I heard Ali Smith speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Fest last October. She was talking about her literary quartet and her man booker shortlisted novel, Autumn. She spoke about our concept of time, the layering effect of experience and how when we walk through autumn, we experience not only that autumn but all the autumns we’ve experienced before. I’ve been working on this with my characters so it was hugely exciting to hear her talking about this multidimensional (from a time perspective) approach to character drive, emotion and experience.
This last week I’ve been writing Frankie as she moves through the criminal world that’s unfolding before her but each step is influenced by Frankie’s experience of her home (Clontarf), its cultural and social influences and history. And I’m surprised that the research has taken me so far back. How is that? None of this features directly for the reader, but Clontarf history, is embedded in Frankie as a person. Her outlook on her hometown, her predictions for it and her prejudices against it are all coloured by this history.
One lovely tidbit was looking for information on Clontarf Island. An island that no longer exists. In my hunt for the location of this island, I discover how radically the region of Dublin Port has changed in the last few centuries. The port mouth, for example, was much further inshore, if you could say it was the port we know at all. At one time, it was all Dublin Bay.
The construction of the various sea walls around Dublin Bay and Clontarf, pushed the Clontarf shoreline considerably outwards and led to the formation of Bull Island (which features briefly in TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE). Maybe Clontarf Island would eventually have been eclipsed by these changes or maybe it would have become part of the mainland eventually but in 1844 it was battered by a freak storm. Once a summer retreat for a man and his son the storm took everything from the island. Locals describe seeing the light go out from the small residence on the island during the height of the storm. Sadly, both father and son were found on Dublin shoreline the morning afterwards. The island persisted for some time, appearing at low tides but the removal of sand from the island and other man-made changes saw it disappear forever. It’s hard not to be consumed with this kind of research when you start browsing through some of these beautiful photos and maps.
Customs House circa mid to late 19th century, Dublin
Clontarf Island. South Dublin Libraries Archive.
Dublin Port and Bay Coastline
Olivia Kiernan is author of TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE, published April 2018 with riverrun books. You can pre-order it here!
Follow on Twitter: @LivKiernan