Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Q&A with Helen Cullen

Helen Cullen is the author of the new novel The Dazzling Truth. She also has written the novel The Lost Letters of William Woolf. Originally from Ireland, she lives in London. 

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Dazzling Truth, and for the Moone family?

A: This novel was inspired in part by the Japanese art of kintsugi – the practise of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, silver, or platinum so that the breakage and repair remain visible to show the history of an object; rather than something to disguise; the pots become even more beautiful than before they were broken. 

The character of Murtagh Moone came alive to me first and as I wrote the opening sequence, the rest of the family just emerged as if they had been waiting patiently for me to discover them. 

Q: The book's title comes from a line from Emily Dickinson, "The truth must dazzle gradually." What appealed to you about that quote, and how was the title chosen?

A: The theme of personal truth is a very important one in the novel - and in particular, how personal truths may not always align with what can be considered universally accepted truths. 

Sometimes it is only with acceptance of that that we can find peace. And sometimes that truth or awareness needs to creep up on us slowly as it would be too blinding if confronted too quickly or head on. 

My working title as I was writing the book had been Kintsugi, as mentioned above, but I wanted the title to reference the truth that is at the heart of the novel and so had spent some time thinking of it when one day the Emily Dickinson line just came back to me as I was sitting on the London tube. 

In the UK and Irish edition, the title is the full quote, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually, but in America we opted for The Dazzling Truth. 

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Murtagh and Maeve?

A: There is a line from the novel that I feel encapsulates something of their relationship: "When we met we were such untethered spirits floating through the world, as if one of us might drift away if we didn't hold hands tightly. We were imperfect people, who fitted perfectly together." 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?

A: I just hope that at the end of the novel readers will have found something in the story of the Moones that speaks to them. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on what will hopefully be my third novel and preparing a commence a Ph.D. in October at the University of East Anglia. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Perhaps just that although the island of the novel, Inis Óg is a fictional island, it is inspired by the incredible Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland near Galway. If anyone makes it to that part of the world I can’t recommend enough taking a boat across to experience their wonder.  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Helen Cullen.

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