“Sour” by Alan Walsh is a debut novel, retelling the old Irish myth of ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’, yet updated and re-imagined as a modern day tale with quirky local characters and set in a fictional Irish town.
“Sour” is a mixture of folktales and mystery, tragedy and farce. Are you intrigued? Let me tell you I was, when Alan Walsh contacted me to introduce his writing.
I tend to read historical fiction primarily, but I know many of you love mystery and crime novels. And so, I asked Alan to write a guest post about his new Irish book, and to tell us about the inspiration for his writing.
And some good news. Alan has provided a copy of his new book as a prize for one lucky reader to win. But before I share the details of how to enter the giveaway, let me first hand you over to Alan……
Homesick In London:
I started writing Sour when I was living in exile in London. OK, it wasn’t actually exile, it just felt like that.
I’d wound up cornered into agreeing to the move by a girlfriend, and even though London boasts hundreds of amazing attractions and opportunities for a young man, my homesickness robbed me of all of them.
I pined for Ireland so hard that I began, and this is probably unforgiveable for a writer, as well as highly embarrassing to admit, to romanticize the country as well as how my life had been when I lived there.
Of all countries in the world, very few ever find themselves mythologized to the same degree as Ireland, but this is rarely done by natives only a few months after having left, and who live less than an hour away by plane. I mean, I became unbearable.
I would listen to Irish bands on Spotify, read only Irish novels, watch Irish TV shows on YouTube, follow the Irish news and return almost monthly at ridiculous cost, so I could stumble around Dublin, wide-eyed, drinking in the magic of the realm, and tasting Guinness as I thought it ought to be.
All of this was what started me writing Sour. It was quite another experience finishing the writing of it.
Alan Walsh’s Early Writing:
I had begun writing a very different book initially when I was still back home in Dublin. I fostered notions of myself as a crime writer, more or less because crime novels seem always to sell very well, and I had resolved this would be my ‘sell-out’ novel, where I’d adopt completely the trappings of a popular genre and polish it into something that could help me retire right away, somewhere pretty.
It was the tale of a murder. A young girl had been killed and the local townspeople took it on themselves to solve the crime, rather than rely on the police.
You know you’re on to a sure-fire winner when you bore yourself even just writing the book. I persisted a little while but there was no life in the thing.
No one would’ve cared if a girl that dull had been murdered and the drab town full of indolent, charmless cookie-cutter puppets stirred themselves into seeing out the list of investigative procedures before uncovering the very obvious twist.
Then the move to London happened and began my unhealthy, fantasist relationship with my home country, one symptom of which was my reading and rereading the old Irish myths.
For anyone unfamiliar with Irish mythology, you don’t tend to get stories like Hercules completing twelve heroic labors, or Prometheus bringing fire to mankind.
Irish myths tend to revolve around weird, kind of petty incidents like someone stealing a bull or running away with someone else’s girlfriend or pranks – cold, nasty supernatural pranks.
The one story which really grabbed my attention was Deirdre of the Sorrows. For no reason other than it was probably the easiest to retell if anyone ever asked. Deirdre of the Sorrows is basically Rapunzel only with a bitter, typically Irish, horrific finale.
Deirdre Of The Sorrows:
In short summary, a druid foretells that an unborn baby, who incidentally is heard screaming from within the womb, will grow to become the most beautiful woman in the world and cause mayhem and death and war and should be killed immediately to prevent this.
The High King of Ireland steps in and decides he will raise the girl, taking on the selfless burden of marrying the most beautiful girl in world when she’s of age, and preventing any war.
Naturally, Deirdre, once she grows up a little, decides she prefers Naoise (pronounced Nee-sha), a young warrior. They elope.
The High King’s henchmen set out in pursuit across Ireland and as far as Scotland, killing collaborators, torturing locals for information and generally living up to the predictions of blood-letting the druid had made way back at the beginning.
Eventually, Naoise and Deirdre are tricked into coming back and making a truce with the High King. Naoise and all his brothers are murdered.
