Kate Rigby is an amazing writer. Check out this brilliant blog post she posted about Gerald Hansen! And check out her own work! You won’t be disappointed!
Interview with Gerald Hansen:
Why, as a New Yorker, are you writing novels about LondonDerry, NI?
Gerald: (laughs) Oh, my life! My mom’s from Derry and my dad’s American. He was in the military, so we lived all over the world…Iceland, Thailand, Germany, London. And I spent some years of my childhood in Derry, and later went to Dublin City University (in the south). So wheream I from really? Where is my family and hometown? I was born in Philadelphia, but left when I was maybe two months old. I don’t even know what it looks like. Although I have vague memories of visiting my grandmother on my father’s side, the only relatives I was in constant contact with during my formative years were my mother’s family—we visited Derry in the summer no matter where we were living. So Derry is the place I know best, and you must write about what you know. Actually, as an ‘outsider,’ I think it’s easier to write about the city.
Derry was an important city in the Troubles of the 70s and 80s (when the Catholic majority were struggling for civil rights from the British). Is it really as violent and dirty today as you portray it?
Gerald: Actually, Derry is a fantastic, gorgeous city that I love and miss. In fact, it was just named the UK City of Culture for 2013. But I know what you’re saying. The Derry Tourist Board won’t thank me for how I depict it, and for that reason I’m a bit afraid to step foot in it myself. For the books, I used a bit of artistic license to spice the setting up a bit. Most of my memories from when I lived in Derry are from a terrible, desperate time that has changed a lot since of the Peace Process of the mid-90s. When I used to visit every weekend while at DCU, I could see it was changing, and now it’s more beautiful and safer today. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the photos. But how exciting is a book set in a beautiful, safe city? I let my memories guide me, and took into account that every city has bad areas, including Derry (and it is true that the City of Culture offices there were bombed in October, so there’s a bit of the past still about). But I felt so bad about how I depicted a real place, the Bogside, in the first book that I changed the name to the Moorside for the second book. The Floods are desperate people, and I do think where you live has a lot to do with how you are shaped as a person, especially if you feel there is no escape from your surroundings. So the Derry in my books must be a desperate place as well.
There is a clear affection in the way you write about your flawed main characters. Are they based on a real family? Your own family?
Gerald: Characters for most writers, I’m guessing, are based on real people. If they weren’t, they’d be a bit two dimensional. It’s true that my parents won the Irish lotto and the family reacted horribly. It’s also true that I decided to write An Embarrassment of Riches about it. But when I got three quarters of the way through the first draft, I realized that it wasn’t working as ficition. The plot didn’t have the correct narrative flow and the characters were too bland. It’s not that their real-life counterparts are boring, more that I was worried about what they might say about how they were depicted. So the first draft was political correctness gone mad and would’ve been a great cure for insomnia. So I let my imagination run riot (just like I did with the depiction of Derry). I told my mom she wasn’t going to be happy with the depiction of Ursula Barnett (as readers know, she’s got a temper), but not to worry because Ursula wasn’t ‘her.’ And as for the ‘counterparts’ of the Flood family, I really did go a bit crazy, turning them into drug dealers and nymphomaniacs and thugs. They’re probably furious, but at the end of the day these are all fictional characters! And most of what they do in the books is fictional as well. I’m surprised at how many people have told me Victoria Skivvins in Hand In The Till is one of their favorite characters, and she’s a little b#tch, so I think readers do find characters more interesting the more horrible they are. I don’t know how readers can tell I have affection for these characters—it must come out somehow in the writing—but it’s true. I love them all. Even Victoria Skivvins.
Fionnuala Flood’s Titanic satchel is a beloved ‘character’ in the second book, Hand In The Till. Are there any plans afoot to celebrate the Titanic Centennial in 2012?
