Mike McCormack Meet the Author

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Mike McCormack

Jim Naughtie talks to Mike McCormack about his book Solar Bones, which is written in the form of one long sentence.

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need not fear, he will be setting out on a tour of the UK. Strong


wires, I hope! There isn't a single full


stop in Mike McCormack's The story is a monologue that reads


like a string of thoughts, sometimes poetic, sometimes


rough, often disturbing. And they tell us about one man


in one hour, on one day, His hopes and his disappointments,


his fears and loves. A character is revealed,


and so is the world This is a adventurous storytelling


by a master craftsman. It's quite a bold thing to do,


to write a novel of more than 250 It is, but you write the books that


present themselves to you, and that's the way the book,


the way Solar Bones You mean in its content,


in the thoughts that you were dealing with,


and not as a conscious It just seemed that was the way


you should write it down? Very early on in the composition


of the book, I realised that the narrator was the sort


of person he was, and that he would speak


in a continuous rolling rhythm. And once I had got that in my mind,


it became second nature. And it recalled in it one


of the exercises I had set myself years ago as a writer,


to come in every morning and sit down at my desk and write whatever


it was that came into my head. And the only strictures I put


on it was that it had to transition neatly from what I had done the day


before and that it had And so when I realised the book


was going to be written in a continuous ongoing rhythm,


I recalled that exercise. There is a natural feeling, I think,


most readers will have, of a kind It would be hard to think that


you didn't have Joyce somewhere in your head when you were producing


a book of this kind. People have spoken about the book


as a stream-of-consciousness novel, It doesn't have that kind


of telegraphic staccato rhythms that you associate


with stream of consciousness. It's much more an attempt to write


something continuous, However, as an Irish writer,


I've always been conscious of the fact that our great writers


are experimental writers, I've always admired their


recklessness and courage, So I would like as a writer


to think that you had a part of that yourself,


so that was where I took my... And of course, you're writing not


just about an individual whose thoughts are happy and sad


and confused, and sometimes crystal clear, and whose


emotions are laid bare. And you are writing about a feeling


of a country coming out of, really, an economic catastrophe which has


impacted on people's lives in a very direct way,


so it's a very contemporary novel I didn't set out to write a novel


of the crash, or post-crash. Basically, what I set out to do


was to capture the mind and life of this one


man, this engineer. And as an engineer,


as a civil engineer, that puts him at a nexus of a whole


series of forces, politics, economics, all sorts of social


movements and everything like that. Even civic catastrophes,


like contamination of water The allure for me about Marcus


Conway is that he's an engineer, God gave us heaven and earth


and then He hands it over to engineers, and engineers make


the world, and I was interested in seeing this man, who has this


complete involvement with the world So that was what I found


attractive about him. Well, you talk about


the engineering, you also dropped in God there,


and of course the book unfolds on All Souls' Day,


the idea that there are these souls It begins with the tolling


of the Angelus bell, and that bell seems to toll right


through the book. I mean, you talk of its rhythmic


character and the way it rolls on, and I suppose the sound of that


as a kind of call to prayer, it really goes right


through the book from beginning The book is an hour


long and it's suspended One is the divine marker at 12:00


and the other is the temporal marker for the 1:00 news at 1:00,


so the book is spanned between... It's an hour long but in


that hour he gets... He's inundated with a cascade


of memories of his whole life. He's a soul who's susceptible


to that kind of thing. And he himself remarks about that


hour in the middle of the day. He always found it a soft,


strange hour, in which the morning's best energies are gone and it's too


early to sit down for the dinner, and the 1:00 news hasn't happened


yet, so it's betwixt and between, and it seems to be susceptible


to people like him. There's a fatalism running


through the book too, a sense that things aren't random,


that they appear And he talks about putting one foot


in front of the other We're doomed to go through this


journey in a very deliberate Is a nobility in itself


and a heroism in itself, The book is a hymn to the everyday


in many senses, and it's a hymn to a world that he has put his faith


in, not only has he built, I think the longer I've dwelt on it


after I've written it, the more it has kind of revealed


itself to me as a book about faith. He went looking for God


at an early stage in his life, and God effectively gave him two


fingers and told him to go away And he turned from God


and he became an engineer. And as his son says,


his son puts it, he says, "You turned from the cross


and you took up the theodolite, You laid that on the


world and that." So it's a book about faith


and a book about the everyday. It's a hymn to engineers


and engineering. You talk about the experimental


tradition in so much Irish writing. And that sort of heartbeat


in his dramatic prose is the kind The heartbeat and the idea


of a pulse was very much a concern with me in the book,


and I don't know whether I managed to capture it or not,


but it was certainly one Of course, being steeped in Beckett


as well, you assimilate these things by osmosis,


and they become a part of your fabric as a writer,


as an Irish writer. You talk about being


an Irish writer. Do you ever find that it's a bit


weighty and a bit imprisoning? I've always considered myself


to be an Irish writer, whatever that means,


but for me it meant tapping into that reckless and generous


tradition of experiment that Our greatest writers


were unusual, I think, in that our greatest writers,


our greatest fiction writers are exclusively our


experimental writers. Beckett and Joyce and Flann O'Brien,


the father, son and holy ghost, And if you're talking


about any other writers, you've lowered your eyesight,


you've lowered your So I wanted to take my cue


from their experimental tradition, and did it tentatively


in Notes From A Coma, my prayer novel, but I think grabbed


it a bit more two-handedly in Solar Mike McCormack, thank you very much


for talking about Solar Bones. A decent enough day across most of


the UK today. We have a bit of rain in the forecast a night, mostly


across northern areas, and it has been raining in Northern Ireland,


Scotland, the Lake