As You Were: Questions with Elaine Feeney

The Dublin Book Festival team are delighted to sit down for a virtual chat with Elaine Feeney, who is thrilled to answer some questions from our followers about her new book, As You Were.

What’s book / movie someone would be surprised to know you’re a big fan of?

I think people might be surprised to know that I’ve read the Bible three times, and so perhaps that might make me an unwilling fan. It was on those occasions that I was holed up in hotel rooms and had forgotten a book, and had gone through the hotels amenities and room service menu too many times. I love reading, so I’ll read anything. The ending of this book was quite shocking. The verse is good.
I also love to lose myself in Math’s channels on YouTube, and will watch them for hours and hours as mathematicians solve puzzles on green chalkboards. I am a huge fan of Maryam Mirzakhani, and watch her work a lot, although I don’t think I understand much of it. I still find her fascinating. She was dubbed a leader in ‘science fiction mathematics’, and was the first women to win the Fields’ medal. She sadly died at a very young age. Mirzakhani worked at maths like an artist, big canvasses and bigger ideas and I just love minds like these. Of course, I’ve gone of movie/ book point. I think people might be surprised to learn that I love graphic novels. Flake by Matthew Dooley was one of my absolute favourite reads for 2020. I have a particular inclination into 1970’s dramas, and I love Tales of the Unexpected, The Good Life and The Irish RM. I am a fan of short stories, and Roald Dahl’s Kiss Kiss, in particular the gothic story of the Landlady was a huge influence in the formation of Jane Lohan and her mannerisms in As You Were.
I watch Beckett on film after a few drinks and fall asleep to it quite a lot.

We’ve achieved marriage equality and repealed the 8th. What big political change to our nation would you like to see next?

We need to abolish Direct Provision now. Just abolish it. Also, appropriate and fast redress scheme for Survivors of Instructional abuse and incarceration. Many of who are aging now. I would favour a rehaul of the education system, including church and state separation in the patronage and trusteeship of education, and I would love to see a revision of the Leaving Certificate, as it’s in a state of flux at the moment, now is a good time.

What aspect of writing novels compared to poetry or stage that you’ve found yourself surprised by?

I think many people have said that As you Were takes a lot of influence from stage and poetry so I suppose perhaps I didn’t move as far away from those genres as I felt I had myself. You learn fast to love and lean into your characters in novel writing. They became a long lasting voice in your life. In fact, they become larger than life for a while. As You Were has a cast of almost thirty characters, and I’ve chatted privately with them all!

Perhaps writing Jane Lohan and Margaret Rose Sherlock gave me a release from myself, to have people live a life you haven’t lived, make decisions you wouldn’t make, to allow characters on the page to be flawed, as humans are, and still root for them, champion their lives, this was wonderful. I love poetry, ever since I was a young child, and I love language and how to bend it and manipulate it, also how we can shock with it. But in poetry I was entering a stage where I felt a pressure to be on point, or true, and I could find a bottom to that.

I had come through a slam poetry scene, it was political and angst, and it was heavily influenced by the ‘I’ The ‘self’. And in writing a motley crew of mad characters in As You Were I felt that I had reentered the world. I like writing best, when it reflects the brilliant colour of people, of humans in love, humans in struggle, in life and in death, and at this period in my life, As You Were was the right book for me. After a protracted illness and feeling alone for almost two years, the return to myself (the me Elaine!) in writing felt very claustrophobic, and I wanted to look outwards.

I’m also not that madly interesting as a person, so fiction allowed me my imagination scope, and I could pull up people far more interesting than me, often with more life experience. Also you’re never alone when you create characters. We hear a lot about ‘getting out of your head and into your body’ jargon in modern day pop psychology, but there’s a lot of good truth in it. I guess poetry lives very much in the feelings, in the head, the senses, and the escape is in the natural and the aesthetic.

I wanted to run for a little awhile from this. The inter generations character of my novel are big and nosy and they blocked out my own head for a few years, I quote Mike McCormack’s brilliant line from Notes Form A Coma at the beginning of the novel, ‘I want to take my mind off my mind’ and I think this was the essential difference in writing a novel to writing more poetry for me.

Also you get a lot of reviews. I never thought about this when I was writing it, and I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing, but just, a warning!

#AskanAuthor is an initiative at the Dublin Book Festival that encourages our audience to pose questions to the authors at DBF 2020. We may be going digital but we want to make sure that our audience don’t miss out on direct engagement with the authors. 

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