Nuala O’Connor: a flash interview

Nuala O'Connor photo by Úna O'Connor

1. You write both contemporary and historical fiction. Could you tell us some of the challenges you’ve faced in using real people as the inspiration for your characters?

The challenges usually come from other people. By the time I’m writing about a real-life character, I’ve already gotten over any audacity I may have felt when inspired to use them fictionally. But relatives of the person, naturally feel that they ‘own’ the person/character and are often wary of how you’ll present them. Ditto scholars, if the person was a writer. Every fictional story has villains and inevitably, with biographical fiction, some of those villains are real people. For example, in my novel about Emily Dickinson, Miss Emily, I painted her brother Austin quite darkly. In real life he was eccentric, but I also made him actively boorish and racist, for fictional drama. Some Dickinson fans and scholars were uncomfortable with that – though there was truth in my portrayal – and other fictional choices I made. That’s the nature of writing bio-fiction. I imagine when my Nora Barnacle novel comes out the Joyce fans and scholars – there are a lot of them – might be hopping. C’est la vie.

2. Your latest novel Becoming Belle is based on dancer Belle Bilton. What was it about Belle that captured your imagination?

When I first heard of Belle, I became fascinated with the notion of a beautiful young dancer/actress swapping the delights of bohemian London for life in rural Galway and, by all accounts, thriving. Of course, when I looked into it, there was much more to Belle’s life than could be seen on the surface. The more I discovered, the more I realised her life was unusual for her era and that she survived many blows. She was a proto-feminist – she wanted to progress, to throw off her early life and become ‘someone’; she wanted to be seen and heard and she worked hard for financial independence. I loved her courage and I wanted to get to know her more deeply by writing her story.

3. I know it’s like choosing between your children, but if you could recommend just one of your books to a readership, which would it be and why?

I suppose I’m very fond of my semi-autobiographical novel The Closet of Savage Mementos (New Island, 2014). It’s set in the Scottish Highlands, mostly, in 1991 and in 2011, and it’s about Lillis Yourell, a young Irish woman who moves to the Highlands, gets pregnant by an older man and the choices she makes about her baby son. It’s closely based on my own experience though I made different choices to Lillis. It’s about the ways the past influence the present, grief, single motherhood, love, family woes – all the big stuff. I loved writing it and I’m proud of the novel in a way that’s kind of deep for me. Mostly I don’t much like what I write but The Closet of Savage Mementos feels different and the publishing experience with New Island was fantastic too. That always helps!

Nuala is taking part in our event Strangers in a Strange Land on Sunday 29th September @ 13.00 in Bray Town Hall along with writers Mary Costello and Oisin Fagan.

Photo by Una O’ Connor

Csilla Toldy: a flash interview

Csilla pic

1. Csilla – you described in a radio interview that you did last year in Hungary as “a somewhat nerve-wrecking challenge” because you had to translate your poetry into Hungarian. Do you think that poetry works in translation?

Tanya, this is a challenging question. Up to the age of 18 I read world literature in translation, including Baudelaire, Whitman, Ginsberg, Heaney or Pasternak. We cannot do without translations if we want to read writers from all around the world. But I think that poetry can only be well translated by poets and it really works if there is a deep connection between the poet and the translator. Thomas Kabdebo is a fantastic translator of my favourite Hungarian poet, Attila Jozsef and I am lucky to be able to read him in both languages. The reason why I felt challenged about having to translate my own work was the fear of re-writing or fundamentally changing out of respect for my environment. The threat of self-censorship.

2. You work in many genres: poetry, memoir, short fiction, and I believe you are currently working on a novel. Are you more at home in any particular genre – do you feel that different genres can address different things?

Yes, I love exploring different forms of writing. In the novels it is almost like a journey, the characters tend to take me to places that I never thought of. In poetry the form is always an adventure and it can be very cerebral, even though we might think that poetry is closest to the soul. Since I have been writing flash fiction I discovered that there is an overlap and you can be poetic in prose. There are breathing spaces like in a poem and the silence can tell often a lot more. I am interested in the borderline as well, where the form becomes an experiment – like the biographical novel, which is a cross-breed of fact and fiction.

3. You have an extensive background in film and have won prizes for your scripts. Are you still involved in that area?

Yes, I am working with people in Hungary at the moment, but film making is such a long, tedious and risky business for the writer! She is at the bottom of the hierarchy, fully disposable and replaceable, even though everybody agrees that the script is the most important element of the whole business. I tend to apply a “let’s go and do it now” attitude. Since I discovered digital technology, I also make film poems. This is very satisfying. I can take these to exhibitions and festivals and eventually show them on my website at

Csilla is facilitating our Memoir workshop on Saturday 28th September in St Cronan’s NBS, Vevay Road: 10.00-12.00 Reserve your place by emailing:

Geraldine Mills: a flash interview

Geraldine Mills Photo by Iain Mc Donald

1. Geraldine – you are taking part in Across the Genre event this year. You’ve written poetry, short stories and a children’s novel. Could you tell us how the writing process differs according to what your focus is?

A new piece of writing nearly always starts with an image and that image decides itself what it wants to be. If I force it into a coat that is too big or too small it will sulk, rebel. Therefore, it behoves me to listen to the pictures that are gathering in my head and give them the garment that best suits them.

The ideas have to go for a walk with me so I can step out the rhythm of a line or the movement in a scene of fiction. It is in that stepping out that it becomes clear if it will be a poem or a short story. Each writing process requires sitzfleisch. The bum has to then go to the seat and the hand has to start to put some semblance of shape on the page.

2. Do you consider festival appearances to be of benefit to writers and how so?

Yes, I do. One thing I love about writing is its solitary nature. But every so often I need to come blinking into the light of the real world. Festivals allow a connection with the part of humanity that loves literature. That connection is important for me. It’s always very rewarding to read to an audience who appreciates what you are attempting to do.

3. Would you like to tell us what you are currently working on?

I’m doing the final edits to my fifth poetry collection ‘Bone Road’ to be published by the inimitable Arlen House in the next few weeks. It is a verse memoir, charting the journey of my great-grandparents and their six children to the US in 1883. Then it’s back to taking some new idea for a long walk.

Geraldine is taking part in our Across the Genre event along with writers John O’Donnell and Paul Perry on Sunday 29th @ 14.30 in Bray Town Hall.

Adrian Duncan: a flash interview

_A1V_3592 portrait

1. Love Notes from a Building Site is you first novel. Did you approach a publisher directly or attempt to get an agent. Why?

At first I approached two Irish publishers, but the MS in its early stages was turned down by both. One of the publishers was Lilliput Press, but their rejection letter came with helpful, encouraging notes. I was in touch then with a few literary agents in the UK. Two showed some interest in the collection of short stories I’d written, but once I sent them on the novel, they suddenly fell quiet. In the end, after a couple of years of re-writes, I decided to make contact with Lilliput Press again. Antony Farrell, the publisher at Lilliput, had always left the door ajar for me there. I was still somewhat surprised when they responded expressing interest in the reworked MS.

2. Do you feel that Irish authors benefit from living abroad?

It might not suit everyone, but I think I have benefitted in this instance. The German language and its compound nouns, verbs, etc., play a central part in Love Notes from a German Building Site. It’s unlikely I would have written that book if I had not moved to Germany, but I reckon I would have almost certainly written something about building sites – I find them incredibly interesting in and of themselves. Some of the non-fiction I’ve written over the last few years has come from a curiosity for German towns with their cultural and technical artefacts, but ultimately I think if you are curious about the place you live then it shouldn’t really matter too much if you are living abroad or not.

3. The best fiction often contains elements of truth. What, if anything, do you have in common with your protagonist Paul?

I’m finishing up an edit with Lilliput Press on my second novel, A Sabbatical in Leipzig. The narrator, Michael, is a retired bridge engineer in his late seventies, and it’s strange because I feel far closer to him in terms of personality than I do to Paul in Love Notes, who is closer to me in age and apparent circumstance. That said, because I studied and worked as an engineer for almost two decades, there are certain types of knowledge that fed into the novel and had an effect on Paul’s state of mind. I suppose we are also similar in that we both live in Germany and have struggled to learn the language, not to mention that I am also inclined towards making series and lists, so our methods of organising material would be shared. I learned also, however, when you spend a good deal of time with a character they develop personality traits that are unforeseeable, and I would say some ideas did appear in the work that in a sense came from Paul.

Adrian Duncan is participating in Brave New Words along with writers Wendy Erskine and Jackie Gorman on Saturday 28th: 14.30 in Bray Town Hall.

Jess Kidd: a flash interview


1. I love how you mix genre – your work is at once literary, comedic, and tragic, and veers from cosy mystery to magic realism. Did you set out to defy classification? Or is this purely the work of an unbridled imagination?

