I’ve been tagged by fellow writers Nuala Ni Chonchuir and Paul Carroll to take part in the What Am I Working On blog tour. Due to family circumstances I haven’t been able to be online as much and so haven’t done the requisite forward tagging to other writers. But writers I admire who have a lot of great stuff going on at the moment are Kirsty Logan, James Claffey, Colette Caddle, and Anouska Huggins (who is appearing on the facing page with me in this issue of The Stinging Fly), so do check our their activities and upcoming work.
1) What am I working on?
I am writing a new, very visceral, language intense book called Eat! which originated from the flash fiction of the same name which is in the spring Stinging Fly. It features a girl, Anise Fish with pica, a killer/cannibal and a gingerbread house exhibition among other things. It’s set in the Irish boom and explores the psychopathology of loss and greed, consumption and acquisition and the modern tensions of development versus landscape.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t know that it does. There are many books such as Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, and Eimear McBrides A Girl with a Half-Formed thing that let language create the atmosphere and mood and that revel in the joy of language itself while telling a story. What these books do and what I hope my book does is let language evoke particular emotional resonances, to draw the reader very viscerally into the feeling of the story. This book differs from my other books so far and perhaps other published books in the extent to which I throw the reader directly into a more subconscious experience through the evocative language of food and food memory.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Most of my books are about either ways of telling a story or about belief (which is also how we tell ourselves stories). With a background in communication studies and psychology and an interest particularly in social psychology I am fascinated in tracing how extremes of belief and delusion, trends and mania can occur on either an individual or societal level. In many ways the boom/Celtic Tiger was a maladjustment to various social conditions and elements in Irish history. On a personal level our actions can often stem from old losses or gaps in our personal histories. In the novel I have just finished The Exhibit of Held Breaths I trace how an strange Art exhibit becomes the conduit for the fears, anxieties and hopes of both individuals connected with the exhibit and the entire town in the strange and anxious landscape of the 1980s. We often wonder why people act the way they do, why evils such as Nazism happened, what I look at in my stories is how, incrementally people can move toward psychosis or at the very least poor decisions. It’s an endless topic which I know will occupy me for the rest of my life.
4) How does my writing process work?
It depends on the project. For Held Breaths it started with me jotting the first line in a notebook, then writing a short story based on the idea, then writing scenes and matching them up to the chronology of the short story. In general, I’m not a plotter, at first ideas and scenes mushroom in my head and I write them as they emerge. This can be quite a visual process. With many random scenes, I then go through a painstaking (and sometimes painful!) process of seeing how the scenes fit best together dramatically to create a holey first draft. Gap scenes then need to be filled to create a complete draft, then there are many drafts and revisions to organise chronology, cut or enhance characters, heighten tension, create meaningful links and transition, heighten voice and cut superfluous detail or repetition. The aspect of writing I love most is when I’m following a thread of associations to create interlinked scenes which later add layers to the book and when I’m so immersed in a scene that I draw on memories and information that I didn’t even realise were there. My aim in writing is to bear witness to the wonder of life and the fascination of what it is to be human. Through associations and language I try to draw out the feeling of our human experience.