BackStory: Four Questions with Ali McGrane
Author of Tar i leith
What inspired you to write ‘Tar i leith’?
It was inspired by knowing someone in my extended family who experienced this, was brought up on the west coast of Ireland and came to England to find work. Losing your mother tongue seems like a huge thing to me, the sorrow of that, especially piled onto those other losses of people and place. And on a visit to Connemara a few years ago I was struck by how beautiful and yet how harsh the landscape is. I felt I’d stepped back in time and could see how living somewhere like that would inhabit and shape you.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers and why?
I have recently discovered Sarah Moss and love the way she structures her novels – each one is different, often with present day settings but then the narrative engages with history in various ways – and I relate very much to her focus on the women in her stories. I’ve always loved Hilary Mantel, and Wolf Hall bowled me over because of the way she made it feel present in the here and now. I’m also a big Ali Smith fan and loved How to Be Both – two incredible stories twisted together across vast acres of time – the 1460s with the 1960s. I read it both ways round and it was fascinating how each illuminated the other differently.
What do you like most about writing flash, prose poetry and/or hybrid work?
I love the first rush of feeling a story in the wings, and I also get lost in the editing, playing around with the words and phrasing, in that overlapping prose/poetry borderland. There is so much possibility with this form, always new things to learn and explore.
How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?
I feel a bit of a fraud as I don’t generally write historical stories. But it felt hugely important to me while writing this, that I respected the real story I was trying to tell. I was glad I had been there and had the landscape clearly in my mind, how it felt and sounded and looked, the astonishing power of it. And I checked the Irish words and pronunciation – hopefully I got that right, and any Irish speakers will forgive my English accent!
Ali McGrane is a short story and flash fiction fan, currently completing a creative writing MA. She lives between the sea and the moor. Her work has appeared in Fictive Dream, The Lost Balloon, Ellipsis Zine, Ink Sweat & Tears, Moonchild Magazine, Cabinet of Heed and Train. Find her @Ali_McGrane_UK.
Photochrom print of Killary Bay, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsc.09888.