Literature lovers from all walks of life will converge on Derry’s Central Library this Thursday, July 26, for the launch of Freya McClements’ debut collection of short stories, ‘The Dangerous Edge of Things’, published by Guildhall Press. Julieann Campbell caught up with former ‘Journal’ reporter Freya, now a broadcast journalist for BBC Radio Foyle, to discuss the stunning new collection...
Having immersed herself in creative pursuits from a early age, Freya McClements has always had aspirations of becoming a fully-fledged writer.
But when she was awarded a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2009, the 31-year-old broadcast journalist knew the time had come for her to take her hobby seriously and commit her myriad ideas to paper.
Originally from Castlerock but now living in Culmore, Freya threw herself into the project. “The Arts Council grant was for me to write a collection of short stories, so I produced six short stories for them, and from there it became this book,” she says.
“Luckily enough, Guildhall Press were expressing an interest in publishing short stories at the time and through Felicity McCall, they approached me.”
The collection is called ‘The Dangerous Edge of Things’, and Freya elaborates on the origins of such a compelling title.
“The title of the book is originally from Robert Browning, but I took it also from Graham Greene as I’m a big fan of his stories. He was once asked what his novels were about, and Greene said: “Our interests on the dangerous edge of things. The honest thief, the tender murderer, the superstitious atheist.” I always loved that quote and its juxtapositions - I always thought ‘The Dangerous Edge of Things’ would be a fantastic title for the book.”
Naturally enough, all of Freya’s stories did appear to conform to this notion.
“I found that the one thing that tied all these stories together was this dangerous edge running through them. They are characters that are on the boundaries of normal society. Their actions or something they’ve done has pushed them to that fine line of what’s socially and morally acceptable and what isn’t - like the mother who is having an affair, or a journalist sent to a murder scene who does something she shouldn’t have, leaving herself in an awkward position. Several of the stories in the book are about relationships that aren’t what they seem.”
Having cut her teeth in the ‘Derry Journal’ newsroom, and now as a busy broadcast journalist for BBC Radio Foyle, Freya admits that in a journalistic career, there are often difficulties in finding time or the inclination to write.
“It can be quite difficult to combine writing with being a journalist,” she admits. “The day job, in a way, does help as you get used to deadlines, and I suppose you get used to the practice of writing and trying to write every day. The other side of that is that you sometimes spend so long working on other stories, it can be quite difficult to come home and disengage from that and write in a different way and think more creatively. Like everything, if you want to do it enough, you’ll sit down and you’ll make the effort.”
With the book’s launch date fast approaching, Freya is excited to see her work in print. “Writing a book has always been an ambition of mine, and not everybody gets to fulfil their dream in life. So to be here, at this point, and to know that whatever happens after this, I’m a published author and there’s a book out there with my name on it, it’s a great feeling. It’s a book I’m proud of.”
With such a fertile imagination, it is no surprise that Freya adores books and the accumulation of knowledge. Indeed, she has the qualifications to prove it. From Dalriada School in Ballymoney, Freya then followed in the footsteps of Oscar Wilde by studying at Oxford’s prestigious Magdalen College - where she graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in History and an honorary Masters in the same subject.
From there, Freya went on to study for a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature at Trinity College Dublin, followed by another Masters in Journalism at Dublin City University. A First from Oxford and three Masters has undoubtedly set her in good stead as a writer.
How would she describe the book to potential readers? “This book is everything that the dangerous edge of things encompasses,” she says, “It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s got a bit of danger and I think it’s got a warm heart and people will enjoy reading it and getting to know its characters. All of the stories are about love in its many forms. Love is the connection with other people that makes us human beings.”
With Derry such a hotbed of creativity, Freya imparts some valuable advice to fellow writers in the city.
“It’s vitally important to make the most of the fantastic support network Derry has to offer in terms of writing and developing your skills. We have a vast network here in the city that can be invaluable for any aspiring writer, and it’s important to plug yourself into that.
