Then & now Antonia Logue, writer
IN 1996, FREELANCE journalist Antonia Logue landed her biggest-ever commission: a £66,000 advance to publish her debut novel, Shadow-Box. For the 23-year-old first-time novelist, it was an astonishing sum. What made it even more astonishing was that she had scored the advance on the strength of just six pages – that works out at €11,000 a page. It seems that property developers and bankers weren’t the only ones losing the run of themselves during the boom years – publishers were also throwing money around in the hope of making a killing.
Logue had been writing pieces for The Irish Timesand other publications when news of her advance saw her name move from the byline to the headline. Shadow-Box told a complex, epistolary story of three intertwined historical figures from the early 20th century: the boxer Jack Johnson, who was the first African-American to become the world heavyweight champion; the avant-garde painter and poet Mina Loy, who counted the likes of Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp and Ezra Pound among her elite circle; and her husband Arthur Cravan, a Swiss poet, art critic and boxer, who disappeared mysteriously off the coast of Guatemala. Hardly airport blockbuster material, but it certainly promised literary thrills and spills.
When the novel was published in 1999, it met with mixed reviews and not a little bafflement. Many critics found the novel “pretentious”, while others felt it didn’t quite live up to its lofty literary ambitions. But despite the novel’s cool reception, Shadow-Box won the 1999 Irish TimesLiterature Award for an Irish novel. The Observernamed her one of their 21 writers to watch in the 21st century, but almost a dozen years into the new century, Logue still hasn’t published a follow-up to her much-talked-about debut.
Logue was born in Derry in 1972, the only daughter of economist and SDLP politician Hugh Logue and lawyer Anne Logue. She grew up in the village of Park in the Sperrins mountains near Derry, and also lived in Brussels, when her father was working for the European Commission. She went to St Mary’s Primary School in Altinure, and won her first literary prize aged 10, after entering a short-story competition hosted by Radio Foyle.
After attending Trinity College, she became a freelance journalist. When she submitted the first six pages of her debut novel to the publishers AP Watt, it sparked a bidding war – and a scramble among first-time Irish writers to bag a deal from a big English house.
While the second novel sat on the shelf, Logue retained a close relationship with the written word, joining the faculty at Columbia College in Chicago in 2002, where she taught fiction and critical reading and writing of Irish authors. Her fellow fiction lecturer was Irvine Welsh. She has also taught creative writing at the University of Chicago, Oxford University, St John’s College, Cambridge and Cambridge University, and is now a visiting fellow at Oriel College, Oxford. She lives in Oxford with her Indian-born husband and their three-month-old daughter.
She is currently collaborating on an opera with the New York composer Harold Meltzer. And in December, she will finally deliver that much-delayed second novel to her publishers.
Last year, Logue put her literary weight behind her home town of Derry’s bid for City of Culture 2013. “Derry is a big George Eliot novel all on its own,” she declared. “It has an incredibly international outlook while also understanding what makes it one in a million. Derry is its people, yes, and Derry is its buildings and bridges and streets, but it is also its fields and rivers and harvests. I think the city offers a whole lived landscape, each part in its way affected by the Troubles, and each part availing of peace with such energy and enthusiasm.”