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The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually by Helen Cullen

The Bookshop had the pleasure of hosting Helen last year for an author panel event during Independent Bookshop Week. Then, she was discussing her debut novel The Lost Letters of William Woolf. Her second novel, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually was released on Thursday 20th August 2020, and we were so lucky to have Helen with us in person on the 19th, signing copies of the beautiful hardback for our Book Club, and 'virtually' on the 25th, joining the Book Club for its monthly meeting!

Here, she tells us a little bit more about her new novel...

1) Can you tell us a bit about your book, The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually?

The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually is my second novel. It tells the story of Moone family who live on a small island off the west coast of Ireland over four decades. In the first chapter we see a terrible tragedy unfold on Christmas Eve in 2005 before jumping back in time to a completely different world in the late 70s when Murtagh and Maeve – the parents – first meet in Dublin and are excited to start their lives together. The book travels with them as they move to the island, have their family and eventually catches up with that fateful Christmas Eve. Hopefully by then there is greater understanding about why what occurred had happened. The second half of the book then looks at how the family move forward from there and the impact it has on the children as they become adults themselves.

The novel is about the myth of the perfect mother, stoic fathers and the tragicomedy inherent in all big families. It’s about the creative life and how that clashes with commerce, about mental health and the impact of that on a family, and it’s about how happy endings don’t always look like they expect them too.

Perhaps most of all though I think the book is about truth. How sometimes our personal truths don’t always align with what are considered to be universally accepted truths – and that awareness and acceptance of that – can be the thing that sets us free.

2)What inspired you to write the book?

The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually was initially inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi – the practise of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. The breakage, and the repair, remains visible to show the history of an object rather than something to be disguised, and so the pots become even more beautiful than before they were broken.

As any family spans decades, both hairline fractures and critical breaks, can damage its foundations. Some tragedies seem insurmountable; we can’t go on, and yet we do. Some cracks feel irreparable, but then often reveal themselves to be the gap we squeeze through so that we can find a way to keep moving.

The Moone family of the new book are no exception and as their narrative revealed itself to me, I became more and more convinced of how powerful it can be to confront the past, to stop burying inconvenient, uncomfortable or hurtful truths. Telling the story of Maeve, an actor from Brooklyn who arrived in Dublin in the 70s, her husband, Murtagh, and their four children, Nollaig, Mossy, Dillon and Sive, I was inspired by the power of the truth – how it can give your legs the power to keep walking, your heart to keep beating.

3) What did you learn when writing the book?

I learned a lesson that I keep needing to relearn every single time I sit down to write – that creativity only happens when you create the opportunity for it.

4) What surprised you the most?

Originally I thought the book was primarily a story about Murtagh Moone, the father, but the mother Maeve really became the beating heart of the book in the end.

5) What was the last book that you bought at a bookshop?

Crudo by Olivia Laing at The Bookshop in East Grinstead – Hurrah!

6)What was the best book you read during lockdown?

I recently read Look at Me by Anita Brookner and absolutely loved it. I only discovered her work recently but now I can’t get enough!

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