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Gerard Donovan
What gave you the idea for JULIUS WINSOME?
Shortly after a dog I knew well on a neighbouring farm was shot by a hunter, I experienced the thoughts of what I might do had it been my dog, which it easily could have been. And itís no coincidence that the novel takes place on a farm similar to the one I live on, and in a cabin not unlike my own. The dog survived in real life, but the walk to the flowers, the type of shotgun used, the woods full of hunters, all that happened. Shortly afterwards the entire plot of the novel came into my head as I was crossing a street, even the voice of the novel. The link to World War One and the inheritance of violence came naturally to the pages.
Julius Winsome is a brilliant name for him. Where did it come from?
Well, that happened as I was crossing the street too. As if someone whispered the name into my ear. I read someoneís remark that the name was a cross between a Caesar and a friendly fellow, which is right on the mark. I wanted a name that suggested a lethal and friendly nature combined. But the words just appeared.
As Julius becomes more unhinged and intent on revenge, his language becomes increasingly Shakespearian. To what extent do you agree with him that ďthey might be the same thing now...what dogs and Shakespeare have to say.Ē?
Part of the strategy of the voice is that it regresses to an earlier English as the violence increases. Today you can have a room of people who might not understand passages of Shakespeare, which is English. That illustrates for me how deaf we can become to language that is often finely tuned, such as Shakespeare, and yes, the language of dogs. My dog has tones and howls and barks that all mean completely different but very specific things. As Julius says, dogs use their entire bodies to talk, given the limit of what sounds they can make. I think Julius is suggesting that some people are incapable of listening to anything they donít already understand. They become deaf to the entire world. So thatís where the metaphor emerges. Itís a statement about how unwilling some people are to open their minds, to believe that creatures might possess an intelligence and intuition that might rival their own. Julius is highly sensitive to that, being a loner who reads and has experienced how well communication can work between a human and a dog. Iím not sure that heís unhinged at all, by the way, though thatís another story. I think heís settling into a manner of settling the dispute that makes sense to him, and heís also balanced on the line between grief and revenge. I think he keeps his mind intact, and for me that makes him all the more interesting. He writes his own rules of conduct once his world has been collapsed upon him. The simplicity of his revenge places a psychological burden on the reader.
You describe the huntersí bloodlust and their delight in Ďharvestingí animals. Do you have a certain amount of sympathy with Juliusí stance?
Yes, I do. I see them all the time coming around and shooting up the woods. They get out of Land Rovers and Pickup trucks and put on these expensive clothes and carry the latest shotguns, and sometimes as a group they create artificial deer runs where the deer get gradually herded into one area, and then they shoot them down from their vantage points. They flay the carcass and leave the remains. Sometimes wounded animals make it back to their young and die. Itís all an attempt to be the original frontier type, the hard survivalist, the rugged individual who can take care of himself. Theyíre anything but. And in the novel, they run into the real thing: Julius Winsome.
The Enfield rifle, with its grisly history, is emblematic of the endless legacy of violence and Julius seems to be obsessed with the gun as an object Ė the mechanism, bullets, velocity and the damage it causes. If thereíd been no gun would there have been a tale to tell?
The Enfield is an echo of two other people heís lost. It is part of the story, because the revenge is old, almost as old as the language. And the mechanism of Juliusís revenge is as clinical and accurate as that rifle. The Enfield was mostly carried by professional soldiers and is unlike any of the sporting weapons used elsewhere in the novel. I think Juliusís father talks of the damage .303 shells do to a body to illustrate how horrific it is to be shot. No romanticism in the woods--pure horror and pain. So the Enfield represents soldiery, whereas the shotguns are killing for sport.
What books would you like to see on the shelf next to JULIUS WINSOME?
Iíve heard comparisons of Julius Winsome to some novels I havenít read yet. But perhaps a Victor Hugo or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius?
Are you writing anything at the moment? If so, please can you tell us a bit about it.
Iím finishing a novel set in Ireland in the near future, and after that comes a novel set in Europe in the early 1900s.
Gerard Donovan

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