Catherine O’Flynn at the Manchester Literature Festival
Saturday 19th October
Drenched from the Manchester rain, I stumbled into Waterstones, Deansgate, to hear Libby Tempest warmly introduce the novelist Catherine O’Flynn. I seemed to be the only one in the room lucky enough to be caught in the sudden thunder and lightning, but I quickly forgot about my hair dripping on my notebook as Catherine began to read from her new novel Mr Lynch’s Holiday. Mr Lynch’s Holiday is a book set in sunny Costa del Sol, where Eamonn and his wife Laura move, only for Eamonn to lose his job and later split with his wife too. However, the novel then takes a surprising turn when Eamonn’s father, Dermot, joins him in Spain and despite disagreements; the pair end up growing closer and making personal discoveries. O’Flynn manages to balance comedy and depth within her writing, which is what allows her characters to become so memorable, from Kate in What was Lost, to Mo in The News Where You Are, and now to Dermot and Eamonn in her stunning new novel.
O’Flynn was questioned on the inspiration for her writing, and she explained that she had moved away to Spain herself back in 2002, yet found the lifestyle to be rather “directionless”. She confessed that this is what made her write about her hometown of Birmingham at the beginning of her career, as she wanted to get away from the “sense of dissatisfaction” which she believes comes from too much freedom. O’Flynn is a writer who uses her past and personal life to her advantage, scattering her writing with little details of her life to add a personal touch. I find this aspect of her writing to be incredibly effective, and the theme of family and relationships fit nicely alongside the ideas of moving and beginning new phases in life. O’Flynn added that she believes we should all stand by our past, even our “bad haircuts and poor wardrobe decisions”.
An interesting question that was raised during the talk was of her style and how O’Flynn manages to juggle the past and present so effectively. She confessed that she tried to write in a more simply structured manner, but this led to re-writing the first chapter every day for a year with no luck. Personal style can’t be changed or forced, and O’Flynn happened to learn this the hard way, telling the room how she rented an office after the first 6 months of writers-block, only to become obsessed with the man renting the office next door. She laughed as she described the thin walls, and how being able to hear the man breathe nearly drove her to insanity. To me, this sent a strong message to group on the importance of being true to your own style – that trying to confine yourself to certain expectations will only hold you back.
Libby Tempest then opened the talk up to the floor, and I was lucky enough to ask the final question: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Catherine answered simply, that the trick wasn’t to second-guess the market or write to please another party; the key is to write for yourself. That way, your writing will always be worthwhile, whether you are successful or not.