Cath: You’ve moved around a lot, and currently live in Wales in the summer and Ireland in the winter. What for you are the impulses to move, to settle, to move again?
Lane: A big factor is that I like to explore, to get lost and find my way again. Because of this I don’t rate towns planned on grids. Cities that have grown organically are harder to navigate, but that is part of the fun.
Cath: The stories in SaltWater, too, are set in a range of locations. Why is that, did you feel you needed to do this, did you plan it?
Lane: When I started pulling these stories together I had a book plan that would have been very costly to execute. I didn’t want to ask for a massive amount of funds, so I made a cheaper plan. SaltWater was Plan B. I do see stories as fitting in particular settings but also as being transferable outside of them. Stories that play out on one coastal part of Europe may be similar to stories on another coast, in Europe, or across the world where my partner is from, in New Zealand.
Cath: Many of us have memories – warm, comforting memories – of being read to as children. Is that true for you and are there particular stories that have stayed with you, even influenced your own writing?
Lane: I don’t remember being read to, but oral stories were a part of my childhood, thanks to my mother. We had relatively few books at home. Just up the road was a public library, and we went there quite a bit after we ran out of books to read at home. I remember being off school with a childhood illness and nicking some paperbacks off my dad’s shelf that he’d told me not to touch in case I bent the covers, a Mercier Press series, Eoin Neeson’s re-tellings of the Irish Myths and Legends. The names gave me some trouble as I’d not yet studied Irish, but otherwise I motored through them. I especially liked The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne, and The Children of Lir.
Cath: What are your strongest childhood memories of the places you lived?
Lane: Here’s one from before school, somewhere on the edge of London: waking in the early hours and deciding to run away, just because I can. But I don’t get more than half a mile. A local milkman finds me and drops me home in his van…
…And from a bit later on, in the 1970s in north Dublin, where school summer holidays last an incredible three months. The street we live on is near a train line, so with the other local kids we climb over a high wall built to keep us out, slither down steep banks and run across the track to a siding where a few old train carriages have been left to rot. We play tag, racing through the ruined carriages, their seats covered in torn and faded velvet. Years later, in my late teens, I stay aboard the express one Friday evening. In Belfast, I find vibrant graffiti and street murals, soldiers with machine guns at the ready, the drone of army helicopters — of all the European cities I’ve visited as an Irish teenager, the one that 1980s Belfast most strongly brings to mind is Berlin.
Cath: I’m interested to read that in Ireland short stories are a big part of the literature curriculum at school. Who were the short story writers held up as important when you were at school, what do you think of them now and who amongst contemporary short story writers do you particularly enjoy reading?
Lane: The short stories in my schoolbooks said more to me than Shakespeare, in a voice that was easier to relate to. All the ones we didn’t bother with in class, I read at home. ‘Guests of the Nation’ by Frank O’Connor was and still is a brilliant story that says an awful lot in an undercut way, taking the haircutter’s use of the word, meaning there’s an different haircut under the more visible one. Gill and MacMillan have reissued another textbook, Exploring English, full of stories by Liam Ó Flaherty, Seán Ó Faoláin, Mary Lavin, Brian Friel and Brendan Behan, just as it used to be when I was at school. There’ve been so many short story writers out of Ireland since then, it’s hard to keep up. Recently I’ve been reading one I missed when it first came out, Bridget O’Connor’s Here Comes John, a book I raced through. I really like Anne Enright’s stories, and could easily read more. Oh, Colum McCann, same.
Cath: So far you’re written mainly short fiction, although I’ve read ‘Outer Banks Riptide’, the longest story in your collection SaltWater, described as a novella. What, for you, determines the length of a piece you write?
Lane: The subject matter and maybe also the characters in ‘Outer Banks Riptide’ seemed to demand a bigger scope. I try not worry too much about length, just tell the stories I want to tell. It’s a freedom easily overlooked, since writers operate within the parameters of the industry, and publishers, agents and publicists all tend to want fiction to fit the boxes in which it’s traditionally sold.
Cath: How do you decide what subjects to write about? Clearly, from the stories clustered together in SaltWater, the sea is something that draws you. When I read those stories I saw the sea as acting as a metaphor for our human relationships, of how we struggle with uncertainty and the unknown, but carry on somehow.
Lane: SaltWater is set over a hundred-year period from 1918 to 2018. While writing it I was thinking not just about human relationships but also about how over that time our connection with the sea has changed. We can put fences round the sea, try to turn it into a pretty backdrop for holidays or retirement homes, but it has its own agenda and doesn’t always go along with our designs. I guess the same is true of readers — even if a story is inspired by a particular concept, each reader brings their own stuff to it and reads it the way they want.
Cath: You’ve embraced digital media for story-telling – getting SaltWater crowd-funded as an ebook, recording stories for audio websites like 4’33″ and so on. Is that through preference or expediency?
Lane: ‘Embracing’ digital media is an overstatement: if anything I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. I mean, there was a time when it was love-love, but that was before web-forms and the requirement to register for every site you ever wanted to use! So while there are some great positives, there are negatives too. But however you feel about technology, it is a part of the world we live in. Part of the landscape.
Cath: The internet is crucial in getting an international audience for your stories. I see one of the stories in SaltWater was featured at Solas Nua in Washington, D.C. How did that come about?
Lane: Solas Nua runs an annual Irish Book Day when they give away an anthology that is a sampler of new writing published in Ireland. Liberties Press put forward one of my stories. Sadly there was no budget to ship the writers across the pond, but I’ll be taking part in events in London and at the Hay Festival, Kells. And who knows, perhaps I’ll get to north America another time. I do have an invitation (arising out of their assistance with fact-checking for ‘Outer Banks Riptide’) to visit the park rangers on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, which I hope to take up at some future point.
with thanks to Cath Barton whose interview appeared in Celtic Family Magazine