I recently attended the launch of Finding Penelope by James Lawless at Hodges Figgis, Dublin. In his launch speech Jack Harte gave an attentive and comprehensive overview of James’s work to-date including two other novels: For Love of Anna (New Generation, 2009) and The Avenue (Wordsonthestreet, 2010) and a study of modern poetry, Clearing The Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World (Academica Press, 2010) for which James received an arts bursary.
Other awards include the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry Competition, the Cecil Day Lewis Award, the Sunday Tribune/Hennessy and Willesden Herald award nominations, the WOW Award and a Biscuit International prize for short stories. Hollywood actor, writer and Irish cultural ambassador, Gabriel Byrne, wrote highly of James’s first novel Peeling Oranges (Killynon House 2007).
Penelope is a likeable protagonist and through her James explores love – romantic and familial, drugs, and crime, showing us the underside of the Costa. Jack Harte drew attention to Carlo Gébler’s praise on the back cover. See below for the full commendation:
‘I thought Finding Penelope was brilliant. I loved the heroine, Penelope Eames, a modestly successful romantic writer who is a sort of everywoman of our times and a wonderful mix of insight, diffidence and foolishness. I also relished the milieu in which Finding Penelope is set, the expatriate Anglophone world of the Spanish Mediterranean, where lonely English widows and gangsters and Irish novelists and aspiring starlets all get jumbled up together and make a fine old mess of their lives in the process. This is a really really fine piece of sharp, precise and accurate work. A novel that will give deep, literary pleasure.’
I’m always curious to know how writers inhabit their opposite sex protagonists. James talks a bit about that and other writing matters in his guest post, below:
I am a novelist, short story writer and poet who was born in Dublin. What inspired me to write was my mother reading comics and books to me as a child and my father buying me my first diary when I was twelve. I am an arts graduate of University College Dublin and have an MA in Communications from Dublin City University. I taught in a secondary school and lectured for a number of years and volunteered for a time in the Simon community, which perhaps informs the social concerns in some of my work. I write full-time now.
My latest novel Finding Penelope has just been published by Indigo Dreams. The publisher Ronnie Goodyer I got to know when he published some of my poetry for Boho Press. When I read in the New Writer that he was now considering fiction I sent him my new novel, which he kindly accepted. Apart from casting a wry glance at the role of patriarchy in a family, the novel is essentially a love story marking a growth in self-realisation in the protagonist Penelope Eames. It delves into the drugs culture and its associated criminality in Spain (where a lot of Celtic Tiger money wound up laundered), Ireland and the UK. The prompt for the novel was from Cervantes and a motif may be interpreted as a sort of modern day parallel of Don Quixote’s attack on the proliferation of romance novels of that time.
As seventy per cent of fiction readers are now female, I wanted to understand more of the female mindset. So I picked the brains of women of my acquaintance, including two adult daughters and I researched contemporary women writers and books like Everywoman and I reread with new female (or at least androgynous eyes) my well-thumbed de Beauvoir, Anna Karenina and Portrait of a Lady. Simultaneously, I was studying the crime culture on the Costa. The result was the character Penelope Eames, a thirty three year old romance novelist who moves to Spain to avoid her oppressive father and drug-addicted brother, Dermot. When she meets Ramón, a young Spanish school teacher, she is immediately attracted to him and feels the happiness that eluded her all her life may at last be hers. However, she receives a distress call from Dermot saying he is at the mercy of Charlie Eliot, a pimp and drug dealer on the Costa. Ramón, whose mother was killed by a drug addict, tells her to have nothing to do with Charlie Eliot. Penelope must decide: is she prepared to compromise herself with Charlie Eliot and jeopardise her chance of happiness with Ramón for the sake of her drug addicted brother?
I had better not give any more away except to say that I hope I caught Penelope’s voice and character authentically and I would love to hear from readers what they thought. I can be contacted through my website or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
Poetry by James Lawless, Rus in Urbe published by Doghouse Books
Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the
World, by James Lawless
James Lawless author page on Amazon