Though Ireland is his first novel published in the United States, Frank Delaney's brilliant career in broadcasting has earned him fame across the United Kingdom, and several of his nonfiction books have been U.K. bestsellers.
J.R.R. Tolkien was famously inspired to write The Lord of the Rings because England did not have a mythology to call its own. Had Tolkien been born a few hundred kilometers to the west, he might have created something more akin to Frank Delaney's Ireland: A Novel.
Set in the country of Delaney's birth, Ireland is, according to Publisher's Weekly, a "sprawling, riveting read, a book of stories melding into a novel wrapped up in an Irish history text." Although the length and subject matter of Delaney's novel invites comparisons to the work of James Michener, Delaney's book aims for the heart rather than the intellect. As opposed to Michener's meticulously researched histories, Ireland is steeped in the Irish storytelling tradition, in which fact and fiction intertwine in the pursuit of a good story.
Ireland is Delaney's first novel to be released in the United States, but he has been a well-known writer and broadcaster in the United Kingdom for many years. In addition to writing seven other novels and a number of nonfiction works, he hosted a long-running and highly-rated series on BBC radio called Word of Mouth. His interest in Irish culture led him to create The Celts, a six-part BBC television series on Celtic history that is notable for giving the musical artist Enya her first popular exposure.
The seeds for Ireland were planted in early 1990, during breakfast with a literary agent and friend named Ed Ficter. Delaney loved the idea of writing an epic history of Ireland, but his busy schedule left him with little time to work on the project. Over the years, Delaney continued to meet with Ficter, and every time, Ficter would leave the conversation with, "Don't forget Ireland: A Novel." After 12 years, Ficter finally managed to wear Delaney down. He dropped his agent, signed up with Ficter, and began work on Ireland.
The basis of many of the stories in the novel were informed by Delaney's extensive travels around his home country. When Delaney was working as a bank clerk in his early 20s, he would often hitchhike around Ireland during holidays, visiting small, forgotten villages and having long conversations with the locals. It was during these travels that Delaney fell in love with Ireland and the people who live there.
Although critical response to Ireland has been highly favorable, Delaney balks when asked if this is his masterpiece. "Oh, God no," he told British bookseller The Book Place, "this is just the start of a new phase. I do want to write a series of big novels about Ireland, and this is the first of them." Fans of Delaney's magical, moving novel eagerly await the forthcoming results of this "new phase."
Good To Know
In our interview, Delaney shared some fun and fascinating insights with us:
"For a startling period of my life I reported the Troubles in Ireland for the BBC. I lived in Dublin and was called out to all sorts of incidents that, if taken together, add up to a war -- bombings, assassinations, riots, shootings, robberies, jailbreaks, kidnappings, and sieges. It was a 24/7 life, lived on the road, or so it felt, with never a still moment, never knowing what was going to happen next. I've touched on it in a novel called Desire & Pursuit, but the vast portion of the experience is still in there, somewhere in my unconscious mind; and I expect it will emerge one day."
"As an arts journalist in London, working mainly for the BBC, I interviewed hundreds if not thousands of authors. From them I gleaned a great deal of passing instruction in writing and I observed one fascinating detail: no two writers approach their work -- physically -- in the same way. Some write longhand in pencil; some have voice-trained their computers -- and in between lies the world of authorship. As for an interesting moment -- Harold Robbins emerging from his hotel bathroom for an interview with a pretty, bikinied blonde girl on each arm; talk about true to type!"
"No country impresses me as much as the USA. ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?' you think -- to which I answer, 'Well, no I wouldn't.' The fact is -- if you want to know how warm Americans, are all you have to do is stand on a sidewalk and open a map. Within seconds, passers-by will gather, offering to help. If you think it happens everywhere else -- it doesn't."
"Writers have opinions -- that, in part, is why they write. Therefore they have strong likes and dislikes. I love hamburgers but hate beets. (Note: I'm using the word 'love,' not 'like.') I love baseball, hate reality shows (all that licensing of people to behave badly). I love libraries, hate noise in public spaces. I'll stop there -- this could become an endless list!"
"Interests and hobbies: Writing -- and reading about writing; renovating houses (I've done three so far); sport, in most forms; great music -- anything from harmonica to harpsichord. In fact, I'd have to struggle to find a subject in which I can't get some kind of interested pulse started."
"Favorite ways to unwind: I like to sprawl in front of the television -- but it has to be good! Good political comment, good drama, good documentary, good drama. One of the mysteries of life is why television is so frequently so bad -- it doesn't have to be, and many have proven that fact. I also like gardening and general pottering and organizing things and walking -- all of these give me good thinking time."