Freya McClements is a writer and journalist from Derry. Her first collection of short stories The Dangerous Edge of Things was published in 2012 (Guildhall Press), and her debut novel is due for publication in 2018. In 2017 she was selected as one of the participants in the Irish Writers Centre XBorders project, and has begun working on a fresh collection of short stories inspired by the project. As a freelance journalist, reviewer and columnist with The Irish Times, Freya reports on north-west news as well as writing the Irishwoman’s Diary column and literary reviews and features. In 2017, she won the Saboteur Award for Best Reviewer in the UK/Ireland. A staff journalist and producer with the BBC in Northern Ireland for almost ten years, she continues to make documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Foyle/Ulster.
You can hear more from Freya at Stand in Awe of all Mná, an afternoon celebrating women writers on Saturday 4th November at the Irish Writers Centre. Freya, as part of the Literary Ladies team, will discuss tips on Working Your Own Career as an artist and connecting with the community.
Q. What is your favourite book?
I’ve never been able to pick just one! The closest I can come is a shortlist. The titles change, but I’d have to include The Outsider by Albert Camus. Like many people, I read it first in A-level French class, and it’s the sort of book that strikes you as a 17-year-old, though I’ve re-read it many times since and I always come away marvelling at the strength and the simplicity of his language, as well as the resonance of its meaning.
Other picks would be George Orwell’s 1984, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – another one I keep coming back to again and again; The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, because I’m in love with the beauty of his prose in this novel; IQ84 by Haruki Murakami (I went to Japan years ago and it gave me a lifelong interest in Japanese culture, particularly literature, and this is my favourite Murakami simply because of its sheer scale and scope); Atonement by Ian McEwan… I could go on and on! My favourite in recent Irish writing Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, the initial image of Ryan leaving the boy he used to be at his front door is one I come back to again and again. In short stories, anything by Claire Keegan, and I’m really looking forward to Sean O’Reilly’s Levitation, I’ve heard such good things about it.
Q. Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction? About journalism?
I think that if the writing is good, it should make the reader think differently about life in general, and sometimes the by-product of that the reader also reflects on the way it is written. As a fiction writer and a journalist, I’m always looking at the style and structure of what I’m reading, sometimes the by-product of that is to make the reader reflect on the way it’s written, whether that’s fiction or journalism. Fintan O’Toole never fails to impress, whatever his subject.
Q. What writing/journalism trends are you noticing lately?
I think the most positive trend recently has been the backlash against fake news and clickbait headlines. We’ve been hearing for a long time that standards in journalism are in decline and that newspapers are dead, but I think that finally, it’s becoming clear that despite rumours of its demise there is still an appetite for quality, well-written journalism from the likes of the Irish Times or the Guardian – thankfully, I might add. What was particularly encouraging last weekend was the expansion of the Irish Times’ books coverage – yes, I’m biased, but to see a newspaper committing to extra pages of books coverage can only be a good thing. It’s also an important acknowledgement of the role of literature in our society and speaks of a confidence in the Irish books industry which again betokens well for the future.
Q. In The Dangerous Edge of Things (which by the way is a brilliant title) you navigate the emotional landscape of your characters as they experience testing scenarios like infidelity. Was there a particular story that was more difficult for you to write?
Thank you – the title is a quotation from Browning, but I stole it from Graham Greene (who is one of my favourite authors). He was asked in an interview what his novels were about, and he quoted Browning as his answer – “my interest’s on the dangerous edge of things, the honest thief, the tender murderer, the superstitious atheist” – which really does sum up Greene’s work pretty effectively. I’ve always been fascinated by the grey area created by those contradictions, or, to put it another way, in the fine (and often changing) line between what is regarded as socially or morally acceptable, and what isn’t. When I put those stories together, I realised that was the thread that held them together, that in some way each of the protagonists, either through their own actions or through circumstance, was on just the wrong side of that line – but then who gets to choose where that line should be drawn?
So that’s what I explore in my stories. I don’t think that any of them was especially difficult to write – my ideas tend to come from the smallest of kernels, perhaps something I’ve seen or heard, and then the characters take over. I just follow them.
Q. What advice would you share with aspiring writers and/or journalists?
Read lots – it’s the classic piece of advice, but if you want to write either fiction or journalism you need to be reading. I grew up surrounded by books – my Dad owned a second-hand bookshop, so I was incredibly lucky in that I had access to all kinds of books from a very young age, and probably titles I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. I was allowed to walk around our shop and pick anything I liked off the shelves to take home, which was such a privilege for a child who loved reading, it was like having my own sweet shop! So that undoubtedly fostered in me a love of the written word, which developed into the desire to write.
I would add to that, be observant – look at the world around you, and keep your eyes and ears open. Some of my stories have grown out of the most insignificant moments – a man and woman crossing a road in Oxford, the feel of opening a book for the first time – so if you’re not paying attention, who knows what inspiration you might miss.