Thank you, I’m glad you enjoy the mixture! If I set out to do anything it’s to hopefully give the reader an experience, with an immersive world, a compelling plot and characters they might think about after the book has ended. A bit ambitious on all counts but that’s what I want as a reader. I like drawing on different genres and the challenge is sometimes how to reuse well-worn tropes and make them feel unexpected in some way. But really at any given point I just try and tell the story in the best and most satisfying way I can.

2. The protagonists in all three of your books commune with ghosts – could you tell us about your interest in the supernatural?

I think this really comes from my upbringing in a family which didn’t shield me from death. Otherwise the ghosts that featured in the stories I heard were often fairly practical. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the traditional Gothic ‘corner of your eye’ ghost (although I write these too). I wanted my dead characters to come with a sense of lives lived. I also have great difficulty in accepting this apparent ending of someone’s story, there’s a fundamental unfairness to that. In all my books I’m fascinated not just with the idea of ghosts but also who sees them and why. My protagonists to date, I think it’s fair to say, have had difficult pasts and this is often combined with an unusual way of seeing the world. The ghosts are there to somehow remind them of where they have been and hopefully help them get to where they are going.

3. One of my favourite descriptions of your work comes from a review of your second novel The Hoarder by Tanya Sweeney in the Irish Times: The review was titled: “Jess Kidd: ‘Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets The Pogues” Did you enjoy that description – is it accurate do you think?

I love this description too, mostly because it gives a hint of the background I draw upon. I suppose we have the London Irish element in there with The Pogues and that combination of the tender and the gritty or brutal – which to me has great humanity. It’s the wish to open a window onto someone else’s experience and to give voice to that. I’m particularly drawn the story of the person displaced or the outsider. And of course both The Hoarder and Things in Jars are set in London with Irish protagonists drawing on that connection.

The reference to Gabriel García Márquez is a great complement and touches on my love of magic or magical realism – this genre beyond all others influenced me as a younger writer. One of the things I found fascinating was that oral or storytelling traditions often informed the ‘fantastic elements.’ So stories told become literally real. Magic realism is about the fantastic erupting in our own world – it’s not quite like fantasy which might offer a parallel or different world entirely. For me, this kind of writing is a relative to the ‘tall tale’ where the fabric of reality is stretched although at the outset it might be anchored to a real happening. We didn’t have a lot of books growing up (other than art books, which my late father loved) but I was surrounded by storytellers, so this type of literature really appealed to me.

Don’t miss “An Evening with Jess Kidd and John Boyne” on Saturday 28th September at the Mermaid Arts Centre at 8pm.

Book tickets here:

Patricia O’Reilly: a flash interview

Patricia O' Reilly

1. Patricia, you have been teaching Creative Writing for many years now, have you seen success stories amongst your writing students?

I’ve been teaching the writing of fiction for about about 20 years – in UCD as part of the Lifelong Learning Programme, at various literary festivals and with the Irish Writers Centre. Down the years we’ve had successes – books published traditionally and as e-books; short stories included in anthologies and various award winners. Our concentration, as well as the mechanics of writing for today’s market, is the importance of nurturing creativity.

2. Your latest novel The First Rose of Tralee is set in the 1840’s. What challenges did you come up against in your research?

No particular challenges with research, but masses of it required! I used the National Library for newspapers of the time (microfiches – a mine of information, but brutal on the eyes!); Daniel O’Connell’s speeches; and the archivist in the Library in Tralee

3. The Rose of Tralee has many female dissenters nowadays. Do you watch it? And do you feel it still has something to offer to the #metoo generation?

Yes the festival has its share of dissenters – both male and female as such occasions will. I’ve watched it from childhood – my mother was from Tralee. It’s fun, down the years the winners who are increasingly well-educated – this year a doctor holds the title, do good works. The ‘Rose brand’ is protected by the committee and PR company that organise and run the festival. And now that I know so much more I can see why – the festival, this year celebrating 60 years, is worth an estimated €15m revenue to the town.

Patricia O’Reilly is teaching our Advanced Fiction workshop on Sunday 29th September in St Cronan’s BNS: 10.00-12.00 €10

Louise Phillips: a flash interview

Louise Phillips

1. Your new thriller The Hiding Game is your fifth novel. Did you attend writing courses
before your first book was published and if so what do you think you learned from them?

The first ever creative writing course I attended was with poet and short story writer, Eileen Casey. I hadn’t written for over twenty years, but once I stepped back into this glorious world of writing, I asked myself immediately why I ever let it go. I attended quite a few writing courses prior to the publication of my first novel, and I learned something unique in every one of them. I don’t think a writer ever stops learning, which is why I am such an advocate of writing courses, not only because they expand your knowledge, but you also get to meet other like-minded individuals, fellow writers, passionate about their craft.

