One of the ways I got in to blogging was because I used to read young adult fiction, review it and write the classroom resources for a large UK publisher. As a result, when I heard about Eugene O’Toole’s new book, I simply had to invite him on to the blog to chat about it. Let’s see what he told me:
Staying in with Eugene O’Toole
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Eugene. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Thank you for having me — there’s nothing better than staying in with a book! I’m very grateful: I can talk about a subject that’s important to me.
It’s my pleasure. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I have brought my debut novel for young adults, Molly Path, which is published by Hawkwood Books, one of those brilliant independent presses that sometimes throw untested writers like me a lifeline. I’ve chosen it because it can be hard attracting interest in uncomfortable ‘social’ themes that are not, on the surface, glamorous.
That sounds very positive. I understand Molly Path is out today, so happy publication day Eugene. What can we expect from an evening in with Molly Path?
I hope we can expect an uplifting story that leaves the reader inspired. It’s a contemporary tale about the challenges faced by one teenage girl from a very broken home who flatly refuses to go to school. The reasons for that become clear as the story unfolds, and originate in problems she has inherited from her parents. The story is variously raw, humorous and sad—yet ultimately redemptive. The use of the first person and vernacular, hopefully, enable the reader to get into Molly’s head.
I think Molly Path sounds much needed Eugene. I’ve taught youngsters like Molly in the past.
Moreover, Molly Path is based on true events: specialist teachers I talked to about their work told me that in many such cases the root causes of truancy, exclusion, and emotional problems etc. are the parents, not the child. Here’s an extract about Molly’s mum, Stella:
“Stella is in the kitchen sucking juice from an orange, although in this case it is a cigarette. Nonetheless, she draws on it with a slurp, then gulps the breath down into her lungs forcibly like a reluctant hostage. On a good day she can finish almost an entire fag with one, long, unbroken inhalation. A crooked digit of ash dangles precariously, ready to fall with the slightest judder. It is as if the cigarette has become her accusing finger.
“Her bleached hair flops across her face and half covers it, but she does not make an effort to push it away from her sunken eyes. These languish deep in their sockets with a weariness that is hard to fathom. Around them are bagged cushions of skin smeared with yesterday’s eyeliner. Those eyes are as tired of her as she is of herself, and when she mocks the people around her which is often they roll with an autonomy that could be mistaken easily for madness. Perhaps it is.”
That’s such an accurate portrait of some of the parents I’ve encountered!
Luckily, Molly is drawn back into education by the peripatetic tutor sent by the local authority to teach her at home. It’s not well known, but behind the scenes a small, dedicated legion of teachers carry out the most heroic work imaginable helping young people like Molly. Special education centres and pupil referral units help at least 16,000 students across the country. Their work mostly goes under the radar—yet literally transforms lives. Molly forms a bond with her teacher, Eileen, who also learns a lesson about life from her pupil.
I hope Molly Path will strike a chord with young adults and their teachers, because it explores a neglected theme: the influence of the home environment on a child’s education. It’s critically important and can be a distinguishing factor in terms of educational outcomes. Without preaching, I would judge Molly Path a success it if were to make some young people reflect on just how lucky they are to attend school in the first place, but also to have parents who take an interest in their education. I have a lot of faith in young people and know from my own daughters that they care deeply about social problems and want to help.
It sounds to me as if Molly Path is a vital addition to the young adult literary world Eugene. Having worked in so many schools who cater for underprivileged youngsters I think Molly’s story would give so many an identifiable character and sense of belonging. I’m thrilled to have a copy on my TBR.
What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?
I have brought an airline ticket to Ireland, to which I will soon be travelling in order to take a copy of the novel to a retired friend who was the inspiration for this story. My friend is called Margaret and I have dedicated the book to her—because she dedicated her life to helping young people like Molly. If there were more people like Margaret, the world would be a better place.
Oh it would indeed. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about Molly Path. Let me give readers a few more details:
Special needs teacher Eileen must tutor one last pupil before retiring to her native Ireland, Molly, a teenager who refuses to attend school.
As a bond forms between them, both unravel a common thread stitched throughout their lives: a loveless mother. The books that Eileen gives Molly enable her to reflect upon the condition of her dysfunctional parents, whose demons explain her broken home.
Understanding empowers Molly to overcome her limitations, and Eileen to learn something from her student—forgiveness.
About Eugene O’Toole
Gavin Eugene O’Toole is a freelance journalist, editor and writer. He is a winner of the Listowel Writers’ Week short story and humorous essay competitions, and the Ovacome competition, and has been second, a runner-up, shortlisted or commended in several other competitions. He is married with three daughters and lives in London.