Three Questions with . . . Frank Shovlin

Author: Mary Hendriksen


Frank Shovlin is Professor of Irish literature in English at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool. A native of the west of Ireland, he is a graduate of University College Galway and the University of Oxford and is the author of three monographs on subjects varying from the Irish literary periodical, to Joyce’s Dubliners and, in 2016, on John McGahern’s style.

Professor Shovlin's edition of The Letters of John McGahern (Faber & Faber) was published to critical acclaim in September 2021, and he is now writing McGahern’s authorized biography. He was a visiting fellow at the Keough-Naughton Institute in September 2019, when he gave a talk on “The Letters of John McGahern (1970).”

What are you working on?

Right now I’m mainly preparing for a return to face-to-face teaching for the first time in almost two years, a situation enforced upon us by the pandemic. It’s a very strange, anxious feeling but hopefully we’ll all slot back into that groove reasonably quickly.

In terms of my research, my edited volume of John McGahern’s letters was published in September and I have a number of promotional events still upcoming in London, Limerick and Paris. I have now started work in earnest on McGahern’s authorized biography, having signed a contract with Faber in October. It is not always easy to combine research and writing with teaching preparation and delivery, but I’m hopeful that I can get back into the swing of writing as spring dawns. This is another big project and is likely to take several years but I would be a fool to try to predict an exact end date.

What are you reading?

I am reading a novel called The Getaway by the American crime writer, Jim Thompson. It was recommended to me by a friend and I knew nothing of Thompson before, but I am thoroughly enjoying this story of a bank robber and his increasingly desperate efforts to flee to Mexico. Published in 1958, it is classic hardboiled noir with some remarkable prose carrying the plot along. The other book I really admired recently is by the Irish writer Louise Kennedy. A collection of short stories titled The End of the World is a Cul de Sac, it is Kennedy’s debut and yet has all the surety of a seasoned veteran. Filled with images of a post-boom Ireland of ghost estates and people living on the edge, it’s an often thrilling and superbly accomplished look at the modern nation.

What, during the pandemic, are you missing?

Well, I am very much hoping that in another few months we may be able to begin speaking about these strange times in the past tense. But probably what I missed most was ease of international travel. Ordinarily I go to and fro between Britain and Ireland as easily as I might take a train to Manchester, but all that stopped during the pandemic and I missed seeing family and friends back home as much as I was accustomed to. On the other hand, the various lockdowns also brought good things: I especially enjoyed homeschooling my son and daughter and getting to know them really well at an important stage of their childhood. I actually miss all that as I write.