McGuinness, renowned playwright and poet and, as Professor of Creative Writing and writer-in-residence at UCD, an influence on many young Irish writers, will see his debut novel Arimathea hit the shelves from September 2nd.
The story is set in McGuinness’s native Donegal in 1950. The protagonist is Gianni, a young Italian religious painter – or, at least, painter of religious items, most notably the Stations of the Cross at a local church.
The arrival of an outsider is about as routine as you might get when it comes to creative writing, but it will be interesting to see the McGuinness take on it. Given his convincing touch in poetry and especially theatre, it should be lyrical and powerful, possibly with the odd injection of dark humour too.
It’s certainly one of the most eagerly awaited Irish novels of the year, as evidenced by the blurb quote from Sebastian Barry:
The great spirit of Frank McGuinness radiates in this magnificent novel. Myriad voices converge on one glistening core; it is a high-wire act earthed in the deepest humanity.
Arimathea, incidentally, was a biblical-fictional city, and the hometown of Joseph, who donated his tomb to house the body of the fallen Christ.
The second interesting strand in the story concerns the publisher. Brandon Books had originally been established by Steve MacDonagh in Dingle, Co Kerry in 1982 but had ceased to trade following MacDonagh’s death three years ago at the age of 61.
Brandon had published writers as diverse as Ken Bruen, Neil Jordan and Gerry Adams in both fiction and non-fiction, but having been brought back to life as an O’Brien Press imprint it will now be focused exclusively on literary fiction.
In the four decades of O’Brien Press, said publisher Michael O’Brien,
we have published in about 20 different genres, but not adult literary fiction. Brandon Fiction will fulfil our ambition to see Irish creative writing secure a world audience from Dublin … there is so much literary talent, and we are the leading independent publisher.
People are negative about the future of literary publishing and the future of the book and are reducing their lists. But we believe that we can achieve world reach with our list. Brandon Fiction will include acclaimed names and new talent in literary, contemporary, historical and crime fiction and will continue to honour Steve MacDonogh.
While Arimathea is its first book, next month will be a busy time for everyone at Brandon Books with two more to follow within ten days: Mary Morrissy’s The Rising of Bella Casey (September 12th) is a fictionalised tale following the real-life sister of playwright Sean O’Casey; and Hunting Shadows (also September 12th) by Sheila Bugler, a crime fiction novel set in south-east London.