A new book by a Fingal author shines a fascinating light on the lives of ordinary people living in pre-pandemic Dublin.
A City Symphony’, Maeve A Devoy’s second book, tells the real-time stories of 13 people – intertwined with the author’s own insights – over a one-week period in 2016. The urban setting for her new book is a world away from the author’s rural North County Dublin background.
In her own words, Maeve grew up “in the middle of nowhere” between Lusk and Ballyboughal, but the isolated setting managed to fuel her creativity and drive her imagination. She caught the writing bug very early in life, penning poems at the age of eight. By the time she was a teenager, writing became her passion – although she never dreamed she would have a book published until much later.
“I always thought that I’d be in my 60s before I became a published author,” she admitted.
A combination of hard work and serendipity saw her dream become a reality a lot sooner than she thought. In 2013, Maeve’s first book, ‘The Tell Tale Collection’, was released just before her 24th birthday.
At the time she was a journalism student at Dublin City University and wanted to prove with her thesis that ordinary people had a story to tell. While doing her work experience at the Fingal Independent, a chance encounter with veteran newspaper man PJ Cunningham set Maeve on the right road.
PJ encouraged Maeve to tell her stories through a book rather than in newspaper articles. His sage advice and support certainly paid off and Maeve is forever grateful for his belief in her.
Maeve drove around Ireland interviewing 15 people from all walks of life about their experiences, fears, friends, families and surroundings. The short stories resulted in the publication of ‘The Tall Tale Collection’, which was launched during the world-famous Listowel Writers’ Week in Kerry.
Renowned writer Billy Keane was full of praise for Maeve’s book, telling those attending the launch “it would send you to sleep with satisfaction”.
Maeve’s latest book, which will be launched this week, is similar to her debut in that it tells the stories of real people, although this time in an exclusively Dublin setting. The project has been four years in the making, not least because the busy writer had also embarked on a Master’s in Literary Journalism at DCU.
For ‘A City Symphony’, Maeve interviewed 13 people living in Dublin in 2016. Her intention was to portray the diversity and reality of life in the capital, while also narrating her own creative journey as she tries to find her place in the city.
At the time, Maeve was living in the Ballybough area of the north inner city. One night, after attending a bonfire along the canal, she was struck by the realisation that, for the first time in her life, she had been welcomed as part of a community.
As the flames of the fire faded and she turned to leave, she tripped over a child who was riding a tricycle.
“I damaged the tricycle a little bit because he crashed into me,” Maeve recalled. “But I ended up bumping into this boy for a very long time after that, so he’s in the book – he kind of pokes his head in and out of the stories.”
Maeve said she originally intended interviewing 23 people for her new book.
“It would have been massive,” she said. “It felt like I was taking on a new ‘Strumpet City’, so I decided to whittle it down to 13 interviews. I spent a lot of time meeting with people and just talking to them.
“It was lovely travelling all over the country interviewing all the people for the first book. This time, I hoped to write something that was maybe a bit more connected. I wanted to paint a picture of the diversity we have in such small spaces. If you travel from one part of Dublin to the next, there are different accents – and it’s the same all over the country.”
Maeve, who was working in a hotel in Dublin at the time, said a recurring theme in the book is about money and how we make it, value it and spend it. There is a wide range of characters interviewed – a homeless couple begging on the streets, a bookmaker, a Moore Street trader, a mother, a scientist.
“I knew the couple from when I was involved in a book club for the homeless,” she explained. “I was already close to them and understood their experiences.
“The story of the bookmaker is all about the idea of relying on chance to support your livelihood.
“As I was working in Dublin at the time, there are bits in the book about my own experiences of trying to make a living in the city. The one thing I found was that everyone was struggling and finding it really tough to pay rent – even the Moore Street vendors were trying to hold onto their stalls.
“The book is more about painting a picture about what’s really going on. A lot of the time people were going through things and feeling they were alone. However, people they might never have talked to before were actually going through the same thing.
“I hope that readers will find inspiration in the stories and end up loving Dublin.”
Even though 2016 is not so long ago, Maeve acknowledges that the Dublin depicted in her book is barely recognisable today due to Covid-19 and new developments. She described the book as a “snapshot of time and place”. The first line of her book states: “What you are about to read no longer exists”.
“Even the landscape of the city has changed since 2016,” Maeve stated. “You walk around and there are construction sites and protests over the Cobblestone pub and Merchant’s Arch. It may not be that long ago, but it’s a different world.”
Maeve has changed the names of those interviewed to protect their identities.
“I didn’t shy away from sensitive subjects,” she said. “I wanted the truth of the lives that people are living – sometimes these things aren’t spoken about.
“There are moments of real love, beauty and unity in the book. It’s not a sad book but there are tough bits in it. It’s hard to be honest sometimes, so I feel the people who spoke to me were really brave.”
Despite telling true stories, the book reads like fiction, according to Maeve.
“I spent a lot of time arguing in my Master’s that there’s huge importance in adding meaning behind the facts,” she said. “It’s about what drives people’s motives and trying to find meaning and beauty in everyday life.”
Maeve also runs the Mad4Tales creative writing school in Fingal, with workshops taking place in schools and libraries.
“People forget that our imagination is one of our best tools,” she added “We’re just looking at screens and expecting to have all this information given to us. A big message I want to get across to people is to believe in yourself.”
‘A City Symphony’ (Mad Times Publishing), by Maeve A Devoy, is out this week. To order a copy, visit www.mad4tales.com