Gerald: After Hand In The Till came out, I realized that 2012 will be the centennial of the Titanic sinking, and that there were special Titanic memorial cruises planned. I don’t think I myself would like to go on one. I think they just travel the North Atlantic, and that doesn’t sound very interesting. But I thought…what a wonderful place for Ursula and Fionnuala to meet next! And, coinciding with that, I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled this year—a lot! Two of the places I went were Casablanca and Puerto Rico (just when Hurricane Irene hit). Both places were fantastic for inspiration. Everywhere I looked, I saw things through the eyes of all my characters, and I kept scribbling down notes. So the cruise in my book is some strange, quickly cobbled-together budget Titanic cruise that visits those places. And if I may, I’d like to thank Larry, Alfredo, Lydia and Haddou for giving me the opportunity to help shape the locations of the book. So, Fleeing the Jurisdiction will be out April 2012, just in time for the centennial. And you might be surprised to discover just who is fleeing the jurisdiction…
Do you have anything you’d like to say to prospective writers?
Gerald: Everyone has an interesting story to tell. I can’t count the amount of people who have told me they have a great story to tell, and I’m sure they do. With the way the publishing world is today, with ebooks and fanstastic sites like Digital Book Today, it’s never been easier. It’s like something that was always kept away from ‘the public at large,’ that is, getting published, has suddenly been placed in our own hands. Do it!
And to your readers?
Gerald: When An Embarrassment of Riches came out, not many people read it. This year has been amazing for me. My life has changed, and it’s all down to, once again, brilliant sites like Digital Book Today, which gave readers who are strangers to me the opportunity to take a chance on an unknown writer. I will always be grateful. Thank you all so much. Without your willingness to give my books a try, I’d still be giving readings at places to two bored friends and a homeless man who came in to use the bathroom. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written as much as I enjoyed writing it!
B: Hi Gerald ! Thank you for accepting to tell us about yourself and your art…
G: You’re very welcome, Boris. I’m excited and honored to be able to talk to you.
B: Do you consider yourself an Irish writer living in New York or a New Yorker writer writing about Ireland?
G: My dad was in the US military, so we moved often and lived many places around the world. Although I lived many years in Ireland (both north and south), I’ve lived in New York longer than anywhere, so I’m definitely a New Yorker writing about Ireland.
B: How do you tell your children the story of An Embarrassment of Riches ?
G: It seems unlikely at this stage that I’ll have children (although never say never!), but if I had to tell my niece and nephew, I’d tell them that it’s based on the true story of what happened to their grandparents (that is, my parents) when they won the Irish lotto and were disappointed in the behavior of their grandmother’s relatives because of it. I drastically changed the particpants, making them more desperate, more violent, more sleazy than their real counterparts, then spiced up the real story with drugs, violence, humor and a Holy Communion Gown.
B: Is it easier to write about Ireland since you no longer live there?
G: Much easier. I did have to travel back to my mother’s hometown of Derry (the second largest city in Northern Ireland after Belfast), where the story is set to do research. I had a tape recorder whirring in my pocket that entire visit, as I wanted to make sure I got the dialect correct. But I found it much easier to come back to New York, totally separate from the city and family, and view everything from a distance. It’s that “can’t see the forest for the trees” sort of thing.
B: Is New York a city that inspires you?
G: Definitely! This city is so crazy and filled with lunatics that there’s never a dull moment, and that’s always briliiant for inspiration. As a writer, inspiration does have to come from what’s around you, and I’m contanstly staring on in alarm/disbelief/horror (or shrieking with laughter) at things going on around me that I promptly run home and put into my writing. For example, for my next book (the sequel to An Embarrassment of Riches called Hand In the Till) I had to figure out how two ex-lovers would run into each other again. The girl’s best friend in the book works in a fast food restaruant, and one day a few weeks ago I was sitting in a Taco Bell next to the restroom (the other tables were full), and the line to the restroom kept growing with increasingly desperate and angry people. They finally started banging on the door and yelling, and then the manager pushed through the mob and unlocked the door. He dragged out a passed-out heroin addict. Ping! I knew exactly how the girl would meet the boy again; he’d be passed out in drug-induced stupor in the restroom of the fast food restaurant in the book.
