When I was on holiday in Greece two years ago, I remember going to a bookstore and finding Frank McCourtss Angelas Ashes, the memoir for which the Irish author won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997. The interesting part of this story is that I am not a native English speaker and it was the first book in English I had read in my life, and it made a moving impression on me. The memoir is a touching story about a Limerick childhood.
Now McCourt is in Rome and of course I wanted to meet him. I met him at the American Academy, where he is writing his third book after Angelas Ashes and its sequel, Tis.
Nemeth: How is your third book now?
McCourt: Well, I am suffering.
N: What are you suffering about?
M: My third book.
M: Yeah. I am really suffering (laughs). I am suffering because this one is about teaching and it is harder, because education is such a complicated subject and there are so many things to think about from the 30 years I was a teacher.
N: What is the hardest thing?
M: The hardest thing is to find the tone, the colour of the book, because as I said education is a complex and complicated subject. And I want to write simply. I like writing simply. I think sometimes I should write childrens books. Once upon a time...
N: Why did you decide to come to Rome? To write your book?
M: We were here a couple of years ago, when we heard about the American Academy and wanted to see this place and decided to spend three months here. So I thought I would get away from everything in New York. My life is getting very complicated in New York. I try to make my life simple, which it used to be, but now it is really complicated. I am not complaining, because wonderful things have happened to me. But sometimes I have a dream of going off somewhere...
M: Maybe Canada, or something. And disappear for a year. It happened when I was writing Angelas Ashes. I had retired from teaching and was writing the book in a little house in Pennsylvania: I got up in the morning, made a coffee, saw my wife and children, then I went up to the little house. And you see, that was a kind of uncomplicated time. I was just a retired teacher, I had a quiet life.
N: When did you decide to write Angelas Ashes?
M: Oh, 30 years ago, I think.
N: So, you just picked up the small pieces from the beginning and slowly, slowly it was pieced together?
M: Yes, right. In one year I wrote Angelass Ashes. And it did not have a title. The title came later.
N: How did you find the title?
M: It just came to me. So simply.
N: What do you think of the movie Angelas Ashes which was directed by Alan Parker? Did you have any say during the shooting?
M: It is a good movie. I had nothing to do with it. Nothing. But I think it is good.
N: Lets stay in the world of movies. Do you know Richard Harris, who was born in Limerick? (His last performances were as the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the movie Gladiator and in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone.)
M: Yes. The big movie star (laughs). Yes, I know him.
N: Did he read the book?
M: Yes. He did not like it. He attacked me.
N: Has Angelas Ashes been attacked by anyone else?
M: Yes. Sometimes by professors.
N: Why? Are they jealous of you?
M: Maybe. I dont know. I have been attacked by some Irish professors, but they were not able to define their attacks. And I think... I am the first Irish-American writer who has ever been successful. I am between Ireland and America, America and Ireland; I wrote this memoir and nothing like this had ever happened before and they were confused. But there is a man at a university in America who is really interested in this topic and keeps trying to figure out why those Irish professors attacked me and what was in my book that irritated them.
N: What is the answer?
M: There is no answer yet.
N: Do you consider yourself a New Yorker or Irish?
M: New York. Just New York. I do not feel American. New York is not America, New York is New York. I was in London on 11 September and I had a desperate desire to get back to New York.
N: And how are your brothers?
M: I have three brothers. They have found the American dream (laughs).
N: One of them lives in San Francisco.
M: Yes, Michael.
N: And the others are in New York.
M: Yes, two live there. Malachy and Alphie. You know everything (laughs).
N: Lets return to your third book. Have you thought of its title?
M: Yes, but it might be hard for people to understand: Donkey on the thistle. Thistles are purple and have prickles. Donkeys eat them. And sometimes when they are lazy after eating them, they sit down on the thistles, and although they prick them and they complain, braying, they are just too lazy to get up. And you know, my mother used to say it: you are like a donkey on the thistle, because you are always complaining. Also, a donkey was an insulting expression for Irishmen in America (laughs).
Fans of Frank McCourt who have read Angelas Ashes and Tis are waiting impatiently for his third book which, according to the author, will hopefully be finished by the end of this year.
Bea Nemeth is a 25-year-old Hungarian who has been living in Rome since October. She used to work as a journalist in Budapest, and as an organiser and vice press chief for sporting events (including the European water polo championships last year). Now she works for the International Swimming Association, as its secretary, and for the European Swimming League, as the assistant for its website.