The Garfield Conspiracy by Owen Dwyer was published by Liberties Press on 7 September 2021.
Owen kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Garfield Conspiracy.
A writer, writing a book about the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881, leaves his wife and moves in with his young assistant. He is ‘visited’ first by the assassin, who demands he find out who made him shoot the president, and then by the president himself and other characters associated with the killing. He must interview them to get to the truth and they in turn take him to task for his disgraceful behaviour. It is a story about a mid-life crisis and an impossible romance, wrapped up in a surreal murder mystery.
2. What inspired the book?
I came across the name Roscoe Conkling, while browsing through Wikipedia and became curious about such a strange name. I discovered he was one of the most powerful senators of his time and a political enemy of President Garfield. The more I read about the characters and events leading up to Garfield’s assassination, the less like the work of a lone gunman it appeared, and I became hooked. You speculate and experiment with different possibilities until you find something interesting and plausible. The mid-life crisis part came from personal experience, though I exaggerated this and asked myself a lot of ‘what-if’ questions.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
Both. I start with a theme, something I feel strongly about and build a story around it. In the Garfield Conspiracy, I wanted to explore mental illness (the assassin/the protagonist) and how if it’s ignored it can lead to serious consequences. I was also interested in the potential for humour in the exchanges between nineteenth and twenty-first century characters. I usually plan, write a bit, stop, rethink and either build on the foundation or alter until what I’ve written is solid and start building again. Most of my time is spent in rereading/rewriting.
4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you?
How much help a good publisher can give you with edits/suggestions. Writing is an isolated, lonely occupation – it was great for me to have a sounding board.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I run my own financial services business – writing is what I do to get away from it all. I read a lot and cycle two or three times a week. I have five kids, which can also keep me busy.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Ulysses, because it would take the rest of your life to truly appreciate it (I’m 57, too old to start Finnegan’s Wake).
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I’ve never been asked about the books I enjoyed as a kid. But these books were the building blocks of my love of literature and writing. The Alice books, the Secret Garden, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Edith Nesbit and yes, Enid Blyton will stay with me for ever – I could talk about them all day. There was also a series of ‘adventure’ books by a writer called Willard Price, which I loved – I’ve haven’t heard him mentioned for years and wonder if he’s been completely forgotten. Did I mention Paddington Bear?
About the Book
Richard Todd, an award-winning writer, is outwardly successful but inwardly plagued by uncertainties. Worst of all, he can’t seem to write any more. When a bright young editor, Jenny Lambe, arrives on his doorstep to work with him on his latest book, about the assassination of US president James Garfield, his life is sent spinning off in a new direction.
President Garfield was killed by Charles Guiteau, who was tried and hanged for the murder. But was he acting alone, in July 1881, or was there a more sinister force at work? Richard hears Guiteau’s voice in his head, and as his relationship with Jenny deepens, he is visited by other characters from the assassination drama – including Garfield himself, his Secretary of State James Blaine, Republican senator Roscoe Conkling, Conkling’s mistress Kate Chase Sprague, and the investigating police officer, Detective McElfresh. Are they helping Richard to solve the mystery surrounding Garfield’s murder – or pushing him further towards the edge?
A remarkable, disturbing portrait of a middle-aged man torn between his carefully constructed life and new adventures which may beckon, in the present and the past, from one of Ireland’s most exciting emerging authors, and based on original research into a little-known period in US history.
About the Author
Owen Dwyer is a prize-winning short-story writer who has won the Hennessy Emerging Fiction Prize, the Silver Quill (twice), the Smiling Politely Very Very Short Story competition, the South Tipperary County Council Short Story competition and the Biscuit Fiction Prize, and has had stories published in Whispers and Shouts magazine. His previous novel, Number Games, was published to glowing reviews by Liberties Press in 2019, and follows The Cherry-picker (2012) and The Agitator (2004). Owen lives in Dublin with his wife and their three children.