Writing ‘Fogarty’ Jaki McCarrick

Jaki McCarrick discusses her Pushcart Prize-nominated short story, ‘Fogarty’, published in Issue Eight.

A few years ago, on a flight to Paris, I read an in-flight magazine feature about an ex-Naval Seal who gave survival courses to business people. As I read, it dawned on me that a survival course would make a great basis for a thriller. Eventually, when I came to write this ‘survival thriller’ story, with London-based businesswoman Nora Blackwood as my protagonist, other elements inveigled their way in; specifically, Nora’s past. I wondered: what if something to do with her former life in Ireland, something she is eager to conceal, emerges during the survival course? Nora books the course to test her employees, though, in the end, it becomes as much a test of her own character.

The thriller element became less interesting to me as I went along, so this is only in the shadows of the material now, hopefully providing some useful tension. If I’d developed the same story as a screenplay, I think the idea, as is common with this genre, would be to pick the employees off, one by one, ending in a bloody battle of wits between protagonist and antagonist …

Fogarty is a figure from Nora’s past. As I developed him, I realised that Nora (as often is the case with first person narrators) is not entirely reliable; she sees things from her damaged perspective only, while Fogarty, who is a complex, dark character, and depicted by Nora as a kind of devil, also has his reasons for his actions, and is probably not nearly as bad as Nora describes. I toyed with the idea that he might not actually be real – or at least not the person Nora tells us he is. In this respect, he’s something of a phantom in the story. I wondered if Nora was perhaps more obsessed with her supposed stalker than he was with her. Their relationship is weirdly obsessional – and recalls Moby Dick and Ahab, with Nora as Moby Dick – but sometimes, at least psychically (as Nora’s secrets seem to be on her mind constantly), Moby Dick is Fogarty.

I feel a strange pity towards Fogarty; his abandonment story rings true. As I read over the drafts of the emerging story, I realised (fiction, I find, sometimes instructs its writer) that in their pursuit of success or social mobility, humans will often cast off former acquaintances, or commit apparently small acts of betrayal which culminate in devastation for the betrayed person – as with Nora’s cutting Fogarty off from the family once her father is dead. He is ‘cast back’, as he claims in the story, and for me that’s a poignant line and revelation -– as I did not expect my ‘monster’ to be so sympathetic.

I would like to return to these characters at some later stage (as I’ve returned to characters in previous stories) as I feel I’ve unfinished business with them …

The area of Letterfrack, where the story is set,  was first described to me by my sister who spent time there on an arts residency. Later, I visited it a number of times. The whole area of Connemara would seem to hold a lot of symbolism, I think, for Irish emigrants in particular; it’s a place I visited more when I lived in London than now that I live in Ireland; a clear representation of a wildness that the emigrant considers they’ve lost in opting for the new country, and maybe in their visit to the place hopes to get back, if briefly etc. This, I think, is Nora’s subconscious reason for booking the course in Connemara (she almost conjures Fogarty up) – and in a country that would seem to hold all her secrets.

You can read ‘Fogarty’ in Issue Eight of The Lonely Crowd, which may be purchased here.

Jaki McCarrick is an award-winning writer. Her play Leopoldville won the 2010 Papatango Prize for New Writing, and her most recent play, Belfast Girls, developed at the National Theatre Studio, London, was shortlisted for the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the 2014 BBC Tony Doyle Award. It recently premiered in Chicago (and Canada) to much critical acclaim. Jaki’s story collection, The Scattering, was published by Seren Books and shortlisted for the 2014 Edge Hill Prize. Jaki, who is also a freelance journalist for numerous publications, was longlisted in 2014 for the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate and is currently editing her first novel.

© Jaki McCarrick, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.