About

MariaPortrait-1

Maria C. McCarthy, Photo by Gareth Arnold

Maria C. McCarthy writes poetry, short stories and memoir. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Kent, and was the winner of the Society of Authors Tom-Gallon Trust Award 2015.

After several years of living in the north Kent village of Teynham, where she wrote in a shed looking out on boats on an orchard, she now lives in the Medway Towns, and looks out on boats on the river.

There are Boats on the Orchard, a pamphlet of poems by Maria, with images by Sara Fletcher, published in 2017, is available exclusively from Cultured Llama.

Maria’s first poetry collection, strange fruits was published in 2011, by Cultured Llama in association with WordAid, with all profits going to Macmillan Cancer Support.

Her first collection of short stories As Long as it Takes, about first and second-generation Irish women living in England, was published in February 2014.

Writing as Maria Bradley, she was a regular columnist on BBC Radio 4’s Home Truths.

Maria has arranged themed events at libraries in the Medway towns, Canterbury and Swale, and at The Avenue Theatre, Sittingbourne, featuring her own work and that of local writers and musicians. She has also delivered readings, talks and writing workshops at and for: the University of Kent, Canterbury Festival Fringe, Hazlitt Arts Centre, Save As Writers, libraries in the Medway and Swale areas of Kent, A Few Wise Words Festival, Foyles Bookshop in London, and at Culture Day in Mitchelstown, County Cork.


Maria finishes five sentences for Canterbury Laureate Sarah Salway – featuring a photo of her writing shed


Maria’s books:

There are Boats on the Orchard Front Cover

There are Boats on the Orchard (published July 2017)
As Long as it Takes (published February 2014)
Unexplored Territory (published November 2012)
strange fruits (published July 2011)
Pamphlets

 

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What people say about Maria’s writing:

About There are Boats on the Orchard:

There is a distinctly elegiac feel to many of the poems in Maria C. McCarthy’s latest collection, which ‘chronicles seven years of living alongside the disappearing orchards of Kent.’ A sense of loss together with a keen awareness of what we are losing is expressed in language that is deeply felt but never mawkish.
Jeremy Page, reviewing in The Frogmore Papers
The title of this collection hints at displacement. What are “grass-locked vessels” doing in an orchard?  Displacement runs through the collection in a series of sightings. It is to be found in the image of the car on the footpath instead of the road, human detritus in the hedgerow, the juxtaposition of natural and manmade objects, of brambles and plastic boxes, blackberries and asbestos panels, plums and Stella cans. These ‘list’ poems bring out the best in McCarthy, they hold our attention with a surprise at every turn. […] This collection is a moving depiction of the changing face of our orchards, beautifully observed by a writer who cares deeply for the preservation of our natural world.
Neil Leadbetter, reviewing on Write Out Loud
McCarthy’s perspective roams far beyond her own. ‘Boy on a ladder’ is written in response to a photograph (“A corner is torn, a crease threatens to rip…”) of Ronald Leslie Harding who dies on active service in World War II. The boy is captured, pre-war, pausing from picking cherries, “A deep-filled basket rests at the foot of the ladder, / bigger around than your hands could reach.” Now “seasonal workers climb tapered ladders” (‘The fallen’) but the poem ends on a darker note “A chainsaw bite at the back of the knees / does for the spent trees. They lie where they fall.” Sheep become metaphorical labourers in ‘The faithful’, having “worked this land for a hundred years ‘ on minimum wage of grass and feed …” with a “new gang” standing “blank-faced” among the fallen trees.
Pam, reviewing on Mslexia.

I very much appreciate the quiet irony and commitment of Maria C McCarthy’s poems. Between reading and rereading this illustrated pamphlet, the title kept returning to snag at my attention. Boats, not ‘in’ but ‘on’ the orchard. It’s just the way someone might say it, of course, but that unexpected preposition is also metaphorical; the reader might think of this orchard as sea or harbour, a place where you could float a boat, or conversely as mudflats or a boat graveyard, the boats high and dry, not quite in their element, perhaps, stopped in their tracks, not in but on.

On its most simple level, the book is a faithful description of the vanishing Kent orchards, a world in danger of becoming obsolete, told through poems that chronicle seven years spent in close contact with one particular cherry orchard. From the lush found language of cherry varieties (‘Merton Bigarreau, Bradbourne Black’) to the closely observed movements of pheasants, McCarthy’s words and Sara Fletcher’s line drawings work together beautifully to convey a powerful sense of place, evoking a time of change, decay and possible renewal. The book contributes specifically to the Kent Orchards for Everyone project, making a poignant, poetic case for the preservation of such orchards.

