This month, Elena Bowes spoke to Anne
Griffin about her debut novel, When All is Said – a
collection of five monologues from the perspective of an elderly man, all
linked by a stolen coin.
This is your debut novel and it’s
lovely – full of humour, poignancy, believable characters and life truths – it’s
heart-warming and heart-breaking. What was the single biggest challenge in
writing When All is Said?
The biggest challenge was getting the
voice of Maurice Hannigan just right. I wanted to create a really engaging
voice that kept the reader hooked. Some have said that as they read When All Is Said they almost felt they were sitting
beside Maurice at that bar. That was the biggest compliment I could get as a
writer. It meant I’d achieved everything I’d set out to do.
Maurice Hannigan is an octogenarian
looking back on his long life in rural Ireland with both joy and regret. How
would you describe Hannigan’s character in 26 words?
He’s cantankerous, single-minded,
successful and endearing. A man who, dogged by his regrets, his loneliness and
his secrets, decides it’s time to put everything right again.
How did you come up with this unique
idea for a novel – five toasts, five people, one lifetime?
As a debut writer I knew I needed to
have a good structure on which to hang the tale. It needed to be manageable and
so instead of a straight 70,000 words I broke it down into five stories that
would interweave and unfold Maurice’s world.
Your book has a strong sense of place
and how Ireland has changed over the years. Was that difficult to convey? Any
tips for aspiring writers on how to get a sense of place across without being
I think do your research, read the
history, talk to people who lived through it and then step away from too much
detail. You want to give just enough but not to over load. Hints and flavours
of a particular time are good. The rest is up to the reader. Remember, story
telling is primarily about letting the reader imagine the world the writer
What do you think are the central
themes of When All is Said?
There are many themes. Perhaps one of
the main ones is regret. If Maurice were writing this now I think he’d say: in
life it is important to make sure you follow through on all of your promises to
those you love, put nothing off.
Can you tell us about the Edward VIII
coin? The coin that never was plays a central supporting role in your story.
Have you known about this coin for a long time and were you waiting for the
right time to use it, or did you find out about this coin while researching for
the story? In short, which came first, the coin or the story?
The story. Because I had five stories
I wanted some common thread that linked them all, aside from Maurice himself.
And I also wanted something that tied Maurice to the Dollard family for his
entire life. I decided he needed to rob something from them, something small
that could fit in a pocket and go undetected. That’s when I started to research
valuable coins, and there it was – the coinage that never was, a significant
part of British history.
You’re known for your short stories.
What did you find the most difficult in switching to writing a full-length
In actual fact, the first thing I ever
wrote was a novel. I came to writing late, aged 44 and I just decided to waste
no time and to dive right in to see if I had the stamina to write a 70,000
words. To my shock I managed it. The novel wasn’t great and lives in a drawer.
It was only after that that I started to write short stories. And I really
liked it. But if I’m honest I think I prefer the long form, despite how
difficult and frustrating it can be.
If you couldn’t be a writer, what
would you like to be?
I think perhaps something in the arts.
As a child I wanted to be an actor. So perhaps I’d go do that.
What do you do for fun?
I love the cinema. I’m just addicted
to stories so a good movie with my husband and son and a portion of nachos is
my favourite thing to do.