Mr Lynch and his holiday
The idea for Mr Lynch’s Holiday began to develop when I quit my job and moved to Spain back in 2002. Like many others seduced by the idea of a place in the sun I was in the grip of a strange delusion that greater happiness could somehow be geographically located and purchased. I was surprised to find how quickly the beauty of the landscape became humdrum to me, and how soon a life free from full-time work felt directionless and isolated. In those first few months, the previously cheery refrain ‘Nothing but blue skies’ played in my head all the time, only by then it sounded oppressive and threatening.
Some years later, after returning to England, my husband and I managed to accidentally go on holiday to a Spanish ghost town. Aside from a vagrant, the odd cleaner and hundreds of stray cats, the streets were deserted. We had, it seemed, crossed that fine line between getting away from the crowds and feeling like the only survivors of a deadly virus. One evening there was a power cut that dragged on for hours and I remember by mounting sense of panic. Had we been abandoned? Had the world ended? Would we need to eat the cats?
I wanted to capture these experiences and that uniquely unsettling combination of listlesness and unease, but when I tried to write about this failed utopia, I found instead that my thoughts kept wandering to the lives of my parents. My mother came to England from Ireland when she was seven. She, her parents and five brothers left their cottage by the River Slaney in Wexford for a cramped, terraced house in the inner-city area of Birmingham. My father emigrated during the Second World War when he was twenty-one. He swopped his home on the coast of County Clare for nights volunteering as an air-raid fire warden in Birmingham’s factories. Their’s was the fairly typical tale of immigrants who struggled and worked hard, ultimately enabling their children to go to University, assume professional careers (I was the notable exception) and move up the social scale.
My parents had both died by the time I went to live in Spain, but it struck me how different our experiences of migration were. Their journeys had been borne out of a need to survive, to make a living, to work hard and gain a foothold in the world. Mine was borne out of a sense of restlessness and a greed for ever more happiness. I was intrigued by this jump in just one generation from a Catholic sense of self-sacrifice, to my own over-developed sense of entitlement.
The character of Eamonn began to develop in my mind, I suppose in some way as an exaggerated version of myself and many people I know. A ridiculous person, uncomfortable in their own skin, a self-hating member of the middle class, sniping at everyone, criticising his parents for non-PC remarks, whilst despising the right-on yoghurt eating ways of the bourgeousie. A man with very few practical skills, unable to hang a door or change a tyre. At the same time, the character of Dermot, his father, also emerged – quiet, capable, strong and possessing a sense of humour that appeared to have by-passed his son. It seemed to me entirely plausible that Eamonn could have spent much of his life failing to really appreciate his father’s qualities, noticing only their differences.
The novel begins with Eamonn noticing a distant figure on the horizon. As the blurred silhouette draws closer, Eamonn eventually recognises the stranger as his father – emerging mirage-like from the heat haze. When I was writing the novel, I found it hard to get past that initial scene, I kept re-working it and revisiting it, somehow reluctant to move on and find out what happened next. It was maddening and frustrating, but now as I look back I wonder if the reason I became so stuck is because in some ways that one scene encapsulated the whole story: the slow drift of a father from a blurred, barely visible shape on the horizon to the very centre of his son’s life.