TagTom Connolly

Guest post: Tom Connolly on New York and Men Like Air

tom-connollyToday, I’m pleased to welcome writer Tom Connolly to the blog, on the first day of the blog tour for his new novel, Men Like Air. I enjoyed his debut, The Spider Truces, back in 2010; but Men Like Air is quite the change of scene – from 1980s rural Kent in the last book, Connolly now takes us to present-day New York City.

Men Like Air concerns two brothers: Jack, who left England for New York after their parents died; and his younger brother Finn, who has now travelled over to even things out. During his stay, Finn crosses paths with Leo Emerson, a gallery owner troubled by loneliness, particularly when he sees his brother-in-law William so happily married. The four men’s lives intersect and change as the novel unfolds.

When reading the novel, I was particularly struck by its sense of place; so I asked  Tom to tell me about his inspiration for setting Men Like Air in New York. The piece below is illustrated by some of Tom Connolly’s own photos of the city.

***

I had a strong sense I was going to do something different to my first book, The Spider Truces. Simply put, that book was set in the past, in a rural landscape, and across many years. I had an idea for an ensemble piece set in the modern day, in a city, spanning just a few weeks. And because New York City was the place I know better than anywhere beyond home, and was the city that first made me feel that anything was possible, there was something there for me. I got interested in the idea of a young buck (Finn) from a bruising small town background in England discovering the magic of New York City and being drawn in to the life of an older New Yorker (Leo) for whom the magic has been lost. Leo’s story took shape after I witnessed an extraordinary late snow storm in Manhattan, one April, when snow and cherry blossom flurried together for a few magical minutes. All the characters in the book feed off their surroundings and the wider gifts and challenges that New York City offers to those who live in it, as did I when writing the book. They are drained and replenished by the place, as I have been.

099_riveredge

 

The challenge was writing about a city people either know well or think they know, from TV, the movies, songs and books. A few drafts in I found the solution lay in not writing about New York at all, but in making it incidental and then allowing it to become important and vivid solely in story terms, as the place where this series of interconnected characters live, love, work and play. After a poor first draft (my first drafts are rubbish) in which my writing amounted to nothing better than street directions across the five boroughs, it began to work itself in to the grain of the city as experienced by the characters. The book’s relationship to New York became more about the play of light, the sounds, about a sense of straying beyond the city’s edges where the neon does not reach and where the city that never sleeps does exactly that. William Maxwell wrote that “New York City is a place where one can weep on the sidewalk in perfect privacy.” For my characters, this is both the making of them and their undoing.

011_light

I loved the anonymity on offer in New York City that Maxwell referred to. For a writer, almost as much as for a photographer, to roam freely and observe and not be noticed, is a creative nirvana. There are so many people writing books, shooting films, taking photographs, painting pictures, that no one notices you, no one cares. I found this liberating and funny. And it was like an unspoken challenge – if you are going to write something set in this city, you better find something new to say.

My nineteen-year-old character, Finn, shares with thousands the experience of landing in New York City and feeling that anything is going to be possible in your life. Something about the place plants that idea in your head as a young adult stepping out of the Port Authority, which I did in 1992. This evening, New York City was the lyrics of a song written especially for him. They had deeper meaning for him than for anyone else; he was in communion with them as no other person could be. This is not unique to NYC but a lot of people like me go there as soon as they can get away or afford to. If, subsequently, chance leads you to spend a lot of time there, then your relationship with the place changes, and this is something reflected in the lives of all the characters in Men Like Air; they are all at different stages of a love affair with the place. But what matters to me is that they are all transformed by New York City, for better or worse, in the lifetime of the book.

***

men-like-air-blog-tour-flyerMy thanks to Tom for sharing his inspiration, and to his publisher Myriad Editions for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.  Men Like Air will be published on 22 September; you can read the first chapter and preorder the book from Myriad here,  while the blog tour continues all this week at the following destinations:

Tuesday 20 Sept: The Owl on the Bookshelf

Weds 21 Sept: Food for Bookworms

Thurs 22 Sept: Bookish Ramblings

Fri 23 Sept: TripFiction

 

The month in reading: April 2010

April was the month of the Clarke Award, and completing the shortlist led me to read my favourite book of the month — Far North, Marcel Theroux‘s tale of survival in the aftermath of environmental change. I also read two great coming-of=age novels in April: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, set in 1960s Australia; and The Spider Truces by Tom Connolly, set in 1980s Kent. And, in terms of short stories, Sarah Singleton‘s tale ‘Death by Water’ from Black Static 15 was my pick of the month.

Tom Connolly, The Spider Truces (2010)

The Spider Truces is one of those wonderful novels that captures within its pages something of the essence of live as lived. It’s the story of Ellis O’Rourke, who grows up in rural Kent in the 1980s, living with his older sister Chrissie, father Denny, and great-aunt Mafi. Ellis doesn’t remember his late mother, but Denny doesn’t want to talk about her. Connolly follows Ellis through his teens and beyond, with a keen eye for the rhythms of family life and growing up.

For one thing, Connolly’s characterisation is superb. Here, for instance, is Chrissie feeling the urge to rebel after her mother’s death:

…a defiance in a girl with no previous inclination to defy, an instinct to push blindly towards whatever the new boundaries might be. The tools with which she pushed were not unique to her. Cigarettes and attitude. Harmless boys and dangerous girlfriends. Things that did not truly interest her but appeared to be what she ought to show interest in, because the previous things were those of a girl’s life, and she couldn’t pretend to herself that she was a girl any more. (22)

And here, in a couple of short sentences, is an insightful observation of the young Ellis when a local farmer suggests to Denny that the boy visit: ‘Nevertheless, [Ellis] wanted to go to the farm. He wanted it so much he was willing to say so.’ (78)

The Spider Truces rings true on a structural level, too; the movement from scene to scene sometimes feels oblique or elliptical, so that, although the telling is mostly linear, it can seem not to be – which, I think, is how life often feels. There’s a particularly striking moment when Ellis decides to leave home; his decision isn’t much foreshadowed – it just happens. And yet, this doesn’t feel awkward, but natural, because it grows out of what has already occurred; and there’s a sense that, in the circumstances, even such a life-changing decision might be made rather abruptly.

Tom Connolly’s first novel is simply a great portrait of life. An interview with the author at the back of the book reveals that he is working on two more novels; I very much look forward to reading them.

Link
Myriad Editions

© 2019 David's Book World

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: