Q&A with Andrew Meehan

One Star Awake by Andrew MeehanWe spoke to Andrew Meehan about his debut novel, One Star Awake, and what it’s like to be longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize.

A young woman comes to in the Paris restaurant in which she apparently works – she has survived some kind of trauma, but her memories haven’t. Something tells her there has been a reprieve. Yet when she crosses paths with a mysterious man called Eagleback, she becomes convinced that he holds the key to her identity. Over the course of a hot, sticky summer she covertly pursues Eagleback while re-learning how to live. Then she must decide if she is ready to solve the emotional puzzle of her life so far.

This is a fractured fairy tale – a funny and touching testament to the highs and lows of self-discovery and love found in unlikely places.

Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize: “From screen pitch to narrative itch, each in their way well and truly scratched. Andrew Meehan, once head of development at the Irish Film Board, now literary novelist cum laude. One Star Awake, a title drawn from Padraic Colum’s celebrated sentimental ballad, these few words enigmatic and beguiling the perfect fit for a story conspicuous for the brilliance of its writing and the penumbral depths of its plot. Upon the simple premise of amnesic darkness in the city of light, Meehan has built a plot which entices and intrigues to mesmeric effect.”

Where did the idea for your debut novel come from?
I became preoccupied with a (made-up) person who had no notion of, and no real interest in, their own past. This young woman, I decided, would be a watcher and a doer but not a thinker. I had no idea where to put her until one weekend my girlfriend Áine went on a trip to Paris—the kind of thing we normally do together; but this time I couldn’t join her and the only way to join her was to write myself there. By the time she got home I had about 10,000 words on the go.

How does it feel to be longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize?
Well, it was a big surprise. And normally I don’t like surprises. I do now. Thanks for having me!

What was the most challenging thing about your journey to becoming a published author?
I used to swerve all over the place. From one moment to the next I would go from thinking I was it to feeling like a burglar who hadn’t bothered turning up for work but was about to get caught anyway. That’s all over with now. I’ve stopped veering (except on the page). Eyes on the road.

What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
Always try to get something out of the working day—something usable. Even if it’s a nice doodle in the margin of your notebook.

What is your favourite debut novel of all time?
I can’t decide if Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? is a novella or a novel. Either way, it has been a huge part of my life. I could, if you were to ask me, probably recite it to you whole. Dammit, I’ve looked it up and this is her second novel! I completely missed Anagrams. At least I get to go back and discover that one now. So, I’d also like to suggest The History Of Love by Nicole Krauss. That’s been everywhere with me. In fact, I took my old hardback for her to sign at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year. When I say the book has been everywhere with me, I mean the edition is battered and filthy. It’s almost soiled. It was like asking one of my favourite authors to sign an old nappy. But she seemed happy enough. I think.