Recently, I reviewed Mr. McKeon’s haunting debut novel, All That Is Solid Melts into Air. Mr. McKeon graciously agreed to be interviewed via email.
What first drew you to the Chernobyl disaster and its aftermath as a subject for the novel?
DM: I’m from Ireland and it’s quite a present issue there due to the work of an Irish charity ‘Chernobyl Children International’. Since the early 1990s, they’ve brought about 20,000 children from the area to Ireland for recuperation. Some of these children came to my hometown when I was a teenager and they were amongst the first foreigners I’d ever met.
As readers may know, you’re a successful theatre director. How did working in theatre influence the composition of All That Is Solid Melts into Air?
DM: I’m sure it’s influenced me in many ways I’m not even aware of, but primarily as a director you learn to observe. I’ve spent countless hours watching actors in a rehearsal room and gradually I probably honed my awareness of all of the elements that impact upon the work – rhythm, pacing, personality, anxiety, lighting etc etc. Every scene in theatre must carry a certain dynamic. When it’s absent, the scene has no life. Identifying the central dynamic of a situation is a useful ability to carry into novel writing.
Your four main characters are a doctor, a child piano prodigy, a dissident-turned-steelworker, and a teenage boy living in a Belarusian village. With such disparate occupations and perspectives to consider, how did you go about conducting research for the novel?
DM: By reading. A lot. I didn’t research with any particular direction or strategy, just ingested anything I could find. I did eventually travel to Moscow for specific research, but by that stage the novel was near completion.
Which writers do you read while writing? Do your reading choices change depending on the writing project at hand?
DM: On a basic level, writing a novel is a process of accumulating sentences. So I try to read and re-read great sentence writers: DeLillo, Ondaatje, Andrei Makine for a start, as well as plenty of poetry.
In the essay included with All That Is Solid Melts into Air, “The Empty City,” you make it clear that the devastating effects of Chernobyl are ongoing. How can readers help?
DM: The problems associated with nuclear energy are so vast and complicated that it’s difficult to suggest a starting point. I would encourage people to donate to Chernobyl Children International. I’ve seen their work first hand and they really are a lifeline to people in the region.
What kinds of writing projects will you be working on next?
DM: Right now I’m doing a lot of reading, I’ll hopefully be starting on another novel in the near future.
My thanks again to Mr. McKeon for his time and thoughtful answers. You can read more about All That Is Solid Melts into Air and Darragh McKeon’s work at www.darraghmckeon.com.