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Debut novelist inspired by D town

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Luke Cassidy’s debut novel is set in Dundalk.

Luke Cassidy’s debut novel is set in Dundalk.

Luke Cassidy’s debut novel is set in Dundalk.

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There's a new writer on the block and he's about to put Dundalk on the literary map. Luke Cassidy has signed a deal with Bloomsbury Press for his debut novel 'Iron Annie' and a second as yet untitled book.

This is a major coup for the writer, whose reaction was: 'Words fail me at the edge of this, knowing that Iron Annie will be in the best of hands on its final stretch from my mind to the world. It's a tremendous honour and it's terrifying. It's a vindication and it feels class.'

The good news for those wondering if some 'outsider' is going to come in and put their spin on D town is that Luke is a local lad.

'I'm from Dundalk,' he says. 'Born in Newry mind, but don't hold it against me. But I grew up and went to school here - Gaelscoil Dhún Dealgan and Coláiste Rís. Then I fecked off to Dublin to study at UCD, after which I bounced up to Belfast for an MA at Queens.

He studied a range of humanities subjects which he says ' were not directly related to what I currently do.'

'When I graduated the financial crisis was in full swing and that served as a convenient smokescreen for me to travel further, there being no jobs or hope of jobs on the horizon,' he continues. 'Anyway, I found myself living in Japan for a bit more than a year, after which time I returned to Europe overland and sea.'

He got waylaid in Paris for four years, working as a cultural spotter for a research consultancy there, mostly for clients in the alcohol business. At the same time he managed to complete a PhD at the Sorbonne, so presumably he did much less partying than 'Emily in Paris'.

'Since 2017 I've been dedicated to writing, spending my time back in Ireland, in Dundalk to be precise, and in Ljubljana and its nearby mountains, in Slovenia.'

Writing is something he has always done. 'I just always wrote. I didn't mean to, it just kept kind of happening. I tried my best to be interested in regular careers, money, all that craic, but it just wouldn't stick, y'know? But I couldn't leave writing behind. Never.'

He has written book reviews and interviews for literary journals, short stories and plays for pop-up theatre.

There were also,'two novels that won't ever be published-thanks be to jaysis. Short stories and that kind of craic too. A lot of this has just been mastery of the craft a question of finding my voice. You don't do a major exhibition with your first sketch like.'

Asked what provides the spark of inspiration to create a work of fiction he says 'People inspire me. Their mad passion and crazy mistakes, the mad will to live, our incomplete but flawlessly beautiful fleeting attempts to make sense of the world we live in through language, to relate to each other, to hope, to breathe, to fuck, to love, to fight.

'In writing Iron Annie I was very inspired by a connection to place and meaning that is present in the vernacular language of Dundalk-the town, all that craic. The entire novel, and the two that will follow it, are written in the Dundalk vernacular. The most maligned accent in the country I reckon, but it seems to work so far from what people are saying.'

There's already a fission of excitement in the publishing world about this new author, with Bloomsbury's editor-in-chief Paul Baggaley, saying: 'I was completely blown away to discover the world of Luke Cassidy and Iron Annie. Luke has created a perfectly realised universe with gritty energy and vibrant language to rival Kevin Barry and Lisa McInerney. The greatest compliment I can give it is that I was reminded of how I felt when first discovering Roddy Doyle's Barrytown. Cassidy's Dundalk is both unique and universal and I can't wait to bring Iron Annie to readers everywhere.'

Set mostly in Dundalk, Iron Annie tells the story of Aoife, a bisexual woman whose obsession with Annie, 'a strong, magnetic and somewhat capricious character', threatens to undermine her stability.

According to the synopsis: 'A central figure in a small-town underworld, Aoife's strength lies in her instinct, intelligence, and the people she keeps around her. When Aoife's friend and collaborator the Rat King asks her to help him dispose of ten kilos of cocaine, swiped from a rival, she decides to bring Annie on board for a road trip through Brexit Britain. But when Annie decides she doesn't want to return to Ireland, Aoife makes a decision that changes everything.'

Luke says that his protagonist Aoife, 'is inseparable from Dundalk in that way that many people are from the place they live in, it gives them meaning. Obviously, that's not my case living the way I have in the last decade, but it was a great way to explore this sense of relationship to place, and to come back to the town. I think Dundalk is tremendously particular, and that's what's universal about it; there are hundreds of thousands of small-to-medium sized towns in the world like Dundalk, with their own problems and things going on, their own ways of relating to place. But Dundalk is better craic in fairness. '

Since coming back to Ireland, Luke has been involved with a group of Dundalk-based artists for the past three years of so, which he describes as being 'massively important to the work I'm doing now.'

'The theatre stuff I thought up with Mark Sheridan, the director of Arcadian Field festival out in Cooley, and involved the participation of local musicians and actors; Annie June Callaghan, the guys from TPM/The Mary Wallopers, The Dandelion Few, Nix Moon (well, Spud and Fahey), Paul Holdstock, Adam Bargroff and Gary Clarke.'

'The town has an absolutely class arts scene, which is most visible in its music scene, which most of the above mentioned artists are part of. There's a great DIY attitude to the area, Arcadian Field being a perfect example of that. It's a breath of fresh air compared to what you'll find elsewhere.'

While he wrote Iron Annie in the six months from April and October 2018. he found the task of t getting agents, never mind book deals, that to be something else. 'It's a caution to rattlesnakes, let me tell you,' he says, adding that he landed on his feet in connecting with Brian Langan at Storyline Literary Agency.

He is, understandably pleased with getting a deal for not just Iron Annie, but a second novel as well. 'Considering it could have never happened, it's class,' he says with a touch of understatement.

'What's great about it is having visibility as to what I'm doing and how I'm going to live in the next couple of years, which is something that a lot of artists struggle with, hopping from one gig to another. I guess everyone is appreciating books, movies, music etc. a lot at the moment, so that's something worth appreciating, too. Despite the bizarrely enduring charm of this image of the tragically starving artist in the garret somewhere, being broke isn't actually a source of creativity, it's very much the opposite.'

Such is the interest in Luke's debut novel that there's talk of translation deals and film rights already, so it's unlikely that he will be freezing in a garret in the near future.

Iron Annie will be published by Bloomsbury in September 2021 in Ireland, the UK and the commonwealth. Vintage will publish it in the USA and Canada in January 2022.


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