Bernard MacLaverty – Award Winning Writer

by Pat Byrne, 2003

Bernard’s new book ‘Matters of Life and Death’ is doing very well. This collection of short stories has been applauded by Anne Enright in her review on Guardian Unlimited.
Matters of Life and Death – can be purchased at Amazon.
(Spring 2006).

Bernard MacLaverty: Glasgow Writers  – Pat Byrne, February 2015.

Bernard MacLaverty

I have a list of possibile candidates for inclusion on this ‘Local Characters’ section of the Web site and also frequently receive suggestions from others. Bernard MacLaverty, the Irish writer living in the West End has been on my list for a while and also fell into the ‘by popular choice category.’ However, this award winning author of books such as ‘Grace Notes’, ‘Lamb’ and ‘Cal’ was initially reluctant to be interviewed. I think I have to thank Liz McKelvie, of the Studio, for fulsome praise of the Web site and persuasiveness, and a few weeks ago Jim and I went round to Dowanhill to find out more about this man and his work.

Many of you will know Bernard as a writer but perhaps you will also have listened in to the Radio Programme Grace Notes which he presented. When we met his melodious Irish brogue sounded very familiar to me as Jim and I have often listened in to this programme when out on Sunday afternoon drives. His work on ‘Grace Notes’ tells you a lot about Bernard and his approach to life and echoes some of the same themes you will find in his book of the same name.

The Radio Show introduced Classical Music as an interesting and enjoyable pleasure for everyone without any barriers or ‘high brow’ bracketing. His love of music and knowledge on the subject is immense and mixed together with creativity, humour and novel thought makes for a fine programme. Sorry to say, for the time being, Bernard’s stint as presenter has just finished – Sunday afternoons will not be quite the same.

Bernard demonstrates the same insight and appeal in his writing. I have just finished reading ‘Grace Notes’- twice! There is so much you can say about this book and it is no surpise that it won the Saltire Award. Constantly, I found myself thinking about Catherine McKenna, the young woman who is the main character – when I was sitting on the bus or doing the housework I pondered on her situation. The character seemed so real, so troubled and so incredibly talented. I was also highly impressed by Bernard’s knowledge of music and musicianship and intrigued by his ability in linking the ordinary and extraordinary with such apparent ease.

For a man to write about a woman so well is in itself a triumph – Bernard probably has an advantage here as he has three daughters: Ciara, Claire and Jude.He also has one son John. His wife Madeline plays a big part in his life and he acknowledges her as his best critic “always the first to see his work” and his best friend.

They have lived in their lovely home in Dowanhill, just a stone’s throw from Byres Road, for 15 years. Initially they moved from Belfast and ‘the troubles’ of Northern Ireland in 1975 and went to live in the tranquillity of Islay.

Their home is very welcoming and we enjoyed our tea and angel cake – Jim and Bernard had a bit of a chat about music and Bernard admitted to being in a skiffle band as a young man. He is a great communicator and proud of his work and achievements. However, he is not one of these writers who is full of angst and experiences the creative process as a chore. For Bernard his writing was “something which began as a hobby and become your living”. He remembers being asked ‘why do you write” and thinking that in a way it is just an extension of the way we play as children. He elaborated on this concept and explained that when he was wee he loved to play at farms with small animals and create little scenes; maybe using his Mother’s compact mirror as a pond. Bernard sees writing as the same process – where he creates the scenes and finds ways for the characters to move through them.

He draws substantially upons his own experience and to a great extent his novels are set within the harsh strife of Belfast. He has produced a substantial amount of literature including four collections of short stories, three novels and written versions of his fiction for radio plays, television plays and screenplays. Both Cal and Lamb were major films. He published his first work Secrets and other stories in 1977 and his latest piece of work is a novel,’The Anatomy School’set in Belfast in the late 60’s, is about to be published. Jim and I were very tickled to learn that we were the first people, outside of the family, to see the cover – it looks great.

Bernard has been taken to the heart of the writing community in the West End, despite being warned to watch out for Scottish writers: “who scratched each others backs – with dirks”, and he has found his co-creators to be supportive, helpful and encouraging to younger writers. He regularly enjoys a game of chess with Alasdair Gray – we had a laugh when Bernard admitted to being the model for the drawing of ‘the monster’ on the cover of Alasdair’s book “Poor Things”. He also entertained us with the story of his recent trip to London where he did a reading on a boat on the Thames as part of St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Something new for him as he “had never read with the podium going up and down before”.

Despite his great success Bernard MacLaverty has no airs or graces – he is an interesting, courteous and hard working man and a sublimely talented writer. Can’t wait to read ‘The Anatomy School’ – I am sure it will be another great success.

Glasgow Writers: Chris Dolan
Glasgow Writer: Kathleen O'Rourke

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