Deirdre kills herself having been informed she’s to be shared between the High King and the warrior who murdered Naoise. She does this by decapitating herself on a low rock while travelling in a chariot.
Deirdre As Inspiration:
It’s a story probably familiar to anyone who’s read W.B. Yeats or John Millington Synge as both these Irish writers used the tale as a metaphor for Ireland’s oppression by the British.
I had considerably less lofty aspirations. I decided I’d apply it to the story I was writing. I’d take the great myth of Deirdre and rewrite it as a modern murder story.
What’s more, I could lift other heroes and characters from the Irish myths and cast them as locals in the town. Each one could be rendered with this brooding nobility, darkness and charisma. I even started to write in this key change to the original book.
An Irish Cast Of Characters:
Then I moved home. I’d only lived in London for two years, but I thought of myself as something like a travelling hero returning to his home shores, like Odysseus, to taste his native Guinness, breathe in the fresh, unpolluted air of his homeland, and once again speak in the words and phrases only his people knew.
Of course, for anyone who hasn’t visited Ireland, our TV is, like yours, full of tired reality shows. Our politicians are crooked. Our weather is universally and unnaturally bleak, and, most importantly, our landscape is covered with town after town, peopled by hilarious, sarcastic, calculating cynics whose lives revolve around drink and slander, but would gladly give you their own dinners from their own table for the sake of being hospitable (this might be considered a slight generalization, but my own travels have borne it out time and again). I realized I had to change the book once again. In fact, it required a complete overhaul.
Gone were the classical, immortal and aspirational characters of Cuchullain, Finn McCumhaill and the Fianna. Instead, what felt right was to recast these guys as oddballs, local crazies in a mad little town, each one reflecting a subset of the Irish population.
And it needed to be narrated by someone unreliable. Thankfully, Irish mythology offered up perhaps the greatest example of this in the Puca, a shapeshifting animal spirit of singularly mischievous nature.
As I rewrote it, despite the departure from the proud and noble tradition, it felt truer to what I know of Ireland. It felt more honest and raw. I hope every reader gets this same sense, whether they’ve visited Ireland, have a connection to it, or simply a vague interest. And they’ll hopefully enjoy the book more for that.
Introducing Alan Walsh:
Alan is a writer from Dublin, who returned to work there after living in London and Florence. He works as a digital designer.
He has had short fiction published in The Moth, Outburst, The Bohemyth and Wordlges magazines in Ireland, as well as The Illustrated Ape in London. He has also written some articles for Magill and Film Ireland.
He is really interested in continuing to write Irish mythological tales, possibly in the same style as “Sour”, and with the same cast of mythological characters.
Alan writes his own blog, where he shares stories about intergalactic dread, being an abhorrent morning person, and becoming a new dad.
You can follow Alan on Facebook too.
One lucky reader will win a copy of Alan’s new book, Sour.
To enter just leave a comment on this blog post by noon on Sunday May 8th, 2016.
Any comment will do. What you write does not affect your chance of winning, but if you need inspiration for your entry why not tell us about the Irish mythological tale you would feature in a modern day retelling.
One winning comment will be chosen randomly. Remember to leave your e-mail so that I can contact you should you win. Your e-mail won’t be published, just used to contact our lucky contestant for mailing of the prize.
The winner will be announced on Sunday May 8th, 2016, at the bottom of this blog post.
You may check out Irish American Mom’s complete terms and conditions for sweepstakes’ entries by clicking here.
Thanks to everyone who supports this little giveaway by leaving a comment, and a big thanks to Alan for introducing his writing and sponsoring the prize.
Update – Winner Chosen:
Good news. Our winner has been chosen using the randomized “Pick Giveaway Winner” WordPress plug-in.
Congratulations to …..
I’ll send you a quick e-mail to let you know you are our prize winner.
Thanks to everyone who joined in and entered this little giveaway.
And a big thank you to Alan for sponsoring this prize and for introducing us to his modern day Irish legend. Wishing him every success with this fascinating book.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom