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INTERVIEW Author Paul Soye discusses his new novel

Staying In
Paul Soye

Paul Soye digs deep through dark layers



Interview
Áine Ryan

“IT WAS frosty, cold and calm on the night of my arrest. The little headstones of the innocents rested silently on their raised pitch, several feet above the lake, and deep in the dark stand of trees that seemed impenetrable, but I knew they were there; all the signs were still there, Gethsemane.
A prowling fox walked to the water’s edge, bent low to sniff the surface, raised its head towards the sky to catch a scent and moved slowly off to try again. I thought for a moment that there was a whisper, something softly spoken into my ear. I didn’t catch it.”

The Boy in the Gap.

BEING compared to such authors as John McGahern, Pat McCabe and John Banville is an assured seal of approval for a first novel. It means that Paul Soye’s ‘The Boy in the Gap’ probably furrows through the dark layers of a hidden Ireland. It does. But with his own very distinctive dark humour and ‘unadorned’ creative pen, Michael Harding describes this debut novel as: “A beautifully written book; clear and unadorned; the story of a hidden Ireland told with compassion and intelligence.”
‘The Boy in the Gap’ tells the story of Jack Sammon, a man accused of a terrible crime in his small community. What family secrets propelled Jack into this sordid situation? Why did his father’s untimely death have such catastrophic reverberations?
When I recently met author Paul Soye, he explained that he was born and reared in Dublin but moved to Westport in 1986 with his wife, Finn. He has worked as a social worker for much of his life, and currently works part-time with the HSE.
“I started off working with kids on streets in Dublin and drifted into residential care … I felt people were being landed with a whole new set of realities but weren’t dealing with the original problem. I felt I wanted to delve into this issue more – into the original causes. I wanted to understand them.”
So Soye headed off to study Social Work in UCC in the late 1970s. After his degree, he was a community-based worker with young people and their families, first in Cork and then in Darndale (Dublin).
“I suppose what drew me was the disaffection of young people and the degree to which we, as a society, created this. For me, residential care meant that young people ended up in a flawed spiral,” Paul Soye says.
Meanwhile, creative writing had already started in secondary school. Back then Paul read a lot of poetry.
“Funnily enough my ‘Catcher in the Rye’ was ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ (by James Joyce). I also keep coming back to Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’. It is so menacing. He managed to create much more fear of the captain of the ship than of Moby Dick.”
For a period, in his 20s, Paul gave up reading fiction and began reading textbooks. His interest in literature ‘kind of dissipated for a while because he had other things to do’.
But it kicked in again in the late 1980s after moving to Mayo and joining an amateur drama group, called the Bar Theatre Group.
Soon afterwards Paul wrote a play called ‘Cherished’ – the title was taken form the 1916 Proclamation. Essentially it was set against the backdrop of huge delays in producing a Child Care Act in Ireland – ultimately instituted into law in 1991.
Another play, ‘The Birdcage’ was published the same year.
“This was essentially about the idea of an ex-drug addict doing community development work and trying to help people indirectly and another character who wanted to change people by direct action.”
Of comparisons to Monaghan writer Pat McCabe, (author of ‘The Butcher Boy’, ‘The Dead School’ and ‘Winterwood’), Soye observes: “I touch on dark subjects but I have to write about them with a more human side to it and with a degree of humour, I write about people and use all my experiences of life to do that.”
Paul Soye usually starts writing at 9.30am and ends at 2pm. “I have a cup of coffee somewhere in the middle. I could write very little, it could be very frustrating but equally if you have two characters talking in your head, it can be wildly exciting. I don’t plot my work. I kind of create my characters and let them develop organically.”

‘The Boy in the Gap’ by Paul Soye will be launched by Professor Adrian Frazier at The Linenhall Arts centre, in Castlebar, this Thursday, February 24, at 8pm. All are welcome. It is published by Liberties Press and retails at €12.99.