B: Don’t you want to write a story about New York?
G: Ah, don’t worry about that, Boris; it’s next on my list! After Hand In The Till is published (probably April 2010), I’ll leave Ireland behind and finish Sex, Drugs and Bananarama, about a group of punks in New York’s (then-)trendy East Village in the 1980’s. That story will feature, of course, bleached mohawks and cocaine and art galleries and Cyndi Lauper cassette singles that I saw when I lived there then (and maybe were a part of my own life as well…?!)
B: Are there artists in your entourage ?
G: Speaking of the 80’s East Village art boom, one of my best friends is Rick Prol, who was one of the movers and shakers of the time. I also have quite a few other artist friends, as well as musicians and photographers and writers and one lone poet. I do live in New York, after all, so there are quite a few of them here (thankfully few poets…)
B: … and lawyers ?
G: I’m afraid to admit, Boris, that you are the only one. But I’d love to meet more!
B: An Embarrassment of Riches is based on a real story. Have you ever been afraid of legal reprisals?
G: Absolutely. When I was about three quarters of the way through, I realized that every second sentence spelled L-I-B-E-L, even though it was obviously a work of fiction. I was so scared of being dragged to court, I spent hours online researching libel and how to avoid it. If only you had been around, Boris, I could have come to you for advice. Needless to say, I must have followed the rules, as there has been no subpoena issued yet! But I still look over my shoulder!
B: Have you negotiated your contract or have you signed without bargaining power?
G: Maybe it’s stupid of me, but I signed without bargaining power. Once again, WHERE WERE YOU TWO YEARS AGO, Boris?
B: The writer – Should he pay attention to copyright in the United States?
G: It would be a very sad and desperate writer who would steal from somebody else without giving credit where it’s due. What else do we have except for the words that come from us?
B: Do you consider yourself free in your writing ?
G: You always have to strike a balance between what you want to say, how you want to say it, and how to keep the reader riveted to the pages. Ultimately, however, you have to be proud of what you’re putting out into the world. When I started An Embarrassment of Riches, the Derry slang was more pronounced than that which appears in the finished book. I had had a plan that I would perfectly capture the dialect, and the book would be not only an entertaining read, but also a linguistic loveletter. After much prodding, however, I decided to whittle and whittle the accent down, as people kept saying that, although it was interesting, it grated on their eyeballs. And they couldn’t understand a thing. Well, the book now exists, I am proud it is there, and it HAS received rave reviews, including some from reviewers who praise me for capturing the dialect so well, but I must admit I am focusing now on widening interest in my writing, so I’ve watered down the accent for the sequel even more. Also, I’ve become aware while writing the sequel of what readers of the first book would like to see, and I want to be able to both cater to them and tell the story I want to tell. The bottom line is, if you want to be totally free in your writing, expect to stay in your day job.
B: What is the best thing that you have ever done in your life?
G: It really is An Embarrassment of Riches.
B: Could you live elsewhere than Williamsburg?
G: Actually, I’ve been here for 10 years now. When I moved in, the realtor insisted it would soon be the “hip” part of town, and as the years dragged on I kept searching for signs of that like a drunk seaching for a dollar bill in the gutter. Now it really has become the hipster kingdom, but I think it might be time to move on.
B: Will the sequel of An Embarrassment of Riches be based on a real story ?
G: I had enough sleepless nights over what my relatives might make of the characters in that book. I even had undercover cop friends at the launch party, so scared was I that some of my relatives would show up with rocks in their hand, ready to crack into my skull. What they don’t realize is, as reviewer PPO Kane put it, they are really “loving depicted” in the book. Nevertheless, Hand In The Till, although dealing with the same characters, is 100%, absolute FICTION!
B: Before ending, do you have a question for mad?
G: Could you please help me negotiate my new contract, Boris?
B: Yes, Gerald! We thank you and wish you a wonderful success