ALTHOUGH Madeleine D’Arcy’s writing career kicked off relatively late in life, the Macroom native, who is in her early fifties, is philosophical about her journey. “You’re never too old,” says D’Arcy, whose debut collection of short stories, Waiting for the Bullet, will be launched on April 26 at Triskel Christchurch as part of the Cork World Book Fest.
D’Arcy won the Hennessy Award for First Fiction and the overall Hennessy Award for New Irish Writer in 2010, and says: “Sometimes, what you might consider lost time is actually growing up time and it’s never too late to do something. I’m not saying that everyone has a book in them or can write a book but everyone has some kind of dream or creative desire. Sometimes, in life, you have to wait.”
D’Arcy’s parents didn’t want their daughter to study arts, with all the job insecurity that goes with a bachelor degree. She graduated from University College Cork with a law degree but was a reluctant student.
“Because I really wanted to study French, English, philosophy, and psychology, I spent several months going to arts lectures when I was in first-year law. So it’s absolutely fantastic that I’m now back at UCC doing an MA in creative writing.” D’Arcy is a scholarship student of the university’s inaugural creative writing degree. It’s a far cry from working on criminal cases when she was a solicitor in London.
“I did about three years of criminal legal aid and also worked in conveyancing for a while. But it just didn’t appeal to me. I never wanted to be a solicitor; I was just trying to make a living. But I enjoyed the criminal clients. They had such great stories and were, in themselves, great stories. I was really fond of most of them.”
D’Arcy subsequently moved into legal publishing, hoping it would lead to a career in general book publishing. She became a freelance project manager, running book projects for publishers.
In 1999, D’Arcy returned to Cork with her architect husband and son and worked in the Refugee Legal Service. Then, in 2005, D’Arcy’s life changed when she attended Claire Keegan’s creative writing class at UCC.
“I remember sitting on the edge of the chair, feeling that I knew what Claire was talking about. I wasn’t sure if I could achieve what she said about writing, but I knew I could try.”
D’arcy applied herself to writing and worked hard, attending literary events and workshops, reading voraciously and editing and rewriting her short stories, as well as starting a novel.
Her stories have been shortlisted and commended in many competitions, including the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen Short Story Competition, the Fish Short Story Prize, the Bridport Prize, and the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition.
Waiting for the Bullet, published by Galway-based Doire Press, with a classy cover designed by Cork-based John MacMonagle, is a highly enjoyable collection. Set in Cork, London, and New York, the stories range from infidelity and childbirth to a game of Russian roulette at a dinner party, the subject of the title story.
Kevin Barry has described D’Arcy’s collection as funny and wry. He says the stories “pulsate with all the mad rude energies of life itself but often, there is an undercurrent of darkness or sadness just beneath the surface and this is what deepens and gives real weight to the work”.
There is a deceptive ease about D’Arcy’s writing style, and evidence of a lively imagination. “I take something real and try and see what if an event happened in a particular way rather than the way it really happened. The stories are not memoir at all but I’m slightly amused at how many things I put into my stories that belong to me. Even something like a couch of mine has turned up in a story.”
Some of D’Arcy’s stories are written from the male point of view. The press release accompanying her book states that she has an understanding of the male mind. “I didn’t write that,” she says, laughing. “I’m not sure I understand the male mind at all. What I’m doing is attempting to understand it because I’m not really sure what goes on there. I’m not sure what goes on in anyone’s head. I’m not setting myself up as someone who knows. I’m trying to investigate minds because I’m very puzzled about why people do what they do.”
D’Arcy is also interested in writing screenplays and completed a course in film making at the Cork Film Centre. Her first short film, Dog Pound, starring one of her favourite actors, Frank Kelly, was premiered at this year’s Hennessy Literary Awards. D’Arcy, who received some funding from Cork City Council to make the film, is interested in more collaborative work.
She says her ambition is to both amuse people through her work and at the same time, make them cry or touch them.
She says that while people are reading as much as ever, the publishing industry hasn’t caught up with the changes.
Growing up, D’Arcy spent a lot of time in the library, using her mother’s adult library card when she had exhausted the children’s section. “One of my favourite books is not very ‘literary’ at all. It’s The Little Prince by Antoine de St Exupery.” Little did the diminutive D’Arcy know she would one day have her very own stories published. It’s a fitting achievement for this natural-born storyteller.
* Waiting for the Bullet’ by Madeleine D’Arcy is available from April 26 from Amazon and www.doirepress.com at €12.
* More on Cork World Book Fest: triskelartscentre.ie/