Ghost Moth Synopsis
During the hot Irish summer of 1969, tensions rise in Belfast where Katherine Bedford, a former actress, and her husband George, a firefighter, struggle to keep buried secrets from destroying their marriage. Throughout the events which unfold the bonds of family are tested and forgiveness is made possible through two parents’ indomitable love for their children. An exploration of memory, childhood, illicit love, and loss, Ghost Moth portrays ordinary experiences as portals to rich internal landscapes: a summer fair held by children in a back yard garden exposes the pangs and confusion of a first crush; an amateur theatre production of Bizet’s Carmen hires a lonely tailor who puts so much careful attention into the creation of a costume for his lover that it’s as if his desire for her can be seen sewn into the fabric. All the while, Northern Ireland moves to the brink of civil war. The lines between private anguish and public outrage disintegrate in this tale about a family—and a country—seeking freedom from ghosts of the past.
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A conversation with Michèle Forbes
A: Belfast in the late 1940’s was a very different city to the one in which I grew up. I remember hearing stories about that time from my father. Although still recovering as a city in the aftermath of the Second World War Saturday nights would see the city bustling with crowds, with people queueing for cinema tickets and dancehalls, lively couples in busy cafés, and families happy to stroll the streets and window-shop late into the evening. As a teenager growing up in Belfast in the 70’s this seemed to me a strange and exotic thing, that a city could be vibrant, exciting, and safe.This contrast in how I experienced growing up in Belfast with the idea that a very different idea of the city could and had existed was important to me. As a writer I wanted to explore that difference. I knew I couldn’t ignore the fact that by the end of the summer of 1969, Northern Ireland was on the brink of a civil war—no writer writing about that time can but I also wanted the narrative to remain insular, to focus on a protected world of the child, the family, the home. I believed that even in the face of such impending political turmoil, smaller stories still had their place. That was a difficult tenet to hold on to. But I held onto it, and still do
A: My mother was a hairdresser and had sung in amateur musical theater. My father was a fireman and had been interested in writing for theater. Both joined an amateur theater group and fell in love. In a similar vein I met my husband when I attended acting classes in Dublin having left Belfast to study English Literature at Trinity College. (Subsequently, I became an actress). Also my paternal grandfather had been Theater Manager of the Gaiety and the Empire Theaters in Belfast during the early 1920s. So theater was, as they say, “in the blood” and was a perfectly obvious choice for the novel’s backstory. I knew the territory and loved the artifice. This setting gave me room to give color literally, to my writing. It necessitated a heightened sense of language, it suggested sensuality, love betrayal—drama.This world also brought me a little closer to my mother, who died of cancer when I was nine. I think even after talking as to how and why the book came about, Ghost Moth remains less about what I know and more about what I don’t know. Writing does that. It takes you places you never expected.
A: It had never dawned on me to send my debut novel ‘Ghost Moth’ to America but in 2011 as part of The Dublin Writer’s Festival I attended a workshop with American author Paul Harding. In the workshop Paul Harding had talked about the difficulties he had experienced in trying to get any commercial houses or agents interested in his debut novel ‘Tinkers’ until a friend of a friend handed it to Erika Goldman, editor at Bellevue Literary Press. ‘Tinkers’ was published by BLP and then went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. That story was very heartening to me and it kept ringing in my head. So, after I’d notched up some thirty eight rejections from agents in the UK and Ireland I thought it might just be time to send my debut novel sailing off across the Atlantic. A short time later Bellevue Literary Press offered to publish it