WITH a story about an American woman who winds up in Cork working in a local radio station, Mahito Indi Henderson has been having fun writing his character for The Echo’s Summer Soap.
Now in its sixth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which starts next Monday and runs daily for a fortnight in The Echo and online at echolive.ie. This year, for the first time, you can also hear it read by the author in a podcast.
The Summer Soap is the result of a collaboration with the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC, who provide the stories, and there will be a second story running in August.
Mahito, aged 23, originally from Colorado, USA, and now living in Deerpark in Cork, has written a story called Annie May And The Hit Brigade. It’s about a woman who leaves her native Illinois after being fired from her job in a radio station.
Annie May decides to go travelling, choosing Cork, as her mother knows people in the city. The soap recounts her journey of meeting new friends, getting to know Cork, dating and landing a job on a radio station. The question is, will she stay?
The radio station is fictional, says Mahito. He spoke to some of the staff of UCC Campus Radio to familiarise himself with “the lingo of radio”.
Mahito has allowed the character of Annie May “to dictate where the story goes,” adding: “I have some experience in film and television. I kind of went the improvisational approach to the story, letting the character wander off on her own. I have experience in improv. I studied at the Second City Theatre in Chicago and drew a lot of inspiration from improv theatre.”
Why was Annie May fired from her job in the U,S? “You’ll have to read the story to find out!”
While Annie May has “elements of myself, obviously, I pretty much drew inspiration for her character from another story of mine.”
How does he find writing from a female point of view?
“It’s definitely challenging. But you know what, I’m trying to write a person.
"There are parts of myself there and parts of my friends. It’s a patchwork of people. Any kind of fiction blends with lived experience.”
In terms of a career plan, Mahito is interested “in a couple of different things, including the publishing world. I’m also interested in different types of writing. With this MA programme, I’ve been doing a lot of fiction but now I’m transitioning into non-fiction. I’m definitely interested in essays.” There has been a glut of collections of essays by Irish writers in recent times, including by Sinead Gleeson, Emilie Pine and Róisín Kiberd.
Mahito says: “I’ve just read Emilie Pine’s book (Notes To Self) it’s brilliant. I’ve also read Róisin Kiberd’s The Night Gym. I found that to be the perfect example of the form.”
Mahito’s thesis is on essay writing. He is zoning in on pertinent topics.
“I’m working on a collection of essays, touching on the education system, especially higher education in the United States. I’m also writing about the intersection of racial identity. It’s a big thing in my writing.”
As a mixed race man, Mahito says he is “excited about speaking about race from an international perspective”. His father is African American while his mother is of Scots Irish ancestry.
Will life for black Americans improve under President Joe Biden?
“It’s going to take a long time to fix it. No one president is going to be able to do that. It’s nice that things are not under Trump. I’m happy about that. But progress is slow. We just need to keep pushing forward.
“It’s a long, uphill battle but conversations around (racial discrimination) are happening, especially since (the murder of) George Floyd (by a police officer.)"
Mahito has been on the receiving end of discrimination because of his skin colour.
“Some of my essays touch on the few times I was directly affected by that,” he says. “You pick and choose what you need to be in a certain situation. I find that an interesting grey area.
“You can be in the minority and in other circumstances, you almost play at being more Caucasian. It’s a fascinating topic.”
Choosing to be a writer “is definitely not the easiest path to get into,” adds Mahito, but he adds: “I like writing. I hope to do it full time but I would love to dip into other career choices as well such as the publishing world. I’m open to opportunities. I’d say I have a healthy amount of ambition.”
Setting his soap in Cork meant that Mahito had to closely observe the city and its people.
“It was difficult during these times. But I got a pretty good sense of life here through consulting with some friends I’ve made from Cork.
“I didn’t want to go overboard with dialect because it could sound wrong with an American voice appropriating it. But I hope I got the words down and the places that are landmarks for people in the city.”
Mahito had to learn some basic terminology such as the word ‘sliotar.’
Having come here from Chicago, where he did his undergraduate degree, Mahito is enjoying the compact nature of Cork city. “I love that everything is walkable.”
He has no immediate plans to return to America. He has immersed himself in the cultural life of Cork.
“UCC has done a fantastic job of inviting speakers from the publishing industry and established authors to speak to us.”
Mahito enjoyed meeting local writer, Conal Creedon. “I read his book, Passion Play. It gave me a real feel for Cork.”
Catch the first episode of Mahito’s story in print and online at echolive.ie on Monday. For the first time this year, you can listen to the Summer Soap read by its author on a podcast.