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The News Where You Are

Awards: Edgar Allen Poe Award Nominee, For Best Paperback Original

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Catherine O'Flynn On Writing The News Where You Are


I worked as a postwoman for a few months. It wasn't a great job. I spent most of the time forcing junk mail through people's doors and the rest of the time unwittingly driving dogs nuts. The one good thing about the job, though, was the walking and the opportunity it gave to become intimate with small slices of the city. I liked the glimpses I got inside offices and factories, the distinct atmosphere of domestic porches. When I got home in the afternoon I'd try to write about some of these things.

When I came to start writing The News Where You Are I looked back over these notes. I'd remembered them as disparate ramblings about nothing in particular: an old people's home with endless corridors, a hospital converted to a casino, a 1960s office block about to be demolished. On looking again, though, I noticed the same theme kept emerging. What seemed to fascinate me was the idea of what we did with old things: old people, old buildings, old ideas. Some were destroyed, some were reinvented, some were hidden away. I began to wonder what traces were left by the people and places that vanished, what marks they left on those that remained.

Birmingham, the city where I live, is constantly reinventing itself. An endless cycle of denying then reclaiming its past, demolishing then dusting off. There seemed a clear analogy with the world of celebrity. An obsession with surface over substance, a fear of the faded and the unfashionable. I wondered if aging celebrities ever tired of the constant reinvention and just longed for demolition.

The main character in the book is called Frank and he's a local TV news presenter. Like most people, I have a terrible fascination with local TV news. It seems to combine the trivial, the surreal and the truly depressing into a quite unique cocktail. That combination of humor and sadness surfaces a lot in my writing. It never feels forced or uneasy to me, just a truthful reflection of the way life is. I liked the idea of an apparently corny anchorman, with his painful gags and tortuous puns masking a more melancholy, thoughtful person. Frank has done the job for years, he's seen so much come and go in the city—from the small stories of forgotten people dying alone, to grand civic regeneration projects. He finds these memories of past stories, places and people constantly intrude on his present. He wonders what really happened to his predecessor, Phil Smethway, the local newsreader turned national celebrity who died in mysterious circumstances.

In my first novel, What Was Lost, I wrote about loss, memory and the impact of the shifting city around us. The story was set in a shopping mall and revolved around the disappearance of a child detective. I started writing The News Where You Are with a completely different set of characters and concerns and yet now that I've finished it, I find that once more I seem to have written about loss, memory and the shifting city. I suspect that I could write a buccaneering adventure novel set in outer space and still these themes would emerge. Perhaps when they stop interesting me, I will stop writing.