Rotten Apples - Debut novel by author and filmmaker Cal McGhee

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A YOUNG woman spends her formative years enclosed in an apple orchard, surrounded by looming apple trees, where her only contact with the outside world is through the letters she sends to her exiled father.

Set in 1940s England, author and filmmaker Cal McGhee’s debut novel ‘Rotten Apples’ centres on the young woman, Simone, as she grapples with the insular nature of the orchard where she resides with her family, and her burning desire to see the world beyond Valmont Manor.

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Cal, a 24-year-old Kimmage native, started writing the book back in 2013 when he was studying journalism, and the gripping novel was released in paperback and kindle format earlier this month.

Cal told The Echo about what fuelled his passion for creative writing, his decision to set the book in 1940s England, and the impact he hopes ‘Rotten Apples’ will have.

When did you first realise you had a talent for creative writing?

I grew up as an only child so I spent a lot of time writing and even drawing stories when I should have been playing. When I was really little, my grandmother used to mind me while my parents were at work, so I would spend entire summers writing and drawing – kids’ stuff mostly. When I was 12, I won the Jonathan Philbin Bowman creative writing competition and I still have that trophy. I think that's when I decided it would not just be a hobby, but my life’s ambition.

How long did it take for you to write ‘Rotten Apples’?

I sat down and wrote the first chapter in 2013, before I completed my degree. Then between the pressures of college, working and family life, I sporadically came back to it when I had the time. It wasn't until 2016 that it was completed in full. I've spent most of the time since then re-editing and trying to get it published.

Why did you decide to set the book in 1940s England?

There are certain plotlines in the book, like Simone's correspondence with her father through letters, that would only make sense if it were set in a different time. I am also attracted to the grandiose language used in that era, and was inspired by Daphne DuMaurier, whose work would’ve been most popular around that time. As for the English setting, I wanted the characters to inhabit that quaint yet mysterious world you often see in shows like 'Broadchurch', where the whole town could almost be complicit in covering up a family secret.

Simone's relationship with her father seems to be at the centre of the novel's plot, despite being forbidden from meeting him. How important was it to have this tension in the book?

Simone is driven primarily by this insatiable desire that there is a whole world outside her mansion for her to explore, and that her father acted as this foil. He had the ability to explore the rest of the world but was exiled from the orchard, while she was bound to the orchard and exiled from the rest of the world. She sees him as the answer to finally leaving, and her frustration from never knowing the real reason behind his exile strengthens this notion she has, that if she got to the bottom of it, then she too would be exiled – or at least welcome to leave.

Do you ever miss inhabiting Simone's world, now that the book has been completed?

You tend to get extremely wrapped up in a whole new world when you're writing fiction, and while I do miss Simone's particular world, I am excited to explore new ones through new novels I have been working on.

What was it like when you first got to hold the paperback edition of ‘Rotten Apples’?

People often tell me that I'm always dividing my attention between ten different things at any one time, so the fact that I stuck to one particular piece of work and finished it to the point of publication was such an accomplishment for me. I could breathe a sigh of relief that there was something tangible for me to hold.

What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

I hope that they’re entertained – there’s a bit of everything in ‘Rotten Apples’. It has elements of drama, romance, horror and action. If they close the final chapter feeling satisfied and entertained then I have done my job. However, there are other feminist messages I hope they take away from it as well. Some other elements I did not even mean to incorporate seemed to write themselves, like the pain that comes from growing up and leaving the nest, parental protectiveness, and feeling like the grass is always greener.

‘Rotten Apples’ is available now in paperback or kindle format on Amazon.com

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