Alex Josephy, reviewing on London Grip. Read the full review here.

And it’s the themes of ‘endings’ and being poorer for what’s lost that percolate McCarthy’s collection: disappearing cherry orchards, the loss of an inspiring view, the absence of seasonal visiting sheep, and the urbanisation of green fields accompanied by the inevitable decline in wildlife: rabbits, woodpeckers, kestrel. So the threads of resentment and sadness throughout many of the 25 poems are to be expected. In ‘Eden Village’, a housing estate built on a former cherry orchard, the children do not play in the natural paradise suggested by the title but “are in their rooms playing games.” In ‘Strange Fruits’ the hedgerows are littered with “Stella cans, a Co-operative bakery wrapper/”. 
 
But despite this tone and detail I do not leave this collection feeling bereft or hopeless and that may well be down to McCarthy’s lyrical language and syntax which, like the pheasants in the previously mentioned poem, are often “Joyous miracles.” 
 
In her previous urban home, “The quarter hours chimed with stolen light.” (from ‘Prologue’ p.1). Her home-made bunting survives, “Rain and shine, rain and shine;/ washed and dried, washed and dried.” (from ‘Drought’ p.11). And I’m particularly comforted by the poplars in the final poem, “Last” that “shush as they bend.” 
 
Because isn’t this how humanity moves forward with grace? By noticing the beauty in ordinariness? By accepting what cannot be changed? By bending but not breaking? And by celebrating and commemorating both past and present, its joys and griefs.
Lynne Rees

Read Lynne Rees’s review here.

Never mind the bucolics, here’s Maria C. McCarthy

Guy Jordan

I love the juxtaposition of the extraordinary and the mundane, the natural and the human … the human as natural. The clever crafting that doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve. A beautiful elegy to lost ways of life, parts of life that we leave behind (willingly or unwillingly), and a gently spoken hint at renewal. Moving and accomplished; it’s a lovely thing.

Jamie McCarthy

 

About As Long as it Takes:

Maria C McCarthy was the winner of the Society of Authors Tom-Gallon Trust Award 2015. The winning story, ‘More Katharine than Audrey’, appears in Maria’s collection of linked short stories, As Long as it Takes. Here are the judges’ remarks:

The writer weaves a sensual, tactile, restrained and ultimately very stylish story of loss cut through with make-belief. Because the writing is so clean, and the handling of pace so clever, the story is allowed to tell itself. It’s an unusual, rich and extremely satisfying picture of lives not lived, but ‘dreamed of’. Elanor Dymott

Impressively compressed. Aamer Hussein

Charles Lambert, author of With a Zero at its Heart  (The Friday Project, 2014), on Twitter:

@charles_lambert 
Touched and impressed by hard-won truths and restrained emotional precision of As Long as it Takes. An excellent book. Definitely recommended. 

Pauline Masurel reviews As Long as it Takes for The Short Review. Read the full review here.

These stories feature a cast of characters from an extended family which overlap to form a collage of lives that relate to each other while every story works individually as a distinct whole.  They shine a light into the commonplace of families and friends, but also the more extraordinary corners of human experience, such as a homeless man who acts as a catalyst for Love in the story of the same name.  And in More Katherine Than Audrey, a story about Noreen, who was confined in a mental hospital for being a typhoid carrier. In other stories, it is the objects featured in them which act as totems for all sorts of emotions. A mirror, a christening gown, a comb, a child’s tea-set or a set of Russian dolls: these things can be enough to set off a whole story. In fact, As Long as it Takes is a bit like a nest of Russian dolls, with one woman packed inside another woman, each helping to contain or release or the other.

William Skinner reviews As Long as it Takes for Writers’ Hub. Read the full review here.

McCarthy shares with William Trevor a profound melancholy and her tales, like the Irish landscape eternally showered with soft yet invasive rain, are similarly saturated in shame, sacrifice, and secret sorrow. Unlike Mavis Gallant’s characters, who extol the virtue of wit in despair, McCarthy’s young protagonists, caught between cultural extremes, seem to be, as Roger Waters suggests in that archetypal 1970s artefact The Dark Side of the Moon, ‘hanging on in quiet desperation’, a state he asserts is ‘the English way’. Yet these tales of identities and cultures gently eroding in the memory and across time, labyrinthine in their interplay and connected by umbilical threads, offer no possibility of escape from the minotaur that is Ireland. 