2. Crime Fiction clearly involves a lot of research. Could you tell us about some of the
challenges you've faced getting facts right?

As a writer of crime fiction, I often find myself in unique situations because of research,
whether it’s chatting with an off-duty hostage negotiator, a psychologist, or eavesdropping on suspicious characters in fast food restaurants. The first challenge is, how do you get the information you need to give your story the authenticity it deserves. I tend to research a lot online before I ever set up any face-to- face meetings. There is no point asking a professional, whether it’s a detective or a hypnotist, a question you can answer yourself. Use your time with them wisely and prepare an outline of the areas you want to cover during your meeting. Also, be careful not to lose yourself too much in research to the detriment of writing that story. Some people think you should research before you write, others say, do it after you have completed the first draft. I tend to do a bit of both. I research enough to get me into the story, and then I continue the research while writing, depending where the story takes me. I enjoy this aspect of writing, and I particularly love how research can open your mind to so many ideas, inspiring story twists, fresh plot points, and so much more.

3. I know that many of your students have secured publishing deals. That must be very

My writing courses are very focused, and for me, they are a little bit like writing a good
novel, everything included in the course has to have earned its place. Since I started giving writing courses a few years back, the number of my students who have gone on to secure publishing deals is well into double figures, including International Bestsellers Jax Miller and Patricia Gibney. Put simply, I love working with people who are passionate about writing, whether it is their first step into writing, or they are adding a fresh element of knowledge to their craft. If you attend any of my courses, my role as the facilitator is to help you become the best writer you can be. Whenever I hear of one of my students securing a publishing deal, it’s both gratifying and humbling to know I have helped someone, in whatever small way, to achieve their dream.

Louise is facilitating our Crime Fiction workshop on Sunday 29th September in St Cronan’s BNS 10.00-12.00. Book your place by emailing €10.

Simon Lewis: a flash interview


1. Your first poetry collection “Jewtown”, published by Doire press, was inspired not only by your own Jewish background, but by an interest in those immigrants who had fled their countries to form the Irish Jewish community. Could you tell us a little about that?

Oisin Fagan: A flash interview

Oisin headshot 19 hires


1. Your recently-released novel “Nobber” was referred to in an Irish Times review as “14th-century bawdiness and Irish noir whimsy.” And in the Guardian as “a grisly, gross-out slice of medieval life and death” Do you think either of those are fair descriptions of the book? And if not, how would you describe it?

I enjoy those descriptions you mentioned, and I also enjoy the variation in different people’s summaries of it. To be honest, I’m happy that people are describing it in any way at all. I describe it as a story about a change that happens in a small town over the course of a few hours.

2. Nobber is set in 1348. Did you get bogged down at all in historical fact during the writing process?

I didn’t get bogged down at all. A certain kind of attention to period and difference and detail can be poisonous to a story, I feel. Edward Gibbon once said something like you could tell the Koran was a genuine document because there were no camels in it. That strikes me as true. I learned as much as I could about what peasants and aristocrats believed at that time, and what peasants had to put up with from the different forces in society and then I estranged myself from any previously-held conception of medieval people and treated them like they were my brothers or sisters, which they are. I made the Gaels up because most records pertaining to them were destroyed in the Civil War or pulped in World War I.

3. What, if anything, do you have in common with your protagonist Osprey De Flunkl?

We both want more and we both are of Norman extraction.
Thanks a million for the fun questions.
Oisin Fagan is taking part in our event Strangers in a Strange Land along with authors Mary Costello and Nuala O’ Connor.
Sunday 29th September in Bray Town Hall @ 1pm.

Bray Literary Lecture in partnership with The Stinging Fly

Entitled: “Practive, Process, Product”, this year’s Bray Literary Lecture in partnership with The Stinging Fly will see author Mia Gallagher offer her advice and expertise to both potential and professional writers.

Saturday 28th September @ 11.30am in Bray Town Hall.

“Practice, Process, Product”

Are you a scribbler? An author? An artist? An amateur? A beginner? A professional practitioner? Is writing your vocation? Your hobby? Your job? Your career? Your books, poems or stories? Or just what you do?

In this talk Mia Gallagher will be exploring writing through three lenses: writing as practice, writing as process and writing as product. She will look at the overlaps and differences between the three perspectives, and will try to identify how, and when, each may best support ‘good’ writing. She’ll discuss how confusing these perspectives can create problems for the writer and she’ll finish by exploring strategies which have helped her to navigate some of these problems in her own practice.