Máiría Cahill is a former Irish Senator and Councillor; she writes a political opinion column for the Sunday Independent, has written for the Belfast Telegraph and Fortnight Magazine, and regularly appears as a media commentator. Rough Beast is Máiría Cahill’s harrowing story of her life and what she went through at the hands of what is now Ireland’s largest and richest party. It is a story of unimaginable trauma and political corruption, but above all, it is the account of one young woman’s defiance of the power wielded by ex-gunmen inspiring fear and silence, and their influence over elected politicians. Rough Beast is shortlisted for the Dubray Non-Fiction Book of the Year. (Photo credit: Belfast Telegraph.)
Congratulations on making the shortlist for the Dubray Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award! How does it feel?
Thank you! To be honest, it feels a bit overwhelming. I had no agent when writing this book, and no experience of publishing, so to have my first book and my work recognised like this feels like a good achievement for me. Ever since I was small, I've loved writing, so even having people reading the book means a huge deal. To have it shortlisted, equally so.
Tell us a bit about your shortlisted work?
My book Rough Beast is a documentation of elements of my life, which incorporates growing up in West Belfast, my sexual abuse, and how I was treated by the IRA and Sinn Féin. More than a memoir, it is also a political analysis of what happened when I spoke out, which is unusual in the sense that the reader comes on the journey with me from having these horrendous experiences to trying to gain accountability from officialdom and Republicans.
What drove you to write this book?
I was originally asked to write a different book and I started… I was around 80,000 words into that book, and then I wrote this instead. I knew that my first book had to be this, because I pulled it from my soul to the page. I needed people to understand the damage that was done, and to also illustrate that no one's life need be written off by horrific events. And I wanted to document the political reaction to an abuse victim waiving anonymity at a moment of time in Ireland prior to #metoo.
What was the research and investigative process like of putting together the book?
I was diagnosed with Aspergers in 2017, and one of the features of my brain is that I remember things forensically. In that sense, the research for the second half of the book was easier than I thought it would be. All of the newspaper cuttings I had kept helped greatly also! I'm good at remembering and research, but don't ask me anything to do with directions, because I can't remember how to get to the end of the street without a sat nav...
What was the emotional impact of writing it like?
I found writing it cathartic, but reading over the proof was very traumatic. For the first time I think, I realised that I had minimised a lot of it, and seeing it in black and white was a stark reminder. But I had a great editor in Neil Belton from Head of Zeus who allowed me autonomy in writing it and who had the courage to publish it.
How did you navigate writing such a personal story?
I gave up smoking, then took myself to the beach. The only way I could do it was to write for a week, then leave it for a while, then write, then take a break etc. So, eventually, I decided to go to Donegal on my holidays and sit beside the water and finish it all in one session in a place that is safe and that I love. Afterwards, I'd stick my feet in the sea and play Nina Simone and Seán Ó Riada, The Clancy Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel, Kate Bush and Mary Coughlan and Joan Armatrading. By the time I got to Tracy Chapman in my eclectic playlist, it was done and I went off for a pint of Guinness and a few tunes in the local bar.
What is next for you? Is there anything pulling at your attention?
If you see me with my feet back in the Atlantic singing 'Talkin' Bout a Revolution', you'll know I'm halfway through book number two.
What An Post Irish Book Awards shortlisted book is next on your to-be-read pile?
I love Sunday Miscellany and the range of talent the programme fosters and showcases, so I've started reading it. It has a beautiful cover too, plus Olivia O'Leary has an essay in it. What's not to like? After that, it has to be John Banville's The Lock Up; I'm looking forward to losing myself in it for a bit.