Being a Protestant writer in Northern Ireland used to imply huge responsibility towards the victims of the Troubles, however, in the end "a writer is only obligated to his or her imagination", says Irish author David Park, who will be one of the guests of the Zagreb Book Festival which will take place in the Croatian capital next week and which will focus on the Irish literature.
"I started to write at the height of what we call The Troubles and it seemed that this was a subject I needed to address, to try through my work to assert human values, so I often wrote about victims," Park says in an interview published by Hina on Tuesday.
"Seamus Heaney said about this terrible period that the writer's response was to search for images adequate to our predicament. I tried to do this in my first novel The Healing about a boy who has witnessed his father's murder and is traumatised into silence. When I completed The Truth Commissioner I knew I would never write about The Troubles again. A writer is only obligated to his or her imagination. I wanted not to be described by history as 'a writer of The Troubles' but simply as 'a writer'. I wanted to have no future geographical or contextual limits on my imagination. So now I am free of my origins, free to travel anywhere in the world through the imagination," Park says in the interview.
The Troubles is the term for a conflict which started in the late 1960s and was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
"In the North of Ireland traditional divisions have been based on religion – Protestantism and Catholicism – although thankfully this is slowly beginning to change with a more secular and multi-cultural society beginning to emerge. I was born into the Protestant tradition but I no longer practise any form of organised religion or hold any traditional religious views. So the description of ‘Protestant’ feels like something I don’t need or want, something that belongs to the past."
"However my upbringing in an evangelical church has influenced some aspects of my work. I love the language of the Bible and also love its stories, especially the miracles," Park says adding that he is also "still influenced by some of those central ideas and images associated with the Bible. Ideas such as the possibility of human redemption, and particularly the image of transfiguration. It’s what I was trying to do in my novel The Light of Amsterdam where I sought to take seemingly mundane lives and transfigure them, light them up with grace and insight."
"What fascinates me most in writing is the continued power of narrative. Despite the rapid growth of technology what we need in our lives is narrative – we need stories as much as the air we breathe," says Park, who was born in Belfast in 1953, and now lives in County Down, Northern Ireland.
His first novel, The Healing (1992), won the 1992 Authors' Club First Novel Award and the University of Ulster McCrea Literary Award. Set against a background of sectarian conflict, the novel describes the search for personal and communal healing. Further novels include The Rye Man (1994) and Stone Kingdoms (1996).
In June 2008, David Park was awarded the American Ireland Fund Literary Award for his contribution to Irish Literature.
Most recently, his novel "The Poets' Wives", was selected as Belfast's Choice for One City One Book 2014. He has won the Authors' Club First Novel Award, the Bass Ireland Arts Award for Literature, the Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, the American Ireland Fund Literary Award and the University of Ulster's McCrea Literary Award, three times.
Park will be the guest of the Zagreb Book Festival on 20 May.