On The Edge Of The Loch is a psychological novel set in Ireland. Today I’m delighted to share an interview with the author, Joseph Éamon Cummins.
On The Edge Of The Loch – Synopsis:
Here’s a quick synopsis to give you a feel for the plot before we delve into questions and answers with Joseph.
“A man arrives in a tiny seafaring village in Ireland. His search is for a life, his own. He finds a radiant but secretive woman who is loved and distrusted locally, and is drawn into a web of events so profound that the lives of four impassioned people will be changed radically.
This moving story is of two men and two women chasing incompatible dreams. They fight to connect, stay sane, to defy fate, for the chance, ultimately, to love.
The reader can never see ahead, making it impossible to predict the huge, unforgettable ending.”
Interview with Author Joseph Éamon Cummins:
I hope you enjoy these insights into the storyline, character development, plot, inspirational forces and psychological intrigue of Joseph’s skillful prose and lyrical writing. This interview is republished with permission from Joseph Éamon Cummins’ website.
The author lives in County Wicklow, Ireland, so I’ve illustrated this post with images of some of the beautiful lakes or lochs in County Wicklow.
Why did you write On the Edge of the Loch?
Sometimes a story, or an article or piece of music, demands to be written. It bangs the walls and won’t stop. That’s what this book did.
What is the significance of the title?
In Gaeilge, the word ‘loch’ means lake. And when someone is ‘on the edge’, it usually spells danger. So it is with the two main protagonists; they’ve been on the edge of disaster for way too long.
As the story begins they’re strangers, they meet by accident, in circumstances that could lead to new lives, but life is seldom that simple. And here it certainly isn’t.
Is the story entirely fictional?
No, the story is fabricated entirely. What a writer creates originates in ‘events’ that happen within the mind and outside. These actual and mental events are the seed of all art.
An abstract painting, for example, is born of real experience. The sequential events in On the Edge of the Loch are not factual; neither are the characters.
But then, true and factual are not the same. A well-told story is always ‘true’, as the old Irish storytellers would claim, and as did Ernest Hemingway.
Are you saying that actual events sparked the story?
One event. In a remote train station, I noticed an attractive woman who seemed to be waiting for someone to arrive. Over the next week I revisited the station many times to photograph it.
I was an avid photographer then, always searching for the perfect shot, the best light. Each time I went to the station, the woman was there – still just waiting.
On the day I was leaving she smiled at me. I smiled back. Our eyes held in a sort of silent conversation, just for moments. Then she gestured like she was about to talk to me, but suddenly her head dropped, she turned away.
I left on that train, never saw her again. I sensed that she was waiting for a dream that would never show up. But what if, I thought. What if that dream could come true. And what if that changed her whole life, and other lives. I built the story from that idea.
How difficult is it to set a modern novel in a rural landscape?
As I see it, the landscape – urban or rural – is the stage upon which the story plays out. A story of love and courage, for example, can be set anywhere provided it is authentic to that place.
Authenticity and place are qualities frequently missing in ‘pop fiction’. The question to ask of any story is: Does it feel real?
On the Edge of the Loch is authentic because most of the characters, including the female protagonist, belong to the heartland of Ireland.
Unlike in popular fiction, there are no traditional hero types in your story. What’s your thinking on this?
The hero has a place in folklore and in certain fiction genres. The story I’m telling here is about ‘real’ people, how low they can sink, how high they can rise.
Each of the main characters is flawed, yet each might be capable of greatness, which they don’t consider until circumstances turn dire.
Emerson said: “Circumstances don’t make the man, but reveal him.” That might be an interesting idea, but believing it can lead to harmful self-limiting for an entire lifetime.
A person is never wholly revealed in any particular moment in time. Failing precedes winning. Invariably, people change and grow, become more than they were, discover their potential.
The past is not a prison, nor is it destiny. Too many fail to grasp this fact; they surrender to circumstance, don’t honor their potential.
What are other major themes in the story?
There is always the overt story, what happens on the surface. But in literary fiction this is never as important as subtext, what’s going on inside the characters, what they really think or mean, which the writer can hint at, imply, or conceal.
This means the reader is asked to rise above being an observer. To answer your question, there are many themes in the story: identity, obsession, mental illness, home, family, justice, belonging, the nature of love, the utter inhumanity of war, the sacredness of childhood, to name just some.
And at the core of the story, there’s that resilience that leads to growth and achievement.
Would you like to elaborate on what On the Edge of the Loch is about?
The story is full of surprises. It’s about the dreams of four exceptional people, how they deal with the fickleness and challenges of life, and each other, as they go after the urges that compel them.
Each is an individual, different from the others, and all are misfits in some way.
Tony, the male protagonist, just got free after nine years in US prisons, which he sees as a travesty of justice, he’s tough, edgy and determined.
Lenny is a beautiful but troubled woman with a mysterious past, who lives in a world that might not be real.
Cilla, on the surface, is an ‘ordinary’ local girl but has a habit of proving otherwise in high-drama moments.
Aidan is English, a relief worker who dedicated his life to helping the needy then met tragedy he could not escape.
