The Reckoning by Clar Ni Chonghaile
Review to follow
I have a story to tell you, Diane. It is my story and your story and the story of a century that remade the world. When we reach the end, you will be the ultimate arbiter of whether it was worth your time. You will also sit in judgment on me.
In a cottage in Normandy, Lina Rose is writing to the daughter she abandoned as a baby. Now a successful if enigmatic author, she is determined to trace her family’s history through the two world wars that shaped her life. But Lina can no longer bear to carry her secrets alone, and once the truth is out, can she ever be forgiven?
Chonghaile stuns in her second book for Legend Press weaving a complex narrative covering conflict, secrets, judgement and what it takes to sever family ties.
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) Hello, and thank you for hosting me. The Reckoning tells the story of Lina Rose, a successful if enigmatic author in her 70s, who has come to Lion-sur-Mer in Normandy to reflect upon the conflict that broke her husband and drove her to turn her back on convention with a recklessness that demands a reckoning. While in France, Lina decides to write to the daughter she abandoned as a baby. She wants to set the record straight after a lifetime of obfuscation. And she wants to do it in the place where her husband lost his innocence during the Second World War.
As Lina crafts a letter that may never be read, she relives the horrors of the 20th century’s two wars and she is forced to face her own complicity in what happened to her. As she writes, she tries to figure out whether she was compelled by the general chaos to live the way she did, or whether her decision to abandon her child was more a reflection of personal failings? Sensing the hand of time on her shoulder, Lina is determined to tell the truth, if such a thing exists. She wants to explain herself, insofar as she understands what happened. She is seeking forgiveness, from Diane and possibly from herself.
As you might be able to tell from my name, I am Irish and I grew up in An Spidéal in County Galway. I left home when I was 19 to join Reuters in London as a graduate trainee journalist. I then worked as a reporter and editor in Europe and Africa for around 25 years, mainly for Reuters, The Associated Press and the Guardian. My first novel, Fractured, was published in 2016. My second, Rain Falls on Everyone, came out in 2017. The Reckoning is my third. I live in St Albans with my husband, our two daughters and our naughty and very vocal golden retriever, Simba.
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) I started writing The Reckoning a couple of months after the publication of Rain Falls in July 2017. I pitched the idea to my wonderful editor, Lauren Parsons at Legend Press, and sent her a few chapters. She was very enthusiastic but Lauren knows me too well and suggested I might need a deadline to focus my mind. She’s always right! I promised to deliver the manuscript by April 2018. Thus began a frenetic phase of researching and writing, some of it joyful, some of it desperately hard. I had a clear vision of where the book was going but I never like to plot too precisely – I like my characters to lead me through the story and my favourite part of the whole process is when they head off on a tangent and do something unexpected. In reality, I suppose, it’s my subconscious being naughty but even knowing that, I find the whole thing quite magical. In any case, after some hand-wringing, hair-pulling and tears, I got it done and The Reckoning was on its way. I am extremely lucky to have had such incredible support from Legend Press since they first requested the full manuscript for Fractured in August 2014. I had submitted a sample of that work to well over 40 agents and publishers and a handful had requested the full manuscript, but none felt able to take the project forward. I was beside myself when I got an email from Lauren asking me to meet for a coffee that September. The rest is history. Legend Press took a chance on me and I will be forever grateful.
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) I have so many! And the list gets longer every month. I love Margaret Atwood and I think my favourite book of hers is Oryx and Crake. I really enjoyed the sequels too but that first book has a luminous quality. I loved Robert Wilson’s Bruce Medway novels about a hard-boiled detective in West Africa. I found them so original and also hugely entertaining. In my early 20s, I was deeply moved by Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. Another one of my Africa-based all-time favourites is The Darling by Russell Banks, a poignant story built around coups and wars in Liberia during the 70s and 80s. I recently raced through some of David Downing’s World War 2 spy novels – all named after train stations in Berlin. I admire his skill in capturing both the extraordinary chaos of war and the humdrum of daily life. I read all six books in the Station Series back-to-back and I wanted more. I have always been drawn to books about the wars, partly because I have never quite managed to get my head around the enormity of those tragedies. One of my favourite books is Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I devoured Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy and I loved Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven. This fascination with that period was also behind my decision to write The Reckoning, although in my darkest hours, I wondered how I could dare explore the territory of some of my writing heroes. Nonetheless, I persevered in much the same way, I suppose, as sprinters still train even though they know Usain Bolt is out there. I am reading Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife at the moment and I am totally bowled over. I also love Lisa McInerney’s lyrical and lush The Glorious Heresies and its sequel The Blood Miracles and Anne Enright’s blistering and beautiful social commentary in The Gathering and The Green Road. I am a huge fan of Tim Winton, and would unreservedly recommend his books, starting, perhaps, with Cloudstreet.
This list is whatever the opposite is of comprehensive!
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) I used to love My Naughty Little Sister, which my mother read to me. As I grew up, I devoured books by Enid Blyton, from Amelia Jane through to Malory Towers. I also loved the Chalet School books by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. As the eldest of seven children, I thought boarding school would be paradise! As a teenager, I loved Agatha Christie – I read every single one of her books in the library in An Spidéal. Later, I lapped up the exotic settings in Wilbur Smith’s novels. It still tickles me today that I did actually end up living in Africa for nearly 10 years. If you had told that to my 11-year-old self, she would have died laughing at the outlandishness of it all. Another teenage favourite was Maeve Binchy – for many years, she was my ultimate writing hero. I started with Echoes and then The Lilac Bus and on through her many others. When I moved away from Ireland, my mother used to send me all her new releases – in hardback! Maeve had such an ear for dialogue and such a gentle way with incisive social commentary. But it was the story and the characters that got you. I felt bereft at the end of each of her books. She pulled you so deeply into her characters’ worlds that finishing her books felt like a bereavement.
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) It’s all been a dream come true. But if I had to choose the best bit, I’d say it’s welcoming dear friends and family to book launches. If you can provide a reason for people to come together, to talk and laugh and have fun, I think you’re winning at life. What else is there, really? If some of them like the book, it’s a bonus.
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) Long before I sit down to the blank page, my husband David is hard at work as Supporter-in-Chief. He’s the one who has to listen to my semi-coherent, stream-of-consciousness plotting; he’s the one who has to inject that critical dose of reality into my more hare-brained scenarios. He’s also always my first reader. I have huge respect for his opinion, I know he’ll be honest and it helps that I can’t cut him out of my life in a fit of pique if he says something I don’t like! David also loves his little red pen and he is a pernickety (in a good way) editor. It helps that he is a journalist too with a keen eye for misplaced apostrophes and those dreaded split infinitives.
Our daughters, aged 14 and 11, are vocal supporters, even though they are too young yet to read my books. Their constant encouragement and, possibly misplaced, faith in my ability to become the next JK Rowling are balms for the soul.
My parents, two brothers and four sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins have all been hugely supportive. It means so much when they tell me what they thought of the books, and which passages they particularly liked. The same goes for reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. Yes, even the less favourable ones. I am always so grateful that people have read my books and then have taken the time to review or rate them. I still blush reading my reviews (I don’t think that will ever change) but I hope I learn from each one and hopefully take that knowledge onto the next novel.
I have also found great support online from a group called #writerswise, which was set up by Dr. Liam Farrell and Sharon Thompson. The regular chats with host writers on Twitter are hugely entertaining and very informative. The website is: https://writerswise1.wordpress.com/ More generally, I’ve met a lot of writers, especially Irish writers, online and they are full of support and perfectly-timed kind words.
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