HomeNovel‘Factory Girls’ is an ‘honest, hilarious and relatable portrayal’
‘Factory Girls’ is an ‘honest, hilarious and relatable portrayal’
December 28, 2022
Michelle Gallen’s second novel “’Factory Girls’ is “a great read if you’ve already finished Season 3 of ‘Derry Girls’”. Arlington Magazine wasn’t the only magazine to make the comparison. Several have. And it’s definitely a great hook to be linked to Netflix’s streaming hit that Martin Scorsese recently endorsed.
However, there was another notable feature of the reviews captured by this sentence from author Silas House: “’Factory Girls’ is one of the best books ever written about the Troubles, and one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.”
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Another writer, Jan Carson said: “Honest, hilarious and such a recognizable portrait of 90s Northern Ireland, ‘Factory Girls’ is essential reading.”
The Irish Independent reviewer wrote: “Gallen’s pen draws blood with the acuity of her observations, rendering a fresh and poignantly more complex portrait of Northern Ireland through Maeve’s eyes. Gallen asks, what can a young woman do with hope?
And the Irish Times reviewer said: “With a keen eye for the compromises and hypocrisies this condition of life creates, Gallen has written an original and compelling book describing a pre-ceasefire society that is both distant and familiar “.
Writer Mary Beth Keane offered an American perspective: “Michelle Gallen’s ‘Factory Girls’ pulses with dark, irreverent humor. Set in a place where dreams are ridiculous at best, dangerous at worst, it’s a big F for the only world these characters know. Still, there is vulnerability here. I hope so. I loved him.”
Gallen herself told us that her second novel, just published in the United States, “is set in the summer of 1994 and features the talkative Maeve Murray who wants good results on her final exam to escape her crowded home, the silence and sadness surrounding the death of his sister and, above all, the simmering violence of the last days of the Troubles.
“But getting her exam results right is only part of Maeve’s problem: She must survive a tit-for-tat paramilitary campaign, iron 100 shirts an hour all day every day to keep her summer job at the local factory, and face the attentions of Andy Strawbridge, her shrewd and unreliable English boss.
The novelist added, “Over the summer Maeve is tested in ways her Catholic school and home life haven’t prepared her to handle and she is forced to make some decisions that will affect her – and those she loves – forever”.
The recent sudden illness and death of Maeve’s older sister, Deirdre, a college student, is mentioned occasionally, but is ever-present, and thus a novel which is described as a “hot comedy” (People Magazine) can be noted for a pain that is “palpable” (Library Journey). One of those quoted above, Silas House, said Gallen’s novel “will break your heart and make you laugh out loud, sometimes within the same paragraph.”
Such is the case with a visit to Maeve’s house by their annoying chatty neighbor Sarah, who is treated royally wherever she goes, with tea and the best food available, and respect, partly because people fear she will gossip about them. in other houses if it is not. But her community also supports Sarah because her son is serving three life sentences in England, a clear mistrial because everyone knew that – to paraphrase his father’s defense against him – ‘although Dermot had a face to style the balaclavas he had’ I don’t have the wit to pee in an Irish bar, let alone make and distribute bombs from a bedsit in Cheetham Hill.’
Maeve isn’t too appreciative of her mother’s brainpower either, but she also wonders if Sarah’s house is like theirs: “Like something’s missing. As if time had both frozen and yet somehow passed them by.”
Place of birth: Omagh, County Tyrone
Spouse: Mehdi El Gueddari
Children: Rónán, 11, and Cillian, 7
Published works: “Big Girl Small Town” and “Factory Girls”.
What’s your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I don’t really have a writing routine. I took a month off years ago and wrote 70,000 words of “Big Girl Small Town” in 30 days, but then it took me three years to finish the book. I started “Factory Girls” after the birth of my second child – he is now 7! So, I don’t feel like I have regular writing practice. It seems to be a mix of daily hard graft and incredibly productive splurges.
What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
Read everything and write every day. I read a lot and deeply – I don’t care if a novel is a Man Booker winner or if it’s pulp fiction – if it grabs me, I let it possess me. I think the difference between someone who reads for pleasure and a writer who reads, however, is that when something moves, inspires, or excites the writer, he first savors the experience, then when the feeling passes, takes a scalpel to the page and analyzes what that the other author did with words and sentences to make the reader feel the way you did. This is the easy part. The hard part is writing every day so you learn by doing.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of reading pleasure.
Anna Burns’ “Milkman,” Pat McCabe’s “The Butcher Boy,” and Patricia Lockwood’s “PriestDaddy.” All informed by a divinely goofy, goofy Catholic sensibility.
What book are you currently reading?
I am currently reading “Edith” by Martina Devlin based on the life of Edith Somerville of “Somerville and Ross” fame. The novel is set in the turbulent period of Irish independence 1921-22, during which Edith Somerville finds herself in a perilous position as a member of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, struggling to protect the family mansion while the grand houses around her are being burn. .
Is there a book you wish you had written?
My third novel — empty laughter*.
If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be?
Having met Ted Hughes in the 1990s, I’d like to meet Sylvia Plath to get an insight into her in person. As much as you might get an impression of a writer from the page, there is something ineffable about encounters in person.
What book changed your life?
As a pre-teen, I smuggled Christy Brown’s “Down All the Days” from my mother’s bookstore and surreptitiously read it. The author of this wanton, dirty, lyrical and heartbreaking book was almost completely paralyzed with cerebral palsy. The book’s lessons on endurance, joy, and resilience got me through some very dark days.
What is your favorite place in Ireland?
Every nook and cranny, from my chaotic yet sunny backyard to the cliffs of Sliabh Liag. It is an incredibly beautiful island full of fascinating characters, animals, flora and fauna.