Wednesday, January 13, 2021

By Finian Coghlan

A SEMI-fictional memoir – mainly set around Kilcullen, and originally published on a limited run 10 years ago – has been re-released as an audio book after praise from The Guardian, John Boorman, and Lady Emma Fellowes persuaded the author to do so.

The House of Slamming Doors’ was the debut outing of Wicklow native Mark Macauley (64) who grew up in the mild suffocation of THE manor in Manor Kilbride, Blessington, in a family that owned The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times, and whose father was the master of the Naas Harriers.

It tells the story of a fictional 13-year old Justin Alexander Torquil Edward Peregrine Montague in 1963, caught between the worlds of Victoriana and JFK, Ireland and England, upstairs and downstairs, money and freedom, duty and desire.

Described by Lady Emma Fellowes as “a brilliant book – fantastically funny, terribly moving, sad – just plain magic”.

And she ought to know – being the wife of Julian, the author of Downton Abbey – and hers was not the only high table praise for the novel, as both The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement added their critical heft to the book on release, as did Rosita Sweetman in the Indo here, saying: “Macauley’s brand spanking new, angry voice tells the Big House story with a surprising twist. Here’s hoping The House of Slamming Doors flags the start of a whole new, stellar career.”

With the reviews as good as they were Mark hoped that Lilliput would re-print the book with a selection of the reviews on the cover as is practice in the publishing trade, but for some reason they chose not to.

My publisher, in my humble opinion, made little effort to push the book, and I was devastated,” said Mark.

I was a little shocked at this – that they didn’t put the reviews on the cover,” he said.

They like publishing books, but not for doing too much hard work,” he suggested.

This festered a little with Mark for nearly a decade until last year, he was approached by a friend Shaun Beary, the late Mullingar author JP Donleavy’s great buddy.

Shaun bullied me to get the rights back!” explained Mark.

Shaun wrote; ‘The House of Slamming Doors is the best book to come out of Ireland in my lifetime. The Ginger Man [Dunleavy’s magnum opus] is pretty close to the best to come out of France’…,” said Mark, as it was banned for publication here.

After some discussion Mark was able to negotiate the rights to the book in September, and re-released it as an audiobook in which he himself does all 40 of the characters mentioned in it.

I bought the rights back – after a brief tussle – and decided to try and create the best audio book ever. I may have succeeded,” said the now Wiltshire resident with a bit of a chuckle.

Unsurprisingly, the equine featured large in his reminisces, for a man who once shared a Punchestown changing room with the great Tommy Carberry, and dreamt of joining the Army Equitation School in The Curragh.

Mark remembers the then US Ambassador to Ireland Raymond Guest – owner of both L’Escargot and Sir Ivor – commissioning a painting of one of ladies who sold her wares at the races.

Aggie sold her “apple, pears, chocolates and bananas!” from an old pram at the races back in the day.

It was the people who worked the farm I was closest to,” he said, although this was mostly during his school holidays, as his traditional parents shipped him off to Farleigh House boarding school in Hampshire when he was just eight.

He stresses the House of Slamming Doors is not autobiographical, although he conceded his upbringing in such a gilded cage is heavily leant upon.

I’d always told people about my upbringing, and people were always saying I should write it, but for years I didn’t know how,” said Mark.

Then I went back to ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and saw how I could write it in the first person as a 13 year old boy, like Holden Caulfield,” he said.

The full re-launch is available on Amazon, and though it’s self-published, it comes with outstanding reviews which you don’t usually get for the self-published. Lucky me!” he laughed.

I’ve put my heart and soul into this book, and I will do anything to get it out. If it’s a failure, I’ve done my best,” he concluded.


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