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Umuzi

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Máire Fisher’s Birdseye Launched with Tracey Farren at The Book Lounge

Máire Fisher

A large crowd of eager readers filled The Book Lounge last week for the launch of Máire Fisher‘s debut novel, Birdseye. Mervyn Sloman welcomed the exuberant crowd and reflected on the remarkable array of new South African writers who were producing excellent fiction and non-fiction. About Birdseye, he said, “I’m enjoying this as much as anything I’ve read in the last few years.”

Máire Fisher and Tracey FarrenBirdseyeFisher was joined by Tracey Farren, author of Whiplash, in a fascinating conversation about her journey from English teacher, to editor and creative writing teacher. Fisher has assisted many other folks’ books into the world, so it was “slightly unreal” to have her own book in the limelight. They chatted about the writing process and the characters who tell the tale of Birdseye.

The author recalled “the horrible sensation that something was going to go wrong” while writing the book that made her stop writing. Local writing teacher and author Anne Schuster, whose residential writing retreats at The Grail in Kleinmond, offered a safe haven in which Birdseye could find its form. Somehow Fisher found the strength to finish this challenging story, told by a girl who survives not knowing what happened to her beloved twin brothers. “When somebody dies, you know what happened. When her brothers disappear, there never can be closure.”

Farren mentioned parallels between the author’s life and that of the narrator, Bird. Fisher’s mother was a librarian and the young Máire grew up surrounded by books. “My parents gave me a free reign as a reader. Occasionally, my father would say, ‘I tried that. I don’t think it’s worth the time.’ It was a gentle form of censorship, and I went with what he said. I grew up surrounded by books. If they weren’t in the library, they came home. That’s Bird’s life too. She does a lot of writing and reading. That element of her character is part of my life.”

She recalled herself as a feisty girl standing up to a nun who caught her reading a photographic picture story. “When she said, ‘What would your mother say?’ I said, ‘My mother would say as long as you’re reading something …’ She wouldn’t care.” Exploring the mean-spirited Ma Bess, Fisher recalled a distant family member. “We grew up on stories of her, which came from Ireland in aerogramme letters. My parents stopped at the post office daily for letters,” she said.

Fisher looks at the culpability of the psychopath in Birdseye and the sphere of their evil influence: “Ma Bess has control over those in her immediate vicinity. She dominates her family. To be fair to her, I had to find out what made her the way she was. I could never excuse Ma Bess, but I could go some way to understanding her.” She read an extract from the book, where trauma and comedy sit in perfect balance. The girl recalls the ordeal of being manipulated into giving the terrifying older woman a pedicure and more than a couple of guests in the audience were seen to shudder at the description of Ma Bess’s desiccated feet and horny nails, and the revulsion at the thought of her having to attend to them was as chilling as it was funny.

Summing up, Farren praised Fisher’s handling of the narrative, saying Bird was planted in her heart. “She’s a talkative, tenacious little thing. It’s impossible to unperch her.” She remembered the special friends who had gone to spirit. “They are very proud of you. Their pride is reflected in all the people here tonight.”

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Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks


 

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