As part of the featured author Q&A sessions, I am very pleased to announce that the featured author for the current session is Nuala O’Connor.
Nuala O’Connor was born in Dublin in 1970 and lives in East Galway with her family. She is a well-regarded short story writer and novelist in her native Ireland. It has been announced that Miss Emily is longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award (IMPAC) 2017. Nuala’s fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter will appear from New Island in 2017.
Hi Nuala, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background? I’m Irish, from Dublin, but living in Galway the last twenty years. Married with 3 kids, I write full time.
What are your ambitions for your writing career? Things are going well – I’m published by Penguin in the USA and Canada, Sandstone in the UK. I would just like to continue as I am, writing books I’m passionate about and being published. I love the travel I get to do for readings and festivals, and meeting lots of great readers and writers.
So, what have you written? Three novels (another on the way in 2018). Also four short fiction collections, three poetry collections and a couple of chapbooks (flash & poetry).
What is your most recent novel? Miss Emily is about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special Well, I guess everyone knows that Emily was reclusive and wrote a lot of poetry, mostly in secret. Her maid, Ada, comes to the house and the two become friends, despite the mistress-servant divide, an age-gap, differing religions, social status etc. Emily helps Ada to fit in and also steps up when Ada meets trouble.
What genre are your books? Literary fiction.
What draws you to this genre? I love language. I was brought up bilingual, English at home, Irish at school and university, so I’ve always lived between two languages. I was also reading from the age of three, devouring books, I ‘disappeared into them like someone running into the woods’ as Rebecca Solnit would have it. I am fascinated by the way people differ and the way they interact, so character interests me. I’m also not too gone on plot so I don’t need the plotty hit from books that, say, people who enjoy thrillers look for.
When did you decide to become a writer? I was very young. I wrote diaries and letters obsessively as a kid and I told people I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t think it was actually possible but I committed to the idea about eighteen years ago, in my late twenties.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? Mornings, from 8.30am to 12.30pm or so. That’s when the kids are not around to distract me.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day? When I am writing the first draft of a novel I aim for 500 words per day, or 2000 words per week. That seems manageable to me. Once the draft is done, I couldn’t care less about word counts, I just want to beat the thing into good shape.
Where do your ideas come from? Travel, overheard snippets, single words, images, news stories, other people’s work, history.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? I don’t plot. In short fiction and novels I never know what will happen until towards the end. Alisdair MacLeod said the ending was a lighthouse toward which he travelled, so he could see it. I have no such guiding light; I scramble in the dark a lot. But I like that.
How long on average does it take you to write a book? It depends on the book. A first draft of a novel takes about a year or so. Then I do rewrites based on feedback from my agent and editors. That can takes months, depending on what they see to work on.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? I hope I have slowed down a little, become more ruminative. I am very gung ho and quite impatient, so I tend to rush along rather than taking my time. It’s something I have to tell myself: slow down, take it easy, everything doesn’t have to be done right here, right now.
Do you read much and if so which writers inspire you? I read hungrily, books are my lifeline, my sanity, my education. I’m inspired by many, many writers. Some favourites: Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, Amy Bloom, Anne Enright, Kate Moses, Sylvia Plath, Andrew Miller, Elizabeth Bishop, Lorrie Moore, Jane Austen, the Brontës, Edna O’Brien etc.
What is your favourite book and why? If I could only have one book with me forevermore it would be Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It has the ingredients I look for in most books: lyrical language, love and humanity. I like that Jane is singular and determined; she is a woman who won’t lie down in a man’s world. She’s a fighter, a survivor.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why? Silk, Alessandro Baricco. Ostensibly the story of a silk merchant who travels alone to the Far East and falls in love, really it’s a comment on the strength, resourcefulness and patience of women. It is beautifully written and translated (I read the Guido Waldman translation most recently and I thought he did an excellent job.) I love its brevity, the connecting threads, the language, the delicacy of it. It’s just gorgeous.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Read like a maniac, write every day, cultivate discipline, be nice.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/nualanichonchuir
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.