Fiona Sinclair reviews As Long as it Takes for London Grip. Read the full review here.

I particularly enjoyed the way McCarthy interweaves the narratives of different family members throughout several tales. In this way we are able to see events from different perspectives. There is also a strong sense of the links between generations. We begin to recognise familiar names, such as Maggie or Maura, which strengthens the reader’s emotional ties with the characters and their lives. For me the stories of young women in the 70s especially resonated, taking me back to shared experiences such as Saturday jobs in Woolworths , pick-and-mix counters and of course the music of the time.

First Place: ‘A Tea Party’ I loved this story on first reading, and I loved it even more with each subsequent reading. It is an intimate tale of an Irish family in England. The home is full to bursting with children, until the mother withholds sex, and the father takes a mistress. All of this is witnessed with unflinching tenderness through the eyes of a child. As her impressions accumulate, we build up a complete picture of the family’s life, their secrets and circumstances. Tightly-wrought, the point of view is skilfully developed and sustained, bringing the reader to a logical (but not predictable) conclusion. There are no concessions to nostalgia or sentimentality here–it is charming, funny, truthful, quirky and deeply moving.

Nancy Gaffield, from the Save As Prose Competition 2011 Adjudicator’s Report

‘This is a well-made and thoughtful collection of linked short stories on the theme of Irish migration. The stories are subtle and sophisticated, the characters well drawn and the world they occupy made vivid for the reader. Miss McCarthy handles the emotional and moving material very well, these are never mawkish or sentimental stories and the larger themes the stories inevitably touch on are implied and suggested rather than addressed directly. The writing overall is of a high standard and I can well imagine that these stories might form the basis of a published collection in due course.’

Stewart Brown (external examiner, MA in Creative Writing, on four stories from Maria’s collection As Long As it Takes)

‘1st Prize And I’ve given first place to ‘Cold Salt Water’ for its stunning rendering of voice. From the first words, as a young man ‘comes in with his shirt splattered with blood’, the author of this piece grabs us with economic and yet effective dialogue: ‘”Honest to God, Kieran.”’ Kieran’s response to his mother captures the relationship aptly: “Don’t fuss, Mum,” he says like it’s nothing to walk in your house with you nose spread across your face.’ Depicting Anglo-Irish relations, this is a deceptively simple story, offering an account of a family struggling to cope with identity and difference through the eyes of a mother. The central image of a blood-stained shirt soaking in cold salt water haunts the story, and as the narrator ‘push[es] it down so it’s covered’, we’re reminded of the ways in which historical, cultural and domestic violence is often pushed down, again and again, until it’s covered. It’s a quietly shocking story, beautifully written with a powerful voice, and thoroughly deserves to win this competition.’

Sarah Jackson, (‘Save As’ Prose Competition 2009, Judge’s Report)

 …so many of your poems are sharp and moving, richly suggestive with evocative details.

Moniza Alvi, author of At the Time of Partition (2013)

About strange fruits:

McCarthy keenly observes the minute particulars of life in this collection; she is particularly good at transforming the mundane details of everyday day life into something remarkable. In the poem ‘Missed you on the day it rained’ the narrator develops an unrequited relationship with a decorator she regards daily from her window. ‘After the fire at Matalan’ charts not only the fire but the aftermath where arresting imagery transmutes a burnt out store into
the carcass of this giant industrial bird, 
its carved bones bared like a half-carved turkey.

Fiona Sinclair, reviewing strange fruits for Ink Sweat and Tears. Read the full review here.

1 Comment

  • By Karol DeFalco, June 3, 2015 @ 10:44 am

    Hello Maria,

    We met in Mitchelstown churchyard in 2007 when you were researching your father. I’ve been following you via Facebook.

    I don’t actually do anything on Facebook, but fortunately, your Facebook entries arrive in my email Inbox. We must have given you my email address all those years ago. From reading your email accounts, I feel like I know you.

    This week, I was in “The Favourite” in Mitchelstown and bought a copy of “As Long as it Takes”. Can’t put it down! Diagramming a family tree as I read each chapter.

    Now that I’m near the end of the book, I realize that I will go back to the beginning to read it all again. What better compliment to an author!

    Well done, Maria! Hope that if you’re ever in Mitchelstown again, we can have a cup of tea together in O’Callaghan’s.

    Kind regards,
    Karol DeFalco

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