Back to Main Page Bernard MacLaverty: CAL

Bernard MacLaverty


Bernard Mac Laverty was born in 1942 in Belfast. On leaving school (A-levels in English and Chemistry) he worked as a laboratory technician in the anatomy department at Queen's University, Belfast.

Queens University Belfast

When he was 28 he left that job to become student of English Literature at Queen's University where he graduated and also gained a teaching qualification. He moved to Scotland where he taught at various schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow until 1981 when he gave up teaching in order to write full time. MacLaverty began to write at the age of 19, as something to do "after the dot disappeared on the TV set." His breakthrough came in 1977 with a collection of short stories: "Secrets and Other Stories".

Love and family matters, particularly the father-son-relationship, are a central topic in MacLaverty's writing. His own father died when he was only 12.

He lived for some time on the Isle of Islay, but has now returned to Glasgow. He is married with four children.

His first collection of stories, Secrets and Other Stories (1977) won the Scottish Arts Council Book Award. In 1980 his first novel
Lamb was published. It won the Scottish Arts Council book Award and was runner-up for The Guardian Fiction Award. Lamb has also been made into a film by Channel 4. In 1980 My Dear Palestrina, a short story, was adapted for both TV and radio. It won the Pharic MacLaren Special BBC Award and was runner-up for the Pye Radio Award. The story presents a view of Ulster Catholic bigotry and offers background information about the peculiarly venomous character of Northern Ireland politics.This story and others were published in 1982 in A Time To Dance, which again won the Scottish Arts Council Book Award. A second novel Cal (1983) was made into a major film, starring Helen Mirran and John Lynch and produced by David Putman. It won the Evening Standard Film Award. Two short story collections followed, The Great Profundo (1987) and Walking the Dog (1994). Grace Notes (1997) is his first novel in 14 years and is shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

"Bernard Mac Laverty's work has been consistently well reviewed. The Spectator said of Cal: 'Mr Mac Laverty describes the sad, straitened, passionate lives of his characters with tremendously moving skill'; the New Statesman commented of Lamb that 'It has the gently quickening pace of a the best thrillers and the remorselessness of tragedy'; and reviewing The Great Profundo in the Daily Telegraph Kenneth McLeish described it as 'The sort of writing, you feel, that fiction was invented for.' "

from: World of Penguin



Lamb (1980)

"When Brother Sebastian, nee Michael Lamb, runs away from a bleak reformatory, taking with him a 12-year-old boy, the media and the police call it a kidnapping. For Lamb, it is a rescue of a formerly abused boy from a place of no hope. But as the outside world closes in, Lamb finds himself moving toward a solution that is as shocking as it is loving. Now back in print, this masterful and moving first novel was an acclaimed motion picture starring Liam Neeson in the title role."


Cal (1983)

'Mac Laverty describes the sad, straitened, passionate lives of his characters with tremendously moving skill' - Spectator

'It performs the remarkable feat of compressing into its short span both a doomed love affair and an account of the impossibility of living, in the circumstances of that doomed province, without redemption and without punishment' - Evening Standard.



Grace Notes (1997)

Literary Fiction and Classics Editor's Recommended Book, 01/10/97:
"Composer Catherine McKenna has more of a gift for music than happiness, but she has long been driven beyond harmonies (musical and personal) that her Belfast family can understand. Bernard MacLaverty renders both sides of the equation: Catherine's feminist and aesthetic striving and her mother's more traditional grasp; it's hard not to sympathize with Mrs. McKenna's impatient rejoinder, "You don't cope with music, you listen to it."

Grace Notes, MacLaverty's first novel since Cal, is as much about Irish identity--and possibility--as it is about art.
Catherine's newest piece, a mass, includes the huge drums Protestants play in parades. "It was a scary sound--like thunder. Like the town was under a canopy of dark noise." Though her fellow Catholics see the drums as instruments of threat, Catherine is determined to integrate them into her composition.

Her return to Belfast for her father's funeral brings back several ghosts, among them an influential professor who spoke of grace notes--"the notes between the notes." This novel is full of such instances, wry snatches of conversation and unforgettable observations: the new Chinese restaurant that has had to offer chips to stay in business, or the pub that's "on a slight hill. When dogs pissed at the door the dark lines ran diagonally to the gutter." These transcend the occasional passage in which MacLaverty tries too hard to see into the life and rhythms of a female artist. The final section, however, a live radio concert of Catherine's piece, is a triumph for both woman composer and male author.

Chapter One: Complete text:


Collections of Short Stories:
Secrets and Other Stories (1977)

A Time to Dance (1982)

"Ten stories by the acclaimed author of Cal:

'Expert, elegant, mature and passionate' - James Campbell in the Scotsman

Bernard Mac Laverty's beautifully turned stories are full of humour, terse realism and moments of touching or shocking surprise. Nelson plays truant and sees something he wishes he hadn't in the title story, 'A Time to Dance'. In 'Phonefun Limited' Sadie and Agnes, retired prostitutes, hit upon an inventive new way of 'making someone happy with a phone call', while in 'My Dear Palestrina' a remarkable music teacher initiates her pupil into the mysteries of art and maturity."


The Great Profundo (1987)

Walking the Dog (1994)

"A new collection of vivid, lucid stories from an accomplished Irish writer takes its title from the story of a Belfast man who is kidnapped at gunpoint by the IRA when he is out walking his dog.

Card catalog description:
This new collection from the noted Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty examines worlds in collision, relationships fragmenting, innocence coming face to face with real life and real death. A Catholic schoolboy playing football has a theological debate with a Protestant policeman; a chess game in Spain is a catalyst for grief and redemption; in the haunting title story a Belfast man out walking his dog is kidnapped at gunpoint. It is only once we enter the world of the stories that we begin to make out the huge shapes that move there: loss, love, disappointment, fierce joy.




Pat O'Connor, 1984
(Our rating: 3 out of 5)

"This bleak but beautiful love story, set amidst Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant conflict, follows the title character (Lynch), a confused, 19-year-old Catholic who is more interested in blues music than in joining the Irish Republican Army. He lives with his genteel, widowed father (McCann) in a quiet, Protestant neighborhood, where the boy meets Mirren, the widow of a policeman murdered a year earlier in an IRA bombing. Lynch and Mirren fall in love, but Lynch keeps a terrible secret from her regarding her husband's murder.
Meanwhile, Lynch and his father are the victims of Protestant threats and must stay up nights to defend their home. CAL succeeds in painting a realistic picture of "the Troubles" because it avoids simplistic moralizing, presenting the motives of love and war as complex and contradictory, just as they are in life. Of his debut film, director O'Connor said, "What I would like is to allow people to see Northern Ireland for the tragedy it is, through the love affair in which these two people are trapped by what goes on around them." Mirren received much-deserved recognition for her role when she was named Best Actress at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival."




Directed by Colin Gregg
UK 1985 1h 50m starring Liam Neeson, Hugh O'Conor, Ian Bannen

Reviewed by Fiona Crossen.

"This is an intelligent and thought provoking film based on a novel by Bernard MacLaverty. Brother Sebastian, "Lamb" (Liam Neeson), teaches in a home for delinquent boys. The home i