When All is Said

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 heavy-handed?

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 alludes to.

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 novel?

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.

– Elena Bowes

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