“For me, Derry Scriptwriters Group has been a fantastic support base and it’s really introduced me to lots of different writers and so many things that are going on culturally that I want to be involved in. The group have no airs and graces, they just encourage and help in any way they can.”
In terms of the new collection, Freya is quick to credit several fellow writers for their input and inspiration, including Felicity McCall, Dave Duggan and Lynne Edgar. She is also very thankful to the Arts Council and to local publishers, Guildhall Press, for publishing her debut.
‘The Dangerous Edge of Things’, published by Guildhall Press, will be launched this Thursday, July 26, at 7pm in the Central Library. All are welcome. The book will be available in local bookshops and from the Guildhall Press website at: www.ghpress.com.
An extract from ‘Booklovers’, one of the stories in ‘The Dangerous Edge of Things’
He chose the Bailey. It attracts a trendy crowd, which is why I didn’t go there very often. Or at all. I squeezed my way through the people clustered around the bar, and found him perched on a stool in a corner, coat draped over the empty seat beside him to ward off the anorexic PAs posing around us. He stood as I approached and greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ I said as I sat down. ‘It took a while to find you.’
‘Don’t be silly, it’s a lady‘s prerogative to be late. Here, I’ve brought you a present.’ He handed me a slim volume wrapped in layers of tissue paper.
I opened it carefully as though it might disintegrate at the slightest touch. A brightly coloured dust jacket announced the Death of a Naturalist. My heart skipped a beat as I glanced inside. A first edition. He must have seen the look on my face, but he said nothing, only smiled again. Running my hands over the cover, I savoured the feel of dry parchment, then opened it delicately, letting the pages fall where they would rather than crease the book’s spine.
‘It must be worth hundreds,’ was all I could say.
I should have handed it back then and there but I couldn’t. Not just yet. I caressed the book for a few moments longer, then offered it to him.
‘I’m sorry,’ I brought myself to say. ‘I can’t accept this. It’s too much.’
‘Don’t be silly, it’s a present. My father knew the publisher. They went to Cambridge together. Besides, books should live with those who love them, and who can appreciate their artistic worth rather than their monetary value.’
‘If this was mine, I’d never give it away.’
‘I know. That’s why it’s better on your bookshelf.’
He was right. I resolved to keep it.
‘But how can I repay you?’
He smiled in a way that no-one had smiled at me in years.
‘You don’t have to sleep with me, if that’s what you think. It’s a present, that’s all.’
I blushed with pleasure. ‘Look, can we start this again? It’s beautiful, and I accept. Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome. Now what’ll you have to drink?’
He told me he was a part-time librarian at the National Archives, that he’d just started his doctorate on poet-revolutionaries, and was studying creative writing at night. I nodded, happy just to listen, enjoying that feeling of envelopment by a male presence for the first time in years. As people drifted in and out of the bar, he told me of his struggles and hopes, of times down and out in Madrid and Vienna, of travels to Istanbul with an eccentric relative, of a night spent in a deserted mission in Mexico. Eventually he stopped. ‘I’m sorry, I must be boring you silly. I tend to over-romanticise a bit. Too much Keats.’
‘No, no,’ I protested. ‘Literature is the greatest thing in the world.’ I looked down at the bar. ‘Well, one of.’
As I ordered another drink, I thought how much I wanted to kiss him.
He walked me home along Nassau Street. It was a warm, clear night, and the wine had me skipping along, my shoes in my hand. As we came to Dame Street I flung out my arms to embrace the life pulsing around me. ‘I love nights like this in Dublin, when history and literature come to life. It’s intoxicating.’
‘Do you find me intoxicating?’
We had come to my bus stop. The 46A waited, its passengers illuminated like figures in a Hopper painting, lonely hearts waiting for a chance that never comes.
I stood on tiptoe and kissed him. ‘Very.’
‘Do you want to come back to my place?’ he asked.
I smiled at my Mills and Boon moment. ‘I’d love to.’