Cethan Leahy is a writer, filmmaker, and editor of Irish literary magazine ‘The Penny Dreadful’. His short stories are published in ‘The Looking Glass,’ ‘Wordlegs’ and ‘Five Dials’ and he has written two Fiction Express eBooks for Middle Grade, ‘The Chosen One (and his mum and his dad and his sister)’ and ‘Prince Charming and his Quest for a Wife’. Cethan’s animation short ‘The Beast of Bath’ was broadcast on national television. His short film ‘The Amazing’ appeared in Cork film anthology ‘Cork, Like’ in 2013. His radio programmes, including children’s drama ‘Tales from the Fairy Fort’, have appeared on LifeFM and RTEJnr digital radio. He has also contributed illustration work to Cork comics press Turncoat Press.
Tuesdays Are Just As Bad, Cethan’s debut YA novel, follows Adam, an Irish teen who struggles with his mental health. When he wakes up in hospital after a suicide attempt, Adam has company: a ghost. Narrated by this‘ghost’, Tuesdays is a witty, heartfelt novel that follows Adam’s journey back to the realms of normality – if such a thing exists. I (Jennie) caught up with Cethan recently during an interview at Waterstones Belfast; here’s a print (and slightly expanded) version of what we talked about that day.
Jennie: Hi! How are you? Are you excited to have your first YA book in print as a real, physical thing you can hold in your hand?
Cethan: I’m super excited! I can scarcely believe it is a thing that happened.
J: Tell us a bit about the book. What inspired the title?
C: The book is about a boy who attempted to kill himself. He succeeds briefly so his ghost appears but on the way to the hospital he is revived but the ghost is still around. In essence, he is haunted by himself.
The title is a long story but it involves a terrible dinner, a moon and someone singing a blues song wistfully on the DART.
J: I know Tuesdays won the Mercier Press Award; can you tell us a bit about that process and the novel’s journey from idea to publication?
C: There was a call out for fiction entries, someone told me about it, so I decided to enter it in. Like most writers, I really did not expect to see my name published so it was a dream come true, if you pardon the cliché. The editing process was intensive but enjoyable and then eventually it was a physical thing I could hold in my hands and see in shops and point both loved ones and strangers to.
J: You’re a man of many talents, also dabbling in illustration and filmmaking. How have these areas influenced your writing, if at all?
C: The illustration not so much (other than my doodles when I should have been writing notes) but the film making I think proved very influential in two ways. The dialogue scenes I was very conscious of what it sounded like if it was spoken by real people and so I made sure it didn’t sound like aliens. Also it trained me in economy of storytelling. The book moves quickly and I think that is due to a film background than a literary one.
J: Tuesdays has been compared to Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It and Claire Hennessy’s Nothing Tastes as Good. How does it feel to have your debut novel up there with some of the heavyweights of the Irish YA scene?
C: Oh I’m honoured and slightly intimidated! Louise and Claire write excellent books that really encapsulate their subjects so it’s a good sign that if I’m compared to them, then I haven’t gone too wrong. I have to say the Irish YA scene seems to be very welcoming in general and I am delighted to be a member of it.
J: Tell us a bit about your writing routine. What’s a typical ‘day in the life’ for Cethan Leahy: author?
C: I used to write sitting in bed in the middle of the night, but that proved to be not very good for the old back so I now do most of my writing at various kitchen tables at more sensible hours. If I need a kick, I go to a cafe and write there. I also listen to music, either movie soundtracks or songs I know so well I don’t get distracted by them. I know some writers who need nothing but complete silence, but I always need some level of background noise. I write next to an open window as we speak!
J: Given the sensitive subject matter, when you were writing Tuesdays did you find yourself invigorated or totally drained? How did you distance yourself from the work?
C: I was so happy with the initial concept that I blasted through the first draft pretty quickly. After that, I was always careful to alternate between lighter and heavier chapters, so that I wasn’t spending too long in a particular headspace.
J: The topics of suicide and mental health are being brought more and more into the spotlight at the moment – I’m thinking particularly of the controversial Netflix adaptation of Thirteen Reasons Why. Despite what people might think, the book really beautifully blends humour and wit with the darker aspects of the narrative. That said, because you’re dealing with such a serious topic, did you feel a sense of responsibility while writing? How did you approach the challenge of discussing suicide sensitively in a YA novel?
C: Oh of course. It’s a difficult topic to approach and it’s easy to tip over into either saccharine irrelevance or lurid glamourisation. With “Tuesdays Are Just as Bad”, I tried to use the ghost to create a distance from the main character, Adam, which allows the reader to see the subject from a more digestible perspective while avoiding pat answers or easy solutions.
J: Recently, The Guardian reported on a study which found that only 4% of the children’s books published in 2017 featured BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) characters, while only 1% of books published in the UK last year had a BAME main character. Of course, one of the main characters in your book, Aoife, is of colour, but how do you think YA can do better? What are the steps the industry needs to take moving forward?
C: The main thing is to publish more BAME authors and to have more hiring diversity in the publishing industry. Beyond that, if, like me, you are a white author, writing POCs in your book is good, but you have to investigate your intentions. If they are characters by their own right, great! But if they are just props for your white protagonist, you need to reconsider your direction.
J: Other than your own (of course!), what are some of your favourite YA novels?
C: I am a big, big, big fan of Deirdre Sullivan’s “Primrose Leary” trilogy. It made me completely reconsider how one could approach an Irish YA book. Alice Oseman’s “Solitare” is a fascinating book I return to often and I would happily read anything by Sheena Wilkinson and David Levithan.
J: What do you get up to when you’re not writing? Any guilty pleasures?
C: I watch a lot of horror movies. Did you know that there is a movie where the ghost girl from “The Ring” fights the ghost girl from “The Grudge”? It’s everything you could possibly dream of.
J: Any plans for Book #2 or other future projects?
C: I am working on a supernatural YA novel set in West Cork. It features unrequited love, missing persons and a lesser known creature from Irish folklore.
J: For any aspiring writers out there, YA or otherwise, what would be your main advice?
C: There is so much writer advice out there, my main advice is try out all of them until you find whatever works for you (which will most likely be a mishmash of several ones). Oh also buy a copy of “On Writing” by Stephen King.
J: YALMC founder, Leah Phillips, and her colleague Melanie Ramdarshan Bold are currently working on a research project called Adolescent Identities. As part of this, they’re asking what YA character you identify with. So, Cethan: what’s your YA identity?
C: Oh interesting question! The only person I can think of offhand is Cassandra from “I Capture the Castle” as I too like decrepit houses and am more of a Bronte than an Austen.
J: Finally, since we all love books (and are also insufferably nosey), what are you reading right now?
C: In YA I’m reading the most poetic “Spare and Found Parts” by Sarah Marie Griff and in non-YA, I’m reading “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by Ottessa Moshfegh
Thanks, Cethan! Tuesdays Are Just As Bad (9781781175644 ) is available to buy now.