"On Canaan's Side" by Sebastian Barry
Jeff Glor talks to Sebastian Barry about "On Canaan's Side," a first-person novel told through the eyes of an aging Irish Cook named Lilly. The story spans seven decades, all the way back to the end of the first world war.
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Sebastian Barry: I had a great aunt Lilly who went to America in the twenties. I used to think it was because she couldn't bear the fall in grace of her father, who was chief-superintendent of the old imperial police force in Dublin before independence. But I was shocked to discover that she left under threat of death from the old Irish Republican Army. I wanted to follow her there as it were, if only to offer the strange comfort of a made-up book... Also, my great friend Margaret Synge, who died recently, inspired the novel. Her grandson came back from the war in Afghanistan and tragically took his own life. Margaret, already in her eighties and very unwell, said to me, in her little bedroom, 'Why did He not take me? I was ready to go.' The saddest and most courageous thing I ever heard.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
SB: That America, where I have worked briefly and visited many times over the last 35 years, seemed in the upshot like a 'home place'. Although my grandfather held an American passport, I have no right to call myself a citizen. Nevertheless there is a secret citizenship maybe of the heart. The depth of attachment to the places and people I was writing about really surprised me. I had feared going so far, as an 'Irish' writer -- and it felt like a long journey, but homeward.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
SB: My grandfather, who was in bomb disposal in the Royal Engineers during WWII, wanted me to join the army, so I might have been a rather neurotic, nervous soldier! I left Trinity College Dublin in the 1970s and all job applications from me were rejected, so maybe I wouldn't have been good for much else besides writing. I remember a bank wrote back to me saying, 'Your application charmed us, but you are the least qualified person ever to apply to us...' My first longing was to carry on where Bob Dylan left off, but he never did leave off exactly...
JG: What else are you reading right now?
SB: I am re-reading the entirely marvelous book, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," published in 1970, and rightly never out of print since. A great masterwork of its subject.
JG: What's next for you?
SB: I have just finished all the publicity for "On Canaan's Side" in Britain and Ireland, and am walking and running the Wicklow mountains every day to get fit for a two-week book tour in the US in the second half of September. This is where writing seems sometimes very like boxing! Luckily there is never anyone in the mountains, so no one can see the uninspiring sight of me running along -- or stumbling as I should call it more accurately.
For more on On Canaan's Side, visit the Penguin Press website.
Popular in Entertainment
- "Seinfeld": Where are they now? 15 Photos
- Weddings around the world 16 Photos
- Stars at NBA 2013 playoffs 15 Photos
- "American Idol" season 12 finale 31 Photos
- "American Idol" winner announced
- "The Big Bang Theory": Expect a cliffhanger in finale
- Runaway mom tells Dr. Phil: "They're better off without me"
- Inside Mariah Carey's "American Idol" performance