Naturally, relationships develop among these four, but not what you’d think. Plus, a cast of support characters add danger, suspense and complications that keep readers reading.
Is this woman with the secret past the leading character?
No, in fact. As the story starts, Lenny is far too mysterious to lead. She shares the stage with the three other main characters.
Most readers see 27-year-old Tony MacNeill as the main protagonist. He’s a driven man with, as he sees it, one last chance, which fuels most of the action in the story.
And although they’re opposites, Tony and Lenny share an intimacy that leads to unimaginable complications. So, Lenny is the second protagonist, and her influence grows with the story.
How have other cultures influenced your writing?
I’m Irish; that will always be my mother lode. No question, we are wild geese, but Irish writing seems to stay pure regardless of how far we travel.
James Joyce and Edna O’Brien are two examples. It’s in the genes, apparently, as is storytelling, going far back in time. I’ve lived in England (as a child), the US and Australia for a lot of years, and I’ve worked in or visited twenty or more countries, but I see no sign of these cultures coming into my writing.
How has your work as a psychologist and teacher influenced your writing?
Psychology is the study of human behavior. Ironically, so too is novel writing when it’s done well. The two fields are very closely linked.
So, yes, my professional work helps me to create characters that readers feel are alive and breathing, characters that ‘cast a shadow’, as I tell my students.
When this happens, readers relate emotionally and credibly to joys and crises, and they intuitively understand what’s going on deep inside the characters, which is what every literary novelist wants.
You say it’s a psychological novel, and not a ‘psychological thriller’?
That’s right. There’s a big difference. It’s not a crime novel. It’s not about wanton violence or serial murder or police work.
Yes, good people find themselves in danger throughout the story; and yes, all four main characters make bad decisions. But they are driven by their hearts, driven honestly by longings and needs we all can relate to.
So it’s a question of how will they handle these extreme challenges – and can all of them, or some of them, or any one of them come out with what they want from life.
What lessons can readers take from the novel?
First, all authors hope the reader will feel enriched. On the Edge of the Loch contains a multiplicity of themes, any one of which might carry a catalytic message for a particular reader on a particular day.
I wanted the reader to better understand mental illness, and to contemplate the futility of war; these are big messages. I wanted the concept of justice to stand out. And the vulnerability of children to trauma. Other themes relate to the preeminence of family and the enabling power of friendship.
Also, running through the entire story is that quality of resilience, the ‘not giving up’ response when no light is visible at the end of the tunnel, a quality that can be learned.
I’d like to think too that the book elucidates the value of love, not just intimate love but the love of any one person for another: parent for child, sister for sister, friend for friend – the key to everything.
You invented Aranroe, the Irish village in which most of the action occurs?
I did, in precise detail and to scale, with its own topography and landmarks. I even drew a map and placed it inside both versions of the book – e-book and print.
And regarding Aranroe, two amusing incidents happened recently. A reader, a Canadian man, emailed me, telling me he had been wanting to book a hotel within Aranroe, if possible, and that his travel agent wasn’t helping. I had to let him down gently and assure him he’d find similar villages all over Ireland, which seemed to thrill him no end.
Another North American reader, a man, beseeched me to tell him if I thought he could meet a girl like Cilla (a character in the story) if he came to Ireland. All I could tell him was that a ‘Cilla’ might be sitting beside him on a bus or train on any day on his way to work, or might live around the corner from him, and that I’d start looking there, and then, when he meets her, maybe he and ‘Cilla’ could visit Ireland together.
Finally, an Irishwoman, a friend of a friend, claimed that the book had caused her confusion as she went about her daily routine. I saw it as a bit of Irish humor, even a compliment. But no, she said, she didn’t consider it one bit funny. It felt like she wanted a guarantee I’d never write a book like that again.
Some reviewers said they see Ireland as a character in the work. Is this what you intended?
I understand what they mean, but I don’t see it like that. Ireland is a critical plot element. The environments depicted and their associated atmospherics (storm, sea, fog, heat, sky, wind, rain) facilitate the story’s development.
But my characters are all psychologically complex individuals, even secondary characters like Leo and Emer; it’s from this mix of personalities, from their minds and interactions, that the story takes its life.
Environment is always important in fiction, but I see it as quite distinct from character.
Nonetheless, the use of personification, metaphor, and motif can imbue inanimate objects – a mountain, an island, countryside – with human-like qualities that make them seem like characters.
We routinely say ‘the sun won’t shine’ or ‘that mountain steals lives’ or ‘that devil whirlpool’ as though the sun or mountain or whirlpool possesses intention, a human mind.
This attribution of human ‘character qualities’ to non-human elements is part of the richness and color of our language, especially in writing.
The women in your story drive much of the action. Is there a message in this?
Not a political message, no. I set out to reflect female nature as I see it. And to be loyal to the female characters I created, which is critical.
In life, though less so in literature, women are the stronger sex, despite not having the platform men enjoy.
Their strength is missed in the day-to-day grind, but is nonetheless positively catalytic. Male conflict, which dominates so many stories, is the opposite of that strength.
Characters like Lenny, Róisín and Cilla, even Kate and Peggy and Emer, may not seem like role models to some readers, but each is decisive, each makes things happen, and so they shape outcomes in the story, as so often women do in life.
