In 2010, when the recession took root in Ireland, the young people looked at the ground they were standing on and realised it was rotten. Rotten in so many ways, but especially in the ways made by man. So most decided it was time to do what their forefathers had done during times of famine, when the ground was rotten too, and leave. For America. And Newfoundland. And Australia. And Canada.
But in the winter of 2010, a group of college students had a different idea. They weren’t going to leave. They would simply find a patch of land that hadn’t been contaminated and live off it. Just like their forefathers had always done before the land became rotten and the country corrupted by greed. This is their story.
To see my review of Gabriel's Gate click here
Tell us a little bit about Gabriel's Gate.
The book is set in modern Ireland – or recession-era Ireland – and involves a group of college kids who decide, rather than be forced to emigrate or remain jobless, to take over a farm inherited by one of the group and to make a living from the land.
What they discover is no fairy-tale – they have to get their hands dirty in many ways, toiling and working the land every day and are forced to do things they never would have imagined doing like killing for meat – but they discover their pace and eventually peace settles on the group despite the hardships, until . . . well, the heart of the story kicks off once the ghosts return, as the farm is, unbeknown to all except the owner, sinking under bad debt and a history of betrayal.
This book has been called the first in the ‘recession-lit’ novels, which is quite flattering, but it’s as much an old Irish fairy tale or a fable with the central themes just given a modern twist. It differs from a conventional novel and it’s also been criticised for that – but I crafted it the way I wanted to and I was very happy with the results.
Where did the ideas come from to sit down and start writing it?
It has had quite a long gestation, to be honest.
The idea began in college when friends and I would sit up late talking about how best to solve life’s issues – as students do. We were studying philosophy, theology, those sorts of subjects, and we all had notions of what utopia would be.
Of course there have been many utopian novels, but I thought the world could use another and began writing it alongside a thesis on Rebellion. I later went to live in Poland and many of the ideas I had about communism and other ‘isms’ changed dramatically.
So I rewrote the book and tried self-publishing it in Warsaw. It was an exciting if pointless way to go about it and I realised that ultimately the book lacked a context and let it lie to work on other material. When the recession began to take hold here in Ireland, I saw the perfect window to revise the novel and press home the central themes – land, youth, man’s inhumanity to man and his blasé slaughter and disregard for the animal kingdom, greed. . . and of course the things that make life so worth living – friendship and good bonds between people, hope, determination etc.
How long did it take you to write?
Well, the last rewrite took about four months. But overall, it had been knocking around for some 15 years. Initally, there was a hurry to get it out there, always is with the first novel. But I’ve realised patience is something worth developing.
Tell us a little bit about your writing process?
People have different ways of working and many adhere to rules –like producing two or three thousand words a day regardless of quality; or sitting at the desk the same time every day for the same period of time. Because I am so busy with other things – job, music and domestics, I can only work when time allows. But what I have always done is to form the ideas at various times during the day or night, make notes and flesh them out when I next sit down at the desk. It’s amazing how/when/where the next idea comes to you, and you can’t force it. Once that is incorporated into the actual manuscript, I have to close it and leave it and wait until the next idea falls.
Are you working on any writing at the minute?
I have two other novels finished but they need really good rewrites. I hope to have one out in October or November. It is under the title White Skin Black Hearts, but that will probably change. It’s set in Mexico and involves three friends who go on what is to be their last trip together but become hunted after agreeing to take part in an off-the-beaten-path type of survival trek. It uses much of the myth central to the beliefs of the ancient Mexican civilisations, particularly the struggle between man and the gods, and looks at my pet themes of darkness and light, good and evil etc. Again, like Gabriel’s Gate, the story is there but more lies beneath.
I loved G, but why did you give him just a letter for a name?
I like to think that a book makes a reader wonder why the writer chose to do certain things; and I like to think the writer wonders why he/she chose to do certain things. The letter ‘G’ stands for so much in the book; or it could be simply shortened from Gary, Graham, etc etc. Some people just call me ‘T’.
Who is your favourite character in Gabriel's Gate? Why?
John, I suppose. He is moulded using some very strong and likeable characteristics of a typically Irish individual. He is full of goodness, but is ultimately flawed as a human being. G has rigid beliefs and works more logically. I think the conflict between the two works in the book and shows how people respond differently in terrible situations. But they remain very close.
What inspires you, Tom?
I would never be writing if I hadn’t travelled so much – although I do a lot less now. I like to – and hope to continue –to set books in foreign locations and research them. I have another novel set in Kaliningrad, an exclave of Russia and I visited the city to put shapes on the ideas I had. I love music, passionately and studied photography. You can learn many things and apply them equally without feeling like a jack of all and master of none.
What is your favourite genre to read?
Anything with magic and darkness but not in the fantasy sense. I read everything from Samuel Beckett to Cormac McCarthy or Stephen King; but I also love straight-up tales of human passion and struggle and devoured everything Jack London and Kerouac wrote and revisiting some of the beat writers at the moment.
What are your 5 all-time favourite reads? (if you can choose).
All-time means I’m going to wind back a bit here, because I’ve read some great stuff more recently but you don’t forget the stand-outs.
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Lonesome Traveller, Jack Kerouac
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Who is you favourite fictional character? Why? (not your own).
Probably Sherlock Holmes. I loved the books as a kid, the analytical mind and the chaos of Victorian London – of course later I realised he had a notorious drug habit.
Where can people find you? And your works?
Gabriel’s Gate is available of kindle from Amazon; it is still on hardback and can be bought on Amazon or with free postage from kennys.ie. I’m hoping soon it will go to paperback.
My website is www.tomgalvin.com and my twitter is TomJGalvin . . . please follow! I hope to start a blog when I really feel I have the right format and material.
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