Nuala Ní Chonchúir tells us about her journey to becoming a novelist and what the future holds. Nuala will be a panellist at our Writing Long & Short event on Saturday, 14 November.
Q: You’ve published numerous poetry and short story collections and, in more recent times, novels. Is it a conscious decision on your part to move towards the longer form or has it just been a natural progression?
I actually wrote my first novel seven years before it was published (by New Island in 2010) and I have another one that was never published, so I have been writing novels all along. The progression to publishing is not always smooth or predictable. I was happy to write stories and poems alongside longer work and the order of publication has only been the luck of the draw.
Q: How does moving between different forms affect how you approach each one? Do you ever foresee a time when you’ll only focus on one?
It’s a matter of time. When I am immersed in writing a novel, I don’t have the hours, or the headspace, to write much else. Novels tend to take over my life: I think about the work constantly, I go to bed and wake up ruminating on it. That makes it difficult to have space for the thought processes that stories and/or poetry need. I miss both when I am not writing them but I have become addicted to novels – there’s great comfort and immersion in them and I enjoy that. I will never leave short stories behind but poetry has become less urgent in my life. I would love to get my poetry mojo back; no doubt it will come.
Q: Earlier this year you published your third novel, Miss Emily, which deals with the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, in North America thanks to Penguin. How happy were you with the positive reception it received?
Of course it’s great to get positive reviews and waves of loveliness from readers; it can buoy you up on a bad day. But, in a sense, you can’t believe any of it or wallow in it; if you did you would might end up stuck or conceited, or both. I am generally much more interested in the work-in-progress, or the next project, than the last one. Miss Emily has been great for me in many ways, one of which is that I found a good agent who made sure it was published well.
Q: In recent years you’ve acted as fiction mentor for students on the BA in writing at NUI Galway. Do you think you can tell if someone is naturally more suited to the longer or shorter form?
I have had students on the BA in Writing working on novels, short fiction and non-fiction over the years. The ones that shine are the ones who are clearly committed readers – they have a natural ability (and impressive vocabulary) no matter what form they are working in. All writers should try everything – you never know if you are a novelist in poet’s clothing unless you try.
Q: What is next for you? Are you writing something new and, if so, is it likely to be another novel?
I have novel #4 written (currently being read by my agent, so I am in a state of anticipative anxiety). It’s set in 19th century London and a little in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, where I live. I am also thinking about my next project – yes, another novel – but it is all a bit hazy at the moment. I had thought I would give myself a breather and write stories for a bit but this new project is calling to me like a siren.