You let the reader see inside Tony’s mind but inside no one else’s. Why did you limit point of view to this one character? Did this make the book more difficult to write?
For fiction readers, a single character point of view is least confusing; it feels authentic, truer to how they experience life, through just one perspective.
And yes, it’s harder to write this way because the author must put all the other characters on stage and get them to do and say things that reveal who they are and how they think; he cannot tell their inner world nor their history.
When it’s done well, this method allows for higher suspense and better control of pacing.
Interestingly, I wrote the early drafts almost entirely in Tony’s stream-of-consciousness, just to get to know his mind intimately. Stream of consciousness is like the voice we each speak to ourselves with, the voice no one else hears.
Plus, it’s Tony’s story. Had I let the reader inside Lenny’s head, into an often chaotic mind, it would have become her story. As I’ve written it, the reader’s challenge is exactly the same as Tony’s, to understand Lenny from her behavior and her words, and a few sketchy details others provide about her that may not be reliable.
Reader understanding is meant to come incrementally as the pieces fit together. Therefore, the reader gets to figure things out only as Tony does, not before.
On the other hand, it’s relatively easy to write using the omniscient or ‘God’ point of view. Most fiction writing students begin this way; some are totally unaware of the concept of point of view in literature.
The ‘God’ point of view is where the reader is a fly on the wall, potentially inside the heads of any or all the characters, knowing their innermost thoughts, past and present.
So, the writer can reveal hopes, old secrets, memories, the characters’ loves, hates, and deepest feelings. In the past this was popular; today it is less common in serious fiction because it is not how we experience life.
But, remember, point of view is a writer’s tool, readers do not need to know anything about it to understand and enjoy a novel.
The main characters are atypical; at times they’re clearly unbalanced, except for Cilla, perhaps. They’re also all psychologically different. What was your thinking on this?
Flawed, unbalanced, yes; and in given circumstances each is a misfit. Yet each protagonist is extraordinary in at least one positive way. In real life it’s no different, though many don’t realize this.
For authenticity, I built a psychological profile for each protagonist. Ninety-five percent of this information was not intended for inclusion in the book. For the characters to be credible I needed to know their intimate backstories in detail, so I did a case study analysis of each.
Lenny’s condition, for example, as presented, is clinically accurate, with its origins in trauma. The mentalities of Tony and Aidan are just as true.
The message is that it’s time to normalise and better treat mental ill-health. Few people get through life unscathed, and all who suffer need to be better understood.
Why did you end the story the way you did, the final chapters?
This is a question I prefer not to say much about. In one sense these are the chapters I am most happy with, the way in which they achieve what I set out to write.
The first critic to review the book saw clearly what I intended, which delighted me because this is the big payoff for the reader.
The reader will sense by carefully reading those last few chapters what I am being deliberately vague about here; there is something in those last ten pages that is best discovered rather than being told about.
The build-up of emotional drama leaves the reader in a mild state of shock and with a lot of mental pictures. Consequently, for some, what happens in the final chapters might be too much to take in in one reading.
If so, my advice is to re-read slowly. Saying any more than that here will only lessen the big climactic outcome awaiting the reader.
You are sending the reader back for a second read?
Yes. At least of the two short final chapters, just four or five pages. Many readers re-read literary novels anyway.
One critic said he would enjoy his second reading even more than the first, that he’d still be anxious but a little more relaxed, and this would help him re-indulge the writing and the story.
The book has been well received by critics and has reached #1 on Amazon. Were you expecting this?
Getting to any #1 spot is every writer’s dream. No novelist can predict how the world will react to a new work. I had no such expectation. But I have no qualms in saying that I was confident about the quality of the work.
I delayed finishing it for nearly two years, to make it the best it could be. And so far, On the Edge of the Loch has hit the #1 Bestseller spot in five Amazon categories – quite rare. I am very happy about that.
Every day I hear from readers all over the world, thanking me and saying how glad they feel for reading it. It’s wonderful.
What are you planning next?
A number of reviewers have suggested Book Two of the story. That was never my plan. Others say they see it as a film. I created a pared-down film script as I wrote the story, but only to embed the pictures in my brain and thereby add vividness to the action.
But it’s a strongly visual novel, so I’d say there is some chance we’ll see it as a film. The dream is that a Daniel Day-Lewis or Steven Spielberg will discover it, sign up Saiorse Ronan, Colin Farrell and maybe Michael Fassbender and we’ll have another Irish hit movie. That’s the dream; we’ll see.
To answer your question, I am always working on more than one project. I don’t know yet which will have my priority next.
How To Order And Get In Touch With Joseph:
Amazon #1 Bestselling novel On the Edge of the Loch, A Psychological Novel set in Ireland is available in print or ebook and can be ordered through most good bookstores.
For media interviews or to check availability for speaking or teaching engagements, author Joseph Éamon Cummins can be reached at [email protected]
Thank You Joseph:
Thank you to Joseph for sharing these wonderful insights with us today and for introducing his psychological novel. I really appreciate him reaching out to us to share his work.
Wishing him every success in the future and years of happy writing.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)