Anne Griffin’s debut novel, When All is Said, is a quiet meditation on life, love and loss seen through the prism of one man’s life. Maurice Hannigan, 84 years old, a difficult man to know, prickly perhaps, is ready to tell his story. As he sits in his usual spot at the hotel bar he often frequents, he prepares to make five toasts to the five people that have meant the most to him in his life. As he ruminates and reminisces, we come to understand the experiences that have shaped him and made him the man he is. When All is Said is a thoughtful, poignant story, told with a depth of feeling that makes Maurice live and breathe. Here, Griffin talks to us about her journey to becoming a published author as she turns fifty.
Fiction at Fifty
In 2018, the Royal Society of Literature introduced the Christopher Bland prize for writers publishing their first book at over 50 years of age. This January I qualify. I've just turned fifty and now my debut novel When All Is Said is hitting the shelves.
I haven’t always wanted to write. I didn’t spend the last thirty years hoping someone would finally pick up my magnum opus and unveil my brilliance to the world. Instead my path has led me to careers I’ve on the whole enjoyed. Admittedly there was always a gap mooching around inside me. Like some part had fallen off early on and the intention of my journey was to find it.
My beginnings were literary, in a way. After I left college I worked for Waterstones for eight years in Dublin and London. It was the best of times. Hanging out with writers who wrote before and after work. I was forever amazed at their dedication. Even when things weren’t going well, when the rejections rolled in and they finally gave up on one novel, they kept the faith, and started another. It never occurred to me to take up the pen too. Writing as a career would have seemed as mad to me back then as if I’d decided to become an astronaut. It was something entirely different that drew me away.
For two years prior to leaving I had volunteered on the Dublin Rape Crisis helpline at night. I admired the strength of those who had lifted the phone to share what they had suffered at the hands of others. They inspired me to see what else was out there.
I went back to college to study community work. I was one of the oldest in the class but I kind of liked that. I firmly believe having a life’s history adds value and wisdom to whatever you do. Over the next twenty years I worked with Asylum seekers and Travellers and other marginalised groups by virtue of education and poverty. In the end, after stint number three in college, I moved in to financial management in the charity sector becoming the finance coordinator in many national charities such as Youth Work Ireland and the Dyslexia Association of Ireland. But by forty-four, I was getting itchy feet again.
It was a friend who told me to “go write”. Two simple words that stuck in my brain long after our phone call had ended. Go write. At the time my husband and I were temporarily relocating to one of Ireland’s most beautiful Islands, Cape Clear in Cork – if you’ve never been put it on your bucket list. Looking out on the Atlantic seemed like the perfect place to give his writing suggestion a go. It was a Monday morning when I tapped out those first words on my laptop, and I felt it instantly – the smoothness of a sliding door closing over on the gap that had travelled with me for years.
That beginning lead to my first short story being shortlisted for the Hennessy Awards, and a year after, an acceptance onto UCD’s MA in creative writing. I walked through those doors with a draft of a novel, inspired by a chance happening in a Mayo pub, under my arm. I spent the next year work shopping and editing the story of 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan it until it was ready to offer to the world. Nine months and thirty-seven rejections later, I signed with a London agent who within weeks sold my book to Sceptre, and soon after to Thomas Dunne Books in the States. Seven foreign rights followed and now When All Is Said is about to be shared with the world.
I’m amongst good company with this getting published at fifty. Wendy Erskine, Kit de Waal, Mary Lawson, E. Annie Proulx to name only a few talented, admirable women. All can testify that life gifts us many years in which we can shift and change and reinvent ourselves. And each year we wrack up adds value. All of the learning about who we are as human beings, how we operate, what matters and what can be ignored, gives a richness to everything we do and everything we are still yet to be.
What I create on the page, what I feel when I write every day affirms that my journey has been worth it. So here’s the thing, no matter what your age, it is important to look change in the eye and think – maybe I just can.
Anne Griffin is the winner of the John McGahern Award for Literature. Shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and The Sunday Business Post Short Story Competition, Anne's work has been featured in, amongst others, The Irish Times and The Stinging Fly. She's worked in Waterstones branches in both Dublin and London, and for various charities. Born in Dublin, Anne now lives in Mullingar, Ireland, with her husband and son. When All is Said is her debut novel.