Dromineer Literary Festival – Julian Gough and Lisa Harding appearing at opening 4th October 2018

Are you a safe reader? By that I mean do you always stick to the same kinds of novels or writers?  There is great comfort in the familiar, no doubt, be that popular genres like the thriller, chick-lit or sci-fi.  However, if you’re tempted to try something different, two writers, both Irish and one a Nenagh-reared man, have published novels recently that will definitely stretch you as a reader.  Lisa Harding and Julian Gough are appearing together at the opening event (Thursday 4th October, 8pm) of this year’s Dromineer Literary Festival, at Nenagh Arts Centre.  They will be interviewed by Sinead Gleeson, formerly of RTE 1s The Book Show, a writer, editor, freelance broadcaster and journalist in her own right.   

Lisa Harding’s novel Harvesting published in 2017 depicts the disturbing world of the sex trafficking of minors.   Told in the present tense, two girls, Nicoleta (Nico) from Moldova and Dubliner Sammy recount, in alternating chapters, how they ended up in a brothel.  Sold by her father in to sex slavery, twelve year old Nico along with other young women, is transported across Europe to arrive eventually at a semi-detached house in a typical residential estate, “hidden” in plain sight.  There she forms a bond with 15 year old Sammy who chose prostitution and self destruction over an alcoholic mother and a chaotic home life. No longer free, the girls are used by customers from all sections of society, some of whom have daughters themselves.  Although a harrowing topic, there is nothing graphic or explicit in Harding’s understated tale of trafficking. Rather her intention is to humanise Nico and Sammy through their survival techniques of friendship, fantasy and humour yet bearing witness to what she sees as the “flourishing underbelly of Irish society”.

Explaining where she got her inspiration for Harvesting, Ms. Harding points to an invitation from the Children’s Rights Alliance and The Body Shop to become involved in a campaign against sex trafficking.  At the time, 2012, she was an actress in Fair City.  Her role in the campaign was to publicly read testimonies of girls who had been trafficked to Ireland.  Up to that time, she recalls, she had no idea of the extent of the industry, with some 1.2 million children trafficked globally for the sex trade; figures continue to rise because of vulnerable migrant children.  Neither did she know that Ireland is regarded as a destination point for traffickers and sex tourists, that some of the girls are as young as twelve years of age and that some are Irish. Not only has Harding highlighted these shocking crimes in a novel designed to touch readers’ minds and hearts but she has also embodied the faceless statistics in the characters of Nico and Sammy, thus connecting them to our lives, as daughters, sisters, friends operating in a world we don’t want to know exists.

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Julian Gough’s latest novel Connect is a thriller, a novel of ideas that explores what connection might look like in a hyper-digital age.  Naomi Chiang, who lives in Nevada, is a biologist, researching the ways in which the latest scientific advances might assist the regrowth of severed human limbs.  Worried that her work might have potential for misuse in the wrong hands, she hasn’t published her findings. However, her teenage son, Colt, has other ideas. He is so socially inept that he struggles to order takeaways yet so brilliant that he can hack and code virtual realities.   Colt submits his mother’s research paper to a biotech conference. This triggers his father Ryan’s return but not in a fatherly way. To the secret organisation Ryan works for, Naomi and Colt are now threats to national security and have to go on the run. The battle between Colt’s mother and father, Naomi and Ryan, is the ultimate custody battle, escalating to such a degree that the future of the world is at stake.

When interviewed by the Irish Times, Julian revealed that while Connect took him seven years to write, it really took him his whole life because everything he is obsessed with is included in the novel.  “Some of the surveillance stuff that I made up in the first draft, involving extreme lack of privacy, had by the last draft, come true in the real world.” This is from the mind of the man who provided the narrative at the end of the highly acclaimed computer game Minecraft in 2011.  In the same vein, Julian cites such movies as Alien and Terminator 2 as having the greatest influence on the novel’s structure and pacing.  That obsession with technology and AI and his take on a dysfunctional family culminate in what he describes as a novel of ideas, hidden inside a family drama and disguised as a techno-thriller.  It’s not for nothing that Connect has been called the “new bible of futurism”.

There you have it, two entirely different novels but with a shared theme of dysfunctional families, one set in the now and the other in the near future, both challenging us with ideas about what constitutes human relationships.  Do go along to Nenagh Arts Centre on October 4th to what will be a thought-provoking event with Lisa, Sinead and Julian.

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