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Q&A with Maire Cooney

Winning the 2010 Carver Contest led Maire Cooney to expand her prizewinning story “The White Rabbit” into novel form. We recently asked her about the genesis of her Carve story as well as begged for a sampling of her new novel, which she has graciously provided for us below.

Carve: What inspired “The White Rabbit?”

Maire Cooney: The White Rabbit wasn’t inspired by any one thing—several ideas and thoughts running about in my mind during a ‘sleeper’ journey between London and Edinburgh gave me one section of the story. I was also reading Through the Looking Glass with one of my boys around that time. It grew from there. I like to write about people perplexed and baffled by the chaos of everyday life.

C: How did you react when you found out your story took top honors in the 2010 Carver contest?

MC: I was delighted to hear I’d won; really chuffed. I had an email letting me know—which I’ve kept. It’s encouraging having that sort of response and recognition.

C: Has the contest affected your writing in any way?

MC: The main effect of winning was to take the main character and write her into a family and situation. I liked the character and wanted to give her more time and troubles. The novel is Nobody Said Anything. It’s a family drama, told through the eyes of several inter-linked characters, during the 1984-5 UK Miner’s strike. I couldn’t have written it without the success of “The White Rabbit.” It was hard work but I’m proud of it. 

The novel was asked for by a few agents but it’s still up grabs! Extracts can be requested from me and I’d love to see it get a place in print.

C: What have you been up to since winning?

MC: I completed an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia in 2011. My novel was started there. Work and family keep me pretty busy, but I’m making time and space for writing. 

Below is an excerpt from Maire’s novel:

MICHAEL                  

It was something to do with stillness. That was what I was looking for. Something inside me is wrong; nothing hurt but a friction, an abrasion, something of that sort, inside my chest. And so here I am, ten to five in the morning, eating a bread and butter sandwich, drinking a mug of sweet tea. I didn’t make toast, the smell of toast would wake them, perhaps, so I dressed quietly, came down and buttered bread, made tea.

I butter another two slices and then I get up, look in the cupboard and find some jam. That makes me smile; a piece and jam. I eat happily for a moment and then I get up and walk through, push the living room door carefully.

The TV is on; white and grey dots spinning silently, and Jan is on the sofa, lying on her side, her head on one arm. She looks uncomfortable lying that way but I know she will be sleeping too heavily to register any discomfort, or to change position. I do not know how to help her. She won’t talk about this, about any of it. I pull the door over and stand there, my forehead on the door, my eyes closed, the friction burning, grinding my ribcage, and then open the door again, go quickly across and bend and kiss her. She frowns, shakes her head slightly. The smell of vodka is not a surprise but it’s shocking just the same. I smooth her hair down, put a hand on her cheek and leave it there, just for a minute.

There’s a draught blowing on the landing and I remember now leaving the loft door open to remind me to put the box up. I had time when Janice was out yesterday, plenty of time and I had forgotten to do it. Forgotten because I did not want to do it and because it is necessary and final. I do not want to think about it.

There’s a square of dark where the loft door should be. Ewan will have been frightened of the loft being open, of ghosts and monsters up there. He will have run from the bedroom to the bathroom with his hands on top of his head. I should close it over. I should do what I failed to do yesterday, and then shut the loft door over.

The box is behind the door in the boy’s room. I lift it up and glance round. It is freezing in here, the coldest room in the house but colder than it should be. The curtain is blowing, the bottom of it sucking in and out. I go over and pull the window down, my fingertips burning with the black cold. I can’t imagine why they’ve left it open.

Ewan is at the bottom of his bed, the blankets half off, curled tight under the sheet, his hands up under his chin, legs tucked into his belly. I pull the blankets back onto the bed and tuck them round him. He is holding something in his fist; a hanky, with dark spots on it and I remember his tooth, another one loose, and I smile. He has been trying to pull it out.  

About the Author: Maire Cooney lives in Glasgow with her partner and two children. She works as a consultant psychiatrist in the NHS. Her short stories have been published with Asham, Leaf, Chroma, Carve, and ApisBooks. Her first novel Nobody Said Anything was completed this year. Extracts are available on request.

The 14th annual Raymond Carver Contest is now open until May 15th.