Representing Dublin: Frankie Gaffney

Frankie Gaffney sits down with Maebh Butler to discuss his debut novel, his love of linguistics and the complexities of gangland Dublin.In a the far corner of one of Dublin city’s cafes, over a pot of tea and a coffee, OTwo meets with Frankie Gaffney. Currently completing a PhD on literature from a linguistic perspective, it quickly becomes clear that his passion for language and dialect spreads wider than just within his studies at Trinity College. He says that, in retrospect, his undergraduate degree left him with a feeling of dissatisfaction at the depth of study they did on the prescribed literature. “So the PhD is on the novel. I started doing it because, when I finished my undergraduate degree in English, I kind of looked back and thought, we could have just been talking about audio books. I’m looking at visual aspects like punctuation, typography in the novel. The whole novel.”As he speaks, Gaffney appears to talk about language with a newfound relish, an enthusiasm that is admirable in the writer. It is almost hard to keep up with his detailed discussion of the Dublin accent, and how he wanted to portray it so specifically in Dublin Seven, his debut novel. Gaffney says that there is an “accordance between Elizabethan English and ‘Dublin English’ that people don’t realise. ‘Jacks’ is in Shakespeare, for the toilet… ‘Poxy’ as well. Most English speakers don’t say that, but we still say it.” Certainly an interesting connection, OTwo ponders over whether Shakespeare would be more engaging for students if they were aware of such accordance. “Absolutely. You know, if you read Shakespeare in a Dublin accent, it works perfectly.”
“I think what saved me from that fate, escaping that world, was just that me ma always read to me and always bought me books.”
Gaffney, who himself has a strong Dublin accent, stresses the importance of the inclusion of this accent in Irish literature; an accent which seems to not have established itself fully in our wide berth of fiction. The only author who seems to come to mind is Roddy Doyle. Although certainly representing ‘Dublin English’, Gaffney says he thinks that Doyle does not completely commit to the cause. “I wrote a thesis on Roddy Doyle’s use of ‘Dublin English’, and he is actually quite standardised, in that he apostrophises. If he cuts off the ‘g’ from something, he’ll put an apostrophe there. He doesn’t use the compounds…‘yourman’ is a single word, because the syllables can’t take unequal stress. But he’ll have ‘your man’. It’s reverting back to standard all the time.” Gaffney makes it clear that by all accounts, he certainly thinks that Roddy Doyle is a “comic genius” but that he “wanted to do a different approach to it.” In not “standardising” his dialogue like Doyle, there is the possibility of restricting his readership, yet Gaffney says that this is not something which worries him. “Irvine Welsh represents the Edinburgh dialect just as it is. Totally unmediated and without any concession to readers. He has obtuse, sectarian, slang words that we’d have no knowledge of and it didn’t inhibit his sales or popularity.” Clearly, the important thing for Gaffney is to convey to readers the significance in representing people, their accent and dialect, as it really is.
“That someone had read it, and enjoyed it, and entered emotionally into it. That’s all I wanted. Even one person.”
In being so particular, Gaffney must have come head-to-head with editors. How much did he allow them to alter? “Not much, not much. I was a very difficult author, I think, for the editor. Sam Tranum edited at Liberties, and he’s just amazing. I think he had to be very tolerant of my demands. I’d sat with it for so long at that stage, I was very clear about what I wanted… In saying that, he spotted some absolute clangers where I’d missed, not so much in the language but in terms of the little things happening, that would have really made me look stupid. He saved me from looking foolish on numerous points.” Liberties Press played quite a part in Gaffney’s writing, as he says it was there where he experienced his first feeling of success. “That someone had read it, and enjoyed it, and entered emotionally into it. That’s all I wanted. Even one person.”One cannot dismiss the idea that there must be some relation between Gaffney’s experiences, and his array of characters. “For me, I saw a lot of friends, and contemporaries, and peers end up in prison. Some ended up killed. Things like this. I think what saved me from that fate, escaping that world, was just that me ma [sic] always read to me and always bought me books. She came from a kind of background where some people aren’t so lucky to have that. I think that is it. It’s a large element of luck that way. I wanted to represent that.” With a sense of disappointment, Gaffney continues in saying that for many teenagers like Shane in Dublin Seven, the problems they face are “generational”. He wants to emphasise the difficulty for young people in Dublin who are growing up in more disadvantaged areas. Even when they are given a chance, it is sometimes not enough. “I remember I went to a course out in Ballyfermot and there was a whole host of young fellas out there. One of them, it was a radio course actually, and one of them was running a pirate radio station. He fell out of the course because he wasn’t able to do essays. No one in his family had gone to college. No one was academic. And that was it. This fella was able to deal with what the course was designed to teach you, but the system just completely failed him. I wanted to show that for some people, how difficult it is for them, to get out of the situation they’re in.”Despite similarities between Gaffney’s experiences and the characters’, he says that it is not an autobiography; rather it should be viewed in terms of its authenticity at representing his characters. “I suppose the temptation for everybody is going to be to read it autobiographically. But I suppose people that know me know that I’m not really like Shane. There’s words, there’s sentences, there’s incidences, that I’ve taken from real life, from my friends’ lives, and I’ve mixed them around… I suppose the important thing for me, in terms of authenticity, was not that anything did happen, it’s that it could happen. I think it’s as real as it could get. I haven’t seen any portrayal of that world, in any medium, that I think is more faithful.” His obvious passion for authenticity and language has resulted in an incredibly accurate portrayal of the realities attached to Dublin city life for many people. OTwo’s time with Gaffney comes to an end, and the tea has gone cold. One to watch out for, Gaffney poses an undeniable promise and enthusiasm for writing that will have you reading from cover to cover.