Author Feature Nuala O'Connor

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin in 1970; she lives in East Galway. Her second novel The Closet of Savage Mementos appeared April 2014 from New Island. Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, will be published by Penguin in the US and Canada this July and Sandstone Press will publish the UK and Ireland edition in August.

My 5 favourite books are:

1.      Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2.      Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
3.      Silk – Alessandro Baricco
4.      A Pagan Place – Edna O’Brien
5.      The Poems of Emily Dickinson – ed. Franklin

My top 5 writing tips are:

1.      Read widely – like a maniac
2.      Write every day (or at least five days a week), even if you don’t want to
3.      Don’t focus on other writers’ methods/output etc. – find your own groove and get on with it
4.      Learn to be your own best editor
5.      Buy books, subscribe to literary magazines, know your industry

Do you plan the story first and then do the research or does reading and research spark ideas?

I start out with a character or two (sometimes real, sometimes imagined, sometimes a mixture of both). I research in tandem with the writing. Which makes the first part of writing a historical novel very slow for me because I am constantly breaking away to research details like food or clothing or whatever. But there’s a buzz to research – I absolutely love it. I love uncovering juicy, interesting details that I can weave into my fiction.

Do you think historical fiction is enjoying a resurgence and why is that?
Maybe people are more open to it now? Did Hilary Mantel open a floodgate when she won the Man Booker the first time? Nobody cared much when she wrote about an Irish giant…I’ve always loved and read hist fic but maybe with the success of ‘Downton Abbey’ on TV people want to sink themselves into a cosy past, where things were more genteel and (rich) people had more time. We’re naturally nostalgic perhaps and that feeds into it.

What draws you to writing about the past?
It’s the use of imagination – there is total invention in the way the characters’ use language and, as language is key for me, that gives me a lot of scope for enjoyment as I write.
I love exploring women’s lives too – life has changed for women and it is interesting to me to look back and see how women coped. I like to bring women to the fore – men dominate the historical record.
As I say, I also adore research. I don’t like hist fic that is overloaded with facts and flavour, but a hint of how things were, a good historical atmosphere, draws me in as both reader and writer.

Do you have a typical writing day?
Yes, I write from 9am to 12pm, while the kids are at college and school. Soon to be stretched out to 2.30pm – yahoo!

What are you working on now or planning for after Miss Emily?
I will have a heavy PR round with Miss Emily so I am working towards prepping for that.
I have made a tentative start on novel #4. It’s set in the nineteenth century between London and Ireland and that is all I’m saying about it!


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