The Heart in Winter – Kevin Barry

Award-winning writer Kevin Barry’s first novel set in America, a savagely funny and achingly romantic tale of young lovers on the lam in 1890s Montana. He shares a few words on his new novel, The Heart in Winter.

In late October of 1999, in a room at the Capri Motel in Butte, Montana, I sat dutifully over my notebook and attempted to begin my Butte, Montana novel. I had been in town gathering material about the great Irish migration to the city in the 1880s and ‘90s, and I knew that I had a Western on my hands – a Western with Irish accents – and I was almost trembling with excitement at the notion. I had just turned thirty and I was getting serious about writing fiction and this book, I felt, was really meant to be.

I’d been months researching the story back in West Cork, too, where the migration began when the old copper mines on the Beara peninsula played out, and the miners all moved to the Rocky Mountains. I knew I had a great setting for a novel – a great world for a story to unfold in – and I had bored my friends to exhaustion with talk of this Butte, Montana novel that was most assuredly on the way. But I was talking about it too much, actually, and the talk betrayed a great nervousness. There was a problem with my novel – I had texture and atmosphere and colour but I had no characters.

          Soon, and with much sadness, this first attempt at a novel was quietly put to one side, and I began to write other things. Twenty-two years passed by, and I wrote six other books, and then, late in the long, second year of the pandemic, the characters for my Butte, Montana novel suddenly appeared out of the mists.  I knew at once they were called Tom and Polly, I knew they were runaway lovers, and I knew that I could tune in to their conversation at will. The tone and musical note of the novel was coming through now as cleanly as a bell struck.

          This is just how it is sometimes with a story. Sometimes it’s a long game, and you just have to wait it out. And now, a quarter of a century on from that room at the Capri Motel, my Butte, Montana novel is finally ready to meet its readers.

The Heart in Winter by Kevin Barry is now available to shop online.

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