By Grainne McCool
Related Lives an imagined memoir is the most recent publication from Dave Duggan. Duggan is a dramatist and novelist, living in Derry. Film and television work includes writing the Oscar-nominated Dance Lexie Dance (1996), McLaughlins 100, a film of his bespoke theatre work in a hardware shop, premiered at Foyle Film Festival 2013.
His theatre work has been seen across Ireland and in New York, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Afghanistan. RTÉ and BBC have produced his radio and online drama. Recent work includes A Fare Play For Voices for BBC Radio 4 (2013), with Amanda Burton, Bronagh Gallagher and Alan Wright. His novels include The Greening of Larry Mahon and A Sudden Sun. DENIZEN, a verse drama, in the form of a speech from teh dock, was published by Guildhall Press, 2014. A multilingual play, MAKARONIK (Aisling Ghéar, 2014), toured Ireland.
This new publication is a series of “Stories, reflections and fragments from the lives of some of my immediate family” according to Duggan.
The concept behind this literary work is that while memory tentatively secures the past, imagination delicately opens the future. Combining both may bring them into the present for the reader, in a form of imagined memoir.
There are first and third person stories; a monologue story; a set of dialogues; poetry; personal history narratives; literary and philosophical short essays.
The forms vary and the characters, locations and stories change. Holding the work together is the binding of memory and imagination by the writer’s humane voice.
Dave Duggan began writing short fictions, based on anecdotes and images from the lives of members of his family, just over four years ago. Gaps, possibilities and speculations in those anecdotes, and his own yearning to have more of them, impelled him to write stories, grounded in memory and family lore.
Just where did the idea for this book come from?
“It stems from a chat in my sisters house in Waterford a number of years ago,” says Dave.
“My sister was home from America and we got to recalling times gone by.
“I made a commitment that night that I would pen my family stories.”
These stories are all inspired by memory and then many are developed though imagination. Just how can this be done?
Dave explains that: “There’s a benefit to forgetting. What we actually remember is an edit. Imagining helps us build for the future.”
Perhaps this is indeed the case for all of us. In the contemporary world we are as Dave said, “besotted with remembering.” Life is so fast and full that we all strain to recall incidents in the past.
We worry about losing our memory. These stories are all inspired by memory and then enjoyed with the fictitious imagination from Duggan himself.
They do in fact instil a sense of hope and reassurance for the reader as we travel along the pages.
Related Lives, an imagined memoir contains stories of nine people from Dave’s immediate family. He introduces each of them delicately and with fondness.
We are brought on a journey through his memories from childhood and life for his family members. They take the reader on a journey through fact and yet elaborated and developed through imaginings.
There are, of course, Duggan’s parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents all featured here, in this collection of stories, reflections and fragments of his family. He takes us to Waterford, to London and beyond, to a mental hospital and to the Magdalene Laundries.
There is such variety within these pages and each tale is an exciting read. We want to read on. We begin to form imaginings of our own family history as we read though this and yet we are allowed to enjoy Duggan’s family though his humane character and story telling ability.
I couldn’t help but notice the fond memories and dear love Duggan has within these pages for his mother. It is also evident for his father, but the mother/son bond is just so endearing throughout.
Perhaps being the only son in a family of six, they really did have that very special bond. He doesn’t have to tell us how important she was and will remain with him forever, but we learn such from his words, his language, his ability to share her.
Dave Duggan admits that this novel had him, “reaching for the shovel to dig at my own past as well as inspiring me to plant for a fuller future.”
It might be Duggan’s past and future in this novel, but there really is a little bit of us all in there. We’re left fully charged as a person on finishing this read and with a real sense and belief of the self.
Throughout my reading of this book I had echoing in my mind the words from Brian Friel: “It’s not the literal past, the ‘facts’ of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language.” Duggan has certainly embodied his family and their history in language, imagery and imaginings.
This collection of stories ends with a quote from Derek Mahon. It simply reads:
“Somewhere in the heaven
Of lost futures
The lives we might have led
Have found their own fulfilment.”
What a very apt way to finish a very inspiring and enjoyable read.