Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

500 Words Of January – Peter Murphy

A fortnight from today, Peter Murphy’s second novel Shall We Gather at the River will be in all good bookshops and online retail stores. Here, he talks about some of the influences behind the book. January 2013 is a bit …

Thu, Jan 3, 2013, 09:30

   

A fortnight from today, Peter Murphy’s second novel Shall We Gather at the River will be in all good bookshops and online retail stores. Here, he talks about some of the influences behind the book.

January 2013 is a bit of a watershed month for your guest blogger. My second novel Shall We Gather at the River will be published on the 17th.

It tells the tale of Enoch O’Reilly, the great flood that afflicts his small town and the rash of mysterious suicides that follow. O’Reilly, an Elvis acolyte trapped in the body of a local radiovangelist, is a man haunted by the childhood ghosts of his father’s sinister radio set, a hustler and a huckster destined for a terrible consummation with an old, evil river.

The novel draws on Wexford lore, suicide cycles, Old Testament and pre Christian flood mythology, the viral nature of obsession and Gaia type eco-conspiracies. While writing it I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, studied books like Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip, and watched TV shows like Twin Peaks and the 1985 BBC nuclear paranoia masterpiece Edge of Darkness. It might also be worth mentioning that the initial spark for the story occurred in a Hot Press interview with James and Nicky from the Manic Street Preachers, published in May 2007.

SWGATR was some four years in the making. The final published version contains maybe a third of the original draft. Books are never finished, a wise man once said, only abandoned. Another wise man – Edgar Allan Poe, I think – believed that all stories must anticipate their end in a way that seems both surprising and inevitable.

But even when you’ve written the last line, there are degrees of letting go. Editors’ notes. Copy-editors’ notes. Proofreaders’ notes. Then you read the book again, typeset in PDF, and one more time in physical uncorrected proof form. Only when it appears in the shops can you can finally say the beast is done. Except in the case of my first novel, the thing came back to life as an album called “The Sounds of John the Revelator”, released last November by the Revelator Orchestra on Mudbug Club records.

In the end you have to solace yourself with the knowledge that there’s no such thing as a perfect work. There’s always a chink in the armour, always something you could have done better, or something you didn’t do. This is what gives you permission to go on. If you’d created a perfect work, there’d be no incentive to start again.

The credits: Peter Murphy is a writer from Enniscorthy in Co. Wexford, Ireland. His first novel John the Revelator was published in the UK and Ireland by Faber & Faber and in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and was nominated for the 2011 IMPAC literary award, shortlisted for the 2009 Costa Book Awards and the Kerry Group Fiction prize. He is also a founder member of the spoken word/music ensemble The Revelator Orchestra, whose first album The Sounds of John the Revelator was released last autumn. Peter’s journalism has been published in Rolling Stone, the Irish Times, the Sunday Business Post, and Hot Press magazine; he has contributed liner notes to the remastered edition of the Anthology of American Folk Music and his short stories have been included in the Faber New Irish Short Stories anthology, edited by Joseph O’Connor, and the Silver Threads Of Hope anthology of new Irish short stories, edited by Sinead Gleeson.

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