MacLaverty, Bernard 1942–

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MacLaverty, Bernard 1942–


Born September 14, 1942, in Belfast, Northern Ireland; son of John (a commercial artist) and Molly MacLaverty; married Madeline McGuckin, March 30, 1967; children: Ciara, Claire, John, Judith. Education: Queens University (Belfast, Northern Ireland), B.A., 1970; B.A. (with honors), 1974; education diploma, 1975.


Home—Glasgow, Scotland. Agent—Gill Coleridge, Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England.


Writer. Medical laboratory technician in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1960-70; teacher in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1975-78, and Isle of Islay, Scotland, 1978-81. Aberdeen University, Aberdeen, Scotland, writer-in-residence, 1983-85, then writing teacher, c. 1985—; also visiting writer/professor at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland.




Northern Ireland Arts Council award, 1975, for stories contributed to periodicals; Scottish Arts Council award, 1978, for Secrets and Other Stories; Pharic McLaren Award, Radio Industries of Scotland, and second place for Pye Radio Award, both 1981, both for My Dear Palestrina; Scottish Arts Council award, and second place for fiction, London Guardian, both 1981, both for Lamb; Jacobs Award for best play, Radio Telefis Eireann, for My Dear Palestrina (television production); Scottish Arts Council award, 1982, and arts award, Irish Sunday Independent, 1983, both for A Time to Dance and Other Stories; best screenplay award from London Evening Standard, 1984, for Cal; Lamb voted best film by the youth jury and ecumenical jury at Lucarno Film Festival, 1987; Scottish Arts Council award, 1988, for The Great Profundo and Other Stories; Scottish Writer of the Year (McVities prize; joint winner), 1988; Irish Post Award, 1989; Booker Prize nomination, and Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award, both 1997, both for Grace Notes; Creative Scotland Award, Scottish Arts Council, 2003, and British Association of Film and Television Artists Scotland Best First Director Award, 2004, for Bye-Child; Lord Provost of Glasgow's Award for Literature, 2005.



Lamb (also see below), Braziller (New York, NY), 1980.

Cal (also see below), Braziller (New York, NY), 1983.

Grace Notes, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1997.

The Anatomy School, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2001.


Secrets; and Other Stories, Blackstaff Press (Belfast, Northern Ireland), 1977, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.

A Time to Dance; and Other Stories, Braziller (New York, NY), 1982.

The Great Profundo; and Other Stories, Cape/Blackstaff Press (Belfast, Northern Ireland), 1987, Grove (New York, NY), 1988.

Walking the Dog; and Other Stories, Blackstaff Press (Belfast, Northern Ireland), 1994.

Matters of Life & Death, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2006.


A Man in Search of a Pet, Blackstaff Press (Belfast, Northern Ireland), 1978.

Andrew McAndrew, Walker Books (London, England), 1988, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1993.


My Dear Palestrina (adapted by MacLaverty from his own short story; also see below), produced by British Broadcasting Corporation, 1980.

Secrets, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1981.

No Joke, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1983.

The Break, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1988.

Some Surrender, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1988.


My Dear Palestrina (adapted by MacLaverty from his own radio play), British Broadcasting Corporation, 1980.

Phonefun Limited, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1982.

The Daily Woman, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1986.

Sometime in August, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1989.

Hostages (television documentary), Granada, 1992, Home Box Office, 1993.

Author of television adaptation The Real Charlotte, by Somerville & Ross, Granada/Gandon, 1989.


Cal (adapted by MacLaverty from his own novel), Warner Bros., 1984.

Lamb (adapted by MacLaverty from his own novel), Flickers/Limehouse, 1986.

Also author and director of film Bye-Child.


Columba (children's nonfiction), Scottish Children's Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1997.

(Author of introduction) Work: New Scottish Writing: The Scotsman & Orange Short Story Collection 2006, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2006.

Work anthologized in Scottish Short Stories 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1982. Contributor to periodicals, including the New Statesman and Gentleman's Quarterly.


Northern Irish fiction writer Bernard MacLaverty has been praised for both the content and style of his work. His novels and short story collections explore daily life in Northern Ireland with an "unusually adept combination of craft and compassion," to quote a Contemporary Novelists contributor. Taking as his subject matter the daily lives of ordinary people in an extraordinarily violent environment, MacLaverty explores the depth of the human spirit as it is challenged by war, alienation, religious fervor, and loneliness. As a Contemporary Novelists contributor wrote of the author: "His humane concerns with the lives of marginalized figures, and his efforts to understand the lengths people go to in order to maintain their sense of themselves, make him an involving and powerful writer."

