On Seven Steeples by Sara Baume

Each of the novels I have written tell the story of an era of my life through the medium of fiction – details are exaggerated, places conflated, time compressed or stretched, reality heightened or obscured.

Seven Steeples is my shortest and most allegorical novel so far.

I started writing it in 2017, about a year after moving with my partner and our two dogs to an old farmhouse in the countryside on the coast of West Cork. Every morning I walked the dogs along the same quiet road and I became fascinated by this narrow, twisty route; the constituent parts of its hedgerows and its constantly shifting view; how much – and yet how little – it changed from season to season. At a certain point I started to wonder whether it would be possible to write an entire novel about a single road, and so I started to jot down passing observations as soon as I returned from my walk in the mornings.

This is how my third novel was written: incredibly slowly, with both a strange kind of urgency and a great deal of hesitation. The story did gradually expand beyond the confines of a single road. Seven Steeples is set on a stony beach and in an uncultivated garden and at the bottom of a small mountain, as well as inside the untidy rooms of an isolated farmhouse and the complex domestic universe of Bell and Sigh – a couple who move there from the city in a calculated attempt to cut themselves off from the world of other people – strangers, friends, family.

Seven Steeples is the most carefully constructed novel I have written so far.

It takes place over the course of seven years but covers the season-cycle of a single year. Each of the seven chapters begin and end with the same two significant symbols, and the two characters transform very subtly as the years go by, as does the setting, causing the story to build and intensify toward what I hope is a revelatory ending.

Sara Baume’s work first appeared in newspapers and journals such as the Irish Times, the GuardianThe Stinging Fly and Granta. She won the 2014 Davy Byrnes Short Story Award for ‘SoleSearcher1’, and went on to receive the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, the Rooney Prize for Literature and an Irish Book Award for Best Newcomer in 2015. Her debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, the Warwick Prize for Writing, the Desmond Elliott Prize for New Fiction and the International Dublin Literary Award. It was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. In autumn 2015, she was a participant in the International Writing Program run by the University of Iowa and received a Literary Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She grew up in East Cork and now lives in West Cork.

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