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When I wrote this story a few years ago, I was mainly working on a novel that had an Irish priest as its central character. I thought I would try to write a story about the priest's sister, just as a way of exploring his background a little further: I thought it would be a fun little exercise. It turned out not to be so “little”. I went through eighteen drafts of this story in all, and ended up with two viable stories – both revolving around this character, Fionnuala, and her family, butdistinctly different stories.
This particular story, “A Trifle from real Life, in Ireland”, basically grew very slowly out of the first sentence. I wrote many alternative first sentences, of course, and pursued many alternative paths, over many thousands of words – but I found myself always coming back to look at this particular sentence. After a while, another sentence joined it, and then another, until the first paragraph was there. I didn't quite know where it was going, but the words had a sort of quiet dignity about them, and they seemed to be gathering momentum. I think it was when I got to the part where they returned to the kitchen table after Mikey leaving, and I wrote the words, “From eight, now they were five,” I realised what the story was about, more or less. I still didn't know how it was all going to end until I got there; then, when I stood back and looked at it, I saw that hidden in the background all the time had been the mother – the one who had watched everyone leave. The point of view shift we make at the end, when we realise that the mother has been there all along, but we haven't been paying attention to her, is similar to the shift we make in the Chekhov story “A Trifle from Real Life” which, of course, is where the title comes from.