On The Cusp: Marianne Lee


Posted 2 months ago in More

It was shaping up to be a big year with projects such as debut novels, feature films, festivals, music showcases and even a trip to the Olympics on the cards. And then a global pandemic put the kibosh on everything. We speak to those who were on the cusp and see where they are at now.

Marianne Lee was due to launch her debut novel, A Quiet Tide, at the start of April.

“As the weeks went on, a close family member died of Covid-19. Cancelled events that can be rescheduled are the least of how we need to heal after this time.”

What have we lost?

Innocence. Or, naivety. Living in an economically secure, developed country, we’re inclined to believe we’re buffered from the great threats, that these happen to ‘others’, separated from us by geographical or historical distance. Once you accept we’re vulnerable to one horror, then the possibility of another arises to give us nightmares. On the other hand, we should now have greater empathy for the suffering of those who lived, and still live, through calamity. We temporarily lost some of our freedoms, but nothing in comparison to those who have lived under dictatorships, for example.

 

What have we gained?

As above: perspective. The opportunity to rethink some ‘truisms’ we believed irrevocable. That it’s impossible to change behaviour, for example. In fact, people were generally adaptable, finding new ways to exercise, communicate, socialise. Seeing people enjoy the Phoenix Park, find solace in its open spaces, cycling, walking, roller-skating – I never heard the larks and blackbirds sing so loudly as during those weeks when there were less cars. Our ability to adapt and change should embolden policy makers to make decisions for the benefit of the climate, our physical health and mental well-being.

 

What did you learn?

How fortunate I am. I’m a homebody anyway, and love hanging out with my husband and cats. There’s nowhere I’d rather be on a sunny day than in my own back garden with a book.

While my neighbour cocooned, I walked her dog every day for six weeks and learned a) how full of uncomplicated joy dogs are, and b) that I want one someday.

 

What did you miss?

My choir. I miss the physical act of singing, and the mental stimulation of mastering the music. We rehearsed over Zoom; while good fun and comforting, it’s not the same energy. Some things don’t work digitally in the long term.

Once I could talk on the phone to the adult members of my family, then I could rationalise a few months not seeing them, but I missed my nieces and nephews. Three months is a long time in the life of a small child. Birthdays came and went, holidays have been cancelled. I still don’t know when I’ll next see my brother’s children, as they live in the UK.

 

What surprised you?

How emotional the experience made me. I’ve cried more in the last three months than I did in the previous three years. Anything set me off: candles in windows, Leo’s speech, that video of Cuban doctors arriving in Italy. Every night I watched Venus blaze its way across the clear evening sky, appreciating its exquisite beauty while acknowledging it made me feel insignificant. We are so vulnerable, so fragile as a species.

The kindness of people, their humour and resilience, wasn’t a total surprise, as I like to think most people are fundamentally decent, but still, the sacrifice made by some was incredible. I just hope the good-will continues.

 

What disappointed you?

The launch of my novel A Quiet Tide had been initially arranged for April. The physical event would have marked the culmination of years of work and would have been a moment of great personal achievement, as well being an important opportunity to publicise the book. I felt for my wonderful publisher New Island; the team had put in so much work in helping me bring the book into the world. They were very kind, sending me cards and chocolates on the date.

I had to quickly set those feelings aside, measure them against the real suffering going on. That’s not to say that we aren’t allowed ‘own’ those disappointments: postponed weddings, trips, personal milestones. It’s important to acknowledge them, before we move on.

As the weeks went on, a close family member died of Covid-19. Cancelled events that can be rescheduled are the least of how we need to heal after this time.

 

What’s next for you?

A Quiet Tide is finally on the shelves and I’m hoping to visit some of our wonderful bookshops and see it in the wild! Otherwise I plan on continuing to lie low for the rest of the year, staying close to home as much as possible. As the situation becomes clearer, I’ll venture out and experience some of the joys of life: friends, food, family. Keep things simple: a few days by the sea, somewhere in Ireland.

During the lockdown, I initially struggled to write, as I think many did. For me, writing comes from a place of joy and ease. Finally, though, I became absorbed in my new novel and I hope to have a solid draft by the end of the summer. Fortunately, like A Quiet Tide, it’s historical fiction, and a total distraction from day to day reality. Then I have another project planned for the autumn. With everything uncertain, it feels good to focus on what I can control.

Marianne Lee’s debut novel, A Quiet Tide, is published by New Island Books. You can read our review here.

Jenny Jennings, Co-Director of ThisIsPopBaby launched and closed the Where We Live festival on the same day in March. Read her account of how that fateful day unfolded here.

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