and without a doubt, Kevin Curran has his hands full as he balances his classroom, his two children and his writing. Somewhere in the midst of this, he manages to take some time to discuss the release of his second novel, Citizens. Working as a teacher of English and a little bit of History in Balbriggan, OTwo wonders what – if any – kind of impact his career has had on his writing. “Not this one”, Curran says in reference to Citizens. This one “is not really informed by teaching at all.”
The same cannot be said, however, for his debut novel, Beatsploitation, as it is “literally set in Balbriggan about a teacher robbing beats from a black Irish student. That came straight out of, obviously, my experience.” Like most writers, some aspects of both his and his friends’ lives seem to find their way into his work. Although Citizens is a far cry from Curran’s classroom in Balbriggan, there are links in the story that are close to home for the writer. There is the similarity of protagonist Neil and writer Curran sharing the same job at a mortgage centre. Also, like Neil who wishes to follow his girlfriend Kathy out to Canada, this is a similar situation to one a friend of the writer found himself in. Most notable, however, are the diary entries.
The diary entries in the novel are produced from The Bureau of Military History, documents compiled by Curran’s great grandfather, Harry Colley, an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who fought in the Easter Rising. He was unseated in the Dáil by Charles Haughey. Reading Citizens, it is difficult not to pick up on the political notes, yet Curran admits that it wasn’t politics which was a motivating factor behind writing this book. “The politics came second… this has been in my head for a long time. I don’t know why, just the idea of a pathé newsreel camera man… It was kind of sitting with me for a while with the whole idea of heroes.” The camera is an important plot device for Curran in Citizens as it allows him to do something a little different. “There’s so much reading out there, so much on this 1916. I just said ‘right I’m going to follow his movements, my great grandfather’s movements exactly, and just pretend that he had a camera, and that he was motivated not by the idealism of patriotism or nationalism but of art’. So I stuck a camera in his hand.”
The Easter Rising is being discussed everywhere at the moment. With all of this talk of celebration and pride over our 100 year old republic, it is difficult not to feel a little sour at the loss of so many of our young people to emigration. Curran feels that The Bureau of Military History belonging to Harry Colley seems little more than idealistic as we approach the one hundred years celebration. On the front cover of the documents are Harry Colley’s own words ‘Ireland Gaelic and Free is the Road to Prosperity’. “As a growing cynic in this country, you kind of think, my God,” Curran muses, “How naïve and ridiculous does that sound now, to someone in the year 2011, let’s say, when the IMF were coming into the country and the whole crash happened.” Curran refers to Blindboy from The Rubber Bandits’ appearance on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show on the 8th of January and how he feels that Blindboy’s comments “My generation are jumping on planes or jumping in rivers” were some of the more accurate and truthful words spoken in relation to the 1916 centenary.
“Maybe we wrote the book for the wrong generation because they’re not here to buy it.” / “The worst thing I think a writer can do is do a Masters, an academic Masters. It’s just because it took me about eight years to get it out of my system.”
“I saw the clip and I was like, ‘fair play to him’, because there’s so much hullabaloo about 1916 and what not. We haven’t heard any – genuinely, I haven’t heard – any voice from anyone of a younger generation talk about what it actually means to a younger generation, this 1916 lark, and what the country now means to them… You know the
facts are there. What, there’s 205,000 less 20 somethings in Ireland since six years ago, and there’s an increase in every other age group? I was joking with the publisher, I was in with them on Tuesday, and I said to them, maybe we wrote the book for the wrong generation because they’re not here to buy it.”
Curran’s words are brimming with a sad truth, and it is for this reason that he says he wanted 1916 to speak to a 21st century reader. Writing a modern novel with interruptions from 1916 must have proven difficult, however, when trying to engage with a contemporary audience’s way of speaking. Curran says that he kept close to the real Harry Colley when writing the diary entries of the fictitious Harry Casey. This proved somewhat difficult, as Colley’s language in the reports was “self conscious” and “very stiff”. “It’s a different world of language. But you have to in some ways make it accessible to a 2016 reader. You have to modernise it a bit.
Despite the movements and actions of Harry Casey being based on the actual reports of Harry Colley, Curran clashed with a historian during the writing process of Citizens. The incidences in Citizens of the characters in 1916 robbing coats from an outfitters shop, going to Kilmainham in July, and the inclusion of the three kisses at the end of the letter at the very beginning of the novel are all ones that a historian dismissed as “nonsense”. However, they were incidences that Harry Colley had actually noted in his historical reports, and the letter at the beginning of the novel is word for word an original, apart from a sentence or two created about the film reels.
Transitioning from academic to fiction writer also posed some difficulty for Curran as he, like Harry Colley, wrote “too self-consciously” after completing a master’s in Anglo-Irish literature. “The worst thing I think a writer can do is do a master’s – an academic master’s. It’s just because it took me about eight years to get it out of my system.” Teaching didn’t come until a little later for the writer and despite enjoying teaching, is writing something which Curran would eventually like to do full time? “Aw, I’d love to, but then again I love teaching. It’s the best thing I did. The kids are great in Balbriggan. There’s such a mix. It’s great, you’re just exposed to all different cultures. But it’s tiring.”
Despite needing a break, Curran says that he is still working away on other projects. “I’ve a few other things coming up, but I’ve started on a third book. I’m taking it easy for now. I think a few short stories and just relax.” Clearly relaxing varies in its meaning, but Curran is right to keep himself focused. “You never know,” he says, “one book could change your life.”