‘Turning twenty-one, not much about me has changed, physically speaking. But nothing stayed the same either. My name grew longer and my bank balance got bigger -MUCH bigger. I have a bona fide Brit passport now and i’m not sure where home is anymore’
Narcissism for Beginners is the third novel from Martine McDonagh. Published through Unbound, it is published today 9th March 2017 and I am delighted to have Martine here with me to answer a few questions I put her way.
I was also fortunate to receive a copy of Narcissism for Beginners so I also have a review for you of this wonderfully quirky and fresh book.
Martine, you have worked for many many years as an artist manager in the music industry. Can you please tell us all a little about what this entails?
An artist manager is the person who works closely with bands and musicians to build their career, negotiating contracts with labels, promoters, publishers etc. They might also handle the tour management side of things.
It varies from artist to artist but basically the manager oversees every aspect of their career and takes part in the decision-making process.
Creative writing is an area you are obviously very passionate about, as Programme Leader at West Dean College in Sussex. Where did this passion stem from and what does this role involve?
I suppose my love of writing started when I first learned to use a pen. My mother taught me to write before I started school and the aesthetic experience of pen on paper has always felt somewhat magical. This, plus a love of reading, is at the root of me becoming a writer.
As for my current job, I consider myself really fortunate to have had the opportunity to devise and now run an MA in Creative Writing & Publishing. My role as programme leader is the overall management of the course within the context of the college and the course itself, interviewing students and, alongside my teaching colleagues, supporting them through the process of writing a novel and learning about how the publishing industry works and the role of the author within it. It’s actually not that different to the work I did with bands, only there’s less touring.
Who would be your top literary influences?
So many to choose from!
I love Georges Simenon for his concise but eloquent use of language, Beckett for his style and humour.
Jonathan Safran Foer is brilliant at dialogue.
Amelie Nothomb takes huge risks with structure and form and Shirley Jackson is great with all of it. I could go on….
Could you share with us your three favourite books and why?
Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
The perfect novel, in my opinion: short, suspenseful, stylistically spare, brilliant
Tim Winton, Breath
Ditto all of the above with the added appeal that it absolutely pulled me in to a story about something I had no interest in at all. That’s a real skill. I also love Cloudstreet by the same author.
TC Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain
I love the way Boyle writes about culture clash. This is the most political of his novels that I’ve read and I love how he doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the issues but garners sympathy through a credible portrayal of character. Donald Trump needs to read this book.
You are here with me today on Swirl and Thread to tell us all about your latest novel Narcissism for Beginners but you also have two previous books published. What are the names of these novels and what are they about?
My first novel is I Have Waited, and You Have Come and is a dark little story set in a climate-changed future in rural Cheshire.
The main character and unreliable narrator, Rachel, lives alone in an abandoned mill. Her peace is disturbed when she meets a creepy stranger, Jez White, and decides to find out more about him.
I wrote this book to be read in one sitting so it’s quite short!
After Phoenix, my second, is the story of a family that falls apart after the death of the eldest son, Phoenix. It’s partly set in a mental hospital outside Bristol, where I grew up because my dad worked there.
In the story, Phoenix’s mother has herself admitted there to get away from her husband, who she blames for the son’s death. The husband, JJ, moves into the garden shed.
It may sound a bit heavy going, but there’s a humorous narrative running all the way through, courtesy of Phoenix’s 15-year-old sister, Penny, who’s left to contend with it all on her own.
Narcissism for Beginners is not a traditionally published novel. You went down the route of crowd funding with Unbound. How did this idea emerge as a route to publication?
Unbound, who are publishing NfB, is a traditional publisher (trade editions are handled by Cornerstone, part of Penguin Random House), and functions in exactly the same way as any other publisher except that once a book has been accepted, the author has to crowdfund the costs of production for a special supporters edition before it can be published. Some of those costs, editorial, cover design etc also transfer across to the trade edition.
I’d parted company with my agent and decided to submit to Unbound as one of only a few UK publishers who will accept direct submissions from authors. Having spent three years working on the book, I didn’t then want to spend another year or so trying to get the attention of a new agent. I was also curious to see how the crowdfunding process worked having published both traditionally (I Have Waited) and via my own imprint (After Phoenix) before.
