A generation ago, after completing a postgraduate thesis on Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, I sat down in Rabat at a little portable typewriter and wrote half dozen short stories, without thought or planning. I had the cheek to send them to David Marcus who published two, one of which won a Hennessy Award. If I’d lived in Ireland then I might have met people who could advise, and – who knows? – even begun a writing career. But at the back of my mind was the (idiotic?) idea that writing wasn’t something you could learn. I set off on a voyage of discovery, to Morocco.
When my husband (originally from Béziers) and I returned to the Languedoc after years in Morocco, Durrell invited me to work on the compilation of his final book, Caesar’s Vast Ghost (Fabers). Although he professed no interest in short stories of any stripe, Durrell read some of my micro-fiction and told me I should be writing poetry. He may have been right, but of course I didn’t follow his advice. Moving to Paris, I taught in various universities (in conditions worthy of a novel I may never write).
Finally we fled to the peaceful heart of Normandy, the sort of place De Gaulle referred to as ‘la France profonde’. I rose at 5 a.m. to be in front of students and compos mentis by 8. It was highly enjoyable, buoyed up by students’ energy and enthusiasm (after they’d established from the outset that Caen was bombed by the Allies without being evacuated…). After some time I became (what I considered) reasonably good at teaching. Teaching in France really only leaves the month of August free, by which time one needs serious rest (I know conscientious French teachers who call university teaching here ‘le bagne’ – penal servitude.)
Nevertheless, the writing wouldn’t leave me alone and continued haphazardly: I managed to send off the occasional short story and little by little built up a list: anthologies include Faber Book of Best New Irish Short Stories, Best Paris stories, Phoenix Irish Short Stories, Quiet Quarter: Ten years of great Irish writing. Publications in Europe, North America and Australia led to awards such as Kore Press and Fiction International.
When my husband died of an awful orphan disease I moved south again. After years of ‘getting organized’ (I know now that one is never organized – and the Greeks say you should never finish your house because then you die, which we kind of proved as well) I have been able to put a few collections together. Plugging the Causal Breach is a selection from my years in France. (A note on the book’s title may form a separate essay!)
I grew up in Co. Louth, Ireland, graduated in English and Philosophy from University College Dublin. I have been a scientific and academic editor, French-English translator and English teacher in Ireland, England, Germany, Morocco and France. I now live in Montpellier, and love philosophy, art, and anything baroque.
Regal House Publishing is delighted to bring you Mary Byrne’s short story collection, Plugging the Causal Breach, in 2019.
Twitter handle @BrigitteLOignon