EVER SINCE the selection of his book The Spinning Heart on the Booker Long List, Donal Ryan has been hailed as Ireland’s ‘new overnight success’, ensuring the continuity of the long established, glorious, and precious literary tradition of which this country is justly proud.
Nobody is more surprised (or indeed delighted ) than Ryan himself although he is also somewhat bemused at the almost legendary nature of this ‘overnight success’, but perhaps the person who should be most amused is his wife, Anne Marie.
For as long as he can remember, Ryan wanted to write. Hearing him talk about it, the strength of this driving compulsion is palpable. However, as with all of these things, there was a problem. There was no lack of material. There were many stories to tell, hundreds of themes to explore, no lack of roads to travel. Neither was the problem an ability to put these stories down. When it comes to writing, Ryan is naturally fluent and poetic. His prose is as assured as it is lyrical.
No, the problem was deeper than that. Ryan himself talks of the countless times he began a story or a novel. He would hit the ground running, begin with tremendous energy and verve, produce page after page of good material and then, without warning, would suffer an intense crisis of self confidence resulting in the manuscript being consigned to the rubbish heap, and a deep personal dejection.
Fortunately along comes Anne Marie, who is an avid reader. In fact, if asked, Ryan will admit that when he and Anne Marie were “walking out together”, one of his ambitions was to write a book that would please her.
As manuscript after manuscript bit the dust, this dream began to fade, until eventually, just as another manuscript was to follow suit, Anne Marie told him, in the gentle way that only wives can, to just finish it and see what happens.
Spurred by this Ryan did manage to finish the manuscript and it is about to be published over the next few months under the title The Things About December.
Even more curious is the fact that the theme of The Things About December is almost an inverted parody of Ryan’s own experience as a writer. Set in the cusp of the Celtic Tiger it tells the story of Johnsey who is “not the full shilling”. As the novel proceeds, Johnsey’s props against the harsh realities of life, the main one being his mother, one of the most delightful characters of the book, are whittled away and he becomes more and more isolated.
Each time, keeping a sense of his own real human values, he manages to deal with a loss and reaches something of an even keel, he is beset by another misfortune, until eventually...but that would be giving away the story.
A second completed manuscript followed and this became The Spinning Heart, which manuscript was apparently rescued from a bin by a publisher’s intern and has become perhaps the literary sensation of the year.
Purportedly having received 49 rejections – Ryan will tell you he invited the rejections by sending the manuscripts to several totally unlikely publishers – our new author has rightly become something of a beacon for all those who to date have met with rejection after rejection after rejection.
His story illustrates the crucial importance of self belief for the budding author as well as an endless patience and the crucial importance of the Anne Maries of this world.
Whether or not Ryan has achieved his ambition in pleasing her with his literary efforts remains a moot point, there is no doubt that Anne Marie has done Irish literature an invaluable service.