I think coming from the music industry I am perhaps more open to trying different means of releasing work.
Narcissism for Beginners is described as a ‘sharp, funny and unsentimental take on the classic coming-of-age story’. What is the premise of the story?
The main character in Narcissism for Beginners is Sonny, a 21 year-old living, when the novel begins, in Redondo Beach, California, with his guardian, Thomas. Sonny was kidnapped at age five by his own father, a self-made guru, and taken to live on a commune in Brazil. He’s had no contact with his mother since and doesn’t even remember her face.
When Thomas gives him a list of names and addresses on his birthday, of people who knew both his parents, Sonny plucks up the courage to go to the UK in search of his mother.
What next for Martine McDonagh?
Well, the next few months will be taken up with promoting NfB, but then I’ll get back to work writing the sequel, which is already at second draft stage and is set when Sonny is in his forties.
Beyond that, I’ve already started researching the novel to come after that, which has nothing at all to do with Sonny.
Martine, thank you so much for joining me today with such a wonderful Q & A. I wish you all the very best with Narcissism for Beginners, aswell as all your future writing projects.
If you wish to find out more about Martine, you will find her on social media at the following links:
In the meantime, please do continue reading for my review.
May I first say that if you are looking for a novel that is slightly left of centre, Narcissism for Beginners is a book most definitely worth checking out.
It’s a coming-of-age story with a difference. Sonny is just about to celebrate his twenty-first birthday but not quite in the way he expects.
Having experienced an extremely dysfunctional upbringing, Sonny lives with his guardian Thomas. Sonny has always been aware of a certain things about his childhood. He knew he was born in the UK in rather unusual circumstances. He was aware of living in Brazil for awhile and he had some knowledge of his father’s lifestyle but of his mother he knew little.
Sonny has always believed she was out there waiting for him. He has lived a life of drugs and drink with a tendency toward OCD type characteristics. He also as an unnatural obsession with the movie Shaun of The Dead. On the morning of his birthday, a tradition is always followed, that involves watching Sonny’s favourite movie but this time Sonny knows something is wrong
‘The only clue pertaining to this being an irregular birthday was that Thomas’s battered old bright-yellow Amoeba Records shopper was able to stand unsupported on the kitchen table, instead of hanging semi-deflated from the chair’
Thomas presents Shaun with information that will take him on a journey of discovery, one where he will search for answers about his past and hopefully give him an opportunity to move forward with his future.
As a reader, you will be travel with Sonny to the UK and Scotland where his story begins. Sonny meets people from his father’s past and he is finally able to fill in the gaps of what really happened to his parents.
Thomas has provided Sonny with five letters.
Each of these contain many of the answers Sonny has looked for all his life. Abducted by his father, a self-made Guru with his own extremely messed-up story, Sonny has very few memories of his childhood. Living his teenage years through a haze of narcotics in California, Sonny’s trip to the UK is very much out of his comfort zone. The noises, the sights, the ‘Englishness’ of everything both amuse and distress him.
Sonny gets to meet some wonderful characters along the way and Martine McDonagh has portrayed these people through Sonny’s eyes in such a descriptive fashion.
‘Marsha Ray’s voice…Just the thought of the echo of it makes me want to punch the nearest seagull. I feel myself disappearing, being sucked along a desire line towards getting high, towards meth-land, tasting the bitter drip of it rolling from my nose to the back of my throat, reliving the burning rush of it, like my whole body is being fed through on of those high-speed hand dryers. And I miss that place so much I want to cry…Someone needs to remind me at this moment why drugs are a bad idea’
Sonny will learn the truth to the many questions he has had his whole life as he continues his journey but only he can decide if it is a truth he wishes to hear. Will he finally achieve the peace that he has for so long hoped to attain?
Martine McDonagh has written a highly original book with the discovery of the true meaning of ‘What Family Is?’ at it’s core.
Told from the viewpoint of Sonny, we are exposed to his bouts of sarcastic humour and wit, alongside his depressed state of mind. He is a very likeable character and, as a reader, you find yourself rooting for him as you turn each page, in the hope that things will work out for him.
You, of course, will have to pick up a copy yourself to find out what happens….
Purchase Link ~ Narcissism For Beginners