Easons Blog Article
Monday, October 1, 2012
In Mary McCarthy’s latest novel, After the Rain, the main character discovers she has terminal cancer. Mary wrote it to help her deal with her brother’s death in 2001. Just months before the book’s release in August, Mary herself was diagnosed with the same illness – a tragic case of life imitating art. Here she discusses her experiences writing about a difficult, yet universal, subject.
Certain themes in literature are sexy — dealing with terminal illness isn’t! So why did I choose this topic to write about in my latest novel? I was coming to grips with my brother’s death in 2001. I couldn’t concentrate on reading or writing — just on my teaching job. Niall had been such a lively energetic person — I couldn’t believe he was struck down so quickly and suddenly from cancer in his mid 50s. Everyone tried to console me or tell me God was good, things happen for a reason etc. Some people didn’t know what to say and even avoided me. So, I realised, this was a subject people tried to shy away from. By nature I am very direct so this frustrated me.
Jane Austen once wrote: “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”. Grand, I thought, I’ll take it on, I’ll deal with death by writing about it and making it the central focus of my new novel. Challenging for me, the reader and for any potential publisher. [Thank you Poolbeg Press!]
Before you all take to the valium, After the Rain is not at all depressing or miserable or pessimistic. Quite the opposite. It’s about a woman faced with her own mortality. Emer Dorgan is traumatised when she’s told she has terminal cancer. So are her family and friends. The novel deals with her journey from shock, anger and denial to acceptance, serenity and grace — and how her loved ones gradually come to terms with her approaching death. It is, unquestionably, the favourite of my five novels and I am proud of it. It has plenty of humour - one-liners abound - wisdom [I hope!] but, above all, it is an affectionate account of a family and a group of friends faced with the reality of the human condition. Grandiose? Not at all.
It is an easy-to-read novel which I hope will keep readers turning the pages. It is peopled with some lovely and lively characters - and some not so lovely. It has other themes: a family rift, a troubled past, social bigotry, love, romance, birth. Many of the characters are comic and most are very likeable. It is set in Dublin, America and Connemara. It could be set anywhere because the themes are universal.
It wasn’t an easy book to write but it was worthwhile and I’m so glad I did. I wrote it to help those who may have to face terminal illness themselves or who love and care for those who are diagnosed. It will help - I know this because it surely has helped me. I was diagnosed this March with terminal cancer myself - secondary cancers cells in the lining of my lung. No primary cancer was found and no tumour. Apparently, by being healthy, I cured myself of the primary and there is no cure for secondary - just containment! So here I am six months later still being contained - my friends would argue I’ll never be contained! I should live for two years or longer if the treatment continues to work for me. Chemotherapy isn’t easy but it’s keeping me ticking over. Emer, my character succumbed quicker because she was further along in her illness and refused chemotherapy on those grounds. My last scan was good so the oncology team are giving me three months off - hoorah! I can’t believe it. I hope to get more energy back now although I’ll probably never be my “old self” again. However, my attitude is healthy, I’m told. My sense of humour is, thankfully, intact. While I am totally realistic about my situation, I still enjoy life, my friends, my family and my gorgeous dog. I love my life and I wouldn’t change anything - anything.
“Write about what you know” is common advice. I always imagined what I wrote and now what I imagined has become what I know!! You couldn’t make it up - but I did! Fifty Shades of Grey it isn’t but maybe it’s multicoloured? Read After the Rain. It is a genuinely heart-warming, humorous, uplifting novel and all those who have read it say the same. Happy reading and keep smiling.
Life is good!
- Mary McCarthy
Mary McCarthy’s latest novel, After the Rain, is out now, available in Eason stores nationwide and online at Easons.com! If you’d like to hear more about Mary, she will be on The Last Word with Matt Cooper tomorrow evening, Tuesday October 2nd.