MacLaverty established his literary reputation in the late 1970s with the publication of his first volume of short stories, Secrets; and Other Stories. Set in Belfast from the 1950s until the present, the tales do not dwell upon the constant threat of violence but rather reveal the loss of illusions as young people face the realities of the adult world. Lamb, MacLaverty's first novel, reveals the tragic consequences of one man's perfect goodness. The central characters, a Christian Brother and an epileptic youngster, flee from a remote reform school and set out on the road together. "It's a story which could easily have degenerated into schmaltz," observed John Naughton in the Listener, "but Mr. MacLaverty keeps his nerve all the way, and brings off an ending which, though predictably tragic and moving, is in no way sentimental." In the New York Times Book Review, Julia O'Faolain declared that Lamb "reads like one of Aesop's fables. Plain, suspense-filled, streamlined, whittled down, it has the nerve to ignore verisimilitude in the interest of reminding us that reality is often more innocent and desperate than we think." The critic also noted: "The reader is drawn into an emotional affinity rarely achieved by serious writing in our time." Lamb was made into a feature film from a screenplay adaptation by MacLaverty.

A Contemporary Novelists contributor called MacLaverty's A Time to Dance; and Other Stories his "most successful book to date." The ten short stories, some set in Ireland and others in Scotland, range over a great deal of ground with central characters of many different ages and circumstances. In the New Statesman, James Campbell gave accolades to MacLaverty's prose, calling it "vivid and virtually faultless." The critic added that MacLaverty "has the knack of breathing life into a character in the time it takes to say a simple sentence and he never loses his awareness that the first duty of the writer of fiction is to tell a story." British Book News correspondent Alison Weir noted that MacLaverty's "tone is sombre, his material human," and explained that "he shows us how tragically cruel we are to one another." The Contemporary Novelists contributor stated: "MacLaverty has a genuine affinity with the form of the short story. The ten pieces in this collection show great versatility in tone, where the events are made sometimes gentle and touching, sometimes amusing, and sometimes they hint at great depths of passion. Remarkably, MacLaverty can write stories of poignancy and melancholy without ever falling into vapidity or sentimentality."

The best known of MacLaverty's books is Cal, a novel that sheds light on the human toll exacted by Northern Ireland's political troubles. Cal, the protagonist, is a Catholic living in a Protestant neighborhood in Ulster who is at odds with his father and stuck in an unpleasant job. Recruited by the Irish Republican Army, Cal reluctantly participates in a policeman's murder, then becomes romantically involved with the dead officer's widow. "Cal is one of those rare novels which deals with the human stories behind day-to-day news headlines," wrote the Contemporary Novelists contributor. "It takes the situation in Ulster, and personalizes the tragedy of sectarian conflict, without intrusive partisanship." In the London Observer, Valentine Cunningham declared: "No novel that I've read about the Ulster of our times seems so inward with the terrible plight of Northern Irishness as Cal is." Cunningham also wrote: "In its tense amalgam of historical particulars and mythic universals Cal achieves a formidable fictional triumph." New York Times Book Review correspondent Michael Gorra contended that Cal "is anything but a tiny marvel of technical perfection. It opens into a world larger than itself with a confidence that makes one take that world on the novel's terms." The critic also wrote that the work "is finally a most moving novel whose emotional impact is grounded in a complete avoidance of sentimentality." Cal, too, was filmed from a script by MacLaverty.

Following Cal, MacLaverty published two more story collections, The Great Profundo; and Other Stories and Walking the Dog; and Other Stories. Characteristically, the stories present moments of epiphany for juvenile or marginalized figures, while showing hints of hope for a change in Northern Ireland's plight. In a review of Walking the Dog, a Publishers Weekly contributor suggested that MacLaverty "constructs his stories around conversations, adroitly creating eloquent characterizations and compelling drama." A Contemporary Novelists contributor observed that The Great Profundo "again offers a series of encounters and incidents which resonate in the memory."

Grace Notes, MacLaverty's 1997 novel, is a meditation on creativity and its demands. Catherine Anne McKenna, a highly educated musician from Northern Ireland, faces down her childhood demons and her more recent responsibilities as a single mother as she pursues her dream of composing music. In a World of Hibernia review, Des Traynor maintained that Grace Notes "emotes a great sense of the music in everyday things, from the sounds of a heavily trafficked front door to the accustomed and thus ignored beauty of rhythmic footsteps in an airport corridor." Traynor went on to write: "Ultimately, the book is about the idea of grace in a secular world; of music as the grace of God in a post-religious age." In Booklist, Brad Hooper wrote of Grace Notes: "Impeccable in both psychology and structure, the latest novel by this first-rate Northern Irish fiction writer is an admirably graceful character study."

