'When All Is Said' Is a Debut Novel Worth Toasting

Posted by Cybil on February 28, 2019
In the debut novel When All Is Said, an elderly farmer spends an evening in a pub where he says a toast to the five most important people in his life. Irish author Anne Griffin told Goodreads how her novel was inspired by a chance run-in with a man during a family vacation and the brief chat that left her "gobsmacked."

Griffin also talked about becoming a writer "relatively late," her no-nonsense approach to stories, and which people she'd drink a toast to.

Goodreads: Summarize your book for us.

Anne Griffin: When All Is Said is the story of Maurice Hannigan. Maurice is an 84-year-old, very successful, wealthy Irish farmer. We meet him on a Saturday night as he sits at the bar of the Rainsford Hotel on the Meath-Dublin border.

He is there to raise five toasts to the five most important people in his life. Over five hours we meet Tony, his adored brother; his daughter Molly, who he only got to hold for 15 minutes; his sister-in-law Noreen, who unwittingly unlocks the mystery of an Edward VIII coin that weaves its way through the book; his son Kevin, a successful journalist who lives in New Jersey; and his beloved wife Sadie, who died two years ago to the day. Through these five toasts Maurice reveals his life to the reader with all its flaws, its regrets, and its secrets.

GR: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

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AG: I came to writing relatively late. I was 44 when I started to write in 2013. I had worked in bookselling in my 20s, but even back then, hanging out with emerging writers such as John Boyne, the idea of being a writer never crossed my mind. It was years later, after I left bookselling and was working in the charity sector, that it finally dawned on me. I’d hit a point where I was getting itchy feet, and I was looking for something different in my life.

At the time I had moved temporarily to a beautiful island in Ireland called Cape Clear, and it was there I started. It was the perfect place, looking out over the Atlantic. I spent four glorious months there before eventually returning home to the Irish midlands to discover, to my relief, that I loved writing no matter where I was. Within a year I had a short story shortlisted for the Irish Hennessy Awards, a fairly eminent prize over here. At around the same time, I came up with the idea for When All Is Said.

GR: What sparked the idea for When All Is Said?

AG: The idea came from a chance meeting on a cycling holiday on the Mayo Greenway in 2014. My family and I had happened into the bar of a hotel in one of the small towns along the route, and there stood a man on his own with a pint in his hand. He came over to chat with us as we settled ourselves in. We talked about the usual stuff, where we were from and the weather. He told me two things. The first was that he had worked in the hotel back when he was a boy. The second was that he wouldn’t see the morning. He left me then to go speak with another couple that had entered the bar. I was gobsmacked.

The following day, I finished my cycle to Achill Island in the pouring rain with those extraordinary words in my head. As the wind attempted to knock me sideways, the writer in me had created Maurice Hannigan sitting alone at a bar. His story continued to emerge steadily over the next three rain-soaked days on the Mayo coast, until I could hear his deep, sonorous voice in my head.

GR: Did you find yourself influenced by any particular books or authors as you worked on your debut?

AG: The authors I love, and who sit on my shoulder as I write, are, among others, Richard Russo, Mary Lawson, Donal Ryan, Carol Shields, and John Boyne. Through their work they’ve taught me how to write character-driven stories that delve deep into what it is to be human, with all its flaws and weaknesses and its amazing capacity to love and care for others. I wanted to write a cantankerous man who is not altogether nice and is a fairly horrendous communicator, and yet is someone who manages to win the reader’s heart. I think Richard Russo is a master at this. Donald Sullivan, his main character in Nobody’s Fool and Everybody’s Fool, remains my favorite character of all time for that very reason.

GR: What was your writing process for When All Is Said?

AG: I’m a "get it down now, get it right later" type of writer. So I wrote the first draft of the book over a year. Having the basic structure of the five toasts from early on was really helpful. I saw each as a mini story that I then had to link together. I was lucky that I was able to bring that first draft with me when I started my MA in creative writing at University College Dublin in 2015. I workshopped each of the five parts of the book, getting great feedback from the fellow students and the tutors, one of whom was Anne Enright. This meant I walked out a year later with a very tight book in my hand, ready to offer the publishing world.

GR: Have you thought about which five people you would toast to at the end of your life? And do you think your book will have readers asking the same question of themselves?

AG: Someone has told me that it’s becoming a bit of a game, this choosing five people to toast. I like that a lot and encourage people to think about it. The people I would choose would be my big sister Brigid for teaching me any career is possible if you work hard and have faith in yourself; my husband, James, who is the steady ship in this exciting journey that I’m on; my parents, Bridie and Jimmy, who in their old age are living the kind of independent life I want when I’m 89; my good friend John Boyne, who is inspirational in his commitment to the craft of writing and so generous with his time for emerging writers; and Ms. Condron, my fourth-class teacher who taught me being creative is as important as being academic.

GR: What are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to your friends?

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AG: I’ve just finished Jonathan Coe’s Middle England, a great satire on the political state of the U.K. Coe is his usual sharp, witty self. A must-read if you want to get your head around how Brexit came about. I’ve also finally gotten around to Donal Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea. This man writes with such depth in every sentence. There are three main characters: a refugee from Syria, a young man in Limerick trying to deal with his anger, and an older man who has led a very sad, bitter life. The three stories intertwine right at the very end. It’s gripping and devastating and lyrical all at the same time.

My next read is Kit de Waal’s The Trick to Time. I’m so looking forward to this, as I thoroughly enjoyed her debut novel, My Name Is Leon. De Waal has become a champion of the working-class writer voice and someone who, like me, came to writing late in life. I am in constant awe of her wisdom.

GR: What’s next for you? Any preview you can give readers?

AG: I’m working on a second novel. Also set in Ireland, also dealing with family life and what we do to protect those we love. This time it is a female voice, so quite different but hopefully as endearing and engaging as Maurice Hannigan.

Anne Griffin's novel When All Is Said will be available in the U.S. on March 5. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Marilyn (new)

Marilyn Collins Anne Griffin,
I am interested in any book that has Ireland as a setting. Your book sounds terrific and my kind of book. Looking forward to your next one.

message 2: by Lynn (new)

Lynn Holland What happened to the man you met in the bar. Did you go back and find out or was he a nut case (putting it politely)

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