DBF Interviews: Danielle McLaughlin

Danielle headshot arts councilDanielle McLaughlin previously worked in local government, and practised as a solicitor in the public, private and voluntary sectors, with a particular interest in Housing Law. She holds BCL and LLM degrees from UCC, and was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 1996. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines such as The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, Southword, The New Yorker and have been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4. Her debut collection of short stories Dinosaurs on Other Planets was published in Ireland by The Stinging Fly Press 2015, and in the UK (John Murray), US (Random House) and Slovakia (Inaque) in 2016. She edited Counterparts, an anthology of work by writers with a legal background published by The Stinging Fly Press in November 2018 in aid of Peter McVerry Trust. She is UCC Writer-in-Residence 2018-2019. Together with Madeleine D’Arcy, she co-runs Fiction at the Friary, a free monthly fiction event in Cork which takes place at the Friary Bar, North Mall on the last Sunday of every month.

Danielle will be joining us for Counterparts, an exciting charity event bringing together law and literature, on Sunday 18 November. Here, she talks to us about her sources of inspiration, the human stories found in law reports, and the Peter McVerry Trust.


Your new anthology, Counterparts, brings together the work of Irish authors with legal backgrounds. What can you tell us about the book and its contributors?

Counterparts is an anthology of work by writers with a legal background, proceeds going to Peter McVerry Trust. Contributors include barristers, solicitors, judges, law librarians, legal academics, among others. There’s fiction, poetry, drama, personal essay and the work of each writer features alongside an extract from a legal judgement chosen by them, with a note saying why they chose it. I practised law for many years before becoming a writer and I was often struck by the very fine writing and captivating human stories found in the law reports. I thought that a synergy of law and writing would make an excellent book. The anthology features a mix of new work and previously published pieces. In some cases the writers have taken a legal judgment as a jumping off point to write a new story or poem, sometimes it has been an image that provided inspiration, sometimes a particular sentence from a judgement. Everybody involved with putting the anthology together has contributed their time and their work for free in support of Peter McVerry Trust and we’re grateful that legal firms have generously sponsored the printing costs. All profits are going to Peter McVerry Trust, so it’s a very effective way for people to contribute money to help alleviate the homelessness crisis, and in the process receive a very beautiful book.

The connection between law and literature isn’t one that all readers would think to make. What do you feel inspires so many legal professionals to try their hand at writing, and what makes them such natural storytellers?

I think both law and writing involve an intense focus on language. With both professions, every day you’re involved in examining paragraphs, sentences, words. You’re watching for nuance, taking note of tone, wondering if you’re using the best word, if you’ve taken account of all possible interpretations. And then both law and writing are also involved in dealing with the most complex and intimate human stories, interrogating them, examining them from different points of view, communicating them in a way that will make a meaningful connection. Law, like writing, requires immense creativity, you’re always pushing at the boundaries, looking for new and innovative ways around things.

How do you feel your legal background has contributed to your own writing?

Law has trained me to understand the power of specifics. It has taught me that there are many different versions of the same story, depending on whose point of view it’s approached from. Law has also taught me to draft to deadlines, to be aware of the cost of sloppy language (a cost that’s usually higher in law than in literature…) The pressure that lawyers mostly work under has made me appreciate the freedom of writing fiction, where it’s possible to delete a clause without worrying that you’ve cost the client a lot of money.

Lastly, for those hoping to develop their own writing skills or just looking for a good read, can you name one book that has inspired you?

It’s so difficult to name just one! I think I’ll go with Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a book I read when I was a teenager that made a huge impression on me.

Counterparts is published by The Stinging Fly Press. Pre-orders can be made on the Stinging Fly website: https://stingingfly.org/product/counterparts/
As well as the paperback and hardback editions, there are 300 Special Cloth-Bound Limited Editions, numbered and presented in a slip case.