The Anatomy School, set in the late 1960s, tells the story of Martin Brennan, who begins the novel as an adolescent dreaming of seducing girls. When he meets the adventuresome Blaise Foley, he is delighted. However, when Blaise gets Martin to help him steal test papers, he suffers a severe beating at the hands of fellow students while the sadistic dean of discipline turns a blind eye. Later in the novel, Martin is a lonely lab assistant working at a university, only to have his life change when he meets Cindy, an Australian tourist. Gerry Feehily, writing in the New Statesman, noted the novel's "comic moments."

In his short-story collection Matters of Life & Death MacLaverty writes about human cruelty and death and the wide-ranging effects both have on people. For example, in "A Trusted Neighbor," a Protestant policeman is spurred to recall the past conflict between Catholics and Protestants after a neighbor is killed. "Up the Coast" is about a woman artist whose peace is shattered when she is raped while working in an abandoned town. As with most of the author's short-story collections, Matters of Life & Death received widespread praise from critics. "Subtle, compassionate, and richly evocative, these tales linger long in the reader's mind," wrote Lawrence Rungren in Library Journal. Many reviewers praised MacLaverty's writing. For example, Brad Hooper commented in Booklist on the book's "elegantly simple style," and a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author's "control over arc and character packs a wallop."

MacLaverty once told CA: "If I've learned anything, it's to underwrite as much as possible and to rewrite. I think you reach a stage where instead of rewriting, you just don't bother writing the bad stuff down. But at the beginning, I wrote and rewrote and hacked it about and crossed out words. I don't do so much rewriting now; I think because you have a pre-edit in your head before you put it down." He added: "I'm a very disorganized person. I can only refer to what has happened in the past, that if I do start a piece of work like Lamb or Cal, I'll work at it almost solidly, all day and at night, until I get it into some sort of shape. And then I might work regular hours on rewriting it. I think both the novels were written in about two-and-a-half to three months, and then each of them I worked on for about a year rewriting. I think it's a bit like being a sculptor in a way, in that you can't sculpt anything if you don't have a block of stone. For the writer, that block of stone is the basic first draft of fifty to sixty thousand words or whatever. Once he's got that, then he can begin to work the material."

For a previously published interview, see entry in Contemporary Authors, Volume 118, 1986, pp. 301-305.



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 31, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985, pp. 252-257.

Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 634-635.

Estévez Saa, Margarita, and Anne MacCarthy, A Pilgrimage from Belfast to Santiago de Compostela: The Anatomy of Bernard MacLaverty's Triumph over Frontiers, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (Santiago de Compostela, Spain), 2002.

Murray, Isobel, editor, Scottish Writers Talking 2: Iain Banks, Bernard MacLaverty, Naomi Mitchison, Iain Crichton Smith, Alan Spence in Interview, Tuckwell Press (East Linton, Scotland), 2002.


Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, December, 2001, Marisol Morales Ladron, "‘Writing Is a State of Mind Not an Achievement’: An Interview with Bernard MacLaverty," p. 201.

Booklist, September 15, 1997, Brad Hooper, review of Grace Notes, p. 209; August 1, 2006, Brad Hooper, review of Matters of Life & Death, p. 42.

British Book News, October, 1982, Alison Weir, review of A Time to Dance; and Other Stories, p. 641.

Guardian (London, England), May 6, 2006, Anne Enright, review of Matters of Life & Death.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2006, review of Matters of Life & Death, p. 694.

Library Journal, August 1, 2006, Lawrence Rungren, review of Matters of Life & Death, p. 79.

Listener, July 3, 1980, John Naughton, review of Lamb, p. 25.

New Statesman, April 30, 1982, James Campbell, review of A Time to Dance, p. 23; September 24, 2001, Gerry Feehily, review of The Anatomy School, p. 57; June 26, 2006, Simon Baker, review of Matters of Life & Death, p. 66.

New York Times Book Review, November 2, 1980, Julia O'Faolain, review of Lamb, p. 13; August 21, 1983, Michael Gorra, review of Cal, pp. 1, 17.

Observer (London, England) January 16, 1983, Valentine Cunningham, review of Cal, p. 47.

Publishers Weekly, March 20, 1995, review of Walking the Dog; and Other Stories, p. 43; July 24, 2006, review of Matters of Life & Death, p. 35.

World of Hibernia, winter, 1997, Des Traynor, review of Grace Notes, p. 168.


Bernard MacLaverty Home Page, (April 11, 2007).

Glasgow Westend Blog, (April 11, 2007), "Bernard MacLaverty—Award Winning Writer."

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MacLaverty, Bernard 1942–

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